Follow Me! I’m right behind you! – Matthew 4:12-23

Whenever I come across Jesus’ words, “Follow me”, I can’t help remembering my Nannie. Nannie was from Belfast and whenever we got into a tough spot, Nannie would laugh and say, “Follow me! I’m right behind you!” Like many Irish sayings, on the surface it sounds ridiculous, laughable. How can I follow you if you are behind me? And then the penny drops, and you realize how can I follow you if you aren’t behind me? Good leaders always have your back.

So, fellow followers of the Way, what does it mean for us to respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”? For generations this invitation has been interpreted by the church as a mission. Jesus wants you to go out there into the world and fish for people. There’s plenty of fish in the sea! So, let’s go out there and get them, hook, line, and sinker, and then let’s reel ‘em in, in here. Let’s fill up our nets, so that the church will be full to overflowing. As my Nannie would say, “Ah Jesus!”

Ah Jesus, if only it were as simple as that! Some of us are of an age where we can remember hordes of little children standing up in front of congregations, singing their little hearts out, casting imaginary fishing rods, and reeling em in.“I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men.  I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.” If you follow me?

Ah Jesus? What are we doing wrong Jesus? Come on Jesus. How about it? Won’t you lead us back to the good old days? If only we could point Jesus in the right direction? It certainly would make following Jesus easier if only Jesus would lead us where we want to go? Trouble is, Jesus never was much interested in taking people where they want to go. Continue reading

Jesus, the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World? It ain’t necessarily so! Epiphany 2A – John 1:29-42

Lamb of GodWhen I turn the gospel according to John and read about John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, saying:  “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I want to scream,  “NO!” I have come to believe that our images of God are far too narrow. As far as I’m concerned most of our ideas about God fall far short of ever even beginning to describe who God might be. One thing I’m absolutely certain of is if we can imagine ourselves being more loving, more gracious, or more merciful that our theology suggests that God is, then we had better go back to the drawing-board and think again. The ways in which we have traditionally interpreted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, paint a picture of a God who is far less loving, gracious or merciful than you or I. Nobody in this room, would demand a blood sacrifice of a lamb, let alone the blood sacrifice of their own child. So, the image of God that is based on this kind of theology must be judged as inadequate to the task of evening beginning to provide us with a glimpse of who our God is.

As we go back to the drawing-board, we ought to take a long hard look at how we arrived at this image in the first place. Thank goodness for the work of our friend Jack Spong who has enabled us to see beyond the literal to the more-than-literal meanings of the various ways in which the followers of Jesus have understood the life and teachings of Jesus. During the years that followed the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were left wondering what it was all about. How could someone in whom they had seen the fullness of God, be taken from them in such a horrendous way? How could their God allow it?   What were they to do? Over the years that followed, Jesus’ followers looked back at the life, death, and resurrection of Christ through the lens of their own religious experiences. Jesus’ followers were primarily Jewish and so it didn’t take long for the familiar Jewish symbol of the Lamb of God to be applied to Jesus as a way of making some sense out of his death.  Today most Christians associate the symbol of the Lamb of God with the Jewish celebration of Passover.  While the Gospel narratives do indeed locate the time of Jesus death during the celebration of the Passover, and there is indeed a sacrificial lamb involved in the Passover, the actual phrase “the Lamb of God” comes not from the religious rites of Passover, but rather the religious rites of Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement.  Phrases like “the Lamb of God”, “died for our sins” and “washed in the blood of the lamb” can all be found in the religious rites of Yom Kippur.  Continue reading

A Progressive Christian Wades into the Waters of Baptism

baptism 33A sermon for the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17

Listen to the sermon here

Wading into the waters of baptism is no simple matter for a progressive Christian. Once you leave the myth of perfection in some distant garden back there in the mists of time, reject the notion of humanity’s fall from grace as a result of original sin, and give up worshipping the sadistic image of a god who demands a blood sacrifice, it’s difficult to navigate the waters of baptism without spouting notions that the institutional church condemns as heresy. But today is the day when the church celebrates the baptism of Jesus and the stories about the baptism of Jesus that have been handed down to us by our ancestors suggest that on this day of all days, we should have the courage to follow Jesus into the river of life even if it does challenge some of our long held assumptions about what it means to be a child of God.

