Lent: Letting Go of Our Tightly Held Piety to See Our Need of Confession

JOHN OF THE CROSS as
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck.
 And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen.  Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase.  The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.

Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.

Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck.  It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.

When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee. 

Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago.  She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart.  Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy.  Is that right?”

Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”.  Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gentle, but firmly said: “Let it go, child.  Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)

In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament.  Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure.  My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness.  Continue reading

Baptism of Jesus

epiphany-2017

Join us tomorrow as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Everyone is welcome!

See you at 10:45am at Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Our Hymn of the Day will be Marty Haugen’s Song Over the Waters

We Need New Words to Praise the Silent Night Cosmically!

Silent NightSilent night, holy night is a perennial favourite! T’is the season for nostalgia. But what if we are serious about providing more than nostalgia in our worship? Can we, or do we even dare to offer worshippers new images that endeavour to engage our reality? Can we touch the spiritual but not religious crowds that wander into our sanctuaries seeking an encounter with the Mystery we call God, with a hint of our unknowing. Or are we content to address only the nostalgia seekers with safe images designed only to warm and not excite the imagination? Dare we beacon the nostalgia seeks beyond their memories toward the future? I wonder?  Maybe we can summon up the courage to compromise by simply adding a few new verses?  

The challenge belongs to all of us to write new words to enable us to sing our praise with integrity. Here’s a sample, with thanks to Keith Mesecher.

Wrestling With the Almighty: Locating Our Very Selves in the Sacred Story – a sermon on Genesis 32:3-31

Godbotherers

For those of you preaching on the text from Genesis 32:3-31:

You may not be able to tell from looking at me. But let me assure you that you are looking at someone who used to be a champion wrestler. Believe it or not, my wrestling skills actually helped me rise to the level of a world champion wrestler. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement. When I was an amateur wrestler, I was a world-class champion wrestler. But like so many athletes, when my status changed from amateur to professional, I lost my championship status and although I still qualify as a professional wrestler, and I like to see myself as a champion, I’m no longer what you would call world-class.

Like many professional wrestlers my career began when I was but a child. Growing up I had a very clear advantage as I developed my wrestling skills. You see having a brother who was just 18 months younger than me meant that I had ample opportunities to hone my wrestling skills. My brother and I were always at it. I’ve got to say that even though we shared the same weight class for most of our childhood, when it came to world class wrestling holds, I had him beat. I had this wicked arm-hold sleeper, and that together with my full Nelson followed by a knee-arm press, was guaranteed to have my brother screaming uncle and agreeing to be my obedient servant until in no time at all. For years I reigned as the champion of our little world! I was unbeatable. My brother didn’t stand a chance. My reign as world champion would have continued if it weren’t for the abrupt ending of my amateur status.

One morning when I was about 13 and my brother was 9 and a half, we were going at it,  and to his credit my bother had me in an ingenious hold. Somehow, he’d managed to secure me with what we professional wrestlers call an arm bar. That’s where you’re opponent wrenches your arm behind your back and applies just enough pressure to cause pain, but not enough to break anything. But just when Alan was approaching the point of no return, I managed with a feat of superhuman strength to rise up, twist around and swing for all I was worth and connect with what I though must be my brothers chest. I expected that such a thrust would have released my arm from Alan’s iron grip. But he still had me. I was about to hit him again, when for no apparent reason Alan released me from his grip. In an instant I wiggled free, spun around and connected with what I figured would be a fatal blow. Just before my blow connected with it’s victim, I realized that I was doomed.

Continue reading

A 69 Chevy Nova, Tea and the ONE In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being – a sermon for Pentecost 5C

chevy novaA sermon on Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39

I am indebted to John Philip Newell and his book: A New Harmony for the insights that lie at the heart of this sermon.   Listen to the sermon here

It was a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova, I bought it for $640 in the hope that it would last long enough for me to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia. At the age of 32, I had enrolled at UBC in the hopes of obtaining an honours degree in Religious Studies. I couldn’t really afford a car. But nor could I afford the time it would take to travel on public transit between the university and the bank clearing house where I needed to work the evening shifts in order to pay for my education. I was living in a shabby basement suit, where the rent was cheap and the parking non-existent. When I was lucky, I found a spot in the alley behind the house, when I was unlucky, I’d have to park a few blocks away. Walking in the dark alley at night was frightening to say the least. Often, I would encounter an old woman, who as near as I could figure out was living rough.The back alley had a number of old sheds and garages against which this old woman would sometimes create a sort of tent out of old clothes and cardboard. We never spoke to one another, but we did recognize one another.

