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.

Have you heard Her this DAUGHTER OF A SOUND? Back when I was just 13, I didn’t really have words to describe what was happening, but the experience was so vivid that over the years I’ve often traveled back to those moments of wonder. It was as if I was connected for the first time to all that I could see and to more than I could see. I felt a strength within, and a power envelope me, and even though, it overwhelmed all my senses, I was not afraid. I had a confidence which goes beyond words; a confidence which began with one WORD, a word uttered by the BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, which spoke a still small word from within me. A kind of assurance that I was an intricate part of something so much bigger than myself. The colours of the bay were more vivid than before, and it was as if I could actually taste the contours of the mountains. I felt held and cared for in a way which defies explanation because it is beyond words and yet grounded in the WORD which welled up within me. All too soon, the experience ended, and I was left feeling like I’d travelled beyond the bay to a place beyond time itself.

It would be years and years before I could put a name to where I’d been, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I had encountered the HOLY in that DAUGHTER OF A SOUND, who spoke within. The HOLY, the MYSTERY, the DIVINE, the ONE we call “God.” Years of reflecting on the various times in my life when the BAT KOL, the still small voice, the Daughter of a Sound has welled up within me has led me to a word which I believe comes close to describing the ONE whom I encountered all those years ago, the ONE who I long for to this day, the ONE who grounds me in this life….that word is LOVE. LOVE in which I live and move and have my being, ONE with all that IS LOVE. LOVE which lives in, with, through and beyond you and me, speaks to us in a still small voice, the BAT KOL. May the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND speak within you and be heard within you, so that you may know the power of the BAT KOL and embody LOVE in the world. SWIM.  BE. For you are ONE with the LOVE which IS BEING itself. BEING BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF.  Amen.

View the full BAT KOL Worship Video below

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.

View the full Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

[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 . . .

View the full Trinity Sunday Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

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.

VIEW the full WORSHIP VIDEO below

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The Peace of Being ONE – Luke 24:30-48

I don’t know about you, but as we here in Ontario face the third wave of this devastating pandemic, the moments when I’m able to safely get out into CREATION become more and more precious. So, this morning, I went out in the brisk spring air hoping to forget about all the bad news which keeps flashing across our screens. So, let me try to give you a brief glimpse of my morning walk. Indulge me as I take you just down the road from my living-room to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where the wind is blowing, and the spring rain is gently falling.

.  .  . see the video .  .  .

As I walked along the lakeshore this morning, I was reminded of another lakeshore far, far, away, where the wind was just as fierce, and the rain was even more intense as I walked by this other lakeshore. Listening to the gentle waves of Lake Simcoe, I was transported back in time, through the decades and on that distant shore I could still see my twenty-year-old self, my Australian traveling companion, two Swiss women, an American, a German, a Bahamian, and a Japanese guy.

We were a strange lot, gathered together by chance, as each of us backpacked our way through Europe in search of adventure. “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.” We’d met on the train to Fort William and together, we headed out on foot to the youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond. Now, I’m sure it has changed a great deal since we trudged along on a cold, ever so cold August day in 1976. Back then there was only a single cart lane leading to the youth hostel. We didn’t see any people along the way, and we weren’t sure we were going in the right direction. Most of us were caught up in our own thoughts, or too tired from our travels, to make conversation. But not Japanese Guy, who simply wouldn’t shut up.

He was positively annoying. There we were on “yon bonnie banks” leaning into the beauty which surrounded us, longing to be swept away by the majesty of it all, and this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough for us to escape into the wonder of our surroundings. I kept hoping that he’d “tak’ the high road” so I could tak’ the low road” and we’d “never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” But alas, we were stuck with each other.

I tried lagging behind the others, humming softly to myself. But Japanese Guy, he saw this as some sort of invitation to hang back for a one-on-one conversation. His questions didn’t let up. He wanted to know: Where was I from? How long I’d been backpacking? Why did I choose Scotland?  Was Scotland what I thought it would be? Did I imagine it would be so cold in August? On and on went his questions. My abrupt answers didn’t manage to clue him into the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.

When even my rude, unfriendly behaviour could not silence Japanese Guy, I ran to catch up with our companions, so that they too could share in the burden of unwelcome conversation. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we all spent the evening avoiding Japanese Guy.

The next morning, we were reunited over breakfast and it turned out that we all had the same plan to climb Ben Lomond. For those of you who dinnie kin, a Ben is what the Scots call a mountain. Ben Lomond is just under a 1,000 meters high with about a dozen kilometers of trails to the summit. We were young and the Hostel Manager assured us that we could get to the top in about five hours, have enough time for a quick lunch, and then hike back down to the hostel in time for dinner. Continue reading

Still Longing for Resurrection! – John 20:26-31

One year ago, our worship the Second Sunday of Easter was online because we were locked down. Today, is the first day of a stay at home order and this sermon about Jesus’ followers being locked in in fear in an upper room, seems appropriate. We are blessed that this current lockdown contains the hope of vaccines.  Stay safe. 

“A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
Four, Five? How many weeks is it and we have been in our houses?
Their doors were locked for fear of the authorities.
We too are locked down for fear of, well you all know what we are afraid of…
Even in our respective lockdowns we cannot shutdown our fears.
And now Thomas is with us.
Or maybe Thomas has always been with us?
Doubt and fear seem to be old friends.
Hand in hand, doubt and fear, are locked in here with us and there is no amount of sanitizer which will save us from the ability of these particular viruses to haunt the darkness of our isolation.

Outside the sunshine appears so tantalizing, luring us to move beyond the limits of physical distancing, while inside we long for resurrection. Yearning to burst forth from the darkness of these tombs of isolation, we long for resurrection.
Grasping on to any hint that the restrictions will be lifted, we can’t help but hope for a return to our lives as they once were, before, you know, when things were normal. Suddenly, without warning, our stories resonate a little too much with their stories. Like the disciples of old, the ones who followed Jesus, we now huddle in the confines of our darkness. All they had were a few brief stories.
We too have their brief stories, together with our emerging stories. The one about the empty tomb and the one about a vaccine.  Folded grave-cloths. Discarded face masks. Weeping women and fleeing men. Worn out nurses and discouraged doctors. Horrible wounds: the mark of the nails; bruised faces and scarred psyches. Rumors, Confusion, Fear, and Doubt. Is Thomas with us, or are we with Thomas?

Thomas is the one forever known as doubting. So, is believing, trusting what we have not seen, is faith the answer? There are plenty who will tell us that faith is all we need, that this too shall pass, that everything is going to be all right. But like Thomas, I’m not so sure. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”

Longing for resurrection, I want to believe. But we have scarcely even begun to see the marks the virus is making or touch the depths of the wounds inflicted on millions.

Many of us, are tucked up safe and warm, in our isolation.
We are well fed, well entertained, and conveniently distracted,
happily confused about the nature of the very resurrection we now long for.
Dreaming of hugs and handshakes, gatherings and workplaces; trusting that all we need to do is to go back to the way things were.

In the same way that some believe that faith in the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse is all there is to resurrection, there are so many who believe that faith in the status quo is all we need to resurrect our world. Those fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together immersed in the trauma that crucifixion wrought, they knew that nothing, nothing was ever going to be the same again. Jesus could no more rise up from the dead, free from the wounds of his death, than we can. Their dreams of a messiah who would make everything better died upon the cross.  They could not return to life as they once knew it. Jesus’ life and death changed everything they had ever known or hoped for. They were forever changed by the visible wounds and the not so visible deeper wounds.

Today, the marks of the nails are seen in different ways. New media beam images of death and our fear of death into the isolation of our minds. The crosses of execution have been replaced with images of body bags, temporary morgues, and forlorn care-facilities. Nail marks look more like facial bruising.  Not all wounds can be seen on the surface, some are held deep within the confines of isolation as we worry about our finances, job security, and where we might take a walk. While anxiety and depression consume others, and far too many feel the sting of abuse, poverty and homelessness, others struggle to find food.

