TODAY! Set free from a Three-Tiered Universe!

Yesterday, I travelled out onto the frozen surface of Lake Simcoe. Somehow, these long busy days working in my office at home, while we all do our best to cope with what we hope will be the last tidal wave of this pandemic, somehow this created a longing in me, strong enough to push me out on the ice despite the -23º which threatened to rob me of my breath. So, longing to escape the confines of my cozy isolation, out onto to the ice I trudged, as the cold air sharpened my vision. It didn’t take very long before the many layers of clothing, with which I had hoped to insulate myself from the dangers of the cold, failed to keep me moving very far into the expanse of white snow drifts which glistened as the Sun’s glorious rays danced incapable of warming much of anything but my heart. Standing beneath a clear blue sky, looking out towards the horizon, I tried to breath in some of the vastness which stretched before me. Alas, such a deep breath choked on the frigid air, as if my lungs rejected their own impulse to breathe, lest they themselves freeze as solidly as the lake beneath my feet. A momentary panic began to surface as my mind questioned the wisdom of standing on ice not knowing what lay below. How deep? How solid? How safe?

A quick glace toward the shoreline confirmed that I was well beyond where I would safely swim on a summer day and a strange sort of vertigo began to take hold over me. It was as if my body was teaming up with my mind to convince my spirit to abandon this peculiar excursion. Such a strange dualism to entertain on the surface of a frozen lake, beneath a clear blue sky, staring out at a horizon, I have all too often entertained. Ice and water below me, the Sun shining before me, and behind me the Moon rising, all holding me in the embrace of a Cosmos the likes of which exceeds the farthest horizon of my ability to comprehend.

Imagining the horizons of my ancient ancestors, I could see in my mind’s eye a familiar worldview, a three-tiered universe, complete with an omnipotent god smiling and then frowning down at me. Heaven above the Earth and Hell below, all depending upon a smile or a frown from the omniscient god, Himself confined to sit in judgement in a celestial realm from which He sent His Son, to save creatures of His own creation from their own depravity. I stomped my feet upon the ice in a vain gesture of defiance until my stomping evolved into a dance of freedom, as I gleefully celebrated our liberation from the captivity of a three-tiered universe.

Suddenly, the Cosmos reminded me that freedom from ancient ways of knowing does not mean freedom from REALITY. Indeed, it can mean freedom to BE in ways which affirm REALITY, the REALITY we long to know, the ONE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, this LOVE which we call “GOD”. No sooner than I felt the freedom of union with the DIVINE, than it was time to seek the confines of my car to warm up.

All week long, I have been emersed in the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke’s account of Jesus’ first sermon, in which Jesus declares that he has been anointed to bring Good News, and it wasn’t until my own frozen epiphany set me to dancing on ice that I actually noticed that part of the Good News of which Jesus speaks involves the proclamation of “liberty to those held captive!” Listen to the way the anonymous gospel-storyteller recounts Jesus’ words:

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in their praise. Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison— to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus. Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”  (Luke 4:14-21)

We are told by the gospel-storyteller that after his one-line commentary on the words of Isaiah, Jesus’ hometown congregation were so incensed that they decided to hurl him off a cliff. What could possibly compel Jesus’ friends and neighbours to consider homicide? This question has generated more than a few sermons of its own. That’s the thing with stories, one story, if it is even remotely engaging, that one story will inevitably lead to many more stories. So, I will not presume to answer for Jesus’ hometown congregation’s murderous intentions. I will only attempt to take you where this story took me out there on the ice of Lake Simcoe.

Exposed to the vastness of the Cosmos, it was the ancient story of a Three-tiered Universe that inspired not murderous intentions in me, but rather the euphoria of freedom from captivity to the limitations of our ancestors’ imaginations. Limitations which the evolving nature of our understanding of reality compel us to reject. For “GOD” is not safely ensconced in the Heavens and we do not need saving from our own depravity by a human sacrifice because there simply is no Hell below us. We are free from the captivity of a way of thinking which insists that we believe what our own experience confirms is no way to live in the very reality our ancestors were struggling to fathom. For we have been blessed with the ability to grasp so many more details about the Cosmos in which we live and move and have our being, than our ancestors could ever have imagined. Today, we, ourselves and our neighbours, no longer live captive to the contours of the very tiny universe in which our ancestors confined their thoughts.  

Today, like Jesus, we too can proclaim liberty to the captive minds and recovery of sight to those who have been blinded by ancient ways of knowing. The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within us!  The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is within all Creation, permeating all of the Cosmos! The SPIRIT of DIVINITY is BEYOND Creation, BEYOND the Cosmos, even as it is in, and with, and through, all of Creation, all of the Cosmos. Infused, inspired, and incarnating as CHRIST’s body, as LOVE here and now in this place and in this time, we are anointed to this bring Good News to the poor and to free the captives! Free from images and idols created by the inhabitants of a universe of misconceptions, we can abandon lives devoted to a god preoccupied with judging our journey’s end, dispatching us to Heaven or Hell. We are free to live in the abundance of life here and now, in a Cosmos permeated by the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE. Free from misguided struggles to appease the idol god of our design, we are free to see beyond our blind self-centered desire for a life beyond this life, free to see the face of DIVINITY in our neighbours’ face, free to see DIVINITY in the majesty of the Cosmos, and in the beauty of the Earth.

Heaven is ours to create out of the hells we have made. We are free to imagine the grace of the MYSTERY capable of exquisite intricacy, unrelenting intimacy, magnanimous generosity, and evolutionary complexity; a MYSTERY which is the very embodiment of LOVE, the LOVE which is eternally becoming. We are free to seek, to know, and to become this LOVE in which we live, and move, and have our being. Our very freedom from ancient ways of knowing and being sets of a chain-reaction of freedom which can, if we let it, become Good News for the poor, as we finally begin to understand what Jesus knew all along, when Jesus insisted, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” For if Jesus and the ABBA are ONE, the Good News is that you and I and our neighbours, we are ONE with ABBA. I can hear them now, those held captive to by our ancestors’ limited understanding, I can hear them. They may not want to hurl me off a cliff, although some have wished me dead, or at the very least judged and punished by their god of eternal torment.

I can hear them tut tutting at the audacity of my taking such liberties with the Gospel. How dare I flirt with new ways of understanding REALITY, new discoveries about the Cosmos, new theories about the nature of human consciousness? How dare I posit a GOD who is LOVE? How dare I claim freedom from the old-man—in the sky-god only to embrace half-baked notions of a MYSTERY which is called LOVE, as if LOVE is the answer? How double-dog dare I? Well, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek let me blame it on a dog.

After warming myself on my car’s heating vent, I caught sight of sundog begin to emerge as the Sun was still setting. I fumbled for my phone and hopped out into the frigid air desperate to capture a photograph which has always eluded me. I failed to capture the sunset. Instead, I was blessed by two, I don’t know if they were my brothers or my sisters or one of each. I only know that they appeared to follow in my footsteps in the snow as they ventured out to the place where the Cosmos had made itself known to me. Our kinship warmed me as I imagined their delight at our Sun’s sensuous self-giving display as it set. They must have seen me gazing at them, or at least I like to imagine they did.  So, I waved and was gifted by their own energetic response.

