Sermon: NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma.

For the past few weeks, as the seemingly endless atmospheric rivers have flooded my beloved British Columbia, I have watched in horror as familiar towns and neighbourhoods have been inundated with unprecedented flooding. I spent more than 20 years of my life living along the delta land created by the mighty Fraser River and not once, has that blessed river ever visited such devastation upon my neighbours. As we struggle to grasp the enormous impact of something which up until now, most of us never heard of, one atmospheric river after another dumps record shattering amounts of rainfall, day after day, and week after week. It is as if atmospheric rivers have unleashed the tears of our Mother the Earth and there is little we can do to comfort her. Watching the devastation climate change is inflicting upon our privileged neighbours compels us to expand our gaze to include our less privileged neighbours in distant lands, who are being forced to flee their homes with nowhere to go and precious aid being offered. The recent failure of COP20 in Glasgow to achieve any significate response from collective governments causes my own tears to flow.  I am reminded of the ancient words of our ancestor Paul who wrote in the letter to the Romans:

“We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the SPIRIT groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Alas, my patience has worn thin and I’m not sure I even know what to hope for let alone how to hope that Creation’s groaning will finally move individuals, nations, corporations, and indeed our whole world to respond with significant change to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our Mother the Earth.  

During the season of Advent, we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the LIGHT. Sometimes, the present darkness causes me to despair for even a hint of LIGHT. Today we join our ancestors who embarked into the darkness of Advent, equipped with parables created by long forgotten ancestors, in which generations have seen LIGHT. While many may ask: What can a parable of unborn hope in the first century, offer us in the 21st century? I invite you to listen as together we seek LIGHT for our own times, in this present darkness. Listen to the Gospel Parable created by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke:

“Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this visit come to me? That the mother of my SOVERIGN comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the HOLY ONE.”

Is this a charming little story fit for little more than the pageants of a bygone age? Or is this a parable with power to reveal LIGHT in our present darkness? Perhaps only the darkness in which this parable was created can provide the answers which will LIGHT our own darkness. No one knows who created this parable. The author is anonymous, the name Luke was assigned to the gospel long after it was created. We do know that the unknown creator of this parable, wrote his Gospel account sometime between 70 and 90CE. That’s 40 to 60 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps two are three generations had passed; two or three generations of reflecting upon the life and death of Jesus.

The context in which our gospel-storyteller wrote down his parable was as dark as it gets; a darkness which can only be described as horrific. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 a vicious war between Roman Empire and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.  

Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the ONE, true God, refusing to worship the various caesars, and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords. During this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people into surrendering. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising by the destroying the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism, both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written during this apocalypse. Our sacred stories were born of the pain of a traumatized people.

Sadly, we Christians all too often read the gospel accounts without any reference to the horror of the Jewish War, which dominated the lives of the gospel-writers. Historians tell us that the view of Jerusalem after the year 70 would have included ten-thousand corpses hung on crosses, surrounding the Temple Mount. Out of such darkness the four gospels were born. Each of these four gospels navigates this darkness in a very particular way.

Try to imagine for just a moment that you are wandering around the ruins of Jerusalem a decade or so after the destruction of the Temple. All your life you have looked to the Temple and the Holy of Holies as the dwelling place of YAHWEH your God. Your religious practices, your cultural life, even the economic structures on which you rely all revolved around the Temple. You cannot think about or imagine YAHWEH without referencing the Temple. The Romans have destroyed the Temple. How could this happen? Why did YAHWEH allow this to happen? Why are you and your kinfolk being punished? What could your people have done to deserve this?

You are not alone in asking these questions. The rotting corpses of those who came up against the mighty Roman Empire fill your nostrils with the stench of defeats so enormous that the unspeakable crosses your mind: “Where is God when God’s dwelling place is destroyed?” “Has YAHWEH abandoned the children of Israel?”  “Why else would God let the Romans execute Jesus?”

Some of Jesus’ followers began to doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. They would have been taught what Jesus had been taught. They would have heard of Jesus’ teachings about non-violent resistance. They would have heard of Jesus’ insistence upon justice for the poor and the marginalized. They would have heard of Jesus’ claim that the reign of God is at hand. They would have been taught of Jesus’ insistence that they love their enemies as well as their neighbours.

Perhaps in the midst of the carnage which their enemies had wrought, Jesus’ teachings began to look less attractive. The Temple lay in ruins and Jesus had been executed. Jesus had insisted that He and the Father are ONE, and that as much as you do onto the least of these you do on to me.

In the teachings of Jesus, they were challenged to see the CHRIST in one another. Jesus taught them that God dwells in and with them. For the gospel storytellers Jesus would take the place of the Temple, for in Jesus, YAHWEH lived and breathed. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw the ONE whose Way of being in the world could deliver them from the Romans, even as the Temple lay in ruins. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw their MESSSIAH, their CHRIST, the ONE in whom YAHWEH dwells. In the destruction of the Temple, the followers of Jesus discovered what they had always known, that YAHWEH cannot be contained in a place because the HOLY ONE IS within and around them.  

From within the darkness of the crisis flowing from the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism inspired the Jewish people to seek God not in a place but in the life of the people, as they began to turn more and more to the Torah to inspire them to encounter the DIVINE in the stories of the people and in their collective struggle to live. The Jewish people looked to the life of the people and discovered the WISDOM of YAHWEH in their midst.

As Rabbinic Judaism thrived, Christianity inspired the followers of Jesus not to seek DIVINITY in a place, but in the life and teachings of Jesus who they heralded as the CHRIST, the WISDOM of God embodied in one of them. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, two religions born of shared darkness, destined to follow parallel paths which would often intersect with tragic consequences.

Almost two-thousand years have passed since the birth of these two ways of knowing and relating to the HOLY ONE and once more darkness surrounds us. Peace through justice, the promise of Shalom continues to elude us. As we wander in the darkness, we cannot help but notice the rotting corpses of our own crisis. Millions die needless deaths as a result of greed and hatred. The poor cry out as we privatize and monetize the gifts of the Earth and line our pockets with treasure extracted from the weak and the powerless. The oppressed cry out for justice as we militarize the keepers of peace and shots ring out while the judgments of our power structures leave those whose skin is not lily white breathless. Fear abounds as we extort wealth from whole populations guarantying the birth of terrorists who perpetuate horrors the likes of which make the Roman Empire appear meek.

Wars and rumors of wars rage on, as the Earth suffers the ravages of our abuse; atmospheric rivers rain down Earth’s tears flooding both the privileged as well as the powerless. The ice-caps melt, the oceans rise, lands buckle and slide, and children are taught to fear the sun. Injustice, oppression, poverty, disease, racism, hatred, form the contours of our self-centered flailing in the darkness.

Just like our Jewish forebears and our Christian ancestors we look for a Messiah, a Saviour to rescue us from the crisis we have wrought. Where is God? Has YAHWEH abandoned us? We look to the heavens, but God is not there. The temples we erect to house God are dominated by the very evils which inspired the crisis Creation is enduring. God is not there? Where is God? Science and reason have exposed our images of God as mere idols unworthy of our worship. In this darkness, we long for a saviour to rescue us from our very selves.

Like our ancestors who endured the crisis of the Temple’s destruction we too must seek new meanings from old revelations and open ourselves to what is happening all around us so that new WISDOM can be born in us. We have been blessed with the WISDOM of the HOLY ONE who dwells among us. The sacredness of Creation in all its many expressions cries out to us like John the Baptist, repent, turn from your ways, repent, and prepare the way for our GOD.

In the midst of our darkness, we are learning so much about the nature of reality. Science is teaching us about the realities of the Cosmos and revealing things our ancestors couldn’t even begin to dream of.

When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?

I believe religion is an art form. Like all art, religion takes practice if it is to live and grow and find expression in ways which inspire truth, beauty, and justice. Like all art, religion’s truth and beauty is judged by a religion’s ability to inspire us to live life more fully. So, let us look to our Christianity and judge this art form by its ability to inspire us to live more fully, to love more deeply, and to create peace through justice in all the Earth.  Religion, like any art form, when it is practiced well, inspires us to live, to love, and to create. Let us judge our practice of the art of Christianity by Christianity’s ability to inspire abundant life on Earth by caring for Creation, by reflecting the LIGHT which sines in the darkness.  Let us judge our images of DIVINITY by their power of our imaginings to inspire life, love, and peace through justice, as we work together to comfort and heal the Earth. 

YAHWEH survived war’s destruction of the Temple. The LIGHT will survive science’s destruction of our personifications of DIVINITY.  The HOLY ONE is not confined to a place. Nor will DIVINITY be held captive to our various personifications of the MYSTERY which is LOVE. The SOURCE of ALL that IS, the ONE which lies at the very heart of reality, the DIVINE MYSTERY which nourishes, grounds, and sustains us, will survive our inarticulate, often misguided practice of religion.

The HOLY ONE, lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond all of Creation. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, that which we call the CHRIST, has the power to save us, if we open ourselves to the reality that CHRIST, is born in us when LOVE abounds. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, the ONE we call the CHRIST, has the power to inspire the abundant life which our human nature, indeed that all of Creation longs for. So, let the LOVE gestating in darkness leap for joy within us. Let us care for one another, as we heal the Earth so that LOVE is born in us. Let the LIGHT of LOVE, the ONE we call the CHRIST find glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond us. Where is God in the darkness we have wrought? God, which is LOVE is here. Right here.  Right here. Right now. In you, and in me, and in all our sisters and brothers. Let us reflect this LOVE in our lives. Let there be LIGHT. So, that we might practice the art of Christianity in ways which will inspire abundant life in all of Creation. Let LIGHT be born in us. Let CHRIST be born in us. Do not be afraid. For the ONE who is coming is far greater than all our images, personifications, and all our idols. The ONE who is coming is CHRIST the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, who from the beginning of time has found glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond Creation. The ONE who is coming is the LIGHT we need to see in this present darkness. The LIGHT is the LOVE which lives and breathes and loves in, with, through, and beyond us, inspiring abundant life in all of Creation. Let us reflect this LIGHT as we comfort, heal, and LOVE our Mother the Earth, for even in our present darkness LOVE leaps for joy in you!

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Annunciations from the Margins

Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a  “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon. 

