Feeding Our Hunger for DIVINE PRESENCE Amid a Pandemic – Matthew 14:13-21

When I was a teenager, I was always in a hurry. I wanted to see and do everything there was to see and do. When I was nineteen, I knew that I just had to get out there and see what the world had to offer. So with nothing more than a backpack, a three-month Euro-rail pass, and eight-hundred dollars in travellers cheques, I boarded an airplane bound for Amsterdam. I was searching for adventure and I was convinced that Europe held the excitement I was looking for. 

Inside my backpack was the book that would make it all possible,  a little book entitled,  “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day.” I was determined to make my eight-hundred dollars stretch the length and breadth of Europe. I was going to see and do it all!  It wasn’t easy. In fact, when I look back on it now, it seems like such a lot of hard work. Up early in the morning sightseeing all day long. Meeting new people. Fighting my way through the crowds of tourists. Searching for cheap places to eat and sleep. 

After two months of traveling from one European city to the next, I just couldn’t face one more castle or museum. I figured that it was time to get away from the cities so I headed for the Alps. After a long train ride from Munich, I arrived in the Swiss town of Interlaken. There I boarded a coggle train that would take me to the Alpine village of Grindelwald. The train was filled with tourists anxious to fill their rolls of film with pictures of the mountains. When I arrived in Grindelwald, I was told that the youth hostel was only about three kilometres from the station, so I and several other young backpackers which I had met on the train decided to walk to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that the hostel was three kilometres straight up the side of a mountain.  As we trudged up the mountain, we were embarrassed by the speed with which villagers three times our age just passed us by. Despite our youth, the senior Swiss locals were much more adept at climbing than we were.  

When we finally arrived at the hostel there was a lot of complaining about how tired we were.  We were exhausted.  Tired of the demands of traveling. Too tired to be impressed by the fact that here we were, in a Swiss chalet in the middle of the magnificent Alps. It was only two o’clock in the afternoon, but we collapsed onto our beds in the dormitory and promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake up until morning. 

Breakfast tastes incredibly good when you eat it in a Swiss chalet surrounded by friends you have only just met. People from all over the world with just two things in common: youth and an incredible thirst for adventure. There was only one thing for us to do. We had to get a closer look at the mountains. So about a dozen of us decided to climb to the top of what was called the Glacier Gorge  so that we could get a better look at the famous Eiger. We had been assured by the hostel manager that we could easily walk to the top of the glacier that lay adjacent to the Eiger and from there the view would be magnificent. Right after breakfast we set off, newfound fiends from the farthest reaches of the earth.  

Canada, South Africa, Tokyo, England, Finland, Australia, New York and California, and there wasn’t a real climber in the bunch. The first part of the journey was pleasant enough.  

The alpine meadows were delightful, and the conversation was playful. The switch back trail was a bit more of a challenge as our calf muscles began to feel the strain. But when we reached the cliffs, I wondered if we were up to the challenge. Before us lay a series of cliffs into which the Swiss had embedded a series of wooden ladders. My fear of heights began to surface. But I was determined to give the first cliff a try. So, one by one we began to climb. Each rung of the ladder was a challenge and I resolved never to look down. As I climbed hand over fist, step by step, I kept my vision firmly fixed on the butt that was up ahead of me willing myself up the cliff, one rung at a time.  

When all of us had safely negotiated the first ladder, several people, myself included, suggested that perhaps we were overreaching ourselves. Maybe the glacier gorge was more of a climb than we could handle. But the keeners in the group encouraged us to go on. After we had slowly made our way up about half a dozen ladders, there was more dissension in the ranks, but we had come this far and so we headed towards the next ladder. It was a doozy.  We moved ever so slowly.  I resolved that I had had enough and once I got to the top of this particular ladder, I wasn’t going to go any higher.  

As I scrambled to the top, I was relieved that my climb at least was over. My legs were a little shaky as I straightened up and took a look around. It took my breath away. There we were on top of a plateau opposite the Eiger.  We had made it to the foot of the glacier gorge. The view was magnificent. I was awe-struck. Our once talkative little group, was silent as each of us tried to take it all in.

I found a spot of grass and sat down. The air was fresh and clear, the sun burned bright, and the snow glistened as though it were a sea of diamonds. Over-whelmed by the beauty, no one spoke a word. I wish I could share the wonder of that moment with you. It was a glimpse of the CREATOR’s  power and majesty. Everywhere I looked I saw the evidence of DIVINE splendour.  

It was truly a once in a life-time mountaintop experience. One of those rare moments when you are totally conscious of the presence of something so much bigger than yourself; something DIVINE, something that has been described for generations as “God.” One of those moments that has the power to transform you.

