9th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Lord, you have faithfully tended this vine.

Give us the courage to trust

That you will faithfully tend it still

Through good times and bad.

Amen.

……………..

One of my favourite books as a child

Was The Secret Garden.

It’s the story of poor Mary Lennox,

An unhappy child who loses her parents,

So she moves in with her sad uncle Archibald

And his sick son, Colin.

Uncle Archibald is grieving the loss of his wife, Lily,

Who died giving birth to Colin.

Colin is confined to his room,

Unable to walk,

Neglected and kept secret,

Just like his mother’s garden.

Uncle Archibald is so stricken by his grief,

That he fears to ever love a living thing again,

In case it might die.

Even a garden.

Even his own son.

With the help of a friend called Dickon,

Mary discovers her aunt Lily’s secret garden,

And through their tender care,

The garden revives.

It grows and thrives,

It awakens light and life and joy

Throughout the whole family,

Not just Mary,

But Uncle Archibald and Colin, too.

Colin is so nourished by it,

That he becomes able to walk,

And develop a relationship with his father,

And with his cousin Mary.

I’m not much of a gardener, I’m afraid,

The green thumb seems to have skipped my generation.

But I know that many of you grew up on farms,

And practice gardening yourselves,

So you probably know better than I do

The power of loving the living things that grow

In a garden.

You probably know better than I do

What it means when God tends the vine of His people

And sings a song to His vineyard.

Our readings today speak to the faithfulness of God

In times when it appears as though He is unfaithful.

The vine God has planted is having some struggles, you might say.

It appears to have been neglected,

Just as the secret garden had been neglected.

It wasn’t always like that.

When God brought this vine out of Egypt,

He planted it in good soil.

God took the time

And made the effort to prepare the ground to receive

This precious vine

For which He cared so much.

Under his tender loving care,

The vine grew and flourished.

It became so tall it overshadowed mountains,

It was taller than cedar trees.

Its branches reached from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,

A distance of nearly 100 kilometers

The same as from here to Vegreville.

That’s a big honkin’ tree!

But now it’s experiencing some times of trial.

It’s suffering the ravages of wild animals

And arsonists.

It appears to the Psalmist that God has abandoned this vine

That He has heretofore tended so lovingly.

That the hedge of protection around it has been taken away

Leaving it at the mercy of those wild creatures

Who have pillaged its land

And torn at its banches.

It appears to be dead.

To have no spark of life left.

It’s common to view such trials as the Psalmist does.

We often speak of lands as being Godforsaken,

Literally, forsaken by the God who created them,

As though such a thing were possible.

It’s common to wonder, as he does,

If we have lost God’s love in some way.

If we have been wrong to trust Him.

And yet, when we look at the Creation He made

And has lovingly tended

For generation upon generation,

We see that what appears to be lost

May yet be found.

What appears to have been neglected

May only be at rest

What even appears to have been destroyed

May be undergoing renewal.

We rightly fear wildfires here, in Alberta,

But scientists tell us that, when not threatening human life,

Fires are good for the earth.

They renew the soil,

They revitalize the watershed.

There are some forests in the world where the trees have adapted

Only to produce seeds

Following a major fire event.

This is not to say that fires don’t destroy,

Of course they do.

It is not to say that we aren’t right to fear we might be caught up in that destruction.

When we say that God is faithful

To the vine he has planted

That does not mean that times of trial will not come,

That they will not be painful,

That we should just get over that pain

Because renewal is coming.

Death hurts,

For plants as well as any human animal.

And we rightly lament the losses we bear.

But it does mean that God has not abandoned us.

It does mean

That the same God who was faithful

To Abraham

And Moses

And Rahab

And those whom time would fail me to tell,

Like the author of Hebrews

Of Gideon and Barack and Samson and Jephthah

And David and Samuel and all the prophets

That same God who tenderly planted the vine

That nourishes the whole earth,

That stretches from the Sea to the River,

That same God who is our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who met his disciples on a mountaintop

And promised to be with us to the end of the age.

That same God the Holy Spirit

Who has never stopped creating

Who renews the face of the earth

That same God

Who has come this far with us

Will never fail us yet.

Therefore.

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

Who testify to God’s great faithfulness

Through the very hardest of times

We shall not fear

That we have been forgotten.

God watches each and every sparrow fall.

He laments the loss of even a single bloom.

But He does not allow His grief

To shut Himself away,

Like Uncle Archibald did.

He does not turn His face away from us,

No matter how hard things seem.

As Dickon says,

“Some of the strongest roses will fair thrive on being neglected

If the soil is rich enough.”

And so do not despair.

For the times are hard indeed,

And we cry out to the God of hosts

To look down from heaven;

Behold and tend this vine;

Preserve what your right hand has planted.

But we are planted in rich soil.

And we trust that He will hear us

For God loves the vine He has planted

To which He has been faithful

Generation upon generation

And will give every living thing

A little chance to grow.

Amen.

 

8th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Oh God, may we seek justice

That your will may be done on earth

As it is in heaven. Amen.

………….

I love lists.

Lists are the best.

I love making them,

I love looking at them,

I love revising and updating them,

And I particularly love

Crossing them off.

The satisfaction that comes

When I get to click the box

On my To Do List app

Is immense.

I have been known to add already completed tasks

To the list

Just to get that thrill

When I get to check it off

Just minutes after it went on.

The problem is that I am also a profoundly lazy person.

So I will often seek cheaper and cheaper thrills,

Prioritize the quicker of the tasks,

Not the most important,

Because important projects generally take time and effort.

Checking off “sermon prep”

Offers the same amount of thrill as

“Check voicemail,”

But one of those sure takes longer.

You can see why I might check off the quick and easy boxes

Before putting in the hours it takes

To really do something like “sermon prep” well.

It would be easy for some of the most crucial tasks

To fall by the wayside

Because they were crowded out

By those more conducive

To instant gratification.

So I understand how the Israelites

Have let their priorities get out of whack

In our Old Testament readings today.

Both the prophet Isaiah

And the Psalmist

Have got some words of judgment for us this morning.

They both describe

In exquisite detail

God laying out his case against his people

As though he were prosecuting them in a court of law.

God’s not just offering a quick word of correction.

God calls for witnesses

To observe his judgment,

Rendered by the one who calls the morning

And bids the night,

Robed in consuming flame

Wreathed by raging storm.

God’s judgment is not against the Israelite’s worship practices.

They are doing a great job

Of offering the animal sacrifices he has prescribed.

The problem is not that they are neglecting church attendance.

The problem is that they have spent all their time on the easy tasks

And neglected the important ones.

As Jesus will later tell the scribes and Pharisees,

The problem is that they tithe mint, dill, and cumin,

And have neglected the weightier matters of the law.

It’s an understandable mistake to make.

It is easier

To focus on getting our worship right.

It is easier

To follow the rules about which bull to sacrifice when

And how many birds ought to be offered.

It is easier

To go to church on Sunday.

To see our friends,

Sing songs we love,

Hear a word of encouragement.

Yes, it is easier to do these things

Than it is

To do the justice God calls for.

The world we live in

Is an unjust world.

It is a world that exploits workers

And oppresses people of colour.

A world that sacrifices human beings

Who get in the way of the almighty dollar.

A world that engages in short-term thinking

About the next quarter’s report

Without regard for the cost that will be levied in the long term

For our plunder

Of this fragile earth.

And Christians,

God’s chosen people,

Too often make not a peep

In the face of such injustice.

Whether it’s because we’re afraid

Or because we have succumbed

To the world’s way of thinking,

I’m not sure.

But we continue to gather to pray

Without having upheld the weightier matters of the Law

Because we get a thrill of checking that item off our list.

And it is an easier thing to do

Than face the overwhelming task

Of doing justice in an unjust world.

I think,

I hope,

We want to see justice done in the world.

But we are daunted by the enormity of the challenge,

And ready to accept the cheap thrill of right worship instead.

