Over and over again as I have explored the stories handed down to us by our ancestors, I have been struck by the significance of names in ancient literature. The ancient writers used names as a tool to reveal important details. A character’s name in a story can be used to remind us of other characters in other stories that also carried that name, or a character’s name can be taken from a word that has significant meaning. We can use the names of biblical characters to explore deeper meanings within the stories. We would do well to pay attention to the names of biblical characters. The lack of a name is just as important as any given name. I believe that there’s a reason that the anonymous gospel storyteller we call Luke failed to give a name to the woman we find bent over in chapter. The writer we call Luke can be very deliberate about names when he wants to be. I believe that the storyteller wants us to see this woman as our very selves.
So, let’s play along shall we? Stand up. Stand up and bend over. Please, if you are able stand up and lean over 45 degrees. I want you to have a sense of the woman’s predicament. For a few moments, just a few moments I want you to feel the strain on your back, and the burden on your shoulders that that woman felt for 18 years. I want you to look and see how being bent limits your vision. See how your perspective is shorter. Stooping, you cannot easily look into the faces of those around you, you can’t be on the same level with anyone, you can’t see the whole church. It’s not so easy to look toward the horizon to see a glorious sunrise or sunset. Vistas of God’s wondrous works on earth are restricted. So bent out of shape, how could you ever gaze into the awesome stars at night.
Listen to the story one more time: Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled here for eighteen years. How many of us arrive on the Sabbath with spirits that have crippled us? She was bent and quite unable to stand up straight. She was bent….in Greek the word is “kyphotic.” She was a kyphotic woman. The word kyphotic literally translates as bent together or bent with. It is as if this woman is bent in on herself. It’s a picture of someone who has not only borne the yoke but who really owns it in her very body. She is not just a woman with an infirmity but the Scripture says, with the spirit of an infirmity. Whatever it was that had bent her, whatever emotional or physical burden she had borne, the Scripture suggests, ultimately became part of her until her very body was confirmed to its image. There is nothing she can do now to help herself out of the spiritual pretzel her life has become. Each of us knows this infirmity intimately. At one time or other, over and over again, we have all experienced this infirmity in our lives and in our bones.* (Jana Childers “The Kyphoptic Woman” 2005)
Each of us have been bent with the burdens of our relationships, our jobs, our finances, or our health and sometimes even our lovelessness. We have all been this woman who is bent out of shape by her burdens. We have all been bent in on ourselves. But today, I want to take the image of this woman a few steps further to see what she reveals about our culture.
Okay, you can sit down now. Sit back and relax as I tell you the story of two communions; two communions that are not limited in time or space to the actual communions that they reveal. The first communion is indeed my first communion. I was just 15 years old and I’d only just begun to attend church. It was a small Lutheran church and back then they only celebrated communion a few times a year. I wasn’t prepared for communion. I’d only been attending church for a few weeks and I had no idea what it was all about. I still remember wondering what I should do. I was leaning toward just sitting where I was and waiting until after the service so that I could ask the pastor for an appointment to talk to him about what I needed to do in order to make sure that I was prepared properly to go to the table. That’s when my friend’s mother Lola leaned over and asked me if I wanted to go up for communion with them. I whispered that I’d never been to communion before. She smiled and took my hand and said that’s okay, you’re welcome at the table. I didn’t see any table and I was sure that I was missing something. So, I stood there with my hand in hers and listened very carefully as the Pastor told the story, “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks; broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again after supper, he took the cup gave thanks and gave it for all to drink….”Continue reading →
It was hot. Already the sun had parched the earth. The air was still. The ground beneath her feet radiated the heat. She was tired. Earlier she had thought about staying at home. Her weary body could use a rest. All week long she had toiled in the heat of the sun. On this Sabbath she longed to rest her crumpled, aching body. She tried to ignore the weakness she felt. She had suffered long and hard. She couldn’t even remember when or how she had become so weak. Over the years, her weakened spirit had left her body bent and crippled. The evidence of her heavy burdens could be seen in her crooked spine. She was ashamed of her appearance.
It had been eighteen long years since she had stood straight and tall. She vaguely remembered running when she was a child. She ran everywhere back then. She ran faster than anyone else in the town. She loved to run. Running made her feel free.
Her mother used to warn her not to run. Her mother tried to stop her. But she was so full of life. She wanted to see everything. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to go everywhere.
Her mother warned her not to be so curious. Her mother tried to keep her busy. Her mother tried to keep her out of trouble. But it was no use, no matter how many tasks her mother gave her; she always managed to find time to explore. She had so many questions. She wanted to know how things worked. Life was so very exciting. She dashed from one adventure to the next. She ran everywhere, everyday. Except of course on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath she walked. She walked with her family to the synagogue. She loved to go to the synagogue. As her father and brothers took their places at the feet of the rabbis, she sat quietly with her mother and sisters and the other women and girls in the back of the synagogue. She listened carefully as the men and boys talked. Continue reading →
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom” So begins the gospel reading for this coming Sunday. But I am afraid and my fear is not about the the thief who this text insists may break into my house or that the HUMAN ONE is coming at some unexpected hour. No, my fear is wrapped up in my desire to pay little or no attention to the second reading prescribed for this Sunday from the letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen. Because of faith, our ancestors were approved b God. By faith, we understand the world was created by the word from God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible…..”