Eventually our silence gave way to slumber as we rested our weary selves. When the warmth the afternoon sun woke me from my slumber, my eyes tried desperately to adjust to the vivid colours. Before me stood the Eiger.  I looked out across picture post-card Switzerland and I marvelled at the glory and majesty of CREATION. Slowly I became aware of my traveling companions. We had gathered together just a few hours earlier.  We came from the farthest reaches of the earth and together each of us felt the wonder of the experience.  

There on the top of a mountain a rag tag group of travellers was transformed by a glimpse of DIVINE Creation. Without words we began to dig around in our daypacks for something to eat.  With little or no preparation, we created a feast from what we were able to scrounge together.  Out of one pack came two apples, out of another a crust of bread, some salami, lots of cheese, an orange, a banana, a few Swiss chocolate bars and even the remains of a bottle of red wine. In silence we passed around the ingredients of our feast. I was conscious of the reality that we were in the presence of something much larger than we could possibly imagine; a DIVINE presence, as we enjoyed this holy communion. It was just an impromptu meal shared without much forethought, but it was as holy a communion as I have ever partaken of.

These past few months, we have not been able to gather together in our sanctuaries to share communion with one another. The journey back to worshipping in-person, seems even more insurmountable than climbing a mountain. Public health protocols surrounding in-person gatherings mean, that for the foreseeable future, the rituals we have developed over two millennia must be set aside. Even when we do go back to our sanctuaries, much of what so many of us have come to love about worshipping together will not be possible, no warm welcoming embraces, no singing, no passing the peace with hugs and kisses, probably no communion, or at the very least no wine at communion, and definitely no sharing all those goodies that we normally share after the formal worship is over, no coffee, no sandwiches, no cookies or cakes and sadly still no more farewell embraces. As I contemplate staring out at a masked congregation from behind my own mask, those Zoom squares which for months now have been my only view of my beloved congregation, well those screen images don’t seem so bad.

During our lock-down we have found new ways of being the Church, new ways of seeing the DIVINE in one another, new ways of communing with one another. They may not exactly be the mountaintop experiences that we long for, but then I suspect that whatever the meal that Jesus and his first followers shared by the lakeshore so long ago, came as an unexpected surprise.

But it was indeed as sacred an experience as any ritual partaken of in the Temple. It was just an impromptu meal shared without much forethought, and yet all those who partook of that feast did so in the presence of the DIVINE. What made that experience SACRED was the reality that they were in the presence of something much larger than any of us can possibly imagine; a DIVINE PRESENCE.

Becoming conscious of the DIVINE PRESENCE which is the source of all that IS, nourished, grounded and sustained Jesus’ first followers who were able to meet the challenges of living under circumstances far harsher than we privileged North Americans can even begin to understand. 

I’m sure that each of us can recall sacred moments spent in the splendour of Creation in which we were conscious of the PRESENCE of something much greater than we can imagine. Some of us are blessed to have experienced such sacred moments aided by the rituals which have nourished generations of seekers of such DIVINE encounters. Many of us have missed our familiar rituals and practices. We have been forced to find new ways of being the Church and new ways of encountering the DIVINE.

For months now, seekers of the DIVINE have flocked in numbers not seen for decades to worship services that are being offered over the internet. Screens of all sorts have been utilized as worship leaders have attempted to open seekers to the SACRED MYSTERY which many of us call “God”. Churches everywhere are reporting unprecedented numbers of viewers. Our own congregation’s online offerings are engaging between 20 and sometimes 50 times more people than we were engaging before we had to close down our sanctuary. Church leaders of every denomination are asking all sorts of questions about what this means for the future of the Church. The truth is none of us really know.

I can’t help wondering what those 5,000 well fed followers of Jesus actually knew about what was happening in and around them. The truth is none of us really know any more than they did, what the experience of the DIVINE PRESENCE can lead to. We know that the rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers managed to change the world and their impact continues to provide hope to millions and millions of people generations upon generations after they ate their fill. My own life was forever changed after an impromptu meal on a mountaintop; to this very day I am nourished by that long-ago experience.

So, as I contemplate what the coming months and indeed years may bring to our shared hunger for the DIVINE PRESENCE, I realize that even though so very much of what we have relied on over the years to nourish us, may not be available to us and so each and every one of us will need to reach into our back-packs to discover what we have to offer to provide nourishment to one another. Just last week, as new public health policies allowed for socially distant visiting, I was blessed to share not one but two meals with two sets of dear friends.

Figuring out the logistics of how to safely prepare and serve food to one another was complicated and I’m sure we made a few mistakes. We certainly missed the warm embraces. But oh, how nourishing those gatherings were. Despite the challenges we were fed. The LOVE we shared nourished, grounded and sustained me in ways beyond measure.

As we look ahead to what may be, let us embrace the challenges. Let us dig deep into ourselves to discover what gifts we have to offer to nourish one another. Let us have the courage to grieve what may be lost without letting our grief keep us from discovering new ways to nourish, ground, and sustain one another in the presence of the DIVINE. Everywhere we look there is evidence of DIVINE SPLENDOUR. Let us prepare the feast for one another and let us partake together however, wherever, and whenever we can, trusting that the ONE we seek is ever ready to welcome us into the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call “God.”