Let me be clear:

The rites that God decries through the prophet Isaiah

Are the same ones that he decreed in the Law of Moses.

New moons and Sabbaths

And the burning of incense

Are not what’s wrong here.

Neither do I, or, I think, the prophets seek to discourage church attendance!

These quick tasks

That are easily accomplished

Still need to be done, after all.

(I do, in fact, need to make sure I check the voicemail).

But God

Does not sort his priority list

By degree of difficulty.

God

Does not consider the hazard of the predicament

When addressing its remedy

At all.

After all,

It’s not as if God’s work among us could be called easy

Or quick.

In world consumed with efficiency and ease

With invincibility

And a sure thing

God came among us

As a tiny baby.

His mother, Mary,

Went through all the labour and difficulty

Of a normal pregnancy.

She suffered all the pains

Of a regular childbirth.

And her son,

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Was just as vulnerable

To all the assaults and snares

Of a regular childhood

In a community with a high infant mortality rate.

He waited 30 years, at least,

Before beginning his ministry,

And then,

When pressured to resort to violence

In order to achieve the specific goal

Of Rome’s overthrow,

He went and died on a cross.

A condemned criminal,

Cursed according to the very same law he had written

And had come to fulfill.

God does this

Precisely because God does not share our same love for efficiency.

God does not share our desire

For the cheap and easy thrill

Of crossing the easiest item off the list

So we can get it out of the way.

God, robed in consuming fire

And wreathed by raging storm

Reminds us

That that which is easy

Is not always the same

As that which is important

And if we are going to follow him,

We have got to get our priorities in order.

“Cease to do evil,

learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.”

These are God’s priorities.

To care for those who fall through the cracks

Demanded by systems that care more for their own gain

Than for individual human dignity.

These are the people God loved so much

That he came among us as one of us

And let himself die

Rather than crush them beneath the wheel

Of violent insurrection,

Even for a just cause.

We who follow after him

Must not allow ourselves to become complacent,

Complicit

In the injustice of the world,

For to do so is to accept as acceptable loss

The children of God for whom Christ died.

As a collection of Jewish teachings says,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly, now.

Love mercy, now.

Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

But neither are you free to abandon it.”

It is not too late to make a change.

It is not too late to embrace God’s priorities.

God is always ready to wash away our sins

That the blood on our hands

May become white as snow.

Even now,

God calls the heavens and the earth to witness

That we might heed his judgment

And turn around

To follow after his way.

To do the work he has given us to do.

For where our treasure is,

There our heart will be also.

Amen.

6th Sunday After Trinity

When I was growing up,

The go-to church nursery movie was

The Princess Bride.

My parents volunteered a lot,

So I watched The Princess Bride

At least once a week

From around age 6 or so.

It’s a quotable movie,

And one of my favourite scenes

Is when Vizzini, the kidnapper,

Keeps using the word

“Inconceivable!”

Vizzini and his gang have kidnapped Princess Buttercup

And are being pursued by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Despite their efforts to shake him off,

The Dread Pirate Roberts persists.

“Inconceivable!”

Vizzini says each and every time.

Finally, Inigo, one of his minions, replies,

“You keep using that word.

I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

In our faith, there are a whole lotta things that seem inconceivable

But then they happen.

An old woman, long past menopause,

Gives birth to the child of the promise.

The Red Sea is parted

And the Israelites walk through on dry ground.

A virgin becomes pregnant,

And her Son

Is fully human

And fully divine.

That Son, although God Himself,

Dies on a cross

And then rises to new life

On the third day.

Inconceivable!

There are a lot of beliefs Christians hold

That seem inconceivable,

But the one I think that we have the most trouble with

Is the reconciliation of Law and Grace.

…………….

In my experience with church people,

I have discovered

That you’re either a Law person

Or you’re a Grace person.

And the caricature of the extreme on both sides is intense,

Especially if you’re on the other side.

Law people are mean, judgmental.

They want everybody to sit down and shut up

To button their collars all the way

And act right.

Sometimes, Law people have really, really good motives!

The Law, as a theologian has said,

Exists to protect my neighbour from me.

So for people who fiercely love their neighbours

It makes a whole lotta sense

To insist that people follow the Law.

Grace people, now,

Nobody knows what they believe.

They’re all loosey-goosey.

It’s all about love

And freedom,

And nobody needs to do anything or change anything at all about themselves

Because God is too nice

To ever do anything so gauche

As criticize your lifestyle.

Sometimes, Grace people have really, really good motives!

God really is all about love.

If you don’t believe me, take the 1stletter of John out for a spin.

And the Church has, in the past,

Been awfully quick to condemn

And raaaaather slow on the uptake

To show compassion

And mercy.

So for people who’ve been studying their Church history,

It makes a whole lotta sense

To set your hope on Grace.

But what if we didn’t have to choose?

What if we could have them both?

What if God

Really did care

About our following the commandment

To love the Lord our God

With all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,

And to love our neighbour

As ourselves

AND that same God

Was able to make things right

When we failed to do that?

Inconceivable!

And yet.

We see the Psalmist hint at this idea in Psalm 85 today.

“Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Mercy and truth

Don’t always seem to go together.

Sometimes I think we reject the stories

That come out of places like

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Or the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Or the #MeToo movement

Because the bad guys in those stories seem so cartoonishly evil

That we who are not

Cannot fathom anyone would ever behave in such a way.

And yet the volume of those stories

Provide an avalanche of evidence

That yes: real people have done these terrible things.

For the victims of these terrible crimes,

The survivors who bravely tell their stories,

It feels dismissive of their truth

To hear of God’s mercy.

It feels dismissive of their truth

To hear that God forgives the ones who hurt them.

When we hear these terrible, terrible truths

It is inconceivable

That God would show mercy.

And yet.

God is able.

God is able to forgive the iniquity of God’s people,

And blot out all their sins.

This does not erase the truth.

This does not negate the fact that these sinners

Have failed to follow the Law.

But God has the power

To take what is wrong

And make it right.

The Greek word for this

And here I am indebted to the work

Of the Rev. Fleming Rutledge

The Greek word for this is logizomai.

It’s the verb tense of word.

God words, and transformation happens.

God words, and that which cannot be reconciled, suddenly is.

God words, and wounds are healed

Sins are forgiven but not forgotten

Righteousness and peace

Kiss each other

God words and the new creation God is calling into being

Is made manifest

In our midst.

Inconceivable!

This does not mean there’s not a cost

To the kind of reconciliation

God words into being.

Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin

Said this of Martin Luther King:

“He had this ability to communicate victory,

And to let everybody know he was prepared to pay

For victory.”

He had the ability

To communicate

Victory.

Victory, in Dr. King’s mind,

Was already won.

It was assured.

It was never in question

That it would one day be.

The fact that such a future

Was out of step with the world

The Freedom Riders

And Marchers on Washington saw around them

Made no difference.

He had the ability to communicate victory

To world mired in defeat.

And.

Dr. King also had the ability to let everybody know he was prepared to pay

For victory.

We have seen the price Dr. King paid for victory.

When he was 39 years old,

Just five years older than I am now,

Younger than my husband is,

He was killed

As the price

Of victory.

He wasn’t the only one.

Others of his cohort were beaten, jailed, killed.

They paid a price

And they won victory.

We who follow a God

Who died on a cross

To pay the price

To accomplish the ultimate victory

Over sin and death

Ought to have no illusions

About the price that will be paid

To word into being

God’s new creation.

And so yes,

It seems inconceivable

That truth and mercy can meet together,

That righteousness, perhaps we should say justice,

And peace

Can kiss one another.

If human beings are in charge,

Such a project is probably indeed doomed to fail.

But when we look at God,

We can never say that anything is inconceivable

Without looking as big a fool as Vizzini.

Because God is able.

Able to rectify all that is wrong in this weary world

And make it right.

We can’t always see how.

