A sermon preached on the Third Sunday after Epiphany 2015 . Our readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, “A Blessing for New Beginnings” by John Donohue and Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the sermon here
Fishing for Young People Will NOT Save the Church!
Changing National Demographics Tell Us that
Youth are NOT the Future of Christianity!
Good News! Yesterday, I spent over an hour embracing our newest grandchild. Our granddaughter arrived into our corner of the cosmos on Wednesday morning. As I held this precious little humanoid in my arms, I couldn’t help marveling at the billions and billions of years of development that led to the configuration of cells in which little Evelyn Adele’s conscious self is now poised to be without a doubt one of this planets most dynamic, intelligent, beautiful, talented, compelling, loving, engaging, smart… funny, did I say beautiful?
She’s gorgeous!!! Just like all our grandchildren! Of course. Just like all of your grandchildren. Just like each and every child who has ever been born! Little Evelyn has already won my heart. It is amazing how much love bursts forth when a tiny little humanoid appears in your life. Holding Evelyn is like holding the sun, the moon, and the stars in your arms. It is difficult not to burst with sheer joy at the realization that life is so much more intricate, complex, beautiful, and awesome than you can even begin to imagine and yet, there’s a sadness in the tenderness of that sweet embrace. Because life is more intricate and complex that we can begin to imagine, the knowledge of all the risk, danger, sadness, and tragedy in creation I couldn’t help thinking of all the disappointed parents and grandparents whose hopes and dreams did not come to fruition. Then there’s the tragedy and injustice of all the beautiful children whose lives are at risk because of poverty, injustice, hatred, violence, war, and indifference. The complexity and the fragility of life seem so acute when you are holding a newborn. The mixture of emotions and the intensity of feeling is something that mere words cannot adequately describe.
All of the parents and the grandparents here know this. But if you had told me any of this a few years ago, I would have understood what you were saying but I would have had precious little idea of what it is that you were feeling. Being a grandparent is something that I never thought possible for me. Usually you have to have children before you can be a grandparent. But thanks to the generosity of my beloved Carol’s children, I have been blessed to be a grandmother. Next to Carol herself, I must say that being “Gran” is the best surprise I could have hoped for, way back when I was discovering who I actually am. But I will confess that the role of grandmother is not a role I ever imagined playing. My image of myself is changing. My ideas about the future are morphing into something I barely recognize. My hopes and dreams are expanding. I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead. The future is calling me to follow wherever these glorious little humans may lead us.Continue reading →
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” WOW! All over Christendom, where-ever the Revised Common Lectionary is used, preachers were busy preparing their sermons on this particular Gospel reading, when the most powerful man on the planet caused us all to hone in on these words: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can assure you that the sermon that I had planned to preach this morning, was nothing like the sermon, I am compelled to preach. Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I must confess that I was not exactly articulate when I first heard the hate filled comments of the man whose name sticks in my throat. For the sake of decency, I shall not quote my own reaction, which can be expressed with the letters W T F followed by a question mark. But decency does not come easily to the current president of the United States. Watching this sorry excuse for a man, sign a proclamation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons. The hatred expressed on Thursday by a president who holds the futures of so many hopeful immigrants in his hands makes it clear that Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.