What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat.  These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:

“Now the messenger of the ALL-SEEING GOD found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And the messenger said, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?” And Hagar said, “From my mistress Sarai am I fleeing.”

The messenger of the INSCRUTABLE GOD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and subject yourself to her.” The messenger of the WELLSPRING OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Greatly will I multiply your seed, so they cannot be counted for multitude.” Then the messenger of the FOUNT OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Look!  You are pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and you shall call him Ishmael (meaning GOD hears), for the FAITHFUL ONE has heard of your abuse, He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live in the sight of all his kin.” So, Hagar named the LIVING GOD who spoke to her: “You are El-ro’i”; for she said, “Have I really seen GOD and remained alive after seeing GOD?”

Sometimes I forget that Hagar and not Moses is the first to be heralded by our ancestors for having seen DIVINITY and lived. Hagar a woman living in the margins, in slavery, fearing for her life, flees for her life and she sees DIVNITY and she lives. Hagar the name itself is of Arabic origin and can be translated as “stranger” or “forsaken” or “one who flees”. Remember when reading parables, especially Parables of DIVINITY, pay attention to the names, they will reveal truth to those who listen carefully. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose position in the household of DIVINITY’s Princess is marginal. The announcement of her pregnancy may or may not be good news. It all depends upon what position you are in, and Hagar’s parable sets her squarely in the margins of the society in which the parable is set. Indeed, it could be said that the character Hagar’s subsequent role as mother of the nations of Islamic people continues to set Hagar and her descendants in the margins of many of the communities in which we live.

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ONE with the LOVE which permeates the Cosmos! – John 1:1-5

Years ago, a good many years ago in fact, when my life as an adult had only just begun, I was backpacking around Europe, and I began to hear people talk about the land of the mid-night sun. Now, talk of the mid-night sun always took me back to my childhood memories of my Dad reciting the Robert Service poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid, this Canadian epic always sparked my imagination, as I dreamed of those, “strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.” for “The Artic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights”… and on and on it goes spinning a which always fills me with glee as I warm my soul by the heat of the cremation of Sam McGee, wondering about all the other strange things done in the mid-night sun. So, when the possibility arose to actually travel up to Narvik in Norway to see the mid-night sun I was off. My rail-pass covered all of Scandinavia, which before I had the opportunity to ride the Scandinavian rails, I had only seen on distorted maps which made it look ever so small in comparison to Canada’s vast land mass. The distortion of maps deceived me into believing that it would be a short trip from Bergen to Narvik. Little did I know that in 1977 it would take me almost three days to travel the more than 1,000 km; a trip which included disembarking over and over again to lend a hand to the conductors as we worked together to clear the tracks of snow.

It was an epic trip on which my once innocent 20-year-old self learned to swig akvavit like a Viking. As the train finally pulled into Narvik, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It was barely nine o’clock and the sun was already beginning to set. Alas, the sun does indeed shine at midnight in the summer months, but in Norway summer does not include the month of August. Disappointed I resigned myself to abandoning our plans to camp on the hillsides which envelope the port of Narvik. Fortunately, the youth hostel was full, and we were forced to hike up and out of town to find a suitable spot to pitch our tents. As we toasted ourselves by the fire, my mind wandered back to the Cremation of Sam McGee and I wondered, if I’d ever learn what strange things are done beneath the mid-night sun. Continue reading

Ach! Away and Give My Head Peace! – Mark 13:1-8

When I was a child and being particularly annoying, there’s an Irish expression which I remember many of the adults in my life would hurl in my direction: “Ach away and give my head peace!” These days I find this expression rising in me, over and over again, as a sort of prayer which has taken on a mantra-like quality. “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”Over and over again this week, this manta has welled up in me as I have attempted to sooth my anxious self. COP26 … climate danger … global warming… fossil fuel lobbyists … politicians . . . blah, blah, blah… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Remembrance Day … war dead…post-traumatic stress disorder, . . . Ethiopia . . . Afghanistan. . . a new American civil war. . . wars and rumours of war… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” Truth and reconciliation. . . unmarked graves. . . no safe drinking water . . . compensation lawsuits . . . spiralling suicide deaths… “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…” COVID. . . covid-idiots . . . anti-maskers . . . rising case counts . . . booster shots . . . vaccine shortages . . . family divisions . . . “Give my head peace…give my head peace…give my head peace…”

Alas, this week not even Jesus would give my head peace. For as we approach the end of the Church year, our lectionary offers us a reading from the book attributed to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, we call Mark, and I am thrust into commentaries about the end of the world! Continue reading

The World Comes to an End Every Day! – Mark 13:1-8

As we near the end of the Church Year, our lectionary turns to texts about the end of the world. Three years ago, when this text came up, we had only just begun posting video recordings of sermons…the world has ended many times since then. It happens every day…but back then we had no idea what lay before us..and yet…here we go again…

It was one of those marvellous sunny days on the West Coast, when you can see the mountains rising in the distance, their snow-caps reaching up to the sky. Joan was delighted that the weather had chosen to co-operate.  It had been a long hard week and a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Her boys were even co-operating. Chatting away in the back seat, arguing over which one of them was going to build the biggest sandcastle. Jimmy, her eldest, considered himself quite the little builder. He approached the construction of a sand-castle with the kind of vigour that made his engineering father proud. Just six-years old and already Jimmy knew the importance of careful preparation. He was explaining to his little brother David that you have to pick just the right spot for your sandcastle. You have to make sure that you build your castle close enough to the water so that you can make the sand all mushy, but not too close, or else once the tide begins to come in, your castle will be flooded too quickly.

Joan smiled to herself. She was delighted that now that David had finally made it through the terrible twos, he and Jimmy seemed to be getting along much better. She had absolutely no idea that every word of their childish conversation would be etched into her memory for the rest of her life. She didn’t see the car that hit them. To this day, Joan has no memory of how it happened. All she can remember is Jimmy’s last agonizing cry. Little Jimmy, who in his six short years, grabbed onto life with such intensity, was killed instantly. On a beautiful sunny day on the West Coast, Joan’s world ended. Life as she had known it was over. Joan’s world ended when Jimmy died. Continue reading

Do You Believe in Miracles? – The Parable of Lazarus

The other day, someone asked me, “Do you believe in miracles?” To which I quickly, without much thought, emphatically replied, “Of course I believe in miracles!” My questioner couldn’t have been satisfied with my answer, because he went on to insist that I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles because he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe that Jesus could raise people from the dead. After a long list of things my questioner, insisted that he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe in, my inquisitor concluded that as a progressive christian pastor, I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles. This mini-inquisition concluded when I assured my inquisitor that I do indeed believe in miracles, but perhaps not the same miracles as he believed in.

The particular miracle in question, is the miracle described in the gospel story assigned for this All Saints’ Sunday. My inquisitor was doing his best to get me to confess that Jesus of Nazareth possessed the super-natural ability to raise the dead. He seemed fixated on forcing me to recant any notion which I might have about the nature of reality. The proof of my doctrinal errors, were, in the not so humble opinion of my inquisitor to be found in the gospel story about the raising of Lazarus. “DO YOU OR DON’T YOU BELIEVE THAT JESUS RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD?” he shouted at me in all caps, as our email correspondence disintegrated into his failed attempt to have me take leave of my senses. Continue reading

Lazarus: It’s All in the Name! – John 11:32-44

As some prepare to celebrate All Saints Sunday and are struggling with the gospel reading, I have been asked several times to repost this sermon from 2018. I will be dipping into the parable of Lazarus again on Sunday, may the communion of saints continue to call us out from our tombs!

WOW these have been busy days around here! My head is spinning from all the stuff that we have been doing. From conversations about life’s big questions at our pub-nights, to explorations of the intersection of science and faith for our Morning Brew conversations, to exploring new images about the Nature of the Divine in our Adult Education classes, I’ve spent most of this week steeped in progressive Christian theology. I will confess that when I discovered that the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the assigned gospel text for this All Saints’ Sunday, I began to fixate upon an image of Jesus that is portrayed in the shortest sentence in the New Testament: “Jesus wept.”  and I felt like weeping myself! I mean, what is a progressive preacher supposed to do with a story about raising the dead back to life on a day like All Saints Sunday? The temptation to avoid this text altogether was almost irresistible. But if a progressive approach to scripture is a way forward for Christianity, then we progressives are going to have to deal with challenging stories about Jesus.

Wrapping our 21stcentury minds around a first century story that casts Jesus as a miracle worker is not going to be easy. The Church is on life-support and simply doesn’t have time for old and tired arguments about whether or not Jesus was some sort of supernatural entity who can literally raise people from the dead. Not even the best that medical science has to offer can raise someone who has been rotting in their tomb for three days. Humans haven’t figured out how to do that yet, so I’m pretty sure that this story has to be about more than raising a rotting corpse because if Jesus isn’t fully human, then Jesus doesn’t really have anything to say to us. We are not supernatural beings. We are human beings. So, I’m not much interested in learning how to live the way a supernatural being might live. I am interested in learning how to love the way Jesus the Human One, loved.

For days I’ve been searching this text trying to find something to show me what it is the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call John might be able to tell us about who and what Jesus was, is, and can be. But I just couldn’t seem to see the point of this story. I have never really seen the value of this story for those of us who live in the 21stcentury. So, I gave up and decided to clean up my office. There were papers strewn all over the place. I began by trying to organize my notes from this week’s events. I figured I might at least get things organized so that each event next week I could pick up I had left off. It felt good to be making progress.  I had our pub-night conversation summarized and was working my way through MORNING BREW when it hit me. It was right there in the audio recording that I was summarizing. I heard myself describing an image of God from the 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart talked about imagining the MYSTERY of the Divine as if the Divine were boiling. Think of a vast cosmic ooze that is boiling away and up bubbles a Creator, and no sooner does the Creator bubble appear than another bubble bursts forth, this one is the Spirit, and suddenly another bubble, the Christ….but for Eckhart, the Creator, Christ, and Spirit are not all there is to this cosmic bubbling, what we see and experience are just the bubbles. The reality that we often fail to imagine, is that there is so much more swirling around beneath the bubbling surface of this vast cosmic ooze. Suddenly, I felt a bit like Jed Clampet in the Beverly Hillbillies, “when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea”.  I felt like I’d hit pay dirt. All these years of trying to figure out what really happened 2000 years ago, and I’d missed what was right there in front of me. Lazarus come out! Jesus wept!

