TSADIYQ: So Much More than Mere Righteousness! – Amos 5:23-24

Years ago, when I was in the business of developing package holiday tours, I traveled on a junket to the city of Lima which was sponsored by the government of Peru. The Peruvian government tourist office was trying to convince the travel industry that Lima was about to become the hottest destinations for North Americans. I had never been to Peru before, but based on what I knew of the conditions in Peru, I strongly doubted that Canadians would be flocking there in great numbers. The now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways, had just opened up a new air route to Lima and it was my job to put together holiday packages for the airline. These government sponsored tours are designed to showcase a destination in its best light. So, I was not surprised when we were quickly hustled out of the airport in luxurious limos and taken to the best hotel in the city. That night after a magnificent meal we were briefed by the government tourism officials on what we could expect to find in the streets of Lima. During the course of our briefing, we were warned that from time to time during our stay we would undoubtedly run into “the odd beggar or two.”

The odd beggar or two? That phrase struck me as odd at the time.  But now it fills me with shame as I remember passively listening without comment. We were instructed not to let these beggars bother us. We were assured that many of them weren’t nearly as bad off as they looked and that we shouldn’t allow them to play on our sympathies and spoil our stay in Lima. According to our guide, begging was a way of life for most of the people who lived on the streets and if we showed them any courtesy, they would only try to take advantage of us. We were also warned to leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Wearing jewelry of any kind was strongly discouraged by our government guides.

The next morning as we prepared for our sightseeing tour, my assistant John and I, we dutifully deposited our valuables into the hotel safe. Before we left the hotel, John, who’d been on a few of these junkets with me in the past, asked me if I had enough change. John knew that our guide’s instructions about giving money to beggars would have, as usual, fallen on deaf ears. John didn’t like the idea that no matter where we were, if someone asked me for a handout, I always tried to oblige. John insisted that giving money to beggars sends out the wrong signal. He insisted that if you give money to one, then you’ll have to give money to all of them, and there’s no way that you can solve a beggar’s problems with a few coins, let alone deal with the problems of all the beggars who’ll jump on the gravy train. John and I had long since stopped arguing about the matter. We’d worked together for a long time, and we’d agreed to disagree, besides I was his boss, so rather than try to argue with me John just sort of looked out for me and tried to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble. I had assured John that I had enough small change to see us through the morning, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught from the homeless children of Peru.

It only took about ten minutes before my pockets were empty. When I ran out of coins, I was stunned when John took over where I left off. In the past, John had always managed to stick to his guns, but these kids somehow managed to get to him. It’s difficult for North Americans to understand how small children can be allowed to roam the streets. The poverty is beyond comprehension. I don’t remember much about the city of Lima. I couldn’t tell you anything about the tourist attractions which we visited. But I can still remember the pain and desperation in the eyes of the children we encountered. At lunch, John and I filled our pockets with left over bread and bits of cheese, which we gave to the children who accosted us outside the restaurant. John kept blaming me for starting something that we had no hope of finishing. But despite his insistence that we adopt a tougher stance, it was John who hustled over to the shop across the street and bought several loaves of bread, which he distributed, to a small band of kids who followed us the rest of the afternoon.

As we headed back to our hotel, I think both John and I took some consolation in the knowledge that for at least a few hours, the little band of kids who were following us, had food in their bellies. We were discussing the relative merits of buying these kids dinner, when a boy, who couldn’t have been more than about ten years old, came around the corner and blocked our way. Before John could do anything, the boy grabbed me by the arm. John was about to reach for the boy’s shoulder, but something in the boy’s appearance stunned John into stillness. The oozing sores which covered most of the boy’s face were revolting. It was as though this child was actually rotting before our very eyes. Before John or I could recover from the horror of being in such close proximity to septic human flesh, the boy reached for the silver necklace which hung around my neck. I had tucked the silver cross which hung around my neck inside my shirt so as not to attract attention to it. But as the boy took hold of the chain, the cross was revealed. The boy hesitated for just a moment, and the two of us exchanged a glace which contained such sorrow. And then in a flash, the boy, the chain, and the silver cross were gone.

I wasn’t too upset about the loss of a cheap silver chain and the cross was something which I had picked up in a flea market in London. So, all in all, I wasn’t out more than about twenty bucks or so. But John was livid.  He was furious and nothing I could say or do would calm him down. What upset John the most was his conviction that by stealing a cross the boy had crossed a line which was unforgivable. As John saw it, the moment of hesitation meant that the boy actually knew what the cross represented and then he stole it anyway. Peru is a largely Roman Catholic country and as John saw it, this kid had to know that what he was doing was wrong. The fact that this kid might have been starving wasn’t any kind of excuse as far as John could see. In John’s world, some lines should never be crossed, no matter how desperate you are.

Word of our altercation on the streets of Lima, eventually got back to our government guide, Mano, who, tried to understand John’s indignation over the theft of a cross, but somehow his heart just wasn’t in it. Mano did his best to explain the desperation of the children who live on the streets. But when John’s anger could not be consoled, Mano asked us if we’d like to see where most of these kids come from. So, the next morning Mano took John and I to a landfill just outside of Lima. There in the garbage of the city was a world I will never forget. Men, women and children living and dying in the decay and the filth of the city. Children, toddlers, poking around in the garbage trying to find something to eat. The smell and the stench of the steaming, rotting garbage was indistinguishable from the smell and the stench of the rotting children.

In that stinking mess, we saw things which still have the power cause me to weep. John, without speaking a word, began to empty his pockets. But there was no way that he or I could even begin to make a dent in the need. By the time we returned to the car we had quite a following. With no more cash left, we were desperate to get out of there. And yet, surrounded by such human need and overwhelmed by human stench, we stood by the car paralyzed by despair. Mano encouraged us to get in the car, but we just stood there, and we listened as the children tugging at our clothing and they begged us. They tried to get us to give them something, anything which would help them to survive. It was then that John took off the gold chain which hung around his neck. I couldn’t help noticing the gold cross which hung from that chain. John reached out to littlest of the boys and placed the treasure in his hands. Neither of us said a word on our way back to the hotel.

It wasn’t until about three weeks after we returned home that we actually talked to each other about our experience. John was having a difficult time reconciling what we did for a living with the weight of human need. Somehow helping to organize holidays for wealthy North Americans just wasn’t enough for him anymore. Six months later, John enrolled in teachers’ collage. He can’t help all the children, but he can and does help wherever and whenever he can. John is a righteous man.

For years the well-known phrase in the Book of the Prophet Amos, annoyed me. According to the story, Amos hears the annoyed voice of YHWH say, “Spare me the racket of your chanting! Relieve me the strumming of your harps! Instead, let justice flow down like a river, and righteousness flow like an unfailing stream.” (Amos 5:23-24) I could always relate to the longing to let justice flow. But righteousness was something I had little or no appetite for. In my mind, the idea of righteousness was always associated with the holier than thou crowd of self-righteous religious types. I had no desire to see righteousness flowing like an unending stream. The WISDOM of our Hebrew ancestors was hidden from me by the limited translations which I had always been offered of the Hebrew word tsadiyq. The common way our English word righteousness has come to be understood fails to capture the rich meanings of tsadiyg. In Hebrew and indeed in modern Judaism, tsadiyg goes so much deeper than mere righteousness. Tsadiyg is a way of being in the world which embodies the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY we call, “God.” For to practice tsadiyg is to seek ways of helping people in need. Tsadiyg is to be generous with your time and resources, to be charitable. Tsadiyg to be known not for your religious piety or self-righteous concerns, but to be famous for outrageous acts of generosity, kindness, and indeed charity. Charity, the word itself is an old-English word which comes from the Latin Vulgate’s translation of the Greek word, agape, which means LOVE. To be tsadiyg is to be LOVE in the world!

When I think of my old friend John’s outrageous act of charity, I know full well that his momentary act of desperation was irrational and in the end it probably did very little to change much of anything by the world’s standards. It could even be argued that it would be perfectly reasonable for me to respond with self-righteous indignation considering John’s initial reaction to my own feeble attempts to respond to suffering. Over the years I have heard all sorts of reasonable, some might even say righteous arguments, about why charity is futile. Many of us will refuse to give charity, arguing that we must get to the heart of the matter and solve the problems behind the suffering. Which brings us to the deepest meaning of the word tsadiyq, which is to seek justice. Justice, the kind of justice which Jesus embodied with his very life. The kind of justice which Marcus Borg described as “distributive justice.” Or as John Dominic Crossan puts it, “justice is when everyone has enough.” Tsadiyq is not an either-or way of being in the world. It’s not charity or justice. It’s both and. Charity and justice. Tsadiyq is outrageous acts of generosity. Charity if you will which is after all LOVE. Tsadiyq is also seeking justice. The kind of justice which concerns itself with distributing the blessings of Creation in ways which ensure everyone has enough. Justice which is in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public. Charity and justice are not either-or propositions, they are tsadiyq, a way of being LOVE in the world. Which brings us right back to righteousness.  Righteousness an English word which comes from an earlier English word, “rightwise.” There’s WISDOM at the heart of righteousness.  HOLY WISDOM Herself, the ONE our Hebrew ancestors speak of as dancing at the birth of Creation,  the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Let it be said of us that we embody tsadiyq, that we seek ways to be generous, charitable and outrageous in our efforts to serve others, that we are seekers of justice, so that all may have enough, that in our efforts to embrace tsadiyq we are rightwise in our desire to be LOVE in the world, so that justice may flow down like a river, and righteousness flow like an unfailing stream. Let it be so among us.  Let it be so.  Amen.

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METANOIA the First Words Out of Jesus’ Mouth – Mark 1:14-15

Metanoia is one of my favorite words in all of Scripture. Metanoia is also one of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. In the very first chapter of the first gospel written sometime after the year 70, by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark, the story of Jesus begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordon, followed by a brief allusion to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.

In all of this, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller’s Jesus remains silent, speaking not a word until the verse 15thverse of the first chapter, where we are told that John has been arrested and Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Listen to the first account of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, when Jesus’ proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” That’s it.  That’s all there is to it.  Jesus’ first words, according to the first of the four anonymous gospel accounts. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”

After giving us this first proclamation of Jesus, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller immediately moves the story on by taking Jesus for a walk down by the Sea of Galilee in search of some fishers to whom Jesus speaks his next words, “Follow me!” and you know how the rest of the story goes.

Sadly, very few of us seem to pay much attention to the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia.  Such a beautiful word.  Such a monumental beginning. Metanoia if only we could hear the blessing Jesus offered humanity, with this wondrous commandment, metanoia. Sadly, this magnificent commandment metanoia has been abused over the centuries. Tragically, translators have for far too long, offered us a severely limited translation of metanoia; a translation which fails to capture the richness or the beauty of metanoia.

For far too long, far too many of us have been stuck in our ways, the very ways from which Jesus was trying to set people free. We have been stuck in our ways but the little, limiting, restrictive, incomplete, dare I say, ugly translation of the word metanoia. Repent. Repent, I say. Repent! Repent, look it up.  Worse yet, Google it. Repent, let me quote Google for you, Repent means,  “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Google even uses it in a sentence: “the priest urged his listeners to repent.” Can it be that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse”? Well, I’m sure that there are all sorts of people who believe that we must repent if we want to follow Jesus. But as for me, I’m not buying it.