I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night, and it was almost a comfort to run into one another, rather than an unrecognized stranger. One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I quickly unlocked my car and drove off to the University to study the religions of the world. My first class was Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, the Prof gave a 2 hour lecture on the development of Mono-Theism. I then had a 3 hour seminar in the methodology of Religious Studies. The seminar was made up of the my fellow honours students. The nine of us were receiving private instruction from the professor of Jewish Studies. Among my fellow students was a young man who would become one of my best teachers. Sannidhi was a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed a wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. Sannidhi taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that is. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the God that I have come to love above all other descriptions of God.  I’ve shared it with you many times: God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Continue reading

Wolf Blitzer Learned that there are Indeed Atheists in Fox-holes! – a sermon for Trinity Sunday

Eckhart rid me of GodThis Trinity Sunday sermon owes much to John Shelby Spong’s book a “New Christianity for a New World” You can listen to the sermon here then watch the tail end of the Wolf Blitzer interview mentioned in the sermon.   

In the midst to the devastation and debris that was left of the town of More, Oklahoma, it was all to clear that the power of the tornado that whipped through such a heavily populated area had left behind the kind of destruction that tears not only the foundations of buildings but also of lives. In living rooms around the world millions of people watched as the news media descended on what was left in the wake of nature’s wrath. One particular news report is still reverberating around the Internet. I had just come from my office where I had spent the afternoon, reviewing the Doctrine of the Trinity in order to write this sermon. My wife Carol was in the kitchen cooking supper and I sat down to catch up on the news events of the day. I tuned into CNN and there amidst the rubble of More Oklahoma was the familiar face of Wolf Blitzer. It was the day after the tornado and the big name newscasters had been rushed to the scene in time to provide color-commentary on the evening news. Wolf was interviewing a young mother named Rebecca Vitsmun who was holding a squirming her 19 month old, toddler Anders in her arms. The young mother gave a blow-by-blow account of her narrow escape from. All afternoon Rebecca was paying attention to the weather reports. Rebecca was not from More, but rather from New Orleans and so she was not used to tornado warnings. She’d grown up with Hurricane warnings and so her first instinct was to evacuate the area. But her husband and neighbours had told her that the safest thing to do would be to take shelter. Six-teen minutes before the tornado struck the weather service issued a warning to take shelter. As Rebecca’s husband raced home from work, this young mother grabbed her laptop, a mattress and her toddler and took shelter in the bathtub. Huddled in the tub covered by a mattress she anxiously watched the reports on her laptop. Tracing the path of the tornado, Rebecca realized that the tornado was headed straight for her street. Rebecca’s New Orleans’ instinct kicked in and with her baby in her arms she jumped into her car and without taking time to put her baby in the car seat, she drove as fast as she could out on to the freeway where she pulled over and put Anders into his car seat and then drove some more. After the tornado, Rebecca reunited with her husband, and they headed back to what was left of their home. The bathtub was so full of debris that it was clear to them that Rebecca’s instincts had saved her life.

After telling her harrowing tale, Wolf Blitzer congratulated Rebecca for saving her baby’s life and then said to this young woman, “You gotta thank the Lord.” Rebecca was clearly taken aback by the comment and hesitated. I held my breath, annoyed as hell at Blitzer for asking such a stupid question. Rebecca’s hesitation gave Blitzer the opportunity to move on, but no he just had to have an answer, and so he persisted. “Do you thank the Lord?” Rebecca gave Blitzer the kind of look that says, “Are you kidding me?” Then Rebecca gave Blitzer an answer that he sure wasn’t expecting from an American from the heartland of Oklahoma; Rebecca smiled as she answered, “I’m actually an atheist.”

