GOD’s Backside Passes By Our COVID Regulated Wilderness – Exodus 33

Yesterday, I while on my way to preside at a wedding, my mind kept wandering away from the imminent nuptials toward the vivid autumn colours and all that they foretell. I love autumn. I’m fond of saying that autumn is my favorite colour. But as I drew closer to my destination, thoughts of the passing of autumn into winter saddened me as I thought about how this wedding would unfold. Here in this region we are about to go back into lockdown, so this wedding was a wedding like no other wedding, I have ever been part of. As we hastily drew up plans for the event, we joked about our new reality and the challenges which have become all too real during this pandemic. Only a handful of guests would gather outside, in the back yard of the parents of the bride. Masks would be mandatory, and we would be required to keep our distance. The realization that this couple was just one of many couples whose weddings have been postponed or curtailed or carried out under strict social distancing regulations began to lower my mood. So, returned my focus to the vivid autumn vistas which lined my route. As my mind soaked up the beauty, it also began to wander toward the reality that these bursts of colour mean that the leaves are about to die. Soon they will all fall, just as the snow will begin to fall. Winter is coming.

Winter is coming and it shall be a winter like no other we have ever experienced. For in addition to the hardships which winter inevitably brings to this part of the world, the increased presence of the coronavirus will force us into the kind of hibernation which this past spring’s lockdown only hinted at. As my mood began to spiral down into the deeps of the wilderness into which we will soon find ourselves, I couldn’t help wondering, in the words of the psalmist in the old King James version, “from whence cometh our help?” I know the psalmist provides the answer, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” But I have long since given up the notion that the DIVINE MYSTERY which the interpreters of the King James Version of the Bible called, “LORD” was waiting around to magically solve all our problems.

During these intense days filled with the challenges of living and dying during a pandemic, those of us who spend our lives wrestling with questions about the mystery and meaning of life, find ourselves, like most people in a new kind of wilderness. In my line of work, talk of mystery, meaning, and wilderness often sends us scurrying back to the sacred stories which weave their way in and out, over and under, the meaning we try to make about the deepest MYSTERY of life. The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through story, and so we plumb the depths of the scriptures’ parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality.  

Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses, these are the stuff of truth.  We human creatures, we just can’t help wondering. How did we get here?  Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about; speculating on the nature of our CREATOR. Story after story has been told; stories which weave in and out between our experience and our wonderings; what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are we imagining? The best stories, the ones which capture our imagination and stimulate our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories were so profound that they just had to be written down.

They were elevated to the realm of the sacred and these stories, these wonderings, took on the quality of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some of us have sought to defend these stories with our very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identities between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred myths. So afraid have they become, that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the DIVINE ramblings of our GOD, who whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some of us even claim that between their line lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another tribe or nation.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. Let me remind you of once such story handed down from one generation to another, which is embedded in our psyche and contributes to our identity?

It’s a story of Moses, Moses who wanted to see GOD in all GOD’s glory. Moses who’d been talking with GOD for years, who’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinfolk, the lives of his people on the conversations he had had with this god of his. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory.

Who could blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost and wandering, hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere, anywhere. Moses had the stone tablets, yes. GOD’s law written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak to him. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The god of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression. The promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this god?

Moses said to Moses’ god, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?”

From that burning bush came the sacred name GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH. I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.” YAHWEH the sacred name of GOD, so sacred that Moses and his people would never utter it. So sacred that even after they’d told their stories for generations, they’d proclaim the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. So sacred that when it came time to write down the sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name. Over the generations, the people forgot how to breathe the name of GOD, and so the scribes, hinted at the vowels so that the breath of GOD continued to emanate from GOD’s people. But as the tribes fought over the details of the story, the sacred code of silence failed to evoke the breath of God. Even though, from the burning bush GOD was said to have declared, “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations,” the peoples of God forgot the sacred name. So, the scribes replaced the sacred code with bold capital letters which included vowels and once again the name YAHWEH was heard when the sacred stories were told. YAHWEH, I AM WHO, I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.

That says it all, our GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER. This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you like more? Is it any wonder that Moses asked for just a little more? And so, one day, Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.”  And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  

And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not see.”

And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is. Just a glimpse, a glimpse of God here and there. For our GOD WILL BE, WHO GOD WILL BE. And we must let the glimpse be enough, but oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the backyard location, I was greeted by masked faces laughing and joking their way through last minute preparations. My own somber contemplations were dispersed by the task at hand. Proud parents and delighted siblings opened me to their sense of expectation, while beaming sunshine, stirred hope in this happy gathering in ways that only LOVE can. Once the bride and groom took their place in the midst of the LOVE which lives and breathes in every one of us who was gathered to bear witness to their promises, all our worries about the future slipped away as we celebrated LOVE’s triumph. Later, as we raised a glass to the happy couple, the wind rustled, and leaves fell, and I caught a glimpse of the DIVINE MYSTERY.

Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of GOD. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of GOD’s backside. For now, all we’ll see is a glimpse of God’s glory. But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. Remember the glimpses.

There, look can you see a glimpse of the DIVINE ONE? There, in the eyes of your beloved. The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the very first time, gazing into the wonder which you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse of the DIVINE. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem which told your whole life in just a few lines, there’s the hand of GOD.

Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride it all by herself, she’s growing up so quickly, do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely you see the arms of GOD in your own arms, waiting to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of GOD trying to catch up with him, trying with all your might to keep him safe; for you are the arms of GOD.

Look carefully as you watch the news, see the researchers, the doctors, nurses, and caregivers in all their efforts is the wisdom and the compassion of the LOVE which IS GOD, working in, with, through and beyond the many hands which will see us through.

Listen carefully can you hear it? It’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the breath of the ONE breathing alongside her as you breathe with her, as she breathes her last breath; for you are the breath of YAHWEH. And as you struggle to comprehend, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye; good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back you will feel them, there, there they the arms of the MYSTERY holding you both in the LOVE which is GOD.

Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, you will see the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE? Gaze out into the vivid autumn colours, there dashing by, through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see GOD’s backside passing by even now in this very wilderness of this pandemic.

There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth, and through it all dances the DIVINE MYSERY, the LOVE which we call GOD. Even in the midst of these challenging times, if you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of the LOVE which is YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe this wonder, this beauty, this magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are.

So, proclaim GOD’s glory! Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to YAHWEH’s splendor. Trust the MYSTERY of the LOVE which we call GOD, who even now passes in, with, through, and amongst us giving us a glimpse of YAHWEH’s ever so beautiful backside. Amen. Alleluia! Amen!

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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.   Continue reading

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? Continue reading

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.

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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