Christmas Oranges: LOVE Quenches!

Stories have the power to open us to the LOVE which we call God. A story’s ability to open our eyes to LOVE has been true since the “Once upon a time” days of our childhood, through to the “Way back when,” stories handed down from one generation to the next. I don’t exactly remember when or where I first heard this particular LOVE story. I do know that the depth of LOVE which this story reveals opens us to the LOVE which lives in, with, and through each of us.

Way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were herded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people in it, LOVE was revealed. Back then, refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently, there was this little boy in a camp in France. The little boy’s name has long since been lost to me. So, I’ll call him Andre, a French name derived from the word for “man” for Andre could be any little boy. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year. A few nuns, who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly, ran the camp. But they did their best and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive.

The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by the orphanage on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack full of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange actually is. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half-starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange. He dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once, or whether he should divide it and save a section or two for Christmas morning.

When Christmas Eve arrived, the children were so excited as the nuns did what they could to bring some Christmas cheer to the camp. When the neighbour arrived, there was so much jostling for position that little Andre found himself at the end of a very long queue. He strained to see the treasure that awaited him and sure enough the aroma of oranges began to waft Andre’s way. As campmates danced their oranges around the room, Andre saw the neighbour’s expression begin to change. The neighbour looked so very sad when he began to deliver the shattering news to Andre that all the oranges were gone. The neighbour was trying to apologize when Andre shot from the room and ran all the way to his dormitory and flung himself on his bed and began to sob and sob, and sob.

In the midst of his grief, little Andre didn’t hear the other children come into the dormitory. As his body heaved and his sobs robbed him of his breath, Andre didn’t feel the tap on his shoulder. It was the smell of orange which finally caught his attention. As Andre raised his head from his pillow, he caught sight of the little girl’s outstretched hand. On her palm lay a peeled orange, it was made up of wedges saved from the oranges of the other children. Each child had donated a wedge. Together, they had created the most beautiful, tangy, juicy orange which Andre ever tasted in his 93 years of savoring oranges on Christmas Eve.

LOVE oozes, drips, and pungently presents itself in, with, through and around each one of us. Savour the LOVE which quenches our thirst for life. Embody that LOVE for the thirsty ones of the world.

May the HOLY ONE who IS LOVE continue to live and move in, with, through, and beyond you and yours during these challenging times.

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

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

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

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

Good Friday: Compassion in Sorrow

I must confess that I have never found the image of the cross to be a compelling symbol. Not even an empty cross can disguise the ugliness of this implement of torture and execution. So, Good Friday’s use of the cross to summon up images of Jesus’ passion leave me cold. There’s more than enough horror and sorrow in the stories handed down to us without resorting to the instrument of Jesus’ execution. When I think back upon the executions of compassionate heroes like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I cannot imagine using the pistols with which they were shot to illustrate their compassion. The forces of Empire used crucifixion to terrorize people. Historians tell us that there would have been hundreds of corpses rotting on trees outside many of the conquered cities of the Empire. That the instrument used to inflict terror should have become the symbol of Jesus who embodied a Way of resisting persecution which refused to take up the sword is a bit like using a suicide vest as the symbol for United Nations Peacekeepers.

The symbol of the cross on Good Friday always reminds me of how I felt the very first time I visited Rome. I remember thinking how odd it was that a non-violent, revolutionary, peasant from Galilee should have inspired the creation of the fortress-like Vatican complex. I was doing the obligatory tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and I was beginning to believe that Rome held no treasures that I wanted to see, when out of the corner of my eye, tucked away to side of the main entrance, I caught a glimpse of a marble statue. At the time, I knew little or nothing about art and if the truth be told, I was growing weary of the endless cathedrals and museums, so it’s no wonder I missed the marble on my way into the Basilica.  There was something about the image that drew me in. I overheard one of the guides tell her group that the sculpture was created by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old. At the time, I was barely 20 and I could not imagine the skill of the artist who was able to capture an image of everything I had ever imagined about the tragedy of Jesus’ death. 

The Pieta, somehow the English translation, The Pity, just doesn’t capture the passion which is depicted in Mary’s cradling of her tortured son. We’ve devalued the word pity. The word pity means, the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. The Pieta, The Pity, The Compassion, The Commiseration, The Condolence, The Sympathy these are all different ways of saying, the tender act or of sharing the pain of another. Compared to the coldness of the cross, The Pieta’s delicate portrayal of the death of Jesus inspires such compassion in me. The kind of compassion that I can well imagine oozed from Mary’s being as she tenderly held her son.

It is not easy to gaze upon The Pieta, there is nothing easy in that marble likeness of suffering. If you let it, The Pieta will reduce you to tears. Mary’s compassion was not easily given. It took courage to stand at the foot of the cross. It took courage to linger. It took courage to tend to the needs of her fallen child. The kind of compassion that our world needs now. It is not easy to see what is happening in the world. If we let it, it will reduce us to tears. Maybe we do need a cross to symbolize suffering. Maybe the true horror of Jesus something needs to be looked at for what it is, so that we can begin to summon up the courage we need to be LOVE in the world. 

On this Good Friday it is the compassion of a loving mother that gives me hope. When so many people are suffering and dying, it is the tender embrace of one human being of another that gives me hope. All over the world The Pieta is embodied in the compassion of health-care workers, who day after day, don inadequate protective gear to tend the sick and the dying. The passion of Jesus lives and moves and has being in everyone who summons up the compassion that lives in them to tend to the needs of others. On this particularly, dark Good Friday, when we long for the release which resurrection brings may we find hope in the compassion that lives and breathes in with through and beyond every, nurse, doctor, orderly, chaplain, cleaner, cook, first-responder, scientist, and physical-distancer. 

I can well imagine the tears Mary shed over Jesus; before and after his death. I can also imagine the tears that are being shed all over the world on this Good Friday. May the ONE who IS LOVE, continue to live, and breathe, in us, through us, and beyond us, so that together we can nurse our world back to health. Every Good Friday, I make a point of reminding people that Christ dies over and over and over again, each and every day.

Let us not forget that CHRIST rises over and over and over again, each and every day. In every act of compassion, LOVE is born again, and again, and again. May we always remember to look for those Pieta moments, for in those acts of compassion we can be assured that the darkness shall never overcome us. This too shall pass, and when it does, let it be said of us, that in us the passion of CHRIST lives and moves and has being. Now and always. But for now, let us keep watch and wait. Let us reach beyond our fear. Let us be the passion of CHIRST. Amen.

You can download the Order of Service HERE