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Celebrate 50 Years of Pride: sermon

June is Pride month; a month set aside to both celebrate how far we have come and advocate for all those who have not and do not enjoy the freedom to express fully who they are regardless of who they love. But this is a June like no other. We are living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and whether we are out and proud or still in the closet, all of us queer or straight, we have all been locked down for the better part of the last three months. Closeted away in our respective homes, our fear of COVID-19 has been matched by the horror of the even more insidious infection of racism, a disease which has for centuries infected the hearts and minds of white privileged people and robbed Black, Indigenous and People of Colour of their liberty, dignity, and all too often their very lives. So, as June 28th, the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride Parade drew closer and closer, I wondered how we can celebrate Pride in the midst of so much suffering. Forget the fact that we can’t celebrate with a party, let alone a parade. How do we say, “Happy Pride!” on a day like today.

I must confess that I was sorely tempted to skip any mention of Pride celebrations this year. That is until, I was struck by an ear-worm.  You know those annoying ear-worms, pieces of songs that pop into your heard, over and over again. This particular ear-worm is a song from my misbegotten youth; a popular song which is actually based upon a piece of scripture. Rather than sing my earworm to you, let me share it with you: …..

there you have Psalm 137,  adapted and interpreted, but Psalm 137 indeed. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away in captivity Required of us a song Now how shall we sing the LORD’s son in a strange land.”

I know that this is not Babylon, and we haven’t been carried away into captivity by our enemies. But who among us can doubt that so much of what we have taken for granted has changed and right now we are living in a very strange place indeed? So how can we celebrate today of all days, when so many people are suffering?

Perhaps we should go down by the river, or the lake and just sit and weep. Alas, here where I live, the beaches remain closed, because we are afraid of what might happen should too many people rush to the shore. So, how do we celebrate Pride in these strange times? I’m not sure that we can begin our celebrations without weeping. The duelling pandemics of the virus and racism have caused so very much pain. Strange thing about weeping, as we weep, we remember. Weeping can be such a catharsis. As we weep for the victims of the pandemic and for the ravages of racism, memories of other pains often join our tears. 

Memory is a marvellous, miraculous gift which can bring with it pain even while it sooths our pain. As I weep, I can’t help but marvel at how very much has changed since I first began to become aware of who I am. I was only ten years old in 1967, when Pierre Trudeau declared that, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I was too young to understand the news in 1968, when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts. I don’t remember being aware of the Stonewall riots which erupted in 1969. As a teen-ager in the 1970’s, what went on between consenting adults was something seldom talked about. It wasn’t until the early 80’s when the reality of the AID’s epidemic drove conversations about homosexuality into the public square, that I began to pay attention to the cause of gay rights. Living in Vancouver and working in the travel industry, I lost friends, good friends, to a disease which devastated the gay community.

Later as I began to allow myself to understand who I am, I remember trying and failing to find the courage to march in Vancouver’s Gay Pride parade. I don’t know what frightened me more, being seen at the parade or seeing myself for who I am. Fear is a long, long way, from pride. So, it took me longer than I care to admit, to summon up the courage to participate in the pride parade in 1986.

Later as I was preparing myself to become a pastor, I had the very good fortune to fall in love. Falling in LOVE is a very empowering experience. But falling in LOVE in 1997, when your church says things like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, well let’s just say, that when I was called here to Holy Cross in 1999, it wasn’t just fear that kept Carol and I quiet on the subject of our relationship, it was the reality that if I said anything at all, I wouldn’t survive as a pastor for very long.  “Don’t ask don’t tell,” was the unofficial policy of the ELCIC. So, you didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. 

Newmarket, I was told was a conservative town. Well a lot has changed over the years. Many of us worked for a very long time at considerable cost to change the policies of our government and of our church. The benefits of equal marriage in Canada, and full inclusion in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are life changing and I confess that there are days when I still feel like pinching myself. “Can it actually be true? Can I actually be married to the woman I love and still be a pastor?”

The relief and the joy of being who I am without fear of persecution, makes me proud not only of who I am, but of who you are as a church, who we are as a community and who we are as a country. My pride runs deep and so it is a joy to see how very far we have come. This week as I continued to wonder how to celebrate in these strange times, I couldn’t help but marvel at the courage of so many people who paved the way for us. As I recall their stories filled with struggle and pain, my tears give way to resolve. Today, my question has become:  How can we NOT celebrate? So many people struggled for so very long. Surely, they deserve our thanks and praise as we celebrate how far we have come, even as we contemplate how much farther we still need to go? 