Do I have faith? Do any of us have faith? For that matter: What is faith? According to Hebrews faith “is the reality of all that is hoped for; faith is the proof of all that is unseen.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to hear Jesus words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Abba’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.” Faith is the stuff that makes it possible for us to believe. So I wonder: Do I have faith? Do I have the faith that makes it possible for me to believe? Do you? Do any of us?
I write this as one who finds it difficult and sometimes even impossible to believe much of anything. I am a doubter by nature. Doubting is part of who I am. I know that there are those who are more inclined to believe and I am envious of believers. I envy those who are sure and are able to find comfort in the Scriptures. For a very long time I was ashamed of my inability to believe. I often sat in church and wondered if I might just be a hypocrite. I wondered if someone who had as many doubts as I have belongs in the church. So, I tried to conquer my doubts by studying the Scriptures. Continue reading →
I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong for his insights into the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Without Jack’s thoughtful portrayal of Gomer, I would not have recognized her as the Leanne Battersby of her time. Also, thanks to Marcus Borg for his definition of the verb “believe”!
Listen to an older version of this the sermon, interesting how our god-language changes over the years:
I must confess that I am one of the millions and millions of people across the globe who enjoys a guilty pleasure about five days a week. It’s a habit that began back when I was but a wee child. From time to time, circumstances have forced me to give up this guilty pleasure, but over the years, as technology has improved I’ve been able to indulge myself on a more regular basis than I would have thought possible back when I was just a little girl and only able to enjoy this pleasure during the summer holidays. Now a days, I can delay my indulgence to a convenient time. So about 5 times a week, I find myself relaxing in my favourite chair with a mug of tea, ready to enjoy a episode of my favourite soap opera.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the gospel text Luke 11:1-13 begs the question: “To Whom Shall We Go?” Liberated from perceptions that reduce images of the MYSTERY we call God to those of a cosmic superhero, who abides up or out there ready to manipulate events here in the world at the request of those who pray, the activity of prayer takes on a whole new meaning and shape. Our images of who, where and what the MYSTERY is will direct our prayers in ways that impact our expectations of prayer. Who do we pray to and what we expect of the ONE who hears our prayers will shape how and why we pray.
Before we can even begin to understand what so much of the Christian tradition means when it talks about praying to God, we need to take a step back and look at what we mean when we say the word “god.” Throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions you can trace two very distinct ways of understanding and talking about the MYSTERY that we call God. Continue reading →
In this coming Sunday’s gospel reading Luke 11:1-13, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray. As a pastor I have been asked to teach people to pray. Each time I have been asked to teach someone to pray I have cringed inside because I do not feel up to the task. For some reason the old hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” keeps playing in my mind. I keep telling it to, “Shush!” so that I might hear the “bath qol” but the daughter of a sound eludes me. Below is a portion of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago on the subject of prayer. If nothing else, it reminds me to shush!
I began this sermon by asking the congregation to sing from memory the old hymn: I Come to the Garden Along. Feel free to sing it to yourself!
I think my earliest memory of prayer is a distant memory I have of skipping along the sidewalk chanting a familiar refrain: “Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.” Most of us can remember a moment from our childhood when a superstition was instilled in us that caused us to perform some ritual in order to placate the unseen power that could determine our fate. Whether it was avoiding cracks, or walking under ladders or black cats, we were trained from an early age to believe that there were powers out there that could determine our future. Continue reading →
Bobby wasn’t like any other 10-year-old boy. Bobby had the face of an angel but the temperament of a devil. Bobby was a beautiful child. His blond hair and blue eyes together with his alabaster skin, pointed toward his Scandinavian heritage. At first sight, Bobby appeared to be the kind of child that any congregation would be proud to count as a member. But, Bobby’s physical appearance was deceiving and Bobby’s presence in church was not welcome. Bobby didn’t go down to Sunday school classes with the other children. The Sunday school teachers had tried to include Bobby, but after several parents threatened to withdraw their children, they asked Bobby’s parents not to send Bobby anymore. So Bobby stayed in the sanctuary with the adults. Most of the adult members tried to tolerate Bobby’s presence but for some, Bobby’s presence was simply unnerving. Bobby is autistic. Sitting and behaving in church was impossible for him. As long as we were singing hymns, Bobby was happy. He would catch the rhythms of the music and rock back and forth and sing. He never sang the same words as the rest of the congregation. But it was clear from his movements and the sounds that emanated from his lips that Bobby was singing. The trouble was that Bobby never stopped singing when we did. When his parents would attempt to put an end to Bobby’s song, he would flail about and sometime throw himself on the floor.