We can’t always see a way around the fact

That Jesus is dead and in the tomb

That Martin Luther King is dead and in the tomb

And a whole lotta folks working on his mission

Are on the chain gang

And there doesn’t ever seem to be an end

To the hatred and violence

And denigration

And humiliation

And violation

Of God’s precious and holy people.

No, we can’t always see a way.

We live in a Holy Saturday time

And sometimes Easter Day looks far off.

But the God who has won the victory before,

I should say,

Has won the victory already

Is able

To word the inconceivable

Into reality.

Amen.

5th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

May our loving, liberating, lifegiving God

Give us ears to hear

His message today. Amen.

…………………

The God of the Old Testament

Is a liberating God.

The whole project that God is embarked upon

Throughout the entire First Testament

Of the Bible

Is one of liberation.

The authors return to this theme

Over and over,

In particular the story of Exodus,

The story of how God freed God’s people

And led them through the Red Sea

To the Promised Land.

If you’ve never heard the story,

It goes like this:

The Israelites had become enslaved in Egypt.

They had journeyed down there

To escape a famine in their own land.

And when they became numerous,

When they had so many children

That the inhabitants of Egypt began to fear they would take over

Those Israelites found themselves enslaved.

Sentenced to hard labour

Their children tossed into the river Nile.

But God heard their cries.

God sent Moses

To tell ol’ Pharoah

To let my people go.

There were some plagues in there,

But the result was, finally,

That Pharoah did let God’s people go.

Until he didn’t.

And pursued them

To the shores of the Red Sea.

The Israelites needed a miracle.

So God gave them one.

God parted the waters of the Red Sea

And led the Israelites through on dry ground

Before sending the waves crashing down

On the Egyptians behind.

If you read the Old Testament,

You’ll see that this story

Is referred to again and again.

The Psalmist, in particular,

References it constantly.

To remind the Israelites

That their God is about liberation.

Now, I know that’s not something many Christians are used to hearing.

I often hear from folks that they don’t like the God they encounter

In the pages of the Old Testament.

He’s angry,

They say.

He’s mean.

I want to worship the God of the New Testament.

That God’s about love

And kindness

And mercy.

But here’s the thing:

They are the same God.

Because God,

The same God who’s about love

And kindness

And mercy

Is the God who is also about the project

Of liberation.

And while that is good news

For the Israelites who walk through the Red Sea

On dry ground

It might sound kinda angry and mean

To Pharoah.

…………………..

In our Psalm today,

We hear a story about a tyrant.

The Psalmist addresses the tyrant directly,

Asking why he boasts of wickedness

And plots ruin.

He accuses this tyrant of loving evil more than good

And lying more than speaking the truth.

And then he prays this angry, shocking prayer:

“Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,

Topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling

And root you out of the land of the living.”

Yikes.

I hope that nobody who says they’re praying for me

Is praying that prayer.

But I accept it’s a possibility.

It’s a tough thing

To do the examination of conscience we need to do

To consider the fact that we might

Actually

Be Pharoah to somebody.

We all want to be Moses.

But what if we’re Pharoah?

The Israelites thought that they couldn’t possibly act like Pharoah.

They were the good guys, right?

But then the prophet Amos comes along

And tells of God’s judgment.

Just like the tyrant,

They practice deceit with false balances.

They oppress the poor,

Buying and selling them

For hideously low prices,

Exploiting their hunger and poverty

To enrich themselves.

God sees this behaviour and judges it.

Not because God is mean.

Because God is about liberation.

What does this prophecy sound like

To the poor and needy who are being sold?

Pretty good news,

I would think!

To hear that while human beings may assault and oppress you,

That human beings may harm you

May insult your dignity

May smother your smudges

Forbid your pipes,

Stop your drums,

Hide your masks,

Destroy your totem poles,

Silence your songs,

Still your dances

And ban your potlaches

But God

God hears your cries.

God sees your pain.

God judges the people

Who are hurting you.

Because it is not loving

To allow God’s beloved

To become enslaved.

It is not kind

To ignore the cries

Of those who are being sold for a pair sandals.

It is not merciful

To pretend that pain and anguish

Are somehow okay with God almighty.

And so what are we

Who are Christians,

Who worship the God of the whole Bible

The Old Testament and the New Testament

The God who is about liberation

And love

And kindness

And mercy

To do with these passages?

With these pronouncements of judgment

That anyone –

Even those whom God previously liberated

From their own oppressors –

Can become a tyrant?

Even those who had once fled Pharoah

Can become

Pharoah.

We who follow after the way of Jesus

Are no more exempt than anyone else

From God’s judgment

Upon our tyrannical impulses,

And we would do well

To see and tremble

Lest we be toppled

And rooted out of the land of the living.

Because there is more than one way to demolish a tyrant.

There’s the obvious way, right?

The way we’re all thinking of.

Where God strikes down the one

Who trusted in great wealth

And relied upon wickedness

With a lightning bolt,

Fire from heaven.

But there’s another way.

What if the tyrants

Toppled themselves?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t had a hardened heart?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t needed 10 plagues

To convince him that he was on the wrong path?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t chased after the Israelites

Into the Red Sea?

What if Pharoah

Had recognized the error of his ways

And repented,

And returned to the Lord?

That’s what we promise in baptism,

Isn’t it?

That when we fall into sin,

We will repent,

And return to the Lord.

We don’t say if

In that promise.

Because there is no doubt we will fall into sin.

And since there is no doubt about it,

There needn’t be any shame about it, either.

We are sinners,

Every last one of us!

We have all been tyrants

In our own way

In our own time

To somebody

That God loves

At least as much

As God loves us.

The important part is

That we repent

And we return to the Lord.

That we not make excuses for our behaviour,

And get defensive,

And say stuff like, “Well, that’s just how I was raised,”

To excuse the way we treat

God’s beloved children.

We may all be tyrants,

One way or another,

But we have a chance

To topple ourselves

Before it’s too late.

Before God sends a famine on the land

Of hearing the words of the Lord.

We have a chance

To take a step back.

To get off our high horse.

To listen to the cries

Our neighbour is offering to God

Because of the persecution

We are inflicting upon them

And to demolish utterly our tyrannical ways

With repentance,

With gentle and humble hearts

Willing to change our ways

To follow after God’s way.

So we all may be liberated

Not only from the clutches of earthly tyrants,

But from the greatest tyrant of them all: sin.

Because the great project of God

The God of the whole Bible

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

The God of Moses, and Miriam,

Of Deborah and David,

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Is one of liberation.

May the God who made us

Make us all free.

Amen.

3rd Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

O God, you have turned our wailing into dancing.

Clothe us with joy,

No matter what we face.

Amen.

………………….

The 42ndGeneral Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada

Begins with worship on Wednesday night.

Now, some of y’all may not know what General Synod is,

Or why we’re having one,

So I thought I’d take just a moment

To explain the purpose of General Synod.

Every three years,

Representatives elected from each diocese

Gather together to listen for God’s voice

And discern the calling He is giving

For the future of His Church.

Because the actual processes of a synod

Closely resemble those of a political body

Like Parliament,

It would be easy for us to confuse this as a democratic exercise.

We elected representatives from the Diocese of Edmonton,

We are their constituents,

They represent us and our concerns

And are accountable to us in some way.

But that’s not actually how it works in the Church.

Yes, we do elect clergy and lay representatives

Whom we trust,

Who we believe are in some way representative of the whole people of God

Gathered in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton,

But we didn’t elect them to advocate for us

In some contentious, adversarial process

Of argument with Anglicans from other dioceses.

We elected them to listen.

We elected them

Because we believe

That they are best equipped to join with Anglicans from coast to coast to coast

To listen for the God who is calling us by name

And to look for the way forward

God is showing us.

As the then-Archbishop of Canterbury offered to the Anglican bishops

Gathered at Lambeth 10 years ago,

That’s the only way forward for Christians,

To go where Christ has gone before

To clear the way.