While the knowledge that some of these wounds will heal helps us to move from one day to the next, we know that many wounds will never heal.
The pain of those who have lost loved ones must wait to be soothed by the practices we have grown accustomed too. Mourning and grieving must begin in unfamiliar isolation. The balm of shared tears and laughter, the strength gained from long embraces, and the familiar grieving rituals, have been taken from us, leaving far too many gaping wounds on so many mourners.

No belief in the resuscitation of a corpse can heal the inequities of our world which have been revealed by this virus. The poverty of millions has been exposed along with the lack of medical care. The ease with which the privileged are entertained during what has become a nightmare for others rubs salt into the wounds. The frustration of the powerless endangers the safety of everyone.
If the Risen Christ cannot bear these wounds, then the tomb is nothing but empty. Rumors of an empty tomb was not enough to calm the fears of Jesus’ first followers.

In the midst of their fear and grief, in the turmoil of their attempts to figure out what to do next, in the anxiety of their panic about the dangers which surrounded them stood the Risen Christ bearing the wounds of the world. In the absence of Jesus, in whom all their hopes were founded, the Risen Christ appears. This Christ, this Risen One is so much more than a resuscitated corpse – this Risen ONE is the presence of the LOVE that cannot be contained by death.

This Risen ONE is LOVE.
LOVE there in the midst of a rag-tag, fear-filled gathering of hapless individuals confused by the magnitude of their trauma.
This Risen ONE stands wounded, and bids them, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” and drawing attention to the wounds of the world, sends them back into the world to make it whole.
No mere, revived corpse has the power of the ONE who is LOVE.
Surely, if this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all ONE.
When one of us is suffering we are all suffering.
Our world is suffering, we are all suffering.
But there is nothing, in heaven or on earth, no virus, not even death which can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.

LOVE rises again, and again, and again.
And when LOVE rises, LOVE heals.
LOVE makes us whole.
For in the LOVE that is God we are all ONE.
LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen in us!
And it is that LOVE which will heal our wounds.

But like the wounded in all times and in all places, we will be forever marked.
We cannot go back to life as it once was.
For our wounds to heal, we must allow them to change us.
There is much we can learn while we heal.
So much is being revealed. So much is being exposed.
Not the least of which is the reality that we don’t have to go back to the way things were. LOVE can work in, with, through and beyond us to make all things new. Therein lies the hope of the world.

We can linger in our houses, with the doors shut, confident that LOVE cannot be contained by death. We can breathe deeply of the SPIRIT, trusting that LOVE rises in us, with us, through us, and beyond us. There will be much that needs to be transformed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But for now, take comfort in the RISEN ONE, who IS the LOVE we call God, who even know stands among us bidding us, “SHALOM, Peace be with you.”

May the peace which comes from the LOVE who is God, continue to work healing
in, with, through and beyond us.
Resurrection is here and now.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

Soon, Risen LOVE will send us back into the world to make all things new.
For we are the hands and feet of the ONE who IS LOVE.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!

Jesus Is Fully Human: Good Friday Sermon – Mark 15:32-47

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, together with all the horrendous moments which have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus’ plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Now, maybe that’s because most of the Hollywood films depicting the crucifixion that I have ever seen show Jesus looking up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God, who’s somewhere up there in these movies.

Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries, as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died. Questions about Jesus’ death have left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries. Why did Jesus have to die? Now, I’m sure that in pulpits all over the internet, preachers are struggling to help our listeners and our viewers cope with the realities of the violence which murdered the ONE we seek to follow. I can tell you that I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers which have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can almost recite chapter and verse of the various theories which have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I could tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the doctrines of the fall and original sin and our need for reconciliation. I could recount various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then they proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory. 

The atonement theory which we are all probably too familiar with, is western Christianity’s favourite: the penal substitutionary sacrificial atonement theory. How’s that for a moniker? Popularly expressed as: “Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin.” Or “Jesus died for me. ” Or “Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sinfulness.” The theory of the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus lies at the very heart of so much of what you and I have been taught about Jesus. It also lies at the heart of so many of the reasons which people give for rejecting Christianity. And why wouldn’t they? I mean really, who wants to worship a God who sets his, and I do mean his, sets up his creatures up in a beautiful garden and warns them, “you can eat anything you like; only don’t eat this fruit over here, no this is the fruit of knowledge and you mustn’t eat this.”  We all know if you put a child in a room full of toys exactly where that child is going to go. So, Adam eats the forbidden fruit because everyone knows it is the sweetest of all fruit and for the crime of being human, Adam and his lovely wife Eve are cast out from the garden because God is ticked. According to the Apostle Paul, because Adam sinned, we are all tarred with the same brush. We are sinners and the only way we can get back to the garden is

if somebody pays the price for our sin with blood. So, Paul sets Jesus up as the new Adam, and casts the story of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. Paul’s Jewish listeners understood sacrifice. Jewish audiences understood the death in terms of the Passover sacrifice of a lamb, while gentle Romans, schooled in Greek thought, understood the sacrifice of scapegoats who were offered up on behalf of the people to placate the gods. It worked for Paul and later, Augustine would add his ideas and the notion of original sin. The fall, and our need of a sacrifice would lead Anslem to weigh in with his scales of justice and have Jesus tip the scales in our favour by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin. It was the kind of logic which worked for centuries to keep the followers of Jesus in line, convicted by their sinfulness and looking to Jesus to save them from the wrath of God by climbing up there on the cross to die in order to placate an angry God. Sure, Luther came along and challenged the angry God stuff, which the church was using to keep the people in line. Luther’s theology of grace is indeed a thing of beauty. It softens God. For we are indeed wicked sinners in need of forgiveness and so God who is gracious and merciful becomes one of us; takes on flesh in the form of Jesus and dies to set us free from our sin.

We could spend the rest of the day exploring the answers which have been developed over centuries to explain why Jesus died on the cross. But I dare say, no matter how many hours we spend tracing the details of these answers, some questions will remain. We all know what happens when the answers don’t quite answer our questions; that’s where faith comes in.  If it doesn’t make sense, if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry just have faith and believe.

Maybe that’s why Jesus’ question from the cross continues to echo so loudly in me, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Maybe if I just had enough faith, I wouldn’t hear Jesus’ question quite as loudly as it rings in my ears, in my heart and in my mind. My God, My God why have you forsake Jesus? I mean really what kind of god, gets ticked off at children for doing precisely what children do? What kind of god allows their wrath to so overwhelm them that the only way they can be satisfied is if somebody pays the price!!! What kind of god sends their own child to pay that price?

I know, I know, there are those who will try to remind me that maybe just maybe Jesus was God and that Jesus dying on the cross was actually God dying on the cross. They will try to convince me to see that God is so gracious that God, God’s-self is willing to die for us. But why? Why does anyone have to die, let alone God? What is this god trying to convince us of? Does God think that some divine suicide is going to convince the world to join hands and sing kumbya? Well, it’s 21 centuries and counting and I don’t think it’s working.

So, the question remains, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I don’t have an answer to this question. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pat you on your sweet little heads and tell you, “There, there dear ones. Just have faith and God will take care of you. All shall be well.” I can only respond to Jesus’ cry, by making it my own question. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t we end these endless cycles of violence? Why do we keep crucifying you? Over and over again? When I have the courage to allow the echoes of Jesus’ cry permeate my very being it hurts and there is pain, and loneliness, confusion and a distinct feeling of fear. What if we really are abandoned? What if we are all just left here to squirm on our various crosses; wounded by our encounters with the world? My God, My God, Why?

