God Beyond Our Personifications, Images, and Idols: a sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Christ Sophia pastorDawnLuke 1:47-55, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, John 1:6-8, 19-28
View the readings Readings: here

O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb, O Come, Christ Sophia, Midwife Divine Now Calls Us and O Child Within The Christmas Scene

Listen to the sermon here

As is our custom, during the season of Advent we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the Light. Together, in that sacred darkness we hear the voice of the one who cries to us from the wilderness. John the Baptist strides across the Advent stage to point us toward the One who is, was, and evermore shall be the Light. Each of the four Gospels highlights the plaintiff cries of this strange, wildman who shouts to us from the wilderness, which inhabits the darkest recesses of our collective consciences.  According to the gospel storytellers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John this harbinger cries out warning everyone to repent, to turn around, to prepare the way for the One who is coming into our midst.  

No one knows who wrote the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can say that Jesus’ disciples did not write them. The names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were given to the books long after they were written. Scholars tell us that the gospel known as Mark is the oldest, written sometime after the year 70, Matthew and Luke are dated somewhere between 80 and 90, and the Gospel according to John was written anywhere between 90 and 120. Last week I told you about the horrific context in which these gospels were written. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 war between Roman and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” The scale of destruction was staggering. According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.  Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the one, true God, and refusing to worship the various caesars and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords.

In the midst of this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising with the destruction of the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism; both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written in the midst of this apocalypse and born of the pain of YAHWEH’s people. The Temple dominates the story of Jesus because the Temple had been destroyed by Rome when the gospels were born. Continue reading

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

women Matthew1

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested.
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”

As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL: the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

Preparing to encounter eternity – a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

The memories described in this sermon were provoked by the writings of Thomas Moore. I am indebted to Moore’s chapter on “The Christmas Tree” in his book “The Soul of Christmas” for opening me to some of the realities of our tree rituals. Dr. Seuss provided the Whos from down in Whoville.  you can listen to the audio here or watch the video below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gestating in Darkness: a sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

gestatingThis sermon included quotes from James Carroll’s book “Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age” Carroll’s book is a splendid exploration prompted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question “Who is Jesus for us today?”

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8. Our sermon hymn was “God Is Within”, Text by George Stuart to the Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos = All Through the Night

Listen to the sermon here

While the world out there is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we here in the church embrace the season of Advent. Our Advent worship invites us to slow down so that we can take a journey into the darkness. Last week, I talked about the importance of darkness in the birthing process; for the seed needs the darkness of the earth to germinate and grow just as surely as we humans need the darkness of the womb to develop. So, as we prepare ourselves to give birth to the Christ, I invite you into the darkness precisely because in the darkness gestation happens and gestation gives rise to birth.

This Advent, our liturgy’s lectionary, the prescribed readings for worship in most mainline congregations, turns to the Gospel According to Mark. All year long, except for a few Sunday’s a reading is selected from the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written in the darkness. We don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Tradition did what tradition often does and this writing was attributed to Mark because it was customary for important writings to be attributed to an important person.  The technical term for this is pseudepigrapha; a fancy way of describing the ancient practice of attaching the name of an important person to a piece of writing to ensure that that piece of writing garners some of the respect the name has acquired over the years. That’s why even though the four gospels were written long after the disciples of Jesus were around, each of these gospels bears the name of an Apostle. The gospels were not written by the disciples of Jesus. Scholars tell us that the Gospel according to Mark was written sometime after the year 70. That’s at least 40 years after the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth. Continue reading

WAKE UP for CHRIST’s SAKE! – sermon for Advent 1B

purple universeOn this first Sunday in Advent we awakened ourselves to the cosmic contours of the darkness. Our first reading was The Star Within: a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith, followed  by a musical video reflection My Soul by Peter Mayer which you can watch  HERE Our Gospel reading was from Mark 13:24-37. Listen to the sermon here

 

