LOVE Story: Remembering the LOVE born from Grandma’s nativity

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

This Christmas, unlike so many other Christmases that Angela had endured, this Christmas everything was going to be perfect. Angela planned to lavishly entertain her guests. The evening’s entertainment was guaranteed to get Angela’s Christmas off to the best of starts. At least here in her lovely new home, Angela would be in control. Unlike the chaos of her family’s Christmas gatherings.

All her life, Angela had endured the trials and tribulations of her family’s dysfunctional yuletide gatherings; gatherings that always ended up with various family members arguing over some perceived slight. Tonight, things would be different. Tonight, Angela hadn’t invited a single member of her outrageous family to come to dine. Tonight, Angela’s guests were made up of the great and the good, new friends and work colleagues; people Angela could count on to behave admirably. Tonight, everything would be perfect.


All she needed to do to finish off the room, was to assemble the new nativity set which she had just purchased up on her beautiful fireplace mantle. She hadn’t planned to purchase a nativity set, but when she saw the hand-carved, olive- wood nativity set in the window of the swanky gift shop, she just knew that it was perfect. As she carefully unpacked her perfect nativity, Angela’s mind wandered back over the years to the very first Christmas that she could remember.

Angela was just four years old. She and her brother, together with her parents were living in her Grandma’s house in England. Above the coal fireplace, high on the mantle, out of reach from Angela or her brother’s tiny hands there was a small nativity set. It had been Angela’s Grandma’s when she was a little girl, and it was the focal point of all the Christmas decorations in her their small sitting room.

Angela remembered wondering on that long-ago Christmas Eve, if Father Christmas would bring her a new doll. She remembered her Grandma reaching for the big black book while Angela, her brother, and even her Mom and Dad assembled themselves in front of the fire to listen to her Grandmother read the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of the baby Jesus. When the story was over, her Grandma picked Angela up so that she could reach the nativity set and she handed her a tiny little baby Jesus. Grandma told Angela to put the baby Jesus in the little bed in the stable. Everyone watched as Angela carefully placed the baby Jesus ever so gently in his tiny little bed. Angela remembered sitting on her father’s lap as everyone began to sing.

It wasn’t long after that Christmas that Angela and her family left her Grandma behind and moved to Ireland. Angela missed her Grandma terribly. But in Ireland she had new grandparents to get to know.

Angela’s Irish grandparents, they lived in a very fancy house. Angela remembered Christmas in their home, a large box was brought down from the attic out of which all sorts of beautiful Christmas ornaments were unpacked. Neither Angela nor her brother were allowed to touch any of the ornaments. Over and over again they heard the words, “Look but do not touch!”

Angela missed her Grandma’s little sitting room and wondered who was going to put the baby Jesus to bed on his birthday. A few days before Christmas a package arrived for Angela. It was the very first package she had ever received. She was so excited that her mother had to help her unwrap it. Inside the package they discovered the nativity set from Grandma’s sitting room. Angela remembered the fuss she made when her Irish grandparents insisted that the nativity set would look better up in her bedroom. Angela threw a temper tantrum, as only a five-year-old can, until Grandma’s nativity set was arranged in a place of honour above the fireplace. Angela hid the baby Jesus in her room until Christmas Eve. After dinner on Christmas Eve, Angela waited and waited, but no one read the story. Finally, no longer willing to wait, she asked her Dad if he had a big black book. 
It took a while for the adults to catch on. But eventually a Bible was found, and the story was read. Angela’s father lifted her up and together they tucked the baby Jesus into his tiny little bed.

Eventually, Angela and her family moved out of her Irish grandparents’ home, and into a shabby little place of their own. Each year Grandma’s nativity set occupied a place of honour on her family’s mantle. When Angela was ten, her family began to prepare for yet another move. Her father explained to Angela and her brother that they were moving very far away, and they wouldn’t be able to take all their stuff with them. So, Angela secured a place in one of the big steamer trunks for her favorite doll. She didn’t mind leaving most of her toys behind because the house they moved into was grand and glorious.

As Christmas approached, her parents brought all sorts of packages from the stores and decorations were hung everywhere. One afternoon Angela’s mother asked her to go with her to pick out a new nativity set, and for the first time, Angela realized that her Grandmother’s nativity set had not made the journey to their new home. When Angela stopped crying her mother explained that she had sent the nativity set back to her Grandma’s for safe keeping. Her Mother told her how happy her Grandma would be to have it back in her sitting room. Angela told her mother that she didn’t want a new nativity set, but her Mom went out and bought one anyway. It was really a dumb set.
 The baby Jesus was stuck to his bed. How could anybody stick a baby to its bed.  How can you appreciate being tucked in on his birthday when you’re stuck to the bed all the time? Nevertheless, the new nativity set was placed on a coffee table because there was no fireplace in the new house. That first Christmas in the new house they forgot to read the story about the baby Jesus. Angela remembers silently wishing Jesus a happy birthday before she went to sleep.

Over the years the beauty of Grandma’s nativity set grew in Angela’s memory. It became the most beautiful nativity set that she or anyone else had ever seen. Angela never saw a nativity set which could match the wonder of her Grandma’s fabulous nativity. Each year, Angela would remind her father about how they used to celebrate Christmas. She would go on and on about that beautiful nativity set.

When Angela was twenty, she returned to England and got a job in London. Each weekend Angela would travel two hours by train to visit her Grandma. She vividly remembers that Christmas Eve, when she arrived at her Grandma’s. Angela went straight into the sitting room and there on the mantel she saw the strangest thing. Grandma’s nativity set stood in its rightful place, but it was not as Angela had remembered it. It was so very tacky.
 It was made of rubber.
 The shepherds were not made to the same scale as Mary and Joseph. 
They were so large they dwarfed the stable. One of the wise guys had lost his gift.
 The donkey’s ear had been glued back on. Mary’s face was all smudged and Joseph’s right hand was badly chewed up and mangled.
 The angel on the stable roof was positively ugly.


Convinced that a pack of rotten children must have descended upon the nativity and destroyed its former glory, Angela asked her Grandma what had happened to her beautiful nativity. How did it get into such bad shape? Her Grandma explained that it had been like that since she was a little girl. It had been one of her favorite toys and she had played with it so much that she had almost worn it out.  Then there was Angela’s Father and her uncles who had bashed it about as they played with it. By the time Angela was born, the set was so battered that they kept it up on the mantle so that it wouldn’t be completely destroyed by Angela and her brother’s tiny hands.

Angela went over to the bookshelf and got out the big black bible. Her Grandmother handed Angela the tiny baby Jesus and she tucked him safely into his little bed in the stable. As her Grandma read the familiar tale of Jesus’ birth, Angela began to wonder about that first Christmas. She couldn’t help imagining the rag tag couple travelling to Bethlehem, and she imagined the messy accommodations in the stable, the scruffy looking shepherds, and the smell that must have filled the air. 
Not a very auspicious place for the LOVE to become flesh and dwell among them.
 As her Grandmother closed the big black bible, Angela remembered her own inauspicious surroundings. LOVE had come to Angela in a beaten up old ugly nativity set.

As Angela remembered her Grandmother serving up their Christmas feast, she realized that the years had not been kind to her Grandma. She was old and tired; this would be one of her last Christmases. Angela remembered all the stories her Grandma had told her over the years and all the wisdom which this wise woman had imparted. When her Grandma kissed Angela goodnight, Angela gently reminded her Grandma to say her prayers.

Remembering her Grandma in her swanky new west end apartment, Angela couldn’t help herself, she just had to say happy birthday to Jesus. Angela carefully packed her hand-carved, olive-wood nativity set back into its box. She retrieved her Grandma’s old, ugly, nativity set from the farthest reaches of her storage locker. Angela carefully arranged Grandma’s old, ugly, nativity upon her beautiful new mantle. She dug out the big old black Bible and placed it ready and waiting for guests to arrive.

Once the tiny baby Jesus was tucked in and her guests were well fed and entertained, Angela packed up her Grandma’s old, ugly nativity set and the big old black bible to make the long journey to her family’s home.  She wanted to be sure to get there early on Christmas Eve so that she could help her nieces set up their Great-Grandma’s nativity set in time to read the story and tuck the little baby Jesus into his tiny little bed in the stable, so that together they could wish Jesus a very happy birthday. Angela couldn’t contain herself at the prospect of those little girls seeing the beauty of her Grandma’s nativity. Her heart was full to bursting with the LOVE that is the HOLY ONE, at the very thought of her nieces tucking in the baby Jesus.

May the HOLY ONE who is LOVE bring you hope, peace, and joy as LOVE is born again, and again in you.

What about those raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face, right-wing nut-jobs?

Bless me, folks, for I have sinned. It has been far too long since my last confession. But what with COVID and all, I haven’t been too eager to look into the mirror. But we have arrived at the end of the church year, and with this comes a parable attributed to Jesus, about the sheep and the goats, and I must confess my goatyness has become all too apparent. It has been sneaking up on me for weeks now. I blame the media. Why not, everyone else does? Over and over again, the news media has delivered reports about various prominent, what shall we call them, Trumpsters? who are testing positive for the coronavirus. The news of raging anti-maskers, pandemic-denying, conspiracy-theory-loving, in your face right-wing nut-jobs who, are making fun of science one minute only to test positive the next, well, forgive me but I can no longer stop my lips from twitching and breaking out in a self-righteous smile. Not that I wish them harm, but a few weeks on a ventilator might just be the medicine they need to convert them to my way of thinking.