Yes, many of us have come a long way. Some of us can still see Dr. King’s vision. Some of us have lived that dream. But we all received a real slap in the face that ought to wake us up to the reality that we have a long way to go before Dr. King’s vision can be embodied by all those who seek justice and freedom from poverty. Slapped in the face by a man who has ridden his own racism to the pinnacle of political power, we must awaken our sensibilities to the positions of privilege that we enjoy as a result of the legacy of tribalism that continues to enslave our world in systems of abuse that perpetuate fear; fear the enemy of compassion, fear the enemy of justice, fear that leads to hatred; hatred that divides us from one another and robs us of our humanity.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Indeed, how can anything good come from Nazareth? The soon to be disciple of Jesus, asked a question born out of the very tribalism that continues to haunt us. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was what number 45 would call a “shit-hole”. Nazareth, where Jesus was from, was located in Galilee, a hick-town in the Roman occupied backwater of Judea. Judea was characterized by its Roman occupiers as a real shit-hole, and Nazareth was a hot-bed of radical terrorists bent on overthrowing the established order. Nothing but trouble came from Nazareth. Nothing and nobody from Nazareth could be trusted.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth, a shit-hole of a town, in the back of beyond. The last thing anyone in Jerusalem needs is a bunch of Nazareans coming into town to stir up a whole lot of trouble. The juxtaposition of this particular Gospel reading with the comments made in the White House on Thursday is tragic in and of itself. But add the memory of Dr. King to this horrendous outpouring of hatred and perhaps we might, just might, be able to shed some light on the darkness that has descended upon our world. Dr. King insisted that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And while it is so very easy to hate the spewer of racist venom who wields more power than anyone else on the planet, Donald J. Trump is also our brother and we, my dear sisters and brothers, we are called to love even this sorry excuse for a human being. And while it is so very tempting to respond to his venom by asking, “Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?” two wrongs won’t make it right. As easy as it is to assume that Trump is beneath contempt, my hatred of Trump will not shed the kind of light that drives out hate, only love can do that.
So, how do I learn to love Donald J. Trump? I confess that a big part of me doesn’t want to learn to love this despicable excuse for a man. But bear with me for just a moment as I try to explore some things that Mr. Trump and I share; indeed, some things that I suspect we all share with Mr. Trump.
Let’s begin with the disciple Nathanael’s question: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect that each of us have asked a similar question at some point in our lives. As a child, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was trained to believe that people from certain areas were worthy of my suspicion, simply because they inhabited Roman Catholic neighbourhoods. Later when we immigrated to Canada, I was taught to believe that people who came to town from reservations were lesser beings. I was taught to suspect that the people who lived on reservations, were lazy, no-good, drunks, who spent their lives freeloading off the government, and that nothing of much worth ever came off a reservation. As I grew to adulthood, I was taught to be suspicious of everyone who wanted to come to this country who was not British. My parents didn’t teach me this; this I learned in the playgrounds of the various schools I attended in both Ontario and British Columbia, where I learned to label fellow students as, “pakies and rag-heads” because they came from countries that our brother Mr. Trump would call “shit-holes”.
Take a moment. Look into your own lives. Do you remember the way people used to talk about our First Nations sisters and brothers? Do you remember the way people used to talk about immigrants? Most of us, I hope had enough compassion not to say these hate-filled things but if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the fear behind these hate-filled words, infected us to the extent that we became at the very least suspicious of people whose origins we did not share.Continue reading →
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, today “a very stable genius” occupies the most powerful office on the planet. In many ways, this emperor, who has no clothes, represents so much of what Dr. King struggled to overcome. So this year, it seems more important than ever to lift every voice and sing the praise of all those who bear witness to the kind of justice that Jesus of Nazareth embodied. What follows is the transcript of a sermon preached in 2014 to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I offer it here in the hopes that it will encourage fellow preachers to turn to the writings of Dr. King as they prepare their sermons for this coming Sunday. Let freedom ring!
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” During the struggle to open the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, there were some very dark days. As many of you know, during my first years in ministry, it was a struggle that I did not want any part of. I was for all intents and purposes living in the closet, even if it was the most transparent of closets, the walls of that closet made it very clear to me that my job would be at risk if I spoke publicly about who I am. So, in the early years, I was determined to keep my mouth shut about my own sexuality and fight the good fight from the relative safety of the background. Then, by virtue of my office, I was asked to speak publicly at a forum being held by York region, mental health professionals who were gathering resources to support GLBT youth. The organizers of the forum knew that many young people suffered because of their family’s involvement in churches that propagated hatred toward gays and lesbians and they wanted me to speak directly to these issues so that mental health professionals might be equipped to begin to counter some of the religious propaganda that was damaging so many young people. A few days after I spoke at this public forum a note was hand delivered to the mailbox at the parsonage. The note contained two quotes from the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind it is abomination” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
I was shaken by the quotes and even more shaken by the fact that they were hand delivered to my home. I tried to shake off my fear by telling myself that the note represented the ravings of a fool. But when I shared the note with members of the church council, I was reminded that in my world these words represented Bible quotes but in the real world they constituted a death threat.