Now there are some churches where flailing about and throwing one’s self to the floor would be interpreted as a sign that the Holy Spirit was at work. But in this little Lutheran church, the reaction of the worshippers to Bobby’s outbursts made it clear that they feared that Bobby was possessed by spirits of the evil variety. Oh, they would never have come out and said that Bobby was possessed by demons, they just acted as if he were. Bobby’s favorite part of the service was communion. I think that he enjoyed the opportunity to walk up to the front of the church and kneel at the altar. When the Pastor would place a communion wafer in his hands, Bobby would giggle with glee. Bobby never ate the communion wafer; he would just hold it up to the light and smile. The communion wine was another thing altogether. Sometimes Bobby’s mother would try to help him drink from the common cup. Sometimes Bobby would dunk his wafer into the intinction cup and slop wine everywhere. At other times Bobby would be so preoccupied with his wafer that he just let the cup pass him by. On a good day Bobby’s behavior only made people uncomfortable. On a bad day, Bobby’s behavior embarrassed some, offended others, and sometimes outraged many.
I remember being summoned to an extra-ordinary council meeting. The meeting had been called to deal with the complaints and concerns of several long time members of the congregation that had decided that Bobby’s presence could now longer be tolerated at worship. The people who were complaining were not bad people. They were fine upstanding members of the congregation who found themselves unable to deal with Bobby’s presence in their midst. During the meeting we agonized over what to do. Continue reading →
I am indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic and John Philip Newell’s “Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings” for insights beyond my own imaginings.
When I was just a kid, my mother would ask me a question that would be the beginning of a conversation, a routine of sorts that comes out of my Mom’s own childhood in Northern Ireland. The routine goes something like this. Mom would ask me: “How much do you love me?” and I would answer as I’d been taught to answer: “A big bag of sugar!” To which my Mom would reply, “I love you more, I love you two bags of sugar!” To which I would reply, that I loved my Mom, “Five big bags of sugar!”
Over the years I’ve met lots of people from Belfast who measure love in bags of sugar. As near as I can tell this loving conversation has something to do with sugar’s ability to make all things sweet and the fact that over the generations sugar was in short supply because most people simply couldn’t afford to buy sugar. I’ve also been told that during and after the two World Wars sugar was rationed, so a big bag of sugar was more sugar than most people ever saw. Sugar was a much sought after satisfying treat, that was essential to a happy life, so measuring love in bags of sugar is something that to this day, my great-nieces and nephews still learn from their elders. But these days even children know that sugar isn’t what it used to be. We all know too well the dangers of a big bag of sugar. Sugar in large quantities is bad for us! Loving someone today, often means limiting their sugar intake. I suspect that expressing love in terms of bags of sugar will soon go the way of Ring-around-the-rosie…while children still sing it they have no idea that it is all about the black plague that saw millions of children fall to their death…. Love measured in bags of sugar, like packets full of posey, is a thing of the past…vaguely remembered by only a few. Given a few generations and our ways of expressing things, like language changes over time. Take for example our way of expressing the DIVINE the SOURCE of ALL that IS and all that Ever Shall BE, the names we give to the ONE who is responsible for our Creation, the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE we call “God,” has been known by many names over the centuries. The earliest name for the ONE credited with our Creation is quite simply “El”…”El” is if you will, the generic name for “God” El a word found in both the Ancient Sumerian and Canaanite languages translates as, god. In the ancient manuscripts of what we know call the Hebrew Scriptures, but our parents called the Old Testament, the earliest expression used for the God we were raised to worship is, El Shaddai, which is all too often incorrectly translated into English as “God Almighty,” but which quite literally translates into english as “breasted one” or the more accurate translation, “She Who Has Breasts”.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” What exactly is this peace that Jesus gives? The his letter to the church at Philippi theApostle Paul described the peace of God as the peace that surpasses all understanding. Is this the same peace that Jesus offers, this peace that surpasses understanding? It reminds me of a story I heard years ago about a little girl who went to Vacation Bible School. Her favourite thing about Vacation Bible School was the singing, and her favourite song was, “I’ve God the Joy in My Heart”. It’s the kind of song that can very easily become an ear worm. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” But for this little girl it was the second verses that stuck with her. When she got home her parents were surprised and amused to hear their little girl, sing the second verse with such gusto. Do you remember the second verse? “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, (where?”) Down in my heart (where?) Down in my heart Down in my heart to stay.” Except this little girl kept singing over and over again: “I’ve got a piece of pastor’s understanding down in my heart, down in my heart (where)”
The reason that that particular ear worm won’t leave me alone, is the “where” part of these lyrics. I’ve got the love of Jesus, Love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart, “where” down in my heart, where, down in my heart to stay. When we hear down in my heart we tend to think of emotions, and feelings. But the heart hasn’t always been thought of as the source of feelings and emotions. Way back in the 4th century BCE…the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as the seat of intelligence. Observing that the heart is the first organ formed in the embryo of chick’s eggs, Aristotle surmised that the heart must be vital for life itself and life meant that which makes us human, our ability to think. All the other organs simply existed to serve the heart. Indeed the ancient’s didn’t really know what brains were, except for being the mushy part encased in the skull, which they surmised must have some sort of role akin to the lungs, and served only to cool the heart.