I know. I know it’s wrong. This is after all a confession. But admit it. Go on. Tell me you don’t smirk even a little when “those people,” you know the ones who rant and rave, in that self-righteous way of theirs, ridiculing, or denying, or objecting to all the stuff that we care about. You know the stuff “we” progressive, forward-thinking, smart people, us, the ones who know better, all the stuff “they,” “them,” “those,” “others,” well let’s face it, they just don’t have a clue about.

Forgive me. I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself from judging “them,” those others, whether they’re Trumpsters, or those science-denying, greed-inspired, racist, ignorant, card-carrying nut-jobs. Why shouldn’t we take some delight that when they get what they deserve? After all good christian folk like us, have been judging people for centuries! You’ve got your sheep and you’ve got your goats. And the good shepherd knows enough to separate one from another: sheep to the right, goats to the left. Yay sheep! Boo goats! The parable is clear!  Yay us! Boo them!

According to the parable, judgement falls upon the sheep who are praised as “blessed” and rewarded with the promise of inheriting a kin-dom, prepared from them since the creation of the world. As for the goats, well there’s an ever-lasting fire fit for the Devil and the fallen angels, where they will receive “eternal punishment” while the lambs “go off to eternal life.” Blessed are those who wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with good health. Cursed are those who refuse to wear a mask, for you shall be rewarded with a positive test for COVID! Here endeth the lesson. Or does it.

Now, clearly, I’m over-simplifying to make a point. But parables do have a way of turning our perceptions upside-down and inside-out, and they do so not just to make a point but to radically change our perception of reality. The point of this parable couldn’t be clearer:  the basis on which judgement hinges is in the response to “the least of these”. Whether you’re a sheep or a goat, did you reach out to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the prisoner? Did you give to the “least of these” the very thing they needed most? If you did, the paradise of your dreams, well congratulations, you’re in it. If you failed to reach out to the least of these then, woe is me, for the hell of your worst nightmare, well look around for it is yours.

Now if this was simply a moral tale, the point would be clear. But a parable is more than simply a moral tale. Parables are designed to turn everything upside-down and inside-out for the sole purpose (pun intended) for the soul purpose of radically changing our perceptions of reality. The turning point of this parable of the sheep and the goats is when we see who Jesus is. “For I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me; in prison and you came to visit me.” 

When?  When? When” Ah, there’s the rub. “The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it for me.” Jesus not only identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the needy of every kind; Jesus identifies himself as one of “them”.

Now. Not so fast, we’ve turned it upside-down. Now let’s see how it looks when you see it inside-out. Imagine the needy for just a moment. Think about what it would be like to be hungry, thirsty, a stranger, a prisoner, poor and needy. Sounds like hell to me, perhaps even the kind of torment which feels like eternal punishment. The problem with categorizing “them,” “those people,” you know who I mean, the problem with labeling or judging “them” as “other” is that the ONE we profess to follow, this Jesus of Nazareth, not only identifies with “them,” he doesn’t just sympathize with “them,” this Jesus fellow, he sees himself as one of them. We are, all of us, both sheep and goats.  We all have the power to give and to withhold.

Now as clear as this parable may have sounded to our ancient ancestors, some of us may not fully hear it, so let me be clear. “Those people,” substitute your particular goat of choice, “those people” they too are just as capable as “us,” substitute your particular sheep of choice; “those people” are just as capable as “our people” of giving and withholding. The question is not whether or not we can identify or sympathize with those we have judged to be “others”. The question is can we see CHRIST in them? And before we go seeing CHRIST as “other than” remember, this CHRIST is the same ONE who lives, in, with, through, and beyond us.

So, what this parable is also asking us to see is ourselves in “the least of these.” For until we can see our own humanity in the humanity of those in need, we will not see eternal life. This parable is not a cautionary tale about how to avoid judgement at the end of it all. This parable invites us to see the CHRIST in, with, through, and beyond, the least of these of whom we are ONE. Our ancient ancestors spoke about the vast realities of the cosmos in language so plain and ordinary that even, “the least of these” could see themselves as part of extra-ordinary reality of a life which has eternal dimensions. 

We are indeed all sheep and goats. We are also embodiments, incarnations, of the ONE Jesus embodied; we are the Body of CHRIST; a CHRIST which is so much more than we can begin to imagine, a CHRIST of COSMIC dimensions. As for “them,” you know, “those people” the “others,” well surely, we too have the power to see beyond our labels, beyond our categories, beyond our judgements, to see the HUMAN ONE, the CHRIST who lives, in, with, through, and beyond even “them.”

Let us take no pleasure in the misfortunes of others, whether they be sheep or goats. Let us be CHRISTs to one another, giving and receiving, LOVEing and being LOVEd, so that together we can create the heavens of our dreams and let us live life, in all its eternal glory, here and now.  Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

Watch the full COSMIC CHRIST Worship Video below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service – click here

Turning It All Upside-down and Inside-out! – Parable of the Talents

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, questioning, queer, pansexual, two-spirited androgynous and asexual lives matter. Asian lives matter. The lives of the poor matter. The lives of the oppressed matter. Now, I’m making a deliberate choice here not to include the phrase, “white lives matter” or the phrase, “All lives matter.”  Yes, I know, if you are white, if you are wealthy, if you are successful, if you are heterosexual, your life matters. But I believe that there are moments in time when it is vital that we stand in solidarity with particular lives which are being devalued in particular ways. During these days, when those of us who have benefited all our lives from white privilege, we are beginning to learn the true cost brought to bear on so many lives by systems which by design ensure that some lives in particular matter more than other lives. White, heterosexual, and dare I say it, male lives, for generations have benefited from systems created to preserve their place in the “matters more” column of the way things are, simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

This week two stories collided in my being, leaving me to grapple with my own white privilege. As a preacher, the first story is to be expected. Every three years, the story known as the Parable of the Talents rolls around and I must do my level best to sort through generations of interpretations which often fail to sound anything like Gospel to me. According to the Parable, a slave-master gave talents, which represent a huge amount of money, to his slaves; that’s right we are talking about a slave master and his slaves. This particular slave-master has a reputation for being both harsh and greedy.

Now, at the time, making money at the expense of others was frowned upon, so slaves were often used to extort money on behalf of their masters. The first two slaves managed to more than double the master’s investment and the third slave managed to keep the master’s initial investment intact but couldn’t quite manage to earn any interest at all.

Let’s do the math. A talent represents about 15 years of a good salary. Scholars suggest we use a figure of $50,000 per year, times 15, that’s $750,000.00 per talent; three quarters of a million dollars per talent. So, to the first slave the master gave 5 talents, that would be about three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. To the second slave, the master gave two talents, that’s about a million and a half dollars today. To the third slave, the master gave, one talent. Remember that’s about $750,000.00; three quarters of a million dollars. When all was said and done, the first two slaves managed to give back to the slave-master an additional 7 talents, that’s a whopping great profit of about five and a quarter million dollars. The slave-master doesn’t seem to care just what kind of methods his two slaves needed to employ in order to make a 75% profit on his initial investment.

He complements each of the profit-making slaves with a, “Well don good and faithful slave!” and moves them up on the ladder of success in his carefully crafted system. As for the third slave, who refused to play the masters game and hid the talent for safekeeping and then returned it without having used it to earn further profits for the master, well he might as well have thrown a monkey wrench into the master’s system. True to form the slave-master condemns the third slave, calling him, “evil and lazy slave”, some translations read, “lazy and worthless slave.” Just in case there is any doubt the slave-master declares how the system works: “take the talent from the lazy worthless slave and give it to the ones who know how to work the system. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough.  But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Ain’t that the truth? But wait there’s more. The slave-master orders his slaves to dish out the consequences the system demands, “throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As I sifted through interpretation after interpretation of this text, I began to see exactly how for generations this parable has been used to perpetuate the very system, I believe, Jesus was calling out, as corrupt. I can’t tell you how many theologians and preachers were quick to insist that good and faithful “servants” ought to use their talents in the service of the church, or in service to Jesus, or in service to God. They simply swapped out the slave-master and substituted Jesus or God, and suddenly slaves become servants, and ipso facto, work hard, put your talents to good use, don’t worry that it seems like the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, just give some of the profits to the church and the master, whether it be Jesus, or God, will be well pleased and you will earn your reward in heaven.  Well done good and faithful servant!  You worked the system.

I said that two stories collided in my life this week. I say collided, because it felt like two atoms coming together, or being forced together, life-forces, if you will, were smashed together to create an explosion which will continue to reverberate in my being forever. The second story blows the traditional interpretations of the Parable of the Talents into smithereens. It’s an all-too-common Canadian story which plays itself out in various different ways all over the world. It is the story of those who have very little and even the little they do have is taken away from them. All too often, this is done to benefit those who have more than enough. It is a story about the consequences of an economic system which is designed to profit those who have more than enough, folks who don’t have to get their hands dirty in order to make a profit.