As we embark on the journey of Advent, I need to take a poll, and there’s not much time left, so, we’ll conduct this particular poll by a show of hands. Before you answer this question, would you please close your eyes. Now, for the sake of this poll, I’m not going to continue until everyone has their eyes closed. Notice the darkness, the blackness that enfolds you. Now, I’d like you to remember the carefully and respond as honestly as possible: By a show of hands, when you were a child, how many of you were afraid of the dark? Pease answer as honestly as you can. Don’t worry about anyone knowing that you were afraid of the dark, I’m the only one who has their eyes open and I’m clergy, so I’m bound by the confidentiality of my profession and the privacy act, not to tell anyone.
Ok, those of you who were afraid of the dark when you were a child, you can put your hands down, but keep your eyes closed. Now, those of you who weren’t afraid of the dark when you were a child, please raise your hands. Ok, everyone keep your eyes closed. One more time, I need you to notice the darkness. Now, keep your eyes closed, do not open your eyes until I tell you to and listen carefully to the Gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson:  as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep.
And what I say to you I say to all:  Keep awake.” The Gospel of Christ.
All right, everybody, WAKE-UP! I mean it! Wake up! There is darkness all around us!!!
Danger everywhere you look. I need you all to WAKE-UP FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!!
Don’t sit down! Are you crazy. Who sits down in the midst of darkness? If you sit down, you’re likely to fall back to sleep! I need you to keep awake! Keep awake—for you do know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at crockcrow, or at dawn, or else, coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all:  Keep awake.
KEEP AWAKE FOR CHIRST’S SAKE! This is the Gospel of Christ! Keep awake!
The good news is that there are those among us who have never been afraid of the dark. All right, if you promise to Keep AWAKE, you may open your eyes and sit down.
Welcome to the season of Advent. While the world is busy scurrying about preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, we here inside the walls of the church are embarking on a journey into the darkness. Out there, t’is the season to be jolly! It is the season of good cheer, so everyone is busy getting all the stuff they need to be cheerful. There are decorations to be hung, lists to be made, presents to be bought, special food to be acquired, more presents to be bought, special drinks to be stockpiled, more presents to be bought, people to visit, more presents to buy, carols to be sung, parties to go to, people to visit, gifts to give, fun to be had as our world prepares for the arrival of  the baby Jesus or Santa Claus depending on your particular point of view. But in here, inside the walls of the church, the Body of Christ, it is my job to tell you all to wait. Advent the season when the church does it’s level best to hold off our culture’s rush toward a happy, jolly, Christmas each year!!! Advent the season of the church year, when those of us who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are invited to prepare ourselves not for the birth of a baby, but rather to prepare ourselves to give birth to Christ again and again and again.
Birth and darkness are intimately related to one another. Gestation takes place in the darkness; the seeds need the darkness of the earth, humans the darkness of the womb. Movements and revolutions are created in the darkness. The darkness of poverty and despair, the darkness of injustice and war, the darkness of danger and death germinate the seeds of movements and revolutions.
Beware! Be very aware! I am not inviting you into the darkness that is conducive to a winter’s nap. The darkness that I am inviting you into in this season of Advent, is a very dangerous darkness, the kind of darkness that requires you to KEEP AWAKE! WE ALL KNOW THIS DARKNESS WELL! We more than any of those who have gone before us are all too familiar with the darkness. We have more information about the darkness then generations of humans have ever had. At our very finger-tips we have devices which will bring word of the darkness to us 24 hours a day. In our living rooms, in our automobiles, even in the shopping malls, we can hear tell of the dangers of the darkness. Our earth is suffering under the weight of our filth. Continue reading

Pregnant with Possibility: Advent 1B sermon Mark 13:24-37


This sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that  I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details.  Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.

Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…

“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.

It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub.  Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk.  Suddenly two other people walked into the pub.    They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’

Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.” Continue reading

For our American Cousins – Thanksgiving resources

At the request of several of our American cousins, here are a few resources for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving celebrations invite us to remember not just our blessings, but the Source of All that IS.

 

Follow the links to sermons:

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you After We have Moved Beyond Personifying God

The Blessing of Michael’s Story

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister

Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS

 

Don’t you dare slam the door on my face, just because I went to get gas, because you kept me waiting! – a sermon Matthew 25:1-13

audio version here

“Wisdom, Sophia is bright, and does not grow dim, by those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them. Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your gates. Even to think about her is understanding fully grown; be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you. She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs come to meet them.” (Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-18)

“Sophia, if you are there, show yourself.” This has been my mantra as I have tried to sort out the meaning of this strange tale about ten bridesmaids. I must confess that the impish Sophia, whose playful nature inspired our forbearers to sing, dance, laugh, and play, might just be behind the creators of the lectionary’s decision to put today’s readings together. That these readings should appear, on this Sunday when I am supposed to be inspiring you to set out on the third installment of our Visioning Process, has caused me no end of consternation and grief.