There we stood, we three kindred creatures, waving together as ONE, held in a vast Cosmos touched by the MYSTERY which is the LOVE which permeates ALL that IS, including us, for we are ONE, ONE with DIVINITY. We are free to embrace this LOVE, to walk in this LOVE, and to be this LOVE. This, dear ones, is Good News indeed! Now, today, let us become Good News for the poor, let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE in the world! Let us be LOVE. Today!

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You beautiful CHRIST-Child YOU!

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear.

John Lennon’s almost mournful Christmas wish resonates in my very being this Christmas.  A few weeks ago, we were all looking forward to making up for last Christmas and hoping that this year Christmas would be Merry and that our New Year would be a good one without any fear. And here we are on this the Second Day of Christmas looking toward a New Year being told that we should be afraid, very afraid. So far the 20s haven’t exactly been the roaring 20’s which our grandparents enjoyed. 2020 and 2021 have challenged all, if not to be afraid, then at least be careful, very, very, careful. Celebrating in the midst of a pandemic which keeps rushing at us in ever increasing waves isn’t easy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has struggled to feel all the feelings we long to feel at Christmas.Anticipation, Excitement, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love . . .

The other day, as I waited in a long line up to get my booster shot, I heard someone say, “This sure doesn’t feel like Christmas.” To which his companion said, “No matter how hard I try I just can’t get into the Christmas Spirit.” I almost wept as the woman in front of me shook her head and yelled, “Don’t worry Christmas will soon be over.” I managed to restrain myself from saying, “Ba Humbug!” But I certainly thought it.

Driving home with a sore arm, I remembered another Christmas long ago. That’s the thing about Christmas if functions as a kind of time machine to Christmases past. Way back then, I was struggling to feel all the feels of Christmas. I was young and very serious about my faith, and I wanted to feel something more than I was. I remember on Christmas Eve felling so melancholy that I cornered my Pastor in his office. I sat right down and told him that I was having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas. The poor man. To his credit he just smiled, closed the door, sat down, and listened as I poured my heart out about how nothing was really the same and how difficult I was finding it to get into the spirit of Christmas. I told him that this year it was as if something was missing, and I asked him if he thought I might be losing my faith.

He just smiled, and said that, “someday I would look back on this Christmas with the same kind of longing that I was looking back on previous Christmases.” He said that each of us has an emptiness deep inside which cannot be filled by the past. He went on to say that the emptiness couldn’t be filled by looking to the future either. He insisted that, our emptiness can only be filled in the present moment. He said that our emptiness is filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.

I honestly, didn’t understand a word Pastor Ernst was saying. I was very dissatisfied with the quality of his advice. It sounded to me that he was telling me to pray, to pray now in this very moment. Probably because back then I thought prayer was the answer to every question, so why wouldn’t I interpret his words as a call to prayer. But I’d already tried to pray, and it hadn’t made a bit of difference. If anything, trying to pray only made me feel worse. So, I thanked Pastor Ernst for his time and wished him a Merry Christmas.

As I left his office, I couldn’t imagine ever longing for this particular Christmas. Looking back on it now, what I wouldn’t give for a few more moments with old Pastor Ernst, for the passing years have proven him to be a very wise man, indeed. “Someday, you will look back at this Christmas with longing.” Each of us has an emptiness deep inside that cannot be filled by longing for the past or for the future. Our emptiness can only be filled here and now by the presence of God in this moment.”

It has taken me years to understand the wisdom that Pastor Ernst shared with me. My understanding began that very afternoon. The preparations for the Christmas Eve Sunday School Pageant were in a state of pure bedlam. The madness wasn’t helped by the presence of the baby Jesus. Tradition dictated that the youngest member of the congregation be given the honour of playing the role of the baby Jesus. This particular baby Jesus was just eight weeks old, and according to her mother she suffered with colic. I had absolutely no idea what colic was, but there was something about the look in her mother’s eyes which compelled me to take the baby from her. I’d always been good with babies, and I was sure that I could calm her down, if I just got her away from the madness that was going on around us. The church had a little nursery attached to the sanctuary, so off I went with the baby Jesus in my arms. It took some doing but after some furious rocking in a rocking chair baby Jesus lay quietly looking up at me.  She was a strange little Jesus. She had the most striking red hair, and the most amazing green eyes. She frowned up at me as if to say, “Who are you?” Not wanting her to start screaming all over again, I rocked a little faster, it seemed the faster I rocked her the more content she became, ah colic. It took some doing, but finally the scowling baby Jesus smiled up at me. It was overwhelming. 

With the sounds of duelling shepherds and excited angels out in the narthex, I sat rocking this lovely little CHRIST child. And suddenly I was filled with the glory of God. Filled to over-flowing. Connected in some mysterious way to something so much bigger than myself. It was as if, in that little child all the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lay. At that very moment I held eternity in my arms.

I’m sure most of you are convinced that you will never look back with longing at this Christmas. Not unless you allow yourself to see the DIVINE MYSTERY in the faces of those you see here and now in these moments. There are CHRIST Childs everywhere, even in your very own mirror. For you are a beloved Child of the DIVINE MYSTERY.  In you the hopes and dreams of all the Earth lie. If you’ve been longing for loved ones, long gone, or far away, if you’ve been missing all the feels you were longing to feel, if you’ve been pre-occupied by what the future may hold, if you know an emptiness deep inside… It is time to stop and take a good look around you. 

Christmas time is a time to be present here and now. Christmas time is eternal time.  And it is true, the empty place inside cannot be filled by longing for what was or for what is to come. The empty place inside can only be filled here and now in this moment, by our God who inhabits eternity. The good news is that this is only the Second Day of Christmas, you have ten more days to be fully present to each moment you are blessed to be you. If you like, do a little dance, you know a dance like Ebenezer Scrooge did when he woke up and realized he hadn’t missed Christmas at all. Wake up to this moment and keep Christmas well. Rejoice for we are richly blessed. Blessed to be a blessing. Born into the ONE who is the LOVE which lives in, with, through, and beyond us, CHRIST-Children everyone. And so, this is Christmas, time to live in this moment, you beautiful CHRIST-Child you.  Thanks be to ALL that is HOLY for life here and now!

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Damn You COVID and Damn Your Evil Spawn COVID

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” Who among us isn’t dreaming of a Christmas just like the ones we used to know? A Christmas without Omicron! If only we could throw away our masks, forget about who is vaccinated and who isn’t and never have to take another rapid test again. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Dreaming of a simpler time when all was merry and bright. The very word Christmas has the power to transport us beyond time itself to a place where one Christmas melds into another and our memories adopt a kinder gentler view of what was. Christmas can be, if we let it a Thin Place were the membrane between what is and what can be is stretched so thin that we can see beyond the ordinary to the sacred. I don’t know about you, but I was planning to forget about last Christmas and dash into this coming Christmas with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I dreamed of waking up Christmas morning like Ebenezer Scrooge, having survived the ghosts of COVID, to happily sing and dance and greet the new morn, ready to keep Christmas well. Instead, I find myself in danger of descending into a pre-Christmas funk, where I am tempted to abandon my dreams of a Christmas just like the ones I used to know and pulling the covers up over my head and settling into a long winter’s nap until the world returns to a more even keel. Ba humbug! Ba humbug I say! Damn you COVID and damn your evil spawn OMICRON.