This week members of the Neskantaga First Nation came out in the midst of a pandemic to protest. For 25 years their community, which is 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay has been under a boil water order. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of months ago the source of the water they were boiling before it was safe to use developed an oily sheen, forcing the powers that be to evacuate the Neskantaga Frist Nation’s most vulnerable residents out of their community. To those who have so very little, even that was taken away from them as the elderly, infants, chronically ill, and school age children were forced from their homes. I cannot express the kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth, which I heard in their cries.

But one little boy can. Please watch and listen to young Lyndon Sakanee. (cut to the video) “Children deliver their own message. ‘We’re not animals. We’re not things. We’re human, just like you guys. We, we need your help.'”

Lindon, you and your neighbours are not animals, you are not things, you are human. Your lives matter.

The consequences of systems driven by greed and the hunger for profits are all too often taken for granted by far too many of us who participate in the system and benefit from the system. I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and death bear witness to the cries of the oppressed, the poor, the persecuted and the suffering, told this parable so that we could use it to encourage people to work the system. I believe that Jesus told this story to help us understand the kind of courage it takes to refuse to participate in a system as evil as slavery, a system where greed and profits are more important that people’s lives. I believe that Jesus told this parable to encourage his followers to be as courageous as the third slave, the one who refused to participate in the system to please the powers that be, the one who was prepared to be condemned as lazy, and worthless, who was willing to run the risk of being cast out into the darkness. I believe that it is in the darkness where we will meet Christ amongst those who are wailing, tending those who have been judged worthless. I believe that the third slave, like Jesus, like young Lindon, who is challenging us to examine our own participation in corrupt and abusive economic systems which fail to honour the dignity of human life.

Yes, refusing to participate in systemic injustice, may bring down the judgement of the powers that be.But there are other stories to tell; stories about light, stories about joy, stories about feasts and celebrations; Jesus didn’t earn a reputation as a glutton and drunkard for nothing. Lord knows the Neskantaga Nation longs for the day when they can join the celebrations. But in order for the light to shine in the darkness, we must follow Christ to tend the wounds of those whose lives have been tossed aside for they are not worthless. Their lives matter. Lindon’s life matters. Indigenous lives matter.

We all know there are others who are wailing and many who are gnashing their teeth. Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, questioning, queer, pansexual, two-spirited androgynous and asexual lives matter. Asian lives matter. The lives of the poor matter. The lives of the oppressed matter. Yes, your life matters. Our privilege comes at great cost.

The thing about parables is that they are designed to turn our perceptions upside down and inside out. Do we have the courage to turn our privilege upside down and inside out? Do we have the courage to refuse to participate in systemic corruption? Do we have the courage to be judged, to be cast out, to venture into the darkness where we will hear the cries of lives which matter? Do we have the courage to make our own lives matter, to embody the LOVE which the world so desperately needs? The thing about courage is that it is born out of vulnerability. May the LOVE which is the DIVNE MYSTERY open us all so that we might be vulnerable to the cries of those whose lives matter.  Let it be so, dear ones, let it be so.

View the full Worship Service below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service – click here

Keep Me Trucking! – Sermon: Matthew 25:1-13

Earlier, while on a Zoom meeting, I was complaining about this parable about the “Ten Bridesmaids.” I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with this parable? A friend and colleague who was also on the call, began reminiscing about how this parable always reminds him of church camp songs, and he proceeded to sing a few bars of, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning!  Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.”  Anyway, he put that into my brain with just those few bars and it’s firmly planted there, this ear-worm, all day long and I’ve been singing it over and over again my head. Only I haven’t been singing the verse which my friend planted in my brain. No “oil in my lamp for me” Oh No!  Over and over again, I’ve been singing in my head: Give gas in ford keep trucking for the Lord. Give me gas in my ford I pray!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of gas. I don’t have much oil left and my light is beginning to dim. It’s been more than 9 months since we first began worrying about the coronavirus, and the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. As if a world-wide pandemic isn’t enough to dim the lamps which used to burn bright in our psyches, there’s the endless turmoil of the never-ending election in the United States. If anxiety could fuel a lamp, or fire up a car, not even the prospect of winter’s cold and darkness could stop me from singing. Forget oil, or gas, right about now, I’d settle for another verse of that earworm which better describes my sorry state: Give me umption in my gumption, help me function, function, give me up umption in my gumption, I pray.

The enormity of the anxiety, fear, and genuine hardships which have been inflicted upon us, I’m wondering why should we even try to wrangle some meaning out of this obscure parable? My lovely Nanny used to say, “you gotta laugh, or you’re gonna end up crying.” So, have you heard the one about the “Ten Bridesmaids”? “Ten bridesmaids” were waiting for a bridegroom, they waited so long that they fell asleep! What a joke? But where’s the laugh?

I know I’m not much of a joke-teller. Joke’s require punchlines, and I can never remember punchlines. Besides, if this parable has a punchline, I simply don’t get it. There were these ten bridesmaids waiting for a bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish.

The wise bridesmaids brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids did not. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Yada yada yada! A little detail here, a little detail there and lo and behold we’re at the punch line.  Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids, so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Ha, ha, ha, very funny. I’m sorry, I simply don’t get it.  For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this particular parable, and leaving people hanging with that punch line. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you just don’t get it. You don’t get to come into the party! Or as the traditional preacher said to the congregation, “Keep awake! Don’t fall asleep! And for heaven’s sake be prepared! Cause if you’re not, CHRIST will bar the door and you won’t get into heaven! So, keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  CHRIST could come back at any moment and if you are not ready! That’s it! Boom! CHRIST will deny you; the door will be shut and you’re not getting in. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to burn in hell for all eternity. So, remember keep awake, be afraid be very afraid.  Cause your gonna die! And if you haven’t brought along some extra oil for your lamp, well it ain’t gonna be pretty!” Ha, ha, ha, the joke will be on you. 

I don’t know about you, but why don’t we just forget about the ten bridesmaids or as they are sometimes called the ten virgins. I’d much rather hear the joke about the priest and the rabbi who walk into bar! Now I know that I’m a preacher and my job is to take these old jokes and breathe new life into them. But hell, fire, and damnation, some old jokes simply aren’t funny anymore!

Look, I could tell you all the things that I’ve learned about this joke. I could unravel ancient wedding traditions for you. I could tell you that the Greek word “parthenoi,” doesn’t mean bridesmaids or virgins, as so many interpretations are wont to translate it. Like we think of bridesmaids or virgins, I mean the fact that these girls haven’t had sex before is not the point…a “parthenoi” is simply a young woman; well a young girl really probably about 12.

So, there are these 12-year-old girls who are invited to this wedding! I could tell you that a more accurate translation, would divide these girls up as 5 wise girls and 5 naïve girls. I could say that oil is necessary for shedding light and that we are all expected to be the light of the world. But then the story takes a nasty shift and the wise girls won’t share their oil with the naïve girls and that kinda goes against the grain, cause aren’t we supposed to share with those in need? Then there’s the bridegroom; I could do what most preachers do and tell you that the bridegroom is really Jesus, who shows up late to his own wedding, only to discover that half the wedding party is unprepared and so, he simply denies that he even knows them and then shuts the door and leaves them out there in the darkness. But where’s the good news in that? What good does it do to portray Jesus as the kind of jerk who would exclude 5 young girls, children, from the party simply because they are naïve? I suspect that someone somewhere along the way, forgot the punchline of this parable and left us without any hope of finding anything to provide the nourishment we need to: Give us joy in our heart, keep us going. Keep us going till the COVID goes away.

What do say, we just forget about the punchline? What do you say we stop trying to turn Jesus into the bridegroom? Everything we know about the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth ought to prove to us that Jesus was not the type of person who would exclude 5 naïve young girls from the very party, that he was too inconsiderate to show up on time for. Whenever ancient Hebrew storytellers mention oil and lamps, we ought to be able to make the connection our ancestors would have been expecting. I know that there is much to dread about the coming of winter, but there is also much to look forward to. In just about a month from now, December 10th to be exact, Hanukkah begins. Hanukkah, the wonderous celebration of the LIGHT; not just any LIGHT, but the LIGHT which against all odds did not go out. When all was just about lost, during the darkest of times, when there was scarcely any oil left in the lamp, the lamp continued to burn for eight days and nights. For our ancestors, LIGHT represented the presence of the DIVINE ONE, the HOLY MYSTERY who IS the CREATOR not just of light, but the CREATOR of ALL that IS, the ONE who IS present even in the darkness.

The anonymous gospel-storytellers point us to the presence of the DIVINE MYSTERY in the LIGHT which burns brightly in the lamps of our wanna-be party-goers. Metaphors abound in all parables, and we would do well to remember that the anonymous gospel-storytellers were fond of using weddings as metaphors for the ultimate union with the DIVINE.  Weddings are symbols celebrating the union of the LOVER with the BELOVED; celebrations of the reality that we are ONE with the DIVINE.

We dear ONEs, we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, so much bigger than our fears and our anxieties, bigger than any pandemic. You and I, we are ONE with the DIVINE MYSTERY, which IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. The good news dear ones, is that our lamps will not be extinguished for we are nourished, grounded and sustained by the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. But we do need to be prepared, for those moments when we feel empty and afraid. And no one else can do this for us. We must prepare ourselves by going back to our SOURCE, being present to the ONE who IS. Opening ourselves to our LOVER.