When echoes of Jesus’ plea become our own; when we take up our cross and make that horrible journey to Golgotha and feel the pain as we are wounded by the world and hoisted up upon the cross from which we can see the violence, the poverty, the disease and the madness which surrounds us; when we too cry out, “My God, My God, why?” then and only then can we begin to look beyond the religious platitudes which have protected us from the realities of our humanity. It’s taken some 14 billion years for us to arrive at this moment and it is an amazing moment. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but humanity was not created in an instant. Humanity has been evolving for millions and millions of years. There are no perfect creatures back in there in the past who fell from some perfect garden. We are evolving and part of the reality of our evolution is that it is a messy undertaking. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of such great goodness and creatures who have the capacity to do great evil. Our evolution has involved some of the most horrific evils. All around us we can see the evidence of the destructive power of our human nature. All around us we can see the evidence of the magnificent power of our nature to do good. We have gazed into the farthest reaches of the universe and we have plumbed the depths of depravity. We know that God is not up there in the sky like some grand puppeteer controlling our strings. We have learned so very much about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in such a way that humanity has been, and continues to be changed by his teaching, his life, his death and his ability to live on. In this the great information age we are no longer held captive by the powers that be. We can dig and dig, learn and study, question and theorize for ourselves. We are free to explore the wonders of Creation,

free to examine the life and teachings of Jesus, of Moses, Mohamed, Buddha, and Confucius and so many other great humans. The sacred scriptures are open to us and we can read for ourselves the Gitas, the Upanishads, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the wisdom of the ages. We are not confined by the logic of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to articulate his own struggles with Jesus’ question. Nor are we bound by the legalisms of Anslem, who balanced Jesus’ questions with the sensibilities of his generation. Even though some of us bear his name, we are not Luther, oppressed by the powers of the church struggling to comfort the afflicted by convincing them of God’s grace by offering God up as a sacrifice. And we are certainly not like so many people today willing to check our brains at the door in order to protect our fragile faith. We have been up and the sky and know that God is not sitting up there on a throne.

So, let us feel the echoes of Jesus’ question resonate in the core of who we are. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Let Jesus’ question move us to a deeper questioning of our own. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn/t until I set myself free from the idols which have been made of God that I began to let Jesus’ question resonate in me. When we allow ourselves to question, then we can begin to know Jesus. Not the theological construct of Jesus, but Jesus the Jewish man who preached the urgent need to establish the kin-dom of God on Earth; the need for Justice for all people; Jesus, the inspiring and courageous man, in whom those he met could see the depth of the DIVINE PRESENCE in human form. Jesus did not believe that he had to die in order to win God’s forgiveness. We only have to read his parables about God’s mercy to know that he did not believe in a vengeful God, or a God who dispensed justice measured against our sin. Jesus would not have told people to walk in relationship of utter trust with God, if Jesus believed that God was withholding forgiveness from people because of Adam’s sin.

Jesus died a shameful death on a cross because that was where his life, his teaching and his preaching took him. It’s where his passion for justice took him. He accepted the consequences of what he stood for. He did not see himself as a grandiose, other-worldly god-figure striding the heavens and the Earth setting everything right between God and a sinful humanity. Jesus was a courageous Jewish man who gave the best possible human expression he could to the gracious, life-giving, compassionate, DIVINE PRESENCE alive within him.

We are told in the gospels that Jesus taught with authority. We can presume that this was not the sort of authority the temple priests and the legal experts from Jerusalem exercised, but the authority of someone who lived what he preached. Jesus was a man who knew the pains and the struggles of the human condition. Jesus demonstrated in his own pain and struggle that it was possible to hold onto belief in the utter goodness and graciousness of God, and to trust the presence of God, whatever the darkness. Jesus lived in integrity to the fullest extent possible. Jesus did what many others have done and continue to do: he stood up for what he believed and accepted the consequences. Jesus final journey to Jerusalem was precisely that. Jesus knew that in the face of such a corrupt, violent regime, he was about to take a stand for justice which would set him at odds with evil and he was willing to take that stand. Jesus was willing to die for what he had lived his life to exemplify. The human condition and human systems of control and governance led Jesus to his death, not a God ruling from the heavens.

Life took Jesus and tested him. Jesus’ struggle to be fully human in the face of all that life dished out can be heard in Jesus’ plea from the cross, when we remember the very nature of the God whom Jesus proclaimed. The Abba to whom Jesus’ teachings point is not some far off distant God up there, or out there; but in here, in you and in me. Jesus declared, “I and Abba are one.”  “If you have seen me, you have seen Abba.” Jesus embodied God and pointed to God who dwells, in, with and through us. Jesus believed and taught that the DIVINE PRESENCE is in all people. Jesus’ insight about the here and now reality of God’s PRESENCE in people is missed when we contemplate Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin.

When we look at Jesus’ human integrity, his courage, and his faithfulness, we can begin to see the SPIRIT of DIVINITY in this human being. When we honour the reality that Jesus was human like us, we can begin to understand that the very same SPIRIT of DIVINITY is active in our lives when we struggle for justice, when we struggle to be good, to be courageous, to take a stand, to bear suffering and disappointments, to be faithful to what we know to be true, to be just, to be loving. Jesus’ way of dying reveals the extraordinary capacity of the human to rise above evil and pain and struggle and fear.

As I said before, when I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined Jesus looking up to the heavens to ask God why? But seeing the face of God in my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of none, I realize that I need to let go of this image of the crucifixion which I have turned into an idol. What happens if we imagine that Jesus, knowing full well that the DIVINE PRESENCE lives and breathes and has its being in all of Creation, in each and every one of us, can we then begin to see that Jesus didn’t look up and cry, but looked out to the people around him and cried? What can we see in the image of Jesus looking out at his executioners, appealing to the SPIRIT in them? Looking out at the jeering crowds and beseeching the SPIRIT in them? Looking to the women who were gathered below, and crying to the DIVINE PRESENCE in them? Shouting to those who abandoned him and fled he knew not where, pleading to the DIVINITY in them: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”

When we begin to understand that our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, we can perhaps see Jesus’ plea from the Cross as a cry to the SPIRIT that Jesus knew in himself and his sisters and brothers and yes even in his enemies. When we begin to understand that the SPIRIT lives and breathes in with, through and beyond us, can we begin to hear Jesus’ plea from the cross as a plea to the DIVINE PRESENCE in us. Can we hear the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross as the embodiment of all those who have cried out from far too many crosses, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” hoping against hope to stir the SPIRIT in their fellow human beings?

Can we begin to hear in the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross the utter sadness, desperation and misery at humanity’s failure to give expression to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God? Can we look beyond the idols we have worshipped for so long; see past the theories and conjectures, and actually begin to feel not for ourselves and our own failures, but for Jesus and every other sister and brother in whom DIVINITY lived and breathed and see the suffering and death which has been wrought because of humanity’s failure to give full expression to the LOVE which dwells in, with, through, and beyond us? For the sake of the Jesus, who gave such beautiful expression of DIVINITY, and for all those who in giving expression to LOVE have picked up their crosses, can we listen to their cries and work together to give expression to the God who is LOVE? If we cannot hear Jesus’ cry; if we cannot hear the cries of the countless millions of those who have been forsaken, abandoned, tortured, abused, left to die, then all the sadness of this Good Friday and every day, is for naught.

As we weep for Jesus, let us hear the cries of everyone who looks to us and cries: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Let the awesome responsibility of responding to their cries for justice, peace, mercy and love, stir in us so that the LOVE who dwells among us, can find expression in us. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?

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Lenten Morning Prayer: TEMPTATIONS in the Wilderness

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How Many Crosses Can I Bear? – Mark 8:31-38

That I should serve as the pastor of a church called, “Holy Cross” is to say the very least, ironic. You see, I have never ever thought of “the cross” you know “the” cross the one the church glorifies, I’ve never thought of “the” cross as particularly holy. Long before I ever dreamed of being a pastor, let alone a pastor of a church named “Holy Cross,” I couldn’t for the life of me understand why crosses ever became so popular. Personally, I’m not particularly fond of crosses! I would even go so far as to say that at one point in my life, I hated crosses. I cannot abide the glorification of an instrument of torture, execution, death. I could never understand why people so blithely wore crosses around their neck as jewelry. People would never dream of wearing an electric chair around their neck. I can’t for the life of me, imagine that any of Jesus’ followers would have ever considered wearing the symbol of Roman tyranny and persecution, torture and death around their necks.