Did you ever notice how very often the little English word “repent” is followed by a dire warning designed to inspire fear? Repent or else something terrible is going to happen to you!  The number of times the little word “repent” is used to inspire fear and trembling in the name of Jesus, makes me wonder why so many of Jesus’ would-be followers have forgotten Jesus’ instructions about fear itself. Why is it that so many Christians are so well versed in the Ten Commandments, or the Greatest Commandment but so very few of us are as well versed in the top commandment? By top commandment, I mean the commandment most often cited in our sacred Scriptures. The commandment, “Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day of the year and once for no reason at all.”  “Do not be afraid.” In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” say it again and again, and then Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus is positively pre-occupied with the notion that we should not fear, have no fear, fear NOT! So, why are so many of Jesus’ followers so willing to choose fear? Fear is not Good News! Fear wells up from the darkest regions of our psyche and limits our capacity to be all that we are created to be, precisely because fear makes us obsess about our own self-interests and limits our ability to see beyond our needs to the needs of others. Fear limits our ability to co-operate with others and co-operation is the only hope for humanity.

There’s a story from India which sheds light upon the darkness of our fear. People have told this story for several thousand years. It’s about a man who was condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. The man was warned that if he made the slightest movement, the snake would be on top of him, and he would surely die. So, the man stood in the corner of the cell, directly opposite to where the snake was, and he was petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake to his presence. The man stood stiff in the corner. He was actually petrified all night long. The next morning, as the first rays of light began to come into the cell, the man was scarcely able to make out the shape of the snake, and he said to himself, “I am so lucky that I never stirred once during the night. But as the sun rose higher, when the full force of the light came into the cell, the man could finally see that the focus of his fear wasn’t a snake at all. It was nothing more than an old rope.

In so many of the rooms in our minds, there are harmless old ropes thrown in corners. When our fear begins to work on us, we convert those old ropes into monsters, who hold us prisoner in the bleakest, most impoverished rooms of our minds. Outside of these rooms there are glories waiting for us, but we remain transfixed and sometimes even paralyzed by our fears. For far too long now, the old rope of repentance has inspired fear in far too many people and humanity is not the better for it.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia, a Greek word made up of two Greek words: “meta” which means, “beyond” and “noos” which means “mind”. Metanoia is a full rich phrase which can be translated in many ways, ways beyond the fear-inspiring word “repent”.  Metanoia is an invitation to move beyond your current way of thinking. Metanoia is an invitation to think new thoughts.

Theologian Ron Rolheiser moved me beyond my own ways of thinking about metanoia when he described the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as a pun on the word “paranoia” also from two little Greek words “para” to be beside and “noos” for mind. To be beside one’s mind is the Greek for madness. Today the word paranoia is used as a diagnosis for the irrational fear that people are out to get you. Rolheiser interprets the first words out of Jesus mouth as an invitation away from paranoia and into metanoia. Or as Jesus and the prophets before him continuously proclaimed, “have no fear,” “do not be afraid,” or “Fear NOT!” 366 times.

Metanoia, come out of your fearful mind, move beyond fear, think new thoughts. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand!” The basileia ton theou, the reign of God, the kin-dom, the family of DIVINITY is Good News because it is at hand. Peace through justice is at hand, right here and right now, DIVINITY’s Reign of peace through justice, is within our grasp, through our hands, and our minds, and our dreams, beyond our fear. If we will only metanoia and believe the Good News! If we will only move beyond our current ways of thinking, beyond our fear-induced notions, beyond our paranoia, beyond ourselves, to LOVE. LOVE the greatest of the commandments. Let us metanoia, move beyond our fear to LOVE, so that all may know the kin-dom of the DIVINE MYSTERY we call God, the ONE who is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. Amen.

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Sermon: BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound Welling Up Within

My first conscious memory of hearing the BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound, the still small voice of DIVINITY happened on a sojourn into a Thin Place during a summer camping trip when I was just 13. My family had travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island to what was back then, a mostly unknown treasure. Pachena Bay is by far one of the most beautiful places in all of creation. These days hikers on the Pacific Rim trail often begin or end their hike by camping at Pachena Bay. But way back then; the bay was only accessible by the most treacherous of logging roads. And there was no official campsite back then. You simply asked the members of the First Nation for permission to pitch your tents on their land. As a result of this splendid isolation, we spent several weeks as the only family camped in this idyllic bay.

One of the main attractions at Pachena Bay were the pods of whales that are attracted to the bay. Pachena Bay with its warm Pacific waters, heated even more by virtue of its shallow depths, attracted schools of salmon, ling cod and halibut, who make up a veritable smorgasbord for the pods of whales, that continue to visit the bay to this very day. One quiet afternoon my brother Alan and I were playing on the shore. Our parents were sound asleep when the whales arrived. I’m not sure how many whales entered the bay. Our count was based on the number of spouts that emanated from their blowholes. So, there could have been half a dozen or there could have been only one whale. Anyway, we did what any self-respecting kid would have done in our position. We jumped into the rubber dingy, and we paddled as fast as we could, determined to chase whales. Now, the dingy wasn’t totally inflated on account of the leak that it had sprung the day before. So, it made it difficult for us to work up much speed. But I must tell you, when that first whale jumped up out of the water, and we saw the tell-tale signs of those white patches on its side, we moved faster than you’d think two kids in a slowly deflating rubber dingy ought to be able to manage.

Killer whales. These days they are called orcas. But Alan and I, we knew exactly what they were, and they certainly weren’t beautiful orcas to us. They were big giant killer whales, and we knew that we were their lunch. Suddenly, one of those magnificent monsters rubbed up against the bottom of our dingy. I went headfirst into the ocean, and I sank like a stone. The underwater sight of two killer whales caused me to open my mouth to scream and water rushed into my lungs. I knew I was about to drown. That’s when I heard the small voice. It was a very quiet little voice deep down inside of me, at least I think it was inside of me. The small voice within my very soul said only one word “Swim.”

And swim we did all the way back to shore. When our heartbeats returned to normal, we decided that we’d made a clean escape and we chose not to share the adventure with our sleeping parents. As frightened as I was, I was determined to get close to these magnificent beasts. So, the next morning I rose early, and as the mist was rising over the water I paddled out toward the mouth of the bay and waited. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in the presence of something much larger than myself. As a whale gently brushed the underside of the dingy, a strange calm came over me and I was not afraid.  It was as if my whole being was alive. One of the whales rose out of the water and as she came crashing down, I marveled at the magnificence of this beast. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, the whales moved on and I was left to clumsily put words onto the depth of my experiences, in what the ancient Celts would call a Thin Place; a place where the lines between the ordinary and the sacred are thin, and we can see, feel, touch, hear the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. 

There’s a story in the Hebrew Scriptures which resonates with me in light of some of my own experiences in Thin Places, in the presence of MYSTERY. You’ll find it in the first Book of Kings. (1 Kings 19:1-12) It is about a prophet named Elijah, who was struggling to understand the will of the they knew as YHWH, the HEBREW name for the MYSTERY we call God, which can be translated as I AM, WHO AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE or the GREAT I AM. Our HEBREW ancestors, JESUS’ very own kin, understood the MYSTERY which we call GOD, as the verb TO BE, for this MYSTERY IS BEING itself.  Anyway, poor old Elijah suffered in his quest to bring the WORD of YHWH to his people and in the midst of his turmoil, Elijah was lost and fearing for his life.   As the ancient storytellers weave their tail, Elijah was familiar with the voice of YHWH, so much so that he dared to argue with the voice.

One day, Elijah demanded of the voice, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.” Elohim (that’s an ancient Hebrew word which we translate simply as God or Lord.  The word literally translates as EL – the generic term for a god, put together with the feminine form of the word for “majesty” – so clearly “LORD” is not a correct translation for ELOHIM the God who is described as more than one QUEEN?) But I digress. “ELOHIM,” the GOD who is the feminine plural of MAJESTY, said to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWEH, for YAHWEH is about to pass by.” Imagine the MYSTERY, which is the I AM, the very essence of BEING is about to pass by. Our Hebrew storyteller paints such a vivid picture of the Thin Place in which Elijah stands. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWEH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.”

“A still small voice.” Our English translations do not do the HEBREW justice. For after the fire came a BAT KOL. BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND or as some translations put it the DAUGHTER OF A VOICE. ELOHIM the MYSTERY which IS the god known by our ancestors as the GOD who IS the feminine plural of MAJESTY, the ONE Elijah knew as YHWH, the ONE who IS the verb TO BE, the I AM, this ONE comes to Elijah in the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND.

Have you heard Her this DAUGHTER OF A SOUND? Back when I was just 13, I didn’t really have words to describe what was happening, but the experience was so vivid that over the years I’ve often traveled back to those moments of wonder. It was as if I was connected for the first time to all that I could see and to more than I could see. I felt a strength within, and a power envelope me, and even though, it overwhelmed all my senses, I was not afraid. I had a confidence which goes beyond words; a confidence which began with one WORD, a word uttered by the BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, which spoke a still small word from within me. A kind of assurance that I was an intricate part of something so much bigger than myself. The colours of the bay were more vivid than before, and it was as if I could actually taste the contours of the mountains. I felt held and cared for in a way which defies explanation because it is beyond words and yet grounded in the WORD which welled up within me. All too soon, the experience ended, and I was left feeling like I’d travelled beyond the bay to a place beyond time itself.

It would be years and years before I could put a name to where I’d been, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I had encountered the HOLY in that DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, who spoke within. The HOLY, the MYSTERY, the DIVINE, the ONE we call “God.” Years of reflecting on the various times in my life when the BAT KOL, the still small voice, the Daughter of a Sound has welled up within me has led me to a word which I believe comes close to describing the ONE whom I encountered all those years ago, the ONE who I long for to this day, the ONE who grounds me in this life….that word is LOVE. LOVE in which I live and move and have my being, ONE with all that IS LOVE. LOVE which lives in, with, through and beyond you and me, speaks to us in a still small voice, the BAT KOL. May the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND speak within you and be heard within you, so that you may know the power of the BAT KOL and embody LOVE in the world. SWIM.  BE. For you are ONE with the LOVE which IS BEING itself. BEING BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF.  Amen.

View the full BAT KOL Worship Video below

DABHAR the ISNESS of DIVINITY the CREATIVE ENERGY of WORD and DEED

Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.

I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.

Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?

That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. 

It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land.  Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.

I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.  

I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years.  I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.

Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.

“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS.  It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS.

Our ancient Hebrew ancestors had a word for this ISNESS; a word that is inadequately translated into English as “The WORD”.  But the Hebrew word DABHAR means so much more than “The WORD”. In Genesis the word DABHAR is used to describe the compelling creative energy which brought Creation into being. The word DABHAR is the “word and the deed” of the CREATOR of all that IS; the compelling creative energy which set the Cosmos in motion. In the beginning was the DABHAR and the DABHAR was with GOD and the DABHAR was GOD. The DABHAR, the creative energy, the word and the deed, DABHARed light and sky, and it was good. The DIVINE MYSTERY, went on DABHARing and this compelling creative energy created all that IS, WAS, and ever shall BE. We live and breathe and have our being in this very ISNESS that is all that IS and ever shall BE. This Creation IS, and in this ISNESS we are held, and touched, loved, caressed, and moved to be all that we are. Creation is the sacred DABHAR the WORD and DEED of the ONE which IS.