I confess that at the moment, I realized that violence might actually be a consequence of my speech, I beat a hasty retreat back into my closet. I was determined to stay within the relative safety of the cozy, obscure little world in which Lutheran pastors usually live out our ministries. But calls kept coming in for help. So, I ventured out of the closet and mail continued to come in spouting hatred and suggesting violence as a very real possibility. There were some very dark days and even darker nights and from time to time I was sorely tempted to return in kind some of the hatred that was coming my way. One of you, I don’t know who, although I do have my suspicions placed a note in my church mailbox, right over there. The note contained these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let me just tell you, that those words stopped me on more than one occasion from lashing out in anger and on several occasions those words helped me to remember that I am called to love; love not only when it is easy or convenient, but to love in the face of hatred.
Now our struggle was not nearly as difficult as the struggles of others. I would not for a moment even begin to suggest that we have tasted the kind of hatred or been subjected to the kind of violence that was faced by the freedom fighters who achieved so much under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I do however know very clearly that we drew our inspiration from their struggles. The life and witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions of people to seek justice, to stand up for freedom and to love in the face of hate. Dr. King is more than just an inspiration to justice seekers and peacemakers, he is an example of what it means to impact the evolution of our species. Humans are better beings as a result of the many ways in which Dr. King changed the way we interact with one another. Creation is not the same as a result of the life and witness of Dr. King. Continue reading →
How many of you know what this is? Where I come from it is often referred to as a dog-collar and the folks who wear them are called God-Bothers. Back when I first started seminary, I resolved that I wouldn’t wear a clerical shirt and collar. I didn’t like the idea of being set apart from others. I really didn’t want to be seen as one of those holier-than-thou types, who took themselves so seriously. Learning the history of clerical garb didn’t help me to warm up to the idea of wearing them. Apparently, back in the middle ages fashion dictated that educated professionals wear black. Also, during the middle ages, long before shirts had collars it was all the rage to let your white undergarments show around your neck. This was the precursor to shirt-collars. Apparently during the reformation, this trend fell out of fashion but clergy, who couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion continued to wear black shirts with their white under-garment showing.
Over time, the church does what the church often does and applied a liturgical meaning to explain what is already happening. So, the church began to explain clerical attire theologically. If you google it, you will discover that, pastors are just like everyone else, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. So, they wear a black shirt to signify their sinfulness, but they wear a white collar to signify that the words they speak are not their own, but God’s words, because you see the collar covers the pastors voice-box to signify that we speak the Word of God. Now the presumption that I or anyone else speaks on behalf of God is rather daunting to say the least and did nothing to encourage me to wear a clerical collar, nor did the obscure explanation of the tab collar, which insists that this little white notch is placed strategically over the Adam’s apple to cover over the reminder of Adam’s sin. Not having an Adam’s apple, myself, I wasn’t much taken with the idea of wearing special clothing to set me apart. But when I first became a pastor, I was insecure and believe it or not I didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I ever so hesitatingly began wearing a clerical collar. I was uncomfortable wearing the collar, so I decided that I would only wear it on Sundays, or to protest marches, and sometimes when I was visiting people in the hospital, because in hospitals, wearing a collar makes it easier to gain access to patients.
Well one day, I needed some candles and so I dashed into the Zellers over the road to quickly grab a couple. I was having difficulty finding just the right candles when a store clerk came up to me and asked me if I would come with her. I figured that I’d been lingering over the candles for so long that she must have mistaken me for a shoplifter, but as we hurried along, she explained to me that there was a man in housewares who was abusing his wife and child. I’d forgotten that I was wearing a collar, but the reality of what this clerk was asking me to do choked me into realizing that the collar had led her to believe that I could actually do something. Not knowing what she expected me to do, I told her to call 911. She assured me that they had already called, but that in the meantime perhaps I could help. We stopped just before the aisle where the abuse was taking place. The store clerk whispered that, “they are just over there.” As she pointed, I realized that she wanted me to go on alone. So, not knowing what to expect, I took a deep breath and walked in on a scene that was way beyond my abilities. A big burly guy was twisting the arm of a woman while a little girl of about 4 or 5 stood crying. The man was yelling obscenities when I interrupted him. When he looked at me, I saw the fear in his eyes as he immediately let go of the woman who fell to the floor. The little girl ran to her mother. I expected the man to turn on me, but instead he just stared at me, as he began to cry, “I’m sorry pastor, forgive me.” It wasn’t I who stood before him, but the church, his church, the church that had taught him right from wrong. The collar I wore made the church visible to him and made it impossible for him to forget who he was. As a child of God, he couldn’t continue what he was doing. As a child of God, he knew in his bones that he was wrong. He wept until the police arrived. From that day on, I’ve known the power of the collar to make the church visible in the world and so I wear it a lot more often than I’d ever expected I would.Continue reading →
Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born every holy night.