Historians tell us that during Jesus’ lifetime, thousands of crude crosses would have lined the pathways and upon those crosses the rotting corpses of the victims of Roman executions would have served as a warning to the masses not to step out of line, not to engage in revolution. The early followers of the Way; the first Christians used the fish as the symbol of their faith. For a very long time, I used to wear this crude little necklace, with a fish on it. Made for me by a little girl who has since grown up to become a pastor herself. I wore that, rather than wear a cross around my neck.

And before I went to seminary, that little girl’s mother, she gave me a little bit more elaborate necklace to wear in place of a cross which included a few more fish. But I still insisted while at seminary that I wouldn’t wear a cross around my neck, even after I was ordained. But then for an ordination gift, my darling Carol had her son design this cross of fish for me. I must admit that it is difficult to see this particular cross as an instrument of torture. It didn’t look quite like this when I first received it. The circle behind the fish wasn’t there. Just a cross with the fish. But this cross is made of raw silver and raw silver is quite pliable. When I first began wearing this cross, all those hugs which came whenever we passed the peace…remember hugs…remember when we could pass the peace…well back then, those hugs would bend this fish cross until it fell apart. It was all bent out of shape, until eventually it fell apart.  So, back to the designer it went, and our son came up with the idea of putting a circle behind the fish.

Today, as we venture deeper into the wilderness of Lent, this strange Lent when people continue to suffer the ravages of this unending pandemic and some experts are warning us about the very real possibility of a third wave caused by variants of the coronavirus, I don’t have much of an appetite for the words attributed to Jesus by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call Mark.  Listen to what Mark tells us. He puts these words into Jesus’ mouth, “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross an follow me.”  All I can say, is whoa, wait just a minute Jesus. Take up my cross and follow you? Wait a minute, I know where you’re going. You’re on your way to Jerusalem and I know exactly what’s going to happen when you get there. You are going to stir things up, get yourself into trouble, upset the powers that be and the next thing you know they are going to nail you to the cross and you are going to suffer and die. If I pick up my cross and follow Jesus, I’m going to end up right there with Jesus, hanging from my own cross, suffering and dying. And for what? What’s it all about Jesus? Why are you so hell-bent on getting yourself crucified and why do you want me to join you?

It happens to me every year. No matter how hard I try, the journey of Lent leads me right back to the cross. And just like Peter, I want to rebuke Jesus. I don’t want a suffering Messiah. I want a saviour who is triumphs without all the suffering. Or at the very least I want a Messiah who doesn’t run the risk of having his followers glorify the violence of the cross. Because from the moment that Jesus hung there on the cross, his followers have been trying to understand, why. And all too often they point to God and they say that the violence of the cross had to happen to satisfy God’s need for justice. They twist and turn things and before you know it, God is reduced to some grand executioner in the sky who demands a blood sacrifice. And then, they’re glorifying suffering as if suffering was somehow God’s will for us. And we all expected to forget that Jesus actually said that he came that we might have life and live it abundantly. And Christianity instead of encouraging people to live, encouraged the followers of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Jesus, in such a way as to suggest that suffering is somehow good for us. All too often, Christianity’s cross-eyed perspective has distorted the Good News that God is LOVE and we are left worshiping the cross instead of worshipping the ONE who came proclaiming a reign of LOVE which would see the end of institutionalized torture, violence and death.

So, today in the midst of this covid wilderness of Lent, when I long to wrap myself in the tender embrace of the people I miss, I look at this fish cross of mine and rather than feel bent out of shape by the absence of those embraces, I find myself inspired by the circle which provides the strength which holds these fish together. You see earlier this week, I was caught off guard by a line I read in a book about an earlier pandemic, in which the author, Matthew Fox insisted that: “The coronavirus emergency comes wrapped up inside the climate change emergency, for it is part and parcel of the encroaching of the human population into the habitats of animals.” [i]  The line struck me and for the first time in this pandemic wilderness, I made a connection between the pandemic and the plight of Creation. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye I could see all those crosses lining the roadways, but instead of rotting corpses warning me to behave or else, I saw masks dangling, multicolored masks mocking me as they dangled in the wind. I suspect that first century followers of the Way, got used to all those crosses and all that rotting flesh. I’m sure that they learned to look away and go about their business, just as I have grown used to the endless lists of environmental crises which are torturing our planet.

I’m beginning to understand why the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Mark might have written his gospel the way he did. Reminding the first followers of the Way not to ignore what was going on all around them, exhorting them to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.

Like our ancestors of the faith, I too would rather look away and be about my business than actually look around to see the magnitude of the torture which is happening all around me. Yes, I can hear the Earth groaning in pain. Yes, I know our planet is in peril. From time to time, I weep for the creatures who will be no more. Yes, I know there isn’t much time left. But there are so very many crosses and I can’t bear to pick one of them up only to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where it all might end in death.

What are we supposed to do when faced with the enormous challenges of climate change, sustainability, and shifting populations fleeing the ravages of rising sea-levels, and, and, and…we could go on and on, and on, there are simply too many crosses to bear? What good will it do for me to pick up a cross? Let me just go about my business!

Then from the echoes of time, comes the voice of our ancestors: “Listen here, mortal: God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YAHWEH needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.”  And as the masks continue to flap in the breezes generated in my mind’s eye, the sheer multitude of flapping masks causes me to wonder, which cross do I pick up? Which injustice do I champion? How much kindness can I muster? How many crosses can I bear?

As the temptation to hunker down and block out the long litany of crosses need carriers darkens my vision, I remember the circle which provides the strength for my cross of fish. And I remember the vast network of lovers of justice, providers of kindness and I begin to imagine that I too might have the strength to walk humbly with the LOVE which encircles us all, providing the strength we need. And from the sacred pages of the Talmud, I am reminded not to “be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.” 

I don’t have to carry the whole world on my shoulders. I don’t have to solve the climate crises all by myself. In the words of the Talmud, I hear the LOVE which encircles us all plead: “Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Yes, we have all been confronted by such a lot this past year. And still our beloved Earth continues to groan. We can choose to hunker down and try to go back to business as usual. Or we can look at all those crosses which line our way, and we can pick up our cross. The one we are best suited to carry and encircled by the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being, we can be LOVE in the world. We don’t have to do it all.

Jesus came that we might have life and live it abundantly. Our calling is not to suffering. Our calling is to respond to suffering where we can, how we can, as best we can, as often as we can, and trust that the ONE who IS LOVE will continue to encircle us, providing the strength we need to be LOVE in the world.

So, today, I wear this cross to remind me not to be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief, or the Earth’s groaning, or the tortures of injustice. But rather to encourage me to “do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.” And this circle will assure me that, I am not obligated to complete the work, but neither am I free to abandon it.

MAY the LOVE which encircles us, strengthen us to take up our cross and follow the ONE who came that we might have life and live it abundantly. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so. Amen.

VIEW the Full Worship Service Below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

[i] “Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond” Matthew Fox; iUniverse Books; 2020, page xxiii

MORNING PRAYER: Temptations in the Wilderness – Lent week 1

Morning Prayer – Wednesdays over Zoom
This video contains the audio and screen share of our Zoom worship.
The 40 minute conversation which took place within the Service is reserved for those who attended live.