I remember standing on top of Creation, absolutely still except for the breath breathing in me. All around me I could feel the CREATIVE ENERGY of the meadow, the movement of the mountaintops which lay below me, and the dance of the sky, and the BREATH, the RUACH of it all that IS caressing me, holding me, touching me, moving in me, LOVing me as it went on creating, DABHARing beyond me.

It is an awesome thing, this DABHAR, this WORD and DEED, this CREATIVE ENERGY, this ISNESS which we call God. You don’t need to go up to the top of a mountain, you just need to let the words, the images, the symbols, and all the distractions fall away and simply BE. BE in the presence of all that IS. BE in the presence of all that IS. The beauty of all that IS, the LOVE which IS, IS in, with, through, and beyond you, DABHARing and DABHARing, now and forever.  Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY.

View the Full DABHAR Sunday Worship Service below

 

CELEBRATE PRIDE: Transforming Taboos and Recognizing Tapus – Celebrating Our Sexuality!

Happy Pride everyone! For those of us who are queer survivors of the church’s long history of persecution, these are indeed glorious days! For centuries, the church has had a problem with sexuality, sexualities of all descriptions, whether gay, or straight, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, or gender fluid, sexualities of all types were a problem for the church! Somehow over the years, the church lost its way when it comes to the miracles which are our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Sex is a blessing, a wonderous gift from our CREATOR! And yet somehow the church failed for so very long to be grateful for the blessings of sex, sexuality, gender-diversity, and celebrating the joys of being queer, they became taboo in the church. No sex please we’re christian! Sex was distorted by the church into something perverse. The church became incapable of even discussing sexual diversity, let along celebrating with pride, those who are queer.

Our very existence in the church was taboo. There’s an interesting thing about that word taboo – you see the word didn’t come into the English language until the 18th century when Captain Cook brought it back with him from New Zealand. Our word “taboo” comes from the Maori, “tapu” which actually means sacred, holy, to be revered, handed down with reverence, and somehow over the decades this beautiful Maori word for sacred and holy was changed, as language is often changed. This word was changed into a perverse word which means unspeakable or worse yet untouchable. A taboo is something to be hidden away, ignored, denied, or destroyed. In my lifetime, I have been taught by the church to condemn homosexuality, which for me meant learning to despise who I am, so much so, that I chose to hide who I am. Today, I am proud of who I am.

I am also grateful for the blessing of being a proud same-gender-loving, queer pastor. We’ve come a long way in a few decades. Pride celebrations give us an opportunity to remember where we have been, look at where we are and to discover hope for the future, for journey that we are on; this journey of equality and inclusion. Which we hope will become a reality for more and more of our LGBTQI2s+ sisters and brothers all over creation.

One of the things that we wanted to do this morning was to reflect a little bit on where we’ve been and then explore some of the places we might like to go. So, I was wondering if the members of the Worship Team would be willing to share with me some of their experiences with queer folk and so I invited them to join me this morning. We’re just going to have a conversation and invite you to eavesdrop on our conversation about where we have been. So, if someone is willing to start by giving us a little clue into some of your experiences with LGBTQ folk.

OK to start. I was nursing at Toronto General in the late 70s early 80s. I’d grown up in England and really not come across any openly gay people. So, coming to Toronto was was quite an experience for me. But one day we were going into a patient who was HIV positive and the doctor dressed up in gowns and gloves and so did I. I think we had to take blood. And so, we went in very carefully, very aware of what we touched and what we didn’t charge, very aware of the needle and recapping it. And then the patient’s partner came in. No gown. No gloves. He came in and he massaged the patient’s feet. I was so struck by y the love, the pure selfless love with which he demonstrated he cared about his partner. And I thought, boy some marriages could do with a little bit more of this. Plus, the fact that I am not very keen on peoples’ feet. So to massage  someone else’s feet is way up there for me. I’ve never forgotten the love and to me that’s really all that matters between people.

Well, Jane I have to agree with you on the love. Certainly 50 years ago, I had barely heard the words gay or lesbian and I had never given the concept much thought. And then one night I was at my brother’s house, with my sister, and we had supper together , and he came out to us. Now you have to understand I had the greatest brother in the world. I was ten years older than him, so we actually became friends and got to know each other as adults. But the kindness and the compassion and the love that he had for everyone. He was so inclusive. When he came out I said to him, “OK I can support your choice.” Oy vey! Little did I know choice does not part of the equation. So I had a lot of learning to do. And he took me and taught me and I just learned so very, very much form him.  He was fortunate enough to marry when the government finally allowed that. And the other really wonderful part of that, was that is partner had a son. And he, that the family time with his partner and his son where just wonderful to him.  During the 80s and 90s he accompanied and lost a number of friends to HIV aids. But he was always there for them. I learned a lot from him. He was the greatest.

I also have a story from the early days. My husband was in the floral industry for over 20 years and beginning before we were even married. And so, that really automatically meant that we had many friends and acquaintances and co-workers in the industry, who were gay. And it certainly was a place of acceptance there and I have to say we learned more about unconditional love and acceptance than from many other traditional couples, heterosexual couples who we knew particularly in the church family elsewhere. As things developed, we attended a convention in the States connected with the floral events, and we took our kids with us and we stayed with a gay couple on the way down and had interactions and get togethers with many other gay people and couples, while we were down there. And upon returning, another couple not close friends but again someone in the church family, questioned us when we told them about our trip, questioned us about whether we were concerned about the influence on our children. And we said absolutely not. But we didn’t pursue it any further. We did not want to ruffle the feathers. Instead we chose then and in future days just to keep talking about our other friends and how wonderful they were and the experiences that we had with them. And by that method hoping that they would begin to think and possibly change their own minds.

Marney I like the way that you used the term traditional family. I think my growing up was fairly conservative community Church, traditional family. The community was pretty white. almost exclusively white, so to see someone else that was a different colour, let alone question whether they had a different type of family system was very unfamiliar for me. I’ve been working in healthcare for quite a number of years and certainly met people of all stripes, colours, sexual orientations within that. And I struggled to try and find a story out of that without risking sharing any personal information about patients that I’ve seen. So, I’m going to take a slightly different look at it. I’m going to look at it from my experience within the church itself. I think I told the story before, that I was the typical young man following God’s call, right. But I was the only young man in my class. So we looked at the diversity in that women and men, and young and old, a good indication that the church was moving forward with better inclusion. But boy did we have a long way to go. So, I’m grateful, really grateful to have been in the church in the last 25 years that has struggled with this inclusion. I remember some very heated assemblies, were we were  engaged in some pretty nasty family fights over some of these assemblies, as we discerned who we were, and who was in, and who was out, and we’ve made some pretty substantial gains toward a fuller understanding of God’s grace that does not exclude. But certainly as a church, when I say church I mean national, regional, organization, but congregations as well, we still have quite a distance to go. It was not only the church that was growing. I was doing an incredible amount of growing and continue to grow in understanding God’s grace that does not exclude.

I went through my music degree and in the music world or have long been people of different sexual orientations. So I was introduced early on to beautiful people that I have no problem seeing God in them. I had no problem seeing full spectrum of human experience, irrespective of their sexuality. And also encountered less commonly people would identify as bisexual. And that’s the interesting part for me now, is that more and more people I meet are indicating that they’re not 100% one or the other, that there is a fluidity that is gaining legitimacy.  I used to be that the gays were mad at the people who weren’t fully gay because they were betraying their true nature. But I don’t think that’s the story. I think there’s more variety than we’ve been led to believe, and society seems to be finally open letting people be. And people loving is such a powerful thing. And that’s what determines my take on everything. If it allows them to express more that needs to be encouraged and enabled and not hampered in any ways or form.

We’ve certainly come a long way from seeing any conversation in the church about our sexuality as taboo to beginning to take those first steps of being inclusive of the diversity of sexuality’s. And even celebrating sexuality and our bodies in the church. So, we’ve certainly come along way. We do have a long way to go as we as we learn from one another what it means to be fully human.

What does it mean to be fully human? Those of us who aspire to follow Jesus, we have this sacred story which will be read in churches all over the world this week. It is the story of a woman whose humanity, particularly the female attributes of her humanity cast her beyond inclusion in society. As the story goes this unnamed woman, fell prey to her society’s fears. Fears and taboos go hand in hand, and the only way I know of overcoming fears and taboos is LOVE. The healing power of LOVE is the way in which LOVE draws us into intimacy. Taboos cannot survive intimacy. The unnamed woman in our story walked up to Jesus and she touched the hem of his garment. This woman would have been oppressed by the social norms of her day; so much so that we could say that she herself was a living, walking, touching, taboo. Our Jewish ancestors believed that blood contains the sacred power of new life. We are only now beginning to discover that our Jewish foremothers were accustomed to setting themselves apart during their periods. This was a sacred time for women, a time to forgo their regular chores and hardships, a time to contemplate the sacredness of life. It was as our Maori friends would say a tapu – a sacred time. Sadly, like the word tapu itself, it didn’t take long four our ancestors to take something sacred and turn it into a taboo. What was once liberating became oppressive as our ancestors began to fear the power of blood. This unnamed woman would have been required to stay away and if she did encounter people, the law required her to shout out a warning:  Unclean! Unclean! Unclean.”

In the desert heat, I expect that the smell alone would have alerted Jesus to the reality that the person who touched him was indeed a bleeding woman. When the woman fell at Jesus’ feet she was trembling with fear, she told Jesus everything and Jesus responded not by calling her out as a “bleeding woman” but by calling her “Daughter”.

Daughter. No longer an outcast but a Daughter.  A member of the family. Kin. A Child.  Beloved. In my sacred imagination, I like to imagine that the anonymous-gospel-storytellers told this story in a kind of male-muddled order. To hear them tell it the woman was healed before she told her story. I believe that the woman was made whole after Jesus listened to the woman and heard her tell her own story. Frightened and trembling the unnamed woman fell at Jesus’ feet and told him the whole truth of who she was.

“My Daughter,” Jesus said, “My Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace”. No longer taboo, this beloved Daughter is seen in the full glory of her humanity, a tapu, sacred, holy, divine, a beloved child of the ONE who is LOVE, the transformative power of Creation to heal and make whole.

So today, let us celebrate this LOVE which has which has brought those of us who are queer all the way from being taboo in the church to being celebrated, with PRIDE as tapu, sacred, holy, beloved, daughters, sons, genderfluid, queer, loving beings. May the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY breathe in, with, through, and beyond each and every one of us, beLOVed children of the HOLY ONE. Happy Pride everyone!  Happy Pride.  

Blessing:      

Remember you are tapu.

Beloved children of the HOLY ONE.

May LOVE continue to breathe in, with, through, and beyond

each and every one of you beloved Tapus

for you are sacred, holy, beautifully and wonderfully made,

children of the ONE who is

BEYOND THE BEYOND AND BEYOND THAT ALSO,

OUR LOVER Beloved and LOVE itself. Amen.