I venture into these troubled waters as someone who treasures the sacrament of baptism. Long before I ever entertained the idea that I might one day respond to the call to become a baptizer, I became a lover of this particular sacrament of the church. I am now, and I have always been one of those people who find it almost impossible not to shed a tear or two at baptisms. The beauty of all that hope and expectation all wrapped up in the guise of a tiny little human has a way of generating in me a watery contribution as my tears join the sprinkling to wet the babies head. When the baptized is an adult my tears flow even more bountifully. Let’s face it folks these days the reality is that infant baptisms are rare enough. Adult baptisms, especially in mainline churches are so rare that the nostalgia alone is enough to send us into spasms of uncontrollable weeping for seer joy at the thought that it is even remotely possible that someone has been able to see beyond the church’s doctrine long enough to embrace the amazing possibilities of the sacrament to provide any benefit in this the twenty-first century.

When we look back to the stories told in the synoptic gospels about the baptism of Jesus we are sometimes so distracted by the opening of the heavens, the descent of the dove and the voice of God declaring Jesus to be the beloved, that we miss an important detail of the way in which the early followers of the Way chose to tell the story of Jesus public coming out party. New Testament scholars remind us that the stories told by the writers of the gospels were written at the end of the first century; a time when it would have been clear to all those who had ears to hear, that by going down to the river Jordan to be baptized by John would have stirred up the political and religious waters. John the Baptist was a revolutionary who made no bones about the fact that the religious authorities and the political rulers were leading the people down the wrong path. John’s shouting in the wilderness was his way of warning the people to repent; to literally turn around and follow a different path. John was doing far more than ranting when he condemned the religious authorities as a brood of vipers; he was calling on the people to reject the teachings of the authorities. John’s insistence on repentance was a call to revolution, a revolution designed to overthrow  the status quo. John was out there in the wilderness because it wasn’t safe for him to spout his own particular brand of incendiary fire and brimstone rhetoric within earshot of the authorities. By going down to the River Jordon and submitting to John’s baptism of repentance Jesus was choosing to identify himself with a political revolutionary.

That the writers of the gospels chose to tell there story in ways that see the God of Israel give Jesus a shout out, and the very spirit of God descending like a dove onto the shoulders of Jesus, turns John’s baptism of repentance into a kind of passing of the torch from one revolutionary to the next. Yet, despite the gospel-writers having cast Jesus into the role of revolutionary torchbearer none of the gospel writers shows Jesus following the ways of his predecessor John. There is no record of Jesus calling people to repent nor is there any record of Jesus ever having baptized anyone. All we have is Jesus “Great Commission” which if New Testament scholars are to be believed, Jesus probably never even said, “go therefore and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, it’s true, most preachers, dare I say modern-day baptizers, learned in seminary that rather than being an instruction given by Jesus the Great Commission was actually added to the story by the early followers of Jesus. But I digress, the point I’d like to emphasize about Jesus’ trip down to the waters of the Jordan, is that by choosing to publicly submit to John’s baptism, Jesus was making an important statement about his own public ministry. For just like John, Jesus intended to challenge the religious and political authorities.

That the gospel writers have Jesus head off into the wilderness to find his own way prepares us to follow Jesus down a completely different path than the one his predecessor John pointed toward.

So on a day, when the church looks back upon the baptism of Jesus, surely we can take courage from Jesus’ example of wandering off into the wilderness to find our own way of challenging the religious authorities of our day. Continue reading

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

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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

Orange Is The New Black – In the beginning of a New Year and a New Decade, What are we to do?

“In the beginning there was the WORD; the WORD was in the presence of the HOLY ONE, and the WORD was the HOLY ONE.” Even the word WORD carries meaning beyond the page. In the context of the prologue of the Gospel according to John.  The word WORD is translated into English using a capitol W or in some translations in all-caps, to alert readers that the word Word is being used in a particular way. Words are powerful symbols which have the ability to capture the meaning of a thing. Or words can be used as symbols to point beyond themselves to something whose meaning cannot be captured by any word. As we have journeyed together exploring new ways of being Christian in this relatively new century, new ways of understanding have required us to find new words to express our images of the MYSTERY that cannot be captured with the word God. Finding words to use when we worship together has become more difficult. But nowhere is the task of finding words to express the inexpressibly more challenging than choosing hymns.