In Jesus day, the brain was viewed as the location of the soul; the place were spirits came together. The heart was where the real thinking happened. It wasn’t until late in the 17th century that the seat of intelligence moved to our brains. So, I find it mildly amusing that Christian children should be taught that they “have the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts, where, down in their hearts to stay.”
Okay, I know I just made an impossible intellectual jump there, but hear me out. This peace that surpasses understanding, this peace that Jesus offers “is not like the world’s peace.” Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” In other words, “Don’t let your mind be troubled, there is nothing to fear.”
These days, the world tells us to be afraid, to be very afraid.For the most part, the logic of the world wins out, and we are sore afraid. We worry about everything. We are afraid of stuff our ancestors never even thought about. Some of us are so afraid that our own images in the mirror make us worry about going outside where others might see us. The advertising industry has convinced us to be afraid of our own humanity, our smells, our oily skin and hair, all ingeniously designed to keep us healthy and happy, have now become something we are so afraid of that we spend billions and billions of dollars each year to keep them at bay.
If our own image isn’t enough to frighten us into staying indoors, then the news media has us so afraid of all the monsters that lie in wait to do the most horrendous things to us. This despite the fact that crime is lower than it has ever been and we are safer than people have ever been in all of history. We are so afraid that we refuse to let children play, even though children are safer than they were back in the bygone days of our very own youth. Child abductions are lower than they were in the 1950s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s ex cetera, ex cetera, you get the picture.
We are obsessed with our own safety. If you don’t believe me just try to open up a bottle of pills, between the childproof caps and the tamperproof packaging you almost need an engineering degree together with a strong pair of hands just to get into the bottle. Every package comes complete with its own set of warnings.
Safety helmets, don’t get me started on safety helmets, we have helmets for all sorts of activities, but don’t worry because most kids never get the chance to use their bicycle helmets, because we are too afraid to let them go outside to play.
And what about the stock market? Back in the day, most people never even knew what the stock market was, nowadays we spend countless hours afraid that the markets will crash and we’ll loose all of our money. Money! We are so afraid that we simply won’t have enough money, this despite the fact that most of us have more money and more stuff than most of our ancestors could have ever dreamed of having. I don’t know about you but I come from hearty peasant stock: workers, miners down in the pits on my fathers side, and industrial workers on my mothers side, poor working folk who rarely enjoyed a luxury in their lives. But at least they didn’t have all the fears that we have. Oh they had fears, don’t get me wrong, but they quelled their fears with the sure and certain faith that it would all come out in the end. All they had to do was read their bibles and pray ever day. They had the peace that passes understanding down in their hearts. Down in their hearts to stay.
We have the news media, reporters telling us each and every day to be afraid, to be very afraid. Terrorists, climate change, child abductors, predators, scammers, floods, wars and rumours of wars. Be afraid, be very afraid. Oh, and by the way, God is dead. Jesus can’t and won’t save you. So be afraid. The Buddha can’t save you either, and forget about Mohammed, and all the rest of those religious folk who promised you the sun, the moon and the stars. And while we’re at it, what about those endless movies that portray the horrors of falling in love, and the pain of loss? We are doomed I tell you doomed. So, be afraid, be very afraid. Use your heads, think about it, there is no hope, hope is an illusion. We are all going to die. Once you are dead, you are dead, that’s it, over done, nada.
So, be afraid, exercise, exercise, get healthy, don’t eat that, be afraid it’s the only way to live longer, be afraid,take this pill and eat this food, and run, run, as fast as you can, be afraid. Use your head, its a big bad world out there and you need to be afraid, oh by the way, try this, buy this, use this, put your money here, build a wall, build a very big wall, keep them out, you know the ones, the big bad scary people who want to come here and take all your stuff, be afraid, be very afraid.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful. ‘
So what is it that Jesus offers when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.” ?
I believe that there can be no peace in the world as long as we are afraid.Fear makes us forget who we are and whose we are. Fear makes us forget that we are richly blessed. Fear makes us forget that we live in relative safety. Fear makes us forget what we believe. Fear makes us forget who and what we love. Fear makes us forget to think. Fear makes us forget to breathe. I also believe that the memory of who we are calms our fear and that this is the only hope we have of ever finding any peace in the world.
When I am afraid, I mean really afraid, I often forget who I am.The person that I am, is not angry, or greedy, or violent. But given enough anxiety, fear or terror, and I will react angrily. Take away the familiar, push me beyond my comfort zone, expose me to strange and foreign ways, and I will become anxious.Threaten me with poverty and my fear of poverty will inspire me to be greedy.Threaten me or the ones I love with violence, and my fear of losing my life or my loved ones will embolden me to resort to violence.
