Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.


Teach Us to Pray! To Whom Shall We Go? Pray Without Ceasing! – Giving Up God for Lent 5 – Luke 11, John 6, 1 Thessalonians 5

This sermon is set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the congregation who respond with song and observations.  Some technical difficulties – so the video does not begin until Part III – a rough transcript is provided of the missing video sections. I am indebted to the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, especially his new book “Unbelievable” 

Part 1                                We worship as we live

                         in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

                                       a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

                                         May the Spirit of LOVE

                                    breathe wisdom and passion

                                             into this gathering.

On this the fifth Sunday in Lent, let us continue to repent:  repent from the Greek metanoia – think new thoughts. Let us think new thoughts about prayer. Let our repentance begin with a story from the anonymous gospel-story-teller we know as Luke:

“One day Jesus was praying, and when he had finished, one of the disciples asked, “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come. Give us today tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the test.’”

Not much of a prayer. No flowery words. Not much passion. Very plain. Very simple. There’s a part of me that wants to say to Jesus, “Is that all there is?”  “Is that the best you can come up with?” What kind of teacher are you? What kind of prayer is this? Come on Jesus put a little ump in your work! Show us some razzle-dazzle!

Of all the questions I am asked as a pastor, questions about prayer are the most common. People what to know how it is done. As unsatisfactory as I have always found Jesus’ teaching about prayer, I’m pretty sure that the answers I have offered have been even more unsatisfactory.  I remember once, a wise teacher asked a room full of eager prospective pastors to try to imagine this story about Jesus in a new way. Imagine Jesus, John the Baptist’s younger and cousin, always competing with his older cousin for followers. John was pretty good as fire and brimstone preachers go. People would flock out to the desert to hear John call people to “Repent!” to think new thoughts! Imagine how miffed you would be if some potential parishioners showed up on a Sunday morning touting the preaching of your colleague down the street. Pastor so and so, she sure can preach up a storm and her prayers, wow, if only you could teach us to pray like she prays. Come on, Pastor, teach us to pray.

Our wise professor asked us to consider the possibility that Jesus reluctantly taught his disciples how to pray. Like any good teacher, Jesus would have known that if you teach your students something you run the risk of them believing that they always have to do that something just the way you taught them. There is always the risk that people will mistake an example for a template. Our wise teacher cautioned us not to read just the words that were on the page but to imagine the story behind and between the words on the page. “Rabbi, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  “All right!” Jesus said, “All right if you insist.” Try this, Abba God, hallowed be your name! May your reign come. Give us today Tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the Test.”
It was just an example. Sadly, the example became a template. Then one follower, told another follower, who told another, who wrote it down. Trouble was it wasn’t much, so the church types, they added some fancy words to the end, “for thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.” and suddenly, it is a template for all time.  Repent!  Metanoia – think new thoughts! Teach us to pray!

Part II

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts.” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  Let our repentance, our new thoughts flow from a story told decades after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; a story written down sometime around the turn of the first century by an anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John. This John is quite the storyteller and paints quite the picture of Jesus as the kind of teacher who can draw a crowd and annoy the authorities. This John, wrote it this way:

“Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Many of his disciples remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?”  Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said.  “Is this a stumbling block for you?” Jesus asked them. “What, the, if you were to see the Chosen One ascend to where the Chosen One came from? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh in itself is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the start, of course, those who would refuse to believe and the one who would betray him. Jesus went on to say:  “this is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by Abba God.”

From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answered, “Rabbi, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go?” During this season of Lent we have been engaged in the practice of “Giving up God for Lent.” We have tried to give up all the images of God that we once treasured so much that we can to worship those images as idols.  We have embraced the truth about the ways in which our evolving knowledge of the cosmos together with our evolving understanding of what it means to be human…all this evolving knowledge and understanding have shown the idols that we had become so comfortable worshipping as but pale imitations of the ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very core of reality.

We have tried to unpack some of the ways in which the god we created is too small, too limited, and far too capricious to ever fully encompass the MYSTERY that we call God.  We have tried attempted to peer beyond our personifications of the Divine so that we can begin to give up our desire to mold and shape the MYSTERY into our own image. To those of us who have peered beyond the beyond, for hints of the MYSTERY there comes more than a little grief.  Like the disciples in the gospel-story-teller’s story, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk!” Bereft of the personified, far away, sky-god we’d come to know, to love, and to worship, is it any wonder that we now cry out, “To whom shall we go?”

The reality that once you give up the notion that God is some far-away sky-god, willing to respond to our prayers, to do our bidding, or not to do our bidding as this sky-god wills, then, “to whom shall we go?” You can talk and teach all you want about progressive Christianity, but, “to who shall we go?” “Now, how are we supposed to pray?” “Now, to whom shall we pray?” “What is prayer anyway?”  “To whom shall we go?” “Now, teach us to pray!”  Repent. Metanoia. Think new thoughts!  

Part III

Repent:Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. Giving Up God for Lent, we began our Lenten repentance way back on the First Sunday of Lent, by turning our attention to the first religious response. The response of awe and wonder at the nature of reality. That awe humbles us, opens us to the truth that we are part of something so much bigger than we can even begin to imagine. So, to bring us back to the first religious response, I offer you all of these lovelies. I can’t tell you the names of all these lovelies, so let me just begin by drawing your attention to the astonishing array of yellow. There is an old Hebrew expression:  deanu which translates as “enough”. It would have been enough just to have a daffodil. Daffodils in and of themselves are quite simply, awesome!

            Sacred Conversation on the beauty of Nature

Now, we could offer up…and I do mean up…we could resort to the old ways…and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for the awesome beauty before us…or we could take a deep breath and repent…metanoia…think new thoughts and realize that this conversation in and of itself is prayer. It is in this conversation that the meaning of God was shared between us; it was in this conversation that the boundaries we humans erect to keep ourselves safe from the threat of another were transgressed and we shared our common humanity. It is in the sacred conversations where we are able to cross the boundaries and be vulnerable to one another that prayer emerges in our midst.

I chose these lovelies as an example, because nature provides us with a non-threatening example of our common humanity; for who among us is not awestruck by such loveliness. But I could have chosen any aspect of our common humanity – a pain we all share, a fear that haunts us, a joy that inspires us, a passion that delights us, or a longing that drives us. It is in the sacred conversation in which we share our experiences of our common humanity that prayer emerges; the conversation is holy, for in our common humanity our shared divinity is revealed.

Our friend Jack Spong insists that, “To be able to live the meaning of prayer, rather than just to “pray”’ ought to be our goal. Jack writes that, “Prayer is the sharing of being, the sharing of life and the sharing of love.” For, prayer is, “far more about “being” than it is about “doing.”   Repent….metanoia…think new thoughts.

Part IV

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts. In the decades that followed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, somewhere around the year 52, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the community of people known as followers of the Way that gathered in Thessaloniki.  Our gospel today is found in the first letter of Thessalonians, St. Paul writes:   “ We ask you, sisters and brothers, to respect hose who labour among you, who have charge over you in Christ as your teachers. Esteem them highly, with a special love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another.  Always, seek what is good for each other—and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything—for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Spirit; do not despise the prophetic gift.

