25 Jun 17: A Canada Day Sermon
Ps 86: 1-10, 16-17, Matthew 10: 26b-28
Loving God, may we think on sparrows and the hairs on our heads and remind ourselves of your care for the world. May we be open to courageous yet compassionate action when you call us. May we feel the love you continue to have for our imperfect selves. Amen.
As he self-corrected, Governor General Johnson reminded us, correctly, that except for the Indigenous peoples of Canada, we are all immigrants.
Canada was populated some 400 years ago by boat people, initially of Western European descent, looking for the enormous potential in this paradise of a land. And our immigrants continue to seek out our country for its promotions of our unity to stand on guard for liberation, diversity, and experimentation, justice and compassion. People come here to offer their skills, services, talents, time, and resources for the Canadian economy and nation. And they come to join our the Canadian soul.
Indeed today when we reflect on this land and her remarkable people, we can see how blessed, free, peaceful, and wealthy a nation we have developed in the extraordinary brief time of as mere 150 years. We have accomplished a miracle of a nation, a miracle that has eluded other nations that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. No wonder we want to stand on guard for thee.
We are famous worldwide for our creativity, good business, engineering, natural resources, honest banking, tenacity/toughness when needed, and joy of life. People, despite our astoundingly cold long dark winters, want what we have. No wonder we stand on guard for thee.
In this paradise of a land we are not afraid of government secret police or death squads. Due to our education system and our very sophisticated honest media, balanced governance, even all government things concealed are disclosed. Every four years we can vote confidence or no confidence in the government at all levels. And we do all that, primarily as a peaceable community striving to help all become that which God creates us to become.
Northrop Frye, a great Canadian literary genius looked at this painting by Edward Hicks depicting Indigenous people, Quakers, and animals, lions bears, oxen, lamb and dogs, all reconciled with one another and with nature. Frye wrote “from that painting comes a haunting vision of Canadian serenity”. Peaceable land has been one of our quests for ourselves and when the time has been right, something we have exported, with pride, to the world as a commodity.
When we boast about our Canadian heroes we boast about inventors of Trivial Pursuit (Scott Abbott, Chris Haney), arbitrator of world justice, (Louise Arbour), medical advance (Banting and Best), technical advances (Bell, Lazaridis), medical missionary (Bethune), IRA peace make (de Chastelain), world standard time (Fleming), IMAX movies, the prevailing communication theory, (McLuhan), singers (Dion, Bieber, Russell Braun, Roger Doucet, Gino Quilico), basketball (Naismith), peacekeeping and the UN (Pearson), and the just society (Pierre Trudeau). No wonder we stand on Guard for thee.
While it is true, we have vulnerabilities to natural disasters and terror attacks that have and can kill us; it is true we have made gross mistakes in our past insensitivities, and yet still we are not afraid, in this our beloved Canada land, of things that could kill our soul. We take responsibility as adults and move towards social well-being. The soul of our Canada runs deep and quiet amongst us: no wonder we stand on guard for thee.
How many countries exist where people, without fearing for their lives and the lives of their families take their churches and military to court, or protest in public, or write opinions against government action or inaction?
In the vast majority of world nations, citizens can only whisper their opinion in dark; in Canada we can proclaim our dissent from the rooftops of our law courts. No wonder we stand on guard for thee.
Our soul is tough and runs deep, driven by a deep seated faith with our ideals for justice and compassion. It is a soul that lifts us above the dark chaos of self-centeredness, arrogance, and unfettered greed.
Our respect for the individual supersedes by far away our desire to protect unfair mean spirited, arrogant collectives and laws that have hurt us. It is as if in Canada, even the hairs on our heads are numbered, and we, as individuals, are worth much more than a Canadian goose, which actually enjoys state sponsored protection against unlimited hunting.