We love to sing together. Music moves us in ways that open us to the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Sadly, some of our favorite old hymns fail to express the freedom we have begun to discover in the LOVE that IS God. But the tunes, ah the tunes, the tunes continue to move us. Fortunately, we have been blessed with a multitude of new words to sing to those beloved old tunes. Sometimes those new words work well and sometimes not so well. Nowhere is that more apparent than during the Christmas season. The words to most Christmas Carols have been married to the tunes in ways that no one shall put asunder.

Take Silent Night for example. Christmas Eve just isn’t Christmas Eve unless we sing Silent Night.  You hear the first few notes and memories come to light as the familiar words come back to us. Now there have been some splendid new verses that have been written to Silent Night which expand our images beyond “round young virgin mother and child” to capture the Cosmic nature of the incarnation.

Silent night, holy night.

All is calm, all is bright.

Palan-ets Grace-full-y

Cir-cle the sun

Star-dust cy-cles through

Ev-er-y One

Life abounds upon Earth

Life abounds upon Earth     (by Keith Mesecher)

I love the imagery these words capture. I love the theology these words open us up to. These words give me a sense of the cosmos far beyond my childhood nativity images. But I can promise you now, that I would never dare to tinker with the words of Silent Night on Christmas Eve. The moment Marney’s fingers touch the keyboard, just the first few notes signify the beginning of a treasured nostalgic experience which cannot be tinkered with. From the very beginning of a tune, assumptions are made; assumptions which are inscribed in our very nature. So, just imagine the audacity of the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John, who dared to tinker with the most iconic beginning of all as far as his audiences were concerned. Remember, unlike 21st century worshippers, first century worshippers didn’t just commit hymns to memory, they committed the Hebrew Scriptures to memory.  So, when our anonymous gospel-storyteller began his story with the words, “In the beginning”  each and every one of his listeners would have been primed to hear what comes next… “In the beginning” Genesis, the very word Genesis translates as beginning. And so begins the prologue of our storytellers gospel of the life and times of the Joshua ben Joseph, you know Mary’s boy! “In the beginning” wait I know you think you know what comes next,  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Ah, but think again. “In the beginning…wait for it…in the beginning there was the LOGOS.” Continue reading

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening.

Epiphany-Wise+WomenAn Epiphany Sermon, preached in 2008. I had just read “The First Christmas” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Our congregation played host to Dom Crossan a month before I wrote this sermon. So, Dom’s insights run through this effort. But the heart of this sermon beats as the result of a sermon preached by Bruce Sanguin a self-proclaimed evolutionary christian who is a United Church Minister (Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver). I had the privilege of meeting this modern mystic while on sabbatical this summer and his compelling way of unlocking the scriptures using the wealth of the christian tradition together with the insights of modern science and psychology borders upon the poetic. This sermon was anchored by Sanguin’s words (Epiphany 2007). Sermons are a “live” event. So, this manuscript is an approximation of what was actually preached.   

Just five days before Christmas (2008), The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Doctor Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion started a firestorm.  During a BBC interview, His Grace was quoted to say that the story of the “three wise men is a legend”. The Archbishop was also heard to say that he remained unconvinced that there was indeed a star that led the legendary trio to the birth place of the Christ Child.

If that wasn’t enough to send folks off the deep-end, it has been revealed that the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church The Most Reverend Doctor Katherine Jefferts Schori, who just happens to be the first woman elected primate in Anglican history, has fanned the flames of the fire-storm by sending out what has been judged by some to be an incendiary Christmas card.

I downloaded a copy of the offensive card, so that you could see for yourself. HerEpiphany-Wise+Women Grace’s choice of card has offended the good deacons of Ft Worth Texas who claim that their Primate’s actions defy explanation. As you can see the wise folks depicted on this image look a lot like women. Can you imagine the nerve of the first woman primate! How could she be so bold as to select such an offensive image? Leave it to straight talking Texans to set things straight: for despite the audacity of the Primate, the Texans have pledged to “stand for the traditional expression of the Faith.” Continue reading

The Messiah Is Among Us!