Christmas Eve reminds me that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The adults in this little boy’s life were somewhat perplexed by the little boy’s desire and did their best to distract him with all sorts of stories about the baby in the manger. They even went so far as to promise to bring the little boy to church on Christmas Eve, where they assured him that there was a chance that there, he could speak to God. But the little boy knew in his heart of hearts that a private meeting with God would be so much better. What he really wanted was quality time with God. He remembered seeing a show on the television about God and Jesus and a bunch of stuff he didn’t understand. The show convinced the little boy that God must live somewhere very far away where there is lots and lots of sand and all the men wear dresses; except for the soldiers, who wear flappy skirts. The little boy decided that this strange land far away, was just the place to go so that he could meet God. He knew that this land must be very far away because he’d never seen it on his travels. So, the little boy decided to pack his back-pack with some food for the long journey. The fact that his Mom had just completed the shopping for their Christmas feasts meant that he had lots of wonderful things to choose from. So, into his back-pack he loaded up a few tubes of smarties, some chocolates shaped like turtles and best of all some always forbidden fruit that came in the form of cans of pop.
With his pack, full of provisions, the little boy set out on his long journey to meet God. When he’d travelled about half a mile or so, he met an old woman. The old woman was sitting on a park-bench staring at some pigeons. The little boy sat down next to the old woman and opened his back-pack. He was just about to take a drink of pop when he noticed that the old woman looked hungry, so he reached back into his pack and produced a tube of smarties, and proudly offered them to her. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled fondly at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. Her smile was so lovely that the little boy just had to see it again, so he offered her some chocolate turtles and a can of pop. Once again, the old woman’s face beamed as she smiled with delight. The little boy was overjoyed.
The two of them sat there on that bench all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how very tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. That’s when the old woman gave him the biggest smile he had ever seen.
The impending darkness sent the little boy back to the safety of his own home. When he opened his front door, his Mom was surprised by the look of joy on her son’s face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy replied, “I had lunch with God.” And before his Mom could get in a word, he added, “You know what? God has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her grown son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked his mother, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties, and Turtles and I drank pop with God.” And before her stunned son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected!”
I’ve always loved this story because it is so delightful to imagine God in the guise of a little boy or as an old woman; almost as delightful as imagining God in the guise of a baby lying in a manger, in a stable, long ago. God comes to us over and over and over again in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of shapes, in all sorts of guises. As Julian of Norwich was fond of insisting, “We are not just made by God, we are made of God.” Think about that for just a moment: We are not just made by God, we are made of God; not just you and I, but each and everyone we met is not just made by God, they are made of God.Continue reading →
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we try to reach beyond the lectionary to the folks who won’t make it to church on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning by forgoing the prescribed readings in favour of reading the entire Birth Narrative.
Click on these links to find sermons I have preached on Advent 4
Readings from the first chapter of Luke included the stories of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s radical song – The Magnificat. Listen to the sermon here
Last night my brother Alan and I were chatting online about Christmases past. We reminisced about the Secret Sam Attaché Case he got the year I had to settle for a Chatty Cathy Doll. My Brother’s toy transformed him into a secret agent allowing him to peer around corners with a Secret Sam periscope, and take photographs, while the case was closed. Alan’s toy transformed him into a spy capable of holding his own in the world of counterespionage, while I had to settle for Chatty Cathy Doll that could only say a few words when I pulled the string on the back of her neck. We both agreed that girls’ toys sucked. That is until the following Christmas when I talked my Dad into buying me my very own microscope and my brother and I spent the holidays looking at pond scum. We would head down to the pond and fill jars with the scummiest water we could find and then head home to look at the microscopic creatures that inhabited this strange little world. While we were chatting, my brother told me about a colleague whose son died quite suddenly last year. Suddenly, without warning the nostalgia of Christmas disappeared as we contemplated the horror of losing a child. For so many families this and every year Christmas is forever transformed from the simple joys of nostalgia to the painful experience of longing for simpler, gentler times, when all Christmas had to do was jingle a bell or two to bring out the child in us. Life is a complicated mystery. Life is full of unanswerable questions. Life is filled with all sorts of experiences and emotions. Yet, every year we look to our Christmas traditions, stories and rituals to open us to the possibility of all the joy and peace that life has to offer.