But test everything and accept only what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil. May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—irreproachable at the coming of our Saviour Jesus the Christ. The One who calls us is trustworthy: God will make sure it comes to pass. Sisters and brothers, pray for us.

Greet all the sisters and brothers with a holy kiss. My orders, in the name of Christ, are that this letter is to be read to all the sisters and brothers. The grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you.”  The Gospel of Christ…

Repent – Metanoia – “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul. Now, let us hear the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong.  Our friend Jack writes: “Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. Before prayer can have meaning, it must be built on an honest sharing of life. Before prayer can be discussed in the age in which we live, it must be drained of its presumed manipulative magic. It must find expression in the reality of who we are, not in the details of what we do…  Prayer is not and cannot be a petition from the weak to the all-powerful One to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Prayer does not bend God’s will to a new conclusion. Prayer does not bring a cure where there is no possibility of a cure. Prayer does not create miracles to which we can testify publicly.”

I hear you Jack, but I cannot help but respond, “To whom shall we go?” I miss the far-away-sky-god! I want my comforter. Like every other human who has come before me, I long to reach out and connect in some way with the MYSTERY, that something that is so much bigger than I can begin to imagine, that something bigger that we are part of. How do I experience that? How do I share in the MYSTERY?

Our friend Jack writes: “Is prayer, as we have traditionally defined it, a holy activity, or is prayer the preparation for a time of engaging in a holy activity? “Increasingly,” writes Jack, “I am moving to the latter conclusion.”  Prayer is the preparation for a time of engaging in holy activity. “It is life that is holy. It is love that is life-giving. Having the courage to be all that I can be is the place where God and life come together for me. If that is so, are not living, loving, and being the essence of prayer and the meaning of worship? When Paul enjoined us to “pray without ceasing”, did he mean to engage in the activity of praying unceasingly?  Or did he mean that we are to see all of life as a prayer, calling the world to enter that place where life, love and being reveal the meaning of God? Is Christianity not coming to the place where my “I” meets another’s “Thou,” and in that moment God is present?”

Jack’s questions, our questions, move us beyond our child-like notions of prayer to a deeper, more mature awareness of the reality that the MYSTERY is revealed in the prayers that emerge when we move beyond the boundaries of decorum, to traverse the landscape of our common humanity. When we share the wonders of life and love with another, we are engaged in prayer so sacred that the MYSTERY is revealed. For it is in our shared humanity that our own Divinity is revealed and the LOVE that is God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us. I no longer pray expecting miracles to occur, or lives to be changed, or for reality to bend to my will.  I do pray expecting that I will be changed, made a little more whole perhaps, set free to share my life more deeply with others, empowered to love beyond the boundaries erected by my fears. I pray trusting that in the sharing of our humanity our divinity is revealed as the MYSTERY that we call God emerges and takes on flesh and dwells among us.

As our friend Jack puts it, “Prayer to me is the practice of the presence of God, the act of embracing transcendence and the discipline of sharing with another the gifts of living, loving, and being.”

Let us pray without ceasing!

Let us see all of life as a prayer!

Let us repent…metanoia…think new thoughts …Let us live trusting that the Mystery is revealed in living, loving, and being. Let all the people say: AMEN!


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

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

Treat yourself to a listen:

What Can We Learn from Jesus? sermon 4 – Giving Up God for Lent – John 3:16

Part I                                             We worship as we live

in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,


May the Spirit of LOVE

breathe wisdom and passion

into this gathering.

The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the passage from John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.”  So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards that read simply John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died.

Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance. So, let us repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask:  What can Jesus teach us?

The way that the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways that paint a particular picture of what it means to be human.  According to these traditional interpretations humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their Creator. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by the creator.

You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol that we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated for their creator. Humans have tried in vain to get themselves back into the garden, to restore our oneness with our creator. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness. And our Creator needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished.

Traditional interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our creator could be restored. We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol that we have created to stand in for the Mystery that we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century and we know that the definition of what it means to be human that these stories rely upon no longer rings true. We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings.

We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY that lies at the very source of our being; our Creator if you will. This knowledge has an impact on how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we look at the stories that have been told about Jesus, the stories that have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the Mystery we call God, we discover a narrative that seems preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, even the hymns we sing about Jesus they tend to shift our focus to Jesus’ death.

Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination.  Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun that was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death.

You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision economic equality, or his passion for peace, and his commitment to non-violent resistance.

So, this morning I’d like us to take our focus off Jesus’ death and all we may have heard, or learned about why Jesus died so that we can see what it was about Jesus life that endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is?  What can Jesus teach us about God?

Part II

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Take a few moments to walk across the sanctuary and have a word with someone about who Jesus was?  What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

 Part III

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Share as a whole group some responses: What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

Part IV

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts”. Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous Gospel storyteller that we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Today, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11:00 and not 10:00.

When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things that Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the Mystery that we call God that Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative of atonement that the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol that masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, prayers, creeds, choice of scriptures, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE that Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God that point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all reality. The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ultimate. For Paul, Jesus was not God but a human in which God was revealed.  For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the Mystery we call God can be imagined. Continue reading

Beyond the Serpent. Beyond the Idol Jesus. Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that Also: a sermon Lent 4B – John 3:14-21

bronze serpentA sermon that attempts to peer beyond the mess we have made of John 3:16. Listen to the sermon here

I don’t like snakes. No. Let me make it perfectly clear, I hate snakes. I hate snakes because I am afraid of snakes. Snakes terrify me. I know that my fear of snakes is unreasonable. But when it comes to snakes, I could be described as a biblical literalist, because thanks my mythical fore-mother Eve, there shall be enmity between this particular woman and the serpents who are confined to slithering about the dark corners of my imagination. So, perhaps it is my fear of snakes that has prevented me from seeing beyond the literal words on the page when it comes to this morning’s gospel text. That a snake could lead me to a new understanding of the words put into the mouth of Jesus, by the anonymous gospel story-teller that we call John, comes as a complete surprise to me.

You might be able to tell that I am struggling to fight off a cold; the full effects of which hit me during the course of our congregational retreat on Friday night. So, when I arrived home late yesterday afternoon, I took a decongestant and went straight to be.  Decongestants have a strange effect on me. Sometimes they zone me out and sometimes they send me to this strange place where my brain races around at a million miles an hour. Yesterday, I was hoping for the latter, because all week long I have been struggling to figure out what to do with this gospel text and try as I might, I’d been stymied by a wall of doctrine that I simply couldn’t see my way past and despite all my hard work I had no idea what to do with this text.

I was kind of hoping for a bit of a medication buzz to get me past the wall of doctrine so that we could move beyond the line of text that strikes fear into the heart of this particular progressive Christian preacher. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   John 3:16, or as it’s popularly known: THE GOSPEL in a nutshell.