As Rebecca laughed awkwardly, I cheered so loudly that Carol came into the room to see what was going on. I was so proud of that young woman for not going along with Blitzer’s nonsense. Who in their right minds would believe in a Lord who would pluck one family out of a bathtub and let seven children die in an elementary school? I mean, if this Lord that Bilitzer is so willing to give credit too is such a great rescuer, why didn’t this Lord change the twister’s path and send it out over the cornfields where the only damage it could do would be to crops?

I know they say there are no atheists in fox-holes, but I for one think that that bathtub Rebecca was hunkered down in was indeed a fox-hole and I’m delighted that when all was said and done, she and little Anders were saved by her instinct for survival. As for this Lord of Blitzer’s, well, judging by the awkwardness that Blitzer exhibited after Rebecca stood her ground, I can only guess that this reporter misjudged the situation. Blitzer a city-slicker from New York, assumed that all the local yokels must be bible-thumping Christians, and he probably thought that his question would have received a mindless ra, ra, yeah God, kind of response from all Oklahomans. I trust he won’t make that mistake again. I kind of feel sorry for him, because after all it only took a few hours before some televangelist’s were suggesting that God did indeed send the tornado to teach people a lesson. According to some bible-thumpers, if people prayed hard enough they would have been saved. Some even went so far as to suggest that the tornado was punishment for gay marriage. Continue reading

The Spirit Alive in Our Midst: a sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday

You can listen to the sermon here

“In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

“In the night in which he was betrayed” these are the words of institution. I remember them well. I also remember the turmoil my pastor created in me when he had the audacity to change those words. It was 1979, I was 22 years old; young and full of ideas, hungry for knowledge and passionately faithful; excited about worship, in love with the church and determined to be the kind of Christian who had the courage not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk. The brand new Lutheran Book of Worship had only been in print for just over a year and as a dedicated member of our congregations Worship Committee I’d been to several workshops to learn all the new fangled changes that this ground-breaking new book introduced into the liturgy; new fangled changes based on a return to the traditions of the church’s glorious past. Three liturgical options, all based on the old Latin Mass of the 11th century. In all three settings of the liturgy these words were clear: “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

So, why oh why, did our pastor get it so very wrong. Over and over again, no matter how hard we tried we could not get him to say the right words. Over and over again, he acted as if thousands of years of tradition meant nothing. Over and over again he insisted upon using different words. We tried to bring him back to the tradition. But it was as if he could not hear our well reasoned arguments. It was as if he didn’t care about the great crowd of witness who had gone before us. It was as if he thought he knew better than the Church; and not just the Lutheran Church but the ancient church; better than the writers of the gospels and St. Paul himself. Maybe even better than the Lord God himself, who after all had in my humble opinion, been responsible for inspiring the writing of these words. “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

Jesus spoke these words, so why did our pastor believe that he had any business tinkering with these words. Sure he had a good reason for wanting to change the words. But if everyone felt free to change the words of the liturgy the next thing you know we’d have chaos; and where would the church be. I argued with him. I pleaded with him. Others argued with him and pleaded with him. Some, even threatened him. Say the words correctly or there’ll be trouble. We’ll report you to the bishop; we’ll leave the congregation. “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.” And yet over and over again with his back turned to the congregation, because that’s how it was done in those days, when altars were up against the wall, and pastors held up the bread, up high as if God himself were up, there up high above our heads, looking down to ensure that everything was done just so. With the bread held high the pastor would insist upon saying, On the night before he died, Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.” I loved that man dearly. He was a sweet, kind, generous, hard working, part-time pastor who scraped out a living as a small time farmer when he wasn’t working in the barn he was there for us. I loved him, but he was just plain wrong. Even if his reasons for being wrong were well intentioned, you just don’t mess with the tradition like that. The words are there, they way they are for reasons beyond our understanding. They are after all divinely inspired. And this is the Eucharist after all; the meal that lies at the very heart of who we are. Continue reading

“A Revelation of Darkness” – Peter Rollins sermon on Acts 9:1-20 – Paul’s Revelation

peter rollins_thumb[1]On the third Sunday of Easter 2013, Peter Rollins was our guest preacher and took us beyond the surface of the story of Paul’s revelation toward the darkness from which we all too often hide.

The scripture readings can be found here – The Worship Bulletin here

You can listen to Peter sermon here

Baptism of Jesus

Epiphany worship

Join us tomorrow as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Everyone is welcome!

See you at 10:45am at Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Our Hymn of the Day will be Marty Haugen’s Song Over the Waters

The Spirit Alive in Our Midst: a sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday

Readings included: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:22-27 & Acts 1:12-2:21

You can listen to the sermon here

Commemorating Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Julian of Norwich Between pastorDawnOn this her Feast Day, let us commemorate Julian of Norwich, who is perhaps one of the greatest English Mystics. Although she has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church she is venerated in both the Lutheran and Anglican churches. Julian is the author of the first English book ever to have been written by a woman: Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.

Click here to listen to a meditative sung liturgy inspired by Julian’s writings

Click here to download the Worship Bulletin

which includes details of the life of Julian (designed to be printed double-sided)

Love Julian pastorDawn

Parables Ancient and Modern: Lenten Evening Prayer with readings from the Orthodox Heretic

Orthodox HereticA series of Lenten Evening Prayer Services which use readings from the Parables of Jesus together with readings from Peter Rollins’ “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.” Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each service includes the worship bulletin as well as an audio recording of the service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. 

One:  NO CONVICTION

A Copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here (service begins at the 48 sec. mark)

Peter Rollins reads NO CONVICTION

Two:  Translating the Word

A copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

 Three: Great Misfortune

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Four: The Book of Love

 Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Five: Betrayal

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

An Alternative for Lent: A Progressive Christian Looks at the Rite of Confession

JOHN OF THE CROSS as
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck.
 And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen.  Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase.  The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.

Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.

Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck.  It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.

When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee. 

Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago.  She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart.  Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy.  Is that right?”

Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”.  Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gentle, but firmly said: “Let it go, child.  Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)

In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament.  Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure.  My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness.  Continue reading

Hildegard von Bingen – Woman of Vision – Feast Day September 17

Herald of the Divine Feminine, reformer of the church and green prophet! September 17th is the feast day of the Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen, a woman of great vision, a woman centuries ahead of her time. During her 81 years Hildegard’s talents as an artist, musician, poet, healer and theologian allowed her to produce a wealth of resources for the church which ought not to be ignored. And yet the Roman Catholic Church only got around to officially canonizing this giant of the church this past year.

In 2009, German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta wrote and directed the movie “Vision”. The DVD version is available from Amazon and I highly recommend it!!!

Matthew Fox’s  book “Hildegard of Bingen a Saint for Our Times, Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century” provides an excellent resource for those who are working to change religious institutions today. You can listen to an interview of Matthew Fox about Hildegard here. Fox describes Hildegard as a Trojan horse whose teachings he hopes will shake up the vatican.

At Holy Cross we have developed an Evening Prayer Service inspired by the work of Hildegard. The worship bulletin and an audio recording of the service are linked below. Enjoy the video of contralto Karen Clark who preforms Hildegard’s antiphon “O Virtus Sapientie”

Evening Prayer Service Bulletin which is to be printed double-sided

Evening Prayer Audio – the silences are intentional. Enjoy!

Wrestling With the Almighty: Locating Our Very Selves in the Sacred Story (Genesis 32:3-31)

Godbotherers

For those of you preaching on the text from Genesis 32:3-31:

You may not be able to tell from looking at me. But let me assure you that you are looking at someone who used to be a champion wrestler. Believe it or not, my wrestling skills actually helped me rise to the level of a world champion wrestler. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement. When I was an amateur wrestler, I was a world-class champion wrestler. But like so many athletes, when my status changed from amateur to professional, I lost my championship status and although I still qualify as a professional wrestler, and I like to see myself as a champion, I’m no longer what you would call world-class.

