140831 – Back to School

Yr A – Pent 15 – Ex 3:10-15, Mt 16:21-28
Well, it’s Back to School time again. According to the shopping malls it has been since the middle of July! As for my family we’re approaching this September with a variety of different attitudes and outlooks. Ben is gleefully ready to leave the 9-5 working world and can’t wait to get back to classes and books and essays. Josie is going into her last year of high school and is ready to rule the school! My wife, however, is a teacher – so she has a decidedly different outlook! No, I’m just kidding. She loves it too and she’s happy to be back at it.prayer-surrender1

No matter what age or stage you’re at, there seems to be a certain sense of ‘same old same old’ about back to school time each year. The flyers, the sales, the new clothes, the school supplies, meeting the new teacher (or class) – a fresh start in a new year. Today we’re going to look at two characters from the bible who went ‘back to school’ too. The difference being that they didn’t realize they needed to. There was nothing ‘same old same old’ about their experiences, or what they needed to learn. And it took a lot more than a flashy flyer to hook them…

The first story is about Moses. We’re going to talk about the famous burning bush story. On the surface it seems pretty straightforward – a shepherd encounters a supernatural event, a dramatic representation of the presence of God in the form of a bush that is on fire yet not consumed – and hears the voice of God. read on

140810 – The Great Awakening

Yr A – Pentecost 6 ~ Genesis 28:10-22

Consider a person who would say, “Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!”
What have they discovered?
What made them come to this realization?
Why did they not know this before?
Where is the place? Is it special? Why?
Will this insight change their life?

Is God where you are? How would you know? awakening-b
These are just a few of the questions that swirl around this remarkable scene from Jacob’s life, the night of his awakening. And for us it’s one of the most intriguing and instructive biblical stories for awakening to the presence of God. If you are a person of faith then this story of Jacob is your story.

Jacob is not a paragon of virtue (in fact, he’s a pretty rotten guy), and he begins this story utterly alone. He’s fleeing to escape his brother Esau’s wrath after deceiving him twice, finagling for Esau’s birthright (25:29-33) and stealing Esau’s blessing (27:20). Jacob is in liminal, in-between space; and here this nowhere man will encounter God.

The sun has set and it’s night time, a time of danger, vulnerability, and mystery. Jacob has come to ‘a certain place’ that he later names Bethel. To Jacob it’s just a place but in rabbinic tradition the Hebrew word for ‘place’ is also a name for God. Listen to the language: Gen 28:11 “He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.” ‘Place’ is important!

So he’s taken a stone for a pillow. In the stories of the patriarchs of Israel when stones are mentioned it’s usually about building an altar. If that connection holds true here Jacob could be seen to be placing his head on an impromptu altar making an inadvertent offering of himself to God.

Then he goes to sleep and has one of the most famous dreams in history. It was the first dream in the bible, perhaps foreshadowing his son Joseph’s many dreams to come.
But why did he dream this dream?
What state of mind or being was he in?
Maybe it’s because it’s only when Jacob is asleep that he’s unguarded enough to be open to a divine encounter? read on

140803 – Enough Already

Yr A ~ Pentecost 8 ~ Matthew 14:13-21

This is one of those gospel stories that seem to be so clearly about one thing but is actually about something entirely different. On the surface it looks like a story about how Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men (plus women and children) with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Except that it isn’t. It’s much better and much more profound than that. It’s a lesson in actual abundance in the face of supposed scarcity.

Let’s look at the text. Matthew 14:13 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.enough-already

The thing Jesus heard was the news of the horrific death of John the Baptizer who was beheaded by Herod at the king’s dinner party. So Jesus withdraws from everyone, takes a boat to a deserted place where he can be alone, and prays. In the face of terrible, overwhelming news Jesus turns to prayer.

Then when the crowds hear the news they come looking for Jesus – ostensibly John’s successor in their eyes. When the news is bad people tend to look to spiritual sources for answers, so they went looking for Jesus. And where are they? Out in a deserted place, in the wilderness, just like John.

Now, it doesn’t say that Jesus saw the crowd and came rushing back to help. I think we tend to read that into stories like this. I fully suspect that Jesus took all the time he needed to be alone and pray. He needed spiritual strength to face the next parts of his journey – a journey that with the murder of John the Baptizer was clearly becoming increasingly dangerous.

