Intoxicated on Life – Epiphany 2C Sermon – John 2:1-11

Intoxicated on lifeLooking back at old sermons can reveal the various ways in which our theology has developed.  This sermon was first preached in 2013. Since then, I have moved to a posture that has opened me to more humble statements about the nature of the MYSTERY that is the source and ground of our being, which causes me to refrain from using the word “God” to describe that MYSTERY. Re-reading this sermon, I was tempted to edit it in ways that better reflect my current posture. However I think, perhaps such edits are best left to those of you who may be tempted or inspired by this sermon to tell your own stories alongside the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s tale of the wedding at Cana and thus reveal your own intoxication with life!. 

Listen to the Sermon here

The gospel according to John is my favourite of all the gospels. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage but I just love a good story and the more outrageous the better. The Irish have never been known to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and neither did the anonymous writer of the Gospel we can John. This gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written and it nearly didn’t make it into the biblical cannon because the religious powers that be cited all sorts of problems with this particular portrait of Jesus. Not the least of which are all the signs and wonders that Jesus commands in this gospel. So, just for the record, let me say that I don’t believe that this particular story happened exactly the way it was written. I don’t believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth had the ability to instantaneously change water into wine. I do believe that getting hung up on whether or not Jesus could actually work miracles is to miss the point of this story all together.

This morning rather than go into a long and drawn out explanation of the historical critical method of studying the scriptures in order to explain why the anonymous writer of the gospel of John wrote this particular story and speculate upon the particular theological points the author was trying to make to his second century audience, I would like to set the history aside for a moment and look at what the author might have been trying to inspire in the people who would hear and read his or her story about the Wedding at Cana. To do that, I want to get to the heart of this story to explore what it might be like for the people who actually encountered the Man Jesus of Nazareth. I mean, on the surface of it this story is about a kind of intoxication that happened to people who come into the presence of this strange man from Nazareth. The best way I know of interpreting a story is to lay down another story right beside it and let one story interpret another.

Once upon a time, I remember it was a damp and dreary day in Vancouver that stood out from all the other damp and dreary days. It was in the middle of February; it had been overcast or raining for weeks and weeks and weeks. I was riding on the bus to work. It was the same bus that I had been riding on for two years. Every weekday morning I would commute by bus from the suburbs to the heart of the city. Every morning at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus, which carried all the same people to their same jobs. On a good day the trip would usually take 45 minutes. Nobody ever spoke on that bus. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of their travelling companions, but conversation would be reserved for sunny days, when people could only manage a word or two. It was like there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day, and yet we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it.

On this particular February morning in addition to being tired, I was also wet. The wind was really blowing and I had to rely on my hooded jacket to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water was just beginning to seep threw my jacket. I sat in my usual seat on the bus and I was determined to ignore the damp and get in a short nap before we reached the city. I was just dozing off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of them, were recognizable. I’d seen them a hundred times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a “Hello,” him I’d never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me, and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.

The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him to fold it. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed the young man, thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him. The young man on the other hand, proceeded to break all the rules, and said that his name was Michael and he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before. He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So he had to catch the bus in the dark. He went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus, and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat that kept his head dry.

Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen, without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation. As we approached the tunnel, that normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It would be a long wait. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mailroom of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work, because they didn’t take care of the safety of people, but just took care of pieces of paper that were called stocks and bonds. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing. Before he had the job he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots left over. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs. Continue reading

The Things We Do For Jesus! – a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus

waters 4Baptism of Jesus Sermon — Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Originally preached: Sunday January 13, 2013    Listen to the sermon here

There’s a definition of what it means to be a priest that has always daunted me. A priest it has been said is “a keeper of the mysteries; a keeper of the sacred mysteries of our faith. People often confuse the idea of mystery with the idea of secret. But I can assure you that as a keeper of the mysteries of the faith it is neither my job nor any other priest’s job to keep the mysteries of our faith a secret. Yes, as an ordained pastor, one of my responsibilities is to be a keeper of the mysteries of our faith by ensuring that the communities that I serve hold those mysteries sacred. It is my job to hold the mysteries in such reverence that we all remember that the reality that we call God works in with and through those mysteries. Baptism is considered to be one of the mysteries of our faith. Baptism is a sacrament of the church and by definition a sacrament takes ordinary stuff – water – mixes that ordinary stuff with the Word and in the combination of water and the Word you have a tangible means of God’s grace. God’s grace is revealed in the sacrament of Baptism by the act of our gathering together and mixing the stuff of the earth with the Word. We have only two sacraments in the Lutheran church Baptism and Eucharist, and both of those things are sacraments because we gather together take ordinary stuff – bread and wine, or water and mix it with the Word of Jesus the Christ, and in the water, the bread, and the wine the means of God’s grace is made visible to us.

So, there you have it the technical definition of the sacraments, the mysteries of Baptism and Communion, in which the reality that we call God works in, with, through and under. But like all technical definitions of mysteries, these definitions fail to capture the essence of the MYSTERY that likes at their very heart, the MYSTERY of the reality that we call God. As a keeper of the mysteries, one would think that a priest, a pastor ought to be able to reveal, by way of definition something of the nature of the reality of the DIVINE.

The truth is I have no real definition to offer you of this reality that we call God. I read once, I wish I could remember where, the wisdom of a priest far more skilled than I who declared that he’d given up trying to explain God to anyone because in the end, he said, “I cannot lead you to God, anymore than anyone can lead a fish to water.” The most important thing I learned in seminary is that “I don’t know is an answer.” The truth is the more we learn the more we know that we don’t know. But this unknowing can be so unsatisfying, precisely because we believe that God is the one in whom we live and breath and have our being, we want to know the very nature of the One who is the ultimate Reality. Now, if these words haven’t already become so vague that the veil of unknowing has begun to make any tangible means of God’s grace seem invisible, and so beyond our grasp, let me leave the theology behind and tell you a story. Because one thing I do know for sure is that the shortest distance between the questions of what it means to be human and understanding our humanity is a story.