These days, ardent fundamentalists don’t even bother writing out the words of the text, they just wave about their signs emblazoned with the mere mention of John 3:16 as a kind of declaration of what it takes to judge the content of one’s character. Either you believe John 3:16 or you don’t; one way or another you will be judged. Bow down before the Gospel accept that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Bow down and worship, believe or else.

Believe what you say? Believe that God sent his only son to die, to die for you, to die for your sin, to die a horrible death on a cross, so that God your heavenly Father, could be satisfied, and muster up the grace it takes to forgive you, you wicked sinner that you are. Bow down and believe or face the wrath of the Father. Bow down and believe John 3:16 lest ye be judged. Bow down and believe John 3:16 or face the fire torment that awaits you in Hell; damnation! Bow down and believe.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only song so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Untangle that one, you progressive Christians, wangle your way out of that particular piece of Good News.

In my drug induced haze, I considered the possibility that the wall of doctrine is just too high to climb and far to wide to go around. Maybe I should just give up, surrender and stretch out in the shade provided by sheer size of a wall that seems impregnable. Lying there in my bed convinced that the walls of my room were actually closing in on me; I began to wonder if I’d made a crucial mistake. Could I be that stupid? Oh, my dear God. I’m an idiot. I found the strength to get out of bed and there on the bathroom counter was the proof of my stupidity. I hadn’t actually taken the daytime cold medication. No buzz for me because I’d taken the nighttime dose. Just burry me beneath the wall of doctrine, cause I am done for. Help me Jesus, Help, Help, me Jesus! Help me Jesus, yeah get me out this mess! Where oh where is the great sky-god when you need him?

There was nothing left but to sleep. Sleep, sleep perchance to dream. Lord let there be a way through that wall of doctrine. Wall made of bricks, bricks forged in fiery furnaces of hell, fire and damnation. Bricks and mortar, plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. Continue reading

GOD IS DEAD! LONG LIVE GOD! – reflections upon the Death of God – Lent 3

These reflections are part of our Lenten journey in which we are Giving Up God for Lent. They are set up as a dialogue between the preacher and the songs. The work of Bishop John Shelby Spong, most particularly his latest book:  Unbelievable, permeates my thought process. I hear Jack pushing me farther and farther.  What followers are the reflections and copies of the songs:

We worship as we live

in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,


May the Spirit of LOVE

breathe wisdom and passion

into this gathering.

Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance.

So, let us repent.

Repent from the Greek word metanoia

“to think new thoughts”

Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

A reading from 1st Corinthians chapter 13:  “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

I remember the first so-called “Christian” event I ever went to I must have been five or six years old.  It wasn’t church or Sunday School. No, the first “Christian” thing I ever went to was a funeral. It was amazing. I’d never been inside a church before. And the first time I saw that guy hanging up there in his underwear, I had absolutely no idea who he was or how he got there. So, I asked my Dad and I simply couldn’t believe it when he told me it was Jesus. “How did Jesus get up there?” I asked.

“He was nailed up there, a long time ago?” Dad answered.
“Why Daddy, why did they nail him up there?”
“So, he would die?”
“You mean they killed the baby Jesus? Why did they kill the baby Jesus Daddy?”
At this point my mother had had enough!  So, she tried to baffle me with the facts of the matter. “Jesus died for you, for all of us, because we’ve been bad. Jesus died so that we could all get into heaven?”

“Why Mommy? Why can’t we all just go to heaven? Why doesn’t God just let us in?”

“Because we’ve done bad things. Bad things must be punished. So. Jesus died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to?”

By this point all I wanted to do was to get out of there.  I mean, the murdering so-and-so’s killed the baby Jesus. Nailed him up there on the cross so that he would die. And all because of something I’d done? It was awful?

I remember watching the guy up at the front. I didn’t even want to ask why he was wearing a dress.  And he kept doing this X (crossing himself).  And when he did this X he kept mumbling something but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. So, I spent the rest of the service waiting and watching for him to do this X  and trying to figure out what he was saying when he did this X.

Well, it wasn’t until we got out to the grave-side where I could get closer to the action that I finally figured out what the guy in the frock was saying when he did this  X.  “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” For months after that funeral I would do this X, cross myself and repeat the magic words: “In the name of the father and of the son and into the hole he goes!!!” 

Now for those of you who don’t recognize it, I stole that routine from the great Irish comedian Dave Allen. I hoped it would make you laugh. But I also hoped that it would help you to think how ridiculous Christianity can be. Most of us have been hanging around Christianity for so long that we can’t or won’t see the humour in it. 

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

  • Opening Song God Within Our Deepest Thought – Shirley Erena Murray 
Words © 2004 Hope Publishing Company; LiscenSing 1975

REPENT                      God Loses His Home

Repent:          Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

            The Bible was written by men who believed that they lived in a three-tiered universe. The Earth was flat. The flat Earth was surrounded by the waters. The flat earth was supported over the waters on pillars. Above the sky were the Heavens. One of the authors of the Book of Genesis described creation like this : “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven.”

            The Earth, the Heavens, and the seas.Now even though the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the Earth was round in the 6th century before the common era. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the flatness of the Earth was seriously challenged by the likes of Columbus.

            I don’t know about you but for most of my life I have been taught that the place to learn about God is the Bible. Certainly, in the church the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority of the nature of God. For the most part, the Bible points to the Heavens above the firmament as the home of God.

            In his new book, Unbelievable, our friend, Jack Spong writes: “The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history.” Jack has a way of reminding us of the obvious. None of us believe that we live in a three-tiered universe. Unlike our ancestors who succeeded the writers of the bible and went on to develop the theology of the church, we don’t believe that the round earth is the center of the universe.  The writers of our creeds firmly established that God lived in heaven. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven…”

            Most of us have travelled far above the Earth, we have sailed through the clouds and we know that there is no heaven up there. As far back as the sixteenth century, a Polish monk named Nicolaus Copernicus calculated that the Earth is not the center of a three-tiered universe. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei a personal friend of the Pope, published a paper demonstrating that the sun could not possible revolve around the earth. This despite the fact that the biblical author of the book of Joshua wrote that God stopped the rotation of the sun around the earth in order to provide Joshua with an extended period of daylight in which to kill his enemies. It took the Church until 1991 to concede that Galileo and not the writer of Joshua was right and that the Earth did indeed revolve around the Sun. Continue reading

2nd Sunday of Giving Up God for Lent – Pickup Your Cross

Learning to Die Daily: a sermon for the second Sunday in Lent

Lent 2B – Mark 8:31-38 this sermon is inspired by my study of the work of Dr. Cornel West. His words flow through the lines of this sermon and his prophetic imagination provides the hope-filled vision of LOVE parading around the world as justice.

