My “WHY?” Shattered my idol and my eyes were opened to a new reality. I’m talking about THE great big existential WHY? – a sermon for Lent 4A – John 9:1-41

Listen to the sermon here

Their baby was stillborn. Their pain was unbearable and so they asked, “Why?”

Her husband went out for his regular run; something he did every morning as part of his effort to stay healthy so that he would live long and prosper. Her husband was run over by a car and was dead by the time she arrived at the hospital.  To this day she asks, “Why?”

She was raped. The pain of violation refuses to leave her even after nine long years, during which her marriage fell apart. She could not and she cannot stop asking, “Why?”

On Friday, I watched a news briefing about the massive famine that encompasses much of Africa. Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are suffering from the ravages of starvation. More than 20 million people, many of them children are about to starve to death; 20 million people. It is the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the United Nations. As I watched the horrific footage from the comfort of my living-room, all my being asked the question, “Why?”

This “Why?” was and is so much more than all the other Whys. This aching “Why?” is not the same as the other Whys. The Why that groans in me, that cries out for an answer is not: Why are babies still-born? Why do accidents happen?  Why is there so much violence? Why are millions of people, so many of them children, starving to death? These whys we can seek and find answers to. The Why that groans in me, is the Why that has haunted our ancestors for generations. I’m talking about THE great big existential WHY?

Why does God allow some people to suffer while others escape suffering? There must be a reason that you and I were born. There’s got to be a reason that we were born here and not in Africa. There simply must be a reason that some of us escape suffering while others of us can’t seem to catch a break. Why? Why God? Why? Nearly two-thousand years have passed and still this great big Why screams out from the deepest darkest places of our being. Why?

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I even prayed like a child. I prayed to God to save me and mine from all sorts of suffering. I believed that God heard my prayers and that God saved me and mine. But when I grew up, I put away my childish notions as I began to see some of my dear ones suffer. I saw the suffering but I refused to see what the suffering did to my carefully held beliefs about the god I chose to worship. My faith blinded me to the idol that I had created. Out of the stories handed down to us from our ancestors I, like so many of the members of my tribe, I had carefully constructed an idol which I believed was worthy of my worship; an all-powerful, all knowing god, whose wisdom was more powerful than my reasoning; who loved me beyond measure and just as surely loved all those dying babies and suffering victims.  Mine was not to reason why. Mine was but to trust and obey. The “big guy in the sky” would work it all out in the end. In the sweet by and by all would be revealed; no more blindness, no more doubt. In the meantime, all we could wonder, “Why?”  as long as we didn’t let our questions draw our attention from the idol we chose to worship. Blind faith was the only answer that could keep our attention firmly at the feet of the god of our creation.

Then one day a child died; a child I knew and loved, a child who had suffered most of her short little life and I was overwhelmed by the “Why?” that screamed out from the depths of my being. I, we had put all our faith in the omni god, this omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient god, the all-powerful, everywhere, and all knowing god that we willed into being, confident that by worshiping our idol, our precious little one would not be subjected to such suffering. When she died, the idol of my worship died with her. I was blind but now I see the folly of worshipping a god of my own making. My omni idol, had all the answers. No mystery, just reassurances.  Nothing beyond my ability to imagine or conceive. Like the Pharisees before me, I could not see beyond the parameters of the Law and the traditions handed down to me. But once my eyes had been opened, my vision changed and I could no longer see the way I once saw. My WHY? Shattered my idol and my eyes were opened to a new reality. Where once I could only see death as an enemy to be conquered, the death of one so sweet, so dearly loved, revealed to me the precious beauty of life. My eyes were opened to the reality of death as a part of life, the part that makes life so very precious. It took a long time, and more questions than I can begin to recall, but slowly, I began to see the contours of a MYSTERY beyond my wildest imaginings.

There is no sin in blindness. Blindness can be a safe haven from the tremendous MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS. But there is beauty beyond the darkness. Beyond the shattered pieces of our idolatry Beyond the horizon of our limited views, there is an EMBRACE the likes of which the mystics longed for; an EMBRACE that comes from the Source of all that IS, the great I AM of which our ancestors insisted permeated all that IS. An EMBRACE that is so much more that we can ever begin to express, and yet an EMBRACE whose contours stretch beyond the heavens to permeate all of life.

This MYSTERY that some of us call God, is the LOVE that is the ground and source of all being; the RELATIONSHIP that touches every life and lures us into being more than we dreamed possible. This MYSTERY may shatter our idols, but it also compels us toward a faith that opens the eyes of the blind to possibilities that deepen life by deepening relationship in ways that broaden our vision so that we too can become all that we are created to be. This MYSTERY invites all our WHYs. This MYSTERY is powerful enough to walk with us and all our questions into the dark clouds of unknowing that make life so very precious.  This MYSTERY does not demand blind faith. This MYSTERY opens our eyes to the beauty of becoming, over and over again, ONE with the MYSTERIES of LIFE.