Forgive me, I just can’t help it, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know. I can’t quite hear the melody of White Christmas. There’s another earworm playing in my ear. The song playing now in my head is not what most people would consider Christmas music. It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups. It’s an old, World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn: When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart So kiss me my sweet And so let us part And when I grow too old to dream That kiss will live in my heart

My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but even so, the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. I understand that in the darkness of this long COVID nightmare many of us are struggling to summon up our collective courage to dream. Or even worse, so many of us aren’t prepared to dream big, as we content ourselves with selfish little dreams. So as Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, let’s look to the Christmas story, and to the myth which has sustained generations of dreamers, to see what we might learn from a dreamers’ dreamer about the power of dreams.

Listen to the Parable of Joseph as it is told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew:  “Now this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to have a child in her womb from the HOLY SPIRIT. Joseph her husband was a just man and unwilling to shame her, he wanted to divorce her secretly. But when he deliberated this, suddenly an angel of the MOST HIGH GOD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, child of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for in her is conceived a child from the HOLY SPIRIT. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what had been spoken by the MOST HIGH GOD through the prophet: “Look now! The young woman shall conceive a child in her womb and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,” which translated means, “GOD is with us.” When Joseph got up from sleep, he did as the angel of the MOST HIGH GOD commanded him. He took Mary as his wife, yet did not know her sexually until her birthing of a son and they named him Jesus.”

Across the stage of many a Christmas pageant, this character Joseph whose dreams saved the child whom we long to embrace marches each and every Christmas. Just as the year grows to the apex of darkness, the character of Joseph the dreamer appears in the birth myth which we celebrate as the coming of the LIGHT. Scholars remind us that the character of Jesus’ father, known as Joseph, does not appear in Christian writings until the ninth decade, some 50 to 55 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph’s appearance in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s beautifully crafted Jewish myth is ever-so brief. Joseph wanders onto the pageant stage in a stumbling and bumbling fashion. The literary character Joseph is well suited to the pageant stage. Generations of little boys in bathrobes that are just long enough to trip them up has embodied this rather comical vision of a father for generations. For who but Joseph would load a woman great with child upon a donkey to set off unprepared, without so much as a hotel reservation, only to find themselves forced to give birth in a stable, without adequate provisions. To our modern eyes Joseph is a bit of a bumbling fool who is hopelessly ill equipped to be a father. Poor Mary. Poor Jesus.

But wait I’m getting ahead of myself. First there was the dream. But then isn’t that just like us, we 21st century audiences, fast-forwarding to the good bits, eager for the heavenly hosts so that we can join in their singing? We are so unlike the first century audiences of this grand literary pageant. Remember, our pageant writer was a Jew, who created his drama for Jewish audiences, audiences eager to dream, audiences sick and tired of the horrors of life in first century Palestine, audiences who were eager to share in the dream of salvation, salvation from their wicked oppressors. Audiences would have heard the name Joseph and known, like all ancient audiences that everything is in the name. Jewish audiences knew their own stories and to their ears the name Joseph foretells the presence of a dreamer. Joseph the hero of old; a dreamer of sorts who was pivotal in saving the Jewish people by engineering their escape from famine by enticing them to safety in Egypt.

Joseph was a character which Jewish audiences would have known so well, standing proudly in the tradition of their ancestors. This founder of the Jewish people, Joseph understood oppression. First the oppression of his older siblings who sold him into slavery. This Joseph whose life is intimately woven around dreams, went on to become an interpreter of dreams. This Joseph who had a habit of being visited by angels in dreams would have been so familiar. This Joseph who after his father dies becomes the protector of his father’s children. This Joseph who finds it in his heart to protect and nurture his wicked siblings. A first century audience would have had no trouble transferring their ancestor Joseph’s characteristics onto the father of Jesus. Angelic visitors would not have surprised these first audiences, any more than Joseph’s eventual flight into Egypt for safety would have; for it is all in the name “Joseph.”

The anonymous gospel storyteller we call Matthew was skilled in the art of mixing the extraordinary stories of his ancestors with the hope of new birth. An unexpected, inconvenient pregnancy, in an occupied land, whose people are longing for a liberator, a saviour. Joseph the dreamer is just the kind of character to safeguard the babe born to realize the dreams of the people. In our dreams we can see visions not of what is but of what might be. In our dreams we can see a more enlightened version of ourselves.  In our dreams we can travel beyond our abilities to bear the darkness into the light. But have we grown too old to dream? I wonder?

Cast your minds back to last Christmas when we were dreaming of a vaccine to protect us from COVID. I can see myself standing and shivering on front porches of the homes of loved ones, exchanging Christmas gifts and dreaming of the day when we could go inside to be together. I can see myself weeping for joy right after receiving my first dose of the vaccine we had longed for. Yeah, I know that this Christmas won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas, like every Christmas will be a Christmas for dreamers. This Christmas as we gather in small, safe, vaccinated, rapid tested, groups of loved ones, to feast, to celebrate, and to enjoy one another’s company, let’s raise our glasses and toast our dreams for this big, beautiful world of ours. Let us open ourselves to the possibilities which can thrive in the fertile ground of our many blessings.

When I consider the myth of Joseph the dreamer, I can’t help but marvel at Joseph’s role as a refugee displaced by Empire, fleeing danger in order to keep his family safe.  The literary character of Joseph symbolizes the millions of refugees who have been displaced by various empires, empires which are tribal, national, or economic. These millions of refugees, like Joseph need to find refuge from the terror inflicted upon them by forces beyond their control. As we celebrate the birth of LOVE 21 centuries ago, can we spare a dream, a really big dream for those who are seeking shelter now. Today, 80 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Each day that number grows by over 44,000. Here in Canada our own government has set a goal of settling 400,000 new immigrants each year. To reach this goal, we need to be welcoming 81,000 new immigrants every year. Unfortunately, the pandemic has cramped our style and this year only 7,800 new immigrants have been landed in Canada. We will have to dream bigger in order to welcome enough families to meet our modest goals. My dream for this year is that you do not settle for small selfish dreams, or dreams limited by our fears. For we are richly blessed.  Blessed with homes. Blessed with political and financial privileges. Blessed with vaccines, with boosters, with hospitals, medical insurance, doctors, nurses, scientists, delivery workers, and freedom from the fears which the violence of empire inflicts upon the least among us. Dream of ways to support radical policies of welcome. Dream of ways to welcome new immigrants.  Dream of ways to reach out beyond our borders to care for the refugees, the displaced people fleeing violence, oppression, and climate disasters. Dream of ways to live selflessly sharing our many blessings. Let us celebrate LOVE’s birth by opening ourselves to the transformation which is possible when we allow ourselves to dream, to dream big. In the midst of all the uncertainty of this Christmas, let’s muster up the courage to dream big! When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart  kiss me my sweet…

I can my Granda singing. This Christmas, it won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas we are blessed by LOVE’s birth in us, among us, and beyond us. Let dreams inspired by a newborn babe laying on a bed of straw, open us to the possibilities of LOVE; the LOVE which is DIVINITY. In our visions of LOVE lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. It is the LOVE which lives in our hearts that fills our dreams with visions of the LOVE our world longs for.

I remember after a particularly heartfelt rendition by my Granda, I asked him: “Granda when will I be too old for dreaming.” The question took my Granda by surprise and after a long silence, Granda insisted that I wouldn’t be too old to dream until I became the dream itself.