“The only way Christians lead,” he says,

“Is by following – following Jesus’ way.”

Now, some synods do better at this than others,

Bishop Jane reminded us this week in her letter to the diocese.

It is the official position of the Anglican Church

That the Councils of the Church – even the famous, historic ones

That decided important, central doctrinal things –

Can and have erred,

And I have no doubt that the imperfect sinners who will gather in Vancouver

Are likely to err in some way.

Because human beings aren’t great at listening for God.

Often, God’s voice is drowned out

By the rush of words that surround us

Words of advertising,

Words of politicians,

Eager to persuade,

To capture our attention,

Even our own desires crowd in,

Shouting “Me, me, me!”

Over a God

Whose native language

Is silence.

We hear in today’s Psalm

That the Psalmist felt pretty confident he could discern God’s voice.

Everything was going great for him,

So he said, “I shall never be shaken.”

Nothing bad enough to test his faith in God

Would ever happen to him.

Y’all can see where this is going, right?

God hid God’s face,

And the Psalmist was filled with fear.

God hides God’s face

Rather more often in Scripture than we are comfortable with.

The book of Job is only one example

Of a time when God is silent in the face of Job’s contention

That all the calamity which has befallen him

Is unfair.

Job’s friends attempt to fill the silence

With justifications for God,

With interpretations for what God’s actions might mean,

But when God Himself appears on the scene,

He shushes those friends

And praises Job

For recognizing the profound unfairness

Of all that he has experienced.

Even then, God gives no answer,

No explanation as to why.

Why Job had to suffer.

Why Job’s children had to die.

Why Job’s wife had to scrape her skin with potsherds

Until she was moved to curse God and die.

Terrible things happen in the world.

And sometimes the Church acts in the place of Job’s friends.

We attempt to explain, to interpret,

To fill God’s silence with our words,

As though that will somehow make

The suffering of children

The evil, racist violence of the world

The callous indifference of the people

All better.

I don’t know about y’all,

But I am praying hard for these synod delegates

Whose job is to seek God’s face,

Because it sure appears hidden right about now

And that fills me with fear.

And yet.

And yet.

Weeping may spend the night,

But joy comes in the morning.

This Psalm is often read

As part of our Easter liturgy.

Because God is able

To turn even death,

Even the death of God Himself,

Into joy that comes in the morning.

Whatever happens,

Even something so terrible as death,

We are promised,

God is able

To clothe with joy.

Now, this isn’t to say that “it’ll all be okay,”

Or that there might not be pain involved in the process.

We often look to butterflies

As a metaphor for our belief in resurrection.

But caterpillars don’t turn into butterflies

Just by taking an afternoon snooze in a cocoon.

The caterpillar’s stomach enzymes

Literally dissolve it

From the inside out –

Basically, it eats itself with its own stomach acid.

I don’t know that they’ve done studies

On caterpillar pain,

Though Derek tells me that they have discovered

That caterpillars scream at a pitch too high for human ears to catch,

But, regardless, it sounds awful to me.

Death hurts,

Even when there’s life on the other side.

The Psalmist wails

Before he begins to dance.

Job rails against God’s silence

Before listening to God’s response.

It’s not that death isn’t terrible.

It’s that it’s not the end.

Death does not have the last word.

Mourning

And crying

And pain

Do not have the last word.

No matter what terrible things

We see in the world around us,

We trust God’s promise

That God will bring joy in the morning.

And we commit ourselves

Not to explaining God’s silence to suffering people

As though God need our help with His PR,

But becoming bringers of joy

And hope

To those who have been burned so often in the past

That they can’t yet trust that promise themselves.

We commit ourselves

To going out into the Lord’s harvest

To share the Good News

That the Kingdom of God has come near

That help is on the way

That whatever terrible thing is happening

Is real

But it’s not the end.

So: if we trust that God can bring life out of death

And dancing out of wailing

Then why can’t we trust

That whether we’re happy or unhappy

With the results of one synod

God can bring joy?

If we trust

That God has triumphed over death itself

Why can’t we believe

That God is so far beyond our arguments

About circumcision or uncircumcision,

As they were in Paul’s time,

Or whatever we’re arguing about this time

As to make a new creation

That is everything

No matter what we do?

I know it’s scary when God hides God’s face.

I know the temptation to fill God’s silence with words.

To prefer our certainty

To God’s openness.

To prefer the paths we have trod before

To the new way that Christ is clearing before us.

But I ask you in the weeks ahead

To trust.

That God is able.

God is able to turn death into life

And wailing into dancing.

No matter what.

Amen.

 

1st Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Our souls are athirst for you.

Pour your goodness over us

As a rapid and a flood.

Amen.

……………………

The Psalms are a really underrated book of the Bible.

We generally read them together in worship.

Sometimes, we even sing them!

But too often, we’re not really paying attention to what we’re saying.

Preachers rarely choose the Psalm as the preaching text of the day.

There’s always something more interesting to be found in the

Journeys of Elijah

Or something Jesus says in the Gospel,

Or a tricky doctrine Paul’s expounding his one of his letters.

The Psalms are expressed so beautifully,

So poetically,

That we run the risk of over-explaining them

And destroying that poetry.

“As the deer longs for the water brooks

So longs my soul for you God”

Can become

“God, I’m thirsty.”

But the Psalms are the Prayerbook of the Bible.

They express the deepest longings

Lodged deep in the most secret corners of our heart.

They offer words when our prayers

Are sighs too deep for words.

Martin Hattersley,

A priest in this diocese,

Whose daughter was tragically murdered,

Has said that his greatest source of comfort in grief

Has been the Psalms.

The anger they often express,

The challenging, controversial imprecatory Psalms,

Which call for the destruction of our enemies,

Give us permission to cast every care upon God,

Even those cares we would never dare to say aloud.

Psalm 42 lays out some of those cares.

The Psalmist expresses a longing for God

As fervent as a wild animal’s longing for water

In a dry and weary land.

Imagine: you are lost in the desert.

Have been lost, for several days.

You’re out of supplies,

And you haven’t seen anyone who can help.

You can see the oasis ahead,

And you fear it’s a mirage –

In your mind, all your friends are mocking you,

They say it’s a mirage,

You’re a fool for trusting the image –

But your longing continues.

You can’t help but remember

Better times,

When you were surrounded by those who shared your feelings,

When you were able to go into the house of God

And celebrate festivals with all the pomp and circumstance

Of a Royal Wedding.

And so you chastise yourself.

You ask your soul why it is so full of heaviness and disquieted.

You remind yourself that God’s love

Isn’t just a still pool

In the middle of the desert.

It overwhelms you,

Like a rushing cataract.

If you open yourself up to God,

You will find the rapids and floods

Overflow.

Now that’s a Psalm worth taking a look at.

I think that for many of us,

There are times when we feel lost in that desert.

We imagine that we are being mocked and jeered

For daring to have hope in a cynical age.

It’s hard to imagine earnest desire

For a God who hasn’t unambiguously shown himself in ages

Ever being considered cool.

We thirst.

Like as the deer.

But God is always there.

Not always in the way we expect him to show up.

Elijah expected God to show up with power and might.

Elijah expected that God would punish those who had mocked him,

Would prevent Jezebel from having the power

To murder God’s prophets.

He expected to meet God in a wind so strong

It split mountains

And broke rocks into pieces,

But the Lord was not in the wind.

He expected to meet God in an earthquake

That overturns the world,

Like the earthquake at Christ’s resurrection,

But the Lord was not in the earthquake.

He expected to meet God in a fire,

But the Lord was not in the fire.

The Lord appeared to Elijah

In a sound of sheer silence.

A sound of sheer silence.

God almighty

Has the whole world in his hands

And can bend the whole universe to his will

And yet chooses to appear

In a sound of sheer silence.

It’s no wonder that that same God

Chooses to defeat death

By dying.