These days, the great big WHY continues to overwhelm me and I confess that I am so very grateful to be overwhelmed because every time I am blinded by the idols of my own creation, Jesus comes along, heals my blindness, and disturbs me with visions that lead me Beyond my wildest imaginings. WHY? I do not know the answer. But I can see a way Beyond the WHYs a way that does not deny the pain or the beauty of the quest, a way that deepens and expands the beauty of the journey, a way that compels me toward the MYSTERY that is the LOVE some of us call God.

That LOVE empowers us to reach out in love to those whose whys overwhelm them; those who are grieving, those who desperately trying to recover from violence, and to do what is necessary to feed those who are starving. May your WHYs open your eyes so that you too can see BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, to the MYSTERY that is LOVE.  Amen.

New Vision: Exciting and Terrifying – a sermon for Lent 4A John 9:1-41

First Reading:  “To See As God Sees” Meister Eckhart here

Second Reading: John 9:1-12   here

Gospel Reading: John 9:13-41 here

Today’s sermon includes a video clip from the short film Overview.

You can listen to the audio and watch the video clip from the “Overview” below.

I was just a little girl the first time I flew in an airplane. I can still remember just how excited I was to get on that airplane. I couldn’t wait to fly high up in the sky. I was convinced that once we got up into the clouds I would be able to see things; amazing things. I couldn’t wait to see God and Jesus, and angels, and people who had died all walking up there on the clouds. Heaven, we were going to see heaven. Jesus would be up there. I can’t remember what I was expecting them all to look like. I vaguely remember peering out of the airplane’s window desperately trying to see them all. But I could not see them.

I was too young to understand what happened to me that day. But something did. I saw things differently after that. I had seen the clouds and they were lovely, but nobody was living up there. I could see that what I thought was true was not and there was no going back. My eyes had been opened and nobody could ever convince me that heaven was up there in the sky, or that Jesus was waiting for me up there, or that God was watching me from up there, or that anybody was looking down on me from up there. I once was blind to this reality; it only took one ride on an airplane to cure my blindness. I once was blind, but up there in the sky I could see. Having seen the reality of what was actually up there, I knew enough to look elsewhere for Heaven, for lost loved ones, for Jesus, and for God. Once your eyes have been opened, the gift of vision opens you to an entirely new realty and once you’ve seen the new reality you can never go back to your old ways of thinking.

Watch the video.

It may have been simpler when we could not see; when we were blind to the reality that surrounds us. The blind man was a beggar. He knew the contours of his reality. He probably got up each morning and travelled by a familiar route to his spot on the street. He’d adapted to his reality. He learned to live in a world that was defined by his lack of vision. Having his eyes opened exposed him to a world he’d only known by touch. Suddenly a whole new sense was opened up for him. New vision can be exciting and terrifying all at the same time. But once his eyes had been opened, he could not go back, he could not un-see what he was seeing, he could only shut his eyes, or look really look and see. Continue reading

St. Patrick’s Day Blessings: The Inner Landscape: John O’Donohue

Blessing for Love pastordawnOn this St. Patrick’s Day it is fitting to receive a blessing from a grand Irishman whose writing reaches into my soul. Followers of this blog know that John O’Donohue is one of my favourite sages. I am indebted to a follower of the blog for sending me this podcast of Krista Tripett’s interview of John O’Donohue recorded shortly before his death in 2008. O’Donohue’s words continue to open my soul.

Treat yourself to a listen:

Jesus Met the Woman at the Well: Dave Van Ronk

Dave van RonkDave Van Ronk, aka The Mayor of MacDougal Street, haunted my teen-age years with folk songs that still inhabit my soul. Some say The Mayor is the inspiration behind the movie Inside Llweyn Davis. But to me the growly voiced Mayor remains a poet who inspired me to put pen to paper. As I prepare to tickle my keyboard to create a sermon about John 4:1-42, his voice echo’s in my soul. van Ronk died in 2002 and imagining his journey “on down to Galilee, on that promenade in green” soothes the ache of his absence even as it inspires me to speculate on the rocky road the Samaritan woman travelled to that ancient well.  “uka duke soda cracker!”   