Listen to the sermon here

The anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark, wants us to know that: “Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the one the oppressed people of Israel had been longing for, waiting for, expecting, hoping for, the Promised One,  had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later.” Furthermore, the gospel storyteller makes it absolutely clear, “if you, wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.”  Those of us who have the audacity to call ourselves Christian, those of us who seek to follow Jesus, must deny our very selves, we must pick up our cross, and we must follow in the footsteps, of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of the ONE who is understands that he must suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the pillars of society, the powerful religious leaders and the scholars, follow in the footsteps of the One who understood that rejection meant that he would have to be put to death, and rise again. Quick change the channel. There must be something better on offer than this.

Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it before. The hero, the beloved, the freedom fighter, justice seeker, peace maker, that one, the one we’re all rooting for, our saviour, suffers and dies. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus. I don’t want Jesus. I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. Change the channel. There must be something better out there.

I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful. Continue reading

Giving Up GOD for Lent – the Journey Begins – Lent 1

This year, we at Holy Cross are giving up God for Lent. Letting go of our carefully crafted and tightly held images of the ONE who IS the SOURCE of ALL BEING is a daunting task. To aid us on our journey, we have decided to radically alter the way we worship together. It is a scary proposition for a pastor to venture out on a journey without the familiar trappings of familiar liturgy.  Gone are the vestments, the prescribed lectionary readings, and the familiar words.  The sermon is broken up into three short homilies. There are flowers in the sanctuary during Lent! The congregation is encouraged to move around the sanctuary. You can peruse my notes for the service in the pdf of my missal here. You can also watch the videos of the homilies – our videorgrapher is enjoying the Family Day weekend – so my head is missing from the first parts but thanks to a volunteer’s intervention my head is restored in the third video. It was quite a beginning to what promises to be an exciting journey.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Wildernesses: a sermon for Lent 1B

JusticeThis sermon is inspired by the work of Dr. Cornel West whose words and challenges infuse this sermon with courage and passion. The questions which frame the challenges are from W.E.B du Bois as quoted by Cornel West. Listen to the sermon here

On Ash Wednesday, this week, we began the season of Lent. Traditionally the Lent is a season for contemplation, repentance, confession, and self-denial designed to prepare us for Holy Week. 40 days, not counting Sundays because all Sundays are a celebration of resurrection, 40 days leading up to our commemoration of Jesus’ death and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 40 days inspired by the stories recounted by the gospel storytellers known as Mark, Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, which of course are patterned after the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about Moses spending 40 nights on Mt Sinai, or the 40 days and nights it rained in the story of Noah and the flood, or the 40 years the Hebrew people spent wandering in the desert.

The gospel-storytellers cast Jesus out into the desert where he encounters Satan, the personification of evil. The first Sunday in Lent always includes a reading from one of these three gospel-storytellers about Jesus’ encounter…..this year our lectionary follows Mark, which you heard as our first reading. I’ve chosen the version out of Matthew for our gospel reading because it expands further on Jesus encounter with the personification of evil.

For several weeks now, our Adult Study Class has been ReThinking the concept of Evil; that is we have been looking at evil in light of all the ReThinking of Christianity that we have been doing for the past several years. How does our evolving Christian theology change the way we think of evil? Once you move beyond the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall from grace as the prevailing explanation for the existence of evil in the world, from whence cometh the problem of evil. So, in preparation for those classes I’ve had the privilege of delving into the subject of evil. I’ve spent weeks, no months now, but it feels like years now, researching the topic of evil. I get all the fun jobs around here.

Turns out most of us don’t really believe in Satan. Sure, the guy still haunts the deepest darkest recesses of our psyche’s – both our personal psyche and our collective psyche. But when push comes to shove, we’ve confined Satan to the pits of hell, which of course we all know doesn’t exist anywhere but in our collective imaginations. What we have here in this morning’s story, is metaphor heaped upon metaphor. Metaphors are those things we use when we don’t really have words to adequately describe particular phenomenon. Meta which means beyond and phor which means words, metaphor means beyond words and that works both ways. Metaphors describe those things that are beyond words and when looking at metaphors we are supposed to look beyond the words of the metaphor itself. Satan is used to describe that which is beyond words and we need to look beyond the word Satan itself to understand the metaphor of Jesus encounter with Satan.

The gospel-storytellers place the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. Baptism was and is a public act; a sort of declaration of intent to be a certain kind of person.  Jesus is about to step into his life as a public teacher. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist who preached a  baptism of repentance; repentance means to turn around, to turn from the direction you’ve been going, to turn around toward God so that you might live in God, recognizing that God lives in you. No sooner does Jesus engage in this public act which sets him up as a committed follower of YAHWEH in a world where committed followers of YAHWEH where hanging on crosses all over the place; no sooner does Jesus set himself up against the powers-that-be than he is driving by the Spirit into the wilderness where the personification of evil, Satan himself pays Jesus a visit for the sole purpose of enticing Jesus to follow Satan and not YAHWEH. Isn’t that always the way? Each and every time we resolve to follow one path, someone or something comes along and entices us to follow another. When that someone is the personification of Evil himself, well who else would be up to the task of tempting Jesus other than Satan himself. The gospel-storytellers are setting up a battle of cosmic proportions between good and evil. Our very lives write large upon the canvass of the heavens themselves, cause you know the big guy up in the sky and all the heavenly host will be watching this one; just as they tune in each and every time we are come face to face with the choice between good and evil. What better way to begin a season, which encourages contemplation, repentance, and confession? Continue reading

Ash Wednesday Homilies


Let us revel in the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return: Embracing Mortality

Evolution – There’s No Going Back here

Embracing Mortality: a reflection here

Stardust here

We Are ONE here

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

Listen to the sermon here

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, as a progressive christian, how do I think prayer works? – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39


“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” In the morning, while it is still very dark, I can often be found sitting in my home office clutching a warm mug of coffee. Some of my most creative hours occur just before dawn, as do some of me least creative hours. Staring at a blank computer screen, hoping against hope that the Spirit will inspire me with new insights, my vision is often distracted by the rising sun. My computer sits in front of huge bank of windows that face the eastern sky. I have seen some spectacular sunrises beyond my computer’s screen. No matter what task I am feverishly trying to complete, the blinding light of the sun always causes me to stop what I’m doing, reach for my coffee and pray. More often than not, I pray for this congregation. I pray for each and every one of you. I pray for the work we do together. I pray about the challenges we face together. I pray for the concerns you have expressed for the people in your lives. I pray about the various afflictions that trouble you. I often pray for the wisdom to respond to your needs. I also pray for healing and I pray that the demons that haunt us will be driven out. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

I know, right, I’m a progressive Christian pastor. I have long since stopped believing in a God who intervenes in our lives like some kind of grand puppeteer in the sky. So, why do I pray? To whom do I pray? And, what do I expect my prayers to accomplish? If there’s no Big Guy upstairs or out there who is waiting to hear and answer my prayers, and if Jesus isn’t some sort of super-human miracle-worker, who intervenes on my behalf, then why bother praying at all?

Let me say this very clearly, because sometimes I think that people get the wrong idea about what it means to be a progressive Christian: just because our ideas about who God is are changing and we no longer see Jesus as some sort of super-human healer, that does not mean that progressive Christians no longer believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer! I believe that prayer has worked and continues to work miracles! I pray fully expecting that prayer can make a difference. My prayers do not address a personified being. My prayers take the form of contemplation of the needs and concerns that rise up in me.