Have you heard the one about the ten bridesmaids and the very late bridegroom? Well if you have heard it, can you please remind me of the punch-line, because I don’t see the point of this so-called parable. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom! Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish; all of them, the wise and the foolish fall asleep. Suddenly, they are awakened by a shout, “the bridegroom is almost here, come out and meet him.” The wise bridesmaids had brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids had not.  The wise bridesmaids aren’t very nice and refuse to lend any of their oil to the foolish bridesmaids, so the fools have to go off to the store to get some more oil. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep.  Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.  Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with this confusing story with a warning about the need to be prepared. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you’re not prepared. You don’t get to come into the party! Many of us have been hanging around the church for so long, that we’ve heard this story explained by preachers who are determined to convince us that the bridegroom is actually Jesus and that we, the people of the church are the bridesmaids who must keep awake, because we don’t know when Christ is coming back. The end is near!!! So, be prepared. Continue reading

Some Virgins and a Rabbi meet Sophia: a sermon on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and Sophia

SophiaDoveChaliceHranaJantoWisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 and Matthew 25:1-13 – Here’s a sermon that I preached several years ago when this coming Sunday’s readings prompted me to use/borrow/steal from the book “Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration”, by Susan Cady, Marian Ronan, Hal Taussig (Harper and Row, 1986). 

The parable of the ten, what??? Bridesmaids??? Really, ten bridesmaids, it sounds like the set up for some elaborate joke. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom, they waited so long that they fell asleep! I don’t know, you fill in the rest! I’ve never been much good at telling jokes, I’m more of a storyteller. Part of the fun of a story is the journey itself, but when you tell a joke you have to worry about punch lines. I tend to forget punch lines, or if I do remember them, I usually manage to mess them up and loose the laugh. So, there were these ten bridesmaids waiting for a bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish. The wise bridesmaids brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids did not. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Yada yada yada!

A little detail here, a little detail there and lo and behold we’re at the punch line. Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with that punch line. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you just don’t get it. You don’t get to come into the party!

Okay, I know this is a parable and that means that like all parables there’s a trick of some sort that we have to work out. So, for generations preachers have been unraveling this one and the usual explanation goes something like this….“Keep awake! Don’t fall asleep! And for heaven’s sake be prepared! Cause if your not, Christ will bar the door and you won’t get into heaven! So, Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Christ could come back at any moment and if your not ready! That’s it! Boom! Christ will deny you, the door will be shut and you’re not getting in. Oh and by the way, your going to burn in hell for all eternity. So, remember keep awake, be afraid be very afraid. Cause your gonna die! And if you haven’t brought along some extra oil for your lamp, well it ain’t gonna be pretty!” Continue reading

What if we won’t ever really understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until we understand that God is dead? – a Reformation Sermon

Listen to the sermon here

All over the world, Lutheran churches celebrate the earth-shattering events that were set in motion on October 31st 1517, when a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Luther challenged the most powerful institution that his world had ever known. Luther shook the very foundations upon which the reality of his fellow humans was based. The power of the Holy Roman Catholic Church rested upon an interpretation of reality that envisioned a God who sits in judgement upon a throne in the heavens, a God who commanded a quid pro quo relationship with HIS subjects; a God whose determination to tip the scales of justice was so precise that he sent HIS only Son to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity, a God who used the sacrifice of that Son to somehow atone for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived; saving them from the wrath of this God who had no other choice but to condemn sinners to eternal torment in the fires of hell, a God who established the church on earth to oversee the administration of the atoning power of Jesus death upon the cross, a church so powerful that they could sell you a piece of paper called an indulgence that would whisk you or your loved one out of the pits of Hell and up, up, up into the willowing, billowing, soft, gentle fluffy whiteness of Heaven, so that you could spend all of eternity basking in the Glory of your Father in heaven’s presence. These indulgences were more valuable than gold and it’s no wonder that the Church was able to sell them like hot-cakes, pardon the pun, and yes, I’m been sarcastic in my telling of this tale. Yes, history is more complicated than I’m telling it right here and right now, because I’m trying to make a point. The selling of indulgences was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abuses the church on earth and in heaven. Continue reading

Reformation Sunday Resources

Preparing for Reformation Sunday? Some of these posts might be useful:

Here We Stand, For We Can Do No Other

Luther, Spong, Fox, and Holy Cross

Enough with “A Mighty Fortress” Already! Sing a New Song!