Christ is born in youDuring these twelve days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Messiah, is a word the ancient Hebrews used to describe the anointed one. The one whom God would send to change the world. In Greek the word for Messiah is Christ.

My thoughts swirl around a poem written by the unknown writer of the Gospel of John in which the birth of the Christ is describe as the WORD. It’s a mysterious cosmic poem that moves our minds away from the mundane everyday ordinary stuff of life to the extra-ordinary mysteries of creation, which when you think about it is what every birth does.

Just holding a newborn in your arms and before long you’ll find yourself pondering the mysteries of this life. Who are we and where do we come from?  Why are we here? What does it all mean? These are all perfectly wonderful questions and speculating upon the many possible answers to those questions is a fascinating process. But in the end, our words will always fail us when it comes to answers. As we are speculating about the birth of this beautiful little baby, the baby is alive and among us, and needs to be fed and changed, nurtured, guided and protected. Continue reading

Mary: Rebel With A Cause – Luke 1:26-56

The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke addresses his depiction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to a character named Theophilus.  Our storyteller begins with these words:  “Many others have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events which have been fulfilled among us, exactly as those happenings were passed on to us by the original eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. I too have investigated everything, carefully from the beginning and I have decided to set it down in writing for you, noble Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things which you have been instructed.”  As I have told you many times before, pay close attention to the names. Ancient storytellers are well known for selecting the names of their characters with great care. The character Theophilus is a case in point. Theophilus comes from the Greek words which mean “lover or lovers of God”. Our anonymous gospel-storyteller is addressing his account of the life and times of Jesus to everyone who is a lover of God.

In the ancient world, a miraculous birth story was part of being a famous person. Jesus was a famous person and so Jesus needed a birth story. Birth stories were used by storytellers to set their heroes apart from all the others. Luke’s birth story certainly set Jesus apart from all the other would be messiahs of his day. For starters, Luke weaves his story from the perspective of Mary, and there’s something about Mary that we modern readers tend to miss. Today, more often than not, modern depictions of Mary fail to mention the revolutionary character of this ancient protagonist. Mary is no bit player in this story. The role of Mary is revolutionary! Over the years generations of listeners and readers have taken the author’s depiction of Mary and created an image of Mary that is marginal at best. But there is a dark side to our images of Mary. The popular image of Mary paints her as the ideal woman, the ideal woman no woman could ever live up to. The image of Mary is that of both virgin and mother, meek and mild, obedient and perfect. She is impossible as a role model of course and totally unreal.

This idealization of Mary is a major factor in the Santa-fication of Christmas. The ideal popular image of Mary fails to reveal the true nature of the Christ child that she bears. In order to see Jesus, we have to move beyond Mary’s popular image and look at what the author of Luke actually wrote about Mary. It is in the words of the Magnificat that the author reveals the revolutionary character of Mary. The Magnificat is the song Mary sings when she meets Elizabeth. When read in its original Greek it is clear that Mary bursts into song. The text of the song is a revolutionary text full of historical meaning that would have been clear to its first century listeners, but the radical nature of this song has been lost as successive generations have set it to music and prettied it up as best they can. But in the first century, Mary was seen as a revolutionary. Continue reading

Welcome Home to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE – Christmas Eve sermon

A number of years ago, back when I had only been a pastor for a couple of years, on the Sunday just before Christmas, immediately after our worship service, I travelled over to the hospital to pay a visit to a member of this church. I was all decked out in my Sunday best.

So, I very much looked the part of a pastor. Back then, I was very unsure of myself in my new role as a pastor. Nothing made me more uncomfortable than hospital visits. I felt like I was a bit of impostor. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, that collar proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity.

I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation, who went out of her way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit. As I was leaving the floor, a woman beckoned me into a visitors’ lounge, ever so quietly she asked, “Could you please help me?”

I sat down beside her and listened to her story. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed from my attire that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. Tearfully, she told me that her farther, from whom she’d been estranged for many years, was dying and needed a priest. She had called the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests were available to come right away. The young woman explained that she was afraid that there may not be enough time to wait for a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me if I would be able to administer the Last Rites to her father. I hesitated as I considered her request.