I would be the first person to sympathize with anyone who finds it difficult to understand how prayer fits into the ways in which we are just beginning to speak about who and what God might be. As our notions about God change, so do our notions about Jesus. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. But when we begin to see God as something other than a grand-puppeteer in the sky, who pulls all our strings, the way in which we see Jesus changes as well. This is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us convince the grand-puppeteer to heal someone, or something in our lives. Sometimes, usually when I’m up against something that frightens me, I really miss that old sky-god, and I long to walk in the garden alone with Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what we are supposed to do once we begin to move beyond personifying the LOVE that we call God, how and why do we pray?

So, as a progressive Christian, how do I think prayer works? The truth is, I simply don’t know how prayer works. Prayer remains a mystery to me. I cannot do anything more than speculate and like all speculation, I am fully aware that I may have it all wrong.

I may not know how prayer works, but I suspect that prayer works because the power to heal one another is ours. I have come to believe that part of being human, is the power to heal one another, to heal the planet, and to heal the world. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth loved so fully that he was able to access the power of his humanity to heal others.

I also know that healing takes many forms. There is a tremendous, largely unheralded power in the bonds between people, in the gentle touch we can offer one another, in the hospitable presence of the LOVE we can extend to both our friends and even to our enemies. I believe that the power that lies in the bonds that exist between us, is the power we access when we pray. I believe that whatever God is, exists in, with, through, and beyond the bonds that connect us to one another.

There’s a story that has always intrigued me that illustrates this reality. You can find the story in a book called “Outliers,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote “The Tipping Point.” It’s the story of a modern-day miracle that takes place in a small American town.

Roseto, is a small working-class town in Pennsylvania that was founded back in the late 19th century. From its founding to the late 1950’s it was populated by Italian immigrants from a town also called Roseto in Italy. Roseto would have remained a relatively obscure little town had it not been for the work of a medical school professor called Steward Wolf. While attending a medical conference Professor Wolf met a GP from a town very near Roseto who told him that he’d been practicing medicine for 17 years and in all that time very few patients ever came to see him from Roseto who were under the age of 65 and were suffering from heart disease. Professor Wolf was very surprised by this, because in the 1950’s heart attacks were epidemic in the United States. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in men under 65. So, Professor Wolf decided to investigate. Colleagues and students from his medical school were recruited and they analyzed the medical records of the inhabitants of Roseto.

The entire population was tested and re-tested. The results were astonishing. No one under 55 had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. Indeed, the death rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35% lower than the national average. Wolf’s team broadened their research and brought in sociologists and members of other academic disciplines. They found there were no suicides, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. Continue reading

The Challenges of Jesus, Confronting Evil – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

This sermon was preached 3 years ago. Alas, while the politicians have declared that ISIS has been defeated, conditions on the ground indicate that ISIS has merely gone into hiding. The Canadian military is in discussions to purchase military drones, while the U.S. use of drones continues to inflict violence upon civilian populations. Jesus’ way of confronting evil continues to elude us. The Readings included Mark 1:29-39: Jesus raises up Peter’s Mother-in-law, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956”

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

listen to the sermon here

If there was ever any doubt that they are blood-thirsty monsters who are obsessed with destroying our way of life, this week’s abominable immolation of a Saudi pilot ought to prove to even the most ardent peace-loving activist that ISIS or ISIL represents pure evil. The perpetrators of beheadings and immolations the likes of which even the Western news media is loath to broadcast have demonstrated with their incessant viscous barbarous brutality that they are monsters who are worthy of destruction by whatever means necessary. Such evil needs to be eliminated. However, misguided the members of ISIS are, their brutality cannot and will not be tolerated. We will not even dignify their existence with boots on the ground. This enemy is not worthy. We will not risk our own people in this particular battle. Let the bombs fall where they may. We shall defeat them at arms length; reigning down upon them such devastation that they will become easy pickings for the armies of their own kind. We will not dignify their brutality by being drawn into battle with the likes of them. They are the scum of the earth and deserve every evil we can visit upon them provided we don’t have to get our hands too dirty. These viscous evil monsters have proven over and over again that they are inhuman, and we have every right to wage war upon them. They have crossed the line. They have beheaded, burned to death, and slaughtered their way onto the world stage and it is up to us to wipe them off of it and send them screaming back into whatever dark hole they crawled out of. Besides they have brought their evil madness too near the oil fields, which feed our way of life, they must be stopped before they start costing us real money. So, let all the peacemakers turn the other way while the powers that be take up arms for all our sakes and wipe these terrorists off our news screens. These demons must be destroyed.

We’ve been here so many times before. Face to face with demons. All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good folk like us to do nothing. So, we’d better stop our bellyaching and get into lock-step with the warriors and support our troop’s because there is no other way to deal with these people. So, keep Jesus out of this. Jesus doesn’t belong in this fight. Jesus will only confuse people. Jesus will force us to second-guess ourselves and while we’re arguing about loving our enemies; our enemies will destroy us. So, leave Jesus where he belongs on the pages of a forgotten book, in the sanctuaries of tired old buildings, in the hearts and minds of a dwindling few who are used to being manipulated and wouldn’t dare make waves in the public square lest they be laughed at for the fools they really are. Keep Jesus to yourselves and let the grownups deal with the terrorists unless you want them to march down main street and behead a few of you. Keep Jesus out of this. Fighting demons is for grown-ups who are prepared to live in the real world. Peace, real peace, means getting your hands dirty. Peace, real peace, can only be achieved through violence. The only way to deal with terrorists is to defeat them on the battlefield. Peace through victory.

If you want to do something useful pray for peace. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Over and over again, we follow Jesus into the dark places of our hearts and minds and we pray. This week my prayers have turned to prayers for peace. Holding my newborn granddaughter in my arms, rocking her to sleep in the darkness of her nursery, I have prayed for peace with the kind of urgency that newborns inspire. I want so much for her. I want a world in which she can thrive; a world where she can grow into all the potential that she holds in her tiny precious little body; a world free from monsters and demons. If the pundits are to be believed ISIS threatens everything we hold we hold dear and the good people of the world must band together and annihilate the evil that ISIS is. Listening to the news you’d be hard pressed to see the war in which we are currently engaged as anything other than an epic battle between good and evil. Pray for peace if we must. But support the military solution that is on offer or accept the peril of terrorists moving into our neighbourhoods. Give up your freedoms, your privacy, your idealism, and join the battle; there is no other way to defeat evil. They’ve almost convinced what’s left of Christendom that if Jesus were alive he too would take up arms in this just war. Peace can only be achieved through victory; so, “they” tell us. The trouble is, “they,” the powers that be, have been telling us this forever and yet victory continues to breed more violence. First century Palestine was full of good folk just like you and me who dreamed of a better life for their children; people who were willing to do just about anything to ensure the futures of their beloved children. Roman oppression was every bit as viscous as the wildest imaginations of the members of ISIS. Roman tortures and executions abounded in the tens of thousands in the first century. The anonymous writer of the Gospel according to Mark together with the anonymous writers of the gospels according to Matthew and Luke took the time in the face of such wicked oppression to record stories about Jesus in the hope that they might encourage their communities to adopt a different way of dealing with the violence that threatened their lives. In Jesus of Nazareth they saw a new way of dealing with one’s enemies; a new way of confronting evil in their world. Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi who taught in the synagogues moving from town to town proclaiming a new way of living in a world infested with violence, in a world where evil was about as real as evil gets this itinerate preacher forged a new way of being; a way that insisted that peace comes not from victory but through justice; a way that began not with destroying one’s enemy but by loving ones’ enemy. Continue reading