95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Freedom from What?  All this Reforming is Wearing Me Out!

What Darwin Never Knew

A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet – John Shelby Spong

A Prayer for Reformation – Thomas Berry

Glimpses of the MYSTERY we call GOD – Exodus 33

Listen to the sermon here

About ten days ago, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us how very fragile life is. As I drove north the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shores of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand that was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind and sand. The long, tall grass shared my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind. I thought about the Ruach, the wind, breath or Spirit of God, the power and majesty of the Ruach as it blows where it wills. Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the Ruach as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the Ruach, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain that began to fall.

The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very Ruach of God entered my being. I wiped the tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY that is the source of All.

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

Glimpses of God’s Backside – Exodus 33:12-23

glimpseYAHWEH said to Moses: “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth. Even though I was only a child, I have very vivid memories of my very first trip on an airplane. We lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland and we were moving to Canada. I was terrified and fascinated all at the same time. I don’t know where I heard them first, but words like “frozen,” “north,” “wolves,” “igloos”, and “Eskimos” filled my imagination. I have a vague memory of being told that there wouldn’t be any Eskimos where we were going.

I remember the excitement and the fear about flying up in the sky, higher than the clouds. We’d be so high that we’d be able to look down at the clouds. I just couldn’t wait. I was going up, up into heaven. Visions of angels sitting on clouds, maybe, just maybe I’d catch a glimpse of Jesus playing with all the little children. I never dreamed that I’d see God. God would be clothed in a cloud and if God peaked out I’d hide. I didn’t want to see God. God was way too scary. I wanted to stay well clear of God. God was a scary guy, so scary that you’d probably drop down dead if you saw God. Maybe I shouldn’t look down on the clouds, just incase I caught a glimpse of God, because then I’d never make it back down from heaven. And then, I’d never get to see the Eskimos that I just knew were waiting for me down in Canada!

It wasn’t easy being up there in the sky for the very first time. I couldn’t take my eyes off that little porthole. Even though I knew somewhere deep down inside that I wasn’t really looking out at heaven, I just couldn’t help wondering what was really out there. I remember thinking that maybe just maybe there were angels dancing on those clouds, invisible angels, cause I knew that you became invisible when you died. God was pretty much invisible most of the time.      Continue reading

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth: Is this the Gospel of Christ? – Matthew 22:1-14

Listen to the sermon here

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said,  “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’  But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town. Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honour. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’  The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests. The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’   “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

Is this the Gospel of Christ? In Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and other mainline denominations this text will be read and in those congregations the preacher will conclude the reading with a proclamation declaring that this is, “The Gospel of Christ!” or “The Gospel of the Lord!” to which the people will declare “Praise to you O Christ!” But I ask you: “Is this the Gospel of Christ?” “Wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Is this the Gospel of Christ?

I must confess that when I realized that this text is the one assigned for this, the very Sunday when we are about to begin our “visioning process,” my heart sank. This gospel reading comes around every three years and I’ve always managed to be on vacation when that happens, so I’ve never actually had to preach this particular gospel text.  I was sorely tempted to change our gospel reading to something more in keeping with the task that lies before us this afternoon. This text is hardly conducive to creating a new 21st century vision of what our church might become.  “Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Throw him out into the darkness for the crime of being badly dressed? What kind of vision is this for us, here, today? Are we not a progressive congregation? Do we not pride ourselves on being an inclusive community?  “Many are called but few are chosen.” Is this the “Gospel of Christ?” “Praise to you O Christ!” I don’t think so. Continue reading

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you After We Moved Beyond Personifying God?- Thanksgiving Sunday sermons

Thankyou autumn

Follow the links for previous sermons:

Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!

Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister

Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS

To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you

After We Moved Beyond Personifying God?

Over the course of the past nine years a group of little people have come into my life: lovely little people who call me Gran. There are seven of them and participating in their little lives is a source of such great joy. Each stage of their development is a wonder to behold. I particularly enjoy watching their parents as they attempt to teach these little darlings the things that they need to know about being human. One of the first things that we teach little humans is the fine art of saying thank-you. It takes a fair amount of repetition to teach a child to say thank-you. Over and over again, after giving them exactly what they want, we ask, “Can you say thank-you?” and the little darlings repeat the words “Thank-you.” Sometimes all we have to do is ask the question: “What do you say?” in order to hear the words “Thank-you” uttered in such a delightful way as to inspire us to praise them as such good little girls and boys.