View the full Pride Worship Celebration below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

RESPECT! – Learning from the Seven Grandfathers

I can hear them, even now, their voices wash over me like a gentle breeze. My Grandad’s stern, crisp, Belfast accent. My Nannie’s sweet playful, almost wistful Northern Irish lilt. My Gran’s sing-songie Welsh tones. The three Grandparents I knew, and I adored, whose voices echo even now across the years, over the miles, across many waters, along this shore, prompting me with the values which were instilled in them by their grandparents. Not the least of which was the insistence that I, we, you, all of us must respect our elders. Back then, in the exuberance of my youth, I didn’t think much of the values my own elders tried to impart to me. I do remember thinking that their warnings about respecting my elders, was just their way, as my elders, of making themselves heard. Now, with my own youth and exuberance spent, the reality that I am now older than they were when my Grandparents claimed for themselves their right to be respected, I wonder if I’ve done enough to instill the values my Grandparents instilled in me, in my own grandchildren. When they stand on the shores of this majestic lake, will my voice float across the waters and if it does will the values of my elders, still be heard, so that they too will one day be able to claim for themselves the right to be respected?

This beautiful water which carries the echoes of my elder’s wisdom to me, was named by the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, Ouentironk. Ouentironk is the Anishinaabe language, and it means Beautiful Water. From the Anishinaabe elders, generation after generation have heard the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers waft across the waters of Ouentironk; teachings imparted to ensure that each generation could discover for themselves the ways to live in peace; peace with the land, peace with the waters, peace with their neighbours, peace in themselves. The teaching of the elders which insists that, “To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. To know Love is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have Respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.  Truth is to know all of these things.” Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, seven sacred teachings imparted from one generation to the next, values carefully chosen to remind each generation to judge their own actions by considering how their actions will impact the harmony of generations to come.

Standing here on the shore of Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water, I cannot help wondering if generations to come will know the beauty of this water or will the ways of those of us who are settlers in this land, and the ways of our elders, will they continue to destroy the harmony of generations to come. I know that my elders held little respect for the elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. I know that the values of my own elders failed to instill in me much, if any concern for the harmony of generations to come. It is oh so telling that our own congregation’s celebration of National Indigenous Sunday does not include a single Indigenous person. While I’d like to blame the corona-virus lockdown for this, I cannot. A very big part of settler privilege is the shameful reality that most settlers, we live our lives isolated from Indigenous Peoples. The harmony of our own generation remains unrealized as a discordant cacophony rages in storm after storm. We settlers have grown weary of the discord as each storm rages: pandemic fears, accentuated by the news of systemic racism, followed by waves of nauseating grief revealed by the discovery of 215 tiny bodies, callously tossed into an unmarked grave, and the haunting reality of untold numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women. There was no time to hunker down in our small socially distant boats, before the storm of Islamophobia raged once again, sweeping away members of three generations of a family.

What will the generations to come hear from us, their elders, when they stand on this shore? What harmonies will echo down from our generation to the next, and the next, and the next? Can we settlers sift through the sins, the crimes, the abuses perpetrated by our elders and underscored by our indifference. Can we sift through these to discover some wisdom in the teachings of our past? Can we settlers listen and learn from the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we move from the discord of our white, settler privilege to harmonies which will ring true to those who suffer the pain we have wrought?

From our ancestors, we proclaim a gospel which tells the tale of a teacher and his students caught in the waves raging storm. The confident teacher, lies sleeping upon a cushion in their small boat, his students terrified that they are about to drown, wake their teacher, demanding of him, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Their teacher awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging waters, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind dropped, and everything was perfectly calm.

This sacred story, told down through the generations of our ancestors, now rings in our ears. Sadly, in our socially distant boats, with storms of the pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, raging all around us, we see ourselves as the demanding followers of the Teacher, left with no other choice but to wait for some sleeping teacher to wake up and save us, by magically commanding the raging waters to “Be still.” It is as if we have failed to learn anything at all from the very Teacher, we expect to save us. We settlers who profess to follow our Teacher, refuse to learn from our most revered elder, who insisted that he and the CREATOR of storms are ONE. We have forgotten the language of story itself and failed to embrace the power of metaphor to carry us beyond the storm. Jesus lived and died proclaiming the Wisdom of his own elders, which insisted that we are created in the image of our MAKER, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, empowered with such wonderous creativity and capable of unfathomable destruction. Jesus, our Teacher, insisted the only way to achieve peace was through the harmony which comes when we LOVE one another, for we are created in the image of the ONE who is LOVE and that same LOVE lives, and moves and has being in the world in, with, through, and beyond us. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm, and everything was perfectly calm. But Jesus didn’t let his students rest. Disturbed by their failure to do anything to save themselves, Jesus demanded to know, why they were so frightened?  “Have you no faith?”

Have we no faith? Tossed about by the raging storms of pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, have we no faith in the creative powers which live in, with, through and beyond us? Are we content to confine the powers of LOVE to a long-ago Teacher, even if that Teacher tried with his very life to teach us that the LOVE which created us, lives in us? Our Teacher, Jesus lived to  show us how to use the power of LOVE to save ourselves? Our saviour is not out there, or up there, or back there in the past. Our saviour is the ONE who IS LOVE, and that ONE, that LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Calming the raging storms, creating the harmonies of justice which in turn creates the very peace we long for. This is our work. We are called to embody the very LOVE which created us to be LOVE in the world.

But in the turmoil of so many raging storms, where do we begin? I hear my own Grandparents’ voices encouraging me to respect my elders and I wonder if perhaps, respecting my own elders means seeing them in the fullness of their humanity and recognizing that all too often the choices which they made leaned heavily into humanity’s destructive powers and not into humanity’s creative powers. As each generation evolves, we need to learn from our elders, even as we learn from our own experiences. So that, we can develop wisdom which we might impart to the generations which follow us.

Jesus, our beloved Teacher, insisted that the most important rules he learned from his elders were to LOVE our CREATOR and to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves, Jesus then went on to insist that even our enemies are in fact our neighbours, and went so far as to insist that we learn to love our enemies. So, let us respect our elders by seeking ways to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves. Surely, our LOVE for our neighbour must include learning to LOVE our neighbours’ elders as well.

So, let us look, on this Fathers’ Day to the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, who as the sacred story goes, gifted the generations which followed them with seven Teachings which even now echo across this Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water. Listen to the sacred teachings of the elders of our sisters and brothers: “To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. To know LOVE is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.”

Seven teachings may seem like a tall order for those of us who are only beginning to embrace our calling to be LOVE in the world, especially when so many storms are raging all around us.

Where do we begin? Like the students in Jesus’ boat, I want to know which teaching of the elders is the most important. Alas, to our shame, in our congregation there is no Indigenous teacher of any generation among us to instruct us on how to begin. So, let us begin with something we hold in common with our Indigenous neighbours, respect for our elders. Let us begin with Respect: as the Indigenous Elders insist: “One of the teachings around resect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time, we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of Creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal –in order to receive respect, one must give respect.”

We must get to know our Indigenous sisters and brothers so that together we can develop respect for one another. Sadly, far too many of us settlers have entered into relationships with Indigenous neighbours only to use them to try to assuage our guilt, or to teach us how to do better, or to solve our problems for us. This is not respect. We settlers, we have homework to do. Knowing requires learning, learning requires careful study, humble listening, discipline, taking risks, the courage to make mistakes, looking foolish, owning our guilt, and acknowledging the pain we encounter in the people we are longing to know. Only when we learn the respect which comes from really knowing the other will we be ready for the difficult work of reconciliation.  As the Indigenous Elders insist, the truth is, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth these are teachings which go hand in hand. To have wisdom” they insist, “to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.”

The Grandfathers’ warning to each successive generation insists that, “You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive ourselves or others.”

My hope, my prayer for my own generation is that each of us might wake up in our socially distant boats to embody the power of LOVE which lives and moves and has being in, with, through, and beyond us, and rise up to command the storms raging around us, by the power of our LOVE  to “Be Still. Peace.” Then we can set out onto the shores of this new emerging future which stretches before us, resolved to respect our elders, all of our elders by getting to know our neighbours in ways which foster respect for the gifts of our CREATOR. So that together, we might learn from one another to LOVE our CREATOR with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For, in loving our Indigenous neighbours we will come to know the wisdom passed down to them from their elders, who knew the wisdom of judging their own actions by trying to imagine the impact their actions might have on the generations which follow them. Surely, in our shared, common humanity, our concern for those who follow us will give us the courage to work with one another to foster the harmonies of justice, so that peace may break out among us and for generations to come the beautiful water of this Ouentironk might carry the echoes of our cries, “Peace, Be Still!” to the generations who follow us. Let it be so. Let it be so now and always. Let it be so.  Amen.  

View the full National Indigenous Peoples Sunday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

We Are ONE!

Here we are again. How did we end up here again? As I listened to a politician, his head adorned in a neatly wrapped Sikh pagri, insist that “this is our Canada!” my own heart sank. For I too, have spoken my own objections, along the lines of: “This is not our Canada.” As my head fell in shame, this politician used these words: “The reality is, this is our Canada. This is our Canada!  Our Canada is a place where 215 little kids were found dead in an unmarked grave. Our Canada is a place where you can’t walk down the streets if you wear a hajib because you will be killed. This is our Canada. We can’t deny it. We can’t reject that because it does no one any good. The reality is our Canada is a place of racism, of violence, of genocide of indigenous peoples, and our Canada is a place where Muslims aren’t safe. They aren’t safe,” he said. “They aren’t safe. Muslims are not safe in this country.”[1]  Whether you agree with his politics or not, Jagmeet Singh’s indictment begs the question: How did we get here? Why are the seeds of racism and hatred flourishing in our land, and in the lands of our neighbours? The stark realities are clear, even if the sources of the infestation remain hidden, buried beneath our carefully held illusions of our own innocence.

They were out for their daily, evening stroll. A close loving family, coping with lockdown, by strolling the streets of their own neighbourhood. Taking in the sights.  Reviewing their day. Telling their stories. Anticipating tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. He, he is a deranged young man whose mental illness is fertile ground for the seeds of hatred scattered across our land, growing within our communities such noxious weeds, that our efforts to root them out fail over and over again.

We can no longer deny that the seeds of racism and hatred are growing at a pace which threatens to choke our long-ago dreams of a multicultural paradise. We dreamed that dream.  We spoke pretty words. We invited newcomers into our land. We planted our seeds and we hoped for the best. But we failed somehow, not enough water? not the right fertilizers? or perhaps, too much neglect, and indifference?

As you can probably tell from my hack-handed metaphors, I’m not much of a gardener. Like many of my fellow Canadians, I’ve smugly looked askance at the racial turmoil in our American neighbours’ land, and I haven’t paid enough attention to what’s happening in my own backyard. I am, however, a theologian and a student of religions. I know that the very word Islam translates into English as peace and that the Qur’an teaches that “PEACE” is one of the names of ALLAH.  I know that our indigenous sisters and brothers teach that all people should live in harmony with the nature and all that nature contains. I know that our Jewish sisters and brothers gifted us with the commandment to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” I know that Sikh communities hold values which extol an egalitarian vision of community in which men and women, and members of all social groups are equally respected. I know that our Hindu sisters and brothers hold dear the doctrine of ahimsa, which means to foster respect for all living things and includes the practice of non-violence. I also know that our sisters and brothers of no particular faith at all, understand the values of living without fear, in lands where all people are free to live peacefully.

So, why are the seeds of racism, and hatred flourishing in so many lands? Especially, when so many splendid gardeners have planted so many good seeds upon the land? I may not be much of a gardener, but one thing I have learned, is speed with which weeds can grow to make a mess of any garden. Fear and our self-centered quest for survival are spreading unchecked within us and around us. Fear of the “other,” fear that “they” “those people” are somehow a threat to “us,” a threat to “our ways,” a threat to “our lifestyles,” our very survival, these fear as irrational as it has become, this fear is fertilizing the seeds of racism and hatred which are growing like weeds.