Verse 14 tells of Jesus showing the crowd compassion, teaching and healing them until the evening came. Then the disciples enter the scene and it all falls apart. (how often have we heard that!)

Matthew 14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

On the surface this seems totally logical. The disciples wanted to send the crowds home at this point because they were not equipped to take care of such a large number of people. Remember, this is the middle of nowhere, not in a fancy well equipped church like this! But let’s stop here and go beneath the surface! read on

140622 – Committed to Reproduction

Yr A – Pentecost2 – Matthew 28:16-20
How do you like my title? Are you nervous? Let’s see where it goes! Our text is one of those very straightforward readings that means pretty much exactly what it appears to mean but despite that we seem to shrug our shoulders at it and ignore its implications in favour of what we think it should say.

Let me set the stage for you. It’s just after the resurrection. Jesus has appeared to some women but not to the men disciples in Matthew’s version. Jesus tells the women to tell the disciples to meet him back in Galilee on a mountain. So off they go. Now, that’s about a three day walk! Taking the story at face value, imagine yourself walking for three days in anticipation of possibly having an encounter with someone you just saw die and now have heard that he’s somehow mysteriously resurrected. To say the least, by the time they got there they were primed for a religious experience!committed-to-reproduction

Matthew 28:17 – When they saw him, they worshipped him.
They SAW him! I like to imagine that they said “Surely God is in this place!” They noticed! Their eyes were opened. Their hearts were on fire. Their spirits were soaring. It says they worshipped, but not with a hymn, a sermon, and a prayer – it literally says they fell down and kissed the ground. They prostrated themselves in worship. Have you ever been so moved in worship?

And then, despite all that, astoundingly it says that “some doubted”! You wonder how someone could have participated in this scene and still doubted. Well, the word “doubt” here means “to stand in two places at once” or “being of two minds.” Perhaps it means that even though they were overwhelmed by this spiritual experience some weren’t quite sure what it all meant, or what they were supposed to do about it.

So Jesus tells them! First he claims the authority of God in verse 18 and then he passes that authority on to the disciples. Jesus gives them what has come to be known as “The Great Commission”. read on

140608 – Fresh Breath

Yr A ~ Pentecost ~ John 20:19-23

Every year around this time we have a celebration. We celebrate the year of Christian spiritual formation that our children have had, and we celebrate the teachers who engaged in this wonderful ministry. We celebrate the birth of the United Church which happened on June 10th 1925. And we also celebrate the Day of Pentecost.faces-breathing-blow

Pentecost is one of my favourite liturgical days of the year. The story is so powerful, so vibrant, and so desperately relevant for the church today. The usual text for Pentecost is Acts 2. It’s the story of how the followers of Jesus were fearfully hiding out in an upper room when a sound like a rushing wind filled the place and the Holy Spirit was made manifest and danced like tongues of fire as everyone in the room was filled with the Spirit.

And then that Spirit so inspired and moved them that they were compelled out of their room and into the street where they shared their experience of God’s Presence with everyone they met and people deeply resonated with their sharing.

The day of Pentecost was nothing less than the birth of the Christian church. Those dead and defeated disciples were filled with the Spirit and were resurrected to new life – and from that beginning with those few followers a religion that about 1/3 of the world’s population now identifies with was launched. The Spirit of Pentecost is very powerful!

So if that’s such a great and important story why aren’t we focusing on it today? My answer is that as wonderful as it is it doesn’t speak to everyone. It’s kind of like Paul’s lightning bolt conversion experience on the road to Damascus – it’s a great story about awakening to God’s Presence but not everyone gets struck by lightning in their faith journey. Did you? Do you have a ‘fireworks and choirs of angels moment of awakening’ story? I don’t. My story has been more of a slow steady burn. read on

140601 – Are You One?

Yr A ~ Easter 7 ~ John 17:1-11, 20-23

We’re going to explore three big and seemingly unrelated themes from John 17 this morning: eternal life, the world, and oneness. But let’s start with quiz time!

Quote me John 3:16.
Ok, now quote me John 17:3.glasses-forest-lens

(I bet you didn’t know 17:3!) Many Christians know John 3:16 and treasure its promise of eternal life.
And how do you get eternal life according to 3:16? – by “believing in” Jesus.
And what does believing in Jesus mean?
And what is eternal life? (is that a little hard to answer?)
So why do we memorize that verse?