Expressing gratitude is a skill that all tiny little people must learn in order to develop into well-rounded human beings. Indeed, scientists insist that being grateful is a prerequisite of happiness. Happy humans it seems, are humans who embody gratitude. But there is more to gratitude than simply saying thank-you. I remember learning that gratitude includes more than simply expressing our thanks. It happened when I was about sixteen and actually noticed the beauty of a sunset and for the first time I realized that I was part of something so much bigger than myself. I know I must have seen the sunset before, but this time I actually saw the sun set. We were driving down the road, my friend Valerie and I were riding in a car driven by her mother, Lola. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia.  Just a few clouds.  You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden, Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and  just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening. 

These happy, glowing, smiling people made me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent. A work of art. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice.          

Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So, I stood there.  Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Actually noticing a magnificent sunset was the beginning of a journey beyond myself as the reality that I am part of something so much bigger than myself continues to permeate my being.

Back then, I expressed my gratitude by very much the same way as my grandchildren are being taught to express their gratitude, simply by saying “Thank-you”. The object of the Thank-you being God. At the time, God was an old bloke up there in the sky somewhere. As my images of God changed over the years, my Thank-you’s continued to be expressed to my ever-changing images of God. But I must confess, that it was a whole lot easier to say thank-you to God when God was some big guy up there, out there somewhere? It was so much easier when I thought of God as “Father” or even as “Mother” to express my gratitude by simply mimicking the behaviour that I’d been taught as a child, “Can you say “Thank-you” Oh yes indeed I can say thank-you. “God is great, God is God, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed, Give us Lord Our Daily Bread.” Continue reading

Weeds Upon the Altar – a sermon in celebration of St. Francis of Assisi

On this the last Sunday of the Season of Creation we celebrate the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Gospel text was Matthew 6:25-28

Listen to the sermon here

Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once God asked me to join God on a walk

through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer

before any face that was

weeping,

and before any eyes that were

laughing.

And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship

God too would kneel

down.

I have Come to learn:  God

adores God’s

creation.

In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!

Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,

I have Come to learn: 

God adores God’s

creation.

Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers.  Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God.

Francis was born into a wealthy merchant family and spent his young life striving to become a knight by actively participating in the completion between Italian cities to dominate the emerging capitalist system. Francis learned like each one of us must learn that acquiring things, amassing wealth, competing for power, these things cannot ever bring us peace. And so, Francis renounced things, gave up his wealth and powerful position in Italian society, and walked away from the competitive capitalist system.

Francis even went so far as to challenge the Church’s teachings about how to be a Christian. For centuries, the Church taught that the best way, the truest way to be a Christian in the world was to follow the example of the early followers of the Way that we find in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Continue reading

Who Do You Say that I AM? part 2 – Matthew 16:13-28

This sermon is the second in a series of three sermons responding to questions about Jesus’ identity. You can explore the part one here

Part Two of this exploration of Jesus’ identity includes three reflections interspersed throughout the liturgy. The audio picks up the liturgy as the congregation is remembering our old friend Jesus by singing an old hymn that evokes our personal histories with the character Jesus. You can listen to the songs as well as the reflections here 

Reflection 1:            Remembering.

Can any of you remember the first hymn you ever learned? (responses)

 “Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.”

What about the first prayer you ever learned?

(responses)

“Now I lay me down to sleep.”

“Come, Lord Jesus.”   graces

“The Lord’s Prayer”

“Psalm 23”

For those of you who were raised in the Lutheran Church, think back to your confirmation classes, do you remember learning the Creeds? I never went to church until I was 15.  I was considered too old for confirmation class. So, I received private instruction from my pastor. I remember weeks and weeks spent learning both the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds. Remembering those creeds still influences the way I respond to the question that the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call “Matthew” puts on the lips of Jesus:  “Who do you say that I AM.”

I remember, a few years back, when Emily Eastwood was helping us in our struggle to move the wider church to be more inclusive. Emily, insisted that the only way to reach out to those on the other side of the argument was to tell our story. Stories have the power to move us. Stories well-told can move us beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves. So, Emily encouraged each of us to learn how to tell our own stories. Emily taught us to be able to tell our stories about being gay, or knowing someone who is gay, or about changing our minds about homosexuality.  Emily, insisted that we needed to be able to tell our stories in about 3 minutes. We were encouraged to seek out folks who we suspected might be among those who were working to limit the roles that LGBTQ folks in the church. In just 3 minutes, our personal stories were told. These stories humanized the issues that divided us and indeed divided the church. Putting a face on the pain made the issues that we were debating, more than just theological, they made them real, immediate, and personal. By moving out beyond the boundaries established by doctrine we could touch the pain caused by doctrine.