So, if “this is our Canada” what are we to do? The Qur’an teaches us that our CREATOR created us all “out of one single soul, created, out of like nature, the mate, and from them twain scattered like seeds countless men and women.”[2]

In the Qur’an you will find these words: “O humanity! Indeed, WE created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of ALLAH is the most righteous among you. ALLAH is truly ALL-KNOWING, ALL-AWARE.”[3]

The Christian mystic Julian of Norwich provides a way of seeing our sisters and brothers of all faiths and of no particular faith at all, Julian insists that, “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” The very nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God, is in the DNA of all.  We are all sacred, all holy, all DIVINE, created as ONE by the ONE in whom we all live, and move, and have our being. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, in ALL, we need not fear “the other” for we are ONE in the LOVE which made us.

I can already hear some of you ask, “That’s all well and good, but what are we to do to? How do we tend to this blessed garden?”  There are weeds growing everywhere and fear is on the rise. I do wish I was a better gardener. All I can say is that LOVE casts out fear and if we can eliminate the fear, then the noxious weeds of racism and hatred will wither and die.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, what does this LOVE look like, how do we apply this LOVE to our beloved garden? Well, dear ones, I suspect that some of our gardening skills have lain dormant for far too long. It is long past time for us to be LOVE in the world. The next time you see a woman wearing the hijab or a man wearing a turban, put yourself in their place and ask yourself, what you would want if you were them. This is what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

A smile, I know it’s difficult right now to smile when we are wearing masks, so smile with your eyes and say, “Hello. Good to see you!”  or “Salaam Alaikum.” If you don’t have friends from different religions and cultures, ask yourself why and begin to make some overtures to strangers. Put yourself outside your own comfort zone. Take some risks. Make some mistakes. Learn new ways of being human from humans who do things differently that you do. Take a course in another religious tradition. Make a friend. Be a friend. Commit outrageous acts of kindness. Be recklessly hospitable.

Foolishly generous. Listen and learn. Stand in solidarity. Grieve with those who are grieving. Try to understand the pain of those who have been wounded. Give up some of your privilege, lord knows, most of us have way more than our fair share. Be LOVE in the world by planting some seeds and then tending those seeds and watching them grow.

Jesus compared the Kin’dom of DIVINITY, the Family of the DIVINE to “a mustard seed, which people plant in the soil: it is the smallest of the Earth’s seeds, yet once it is sown, it springs up to become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in the shade.”

A little boy is lying in a hospital bed, and he is in pain. Let us plant seeds and tend this garden in Fayez’s name, trusting that we are ALL ONE, ONE in the LOVE, which is our CREATOR, ONE in the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God. Amen.

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[1] Jagmeet Singh, House of Parliament, June 8, 2021

[2] Qur’an 4:1

[3] Qu’ran 49:13  Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

Putting away our Trinity toys!

I have a Hindu friend, who I once had the audacity to ask, how he managed to keep track of all the 330 million gods of Hinduism. I have a difficult enough time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I can’t imagine how I would cope with 330 million gods. My friend just laughed and said, “You christians with your three gods, have forgotten that all gods are just educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE god, who is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”

Many of you know that BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, has now become my own way of expressing the Trinity. I suspect that my friend may be right. We christians have indeed forgotten that even the Trinity of CREATOR, CHILD, and SPIRIT are merely educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

We christians certainly aren’t very good at putting our toys away. I suspect that Jesus, who knew nothing about the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus who insisted that we must be born again in order to see the basileia ton theon basileia is a Greek word for the kin-dom or household, or family of God. I must confess that Jesus’ idea of being born again, carries with it all sorts of baggage which I have been carrying around for so very long, it makes me weary. In the words of Nicodemus, who like me longs to see the ONE who is DIVINITY, Nicodemus who asked Jesus: “How can an adult be born a second time?” Well, it’s Trinity Sunday after all. So, we might as well put our toys away, or set them aside, all the words designed to teach us something about the Trinity, let’s put those toys away and imagine for just a moment, that we are born again into a new life, a life without our treasured toys. A life with but a few words: Mama, Mama, Mama, Dada, Dada, Dada. Have you ever noticed how breathy our first words were? Ma, Ma, Da, Da . . .

As infants that ah sound, is breathed into our world as an offering which delights the object of our desire. Ma, Da, Ma – ahhh ahhh, ahhh, our very breath offered to the object of our desire, the ONE who gave us breath. Surely, it is no mere coincidence that the ancient Hebrew word for breath is ruach and the ancient Greek word is nooma ? Even less of a coincidence is the very name of the MYSTERY we call “GOD.” The name so sacred that our ancestors did not speak it. A name better breathed than spoken, YHWH – YAWEH – I AM, WHO AM or I SHALL BE, WHO I SHALL BE . . . YAHWEH, RUACH, RUACH. The ONE that IS. The ONE we desire to know. The ONE expressed by Jesus, with breath ABBA – AAABBAA, AAABAA – Jesus understood that this ABBA, with which Jesus was ONE, is the breath which emanates from his own flesh. Jesus taught us that we are all ONE with ABBA, the ONE that breathes in, with, through, and beyond each of us. YAHWEH, RUACH, ABBA.

We followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, are not alone in expressing the DIVINE ONE with our very breath, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA. With our toys put away, we can breathe more deeply of the RUACH as the breath of the NOOMA in-spires our ex-pressions, of the ONE Jesus’ life and death proclaim is LOVE. With our toys tucked away on the shelf, our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit tucked away on the shelf, we can breathe more deeply our offerings of LOVE to the ONE that IS our desire, the MYSTERY, which is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

RUACH, YAHWEH, ABBA, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA …Freed from the distraction of our toys, let us breathe deeply of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. So that together as ONE with might exhale the LOVE which nourishes, grounds, and sustains, everything and everyone that is, was, and ever more shall be. Our world is crying out for LOVE born of the RUACH …

There will be time enough to play with our toys, when LOVE is born again… May that LOVE, the AGAPE, breathe in, with, through, and beyond, you. AGAPE, now and always…may our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself be born in you again, and again, and again …

Breathe deeply, dear ONEs, so the world may see in you, the baselia ton theon, the family of the ONE that is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also…YAHWEH the LOVE which is DIVINE MYSTERY…our AAAAHHHH . . .

View the full Trinity Sunday Worship Video below

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Like Nicodemus we have blinders on! Our focus upon preserving the church gets in the way of our rebirth! – Trinity Sunday

This week, as the Church prepares to celebrate Trinity Sunday, the question “Where is the church’s attention focused” becomes even more pertinent as we look ahead to resuming in-person worship. What parts of the church will be buried with lockdown and what will be born out of lockdown. This sermon was preached on Trinity Sunday 3 years ago. I offer it here to my colleagues who are preparing for this Sunday…??? What are we prepared to midwife into being???  

Sermon Notes:

–      Where is the church’s attention focused?

  • Skoda – think of the skoda as the focus of the church’s attention???

  • While our focus is upon our doctrine’s, or style of worship, our buildings, or generally preserving the instructional church, our neighbourhoods have been changing right before our eyes and we have failed to notice
  • How much attention do our concerns about the church distract us?
  • What changes in our neighbourhoods have we failed to pay attention to?
  • Van changing to a taxi?
  • Scooter changing to a pair of bicycles?
  • Lady holding a pig
  • The entire landscape has changed!
  • Skoda is one of the oldest car companies in the world – Skoda has been around since they first began building automobiles
  • The old Czechoslovakia
  • Sold primarily to Eastern block countries
  • Nobody really wants a skoda – they are cheap, unattractive cars – the image of the Skoda is tied up in a time when people weren’t free to buy the cars of their dreams and had to settle for a skoda
  • Much like the image of the church
  • There was once a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus 

Continue reading

Jesus the FULLY HUMAN ONE – the Gospel of Mary

While he was dying of cancer, American poet and short story writer Raymond Carver, penned a poem which, although it is but a fragment of a poem, it has the power to move me into the deepest part of my very self. This poem would eventually be titled, “Late Fragment”

“And did you get what

You wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved,

to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

Carver’s fragment, offered as he lay dying, is a tantalizing broken piece which is almost completely whole. Some may doubt the power of fragments to heal us. I don’t. I’m convinced that my life, and I suspect your lives are often made whole by fragments; broken pieces barely recognizable, but when we see them, really see them, they have the power to make us whole.

Today, the last Sunday of the Easter season, I want to give you some powerful fragments. For weeks now we have been celebrating resurrection. Not the physical resuscitation of a corpse kind of resurrection for we know only full well the power of medicine to bring corpses back to life. Alas, resuscitation of a corpse doesn’t necessary lead to resurrection. Even though the resuscitated live again, their life is not always one of resurrection and they too must die.  Our celebration of resurrection is about awakening to life, new life, fuller life, abundant life, life with an eternal quality.

As I look back to the fragments left to us by our ancestors, I long to see the promise of the Risen CHRIST. Among the broken bits of history, I catch a fleeting glimpse of Mary, the one who in the early morning light, through her tears of grief, was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener. Mary, this migdal, this first Apostle whose ability to see CHRIST, resurrected her from the grief and torment of death to life as the Apostle to the Apostle, where she stood as a tower, a migdal in Hebrew, a tower, head and shoulders above the rest of the first fledgling followers of Jesus’ way of being in the world. Dubbed Mary Magdalene by the men who would reduce her legacy to that of prostitute and relegate the fragments of her story to the margins, despite the absence of evidence for their convictions. Sifting through the dispersed fragments of her story, a new story rises up. A story slowly and painstakingly being resurrected by those whose hope is found not in CHRIST ascending to the clouds, but in CHRIST rising up from the Earth itself to live and love here and now. In the fragments, of the Gospel which bears her name new life arises as herstory is pieced together.

From the tattered remains of Mary’s reputation, her accusers can be easily dismissed once and for all. Mary a woman described in the canon of the gospels as “a sinner from the city,” who discovers healing in Jesus company, is set free by the fragments of her own gospel, which for too long now has been set aside by those who would rather bury her witness. Although the author of the gospel attributed to Mary is unknown, this gospel story resurrects the Migdal restoring her relationship as the Tower who stood at Jesus’ right hand, remained faithful to her beloved Jesus while others abandoned him, followed Jesus beyond the cross to the tomb and was able to see that not even the forces of Empire could destroy the CHRIST which she saw, which she experienced in Jesus.

Mary the Migdal, who from the moment she was able to see the face of CHRIST in a gardener, went forth to proclaim the power of resurrection. Mary proclaimed, “I have seen the CHRIST” and sifting through the fragments of herstory, we too can see the CHRIST, in words her followers attributed to Mary, words which continue to offer hope, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be troubled.  For CHRIST’s grace will be with you all and will shelter you.  Rather we should praise CHRIST’s greatness, for CHRIST has joined us together and made us fully human.”