How could I have missed what’s right in front of my eyes? It’s Hebrew 101. How many times and how many professors tried to drum this into me? When you read ancient literature always remember: “everything is in the name.” Start with the name and the meaning will begin to appear! Continue reading

Reformation: None of Us Know What We are About to Become

“Semper Reformanda” – “Always Reforming”  the rallying criesof the reformers. A short little phrase shouted out by the agents of change to express the Church’s need to be always reforming. Now, to reform is by definition to make changes. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure how many more changes I can bear. Since March of 2020, we have all endured 20 long months of change. Talk about a reformation. Churches all over the planet, closed the doors to their sanctuaries. Trapped in the relative safety of our homes, we found ourselves gathering not in sanctuaries, but in the ever-changing platforms of the internet. Liturgies and sermons were changed and adapted in ways we could never have imagined or entertained, as we scrambled to find ways to worship together even as we were being kept apart. Pastoral care, baptisms, funerals, committee meetings, annual meetings, bible studies, all these had to change and adapt. While here at Holy Cross we embarked on this interminable eucharistic fast. If you had told us way back when this long covid nightmare began that it would last this long, I’m not sure we would have had the courage to endure it.

Back in the early days, many of us assumed that we would be back inside our buildings by Easter, celebrating together. But Easter came and went, so we looked toward Homecoming, hoping that the summer months would get us to a place where we could come home into our sanctuaries. Then before we knew it, Reformation Sunday came and went, so we looked toward Christmas, and then Christmas came and went, and then another Easter, on and on it went through the second summer, and second Homecoming, and now here we stand, pardon the pun. But here we stand, ready to at last to tentatively open the doors to this sanctuary so that we can gather together, in-person for worship.

I say tentatively, because I’m not sure what will happen when we open the doors. So, much has changed. None of us are the same as we once were. There have been so many losses. Monumental losses. There have been surprises. So very many surprises. Challenges, where do we begin to list all the challenges we have encountered? The enumerable challenges have resulted in an untold number of changes. Change upon, change, upon change. If ever the church has needed to embrace the need to always be reforming, it has been during these past 20 months. So, if like me, you are longing for some freedom from semper reformanda, the need to be always reforming, well who can blame us?

Over the past few weeks, I suspect that like me, you have also heard, or perhaps even said yourselves, phrases like, “won’t it be nice to get back to normal?” The trouble is there is no going back to normal, not for any of us and certainly not for the church. Each of us is forever changed by our experiences. The Church, which was struggling long before lockdowns, is forever changed by this long exile from our sanctuaries. The truth is, normal wasn’t working very well for the Church. As weary as many of us are of all the changes we have experienced during this exile, most of us know, we know it in our bones that none of us can go back to the way things were. That’s just not how life works. We have all changed, our families have changed, our friends have changed, our neighbourhoods have changed, our country has changed, our world has changed, and so has our church. And so, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, “Here I stand, for I can do no other.”

Here we stand on the threshold of a new tomorrow. On Reformation Sunday we will open the doors to this sanctuary. Some of you will be able to cross the threshold into this place and others of you will have to continue to cross technological thresholds in order to be with us. All of us will have to cross various thresholds in order to continue to emerge from this long exile. Thresholds, or doorways, are by their very nature liminal spaces. Liminal means transitional. Liminal spaces, or thresholds are also what our ancestors often referred to as “thin places”. Places where the boundaries between the SARCED and the ordinary are very thin.

I always feel very vulnerable in thin places, betwixt and between, what was and what is to come. That vulnerability can sometimes make me fearful or cause me to put up defenses. Not knowing what I will encounter beyond the threshold can be frightening. Sometimes, I find myself lingering in doorways, wondering how to muster up the courage to move through the threshold into the unknown.

If I am honest, I suppose that there is part of me, the fearful part of me, that would just as soon stay right where I am. It may not be where I want to be, but I’ve become accustomed to the way things are here and now and I’m not sure I’m ready for whatever lies ahead. So, here I stand, in this empty sanctuary, doing what I’ve learned to do during our exile, not knowing what comes next, full of anticipation and trepidation as the words of our ancestors echo down through the centuries, “semper reformanda”

From within this threshold, this thin place, my skin is not as tough or as thick as it has needed to be during these long months. I can feel the excitement begin to penetrate my defenses, and my fear is beginning to be replaced by my longing to move through this doorway into whatever the future holds. But before I can move ahead, the words of the gospel which has been proclaimed on Reformation Sundays for generations, penetrate this thin place, as I anticipate the transformation of this ordinary room into a sacred sanctuary. From the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John, we hear that, Jesus said to the people who had believed in him,  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31)

Free, who among us doesn’t long to be free. Free to gather. Free to hope. Free to laugh and sing and rejoice. Free to dream. Free to grieve together. Free to comfort one another. Free to hope. Free to be all that we are created to be. I know, I know. Here I sand. Here I stand in a threshold that is wider than I would like, a threshold which will take longer to pass through than I would like. But here I stand, longing for the freedom to be all that I am created to be. I don’t yet know what lies beyond this threshold. None of us know what we are about to become. Sure, we know something about the restrictions which lie on the other side of this doorway. COVID hasn’t gone away, and we will have to take care of one another. Some of us aren’t going to cross this threshold with us. We’ve lost some dear friends. Many of the problems we had before going into exile are still there or have grown into bigger problems. It’s tempting to simply grow thicker skin and set up stronger defenses. But here we stand, in this thin place. And low and behold, there are new people standing here with us. We’ve learned new ways to be with one another. We’ve extended the size of our sanctuary, beyond these walls, to include room for people who are just beginning to get to know us and whom we are just beginning to get to know.

There are new opportunities for us to explore as we begin to unpack the blessings which flowed like manna in the wilderness of our exile. All those smiling faces on screens who ventured into newly created space on internet platforms, you too are here on this threshold, you are like sacred manna sustaining us, even as we have been manna sustaining you. So, here we stand, together, in this thin place, this liminal space, this threshold, to quote the good Dr. Luther, “for we can do no other.” Here we stand in the doorway into a new way of being together.

Semper reformanda, always reforming. There’s a SACRED freedom in all this change, a freedom for us to linger as we both remember, with more than a tinge of nostalgia, the way things were, together with the freedom to hope and dream for what we will become as we change and grow together. So, let our celebration of Reformation, be just that, a celebration. Let us take the time we need to recall what was, to see what is, and to dream of what might be. Let the truth of where we have been, the truth of what is, and the truth of what lies ahead, set us free to be all that we are created to be. Our lives together are a gift and LOVE is the point of our lives together. Let these truths set us free to be all that we are created to be. Let truth free us to be LOVE in the world, the whole world, all the various worlds in which we live and move and have our being. Whether those worlds are here in this place, or over the various media through which you are able to connect with one another.

Let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE, LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.  Here I stand. Here you stand. Here we stand. For we can do no other. May the truth set us free to be LOVE, now and always, in-person, on-line, crossing thresholds, creating sanctuary for one another, nourishing, grounding and sustaining one-another, manna for one another, manna for the exciting journey LOVE invites us to make, here and now. Semper Reformanda!  Always Reforming.

Watch the full Reformation Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

The SACRED in Me Greets the SACRED in You – Mark 10:46-52

The MYSTERY which is the LOVE that we call, “GOD” is with you all! Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY. During this long COVID isolation, I have longed to see you all. Alas, the limitation of my pastoral roles as presider and preacher have been limited to prerecorded videos, which means that although you can see me I cannot see you. So, over the past 20 months, I have tinkered with the traditional liturgical greeting, which as it is written, goes like this, “The LORD be with you.”  to which the assembled congregation responds, “And also with you!” Now, I gave up using the word “LORD” to symbolize the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words, years ago. I also gave up the rather strange practice of clergy somehow telling this “LORD” were to be, i.e. with you. Now, over the years my liturgical tinkering has evolved, moving from “The LORD be with you.” to “The LORD is with you.” And then to, “GOD is with you!” And then, to using all sorts of different words to symbolize the MYSTERY which is beyond words. I used  words which included feminine, masculine, and gender neutral images to symbolize the DIVINE MYSTERY. Words like the ancient Hebrew El Shaddia for She Who Has Breasts, or modern word gender neutral words like CREATOR.

For the past few years, my liturgical greeting is an attempt to expand our words beyond personifications, whether those personifications are masculine or feminine. And I want to hint at an image of the DIETY which is beyond our ability to express. And so, the word MYSTERY which although this word also fails to express the DIVINE ONE, the word MYSTERY is my attempt to point us BEYOND images. The MYSTERY which is LOVE, comes from my conviction that the life, the teachings, and the death of Jesus of Nazareth embodies Jesus conviction that GOD is LOVE. So, for several years now, when we assembled in this place, I greeted the congregation with, The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “GOD” is with you all! To which the assembled congregation, responded, “And also with you!” Oh, how I missed hearing your responses. Standing alone in my living room, proclaiming to the camera in my phone, “The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God is with you all!” this was a lonely exercise, which fell flat to me. So, early on in this long isolation, I began responding on your behalf, “Thanks be to All that IS HOLY!”

All that IS HOLY! All that IS, there’s that little word IS, from the verb to be. To be which is the Ancient Hebrew name for the God Moses encountered in the burning bush, YAHWEH, I AM WHO AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, this is my name says the MYSTERY, the verb to be. Thanks be to all that IS, all that IS, the very MYSTERY itself. BEING beyond words.  Thanks be to all that IS HOLY! All that IS HOLY!

HOLY an English word from the Germanic word for “whole” a way of expressing the SACRED, that which is DIVINE, DIVINE wholeness, ONENESS. I so long to see All that IS HOLY! But here I stand, still preaching into my phone, and I cannot see you, you beautiful HOLY, SACRED, BEINGS, who are ONE with the MYSTERY which IS the LOVE we call, “GOD.” I want to see! In the Gospel text assigned for this Sunday, the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call, Mark, It tells the story of a blind beggar named  Bartimaeus, who was sitting at the side of the road as Jesus was leaving Jericho. The gospel-storyteller writes that when the blind beggar, “heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, “Heir of David Jesus, have pity on me!” Many people scolded him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder,

“Heir of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.”