What the Blankety Blank? A New Authority??? a sermon for Epiphany 4B; Mark 1: 21-28

Blankety blankReadings included: Psalm 111 and Mark 1:25-28, prior to the sermon we viewed the video The Awe Factor of God which can be viewed here

Listen to the sermon here

Years ago, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I worked the afternoon shift at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Vancouver Clearing Room. Back then, I’m talking the early nineties here, so not the distant past except if we are talking about technology. Back then, at the end of each banking day, so after 3 o’clock banks used to have people check every single transaction that had been made by hand. Every check, deposit slip, and withdrawal, was recorded on a small piece of paper and at the end of each day all those pieces of paper would be collected and sent to the central clearing room. The room in which I worked housed several hundred machines which looked like big desks, which.  were actually giant calculators. These calculating desks, sat empty during the day, but come 4:00pm they would be staffed with people eagerly waiting for their branch bags to arrive; these operators of which I was one, were called proofers. Each of those operators, knew that the clearing house had until 11 pm to balance the daily transactions of the entire province of British Columbia. 

I didn’t last more than a few months as a proofer. I was plucked from my proofing machine by management and assigned the task of wandering around being useful. Technically I became a runner. It was may job to run around and collect the proofed bundles, and make sure that they appropriate balanced calculation tape was attached. Management also made it very clear to me, that a major part of my job was to be a kind of helper, who would scan the proof floor for confused proofers and quickly offer my help. You see when people are working under pressure to balance transactions and they get stuck because something doesn’t quite balance they can spend an inordinate amount of time stuck on just a handful of transactions trying to force them to balance. Management knew this, and they also knew that sometimes all it takes is a second pair of eyes to spot the mistake and voila, the problem is solved, and the proofer can move on and the giant national proofing machine can be fed, and the books can be closed by mid-night. You see in the grand scheme of things; the bank could not close the national books until the clock stuck mid-night in Vancouver. That’s a lot of pressure. Bonuses were at stake. So, handful of us who functioned as runners, were under a great deal of pressure to make sure than no single transaction slowed down the whole process. We all wanted to be out of there and on our way shortly after midnight, no one could leave until everyone could leave, and bonuses were at stake.  Those of us who were runners wielded a great deal of authority. We could sign off on a forced balance. We could decide that a transaction was simply going to take too long to balance and so with the stroke of our pen, small amounts could be forced to balance. We runners with our red pen wielded a great deal of authority. But we knew that our authority was limited by the number of forced transactions we authorized in a given week. Most of us would rather eat our red pens than force balance a transaction. Reputations were at stake. In the course of a month I would rarely force more than one or two transactions. I was good at my job. And because bonuses were at stake, operators would often call upon me when they got stuck.

I loved that job. After a long day of lectures at the university, that job was such a fun departure from thinking. I was one of the happiest runners in the clearing room. During my last few months on the job, the word got out that I was quitting to go to seminary so that I could study to become a pastor. It kind of freaked people out. The proofers began to watch their language around me. One night when things were going particularly badly, and it looked like we weren’t going to make our deadline, one bad transaction kept leading to another. Problems spread from proofer to proofer like a disease. Proofers were making all sorts of dumb mistakes and we were all losing patience with one another. It was looking like we’d be there until the wee hours of the morning. So, the language got pretty vivid. After solving one particularly difficult branch’s problems, I remember a proofer shouting out, “Hey Hutchings, I don’t what the blanket blank, you think your doing quitting on us to go to seminary. You’re going to hate seminary. There won’t be enough to keep you busy. They have all the answers in that place and all the answers are the same. Jesus is the blankety blank answer to every blankety blank question.” This, somehow lead to most of the proofing floor laughing hysterically, which lead to something I never in my wildest dreams imagined happening in that of all places. Hysterical laugher dissolved into a chorus of “Jesus Loves me this I know for the bible tells me so.” What the blankety blank?

There was nothing left but for me to join in the singing. We didn’t make our deadline that night. But we had the best sing song ever, later in the after-hours nightclub down the street from the bank, and I never did make it to any of my classes the next morning.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus speaks with authority. Let’s all just sing a few choruses of “Jesus loves me” and forget about this sermon. Jesus is the answer.

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching—with authority! Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread.” What the blankety blank? If Jesus is the answer to every question, what’s the point? Let’s just balance our transactions and get out of here. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by Christ’s authority I declare onto you that Jesus is the answer. I have the collar, I’m wearing the stole. I have the title. I have the call. I am a Master of Divinity! Jesus is the answer to every question. Go home and enjoy the super bowl. I have the authority to declare that all our transactions have been balanced, even if we have to force balance a few of those transactions, 12 noon is approaching, and we want to be out of here shortly, so we can enjoy the afternoon. Continue reading

Peering Through New Windows – a bible study for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Mark 1:14-20

In place of a sermon, we engaged in a bible-study of our Gospel text Mark 1:14 not from the perspective of The Church, but from the perspectives of history and justice. I’m indebted to the work of Ched Myers whose book – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, provides a perspective that turned my own understanding of this text upside-down! We are all indebted to the excellent teaching of New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, whose visits to Holy Cross have empowered us to be more fervent followers of the Way! Below you will find my notes for the bible-study.