Tickled By the Racy Svetlana; Otherwise Known as the Woman Evangelist Who Rocked Jesus’ World! – a sermon on John 4:1-42 – Lent 3A

TickledThere’s a commercial currently running on the TV and each time it comes on, I can’t help myself, it makes me smile and if I let myself, it makes me laugh. It’s a collection of scenes in which lovely little babies laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh and before you know it you’re hooked and you just can’t help yourself you are laughing too. Laughter is a great tonic! Laughter is good for the soul! And yet, for some unknown reason we tend to exclude laughter from our religious life. Religion is serious business and so we don’t laugh much in worship. There’s a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that served as a warning sign for me as I was preparing this sermon. “NOT YET TICKLED” writes St. Teresa, “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved—hurry.” The thought of being tickled by God is delightfully refreshing.

I must confess that I don’t spend much time laughing with God. Listen to this quote from the writings of St. Teresa: “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” “What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ. “Love” which is Teresa’s name for God. “Love once said to me, ‘I know a song would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy Me.” Enjoy Me. What a different place the world would be if we could only hear God beseeching us, “Enjoy Me.”

We are a serious lot we Christians. Duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to “Enjoy!” We’ve got things to do, stuff to learn, values to instill and standards to uphold, so we’ve put enjoyment on the back-burner. After all, God is far too high and mighty to be trifling with, we daren’t laugh in the presence of our God. And yet, God continues to tickle us. Over and over again, with the most absurd wonders, and we can’t help ourselves, but smile. Creation is so full of laughs. Life is so funny! And church, I mean, whenever I think of the ridiculous things we get up to in church, well its enough to make you laugh until you cry. So to those of you who insist upon personifying our Creator,  don’t you try to tell me that the Creator of all that is or ever shall be, the one who is responsible for creating humour itself, doesn’t just roar with laughter at the stuff that we get up to. So, isn’t it just possible that when it comes to laughing babies, God has plenty of scope for delighting in us? Surely, laughter is one of the most sublime forms of prayer? We ought to lighten up and enjoy our time with God. Cause lord knows, serious people are all well and good but who wants to spend time with a bunch of folks who can’t enjoy a joke.

So with that said, let’s turn to this mornings Gospel reading. This story is a real tickler! But in order to get the jokes, you’ve got to know some of the stuff the insiders knew. It’s a bit like trying to understand British humour, sometimes you don’t quite get the joke, if you don’t know something about life in Britain. The Gospel of John is full of stories that play on the local humour of Palestine in the first century. This story, about the Woman at the Well is full of double en-ton-dras. Indeed, this story is so outrageous that when the powers that be were sitting around deciding which books would make it into the New Testament, The Gospel of John almost didn’t make the cut. This story was far too racy and I mean racy in both senses of the word, this story was about race and it was far too risqué for the likeings of the religious authorities who were functioning as the thought police for the early church. So, sit back and allow yourselves to be tickled as I let you in on the jokes. Continue reading

Moon-Dancing Bears, Jesus and Nicodemus: a sermon on John 3:1-17

moondancing bearsI am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.

Readings: John Chapter 2 and John 3:1-17

Watch the video below carefully before reading or listening to the sermon  the sermon below.

Listen to the sermon:  

So, before tackling the story of Nicodemus, I want to toss two balls into the congregation. The first ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents something all too familiar, biblical literalism. We know all too well that this particular ball has been distracting the church and most of the western world for the past few centuries. The second ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents historical biblical criticism. This particular ball is newer. It’s only been seriously tossed about for the past couple of centuries, but it is a really serious contender for our attention. But these balls have acquired a rather rhythmic bounce that tends to mesmerize us. Add to that these other balls the balls of church doctrine and theological dogma and before you know it we are so distracted that we forget what game we were trying to play in the first place as we try to keep up with the various passes made by players that have taken on a professional edge that leaves us watching from the sidelines unable to focus one of them.

None of these balls commanded the attention of the early Christians. They simply weren’t interested in taking the scriptures literally, nor were they particularly interested in the historicity of the scriptures. As for doctrine and dogma, well they were left to the professionals who only came to town on those unpleasant occasions when the league needed to ensure that it’s franchises continued to rake in enough money to keep the game on a sure footing. The scriptures, like all sacred writings, were about so much more than words scribbled on a scroll. The scriptures, like all scared writings, are about the mysteries of life. But these balls have been served up for us to play with and literalism and concerns about historical accuracy have done a magnificent job of distracting us from what really matters in these texts. Our fascination with the details of the fight-patterns of the balls that are tossed around whenever the stories in these texts play through our lives, have caused us to miss so many moon-dancing bears over the years.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love tossing these balls around and over the years I’ve learned to play ball with the best of them. But when a moon-walking bear dances onto the court, at the very least, we ought to notice the bear’s moves because the only way we’re going to learn to dance with these bears is by paying attention. Continue reading