Remembering all those weeks of learning the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which were designed by their 3rd and 4th century authors to answer, once and for all, all the questions surrounding the identity of the man we call Jesus, I can’t help but see the young woman that I was, reciting week after week, year after year, the doctrinal response to this pivotal question. For years, no for decades, my answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I AM?”  was bound up in my belief that the Creeds had answered the question: “Who do you say I AM?”  All you need to do is remember and believe.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Or the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit

and the virgin Mary

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate’

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

I remember trusting and believing the answer to all my questions was Jesus. I remember trusting and believing that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God who came down from heaven, suffered, died and was buried. I remember believing that Jesus died for my sins. I remember believing that because God was gracious HE sent Jesus to die so that I might live. I remember believing that this grace of God was all I needed to understand who Jesus was and is. I remember believing that Jesus’ death upon the cross was necessary so that I could live forever. I remember believing that I knew exactly who Jesus was. I remember knowing without the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

I remember eagerly eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ trusting that: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I remember knowing who I knew Jesus was. I also remember my doubts. I remember worrying about the character of a God that I knew, because I am Lutheran after all, I knew God’s grace. But I could not, no matter how hard I tried, reconcile the notion of a loving and gracious God, with a God who could devise a plan to save me, that included the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son. I remember my doubts. Doubts squashed by doctrine.

I remember the very day that my dear pastor, the same pastor who had taught me the Creeds, dear Pastor Ernst invited me to join a Bible Study. Some of you may remember the old, Word and Witness program. Three years of intensive study of the Bible. A study based on the materials that seminaries were teaching prospective pastors. Pastor Ernst said I was too young for the program, but he thought I might just like to give it a try. Once again, I was the only one in the class. I remember well the day I learned the Jesus may not have said all the words that were clearly printed in red in my bible.

I remember the day I learned that the writers of the gospels were not actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; not actually eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus. I remember the questions that began to flow freely from my lips.  I remember the freedom of asking questions that were beyond the carefully set boundaries of the Creeds. I remember the freedom. Continue reading

“The Great Turd Falling” – a sermon for Creation 1A – Forest Sunday

I am indebted to John Philip Newell’s  book “The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings” for inspiring this sermon. The Season of Creation is a relatively new addition to the Church calender and the first and Gospel readings are those prescribed for Forest Sunday: Genesis 2:4b-23 and John 3:1-16. The contemporary reading is from John Philip Newell.  The Scripture readings were taken from ‘the inclusive bible: The First Egalitarian Translation” which opens a new way of understanding both the Genesis story and the Gospel According to John simply by using more inclusive literal translations of the Hebrew and Greek. You can find all three readings here

Listen to the sermon here or click on this link

The Season of Creation is a very recent addition to the Church Calendar. We first observed it, here at Holy Cross, just two years ago. So, this is the first opportunity we have had to observe Forest Sunday. It seems odd to me that in a country like Canada where the forests are so vast and have such a huge impact on the history of this nation, that up until just a few short years ago, did not set aside a day dedicated to the celebration of our forests. Indeed, that churches around the world, should have failed until recently to set aside a season dedicated to the celebration of Creation is not just astounding, but dare I say it, sinful.

So, I’d like to begin this sermon by summoning up visions of my favorite forest. Now, I’m well aware that there are hundreds of brilliant forests in these parts, but it won’t come as a surprise to many of you that my favorite forest is located on the West Coast.

This particular forest is special not only to me, but it also stands tall in the annals of Canadian forests; indeed, it stands out among the forests of the world. It is located just north of West Vancouver and I’ve been walking in this forest since I was a teenager. This deep, dark, rich, rain-forest is one of the few old-growth forests in Canada and many of the trees are over 600 years old. This particular forest has managed to survive uncut thanks to the erection of a lighthouse in 1875 on Point Atkinson. The authorities wanted to ensure a dark back-drop for the lighthouse so they banned logging in the area and the city of West-Vancouver has set the forest aside with the creation of Lighthouse Park.