And so when we are lost in the desert,

When we are surrounded by mockers

And those who think we are fools

For remembering the rushing cataracts of God’s love

In an age where the world shows so little love,

We remember that God is always with us,

Ready to be seen,

As soon as we know how to look.

Not in the place of perfect power

But in the sound of sheer silence.

I invite you to join me in praying through the Psalms this summer.

You could follow the lectionary for the Daily Office,

Found in the green BAS.

If you want to start with Evening Prayer tonight,

You’ll find the Psalms appointed on page 478,

Psalms 19 and 46.

You could look at the Weekly Round Up,

And pray the Psalm for the coming Sunday over and over.

Next week’s will be Psalm 77.

You could listen to musical settings –

YouTube has a whole lot of them!

I invite you to join me in seeking after God

With a thirst as fierce

As a deer

Who longs for water.

Consider the power of the Psalms

As an aid to prayer.

How do they speak to our prayers and longings today?

How do they put our sighs too deep for words

Into poetry so powerful,

It has been prayed daily by Christians

For two millennia.

The Lord is waiting.

Come and seek his face.

Not to be found where we expect,

But in the sound of sheer silence,

In the delight of poetry

That calls his name.

Amen.

Trinity

Let us pray.

O God, may your delight in us

Teach us to delight in you

And in the world you have created.

Amen.

…………..

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that

In every movie or television show

With characters from the future,

They’re always wearing the same thing.

They’ve got one outfit,

To represent the earth,

It’s the earth outfit,

Like in Star Trek, where they’ll all got colour-coded shirts for their jobs.

Seinfeld says he looks forward to this day,

And he’s not alone.

There is a deep-rooted desire

In a whole lotta people

For sameness.

For uniformity.

At clergy conference this week,

Archdeacon Travis talked about ways that European settlements

Were set up

With walls around the outside

And one entry point.

It was considered a safety measure, by those Europeans,

In contrast to the communities of the First Nations,

Unwalled,

With many and various ways to enter.

But there’s something deep inside some of us,

I’m not sure if it’s an evolutionary adaptation or what,

But something within us

Finds safety in sameness.

In folks who are just like us.

Who dress like us

And talk like us.

We’ve got one outfit

So that we all know

That we’re on the same team

And a wall around us

To keep the opposing team

Out.

But, as we have been witnessing,

For the last several weeks,

God doesn’t work like that!

God does not share our delight

In sameness.

God delights

In diversity.

We saw this three weeks ago in our lesson from Acts,

As we heard the story of the conversion of Cornelius.

The Holy Spirit fell upon him and blessed him,

Before Peter could explain to him the rules,

The ways that he would need to change,

The single, solitary entry point

That absolutely everyone would need to go through

In order to join the team.

Two weeks ago,

We heard Jesus pray

That we all may be one,

Not the same,

But together,

Because we don’t all need to wear the same thing

To be on the same team.

And then last week,

On Pentecost,

We heard the story of the miracle

Of the speaking in tongues.

And here’s the tell,

The real tell

Of God’s desire for diversity,

Not sameness.

The miracle of Pentecost

Isn’t that suddenly everyone could understand Greek or Aramaic

Or whatever language the disciples were

Proclaiming the Good News in.

The miracle of Pentecost is that

The disciples began to speak in other languages,

Different languages,

Because God’s goal isn’t to erase difference,

It’s to bridge it.

And today,

On Trinity Sunday,

We see this truth

Is at the very heart

Of God’s own being.

…………

In order to understand this a little better,

I want us to take a look at our reading from Proverbs today.

It’s a reading about Lady Wisdom.

Wisdom, in Proverbs and in a few other books of the Old Testament,

Is personified as a woman.

And in the passage we heard today,

She gets pretty loud.

I want to read some of it again,

Using a translation, well not really a translation,

More a paraphrase of the Bible

Called The Message.

Hear what it says:
“Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?

Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?

She’s taken her stand at First and Main,

at the busiest intersection.

Right in the city square

where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,

“You – I’m talking to all of you,

everyone out here on the streets!

Don’t miss a word of this – I’m telling you how to live well.

God sovereignly made me – the first, the basic –

before he did anything else.

I was brought into being a long time ago,

well before Earth got its start.

I arrived on the scene before Ocean,

yes, even before Springs and Rivers and Lakes.

Long before God stretched out Earth’s Horizons,

and tended to the minute details of Soil and Weather,

And set Sky firmly in place,

I was there.

Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause,

always enjoying his company,

Delighted with the world of things and creatures,

happily celebrating the human family.”

You see, the author of Proverbs is concerned.

That people are not listening to Wisdom.

That they aren’t sure how to live well.

And so she takes up her spot

At First and Main,

Or 100thand 100th, here in Edmonton,

To share her insights

In the midst of the community.

The insight that she shares

Sure doesn’t sound like the advice we often hear.

It sure doesn’t sound like tips and tricks

Or life hacks

To get ahead

And live better than our neighbours.

No, the wisdom Madame Insight offers

Is one of delight.

Delight in God,

In all God has created,

Happily celebrating the human family.

Lady Wisdom might be better known to us

As the Holy Spirit,

Since that is how she came to be known

In the Christian community.

And we see here the extraordinary beauty of diversity

Even within God, Godself.

For God is one.

But God is not the same.

God is united.

But God is not uniform.

God does not delight in sameness.

God is, in Godself,

Diversity.

Father AND Son.

Son AND Holy Spirit.

Eternally united,

Locked in relationship,

All differences bridged

But not erased.

Another thing Archdeacon Travis said at clergy conference,

Is that in Cree, the word for God,

Creator,

Isn’t a noun.

It’s a verb.

Because God is always active.

God is on the move.

And when you think about it,

It makes sense.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that when we say God is love,

How could God be love,

The noun,

Without first loving.

And to love,

God needs someone to be loved.

The very heart of God is a relationship,

Active, on the move,

Made up of love.

God is not static,

Frozen in time.

God is on the move.

And in fact,

God’s movement is a particular one.

It’s not just an eternal dance,

As some Trinitarian preachers proclaim.

God moves

With purpose.

And that purpose is one of invitation.

It’s taking up a spot

Right in the city square

At the busiest intersection.

God invites us

Into this eternal relationship.

God the Word

Became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth

And dwelt among us.

This was the ultimate bridging of difference.

God and sinners reconciled,

As the Christmas carol says.

And after his death and resurrection,

When he ascended into heaven,

That flesh,

That humanity,

That us-ness

That was in the image of God

But had been divided from God,

Became united with all of Godself. /

The eternal relationship,

The eternal dance,

The very reality of love

Now includes us.

Our humanity.

Wisdom’s delight in the human family

Is made complete,

As humanity itself

Is invited further up and farther in.

God didn’t build a wall to shut us out.

God didn’t even wait for us

To stumble around it

To find the one way in.

God came out

To find us,

Her delight,

And invite us to join the team.

Not because we are the same as God

But because we are different.

And because God delights

In bridging that difference

To bring together

That which had been kept apart,

Happily celebrating the human family.

The future we seek,

Christians seek,

Isn’t one of sameness.

There isn’t one earth outfit

We should all get ready to wear.

Because our God delights not in sameness

But in diversity.

And God is on the move

Inviting more and more different kinds of people in.

Amen.

 

7th Sunday of Easter

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, may we be one

As you and the Father are one

So that the world may know

How much you love us.

Amen.

………..

This Gospel is a convicting Gospel.

Every time I read it,

And I read it pretty often,

I am convicted by the fact

That we,

The descendents of Jesus’s disciples

Are not one.

It’s just a fact!

You don’t have to look far to see it.

It’s rampant throughout our history.

We have spent centuries

Not only shouting at each other

About what communion means

And how to read the Bible

And who’s allowed to be ordained

But we have also literally murdered one another

In increasingly horrible ways

Because we disagree

About how best to respond to Jesus.

It’s almost as if He knew.

We hear today

The conclusion of what scholars call Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.