Join us on Wednesday mornings during Lent at 10am – just send an email to holycrosslutheran@rogers.com for the Zoom link

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

May Laughable Lenten Discipline – Mark 1:9-15

On the day after Ash Wednesday, the second day of Lent I was prompted to begin a new Lenten discipline. My adoption of this new Lenten discipline was a response to watching the news. I’m sure most of you have heard the news or have seen the videos of the Mars landing. On the very first Thursday of Lent, NASA landed a robotic spacecraft on the planet Mars. The purpose of the Perseverance Rover’s mission to Mars is to search for signs of ancient microbial life on a planet which is more than 207 million km from Earth. The cost of this expedition promises to exceed 2.7 billion dollars. Also, on Thursday, news reports began to appear heralding the unfolding catastrophe in Texas. Apparently, the Texas’ deep freeze will bear a price tag of about 100 billion dollars. So, when you look at the numbers the excursion to Mars may be a bargain, after all. While mulling over these unfathomable numbers, I came across the price tag which has prompted my new Lenten discipline. Apparently, scientists have put a price tag on saving planet Earth. It turns out that a Global Deal for Nature (a GDN) has been drafted by 19 international authors and it has the potential to save the planet. The estimated cost to set the policy in motion and save biodiversity is 100 billion dollars a year.  That’s right, 100 billion dollars per year to save the planet. It almost sounds too good to be true. And when a deal sounds too good to be true, there must be a catch. Right? There’s got to be a catch. Well, it turns out catch is hidden in the fine print, which says, and I quote: “The Global Deal for Nature is a time-bound, science-based plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Without the Global Deal for Nature, the goals of the Paris climate deal become unreachable; worse, we face the unraveling of the Earth’s natural ecosystems that sustain human life. Achieving the milestones and targets of the Global Deal for Nature is the best gift we can offer to future generations—an environmental reset, a pathway to an Eden 2.0. We must seize this hopeful pathway.” unquote

Did you spot the catch? Time. It will only cost $100 billion dollars a year to save the planet if we begin today. After today the cost will just keep going up and up and up. It’s so much easier to convince people to sink billions into looking for ancient microbial lifeform on Mars than it is to convince people to invest in saving life on this planet, which we call home. Annoyed and dismayed I shut down my news app and resolved to adopt a Lenten discipline to help to enlighten me on this strange journey we are all on together.

Now, if you listen closely, you should be able to hear my new Lenten discipline. That’s right,  I have taken a vow to listen to the sound of babies laughing every day during this season of Lent. For I am convinced dear sisters and brothers that the sound of babies’ laughter is the only way I can confront the challenges of this most challenging of this most challenging of Lents. The good news is the internet is full of videos of babies’ laughing. There are more than enough laughing baby videos to get me through this wilderness of Lent. My dear old Nanny, she used to say, “Laugh, because if you can’t laugh, you’re gonna end up crying.” And I don’t have nearly enough tears to cry to adequately respond to the groaning of our dear Earth.

On this day when we remember Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to do battle with his own demons, I can’t help wondering why so many christians for so many years have spent so much time focused upon escaping the Earth. I’ve studied enough christian history to know that the ancient christians saw the Earth as our Sister and our Mother. Theologians like Bonaventure and Francis of Assisi insisted that God wrote two books with which to reveal God’s-self. The first book is Creation itself and the second book, the lessor of the two books, is the Bible. Sadly, christianity’s failure to heed the wisdom revealed in the miracles of Creation has left far too many of the followers of Jesus, looking for an escape route; an escape route out of this world and into the next. The temptation of theologies which promise eternal reward while threatening eternal damnation have allowed far too many of us to strike up a deal with the devil as we settle for an escape route which requires a blood sacrifice of the very person we profess to follow. No need to worry about this world as long as we can pay the price of twisting our interpretations of the Bible so that we can wait for Jesus to come back and destroy the wicked, while the righteous are swept up into Paradise. Meanwhile, the Earth continues to groan, as it suffers under the weight of our false economies.

Repent, Repent I say! That’s right you heard me. This progressive preacher is summoning up the prophets of old and shouting repent! Metanoia the Greek word which means to turn around or turn away from, which we translate as repent. Metanoia, repent, turn around, turn away from blood sacrifices, for the CREATOR of all that IS has no need of our sacrifices, not even the sacrifice of Jesus! Turn around, the gift of life is not to be squandered on the pursuit of an escape route from this planet. The gift of life is to be lived for the sheer joy of loving. For far too long we have turned away from the revelations of the CREATOR’s first book in favour of feeble interpretations of the second book.

Creation is telling the glories of God, while we store up our treasures for ourselves as if we could ever contain the miracles of Creation in our storehouses. How could we fail to see the beauty of the Earth? Listen again to the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, who declared:

“Just these two words God spoke changed my life,

‘Enjoy Me.’

What a burden I thought I was to carry—

a crucifix, as did Christ.

Love once said to me, ‘I know a song,

would you like to hear it?’

And laughter came from every brick in the street

and from every pore in the sky.

After a night of prayer, God

changed my life when

God sang,

‘Enjoy Me.’”

As we follow Jesus into the miracles of the wilderness, let us repent. Let us turn away from feeble efforts to respond to the miracles of Creation by grasping and hording Creation’s gifts to ourselves.

The precious gift of life with which we are blessed depends on the blessings of Creation. We are one with Creation, intimately and wondrously made creatures of the Earth. Let us touch her lightly. Let us walk upon her softly. Let us respond to her grace and majesty with generosity and love. Love for the Earth. Love for the creatures of the Earth. Love for the CREATOR.

As we journey through Lent, I hope we can begin to laugh at ourselves. Laugh at our own ridiculous desire to possess Creation. Laugh at our futile notions of escaping Creation. Laugh at our false economies. Laugh at our too small notions of the magnitude of the LOVE which IS the MYSTERY we call, “God” And through our laughter may we begin to see how silly it is for us not to stand in awe of the miracles of Creation. As our laughter subsides, perhaps we can begin to see what is being revealed to us about the nature of our CREATOR in the first book, in the book of Creation.

May the sounds of laughter, enable us to hear our CREATOR’s invitation to ENJOY Her. May we discover new ways of being LOVE in the world, in both the first and second books, so that we might give up our notions of escaping and settle down to enjoying Creation by LOV-ing Creation. LOV-ing all of Creation. May the sounds of laughter nourish, ground and sustain you on this Lenten journey.

We hope that you have found this broadcast to be of value to you at this time. To continue to offer these, we depend on the support of donors. If you wish to help to keep us going, please donate what feels right for you, via http://www.canadahelps.org to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Newmarket. Peace be with you.

View the Full Worship Video Below

To DOWNLOAD the Order of Service CLICK HERE

Morning Prayer: Wednesdays 10am over ZOOM

Be sure to join us during LENT for Morning Prayer on Wednesday mornings at 10am over ZOOM
Morning Prayer will include: music, readings, prayer and conversations.  Our service will be brief – about 15 minutes and will lead us into a guided conversation.

ur first service will be this Wednesday February 24th – TEMPTATIONS in the WILDERNESS to DOWNLOAD the Service Outline CLICK HERE the ZOOM Link is included within the Service Outline.

A Lentier Lent than the Lentiest Lent ever Lented! – Ash Wednesday reflection

Last year, there was a meme which circulated among those of us who were struggling to navigate our Lenten journey while a pandemic was descending upon us. That Earth-changing Lent was described as the “Lentiest Lent we had ever Lented” and now, almost a year later, I am called to invite you on a Lenten journey which promises to be even more Lentier than the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented. Somehow, the reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return has a more immediate ring to it.

Living here in Canada in the lap of middle-class privilege, there may be relative safety from the ravages which COVID has wrought upon so many people around the world. Locked down in the safety of my home, I am ever so grateful for the many blessings which insolate me from the suffering which continues to be beamed into me via various news screens. Chances are, that if you are wealthy enough to tune into this worship service, you are also wealthy enough to insulate yourself from the suffering which is going on in the world. And still, here we are, together, mediated over technology in order to begin our Lenten journey during what promises to be an even Lentier Lent than the Lentiest Lent ever Lented.

It seems to me that as we embark on our Lenten journey, we would do well to begin by counting our many blessings, not the least of which is the luxury of taking the time to discover what is being revealed to us during these challenging times. Over and over again, during the past year, I have heard or read comments, stories, or sermons, which proclaim that we are living in a Thin Place, a liminal space, where the line between the everyday and the sacred disappears, where much is being revealed about the nature of reality. Locked down, physically isolating, and missing out on many of the events with which we distracted ourselves in the before COVID days, we now have the luxury of time and isolation to explore life in ways we never dreamed of doing BC – before COVID.