We are a country that should never have even developed in the first place, and yet against all odds in a tough cold land our souls grew this nation. The Canadian soul is resilient, grown from diversity and difficulties. The one indisputably unparalleled aspect of this nation-state of ours, well it’s our size. Ours is an enormous hunk of geography. Few land masses of such outrageous dimensions can withstand the tensions of democracy. We live in the world's most awkwardly designed country. Most of the Canadian population lives only within 200 miles of the 49th parallel. How is it but not a miracle we exist as a nation? We are 5,780 miles long and 200 miles wide, with our 31 million peoples are scattered along a series of abandoned canoe routes. Strung along this narrow band in theory we should not survive as a nation. The odds of our survival are against us. And yet after a half century of recording the twists and turns, its debacles and pitfalls, we have to conclude that our Canadian soul will not be killed easily. We are standing on guard for thee.Canadians have so much to talk about, to protect, to discuss and to celebrate. So let this be our homework this week. Go out and join the party, be Canadian, proud, principled, peaceful, diverse and free. The next time you belt out the words “We stand on Guard for thee”, know deeply, feel deeply our Canadian soul beating deeply strongly within. For 150 years we have been a great people doing great things together. Let us know that the Canadian soul will continue to thrive against any challenges before us because our soul holds dear that we are a diverse community empowering one another to be all that God has created us to become.
18 Jun 17
Ps 42: 1-8, Gal 3:23-29, 1 Kings 19: 8b-13
Go Deep to go Deep
Ah, God: silence is indeed golden when it enables us to hear the deepest concerns, those things that matter most to you in creating the world in your will.. Grant us the courage to seek wisdom in the voice of silence. Amen.
As people struggle with the clearly evident loss of interest and growing apathy if not antipathy towards religious institutions amongst western liberal democracies such as ours in Canada, there are a number of emerging creative theologians and philosophers trying to make sense out of a evident failure to inspire faith to most of the generations behind us. What is emerging is a deeper understanding of Paul’s theology, that Jesus showed us we need not be prisoners of law. Gal: 3:23
Unlike the theology of the last 400 years, the theology of our childhood religious institutions, the emerging emphasis is no longer on this part (law) of Paul’s statement, but rather on this word: Prisoner.
So the question being posed is this: What is the prison today?
I love that question, because if we do not understand the prisons of our culture, then our children and their children, including our own charges in our church school are destined to stay all locked up or forced to rebel in order to find a way out of our prisons of thinking. Maybe that explains, in part, the emptying churches.
Paul teaches that we are no longer under the discipline of what he called “the law.” So again our question is: “what is the law of the lock up today?”
The law of the lock up today is embedded in the education systems that push our children toward domestication, obedience, and subjugation. It is a system that teaches our children that adulthood is that period after school ends when one must function effectively, autonomously, and productively by mastery of vocation and domination of creation. It is education for domestication.
It is an educational system chained to a destructive dependency that identifies us by our function, that measures us by our achievements, and that defines success by our externals.
Speaking of measuring success by external things: consider the lawn. Lawns take up an extraordinary amount of time and income. A well kept lawn looks lovely, true, yet they add not one cent to our property values despite the extraordinary effort and money they consume.
People can obsess over the external appearance of the lawn. Some phone 311 to complain about the appearance of their neighbor’s lawn. Out of curiosity, and maybe out of resentment at the costs of lawns I read up on the phenomena of the modern lawn. Gardens and estates with lawns were once only for the very rich, sports fields, and they became great sources of income for those in domestic service to the wealthy.
Then in the industrial age with the invention of the blessed and cursed lawn mower; the lawn turned into slave-labour prisons of rigid expectations for the middle class, who now had to do the work mostly themselves.
People like us only began to fret about the lock up we called the lawn about 1940. Before that we tended vegetable gardens and walked in public parks.
So, for me, the middle class lawn has become a great symbol of cultural rigidity. It is truly a great symbol of “the law” as defined by St. Paul from which faith has offered freedom.
So, being locked up by the law not only chains us, but also dooms successive generations to repeat the mistakes of the past. From a Biblical perspective being locked up by law has led our time and age to long neglect a primal source of Spiritual Wisdom. This was something both Jesus and Paul ranted about.
Wisdom is not only knowing the past, being well read, understanding the norms, facts of mathematics, finances, politics, and social exceptions etc., it also comes from our lived experience found by deep listening to the Holy Spirit within.
Listening to that gentle whisper is critical to satisfy our constant thirst for the meaning/purpose of our lives and our pursuit for ongoing growth. This is as the psalmist so well taught long long ago: “deep calls to deep, in the roar of the waterfalls,” or as Elijah discovered: “after the noises of wind, earthquake and fire there came a gentle whisper.” From a wisdom educational point of view it offers a balance that frees us from the tyranny of education for domestication, a manifestation of “the law.”
The alternative to the education for domestication is offering education for liberation. Sure mastery of the known is the start, but is not enough in our human thirst and it was not enough for Paul. No longer locked down by law, we can grow in wisdom by faith.
None of here in this room are fixed personalities. We refuse, as creatures of God’s image, to be reduced to our genetics, colour, gender, or religion. We may be that, but we are much more. We are in a constant state of rediscovery, reformation, and renewal.
Sure, there is always a great past upon which we stand, but there is also always present a lure of the future towards a larger horizon of meaning and possibilities. Unchained by the anchors of the past and education as domestication, we are unlocked as Paul put it from the law. We can indeed have faith, we can indeed trust in God that our evolutions and transformations are part of the creative process, and so fulfill the law.
We trust that lure of the future by listening to the gentle whisper. We trust the lure of that open ended future by going deep into the deep. We free our young charges by encouraging them to go deep into their souls to connect with their purpose and their thirst to be more than they are.
There appears to be a new emerging kind of adulthood, one once taught by the ancients. It seems to be re-merging in the face of the failures due to the rigidity of cultural norms. Norms we still see locked up in the expectations, processes, philosophies and theologies of the church in modern western democracies. We may have come a long way baby since the dark ages of 500 years ago, but we still have so more to do in the next 500 years.
Standing on the past, but empowered to pursue a better future: this was the mission of the Christ who said: I came not to abolish the law, but came to fulfill it.
So as we move from our spoken, noisy and wordy lives, let us also go deep within the deep to hear the gentle whisper of purpose and growth. Let us encourage our children and their children with meditations, music, art, dance and silent reflections to go deep within the deep, so they learn from schools for liberation and not from schools for domestication. That is a legacy that is ours to give, and we have heard it deep within. And that gentle whisper defines our ever-changing identity, purpose and growth being Christians in the mission field of our western liberal democracy.
11 Jun 17
Ps 8, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13, Matt 22:37-40
The Spirit Sighs Within Us
Take just a moment to step outside. Look at the sky, what is happening there? Are there clouds or stars or is it brilliant blue? Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear birds or traffic or insects or voices? What can you feel? The sun on your face, the wind blowing gently or throwing things around? Open your eyes. This is God’s good creation, formed by love and you are part of it. Offer your own thoughts and prayer to the God who loves you.
Today being Trinity Sunday, I want to address one of the greatest errors that the institutional church perpetuated on humanity for about last 400 years, an honest error, but an error none the less. The beginning of this error indeed has its roots in the first century of very early church.
The error is found in the way we internalized these immortal words of faith: “I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”. That formula, especially in the last 400 years has deeply distorted our view of God.
The early church spoke of the Trinity because they had come to know God as Creator; God as the Christ, and God as the ever present sustaining Spirit. Loving the Divine in heart, and soul, and mind they had found God in three ways.
God appeared in human awareness as creator, redeemer, and sustainer and thus the idea of the Trinity emerged in human consciousness. Regretfully, it was written down to be internalized as God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Seeing the Trinity as that simple sterile formula has caused a lot of damaging distortions.
It implies a hierarchy that is ruled by a male creator disconnected from all that was created….and that distorts the creation stories of Genesis.
That formula, written like that, makes God male and that distorts the Wisdom/Gospel literature, where the creator is both male and female, unchained from gender.
It creates the illusion that physical creation, emotions, intuitive wisdom are deeply flawed, untrustworthy and that distorts the creation story where God saw creation and said it was good.
It implies that human kind needs a super hero God from another planet to rescue it and that distorts Matthew’s vision of loving the creative God with the inner spirit of heart, soul and mind,
It marginalizes the theology of partnership with God’s Spirit, and that distorts the internalization of Christ’s lessons of healing.
In other words, understanding the Trinity by that formula distorts our felt sense of God by putting the primary source of our spiritual energy, God’s Holy Spirit out in the margins. It puts God’s healing by the son outside our responsibility. And it puts the ongoing Creative Presence far far away from our selves. By making putting God as separate and distant from us and all creation we have distorted and hurt terribly our understandings of our sexuality; of our relationship to food, possessions, and money; and of our relationship to animals, nature, and our own incarnate selves.
The church in the last 400 years has taught, well-meaning as it wanted to be, unintentionally, that God in three persons lives way out there. Remember as a child, I was absolutely sure the Holy Ghost lived in the big black space behind these organ pipes in my home church?
With the Trinitarian formula like this church lost sight of a critical theology: God lives not out there and does not look like this, or this, or this.
The early church did not have these images; they also had no perception of such a division. The early church did not see a rigid boundary between us and God. It was permeable, fluid, more like a membrane. And so they experienced God within their chests in three ways. Such experience went beyond words and language. God was experienced as this desire for connection and God’s desire is expressed as deep sighs.
If we want to sense God in three ways, forget the formula, and embrace desire and sighs as did the early church. We need go no further than our own desire for connection and pay close attention to that desire as expressed in our deep sighs. If one only stays in the sterile world of logic and words one risks missing out on benefits contemplation and worship. It is then we deny ourselves certain enriching vital sorts of theological insight. If we want to sense God fully in three ways, forget the formula, and embrace desire with sighs as did the early church.
This is well expressed in Matthew’s gospel. God is with you completely by your heart and mind and soul, the early gospel wrote reporting the words of our Jewish teacher of the house of David. Jesus came precisely to heal division, the disconnect between us and the Divine. He was saying, here in effect, “To embrace your human heart body and soul is good! The spiritual and the physical can be trusted and enjoyed. We are the hiding place of God and the revelation of God!” So why indeed would we desire God by looking in a sterile empty tomb of the dead, when Jesus is found in our living?
Do we not seek, desire, ache for Divine connection? Do we not express our desire in deep wordless passionate sighs?
Desire itself is a great emotional passionate sensation, deeply felt with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds. Desire to be one with God is found in our desire to make love. Desire to be one with God is found in our desire to enjoy the beauty of the earth. Desire to be one with God is found in our desires to eat together, to laugh together, to drink together, to cry together, to be together, to sail together, and to sigh together.
And…do not these desires appear in the sighs of our souls deeply yearning to connect with God, others and ourselves? O my soul, sigh deep within us.
The Spirit sighs within US, allowing US to desire "Divine Love of Daddy” as once did Jesus.
We sigh at the horrible news of acts of terror. It is our way to connect with the bereaved in grief, and ache for those killed / hurt in violent acts. It is good our souls sigh deep within us out of desire for connection.
We sigh with impatience at certain acts in politics and governmental authority. It is our way to connect our concerns with politics and authority. It is good our souls sigh deep within us out of desire for connection.
We sigh at generalizations based on colour, status, religions, and sex. It is our way to connect with those hurt by power, prejudices, and dis-empowerment. It is good our souls sigh deep within us out of desire for connection.
All our deep felt sighs are reflections of the very sighs of God in whose image we are.
Our God in three expressions is a God of desire. Our sighs out of desire for connection are one with Divine sighs desiring connection. We are the sighs of the Sustainer who is longing for our response. We are the sighs of the Redeemer who is searching our hearts. We are the sighs of the Creator who is renewing us as we speak.
Knowing the Trinity of God as desire expressed in our sighs corrects the problems born from institutional distortion.
It matters a great deal that we know that the God we desire is already in ourselves. As we travel attending to our desire and as we pay attention to our souls as they sigh deep within us, we are transformed to be all God created us to be so we can make holy purposes in the world. In other words, it is then we have become one with Christ because we are the body of Christ.
So let us be very mindful that God is right here every time we take a deep breath, every time our soul sighs deep within us. That sigh is God yearning for connection.
4 June 17 Communion
Ps 104: 24-34; Joel 2: 28-32
The rippling waves of yet another chance
Loving Creator, Spirit-wind, Flame of justice, blow your Spirit upon us, send it to challenge and comfort us, let it be the lifeblood that pulses through our veins, that we might be made whole and new. Amen.
Presbyterians have not escaped our ancient Jewish roots. Sermons are always based in scriptures. Sermons are about interpretation and authority of God’s Living Word. And so sermons unpack scriptures we have read. We preach not ourselves, we preach only the Living Word. This, the church learned by studying carefully the preaching of Jesus Christ, who Himself learned to preach in the ancient Jewish tradition. That tradition has been the same for centuries:
1. Read the Scriptures then on that basis
2. unpack the written scriptures to bring them to life
3. using four essential ingredients: teach, preach the good news, invoke a sense of the mystery of God, and yes give out homework.
If we look carefully at Peter’s sermon at the day of Pentecost, we will find this formula in Acts 2. The day the tongues of fire came down and everyone heard the Word of God in their own language. Our hymns today are words of our faith in the pouring out of the spirit so that the church would partner with the Divine in the ongoing evolutionary creative process towards the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Joel, a Jewish well known prophet, was the starting line for this Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. It is a tremendous example of the early preaching forming the church in the first century, right after the crucifixion / resurrection.
Brilliantly, after the astounding vision in which tongues as of fire touched the gathering and people heard the Word each in their own language, Peter quotes the very well known hope of Joel spoken in a time of famine and suffering in Israel.
That hope is this: in faith, God would see the end of the suffering and the Spirit of God would be poured into the world, and the world would respond and grow to be God’s faith, justice, and compassion.
That blessing would pour out into the consciousness of all humanity, indeed all creation in two waves, rippling across time like waves in a pond: physical “I am sending you grain, new wine and oil enough to satisfy you fully” and spiritual I will pour out my spirit enough for creation, prophesy, dreams, hopes and realized visions.
Peter divides the passage into four parts. He reteaches the Word by quoting Joel, he invokes the mystical experience of the Creative Spirit, he preaches the Good news of healing for all creation, and finally he leaves his audience motivated to implement God’s teaching as taught by the Son: homework.
This living word was not dropped into the living waters of creation and humanity like a one-time stone. The living word indeed continues to pour like a stream of unending water into our creation, and its ripples continue throughout all time, forward and backwards without end.
I like to look at the big picture. And when I pull up higher, looking over this story, I found at its beginning the passage from Joel.
Joel shows the Spirit pouring out, at first given only to an exclusive group of Israelites. Peter later quotes Joel and breaks out of this exclusive club to embrace all in the Diversity of languages of the Middle East of his day: tribes of Israel as we read in Acts 2.
That was only the beginning of the wave. Peter shows this wave rippling out it in ever widening circles: he sees the Spirit embracing the wider group beyond those who only saw the vision at Pentecost, then the ripple of the Spirit embraces the Samaritans, then it wraps itself around some Gentiles in the home of the Roman Cornelius, then again and again it engulfs the peoples of the world across the Roman Empire in Acts 10, then Acts 11, Acts 15 and Acts 19.
Again and again the pouring out of the Spirit of Creation spreads across time and space, offering the power of the eternal renewal of the creation to all humanity from generation to generation…and that is our homework.
It is sadly true: we in our time may not get to see the end result of heaven on earth with its promise of perfect compassion and justice, but that day is coming as sure as the Divine Wave moves across God’s pond…and that is the homework.
Our job, our homework remains the same as it was at Pentecost. Feel, sense, hear, or see the ripples of God’s Word deep within ourselves. Let down our human defences, as did the early witnesses in the church, so much so, the spirit, already present becomes conscious. Maybe this happens for you by sacrament, or maybe by vision, maybe by dreams, maybe by Word, maybe by universal understanding, maybe by praise, maybe by art, or maybe by natural beauty.
As it happens we will be moved to go out into the world and be the Body of Christ in the world. It will signal as it did for Jesus the empowering presence for and the new beginnings of the mission. It will move us to witness as that Spirit ripples through us out to the end of time and space.
Indeed, we can go there now, we can enter into the sacred space of the great Holy Mystical Sacrament of Communion with God.