When the ground beneath our feet begins to shift it can cause us to forget who we are and unless we take a deep breath, we might just forget the SPIRIT that dwells in with, through, and beyond us. Jesus believed and taught a new way of being in the world. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Jesus understood himself to be intimately related to the very SOURCE of his BEING. Where others had looked to the source of their being and seen a CREATOR to be feared and obeyed,Jesus looked to the source of his being and saw a CREATOR who takes delight in creation; a CREATOR so intimately connected with creation that it is impossible to see where creation ends and the CREATOR begins. I and the CREATOR are ONE.
Our GOD dwells in the midst of us. If we breathe deeply and feel the rhythm of the ONE who breathes in us we can begin to remember who we are.I am convinced that the peace we so long for in this world will only be realized when we find peace in ourselves. We are wonderfully made. Ever evolving humans in an ever changing cosmos. As conscious beings we are an integral part of a magnificent creation, the source of which flows, in, with, through, and beyond us. Embracing the mysteries of creation need not involve being afraid of the unknown.
Jesus taught a way of being that encompassed the SOURCE of our BEING as part of the ONENESS of all creation, and encouraged us to embrace the peace that this knowledge brings. When we are grounded in who and what we were created to be, it quells our fear and we are better able to respond to the fears of others in ways that will help them to remember who they are.
Fear is the enemy of peace. Jesus knew this. Why else was he constantly telling people not to be afraid? Have no fear is Jesus’ mantra. There’s so much more I could say about our fears.
I could go on and on about the ways in which fear separates us from ourselves, from one another and from our CREATOR.I could tell you all about the definition of sin as that which separates us from ourselves, from one another and from GOD. But I’m afraid that that would take to long and as being afraid is the very thing that I want to avoid, let me just give you a little peace.So, Sit up, take a long slow breath….let it out….
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to take a long slow breath when you are afraid?Panting, gasping, sometimes even holding your breath all have more in common with fear than breathing deeply.Perhaps our bodies really do know best because when we do breathe deeply it has a calming effect.Pay attention to your breathing. Really, I mean it pay attention to your breathing.Take a few moments, right here and right now and just breathe.
In and out. Don’t try to moderate your breath. Don’t try to slow it down and breathe more deeply. Just breathe……. Notice each breathe…. Your body knows exactly what you need. Opening ourselves to the rhythm of our own breathing opens us to the reality of our ONENESS with every creature that has ever breathed, in and out the very same air down through the centuries. In and out, the SPIRIT of the SOURCE of our very BEING, flows in, with, through, and beyond us. We are an intricate part of something bigger than we can even begin to imagine.
So, the next time the anxiety and fear threatens to make you forget who you are, breathe, notice each breath, and slowly you will begin to remember who you are. Slowly, you will feel the presence of the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond you. Knowing who we are, will begin to free us from fear and enable us to free others from fear and before we know it peace will be breaking out in, with, through, and beyond us. Let it be so, dear ones, let it be so. Amen.
I remember a phrase my mother used to use when things were getting to be too much for her; when we were harping on at her, nagging her, disturbing her, being too loud or just generally annoying her, Mom would shout out to us, “Auk away and give my head peace!” As a kid, I used to think that that was just my Mom wanting us to behave, to go away or to be quiet, so that she could get some rest. But over the years I have come to understand that what my mother was really doing was something we all do from time, crying out in desperation for a little peace; the kind of peace that the world cannot give, the kind of peace that the world so desperately needs. The kind of peace that Jesus was talking about when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.”
I have come to believe that our lack of the peace of which Jesus speaks lies at the very heart of the lack of peace in the world. As I grew up I came to know up close and personal the kind of peace my mother longed for. Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, I packed my belongings into a backpack and boarded an airplane in Vancouver for a twelve-hour flight to Amsterdam. I’d been saving for about a year to raise the airfare and the eight hundred dollars in travellers’ cheques that was stuffed into a money belt around my waste. I desperately wanted to see the world and at the time, I actually believed the old tattered book that was stuffed into my daypack that I could indeed see Europe on $5.00 a day. By my reckoning $5.00 a day would buy me 160 days in Europe; just over 5 and a half months. Even if I allowed the odd extravagant day when I might spend $10.00 a day, I might be able to squeeze 5 months out of my $800.00 dollars, which along with my secret weapon should allow me to travel about Europe for at least a year. My secret weapon, was none other than my birth, because as a British citizen I am entitled to work anywhere in the European Common Market. I figured working a few weeks here and there ought to allow me the luxury of travelling about Europe for at least a year at which time I would head back to Vancouver to visit my family and work for a few months in order to head back out on the road, this time maybe to Australia or New Zealand. I had of course informed my friends of my grand plan. But to give my Mother a little peace, I told my parents that I’d probably be gone for between three to six months or so. I was full of bravado as I boarded the plane that would fly overnight over Canada’s vast frozen North to arrive in Amsterdam.