Today, I dry my tears and I give thanks to all those brave folks who marched these past 50 years.  Today, I celebrate all the brave pride-goers who risked so much, so that we can be all that we are created to be without fear. It has been a long and difficult struggle, and our pride celebrations inspire such joy. So, we sing, we dance, we make noise and yeah, we flaunt our sexuality when we can in public!  As the saying goes, “Next year in Jerusalem.” or “Next year in the promised land!” But for now, let us celebrate, how we can, where we can.  Next year in public! Because we know that the gay rights movement has liberated more than just the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous, and asexual communities. I know that our straight sisters and brothers have learned a great deal about who they are. I’m pretty sure that liberation and freedom from sexual repression is indeed a blessing that more than just a few of us are grateful for.

The reality that we a wonderfully and beautifully made creatures of mysterious and sublime wonder is a blessing of unfathomable joy. So today, we celebrate who we are! But with each and every utterance of, the words “Happy Pride!” we cannot forget that our joy is tinged with sadness for all our sisters and brothers around the world who continue to live and die in fear. The Pride movement is still in its infancy. We have come a long way. We are blessed to live in a place where we can be who we are and love one another without fear of the state. Sadly, there are still places here where some of us are afraid to hold hands. There are places where some of us fear to go. We will need to do a whole lot more marching. We will also need to make a great deal of noise so that our communities become safe havens for all people, regardless of how they identify themselves or how they are identified by others because of the colour of their skin. We will need to make a great deal more noise so that the lives of Black, Indigenous. and People of Colour MATTER.

Those of us who remain in the Church must continue to make a whole lot of noise so that our institutions repent of the abuses of our past and stop the abuses which continue to be perpetrated in the name of Jesus.  We have been richly blessed.  We follow ONE who continues to teach us the importance of offering and receiving even what seems the smallest of kindnesses.  So, let our celebrations refresh us and let us offer welcome refreshment in the LOVE we share with our neighbours. 

Happy Pride EVERYONE! May this time of celebration feel like a cool drink of water, which refreshes you, so that you can refresh all who are thirsty for the freedom to love and to be loved. May the LOVE which is DIVINITY continue to empower all of us to be all that we are created to be. Sing LOVE’s song in these strange times! Happy Pride EVERYONE!

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To An UNKNOWN GOD: How Great Thou Art!

SERMON ONLY:  View the full Worship Video below

There is a time for everything, a season for every purpose under heaven: “a season for holding close and a season for holding back,” some translations say, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” I’ve never fully understood, never deeply felt this season until right now, when we are smack dab in the middle of this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing. And I’ve gotta tell ya, “this sucks!” Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are in lockdown together and we are certainly not refraining from embracing. In fact, were it not for the tender embraces of my darling Carol, I dare say, that I could not cope with this lock-down. I give thanks every day for Carol’s presence with me. Her embraces feed my soul. My heart goes out to those of you who are at home alone. I’d dash over, right now and give you a big hug if I could. But I cannot.

There are so many embraces which are being held back right now. Embraces which I long for. What I wouldn’t give for one of those joy-filled tight, tight, squeezes from my grandchildren. There’s nothing quite like the joy of a child, when they race across a room, and launch themselves into your arms and squeeze for dear life. No wonder, desperate parents are devising those plastic barriers to serve as hug devices so their kids can hug their grandparents! I also miss those friendly, gentle hugs like the ones many of us exchange when you arrive at church and those reverent embraces we exchange during worship when we pass the peace. But the held back embraces, which I desperately long for more than anything else, are the gentle embraces we extend to comfort one another when our hearts are broken. There is no technology, no plastic barrier, no scribbled note, no well-wishing card which can comfort quite the way a gentle, tender, embrace which passes between friends and family who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Grieving our loved ones during these surreal days of physical distancing, accentuates our sadness. In our gospel reading, Jesus is heard to say, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Touching, embracing, and comforting are such an integral part of parenting. Is it any wonder then, that so many of us can resonate with that old spiritual right now, “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.”?  I must confess that, on more than one occasion this week, I’ve actually missed the “old-faraway-father-sky-god” who I used to pray to. You know that old bearded grandfather in the sky who was in charge of everything, ready, willing and able to hear my prayers and respond in an authoritative way. That far-away-father-sky-god who I used to believe in would know just what to do in a pandemic. If I prayed all the right prayers to him, and I do mean him, if enough of us had just enough faith, in him, he would sort us all out.  You know the way our parents used to sort things out for us when we were kids. This covid thing has got me feeling like an orphan; an orphan in search of a saviour, to say, “there, there dear, I’ve got this.”I’m feeling very much like “a motherless/fatherless child,” and so to hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned,” these words are like balm to sooth my soul. Yes please, Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help us Jesus. We want to feel your embrace!

“If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the ONE who sent me to give you another Paraclete, an Advocate, another Helper to be with you always—the SPIRIT of truth, whom the world cannot accept since the world neither sees her nor recognizes her; but you can recognize the SPIRIT because she remains with you and will be within you. I will not leave you orphaned.” The SPIRIT is with you, and will be within you. We are not alone. Jesus insists, “On that day you will know that I AM in God and you are in me, and I AM in you.”