With these opportunities in mind, the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return, brings with it a kind of urgent encouragement to journey more deeply into who and what we Earth Creatures born of stardust actually are.  There are wonderous miracles being revealed to us in the liminal space of these challenging days. One of the revelations which I keep returning to came to me from the work of theologian Ryan Meeks, who insists that “Life is a gift and LOVE is the point!” When I echo Meeks’ conviction that, “Life is a gift and LOVE is the point!” I do so with an emphasis on what I have learned from the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For if I have learned anything from the life which Jesus lived, it is that the MYSTERY which we call, “God” is LOVE.

As I begin my own Lenten journey, I do so grateful for this moment in time in which we are uniquely placed to explore what is being revealed to us about life. My hope is that this on this particular Lenten journey, we might find the courage to delve more deeply into our very selves to discover ways in which we might respond to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return; ways which empower us to celebrate, challenge, and embody the revelation that Life is a gift and LOVE is the point! Stripped of our usual distractions, can we open ourselves to rejoicing in the giftedness of this one marvelous life with which we are blessed, even as we journey toward the kind of resurrection which sees us rising to the challenges of being LOVE in the world? Dust to Dust. Earth to Earth. Ashes to Ashes. Stardust to Stardust.

Life is a gift! And LOVE is the point! May we all find the courage to journey more deeply into all that is being revealed to us here and now in these days. May we all rejoice in the miracles of this one beautiful life with which we are blessed. May we encounter revelations in this Thin Place of isolation and revelation. May we discover more and more ways of embodying LOVE in the world. May we explore, the joys, revelations, sadness, wonders, griefs, and blessings of this Lentier Lent than has ever been Lented so that together we might rise again to be LOVE in the world. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so.

VIEW the full Ash Wednesday video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

Transforming LOVE: Mark 9:2-9

Today, two days collide into one. For today is both Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration Sunday. Valentine’s Day, a glorious celebration of LOVE and Transfiguration Sunday the church’s celebration of the story of Jesus’ journey to the top of a mountain where he is recognized as the beloved child of the MYSTERY we call, “God,” which is LOVE. The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark creates his story of the mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus by reaching back into the rich traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures to set Elijah and Moses up there on the mountaintop with Jesus and thereby insists that, just like the prophets of old, in Jesus you can actually see a glimpse of the DIVINE.

When the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark sat down to convey who and what this Jesus of Nazareth was, he created a story that resonated with his community. They thought they knew who Jesus was and then the gospel storyteller told them a story which gave them a glimpse of who Jesus really was. At the top of a mountain, Jesus was transformed before them. The story as it has been handed down to us, portrays all sorts of things happening around the disciples, and it is full of symbolism. The mountain is shrouded in cloud, just like Mt. Sinai was when Moses climbed it.

The appearance of Jesus was changed, in ways similar to Moses when he was in the presence of YAHWEH. Moses and Elijah appeared, to fulfill prophecy. A voice from heaven speaks, confirming what was spoken at Jesus baptism, “this is my child, my OWN, this ONE pleases me, listen to this ONE.”  It’s as though the disciples have never really seen just who Jesus is before this moment. In this moment Jesus is transformed right before their eyes and they can never again see him as they once did. Each of us carries with us our own understanding of the reality which we call “God.” 

Each of us has our own way of dealing with the awesome nature of the LOVE we call “God”.  For the most part our images of DIVINITY help us to be in relationship with this awesome LOVE that IS. We need those images.  But unless we are prepared to travel up the odd mountain or two and look beyond our images to the awesome nature of the MYSTERY, which IS God, our images become no more than useless idols. Our ancestors believed that when Moses returned from the mountaintop with the tablets of the law, right up there at the top of the first tablet was a warning which we would do well to heed. “You shall have no gods except me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them.”  When we cling too tightly to our images of the DIVINE, we run the risk of holding on to an idol. When we refuse to allow our understanding of the MYSTERY to be transformed by the MYSTERY, on a mountaintop, or by the seashore, or at a friend’s bedside, or in a lover’s embrace, or at a funeral, at the birth of a child, or in any of the million and one places LOVE may choose to reveal LOVE’s self, then we shut ourselves off from LOVE and we become little more than idol worshippers.

Our relationship with MYSTERY, our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, of what LOVE can do is constantly undergoing change. Change is a vital part of what life is. There are transfigurations, and transformations in our understandings which are sometimes dramatic mountaintop experiences, and sometimes just little light-bulb moments. Some of us experience earth-shattering shocks. But more often than not these transformations, they come as little eye openers, aha moments. If we allow ourselves to follow Jesus, then we have to expect that from time to time, we’ll see a side of Jesus which we never knew existed and never in our wildest dreams expected to meet. There’s and Irish expression which warns that, when you stop expecting the unexpected, you might just as well lie down and pull the sod over your head because you’re as good as dead if there are no surprises left in your life.

I can still vividly remember the surprise I had when I discovered who I am. It happened in the arms of my beloved. Wrapped in the LOVE which Carol brought into my life, I was transformed. Together over the years, we have climbed all sorts of mountains, some figuratively, some literally. These days the figurative mountain which confronts us all is the isolation imposed upon us by this pandemic. Sadly, we will continue to be separated from the tender embraces of so many of our loved ones for months to come. But it occurs to me that this particular Valentine’s Day, with its enforced isolation, offers to each of us an opportunity to climb to the top of that figurative mountain of isolation, so that we may catch a glimpse of the DIVINE.

I remember, years ago, a wise teacher inviting his congregation to go home, find a mirror and take the time to gaze upon the DIVINE which finds expression in each one of us. Now, I confess that I wasn’t too impressed at the time and it took many years for me to actually gaze upon myself in a mirror and allow myself to be surprised by the image in the mirror which continues to be transformed by LOVE into a glimpse of the MYSTERY of which we are all ONE.

You are wonderfully made, a living, breathing, miracle. Beloved by the ONE who IS LOVE. May each of you be transformed by the surprises you see in the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Happy Valentine’s Day! May the LOVE which is DIVINE, surprise you. May the delights of Jesus, move you. May the passion of the SPIRIT,  inspire you. For you are made, by LOVE, for LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day!

View the full Transfiguration/Valentine’s Day Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

 

 

 

Transformative Prayer: Mark 1:29-39

It may seem ludicrous for this “progressive preacher” to find herself tempted to pray for a miracle. But the region in which I live has been under a strict stay-at-home order since Boxing Day. So, right about now I sure could use some sort of miracle to occur which would release us all from this COVID enforced lockdown. As we approach the one-year mark of worshipping online, I find myself dreaming about sharing in-person worship with 3-dimensional humans. My dreams of COVID-free life are magnified by today’s gospel story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 years old and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever, and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breathe, when the time came, I got myself up out of my bed, and it was as if I had been blessed with a miracle because the power of Elton John’s name cured me and I was able to follow that Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, with my friends, I was hoppin an boppin to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother-in-law, the sheer power of all the rumors which she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother-in-law to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son-in-law away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power which lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons, is not difficult for me to believe. Let’s face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional issues, so Jesus’ ability to cure people who were disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch.

But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways which portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of god. Because after all, our image of God depicts God as some sort of super-human miracle-worker. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. So, we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. 

But, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change as well. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” not as some super-hero, some super-human who lives up in the sky, the way in which we see Jesus must change as well.  As our view of the MYSTERY expands, our view of Jesus becomes more human. It is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the super-human-miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us to convince the super-human God to heal someone, or something in our lives. We’ve become so accustomed to dropping Jesus’ name to curry favour with the “Big Guy Upstairs.” So, we scarcely know what else to do when we are faced with the power of illness to drive us to our knees. Far too many Christians, myself included, we have been trained to understand prayer as a transactional enterprise. Trained in the art of transactional prayer, we pray: “I believe, so do this, help me, save me, help them, save them.”  But what if prayer is not transactional but transformative? Continue reading

Are we fish or fishers? Jesus’ call to justice! Mark 1:14-20

I suspect that many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief this past week as the most powerful office on the planet changed hands. I know that I am feeling lighter and breathing easier. I know full well that we are headed into the darkest winter of our lives. COVID is not over. Millions are suffering.  Fears and anxieties continue to disturb us, and we have a long way to go. But at least we no longer have to worry about the orange madness which stirred up the worst of who we are, in ways we never imagined possible. Huddled in the isolation of our homes, many of us watched the transfer of power feeling a new sense of hope.