Listen to what the 13th century, German mystic, Saint Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote about the nature of the LOVE we call God: “God Said to the Soul:

‘I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together There LOVE is perfected.

… It is my nature that makes me love you often, For I AM LOVE itself.
It is my longing
that makes me LOVE you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.
It is my eternity that makes me LOVE you long, For I have no end.”

Dear friends, the winter is coming. Anxieties are running high. It may feel like we have precious little oil in our lamps. We will need to prepare ourselves, no one can do this for us. We must stop, and we must breathe deeply of the ONE who is the SOURCE of all light, trusting that in the presence of the DIVINE MYSTERY, we are ONE with the LOVE which will empower us to BE.

As for that ear-worm, well:

Give me peace in my heart, keep me LOVE-in, LOVE-in, LOVE-in
Give me peace in my heart, I pray
Give me peace in my heart, keep me LOVE-in
Keep me LOVE-in  I pray,

Keep me LOVE-in till the break of day.

May the LOVE which is our BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, continue to burn brightly in, with, through, and beyond, you. Now and forever. Let it be so, dear ONEs. Let it be so.

Watch the full worship video below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

 

Blest Are Those Who Mourn In a Pandemic – All Saints’ – Matthew 5:1-10

Since this pandemic began, more than 1.2 million people around the world have died from COVID-19. In Canada, the death toll exceeds 10,000 people. In Ontario, more than 3,100, and here in York region 267 people have died from COVID-19. Sadly, millions more people have died alone of the regular stuff which causes our bodies to perish. This year as a result of public health restrictions, death has been a lonely endeavour, for both the dying and for the grieving. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. But how do we mourn and how shall we be comforted in the midst of a pandemic?

So much of what I would call popular, cultural, Christianity imagines the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the SOURCE of ALL that IS, the SOURCE of ALL life as a kindly, old, gentleman in the sky from whom we should seek comfort from the pain of death. This image of the DIVINE MYSTERY is readily offered to the dying and to those who mourn as a kind of talisman, who alone can provide the necessary comfort, all we need is just have faith in the various visions offered to us by the faithful of an afterlife. So, it doesn’t surprise me that those of us who have given up worshipping personifications of the MYSTERY which IS the DIVINE LOVE in which we are all ONE, we are left longing for a way to mourn and to comfort which does not require that we worship the idol of the all too small sky-god, which we once worshipped.

Today, as we remember ALL the SAINTS who have gone before us, together with ALL the SAINTS who dwell among us, my heart goes back to the WISDOM imparted to me by a particular saint, who taught me so much about the ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY works, in, with, through, and beyond us to comfort those who mourn. This particular saint had no family.  She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon, I will call her Sophia; Sophia, the Greek word for WISDOM. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member of the congregation which I serve. When the doctors told her that she was dying she thought that she ought to have a pastor. So, via, a friend of a friend, I was summoned to her bedside.

I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before the cancer would, and I quote, “take her,” not die, but that “the cancer would take her.” No one used the word death or said that she was going to die. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task.  No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.

I went to Sophia’s bedside every day for weeks. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. Not any pat answers. She didn’t want those. She didn’t want trite platitudes. Just the facts. She would say, “Just give me the facts!” I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts which I possessed, might not sustain us on our journey.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had led her far away from the faith she had grown up with. But as death drew near, she longed for the certainty of her youth. She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se, but someplace heavenly.  Like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime. If only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who, like her appreciated the finer things of life. Life? Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.

One morning, I stopped by the bakery and picked up some of the most Parisian looking pastries I could find. Then I swung by a coffee shop and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down to me that I should heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster.

Our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful, and the men all fell at her feet. Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried.

After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. London was wet and cold. Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come to be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg, where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children.  

By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry, so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease. One afternoon, I arrived to find Sophia’s care-worker crushing ice for mint juleps. It took me a while to figure out that we were going deep into the southern states, where Sophia had worked long and hard to help establish a medical center among the poorest Americans.  By the time our travels led us back to Newmarket, Sophia was growing weak and I had gone from being a suspected bible-thumper to a trusted travelling companion. The most difficult part of our journey lay before us.

“What will become of me?” Sophia pleaded. I told her that the doctors would see to it that there would be no pain. That wasn’t what she was talking about. “What will become of me? Will there just be darkness? or, Will I see a bright light?”

“I don’t know?” was all I could honestly say. Sophia was patient with me. She asked me if I thought there was more to life or if death was the end. “No religious platitudes, if you please. Just the facts.”

“I don’t know Sophia. I believe that we live and die in God, and that God is LOVE, and in LOVE we have nothing to fear. All will be well? I trust that in death we fall into the LOVE that IS God.”

Sophia took my hand firmly and confessed, “I’m afraid.”

I did not know how to comfort her, so I asked, “What are you afraid of Sophia?”

“Not of dying! Good God no! I’m not afraid of dying.” Sophia insisted, “I’m afraid of being forgotten. Who will remember me?”

Who will remember the hundreds, the thousands, the millions who have died this year?How shall we be comforted. Like most deaths, those who have died from the coronavirus, have done so out of sight, removed from the public eye, and they have been mourned out of sight. In addition to those who have perished of the virus, there have been those countless deaths of loved ones, we have been unable to mourn in our usual ways. No gatherings at all, or if we could manage it, just tiny, physically distant funerals scarcely able to do justice to our grief. Ever so faintly, Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount echo down through the generations: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Some translations say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled. Mourning is scarcely possible during these challenging times. It is as if we have been robbed of mourning’s blessings.

Blessed, “bless-ed,” what does it mean to say “blessed.” The Greek word “makarios” which is often translated as “blessed” is also sometimes translated as “happy”. But “happy are those who are mourning” is not a translation that makes much sense to me. Fortunately, there is another meaning to “makarios” which does make sense, “Makarios” can also mean,  “honoured.” “Honoured are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.”

“Honoured are those who mourn.”  To mourn is to grieve, to lament, to show sorrow for the death of someone, or the loss of something. And haven’t we all lost so much this year? There is much in this life to mourn, losses of all kinds. For life is change, and in change there are losses. As I look around this beautiful cemetery, there is a chill in the air. Last night, the temperatures dipped below freezing a sure sign that the autumn is almost over, and winter is coming. All the signs, together with the medical experts are telling us that this will be a very dark winter. In the midst of the sadness and grief which this pandemic has spread around the world, my attention is drawn to the leaves which are tenaciously hanging onto these trees.

As I marvel at their tenacity, I can’t help but remember Sophia hanging on for dear life. I remember how I wept each time that I left her bedside. I also remember other griefs. Losses which I have been privileged, honoured to mourn. I say privileged because LOVE is a prerequisite for mourning. We do not mourn unless we have loved or have been loved.  Honoured are those who mourn, for we shall be comforted, because every tear is pregnant with new life. Like fallen leaves which will provide the nourishment for new life, all that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, in whom we live and move and have our being. Death is a transformation point into the MYSTERY who is, was, and ever more shall be the SOURCE  of our being. For those of us who mourn, grief is a narrow passage through which we pass from death to new life. Without tears and dreams there is no healing. Without laughter and singing there is no savoring of what is, and what is to come. LOVE is the tender lifeforce which transcends even death. Honoured are those who mourn for it is LOVE who consoles; the LOVE which IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING.

Over and over again, Sophia’s desperate plea, “Who will remember me?” punctuated our conversations with fear which went beyond belief. No theological words or phrases about believing would suffice or comfort. Only the promise to remember her could bring any comfort at all. But who was I to make such a promise?  So, I hesitated. I tried to calm her fears with words. I tried to explain her fear away. And then one afternoon, Sophia took my hand and she asked me about my travels, about my loves, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. She said she wanted to be able to remember me.

I was reluctant. This wasn’t supposed to be about me.  I was after all the pastor, the caregiver, there were lines which the books say should not be crossed. Sophia didn’t care to be cautious; time was of the essence. She wanted to remember me, and to do that she needed to know me. So, I came out from under the protection of my clerical office and together we travelled back to the places which had shaped and molded me. Sophia and I became friends, if only for a brief moment in time, we were kin, each embodying LOVE for the other.

A few days before she died, a panic came over her as she feared what might become of her. Once more, holding tightly to my hand, she begged me, “Who will remember me?”

With all my heart I promised, “I will remember you Sophia. Those men in Paris who fell at your feet all those years ago, the young man who fell in love with you in London, the children in Hamburg and the people in Kentucky, they will remember you. Your friends will remember you.” And then I took a long deep breath and I said, “I will remember you.” Her breathing calmed and her grip loosened, and she began to smile. And then I asked her. “Sophia remember me!” “I will remember you.” Sophia promised.

Over the course of next few days as her death drew ever near, Sophia and I were kin for one another. Embodying the DIVINE for one another. LOVE-ing one another. Remembering one another. I remember you my dear. It is an honour to remember you. You are part of me.