A Little Self-Involved? Try Looking Outward! – a sermon for Lent 2A, John 3:1-17

Trinity copyWhen I was just a kid, I had what can best be described as an adolescent crush on a teacher. Looking back on it now, I’d have to say that I fell head over heels in love with my teacher. It was the kind of love that only a 13 year-old girl could have; so intense and all consuming. I came to believe that this teacher was the wisest, kindest, most interesting person in all the world. This teacher knew more than anyone else, especially my parents. This teacher was cooler, funnier, more daring and definitely more in tune with my life than anyone I had ever met. I was convinced that if I could only be just like this teacher would mean that I too would be cooler, funnier, more daring and definitely more in tune with life. So, like most adolescent girls who are suffering from a crush I became obsessed with this teacher. I was young and I was in love, and like most thirteen year-old’s the I was convinced that the world revolved around me, so I set about pursuing my passion. This teacher taught English, so naturally, I decided that when I grew up I too would teach English. This teacher loved poetry, so I too became passionate about poetry.

One day this teacher announced that we could gain extra-credit if we wanted to enter a local poetry writing contest; and even though I was pretty sure that year I’d be getting a mark that would be somewhat better than an A, I began to write poetry. I was very serious about my poetry writing.  I carried a pad of paper with me everywhere I went, and I began to ruminate about my life. I don’t remember any of those early attempts to wax poetical, but I do remember that each and every one of those poems was about me; me and my life, me and my unrequited love, me and my passion, me and the horrible way that no one paid much attention to me. Me, Me, Me, Me, it was all about me.

As the time drew near for us to submit our poetry to the competition, my teacher announced that there would be a special class after school, so that those of us who were planning to enter the competition could get some feedback on our efforts. So, by the end of the week, I would have to choose one of my great works for feedback. I spent hours pouring over one poem in particular. Tinkering with the words, trying to get things just right. I was so very proud of the final draft. I’d carefully copied it out on to a crisp piece of foolscap. Arranged the letters in the middle of the page so that they looked just so. I could hardly wait for school to be over so that I could rush to see what comments my beloved teacher had placed in the margin. There were barely a handful of us who stayed after school.

Looking back on that scene, we were a nerdy little crew. I was positively breathless as my teacher handed my offering back to me. To this day, I can’t remember a single line of my great work, but I can tell you word for ward what was scribbled in red in the margin of the ever so white foolscap. “A little self-involved, try looking outward.” I was devastated. How could anyone be so cruel? I’d poured my heart out only to have it stomped on by the indifference of truth. Continue reading

Facing Our Demons – a sermon on Matthew 4:1-11, Lent 1A

1100Listen to the sermon HERE

A long time ago, when I was just a young woman, I think I was about 22 or 23, still young enough to believe that all the answers to all my questions were out there somewhere, just waiting for me to discover. I was a serious young woman full of serious questions, always pondering the meanings of thins – big things like life and death, goodness and evil, love and hate, sickness and health, sin and forgiveness, God and no-god. I truly believed that if I actually applied myself to my questions, I would be able to discover the answers. It was the pursuit of particular answers that lead me into the wilderness of the desert.

Now, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but there are real deserts in British Columbia. You will discover one of those deserts as you travel between Ashcroft down to Merritt.  They’ve improved the roads since then, but back in the day that particular route was quite the challenge. Mind you, it didn’t help that I was driving an old beat up 1969 Austin 1100, that had no business being on mountain roads, let alone mountain roads that wound their way through a desert. Now if you don’t know what an Austin 1100 looks like, picture an old Austin Mini; an 1100 is only slightly bigger than an Austin Mini, and my old 1100 was purchased for the grand sum of $300.00. About the only thing this car had going for it was my faith in it to take me places.

 On this trip, I had loaded my little car down with all sorts of camping equipment along with several plastic milk jugs that held a gallon of water each, because the car’s radiator had a nasty habit of overheating. The woman that I am know, looks back on the young woman that I was, and I can’t help wondering what possessed me to head out into the desert in that stupid little car. I can almost see myself sitting on the side of the road waiting for the radiator to cool down, so that I could risk loosening the radiator cap, to fill it up with cool water so that I could travel another hour or so, before it over-heated again.

To say that I was young and foolish, would be an understatement. But I was also, adventurous and inquisitive. I had traveled into the wilderness to do some thinking. I needed to find some answers. I had some decisions to make; decisions, that at the time, felt like life and death. I truly believed that some time away by myself would guarantee me the kind of peace and quiet I needed to discover the answers to my questions.

Sitting there, on a rock, hoping against hope, that the 95 degree heat from the blazing sun would be enough to guarantee that any rattle snacks would remain tucked away in some distant shade, I couldn’t believe that I’d been driving for two hours without seeing another car on the road. I was out there in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where I had intended to be. I had travelled into the wilderness to find a place where there were no distractions, so that I could apply myself to finding an answer that I desperately needed. You see, some stuff had happened in my life; stuff that had lead me to doubt the god that over the years I had come to love.