The I AM is in us and we are in the I AM. YAHWEH, the I AM, the SOURCE of all BEING, is in us and we are in YAHWEH. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the Book of Acts:  “the ONE who is not really far from any of us – the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, “We too are God’s children.”

ONE in whom we live, ONE in whom we move, ONE in whom we have our being, ONE the LIFE in ALL. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died proclaiming that we have no need to seek salvation from anything other than the very SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through and beyond us.

In what has been called Jesus’ “Farewell Address” Jesus implores us, “if you love me and obey the command I give you.” In the Gospel according to the storyteller we call John, Jesus gives only one commandment: we are “to love one another as Jesus has loved us.”

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection embody the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who is LOVE. Jesus’ embodiment of the LOVE which IS the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, points us not to some lofty throne, but rather to the very breath we breathe; to the SPIRIT who breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.

We are ONE in the SPIRIT. If this virus has taught us anything, surely it has taught us that we are ONE, for when one of us is ill or at risk, all of us are all ill and at risk. So, how then shall we comfort one another during this season of holding back, when we are to refrain from embracing. Well ironically, the very breath which carries the droplets we are all avoiding right now, is also the very breath which has the power to comfort us.  I am not an epidemiologist; I am but a lowly pastor. I am not trained in science; I am but a humble theologian. As a pastor and a theologian, I am trained in the art of metaphor – metaphor – the very word actually means “to carry beyond words”.  So, please allow this lowly, humble pastor and theologian to use the virus which is currently plaguing us as a metaphor. We are all perfectly capable of breathing in each and every pathogen which infects Creation today. We only need a few shallow breathes to separate us one from another and we have seen the diss-ease which results from this kind of infection; our planet is groaning, people are dying, refugees are fleeing, the poor are suffering, violence, greed and self-centeredness are rampant.

But if we have the Wisdom, to breathe more deeply, the healing power of the SPIRIT rises in us resurrecting the LOVE in whom we live, and move and have our being and gratitude, generosity, compassion, and peace flow in, with, through, and beyond us. I know metaphors aren’t perfect ways of communicating and there will be those who will see only the holes and the gaps in my metaphor. But metaphors by their very nature are not designed to be words which communicate perfect solutions, metaphors and by design crafted to carry us beyond words, toward a vison of what might be.

So, in this season of holding back, of refraining from embracing, I invite you to step away from the swirling fear which comes with the virus which plagues us, move deeply into your splendid isolation, and take a long deep breath. Breathe deeply of the SPIRIT of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. Feel the SPIRIT as the SPIRIT enters you, and feel the SPIRIT as you exhale the SPIRIT who IS LOVE. Let the SPIRIT whirl and twirl and dance in and around you and feel the gentle, tender, embrace of the ONE who IS, WAS, and evermore SHALL BE, LOVE.

We have not been left orphaned. We are held, embraced, comforted, empowered, by the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Breathe deeply of this embracing SPIRIT and know the power of resurrected LOVE to embrace, to heal, and to comfort us as we are carried beyond words, to the ONE who IS, BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.

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Easter Worship: LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is Risen in Us! Alleluia!

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?” That’s where we left our story on Good Friday. On this surreal, Easter Sunday, this compelling image has made the stories handed down to us by our ancestors all too real. Look closely.

“Where you there when they laid him in the tomb? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

This year we’ve all been there. Thank all that is HOLY for the front-line health-workers toiling away in the tombs so many hospitals have become! The stories emerging from those tombs have made their marks on all of us. Unlike the women who rushed to the tomb to anoint Jesus for his burial, I’m in not in any rust to revisit the reality death which haunts our media. The bad news is travelling faster than the good news and my trembling heart cannot sustain the darkness of this damned tomb into which our suffering world has been thrust. Yes, we know how the stories our ancestors so faithfully handed down to us end with resurrection. But, like the befuddled disciples, the sight of the linen wrappings on the ground, offer us about as much comfort as images of discarded medical masks. Don’t ask us, “Why we are weeping?” We are weeping because so many lives have been taken away and we do not know when our own lives can begin again. “For whom are we looking?” For a saviour that’s who. Someone, something, anything which will release us from the tombs of isolation in which we are all huddled for fear of what’s out there. 

We have heard the words spoken over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” But even the empty tomb, which has provided such hope for generations, seems darker, too dark to provide the promise of resurrection. Like the followers of Jesus who ran away from the empty tomb, I too want to flee. Alas, there is no place to go. How do we celebrate resurrection on an Easter such as this?

“Suddenly Jesus stood before them and said, ‘Shalom!’ The women came up, embraced Jesus’ feet and worshiped. At this, Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Go tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see me.” And so, I close my eyes searching my mind for Galilee where I shall see the risen ONE. Where is the risen ONE to be found?