It is in our remembering that the HOLY ONE consoles us. This may indeed be a dark winter, but the light which is the LOVE which we call “God” shines in, with, through, and beyond us, as LOVE empowers us to comfort those who mourn, by being LOVE to one another. Spring will come. The sap will rise.  New leaves from buds will transform all our grief into hope. Blessed are we. All that we are is not lost at our death. What we are forever impacts the WHOLE, the ONE who IS LOVE, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.

Blessed are we as we remember those we have loved and who have loved us. Blessed are we as we remember the saints who have walked among us and those who continue to dwell among us. Thanks be to the ONE, who makes us WHOLE, ONE with our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, LOVE.  Now and always. Amen.

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

WATCH the FULL Worship Video below

 

 

The Plague and the Printing Press to the Pandemic and the Internet: Always Reforming!

Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming! This tired old phrase is trotted out each Reformation Sunday by preachers like myself to encourage our listeners to embrace the need for the reformation of the Church to continue. However, appealing it may sound, Semper Reformanda, to be always reforming, is not a task which is often embraced by the Church. Take for example preachers: we who are called to earnestly exhort our listeners to be about the task of reforming the Church, we preachers, we all too often fail to reform our own preaching, especially when it comes to Reformation Sunday. A quick review of some of my sermons and my colleagues sermons  written for this occasion, reveal a tendency to narrow our focus upon the story, or the legend, perhaps dare I say it, myth that on October 31, 1517, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and launched, “THE Reformation.” We proclaim the central thesis of Dr. Luther’s theology, that we are justified not by church rules or doctrine, but rather, we are saved by the grace of God, by faith in Christ, then we all sing a few verses of the good doctor’s “A Mighty Fortress” and give thanks that we have been set free from the errors of the Church’s past and move quickly onto next week’s celebration of All Saints. Alas, our annual, protestant reformation rituals, are in and of themselves designed to free us from the burden of always reforming! So, on this Reformation Sunday, I would like to embrace the Reformation tradition of preaching a loud “semper reformanda” by giving thanks that on this Reformation Sunday, the church’s pandemic predicament makes it impossible for the church to do anything but reform. In the words of the wise Dr. Luther, “Here we stand. For we can do no other.”

Here I stand in an empty sanctuary, for we can do no other! Ten months ago, this sanctuary was effectively shut down and I have been leading worship from my home to your home. Remaining physically distant is what LOVE-ing our neighbour looks like in 2020. So, here I stand!  Alone, preaching into the camera on my phone, trusting that the miracles of technology will bring us together. What I wouldn’t give to see this sanctuary filled with your smiling faces. I miss you all and my longing for the traditions of old is only accentuated by the reality that we are headed into what promises to be a long, dark, and difficult winter. There is no end in sight. So, we must content ourselves with our hopes and dreams of a vaccine to cure what ails us. Or do we?

I know that many of us are blessed with the wherewithal to hunker down in our homes and sit this winter out, as we wait for the scientists to do their magic. If you’re watching this on a screen, you like me are among the wealthiest people on the planet and while we are not immune to COVID, we are insulated in ways that the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed, and the homeless can only dream of. So, if we are careful, follow all the rules, and forgo some the pleasures we used to take for granted, we stand a pretty good chance of survival. Well today on this strange Reformation Sunday, I am here as your preacher, to proclaim that survival is not enough. I want us to consider the possibility, indeed the hope that we can do so much more than simply survive this pandemic. I stand here today to encourage us all to consider the hope which comes from semper reformanda; the hope found when we truly engage in the process of always reforming.

I believe that our Lutheran heritage will stand us in good stead if we manage to shift our gaze from the legend of Martin Luther’s mythical nailing of his 95 Theses upon the doors of the Church, to focus our attention upon the all too real events which took place in Luther’s actual life some ten years after his initial challenge to reform. So, let’s shift our gaze some ten years beyond the legendary events of 1517 to the summer of 1527, when the plague came knocking on all the doors of the people of Wittenberg. The black plague, unlike COVID-19, was an epidemic not a pandemic. One of the basic differences between an epidemic and a pandemic is that it is possible to travel your way out of an epidemic to find some place where the plague is not. For even though, the epidemic known as The Black Death, covered most of Europe, killing over 25% of the population, it was possible for people to escape the cities and towns ravaged by the plague. Indeed, Martin Luther’s wealthy patrons urged him to leave Wittenberg for the relative safety of a country estate. Luther refused, insisting that his calling as a pastor, required him to exercise his love for his neighbours by remaining in the city to minister to the needs of the sick and the dying.

As summer turned to autumn, Luther despaired for the safety of his pregnant wife Katy, Luther’s infant son, became ill. Indecently, it is said that Luther’s dire worries about the lives of his wife, son, and unborn child provided the impetus for the words of the reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”  Luther could have safely sat out the ravages which the plague visited on Wittenberg, but he chose instead to engage the circumstances in which he and his neighbours found themselves. He did so not just by staying put, Luther used the latest technology available to reach out beyond himself and those he cared about to address and engage the reality in which his whole world was languishing.

Just ten years earlier, Luther’s 95 Thesis had travelled the length and breadth of Europe thanks to the ability of the newly invented printing press to produce new-fangled ways of communicating information, ideas, and even the Bible itself. The world went from scribes hand producing one Bible a year, to printing presses which could produce a Bible in a day. The printing press’ impact on the daily lives of millions was astounding.

The exponential increase of the availability of books radically changed the power dynamic of the Church. But it was the printing of short tracts which radically changed the political impact of theologians in the town square. In addition to changing the Church, Martin Luther’s embrace of this new technology changed the world. During the depths of the plague’s ravaging of Wittenberg, Luther took advantage of the power of the printing press to produce a short tract in the newest format, that was all the rage of the day. It was known in German as “flugschriften” “flying writings” in English we would say, “flyer.” These new-fangled fliers functioned as the “twitter” feeds of the Reformation.

On the subject of the plague Luther wrote this: “Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another … Use medicine; (wrote Luther) take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? … I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.

I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence …

(Luther wrote) If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbour’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die … ” [1]

While references to the devil may not sit well today, I dare say Luther’s flyer is as prescient today, perhaps even more so than the millions of tweets which we are bombarded with every minute of every day. Back in April, when we were learning to live in lock-down, Bill Gates the creator of Microsoft and one of the world’s gazillionaires, was interviewed about the lasting effects of this pandemic. Gates pointed to the reality that in a matter of weeks the world embraced technologies which under normal circumstances would have taken at least fifteen years for us to embrace. Well I remember April like it was yesterday, and I can tell you that those first few weeks of lock-down saw churches all over Christendom and indeed temples and mosques all over the planet, scrambling to embrace newfangled technologies to get the Word out. I suspect that just like the church, many of you also found yourself on screens and devices, waving at loved ones, meeting with work colleagues, or even raising a glass to toast with a Happy Birthday greeting. Scrambling to get worship services online became the bane of my existence. Martin Luther himself, who was famous for his ability to swear, would have blushed at my language as I struggled to navigate new technology. Faith leaders all over the planet continue to swap stories with one another about of the horrors of trying to render and upload videos. I know we’ll all be able to laugh about this someday, but until then, let me warn you not to expect good pastoral care whilst your pastor is fighting with her computer. My point is, this pandemic as horrendous as it is, has revealed some difficult truths which will forever change the world, particularly the Church. For the foreseeable future, our sanctuaries will remain empty, and we will rely more and more upon technology to enable us to continue to be LOVE in the world. The sad truth is, in-person worship, just like the status quo before COVID, was not working. The Church was dying and those of us who remain in the Church refused to change our ways, believing somehow if we just did it better and flasher, happier and clappier, we might just be able to attract the lost generations who have long since deserted our sanctuaries.

The good news dear friends, is that the current crisis invites us into a liminal space, a thin place if you will; a place where the veil between the everyday status quo and the sacred extra-ordinary falls away and we can see things that we were once hidden from us. Today, the Church stands on the precipice of a new era. Like Luther of old, who inspired centuries of cries for semper reformanda – to always be reforming, we today have the opportunity to reform the church in ways which will speak to generations to come. But just like Luther, who used the printing press as a means to proclaim a reformed theology, we too must embrace the internet, not to proclaim the status quo theology that wasn’t working anyway, but to proclaim a reformed theology.

Tinkering on the surface and learning new technologies will not save the church. The power of the Luther’s call for reformation came from new ways of understanding Creation itself, together with new ways of understanding what it means to be human. If our reformation today is to have any power at all, it will require the church and all who sail in her, not to rely upon Luther’s way of understanding reality. We cannot simply move the deck chairs on this titanic which the church has become and expect the church not to sink.

There are gaping holes in the hull which we ignore at our peril. We must have the courage to build upon Luther’s insights as together, we learn new ways to express new understandings of what it means to be human here and now in Creation today. We must dare to learn to understand reality in ways which would have dumbfounded and possibly even offended Luther himself.

So, here I stand, in 2020, in the midst of a world-wide pandemic, for I can do no other, but to proclaim the need to be always reforming. For the church can do no other. We cannot go back to the way things were, any more than Luther himself could go back to life before he discovered his freedom as a Christian. Whether we like it or not, our world has changed and continues to change. The church has changed, being LOVE in the world has changed too, and it must continue to change. Just imagine the wonders we shall be able to embrace to help us to LOVE our neighbour!