I’m sure it didn’t sound quite as lofty at the time,

But all the same:

If we’re looking at John’s Gospel, anyway,

It sure seems like the Last Supper was an awfully big deal.

Jesus makes some pretty grand pronouncements

And issues some pretty hefty commandments.

Just as I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,

So too you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled;

Believe in God, believe also in me.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Greater love has no one than this:

To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends;

I no longer call you servants.

And in the section we heard today:

The glory that you have given me I have given them,

So that they may be one, as we are one,

So that the world may know that you have sent me

And have loved them

Even as you have loved me.

And that’s the part that convicts me,

Every time.

Because you see,

Our lack of unity isn’t a problem

Only because sometimes we end up hurting one another

When we put our need to be right,

To have found the only right way to read the Bible,

The only right way to worship,

Theonlyright way to ethically live in the world

Above the needs of others,

Though that is pretty bad.

Our lack of unity is a problem

Because Jesus prays that we might be one

So that the world may know

That God has sent Jesus

And loves the world

Even as he loves Jesus.

When we are not one,

The world doesn’t see,

Doesn’t know

Doesn’t recognize that good news

That God loves us

All of us

The whole world

Just as much as God loves Jesus.

The world looks at us,

A divided Church,

And doesn’t see a lot of love.

They don’t see a community that,

As it says elsewhere in Scripture

Has the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God and had equality with God,

Humbled himself,

Emptied himself,

Because he did not regard actual, literal equality with God

As a thing to be grasped.

A thing to be exploited.

Jesus

Was and is co-equal with God

In authority,

In glory,

In every imaginable way.

He was and is one with God the Father,

Completely unified and inseparable.

And when it was necessary

For God to come to earth

To initiate a relationship with a sinful human race

That had rejected him

Over and over again,

Jesus didn’t say,

“Hold up, you know what sounds like no fun at all?

Living among those stinky humans for 30 years

And then getting crucified.

Sounds like a you problem.”

Jesus humbled himself,

Even to the point of death

On the cross.

And in so doing,

He united us –

Our sinful, stinky selves

Who have been dragged kicking and screaming

Into goodness –

With himself

And with God.

And now we,

Who have been given this free gift of grace

For which we ought to be thanking God on our knees

Every single day

For this extraordinary gift

That we do not deserve

That we could not deserve

In any imaginable universe

Have the audacity

To turn around and try to shut the door behind us.

To try to grasp

The little, tiny authority and glory that has been granted to us

As a gift from God

To which we are not entiled.

To say to people

“You’re not an actual pastor,”

Because they’re a girl.

“You’re not an actual Christian,”

Because they’re gay.

You can’t sit with us

Because we’re right with God

And you’re not.

I mean, do we hear ourselves?

Now, I know some folks disagree in good faith,

But here’s the thing:

When Jesus prays that we may be one,

He’s not asking us all to agree.

He’s not saying that we have

To come to one unified position

About what certain passages in the Bible mean

Or how we ought to worship.

If we look at the world around us,

We can see that the God who creates

The spectacular diversity of creation,

Purple mountain’s majesty

And amber waves of grain

Pines and maples

Great prairies spread

And lordly rivers flowing

From coast to coast to coast

And the whole world round

To every single continent and island

Does not shy away from difference.

Unity

Is not the same thing

As uniformity.

Unity

Does not require one, single, agreed-upon point of view.

I had a meeting last week

With Archdeacon Travis,

And he taught me something

About the way that the Cree view the idea of consensus.

I have always thought of consensus as agreement.

Everybody is on board.

But Archdeacon Travis said that the Cree have a different way of seeing it.

That in their culture consensus means

“I can live with it.

I might not like it.

But I can live with it.”

The unity of the Church

Isn’t a state that we achieve

By bullying everyone into agreement

And forcing out those who feel differently.

The unity of the Church

Is a gift from our Creator

So that the world he loves

May know how much he loves.

And so we need not feel guilty

For failing to reach the oneness he prays for,

Since it was never our job to make it happen anyway.

But I hope you will join me in feeling convicted

Into working for unity.

Wrestling with it.

Laying down our pride for it.

Laying down our lives for it.

Because being kind is more important than being right.

And the world getting to see

Just how much God loves us all

Is the only reason the Church exists.

Amen.

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter

One of my favourite things

About Edmonton in summer

Is the light.

I’ve been here nearly two years

And I still can’t get over

Driving home after an evening of playing softball

With the sun just beginning to set

Over the horizon.

I know we pay for it in wintertime,

But there is something magical

About the extraordinary light

That fills the evenings

And the mornings

With God’s glorious day.

I remember the first time

I travelled far enough north

To witness this glorious light

I was on the border between Scotland and England,

On pilgrimage to Holy Isle.

I remember the first time I sat on the beach

Under the light of the dying rays of the midnight sun,

And being woken by its glimmer

In time to pray Matins with the monks

At 4am.

There is power in light.

The power of a new heaven

And a new earth.

In this penultimate chapter of Revelation,

John, the author,

Just can’t stop talking about the light.

He is dazzled by it.

As the kids say, he “can’t even.”

John has been granted a vision

Of all that God has done, is doing, and will do

For God’s people.

And in this, the grand conclusion of that vision,

He sees a city.

A city so full of light,

It needs no sun or moon.

A city so full of light,

It shines forth,

To enlighten the nations

And allow them to walk by it.

A city so full of light,

Its citizens feel safe enough to leave the gates of their city open

That the kings of the nations may bring their glory into it

For there is no night

No danger

No enemy formed against it

Who should be shut out.

In this city,

Everyone will sit under their own vine

And fig tree,

And no one will make them afraid.

Because it is the darkness

That frightens.

We do not yet live in such a city.

We do not yet see such a world.

The nations of the world seem to be closing their gates

Not only by night

But by day, also.

Not everyone can sit under their own vine and fig tree,

For those who have much

Will not be content until they have more

And snatch away what they can

Making many afraid.

If there were ever a time when we needed

The leaves of the tree

For the healing of the nations

It would be now.

It is tempting,

In the face of such a world,

To put our armor on.

It is tempting

To find a way to make ourselves invulnerable,

Invincible.

To lock the gates

Around our vine and our fig tree

And give no one the power to hurt us.

And yet.

When we build up walls around us

To keep out that which makes us afraid,

We keep out not only that which might hurt

But that which can heal.

We keep out not only that which could wound

But that which binds up.

Because you see,

The tree which is fed

By the water of life

Whose leaves are for the healing of the nations

Shows us

That God’s desire

Is not for a perfect world,

In which nothing has ever been broken.

God’s desire is to put back together

What has been torn apart.

There is a Japanese art form with which you may be familiar.

Artisans take ceramic pottery which has been broken

And bind it together

With gold, silver, or platinum.

Because that which has been wounded

Is not worthless.

That which has been damaged

Need not be discarded.

Because beauty is not lost when blemished,

When love binds up

That which has been broken.

After all,

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Accomplished our salvation

Not through victory in battle.

Not through violence and pain and power.

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Defeated the power of sin and death

Through his death

On the cross.

It is through the breaking in his body

That the world is made whole.

It is through the wounds of Christ

That our wounds are healed.

In the words of the great poet Rumi,

“The wound is where the light enters you.”

And the wounds of Christ

Brought the light of the heavenly city

Into our world.

And so we who follow this same Jesus

Cannot lock our treasures away

For fear that others may break them.

We cannot hide ourselves in fear

Of ever becoming wounded.

The world is in desperate need

Of the light of Christ.

And it will only enter

When we have made ourselves vulnerable

When we have left ourselves entirely open

When we have said to the nations of the world

“Come and feast at our table

Where there is plenty for all.”

It can be a frightening thing

To follow the way of Jesus

This side of heaven.

It can be a frightening thing

To offer our vine and our fig tree to those who have none.