So they called the blind man. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “Get up; Jesus is calling you.”

So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and went to Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Rabbuni,” the blind man said, “I want to see.”

Jesus replies, “Go, your faith has saved you.”

And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.”

I want to see! Like the blind man, I too want to see. I want to see ALL that IS HOLY! I want to see the ONE which IS the MYSTERY and I want to see ALL that IS HOLY, the SACRED, ALL which is ONE with the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words. I want to see. I no longer believe in the “LORD,” the image of DIVINITY as some super-human, super-man, super-being, out there somewhere. The God of my childhood, my longing years, the LORD I once longed to serve, is no longer the object of my desire.

As humanity’s wisdom has expanded, we have learned so very much about the nature of reality and so, my longings for the ONE which IS the LOVE, which IS the SOURCE and GROUND of ALL BEING, these longings, they have grown exponentially. As I preach into this camera, I am reminded just how much our worlds have expanded.

My pastoral greetings are no longer limited to those who can assemble here in this place. Today, I greet those of you who worship with us from Texas, Australia, Glasgow, New Zealand, California, British Columbia, Hamilton, Edmonton, Sussex, Newmarket, Aurora, and places I’ve yet to learn about. The technology in that little gadget may confound us from time to time, but it also opens us all to a way of BEING in the world, which requires new ways of seeing. The trouble is that if you are anything like me, the old ways of seeing are so much more familiar to us, that we may be just like the blind beggar crying out not on the roadside, but from within the confines of our familiar ways of BEING. As much as I know up here in my head, that the “LORD” is too small a word to capture the MYSTERY which is BEYOND words, BEYOND capture, in here, in my heart, my old ways of BEING, of knowing, of seeing, prompt me to beg that old guy, up there, in the sky, the personification of my familiar desires, my sweet LORD, to show himself. “Give me that old time religion. Give me that old time religion. It’s good enough for me.” But it’s not. No matter how soothing the appeal to what once was good enough, I still want to see. I want to see ALL that IS HOLY, the MYSTERY, which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

I want to see.  And all Jesus has to say for himself, according to our story, is, “’Go, your faith has saved you.” And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.” That’s it, “Go” in faith and follow Jesus. Now if only I were an old-time preacher, I could just leave it right here. Just have faith and you will see. Done and dusted, so on your way! Your faith has saved you! But I still can’t see ALL that IS HOLY! I want to see.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself walking along a old familiar path, which I haven’t been able to travel for several years. It may come as no surprise to some of you, but I was on vacation in my beloved British Columbia, in the place which has shaped much of who I am. Walking in an ancient rainforest along familiar trails, it didn’t take long for scales to begin to fall from my eyes. It was cold and it was damp. But the sun’s rays managed to pierce the sodden majesty of the forest and I could see. I could see ALL THAT IS HOLY in everything. Every thing, every beautiful thing on that pathway IS, IS, IS, SACRED. Every thing, is HOLY. Every thing, is SACRED. The rotting forest floor IS SACRED. The ancient towering trees are SACRED. The sprouting fungi IS SACRED. The footsteps of my lover, who hiked on ahead of me are SACRED. The smiles and frowns of the people I encountered are SACRED. The light streaming down upon me IS SACRED. The gentle blue waters of the coastal inlet in which the mountains dipped their toes IS SACRED. I could see ALL that IS HOLY in everything on that BLESSED HOLY DAY. I trust that you too have experienced the SACRED in the beauty of the Earth. I trust that we don’t have to be on vacation to experience the SACRED in the beauty and wonders of Creation. So, it’s all too easy to replace our Dear LORD with the CREATOR of ALL that IS and worship the DIVINE ONE in the beauty of nature.

But here I stand, with just a couple of ferns to represent the beauty of Creation, staring into a camera, begging to see the HOLY ONE here where the realities of our life in the world, continue to keep us in the world. I want to see. And even now, even after catching a glimpse of all that IS HOLY, just a couple of weeks ago, even while the trees outside are putting on a spectacular autumn displace of the GLORY of Creation, even though I know up here, in my heard that the SACRED IS in EVERY THING, I still want to see the ONE in whom I live, and move, and have my being. So, wanting to see, I took another walk. Right down Main Street. Convinced that my old ways of being are blinding me to the reality that EVERY THING and EVERY ONE is SACRED, I hit the road attempting to follow Jesus, to see what Jesus saw, so that my faith might save me from blindness to the reality that EVERY ONE IS SACRED. I wanted to see the HOLY in EVERY ONE. Now, it’s relatively easy to see the SACRED in the wonders of Creation.

But our old ways of being, may not enable us to see the SACRED in EVERY ONE. I wonder what our lives would be like if we encountered the people in our lives with the bind beggar’s words living in us as a question to inspire our actions? I want to see. I want to see the SACRED in you. I want to see in you the ONE in WHOM we all live and move and have our being. In you and you and you, in him and here, in every one I want to see.

Take a walk in the world, down your own Main Street, wanting to see, ALL that IS HOLY. Let your faith open your eyes so that you can reverence the ONE who IS in the faces of EVERY ONE. The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “GOD” IS with you all! Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY.  What form with your greeting become? What SACRED revelations will you open yourself too? How will you reverence the SACRED in EVERY ONE you meet? What form with your thanks become? Go, now, your faith has saved you.  The gift of sight is yours to explore. Follow Jesus along the road.

The MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, GOD is with you all! Thanks be to all that IS HOLY, that’s you, each and every one of you. And so, the GOD in me, the HOLY in me, the SACRED in me, greets the GOD in you, the HOLY in you, the SACRED in you.  For we are in GOD and GOD IS in US. THANKS BE to the ONE WHO IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself. Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

The Blessing of Infectious Joy! – Thanksgiving

The rain outside has stopped. The air outside is cool and damp. The overcast grey sky promises that there is more rain to come. It is what some would describe as a dreary day. But I love even these grey days of autumn, for the cool air, for the damp grass, the vivid greens and the changing colours of the leaves remind me of long wet walks, warm fireplaces, and hot soup. As one season changes into another, I am at this moment preparing to fly away to Vancouver to visit my family for Thanksgiving. But before I leave, I have this sermon to offer you as the miracles of technology allow me to celebrate Thanksgiving in two places at once. As always, I begin with the scriptures assigned for Thanksgiving Sunday. But I don’t get very far, just a few verses into the reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel who encourages his people with these words: “Rejoice, Children of Zion! Rejoice! Be glad in YAHWEH your God, who sends you rain—the autumn and spring rains as of old—and a new spring crop. The threshing floors will be heaped with grain, the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that were eaten away.   The prophet then goes on to list the various plagues of locusts which infest the land. But I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blanks about the plague which has infested our lands. Just as the people are left reeling from plagues of locusts, the prophet exclaims, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Be glad, in YAHWEH who sends you rain.

On this Thanksgiving, let me echo the prophet of old, by saying, “Rejoice dear ones!  Rejoice in the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” Rejoice in the splendid autumn rains which come to us as gifts from Creation which bestows such bountiful harvests upon us that our cups overflow with wine and our tables are teaming with food. Rejoice because the scientists have gifted us with vaccines and once again all over this land families may gather to feast together. Rejoice for life is good and sweet.

Rejoice for even though we have many challenges to meet, today is a day for feasting and rejoicing. This overcast grey day and my imminent departure to Vancouver reminds me of the beauty of West Coast rainy days. Sometimes the monotony of rainy Coastal days can make the inhabitants of Vancouver as dreary as the dark clouds laden with the heaviness of the endless damp, cool, dark days. There is one damp and dreary day in Vancouver which stands out from all the other damp and dreary days for me. The rains had been falling for weeks on end. There was a sogginess to life which robbed people of their smiles. We just dashed about in the rain, hoods on, umbrellas up, heads down. That’s how I raced to catch the bus to work every morning. And once onboard, the moist air fogged up the windows and together with most of my fellow passengers I would doze in and out of consciousness as our bus carried us from the suburbs into the city to our jobs. I had been riding that very same bus for about two years.

Week in, and week out the very same passengers would board at the very same stops and settle into their seats and doze off or bury their heads in books. No talking.  It was way too early for talking.

We all got off at the same stops each morning to spend our days in offices. Then at six-fifteen, I would stand with the same people at the same bus stop and get on the same bus to doze off once again, until the bus let me off at my stop, so that I could make the mad dash through the endless rain to my car so that I could head for the warmth of home. 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes home from  work that is if you were luck and the traffic didn’t make it longer. We travelled in relative silence, and gloom. Occasionally people would nod or smile at the all too familiar faces of our daily travelling companions. But words were reserved for sunny days, when people found the energy to exchange pleasantries. It was as if there was this unwritten rule that nobody had the energy or the inclination to break. We saw one another almost every day and yet, we knew absolutely nothing about one another and that was the way we were determined to keep it. But on this one particular dull, depressing morning, in addition to being tired, I was also wet; soaked right through. The wind was really blowing so I carried my umbrella in vain. Unable to open it, I had to rely on my hood to keep me dry. The bus was running late and the water seeped through my jacket. When I finally climbed onboard, the windows were totally steamed, obscuring the view of the darkened wet world through which we travelled. I was determined to ignore the damp and so I settled in for what I hoped would be a short nap before we reached the city.

I was just managing to doze off when the bus screeched to a halt. Several passengers climbed aboard. All but one of the passengers were recognizable. I’d seen them hundreds of times before. But the young man, who loudly greeted the bus driver with a cheery, “Hello!” him I had never seen before. He struggled to fold his broken umbrella as he stumbled to the rear of the bus. He sat opposite me and proceeded to greet everyone around him. People weren’t sure how to take this. Some just nodded and then looked away. Others mumbled a greeting before fixing their gaze out the window. I smiled, nodded and then closed my eyes, determined to escape into sleep.

The young man, continued to fuss with his umbrella. He explained in a loud voice that the umbrella was a gift from his sister, and he hoped that it wasn’t ruined. He asked the gentleman seated beside him if he could help him fold his umbrella. The somewhat flustered gentleman proceeded to fold the umbrella without a word. When the task was completed, the young man thanked the gentleman and asked him what his name was. He said he wanted to be able to tell his sister, who the nice man was, that had helped him with his umbrella. Without revealing his name, the gentleman assured the young man that it wasn’t necessary to thank him.

The young man, proceeded to break all the unwritten rules, and said that his name was Michael and then he told us all that he had never ridden on this bus before.  He usually had to get a bus that went to the city in the afternoon and then he would get a ride home after dinner with his sister. But on this day, he would begin to work full days at his job. So, he had to catch this bus in the morning darkness. Michael went on to tell us that the bus we were riding in was much nicer than the one he usually caught. He decided that this bus must be a new bus and weren’t we lucky to get to ride on a new bus. Then Michael took off his hat, held it out in front of him so that we could all see it, and declared that he was the luckiest person in the world because his mother had bought him this wonderful hat which kept his head dry. Now Michael went on to tell us all sorts of details about his life. At first people managed to listen without responding. But as Michael went on describing his wonderful life, people found that in spite of themselves they were drawn into the conversation.

As we approached the tunnel which normally causes traffic to back up in rush hour, it was clear that there must have been some sort of accident in the tunnel. It was going to be a long commute. There would be no escaping Michael’s enthusiasm. Before long we all knew that Michael worked in the mail room of a securities company. He assured us that this security company was a safe place to work because they didn’t take care of the safety of people. They just took care of pieces of paper which were called stocks and bonds and they were very important. Michael told us just how much he loved his job. Having a job was the best thing in the world. Before he had the job, he didn’t have any money to help his parents. But now he had enough money to help his parents and lots and lots of money left over besides. Michael told us that he was really lucky because he worked with really nice people who took good care of him and let him do all kinds of fun jobs. Michael began asking his fellow passengers if they too had jobs and one by one the people around him began to tell him and indeed all of us where they worked and what they did.

Michael was full of enthusiasm for the various jobs we did. He even managed to be excited when I told him that I worked in an accounting department and my job was to count things. Michael said he was very good at counting.  He had learned how when he was just a little boy. He liked counting

And he thought that it would be great fun to be able to count things all day long. He sometimes was allowed to count supplies in the supply cupboard, and he really liked doing that. At some point on our journey, Michael began to speak about the weather. Michael loved the rain. He told us how important the rain was and how wonderful it was that it rained so much in Vancouver. Our trees could grow taller and bigger than trees anywhere else and our flowers they just loved all the rain and there was so much food in the stores because the rain helped the vegetables to grow. Michael’s joy began to infect us all.

People smiled at one another. People began to speak and to respond to Michael’s joy. Some of us even waved at him when he got off at his stop, telling us all to have a good day and that he would see us all tomorrow. On that day and on every other day that I rode the bus with Michael, I was reminded, whether I liked it or not, of the beauty and the wonder of life. Somehow, Michael managed to pierce our dullness. Michael was able to make us forget that his behaviour was inappropriate; that he was intruding on us, or that the timing was all wrong, that he was breaking all of our unwritten rules. Michael burst into our lives and interrupted our routines, and in the middle of a dull, damp, and dreary funk, he reminded us of how truly blessed we really are. Michael’s daily reminders challenged us all to remember our many blessings.

So, on this grey day, as I anticipate some wet Vancouver days in my immediate future, I remember Michael’s joy and I just couldn’t help myself, joy filled my heart, and my own widening smile caused me to rejoice and be glad! And so I shared Michael’s story with you so that you, dear one might rejoice with me. Rejoice and be glad in the MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being. Yes, we have challenges aplenty. COVID has not left us. And yes, there will be sadness on this Thanksgiving day for some. The world is full of people in need. But rejoice I say, for we are richly blessed.  Blessed to be a blessing. Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice and feast on the bounty of our tables and in the joy of our families and friends. Rejoice and give thanks for this good day. And when the feasting is done, loosen your belts and settle in for some rest and relaxation however you take your rest. whether its football, a book at a fireside chat. Relax and be of great joy because each and every one of us has a job waiting for us when the holiday is over. There are people out there who need us to be LOVE in the world. There are injustices to be tackled, needs to be met, lonely people to be comforted, and peace to be made. Rejoice and be glad, for as my friend Michael would say, we are the luckiest people in the world. We have a job.

Rejoice and be glad! Give thanks for life is full to overflowing. Rest and relax. Then give thanks again. For we have great jobs to do. May we always remember just how blessed. I hope that each of you may know the kind of joy which my friend Michael exuded each and every day.  May we always notice each and every blessing as it comes. May we always take the time to cultivate gratitude. May our gratitude always infect others with joy. Rejoice and be glad, for this day, and every day is a gift we can share with one another. So, let us share our gratitude and bring joy to the world, by loving lavishly, living fully, and being LOVE in the world. Thanks be to all that IS HOLY!

View the full Thanksgiving Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Are We Being LOVing Enough With All That We Have? Matthew 6:25-29

A sermon for the Celebration of St. Francis

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. To celebrate the Feast of St. Francis I just had to come out here into the beauty of Creation. Just look around!  Isn’t this spectacular? Let’s take a moment to focus our attention on these beautiful flowers! Yes, I am well aware that these flowers are blooming weeds. But aren’t they simply beautiful? Take a good look. In this spectacular season of autumn weeds are everywhere. You can’t go for a walk, or a drive in the country without being confronted by the existence of fecund weeds; weeds flowering and seeding, so that next year more and more the existence of weeds. Weeds flowering and seeding so that next year more and more weeds will sprout up. Creation is alive with the miracle of weeds. Out here in the magnificence of it all, I am reminded of the words of St. Francis who wrote:

“I think God might be a little prejudiced. For once God asked me to join God on a walk through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth, and I noticed God lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship God too would kneel down. I have Come to learn:  God adores God’s Creation.”  

I hope that we all learn as Francis did that the CREATOR of all that is, simply adores Creation. As a splendid miracle yourself, I hope that when you looked into the mirror this morning, you recognized yourself as the beautiful miracle of Creation which you are! Perhaps you may have looked into your mirror and saw yourself not as a beautiful flower. Maybe when you look in a mirror you are tempted to dismiss yourself as just an ordinary weed. Well, we can’t all be lilies of the field. What a dull place the world would be if we were all just lilies, flapping around in the breeze. Each of us, like these amazing, beautiful flowering weeds, each one of us has our own particular beauty to bring to the miracle which we call Creation. Weeds, lilies, chrysanthemums, golden rod, roses, delphiniums, or these wildflowers each and everyone have their own particular beauty. Their individual existence is a miracle in and of itself, collectivity they sway back and forth in the fields as testament to the miracle that Creation exists at all. Billions and billions of years of ever-evolving particles to create just one variety and so far, cataloguers of plants tell us that there are more than half a million varieties of flowering beauties. Look at the birds of the sky, from the lowly crow and the much-maligned Canada Goose to the magnificent eagle and the beautiful blue-jay, they are each and every one miracles.

Now close your eyes, if you will, now remember your own face in the mirror this morning; a little tired perhaps, slightly haggard, or ravishingly, excitingly, beautiful, that face of yours is a miracle. There’s not another one like you in all the world. Similar perhaps, in the way flowers and birds resemble one another. But there is no one out there like you. You are a unique miracle. Take a long deep breath and soak in the truth of your splendour. For as beautiful as these flowers are, and these woods are, as exquisite as a bird is in flight, as lavish as our Creator has been in adorning Creation, we humans are unique miracles. We humans are endowed by our Creator with adornments which don’t just bloom today and are gone tomorrow for we are capable of such great goodness, such wonderful creativity, even as we are capable of doing immense harm.

Just think for a moment about the multitudinous miracles of life upon this miraculous planet upon which we are blessed to live.  This sacred Earth, teaming with life and beauty, is a miracle beyond comprehension. The vastness of blessings with which we are surrounded, overwhelms the challenges life brings our way. We are blessed with riches beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. The Earth lavishes her inhabitants with more than enough to satisfy our needs. Our cups are over-flowering with blessings. The extravagance of our CREATOR cannot be captured in words or by our greed. As much as we concern ourselves with storing up the bounty of the Earth, Creation continues to confound us with miracles. Beauty, the kind of beauty which calls forth the LOVE out of which each and every one of us was created. For GOD is LOVE and in the words of Julian of Norwich, “We are not just made by GOD, we are made of GOD.” The LOVE which is DIVINITY lives in, with, through, and beyond us. That miraculous, unique face you see in the mirror every morning is made of LOVE, to be LOVE. That same LOVE which is DIVINITY constantly allures us to be the LOVE we are created to be, so that each of us can blossom into LOVE in the world.

We are called to be like weeds, growing LOVE here, there and everywhere. St. Francis is famous for many things, but of all the words ever written by or about Francis which rings true to me here in the midst of so many blessed miracles, is the question Francis asked himself over and over again, “Am I being loving enough with all that I have?” “Am I, are you being loving enough with what you I have? .. with all of what you have?” Our MAKER has sown the seeds of LOVE all over this planet; so much so that the plethora of our blessings goes way beyond our ability to number. Are we being LOVing enough with all we have? Are we sowing the seeds of love like the extravagance of the SOWER that IS the SOURCE OF EVERYTHING?

St. Francis insisted that “It was easy to love GOD in all that was beautiful. He wrote that the lessons of deeper knowledge tough instruct us to embrace all things in God.” The Apostle Paul described our MAKER as the “ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.” This means that we are all in DIVINITY and DIVINITY is in all things. Embracing GOD, LOVING GOD, requires us to see DIVINITY in all things, which means LOVING Creation, all of Creation, each and every blessed thing upon the Earth, the weeds, the flowers, the insects, the birds, the trees, the sisters and brothers of every tribe and nation, the good, the bad and yes even the ugly, friend and foe alike. This is our calling. This is the promise of the peace we long for. In the spirit of St. Francis let us bid one another peace. Let us be LOVE in the World. Thanks be to all that is HOLY.

View the full Worship Video below:

Click here to download the Order of Service for the Celebration of St. Francis

Without Truth There Can Be No Reconciliation!

On this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, I too must revisit the truth of my own prejudice and privilege. Forgive me, but I cannot remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can however remember the pain in her eyes. More than four decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s East End. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, and young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. So, I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew…right? We didn’t know. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

I did know Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. Not common behaviour for kids in their twenties. The God I knew and worshipped back then was the “Father.” The Father Almighty. I was young, the world was my oyster. My future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend that money enjoying life. At the time, I was working in an unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t exactly brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winters. Bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in and day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.

The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East Side, which at the time was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End which Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour. So, we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs which sprang up on the edge of the East-End, where rents were cheap, and the cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief which we got into. I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life which stretched out before me.

I wish I could remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes, that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span, ready in time for us when we arrived in the morning, and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time she should have been gone, she’d still be there lingering and talking on our telephone. She was our cleaner, she had no business using our phones. Remember, back then mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction movies. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department. It was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her repeatedly, but she just wouldn’t listen.

My boss told me to fire her; but I was young, and I’d never fired anyone before. Besides, I thought I knew better. I thought, wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance. Forgive me, I thought I could save her. I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. Forgive me, I did not see my racism for what it was. The phrase, “I didn’t know” rises in me even though truth demands that I confess, I must have known.

Back then, in my world of privilege there were no aboriginals, no indigenous people, just plain old Indians. She couldn’t have been much older than I was at the time, but her face was haggard by a life I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But I was young, and I thought, I knew it all, and I knew if she didn’t shape up, I’d have to ship her out. Out onto the streets of the East-End where she could join her sisters; she’d probably end up turning tricks like the rest of them, if I didn’t save her from herself. Forgive me, I really had no idea what I was thinking or what I was doing, or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I like to excuse what I remember by claiming that my youth was the problem. I don’t like to see my thoughts or my actions for what they were.

I took her into my office, this woman whose name I have forgotten, and I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to use the company phones for personal calls. She was there to clean and nothing more. She was very apologetic. She begged me not to fire her. She tried to explain that the phones in the rooming house where she lived were always out of order and she couldn’t afford the payphone and she only made calls that were local. I held my ground. Her excuses did not sway me. She’d just have to stop using the office phones. She had to understand that she’d lose her job if she couldn’t follow the rules. I was only trying to help her or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I never asked her who she was calling. It never occurred to me that her need might be more important than the rules. I had to be firm. I had to show my boss that his faith in me was not miss-placed. I might have been young, but I wasn’t going to let this “Indian” pull the wool over my eyes. This Indian’s eyes filled up and I sunk back into my chair, somehow undone by the thought that tears might be about to make an appearance. Remembering who I was back then, I suspect that I may have shot up a prayer to the “Father” silently asking for the strength to do my job.

Looking back now at the young woman that I was, I can’t help wondering what the woman I am now could possibly say to that earnest young thing, to break her out of the shell she was so carefully encased in. I try to tell myself that I was a product of my culture, trapped by the prejudices of generations of imperialism. I had absolutely no idea who that woman was who toiled away as the office cleaner. Sure, I recognized her as an Indian. But back then, I didn’t know then that, native women who left the reserves lost their status as Indians and thereby forfeited their rights. I recognized that she was a woman, but I didn’t know that based on her age, she may in all likelihood have suffered the indignities of the residential school system which basically kidnapped children from their families and held them captive. The very system which afforded me such privilege, was designed to wipe any trace of their culture from the minds of indigenous children or to put it in the words of our own government, “to kill the Indian in the child.”  

I recognized that she was our cleaner, who probably made less than minimum wage, but I had no idea that she was trapped in an endless cycle of poverty from which there wasn’t much possibility of escape. I did recognize that she was a human being, but in my arrogance, I believed that if only she’d pull herself up by her own bootstraps, she’d be able to keep her job and maybe one day be able to make something of herself. I was as determined to be firm but kind. It was for her own good that I warned her that unless she applied herself to the work at hand, I’d have no choice but to let her go. Forgive me but I didn’t know or at least that’s how I like to remember it. I wish I could go back and do it all differently; but that’s not how life works.

The crimes of our past haunt us, and we must learn to live with the consequences. Those deep, dark, tear-filled, eyes peer out, they peer out at me from my distant past. Today, I, we, know so very much more than we once did and still we have so very much more to learn. The horrors which continue to be revealed have exposed the deep wounds in our nation and in the nations of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We may like to remember it with rose coloured glasses, excusing ourselves by claiming ignorance, or youthful inexperience. But reconciliation requires the truth.

We settlers must confess that the foundations of our privilege include the horrors of genocide, stolen lands, residential schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and the lack of safe drinking water, together with our compliance, denials, and arrogance. We settlers must learn to listen to the stories of our indigenous sisters and brothers. We settlers must learn to see all those tear-filled eyes which peer out from our past, present and futures. We must listen to and learn the truth behind those tears. We must also be prepared to confess our truth; all of it, known and as yet unknown, all of it. For without truth there can be no reconciliation.

Today, I look back on the young woman that I was, and I can forgive her for being arrogant, stupid and unknowing. I can even forgive her for her faith in the great big Father in the Sky to whom she prayed for forgiveness, trusting that He had everything under control and there was no work for her to do. We’ve all come a long way from the days when we called our sisters and brothers Indians and passed by not caring about the horrors of our history or the travesties of the present. We know that the LOVE which we call, “GOD,” lives, and breathes, and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. We know that the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality finds expression in us. We know that the deaths of our sisters are an abomination. The plight of our Indigenous sisters and brothers is Canada’s great shame. It is also the shame of each and every settler who continues to prosper as a result of the privilege we so blithely take for granted. We can turn away, or we can simply offer up a prayer to the Great Sky God, and hope that somebody somewhere does something. Or we can allow the plight of our sisters and brothers to move the SPIRIT which lives in us to find expression in our actions.

I wish I could remember her name. But I cannot remember her name. I can see her deep, dark, tear-filled eyes. Her eyes cry out to me from my past. Her eyes continue to cry out to me as I recall her truth. A few days after I told her to stay off the office telephones, I over-heard her tell one of the other women who we worked with, that she had moved to the East-End to search for her daughters. Two of her daughters were missing; vanished without a trace. She worked as our cleaner, she lived in a rooming house, she embraced the poverty of the East End in a desperate search for her daughters. Two daughters who had left their home searching for a better life in the city.

4,000 murdered and missing women and girls, and over 2,000 of those cases remain unsolved to this day. 4,000 murdered and missing women and girls. That’s a very big number. Numbers mean something; two, two, missing daughters. One is far too big a number for us to comprehend when it comes to imagining the loss of a daughter; two is a number that would destroy must of us. 4,000 Stolen Sisters is a number that is more than we can bear; more than we can tolerate, more than we can ignore, and yet we know that that number continues to grow. More than 1,300 unmarked graves at residential school sites and we know that that number is going to grow. More than 60 Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. The suicide rate among Indigenous peoples is 3 times that of settlers! The truth is disturbing. And so many of us are tempted to look away. Reconciliation requires truth.

Our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers have so much to teach us. But it is not enough to leave the truth-telling to others. We must search our own hearts, our own minds, our own stories to discover our truth, to learn from our past mistakes, to discover our own complicity in the pain of our neighbours.

Today, on this Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, churches all over the world are also celebrating the Season of Creation’s theme, A Home for All. A Home for All in this “O Canada our home and stolen land.” Much needs to happen before this home we love is a safe, equitable place in which all people may thrive. We must begin with the truth about our home. We must confess the truth of our past and present so that the future ushers in justice and peace for ALL in this home we share.

May the ONE who is LOVE, find expression in with through and beyond us, so that we can become LOVE in the world, LOVE in our communities, LOVE in our lands, LOVE in right relationship with ALL our sisters and brothers. Let it be so. Let it be so among us and beyond us. Let it be so now and always. Amen.

View the full Truth & Reconciliation Worship Video below

Click HERE to Download the Order of Service

Catching Glimpses of YAHWEH’ Backside – Exodus 33

A while back, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us just how very fragile life is. 

As I drove north, the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shore of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand which was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return. As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind. The long grass embodied my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind pummelling it with sand. I thought about the RUACH, the WIND, the BREATH, the SPIRIT of DIVINITY, the power and the majesty of the RUACH as it blows where it wills.

Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the RUACH as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the RUACH, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain which began to fall. The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very RUACH of DIVINITY entered my being. I wiped my tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY which is the source of ALL.

The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories. So, we plumb the depths of our scriptures,   parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality. Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth. We human creatures just can’t help wondering. How did we get here?  Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about, speculating on the nature of our CREATOR.  Story after story has been told; stories which weave in and out between our experiences and our wonderings, what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are imaginings. The best stories, the ones which captured our imagination and stimulated our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories so profound that they just had to be written down. Elevated to the realm of the sacred, these wonderings took on the qualities of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some have sought to defend these stories with their very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identity between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD,” whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some even claim that between their lines lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. All Moses wanted to do was to see GOD in all of GOD’s glory. Moses, who as the story goes, had been talking with GOD for years, he’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinsfolk, the lives of his people on those conversations. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory. Who can blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost, homeless, and afraid. Hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere. Moses had the stone tablets; GOD’s law, written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The GOD of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression, the promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this GOD speaking from the flames? Moses said to GOD, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The GOD of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is GOD’s name?’ what shall I say to them?” From that burning bush came the sacred name when his GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH.” I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.

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

This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you want more? Surely, we can understand why Moses asked for just a little more? There’s no harm in asking, so good old Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is? Just a glimpse. Just a glimpse of DIVINITY here and there for our GOD SHALL BE WHO OUR GOD SHALL BE. We must let the glimpse be enough. But oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the funeral, I was greeted by friends and colleagues as we began the task of preparing ourselves to pay our respects and give thanks for the life of one of our own. In the faces of friends and colleagues I caught glimpses of the ONE WHO IS the SOURCE of our being. In their tender embraces I felt the grace and the compassion of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD.” Later in the stories we told one another the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, soothed and nurtured us. Sitting around a table breaking bread with one another I felt a deep, heartfelt, “Yes!” rising within me. “YES!” I raised a glass, and I gave thanks for life. Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of DIVINITY. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of DIVINITY’s backside. For now, all we see is a glimpse of DIVINITY’s glory.

But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. So, close your eyes.  I mean it, close your eyes. There, look closely. Can you see a glimpse of DIVINITY in your mind’s eye? The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the first time, gazing into the wonder you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem that told your whole life in just a few carefully chosen words, there’s the hand of DIVINITY. Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride her bike all by herself. She’s growing up so quickly. Do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely, you see the arms of DIVINITY ready to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of the LOVE, which is DIVINIY trying to catch up with him, trying to keep him safe. Listen carefully can you hear it, it’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the RAUACH, the SPIRIT breathing alongside her as she breathes her last breath, YAHWEH. YAHWEH. As you struggle to leave the room, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye, good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back, you will feel them, embracing you, the arms of DIVINITY holding you in LOVE. Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes, I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, can you see the glory of the LOVE which is DIVINITY? Gaze out into the fields and see, there amongst the wildflowers, there dashing by through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see DIVINITY’s backside.

There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth and through it all dances our GOD who is LOVE, YAHWEH. If you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe the wonder, the beauty, the magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are. So, proclaim YAHWEH’s glory! Let the DIVINITY of your imagination, myth and story, take on flesh and dance with your memories of YAHWEH’s backside. Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to the splendor of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call GOD, YAHWEH. YAHWEH the GREAT I AM, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

 

SHALOM – EIRENE – PEACE NOT just a noun! Peace is a verb!

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting which portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings.

One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, which perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace, and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner. However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains as well. But they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is also a state of mind, a way of being, a way of doing which breaks out amid turmoil.

A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the dangers, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places. Peace is a way of being, a way of doing in a world which all too often, appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace.

SHALOM, a Hebrew word and EIRENE a Greek word, both of which we generally translate as peace. Well, our modern understanding of peace often begins and ends with seeing the word PEACE simply as a noun. But both our Hebrew and our Greek ancestors understood SHALOM and EIRENE as both a noun and perhaps more importantly as a verb. Sadly, we all too often read the word “peace” only as a noun describing the absence of conflict, war, violence, trouble, or unease.

While the word SHALOM as a noun does indeed refer to the absence of these things, it also refers to the presence of completeness, or wholeness. SHALOM and EIRENE are not just nouns, they are also verbs. In Hebrew, SHALOM is understood as the verb “to make complete,” “to repair” or “to restore,” or “to make whole.”

Our ancestors understood that life is complex. Life is a multitude of complexities, relationships, and situations. When something is out of alinement or missing, our SHALOM breaks down. When warring parties or nations are out of alinement, and war breaks out, peace is made not just by refraining from violence but by attending to what is missing in the relationships, attending to the well-being of one another, and working together for one another’s benefit. That means for the benefit of people who were once our enemies.  

When the anonymous gospel-storytellers who heralded the birth of Jesus as EIRENE, they did so because Jesus’ followers saw Jesus as the restorer of wholeness, because he brought PEACE not only among the nations, tribes, and families, Jesus brought PEACE with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us all. Jesus said,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.”

If you listen to the news or tune into the media of any kind, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. We all know that there is no peace in Afghanistan, which although it dominates the news, it is just one of many nations which has no peace. We also know that our profit driven greed and self-centeredness is at war with the Earth. The only planet we have. The ravages of climate change versus the almighty dollar and our reluctance to repair and restore, to make whole our relationship to the Earth, are writ large across our news screens.

As followers of Jesus, we are called “to peace,” which is to repair, to restore, to complete, to make whole. To peace, it is a daunting task. But the restoration, the completeness, the PEACE we long for requires us to understand PEACE as more than just a noun describing a state of being. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, needs us to embody these words as verbs, by restoring, bringing, making SHALOM, making EIRENE, making PEACE. But in our own state of incompleteness, in the absence of SHALOM in our being, we are afraid. Afraid of putting ourselves on the line. Afraid to follow Jesus into our Jerusalems. Afraid to trust our own power to resist. Afraid to say no to our overlords. Afraid to abandon the powers empire. Afraid to risk what’s ours. Afraid of the storms which rage all around us. Afraid of trusting the PEACE which is within each of us. Afraid to put our faith in a God who IS LOVE. We are afraid of the unfamiliar. We know the contours of commerce, with its violence and unfettered greed. We’ve grown accustomed to the suffering. We trust the untrustworthiness of the powerful. We learned to live with the evils of our systems. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know. And yet, the image of that mother bird tending her nest among the rocks and ravages of the storm continues to compel us. The promise of peace breaking out in our chaos, the desire for wholeness continues to allure us. Jesus’ commandment to: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  continues to inspire us.

The PEACE you have left us with dear Jesus, may not be the kind of peace the world gives, but surely it is the kind of peace which calms all fear? “Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” SHALOM the kind of PEACE which surpasses our understanding breaks out when together we find the courage to set aside all fear. Jesus said, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them.” Come oh GOD who IS LOVE. Dwell with us, in us, through us, and beyond us. Let the hopes and dreams of our ancestors move in, with, and through us. Do not let our hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Let peace break out in the most unlikely of places. Let us begin by recognizing the PEACE which lies within. Paying attention to this gift of PEACE within us empowers us to love our enemies by tending to their well-being, so that friend and foe alike can be restored, made complete, and made whole. Let the PEACE which lives within us empower us to be peacemakers, doers of peace, bringers of peace, lovers of peace, restorers of wholeness. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, in the name and for the sake of the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below.

Afghanistan: Bear Witness We Must!

When I was in my early twenties, I was so much more adventurous than the pastor who stands before you. Still foolish enough to believe in my own ability to meet any situation I stumbled into; I travelled the world seeking all the excitement which life might bring my way. More than once, I ventured into worlds beyond my meagre capacity for wisdom. With a reckless spirit, a rail-pass in my pocket, a backpack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars’ worth of travelers’ cheques, yeah, travelers’ cheques. That’s how long ago it was. I had several hundred dollars of travelers’ cheques tucked into my wallet, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. Despite my youthful vigor, I was tired. Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head to Greece, where previous visits had taught me, the living was easy. I longed for the warm sun, the blue skies and the equally blue waters and the promise of a cheap place to rest.

As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the Island of Crete. I knew that in Crete I could find work. I planned to mix a lot of relaxation and fun with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean. As the train rattled through Austria towards, what was then, Yugoslavia, it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey by car through Yugoslavia and how, at the time, I had marveled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra-modern section of the city of Belgrade, the showcase of the dictator Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all, and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade, with its towering buildings and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in this Yugoslavia.

I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train, they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the correct papers and that my backpack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, the guns and the uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty-two years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa which I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language using unfamiliar alphabet. The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I could comprehend what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I’m not sure if my feet even touched the ground.

After a long, lonely wait in a drab, windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. “NOT in order! NOT in order!” She kept repeating it.  I gathered from what she was trying to unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. “NO EXIT STAMP! NOT in order! Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paperwork was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. “NOT in order! NOT in order! EXIT STAMP!” Continue reading

Credo: the first creed is not about belief! It is about LOVE – Galatians 3:28

Six years ago, I returned to Belfast after a long absence. In addition to the joys of visiting family, I attended a festival celebrating radical theology. The festival ended with a pub crawl on Saturday night. When Sunday morning arrived, I decided to worship at the church next door. There were more progressive options which would have been more in keeping with radical theology. St. Anne’s Cathedral drew me to her pews partly because my grandparents had been married there and my mother was baptized there. But more importantly, it has been a long time since I had been on a pub crawl, so I was a little worse for wear and St. Anne’s was just next door.

St. Anne’s is also known as the Belfast Cathedral and is part of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. So, I knew that the liturgy would be very familiar. Being just two minutes away from the sanctuary, I was able to time my arrival just before the service began. I mean, just before the service began. I wandered up the aisle, intending to sit in the back row. However, the back row was miles away from the last row of occupied rows. So, I had to travel three quarters of the way down the aisle in order to sit in the back row of the gathered congregation. In a church which boasts a seating capacity of 4,000 people, I walked past row after row after empty row in order to join a congregation of about thirty people. As I sat in a sparsely populated row, I quickly checked my watch to make sure I in my hung-over state, I hadn’t mistaken the time, and this was not the main Sunday worship service. Perhaps it was already evening, and this was the evensong crowd? But no, it was clearly 11am and an elaborate procession of liturgical leaders were beginning their walk up the long empty aisle. I scrambled to my feet, and perused the service bulletin, ready to lend my inadequate voice to the singing of God’s praise.

Alas, our assembled voices made hardly a din in the cavernous empty cathedral. The service droned on, and on. Lots and lots of words; mostly familiar. A few hymns, mostly familiar. An inoffensive sermon, by a gentle priest. Looking forward to the Eucharist, I longed for the hymn of the day to end. Flipping the page of the service bulletin, I came across an old nemesis. The liturgical option to use the Creeds, either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, is not something we at Holy Cross have done for many years. Sadly, the majority of Anglican and Lutheran congregations do. There it was, right there on the page, a rubric instructing the assemble to turn to the Apostles’ Creed. I dutifully obliged, turning to the appropriate page as the congregation completed the hymn. There on the page, I began to inwardly read and digest the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

It had been a long time since the familiar words took up space in my mind. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead…” Wait a minute. The words are so familiar, they are in my bones, they are part of who I am. But suddenly it was not the words which drew my focus. I’d long since given up on the patriarchal language, or Mary’s virginity, or the judgmental threats to the living which I knew were coming. Not even the inherent sacrificial atonement theology could hold my attention in that nearly empty cathedral. My eye, my mind, my whole being was firmly fixed on a punction mark. I’ve always known it was there, but on that morning, I actually felt that tiny, monumental, comma’s impact. The entire life of Jesus is reduced to a comma which sits between his birth to a mythical virgin, and his death at the hands of the forces of empire. Jesus’ life, his teachings, his loves, his passions, his story, and most of all Jesus’ humanity is reduced to a comma.

I quickly turned to the Nicene Creed to confirm what I already knew. “We believe in one God, the father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in on Lord, Jesus Christ the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” No mere comma this time, but a period. No sooner is the DIVINE Jesus born of a mythical virgin to become human, than with a definitive period does Jesus’ life pale in comparison to his death. I stood frozen, paralyzed by the reality of a comma’s momentous power, and a period’s precise ability to move the attention of generations of believers from the magnitude of Jesus life to visions of an other-worldly kingdom from which judgement of the living and the dead would be doled out between this world and the next.