I was frantically going over what I had been taught about the Roman Catholic practices commonly known as “the Last Rites:” Confession, Absolution, Communion, Anointing the Sick. I had been trained to do all of these as a Lutheran, but not as a Roman Catholic. The Last Rites always were intended to provide comfort to those who were dying. But for centuries, many Roman Catholics had come to believe that the dying needed to receive the Last Rites in order to assure their place in heaven. This popular misconception created all sorts of anxiety about securing the services of a priest. While I was tossing this over in my mind, the young woman, grabbed my arm and loudly asked: “Protestants do have Last Rites, don’t you?” Continue reading

Sermons for Christmas Eve/Day

homeless-nativity

Click on these links for some of the sermons I have preached on Christmas Eve

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

Shattered Angel: an Imperfect Christmas Story

Mary’s Story  

Living Nativity

Keeping Christmas Well

The Nativity: A Parable So Simple a Child Can Understand It

The Power of LOVE Who Lives In Us

Cheap, Small, and Plastic: a Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

Tell Us About God. We Have Almost Forgotten

Way Back When: Christmas Oranges

Christ Is Born Anew

Christ is Born In You

A Newborn Baby Positively Oozes with the Aura of the MYSTERY that Lies at the Very Core of Reality

 Every Christmas is a Thin Place

Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos!

Welcome Home to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE

Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos! – Advent 4

Watch this sermon here

For days now, I’ve had an ear-worm.  I suppose that it is more than fitting for a pastor to suffer from this particular ear-worm at this particular time of the year. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and it must be the struggle to get everything ready for the Holy Night that has put this particular ear-worm on an endless loop. Consider this an early Christmas gift, I won’t sing it. I’ll let you sing it in your own minds. Maybe then I can give you my ear-worm for Christmas. My ear-worm is the Christmas carol, O Holy Night. It’s not the whole Carol, just the one line of the Carol that repeats itself:   “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Over and over again, I hear: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” T’is the season for being weary! Hands up all you who are weary! Apart from the fact that there is so much to be done, the news is full not of glad-tidings but of tales of woe. Everywhere we turn, the media is doing its level best to instill fear into our hearts, rather than tidies of comfort and joy. The world is weary of worrying about the strange fellow who occupies the Whitehouse, weary of populist, authoritarian, politicians like the fellow we have up here, prancing around Queens Park; weary of begging the powers that be to do something about climate change; weary of economic inequality; weary of corporate greed, weary of catastrophic fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, stock-market crashes,  weary of war and rumors of war.

Sure, we can turn off our devices in the hope that we can avoid the bad tidings. But then, we have our own bad news to deal with, quarrelsome families, troublesome friends, sick or dying loved ones, the day to day grind of making a living, and our own personal angst and insecurities. To top it all off, if regular life isn’t wearisome enough, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Fall on your knees?  If I fall on my knees, I’ll never be able to get up!!! In times like these, that it is as if our lives are in a constant state of chaos.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, one of my favorite parts of Christmas is Silent Night. I positively long for Silent Night, because when we’re singing Silent Night, here at Holy Cross, my work is done.  We don’t have a Christmas Day service, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, our Christmas Eve service always ends with the singing of Silent Night. We turn out all the lights, light candles and hold them high as we sing. Silent Night, holy night, all is calm…

….all is calm….all is calm…all is bright. Now there’s an ear-worm I’m happy to live with. But there’s a lot of chaos to be endured between here and Silent Night. As much as we try the sound of Christmas is not Silent Night. The sound of Christmas is far more discordant than that. Do me a favour, make some noise. I mean it. I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to create a cacophony of chaos. I want us to raise a little hell. Ready, One, two, three…………….

In order to get the true sound of Christmas, you would need to add to our cacophony, the sounds of traffic, car crashes, waves crashing, hungry children crying, poor parents weeping, homeless sisters and brothers shivering in the cold, bombs dropping, babies crying, the Earth suffering…and you will have but a taste of the sounds of chaos. Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas doesn’t much sound like silent night. The sound of Christmas is a cacophony of chaos. Christmas is the sound of messiness, the sound of unpredictability and confusion. So, is it any wonder that in the midst of all the chaos of living we should long for a Silent Night? The trouble is, the story of new birth is never a Silent Night. Life itself is chaotic, and if we’re waiting for the birth of Jesus to arrive in Heavenly peace, I doubt that we’ll ever understand the Christmas story. Continue reading

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

the first christmasIn 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.