I have come to believe that dream itself is LOVE, the LOVE which is DIVINITY.  My dream is that when I grow too old to dream, when you grow too old to dream, we’ll have LOVE to remember, and in that LOVE I will be held, tenderly, compassionately, eternally. In the meantime, dear friends, let’s dream big dreams, big dreams inspired by our many blessings and filled with visions of hope, justice, peace, joy, and in, with, through and beyond us all, the ONE that is God, our LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE itself will flow endlessly.  Dream Dear ones. Dream Big. Dream selflessly. Dream well!

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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

Captain Kirk and His Merry Band of Billionaires! Mark 10:35-45

This week, two events stand in stark contrast to one another. As different as night and day these 21st century events are brought into focus by the first century story which just happens to be the assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday. While the first century story told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark, sees the sons of Zebedee, jockeying for coveted seats at the right and left hand of Jesus, our 21st century story portray the contrasting circumstances of wannabe-astronauts blasting far above our planet with scarcely a thought for the 150 million or so who will slip into the depths of poverty before this year ends. Somehow, the flight of the billionaire Bezos phallic Blue Horizon thrusting its five privileged passengers across our screens will capture more attention from those of us who are wealthy enough to own screens, than the roughly one and a half billion men, women, and children who are consigned to live in poverty.

Today, is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Today is the 35th annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. But I suspect that like the sons of Zebedee, who earned renown by jockeying for privileged positions, the powerful images of an aging Captain James Kirk and his merry band of billionaires will earn far more renown than the 150 million poor souls who are about to slip into poverty as a result of the COVID pandemic.

The unknown gospel-storyteller which we call Mark, captured something of the pathetic human condition of hubris when he wrote: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus and said, “Teacher we want you to grant our request.” ‘What is it?” Jesus asked. Said the sons of Zebedee, ‘See to it that we sit next to you, one at your right and one at your left, when you come into your glory!’ Jesus warned them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the dup I will drink or be baptized in the same baptism as I?’ ‘We can,” James and John replied. To which Jesus responded, ‘From the cup I drink of, you will drink; the baptism I am immersed in, you will share. But as for sitting at my right or my left, that is not mine to give; it is for those to whom it has been reserved.’ When Jesus’ other ten disciples heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority are domineering and arrogant; those ‘great ones’ know how to make their own importance felt. But it cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you, those who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give one life in ransom for the many.”

I don’t know about you but when that giant phallic ship was trusting into the wild blue yonder, I became somewhat indignant. I mean who in the hell believes that billionaires ought to be allowed to engage in a giant pissing contest disguised as a space race? Think about it, Jeff Bezos net worth is estimated at just shy of 200 billion dollars. His Blue Origin may not be able to penetrate as deeply into space as Elon Musk’s Space Ex, but his thrusters are straining just enough to catch up with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Boys and their toys the put downs come, pardon the pun, a little too easily. The number crunchers tell us that Bezos hubristic space jaunt cost him 5.5 billion dollars for 4 minutes in space, which kinda makes a ticket on Branson’s Virgin Galactic sound like a bargain. For a mere $450,000 dollars you could join these daring old men in their flying machines.

Excuse me if I sound a little too indignant but jockeying for a seat during a global pandemic is more than a little tone deaf, when according to the United Nations, yet another 150 million or so people will be plunged into poverty this year, swelling the ranks of the global poor to over one and a half-billion people, over half of which are children. I can certainly identify with the disciples in the story who became angry with the sons of Zebedee for jockeying for seats alongside Jesus in the next world, when the forces of Empire in this world continue to suck the life out of the poor.

I’m not so sure however, that Jesus’ response to his disciples’ indignation is all comforting. Perhaps Jesus sensed that even their anger was a type of jockeying for position, when he insisted that, “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The PROMISED ONE has come not to be served, but to serve—to give a ransom for the many.” Sure, it is easy to scoff at billionaires squandering their ill-gotten gains on momentary flights of fancy. But like the indignant disciples of old, do we actually see the role we are playing in this race to escape the limitations of our one and only planet? The colossal profits we offer up to billionaire’s are not simply the result of corporate greed. Our very own lifestyles, demand what they are selling. If you are watching this on a screen, chances are that your own wealth far exceeds the expectations of billions of people struggling to survive on this planet. You and I are the wealthiest followers of Jesus who have ever walked the Earth.

Today, on this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, how many of us will satisfy ourselves with righteous indignation rather than sacrifice? Forget for a moment the layers of interpretations offered by generations of Jesus’ followers who have interpreted that little word “ransom” as some sort of cosmic escape clause offered by Jesus as a way out of the trials and tribulations of life on this planet. Think for a moment.  Try to hear the word “ransom” not with ears blocked by centuries of perverse theological atonement theories. Think of ransom as a way out of captivity to Empire. What might we wealthy followers of Jesus be prepared to pay to serve the needs of those held captive to the financial empire of our time? Do we have the courage to serve? To climb down from our lofty positions of wealth and privilege in order to serve the poor? To free the captives? To feed the hungry? Do we have the courage to hear the word ransom as sacrifice? A sacred offering of for the sake of life here on this our one and only planet, a planet capable of nourishing life for all of Earth’s inhabitants?

I know it is much easier to poke fun at billionaires and lay the blame for suffering at the feet of self-serving fools. But those fools made their billions serving us, satisfying our desires, fortifying our comforts, delivering our lifestyles to our doorsteps. As we recall the trusting of impotent rocket ships escaping for mere moments the confines of the empires we thrive in, do we have the courage to see our own hypocrisy? Do we have the courage to drink from the cup which Jesus offers to all who profess to follow him? Are we prepared to make sacrifices in order to ransom those who suffer the indignities of the hell we have created here on Earth for the one and a half billion people held in the captivity of poverty? Or are we afraid that stripped of the security which our wealth affords us, our privileged positions will disappear, and we too shall find ourselves dependent upon the goodness of others?

I don’t mind confessing my own fear. The numbers, they are staggering. Faced with the needs of so very many, what can I do? I am after all just one person after all is said and done. I’m afraid that sacrificing more than just a pittance of my own wealth and privilege won’t accomplish much more than landing me among poverty’s captives. So, let me just cling to what I have accumulated and pay lip-service to the need for sacrifice. Or better still, let me cling to the promise of a Saviour who will carry us out of this world and into the next, at no cost, free of charge because Jesus paid the ransom for my soul.

I’m pretty sure that the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark had no idea that Jesus’ life and death would be portrayed by the powers of empire as a ransom to be paid to the very MYSTERY which Jesus insisted is LOVE. Christianity’s utterly loveless atonement theories about substitution and payment, arguing down through the centuries about whether this ransom is paid to God or to the devil insult the very memory of the rabbi himself, whose death saves us not from the wrath of God, but rather from ourselves. Jesus lived and died giving his life to ransom us from ourselves, from our fears, so that free from the captivity in which our fear has confined us, we might walk freely away from our own self-centredness. Jesus poured out his life in the service of LOVE. As the embodiment of LOVE, LOVE ensures that Jesus never dies. For the LOVE expressed in the life and death of Jesus lives in you and in me.

Not even our fear, even fear expressed in domination, greed, hatred and violence, not even fear of death, can kill the LOVE which lies at the very heart of all that is, and rises again and again, whenever and wherever, arrogance is ransomed by humility, fear is ransomed by courage, hatred is ransomed by kindness, violence is ransomed by justice, war is ransomed by peace, greed is ransomed by generosity, and self-centredness is ransomed by service to others. This dear friends is what it means for you and me to sit at Jesus’ side. To be ransomed from our very selves, ransomed from the fear which holds us captive to empires built on the backs of the poor. In LOVE, we are ransomed from our fear, ransomed from our arrogance and ransomed from our self-centredness, set free to trust the MYSTERY which is LOVE so that we to might live the way of LOVE, so that we might be LOVE in the world, here on this planet.