Well, just as surely as Galilee remained in the darkness of the persecution of Empire, our world remains in the darkness of the perils of pandemic. And yet, it is into the darkness that the early followers of the Way found the courage to go to Galilee, so that they might meet the Risen ONE.

We cannot linger in the empty tombs of our personal isolation. We too must seek the Risen ONE if we are to find the courageous compassion we need to rise again, and again, and again. Every year we shout CHRIST is risen! Every year, every day we met the RISEN ONE. For just as surely as Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call God, that LOVE rises in every act of human kindness, in every act of tender compassion, in every act of mercy, in every selfless act of courage. LOVE rises over and over and over again. LOVE, the LOVE that IS the MYSTERY we call GOD, rises in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever! LOVE IS Risen! LOVE IS Risen in us! Alleluia!

Suddenly, Jesus, the Risen ONE, Suddenly, LOVE stands before us all and says, “Shalom!, Salam alakum, Peace.  Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid to celebrate. The Earth is still spinning. The birds are singing again. The flowers are blooming and trees are budding. Soon the grass will be green again. Babies continue to be born. Children continue to laugh and play. We can sing and dance. Lovers continue to embrace.  We are richly blessed. LOVE rises even in the darkness.

On Holy Saturday, when the darkness is darker than dark, I was sent a foretaste of the feast to come. From the darkness of a hospital entombed by the fear of pandemic perils, just down the road from here in Markam Stouffville, some courageous compassionate healthcare workers dance a dance that is surely a dance of resurrection! What them dance their dance celebrating the recovery of one of their COVID patients who is successfully take off a ventilator. Watch closely.

Can you see LOVE Is Risen! LOVE Is risen indeed! LOVE rises, again and again and again. Peace dear ones. CHRIST rises in, with, through and beyond us! Thank all that is HOLY, especially all the frontline workers, nurses, doctors, orderlies, first-responders, retail workers, delivery workers, and yes you, you physical distancers; thank all that is HOLY for being LOVE in the world. 

Shalom! Do not be afraid! Go tell everyone to go beyond our fear, for there we will meet the Risen ONE, who is the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE we call God. May that LOVE rise in you over and over and over again! Shalom.

Download the Order of Service here

Good Friday: Compassion in Sorrow

I must confess that I have never found the image of the cross to be a compelling symbol. Not even an empty cross can disguise the ugliness of this implement of torture and execution. So, Good Friday’s use of the cross to summon up images of Jesus’ passion leave me cold. There’s more than enough horror and sorrow in the stories handed down to us without resorting to the instrument of Jesus’ execution. When I think back upon the executions of compassionate heroes like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I cannot imagine using the pistols with which they were shot to illustrate their compassion. The forces of Empire used crucifixion to terrorize people. Historians tell us that there would have been hundreds of corpses rotting on trees outside many of the conquered cities of the Empire. That the instrument used to inflict terror should have become the symbol of Jesus who embodied a Way of resisting persecution which refused to take up the sword is a bit like using a suicide vest as the symbol for United Nations Peacekeepers.

The symbol of the cross on Good Friday always reminds me of how I felt the very first time I visited Rome. I remember thinking how odd it was that a non-violent, revolutionary, peasant from Galilee should have inspired the creation of the fortress-like Vatican complex. I was doing the obligatory tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and I was beginning to believe that Rome held no treasures that I wanted to see, when out of the corner of my eye, tucked away to side of the main entrance, I caught a glimpse of a marble statue. At the time, I knew little or nothing about art and if the truth be told, I was growing weary of the endless cathedrals and museums, so it’s no wonder I missed the marble on my way into the Basilica.  There was something about the image that drew me in. I overheard one of the guides tell her group that the sculpture was created by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old. At the time, I was barely 20 and I could not imagine the skill of the artist who was able to capture an image of everything I had ever imagined about the tragedy of Jesus’ death. 

The Pieta, somehow the English translation, The Pity, just doesn’t capture the passion which is depicted in Mary’s cradling of her tortured son. We’ve devalued the word pity. The word pity means, the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. The Pieta, The Pity, The Compassion, The Commiseration, The Condolence, The Sympathy these are all different ways of saying, the tender act or of sharing the pain of another. Compared to the coldness of the cross, The Pieta’s delicate portrayal of the death of Jesus inspires such compassion in me. The kind of compassion that I can well imagine oozed from Mary’s being as she tenderly held her son.

It is not easy to gaze upon The Pieta, there is nothing easy in that marble likeness of suffering. If you let it, The Pieta will reduce you to tears. Mary’s compassion was not easily given. It took courage to stand at the foot of the cross. It took courage to linger. It took courage to tend to the needs of her fallen child. The kind of compassion that our world needs now. It is not easy to see what is happening in the world. If we let it, it will reduce us to tears. Maybe we do need a cross to symbolize suffering. Maybe the true horror of Jesus something needs to be looked at for what it is, so that we can begin to summon up the courage we need to be LOVE in the world. 

On this Good Friday it is the compassion of a loving mother that gives me hope. When so many people are suffering and dying, it is the tender embrace of one human being of another that gives me hope. All over the world The Pieta is embodied in the compassion of health-care workers, who day after day, don inadequate protective gear to tend the sick and the dying. The passion of Jesus lives and moves and has being in everyone who summons up the compassion that lives in them to tend to the needs of others. On this particularly, dark Good Friday, when we long for the release which resurrection brings may we find hope in the compassion that lives and breathes in with through and beyond every, nurse, doctor, orderly, chaplain, cleaner, cook, first-responder, scientist, and physical-distancer. 

I can well imagine the tears Mary shed over Jesus; before and after his death. I can also imagine the tears that are being shed all over the world on this Good Friday. May the ONE who IS LOVE, continue to live, and breathe, in us, through us, and beyond us, so that together we can nurse our world back to health. Every Good Friday, I make a point of reminding people that Christ dies over and over and over again, each and every day.

Let us not forget that CHRIST rises over and over and over again, each and every day. In every act of compassion, LOVE is born again, and again, and again. May we always remember to look for those Pieta moments, for in those acts of compassion we can be assured that the darkness shall never overcome us. This too shall pass, and when it does, let it be said of us, that in us the passion of CHRIST lives and moves and has being. Now and always. But for now, let us keep watch and wait. Let us reach beyond our fear. Let us be the passion of CHIRST. Amen.

You can download the Order of Service HERE

Maundy Thursday: Worship Together Apart

Tonight, is the night for stories. Tonight, we remember the stories our ancestors handed down to us. Just as Jesus remembered the stories his ancestors told about the exodus from slavery in Egypt, we remember the stories our ancestors told about the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gave us a new mandate, in Latin, a mundatum which becomes Maundy; the night of the commandment. I suspect that in generations to come, our descendants will tell the stories which we hand down to them about the strange way in which we commemorated Holy Week during the pandemic.

Jesus’ ancestors kept the memory of the exodus alive with Passover meals. Our ancestors kept the memory of Jesus’ alive over suppers commemorating Jesus last supper. Our descendants will hear our stories of gatherings without ritual washing, without meals, without communion, without physically gathering together. The familiar stories of slavery in Egypt, and the ravages of life under Roman persecution, will be joined by our stories of life in isolation. Our stories will be but a short chapter in the everlasting story of the children of God. Our stories may pale in comparison. But our stories will also be centered around the steadfast conviction that all of life is lived in the midst of the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE that we call “God.”

So, let me tell you a story about how the pandemic isolation began in our household. Back when the isolation first began, when we were all still learning the rules surrounding what we ought to be doing and what we ought not to be doing, Carol and I were blessed by a visit from our granddaughters and their mother. It was the beginning of what was to be their spring-break from school. We had been looking forward to their visit for weeks. So, we had made all sorts of plans to do all sorts of fun things with our granddaughters. The night before they arrived, we considered the wisdom of their visit. But it was just the beginning of the isolation, back when we were still willing to take risks. 

It was a delightful three-day visit. A splendid distraction from the news. On the first full day of their visit we decided to go up to the lake for a walk. The gates to the provincial park were still open. Little did we know then, that these gates would soon close for the duration of this isolation. It was a cold day, but it was good to be outside.

Our granddaughters enjoyed scavenging on the beach. At one point, Evie the youngest, discovered a prize beyond measure. Evie came dashing over to me and insisted that I take a photograph of her treasure. According to Evie she had found the best of all the rocks in the world. When I asked Evie why this rock was the best, she replied, “Gran, this is the best of all the rocks because LOVE is the best, and this rock is shaped like a heart, and a heart means LOVE and LOVE is the most important thing in the world.  So this is the best rock in the world.” Recalling Evie’s declaration, I can’t help but say, “Amen!”

It occurs to me, that the stories we tell of this strange isolation we are all sharing, together, apart, will nourish generations to come, if they are stories of LOVE. Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS God by LOVING. On his last night, knowing that the powers that be, were out there, plotting against him, knowing that the Way of life that he was urging his followers to embody, this Way of peace through justice, this Way of life threatened the powers that be so much so, that they were out there waiting to do him harm. On what he must have known might be his very last night, Jesus gathered his friends and followers together, for the Passover meal, and at that meal, at that last supper, Jesus gave them the gift of a new commandment.  Jesus told them that the most important thing is LOVE. LOVE one another just as I have loved you. Jesus knew that embodying LOVE is the most important thing.

So, on this strange night, when just like our ancestors, we find ourselves huddled inside because it is dangerous to be out there. Let us remember what is most important. Let us resolve to keep the most important thing, the most important thing. Let us put LOVE where LOVE belongs. Let us be LOVE. Let it be said of us, that during the isolation, we loved as Jesus loved. Let us be LOVE by staying home. Let us be LOVE by reaching out to our families, friends, and neighbours. Let us be LOVE by loving those with whom we are isolated.