Just a few weeks ago, this congregation was privileged to play host to a man who has the reputation of being the greatest New Testament scholar in the whole world. Dom, (we get to call him “Dom” now) wrote The First Christmas with Marcus Borg who is the guy who is heralded as the world’s leading expert on Jesus and Christianity in the 21st century. During his lecture, Dom provided us with all sorts of marvellous ways to understand the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Ever since that visit, there have been folks who listened very carefully to what Dom had to say and who have been positively gleeful when they’ve asked me what I’m going to do about preaching on Christmas Eve.

I mean what could I possibly say to you after so many of you have just finished hearing from the best in the business! And then there are those of you who bought the book and you’ve read what the experts have to say about the first Christmas. Some of you weren’t able to hide the smirks when you wondered out loud just exactly how I’d go about following the eminent Dr. John Dominic Crossan. Continue reading

Dreams Inspired by Joseph the Dreamer – Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas music has been playing all over the place for weeks now. So, much so that many of us have been developing earworms; songs we simply can’t get out of our heads. Not surprisingly, this story from the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew has inspired an earworm in my head. But the song is not what most people would consider Christmas music.  It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups.

It’s an old World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn:

When I grow too old to dream

I’ll have you to remember

When I grow too old to dream

Your love will live in my heart

So kiss me my sweet

And so let us part

And when I grow too old to dream

That kiss will live in my heart

My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. Continue reading

The Story of Jesus’ Birth is a Subversive Parable

Some have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth; God incarnate; fully divine and fully human. Not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique. Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; our story that we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories from other communities that are just as great.

Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google, “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as simply one birth story in a long line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story of Alexander the Great’s birth was the greatest story ever told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He was, after all the, son of a Queen and a god and a king. His mother, Olympias was a Queen, betrothed to King Philip of Macedonia. The night before they were married, Queen Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all around her, and then as if by magic they were extinguished.

King Philip dreamed that he sealed up his Queen’s lady parts with a seal, which bore the impression of a lion. The high priests who interpreted the dream warned Philip not to even entertain the idea of consummating the marriage because one wouldn’t go to the trouble of sealing up something that was empty.  So, Queen Olympias must already be with child, who would undoubtedly be a boy with the courage of a lion. If that wasn’t enough to put Philip off, he found a serpent lying beside Queen Olympias as she slept, which was said to have abated his passion. Later the oracle of Apollo at Delphi went on to explain that this was no ordinary serpent; NO, this was the incarnation of the God Zeus. The day that Alexander the Great was born, one of the Seven Wonders of the World burnt to the ground. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was the home of the Goddess Artemis who was said to have been attending to the birth of Alexander at the time.   Continue reading

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday: the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

‘Tis the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa. Continue reading

Not Even Jesus of Nazareth Can Contain ALL that Christ IS – Second Sunday of Advent

You can view this sermon as it was preached at Holy Cross in Newmarket here

By now most of us are well on our way to “Preparing the Way.” Unlike John the Baptist’s plaintive cry to clear a straight path, fill every valley, and level every mountain, our preparations find us harkening back to the Christmases of our childhood, so that we might capture the love and joy that we imagine awaits us if only we prepare to do Christmas, the way it was done way back when. Right about now, in gatherings all over the place people are telling stories about how it was “way back when.”  You know, “way back when” people knew just how to prepare the way for Christmas. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, specially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year.  Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find, and we hung it up, in the hope that if we’d been good, our stockings would be filled with treats, instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins.

You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But, way back when, oranges at Christmas time, they were a real treat. I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see, way back when, children were easier to please and Christmas was different.

Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. 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, we’ll call him Andre. 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.