Instead, we should all memorize John 17:3! It’s awesome! Here it is:

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

17:3 lays it out as plain as day. It says Jesus has been given authority to give eternal life to people. And what is eternal life? – knowing God and the Christ! Eternal life is knowing God. And how do we do that?
Well, you can’t know something that you aren’t aware of, so how about we start with sensing and savouring God’s Presence! Seems to me if we do that, if we practice God’s Presence (as Brother Larry says!), then we will surely come to know God. So that means that sensing and savouring God’s Presence IS eternal life!!!

Why isn’t this verse all over signs at football games??? read on

140418 – Sharing Presence

(part 3 of a 3-part series called “The Presence Project”)

Surely God is in this place! Help me notice!
Surely God is in this place! Help me savour!

Those are the affirmations and prayers we’ve explored over the past two weeks. Before I go on to the third and final part of the series, let’s review how we got here.anam-cara-pray-friend

My first and foundational step in this whole spirituality or religion thing is to come to an awareness that there is Something More than just this. There is an awesome, holy, sacred Mystery that permeates everyone and everything I encounter.

My problem is that I don’t always notice it. I’m oblivious. I’m distracted. I’m busy. I’m too into my own stuff. But no matter how cluttered my life is the Sacred seems to keep poking through – relentlessly trying to get my attention – as Bruce Cockburn might say “kicking at my darkness until it bleeds daylight” – seeking me out despite myself. And once I catch a glimpse of it I want more!

It’s funny that we go through so much of our lives blind to God’s presence and then when we have an awakening we wonder how we could have missed it all that time. Like Jacob in Genesis 28:16 we have a spiritual experience that profoundly touches us and we snap out of our zombie-like fog and shout out, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!”

But now I know it! Now I KNOW it! read on

140511 – Savouring Presence

(part 2 of a 3-part series called “The Presence Project”)

Yr A ~ Easter 4 ~ Acts 2:42-47

When we hear this scripture passage about the first church ever I imagine most of us zero in on the part that says “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) I don’t know about you but when I hear that I think hippie commune, or maybe a cult! How long would I last here if I stood up and seriously preached that we should all sell our possessions and redistribute all the wealth among us?

Now, I don’t think they actually lived in a commune, but I do think they’re describing that the earliest church was so tuned-in to God and one another that they actually practiced that “love your neighbour” and “if you have two coats share one” stuff.pray-breathing

But as radical as that seems to our hyper-individualistic Western ears I don’t think it’s the most radical thing in this passage. I think the most radical thing is their spiritual intentionality – that they found a way to be fully present to God, and it impacted the way the lived. I think what we get here is a glimpse of humans finally really ‘getting it’!

It’s interesting to ask people what they think the bible is about – things like: Whose story is it? What’s the theme? What’s it trying to tell us?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s presence, and that the bible is really a library of stories spanning thousands of years of faithful people practicing presence, but more often stories of self-centred people ignoring it.

How does the bible begin? Where’s God?
God is in the midst of creation.
God is tangibly present with Adam and Eve – walking in the garden with them. Yes, it’s just a metaphorical story, and no God isn’t an old guy with a white beard, but notice what this story tells us: it says that our ideal state is to be fully in the presence of God. read on

140504 – Sensing Presence

(part 1 of a 3-part series called “The Presence Project”)

Yr A ~ Easter 3 ~ Luke 24:13-35
It’s one of the greatest stories in the New Testament. It was the first Easter Sunday and despite the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and their experience of the risen Christ, the men had gone running to the place and saw nothing, and later that same day the group had apparently dispersed and set out to return to their homes because Jesus had not reappeared, at least to them.flower-sky

Our story picks up the journey of two anonymous disciples on their way home to Emmaus which was about 7 miles or 11 kilometres from Jerusalem. Not a marathon distance, but not close-by either. Who are these disciples? Well, they’re definitely not 2 of the 12 in the inner circle. One of them is named Cleopas, but since he’s not mentioned anywhere else in the bible he might as well be anonymous. Some traditions have it that the other disciple with him is his wife. I like that.

So who are these two walking? They’re just two people who are followers of the Way of Jesus. In other words, they’re anybody – they’re you and me. That’s the point. The story of the experience on the road to Emmaus isn’t meant to be a historical story, it’s meant to be your story! You are on the road, and you can have an encounter with the risen Christ! read on

140420 – A New Harmony

Easter Sunday Reflection

As most of you know my father passed away last week and his funeral was just a few days ago, so getting into Good Friday head space was not hard for me this Holy Week. My challenge has been how to move through that and get to Easter morning while I’m still feeling the darkness and the weight of the cross. At Friday morning’s service I reflected on the importance of staying in that space of dying for a while, because until we live the dying we cannot begin to live the new life.

