Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human! – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

Six years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of six years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series: 

Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!  preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39

Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading

The Challenges of Jesus, Confronting Evil – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

This sermon was preached 3 years ago. Alas, while the politicians have declared that ISIS has been defeated, conditions on the ground indicate that ISIS has merely gone into hiding. The Canadian military is in discussions to purchase military drones, while the U.S. use of drones continues to inflict violence upon civilian populations. Jesus’ way of confronting evil continues to elude us. The Readings included Mark 1:29-39: Jesus raises up Peter’s Mother-in-law, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956”

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

listen to the sermon here

https://pastordawn.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/epiphany_5b-feb8-2015.m4a

If there was ever any doubt that they are blood-thirsty monsters who are obsessed with destroying our way of life, this week’s abominable immolation of a Saudi pilot ought to prove to even the most ardent peace-loving activist that ISIS or ISIL represents pure evil. The perpetrators of beheadings and immolations the likes of which even the Western news media is loath to broadcast have demonstrated with their incessant viscous barbarous brutality that they are monsters who are worthy of destruction by whatever means necessary. Such evil needs to be eliminated. However, misguided the members of ISIS are, their brutality cannot and will not be tolerated. We will not even dignify their existence with boots on the ground. This enemy is not worthy. We will not risk our own people in this particular battle. Let the bombs fall where they may. We shall defeat them at arms length; reigning down upon them such devastation that they will become easy pickings for the armies of their own kind. We will not dignify their brutality by being drawn into battle with the likes of them. They are the scum of the earth and deserve every evil we can visit upon them provided we don’t have to get our hands too dirty. These viscous evil monsters have proven over and over again that they are inhuman, and we have every right to wage war upon them. They have crossed the line. They have beheaded, burned to death, and slaughtered their way onto the world stage and it is up to us to wipe them off of it and send them screaming back into whatever dark hole they crawled out of. Besides they have brought their evil madness too near the oil fields, which feed our way of life, they must be stopped before they start costing us real money. So, let all the peacemakers turn the other way while the powers that be take up arms for all our sakes and wipe these terrorists off our news screens. These demons must be destroyed.

We’ve been here so many times before. Face to face with demons. All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good folk like us to do nothing. So, we’d better stop our bellyaching and get into lock-step with the warriors and support our troop’s because there is no other way to deal with these people. So, keep Jesus out of this. Jesus doesn’t belong in this fight. Jesus will only confuse people. Jesus will force us to second-guess ourselves and while we’re arguing about loving our enemies; our enemies will destroy us. So, leave Jesus where he belongs on the pages of a forgotten book, in the sanctuaries of tired old buildings, in the hearts and minds of a dwindling few who are used to being manipulated and wouldn’t dare make waves in the public square lest they be laughed at for the fools they really are. Keep Jesus to yourselves and let the grownups deal with the terrorists unless you want them to march down main street and behead a few of you. Keep Jesus out of this. Fighting demons is for grown-ups who are prepared to live in the real world. Peace, real peace, means getting your hands dirty. Peace, real peace, can only be achieved through violence. The only way to deal with terrorists is to defeat them on the battlefield. Peace through victory.

If you want to do something useful pray for peace. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Over and over again, we follow Jesus into the dark places of our hearts and minds and we pray. This week my prayers have turned to prayers for peace. Holding my newborn granddaughter in my arms, rocking her to sleep in the darkness of her nursery, I have prayed for peace with the kind of urgency that newborns inspire. I want so much for her. I want a world in which she can thrive; a world where she can grow into all the potential that she holds in her tiny precious little body; a world free from monsters and demons. If the pundits are to be believed ISIS threatens everything we hold we hold dear and the good people of the world must band together and annihilate the evil that ISIS is. Listening to the news you’d be hard pressed to see the war in which we are currently engaged as anything other than an epic battle between good and evil. Pray for peace if we must. But support the military solution that is on offer or accept the peril of terrorists moving into our neighbourhoods. Give up your freedoms, your privacy, your idealism, and join the battle; there is no other way to defeat evil. They’ve almost convinced what’s left of Christendom that if Jesus were alive he too would take up arms in this just war. Peace can only be achieved through victory; so, “they” tell us. The trouble is, “they,” the powers that be, have been telling us this forever and yet victory continues to breed more violence. First century Palestine was full of good folk just like you and me who dreamed of a better life for their children; people who were willing to do just about anything to ensure the futures of their beloved children. Roman oppression was every bit as viscous as the wildest imaginations of the members of ISIS. Roman tortures and executions abounded in the tens of thousands in the first century. The anonymous writer of the Gospel according to Mark together with the anonymous writers of the gospels according to Matthew and Luke took the time in the face of such wicked oppression to record stories about Jesus in the hope that they might encourage their communities to adopt a different way of dealing with the violence that threatened their lives. In Jesus of Nazareth they saw a new way of dealing with one’s enemies; a new way of confronting evil in their world. Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi who taught in the synagogues moving from town to town proclaiming a new way of living in a world infested with violence, in a world where evil was about as real as evil gets this itinerate preacher forged a new way of being; a way that insisted that peace comes not from victory but through justice; a way that began not with destroying one’s enemy but by loving ones’ enemy. Continue reading

What it Means to “Pray Always” – Matthew Fox

Recorded Oct.16, 2016: Matthew Fox preaches on Luke 18:1-8 at All Saints Church in Pasadena. Fox defines prayer as, “a radical response to life; a profound or deep response to life.” As such, working for justice is the embodiment of our response. 

Prayer: 21st Century Questions – There’s an App for that! Luke 11-1-13

prayer appJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel reading Luke 11:1-13 leaves me wondering what an enlightened 21st humanoid is supposed to do with Jesus 1st century ideas???

Cast you minds back to another time and place and tell what the numbers 33, 45, and 78 have in common??? Vinyl Records anyone? When I was a kid music came from a portable RCA record player. The sound quality wasn’t all that great, but somehow we didn’t seem to care. Later when I was a teenager, my parents got a fancy state of the art Phillips stereo cabinet and suddenly sound seemed to be coming from booth ends of the room. I never did understand how those old record players managed to pick up sound from the grooves in the vinyl to45 produce music. I still remember my father’s first reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then there were the eight-tracks, followed by cassettes, followed by CD’s.  I can remember these things, but I have no idea how they made music. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to explain it to me, I still think it’s a miracle that such beautiful sounds can come out of machines.

These days I don’t use records, tapes or CDs to listen to music. My music is stored in “the cloud” and when I want to hear I song I make sweeping motions on my iphone screen and presto, I can make music fill the room. I don’t know what the cloud is. I asked the personal assistant on my iPhone, her name is Siri and she told me she was sorry but she couldn’t tell me because Steve told her not to tell anyone. Some people think the cloud is located in a 225-acre facility that Apple built in North Carolina. Continue reading

Prayer: To Whom Shall We Go? Luke 11:1-13

PanentheismJesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of God to those of a cosmic superhero who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what God is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the One who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.

Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. Continue reading

Preaching on Prayer: Shush!

BATH QOLIn this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!

I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!

I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future.   Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #6: Pray Without Ceasing and #7: Prayer Transforms Us

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the sixth sermon in the series. The final instalment of this series comes in the form of a discussion. Rather than preach on the 7th Sunday of Epiphany, I responded to questions from the congregation. The audio recording of that reflection appears below.

Prayer #6 – PRAY WITHOUT CEASING – preached on Epiphany 6B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Prayer #7 – PRAYER TRANSFORMS US – responding to questions about the series, this reflection took the place of the sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, 2012 – listen to the reflection here

 Transcript of #6 PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

Cast you minds back to another time and place and tell what the numbers 33   45   and 78 have in common??? Vinyl Records anyone? When I was a kid music came from a portable RCA record player. The sound quality wasn’t all that great, but somehow we didn’t seem to care. Later when I was a teenager, my parents got a fancy state of the art Phillips stereo cabinet and suddenly sound seemed to be coming from booth ends of the room. I never did understand how those old record players managed to pick up sound from the grooves in the vinyl to produce music. I still remember my father’s first reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then there were the eight-tracks, followed by cassettes, followed by CD’s. I can remember these things, but I have no idea how they made music. It doesn’t matter how many times people try to explain it to me, I still think it’s a miracle that such beautiful sounds can come out of machines. Continue reading

Maranatha: Padraig O Tuama – a timely lesson for those preparing to preach on this coming Sunday’s Gospel text!

This is for my colleagues who are preparing to tackle this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading in which of Jesus heals Peter’s Mother-in-law. I suspect, that as Padraig O Tuama might put it, we will in all likelihood fuck it up. To those of you who will listen to our efforts, remember you’ve fucked it up as well! Alleluia! Alleluia let humility be our healing balm here in Babylon. 

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #5: Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!  preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39

Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #4: AWE – Reclaiming the word Religion

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fourth sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #4 – AWE: Reclaiming the word Religion,  preached on Epiphany 4B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Genesis 28:16-22; 

Hildegard of Bingen – Soul Weavings

“The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.

With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.

It is a yearning to take on God’s gentle yoke,

It is a yearning to give one’s self to God’s Way.

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one’s self.

Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God’s kindness.”

Our Gospel reading was extended to include Mark 1:21-35 “Rising Early the next morning, Jesus went off to a lonely place in the desert and prayed there.”

I was about 16 or 17, when God first overwhelmed me. I’d been attending church for about two years. Looking back on that confused young girl, I can see how I might have been attracted to Christianity by Jesus. Jesus the radical, who changed the world, is a compelling figure for a teenager who’s out to change the world. I remember that I prayed a great deal back when I first got involved in the Church. I can remember believing that prayer could change everything. Prayer could change the world. Prayer could change my life. Prayer could change other peoples’ lives. Prayer could even change the mind of God. If only I could figure out the correct way to pray. And if I prayed often enough and hard enough and at just the right moment, prayer would change everything.

The trouble was, I was praying often, I was using all sorts of types of prayer and nothing seemed to be working. So, I remember deciding, that my ineffective prayers had nothing at all to do with the power of God or the power of prayer, but with the power of me. I kept telling myself that if I could just learn how to pray, God would definitely do the rest. So, I prayed and I prayed, and I prayed and when nothing much seemed to happen, I blamed myself for not being a good enough Christian: if only, I’d spend more time reading the bible, or if only I was a better person, or if only I was a better believer. It was all up to me. So, I promised myself, and sometimes I even went so far as promising God, that someday, I’d learn how. Someday, I’d find the right teacher, I’d study hard and I’d learn exactly what I needed to do to make my prayer life, more effective. But in the meantime, I’d keep trying, even though it felt like no one was listening. I told myself that this kind of persistence is precisely what people meant when they said, “have faith”. Having faith means praying when it seems like there’s no point at all, in praying. So, I had faith and I prayed…and nada. Not a single thing. It was like talking to myself. Not even a warm fuzzy glow. But I had faith that somehow God, that big guy up there in the sky, He, and I do mean He, cause back then God was an old, bearded, guy who lived on a fluffy cloud, and spoke King James English, in a very lofty way. Anyway, He, must have been hearing my prayers, but because he was God and all, and knew everything there was to know, he was keeping stuumm in an effort to teach me something. So, all this empty praying was going to pay off in the end.

Eventually, I began to expect very little from prayer. Prayer became something akin to my car insurance. I knew I had to pay it, even though I couldn’t afford it, because someday it might just come in handy. But I never really expected my car insurance to do anything for me, especially as I couldn’t afford to pay for collision insurance. But if I hit someone else, well it just might keep me out of jail. So, I kept on praying, trusting that if I happened to hurt someone else, God would function kinda like my car insurance, only instead of keeping me out of jail, God would keep me out of hell. It was all about me back then. And then one night it happened.

My little world was blown apart and for the first time in my young life, I knew that life wasn’t all about me. It happened on the beach. Actually, it was on a boardwalk down by the ocean. A bunch of my friends and I had managed to talk our parents into letting us spend the night sleeping out under the stars. It was late August and there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. The only problem was that in our part of the globe, the best viewing time was supposed to be between 3 and 6 am. So, we begged and we pleaded, or we miss-lead our parents and told them we were staying over at a friend’s place and about a dozen of us headed down to the boardwalk to sleep out under the stars.

It was a fabulous night. No adults to tell us what to do. Good friends to talk to. Swimming after dark. An illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us. And just enough beer to make us feel like we were big shots and not enough beer to give us a buzz, because only a couple of us were brave enough to try to buy beer from the dozy lady at the convenience store who never seemed quite able to do the math when she bothered to card us. Did I mention that we’d slipped down across the boarder, not because the meteor shower would be any better down there, but because we lived close enough to Washington state and the beaches in Pt Roberts were very attractive because, we knew that there was only one sheriff on patrol and we figured that we could out-run him if we had to. Besides old Dusty, weren’t much of a sheriff and he pretty much stayed away from the boardwalk cause he knew better than to go looking for trouble. And we were trouble. We were a gang of kids from church, about a dozen kids, with about a dozen beer, and we were gonna stay up all night and watch the stars and no, no good copper was gonna stop us. Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #3: Corporate Prayer???

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Third sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #3 – Corporate Prayer,  preached on Epiphany 3B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; excerpts from St Thomas Aquinas’ God’s Nature, Mark 1:14-20 – Our worship began with the singing of the old song, I Come to the Garden Alone.

Before we set forth on the third sermon in this series, let’s take a brief look at where we have been. We began looking at what happens when we give up the image of God as a grand-puppeteer in the sky to whom we pray to. We moved beyond the notion that prayer is about us talking and God listening. We looked at a model of prayer that begins with us shutting up and listening, for the voice of God, which in Hebrew is called the Bat Cole, or daughter of a sound. Listening for the still, small voice of God, begs the question: “If I happen to hear this daughter of a sound, how do I know that it is God that’s doing the talking?” This question led us to look at the two streams of thought concerning the nature of God that flow through the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The first way of looking at God, sees God as a super natural deity; a kind of person writ large, a super hero God capable of interfering and altering the course of human affairs. The second way of understanding God, is just as ancient, and just as biblical, has the fancy theological name “panentheism” which in the words of the Apostle Paul, sees God as “the ONE in whom we, live and move and have our being. Panentheism simply put means, everything is in God and God is in everything; the universe, all of creation is in God, and God permeates all of creation.

When it comes to prayer, we’ve all been trained to see God as a kind of super-hero-santa character who exists to respond to our prayers with either a yea or a nay, and if the answer is yea, then all is well, and if the answer is nay, then this super-hero-santa God is either responding negatively to our request because we haven’t prayed it properly, or this all-knowing supreme being is saying no for our own good, or this super-human-god is simply trying to teach us something. Sadly, for so many people in our day and age, unanswered prayers, especially those unanswered prayers about unmerited suffering, have lead so many of our contemporaries to conclude that this super-hero-stanta God is little more than a creation of our own making and therefore does not exist and so apart from those times when they are so desperate because there’s nothing left to try, they have for the most part given up on prayer.

The popularity of the super-hero God rises and falls upon the responses or lack of a response to our prayers. Panentheism takes us beyond worshipping the image of God that we have created and opens us to the reality of the force that lies at the very heart of creation; a force that lives and breathes in, with, and through us. When we move beyond seeing God as a super-person, to understanding God as that which permeates all that is, we are compelled to open ourselves to a power beyond our ability to name. In the presence of such a deity our prayers can seem hubris at best, ridiculously childlike, or even useless and so we are all too often reduced to a silence born out of frustration rather than intention. But however, we arrive at the silence, it is out of the silence that God comes to us and we hear the Bat Cole, the daughter of a sound, the still small voice of God. So we’ve come full circle and we can’t help but ask, how do we know that the sound we here is God?

As we struggle for an answer to this question, I’m going to try to take us on a journey that I hope will help us learn some of the skills we will need to test the voice of God. It’s a long journey, so we won’t get there with this sermon. After today we will spend four more Sundays on the subject of prayer; four more Sundays in which we will delve deeply into what it means for us as individuals to pray to a God that we understand to be the one in whom we live and breath and have our being. But before we tackle the subject of individual prayer, we’re going to look at corporate prayer.

What are we doing when we pray together? If we are in God and God is in us, what does it mean to get together as a community to pray? How do we pray? What do we expect, if anything to happen? Today we will look at corporate prayer, next Sunday we’ll delve into praying as individuals, then after a couple of Sundays we’ll include an exploration of the Lord’s prayer. Which will take us to the last Sunday of Epiphany, when we’ll arrive at the mountain-top for transfiguration and we’ll wander around the thin places before heading off into the wilderness for Lent, where even Jesus needed all his skill to determine which of the voices he was hearing was actually the voice of God.

Now for some of you beginning by exploring corporate prayer seem counter-intuitive. Most of us are more interested in your own individual prayer life than we are in the prayer-life we share as a community. But I am convinced that if we begin by looking at how our prayer-life together has changed as we’ve opened ourselves to seeing God as the One who permeates all of creation. When you think about it, our prayer-life begins when we are children with a form of corporate prayer, when an adult in our life teaches us to pray. Usually, we are taught to begin by asking God to bless, Mommy and Daddy, grandma and grandpa, our sisters and brothers, our aunts and uncles and whoever else we loved. Sometimes we’d pray for the boys and girls who were less fortunate than we are. Some of us were taught the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Some of us were taught that horror of horrors: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” I don’t think I understood what I was asking in that particular prayer, because if I did, I’d never have let my parents leave the room, because I don’t ever remember wanting God to appear in my room to take me away. Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – 2: Pray to a Super-natural Deity or a Panentheistic God?

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Second sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #2 – Pray to a Super-natural Deity or a Panentheistic God? preached on Epiphany 2B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, The Flowing Light of the Godhead by Mechthild of Magdeburg, John 1:43-51 – Our worship began with the singing of the old song, I Come to the Garden Alone.

Last week we began a sermon series on prayer. We are spending the season of Epiphany exploring what it prayer is like after you give up the idea that God is some grand-puppeteer in the sky. We spent some time exploring the description of the Voice of God that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures. In ancient Hebrew the Voice of God is described as the Bat Cole. Which translates literally as the daughter of a sound. Our English bibles translate the Bat Cole, the daughter of a sound as the Still Small Voice of God. It is sometimes translated as “the thinnest silence.” I asked you to spend sometime during the week, listening to the Bat Cole that emanates from deep inside of you. Today, I want to talk about what it means to listen.

What does it mean to listen to the voice of God? What does the voice of God sound like? How do you know that the voice you are hearing is God? What are you supposed to do if you think you hear the voice of God? I’ve been thinking about these questions all week long and I’ve got to say that these questions have driven me more than a little crazy. Earlier in the week, a colleague sent me a recording of televangelist Pat Robertson talking about his latest message from God. It seems that God has told Pat Robertson exactly who the next president of the United States is going to be. God has also, rather conveniently told Robertson not to talk about it. So, Pat’s not saying who it will be. But he is saying that God has told him that the current president; that would be Barak Obama, “holds a radical view of the future of the United States that is at odds with the majority” so the nation should expect chaos and paralysis.”

It strikes me as all too convenient that God just happens to hold the same views as Pat Robertson, so I’m not about to listen to the voice that he hears. But then, how do I know that the voice that I hear is God and not just me impersonating God? To hear Pat Robertson tell it, he hears a clear voice and has no doubt that it is God doing the talking. I on the other hand have never heard a clear voice. In fact I’m pretty sure that if I stood up here and told you all that God spoke to me in a clear voice, you’d begin to wonder about my sanity. I mean hearing voices is a clear signal that something has gone terribly wrong and we have all sorts of medication for that. So, if hearing voices is symptomatic of mental illness, then why in the world would we bother listening for the voice of God?

Before we can even begin to understand what the so much of the Christian tradition means when they talk about listening to the voice of God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word god. Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about God. The first and most familiar way of understanding God is as a supernatural being. God is described as a sort of person, a supernatural person. The term supernatural describes it all, super means beyond the natural. God is understood as a being beyond the capabilities of most beings. God is personified; given the characteristics of a person; only it is as if God has the powers of a super-hero; someone far greater than we can even imagine. Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – 1: Daughter of a Sound

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer.  I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the first. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #1 – Bath Qol – The Daughter of a Sound – preached on Baptism of Jesus Sunday 2012

Mark 1:4-11

And so John the Baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camels’ hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and he ate nothing but grasshoppers and wild honey.

In the course of his preaching, John said, ‘One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal strips. I have baptized you with water, but the One to come will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. It was then that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan River by John. Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.”

I began the sermon by asking the congregation to sing a cappella from memory the familiar hymn: I Come to the Garden.

I come to the garden alone,

while the dew is still on the Roses;

And the voice I hear,

falling on my ear the Son of God discloses.

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,

and he tells me I am his own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

Non other has ever known.

He speaks and the sound of his voice

Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;

And the melody that he gave to me

Within my heart is ringing,

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,

and he tells me I am his own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

Non other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with him,

Though the night around me be falling;

But he bids me go;

Through the voice of woe

His voice to me is calling.

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,

and he tells me I am his own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

Non other has ever known.

The season of Epiphany begins and ends with stories of Jesus’ hearing the voice of God. In this morning’s story of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus hears the voice of God as a dove descends from the clouds. On the last Sunday of Epiphany, we will hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop when the voice of God is heard speaking from out of a cloud. Both times the voice will say essentially the same thing: “This is my beloved”

The word Epiphany is a Greek word which means “manifestation or revelation” of the divine. Over the years, the word epiphany has been used to describe those “a ha” moments in which something quite obvious is revealed. The phrase, “I saw the light” springs to mind whenever I think of the word Epiphany. I’d like to say that I associate that particular phrase with the word epiphany because, in the season of Epiphany is the season when plunged into the darkness of winter the church celebrates light. But the truth is the word epiphany makes me think of cartoons I watched as a child, when a light bulb would appear over the head of a character when the cartoon character had a bright idea. When that light-bulbs appear in cartoons, it’s a sure sign that the character is headed for trouble, because bright ideas often get us into trouble. So, you’d think I would have known better when, earlier this week a light-bulb went off and I had a bright idea that during the season of epiphany I should begin a sermon series on the subject of prayer. I mean, what better season than the season of epiphany to tackle a subject that people have been asking me to address for months now.

Ever since we set off on this grand journey of re-thinking our theology, trying to understand Christianity in the 21st century, the issue of prayer has been lurking in the background, almost haunting us. As we’ve explored ancient and mystic, understandings of the reality that we call God our cherished notions of God as a grand puppeteer in the sky who intervenes from above to change the course of history, have been challenged. As we’ve come to understand God as more than our images of God could ever even begin to capture, we have explored the possibility that God is more immediately present in with and through us. As we begin to see God’s work in the world grounded in the world, there are moments when I really miss that grand puppeteer in the sky.

It is certainly easier to talk about prayer if your talking about appealing to an other-worldly creature to fulfill your longing for a divine parent to solve all our problems. Because seriously folks, when you give up the idol that we’ve created of a god who controls all things from up in heaven, a god who listens to our prayers and then decides what is and isn’t good for us, and answers those prayers according to some grand plan he devised eons ago, in which all we are required to do is believe that whatever happens its God’s will, and we shouldn’t question but simply believe because in the end all will be revealed, well when you give up that particular image of God, the question that haunts me, and judging by the questions and comments I’ve heard from a good many of you is,

Who or what do we pray to know?
Should we pray, and how should we pray?
And more importantly who or what will answer those prayers?

Continue reading

Teach Us to Pray – a recording of our second class

Below you will find a recording of our second class. The video of the Keynote presentation includes the Youtube video featuring Marcus Borg that was shown during the class together with an audio recording of the class (the audio is stilted in places but if you wait but a moment it will sync with the presentation). Or, below the video you will find an audio recording of the class.

The third class in this series is on Sunday Oct. 19 and will be posted on Oct. 21

Audio recording of the class:

 

Teach Us to Pray – a recording of our first class

Below you will find a recording of our first class.  The video of the Keynote presentation includes the Youtube videos by John Shelby Spong and Fred Plumer that were shown during the class together with an audio recording of the class (the audio is stilted in places but if you wait but a moment it will sync with the presentation). Or, below the video you will find an audio recording of the class.

Unedited audio recording of the class.

 

Prayer for the Earth: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee draws together Christian and Sufi traditions of mystical prayer to offer up a prayer for creation from creation. His book Prayer of the Heart is a rare find which I treasure. I beg your pardon for the robotic voice in the youtube video review of the book.

Children Praying a New Story by Michael Morwood

Children PrayingMichael Morwood is an “Adult Faith Educator” whose various books help adults to “re-imagine and re-evaluate their faith in light of the contemporary ‘story’ about our universe.” In Children Praying A New Story, Morwood turns his attention to the task of education children from the perspective of a thinking twenty-first century Christian. Morwood offers insights about teaching children to pray, not to an external, listening Deity but to the Source and Ground of our being. This book has helped me as I craft the prayers of our congregation and I know that parents, grandparents and anyone who is engaged with children and their spirituality will find inspiration in Morwood’s approach. We are looking forward to hearing from Michael Morwood in person; when he visits Holy Cross the weekend of May 2-4.