I ended our chat by sharing a treasured memory of good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I would enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one in which Alistair Sim plays Scrooge. So, last night, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”
No ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I did dream dreams of Christmas’ long ago. You see, Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of these movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you.
When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts? We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well.Continue reading →
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 →
The memories described in this sermon were provoked by the writings of Thomas Moore. I am indebted to Moore’s chapter on “The Christmas Tree” in his book “The Soul of Christmas” for opening me to some of the realities of our tree rituals. Dr. Seuss provided the Whos from down in Whoville. you can listen to the audio here or watch the video below
I 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.
Take 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 →
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 →
On this first Sunday in Advent we awakened ourselves to the cosmic contours of the darkness. Our first reading was The Star Within: a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith, followed by a musical video reflection My Soul by Peter Mayer which you can watch HERE Our Gospel reading was from Mark 13:24-37. Listen to the sermon here
As we embark on the journey of Advent, I need to take a poll, and there’s not much time left, so, we’ll conduct this particular poll by a show of hands. Before you answer this question, would you please close your eyes. Now, for the sake of this poll, I’m not going to continue until everyone has their eyes closed. Notice the darkness, the blackness that enfolds you. Now, I’d like you to remember the carefully and respond as honestly as possible: By a show of hands, when you were a child, how many of you were afraid of the dark? Pease answer as honestly as you can. Don’t worry about anyone knowing that you were afraid of the dark, I’m the only one who has their eyes open and I’m clergy, so I’m bound by the confidentiality of my profession and the privacy act, not to tell anyone.
Ok, those of you who were afraid of the dark when you were a child, you can put your hands down, but keep your eyes closed. Now, those of you who weren’t afraid of the dark when you were a child, please raise your hands. Ok, everyone keep your eyes closed. One more time, I need you to notice the darkness. Now, keep your eyes closed, do not open your eyes until I tell you to and listen carefully to the Gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep.
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” The Gospel of Christ.
All right, everybody, WAKE-UP! I mean it! Wake up! There is darkness all around us!!!
Danger everywhere you look. I need you all to WAKE-UP FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!!
Don’t sit down! Are you crazy. Who sits down in the midst of darkness? If you sit down, you’re likely to fall back to sleep! I need you to keep awake! Keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
KEEP AWAKE FOR CHIRST’S SAKE! This is the Gospel of Christ! Keep awake!
The good news is that there are those among us who have never been afraid of the dark. All right, if you promise to Keep AWAKE, you may open your eyes and sit down.
Welcome to the season of Advent. While the world is busy scurrying about preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, we here inside the walls of the church are embarking on a journey into the darkness. Out there, t’is the season to be jolly! It is the season of good cheer, so everyone is busy getting all the stuff they need to be cheerful. There are decorations to be hung, lists to be made, presents to be bought, special food to be acquired, more presents to be bought, special drinks to be stockpiled, more presents to be bought, people to visit, more presents to buy, carols to be sung, parties to go to, people to visit, gifts to give, fun to be had as our world prepares for the arrival of the baby Jesus or Santa Claus depending on your particular point of view. But in here, inside the walls of the church, the Body of Christ, it is my job to tell you all to wait. Advent the season when the church does it’s level best to hold off our culture’s rush toward a happy, jolly, Christmas each year!!! Advent the season of the church year, when those of us who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are invited to prepare ourselves not for the birth of a baby, but rather to prepare ourselves to give birth to Christ again and again and again.