Looking back, I think that I went out into the wilderness looking for a sign; a sign that God existed. My faith in the God who lives out there somewhere, who from time to time hears my prayer and decides to intervene in my life, my faith in that God, had been fairly strong, right up to the point where some really tough stuff started to happen to some folks I cared a great deal about, and no matter how long or how hard I prayed, the great Sky God that I had been taught to worship, simply refused to show himself. So, I decided to take a page or two out of the bible and follow Jesus right out into the wilderness to see if God would show up. Sitting there on a rock, roasting in the hot sun, as the tumble-weeds tumbled by, I wondered what I would do, if I discovered that God wasn’t really there. What if it was all just wishful thinking? I desperately wanted to meet the god that I’d been taught to believe in to be there in the wilderness. Isn’t that why Jesus wandered out into the wilderness of the desert? Surely, he didn’t go out there to meet the devil? Or did he? Maybe Jesus went out into the wilderness to meet his demons.

Over the years, I’ve learned enough about the anonymous  gospel storytellers to know that their stories are more than just history. I’ve learned to read beyond the words that have been handed down to us, to ponder the multi-layered texture of meanings that lie hidden waiting to be discovered. The storytellers’ careful crafting of their tale of Jesus time in the wilderness uses images and illusions that harken back to earlier stories of Moses leading the people of Israel into the wilderness where they spent not 40 days, but 40 years forming themselves into the nation that would go on to inhabit the promised land. In the wilderness, Jesus encountered his own demons. I can well imagine Jesus contemplating his own future and realizing his own desires for power were actual temptations that would distract him from his overriding desire to embody a new way of being in the world. A quest for power would have seen Jesus giving the people what they wanted a leader who could feed them with bread and everything that bread represents, wealth and power; the kind of power that would enable them to fight their Roman oppressors. The temptation to be the kind of messiah that the people wanted was Jesus’ temptation.

In the wilderness, alone with his desires and temptations Jesus fought his personal demons. According to the gospel storytellers, Jesus didn’t conquer his demons, “The Devil awaited another opportunity.” As the storytellers follow Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond, the temptation to forsake the new way of being in the world that Jesus embodied, in favour of being the kind of messiah that the people wanted continues to haunt Jesus. Jesus steadfastly refuses to take the mantle of power that so many would have handed to him the power to form an army the likes of King David, to rise up and violently resist the tyranny of Rome. As tempting as it may have been for Jesus to become the people’s messiah, Jesus summons up the courage to be a new kind of messiah. Jesus chooses to embody a posture of non-violent resistance to evil even though he knows full well that such a posture against the Romans could get him killed. Jesus refuses to give into his fears, trusting that even death cannot defeat the LOVE that he chooses to embody. Continue reading

Awe and Wonder: A Lenten Practice

awe-copySo many of our Lenten practices revolve around theories of atonement that cast the HOLY ONE as a participant in a grand bargain that saw Jesus of Nazareth die as a sacrifice for sin. For those of us who have left behind theories of atonement that set Jesus up as  payment for our sin, Lent can seem a very lonely place. While many churches busy themselves with rituals that encourage repentance from the perspective of confessing our unworthiness to a grand-inquistor deity,  it is tempting to give up the season of Lent all together. But with the explosion of information about the nature, beauty, and complexity of the cosmos, perhaps we can achieve the humility that the ritual of confession offers in ways that do not require us to adopt the attitude that human’s are unworthy creatures in need of a god who would demand satisfaction at the expense of a blood sacrifice. 

Each time I look up into a starlit sky I am overcome with a sense of awe and wonder that is in and of itself a prayer that inspires humility in me. A sense of awe and wonder at that which is beyond ourselves is the beginning of a prayer that always leads me to a sense of ONENESS with all that IS. 

This morning, my Lenten devotion came to me in the form of this splendid video The Overview, which describes the awe and wonder of those who have had the privilege of looking at the earth from the perspective of space. They describe their awe and wonder, their prayer if you will, as the “overview effect”. The overview effect serves to connect these space travellers to the earth itself and moves them to the kind of humility that helps me to realize that awe and wonder can serve as nourishment for my own Lenten journey.

As we gaze in awe at our marvellous planet perhaps we can be moved to tread more lightly upon her. Perhaps awestruck by the beauty and wonder of creation, we can look to all the inhabitants of the earth and see that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made. I trust that a humility based not on a belief that we are wicked, unworthy creatures, but rather on a experience of awe and wonder, will lead us on a Lenten journey to a place where we will have the courage to gaze upon the cross and see beyond the violence to the hope of resurrection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Up God for Lent?