There was a moment during Joe Biden’s inaugural address which filled this preacher with such joy. After all, it isn’t every day you hear the most powerful person of the 21st century, quote a 4th century Doctor of the Church. St. Augustine of Hippo was a bishop and theologian who has and continues to a tremendous impact on Christianity both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther himself was an Augustinian. So, when the newly sworn in President Biden quoted Saint Augustine as having said, “a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love,” not only did I breathe a huge sigh of relief, I took a long deep breath as I resolved to explore the various ways in which those of us who strive to follow Jesus are defined by our LOVE.

According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call “Mark,” upon hearing that John the Baptist had been arrested by the forces of Empire, Jesus of Nazareth “appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Reign of God is at Hand. Change your hearts and minds and believe this Good News.” What follows, (pardon the pun), is the familiar story of Jesus calling the brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John, four hardworking fishers, to abandon their nets in order that they might become fishers of humankind. No sooner than Jesus implored these fishers to follow him, than they followed him. Just like that. What could have possessed them to drop everything and follow Jesus, this itinerant preacher?

For as long as I can remember, this story has been interpreted in ways which exhort the faithful to “follow Jesus and Jesus will make us, in the words of that old Sunday School chestnut: “fishers of men, fishers of men, if we follow him.” I’m sure many of you remember being encouraged to get out there and fish for people and bring them to Jesus. Now, within the context of mainline denominations, these fishing expeditions were designed to bring in new members to save struggling congregations. Within the context of the more conservative denominations, there was to be no doubt that there were fish just waiting to be saved and once saved they would be brought to Jesus to confess that he alone was their Lord and saviour. As for those of us who seek to follow Jesus as progressive christians, well, fishing for people makes tends to make us a little squeamish. So, we do our best to remove any barbs from our fishhooks, and rather than reel them in, we choose to cajole and persuade them, perhaps over a pint of beer, to perhaps chat with us as we save them from the tired old ways of understanding christianity. Whether it’s mainline traditional fishers, bible thumping evangelical fishers, or radical freedom-loving fishers, no matter how you bait the hooks, fishing is all about saving fish from drowning in the very waters upon which they are relying so that they can be washed into the waters by which the fishers themselves have found new life. As I consider the haste with which Simon, Andrew, James and John abandoned everything they knew and “went off in the company of Jesus,” I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this story than fishing for new members, new converts, or new conversation partners. Continue reading

In the midst of all this . . . I miss the Almighty-sky-god! Psalm 139

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only LOVE can do that” Our current darkness is deep, thick, and heavy. If the media pundits are to be believed, this darkness is only going to get darker, thicker, and deeper. Whether it is the dire darkness of the climate crisis, the bleak darkness of the tribal uprisings in the United States, the catastrophic darkness of this pandemic, or our very own lockdown grieving darkness, it is going to take a whole lot of LOVE to drive out this historic, epic darkness which the whole world is experiencing. As we peer into this dark abyss, we cannot help but long for a glimpse of the LIGHT. I confess that in the midst of all that, in the midst of all this darkness, I miss the almighty-sky-god. I miss the god I used to pray to.

The god which I trusted to solve all my problems for me, to comfort me in my distress, and calm my fear. I miss the god of my own making, the idol I have long since put away. It was simpler to put my faith in the almighty-sky-god, to whom I once prayed to for deliverance. Even though I know the idol of my creation is far too small a god to deliver enough LIGHT to drive this darkness away, it is so tempting to seek the old familiar methods of praying to a personification of the ONE who IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also. I must confess that in the midst this darkness, even this progressive pastor finds it difficult to relate to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call, “God.” I too, long too long to return to a simpler time.

I remember a long time ago, when I was just a teenager; during those tumultuous years, I was going through a particular dark period. And at that time, I discovered the Psalms. I was new to the church and only just learning my way around the liturgy. Each week a Psalm would be chanted responsively by a leader and the congregation. In my tone-deaf way, I was learning the words of the Psalms, discovering the intimate ways in which the psalmist conversed with the ALMIGHTY. One Psalm touched me deeply. It is the Psalm which is prescribed for this the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Psalm 139. I loved the intimate way in which this Psalm spoke to “the LORD” and I too longed for a similar kind of intimacy with my God. Over and over again, each time Psalm 139 would come up in the lectionary, I delighted in the intimacy of being searched and known by the God which I worshiped. For decades the intimacy proclaimed in Psalm 139 served as a goal to which I aspired. Continue reading

Jesus’ Birth Story: A Radical, Subversive Parable

Well, here we are facing the darkest of winters. Rising death tolls together with the reality that we must wait many more months before the vaccines will make it possible for us to gather together in person. So, on this the final Sunday of Advent, with most of us needing to forgo our regular Christmas celebrations with loved ones, here I am on your screen with nothing but a story to give you hope, love, peace and joy. I have only a story to comfort us all in the darkness in which we have ben gestating for months, for practically all of this year. But I do not appear here to proclaim just any story. For generations, people have insisted that the story of the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus’ birth narrative heralds the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth, God incarnate, fully divine and yet fully human.

However, not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus’ birth can’t even claim to be unique. Historically, Jesus’ birth story is just one in a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it is our story. A story that we tell over and over again at the expense of other birth stories which are just as great. It is not all that difficult for the cynics to buttress their denials about who and what Jesus was, simply by Googling the “greatest birth story ever told”, selecting one or two of these greatest stories and putting them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as simply one story in a long line of ancient birth stories.

Allow me to demonstrate by using just one of these ancient birth stories. There are so many to choose from, so let’s use the one which predates the birth of Jesus by only 60 years, when Julius Caesar had established an Empire the likes of which the world had never seen before. Gaius Julius’ prowess on the battlefield was matched only by his cunning in the senate and together these powers had won him the title of “Caesar.” But as great and marvelous a leader as Julius Caesar may have been, history tells us that he and his wife were not blessed with children so eventually Julius appointed his niece’s son Octavian to be his heir. It is Octavian’s birth story that the Ancient Romans claimed was the most amazing birth story ever told. This birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth.

Octavian went down in history by his nickname. I should really say by his imperial name, for as the Emperor of Rome, Octavian became known as Augustus Caesar and it is his birth narrative that was the greatest birth story ever told, according to the Romans. Augustus is Latin, for “one who should be praised or worshiped.” Caesar means Emperor. The legends surrounding this praiseworthy emperor of Rome are truly astounding. Born just 60 odd years before the birth of Jesus, it is said that Augustus was a son of god twice over. For not only was he the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who when he died, was by virtue of being the ruler of Rome declared by his people to be a god, legend has it that Octavian’s mother had a dalliance with some god or other. It seems that on the day Octavian was born his mother had a dream that she was raised up to the sky and her intestines were spread all over the earth.  His father also had a dream that the sun rose and set on his dear wife’s womb. Well, when the priests were consulted about these dreams, it was decreed that little Octavian must be the progeny of a god.  But which god you may ask, well ancient sources are blurry on the subject, some say it was Jupiter himself, others suggest his father was the god Mars.  

The poet Virgil gives us a pretty clear indication of just who Octavian, known as Augustus, was in the eyes of his people.  For it seems that on the very night that Augustus Caesar was made Emperor a strange star appeared in the sky. When Romans described the appearance of the star in the sky they said, “We saw the son of God, aka Julius Caesar, ascending to the right hand of God the father, Zeus.” The people believed that this was a sign that Julius Caesar’s spirit was finally able to leave Rome and head off into the heavens, blessing the reign of his great-nephew Octavian, aka Augustus, as he went by displaying a magnificent star in the sky. Writing of Augustus’ actual birth, Virgil’s poem insists that, “Augustus would be a divine king, the one the world had been waiting for, the one who would bring salvation to all the earth, freeing the people from fear and establishing a universal empire of peace.”  