Somewhere after about 8 hours in the air, I began to be afraid; very afraid indeed. What if they didn’t really speak English in Amsterdam? How was I going to find my way to the hotel I had booked? I’d decided that for my first night I’d be better off being a little extravagant, just until I got my bearings straight; besides the week before, I’d learned that the price had gone up at Youth Hostels to $8.00 per night, so, plan of $5.00 a day had been increased to $10.00 a day. So, I’d have to find a work sooner than I’d thought? I’d be out there on my own for a year, exploring all sorts of new place and having all sorts of exciting adventures. I didn’t talk to anyone on the plane. I’m an introvert; a room full of strangers makes me nervous. So a metal tube, hurtling through the air filled with strangers, terrified me. I kept myself to myself and quietly mulled over the fate which awaited me.
By the time the plane landed two hours late in Amsterdam, I was exhausted and terrified. I’d spent 14 hours imagining all sorts of horrible things and I was left hoping that the frightening customs officer would refuse to let me enter Holland and send me home on the next flight. When I finally reached the hotel, they told me I couldn’t check in until the afternoon. My backpack weighed a ton as I walked around the block, afraid to wander too far, encase I got lost, or run over by a cyclist I found a bench and sat down to watch the world go by. I remember getting very, very angry as I sat there on that bench. I mean what in the world were my parents thinking? I was barely eighteen years old, how could they let me go off on my own like this. I mean what did I know about the world? I was probably going to get myself killed? Why didn’t they stop me? What kind of crazy parents did I have? If only they’d talked some sense into me, I would be all alone in a strange place about to meet my fate at the hands of some unknown villain who would make off with my $800.00 and leave me to fend for my self on the streets of Amsterdam. I had never been so frightened in my entire life. So, I decided right there and then, that just as soon as I could check into the hotel, I’d call the airline and book the next flight home.Continue reading →
I’d like you to think very carefully about a couple of questions. The questions are simple ones. They are designed to help us form images in our minds; images that might help to shed light on a particular kind of wound. But before I ask the questions, let me give you a definition of the verb that drives both of the questions that I’m going to ask. The verb comes from the Latin verb “tradere” which means to hand over. In English we say betray. The word betray literally means to hand over to an enemy by treachery or fraud. The word betray can also mean to be unfaithful; to violate trust, or to deceive.
So, here’s my first question: Have you ever been betrayed? Think about it very carefully. Has someone ever turned you over to the enemy by treachery or fraud? Has someone ever disappointed you; or been unfaithful to you, or violated your trust, or deceived you? Have you ever been betrayed?
The second question is this: Have you ever betrayed someone? Think about it carefully. Have you ever handed someone over to the enemy? Have you ever let someone down, or been unfaithful, or violated a trust, or deceived someone? Have you ever betrayed someone? Now take those two questions further: Have you ever been betrayed by someone you love? Have you ever betrayed someone you love?
The gospel reading for the fifth Sunday after Easter takes place on the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The night of Jesus’ last supper, a supper that took place after Jesus had humbled himself to kneel at the feet of his followers and bath them. A night on which the enemies of Jesus are plotting outside the dinner party; plotting to do away with Jesus. After washing his disciples’ feet,
Jesus informs them that one of them will betray him. Peter, who is worried that Jesus might be talking about him, leans over and asks Jesus who the betrayer is? Jesus answers: “it is the one whom I give this piece of bread which I have dipped it in the dish.” Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas Iscariot and says, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” No one at the table knew what Jesus was talking about. After receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. It was night, darkness. When Judas had gone out, Jesus proceeds to give his followers a new commandment. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Why after five weeks of celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection does the church lectionary take us right back to Maundy Thursday; to the night of Jesus’ betrayal? Why bring up Judas at a time like this? Judas left the table a long time ago. Christ is risen. We are five weeks into the celebration of Easter. Why bring up Judas and his dastardly deed? Now that Judas has done what he has done, surely, he no longer needs to be invited to our celebrations. Once Judas left that table and did what he did everything was different. But the church just won’t let it go. So back to that horrible night we go to the time when Jesus was betrayed. Jesus is about to go to the cross. Jesus is about to reveal to us a LOVE that takes him all the way to the cross. So, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Does this LOVE extend even to Judas, and to all the Judases of this world? Upon hearing Jesus’ new commandment, did any one of the other disciples go out into the night looking for Judas in order to extend that love to him? Did anyone fear for Judas, miss him, or try — even after he brought soldiers to Gethsemane — to bring Judas back, to talk him out of his shame, his anger, his rapidly deepening hell?”[i]
We don’t have the answers those questions. My guess is no one found him, even if someone tried. To this day people are searching for the “real story” about Judas. Judas is still out there, it seems, wandering somewhere in the night, forsaken by every generation of disciples since that ancient Thursday, the night of the new commandment. Every time we gather for Communion, we commemorate Judas and his unforgivable behavior when we speak of the night when Jesus was betrayed. We speak of Judas’ betrayal, but we do not name him. We have not searched for him, and we have not found him. Judas’ place at Christ’s table remains empty. Continue reading →
I was about 10 years old, when I first encountered the 23rd psalm. I never went to church when I was a kid. Church simply was not part of my family’s life. But one summer, my brother and I were left in the care of my Mother’s aunt who lived down in the Adirondacks, and as a way of filling our days, Aunt Madge sent us to a local Vacation Bible School. I don’t remember much about the five days we spent attending Vacation Bible School. But, I do remember very well the glimpse of God that I encountered that week. To this day, I can still recite word for word just what I learned that week:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I can still hear the minister carefully translating each phrase into language that children could understand. I remember thinking that I had learned some secret knowledge that had been hidden from me all my life. For the first time in my short little life, I caught a glimpse of God and he wasn’t some angry old man who was sitting up on a cloud thinking up ways to punish me.He wasn’t some mean Father who sent his only son to die on a cross.