Mary saw the risen CHRIST in the face of a gardener.  Mary understood Jesus’ practice of referring to himself as the “Fully Human ONE”. The title “Fully Human ONE” comes from the Greek – gios tou anthrópou – which translators have been rendering as the “Son of Man”. Son of Man is not, I repeat, not an adequate translation of this important phrase which according to the gospels that did make the biblical canon, Jesus used to describe himself 81 times:  gios tou anthropou  Anthroupou or Anthropos – we get our English word anthropology from the same root. It does not mean man! It means human.  There is a perfectly good Greek word that is used in the New Testament for man – that word is “aner”. The anonymous writers of the gospels deliberately did not translate Jesus’ Aramaic sayings into Greek using the word for “man”. Instead, some 81 times they chose instead, the Greek word for human which includes both males and females. We can only guess why the English translators failed to be so inclusive. Some of us have paid the price for their failure.  All of us have missed the incredible, radical meaning of Jesus’ declaration that he is the HUMAN ONE.  The Gospel of Mary spells out this tragedy in detail. The Gospel of Mary points us toward Jesus’ vision for a new way of being human. The contemplative scholar Cynthia Bourgeault translates gios tou anthropou so beautifully into English as, “Fully Human”. In the Gospel of Mary, we encounter Jesus as the FULLY HUMAN ONE whose embodiment of the CHRIST provides a vision of the transformation or the evolution of women and men into a new way of being human which transcends gender, a way of being in which we become FULLY HUMAN. As FULLY HUMAN as we can begin to recognize as Jesus did, our ONENESS with the DIVINE; as when Jesus says, “I and ABBA are ONE.”

This ONENESS with the DIVINE ought to open us to the reality that because we live and move and have our being in the DIVINE, the DIVINE is everywhere, for every THING is in the DIVINE. Embracing our FULL HUMANIY, we embrace the CHRIST which lives in, with, through, and beyond us. In the Gospel of Mary, we can begin to see a vision of what it means to follow Jesus into a new Way of Being in which we recognize Jesus as the CHRIST, but more importantly we begin to recognize CHRIST in one another. Perhaps when we begin to share Mary’s faith that the risen CHRIST  can be seen, we will begin to see the face of CHRIST in those around us; in faces of the strangers we meet on the road, in the face of the homeless man as we sit and share a meal with him, in the face of a child we reach out to lift up out of poverty, in faces the women upon whose shoulders we stand, in the faces of our opponents as together we struggle for understanding, in the faces of our enemies as we begin to work for peace, in the faces of our tormentors as we strive for justice, in the faces of the sick as we seek healing, and in the faces of the poor as we offer aid, compassion, and justice. When we can look into the faces of those we meet and see the face of Christ, then perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of Mary the Migdal, the TOWER, and all the world will know by our LOVE, that we too follow CHRIST.  St. Mary the Migdal, the Tower, the first Apostle, the Apostle to the Apostles, the ONE to whom the RISEN CHRIST entrusts the good news. May the power of Mary’s witness inspire us to live into our FULL HUMANITY so that we can begin to see the CHRIST in every thing and every ONE. From the fragments arise a way of being in the world, which seeks not an escape from life in the world, nor a passport into the next life, but an embrace of our FULL HUMANITY.

“And did you get what

You wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

In the fragments of herstory, let us find a Way to see CHRIST who is the embodiment of the LOVE which is DIVINITY in the face of every ONE and every THING so that ONE with CHRIST we, you and I might be LOVE the world. Feel yourself as beloved, here and now on the Earth, loved by the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HESELF. Amen.

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As the Pandemic Rages, REFUSE to be COMFORTED!

This week from the safety of my privileged isolation, I became inconsolable, as the world’s sorrows penetrated the safety of my lockdown. I was drawn into our world’s sorrow by the news from India. In my comfortable living-room, I watched the death of a mother in a crowded, ill-equipped hospital. As this mother slipped away, one of her sons begged for medical care for his mother, while two of her sons desperately administered CPR. When the doctor finally arrived, she took the mother’s pulse and in seconds the sons were wailing in grief as the doctor confirmed that it was too late. The son who had begged for help, began wailing, shouting, screaming, and rocking back and forth, inconsolable, in his grief. Holding my breath in a hopeless attempt to hold back my tears, I felt myself rocking back and forth with this grieving son, and words of scripture rang in my ears. Over and over again I heard: “…Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more…”

On this Mothers’ Day, Rachel’s tears are magnified by the tears of millions. Millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, grandparents and children are weeping and like Rachel they refuse to be comforted. As the third wave of this pandemic ravages our planet, there is lamentation and bitter weeping and like the biblical Rachel, there is power in the sorrow of those who grieve. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rachel refuses to be comforted.

The prophet Jeremiah alludes to this matriarch of Israel, the mother of Joseph, weeping over an event which happened generations after Rachel’s death on the road to Bethlehem. Rachel’s tears are for the descendants of her children’s, children’s, children who have been carried off into captivity by the forces of empire. In the Christian Testament, the anonymous gospel storyteller we know as Matthew, summons up Rachel’s tears as his response to the Slaughter of the Innocents by the forces of yet another empire.

Confronted by the horror of unspeakable tragedy our tears flow, we weep, we wail, we rock back and forth, and we refuse to be comforted, for there is power in our sorrow; a power all too often muted by the comforts heaped upon us by the powers of yet another kind of empire; a financial empire the likes of which the world has never seen before.

I know full well the need we all share right now, not to let the overwhelming suffering of millions consume us in a flood of tears. If we dwell upon just a few of the millions upon millions of tragedies happening all over the world, we run the risk of drowning in our own tears. There’s a good reason for our individual psyches to be working so overtime to distract us from sorrow. It is no wonder that our collective hearts and minds distract our very selves from the pain and the suffering. Occasionally, a tear or two escape when the suffering comes too close to home, and compassion gets the better of us. But as the song says: “tears are not enough.” Ever so quickly, our privileged lives grant us the comforts of home which sooth and sap the power of sorrow to move us beyond the safety of our splendid isolation. What few tears flow, are quickly dried, our fears are quelled, our compassion is muted, and we return to our new normal of coping with, while complaining about the inconvenience of lockdowns. Perhaps a prayer wells up in us; a remnant of a long-rejected belief in the grand-puppeteer-sky-god; a just in case kind of prayer, there’s no harm in trying, kind of prayer, even as our minds scream, “Hopes and prayers are not enough to face the magnitude of sorrows!” But if the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God is not pulling the strings, how then do we face the suffering?  What comfort is there in a MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also? If we let the tears flow, what power will save us from drowning in a sea of despair?

I remember the breathlessness of the weeping man wailing in sorrow for his mother who could not breathe and now I too must catch my own breath, as the image of the almighty-puppeteer-sky-god’s void functions like a vacuum within me. I am not sure I have the courage to refuse to be comforted. Give me that old time religion, so that I can find comfort and breathe freely again. As the wailing son’s tears threaten to overwhelm me, I find myself gasping, gulping huge breathes, breathing as deeply as I can as if my own intake of life-giving air can support his desperate need for comfort. Form long ago, another voice calls to me from the wonderings, pain, and fears of our ancestors; an unfamiliar voice, a voice muted by the seekers of comforts. Her voice is not the voice of comfort. Hers is the voice of DIVINE MYSTERY, known to our ancestors as SHOPIA, named for WISDOM, her story is recorded in the WISDOM Books of the Hebrew Scriptures as she cries out for wisdom. In the midst of our world’s suffering, I hear a thin echo of her words:

“Doesn’t SOPHIA call? Doesn’t UNDERSTANDING raise her voice? On the hills along the road, at the crossroads, she takes her stand; beside the city gates of the town, in the gates themselves, SOPHIA cries out, “Women and men, people of everywhere, I’m calling out to you! I cry to humankind! You who are simple, learn to make sound judgments! To the foolish among you, use your common sense! Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing, and I will tell you what is right; for my mouth will speak the truth, and my lips hate to lie. Everything I say is right; none of it is twisted or crooked. All of it is plain-spoken to those who understand, clear to those seeking knowledge. Accept my lessons in place of silver, and knowledge in place of gold; for SOPHIA/ WISDOM outsparkles jewelry; anything you desire cannot compare to her.”  (Proverbs 8:1-11)

Those are the words of SOPHIA, the feminine voice of God in the Book of Proverbs. These words, crafted as a hymn to WISDOM by our ancestors in the midst of their own crisis, call to me like a voice, the voice of the MYSTERY who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us. Perhaps you can hear it too; the voice of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, calling from deep within, speaking not words of comfort, but demanding wisdom. The suffering millions, their tears flow in rivers which cannot be stemmed by our desires for comfort. Only WISDOM discerned in, with, and through the LOVE, which is DIVINTIY dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us can move our suffering world beyond the placating comforts of wealth and privilege toward the kind of healing which restores wholeness.

In the midst of all our suffering, let us offer our strength to the quest for wisdom. Let us refuse to be comforted at the expense of our neighbours. Let us wail when leaders refuse to waive patens for vaccines. Let us refuse to talk of budgets, deficits, and the need to store up our treasures. Let us scream at the horror of national, regional, tribal or self-obsessed interests being put before the interests of our neighbours. Let us mask-up and stand up in the face of ignorance. Let us cheer on the difficult choices of those who have carefully, generously, bravely, sought the wisdom of science together with compassion. Let us shout on behalf of those whose voices have been drowned by their tears. Let us listen to the cries of the grieving. Let us open ourselves to the power of our sorrow and refuse to be comforted until the tears of the suffering millions are dried with the compassion of the MYSTERY of the ONE which IS the LOVE, living, working and LOVing in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the sick, comfort the dying, and feed the poor, so that justice and not tears can begin to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Let it be so. Let it be so among us. Let it be so.

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Mothers’ Day Angst – sermons for a day not included in the liturgical calendar!

True Mother Julian of NorwichMothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril which compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fail to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women.  Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:

Five Bags of Sugar

Enough for Everyone

Breasted ONE

Sophia/Wisdom

MOTHERS’ DAY – Peace is the Way

Preaching on Mothers’ Day – Don’t Compromise

Another Option for Mothers’ Day: Bring Many Names

SHE Who Dwells Among Us – A Mothers’ Day Sermon

Arise on this Mothers’ Day: a sermon

ONE in GOD – a sermon

Be kind. Just be KIND! – Pluralism Sunday

On this Pluralism Sunday, I am mindful of the dangers of misunderstanding progressive christianity’s celebration of pluralism. Christianity’s sad history of being co-opted by imperial colonialism has left far too many christians living under the delusion that all religions will one day merge into one great world religion. But pluralism is not about giving up the wonders of individual religions nor is it about creating uniformity among religions so as to create one world.  Pluralism is the belief that people of different beliefs can coexist, learning from one another, caring for one another, respecting one another, celebrating one another, and hopefully learning to love one another.

Perhaps, the wise prophet Mahatma Gandhi captured the essence of pluralism best, when he said, “I came to the conclusion long ago that all religions were true and that also that all had some error in them, and while I hold by my own religion, I should hold other religions as dear as Hinduism. So, we can only pray, if we were Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu; but our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should become a better Hindu, and a Christian a better Christian.”

Years ago, when I still languished under the mistaken belief that, God had a master plan to make all the world Christian, my primary responses to people of other faiths were characterized by fear, suspicion, and not very subtle arrogance which came from my belief that I had found the one true faith.

With gratitude and humility, I can now look back upon a relationship with a Hindu woman who embodied Gandhi’s desire that we hold all religions as dear as our own. I was just twenty years old when I met Jiera and although we didn’t know one another for a long time, Jiera managed to challenge me to become a better christian. We were working together at a large, international, department store on Regent Street, in the heart of London. We both worked in the Food Courts were there wasn’t much time for pleasantries. But Jiera never let that stop her from being not only pleasant to unpleasant customers, she went out of her way to be kind. Jiera insist that, “There’s always time for kindness.”