These are exciting times and they are also terrifying times. But each and every day, we are free to embrace possibilities which once seemed unthinkable as we embrace new ways to be LOVE in the world. Now more than ever we need one another, so that together we can empower greater LOVE! We dear friends, we are richly blessed. Let us take courage from the blessings of our great heritage, let us seek wisdom from the blessings of heritages unlike our own, and let us be inspired by the ingenious insights of scientists,  philosophers, theologians, poets and artists so that we can learn new ways to embody the LOVE our world so desperately needs so that we can heal the wounds of Creation. Semper Reformanda! Always be reforming! Thanks be to all that is Holy. Amen.

[1] From Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1968), 43:119-138.)

View the full Reformation Worship Video below

DOWNLOAD the Order of Service click here

Reformation Sunday Resources

semper reformanda

Preparing for Reformation Sunday? Some of these posts might be useful:

Always Reforming: Freedom and Loss

”The Truth Will Set You Free. But First It Will Piss You Off!”

Echoing the Divine Plea: “I Lay Before You Life and Death. Choose Life!”

What if we won’t ever really understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until we understand that God is dead?

Enough with “A Mighty Fortress” Already! Sing a New Song!

95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Freedom from What?  All this Reforming is Wearing Me Out!

What Darwin Never Knew

A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet – John Shelby Spong

A Prayer for Reformation – Thomas Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full Worship Service below

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Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth: Is this the Gospel of CHRIST? – Matthew 22:1-14

Fortunately, this Sunday is Thanksgiving in Canada, so I do not have to preach on this troublesome text. However, for those of you who are struggling with this text, I post this sermon preached six years ago.

Listen to the sermon here

 

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said,  “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’  But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’  The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’   “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

Is this the Gospel of CHRIST? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of CHRIST!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O CHRIST!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Is this the Gospel of CHRIST?

I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text.  I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become.  “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community?  “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of CHRIST?” “Praise to you O CHRIST!” I don’t think so. Continue reading

Being LOVE in Toxic Soup??? coping with Trump’s toxicity!

My oh my, what a toxic week this has been. The bilious rhetoric went off the scale this week when the most-watched debate in history transmitted ignorance and hatred around the world like poison.  I know that there may be some of you who did not watch the presidential debate for all sorts of really good reasons, not the least of which may be your desire not to be infected by the toxic politics of our neighbours to the south. However, unlike wearing a mask, which offers the best protection we have in this pandemic, not watching the debate on Tuesday night offered little protection from the fumes of the toxic soup which is being cooked up by our neighbours.

I myself, I breathed far too deeply as the fumes from the bubbling orange cauldron travelled through various media into my home. I am ashamed to confess that the steam from this toxic soup nourished my own dark side. I did not know how dangerously infected I had become until the media brought the news that the most powerful person on the planet had tested positive for the coronavirus. I simply couldn’t help myself. Try as I might, the darker side of my nature positively bubbled up with glee, as smug retorts collided upon the tip of my tongue. “That’ll teach that arrogant, orange, idiot!” This was one of the kinder retorts that I will confess in this context. I shall leave you to imagine the more colourful thoughts, words, images and desires which sprang to mind as I smugly anticipated a fellow human being’s demise and gleefully rejoiced in my “I told you so!s”. I know that I can trust you to come up with more than a few dark thoughts of your own, some harsh words, and some smug images as well, because we’ve been swimming around together in this toxic soup for years now, waiting for the orange fellow who holds the nuclear football to receive his comeuppance.

It took more time than I care to admit for my kinder, gentler self to begin to choke on the bile being generated by my darker self. May all that is HOLY forgive me, but it sure isn’t easy to be LOVE in the world. As we flail about in this hate-filled toxic soup which feeds our baser instincts, it is difficult to remember those things which nourish, ground, and sustain us as the LOVERs we are created to be. Continue reading

St. Francis – BEYOND the bird-bath!

This coming Sunday, the Season of Creation concludes with the celebration of the life of St. Francis – Matthew 6:25-29 – this video was recorded in 2019 – when we looked beyond the ubiquitous bird-bath image to uncover the radical Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181-1286), who posed a prescient question which continues to resonate with those of us who live lives of privilege?  ARE WE BEING LOVING ENOUGH WITH EVERYTHING WE HAVE? As we learn to understand the Gospel as LOVE, then putting the Gospel at the centre of our lives requires us to ask ourselves, over and over again, “I am I loving with everything I have?”

The RIVER of LIFE

Whenever I sit down by a riverside, memories of other trips to other riversides tend to meander through my mind, flowing here and there, as images of my younger self reveal the long and winding, twists and turns of this river of life, and I can’t help but reach out to pat that little girl, or young woman, that I once was on the head and tell her to relax and go with the flow. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing by a riverside, holding onto a brand new fishing rod, hoping against hope that I would be able to somehow catch a fish. I had come well prepared and yet not prepared at all for what I was about to encounter. Earlier in the week my Father had presented my brother and I with our first fishing rods. Throughout the week, Dad had instructed us in the fine art of casting our lines. Instead of hooks, Dad had tied little rubber weights to the end of our lines. Over and over again we practiced, releasing our thumbs from the levers on our reels at just the right moment so as to send the line way out beyond us onto the grass. I could hardly sleep the night before our first fishing trip. I worried that I wouldn’t have the courage to impale a wiggling worm on my hook. I wondered which one of us, me or my younger brother, which one of us would manage to impale ourselves with a barbed hook. I can almost see the little girl that I once was tossing and turning on the top bunk as she hoped against hope that she would catch a fish, but not just any fish, this little girl longed to hook a really big fish, a fish to impress her Dad. No one told that little girl, that fishing is a waiting game which requires the kind of patience which few children can muster. I can see that little girl staring at a little red and white float, waiting for movement, determined that at any moment a fish, a really big fist was going to come along.

There were many riverbanks, and lots of fish were landed, some were big, some were small. All of them were interesting. Not beautiful really, but interesting. Personally, I liked catching the small fish, or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The small fist could be released back into the river to fight another day. Eventually, other things captured my attention. Dragon flies, darting here and there, birds singing, grasses blowing in the breeze, there was so much to discover down by the riverside. Dad was the purveyor of wisdom, explaining every mystery until that little girl began to tire of life on shore.

Eventually, I gave up fishing in favour of diving in. I can see that little girl splashing about in the water, laughing and giggling as I played for hours and hours in the river. I remember once, trying to stand still as the river’s swift current threatened to topple me over. I wondered where the river might take me if I failed to keep my balance. And just as that little girl is about to topple over, the image of a confident young woman emerges from the depths and she rolls over on her back and begins to float upon the water, and I can remember staring up at the clouds content just to be me, on a summer’s day so long ago. As the summer’s day gives way to evening, I see a less confident image of myself, sitting on a riverbank staring up as the sun sets wondering and wondering, filled with questions about how and why, longing to fish out of the river, or the sky, the answers to my endless questions.

I wonder when I stopped looking to the rivers, or to the sky, or the oceans, or the mountains and all the creatures who live upon the Earth so that I might find the answers to my questions. I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when I stopped fishing for answers in Creation and began fishing in libraries. One after another, each book caught me rather than me catching them, but still fishing none the less for answers. Sometimes the books would give way to the wisdom of teachers, scholars, mentors, and folks whose faith was stronger than mine. Hoping against hope, that this one, or the next one would provide answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality.

Looking back at this long meandering journey, I can’t help but see that I’ve been fishing for answers my whole life long. Whether its fishing or studying, I’m still that little girl, longing to capture the really BIG FISH, the ONE which IS the SOURCE of ALL, the ONE who is MYSTERY. I wish I had tapped myself on the head a long time ago and told myself to relax. There’s no need to catch a fish, or follow the trail of some creature. There’s no need to harvest knowledge from books, or seek wisdom from the wise ones. Just go with the flow, let the river take you.

I remember once a long time ago watching a fish flounder on the shore, desperately trying to stay alive, when the wind drove the current on shore, and suddenly the fish was carried back into the river. The salvation of that fish brought tears to my eyes as I longed to be able to simply be carried away like that. For the fish lived and had its being in water; water flowed in and around and through the fish. The answers to the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality are all around us. For as our ancestor Paul said some 2,000 years ago, the MYSTERY, the ONE Paul called, “God.” is “the ONE in whom we live, and breathe, and move and have our being.”

So, as I pat the little girl, or the young woman, that I once was on the head, I hope that the person I continue to become will have the faith to go with the flow of this RIVER OF LIFE, this MYSTERY in whom we live and move and have our being. And when from time to time, the current runs swiftly, I hope that the person I am continuing to become will have the WISDOM to remember that the RIVER itself flows in, with, through, and beyond me and that I find the courage to drink deeply from this LIVING WATER which is the MYSTERY at the very core of who we are: BELOVED children of the ONE who IS.

The next time you find yourself down by the riverside, splash about a bit. Life in the river is far more exciting and life-giving than any of the answers you might be able to capture. So, splash about and play in the ONE who IS, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, the ONE in, which, we, live, and move and have our being, the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, now and forever. Amen.