Like many professional wrestlers my career began when I was but a child. Growing up I had a very clear advantage as I developed my wrestling skills. You see having a brother who was just 18 months younger than me meant that I had ample opportunities to hone my wrestling skills. My brother and I were always at it. I’ve got to say that even though we shared the same weight class for most of our childhood, when it came to world class wrestling holds, I had him beat. I had this wicked arm-hold sleeper, and that together with my full Nelson followed by a knee-arm press, was guaranteed to have my brother screaming uncle and agreeing to be my obedient servant until in no time at all. For years I reigned as the champion of our little world! I was unbeatable. My brother didn’t stand a chance. My reign as world champion would have continued if it weren’t for the abrupt ending of my amateur status.

One morning when I was about 13 and my brother was 9 and a half, we were going at it,  and to his credit my bother had me in an ingenious hold. Somehow, he’d managed to secure me with what we professional wrestlers call an arm bar. That’s where you’re opponent wrenches your arm behind your back and applies just enough pressure to cause pain, but not enough to break anything. But just when Alan was approaching the point of no return, I managed with a feat of superhuman strength to rise up, twist around and swing for all I was worth and connect with what I though must be my brothers chest. I expected that such a thrust would have released my arm from Alan’s iron grip. But he still had me. I was about to hit him again, when for no apparent reason Alan released me from his grip. In an instant I wiggled free, spun around and connected with what I figured would be a fatal blow. Just before my blow connected with it’s victim, I realized that I was doomed.

Continue reading

Wolf Blitzer Learned that there are Indeed Atheists in Fox-holes! – a sermon for Trinity Sunday

Eckhart rid me of GodThis Trinity Sunday sermon owes much to John Shelby Spong’s book a “New Christianity for a New World” You can listen to the sermon here then watch the tail end of the Wolf Blitzer interview mentioned in the sermon.   

In the midst to the devastation and debris that was left of the town of More, Oklahoma, it was all to clear that the power of the tornado that whipped through such a heavily populated area had left behind the kind of destruction that tears not only the foundations of buildings but also of lives. In living rooms around the world millions of people watched as the news media descended on what was left in the wake of nature’s wrath. One particular news report is still reverberating around the Internet. I had just come from my office where I had spent the afternoon, reviewing the Doctrine of the Trinity in order to write this sermon. My wife Carol was in the kitchen cooking supper and I sat down to catch up on the news events of the day. I tuned into CNN and there amidst the rubble of More Oklahoma was the familiar face of Wolf Blitzer. It was the day after the tornado and the big name newscasters had been rushed to the scene in time to provide color-commentary on the evening news. Wolf was interviewing a young mother named Rebecca Vitsmun who was holding a squirming her 19 month old, toddler Anders in her arms. The young mother gave a blow-by-blow account of her narrow escape from. All afternoon Rebecca was paying attention to the weather reports. Rebecca was not from More, but rather from New Orleans and so she was not used to tornado warnings. She’d grown up with Hurricane warnings and so her first instinct was to evacuate the area. But her husband and neighbours had told her that the safest thing to do would be to take shelter. Six-teen minutes before the tornado struck the weather service issued a warning to take shelter. As Rebecca’s husband raced home from work, this young mother grabbed her laptop, a mattress and her toddler and took shelter in the bathtub. Huddled in the tub covered by a mattress she anxiously watched the reports on her laptop. Tracing the path of the tornado, Rebecca realized that the tornado was headed straight for her street. Rebecca’s New Orleans’ instinct kicked in and with her baby in her arms she jumped into her car and without taking time to put her baby in the car seat, she drove as fast as she could out on to the freeway where she pulled over and put Anders into his car seat and then drove some more. After the tornado, Rebecca reunited with her husband, and they headed back to what was left of their home. The bathtub was so full of debris that it was clear to them that Rebecca’s instincts had saved her life.

After telling her harrowing tale, Wolf Blitzer congratulated Rebecca for saving her baby’s life and then said to this young woman, “You gotta thank the Lord.” Rebecca was clearly taken aback by the comment and hesitated. I held my breath, annoyed as hell at Blitzer for asking such a stupid question. Rebecca’s hesitation gave Blitzer the opportunity to move on, but no he just had to have an answer, and so he persisted. “Do you thank the Lord?” Rebecca gave Blitzer the kind of look that says, “Are you kidding me?” Then Rebecca gave Blitzer an answer that he sure wasn’t expecting from an American from the heartland of Oklahoma; Rebecca smiled as she answered, “I’m actually an atheist.”