The eradication of poverty lies not in our efforts to escape the challenges of life in this world, here on this planet. The eradication of poverty is the work of LOVE in the world, this world, here and now, on this wonderful bountiful planet, upon which there is already more than enough to nourish abundant life for all. Justice is what LOVE looks like when LOVE is unleashed here on Earth. Let us offer a sacrifice in the form of embodied LOVE. Let us be LOVE in the world, by fearlessly serving the poor. Let us be reckless in our LOVing, Grounded in our service, outrageously generous in our ransoming life on this planet. Let it be so among us. Let it be so. Amen.

View the full Worship video below

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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

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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:

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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

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Who Could Blame Us for Longing to Go Home to Life Before COVID? Rev.21:1-5a

This is not the Homecoming Sunday we were hoping for. This is not the home we had hoped to be worshipping in this morning. We had high hopes that once we were all able to be vaccinated, that we could return to worshipping together, in person, in our sanctuary. But once again the numbers are going in the wrong direction and many of us are dreading what might happen now that schools have opened once again. So, out of an abundance of caution we are not returning to the home that our sanctuary was for us. The home of our longing continues to allude us, so how can we call this Homecoming Sunday?

Longing for a home that I cannot return to is a familiar feeling for me. For I have spent a great deal of my life longing for a home I could never return to. To say that my family moved around a lot when I was a kid would be a massive understatement. Sometimes it felt that every time I became comfortable enough to think of a place as home, we were on the move again. Moving from house to house, country to country, school to school, classroom to classroom, left me longing for what was once home. I was always the new kid in school. Being the new kid in unfamiliar surroundings is not a pleasant experience. The stress of new surroundings and unfamiliar ways, not to mention strangers to get to know, could be unbearable at times.

The stress played itself out in the form of a recurring nightmare which continues to show up as we navigate the ups and downs of these strange pandemic challenges. The nightmare is always the same. I’m breathless from running away from some frightening experience. I arrive at what I believe to be the front door of my home. The door is the only thing which ever changes in my nightmare. Sometimes its blue, sometimes its red, sometimes its green. Recently it was a mostly glass door, similar to the one in the front of our church. Somehow, in my dream I always know that beyond the door I will find relief from the pressures of the newness in which I find myself. Beyond the door, no matter what the colour, beyond the door I will be safe.

Now rowing up we were latch-key kids. For those of you too young or too privileged to remember, latch-key kids, we were the children of families where both parents worked. So, we fended for ourselves when we got home from school. So, that we wouldn’t lose them, we carried the keys to our home on chains around our necks. In my stress induced nightmares, I arrive breathless at my new front door, take the key from around my neck, so that I can let myself into the safety of my home, only to discover that the key never fits into the lock because the key which I carry is always the key to the last house that I lived in. Unable to enter my new home, I awake filled with anxiety. The best word to describe this anxiety is homesickness; a longing for home, for familiarity, a longing for what was.

This nightmare has become all too real as so many of the places and events in which we once felt at home have changed so very much. The unfamiliar contours of our new reality seem to be relentless. Who could possibly blame us for longing to go home to life before COVID? During these past eighteen months it has been one change after another. So much has been lost. So many connections have been severed. Too many people have died. Institutions have fallen. Business have closed. Relationships have suffered. Some churches have not survived. And maybe worst of all, grief has been suspended until someday when we can all grieve together in-person. Here we stand outside the door of a whole new world, longing to return to what was.

We are not the first to stand in the precipice between the kind of world where we felt at home and a new world of unfamiliar challenges. I am reminded of a writer who also worked out their anxiety about the future. We don’t know his or her name, but tradition has named this writer John the Elder, or John the Divine, or John the Theologian. I like to call him, “Johnny” to differentiate him from Jesus’ beloved friend John. Johnny was a follower of Jesus’ Way of being, who wrote the Book of Revelation at the very end of the first century. Some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and about 30 years after the Romans had destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and reduced the city of Jerusalem to ruble. We don’t know how Johnny ended up on the Island of Patmos, which is between Greece and Turkey. We do know that life for the Followers of the Way was fraught with dangers the likes of which makes COVID seem like a picnic. Surrounded by enemies, Johnny tended to write in code, to protect his meaning from all but fellow Followers of the Way. Sadly, Johnny’s cryptic code style has led to all sorts of abuses of the text of Revelation over the centuries. Not the least of which is the misunderstanding perpetuated by fundamentalists who insist on reading the Book of Revelation as a prediction of the end of the world. Martin Luther was not fond of the Book of Revelation and seriously considered leaving it out of his translation of the Bible. In the end, Luther opted to put the Book at the end of his version of the Bible, where it remains to this day.

Revelation can be best understood not as a prediction of the future, but as a description of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Johnny was writing to an endangered, marginalized people in hiding, whose world had been turned upside down by their oppressors. Revelation invites people out of the world they know and into a new world. Listen to the way Johnny invites his fellow followers of the Way move into the new world by describing his dream.  

John the Elder writes: “Then I saw new heavens and a new Earth. The former heavens and the former Earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, Beautiful as two lovers on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind!” God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be now more, for the old order had fallen.” The ONE who sat on the throne said, “Look! I AM making everything new!” (Rev.21:1-5a)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I suspect that many of us, myself included, are not quite ready for the new world that awaits us. We are longing for the familiar of what was. Some of us are prepared to burst into the new world which awaits us determined to reestablish what once was; to set things up the way they were, to get back to what we fondly refer to as “normal”. Others of us are tempted to hunker down, and wait until it is safe, so that we can go back to our old ways of doing and being, once the all-clear is sounded. If you are anything like me, you’re teetering on the edge, not knowing exactly what to expect, and anxious about what lies beyond our longings for the familiarity of home. I feel like the latch-key kid I once was, I’m homesick for what was and anxious about what is to come. I just want to go home. I want to go home and I’m not sure that any of the old keys hanging around our necks can get us there.

A long time ago, I told a very wise friend of mine about my recurring nightmare. My friend Henry is a very wise Jewish Rabbi, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. So, he knows more than a thing or two about dreams and anxiety. After asking me a few questions about my recurring nightmare, Henry suggested that I try summoning up my nightmare as a daymare. Now, I’d never heard of a daymare, so it took a while for Henry to convince me that I should try to walk around inside my nightmare in the middle of the day to see what I might discover. I agreed on the condition that Henry would come with me into my daymare.

We began by talking a little about the various anxieties which were creating my stress. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at a very large formidable, black door. I reached for the key which hung around my neck and just like always the key didn’t fit. Henry invited me to toss the key away. He insisted that the key I was clinging to belonged to my old home and it was not the key which I needed. I protested that I was so homesick that maybe I should just try to find the door which my old key fit into. Maybe if I found the right door, I’d finally be able to go home. Henry asked me, “Where are you when you have your nightmare?” At first, I didn’t understand, “I’m running away.” “No,” Henry insisted, “not what is happening in your nightmare. But where are you actually dreaming your nightmare? Where are you?” I still didn’t understand. So, Henry gave me the answer, “You are at home in your own bed. You are already home. You are already safe.” Then Henry told me to go to the window and look outside and he asked, “What can you see?” I saw people, some unfamiliar, some familiar, some old friends, some new friends, some strangers, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw familiar places, unfamiliar places, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw all sorts of things, places, and people I’d never seen before. Henry told me to come away from the window, in my dream. “Look at the door. You don’t need that old key to get into your home.  You are already inside. Inside your new home. Open the door, open the door and go outside.”