It can be a frightening thing

When we have been broken

To trust

That the gold with which Our Lord binds us together again

Will allow his light to shine into the world

More brightly than we could ever imagine.

Such that we, like John

Can’t even,

We are so awestruck at God’s glory.

A glory which is not diminished

By the glory the kings of the nations of the world

Bring to it,

For it binds all things to itself.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Entered the world

Through the broken body

Of Our Saviour on the cross.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Cannot be diminished

By any weapon the world tries to throw at it.

And so we lay down our arms.

We beat our swords into plowshares

And our spears into pruning hooks.

We stop trying to protect ourselves

And our God

From harm

And start binding up that which has been broken

For no one shall make us afraid.

We are safe in this city God has made.

Where he is our light

And night is no longer.

To Jesus Christ be the honour

And glory

And power

And blessing

For ever and ever.

Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

Let us pray.

Lord, what you have called clean,

We must not call profane.

Lead us in your way,

That we may never try to limit your love.

Amen.

……………..

When I was in seminary,

A professor told us that the book of Acts

Was the most important book in the Bible.

I was pretty taken aback.

Because I don’t particularly enjoy reading the book of Acts,

Especially the latter half.

It’s a big travelogue

With lots of names and places

That don’t make a ton of sense unless you’ve been there –

And shouldn’t our focus be on the Gospels?

You know, the books that tell the story of Jesus?

The Saviour?

So I went back and re-read it.

And while I still hold out for the Gospels

As the most important books of the Bible,

I do think the book of Acts

Is criminally underrated.

Because we get so lost in the travelogue

Of the names and places

We aren’t familiar with,

We miss the important themes God is trying to show us

Through the acts of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Like in our story today,

About the fallout from Peter’s recent dinner with the Gentiles.

I encourage you to go back and read it in context.

Because it represents the truly reckless abandon

With which God is widening the circle

Of who’s included

Far beyond what the original disciples are comfortable with.

It starts in the very beginning of the book,

As the Holy Spirit falls upon the disciples,

And enables them to speak in other languages.

Did you know a recent study of my countryfolk down south

Revealed that over 30% are uncomfortable

Hearing languages other than English?

I know that we prize linguistic diversity

More highly than our American cousins,

And inhabitants of Jerusalem,

The crossroads of the ancient world,

Host to Israelites,

Greeks,

Romans,

Parthians, Medes, Elamites,

And residents of Mesopotamia,

Would have been quite used to the babble of many languages,

But it’s worth noticing how the ripples outward begin,

And, perhaps, how we have taken a step backward

From the place our forebears started.

Peter addresses a crowd filled with Jews

Who have traveled to Jerusalem for the festival.

They live in many places

And speak many languages,

But they are still Jews.

Fellow Israelites.

Religious types

Who are included in Abraham’s covenant

By virtue of their birth,

And who are pious enough

To journey to the Temple in Jerusalem

For worship.

But God’s not done yet.

Just a short time later,

An angel of the Lord sends Philip

To the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

There, he meets a eunuch,

A servant of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.

This man is not ethnically Jewish.

He is from a different race and people entirely.

While he has gone up to Jerusalem to worship,

And we find him reading the Scriptures,

His body has been modified in such a way

That prevents him from being circumcised.

He is not able, physically,

To be a part of the covenant of Abraham.

Such a one cannot participate in the Temple rites,

Or even approach the altar,

According the Law given in Leviticus

And Deuteronomy.

But God sends Philip to him.

And when the Ethiopian eunuch hears the good news

About Jesus Christ, he asks,

“Look! here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

The answer is: nothing.

There is nothing to prevent him from being baptized.

And the circle grows wider.

But now we get to the really scandalous bit.

The part that Peter gets super defensive about

When questioned on it in our story today.

God speaks to a Gentile named Cornelius.

We hear that he is a devout and generous man,

But he is also a Roman;

Indeed, a Roman soldier,

Not unlike those who have really pretty recently crucified Jesus.

But God tells Cornelius to send for Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter is on a roof praying when is struck with a vision.

A huge sheet filled with animals and reptiles and birds of the air.

A voice says to Peter, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat.”

Peter hasn’t quite cottoned on to what God is doing yet,

So he protests by appealing to The Rules.

The Rules say not to eat

These unclean animals

As explicitly named in the Law,

And not to share a meal

With anyone who does.

Peter, even after all his time following Jesus,

Thinks that what’s important here

Is following The Rules.

But the voice tells him,

“What God has made clean,

You must not call profane.”

What God has made clean,

You must not call profane.

How often

Has the Church

Called what God has made clean

Profane?

How often

Have religious people

Focused on following The Rules

Instead of following the example of Jesus?

How often

Have we attempted to keep the circle small

Contained

Full of the people

Who are exactly like us

Who speak our language

Who belong in the Temple.

Peter encounters folks just like that

In today’s story.

They have heard that Peter went to eat dinner

With these unclean Gentiles

And they are just furious about it.

“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

They ask.

But Peter tells them the story.

He tells them what he has heard and seen.

He tells them

That the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household

Before Peter even gets a chance

To explain to them what they have to do to get saved.

Because God is drawing the circle

Wider than we could ever imagine.

I wonder who

The Holy Spirit might be falling upon now

Before we even get a chance

To explain to them what they “have” to do to get saved.

I wonder who

Might be on the road to Gaza

Seeking answers from the Scriptures

And needing to hear that there is nothing

To hinder them from being baptized.

I wonder who God has made clean

That we are still calling profane.

In this Easter season,

As we rejoice in the Good News

That Christ has won victory over death and the grave,

Trampling down death by death

And giving life

Even to those already in the tomb,

We remember

That God has drawn the circle wide enough

To include even us,

For whom he died

While we were yet sinners.

Who are we, then,

To call others too profane

To receive God’s extraordinary gift?

Who are we

To seek to limit the reach

Of God’s almighty love?

Rather than work against the Holy Spirit

To try to turn God’s Church –

Not our Church, God’s Church –

Into an exclusive club

Of likeminded folks,

Our calling is to get on board with God’s mission

To draw the circle ever wider.

To include more and more kinds of folks.

Even the ones who will make us uncomfortable.

Even the ones who will change who we are, fundamentally.

The Church is awfully different from those few believers

Huddled in an Upper Room with the doors locked

In the days immediately after Jesus’s crucifixion.

Including more folks will change us yet again.

But that’s what God is about.

Drawing the circle wide.

Baptizing the folks we’d never expect.

And sending us as messengers of his good news

That God’s love

Really is for all.

And all

Means all.

Amen.

Easter Day

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

………………

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

This question has always rankled me a bit.

These poor women

Having followed Jesus

From the very beginning of his ministry

All the way back in Galilee

100 kilometers away

And three years ago,

Have faithfully followed him to the end.

They have come

In the pre-dawn light,

To honour their Messiah, their leader,

The one whom they believed would set their people free.

They have come to mourn him,

To weep over him,

To take care of him one last time

Before his body is laid in the ground

Forever.

And this angel has the gall

To ask them this sassy question!

Excuse me, mister, I don’t care how dazzling your clothes are,

But nobody talks to my girls that way.

How could they possibly have known to look anywhere else for him?

What else could these angels have expected them to do?

But as I contemplated this question

And wrote more corny angel jokes to spice up this sermon,

I realized:

All too often, we look for life

Among the dead.

We, and here I mean human beings,

Are a people with a constant desire for

More.

Every year, every week, every hour

We keep striving after more.

More prestige, more fame, more money.

Better job, better car, better behaved, smarter, more accomplished children.

We say things like, “I’ll be happy if I can just get

That new house, that promotion, that vacation, that pension level”

And then as soon as we reach it, we’re dissatisfied again

As we aim higher.

We are taught to do this from our earliest days.

Now, I’m American, so I don’t know if y’all hang posters

In elementary school classrooms that say,

“Shoot for the moon.

Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,”

But we did.

Advertisers tell us that if we can just get

More thin,

More tanned,

Better groomed,

Better dressed,

Then we might finally be happy.