The camp was run by a few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly. 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 on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three 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, 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. Continue reading

A Kick Ass Messiah or Jesus??? – a sermon for the second Sunday in Advent

kickass-jesusThis sermon is an adaptation and expansion of a sermon preached way back when by one of my favourite preachers: Glynn Cardy. Glynn’s work continues to inspire me!!! We both source our favourite New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk. My adaptation is also inspired by John Shelby Spong. It is always a pleasure to work with such great material!!! The Gospel Reading was Matthew 3:1-12. You can listen to the sermonhere

Yesterday, some of us enjoyed ourselves at a carol sing. I had a marvelous time as together with all sorts of people, from various backgrounds we sang our way through most of our favourite Christmas carols and we sounded wonderful. As you might expect, all the music printed for us, so that everyone could participate. It made no difference whether you were a practiced virtuoso or an untalented wanna-be like me, our voices blended as the powerful singers among us carried the weaker singers along. The collection of carols to choose from was extensive and most of our requests were happily accommodated. That is until somebody yelled out a request for the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The Music was not available. But the lack of preparedness didn’t daunt this group of merry carolers.  A  few copies of Handel’s Messiah that lay hidden near the piano, were found, and before too long we were off, singing the Chorus from memory.

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah)

And He shall reign forever and ever

And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

And he shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

King of kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)

And lord of lords

King of kings and lord of lords

Yesterday, we sounded like a choir of angels and all but a few of us were singing from memory. From memory. Silent night, or Away in a Manger, these are carols that most of us can sing from memory. But the Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, now that’s impressive, George Frederic himself would have been impressed. Handel’s Messiah conjures up images of a Messiah that I suspect the character that we know as John the Baptist would have loved.

Handel’s Messiah, like the Messiah that John the Baptist longed for, is a real kick ass Messiah. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, forever and ever, and ever, and ever. Handel’s Messiah is the kind of Messiah that underdogs, the oppressed, and the down-trodden have longed for since the beginning of time, forever and ever and ever, give us a kick ass Messiah to go into battle and defeat our enemies. Give us the Lord God omnipotent.

Omnipotent, of all the omnis, omnipotent is by far, over and above the favorite of huddled masses everywhere. You can have your omniscience and omnipresence! But give us omnipotence! What good is omniscience or omnipresence when you’re being downtrodden. All knowing, ever-present are all well and good, but we’ll take the all-powerful messiah, thank-you very much. Given the choice between wisdom and presence and we’ll take power and might when it comes to a Messiah. Give us a savoir who can kick the what’s it out of our enemies and we’ll sing more hallelujah’s than any oppressor can shake a stick at. Good old John the Baptist he knew a messiah when he saw one.

Come to think of it, good old John the Baptist now there’s a man who knew what it meant to be oppressed. Downtrodden, don’t even get the Baptist started. He could tell you about being downtrodden and condemn a brood of vipers while he was at it. That Baptist, he had it all sussed. He had it all figured out. He knew who to blame. Those vipers, those Pharisees and Sadducees sold the people out! They’ll get theirs when the Messiah comes. The Messiah will turn it all upside-down and shake up those high and mighty mucky mucks who are living it up in the Capital, selling the people out. When the Messiah comes, he’s gonna kick some ass. No stone will be left unturned. The Messiah is going to make Jerusalem great again! Mark my words. Continue reading

PREPARE THE WAY FOR OUR GOD! Become the Prophet Crying FOR the Wilderness! – a sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent when John the Baptist Cries

BCsunsetReading over sermons I have preached about John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, I came across this “cry for the wilderness” that I preached six years ago. Sadly, the wilderness has an even greater need today for prophets who are willing to cry out on its behalf! I offer my plaintiff cry here to inspire my colleagues as they prepare to prepare the way on this coming Sunday.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted.  The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet.  All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.

I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months.  I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot.  My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other.  I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure. 

Anyway, we were driving along the road.  It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds.  You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out.  Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same.  Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach.  When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance.  Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face.  She positively glowed with happiness.  Valerie wore a similar expression.  I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said,  “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?”  This only confused me more.  What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening? 

Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird.  Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on?  And then, I saw it.  For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before.  But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming.  It almost didn’t look real.  It looked like someone must have painted it that way.  It was magnificent, a work of art,  the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be.  No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before.  I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all.  Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this.  Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there.  Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach.  At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling  of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home.  I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence.  That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone.  In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.

I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.

You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.

I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.

jokulsarlon-glacier-lakeTake a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland.  You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading