Spiritual AND Religious – a sermon for Pentecost 12B – John 6:35,41-51

Listen to the sermon here

As many of you know, I’ve been on a diet for the past few years. Dieting is not easy in this land of such great abundance. I have had to work very hard to resist so very many temptations. Some foods have been cut out of my diet all together. Most of the foods that I have had to eliminate from my diet are foods that I love. The most difficult food for me to resist is bread. I love bread and in order to lose the weight that I needed to lose, I had to eliminate bread from my diet. For the first few months of this diet, the only time I ate any bread was here in this sanctuary during communion. I must confess that I was only able to abstain from bread for about three months and then I simply needed a fix. So, after the initial shock of no bread, I gradually introduced just a little bread back into my diet. But I really miss bread. All kinds of bread. I miss great big hunks of crusty bread, endless slices of buttered toast, croissants, baguettes, bagels, rye bread, sourdough bread, white bread, raisin bread, stuffing, croutons, buns, rolls, breadsticks…I could go on and on and on…telling you about all the breads that I miss…I just can’t eat any of them. So, I hope that you will all give me a big “aahh  poor Dawn” when I remind you that for the past few weeks all of the gospel readings prescribed by our lectionary have Jesus talking about bread. Come on I’m serious let me hear a big sigh of sympathy: “aah poor Dawn”.

Bread, Bread, Bread, the gospel according to John: “I am the bread of life. I am the bread that came down from heaven. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it you’ll never die. I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread they will live forever.” Bread, Bread, Bread, for five weeks in a row, preachers all over the world are doing our darnedest to serve up Jesus as the bread of life, bread for the world, bread that comes down from heaven, bread that provides eternal life. Bread, Bread, Bread. I who am not supposed to be letting bread pass my lips; I have been called upon to create sermons that will satisfy the lectionary’s insistence that we gorge ourselves on words and images which offer up Jesus as bread for the world. So, to help you understand a little bit of what it is like to be so hungry for bread, whilst trying to create sermons which inspire hunger for bread, I decided to bring you this basket of bread. Look at it isn’t it beautiful. Buns, buns, and more buns…bagels, croissants, more buns. Bread, bread, bread. Isn’t it beautiful? Take a long, deep breath and smell just how marvelous this is?

It is the aroma of bread that gets to me. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread. I read somewhere that it is not the smell of bread that makes us hungry for bread, but rather that the aroma of bread alerts us to our hunger. Which means that the hunger is already there, and the smell of bread simply reminds us of our desire for bread. It doesn’t make much difference to me, which comes first the smell or the hunger, I just want some bread. I love me some bread. Bread is comfort food to the enth degree!!! When it comes to comfort food, just give me bread. I don’t think I’ve ever met a bread that I don’t like; as long as it’s fresh, I’m hungry.

So, for weeks now, Jesus the great I AM has had his mouth filled by the storyteller we call John with words about bread. And all the while I have been hungry for bread. Jesus keeps promising to satisfy that hunger; Jesus is the bread of life, bread for the world, bread that provides eternal life. For weeks now, our liturgies have been full of hymns about bread, so have our prayers. It’s a good thing that I’m on vacation after today, because next Sunday the gospel according to John will give you more images of Jesus as the living bread. My hunger for bread, might just surpass my hunger for something more important than bread, so, before I gorge myself on this basket full of bread, let me try to shift our attention beyond the bread to that to which all this talk of bread is designed to point us toward. Remember it is not the bread that makes us hungry but rather the bread that alerts us to our hunger. So, what is it exactly that we are hungry for. As humans we all share this insatiable hunger for something more. Something beyond mere food. Something beyond that which we can explain with words. Something beyond all the images and symbols. Something beyond our very selves. Something beyond the sum of all of us. Something that we call God.

This longing to know, this desire to touch or be touched by, this hunger for that which is bigger than us, more than us, beyond us, out there and yet deep, deep, within here, this appetite that drives us to seek out, to question, to wonder, is the very stuff that drives us as a species. We call this something God. Others call it by other names; names like knowledge, wisdom, force, energy, spirit or love. This object of our desire, our hunger, our thirst, our quest, our longing, this thing beyond words or symbols which is sought after by those who see themselves as spiritual or religious. These days the seekers of this experience beyond words all too often describe themselves as spiritual BUT NOT religious.

Spiritual but not religious is a phrase that has come into fashion as religion has gone out of fashion. I am the first to admit that there are all sorts of good reasons for religion to fade from favour. The excesses and abuses of religion and the religious are legion. The number of times people have regaled me with stories justifying their desire to have absolutely nothing to do with organized religion has put flesh on the phrase, “I love Jesus, but his followers scare me to death.” Continue reading

We Are the Bread of Heaven: a sermon on John 6:24-35 for Pentecost 11B

Hungry for?When last this text appeared in the lectionary, it was, as it is this weekend, a holiday weekend here in Ontario. So, in the midst of our relaxed worship, I decided not to preach the sermon I had written and simply spoke briefly in response to the video animation which was shown after the reading of the Gospel John 6:24-35. You can watch the video: The Stonecutter here and listen to the recording of my comments here. The sermon which I prepared but did not preach is printed below. 

Following the video The Stonecutter (1960) Japanese Folklore  view here

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Food that endures for eternal life: WOW! Talk about satisfying. Who wouldn’t want some of that? Who isn’t hungry for food that does not perish but lasts for eternal life? No wonder the people cried out to Jesus. “Sir, give us some of that.” To which Jesus replied, “I AM it!” It’s clear that were not talking about ordinary food here. Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

But isn’t hunger and thirst the very stuff of life? Isn’t hunger, thirst, desire, longing, yearning, the very thing that drives us all? Don’t we all hunger for a better, fuller, more satisfying life? Don’t we all want to feed that emptiness that lies within? Aren’t we all looking for something?

If I were to try to tell that ancient Japanese fable in our modern Canadian context what might it sound like? You’re driving along in the car, widows open, listening to some tunes thinking hey look at me, I’ve got it pretty good, when all of a sudden a guy pulls up along side of you in a beautiful in a sleek e-type jag convertible, woe! If I could afford a car like that, just think about how great it would be to pull away from all the other traffic, the wind blowing through my hair, wouldn’t that be great. Well you save your pennies and you finally get the car of your dreams, and your driving along and you see this house, not just any house, but the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood, and you know there’s just got to be a pool in the backyard, and you wonder maybe, just maybe there’s a Jacuzzi in one of the dozen or so rooms and you know that if you could come home to a place like that, well then you’d be really happy. So you work hard and you scrimp and you save and one day, you get your hearts desire and you turn the key in the lock an all of a sudden your living in the house of your dreams. But there’s the pool to clean, and the gardens to maintain, and a lot of rooms that need dusting and you see that your neighbours have a pool boy, a gardener, and a housekeeper and you know if you could only afford to hire some help then you’d be happy. You know that with just a few more bucks in your bank account you’d be happy. So, you wish and you wish and one day you win the 649 and you have millions of dollars, several beautiful cars, lots of staff to keep everything ticking over, and no one to share it with. Continue reading

Come Away With Me…Sanctuary for Refugees: a sermon for Pentecost 9B, Mark 6:30-34,53-56 and Ephesians 2:11-22

Sadly, the plight of refugees has worsened since these readings last came up in our lectionary. I repost this sermon to inspire others to continue to speak out for sanctuary. Three years ago, I chose to extract two readings from the lectionary to reflect upon sanctuary for refugees. Splitting the prescribed gospel text into the first and second readings and using the epistle text as the Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, Mark 6:53-56, Ephesians 2:11-22. The video which was shown during the sermon, along with the English translation, can be viewed here, listen to the sermon here

Come away with me. To the Apostles Jesus said, “Come away with me, by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile.” It’s summertime, and we are blessed to live in a land of remote places where we can rest awhile. Come away with me to someplace more remote could describe so much of this great land.  Vast stretches of trees and rocks, open prairies that stretch for miles, epic shorelines where waves crash roll in from open seas, long winding rivers, tall majestic mountains, open tundra, ice covered land and sea that stretches farther than the eye can see. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest a while; we are positively spoilt for choice. Come away with me to someplace more remote, to the lake, to the riverside, to the park, to the beach, to the woods, to the prairie, to the mountains, to the great white north. Come away with me to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile, each one of us has our favorite spots; places where we can find sanctuary from the cares and woes of life.

Sanctuary is such a beautiful word. Sanctuary from the Latin: sanctum, sanctus, sacred or holy. Sanctuary – a holy place, the word has come to mean a place of safety. We are so very blessed with sanctuaries- safe places where we can hide away from the cares and woes of life, sacred places, holy places, places that revive our very souls.

Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote where you can rest awhile. Jesus says this to his new appointed Apostles right after they had returned to him from the big bad world into which Jesus had sent them to proclaim the good news. The Apostles came back to Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught, and Jesus said to them, “Come away with me by yourselves to someplace more remote and rest awhile.” So many people wanted and needed them. So many people were coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So, they went away to a deserted area. They sought sanctuary so that they could rest. Most of us take sanctuary for granted. We have our safe places, our sacred places, places where we can rest, recharge our batteries, get ready for what lies ahead. From the safety of our sanctuaries we know that the world is still out there, needing us, wanting us, calling upon us. But we have the luxury of time and place and we take our rest. We live in the second largest country in the world – over 4 million square miles. We also have one of the smallest populations in the world. This is a very big, very empty country. There are just over 34 million people in Canada. That’s just under 9 people for every square mile in Canada. Such a vast empty country, most of us are crowded down here in the south, but even along our southern border there are so many places where we can drive for miles and miles and not see another person. Finding remote places in which to seek sanctuary is not a difficult task in this vast country of ours. Continue reading

The Reign of God Is At Hand: Our Hands – a sermon for Pentecost 8B – Mark 6:14-29

John the Baptist's headThe beheading of John the Baptist is an unusual subject for a beautiful summer morning. However, from time to time the lectionary takes us where we are reluctant to go. Our readings included: Mark 1:1-11, Mark 1:14-15 and Mark 6:14-29

Listen to the sermon here

I can’t exactly tell you how it felt after a wonderful week of summer vacation to return to work on Wednesday morning and discover that there was a beheading on the menu for this morning. I was sorely tempted to forget about the prescribed reading for this particular morning. I mean, who among us has the stomach to gaze upon John the Baptist’s severed head on this gorgeous summer morning? We could all be relaxing on our various patios and sun decks enjoying a leisurely breakfast, listening to the birds sing, tending to our gardens or catching up with friends. I’d much rather head up to the lake for a swim than contemplate the fate of a radical like John the Baptist. Summertime and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high! At first, I thought just crank up the tunes and maybe our love of singing together will get us through and help us to ignore the horrors of the main course. But the image of John’s piercing eyes staring up from my imagined silver platter made each hymn-choice seem trite. So, I opened up my sermon files to see what I’ve done in the past when this horrendous gospel reading has come up. It turns out that I’m rarely here at this time of the year. I’m either at convention or on vacation and some other preacher has had the privilege of this particular main course. Oh, there’s one sermon that I preached years ago, but when I read it, I couldn’t help wondering what I was thinking; I told a cute story about bears in the mountains being dangerous and moved on to insist that Jesus wasn’t some cute cuddly teddy bear, but a wild radical bear who if taken seriously is far more dangerous than any wild bear we might meet in the woods. It wasn’t a bad sermon really, but I just couldn’t bear to preach it a second time. So, I started playing around with other readings. I thought I’d find something more fitting for a lovely summer morning; maybe preach on the beauty of creation and encourage us all to enjoy the pleasures of life. But John’s eyes wouldn’t stop looking up at me from the banquet table, taunting me to prepare the way for our God. I tried to avoid his gaze by promising to do him justice when Advent rolls around and the lectionary goes on for 3 consecutive Sundays about John the Baptist, but John’s severed head sent my mind to the Garden of Gethsemane and I ran into that Jesus fellow down on his knees begging to God to spare him, to take this cup from him and I couldn’t help hearing John in the background yelling, “You brood of vipers as we tried to enjoy this beautiful morning. So, here we are sisters and brothers, gathered around the table with the vision of a main course served up on a silver platter, encouraged by the traditions of the church to partake of the radical fare that lies staring up at us. Prepare the way for our God. Now we could prepare the way simply by exploring the text. Continue reading

Canada: Not the Promised Land – But a Land Full of Promise – a sermon in celebration of Canada

Readings for Canada Day weekend: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 72:1-8a; Matthew 5:43-48

Listen to the sermon here

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number and there became a great nation, mighty and populous.”  So, mighty and so populous that some of our ancestors wandered all the way to Northern Ireland. As a child in Belfast a long time ago, longer than I care to remember, so long  ago that life was very different than it is now. Life in Belfast during the sixties was simple. We didn’t have much. Life was simple and basic and so many of the things that we take for granted, simply didn’t exist back then.  Looking back on it now, I suppose you could say that we were poor. The truth is, we may indeed have been poor but I never knew it. Back then “the troubles” were reigniting in Northern Ireland as protestants and Roman Catholics began to slip back into their old violent ways. Looking back, I realize that the poverty and violence of Belfast in the 1960’s made it a tough place to raise a family. So, it makes sense that my family would leave Belfast as what today we would call refugees, fleeing both economic hardships as well as the threat of violence. But as a child in neither knew nor understood the realities of our migration. Nevertheless, arriving in Canada was just like arriving in the “Promised Land.”

On this Canada Day weekend, I can still vividly remember my first full day in Canada, even though it happened so very long ago. My Mother, my brother, and I arrived at the old Malton Airport. I don’t have any actual memories of walking across the tarmac, but legend has it that it was snowing on what should have been a spring day.  I do have memories of my very first car-ride. I can still see the massive 1957 Plymoth.  It was the first car my family ever owned and it had these huge fins at the back that were taller than I was at the time. The back seat was positively enormous and riding back there, I was thoroughly convince that my Dad had struck it rich in Canada. 

We pulled into the parking lot of the tallest building I had ever seen and Dad announced that we were home.  He pointed out a balcony way up on the fourth floor and said that this was our flat.Then we climbed aboard an elevator. I had never been in an elevator before and I was amazed at the skill with which my father took charge of the controls. When the door magically slide open, we walked down a long hallway to arrive at our front door.  I can still see the gold numbers on the door, “407”. We must be rich indeed, if we had good on our front door. I could hardly believe my eyes when Dad opened the door.  I remember the shiny wood floors, the brand new furniture, and the big TV set.

 As we toured the rest of the apartment, I simply couldn’t speak. This new home looked nothing like the homes I was used to.  What’s more inside the kitchen stood a sparkling white refrigerator. I had never seen such a thing. All I remember is that this refrigerator had magic powers that allowed us to keep food cold. Visions of ice-cream must have danced through my head.  Just imagine the marvelous ability to be able to keep ice-cream in your very own kitchen. No more walking to the corner shop or waiting for the ice-cream man to pass by.Ice-cream right there as cold as you like in your very own home. It blew my tiny little mind! Continue reading

Maybe Jesus was as the Gospel says, “out of his mind.”

The gospel reading prescribed for this Sunday (Mark 3:20-35) paints a daunting picture of the perceptions of the people of Jesus’ hometown. The folks who knew Jesus, including his family worried that he might just be “out of his mind.” This is indeed a contrast to the ways in which Jesus is typically portrayed. This is a dangerous Jesus who ran the risk of being perceived as deranged. In his book “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” Robin Meyers captures some of this danger when he points to Mary Oliver’s poem “Maybe” in which Jesus’ “melancholy madness” is seen by his fellows as more dangerous than a storm.  Safely ensconced in our imaginations, Jesus is rarely allowed to threaten the status quo to which we cling for dear life. Are we prepared for the stormy waters that would be stirred up should we take Jesus at his word? Maybe…

Maybe Mary Oliver pastordawn

A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing: Jesus embodies a way that contradicts everything we know to be true! a sermon for Pentecost 3B

Genesis 3:8:15 and Mark 3:20-35

Listen to the sermon Pentecost 3B sermon

We have all heard the axiom: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” An axiom is a premise or a starting point of reasoning so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  or this old chestnut: “You should not mix religion and politics” Failure to adhere to the logic of accepted axioms is unsettling.

A long time ago, when I was but a teenager – back in the by gone days of yore—I remember believing beyond a doubt that all I needed to do in order to be successful in life was to learn. I figured any problem in life could be solved merely by studying the problem, figuring out the possible solutions, eliminating incorrect ideas, reviewing past solutions, anticipating possible outcomes and factoring in the various laws which apply to the subject, and arriving at the correct answer. Studying, the facts in a reasonable way, analyzing the various emotions that might arise, and determining what was best possible outcome for the largest number of people; this rational approach was the key to success in life. I resolved to learn all that I could about how people had done things in the past in order that I might succeed in the future.

It helped that I was a history buff. History and English were my favorite subjects in high school and I excelled in both. Math and science, I struggled with; biology and geography I could manage, but algebra, physics and chemistry just about did me in. But I wanted to go on learning and it was made clear to me that if I could not master high school math and science, I wouldn’t be able to go on to university to study anything. So, I worked hard not to learn math and science but rather to pass all the math and science tests.

It wasn’t easy! Physics was just about the end of me. Not only was I incompetent when it came to learning the lessons of physics, the teacher couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag; and besides he was just about the meanest marker in all the world, so I figured I was doomed. So, you can forgive me if I took a little pride in the fact that I actually got around to going to university as what they call a mature student. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 32 years old. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to make it through my first year, because in addition to all the subjects that I was wildly interested in, I was required to take a science class…but that’s another story. I was enrolled in a general arts program, majoring in religions of the world, with a minor in psychology. The subject matter in most of my classes was absolutely fascinating and I even remember being grateful to my high school physics teacher for drumming Newtonian physics into my non-scientific brain. You see little Isaac Newton went a long way in the study of theology. It turns out that when you are studying theodicy which is a fancy word for the reason behind the fact that God appears to let bad things happen and evil prosper; well when it comes to theologians trying to explain why God acts the way God does, there’s a whole branch of theology that figures God out using the rules of Newtonian physics. Although I didn’t learn much science in high school, I certainly did learn Newton’s laws of motion. So, I could understand how Newton’s explanation of how the physical world worked, was applied by theologians to explain why God let bad things happen in the world; even to good people. God wasn’t causing bad things to happen we were, because as everyone knows Newton’s third law of motion is an axiom, which is absolutely true; a fact beyond challenge, and I knew because not only did I memorize it to pass the test, but I actually thought I understood it. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Zippiddy do da! there you have it. When two objects interact, the size of the force on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.

A little knowledge of Newton and you can solve the problem of evil in theology. The bad stuff isn’t God’s fault. The bad stuff happens to good people, not because God is testing them, or because God is capricious, or because God is powerless to act. Bad stuff happens because people who are not good do bad stuff and their action creates more bad stuff. The theology proof asked us to imagine Newton’s mechanized view of reality, by thinking of a pool table. One ball is bad, very bad, that one ball’s badness hits a good ball with force, and that good ball is compelled to move, hitting another good or bad ball it doesn’t matter, one ball hitting another ball with force, has a ripple effect, the ripple effect isn’t chaos, it’s the nature of reality, the way things were originally created, and what is necessary is for enough good balls to use good force as apposed to bad force in order for justice to prevail.

Now it’s been a while, so I’m making a bit of a hash of this, but I hope you get the idea that I thought I was figuring it all out, wrapping my brain around theology; beginning to understand how a good God can let bad things happen to good people. It was the nature of creation itself that was getting in the way. God could still be considered good even though bad stuff happened, because God was not responsible for the bad stuff, we were with all our bashing about on that pool table. It sounds ridiculous now. But at the time it was like being hit with a blinding light; an epiphany of sorts. God didn’t cause bad things to happen, but because of God’s commitment to our free will God would not intervene, but God’s goodness compelled God to be there with us as the bad forces were hitting us. I even figured out that Jesus was thrown into the mix because all those crashing balls were causing so much pain that God was compelled not to intervene directly but to set an example of goodness in the midst of evil; an example that we could look to and follow, so that with enough good people exerting enough good force we could create an equal and opposite reaction of goodness. It was all slotting into place. Here was a theory about God which used reason and logic to arrive at the goodness of God, while demonstrating the need for Christ, and a way forward out of the pain of bad forces and onto a table where the force of goodness was matched with more goodness. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Stop all the bad forces with goodness. Everybody get together try to love one another right now. Love, love, love, all we need is love. Love is all you need.

I was delighted with my new understanding and they way in which the God I was learning about fit so nicely into the Newtonian world view as I understood it. But remember the axiom I began with: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One day, during a second-year course in which we were studying the patristic explanations of the cross, we were arguing about the relative merit of a God who would demand human sacrifice when my carefully constructed vision of God was blown sky high. My defense of the goodness of God was challenged by a kid who had more than a little knowledge and whose broader knowledge of science just about robbed me of my sanity as I watched my carefully constructed vision of the goodness of God fall into the abyss. “Sadly,” this kid said, “Sadly your argument for the nature of divinity is constructed on a false premise.”

The arrogant little sod, “What false premise?”

Continue reading

Moon-Walking Bears, Jesus and Nicodemus: a sermon on John 3:1-17

moondancing bearsI am indebted to Jim Kast-Keat, a pioneering preacher who inspired me to open this sermon with the video below. I am also indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for teaching me more that I can articulate with words. His excellent book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic opened the Gospel According to John in ways that have helped me to see aspects of the Divine to which I was once blind. Much of the sermon consists of extensive quotes from chapter 9 of Jack’s book.

Readings: John Chapter 2 and John 3:1-17

Watch the video below carefully before reading or listening to the sermon  the sermon below.

Listen to the sermon:  

So, before tackling the story of Nicodemus, I want to toss two balls into the congregation. The first ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents something all too familiar, biblical literalism. We know all too well that this particular ball has been distracting the church and most of the western world for the past few centuries. The second ball I want to toss over here to this side of the congregation represents historical biblical criticism. This particular ball is newer. It’s only been seriously tossed about for the past couple of centuries, but it is a really serious contender for our attention. But these balls have acquired a rather rhythmic bounce that tends to mesmerize us. Add to that these other balls the balls of church doctrine and theological dogma and before you know it we are so distracted that we forget what game we were trying to play in the first place as we try to keep up with the various passes made by players that have taken on a professional edge that leaves us watching from the sidelines unable to focus one of them.

None of these balls commanded the attention of the early Christians. They simply weren’t interested in taking the scriptures literally, nor were they particularly interested in the historicity of the scriptures. As for doctrine and dogma, well they were left to the professionals who only came to town on those unpleasant occasions when the league needed to ensure that it’s franchises continued to rake in enough money to keep the game on a sure footing. The scriptures, like all sacred writings, were about so much more than words scribbled on a scroll. The scriptures, like all scared writings, are about the mysteries of life. But these balls have been served up for us to play with and literalism and concerns about historical accuracy have done a magnificent job of distracting us from what really matters in these texts. Our fascination with the details of the fight-patterns of the balls that are tossed around whenever the stories in these texts play through our lives, have caused us to miss so many moon-dancing bears over the years.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love tossing these balls around and over the years I’ve learned to play ball with the best of them. But when a moon-walking bear dances onto the court, at the very least, we ought to notice the bear’s moves because the only way we’re going to learn to dance with these bears is by paying attention. Continue reading

Is the Church dead? or Can these Bones Live? – Pentecost sermon – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:22-27; Acts 2:1-21

Listen to the audio only here

Well here we are in church on celebrating Pentecost! For generations Pentecost was one of the great high feast days of the church; right up there with Easter and Epiphany. That’s right, for generations, the three great high feast days of the church year were Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost; not Christmas.  Pentecost the day when the church celebrates the birth of the church. But in our life-times the festival of Pentecost has pretty much slipped off the radar of our culture. This year, well here in Canada at least, Pentecost is eclipsed by the first long-weekend of the summer season and most of our sisters and brothers are out there enjoying this rainy Victoria Day weekend. As for the rest of the world, this weekend’s Royal Wedding has garnered far more attention than the church’s birthday.

I remember, back in the olden days, when I first joined the church as a mere teenager, even then, Pentecost’s attraction was waning. I remember being taught all about the meaning of Pentecost. I can still hear our pastor, doing his best to get us excited about those tongues of fire resting upon the first followers of the Way. I remember the worship and music committee encouraging us to wear red to church. I remember the Sunday school coordinator releasing 7 red balloons into the congregation.

I was a bit of a dork back then. Unlike my fellow teenagers, who were mostly leaving the church, I joined the church when I was fifteen. I became enthralled with my guy Jesus. I immersed myself in the church. On Pentecost Sunday, 1972, just a few weeks before my 15thbirthday, I affirmed my baptism and joined Benediction Lutheran Church. So, even though the flames of Pentecost are continue to wain in our culture, Pentecost will always hold a special place in my heart.  Back in 1972, I began a long journey of discovery; a journey that would see me study not only the birth of the church but the long history of the church; a journey that took be into the story of Jesus in ways that I could never have understood back then.

I can still remember how earnest I was back then; how diligently I studied, how deeply I believed! I took it all in. I breathed deeply of the Spirit. I was a true believer. Yes, I always had my doubts.But my doubts only drove me deeper into the MYSTERY. 

I can still remember devouring every one of those red-letter words in the bible. You know the way those old bibles used to have the words of Jesus printed in red.  I can still remember the trauma of discovering that Jesus didn’t actually say all those red-letter words! I was so very certain in the beginning that if I just studied harder, I would discover the answers. Over the years, I have studied harder, but my studies have not given me the answers; my studies have driven me to deeper and deeper questions. So many certainties, have evolved into deeper questions.  So, today on this, the festival of Pentecost, when most of the world is out there, and there are but a few of us in here, I wonder, “Can these bones live?”

As handfuls of us, all over the world, celebrate the birthday of the Church, it is tempting to ask: Are our  bones too dry? Is our hope gone? Is the Church doomed? Or, can these bones live? I’d love to be able to answer each of these questions with more than a hint of my youthful certainty. Maybe, just maybe we are in the valley of dry bones. Over the years, I’ve often grieved the loss of my youthful certainty. Over the years, I’ve shed many a tear as tightly held beliefs have been challenged. Over the years, I’ve often missed that young woman that I once was, who was so sure of herself, so confident, so steadfast in her faith, so secure in the knowledge that God was in his heaven and all would be right with the world if we would only learn to do things properly.  Over the years, I have often been laid low by the pain of discovery and locked myself away to mourn the loss of that which I held so dear.

I suspect that the followers of Jesus tasted the pain of loss. They had loved Jesus and placed all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, only to have those hopes and dreams die a horrible death. Their grief is incalculable. Still pungent some 50 or 60 years later when the anonymous gospel writer that we call Luke wrote the in the Book of Acts and created the story of Pentecost.

Upon entering the city of Jerusalem for during the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Mathew: James  ben-Alpheaus: Simon, a member of the Zealot sect: and Judah ben-Jacob. Also, with them were some of the women who followed Jesus, his mother Mary and some of Jesus’ sisters and brothers.  With one mind they devoted themselves to constant prayer.”

I can see them in my mind’s eye all huddled together in an upper room united in their grief. All their hopes and dreams shattered, their lives in disarray as what they had believed so strongly so passionately was gone.  What were they to do? How could they go on?  What was the point of it all? If Jesus was gone, why bother?  Maybe he wasn’t all that they had hoped for?  

I can hear them, up there in that room arguing, weeping, searching for answers, longing for the security of the way it had been when Jesus was there with them; when they were certain about what needed to be done. I can hear them talking about Jesus, remembering the stories listening to the tales of his courage, marveling at his audacious courage, second guessing his teaching, longing for his touch, feeling the hope stir in their bellies, hope for justice, anger at the oppression they were left to deal with, confused about what to do next, not knowing what to think or believe now. Continue reading

Dream Dreams – a Pentecost sermon – Acts 1 and 2

Listen to the sermon here

I cannot begin to explain to you what happened on that day in Jerusalem, without explaining to you who I am.  My name is Mary and I come from the village of Magdala. You may know me as Mary Magdalene. But you have no idea who I am. There are many stories that have been told about me. Some of the things that have been said about me make my head spin.  Over the years, thanks to the twisted interpretations of the men in the church that I helped to give birth to, I have gained quite a reputation for being a prostitute, a whore, an adulterer. Now I will lay claim to being a sinner and God knows I have had my share of demons, but prostitution, adultery, whore, where do people get these ideas? It seems that all you need to do is use the words sinner and woman in the same sentence and all some people can think about is sex. 

Read your bibles and you will discover that, people have made me out to be something that I am not. It does not say anywhere in the New Testament that I, Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute, the New Testament doesn’t say that, the men of the Church did that. The New Testament simply says I was a sinner who just happened to come from the city. If you insist on calling me a prostitute based on this evidence, that says more about you than it does about me.

You see, I come from a good family in Magdala. Magdala is a wealthy city on the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. My family made a lot of money in the fishing industry in Magdala. While I was growing up I lacked nothing.  But I was not happy.  I was sick. I would sit around the house moping and complaining and make everyone miserable. I was so distraught. Often, I was so upset that I pulled out my own hair. Sometimes I would be so excited that people couldn’t stop me from talking. I ran up all sorts of bills in the market place which my parents had to pay. I was always cooking up some mad scheme or other. I would rant and rave at the slightest provocation.  From time to time I would become ill and stay in bed for weeks on end. I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing seemed to ease my anxieties. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. Then I met Jesus.  Continue reading

Fanning the Flames: Pentecost Sunday sermons

fanning flames pastorDawn

Click on these link for previous Pentecost sermons:

The Spirit in Our Midst

Pentecost: a Human Phenomenon

Beyond Tribalism – Preaching a 21st Century Pentecost

Celebrating Pentecost in the 21st Century

Pentecost Tongues Aflame with the Prayer attributed to Jesus

Global Engagement, Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect and a New Pentecost

 

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Birthday celebrations lend themselves to the telling of stories. So, we begin with a parable by the radical theologian Peter Rollins. So, sit back and try to imagine that you live not at the beginning of the 21st century but at the middle of the 21st century; say about 2050. The world has changed quite a bit. “It seems that in the future laws will be passed declaring that all those who follow the teachings of Jesus are subversive. Churches have been banned and to be a follower of Jesus is illegal. You have just been accused of being a believer. You’ve been arrested, and dragged before a court. You have been under clandestine surveillance for some time now, and so the prosecution has been able to build up quite a case against you. They begin the trial by offering the judge dozens of photographs that show you attending underground church meetings, speaking at religious events, and participating in various prayer and worship services. After this, they present a selection of items that have been confiscated from your home: religious books that you own, worship CDs, and other Christian artifacts. Then they step up the pace by displaying many of the poems, pieces of prose, and journal entries that you had lovingly written concerning your faith. Finally, in closing, the prosecution offers your Bible to the judge. This is a well-worn book with scribbles, notes, drawings, and underlinings throughout, evidence, if it were needed, that you had read and reread this sacred text many times. Throughout the case you have been sitting silently in fear and trembling. You know deep in your heart that with the large body of evidence that has been amassed by the prosecution you face the possibility of a long imprisonment or even execution. At various times throughout the proceedings you have lost all the confidence and have been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this thought has plagued your mind throughout the trial, you resist the temptation and remain focused.

Once the prosecution has finished presenting their case the judge proceeds to ask if you have anything to add, but you remain silent and resolute, terrified that if you open your mouth, even for a moment, you might deny the charges made against you. Like Christ you remain silent before your accusers. In response you are led outside to wait as the judge ponders your case. The hours pass slowly as you sit under guard in the foyer waiting to be summoned back. Eventually a young man in uniform appears and leads you into the courtroom so that you may hear the verdict and receive word of your punishment. Once you have been seated in the dock the judge, a harsh and unyielding man, enters the room, stands before you, looks deep into your eyes and begins to speak. “On the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty.”

“Not guilty?” your heart freezes. Then, in a split second, the fear and terror that had moments before threatened to strip your resolve are swallowed up by confusion and rage. Despite the surroundings, you stand defiantly before the judge and demand that he give an account concerning why you are innocent of the charges in light of the evidence. “What evidence?” asks the judge in shock.

“What about the poems and prose that I wrote?” you ask. “They simply show that you think of yourself as a poet, nothing more.” “But what about the services I spoke at, the times I wept in church and the long, sleepless nights of prayer?” “Evidence that you are a good speaker and an actor, nothing more,” replied the judge. “It is obvious that you deluded those around you, and perhaps at times you even deluded yourself, but this foolishness is not enough to convict you in a court of law.” “But this is madness!” you shout. “It would seem that no evidence would convince you!” “Not so,” replies the judge as if informing you of a great long-forgotten secret. “The court is indifferent toward your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concern for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of love. We have no interest in such armchair artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist only for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christlike endeavor to create a better world. So, until you live as Christ and Christ’s followers did, until you challenge this system and become a thorn in our side, until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, until then, my friend, you are no enemy of ours.” “

Rollins insists that this parable is true right here and right now. We don’t have to imagine a world were Christianity is illegal for this parable to be true. Rollins insists that: “If you or I were really to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, would we not sooner or later, find ourselves being dragged before the authorities? If we were really to live a life that reflected the subversive and radical message of love that gives a voice to the voiceless and a place to those who are displaced, if we were really to stand up against systemic oppression perpetrated by those in power, then would we not find ourselves on the wrong side of the lawmakers?” Continue reading

Enough for Everyone – Mother’s Day sermon – Easter 7B – John 17:6-11

 

Her name was Julia Ward Howe. She was born in 1819, in New York City. Her parents died when she was very young. She barely even knew her own mother.           She was raised by her aunt and uncle.  Her uncle was known as a bit of a radical.  He saw to it that his niece received a good liberal arts education; something very rare for a young woman of Julia’s day.When she was 21 years old, Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe.Howe had made a name for himself as a reformer who took quite a strong stand against slavery.Samuel often told people that he admired Julia’s ideas, her quick mind, her wit and above all her commitment to causes he supported.But Samuel, like many men of his day, believed that women should not take an active part in the causes of the day, nor should they speak in public.For her part, Julia did her best to respect her husband’s wishes. Julia had six children.Two of her children died when they were very young. In her diaries, Julia describes her life during the early part of her marriage as one of isolation.

In deference to her husband she had no life outside of her home except for Sundays when she attended church.Julia wrote of her husband’s violent outbursts as he attempted to control his wife’s activities. Julia’s only out-let was her writing. She began to gain quite a name for poetry. It is not clear just how she managed to get her poems published, but the success of her poetry led to invitations for Julia to speak at various gatherings. Apparently, Julia had quite a mouth on her. A friend of hers wrote that, “Bright things always came readily to Julia’s lips, and second thoughts often came too late to prevent her words from stinging.”

Samuel resented his wife’s success and after he managed to lose most of Julia’s inheritance from her father, he became more and more violent. Julia raised the issue of divorce, but Samuel threatened  to take the children from her, so instead Julia decided to try to fill her days of confinement to her home by educating herself.  Julia began to study philosophy. In time she even managed to teach herself several languges.Her diaries speak of her husband’s concern that Julia’s attempts at self-education were outrageous for a woman in her position in society.It was not until Julia discovered that Samuel had been unfaithful to her that she was able to negotiate a more active public life for herself. Continue reading

Mothers’ Day Angst – sermons for a day not included in the liturgical calendar!

True Mother Julian of NorwichMothers’ Day is not on the church’s liturgical calendar and yet the statisticians tell us that church attendance on Mothers’ Day is surpassed only by Christmas and Easter. Worship leaders who fail to mark the importance of this day do so at their peril; the same kind of peril that compels so many reluctant offspring to accompany their mothers to church. However, a simple liturgical nod in the direction of mothers or an over-the-top sentimental sermon all too often fails to capture the magnitude of the day’s significance in the history of women.  Planning the liturgy is challenging enough, but writing the sermon is a challenge which promises to keep me toiling away into the dark hours of this coming Saturday. So, for my colleagues who share a similar plight: below you will find links to previous attempts to commemorate this day of days. Feel free to share your efforts with me in the comments section. Please! I need all the help you can offer!!! click on the links below for previous Mothers’ Day sermons:

Sophia/Wisdom

MOTHERS’ DAY – Peace is the Way

Preaching on Mothers’ Day – Don’t Compromise

Another Option for Mothers’ Day: Bring Many Names

SHE Who Dwells Among Us – A Mothers’ Day Sermon

Arise on this Mothers’ Day: a sermon

ONE in GOD – a sermon

 

Stretching Metaphors Beyond their Ability to Carry Us – a sermon for Easter 5B – John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

to listen to the audio only click here

There’s a preacher whose work I admire. His name is Salvatore Sapienza. Sal comes from New York city; Sal would say it differently – “New York.” Speaking with his New York drawl, Sal expresses the vine metaphor in a unique way. Sal says, “Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Sal goes on to say that, the word divine is ‘of the vine”. Divine is another word for the MYSTERY we call God.  Of the vine, vine from the Latin for wine – wine the fruit of the vine.

Wine is something that is intimately intertwined with the stories of Jesus life. According to the anonymous-gospel-storyteller that we call John, Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. In the story Jesus takes something ordinary and transforms it into something extraordinary. Most of us are very familiar with wine’s ability to transform us. The ancient Romans had a saying, “in vinio vertais” in wine there is truth. From the other anonymous-gospel-story-tellers we also have the story of Jesus last meal, during which Jesus takes wine, gives thanks and shares the wine with his friends saying, “drink this all of you, this wine is my blood…to remember me” When we remember that meal it is as if the wine we drink together is the promise that Jesus’ life force, the life that flowed through Jesus, flows through us in the sharing of the wine. In Jesus’ we see the energy, the flow of the life force that emanates from the MYSTERY, from the LOVE, that we call God. In the sharing of the wine, we too are in the flow, we too are connected to the flow that is the Divine.

The anonymous-gospel-story-teller that we call John creates for us a metaphor drawn from the life experience of his people.We are the branches, intimately intertwined with one another, we are all connected to one another, and what flows through the Divine, flows through us. In his teachings and with his life, Jesus said, God is in me, and I am in you, we are all in each other, we are all ONE. Youz are the branches, I am Da-vine. Such a beautiful metaphor; metaphor something that carries us beyond the words to a reality that is beyond words. The storyteller uses the metaphor of the vine to carry us beyond the image of the vine to the reality that is beyond words, the reality that we call Divine and the fruit of the vine flows through us to be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here “to be LOVE in the world”.

“Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Wait, what?   “Those who don’t live in me are like withered, rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned.”

That’s the thing with metaphors. Metaphors can carry us beyond the words and images to a reality that is beyond words and images. Metaphors can also entrap us because we are prone to stretching metaphors beyond their ability to carry us. Metaphors often fail when they are delivered to folks who do not share the experiences of the creators of those metaphors. Vino veritas works, because we share the experience of seeing truth revealed when the wine is flowing. But when the anonymous-gospel-storyteller stretches his metaphor to say, “If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” the metaphor begins to fail, because not all of us share the experiences of asking and receiving whatever we want. And thus, the storyteller’s conclusion, “My Abba will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples” fails  to convince us.

Today’s first reading from the first letter of John often fails to convince us for a different reason. Scholars believe that the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John were written by the same anonymous-storyteller, we don’t know his name, but the church has traditionally called this anonymous-storyteller John. Scholars tell us that both the gospel of John and the First Letter of John were written sometime between 90-110, some 60 to 80 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. Scholars do not believe that this story-teller was an eyewitness to the life and teachings of Jesus, but rather that he experienced the life and teachings of Jesus through the stories that were handed down through the community in which he lived; a community that was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire as well as the persecution of their neighbours because they had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the midst of a very violent, dangerous existence our story-teller writes a letter to his community in which he insists: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is Love.”

If only he had stopped there. But he continues, “God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: “by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.”

The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbours and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbour love and extended the definition of neighbour to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbour. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbours, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace.  Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbours and love of enemies.

Violence is a violation of love and will never lead to peace. Jesus chose to embody love precisely because he understood God as love. Jesus’ embodiment of LOVE was so powerful, that in Jesus, people were able to see and experience God. The Jesus experience was so powerful, so life-changing that not even the death of Jesus could kill the experience of LOVE that his followers encountered in the life of Jesus.

Writing some 60 to 80 years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others.  That they chose to tell the story of Jesus life and death in ways that would have resonated with the people of their time should come as no surprise to us. Sacrifice, booth animal and human were part and parcel of the religious traditions of the Hellenistic world in which the followers of Jesus lived.  That the followers of Jesus tried to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is not surprising. That all these centuries later we continue to try to make sense out of Jesus execution as a common criminal, in terms of cultic sacrifice is astounding.  That we all too often focus on cultic sacrifice at the expense of love, is in and of itself criminal.

Every day we are learning so much about what it means to be human, about the expansive cosmos in which we live, and about the very nature of reality. We are uniquely placed to explore what lies beyond the comprehension of those who have gone before us in faith. The dimensions and the power of love deserve more than the speculations of our past or the sentimental, self-serving notions of our present age.

LOVE, the LOVE that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. If we have any hope of learning to love our neighbours and our enemies we will need to understand more fully the magnitude of the LOVE that is God so that we might begin to truly embody that LOVE. This will require that we step up and pay attention to how we arrived at a place where love can be wrapped up in guilt and confused with human sacrifice, so that we can shake off our childish notions and grow into all that we are created to be.

LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.

Jesus said, youz are the branches and I am da-vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are ONE with the DIVINE. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be LOVE in the world”.

LOVE Beyond measure.

Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion,

beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time,

beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason,

beyond emotion, beyond imagining.

Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE.

God the DIVINE who is,

LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

May that LOVE flow through us. Amen.

It’s about LOVE not creeds!- a sermon for Easter 5B – 1 John 4:7-21

st anne's

This sermon was preached in 2015 upon my return from Belfast. I went off script for this one. So, the manuscript does not adequately reflect what was actually preached. But you can read the notes here  The audio is much better!!! I went off on a tangent using Robin Meyers’ observation that our historical creeds reduce Jesus life to a comma!

I post this on the morning of my return from another trip to Belfast, where I once again worshipped in St. Anne’s Cathedral. This time I managed to stay to the end of the service. My wife’s moderating presence may have something to do with this???

Listen to the sermon here

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome! – Easter 5B – Acts 8:26-40

Ethiopian EunuchWhat follows is a sermon I preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter 2003. In the 18 years since I preached this sermon, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has come a long way. The debate about the full inclusion of LGBTQ folk in the full life of the church has been resolved and we can truly say: “All are welcome!” But rule changes don’t always change practices. Sadly, there are still places in our church were not everyone is welcome.  So, I offer this sermon to cybersapce as both a reminder of where we have been and how far we need to travel. Shalom. 

Sunday May 18th 2003   Holy Cross Lutheran

Even Eunuchs and Foreigners are Welcome!  Acts 8:26-40

Earlier this week, I was talking with a few of my colleagues and as Lutheran Pastors are wont to do, our conversation drifted toward the lessons prescribed for this Sunday.  As we kicked around ideas, most of us agreed that it is difficult to preach on familiar passages.           

Most of you have heard a great many sermons on today’s gospel lesson, and so the challenge for preachers to bring some new insights is made all the more difficult.  So, we joked about just how many ways a preacher can twist and turn those vines until they finally snap off, dry up and rot.

Today’s epistle lesson isn’t much easier.  Preachers are always preaching about love; often we’re preaching to the choir, because most of you already know that God is LOVE and that in loving we encounter God.  Coming up with a new and interesting angle on the second lesson isn’t easy.  So, I suggested to my colleagues that this Sunday rather than preaching one more time about love, why not preach on the first lesson. Why not preach on the story of the Apostle Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza? Well it might surprise you to know that no matter how challenging they thought it would be to come up with one more sermon about love, not one of my colleagues thought that it would be a good idea to preach about the goings on in the desert between Philip and that Ethiopian. One of my colleagues even went so far as to say that you would have to be either very brave or very foolish to even try it.

Now I have a confession to make, at the time I had no idea what it was in this particular passage that would make my colleagues so averse to preaching on it. I have to admit that I don’t really remember ever paying all that much attention to this particular story. I have certainly never before studied it in any great detail, but my colleagues’ aversion to this text, made me curious enough to hit the books just as soon as I got home. Despite the fact that this text shows up every three years in our lectionary, try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a reference to a single published sermon on this particular text. It seems that many of the great preachers left this one alone.

It didn’t take me long to figure out just why this text is so daunting and why my colleagues are not alone in giving it such a wide berth. Now I don’t claim to be particularly brave, but I’ve already preached on today’s other readings. Besides it’s a long weekend and I figured that a lot of people would be away and I could sneak this one in. So this fool is about to rush in, where many have feared to tread.

Our story begins when an angel directs the apostle Philip to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On this road in the desert Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a really odd way to introduce someone; no name, just an Ethiopian eunuch. The author must have thought it was important because he tells us not once but five times that the Ethiopian was a eunuch. I know what an Ethiopian is.  Philip has encountered a black African man in the desert. Now that in and of it’s self is pretty remarkable. You will see later that this black man was the first missionary to Africa. But surely this can’t be the reason why so many preachers shy away from this text. So what exactly is a eunuch? According to the most current scholarship, in the first century a eunuch is one of two things. A eunuch could have been a man who had been castrated.  Now for those of you who didn’t grow up on a farm to castrate means to remove a male’s testicles. So, this particular Ethiopian could have been a castrated male, or he could have been a male who wasn’t like most males. According to the scholars, men who showed a preference for other men or displayed little or no interest in women, or who were in anyway effeminate, in the first century these men were called eunuchs. Continue reading

Emmaus is Nowhere because Emmaus is Everywhere: a sermon on Luke 24 – Easter 3B

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

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

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

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

Believing in the Resurrection is not the point! – sermon – Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31 – Mya Angelou – Still I Rise

Readings included 1 Corinthians 15 & John 20:19-31 – between the readings we watched Mya Angelou preform her poem: Still I Rise – you can view the video here
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen in us!  Alleluia! So, Christ is Risen!  So, What??? What can it possibly mean to you and to me, that a rag-tag bunch of Jesus’ followers gathered together in an upper-room and talked about their experiences of Jesus and decided that not even death could extinguish the life that they experienced in Jesus?  What difference does it make to you or to I that Christ is risen? The truth is that it can make absolutely no difference what so ever. Now there are a whole lot of people who will tell you that the important thing about resurrection is that you believe it.  Those same folks absolutely love the story of doubting Thomas. So, every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas as a kind of inoculation against Thomas’ disease. I sometimes think that the designers of the lectionary were trying to build up our resistance to doubt. Having problems believing in resurrection? — Well don’t do what Thomas did, don’t doubt, because you’ll be proven wrong.  Jesus is alive, the wounds in his hands proved that to Doubting Thomas, so have no doubt about it the resurrection happened!  Believe in the resurrection!

The trouble with believing in stuff is that belief can make absolutely no difference what so ever.  I can believe in justice for all, but unless I’m prepared to seek justice, to be fair, or to resist injustice, it makes absolutely no difference what so ever that I believe in justice.  We can shout, “Christ is risen!” all we want but unless we are willing to live it, the resurrection means very little at all. In order to live the resurrection, we need to begin practicing resurrection.  In order to practice something, we need to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, or what it feels like. Most of us have seen resurrection with our own eyes. Many of us have experienced resurrection in our own lives. The trouble is most of us would hesitate to label what we have seen with our own eyes as “resurrection.” We hesitate to call something we have seen or experienced in our own body as resurrection. It’s long past time for us to move beyond “believing in resurrection” so that we can actually rise up.

Nearly 70 years or so after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, the anonymous gospel-story-teller that we know as John told a story of resurrection. According to this story, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next.  Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. Continue reading

Easter: 50 Days to Celebrate the Practice of Resurrection! – sermons for the Second Sunday of Easter

Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see

Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection!

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection

Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection?

Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for?

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness

Oh Me of Little Faith: reflecting upon Doubting Thomas

A Way to Understand the Resurrection – Richard Holloway

Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness – a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Practicing Resurrection pastordawnOur first reading was the traditional gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter in which we heard the story of Doubting Thomas for John 20:19-31. This was followed by a video in which Richard Holloway retells the story of Peter’s denial and the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. You can view the video here . This was followed by the gospel reading from John 21:15-20

Listen to the sermon here

It has been said that, “The shortest between a human being and truth is a story.” It has also been said that the greatest story ever told is the story of resurrection. Like all really good stories, the story of resurrection has been told over and over again as storytellers attempt to convey the truth. We have heard Easter’s story of resurrection so many times that you would think the truth of resurrection would be obvious to us all. Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar story. Some of us have been shaped by this particular story. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about this story. Some of us have rejected this story and filed it with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from this story convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear this story because it takes us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with this story until it releases all the truth that it harbours in, with, and between the lines which calls us toward a new way of being that we long to embrace. I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with this familiar story determined to get from this ancient tale not just truth but an inkling of the Divine who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories.

The gospel storyteller who we know as John tells Easter’s resurrection story in a particular way, determined to reveal the truth that dwells in him and among the people with whom he dwelled. One of the things that we 21stcentury truth-seekers are particularly fond of is deconstructing stories. We love to take stories apart, dissecting every line, examining each and every detail, each and every word so as not to miss a single nuance of the author’s intent. We are also skilled in the imperfect art of attempting to place stories back into their historical context so that we can establish exactly what was going on in the first century lives of the story-teller and his listeners. We look to the historical context in the hope that we can determine the original meaning of the story. Convinced that history can tell us what the story-teller cannot, we wrestle with the facts, as best as we can determine them, so that we can be sure that the truth we thought we knew is more than just the summation of our mistaken interpretations.

Together, we have wrestled with Easter’s story of resurrection and together, I must say that we are pretty good wrestlers. We have deconstructed this story, we have applied the historical-critical method, we have approached it from all sorts of angles and employed the best 21stcentury scholars to aid us in our struggle to wrestle the truth from the piles and piles of dogma, which have been heaped upon it. But this morning, I’d like to approach Easter’s story of resurrection from the perspective, not of wrestlers determined to find the truth, but rather as people touched by the story itself. But even though we are not going to wrestle, like Jacob of old, we run the risk of being touched and even wounded by the truth as the Divine One is revealed and we are compelled by our wounds to walk in a different way. Continue reading