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Getting to the Root of Our Dominion Over Creation: Genesis 1:27-28

From Coast to Coast to Coast, we Canadians live upon a land which far exceeds the blessings many of our ancestors could only long for. In addition to the milk and honey of our ancestors’ dreams, this land is rich in blessings more numerous than all the words in all the languages spoken by this land’s diverse inhabitants. I suspect that those of you who call other lands “home” are also blessed with a similar love for your land. We only have to close our eyes to see the images of the beauty of the land we love simply because it is home. Walking upon the land, the ground beneath our feet holds promises passed down from generation to generation. Memories of landscapes long changed by human hands, haunt our visions of ever-expanding settlements. In addition to being overwhelmed by the vast beauty and majesty of the land, our eyes weep and our bodies shudder at gaping wounds, and ugly scares which threaten to pierce our over-inflated egos and challenge the wisdom of our imbedded delusions of grandeur. Standing upon the Earth, with its vast, majestic lands, how did we ever become so enamored of our species domineering posture of self-importance? There is an arrogance to our Western posture which threatens the land.

Years ago, when my family immigrated to this land which I call home, it was known as the DOMINION of CANADA. That word “dominion” sticks in my throat, like a bile which threatens to make me wretch. While it has been a long time since this land was viewed as the DOMINION of CANADA, this land we love continues, like many lands, to suffer the pain of the dominion we inheritors of the Genesis myth continue to claim as our place in the order of Creation.

Listen to these words taken from one of the Creation myths found in the book of Genesis. I’m using the New Revised Standard Vision because it is a familiar translation of Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 & 28: the NRSV translates the Hebrew text like this:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”             Here endth the reading…or does it?

In one of the most treasured Creation myths of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, humans are placed as the crowns in the jewels of Creation. For two millennia, the dominant Christian culture has interpreted this myth to endow the right of “dominion over” every living thing that moves upon the Earth; indeed, over the Earth itself. Creation is ours to rule over. We have dominion over Creation.

“Dominion” the word comes from the Latin word dominium which means “lordship” or “right of ownership” from the word dominus which means “lord”.  Humans, male and female, for that is how “He” the “LORD GOD” created them in this particular Creation Myth, Humans are “lords of every living thing” we have dominion over Creation and we are to subdue the Earth, and multiply. Is it any wonder then that we are so very quick to consume the bounty of the Earth? It is as if we see ourselves as lords and ladies exercising our god-given right to tax the Earth and all her Creatures. One look at a “man-made” (sic) machine, excavating a mountaintop, confirms our “dominion” our “lordship” as we ravenously devour the land, so that we can gobble up the Earth’s resources.

Creation myths function as a kind of compass which orients a culture’s place in the world. But what if our Creation myths, or rather, Western Christianity’s translations and interpretations of our Creation myths went askew somehow? Perhaps instead of a compass our Creation myths are functioning as weights around our necks, millstones if you will, which continue to unbalance us? I believe that our notions of “dominion” continue to function as such a millstone and that we must cast off this weight if we are to have any hope of restoring our balance. Let me begin to lighten the load by looking back to our Creation myth to see if we can discover the roots of our delusions of “dominion”.

For centuries, the Hebrew word “radah” has been translated as “dominion” but when we go back to the roots of our myth we actually, quite literally discover a “root”. The Hebrew word, “radah” means “a point high up on the root of a plant.” When gardeners who pull up weeds encounter the radah the discover where the strength of the plant is. The radah of the root is the centre of the plant’s strength. The radah helps the plant say firmly in the ground when the winds come. What happens to the meaning of our Creation myth when we begin to understand the strength of a new translation? Continue reading

Labour Day: some thoughts about Work: a job? a profession? or LOVE made visible!

Labour Day weekend marks a milestone in my life. You see 26 years ago, after a driving about 4,000 kilometres, all the way from Vancouver, I arrived in Waterloo, Ontario, just in time for the long Labour Day weekend. I didn’t know anyone in Waterloo. I didn’t have a place to live. But on the Tuesday after Labour Day, I was scheduled to report to Waterloo Lutheran Seminary to begin orientation for what would be a four year masters of Divinity program. In the course of that long ago Labour Day weekend, I found a place to live, unpacked all the belongings that I’d been able to stuff in to my old 84 Oldsmobile, and discovered that in Ontario, milk comes out of in plastic bags. You have no idea how mystified I was wondering just how those plastic bags functioned as an appropriate container for milk. I actually remember standing in the grocery store wondering what people here in Ontario did once they’d opened the plastic bag. Visions of milk spilling everywhere caused me to well up with such a feeling of homesickness. Since then, Labour Day Weekends have been strange combination of nostalgia for what once was and excitement for what is yet to be.
I came to Ontario in the midst of a transition. I’d just completed a 4 year undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and I was about to begin Seminary. Both my undergraduate and my masters degree would qualify me to be a pastor. After a years in the travel industry working as both a tour wholesaler and an accountant, I wanted something more out of my work; I wanted something more than just a job I wanted a profession. Religion, Christianity, the Church, the inner workings of reality, books, studying, teaching, deep conversations, these things were and are expressions of my passion. Travel Brochures, numbers, spread-sheets, office politics, sales-figures, the day to day commute into the city, these things represented a means of making money to pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong, my work in the travel industry was usually interesting, sometimes challenging and often quite satisfying. But it had nothing what so ever to do with passion.I viewed my work as a job. What I wanted was a profession. I was caught up in a way of seeing that divided work into categories of meaningful and meaningless. I was incapable of seeing the sacred in my work. Despite the fact that I worked with interesting, beautiful, people and was privileged enough to enjoy the world in ways that some people can only dream of, I couldn’t see meaning in my work.
I was for all intents and purposes an arrogant snob.I was raised in a culture and in a time when education, and fancy letters after one’s name, meant that your work was more important and therefore more meaningful than the work of folks who didn’t have a professional calling. Not surprisingly, I am a product of my experience. I was raised by British working-class parents who struggled to ensure that I had access to the kind of educational opportunities that would result in more than just a job. Their dreams and visions were of having their children become “someone”. A job was something anyone could get. A career was something special. A career meant that you were someone who was involved in something more; a career meant that you were a professional. Even the word job is designed to put the worker in their place. Job comes from the word “jobbe” which describes piece work. A person who does a job is like a cog in a wheel of a much larger machine, who preforms a task that is often disconnected from the end product. A profession is defined as a vocation, a calling that requires specialized educational training. I was tired of functioning in a job and I felt called to a profession in which I could put my own particular passions to work. It took me a long time to understand that a profession could also be just a job and that a job could indeed be the expression of one’s passion.
While I was busy judging the quality of particular occupations, I failed to see the inherent dignity of work itself. The legacy of the class system that divided us into tribes based on the money our work could generate leaves many of us with the miss-guided notion that work is simply a means to an end. All too often we direct our attention to the end and judge the work by how much the worker is able to accumulate. How big is your pile of money? That becomes the point of our work. We express the value of our work in the size of our homes, our cars, the vacations we take, the clothes we wear, the toys we play with. The object of our work becomes the pile. How high can we build our towers? What mark can we leave upon the earth?

Seabright Farmhouse

Years ago, when I was working as a volunteer at a retreat centre, I remember the most satisfying work that I did as a volunteer, was not serving as a board member, not even when I was elected Treasurer and controlled the purse strings of the organization. No! The most satisfying work that I ever did at the retreat centre, which was such a big part of my life for so many years, a place I loved, and worked hard to make a success, the place where my passions all came together, the place where I worked night and day at after putting in long hours at my job, the most satisfying work I did at the retreat centre was scrubbing the floors.
You see the main building of the retreat centre was an old farmhouse. The kitchen had an old and ugly linoleum floor. That floor had seen so much traffic that the the pattern was worn off in places. I remember getting up before sunrise, or wandering in late in the evening, to get down on my hands and knees and scrub that floor because it was a job best done when no one was around. First, I’d scrub it with a scrub brush and Comet; you know that old fashioned abrasive powder. Then I’d have to rinse it with hot water and a cloth. Then after it dried, I’d wax it. It wasn’t a very big kitchen, but it took a couple of hours to do it right. Yet, even when it was finished, that old linoleum wasn’t really up to much. But it was clean. You could have eaten off that floor.

Continue reading

The DIVINE Expression of BEING ITSELF – Exodus 3:1-15

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. I believe that it stands to reason that a good story, a really good story has the power to reveal truth about the MYSTERY which we call God. So, let me tell you a good story. It is a story which I have told many times because like all good stories it is worth repeating. The first time I heard this story was from a seminary professor. Since then I’ve heard this story attributed to Marcus Borg he attributes it to Parker Palmer. Like many good truth revealing stories, its origins are somewhat elusive.

This story is about a little girl. She was four years old and her Mom is expecting a baby and Mom tells this little girl that the baby is coming to them as a gift from God and that this gift from God will be a new member of their little family. Sure enough, the baby arrives. A boy is born. The parents are a little bit worried because everyone knows that nobody knows how a 4-year-old will react, especially as an only child, to having a new baby in the house. So, they’re reading their parenting books and they’re trying to figure out ways to assimilate this new person into their family without having their little 4-year-old suddenly feel shunted to the side.