For the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of God the shepherd, who wanted nothing more than to take care of me, who provided beautiful green meadows with lovely rivers flowing through them, were I could feel the warmth of the sun and know that even if hard times were just around the corner, God would go with me, and take care of me. Best of all, this God would fill me with so many blessings that my life would be just like a chocolate mike-shake that was so full that it would never end. I had absolutely no idea what a shepherd was, or what a shepherd did. I simply knew that God is my shepherd and following God was the greatest, safest, most rewarding thing I would ever do.
The metaphor of God as my shepherd carried me to a place beyond the words of the 23rd psalm, to a paradise more sublime than my ten year old self had ever imagined before. A place of beauty, safety and security, that at the tender age of ten, I was already longing for.
Metaphors are quite literally words strung together to carry us beyond the words themselves, and for me and for millions of people, generation after generation, the words strung together in the 23rd psalm have carried our longing souls far beyond the words themselves to into the midst of our hopes and dreams. As a ten year old, who was always the new kid in town, the nomad, wandering from new school to new school, the mere mention of a being led to a place of safety, where I would find comfort and rest from the shadows that haunted me, was all the goodness and mercy that I needed to know about in order to want to know more about this Shepherd. Those first glimpses of God, still comfort me.
My life has not been particularly difficult. I am blessed, I am loved, I am privileged, I am wealthy, my cup does indeed overflow with goodness. But, like all people, I have my dark valleys were the shadows of death frighten me. There are moments of longing in which I long to be swept up into the arms of a Good Shepherd, who will hold me close in an embrace of LOVE so that I will be able to rest, knowing that I am at home. But I’m not ten years old. The metaphor of a shepherd no matter how good or great that shepherd might be, cannot satisfy my longing to know the One who is at the very core of our existence.Continue reading →
“Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for?” I preached this sermon on the raising of Tabitha years ago, as an attempt to convey the academic essay of New Testament scholar Rick Strelan into the form of a sermon. I believe that it is vital for preachers to convey the wealth of insights that are bandied about in the halls of academia, so that congregations can let go of so many interpretations of scripture that insult their intelligence, so that we can begin to explore the “more-than-literal meaning” (Marcus Borg) of biblical texts. Rick Strelan’s essay appeared in “Biblical Theology Bulletin, May 1, 2009, under the title “Tabitha: the gazelle of Joppa”.
Yesterday, I went for a walk. As I was walking along, minding my own business, a bright light appeared in the sky. The light nearly blinded me and so it took a while for me to figure out what was happening. Suddenly, it was so clear that the light was actually coming from a very large spaceship. I could scarcely believe by eyes. I stood frozen to the spot as the space ship landed in the middle of the road. You’ll never believe what happened after it landed. A couple of little green creatures with giant eyes gout out, took my picture, and then got back in the spaceship and flew off into the farthest reaches of space.
You don’t believe me, do you? You think that I’m making a joke of some sort, or maybe I’ve been working too hard and I’ve finally lost the plot. I know there’s probably nothing that I can say that would convince you that little green men have photographed me. Quite frankly that’s a relief because if you’ll believe that, you’d probably believe anything.
I do find it interesting that you won’t allow yourself to believe that I encountered aliens from another planet, and yet, you’ll suspend your disbelief when I tell you a story from the Bible. Or will you? Take our first lesson from the book of Acts. The miraculous story of how the Apostle Peter raised a disciple named Tabitha from the dead. You all know that when someone is dead, that’s it they are dead. You can pray over them all you want, but they’re never going to sit up, let alone stand up like Tabitha. There’s about as much chance of a person standing up after they’ve actually been dead as there is little green men from outer space landing on the street outside this church.The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories that we wouldn’t believe for a second if it weren’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we?Now maybe you’re the generous type and so you say, “Don’t be too hasty, it could happen if the person wasn’t really dead.” I mean, maybe Tabitha’s friends got it wrong and she just appeared to be dead. The story says that Tabitha died, then her friends washed her body and laid her out in an upper room. Then, since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples sent two couriers to Peter, who was in Lydda and they asked Peter to head back to Lydda, which was about 10 miles away. That’s a 20 mile round trip on foot with a walking speed of about 3 miles per hour it would take at least 7 hours. She was definitely dead. According to the story Peter sends everyone out of the room, knelt down and prayed and then said, “Tabitha, stand up!” and she did just that.