There are those among us who are essential workers. Thank-you for doing all the things that we cannot do. Thank-you for being LOVE in the world. When you do venture outside, be LOVE by extending a kind word, or an extra thank-you. Don’t get in the way. Don’t add to the burdens of others. Do whatever you can to help. Reach out with LOVE. Be generous with one another. Be kind to yourself.

If the stories that will be told of this great isolation are to nourish generations to come, LOVE must be at the center. The only way that LOVE will be at the center is if we embody that LOVE in all that we do and all that we are. 

We haven’t seen our granddaughters, indeed any of our family for a long time. But we are among the richly blessed. We have the technology, and if you are watching this video, you too have the technology. So, we are blessed to be able to reach out to one another and speak words of LOVE into this isolation. I can’t wait to hear all the stories that will be told of the ways in which so many people embodied the LOVE that is the MYSTERY we call God.

But for now, it is evening, and there is more darkness before us. There will be more suffering before this long isolation ends. But you and I dear friends, we know that darkness will not overcome us. We know that beyond the darkness, there shall be light, and in that light, we shall all be reunited in the LOVE that IS God. But for now, we must take up our various crosses and journey deeper into the darkness.

Let us journey, trusting that the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, journeys in, with, through and beyond us, empowering each of us to be LOVE in the world. For this is how they will know that we are CHRIST’s by our LOVE. Let it be so. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so. Amen.

Download the Order of Service HERE

 

Our Temples Lie in Ruins: Luke 21:5-19

“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.

The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”

O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.

The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.

They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…

What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.

There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.

It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.

The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us. Continue reading

Baptism of Jesus

epiphany-2017

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

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

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

Baptism of Jesus

Epiphany worship

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

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

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

You – What Worship Might Be?

youI have often wondered why hymnody prevails on Sundays in most Christian sanctuaries. Perhaps its because the alternatives on offer with their praise bandy shallowness insult the intelligence of those who have made the effort to gather together on the off chance of an encounter with the Divine. Radical theologian, Peter Rollins has suggested that worship leaders ought to consider inviting musicians who sing the blues into our churches to facilitate worship that includes all of life. When I consider the plethora of musical styles that could be employed in worship to open us to the breadth and depth of our abundant lives, I wonder if those of us employed in the art of worship planning need to look beyond our hymnals and song sheets to discover the endless possibilities that might facilitate worship that opens us to the deepest mysteries of this life.you kh

As a teaser, I offer two videos that interpret the work of English folk rock musician, Keaton Henson’s piece “You”. Both interpretations, the first by the poet himself, the second by the brilliant actor Derek Jacobi, function as both prayer and praise. Can I get an “Amen”???

Baptism of Jesus

Epiphany worship pastordawn

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

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

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

They Don’t Go Home Humming the Sermon!

humLiturgy has the power to from us in ways that preachers can only dream of. The truth is worshippers don’t go home humming the sermon. What we sing in worship matters precisely because music has the power to both open us up and shut us down to change. As our theology evolves, so too what we sing in worship must evolve. But familiar chestnuts  are familiar for a reason. Our favourite hymns are singable! Sadly, so many of the best loved hymns inscribe theologies that posit a god that few of us are willing to worship. But rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we can give the best loved hymn tunes a new lease on life with texts that do not re-inscribe theories of atonement that we are trying to leave behind. I have been asked to share some of the resources that we have found helpful at Holy Cross and over the next few weeks I hope to post several resources.

Inclusive Hymns Aldredge-ClantonIt hasn’t been easy to find new words with which to resurrect old hymns. But there are two resources that warm the heart of this particular worship planner. Both “Inclusive Hymns For Liberating Christians” and “Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice” are the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton who is responsible for the hymn texts and Larry E. Schultz who provides a few new tunes for Aldredge-Clanton’s texts. I highly recommend both volumes for those progressive Christian worship planners who seek to use music to open people to the possibilities of  more expansive theologies. Aldredge-Clanton’s texts go far beyond “inclusive language” for God and for people.Inclusive hymns for liberation

Jann Aldredge-Clanton currently serves as adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology and Richland Community College, Dallas, Texas. Her vivid imagery opens the mind while familiar tunes comfort the spirit.  

The good news is that although these resources are not easy to get in Canada, I ordered mine from Amazon.com in the U.S. and the shipping charges were minimal. Better yet, with the purchase of 10 or more you get permission to reproduce hymns for worship.

Here are two videos that provide of just two of the pieces sung in very different worship styles.

Baptism of Jesus

baptism jesusJoin us tomorrow as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by affirming our own baptisms. Our worship will be followed by an Agape Meal – Everyone is welcome!

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

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