That was a great message for Friday, but now it’s Sunday and we’re all shouting out and singing that ‘Jesus is Risen’ and new life abounds, but I’m just not there yet. Or at least I wasn’t there until I read this quote from Philip Newell who writes beautifully about Celtic spirituality. This really helped me find a way to talk about Easter this year. Here’s the quote:cross-colours

“The risen Jesus shows the disciples the marks of crucifixion in his hands and side. The resurrection story is not about the wounds being undone. It is not about the suffering being smoothed over. The wounds are deeply visible. They are part of the new beginning. They are an inseparable part of the new beginning.

“Jung says that wholeness is about ‘integration…but not perfection.’ It is about bringing into relationship again the many parts of our lives, including our brokenness, in order to experience transformation. It is not about forgetting the wound or pretending that it did not happen. It is about seeking a new beginning that grows inseparably out of the suffering.

“As the Scottish poet Kenneth White writes, this is not ‘any kind of easy harmonization.’ It is not about returning to a simple unspoiled melody. It is about seeking a new harmony that fully recognizes the experience and the depth of our brokenness.” read on

140418 – Good Friday Reflection

“Cross Words”

“Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.” – a plea for mercy and wholeness.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – a promise of abundant life lived in God.

“Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.” – a commandment to love one another.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – a cry for God’s Presence in a dark hour.

“I thirst.” – a yearning for communion

“Father, into thy hands I commit my Spirit.” – a declaration of absolute trust.Crucifixion-b.w

These are the words the gospels put on Jesus’ lips on the cross. It is remarkable that there is no bitterness or resentment attributed to him as he suffers a revolutionary’s execution. Instead he pleas, promises, commands, cries, yearns, and declares his faith in the Holy Mystery we call God.

Where we suspect our words under duress might be panicked “cross” words filled with anger and fear we find Jesus to be calm and spiritual. Maybe it’s just good writing, or maybe he really was on another spiritual plane than other people – maybe he really did have such an indescribably powerful communion with God that even in this time of utter despair he trusted that this wasn’t the end.

Maybe Jesus lived in such absolute oneness with God that he knew that pattern of dying and rising, like the flow of night to day, of winter to spring, of sleep to awakening – that pattern that he saw revealed in every aspect of creation around him and within him was really, fully, ultimately true even as he faced such a cold, non-metaphorical dying. read on

140413 – Who Is This

Yr A ~ Palm ~ Matthew 21:1-11

Who is this?

On our recent trip to New York we were strolling down 5th Avenue on a Saturday afternoon, which meant the street was pretty crowded, so we didn’t really notice the large group that was standing on the corner across the street. Well, we didn’t notice them until we heard the scream. Or was it a shriek? We looked over and this sea of teenage girls suddenly burst into motion and raced down the side street screaming at the top of their lungs. We all looked at each other and laughed, and figured it must have been a celebrity. And instantly the question hit us, “I wonder who it is?”palm_sunday-silhouette

Now, we didn’t care enough to go and find out – anything that sends 50 teenaged girls screaming is probably not on my radar – but we still wondered. Who is this?

You can’t help yourself. You see a commotion, something that attracts a crowd, and you’re undeniably intrigued. Who is this? Why are people reacting this way? What am I missing? I should go and find out.

Can you imagine a city teeming with pilgrims, all fired up because it’s a big festival but also seething because the Roman soldiers are everywhere and everyone is constantly under threat? Matthew’s gospel describes the city as being in turmoil. One of the reasons was apparently the arrival of Jesus – on a donkey – reminding the people of the peaceful king in Zechariah – thumbing his nose at the Romans (even if the Romans didn’t realize the symbolism of the donkey, the Jewish pilgrims certainly would have). The crowd is singing, or shouting hosanna, or waving branches and palms, and they’re causing a ruckus. If you were there you wouldn’t be able to contain yourself. You’d be craning your neck trying to get a look, or moving through the crowd to get closer – and there’d only be one thing on your mind: who is this?