Eckhart rid me of GodAn article by Brandon Ambrosino in the Religion section of the Hufington Post sent the wheels in motions. I am indebted to Pete Rollins  book the Idolatry of God as well as his video Atheism for Lent for providing me with the courage to preach this sermon. Lent 1 – February 17, 2013 – Listen to the sermon here.

I swear to you it happens to me every year! It usually happens when the first person asks me what I’m giving up for Lent. When you’re in the line of work that I’m in, I suppose you should just get used to it. But somehow that particular question makes me wish I did something else for a living. People don’t usually mean much by asking the question. At this time of the year, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is sort of like when people ask you, “How are you doing?” They’re not really interested unless you have a pithy answer. I I must confess that over the years, I’ve come up with more than a few pithy answers. Like the time, shortly after I first came to Newmarket to be a pastor and my Mother, who does not observe Lent asked me what I was giving up for Lent and in a feeble attempt to make my Mother laugh, I told her I was giving up drugs and sex for Lent. Things went very quiet on Mom’s end of the phone line.  The truth is that the answer I most feel like giving when people ask me what I’m giving up for Lent requires so much time to explain that I rarely answer the question truthfully. But t’is the season for confession, so please forgive me but I’d really, really, really, like to give up Lent for Lent! I mean who among you, woke up this morning and said to yourself, “Oh goodie it’s the first Sunday in Lent! Yippie!!!”

I remember when I first started going to church, I was a teenager, and I don’t mind telling you that my first experience of Lent almost sent me packing. All I heard was that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. All that talk about sin made me feel so guilty and worthless. I was just 15 years old and I hadn’t had much of an opportunity to commit much in the way of sin, and all I kept hearing was repent, repent! The message I received loud and clear during those first few Lents in the church was that I was nothing but a wicked sinner, a worthless worm! Poor, poor, pitiful me! But have no fear, cause Jeeezus can make you better. And all you have to do is give something up for Lent!!! Jeeezus, he’s on his way to be executed on a cross, because of you, so you owe it to Jesus to feel lousy because he’s going to sacrifice everything for you. They’re going to nail him to a cross because of you. You wicked sinner. The least you can do is give something up for Lent. Continue reading

Giving Up Theories of Atonement for Lent in Favour of Listening for God’s Laughter

Laughter St Teresa

Traditionally the season of Lent is a mournful time filled with calls to repentance and self-examination as we follow Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and then on that long march to Jerusalem where the powers that be will have their wicked way with him. Our liturgies take a mournful tone as we lament our woeful human existence, confess our sinfulness, and hear exultations to take up our crosses so that we too can follow Jesus to the bitter end. Over and over again we are asked to remember that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, as we gaze upon the cross remembering that Jesus our savior bled and died as a result of our wicked sinfulness.

Lent is a strange season that harkens back to a forgotten era. Unlike so many of the seasons of the church year it’s not exactly a season that attracts people to church. Not many of you got out of bed this morning and said, “Yippy it’s the first day of Lent. Oh goodie!  We get to be reminded that we are sinful, that life is miserable and unless I’m willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, there’s precious little hope cause we’re all going to die and when the time comes we want Jesus to remember us.”

Now I know that there are some people who just love Lent and I must confess that I like the quieter, more somber tone that our liturgies take. I actually enjoy the opportunity to slow things done and be more reflective in our worship together. I savor the silences and the opportunities to be more contemplative. I love the colour purple with all its vibrant hues and the best part of all is that the beginning of Lent means that spring is just around the corner. What I don’t like about Lent are the signs, symbols, hymns and stories that make it so easy for us to fall back into the 11th century. Continue reading

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are? – reflecting on Transfiguration

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Readings:  Exodus 32:1-6, Matthew 17:1-9. Listen to the sermon here

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.

You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”

NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…

As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler.   After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level.  Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.

Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here. Continue reading

The Power of Love: a sermon for Epiphany 7A – Matthew 5:38-48

love enemies erlander

This sermon is a departure from my usual style; a teaching sermon, working without a manuscript. Using Keynote various images where projected to assist in setting the context for Jesus teaching on non-violent resistance. My a reflection on the creative and transformational power of love explores the tactics of empires that dehumanize enemies. The two video presentations in the Keynote point to the power of seeing the humanity of our enemies. The audio of the sermon is included below as is the Keynote that accompanied it.