It happened on Thursday night. All week long I’ve been thinking about what I would say about the Baptism of Jesus and I wasn’t getting very far. It’s been a busy week, with lots of things to do as programs around here gear up again after the lull of the holidays. After teaching Confirmation on Thursday, I got home at about 9:30. The house was empty because Carol was off visiting the grandchildren for a few days. It had been a long day, and I quickly got into my pajamas, switched on the fireplace, and settled into my recliner in front of the television. The PVR was full of shows for me to watch and the opening scenes of Gray’s Anatomy dragged me into the complications of lives I would never have to minister to and I began to relax. The drama of medical emergencies mixed with the complications of various love affairs pulled me into a world where there was absolutely nothing expected of me and I was loving it right up until the moment that the telephone rang. Modern technology means that the name of the person calling usually appears on right there on the TV screen so that I can decide whether or not I’m going to answer the call. When the phone rang I expected it to be Carol calling to say goodnight, so I’d already pushed the pause button, expecting that after a quick goodnight I could get back to my shows. Buy the time I realized that there was no name on the TV screen but only a phone number, it was too late and I was already saying hello.

The caller was someone I’d heard from only once before. They were already halfway through a very nasty tale of woe when I realized that they were asking me to come out. It was a call for help. It was a call that I had every right not to respond to. I mean the caller wasn’t even a member of this congregation. It was late. I was already in my pajamas. It was dark outside.

I was annoyed. I mean really. Couldn’t this person have called me before I left Newmarket? What gave them the right to think that I would come out so late, in the dark, for someone I’d only met once before? The audacity. The sheer audacity of such a request was enough to make you scream. Give me a break. I listened to the caller’s plight with precious little sympathy. I asked her to hold on for a moment so that I could try to think of a way to help. What I really meant was: is there anyone in Newmarket that I can disturb at this time of night and ask them to go over and help. Some of you have offered to help in this way in the past. You know who you are and you can be sure that your names went through my mind as I tried to avoid leaving the comfort of my warm snug. It was only the thought of how annoyed I was to be disturbed at such a late hour that kept me from disturbing one of you. So I told the caller to hold on and I would be there in about half an hour.

I was cursing to bet the band as I went upstairs to get dressed. The air was positively blue. I was angry. I was going out, on what in my mind was the middle of the night, it was ridiculous. Hell, it was dangerous. It was dark. Yeah we were going to meet in a public place. But why the expletive, curse, fill in the blank your self, why the ………blanket blank, should I? I certainly wasn’t going out of love for my neighbour. I was ticked. I was going because it’s my job to go. Sure I knew that I had every right to refuse to go. But if I didn’t go, my shows would be ruined. How could I possible sit there and enjoy my shows when I knew that someone needed my help? Forget the shows, if I didn’t go, I knew darn well I wouldn’t get any sleep. Continue reading

Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos!

For days now, I’ve had an ear-worm.  I suppose that it is more than fitting for a pastor to suffer from this particular ear-worm at this particular time of the year. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and it must be the struggle to get everything ready for the Holy Night that has put this particular ear-worm on an endless loop. Consider this an early Christmas gift, I won’t sing it. I’ll let you sing it in your own minds. Maybe then I can give you my ear-worm for Christmas. My ear-worm is the Christmas carol, O Holy Night. It’s not the whole Carol, just the one line of the Carol that repeats itself:   “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Over and over again, I hear: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” T’is the season for being weary! Hands up all you who are weary! Apart from the fact that there is so much to be done, the news is full not of glad-tidings but of tales of woe. Everywhere we turn, the media is doing its level best to instill fear into our hearts, rather than tidies of comfort and joy. The world is weary of worrying about the strange fellow who occupies the Whitehouse, weary of populist, authoritarian, politicians like the fellow we have up here, prancing around Queens Park; weary of begging the powers that be to do something about climate change; weary of economic inequality; weary of corporate greed, weary of catastrophic fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, stock-market crashes,  weary of war and rumors of war.

Sure, we can turn off our devices in the hope that we can avoid the bad tidings. But then, we have our own bad news to deal with, quarrelsome families, troublesome friends, sick or dying loved ones, the day to day grind of making a living, and our own personal angst and insecurities. To top it all off, if regular life isn’t wearisome enough, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Fall on your knees?  If I fall on my knees, I’ll never be able to get up!!! In times like these, that it is as if our lives are in a constant state of chaos.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, one of my favorite parts of Christmas is Silent Night. I positively long for Silent Night, because when we’re singing Silent Night, here at Holy Cross, my work is done.  We don’t have a Christmas Day service, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, our Christmas Eve service always ends with the singing of Silent Night. We turn out all the lights, light candles and hold them high as we sing. Silent Night, holy night, all is calm…

….all is calm….all is calm…all is bright. Now there’s an ear-worm I’m happy to live with. But there’s a lot of chaos to be endured between here and Silent Night. As much as we try the sound of Christmas is not Silent Night. The sound of Christmas is far more discordant than that. Do me a favour, make some noise. I mean it. I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to create a cacophony of chaos. I want us to raise a little hell. Ready, One, two, three…………….