Jiera was my immediate manager; while I supervised a group of eight young women, women much like myself, temporary workers, intending to stay just long enough to earn enough money before resuming our travels. Jiera was in it for the long haul, already a young mother of three beautiful children of her own, she soon became the surrogate Mom to those of us who worked for her. Jiera’s kindness made her easy to love and a joy to obey, as each of us did our best to please her. It didn’t take long for us to become a family, with Jiera chiding us to care for one another. Continue reading

Reflections on Psalm 23: Words Revealing MYSTERY

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I am delighted to be joined by the members of Holy Cross’ Worship Team as we reflect together upon our experiences with the 23rd Psalm. We begin with a familiar translation of the Psalm. Our own reflections are punctuated by Rabbi Jamie Arnold’s translation from the original Hebrew.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

For most of my life, the words of the 23rd Psalm, as they were translated and interpreted by the authors of the King James Version of the Bible, have been with me, here and here. When I was just ten years old, we moved to Newmarket and lived here less than a year. It was a lonely year.

My brother and I were what we called back then, latch-key kids, which meant that we pretty much took care of ourselves while Mum and Dad had to work. I vaguely remember a brief friendship with a girl who lived down the street, who had the audacity to invite me to join her for a week of Vacation Bible School. Never having attended church, I had no idea what to Vacation Bible School was. Nevertheless, my parents’ discouragement about church, was all the encouragement I needed to want to attend. There was something exciting about the independence of striking out on my own, without parental encouragement, to explore the goings on at this place my parents avoided; indeed disparaged. I remember very little about that week except for the ongoing lessons of a gifted teacher who taught us the 23rd Psalm. I say taught us, but it would be more accurate to say, that he imprinted the 23rd psalm on our memory-banks, where it remains to this very day. I remember a sense of confusion about the meaning of these strange words. I remember feeling their weight, their importance, as if they were to be treasured and remembered because of their power. Power which my ten-year-old mind equated to the only other thing I had ever memorized, my twelve-times-table. If I could only capture those words, the way I’d captured the twelve-times-table, the power of numbers stored in my memory, would pale in comparison to the power of these magic words. I remember the teacher carefully explaining that these words together are poetry and that it is important to memorize poetry because poems are alive; they are sacred living words.  At the time I had no idea what the word “sacred” means, but like the strange and mysterious words of the poetry of the psalm, the word “sacred” sounded mysterious and so filled with wonder.  So, I stored the word “sacred” away as a precious gift. Over the years the sacred gift of Psalm 23, graciously given by wise teacher, has over and over again, filled me with wonder and opened me to the power of MYSTERY.

The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, lends itself well to the mysterious power of poetry. Recently, I discovered another version of the 23rd Psalm translated from its ancient Hebrew origins by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Rabbi Arnold’s translation adheres to the original Hebrew and like the King James Version captures the mysterious power of poetry to reveal the SACRED. Earlier, I invited the members of our Worship Team to briefly reflect upon their most vivid SACRED encounters with the poetry of the 23rd Psalm. What follows is a reading of Rabbi Arnold’s translation wrapped around some of our Worship Team’s reflections. Rabbi Arnold’s translation of the 23rd Psalm, which he calls:

Six Verses of Refuge (Equanimity) begins, “A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the Guide by-my-side, I want for nothing… Continue reading

The Peace of Being ONE – Luke 24:30-48

I don’t know about you, but as we here in Ontario face the third wave of this devastating pandemic, the moments when I’m able to safely get out into CREATION become more and more precious. So, this morning, I went out in the brisk spring air hoping to forget about all the bad news which keeps flashing across our screens. So, let me try to give you a brief glimpse of my morning walk. Indulge me as I take you just down the road from my living-room to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where the wind is blowing, and the spring rain is gently falling.

.  .  . see the video .  .  .

As I walked along the lakeshore this morning, I was reminded of another lakeshore far, far, away, where the wind was just as fierce, and the rain was even more intense as I walked by this other lakeshore. Listening to the gentle waves of Lake Simcoe, I was transported back in time, through the decades and on that distant shore I could still see my twenty-year-old self, my Australian traveling companion, two Swiss women, an American, a German, a Bahamian, and a Japanese guy.

We were a strange lot, gathered together by chance, as each of us backpacked our way through Europe in search of adventure. “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.” We’d met on the train to Fort William and together, we headed out on foot to the youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond. Now, I’m sure it has changed a great deal since we trudged along on a cold, ever so cold August day in 1976. Back then there was only a single cart lane leading to the youth hostel. We didn’t see any people along the way, and we weren’t sure we were going in the right direction. Most of us were caught up in our own thoughts, or too tired from our travels, to make conversation. But not Japanese Guy, who simply wouldn’t shut up.

He was positively annoying. There we were on “yon bonnie banks” leaning into the beauty which surrounded us, longing to be swept away by the majesty of it all, and this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough for us to escape into the wonder of our surroundings. I kept hoping that he’d “tak’ the high road” so I could tak’ the low road” and we’d “never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” But alas, we were stuck with each other.

I tried lagging behind the others, humming softly to myself. But Japanese Guy, he saw this as some sort of invitation to hang back for a one-on-one conversation. His questions didn’t let up. He wanted to know: Where was I from? How long I’d been backpacking? Why did I choose Scotland?  Was Scotland what I thought it would be? Did I imagine it would be so cold in August? On and on went his questions. My abrupt answers didn’t manage to clue him into the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.

When even my rude, unfriendly behaviour could not silence Japanese Guy, I ran to catch up with our companions, so that they too could share in the burden of unwelcome conversation. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we all spent the evening avoiding Japanese Guy.

The next morning, we were reunited over breakfast and it turned out that we all had the same plan to climb Ben Lomond. For those of you who dinnie kin, a Ben is what the Scots call a mountain. Ben Lomond is just under a 1,000 meters high with about a dozen kilometers of trails to the summit. We were young and the Hostel Manager assured us that we could get to the top in about five hours, have enough time for a quick lunch, and then hike back down to the hostel in time for dinner. Continue reading

GOD: Dead or Alive?

Traditionally, the Second Sunday of Easter is the day when the church commemorates the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas’ reaction to resurrection. Now, the New Testament is full of parables like the parable of Doubting Thomas. Allow me, if you will, to draw your attention to a different parable, one outside of the Bible: “The Parable of the Mad Man” was first told in 1882. More recently, it appeared in 1969 edition of Time Magazine, which bore the title, “Is God Dead?”  

The Parable of the Mad Man goes like this: “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”  As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus, they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you.  We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.

But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now?  Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?  Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time?  Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?  Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?  That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?  There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last, he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard.  This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”

Some of you will already know that this Parable of the Mad Man, was written by Friderich Nietzsche. One of the characteristics of a parable is that it surprises us with a truth which we already know. God is dead and we have killed “him!” I think perhaps that Nietzche’s Mad Man was right, “God” the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied, wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god is dead, and it is we who have killed him. This image of god has been sacrificed on the altars of reality. All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god which we once worshipped and adored.

For most of my life the personification of what we call “God” was the only way I had of knowing anything of the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. I can truly empathize with the followers of Jesus who huddled together in the upper room. In my imagination, this parable takes place in a ghostly terrifying darkness. While it is so very tempting to lock the door against the unknowns lurking in the darkness, there is a line in the Parable of Doubting Thomas which makes me wonder. Not “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what this means?” But “wonder” in the sense of “Oh my God!” as in “How wonderful!” or “How inspiring.” The line in the parable which causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder, is on the lips of Jesus, when asks and then insists: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Like Thomas, I suspect many of us continue to long for a vision of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we can see and touch. Say what you will about the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god, this was an image we could certainly wrap our minds around. Peering into the darkness and the sheer vastness of the Cosmos, it is impossible to wrap our minds around the ONE in whom the Cosmos has being. Faced with the enormity of the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, I can certainly understand why our ancestors insisted that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Shut the front door and let me languish here in the darkness of this upper room, with my too small image of a puny god; a god I can mold and shape and worship without fear.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Faced with the vast, awe inspiring darkness of the Cosmos, it can be difficult to catch glimpses of tangible markers to guide us. Squinting into the abyss of unknowing, I can’t help thinking about the women who stared into the darkness of the empty tomb. The darkness of the Cosmos, like the darkness of the empty tomb, can send us racing back to the safety of a familiar room, a hide-out where we can shut the door and nurse our fears. Or the darkness can be for us, a place where resurrection begins, as the birth pangs of a new way of being give way to new life. Peering beyond the wounds inflicted by our personifications of the ONE who is more that we can begin to imagine, can we begin to touch and be touched by the LOVE which is the SOURCE of everything? Can we begin to feel the power of DIVINTY which is so much more than our personifications? Do we have the courage to put ourselves in the embrace of the SPIRIT which pulses, evolves, moves, shakes, and brings into being all that IS? Inspired by this SPIRIT, dare we begin to see DIVINITY finding expression in the likes of Jesus? Might we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus a way of being which is capable of transcending fear, so that we too might become LOVE. For being LOVE is what resurrection is?

The LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God is beyond our ability to imagine or express, but that L LOVE lives in, with, through, and beyond us. Death cannot limit LOVE. For no matter how many times this cruel world tries to destroy LOVE, LOVE will live again, in, with, through, and beyond all of those who embody LOVE. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Our too small personification of God is dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality. But, do not be afraid. Death will not have the final word.

Out of the darkness, LOVE springs to life. LOVE lives even in us, even in our woundedness. LOVE, which is the SOURCE of all, lives and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe, believe the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Resurrection happens when we are that LOVE in the world! LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us!  Alleluia!

View the full Worship Video for the Second Sunday of Easter below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Resurrection: Believing is NOT the point! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

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

Exposing Our Wounds click here

Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here

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

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here

RESURRECTION – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

This video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating. For this reason, our Easter worship services forgo the prescribed readings, including the anti-semitic ones,  to make room  to include a reading from 1 Corinthians 15. 

RESURRECTION: Can This Be Real?

The word resurrection is not a word which gives up its meaning easily. Far too many preachers and theologians have tried to use words to express the meaning of resurrection. But mere words, are incapable of rendering meaning from the word resurrection. The best way I know of wrestling meaning from a word like resurrection is through a story. I know I have told this story before. But as my Irish Nannie would say, “Sure if a story is worth tellin once, then it’s worth telling again.” This story of resurrection dates all the way back to my first year as a pastor, when I naively believed that the right words could save me.

It wasn’t my first visit to Anna’s home, but it was my first visit to the home of someone who had just died. In the driveway, I crossed paths with the doctor who had signed Anna’s death certificate. We recognized one another from the few times which our visits to the house had overlapped. I stared with envy at the doctor’s medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little travel communion kit. Just some cheap wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.”

As I stood there, wondering how to respond, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks which could give me the courage to enter the house. I felt like a fool. What was I supposed to do? I felt as useless as I did upon my first visit with Anna. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying? Cancer.” she said, “It won’t be long now. She’s being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near, she wants to reconnect. Would I please go to see her?” I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor.  This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this, this is something entirely different. But my parishioner was insistent, as she described her friend Anna. “Pastor, you’ll never guess, Anna was once a Lutheran.