The ideas in this teaching sermon were developed into a sermon on the text that was preached on Remembrance Day and can be read here

Listen to the teaching sermon: 

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We Have Enemies, And So, We Pray: a sermon for Epiphany 7A on Matthew 5:38-48

NowSince I was thirteen years old, I have borne the mark of my enemy. It’s faded quite a bit over the years, but if I look carefully I can still make out the marks left behind by, let’s call her, Betty Cherie’s teeth.  Way back in the eighth grade Betty Cherie and I fell afoul of one another. I don’t really remember what it was that started the whole thing.  It was one of those grudges that only thirteen-year-old girls can hold onto with any kind of tenacity. All I can remember is that Betty Cherie and I hated each other and the whole school knew it.

One afternoon our rivalry reached the point of war. I still cringe when I remember it. After all I was thirteen and I should have known better. I’d like to say that she started it. But, I honestly don’t remember how we got ourselves to the point were we were to meet each other in the playground to fight it out. Our adolescent duel took place in full view of the student body. We met at high noon, out behind the portables, out of sight from the teachers. It began with two sworn enemies pushing each other around. There was some hair pulling, I think I even got in a punch or two before she bit me. Continue reading

Preparing to Preach on Jesus’ Teaching on Non-Violence: Matthew 5:38-48

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount provides a distillation of the teachings of Jesus; teachings Jesus lived for, teachings that eventually made Jesus so dangerous to the oppressive Roman Empire that they executed him as an enemy of the state. The very heart of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on non-violence.  I can think of no better way to begin my own preparations to preach on this crucial text than to look to the work of the great Walter Wink.  I will always be indebted to this amazing teacher for all that I have learned and continue to learn from him. The videos below comprise the various parts of a lecture that Wink offered on the subject of Jesus’ teaching on Non-Violence. For anyone who aspires to follow Jesus this lecture is a must see. Wink’s books are well worn friends that I have often thumbed through to find more than a nugget or two to enable me to teach anew something that I have long since come to know as a result of Wink’s excellent work! His enlightening trilogy: Naming the Powers, Engaging the Powers, and The Powers that Be along with Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way should be at every preacher’s fingertips as we proclaim Jesus’ radical way of being in the world.  Follow this link to a sermon based on these resources.

Living Between the Old Story and the Emergence of the New Sunday: Evolution Sunday sermon

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On this the 208th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, progressive Christian communities celebrate Evolution Sunday

Readings from Thomas Berry and John 10:10 can be found here

I am indebted to the work of Richard Rohr for several insights found in his audio recordings of lectures entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”

Listen to the sermon here

 

D.I.V.O.R.C.E. – Tammy Wynette and googling biblical texts? – a sermon for Epiphany 6A

Aquinas purposeReadings included: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Thomas Aquinas’ “Otherwise the Darkness’ (pictured above) and from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:21-37 

Listen to the sermon:  

I must confess to you all, right here and right now, that I thought I was so clever a few weeks ago when I decided in my ever so finite wisdom that we should spend the season of Epiphany delving into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Sure, Jesus never actually preached the Sermon on the Mount, but it does represent a first century distillation of the teachings of Jesus. Whoever it was who wrote the Gospel according to Matthew put together a compilation of Jesus greatest hits and the Sermon on the Mount represents the teaching that Jesus died for. The Sermon on the Mount is the very heart of who Jesus of Nazareth was and so those of us who seek to follow Jesus in the 21st century ought to at the very least know what’s in these passages of scripture. So, I told you all that we’d take advantage of this unusually long Epiphany season to work our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Apart from the Beatitudes which function as the introduction of the sermon, these passages of scripture rarely come up in our three-year lectionary cycle of gospel readings. I thought I was so smart when I came up with this idea. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of the past five weeks of preaching on Jesus’ teachings. Well, Monday morning I got my comeuppance. Clearly, I’d forgotten all about today’s reading when I came up with this ingenious plan. Mondays are my day off, but sometimes I sneak into my office just to get the wheels in motion. I did a double take when I read these verses. I didn’t come out of my office for a couple of hours.

What was I thinking? But I told myself not to panic. If I stayed calm, I’d find a way through this mess. So, I picked some lovely hymns, thinking if nothing else Marney could lead us in some beautiful singing and you might forgive me for dragging us all into the hell fire and damnation that I was pretty sure these texts were going to take us to.