The story of the raising of Tabitha is one of those stories that we wouldn’t believe for a second if it weren’t in the Bible. I suspect that when it comes to stories from the Bible, most of us don’t really believe that they happened exactly the way the Bible says they happened. Or do we?Continue reading →
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world yearns for? In responding to this question, our understanding of the Christ all too often restricts the way in which we tell our stories of resurrection. Richard Rohr’s sermon preached at All Saint’s in Pasadena follows readings from Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-31 and pushes us to broaden our visions of the risen Christ.
Looking ahead to Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see
Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here
Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here
Back in November of 2015, my Mom, who lives in Vancouver, fell. The fall was the cumulative effect of years and years of ill health, which for all sorts of reasons my Mom was unable to face; ill health that my family has fretted over and worried about. But no matter how hard we tried, it took a fall to get my Mom into the hospital. Many of you know the pain of living thousands and thousands of kilometers away from loved ones. The telephone rings and suddenly your life is turned upside down as you anxiously try to decide if you should book a flight, pack a bag, and rush to the bedside of someone you love. As I was agonizing over whether I should or shouldn’t rush out to Vancouver, my brother called and said that I needed to come right away. The sound of my brother’s voice cracking in mid-sentence convinced me to move heaven and earth in order to race to Vancouver, in order to sit at what we were now convinced would be my mother’s deathbed.
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of being present with all sorts of people as they sit vigils with their loved ones. Over the years, I have learned the value of a quiet, gentle, presence to accompany us in the darkest of journeys. In my head, I knew that whatever my family was about to experience, all that was really necessary was for me to do was to be present. So, I went to Vancouver, not as a pastor, not as someone who has been trained to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of a crisis, not as a professional who has accompanied many people on this kind of journey, not as Pastor Dawn; no on this journey I was simply, as my Mom calls, me when she wants to talk seriously to me, “Dawn Lesley”, a little girl, terrified of what lay in front of me.
The flight to Vancouver is about five hours long and during that five hours, I imagined what it would be like when I arrived and I tried to steel myself. My family is not what you would call religious, they don’t go to church, they don’t much talk about what they believe in, and they view my involvement in the church as a bit of strange; I’m an oddity in my family. They don’t really know this persona, Pastor Dawn is a mystery and to them I am simply their daughter Dawn, or their sister, or their Auntie Dawn. To the youngest members of the family Carol and I are lovingly referred to as their far-away aunties. We fly in for a visit every once in a while and the history that I share with my family, reminds us of the love we share for one another, and carries us through our all too brief encounters. The history that we share filled my thoughts as the plane carried me and all my baggage home; home so that I could be present for whatever might happen. The seats on either side of me were empty. Normally, empty seats on a plane, meant more room to stretch out and be more comfortable. But this time those empty seats only served to remind me of my own emptiness. I wanted Jesus to be in the seat beside me. I wanted God the “Father” to be in the other seat. And I wanted the Holy Spirit to be outside the plane somewhere holding us all up there in the sky, keeping the plane safely above the clouds. I wanted the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to keep me safe, to comfort me, to take care of my Mother. I wanted the big and powerful, Almighty Sky God, to reach down and interfere in the world, and I wanted it right then and there for me and for mine. I wanted that old-time religion, the kind of religion I signed up for way back when, when life was simpler. The kind of religion where all I need was to have faith and God would answer my prayers. Instead, all I had with me was my iPad full of theological books about the nature of God, the historical Jesus, and progressive Christianity. Cold comfort when your tens of thousands of feet up in the sky, hurtling in a metal tube towards a situation that strikes fear in your heart and could rob you of your Mother. Somehow, the Ground of my Being, the One Who Lies at the very heart of Reality, the God who Is LOVE, was obscured by God the Father, the Almighty Idol who served me so well in the past, was back, and the only problem was that I have long since stopped worshipping idols.Continue reading →
Each year, I begin my preparations for preaching on the Baptism of Jesus with this video in which Heather Murray Elkins tells her story, “The Secret of Our Baptism.” Elkins opens us to a new way of hearing the Bat Col, the Daughter of a Sound, the Voice of the Divine, the Word, who speaks in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The art of blessing is often neglected. The birth of a New Year calls forth the desire in us to bestow a blessing upon those we love. Several years ago, John O”Donohue, one of my favorite Irish poet’s created a New Year’s blessing for his mother entitled Beannacht-for Josie. It is a blessing of superior quality. And so, on this New Year’s Eve, may you all receive this beannacht with my added blessing for a peace-filled New Year in which the God in whom all of creation is held, might find full expression in your miraculous life!