My first trip to Lighthouse Park, I was but a child, taken there by my father for a family outing. I remember a dark, wet, gentle hike down to the water’s edge, followed by a half-hour’s uphill climb back to the parking lot, where my mother waited with our picnic lunch, of sandwiches and hot tea. Later, when I was old enough to drive myself, there were so many dark, wet, gentle hikes in this forest cathedral where I often retreated to for solace from the trials and tribulations of finding my way in the world.

Over the years, I have often returned to this living cathedral where the Douglas Firs and Red Cedars are hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of years old and looking up to see just how far they stretch toward the sky, makes you dizzy. I still remember the first time I took Carol into the depths of this sacred place. The sheer pleasure of seeing someone you love overwhelmed by the splendor of some of the biggest and oldest trees on the planet, was match only by the deep silences that are possible in such a place. It is without a doubt a thin place a place where the boundary between what is known and what lies beyond the know is so thin that you can feel the presence of the One who is both the source of all that is and who is Beyond all that is.

In this thin place, I have laid down burdens, wept, laughed, shouted, cried, rejoiced, slept, breathed deeply of the earth and lost my breath trudging up the dark, damp, fecund trails. In this thin place, this forest cathedral I have worshiped the source of all that is, been mesmerized by that which is beyond all that is, and been emptied of concerns, trials, tribulations and filled with joy, hope, peace and love. In this thin place, this forest cathedral, over and over again, I have been born anew. In this forest cathedral, and in so many forest cathedrals, I have come to understand what Julian of Norwich meant when she said that, “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” for in these sacred thin places, in these forest cathedrals, in the sheer beauty and the magnitude of life that abounds from deep within the forest floors, up through the steadfast trunks to the skyward canopies, the One who is the Source of All this is also the One who is the Source of My Being.

But these thin places are not for the faint of heart. Over the years, I have made various pilgrimages to Lighthouse Park, only to find a sign erected warning those who dare to enter that a bear has been sighted in the area. Sometimes the authorities have posted a sign that because of the threat of a dangerous bear in the area that park is closed to all hikers. When I was younger, and much more foolish, I ignored those signs and ventured into the deep, dark forest despite the warnings. The sense of danger was palpable and added to the intensity of the experience of this dangerous wilderness. But the wisdom gained over the decades has of late caused me to heed the warning signs and so from time to time Carol and I have travelled to Lighthouse Park filled with anticipation only to be thwarted by a warning sign.

It seems appropriate somehow that a Thin Place should be so subject to warning signs. I’ve told you before about Rudolf Otto’s definition of God, whom he calls the Numinous. Otto defines the numinous in Latin with the words, “Mysterium, Tremendum, et Facinam” the One whose is the Source of all being is mysterious, tremendous and fascinating. Mysterious yes. Tremendous, literally makes you tremble, yes. But even though you tremble in fear in the presence of such great mysterious, you just can’t help but be fascinated by the One who is the source and ground of your being. Continue reading

Beneath the Surface: What difference does it make how we interpret this little story? – a sermon for Pentecost 10A – Matthew 14:22-33 and 1 Kings19:9-18

After a splendid month-long vacation, I have returned to work as two mad men toss rhetoric into the ether that is designed to to strike fear of a nuclear holocaust into the hearts of people everywhere. Looking at  Sunday’s readings:  1 Kings 19:9-18 in which Elijah hears the still small voice of God and Matthew 14:22-33 in which Jesus walks on water. Somehow, this sermon that I preached three years ago seems appropriate to repost so as to encourage us all to look beneath the surface of what we see, hear, and read! Shalom… 

Listen to the sermon here:

There’s a Zen Buddhist story about three monks, who decided to practice meditation together. So, they went to a quiet place at the side of a lake and closed their eyes and began to concentrate. Then suddenly, the first monk stood up and said, “I forgot my prayer mat.” Miraculously the monk stepped onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. He returned his fellow monks just the way he had gone; striding upon the water. When he sat back down, the second monk stood up and said, “I forgot to bring my prayer mat.” Miraculously the second monk stepped onto the water in front of him and he tow walked across the lake to their hut on the other side. When the second monk returned to his fellow monks he too returned striding upon the water.  The third monk had watched the first two monks very carefully and he decided that this must be some sort of test. So, he stood up and loudly declared: “Is your learning so superior to mine? I think not!  I too can match any feat you two can perform!” With that the young monk rushed to the water’s edge so that he too could walk upon the water. The young monk promptly fell into the deep water. Surprised and annoyed, the young monk climbed out and promptly tried again, and again he sank into the deep water. Over and over again, he dragged himself to up on the bank, shook himself off, and confidently set out to walk upon the water and over and over again he promptly sank into the deep water as the other two monks watched from the shore. After a while the second monk turned to the first monk and said, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?” 