That other dreamer, Johnny, he understood, the voice he heard in his dream, said it loud and clear: “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The old keys we’re clinging too, we don’t need them anymore. We’re safe, in our HOME, which is the ONE in, whom, we, live and move and have our being. There’s a whole world out there, full of people who have been forever changed, full of new and unfamiliar ways of being. One thing remains the same, whether we are worshipping online, or gathering in parking lots, vaccinated, wearing masks, in-person or mediated over technology, we are already home because we’ve always been home.

Our old keys may not fit the locks. But the ONE who is our HOME, is making all things new. Look around, look out the window, open the door. Welcome HOME! HOME to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being! Our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself – HOME!  Amen.

DOWNLOAD the HOMECOMING Order of Service click here

VIEW the full HOMECOMING WORSHIP below

 

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

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: BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound Welling Up Within

My first conscious memory of hearing the BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound, the still small voice of DIVINITY happened on a sojourn into a Thin Place during a summer camping trip when I was just 13. My family had travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island to what was back then, a mostly unknown treasure. Pachena Bay is by far one of the most beautiful places in all of creation. These days hikers on the Pacific Rim trail often begin or end their hike by camping at Pachena Bay. But way back then; the bay was only accessible by the most treacherous of logging roads. And there was no official campsite back then. You simply asked the members of the First Nation for permission to pitch your tents on their land. As a result of this splendid isolation, we spent several weeks as the only family camped in this idyllic bay.

One of the main attractions at Pachena Bay were the pods of whales that are attracted to the bay. Pachena Bay with its warm Pacific waters, heated even more by virtue of its shallow depths, attracted schools of salmon, ling cod and halibut, who make up a veritable smorgasbord for the pods of whales, that continue to visit the bay to this very day. One quiet afternoon my brother Alan and I were playing on the shore. Our parents were sound asleep when the whales arrived. I’m not sure how many whales entered the bay. Our count was based on the number of spouts that emanated from their blowholes. So, there could have been half a dozen or there could have been only one whale. Anyway, we did what any self-respecting kid would have done in our position. We jumped into the rubber dingy, and we paddled as fast as we could, determined to chase whales. Now, the dingy wasn’t totally inflated on account of the leak that it had sprung the day before. So, it made it difficult for us to work up much speed. But I must tell you, when that first whale jumped up out of the water, and we saw the tell-tale signs of those white patches on its side, we moved faster than you’d think two kids in a slowly deflating rubber dingy ought to be able to manage.

Killer whales. These days they are called orcas. But Alan and I, we knew exactly what they were, and they certainly weren’t beautiful orcas to us. They were big giant killer whales, and we knew that we were their lunch. Suddenly, one of those magnificent monsters rubbed up against the bottom of our dingy. I went headfirst into the ocean, and I sank like a stone. The underwater sight of two killer whales caused me to open my mouth to scream and water rushed into my lungs. I knew I was about to drown. That’s when I heard the small voice. It was a very quiet little voice deep down inside of me, at least I think it was inside of me. The small voice within my very soul said only one word “Swim.”

And swim we did all the way back to shore. When our heartbeats returned to normal, we decided that we’d made a clean escape and we chose not to share the adventure with our sleeping parents. As frightened as I was, I was determined to get close to these magnificent beasts. So, the next morning I rose early, and as the mist was rising over the water I paddled out toward the mouth of the bay and waited. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in the presence of something much larger than myself. As a whale gently brushed the underside of the dingy, a strange calm came over me and I was not afraid.  It was as if my whole being was alive. One of the whales rose out of the water and as she came crashing down, I marveled at the magnificence of this beast. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, the whales moved on and I was left to clumsily put words onto the depth of my experiences, in what the ancient Celts would call a Thin Place; a place where the lines between the ordinary and the sacred are thin, and we can see, feel, touch, hear the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. 

There’s a story in the Hebrew Scriptures which resonates with me in light of some of my own experiences in Thin Places, in the presence of MYSTERY. You’ll find it in the first Book of Kings. (1 Kings 19:1-12) It is about a prophet named Elijah, who was struggling to understand the will of the they knew as YHWH, the HEBREW name for the MYSTERY we call God, which can be translated as I AM, WHO AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE or the GREAT I AM. Our HEBREW ancestors, JESUS’ very own kin, understood the MYSTERY which we call GOD, as the verb TO BE, for this MYSTERY IS BEING itself.  Anyway, poor old Elijah suffered in his quest to bring the WORD of YHWH to his people and in the midst of his turmoil, Elijah was lost and fearing for his life.   As the ancient storytellers weave their tail, Elijah was familiar with the voice of YHWH, so much so that he dared to argue with the voice.

One day, Elijah demanded of the voice, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.” Elohim (that’s an ancient Hebrew word which we translate simply as God or Lord.  The word literally translates as EL – the generic term for a god, put together with the feminine form of the word for “majesty” – so clearly “LORD” is not a correct translation for ELOHIM the God who is described as more than one QUEEN?) But I digress. “ELOHIM,” the GOD who is the feminine plural of MAJESTY, said to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWEH, for YAHWEH is about to pass by.” Imagine the MYSTERY, which is the I AM, the very essence of BEING is about to pass by. Our Hebrew storyteller paints such a vivid picture of the Thin Place in which Elijah stands. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWEH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.”

“A still small voice.” Our English translations do not do the HEBREW justice. For after the fire came a BAT KOL. BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND or as some translations put it the DAUGHTER OF A VOICE. ELOHIM the MYSTERY which IS the god known by our ancestors as the GOD who IS the feminine plural of MAJESTY, the ONE Elijah knew as YHWH, the ONE who IS the verb TO BE, the I AM, this ONE comes to Elijah in the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND. Continue reading

We Are ONE!

Here we are again. How did we end up here again? As I listened to a politician, his head adorned in a neatly wrapped Sikh pagri, insist that “this is our Canada!” my own heart sank. For I too, have spoken my own objections, along the lines of: “This is not our Canada.” As my head fell in shame, this politician used these words: “The reality is, this is our Canada. This is our Canada!  Our Canada is a place where 215 little kids were found dead in an unmarked grave. Our Canada is a place where you can’t walk down the streets if you wear a hajib because you will be killed. This is our Canada. We can’t deny it. We can’t reject that because it does no one any good. The reality is our Canada is a place of racism, of violence, of genocide of indigenous peoples, and our Canada is a place where Muslims aren’t safe. They aren’t safe,” he said. “They aren’t safe. Muslims are not safe in this country.”[1]  Whether you agree with his politics or not, Jagmeet Singh’s indictment begs the question: How did we get here? Why are the seeds of racism and hatred flourishing in our land, and in the lands of our neighbours? The stark realities are clear, even if the sources of the infestation remain hidden, buried beneath our carefully held illusions of our own innocence.