Birth and darkness are intimately related to one another. Gestation takes place in the darkness; the seeds need the darkness of the earth, humans the darkness of the womb. Movements and revolutions are created in the darkness. The darkness of poverty and despair, the darkness of injustice and war, the darkness of danger and death germinate the seeds of movements and revolutions.
Beware! Be very aware! I am not inviting you into the darkness that is conducive to a winter’s nap. The darkness that I am inviting you into in this season of Advent, is a very dangerous darkness, the kind of darkness that requires you to KEEP AWAKE! WE ALL KNOW THIS DARKNESS WELL! We more than any of those who have gone before us are all too familiar with the darkness. We have more information about the darkness then generations of humans have ever had. At our very finger-tips we have devices which will bring word of the darkness to us 24 hours a day. In our living rooms, in our automobiles, even in the shopping malls, we can hear tell of the dangers of the darkness. Our earth is suffering under the weight of our filth. Continue reading →
This sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details. Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.
Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…
“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.
It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub. Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk. Suddenly two other people walked into the pub. They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’
Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.”Continue reading →
There’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 →
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 →
About ten days ago, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us how very fragile life is. As I drove north the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shores of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand that was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind and sand. The long, tall grass shared my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind. I thought about the Ruach, the wind, breath or Spirit of God, the power and majesty of the Ruach as it blows where it wills. Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the Ruach as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the Ruach, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain that began to fall.
The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very Ruach of God entered my being. I wiped the tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY that is the source of All.
The Bible is full of stories that touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality. Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth. We human creatures just can’t help wondering. How did we get here? Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about; speculating on the nature of our creator. Story after story has been told; stories that weave in and out between our experiences and our wonderings, what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are imaginings. The best stories, the ones that captured our imagination and stimulated our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories so profound that they just had to be written down. Elevated to the realm of the sacred these wonderings, took on the quality of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some have sought to defend these stories with their very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identities between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings that birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they’ve tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of our God. Whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some even claim that between their lines lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another.Continue reading →
Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said, “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’ But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’ The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14
Is this the Gospel of Christ? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of Christ!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O Christ!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of Christ?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Is this the Gospel of Christ?
I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text. I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become. “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”
Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community? “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of Christ?” “Praise to you O Christ!” I don’t think so.Continue reading →
About a dozen years ago, I traveled to Vancouver to attend an educational conference for Lutheran Mission Pastors. Most of the conference was spent inside a stuffy meeting room. But one afternoon about forty of us were loaded onto a school bus and we traveled down to the east-side of Vancouver to spend some time with Pastor Brian Heinrich, who ran the Lutheran Urban Ministry Society. I doubt that many of you have ever or will ever visit the downtown east side of Vancouver. Lutheran Urban Ministry was located near the corner of Main and Hastings in one of the poorest areas in all of Canada. It was the sort of place where forty Lutheran pastors stuck out like a sore thumb. At the time the downtown east-side was one of the roughest neighborhoods in Canada. This was before Olympic developers gentrified the neighbourhood.
As we arrived, I noticed the discomfort that was written all over the faces of my fellow clergy. Although I’d travelled to the eastside many times and even lived for a few months in a cheap apartment on the edge of the eastside, my journeys in the eastside were usually quick, with as few stops as I could manage, so that I could avoid the unpleasant sights and sounds that you encounter in places were poverty literally fills the air. Knowing that we were scheduled to spend the day in the eastside made me long for the mountaintops that I could see stretching up to the sky across the river. I could feel the same discomfort that was written on the faces of my colleagues take hold of my own face.
On the steps of the church, a young man was shooting up. In the alley next to the church, very young men and women were offering their bodies for sale. Inside the church we were greeted by several of Pastor Brian’s parishioners. Before we could get inside the sanctuary, a very smelly man extended a filthy hand in friendship. When I took his hand he grinned at me with his two remaining teeth and told me his name was David and that I should make myself at home. Eventually, Pastor Brian introduced us to about a half a dozen of his parishioners. All of them wore their poverty with a welcoming smile. Because the sight of forty Lutheran Pastors being guided around the neighborhood on a tour might have shaken up the local inhabitants, we were divided up into small groups and assigned guides. That’s how I met a woman, for the purposes of this sermon I’ll call, Gracie. Continue reading →