Well it turns out that this little 4-year-old has an unusual request; a request which her parents don’t know quite how to deal with. For some unknown reason the little girl keeps asking for some time alone with her new baby brother. The parents are a little worried because they’ve heard horror stories about what 4 year-olds can do to newborn babies. They don’t want to leave this child alone with their precious newborn. Then they remember the baby monitor and they figure they’ll set this baby monitor up so they can listen from a distance and know what’s happening.

Once everything is carefully set up, the little girl goes into the bedroom and her parents hear the footsteps of their daughter going over to the crib. The parents are very, very nervous. Then their little girl leans into the newborn’s crib and they hear her say to her new baby brother,  “Tell me about God. I have almost forgotten. Tell me about God.  I have almost forgotten.”

This coming Tuesday, churches all over the world will begin a monthlong celebration of the Season of Creation. From Sept. 1st, which is the Day of Creation until St. Francis Sunday on October 4th our awe and wonder at the beauty of Creation will be given voice in our worship celebrations.

The Season of Creation is a relatively new liturgical season, born out of our response to the concerns of so many of us about the plight of CREATION under the weight of human contempt and abuse of the Earth and her creatures. I know that many of you are concerned about the many and various ways in which our ravenous consumption of the bounty of the Earth threaten the wellbeing of CREATION. So, I won’t presume to preach to the choir. Instead, I’d like to look at the many and various ways in which the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God finds expression in, with, through, and beyond CREATION.

Tell us about God. We have almost forgotten. For far too long, traditional Christianity has emphasized theological responses to our desire to know about God. Lutherans, Anglicans, protestants in general, our traditions have for all intents and purposes divorced the DIVINE from CREATION. Yes, I know that images of a DIVINE “FATHER” are employed to portray the MYSTERY of the ONE who is the SOURCE of ALL REALITY as “THE CREATOR”, but, this image casts the CREATOR off into the distant heavens and relegates the DIVINE to the role of distant observer, occasional interferer, and constant judge. This divorce, like all divorces, has impacted the children in ways which have allowed us to run amuck, forgetting as we do so often to pay attention to the LOVE which gave us birth, continues to nurture us, and in which we continue to live and move and have our being. Continue reading

If we are to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, we must look beneath the surface!

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned to his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he two walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks, he too returned striding upon the water.

The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not! I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the story about Jesus walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter, we too have precious little faith that wen or even Jesus for that matter, can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we, nor Jesus, are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us where the stones are, so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. Continue reading

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 that 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 fails 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:

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

 

Resurrection: The Joy and Pain of Living! – Luke 24

Clearly, they were grieving. Out there on the road, trying to make their way home to Emmaus. Their beloved friend and leader dead. Taken from them in a hideous act of violence. All their hopes and dreams gone. Everything out of their control. Wandering in their grief, towards a home that is forever changed. The world they once knew taken from them. The confusion of the empty tomb. Rumours and conjecture leaving them bereft with so many questions. Clearly, they were grieving. The contours of their journey seem all too familiar to us now. Here we sit, me in my home and you in yours, longing for our shared home. Journeying through this crisis rumours and conjecture leave us bereft with so many questions. We too are grieving.

This has been a difficult week; a difficult week in the midst of difficult weeks. Last weekend’s violence in Nova Scotia, the rising death tolls, and our inability to gather together to comfort one another, is almost more than we can bear left alone to our own resources. Even naming our grief takes some sorting out. Sometimes, when my tears begin to flow, I have to stop and take a breath and ask myself, “Why am I weeping?”

The violence in Nova Scotia tears at our delicate pandemic coping mechanisms leaving many of us desperately trying to distract ourselves from too many griefs. The pointless loss of lives at the hands of a pathetic calculating villain. The endless corona death tolls. The death of a beloved child. The loss of the world as we once knew it. Griefs too numerous to count. Despite our best efforts, the grief won’t go away. Our grief is compounded by our inability to rush to one another’s side; to embrace, to weep and to begin the long hard journey toward healing and wholeness.

Yesterday, I heard someone in desperation, say, “We are all just virtually trying to hold one another.” During this enforced physical isolation, the meaning of virtual has been made clear to me. Virtual does not mean, online, or mediated over technology, like zoom, or the telephone. Virtual actually means, almost. You cannot almost hold someone, or almost be present, or almost LOVE. We can hold, be present and LOVE one another even if our holding, presence, and LOVE must be mediated over technology. Mediated holding, presence, and LOVE may not be our preferred method, but it is the method we are blessed with on this particular journey we are all on together and mediated or not our we are still holding, being present, and embodying LOVE for one another.

I know that it is tempting to hunker down, withdraw, or busy ourselves with distractions; anything to avoid what we are feeling right now. We all have enough on our plates right now. You take care of your isolation and I will take care of mine. It is no coincidence that in times of grief humans turn to food to seek not only physical nourishment but spiritual nourishment as well. In the midst of their grief Cleopas and his wife recognized the Risen CHRIST in the breaking of the bread. In our physical isolation, we may not be able to gather around a meal to nourish one another, but we can provide nourishment to one another. In the midst of grief, people have always gathered around a meal to share stories and song. Today, in the midst of our many griefs, we can actually hold one another in the same way people have been holding one another since the beginning of time. We can hold one another in story. You tell me your story and I can tell you mine. The sharing of stories continues to provide the nourishment we need for the journey we are now on.

Our current predicament reminds me of the Parable of the Spoons.Many of you will have heard the Parable of the Spoons before. But let me mediate the story for you over this particular visual media. Watch this portrayal of the Parable.

Our stories whether they are told, sung, played, painted, sculpted, dramatized, or simply spoken, our stories are the spoons with which we nourish one another. This is not about pitting one story against another story. This is about sharing stories so that we can not only share the pain of our grief, but also share our need to make meaning out of our loss. Grieving through story is the process of experiencing the joy and pain of living.

It is so very difficult to find ourselves physically isolated in our many griefs. So, we reach out using whatever spoons we can find to feed one another. We don’t have to do this “virtually”. We can actually do this. Pick up the phone, Zoom in, FaceTime, snail-mail, driveway visits; use whatever spoons you are blessed to find to feed people, nourish them in the sharing of your stories and the hearing of their stories. As for those moments when you no longer have the strength to feed another soul, let yourself be fed. Open yourself and your grief to the joy and pain of living. Receive the stories as the nourishment we all need on this peculiar road to Emmaus that we are all on.

Stories will not take away our grief. The stories, like the spoons provide us with the nourishment, the strength, we need to move toward healing and wholeness. Our individual and collective griefs will take many stories, many songs, much music, art and even dance to nourish, ground and sustain us in these challenging times. I am so very grateful to all those who “stay with us” for evening and the darkness is almost upon us – staying with, is what Risen LOVE looks like and feels like.

LOVE is Risen. The darkness cannot separate us from the ONE who IS LOVE. LOVE is Risen. LOVE is Risen in Us. Alleluia. Let us feed, nourish ground and sustain one another in story. What does this look like? In the midst of the horrendous suffering of this week, millions of us were actually held in story. Using words and music a grieving souls held us.

Natalie MacMaster used her voice and her fiddle, while her daughter, Mary Frances played the piano, to accompany a video of 17-year-old Emily Tuck, who along with her parents Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck were brutally killed this past week. Emily Tuck created her video to help bring people together on Facebook. Sadly, Emily had no idea how many of us would be brought together by her music as she fiddled the old story entitled, “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod”.  Watch, listen, and be held in the tender embrace of these gifted storytellers.

There is nothing virtual, nothing almost about that embrace. Natalie, Mary Frances, and Emily held us in LOVE. I know that this story, this embrace will not take our grief away. Stories can only hold us in LOVE as we journey toward healing and wholeness. Remembering that as we journey toward healing and wholeness, we are transformed. Things will never be the same again. There are so many more stories to be told and stories for us to receive. We cannot go back. Becoming whole we will still carry with us our grief and those for whom we grieve, but we do so in the midst of LOVE; LOVE which empower us to embrace all the joy and pain of living. Reaching out, giving and receiving the stories of our lives, we can ACTUALLY recognize Risen LOVE in the virtual breaking of the bread. LOVE is Risen.  LOVE is Risen in us. Alleluia!

( I am indebted to Sherry Coman for her insights about media for alerting me to the actual meaning of the word virtual, and to the work of David Kessler in his new book “Finding Meaning”)

You can view the entire worship video below – download the order of service here

 

Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24

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

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

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

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

Easter Stories: on the road to Emmaus: Guest Preacher: Michael Morwood

Michael MorwoodSix years ago, when the Road to Emmaus lay before us in the lectionary, Michael Morwood was our guest preacher. It was an amazing weekend at Holy Cross as we explored a new story of what it means to be human and discovered new ways of contemplating the DIVINE PRESENCE which permeates the cosmos. Michael Morwood taught us and challenged us to peer through 21st century lenses at the one we call G-o-d. Michael concluded his time with us by delivering the sermon on Luke 24:13-35 in which he moved us beyond the Easter stories to a place were we could imagine so much more than words can capture! Enjoy!!!

Firefox users will need to click on this link to listen:  Morwood sermon