They were out for their daily, evening stroll. A close loving family, coping with lockdown, by strolling the streets of their own neighbourhood. Taking in the sights.  Reviewing their day. Telling their stories. Anticipating tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. He, he is a deranged young man whose mental illness is fertile ground for the seeds of hatred scattered across our land, growing within our communities such noxious weeds, that our efforts to root them out fail over and over again.

We can no longer deny that the seeds of racism and hatred are growing at a pace which threatens to choke our long-ago dreams of a multicultural paradise. We dreamed that dream.  We spoke pretty words. We invited newcomers into our land. We planted our seeds and we hoped for the best. But we failed somehow, not enough water? not the right fertilizers? or perhaps, too much neglect, and indifference?

As you can probably tell from my hack-handed metaphors, I’m not much of a gardener. Like many of my fellow Canadians, I’ve smugly looked askance at the racial turmoil in our American neighbours’ land, and I haven’t paid enough attention to what’s happening in my own backyard. I am, however, a theologian and a student of religions. I know that the very word Islam translates into English as peace and that the Qur’an teaches that “PEACE” is one of the names of ALLAH.  I know that our indigenous sisters and brothers teach that all people should live in harmony with the nature and all that nature contains. I know that our Jewish sisters and brothers gifted us with the commandment to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” I know that Sikh communities hold values which extol an egalitarian vision of community in which men and women, and members of all social groups are equally respected. I know that our Hindu sisters and brothers hold dear the doctrine of ahimsa, which means to foster respect for all living things and includes the practice of non-violence. I also know that our sisters and brothers of no particular faith at all, understand the values of living without fear, in lands where all people are free to live peacefully.

So, why are the seeds of racism, and hatred flourishing in so many lands? Especially, when so many splendid gardeners have planted so many good seeds upon the land? I may not be much of a gardener, but one thing I have learned, is speed with which weeds can grow to make a mess of any garden. Fear and our self-centered quest for survival are spreading unchecked within us and around us. Fear of the “other,” fear that “they” “those people” are somehow a threat to “us,” a threat to “our ways,” a threat to “our lifestyles,” our very survival, these fear as irrational as it has become, this fear is fertilizing the seeds of racism and hatred which are growing like weeds.

So, if “this is our Canada” what are we to do? The Qur’an teaches us that our CREATOR created us all “out of one single soul, created, out of like nature, the mate, and from them twain scattered like seeds countless men and women.”[2]

In the Qur’an you will find these words: “O humanity! Indeed, WE created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of ALLAH is the most righteous among you. ALLAH is truly ALL-KNOWING, ALL-AWARE.”[3]

The Christian mystic Julian of Norwich provides a way of seeing our sisters and brothers of all faiths and of no particular faith at all, Julian insists that, “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” The very nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God, is in the DNA of all.  We are all sacred, all holy, all DIVINE, created as ONE by the ONE in whom we all live, and move, and have our being. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, in ALL, we need not fear “the other” for we are ONE in the LOVE which made us.

I can already hear some of you ask, “That’s all well and good, but what are we to do to? How do we tend to this blessed garden?”  There are weeds growing everywhere and fear is on the rise. I do wish I was a better gardener. All I can say is that LOVE casts out fear and if we can eliminate the fear, then the noxious weeds of racism and hatred will wither and die.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, what does this LOVE look like, how do we apply this LOVE to our beloved garden? Well, dear ones, I suspect that some of our gardening skills have lain dormant for far too long. It is long past time for us to be LOVE in the world. The next time you see a woman wearing the hijab or a man wearing a turban, put yourself in their place and ask yourself, what you would want if you were them. This is what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

A smile, I know it’s difficult right now to smile when we are wearing masks, so smile with your eyes and say, “Hello. Good to see you!”  or “Salaam Alaikum.” If you don’t have friends from different religions and cultures, ask yourself why and begin to make some overtures to strangers. Put yourself outside your own comfort zone. Take some risks. Make some mistakes. Learn new ways of being human from humans who do things differently that you do. Take a course in another religious tradition. Make a friend. Be a friend. Commit outrageous acts of kindness. Be recklessly hospitable.

Foolishly generous. Listen and learn. Stand in solidarity. Grieve with those who are grieving. Try to understand the pain of those who have been wounded. Give up some of your privilege, lord knows, most of us have way more than our fair share. Be LOVE in the world by planting some seeds and then tending those seeds and watching them grow.

Jesus compared the Kin’dom of DIVINITY, the Family of the DIVINE to “a mustard seed, which people plant in the soil: it is the smallest of the Earth’s seeds, yet once it is sown, it springs up to become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in the shade.”

A little boy is lying in a hospital bed, and he is in pain. Let us plant seeds and tend this garden in Fayez’s name, trusting that we are ALL ONE, ONE in the LOVE, which is our CREATOR, ONE in the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God. Amen.

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[1] Jagmeet Singh, House of Parliament, June 8, 2021

[2] Qur’an 4:1

[3] Qu’ran 49:13  Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

Putting away our Trinity toys!

I have a Hindu friend, who I once had the audacity to ask, how he managed to keep track of all the 330 million gods of Hinduism. I have a difficult enough time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I can’t imagine how I would cope with 330 million gods. My friend just laughed and said, “You christians with your three gods, have forgotten that all gods are just educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE god, who is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”

Many of you know that BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also, has now become my own way of expressing the Trinity. I suspect that my friend may be right. We christians have indeed forgotten that even the Trinity of CREATOR, CHILD, and SPIRIT are merely educational toys, given to us so that we might learn about the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

We christians certainly aren’t very good at putting our toys away. I suspect that Jesus, who knew nothing about the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus who insisted that we must be born again in order to see the basileia ton theon basileia is a Greek word for the kin-dom or household, or family of God. I must confess that Jesus’ idea of being born again, carries with it all sorts of baggage which I have been carrying around for so very long, it makes me weary. In the words of Nicodemus, who like me longs to see the ONE who is DIVINITY, Nicodemus who asked Jesus: “How can an adult be born a second time?” Well, it’s Trinity Sunday after all. So, we might as well put our toys away, or set them aside, all the words designed to teach us something about the Trinity, let’s put those toys away and imagine for just a moment, that we are born again into a new life, a life without our treasured toys. A life with but a few words: Mama, Mama, Mama, Dada, Dada, Dada. Have you ever noticed how breathy our first words were? Ma, Ma, Da, Da . . .

As infants that ah sound, is breathed into our world as an offering which delights the object of our desire. Ma, Da, Ma – ahhh ahhh, ahhh, our very breath offered to the object of our desire, the ONE who gave us breath. Surely, it is no mere coincidence that the ancient Hebrew word for breath is ruach and the ancient Greek word is nooma ? Even less of a coincidence is the very name of the MYSTERY we call “GOD.” The name so sacred that our ancestors did not speak it. A name better breathed than spoken, YHWH – YAWEH – I AM, WHO AM or I SHALL BE, WHO I SHALL BE . . . YAHWEH, RUACH, RUACH. The ONE that IS. The ONE we desire to know. The ONE expressed by Jesus, with breath ABBA – AAABBAA, AAABAA – Jesus understood that this ABBA, with which Jesus was ONE, is the breath which emanates from his own flesh. Jesus taught us that we are all ONE with ABBA, the ONE that breathes in, with, through, and beyond each of us. YAHWEH, RUACH, ABBA.

We followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, are not alone in expressing the DIVINE ONE with our very breath, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA. With our toys put away, we can breathe more deeply of the RUACH as the breath of the NOOMA in-spires our ex-pressions, of the ONE Jesus’ life and death proclaim is LOVE. With our toys tucked away on the shelf, our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit tucked away on the shelf, we can breathe more deeply our offerings of LOVE to the ONE that IS our desire, the MYSTERY, which is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.

RUACH, YAHWEH, ABBA, ALLAH, BUDDAH, BRAHMAN, DHARMA …Freed from the distraction of our toys, let us breathe deeply of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. So that together as ONE with might exhale the LOVE which nourishes, grounds, and sustains, everything and everyone that is, was, and ever more shall be. Our world is crying out for LOVE born of the RUACH …

There will be time enough to play with our toys, when LOVE is born again… May that LOVE, the AGAPE, breathe in, with, through, and beyond, you. AGAPE, now and always…may our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself be born in you again, and again, and again …

Breathe deeply, dear ONEs, so the world may see in you, the baselia ton theon, the family of the ONE that is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also…YAHWEH the LOVE which is DIVINE MYSTERY…our AAAAHHHH . . .

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As the Pandemic Rages, REFUSE to be COMFORTED!

This week from the safety of my privileged isolation, I became inconsolable, as the world’s sorrows penetrated the safety of my lockdown. I was drawn into our world’s sorrow by the news from India. In my comfortable living-room, I watched the death of a mother in a crowded, ill-equipped hospital. As this mother slipped away, one of her sons begged for medical care for his mother, while two of her sons desperately administered CPR. When the doctor finally arrived, she took the mother’s pulse and in seconds the sons were wailing in grief as the doctor confirmed that it was too late. The son who had begged for help, began wailing, shouting, screaming, and rocking back and forth, inconsolable, in his grief. Holding my breath in a hopeless attempt to hold back my tears, I felt myself rocking back and forth with this grieving son, and words of scripture rang in my ears. Over and over again I heard: “…Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more…”

On this Mothers’ Day, Rachel’s tears are magnified by the tears of millions. Millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, grandparents and children are weeping and like Rachel they refuse to be comforted. As the third wave of this pandemic ravages our planet, there is lamentation and bitter weeping and like the biblical Rachel, there is power in the sorrow of those who grieve. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rachel refuses to be comforted.

The prophet Jeremiah alludes to this matriarch of Israel, the mother of Joseph, weeping over an event which happened generations after Rachel’s death on the road to Bethlehem. Rachel’s tears are for the descendants of her children’s, children’s, children who have been carried off into captivity by the forces of empire. In the Christian Testament, the anonymous gospel storyteller we know as Matthew, summons up Rachel’s tears as his response to the Slaughter of the Innocents by the forces of yet another empire.

Confronted by the horror of unspeakable tragedy our tears flow, we weep, we wail, we rock back and forth, and we refuse to be comforted, for there is power in our sorrow; a power all too often muted by the comforts heaped upon us by the powers of yet another kind of empire; a financial empire the likes of which the world has never seen before.

I know full well the need we all share right now, not to let the overwhelming suffering of millions consume us in a flood of tears. If we dwell upon just a few of the millions upon millions of tragedies happening all over the world, we run the risk of drowning in our own tears. There’s a good reason for our individual psyches to be working so overtime to distract us from sorrow. It is no wonder that our collective hearts and minds distract our very selves from the pain and the suffering. Occasionally, a tear or two escape when the suffering comes too close to home, and compassion gets the better of us. But as the song says: “tears are not enough.” Ever so quickly, our privileged lives grant us the comforts of home which sooth and sap the power of sorrow to move us beyond the safety of our splendid isolation. What few tears flow, are quickly dried, our fears are quelled, our compassion is muted, and we return to our new normal of coping with, while complaining about the inconvenience of lockdowns. Perhaps a prayer wells up in us; a remnant of a long-rejected belief in the grand-puppeteer-sky-god; a just in case kind of prayer, there’s no harm in trying, kind of prayer, even as our minds scream, “Hopes and prayers are not enough to face the magnitude of sorrows!” But if the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God is not pulling the strings, how then do we face the suffering?  What comfort is there in a MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also? If we let the tears flow, what power will save us from drowning in a sea of despair?

I remember the breathlessness of the weeping man wailing in sorrow for his mother who could not breathe and now I too must catch my own breath, as the image of the almighty-puppeteer-sky-god’s void functions like a vacuum within me. I am not sure I have the courage to refuse to be comforted. Give me that old time religion, so that I can find comfort and breathe freely again. As the wailing son’s tears threaten to overwhelm me, I find myself gasping, gulping huge breathes, breathing as deeply as I can as if my own intake of life-giving air can support his desperate need for comfort. Form long ago, another voice calls to me from the wonderings, pain, and fears of our ancestors; an unfamiliar voice, a voice muted by the seekers of comforts. Her voice is not the voice of comfort. Hers is the voice of DIVINE MYSTERY, known to our ancestors as SHOPIA, named for WISDOM, her story is recorded in the WISDOM Books of the Hebrew Scriptures as she cries out for wisdom. In the midst of our world’s suffering, I hear a thin echo of her words:

“Doesn’t SOPHIA call? Doesn’t UNDERSTANDING raise her voice? On the hills along the road, at the crossroads, she takes her stand; beside the city gates of the town, in the gates themselves, SOPHIA cries out, “Women and men, people of everywhere, I’m calling out to you! I cry to humankind! You who are simple, learn to make sound judgments! To the foolish among you, use your common sense! Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing, and I will tell you what is right; for my mouth will speak the truth, and my lips hate to lie. Everything I say is right; none of it is twisted or crooked. All of it is plain-spoken to those who understand, clear to those seeking knowledge. Accept my lessons in place of silver, and knowledge in place of gold; for SOPHIA/ WISDOM outsparkles jewelry; anything you desire cannot compare to her.”  (Proverbs 8:1-11)

Those are the words of SOPHIA, the feminine voice of God in the Book of Proverbs. These words, crafted as a hymn to WISDOM by our ancestors in the midst of their own crisis, call to me like a voice, the voice of the MYSTERY who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us. Perhaps you can hear it too; the voice of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, calling from deep within, speaking not words of comfort, but demanding wisdom. The suffering millions, their tears flow in rivers which cannot be stemmed by our desires for comfort. Only WISDOM discerned in, with, and through the LOVE, which is DIVINTIY dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us can move our suffering world beyond the placating comforts of wealth and privilege toward the kind of healing which restores wholeness.

In the midst of all our suffering, let us offer our strength to the quest for wisdom. Let us refuse to be comforted at the expense of our neighbours. Let us wail when leaders refuse to waive patens for vaccines. Let us refuse to talk of budgets, deficits, and the need to store up our treasures. Let us scream at the horror of national, regional, tribal or self-obsessed interests being put before the interests of our neighbours. Let us mask-up and stand up in the face of ignorance. Let us cheer on the difficult choices of those who have carefully, generously, bravely, sought the wisdom of science together with compassion. Let us shout on behalf of those whose voices have been drowned by their tears. Let us listen to the cries of the grieving. Let us open ourselves to the power of our sorrow and refuse to be comforted until the tears of the suffering millions are dried with the compassion of the MYSTERY of the ONE which IS the LOVE, living, working and LOVing in, with, through, and beyond us to heal the sick, comfort the dying, and feed the poor, so that justice and not tears can begin to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Let it be so. Let it be so among us. Let it be so.

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