Sweet Jesus, where are you? Where is your life in these iron clad, deliberately laid out, statements of faith, to which we are expected to say:  “I believe, We believe?” Our creeds reduce Jesus’ life to a comma, or a period. The tiny little punctuation marks designed to shift our focus elsewhere. These tiny punctuation marks, they move us along without another thought to Jesus’ life, his teachings, his way of being in the world, his humanity. I closed the hymnal, and I took my leave. Outside the sun in all its glory beckoned me on to the streets of Belfast were actual humans greeted me with nods and smiles. I found my way back to my hotel, where the concierge greeted me, with a friendly smile and questions: “Is church over already? How was it?” To which I happily answered, “Yes. I believe it is. For me anyway.” The happy concierge replied, “Sure, that says more than you meant, I’m sure.”  …I believe it does.

Credo, from the Latin verb credere which is the first word in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. Credo a Latin verb which our English hymnals translate as: I believe in the Apostles’ Creed and We believe in the Nicene Creed. Is it any wonder that Christianity, is all too obsessed with believing?  Continue reading

HODOS: a word getting in the way of THE WAY! – John 14:6

He was screaming at me. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice.

So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.

I can still see the anger and the hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger which seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a beautiful sermon about the Many Mansions which God has prepared for all of us. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s LOVE. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  NO one comes to the Father except through me.”  My friend, it seems, had all the answers. Those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God. They will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are all damned to hell! I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology.

I did my best to find another way to explain Jesus’ words. Maybe it was the hatred in my old friend’s eyes, but there was something about Jesus’ words which were getting in the way of the WORD. I ignored Jesus’ exclusive words and I focused on Jesus’ words about ABBA’s many mansions. This method worked for me for quite a while. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words which continued to get in the way of the WORD. Words I believed to be incompatible with the Jesus’ WAY of being LOVE in the world.  We were studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems which have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another.

One day, we were given a very engaging assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, this meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition.

My partner was a young Hindu named of all things Nigel.  Nigel had been born in India to parents who dreamed of having their son educated in England. So, they gave him an English name and they were so delighted when their son decided to seek an education in Canada. Nigel was a devout Hindu. He was familiar with the New Testament, and he was intrigued with, as Nigel would say, “this fellow Jesus.”  During my studies, I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and was familiar with its representations of the spiritual struggle of the human soul. I hadn’t yet read the Upanishads, so under Nigel’s tutoring I worked my way through, what he lovingly called, the Himalayas of the Soul, while Nigel renewed his acquaintance with the Gospel of John.

After several weeks of study Nigel and I selected the texts that we would study together. I chose a text from the Bhagavad Gita which roughly translates as “All paths lead to the same goal.”  (4:11) I chose this text because the notes in the commentary indicated that many Hindu’s believe that because God is all-pervading, where else can any path lead. With this text, Nigel and I explored the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale representations of the One True God and that all pathways will eventually lead to this God. Continue reading

LOVE is what we are made for! – 1 Cor. 13 and Romans 8:37-39

When I was a kid, my family moved around quite a bit. All that moving about, and always being the new kid at school, it really messed me up. It’s not surprising that I started hanging out with a gang. If I’d known what this gang was all about, I would never have gotten involved with them. What I didn’t know when I started hanging out with this gang was that the members of this gang all had one thing in common, they were all part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’d never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. So, at the tender age of fifteen, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. As I figured out who and what this gang was, I worried that they might be a cult. But it was kind of exciting to flirt with the idea of a cult.

The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. Well, this gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong there. You see, I didn’t have a favorite bible passage. I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, and I hadn’t read very much of the bible. Well, I hadn’t read the bible at all. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and I teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Danna recited her favorite Bible passage from memory. I was astounded at her ability to quote such a long passage from memory. Later I would find out that she was a “PK”; that’s code for pastor’s kid. I can still remember the passion with which Danna described her love for this particular passage. Danna’s favorite bible passage quickly became my favorite passage as well. I told Danna so, right then and there; conveniently getting myself off the hook of trying to come up with a favorite passage of my own.  

1st  Corinthians chapter 13. Danna recited it from a brand-spanking new translation of the Bible; you may remember, if you are of a certain age, it was called “Good News for Modern Man:”

“I may be able to speak the languages of man and even of angels but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt—but if I have no love this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable, love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I have grown up, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face.  What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” As Danna spoke of her love for this passage, I began to glimpse my own deepest longings. With all of who I was at the age of 15, I knew that I wanted to know this kind of love. I was so overcome with longing, that right there in front of everyone, I began to weep. I was so overwhelmed. The Pastor leading the retreat, noticed my pain and gently encouraged me to simply weep. No one said a word. But I was keenly aware of their presence.

Later that evening, in the glow of the firelight, I mustered up the courage to ask the Pastor what his favorite passage from scripture was. The words he spoke continue to resonate deeply in me: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? As scripture says, “For your sake, we’re being killed all day long; we we’re looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because God has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither angels nor demons, neither anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Saviour.”

Again, I wept. The realization that the LOVE which longed for was already mine and that nothing could separate me from that LOVE, overwhelmed me. The community which I encountered back then, was not perfect. But I was a child, and I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Over time, I began to see that gang of young people. I began to see them for the imperfect tribe that we were. As I grew in knowledge and experience, I also saw the church which introduced me to the MYSTERY which is LOVE is far from perfect. I’m guessing that most of us have had our illusions about communities, especially church communities shattered at one time or another. Continue reading

Sermon: Are You a MYSTIC Too? Genesis 28:16-22

Awe came upon me one hot August night when I was only 17 years old. That night there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. So, about a dozen of us, we headed down to the beach, where there was boardwalk, to sleep out under the stars. It was a fabulous night. No adults were there to tell us what to do. So, we were trying on what it would feel like to be an adult ourselves and to do what we wanted, when we wanted. We had good friends to talk to. There was swimming after dark. We had an illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us doing something a little beyond our abilities. It was a brilliant night. We laughed and we played, and we solved all the problems of the world, but we never saw a single meteor.

Around 3 o’clock in the morning we finally settled down to sleep. I’m not sure what woke me up. But I do remember looking up and seeing nothing but stars, and when the first meteor streaked across the sky, rather than waking up my friends so that they could see what I was seeing, I just lay there watching as streak after streak stretched across the darkness. I knew in my head that these were meteors, but it was as if the stars were putting on a show just for me. I’d never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Suddenly the Cosmos, was more than just a backdrop of my imagination. The Cosmos was there, right there in all its glory. It was the most beautiful display of cosmic grandeur. I was totally overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Far from feeling small, I felt like I was big enough to reach out and touch the stars. It was wonderful. There were moments when I felt that I wasn’t the only one doing the watching. There I was lying below the sky, looking up, feeling strangely at peace. For the first time, it felt as though I was actually being watched and seen. I was being seen and I was being known by something bigger than the sky.

In a sea of a billion galaxies, I felt the CREATOR of all that IS, surrounding me. The gentle sea breeze seemed to caress me, and for the first time in my life, I became conscious that I am part of something far larger than myself and I felt my heartbeat begin to quicken. Serenaded by the heavy breathing of my companions, I began to wonder about stardust, about breath, and wind, and about this thing called the SPIRIT, and I knew that somehow the heart of what I was staring into was miraculously related to the heart that which was beating so quickly in me. And the tears flowed, and I knew such joy. It was as if the Cosmos itself had opened up inside of me, and for the first time I knew who and what I am. I also knew somehow, deeply knew, that the breath in me and the SPIRIT at the heart of the universe that was exploding before my eyes, is intimately ONE.

I remember my joy was tinged with a kind of fear, because I knew that this was bigger than anything I’d ever been able to imagine, and I wondered if my head was about to explode. I remember laughter rising within me, which I suppressed because I didn’t want my friends to wake up and find me deliriously happy, like some kind of crazy person. I knew I’d never be able to explain the joy I was feeling. Nothing had ever filled me so full. I had no words with which to explain my experience. I still don’t have the words to describe this mystical experience. I felt as though my whole being was going to burst open because the joy, and love which I felt simply could not be contained. Over the years, I have returned to this experience to try to put into words an experience which is BEYOND words.

For a long time, I used the word “God” to describe what I was experiencing. At the time I remember thinking that GOD had better ease off just a little or I was going to entirely loose the plot. GOD was too much to take in. I wasn’t sure I could take much more, when suddenly; the sky began to change its hue. I was conscious of colour behind me. Don’t ask me how you can be conscious of colour, I just was. I was afraid to look toward the colour, because I knew that behind me the Sun would be rising, and if tiny meteors streaking across the sky could do what they did to me, I wasn’t sure I could handle the magnificence of the Sun rising. I closed my eyes, and in the darkness of my own mind, I felt the power of GOD overwhelming me.  

In the Book of Genesis, there is a powerful story about one of our ancestors named Jacob. The story takes place after Jacob has tricked his father into giving him the blessing which according to their custom, should have gone to his older twin brother Esau. Jacob has just left home and is travelling through the desert when he sets up camp for the night. Jacob takes a rock and uses it as a pillow. During the night, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a ladder, which stretches from the ground all the way up into the realm of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God. The Hebrew text uses the unspeakable name for God – YAHWEH – a word so sacred that the Hebrews did not speak it, a word which translates into English as “I AM WHO I AM!” Messengers of the DIVINE MYSTERY were travelling up and down Jacob’s dream ladder. Jacob could see the MYSTERY standing over him and from the HOLY ONE Jacob received the knowledge that his descendants would be as numerous as the specks of dust on the ground; spreading out all over the Earth and those descendants, that’s us, we, Jacob’s descendants would see ourselves as blessed by our ancestor Jacob. From the DIVINE MYSTERY, Jacob knew that the HOLY ONE would never leave him. Then Jacob woke and said, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” He was filled with trembling and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than the dwelling place of God; this is the gate to heaven! Jacob rose early the next morning and took the stone which he had used as a pillow and set it up as a monument and he anointed it with oil. Jacob named the place BETHEL “House of God” saying, “Truly, YAHWEH is in this place, and I never knew it!” Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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