In order to get the true sound of Christmas, you would need to add to our cacophony, the sounds of traffic, car crashes, waves crashing, hungry children crying, poor parents weeping, homeless sisters and brothers shivering in the cold, bombs dropping, babies crying, the Earth suffering…and you will have but a taste of the sounds of chaos. Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas doesn’t much sound like silent night. The sound of Christmas is a cacophony of chaos. Christmas is the sound of messiness, the sound of unpredictability and confusion. So, is it any wonder that in the midst of all the chaos of living we should long for a Silent Night? The trouble is, the story of new birth is never a Silent Night. Life itself is chaotic, and if we’re waiting for the birth of Jesus to arrive in Heavenly peace, I doubt that we’ll ever understand the Christmas story. Continue reading

Every Christmas is a Thin Place – Christmas Eve sermon

Christmas, every Christmas is a Thin Place. According to the Irish, a Thin Place is a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth fall away. Every Christmas is a Thin Place where the boundaries between our everyday existence and the reality that we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves, well these boundaries fade away at Christmas.  Thin Places are those precious moments in time when the sacred can be seen in the everyday stuff of life. Christmas with its powerful parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols acts as a giant welcoming Thin Place were the boundaries and veils fall away and we are able to recognize the sacred in ourselves, in one another, and in the world around us. I could go on and on about the power of Thin Places to open us to the reality of the LOVE that we call God. But rather than try to explain how the Christmas stories, parables, myths, metaphors, and symbols create thin places, let me tell you a story designed to create a thin place where together we can see the veil between the scared and the everyday fade away.

It was the day before the day before Christmas and Angela had just about finished decorating her band new swanky apartment on the West-side. Everything was just perfect; each of the decorations had been chosen with such care. Just like all the furniture in her apartment each and every one of the Christmas decorations was brand spanking new. In a couple of hours Angela expected that her apartment would be full of guests. Her guests had been as carefully chosen as each of the items that adorned her apartment. It was all designed to show everyone how very well Angela was doing.

This Christmas, unlike so many other Christmases that Angela had endured, this Christmas everything was going to be perfect. Angela planned to lavishly entertain her guests. The evening’s entertainment was guaranteed to get Angela’s Christmas off to the best of starts. At least here in her lovely new home, Angela would be in control. Unlike the chaos of her family’s Christmas gatherings. All her life, Angela had endured the trials and tribulations of her family’s dysfunctional yuletide gatherings; gatherings that always ended up with various family members arguing over some perceived slight. Tonight, things would be different. Tonight, Angela hadn’t invited a single member of her outrageous family to come and dine. Tonight, Angela’s guests were made up of the great and the good, new friends and work colleagues; people Angela could count on to behave admirably. Tonight, everything would be perfect.
All she needed to do to finish off the room, was to assemble the new nativity set that she had just purchased upon her beautiful fireplace mantle. She hadn’t planned to purchase a nativity set, but when she saw the hand-carved, olive- wood nativity set in the window of the swanky gift shop, she just knew that it was perfect.
Continue reading

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday: the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

‘Tis the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa. Continue reading

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

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 First Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? End times and John the Baptist strutting across the stage are featured prominently in the Advent lectionary. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year C the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to Luke. neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. 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!” 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

Canada: Not the Promised Land – But a Land Full of Promise – a sermon in celebration of Canada

Readings for Canada Day weekend: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 72:1-8a; Matthew 5:43-48

Listen to the sermon here

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number and there became a great nation, mighty and populous.”  So, mighty and so populous that some of our ancestors wandered all the way to Northern Ireland. As a child in Belfast a long time ago, longer than I care to remember, so long  ago that life was very different than it is now. Life in Belfast during the sixties was simple. We didn’t have much. Life was simple and basic and so many of the things that we take for granted, simply didn’t exist back then.  Looking back on it now, I suppose you could say that we were poor. The truth is, we may indeed have been poor but I never knew it. Back then “the troubles” were reigniting in Northern Ireland as protestants and Roman Catholics began to slip back into their old violent ways. Looking back, I realize that the poverty and violence of Belfast in the 1960’s made it a tough place to raise a family. So, it makes sense that my family would leave Belfast as what today we would call refugees, fleeing both economic hardships as well as the threat of violence. But as a child in neither knew nor understood the realities of our migration. Nevertheless, arriving in Canada was just like arriving in the “Promised Land.”

On this Canada Day weekend, I can still vividly remember my first full day in Canada, even though it happened so very long ago. My Mother, my brother, and I arrived at the old Malton Airport. I don’t have any actual memories of walking across the tarmac, but legend has it that it was snowing on what should have been a spring day.  I do have memories of my very first car-ride. I can still see the massive 1957 Plymoth.  It was the first car my family ever owned and it had these huge fins at the back that were taller than I was at the time. The back seat was positively enormous and riding back there, I was thoroughly convince that my Dad had struck it rich in Canada. 

We pulled into the parking lot of the tallest building I had ever seen and Dad announced that we were home.  He pointed out a balcony way up on the fourth floor and said that this was our flat.Then we climbed aboard an elevator. I had never been in an elevator before and I was amazed at the skill with which my father took charge of the controls. When the door magically slide open, we walked down a long hallway to arrive at our front door.  I can still see the gold numbers on the door, “407”. We must be rich indeed, if we had good on our front door. I could hardly believe my eyes when Dad opened the door.  I remember the shiny wood floors, the brand new furniture, and the big TV set.

 As we toured the rest of the apartment, I simply couldn’t speak. This new home looked nothing like the homes I was used to.  What’s more inside the kitchen stood a sparkling white refrigerator. I had never seen such a thing. All I remember is that this refrigerator had magic powers that allowed us to keep food cold. Visions of ice-cream must have danced through my head.  Just imagine the marvelous ability to be able to keep ice-cream in your very own kitchen. No more walking to the corner shop or waiting for the ice-cream man to pass by.Ice-cream right there as cold as you like in your very own home. It blew my tiny little mind! Continue reading

Dream Dreams – a Pentecost sermon – Acts 1 and 2

Listen to the sermon here

I cannot begin to explain to you what happened on that day in Jerusalem, without explaining to you who I am.  My name is Mary and I come from the village of Magdala. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. But you have no idea who I am. There are many stories that have been told about me. Some of the things that have been said about me make my head spin.  Over the years, thanks to the twisted interpretations of the men in the church that I helped to give birth to, I have gained quite a reputation for being a prostitute, a whore, an adulterer. Now I will lay claim to being a sinner and God knows I have had my share of demons, but prostitution, adultery, whore, where do people get these ideas? It seems that all you need to do is use the words sinner and woman in the same sentence and all some people can think about is sex. 

Read your bibles and you will discover that, people have made me out to be something that I am not. It does not say anywhere in the New Testament that I, Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute, the New Testament doesn’t say that, the men of the Church did that. The New Testament simply says I was a sinner who just happened to come from the city. If you insist on calling me a prostitute based on this evidence, that says more about you than it does about me.

You see, I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing.  But I was not happy.  I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often, I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair. Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation.  From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus.  Continue reading

God In Between – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday is a day for stories about the nearness of God. So we begin with the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9, then make our way to the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s story of the early followers of Jesus’ encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21, and then the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John’s story of Jesus’ insistence that he and God are one, before rounding off with Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s excellent children’s book God In Between. 

Listen to the sermon here

           There’s a children’s Book that I love. I won’t tell you the name of the book because the book’s title is also the book’s ultimate meaning. I will tell you that the book is written by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who just happens to be the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi back in 1974. She is also the first rabbi to become a mother.  Sandy Eisenberg Sasso brings the wisdom she has learned as a rabbi to her children’s books.  As the Christian celebration of Pentecost is intimately tied to the Jewish festival of Shavout, when the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth, it seems fitting to read to you from the book of a Jewish Rabbi. Shandy Eisenberg Sasso’s story begins:

“Once there was a town at the foot of a hill with no roads and almost no windows.  
Without roads the people of the town had nowhere to go, and they wondered what was on the other side of the hill.
Whenever they tried to leave their homes, they would sneeze through tall tangled weeds, tumble into deep holes and trip over rocks as large as watermelons.
Without windows they would sleep late into the day, and they often wondered when the sun turned night into morning.
Their houses were closed up like boxes sealed with tape.
They could never look out and their neighbours could never look in.

Continue reading

The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening

Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus

The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.  

Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.

Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him  “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”

With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing. 

I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.

We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite.  I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins.  I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that:  The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on. Continue reading

LOVE Has Died. LOVE Is Risen. LOVE Will Come Again, and Again, and Again! – Pluralism Sunday

to listen to the audio only recording of the sermon here

A little girl held tightly to her grandfather’s hand as together they walked toward the centre of town.  Suddenly a tall, beautiful, woman dressed from head to toe in a long black flowing gown appeared in the street just ahead of them. The woman’s flowing gown gave the impression that she was floating rather than walking. Beneath the black flowing cloth which covered the woman’s head, was an elegant face encased by restricting starched white material. Below the smiling woman’s face, hung a slender silver cross. The little girl tugged on her grandfather’s sleeve and asked, “Who is that, Grand-dad?”  The little girl’s grandfather explained, “That my dear is a witch! Now mind you behave yourself or she will take you away and boil you in her stew pot”.  The little girl squeezed her grandfather’s hand tightly and resolved to stay far away from witches no matter how beautiful they looked.

I couldn’t have been more than about four years old when my grandfather and I encountered that Roman Catholic nun on the road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I can’t tell you how many times as a child in Belfast, I was warned to behave myself or the nuns would come and take me away. Later I would learn that the threat of nuns was often used by protestant families to keep children in line.

For generations, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have spent most of their fighting with their neighbours about how to love God that they’ve barely had time to love God and they’ve never really learned how to love their neighbours. When I was growing up, I was taught that there are good religions and there are bad religions. It wasn’t very complicated; our religion was a good religion and everyone else’s religion was a bad religion. My parents left Northern Ireland to avoid the warring madness between Protestants and Roman Catholics euphemistically known as the “Troubles.” I know all too well the mess we humans can get into when we forget that there is more than one way to live and move and have your being in the MYSTERY that we call God.

For just over ten years now, congregations that identify themselves as “progressive” have been celebrating Pluralism Sunday. Pluralism Sunday was conceived as an opportunity for churches to celebrate religious diversity and affirm that there are so very many pathways into the MYSTERY that we call God. I must confess that nun/witch that I encountered in Belfast all those years ago has haunted my preparations for this Pluralism Sunday. Life seemed so much simpler back then. Continue reading

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the Divine.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”.

“Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Wait, what?   “Those who don’t live in me are like withered, rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned.”

That’s the thing with metaphors. Metaphors can carry us beyond the words and images to a reality that is beyond words and images. Metaphors can also entrap us because we are prone to stretching metaphors beyond their ability to carry us. Metaphors often fail when they are delivered to folks who do not share the experiences of the creators of those metaphors. Vino veritas works, because we share the experience of seeing truth revealed when the wine is flowing. But when the anonymous-gospel-storyteller stretches his metaphor to say, “If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” the metaphor begins to fail, because not all of us share the experiences of asking and receiving whatever we want. And thus, the storyteller’s conclusion, “My Abba will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples” fails  to convince us.

Today’s first reading from the first letter of John often fails to convince us for a different reason. Scholars believe that the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John were written by the same anonymous-storyteller, we don’t know his name, but the church has traditionally called this anonymous-storyteller John. Scholars tell us that both the gospel of John and the First Letter of John were written sometime between 90-110, some 60 to 80 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Scholars do not believe that this story-teller was an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus, but rather that he experienced the life and teachings of Jesus through the stories that were handed down through the community in which he lived; a community that was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire as well as the persecution of their neighbours because they had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the midst of a very violent, dangerous existence our story-teller writes a letter to his community in which he insists: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is Love.”

If only he had stopped there. But he continues, “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: “by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.”

The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbours and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbour love and extended the definition of neighbour to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbour. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbours, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace.  Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbours and love of enemies.

Violence is a violation of love and will never lead to peace. Jesus chose to embody love precisely because he understood God as love. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE was so powerful, that in Jesus, people were able to see and experience God. The Jesus experience was so powerful, so life-changing that not even the death of Jesus could kill the experience of LOVE that his followers encountered in the life of Jesus.

Writing some 60 to 80 years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others.  That they chose to tell the story of Jesus life and death in ways that would have resonated with the people of their time should come as no surprise to us. Sacrifice, booth animal and human were part and parcel of the religious traditions of the Hellenistic world in which the followers of Jesus lived.  That the followers of Jesus tried to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is not surprising. That all these centuries later we continue to try to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is astounding.  That we all too often focus on cultic sacrifice at the expense of love, is in and of itself criminal.

Every day we are learning so much about what it means to be human, about the expansive cosmos in which we live, and about the very nature of reality. We are uniquely placed to explore what lies beyond the comprehension of those who have gone before us in faith. The dimensions and the power of love deserve more than the speculations of our past or the sentimental, self-serving notions of our present age.

LOVE, the LOVE that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. If we have any hope of learning to love our neighbours and our enemies we will need to understand more fully the magnitude of the LOVE that is God so that we might begin to truly embody that LOVE. This will require that we step up and pay attention to how we arrived at a place where love can be wrapped up in guilt and confused with human sacrifice, so that we can shake off our childish notions and grow into all that we are created to be.

LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.

Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are ONE with the DIVINE. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be LOVE in the world”.

LOVE Beyond measure.

Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion,

beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time,

beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason,

beyond emotion, beyond imagining.

Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE.

God the DIVINE who is,

LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

May that LOVE flow through us. Amen.

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome! – Easter 5B – Acts 8:26-40

Ethiopian EunuchWhat follows is a sermon I preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter 2003. In the 18 years since I preached this sermon, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has come a long way. The debate about the full inclusion of LGBTQ folk in the full life of the church has been resolved and we can truly say: “All are welcome!” But rule changes don’t always change practices. Sadly, there are still places in our church were not everyone is welcome.  So, I offer this sermon to cybersapce as both a reminder of where we have been and how far we need to travel. Shalom. 

Sunday May 18th 2003   Holy Cross Lutheran

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome!  Acts 8:26-40

Earlier this week, I was talking with a few of my colleagues and as Lutheran Pastors are wont to do, our conversation drifted toward the lessons prescribed for this Sunday.  As we kicked around ideas, most of us agreed that it is difficult to preach on familiar passages.           

Most of you have heard a great many sermons on today’s gospel lesson, and so the challenge for preachers to bring some new insights is made all the more difficult.  So, we joked about just how many ways a preacher can twist and turn those vines until they finally snap off, dry up and rot.

Today’s epistle lesson isn’t much easier.  Preachers are always preaching about love; often we’re preaching to the choir, because most of you already know that God is LOVE and that in loving we encounter God.  Coming up with a new and interesting angle on the second lesson isn’t easy.  So, I suggested to my colleagues that this Sunday rather than preaching one more time about love, why not preach on the first lesson. Why not preach on the story of the Apostle Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza? Well it might surprise you to know that no matter how challenging they thought it would be to come up with one more sermon about love, not one of my colleagues thought that it would be a good idea to preach about the goings on in the desert between Philip and that Ethiopian. One of my colleagues even went so far as to say that you would have to be either very brave or very foolish to even try it.

Now I have a confession to make, at the time I had no idea what it was in this particular passage that would make my colleagues so averse to preaching on it. I have to admit that I don’t really remember ever paying all that much attention to this particular story. I have certainly never before studied it in any great detail, but my colleagues’ aversion to this text, made me curious enough to hit the books just as soon as I got home. Despite the fact that this text shows up every three years in our lectionary, try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a reference to a single published sermon on this particular text. It seems that many of the great preachers left this one alone.

It didn’t take me long to figure out just why this text is so daunting and why my colleagues are not alone in giving it such a wide berth. Now I don’t claim to be particularly brave, but I’ve already preached on today’s other readings. Besides it’s a long weekend and I figured that a lot of people would be away and I could sneak this one in. So this fool is about to rush in, where many have feared to tread.

Our story begins when an angel directs the apostle Philip to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On this road in the desert Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a really odd way to introduce someone; no name, just an Ethiopian eunuch. The author must have thought it was important because he tells us not once but five times that the Ethiopian was a eunuch. I know what an Ethiopian is.  Philip has encountered a black African man in the desert. Now that in and of it’s self is pretty remarkable. You will see later that this black man was the first missionary to Africa. But surely this can’t be the reason why so many preachers shy away from this text. So what exactly is a eunuch? According to the most current scholarship, in the first century a eunuch is one of two things. A eunuch could have been a man who had been castrated.  Now for those of you who didn’t grow up on a farm to castrate means to remove a male’s testicles. So, this particular Ethiopian could have been a castrated male, or he could have been a male who wasn’t like most males. According to the scholars, men who showed a preference for other men or displayed little or no interest in women, or who were in anyway effeminate, in the first century these men were called eunuchs. Continue reading

What’s a Meta FOR? – a sermon for Easter 4B – John 10:11-18 and Psalm 23

John chapter 10 causes me to remember Mrs Tanner, my grade ten english teacher. I can still see her handwriting all over my carefully crafted compositions. Red ink everywhere as she constantly admonished me not to mix my metaphors. Clearly the writer of the Gospel of John never had the benefit of Mrs. Tanner’s guidance, or he would not have dared to record Jesus words the way he does in his long and rambling I AM passages.

Before we even get to chapter 10, we read that Jesus says:  “I AM the bread of life.”  and “I AM the light of the world.”  In chapter 10, we read, Jesus says, “I AM the gate,” “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Later we will read, that Jesus says, “I AM the Resurrection”, “I AM life.” “I AM the true vine.”  “I AM the way.” “I AM in God.” “I AM in you.”

But in the tenth chapter the writer of the Gospel of John goes all out and has Jesus using not just a metaphor but a mixed metaphor. For in chapter 10, we read that Jesus declared: “I AM the Gate. The gate through which the sheep must pass.” and then mixes it up by saying,  “I AM the Good Shepherd.”

Which is it? Gate or Shepherd, come on, I know your Jesus but I’m trying to understand how Jesus, who is after all, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is both the Gate and the Shepherd.

I wonder if Mrs. Tanner ever took her red pen to the Gospel According to John? If she did, the letters MMX would have appeared all over this Gospel. MMX = mixed metaphor wrong! Looking back, I know that Mrs Tanner was just trying to help us to be more careful about our ideas. But today I would have to ask both Mrs Tanner and the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, “What’s a meta for?” Continue reading

Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24 – Easter 3B

Road to EmmausThis sermon was inspired on my own journey to Emmaus where in the space of the same afternoon I heard a stranger declare: “Christianity is dead!” and Karen Armstrong’s now famous TED talk about her call for a world Charter for Compassion.

Has anybody here ever been to Emmaus? Which one? According to the latest issue of Biblical Archeology there are at least nine possible locations that are candidates for the Biblical town of Emmaus. Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition, tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.

I know that I have been on the road to Emmaus most of my life. I’ve had lots of company on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve had many conversations along the way discussing, with anyone who’d care to accompany me, the ifs, ands, and buts of Christianity, of religion, and indeed of life. If you haven’t traveled down the road to Emmaus you must be very skilled in the fine art of turning off your brain and if you check you just might discover that your heart isn’t actually beating.

It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down the Road to Emmaus that we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened. What on earth were they to make of all this! Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. Jesus was the One who was supposed to draw the people back to God, restore the relationship between God and God’s people. Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? Now, Jesus was gone, and the Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a mistake? Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power. But Jesus had been shamed, and ridiculed, and humiliated, and crucified and now Jesus was dead. Well, was Jesus dead? Some said they’d seen Jesus, alive! Not that Jesus had survived the crucifixion by some miracle of strength, but that Jesus had risen from the dead. They seemed so totally convinced by their own experience…were they confused by their own grief? Were they delirious? Had they loved this Jesus so much—invested so much hope in Jesus life and leadership—that they simply could not let him go? And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that? What was the point to a Messiah—to a presumed political and religious leader—if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards? How could he bring release to the captives, how could he bring justice for the poor, how could Jesus advocate for the widows and the homeless? How could Jesus call people to account for all the ways they had strayed from God’s intent, now? What good could come from some kind of spiritual ghost? We can hear these two friends wrestling with each other and with their own hearts on the road that day! Continue reading

Apostle to the Apostles: Mary’s Story

a to aOn Sunday, in churches all over Christendom, worshippers will hear the gospel story of Doubting Thomas. The story of Doubting Thomas is prescribed gospel reading every year for the Sunday after Easter. I’ve never understood why Thomas should hold such a prominent place in our lectionary: I mean, as the stories have been handed down to us, when the chips were down, and Jesus could have used their support, Thomas and the guys deserted Jesus; they left him alone and spread out across the city to hide from the Romans and the religious authorities. According to the anonymous-gospel-story-tellers, it was the two Marys, together with the other women who had financially supported Jesus’ ministry, and who stuck by him to the bitter end. Also according to the anonymous-gospel-story-teller, we know as John, it was Mary, the one they call Magdala who brought back the news that Jesus was not dead, but had risen. Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene was the one chosen to be the Apostle to the Apostles, (the word apostle comes from the Greek for “the one sent”) our lectionary quickly moves on from the empty tomb to the upper room so that we can all once again explore the story of good old, doubting Thomas.

So here, let me honour Mary the Apostle to the Apostles with this my imaginary account of Mary’s story. Remember the power of our imaginations to breathe life into what appears to all the world to be dead. 

Shalom.  I greet you in the name of our risen Christ. My name is Mary.  You may know me as Mary Magdalene. I am not from around here.  I come from a good family in Magdala.  Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala.  While I was growing up I lacked nothing.  But I was not happy.  I was sick.  I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable.  I was so distraught.  Often I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair.

Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking.  I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay.  I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other.  I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation.  From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end.  I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus.  He was teaching outside of the synagogue.  At first, I just stood back in the crowd and listened as he spoke about a new world which God intended to create. It would be a world where the sick are healed and prisoners are set free. I wanted to taste this freedom which Jesus spoke about. I wanted to ask him so many questions.  But the crowd pressed in upon him demanding that he tell them more and I was pushed farther away from him. In despair, I turned to leave. Continue reading

Easter: 50 Days to Celebrate the Practice of Resurrection! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection!

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection?

Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for?

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas

A Way to Understand the Resurrection – Richard Holloway

I cannot and will not worship a God who demands a blood sacrifice for sin. But the residue of atonement theories still causes me to tremble – a Good Friday reflection

“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Absolutely, I was there when they crucified my Lord. For so very many years, my affirmative answer to this quintessential Good Friday hymn was based on what the church had taught me about the death of Jesus. I, like many of you, was taught that Jesus died upon the cross to save humanity from sin. I was also taught that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I was taught that I was born in sin, that sinfulness is part of what it means to be human and that God so loved the world that “He” and I do mean “He” sent his only son to die, because someone had to pay the price for sin. This quid pro quo portrayal of God the Father, led me to the undeniable conclusion that I was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. My guilt, my shame, my sinfulness, compelled me to declare, “Yes! I was there when they crucified my Lord! I was there when they nailed him to the tree! I was there when they pierced him in his side! I was there when the sun refused to shine! I was there when they laid him in the tomb?” The sheer horror of my culpability in the Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, caused me to “tremble, tremble, tremble. I was there when they crucified my Lord.”

The doctrine of atonement permeated my being and even though, I have long since stopped believing that Jesus died to save me from sin, the residue of atonement theories continues to cause me to tremble. Even though I have learned to look beyond the stories found in the scriptures in which various followers of the Way portray the crucifixion in ways that spoke to their particular communities, I still tremble. Continue reading

Marching to Our Jerusalems – Palm Sunday and Our Passions

Sermon inspired by the March for Our Lives!

The notes used for this sermon can be found here

PROCESSION OF PALMS

Teach Us to Pray! To Whom Shall We Go? Pray Without Ceasing! – Giving Up God for Lent 5 – Luke 11, John 6, 1 Thessalonians 5

This sermon is set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the congregation who respond with song and observations.  Some technical difficulties – so the video does not begin until Part III – a rough transcript is provided of the missing video sections. I am indebted to the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, especially his new book “Unbelievable” 

Part 1                                We worship as we live

                         in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

                                       a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

                                         May the Spirit of LOVE

                                    breathe wisdom and passion

                                             into this gathering.

On this the fifth Sunday in Lent, let us continue to repent:  repent from the Greek metanoia – think new thoughts. Let us think new thoughts about prayer. Let our repentance begin with a story from the anonymous gospel-story-teller we know as Luke:

“One day Jesus was praying, and when he had finished, one of the disciples asked, “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come. Give us today tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the test.’”

Not much of a prayer. No flowery words. Not much passion. Very plain. Very simple. There’s a part of me that wants to say to Jesus, “Is that all there is?”  “Is that the best you can come up with?” What kind of teacher are you? What kind of prayer is this? Come on Jesus put a little ump in your work! Show us some razzle-dazzle!

Of all the questions I am asked as a pastor, questions about prayer are the most common. People what to know how it is done. As unsatisfactory as I have always found Jesus’ teaching about prayer, I’m pretty sure that the answers I have offered have been even more unsatisfactory.  I remember once, a wise teacher asked a room full of eager prospective pastors to try to imagine this story about Jesus in a new way. Imagine Jesus, John the Baptist’s younger and cousin, always competing with his older cousin for followers. John was pretty good as fire and brimstone preachers go. People would flock out to the desert to hear John call people to “Repent!” to think new thoughts! Imagine how miffed you would be if some potential parishioners showed up on a Sunday morning touting the preaching of your colleague down the street. Pastor so and so, she sure can preach up a storm and her prayers, wow, if only you could teach us to pray like she prays. Come on, Pastor, teach us to pray.

Our wise professor asked us to consider the possibility that Jesus reluctantly taught his disciples how to pray. Like any good teacher, Jesus would have known that if you teach your students something you run the risk of them believing that they always have to do that something just the way you taught them. There is always the risk that people will mistake an example for a template. Our wise teacher cautioned us not to read just the words that were on the page but to imagine the story behind and between the words on the page. “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  “All right!” Jesus said, “All right if you insist.” Try this, Abba God, hallowed be your name! May your reign come. Give us today Tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the Test.”
It was just an example. Sadly, the example became a template. Then one follower, told another follower, who told another, who wrote it down. Trouble was it wasn’t much, so the church types, they added some fancy words to the end, “for thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.” and suddenly, it is a template for all time.  Repent!  Metanoia – think new thoughts! Teach us to pray!

Part II

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts.” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  Let our repentance, our new thoughts flow from a story told decades after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; a story written down sometime around the turn of the first century by an anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John. This John is quite the storyteller and paints quite the picture of Jesus as the kind of teacher who can draw a crowd and annoy the authorities. This John, wrote it this way:

“Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Many of his disciples remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?”  Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said.  “Is this a stumbling block for you?” Jesus asked them. “What, the, if you were to see the Chosen One ascend to where the Chosen One came from? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh in itself is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the start, of course, those who would refuse to believe and the one who would betray him. Jesus went on to say:  “this is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by Abba God.”

From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answered, “Rabbi, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go?” During this season of Lent we have been engaged in the practice of “Giving up God for Lent.” We have tried to give up all the images of God that we once treasured so much that we can to worship those images as idols.  We have embraced the truth about the ways in which our evolving knowledge of the cosmos together with our evolving understanding of what it means to be human…all this evolving knowledge and understanding have shown the idols that we had become so comfortable worshipping as but pale imitations of the ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very core of reality.

We have tried to unpack some of the ways in which the god we created is too small, too limited, and far too capricious to ever fully encompass the MYSTERY that we call God.  We have tried attempted to peer beyond our personifications of the Divine so that we can begin to give up our desire to mold and shape the MYSTERY into our own image. To those of us who have peered beyond the beyond, for hints of the MYSTERY there comes more than a little grief.  Like the disciples in the gospel-story-teller’s story, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk!” Bereft of the personified, far away, sky-god we’d come to know, to love, and to worship, is it any wonder that we now cry out, “To whom shall we go?”

The reality that once you give up the notion that God is some far-away sky-god, willing to respond to our prayers, to do our bidding, or not to do our bidding as this sky-god wills, then, “to whom shall we go?” You can talk and teach all you want about progressive Christianity, but, “to who shall we go?” “Now, how are we supposed to pray?” “Now, to whom shall we pray?” “What is prayer anyway?”  “To whom shall we go?” “Now, teach us to pray!”  Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts!  

Part III

Repent:Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Giving Up God for Lent, we began our Lenten repentance way back on the First Sunday of Lent, by turning our attention to the first religious response. The response of awe and wonder at the nature of reality. That awe humbles us, opens us to the truth that we are part of something so much bigger than we can even begin to imagine. So, to bring us back to the first religious response, I offer you all of these lovelies. I can’t tell you the names of all these lovelies, so let me just begin by drawing your attention to the astonishing array of yellow. There is an old Hebrew expression:  deanu which translates as “enough”. It would have been enough just to have a daffodil. Daffodils in and of themselves are quite simply, awesome!

            Sacred Conversation on the beauty of Nature

Now, we could offer up…and I do mean up…we could resort to the old ways…and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome beauty before us…or we could take a deep breath and repent…metanoia…think new thoughts and realize that this conversation in and of itself is prayer. It is in this conversation that the meaning of God was shared between us; it was in this conversation that the boundaries we humans erect to keep ourselves safe from the threat of another were transgressed and we shared our common humanity. It is in the sacred conversations where we are able to cross the boundaries and be vulnerable to one another that prayer emerges in our midst.

I chose these lovelies as an example, because nature provides us with a non-threatening example of our common humanity; for who among us is not awestruck by such loveliness. But I could have chosen any aspect of our common humanity – a pain we all share, a fear that haunts us, a joy that inspires us, a passion that delights us, or a longing that drives us. It is in the sacred conversation in which we share our experiences of our common humanity that prayer emerges; the conversation is holy, for in our common humanity our shared divinity is revealed.

Our friend Jack Spong insists that, “To be able to live the meaning of prayer, rather than just to “pray”’ ought to be our goal. Jack writes that, “Prayer is the sharing of being, the sharing of life and the sharing of love.” For, prayer is, “far more about “being” than it is about “doing.”   Repent….metanoia…think new thoughts.

Part IV

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. In the decades that followed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, somewhere around the year 52, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the community of people known as followers of the Way that gathered in Thessaloniki.  Our gospel today is found in the first letter of Thessalonians, St. Paul writes:   “ We ask you, sisters and brothers, to respect hose who labour among you, who have charge over you in Christ as your teachers. Esteem them highly, with a special love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another.  Always, seek what is good for each other—and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything—for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Spirit; do not despise the prophetic gift.

But test everything and accept only what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil. May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—irreproachable at the coming of our Saviour Jesus the Christ. The One who calls us is trustworthy: God will make sure it comes to pass. Sisters and brothers, pray for us.

Greet all the sisters and brothers with a holy kiss. My orders, in the name of Christ, are that this letter is to be read to all the sisters and brothers. The grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you.”  The Gospel of Christ…

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul. Now, let us hear the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong.  Our friend Jack writes: “Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. Before prayer can have meaning, it must be built on an honest sharing of life. Before prayer can be discussed in the age in which we live, it must be drained of its presumed manipulative magic. It must find expression in the reality of who we are, not in the details of what we do…  Prayer is not and cannot be a petition from the weak to the all-powerful One to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Prayer does not bend God’s will to a new conclusion. Prayer does not bring a cure where there is no possibility of a cure. Prayer does not create miracles to which we can testify publicly.”

I hear you Jack, but I cannot help but respond, “To whom shall we go?” I miss the far-away-sky-god! I want my comforter. Like every other human who has come before me, I long to reach out and connect in some way with the MYSTERY, that something that is so much bigger than I can begin to imagine, that something bigger that we are part of. How do I experience that? How do I share in the MYSTERY?

Our friend Jack writes: “Is prayer, as we have traditionally defined it, a holy activity, or is prayer the preparation for a time of engaging in a holy activity? “Increasingly,” writes Jack, “I am moving to the latter conclusion.”  Prayer is the preparation for a time of engaging in holy activity. “It is life that is holy. It is love that is life-giving. Having the courage to be all that I can be is the place where God and life come together for me. If that is so, are not living, loving, and being the essence of prayer and the meaning of worship? When Paul enjoined us to “pray without ceasing”, did he mean to engage in the activity of praying unceasingly?  Or did he mean that we are to see all of life as a prayer, calling the world to enter that place where life, love and being reveal the meaning of God? Is Christianity not coming to the place where my “I” meets another’s “Thou,” and in that moment God is present?”

Jack’s questions, our questions, move us beyond our child-like notions of prayer to a deeper, more mature awareness of the reality that the MYSTERY is revealed in the prayers that emerge when we move beyond the boundaries of decorum, to traverse the landscape of our common humanity. When we share the wonders of life and love with another, we are engaged in prayer so sacred that the MYSTERY is revealed. For it is in our shared humanity that our own Divinity is revealed and the LOVE that is God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us. I no longer pray expecting miracles to occur, or lives to be changed, or for reality to bend to my will.  I do pray expecting that I will be changed, made a little more whole perhaps, set free to share my life more deeply with others, empowered to love beyond the boundaries erected by my fears. I pray trusting that in the sharing of our humanity our divinity is revealed as the MYSTERY that we call God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us.

As our friend Jack puts it, “Prayer to me is the practice of the presence of God, the act of embracing transcendence and the discipline of sharing with another the gifts of living, loving, and being.”

Let us pray without ceasing!

Let us see all of life as a prayer!

Let us repent…metanoia…think new thoughts …Let us live trusting that the Mystery is revealed in living, loving, and being. Let all the people say: AMEN!