As Rebecca laughed awkwardly, I cheered so loudly that Carol came into the room to see what was going on. I was so proud of that young woman for not going along with Blitzer’s nonsense. Who in their right minds would believe in a Lord who would pluck one family out of a bathtub and let seven children die in an elementary school? I mean, if this Lord that Bilitzer is so willing to give credit too is such a great rescuer, why didn’t this Lord change the twister’s path and send it out over the cornfields where the only damage it could do would be to crops?

I know they say there are no atheists in fox-holes, but I for one think that that bathtub Rebecca was hunkered down in was indeed a fox-hole and I’m delighted that when all was said and done, she and little Anders were saved by her instinct for survival. As for this Lord of Blitzer’s, well, judging by the awkwardness that Blitzer exhibited after Rebecca stood her ground, I can only guess that this reporter misjudged the situation. Blitzer a city-slicker from New York, assumed that all the local yokels must be bible-thumping Christians, and he probably thought that his question would have received a mindless ra, ra, yeah God, kind of response from all Oklahomans. I trust he won’t make that mistake again. I kind of feel sorry for him, because after all it only took a few hours before some televangelist’s were suggesting that God did indeed send the tornado to teach people a lesson. According to some bible-thumpers, if people prayed hard enough they would have been saved. Some even went so far as to suggest that the tornado was punishment for gay marriage. Continue reading

Commemorating Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Julian of Norwich Between pastorDawnToday churches commemorate Julian of Norwich, who is perhaps one of the greatest English Mystics. Although she has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church she is venerated in both the Lutheran and Anglican churches. Julian is the author of the first English book ever to have been written by a woman: Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.

Click here to listen to a meditative sung liturgy inspired by Julian’s writings

Click here to download the Worship Bulletin

which includes details of the life of Julian (designed to be printed double-sided)

Love Julian pastorDawn

Lent: Letting Go of our Tightly Held Piety to See Our Need of Confession

JOHN OF THE CROSS as
Little Crystal was only two and a half years old when she got hopelessly stuck.
 And when she got stuck she did what all small children do, when they have gotten themselves into a situation that the can’t get out of, little Crystal cried for help. She went into her mother’s study, holding in one hand a family treasure and her other hand couldn’t be seen.  Crystal cried out, “Mommy I’m stuck”. Her unseen hand was stuck inside her great-grandmother’s vase.  The precious vase had been handed down from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother. Crystal had always been told that one day the magnificent vase would be hers.

Crystal’s mother tried to move quickly without panicking. She scooped the vase and her little girl up into her arms and carried them to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was stuck all right. When soap didn’t work she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious “mother question.” “How in the world did you do this, child?” Crystal carefully explained that she had dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. But she couldn’t see it, so she reached in for her candy and that’s when she got stuck and she couldn’t get her hand back out.

Well, as time passed, the situation became more and more serious. Crystal’s mother called for re-enforcements. She phoned her own mother and told her to get there as fast as she could. A neighbour suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got out some WD40. Still no luck.  It began to seem like the only way to get Crystal’s hand out was to break the family heirloom.

When Grandma finally arrived, both Crystal and her mother were almost hysterical. They were both more than a little relieved to have Grandma’s calming presence. Grandma sat little Crystal on her knee. 

Crystal was very upset and still very stuck. Grandma took a good look at the vase that used to sit on her mother’s kitchen table all those years ago.  She looked at the miserable look on her grand-daughter’s face, and she said, “Crystal, sweetheart.  Your mommy told me that you reached into the vase for candy.  Is that right?”