Looking upon the sea of interpretations of the Gospel according to Matthew’s story of walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, makes me feel like that young monk who continues to sink each time he tries to find his way across the lake. Centuries of interpretations of this text seem to come to the same conclusion; a conclusion which insists that we set forth in faith and that if we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus we will defy all the odds; a conclusion that leaves the vast majority of us lingering on the shore because we know that like Peter we too have precious little faith that we or even Jesus for that matter can defy the laws of nature. Traditional interpretations of this text continue to rely upon us leaving our understanding of the way the planet actually works, suspending rational thought, and setting off knowing that neither we nor Jesus are or were super-natural beings. Traditional interpretations set us up for failure and threaten to sink our faith. Fortunately, there are other monks, many more monks than simply two to guide us. So, let me draw your attention to two of those monks because I believe that these two monks tell us were the stones are so that we can navigate the waters, even in the midst of whatever storms may come. One of those many monks is the ancient theologian known simply as Origen of Alexandria who lived from about 185 to 254 and who left behind a body of work which provided the Church with a way of approaching the texts of Scripture which nourished the lives of believers for generations. Indeed, Origen’s approach to scripture only fell out of fashion among protestants in the last 200 years or so. To put a long story short, Origen believed and taught, as have generations of theologians since Origen that the stories in Scripture have various layers of meaning. The first layer is the literal meaning, or surface meaning which is designed by the writers to reach those who are uninitiated or uneducated about the ways in which the sacred texts function. Beyond the literal meaning lay a deeper meaning, indeed Origen taught that beyond the simple literal meaning of the biblical the seeker of wisdom would find layers of deeper meaning. For centuries, the Church followed Origen’s views of scripture teaching the simple literal meaning to the masses while reserving the deeper layers of meaning for the initiated often referring to these deeper layers of meaning as the mysteries. While the masses were busy getting on with life, the religious professionals dug deeper and deeper into the mysteries eventually creating a church hierarchy that firmly divided the uninitiated from the enlightened. Obviously, I’m giving you the abbreviated version of this long and complicated story that goes much deeper; I am if you will simply pointing you toward a stone that lies below the surface of the water upon which we seek to walk. Hidden beneath is a method of exploring scripture that relies on symbols, myth, illusion and most important of all, allegory.

Origen and generations of theologian who came after him understood that the stories of scripture had many, many layers and relied on symbolic and allegoric methods to touch our imagination and inspire in us a way of being in the world. Sadly, perhaps in the beginning out for expediency’s sake, but eventually to preserve its own power over the masses the Church began to rely more and more on the simple literal meaning of the text. Indeed, the church reserved the mysteries to such an extent that it can be said that the hierarchy by and large hid the deeper layers of the text so well that even some members of the hierarchy forgot about the symbolic and allegorical methods of interpreting the scriptures. The hidden mysteries might well have remained hidden if it had not been for the fact that so many other mysteries have been uncovered by humanity regarding the natural world. Human knowledge has expanded by leaps and bounds and you and I live in a world where information is at our finger tips; most of us carry devices in our pockets which can unlock more mysteries that we can keep track of in the recesses of our memories. The reality is that these little devices can now unlock the deeper mysteries that the church once kept hidden for the initiated. The insights gleamed from historians, theologians, and clergy which once remained tucked away in the halls of academic institutions or in seminary libraries, are now available to one and all. Every line of scripture every jot and tittle have been carefully examined and re-examined and we know have so many interpretations that no-one of us can claim to be an expert in the field. We are all once again simply seekers of meaning. But there are a few of us who have dedicated their lives to the study of the deeper meanings and we here at Holy Cross have had the privilege of one who has come to be know the as one of the leading New Testament Scholars in the world and it is Dom Crossan who I’d like to point to as our second monk on the bank who has the power to point us toward a stone beneath the surface that might just enable us to find our way upon the sea so that we too might walk on water toward this character Jesus. Continue reading