If the truth be told, Augustus Caesar did live up to his birth legend. After all, as Emperor he did establish the Pax Romana and peace was upheld in his empire. He did it by conquering and terrorizing the conquered. Pax Romana was known as “peace through victory.” Once you were conquered by the Romans, you had better behave yourself peacefully or they’d publicly execute you so as to set an example to your kinfolk. It was just as Virgil said, and I quote: “Caesar is the Son of God.  Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus. Augustus is reigning in the fullness of his glory; the entire empire resounds with the sound of the advent proclamation.”  Does any of this sound familiar? Such an august man/god as this requires a birth narrative which heralds the arrival of the Saviour of the world.

Imagine what it must have been like for the early followers of the man Jesus of Nazareth; a peasant, rabbi, radical, and disturber of the peace, executed as a political threat to the Pax Romana. The followers of the Way knew that their beloved leader was the embodiment of the antithesis of Caesar; for everything which Caesar was, Jesus was not! Jesus of Nazareth went to his death insisting that peace through victory was no peace at all. Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the radical notion that peace, true peace can only be established and maintained through justice. Peace, true peace, is the result of everyone having enough. Jesus called for the kind of distributive justice, which ensures that the poor and the powerless, the marginalized and the despised have all they need in order to live in peace. It was such a radically dangerous notion that the powers that be could not let it live. So, the Romans did what the Romans always did when the Pax Romana came under threat, they nailed the radical, peace disturbing, rabbi to a tree and let him hang there until he was dead.

The only problem with their plan was Jesus’ dream just wouldn’t die. The dream of this new kind of peace, this peace through justice, which Jesus had called the Reign of God, simply would not die in the hearts and minds of this itinerate preacher’s followers. Jesus’ dream of the Reign of God lived on. Years later; decades later, in fact a whole generation later, when one of this Jesus fella’s followers sat down to write the account of Jesus’ life, he did his best to find a way to ensure that the dream would never die. And so, to this day, the dream lives on thanks in part to the writing of an unknown scribe who wrote down what the people were saying and teaching about the dream, long after this Jesus of Nazareth was gone. We don’t know who wrote it, tradition has called him Luke, but no one really knows who it was. We do know that this persuasive writer employed a style of storytelling which Jesus was particularly fond of himself. Jesus of Nazareth persuaded people to change their way of being using a type of story called a parable. A parable is a story which uses elements which are very familiar to the listeners. A parable takes familiar elements and uses them in ways which turn the listener’s perceptions upside down. One minute the listener is on familiar territory and in the next minute everything the listener thought they knew is turned upside down and a new way of imagining the world is revealed. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke was clever; clever enough to know that any great person worthy of belief or praise must have a great birth story.

So, if a birth story is what it takes for listeners to know the truth and to believe, then let me give you the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke’s birth parable which is worthy of the one who proclaimed a different kind of peace.  You may have your peace through victory, but the Prince of Peace of whom I speak; now there is a Saviour worthy of praise.  Son of God, you bet, but were as Octavian might have been born of noble birth, the kind of Saviour I’m talking about was of the people, born as the apostle Paul declared, “born of a woman”. Not anyone special, her name was Miriam, and lord knows there are Miriams everywhere just like her. This Miriam was just a slip of a girl, not more than about 12 or 13 years old. We don’t know exactly how she became pregnant; people talked about her and about Jesus as if there was something a little dubious about the way in which it happened. But then in the Pax Romana, young girls fell pregnant all the time and Miriam wasn’t from a noble family. But they were righteous enough to find a good man to take her on, even though he knew that she was pregnant. It was as if he’d seen it in a dream and so this man, this man let’s call him after that dreamer of old, let’s call him Joseph, it was like he had a dream or something of how things should be. Anyway, no matter what the powers that be threw at them, they coped, even if it meant travelling down to Bethlehem the city of the great King David to be registered. So far from the halls of power, so far that it might have been an outbuilding on the edge of a city, amongst the poorest of the poor, a child was born.

A star, you bet your life there was a star. Right up there in the sky above the place where he was born, and the star was so big and so bright that the powerful came and bowed down before the baby who would become the hope of the poor. Finally, good news for the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized and the despised, good news for unto you is born in the City of David a Saviour who will be the Prince of Peace, who will bring peace on earth and good will to all.

Yeah, here’s a birth story like no other. Here’s a birth story about humble origins, about margins, about poverty, about struggle and oppression, about simple people living their lives as best they can and accomplishing great things. The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we call Luke has created a subversive birth parable. A parable in which Jesus, not Caesar is born of a virgin and is the Son of God. The trouble is after 20 centuries, you and I hear “born of a virgin” and “Son of God” as unbelievable church doctrines. But in this parable, these are not doctrines but subversive political statements. They are declarations that Jesus embodied a different kind of god. In Jesus an oppressed and marginalized people experienced a radically different vision of the DIVINE, a vision which turned the whole idea of the DIVINE upside down. Caesar offered a vision of a god who is born in a mansion. But this new vision of the DIVINE was born in a manger. Caesar is a god who enslaves. CHRIST is a god who sets free. Caesar is a god who lives with the oppressors. CHRIST is a god who lives among the oppressed. The stories of Jesus’ birth are subversive parables designed to say a big NO to the powers of Empire; to turn the world we thought we knew upside down and point to a new way of being in the world.

The stories of Jesus’ birth represent a politically subversive call for us to enlist in a cause where we care for our neighbour, look out for the stranger and embrace the flesh and blood of those who are suffering, oppressed, persecuted, starving, homeless, those who have no voice. Christmas itself is a call to embrace the parables of Jesus’ birth as our call to turn the world as we know it upside down and usher in a new way of being in the world; a way of being that rejects the horrors of Empire and embraces the kind of justice that gives birth to peace.

Forget your grand and glorious birth stories. You won’t find the DIVINITY you seek in the halls of power. The DIVINITY you seek, is out there in the muck and mire of the world, in the stuff of life. The peace you hunger for won’t come from the rich or the powerful. They are too busy defending their power and holding on to their wealth. The peace you hunger for will only come at the expense of the powerful. And for those of us who are rich and powerful; that’s rich enough to have screens on which to watch this, for us peace we long for requires that we sacrifice our wealth and power. The peace we long for will only come when our love inspires us to share. The peace we hunger for will only come when everyone has enough. Peace through justice is the only kind of peace that has any power to satisfy, to last. If you are looking for a god worthy of your worship, look not to the powerful. Look to the power of god that lives and breathes in you; the divine power that drives your hunger for justice and peace. It was born in you and it lives in you and it lives in you.

Who is this one heralded as the Prince of Peace? Jesus of Nazareth, who had a dream of peace which he proclaimed as the Reign of God; a reign which would see to it that the rich are sent away empty because they already have enough, a reign in which and the hungry are filled with good things, a reign where justice and not victory is the way to peace. A reign dreamed of and embodied by a poor peasant, a radical rabbi, who the powers that be could not abide, so they killed him hoping to put an end to his dream. But the dream will not die. Resurrection is the rebirth of this dream, over and over again, in the hearts, minds, and lives of the followers of the ONE whose birth we celebrate in the midst of darkness. This dream will be born again, and again, even in the midst of this pandemic as the poor and the oppressed, the forgotten and the neglected, the sick and the dying continue to long for LOVE, right here, right now.

Let the dream of Jesus be born right here and right now, in you. Let it be said of you that you lived this dream; that the dream of the Reign of God, a dream where justice leads to peace, a dream where LOVE conquers all; a dream where joy is found in the LOVE, we share to warm the darkness.

May the LOVE which is DIVINE be born in, with, through and beyond you. Let it be said of you that you, that you too are a Child of God, a Princess, or a Prince of Peace, a Mighty Councillor, Emmanuel, God with us. BE Joy to the world!

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

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

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

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