Crystal was a little breathless from all the crying she had been doing and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Mmm hummm.” “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm humm”.  Crystal sobbed. Then Grandma rubbed little Crystal’s back, held her close and gentle, but firmly said: “Let it go, child.  Let it go.” Sure enough, the vase slipped off as smooth as silk. (I have searched for the source of this story, without success. I first heard it at a retreat on the West Coast a lifetime ago)

In this fast paced world of ours, I often find myself in little Crystal’s predicament.  Surrounded by a treasured family heirloom, desperately clinging to a treasure.  My predicament often makes it difficult for me to appreciate the beauty of the heirloom. Letting go isn’t as simple as it sounds. But sometimes letting go is the only way to preserve the integrity of the heirloom. When I think about the church’s practice of public confession, I can see how desperately I have been holding on to candies that no longer satisfy my need for forgiveness.  Continue reading

Transfiguration: Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song

Truly Madly DeeplyThe mythical stories of Jesus’ transfiguration remind me of old-fashioned love songs. You know the kind of songs that were playing on the radio when you first met, and when you hear them, you are instantly taken back to the days when you first fell in love.  My wife Carol and I we have a love song and whenever our song comes on the radio, well, I swoon. “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by a group called Savage Garden; it doesn’t matter where or when, but if “Truly, Madly, Deeply” begins to play, well we are transported back to those early days. The words of the chorus are particularly appropriate for Transfiguration: “I wanna stand with you on a mountain, I wanna bathe with you in the sea.” Now I won’t go on because the lyrics of this particular love song are embarrassing. But I wanna talk to you about love songs and more particularly about standing on a mountain. How many of you have been to a mountaintop? I’ve been to the mountaintop! It’s so beautiful up there on top of the mountain. You can see forever up there. You can breathe deeply and feel the very Spirit of God breathing in you. It all makes sense up there on the mountaintop! It is so beautiful that you just never want to leave. There is nothing quite like being on top of the world.

I still remember some of my first mountaintop experiences in church. I didn’t begin to attend church until I was fifteen. So, it took me a while to get to the top of the mountain but I can still remember exactly what it felt like. Those trips up to the top of the mountain, the way I felt up there in the clouds, well it’s those mountaintop experiences that kept me coming to the church. It’s the Jesus that I met all those years ago that made me stay. The Jesus that I met all those years ago was simply amazing. I fell in love with Jesus and that love took me to great heights.  The church I attended back then, was a lot like this place. The congregation was small and they loved to sing and they could certainly sing! All our trips up to the mountaintop began with a song. Singing those songs together lifted us up to the mountain and opened us up in ways that let us see Jesus. “And we walked with him and we talked with him, and he told us we were his own and the joy we shared as we tarried there, none other has ever known.” When that congregation sang they could take me to places I’d never dreamed. I knew that there in the midst of all that singing that, “Just as I am without one plea,” “God’s Amazing Grace would save a wretch like me,” and I learned from all that singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear,” as each Sunday we washed ourselves “in the blood of the Lamb.”

I didn’t know it then, because I was in the fresh flush of my love affair with Jesus, but those old songs, those old songs molded and shaped me in the faith. I don’t remember the words of the sermons I heard, but I can remember each and every word of those old hymns that we sang. Today, I must confess that as a preacher it saddens me to say it, but it is most certainly true, that people don’t go home humming the sermon. No, no matter how eloquent the preacher, the people will always go home humming they hymns and not the sermon. Those mountaintop experiences that I remember from my early days in the church, each and every single one of those mountaintop experiences were punctuated by hymns. Those old hymns molded and shaped me in the faith. Those old hymns taught me the faith of the generations that went before me, they nurtured my developing faith, and in so very many ways they came to define my faith. Continue reading

Parables Ancient and Modern: Lenten Evening Prayer with readings from the Orthodox Heretic

Orthodox HereticA series of Lenten Evening Prayer Services which use readings from the Parables of Jesus together with readings from Peter Rollins’ “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.” Prayers are drawn from the writings of the Christian Mystics. Each service includes the worship bulletin as well as an audio recording of the service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. 

One:  NO CONVICTION

A Copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here (service begins at the 48 sec. mark)

Peter Rollins reads NO CONVICTION

Two:  Translating the Word

A copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

 Three: Great Misfortune

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Four: The Book of Love

 Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here

Five: Betrayal

Evening Prayer a copy of the worship bulletin can be found here – it is designed to be printed double-sided and folded into a booklet.

Listen to the worship service here