You can listen to the audio version of the study here

  • New windows – New perspectives
  • Very familiar Gospel text
  • My first memory of this text – “fishers of men” listening to a children’s choir
  • Solicit memories of the text – interpretations
  • What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
  • From the perspective of the church
  • For years we have been looking at this morning’s gospel reading from the perspective of the church
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • Go out there and teach people about Jesus ð convert people and grow the church
  • We have seen the call to follow Jesus as call to become fishers of “men” the church has sent us out to spread the word and to call others into the church
  • Photographs of Cherilyn – on the Sea of Galilee
  • Reminding me of all that we learned from John Dominic Crossan about the Sea of Galilee
  • Fishing industry – first century Galilee
  • Pax Romana – Roman Empire
  • Fishing leases sold by the Empire through tax collectors
  • First century fishers were disenfranchised workers
  • What is the Anonymous Gospel Storyteller that we call Mark trying to tell us?
  • Follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.”
  • This is one place where I happen to believe that it is a mistake to use inclusive language.
  • I have learned that Jesus used this language for a reason and I believe that in this instance Jesus is targeting “men”
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • In order to understand this passage we must change our perspective
  • We need to look through new windows
  • Peering through the windows of history
  • What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
  • When we look at this text from the lenses provided by the church, we interpret this Gospel as an instruction to go out and catch the church some fish
  • But looking back through the lenses of history we see a different story
  • Jesus never meant to create a church
  • Gift from Pastor Jon Fogleman: Ched Myers – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus”
  • Gospel of Mark written after 70 – the Empire has destroyed the Temple – the disenfranchised are suffering at the hands of the Empire
  • How are the persecuted to respond
  • According to the Gospel – Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men.”
  • If this means what we have learned from the perspective of the church, we are supposed to covert people – to grow the church
  • But what if it means something else?
  • What if fishing for men means more than we know?
  • Ched Myers suggests that we look back into the Hebrew Scriptures and look at how this phrase has been used by the Jewish prophets
  • When we peer through the lenses of history we discover that key to unlocking the revolutionary code of the Gospel account
  • The prophets Jeremiah (16:6), Amos (4:2) and Ezekiel (29:4) used the metaphor of “hooking a fish” as a euphemism for judgement upon the rich
  • Jesus is inviting the disenfranchised fishers to follow him to learn how to “hook fish “ and as good, observant, Jews, these fishers as well as those early hearers of this story would have understood the phrase to mean:
  • As Ched Myers puts it:“Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”
  • Looking through this new window on the text how might we hear this text today in our context?
  • “Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God:  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!”
  • “the reign of God is at hand.”
  • The basilea of God ð the “kingdom” the “empire” or as our modern translation puts it “the realm of God”
  • What might this “realm of God” look like?
  • Who are we in this metaphor? – the fishers or the rich?
  • What does the realm of God look like to us?
  • “basilea theou”  Basilea – the Greek feminine noun for “sovereignty” traditionally translated as “kingdom” – dominion, empire
  • “basilea ouranou” – ouranos means sky or heaven but it is also the name of the father god of the Greeks – in Latin Uranus – “Ouranos was one of the primary realities, who, with his wife, Gaia, or Earth, brought forth all creatures. The creative father spirit imagined to exist in the fine ether of the sky, somewhat remote from earthly life yet very much involved in it. The cosmos began with these two realities, earth and sky, mother and father to all beings.” (Moore – Walking on Sand)
  • Realm of God – is at hand – the Empire of Rome cannot stand.
  • Peering through the windows of history we can see: Jesus is about to lead a movement that seeks justice for the disenfranchised.
  • “Follow me to usher in the Realm of God”
  • “follow me to seek justice for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the poor; follow me and turn the world upside down.”
  • To follow Jesus is to join a revolutionary movement to turn the existing structures upside down.
  • What fishes need to be hooked today?
  • Are we prepared to hook a fish or two? Are we prepared to be hooked?
  • The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be part of a radical quest for justice.
  • Are we prepared to usher in God’s realm of justice and peace.

Continue reading

Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?”

Martin Luther King Sunday – John 1:43-51 – Epiphany 2B

Audio only version here

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” WOW! All over Christendom, where-ever the Revised Common Lectionary is used, preachers were busy preparing their sermons on this particular Gospel reading, when the most powerful man on the planet caused us all to hone in on these words: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can assure you that the sermon that I had planned to preach this morning, was nothing like the sermon, I am compelled to preach. Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I must confess that I was not exactly articulate when I first heard the hate filled comments of the man whose name sticks in my throat. For the sake of decency, I shall not quote my own reaction, which can be expressed with the letters W T F followed by a question mark. But decency does not come easily to the current president of the United States. Watching this sorry excuse for a man, sign a proclamation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons.   The hatred expressed on Thursday by a president who holds the futures of so many hopeful immigrants in his hands makes it clear that Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.

Yes, many of us have come a long way. Some of us can still see Dr. King’s vision. Some of us have lived that dream. But we all received a real slap in the face that ought to wake us up to the reality that we have a long way to go before Dr. King’s vision can be embodied by all those who seek justice and freedom from poverty. Slapped in the face by a man who has ridden his own racism to the pinnacle of political power, we must awaken our sensibilities to the positions of privilege that we enjoy as a result of the legacy of tribalism that continues to enslave our world in systems of abuse that perpetuate fear; fear the enemy of compassion, fear the enemy of justice, fear that leads to hatred; hatred that divides us from one another and robs us of our humanity.   

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Indeed, how can anything good come from Nazareth? The soon to be disciple of Jesus, asked a question born out of the very tribalism that continues to haunt us. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was what number 45 would call a “shit-hole”.  Nazareth, where Jesus was from, was located in Galilee, a hick-town in the Roman occupied backwater of Judea. Judea was characterized by its Roman occupiers as a real shit-hole, and Nazareth was a hot-bed of radical terrorists bent on overthrowing the established order. Nothing but trouble came from Nazareth. Nothing and nobody from Nazareth could be trusted.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth, a shit-hole of a town, in the back of beyond. The last thing anyone in Jerusalem needs is a bunch of Nazareans coming into town to stir up a whole lot of trouble. The juxtaposition of this particular Gospel reading with the comments made in the White House on Thursday is tragic in and of itself. But add the memory of Dr. King to this horrendous outpouring of hatred and perhaps we might, just might, be able to shed some light on the darkness that has descended upon our world. Dr. King insisted that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And while it is so very easy to hate the spewer of racist venom who wields more power than anyone else on the planet, Donald J. Trump is also our brother and we, my dear sisters and brothers, we are called to love even this sorry excuse for a human being. And while it is so very tempting to respond to his venom by asking, “Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?” two wrongs won’t make it right. As easy as it is to assume that Trump is beneath contempt, my hatred of Trump will not shed the kind of light that drives out hate, only love can do that.

So, how do I learn to love Donald J. Trump? I confess that a big part of me doesn’t want to learn to love this despicable excuse for a man. But bear with me for just a moment as I try to explore some things that Mr. Trump and I share; indeed, some things that I suspect we all share with Mr. Trump.

Let’s begin with the disciple Nathanael’s question:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect that each of us have asked a similar question at some point in our lives. As a child, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was trained to believe that people from certain areas were worthy of my suspicion, simply because they inhabited Roman Catholic neighbourhoods. Later when we immigrated to Canada, I was taught to believe that people who came to town from reservations were lesser beings. I was taught to suspect that the people who lived on reservations, were lazy, no-good, drunks, who spent their lives freeloading off the government, and that nothing of much worth ever came off a reservation. As I grew to adulthood, I was taught to be suspicious of everyone who wanted to come to this country who was not British. My parents didn’t teach me this; this I learned in the playgrounds of the various schools I attended in both Ontario and British Columbia, where I learned to label fellow students as, “pakies and rag-heads” because they came from countries that our brother Mr. Trump would call “shit-holes”.

Take a moment. Look into your own lives. Do you remember the way people used to talk about our First Nations sisters and brothers? Do you remember the way people used to talk about immigrants? Most of us, I hope had enough compassion not to say these hate-filled things but if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the fear behind these hate-filled words, infected us to the extent that we became at the very least suspicious of people whose origins we did not share. Continue reading

Let Freedom Ring Through You! Celebrate the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King2

Monday is Martin Luther King Day, today “a very stable genius” occupies the most powerful office on the planet. In many ways, this emperor, who has no clothes,  represents so much of what Dr. King struggled to overcome. So this year, it seems more important than ever to lift every voice and sing the praise of all those who bear witness to the kind of justice that Jesus of Nazareth embodied. What follows is the transcript of a sermon preached in 2014 to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I offer it here in the hopes that it will encourage fellow preachers to turn to the writings of Dr. King as they prepare their sermons for this coming Sunday.  Let freedom ring!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” During the struggle to open the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, there were some very dark days. As many of you know, during my first years in ministry, it was a struggle that I did not want any part of.  I was for all intents and purposes living in the closet, even if it was the most transparent of closets, the walls of that closet made it very clear to me that my job would be at risk if I spoke publicly about who I am. So, in the early years, I was determined to keep my mouth shut about my own sexuality and fight the good fight from the relative safety of the background. Then, by virtue of my office, I was asked to speak publicly at a forum being held by York region, mental health professionals who were gathering resources to support GLBT youth. The organizers of the forum knew that many young people suffered because of their family’s involvement in churches that propagated hatred toward gays and lesbians and they wanted me to speak directly to these issues so that mental health professionals might be equipped to begin to counter some of the religious propaganda that was damaging so many young people. A few days after I spoke at this public forum a note was hand delivered to the mailbox at the parsonage. The note contained two quotes from the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind it is abomination” and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

I was shaken by the quotes and even more shaken by the fact that they were hand delivered to my home. I tried to shake off my fear by telling myself that the note represented the ravings of a fool. But when I shared the note with members of the church council, I was reminded that in my world these words represented Bible quotes but in the real world they constituted a death threat.

I confess that at the moment, I realized that violence might actually be a consequence of my speech, I beat a hasty retreat back into my closet. I was determined to stay within the relative safety of the cozy, obscure little world in which Lutheran pastors usually live out our ministries. But calls kept coming in for help. So, I ventured out of the closet and mail continued to come in spouting hatred and suggesting violence as a very real possibility. There were some very dark days and even darker nights and from time to time I was sorely tempted to return in kind some of the hatred that was coming my way. One of you, I don’t know who, although I do have my suspicions placed a note in my church mailbox, right over there. The note contained these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let me just tell you, that those words stopped me on more than one occasion from lashing out in anger and on several occasions those words helped me to remember that I am called to love; love not only when it is easy or convenient, but to love in the face of hatred.

Now our struggle was not nearly as difficult as the struggles of others. I would not for a moment even begin to suggest that we have tasted the kind of hatred or been subjected to the kind of violence that was faced by the freedom fighters who achieved so much under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I do however know very clearly that we drew our inspiration from their struggles. The life and witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions of people to seek justice, to stand up for freedom and to love in the face of hate.  Dr. King is more than just an inspiration to justice seekers and peacemakers, he is an example of what it means to impact the evolution of our species.  Humans are better beings as a result of the many ways in which Dr. King changed the way we interact with one another. Creation is not the same as a result of the life and witness of Dr. King. Continue reading

Wear Your Baptism in Ways that Others Might See a Visible Means of Grace in You – a sermon on Baptism


Listen to the sermon here

How many of you know what this is? Where I come from it is often referred to as a dog-collar and the folks who wear them are called God-Bothers. Back when I first started seminary, I resolved that I wouldn’t wear a clerical shirt and collar. I didn’t like the idea of being set apart from others. I really didn’t want to be seen as one of those holier-than-thou types, who took themselves so seriously. Learning the history of clerical garb didn’t help me to warm up to the idea of wearing them. Apparently, back in the middle ages fashion dictated that educated professionals wear black. Also, during the middle ages, long before shirts had collars it was all the rage to let your white undergarments show around your neck. This was the precursor to shirt-collars. Apparently during the reformation, this trend fell out of fashion but clergy, who couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion continued to wear black shirts with their white under-garment showing.      

Over time, the church does what the church often does and applied a liturgical meaning to explain what is already happening. So, the church began to explain clerical attire theologically. If you google it, you will discover that, pastors are just like everyone else, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. So, they wear a black shirt to signify their sinfulness, but they wear a white collar to signify that the words they speak are not their own, but God’s words, because you see the collar covers the pastors voice-box to signify that we speak the Word of God. Now the presumption that I or anyone else speaks on behalf of God is rather daunting to say the least and did nothing to encourage me to wear a clerical collar, nor did the obscure explanation of the tab collar, which insists that this little white notch is placed strategically over the Adam’s apple to cover over the reminder of Adam’s sin. Not having an Adam’s apple, myself, I wasn’t much taken with the idea of wearing special clothing to set me apart. But when I first became a pastor, I was insecure and believe it or not I didn’t want to rock the boat. So, I ever so hesitatingly began wearing a clerical collar. I was uncomfortable wearing the collar, so I decided that I would only wear it on Sundays, or to protest marches, and sometimes when I was visiting people in the hospital, because in hospitals, wearing a collar makes it easier to gain access to patients.

Well one day, I needed some candles and so I dashed into the Zellers over the road to quickly grab a couple. I was having difficulty finding just the right candles when a store clerk came up to me and asked me if I would come with her. I figured that I’d been lingering over the candles for so long that she must have mistaken me for a shoplifter, but as we hurried along, she explained to me that there was a man in housewares who was abusing his wife and child. I’d forgotten that I was wearing a collar, but the reality of what this clerk was asking me to do choked me into realizing that the collar had led her to believe that I could actually do something. Not knowing what she expected me to do, I told her to call 911. She assured me that they had already called, but that in the meantime perhaps I could help. We stopped just before the aisle where the abuse was taking place. The store clerk whispered that, “they are just over there.”  As she pointed, I realized that she wanted me to go on alone. So, not knowing what to expect, I took a deep breath and walked in on a scene that was way beyond my abilities. A big burly guy was twisting the arm of a woman while a little girl of about 4 or 5 stood crying. The man was yelling obscenities when I interrupted him. When he looked at me, I saw the fear in his eyes as he immediately let go of the woman who fell to the floor. The little girl ran to her mother. I expected the man to turn on me, but instead he just stared at me, as he began to cry, “I’m sorry pastor, forgive me.” It wasn’t I who stood before him, but the church, his church, the church that had taught him right from wrong. The collar I wore made the church visible to him and made it impossible for him to forget who he was. As a child of God, he couldn’t continue what he was doing. As a child of God, he knew in his bones that he was wrong. He wept until the police arrived. From that day on, I’ve known the power of the collar to make the church visible in the world and so I wear it a lot more often than I’d ever expected I would. Continue reading