Yes, she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, and had her kids baptized, and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket, they had fallen out of the habit of going to church.  Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come. You will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”

Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside the house. The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished; they’ll be gone soon.” He motioned to the stairs and I got the impression that he wanted me to go up. I expected him to follow me. I was wrong. I entered the familiar room. Anna was still lying there. She looked much the same as she had when I’d seen her the day before. I’d like to say she looked at peace, but she didn’t. Her face was frozen in the same tortured expression, I’d seen the day before. The gentlemen from the funeral home stopped what they were doing and quietly stepped out of the room. I guess they thought I needed some privacy, and I was grateful for the moment to think. You see, I love words and I was convinced that words would save me. I’m a preacher and a teacher and words are my friends. Words help me to figure things out. Words help me to make meaning out of events. Words give me the stories which give shape to the meaning which I try to make out of the stuff that happens. But standing there in that room, words failed me. There was only silence. 

After the silence became unbearable, I shot up a prayer to the faraway god, up there in the sky, “You got me into this! Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help. Where are you when I need you?” I went out into the hall were wordlessly the gentlemen from the funeral home were about their business and in just a few moments the body was gone. I was sitting in the living room listening to her husband recount the details of Anna’s final moments, when their daughter burst through the front door. After many, many tears were shed it was decided that I should accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home the next morning so that she could see her mother. Anna’s husband insisted that the body they had taken away was not Anna; Anna had left sometime during the night. Anna’s daughter wanted to kiss her mother good-bye. She was angry that they had not waited for her arrival before taking her mother from her. Before I left, I reached into the bag of tricks which lurk somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered the words of a wise seminary professor, who taught us that storytelling helped us to make sense out of life, and while there is nothing that can make sense out of death, a few good stories can make the pain bearable. Stories, my professor would say, are a good a way, as she had ever found of beginning the healing process. So, before I left, I made arrangements to accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home, and I encouraged Anna’s husband to invite members of the family to come by for tea, or a meal, or even a few drinks, just a small get together where they could tell me stories about Anna, and we could begin to plan her funeral.

The next afternoon, I accompanied Anna’s daughter to the funeral home. They had done a splendid job of preparing her body. She looked tortured, somehow. Anna’s daughter reached for my hand, squeezed tightly and leaned into me. Her whole body began to tremble as she wailed and sobbed. Over and over again I heard, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”  And I am ashamed to say that I was grateful that it was Anna’s daughter and not me that was echoing these words, over and over again. I had no words, no idea what to do, what to say, how to help. It took some time, but her sobbing began to subside and was replaced by something more daunting as even more questions began to leap out of her. “What will I do without you?” “Where are you Mom?” “How can I go on without you?”  “Why, why did you have to leave me?” For once I was glad, I had no words. No words only silence with which to reply.  Question after question met only with silence until suddenly, Anna’s daughter announced, “That’s not my mother. My mother is not here.” We left together in silence.

When we arrived back at Anna’s home, we heard laughter coming from the living room. Eight, nine, maybe ten people, some of them I’d met on previous visits, all laughing and telling stories, stories about Anna. It wasn’t long before her daughter joined them.  A glass of wine was thrust into my hands; there was bread and cheese on the coffee table, and casseroles in the oven. Apparently, the neighbours didn’t need words, just practical care filled loving actions. As we shared a meal, we remembered Anna. When the meal was over, Anna’s husband said, “I wish Anna was here, she would have loved this!” One of the guests disagreed, she insisted that Anna would have been mortified to be the center of attention, which sent the whole group of us into gales of laughter, at the thought of Anna being mortified on the day of her death. Gallows humour. Before I left, I had collected enough words and stories to do Anna proud at her funeral.

As I said my good-byes Anna’s husband asked me if I had a favorite flower. It had been a long, hard winter, and I told him that at this time of the year, I was longing for spring to finally arrive. So right about now, tulips are my favourite flowers. “Perfect” he said, “Tulips it is.” Then came more stories about how much Anna hated the flowers that professional florists concoct for funerals. Everyone it seems had a story about Anna going on and on, at some funeral or other, about how horrible these contrived funeral bouquets looked. Natural, hand-picked flowers lovingly arranged by friends and family, that’s what was called for. Anna’s husband insisted that, “as the pastor is longing to see some sign of spring, tulips it is!” So, everyone was instructed to bring tulips.

At Anna’s funeral, there were tulips everywhere; more tulips that you can imagine. It was beautiful. Tulips lovingly arranged by those who loved her. The tulips and the stories got us all through the funeral of a woman who died much too young. The tulips and the stories helped us to begin the task of making meaning out of the death of a loved one. The tulips and the stories did not take the pain away, nor did they explain the pain away, and they certainly didn’t change the fact that Anna was dead, or that her family would have to go on without her. The tulips and the stories did help us to begin to make meaning out of her death. Together we wept among the tulips and we wept in the midst of the stories and together we began to find words and to make meaning out of death.

“Woman. Why are you weeping?” “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I do not know where they have put the body.”  “What am I going to do? What will I do without you? Where are you Mom? How can I go on without you? Why, why did you have to leave me?” “Woman. Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?”  She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

If only, all those we have lost and will lose could appear to us and comfort us in our grief. The followers of Jesus were bereft. Their beloved Jesus had been taken from them, tortured, and executed by their enemies. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus. Jesus had taught them a whole new way of being in the world. Jesus had lived in such a way, taught so challengingly, loved so fully, that in Jesus they had seen an image of God which turned their whole lives upside down. Jesus’ way of seeking peace, not through violence but through justice, opened them to new possibilities. They had dared to dream. They had hope in the face of oppression. They had been willing to follow Jesus into battle. But when Jesus had insisted on living what he preached, most of them had fled in fear, and the horrible truth of their abandoning him, the reality of their failure was more than they could bear. It is almost impossible for us to imagine because we’ve read it in the bible, which reads much like those professional bouquets of flowers at funerals, designed to provide answers to the unanswerable, all tied up with neat little bows. Generations of arrangers have taken the stories which have been told, as followers and lovers of Jesus struggled to make some sense out of his death. Generations of interpretations upon interpretations of those stories make it seem as though everything happened just thus and so, neat and tidy. Resurrection happened just like that, in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus died. He was not there. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They wept. They trembled.  They were consumed by grief. Huddled together in an upper room, terrified that they too would soon be killed. Suddenly, after only three days Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia! Resurrection all tied up in a neat little bow. The perfect bouquet. Smell the flowers and all will be well. I wonder.

I wonder. People do wonder you know. That’s how people are. They wonder. Questions. Questions. Questions. What’s going on? What are we going to do? Words. Words. Words.  Anna’s grieving loved ones wove their stories of Anna in and out of the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.”  Words familiar words, designed to help us to make meaning. For the followers of Jesus, there were also words, familiar words designed to help them make meaning. In Jesus, his grievers, had experienced God as LOVE. Surely, God would not stand idly by and allow their enemies to take Jesus from them. Surely, LOVE itself could not be destroyed by the powers of evil. Surely, their God, the ONE in whom they live and move and have being,

surely God who Jesus had taught them is LOVE, surely LOVE would not abandon them. Surely LOVE would live on. Questions, questions that have no answers. Questions for which words always fail us. Questions we just can’t help answering with words. Words which are designed to comfort and to satisfy. Words that when all is said and done, fail and leave us with more questions. So, if God is LOVE and we experienced that LOVE in Jesus then, where is Jesus? Will we ever see Jesus again? Will we ever see LOVE again? Will the LOVE that lives in us die? “Woman: Why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?” “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

We can’t help ourselves when love dies, we keep hearing and seeing that love all around us. It is as if our beloved is right here, in the midst of us. We hear them call our name. They mean so much to us. In the presence of our beloved, we were transformed into the best of ourselves. To hear them call our name…ah…the sheer beauty of their presence. Perhaps they can tell us. Perhaps they know the answers.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to him and said, “Rabboni! –which means “Teacher.”  Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God.”

Are they here?  Are they real? Am I imagining Jesus? What is happening? I don’t understand. The followers of Jesus could still feel the impact of his being on their lives. When he spoke, Jesus’ words challenged everything they knew or believed they knew. When Jesus acted, his actions turned their world upside down. When Jesus loved them, they knew the power of LOVE. When they saw Jesus’ love others, even their enemies, they saw a power in Jesus which was so much more than they could put into words. It was as if Jesus embodied the very LOVE which lies at the heart of everything. When Jesus spoke, scales fell from their eyes and they saw things which they’d never seen before. And now, now that he was gone, they could still hear him, they could still feel him. And in seeing him and feeling him, all their hopes and all their dreams of a better way of being in the world still seemed possible.

What was happening? Could this be real? It certainly wasn’t neat and tidy. Not with the Romans threatening to annihilate them and the religious authorities demanding that they just shut up and stop causing trouble. But they keep hearing his voice and feeling his presence, and the words, Jesus’ words, continued to challenge everything. Jesus’ presence continued to turn their world upside down. What was happening? Could this be real?

Even Jesus’ enemies were touched by his presence. Even Jesus’ enemies were being challenged by his words. Words designed to help us make meaning. Words which when all is said and done fail us. So, we turn to more words, other words and craft our stories so as to comfort us. And still the words of Jesus challenge us. And still the presence of Jesus continues to turn our world upside down. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of Jesus, can this be real? Our questions echo the questions of the first followers and lovers of Jesus. Our stories build upon their stories, which were built upon the stories of the ones who had gone before them. None of these stories are neat and tidy. None of these stories can tie everything up in a pretty bow so that we can present the perfect bouquet which will heal all our pain and answer all our questions. They are just handpicked, slightly askew, bouquets which contain such beauty that we cannot take our eyes of them. They do not answer all our questions, but the really beautiful ones, the ones like tulips after a long, cold, winter, they can capture our imagination and give us the courage to ask our questions and struggle to make meaning of those things which are beyond words. Things like life and death, and resurrection.

About five years after Anna died, I ran into her daughter in the grocery store. I mean it, I actually ran into her. Our shopping carts collided. We laughed when we realized that each of us had a couple of bunches of tulips in our carts. “Somewhere Mom is smiling,” Anna’s daughter insisted. I agreed and added that it had been a long, cold, difficult winter and the tulips looked so beautiful I just had to take some home. Anna’s daughter nodded and agreed that winter is brutal. She was really looking forward to spring and the tulips would certainly give her hope. Suddenly, the toddler in Anna’s daughter’s cart shouted, “Who’s that?” Her mother said, “This is Pastor Dawn, she is a friend of your Grandma Anna.” “And who are you,” I asked the beautiful little girl. “I’m Anna! I’m free.” Whether it was free or three it was all the same. This beautiful little girl shared her grandmother’s eyes as well as her name. In her eyes I saw the reflection of Anna’s story, her stories, and her love. After we said our goodbyes, I went back to get more tulips. In Anna’s absence, I felt her presence. Anna lives. Anna lives in little Anna, and her daughter and in me, and now she lives in you.

Friends, this has been a long and difficult year. Isolated and fearful, we have felt one another’s absence. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of LOVE. Can this be real? Are these tulips real? You bet they are. As real as the challenges we experience in the stories we tell. As real as the LOVE we feel in even in the absence of one another. As real as the LOVE which lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us. In Jesus absence, his grievers felt LOVE’s presence. LOVE lives. LOVE lives in you and in me.  LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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