Tuesday morning, I thought I’d better check hat other preachers have said about these texts. Well, apart from some pretty conservative preachers, it was pretty slim pickings. Liberal and progressive preachers tend to leave these texts alone; most of the commentaries lead you back to the first reading from Deuteronomy and suggest sermons on the value of choosing life.  Most Lutheran resources suggest the preacher fall upon God’s grace as the only solution; and Lord knows a few years ago, I might have taken that option…back when I still believed that we were all fallen sinners in need of God’s unmerited grace to save us from the punishment due to us under the law. But I’ve moved so far away from the doctrines of original sin and atonement theories that this particular option although appealing would sound somewhat hallow coming from me. So, even though I suspected that in the end, I’d fall back on grace, it couldn’t be the kind of grace that gets handed out by some super gracious, super-natural being up there in the sky. So, I began wondering what a progressive does with this text once we’ve located grace not in the hands of a super-natural being, but as a quality that permeates creation. Well it was clear that most of the progressives I was consulting just avoided the problem of these texts altogether. So, I consulted a few of my progressive colleagues around the world to see if they could help. But most of them had seen this one coming and had opted for the second option for the gospel reading for this the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany and they are preaching on  a relatively tricky piece from the Gospel according to John and have enough problems of their own. One colleague, who no longer uses the prescribed readings, just laughed at me for not seeing this text coming while there was till time to do something about it. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep on Tuesday night. Visions of the fires of Gehenna danced through my head as I argued with Jesus. By Wednesday, I was feeling desperate. Continue reading

Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK – A Very Salty Trio: a sermon for Epiphany 5A

Gandhi on Sermon on the Mt copy

Rereading this sermon from 2014, I am struck by the power of Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK’s saltiness to address our current need for seasoning! In the wake of the tragedy at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City and 45’s racist travel ban, we must heed Jesus call to be salt! Sunday’s readings included Matthew 5:1-12, “What Jesus Means to Me by Mahatma Gandhi (found here) and Matthew 5:13-16. The full text of the Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be found here. 

Listen to the sermon here:

Like most people my age, I remember the days when families had only one television set and when I was just a kid, it was a black and white television. When I was eleven or twelve, we got one of those new-fangled colour TV sets. Back then kids functioned as remote controls; Mom and Dad decided what we watched. How else would I have seen all those grainy black and white documentaries? My parents were hooked on history and as a result my brother and I were introduced to some pretty incredible characters by way of those old grainy black and white films Many of the documentaries were about the majesty of the British Empire that dominated much of the world in those old grainy days. I can still remember being impressed by a little man, wearing what looked like a diaper and causing quite a commotion wandering around Britain and talking about home rule. I remember how excited my father was when the film showed this little fellow Gandhi talking to some striking Welsh miners, encouraging them in their fight against the mine-owners. It was the beginning of a long love affair with a giant of a man.

Back then, I loved reading biographies so the next time I was in the library I picked up three biographies about Gandhi and I’ve continued to read and watch whatever I can get my hands on about the life and teachings of Mohandis K. Gandhi. It was reading about Gandhi that caused me to take my first serious look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Up until then, I didn’t know much about the teachings of Jesus. We didn’t go to church, so what I knew about Jesus I’d picked up by osmosis; growing up in a Christian culture meant, I knew who Jesus was, but very little of what he taught. But reading about Gandhi, I discovered just how much of an influence Jesus had been on Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I knew that Gandhi’s methods had brought the British Empire to its knees, so I began to wonder about Jesus’ methods. You’ve got to remember when I was a kid, the Vietnam war was raging and the world was under constant threat of mutual annihilation as the American and Soviet empires threatened to blow us all into oblivion. Non-violence was more than just an intriguing idea; back then non-violence sounded like a life-line.

And so it was, that my interest in the life and teachings of a non-violent revolutionary from India, sent me scurrying to find the little Bible that I’d received as a gift from the Gideons when I was in grade five so that I could read Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I’d read that Gandhi had said that, if all he knew of Christianity was the Sermon on the Mount he himself would be a Christian. I had been told that we were Christians, but other than Christmas and Easter, I had no real evidence of my Christianity.

It has been said that Gandhi read both the Sermon on the Mount and Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita every day. He is reported to have said that “Much of what passes for Christianity today is a negation of the sermon on the Mount.” Gandhi asked, “Isn’t it is more important to do what Jesus wants us to do than to call him “Lord, Lord?”

As a faithful Hindu, Gandhi was unwilling to accept Christian dogma, but in Jesus, Gandhi recognized a great prophet; a prophet who pointed beyond himself to a world in which non-violence was more than just a dream, non-violence was necessary in order that men and women could live together in peace in order that they might live in union with God. In the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi discovered something that those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus so often miss or deny. The church, the very institution that Jesus’ teachings gave rise to, has for centuries left the salt out of Jesus’ teachings and offered up a flavorless dogmatic dish aimed at pleasing the palates of the powers of Empire to which it has been tied for centuries. As a result, the followers of Jesus all too often forget Jesus call to be the salt of the earth. Sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of the treasures we possess. Continue reading

Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with Our God – But Not Too Humbly! a sermon for Epiphany 4a

your-welcome

Readings: Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12. Listen to the sermon here

“In the Far East, the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”

One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story.  She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully.  Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.  After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.  By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.  Six months went by — still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however.  He just kept waiting for his seed to grow. Continue reading