Who IS this?? This is a very dangerous and provocative man! read on

140406 – Occupy Me

Yr A – Lent 5 – Romans 8:6-11church-selfie
The word #selfie (and yes, you pretty much have to spell it with the pound sign in front of it) was added to the dictionary and made the “word of the year” for 2013. If you’re connected to social media in any way – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – you know all about #selfies. Apparently there’s something irresistible about putting an easy to use camera in a device that you carry around all the time and with the touch of a screen you can share yourself with your friends and the world.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the odd #selfie.  They can be fun! But for the younger generations they seem to take more than the odd one. It’s like an obsession for some! Not that us older people don’t have our own obsessions. We certainly do, and some of them are just as narcissistic as #selfies. And some of our obsessions with self happen right here in church. Some people obsess about their eternal destination, some live in a rose-coloured nostalgia that thinks the old days were so-much-better, some get huffy if you suggest changing the music style, or rearranging the chairs!

But none of this is new. It’s just human nature – well, it’s immature human nature. Obsession with self is not inevitable, even though it’s painfully commonplace. The bible is overflowing with stories of people who were so completely focused on themselves, or their own needs, or their own preferences, or their own way of understanding the world that they couldn’t see God and God’s way. Moses and the golden calf incident, David and the bathing Bathsheba, Solomon and his temple taxes, Pharisees taking on Jesus, Saul persecuting Christians, time after time we see the trouble people get in when they put themselves at the centre of the universe.

The strange thing, the incomprehensible thing about this is that obsession with self has never been a long-term satisfying answer for anyone, and yet we all seem to think that we’re different and it will be for us. Obsession with self is locked-in on immediate gratification, which undoubtedly feels good in the moment because it gives you a rush of what you think you’re looking for, but beyond those initial moments it becomes shallow and unfulfilling.

And so we need voices like Paul’s calling us back from our self-obsession and urging us to awaken to a deeper and more life-giving reality. This passage from Romans 8, especially in Peterson’s “The Message” translation, really shows how we’re not all that different from that first audience hearing this so long ago. Paul is clearly speaking to our reality too. He said, read on

140330 – Blind Spots

Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:1-41

[a monologue]
blindfold-removeSo there I was just standing on my corner with my alms jar in front of me, such is the life of a blind man these days, when along came Jesus and his disciples. Of course I didn’t know who he was then, but I sure know him now! They were discussing my blindness, and how everyone knows that something like blindness happens because somebody somewhere did something really bad and I’m paying the price for it. At least that’s what I used to believe. Now I’m thinking that’s a lot of hooey. I wasn’t blind because of my parents or because of myself – it just was. But everybody seems to think it’s a punishment. Now I’m thinking maybe everybody is blind in their own way.

So Jesus chimed right in and said that it wasn’t anybody’s fault and that he was going to reveal something about God through this. I gotta admit, I was a little scared. They just came out of nowhere and suddenly I’m the centre of attention.

And then before I knew it (and without asking I’ll have you know!), Jesus spits on the ground, makes a little clay-like mud and slaps it on my eyes. Gross! Then he told me to go wash in the pool. I wasn’t sure what to think. I had no reason to trust him or to follow his instructions, but then again I was standing there with a load of mud on my face, so I did it.

Well, as you can see, I can see! read on

140323 – A Deep Well

Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:5-30
They started with a boundary crossing, then went onto a philosophical discussion about thirst, then they touched on status, then they debated religion, and they ended with Jesus apparently making a bold claim of authority and the woman walking away pondering the significance of this encounter. It’s quite a story that we get to explore on this third Sunday of Lent!jesus-woman-well8

The boundary crossing is first of all that men and women who were not married to one another really weren’t supposed to talk together in public, and second that Jews and Samaritans were not friendly to each other at all – kind of like estranged relatives from a nasty family fight that happened years and years ago and got worse. And on top of that this woman is quite a piece of work! You have to dig in to the cultural cues to realize why.

A well in their day was one of the town’s meeting places. Obviously there was no indoor plumbing – if she could have turned on a tap we never would have got this story. Everyone in town had to go to the well. Usually people went in the morning and evening, in the cooler parts of the day, and while there they’d socialize and build community.

Now look at the clues. The woman comes at noon, and she’s alone. Just from this one piece of information we know that she has been excluded or shunned or ostracized from her community. She is an outsider, presumably because of her multiple husbands, possibly because she may be a prostitute, either way she is not a respectable lady in society’s eyes. Knowing all this you can understand why she might have a rough edge and not be a pushover when challenged! read on

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