Even in churches, all over Christendom,

You’ll hear sermons extolling people

To give more,

To volunteer more,

All this more, more, more

Because we are all desperately searching for life abundant

And these folks promise that they have it.

But they don’t.

Because it will never be

Enough.

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

Here is the deal, friends:

Jesus Christ

Rose from the dead.

He did it!

It’s done!

It is accomplished,

As he said on the cross on Friday.

The life abundant we seek

No longer is something to strive after

But something that has been bestowed

By a Saviour.

A theologian has said,

“The attempt to engineer your own salvation

Is doomed to fail.”

In other words,

It is look for life

Among the dead.

All these self-help systems,

All these political philosophies

And new and improved products

And our old pal capitalism

Which would have us work and shop,

Work and shop ‘til we drop

They cannot produce life

Because they are dead things.

But Jesus Christ can.

We know that he can,

Because 2,000 years ago,

When they put him in a tomb

And said that he was finished

He got up from that grave

And said,

“I have come to bring you life

And have it abundantly.”

Quit looking for the living among the dead.

Quit trying to make your life mean something

Through your own efforts.

They are doomed to fail.

Because the enemy you are striving so hard against

Has already been defeated!

In Jesus Christ,

We are promised:

Death will be no more!

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more!

It is accomplished –

Not just for his own time and place

But for this and every future age.

And so this question,

So snarkily asked of these first followers

Who could not possibly have known the Good News that we share,

Calls we who should know better to account.

Because we keep looking for life

Among the dead.

Even now.

But Jesus Christ is risen.

And we too will rise.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here.”

Look for him in the place he may be found

Where live everlasting

Is bestowed upon all.

Amen.

 

 

 

Easter Vigil

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

………………..

If anyone here is feeling poor in spirit,

Let them rejoice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If anyone mourns,

Let them seek refuge in the bosom of Christ, for they shall be comforted.

If anyone hungers and thirsts after righteousness,

Let them come

Partake of this feast.

If any feels compelled to follow Jesus our Saviour

Who has opened the grave and gate of death

Into immortality

Let them come to the waters.

For Christ offers mercy upon those who come late

As on those who came first.

The door in heaven stands open

For the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

He offers to share the burdens of the weary ones of this world

Whose backs are broken

With hard and heavy labour

Who see no hope of ever finding

A vine or a fig tree

That they can sit under and call their own.

He offers living water that truly satisfies

To those who have chased after vain things

Whose hearts ache to know the joy of Christ.

He calls to repentance those who would use his name as a club

To beat others

And declare them unworthy to stand before the Lord.

For to you who have much

And to you who have little

To you who are always here

And to you who are newly come

To you who are merciful

And to you who need mercy

Christ’s victory is for you.

On this night

When heaven is wedded to earth

And we are reconciled to God;

This night

When the heavenly host and all angel choirs

Rejoice to the ends of the universe;

This night

When Death is defeated

And Hell is overthrown;

We are come

To hear the story

Of God’s plan of salvation

From our earliest days.

We are come

To hear of God’s lovingkindness made known to us

In a world tenderly made

And given into our care.

We are come

To hear of a God who demands no sacrifice of us

But offers the sacrifice of himself.

We are come

To hear of a God

Who parts the waters that threaten us

Who quenches every thirst

Who raises dry bones

And gathers together his people.

This same story

That our ancestors told

From time immemorial

Is now our story.

For we who have been united with Christ in baptism

And the one who will be united with Christ in baptism tonight,

Receive the promise

That we will also be united with Christ

In a resurrection like his.

Death has lost its sting.

The grave has lost its victory.

Shout alleluia, for Christ is risen,

And we too shall rise.

Christ is risen,

And evil is fallen.

Christ is risen,

And Death is trampled under his feet.

Christ is risen,

And “not one dead will remain in the grave.”

Therefore come.

Love Himself bids us welcome.

Let no soul draw back

Guilty of dust and sin.

Partake of Christ’s victory

For you

And for many.

Amen.

 *this sermon inspired by (and in the style of) John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily

Good Friday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

…………….

When I was a kid,

My church really loved to sing some of those revival hymns

From the 19thcentury tent meetings.

Since I’ve become Anglican I don’t get that experience as much anymore,

But when you grow up

Singing those hymns,

Those catchy, upbeat hymns

Often intentionally set to drinking tunes,

They never really leave you.

And this week,

For some reason,

I’ve found myself whistling to Victory in Jesus.

I heard an old, old story,

How a Saviour came from glory

How he gave his life on Calvary

To save a wretch like me.

O victory in Jesus!

My Saviour forever

He sought me

And bought me

With his redeeming blood.

He loved me ere I knew him

And all my love is due him

He plunged me to victory

Beneath the cleansing flood.

The upbeat, triumphal tune to this song

Doesn’t at all match

The somber reflections we engage in today.

A dying man on a cross

Doesn’t at all match

What we think of

As victory.

……………………….

From our earliest days,

Christians have struggled to articulate

What exactly Jesus’s death on the cross means for us.

It has always been a source of mockery –

Archeologists have discovered ancient Roman graffiti

Featuring a man with a donkey’s head on a cross

With stick figures worshipping him,

Basically saying “Look at these dum-dums.

They worship an ass on a cross.”

Jesus’s death doesn’t look much like victory.

It looks like defeat.

Human beings have always been captivated by the power of story,

We look to narrative to shape our understanding of events,

And this is not what the story of a winner looks like.

Jesus breaks the cycle

Of revenge and violence

By refusing to conform to our expectations of what winning should be.

He declines to kick butt and take names,

He refuses to hit back,

He stands silent when condemned.

And he wins.

He holds firm to his relationships,

Even when it appears that everyone he loves has abandoned him.

With his final breaths, he gives the disciple whom he loves and his mother to one another, making sure that she is taken care of, inaugurating a new family even as he is dying.

This is what victory looks like.

Not an eye for an eye

Not turning our hearts to stone

For the sake of some imagined prosperous future

That can only be gained by shutting out

Those who are a drain on our resources

Not making sure we get ours

And too bad everybody else who’s left behind.

Victory looks like reaching out

From within suffering

To knit together

Rather than to tear apart.

To look out,

Even at those who have hurt us

And call them brother.

Victory looks like rewriting the narrative

That has driven human society for millennia

And declaring that all our criteria for what counts as winning are worthless

For Christ alone

Has plunged us into victory

That we had previously believed to be loss.

As a great theologian has said,

“In the cross,

Jesus transvalues our values.

He turns them upside down.”

In other words, he tells us that we have been looking for victory

In the wrong direction.

The cross stands in judgment

Of all the achievements for which human beings strive

Of our continual quest for power over

Rather than power with.

The same theologian writes,

“The Christian knows that the cross is the truth.

In that standard he sees the ultimate success of what the world calls failure

And failure of what the world calls success.”

And so today, we acknowledge our failure.

We lay down our arms.

We give up on the idea

Of trying to be a success.

We stop trying to achieve a perfection

A victory

That the world defines

That we can never quite reach.

And in letting go

Of what the world calls success

We are plunged into Christ’s victory

Over death itself.

Amen.

 

Maundy Thursday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

……………….

Love one another.

It’s basically a cliché at this point.

We have all heard this commandment

That Jesus offers as new

So many times

That we’ve stopped listening to it.

Love one another.

What does that mean?

In some places, it has become so watered down,

So dumbed down,

As to basically mean

Be polite.

Be kind.

Don’t ACTIVELY seek to be a jerk to other people.

The commandment becomes less “love one another”

And more “don’t NOT love one another.”

It’s read as passive.

Weak.

Songs that praise “the power of love”

Are dismissed

As sentimental claptrap.

Politicians tell us that love is a luxury

For safer, more prosperous times.

In these times, it’s weak.

Because love makes you vulnerable.

When those who do evil know what you care about,

They know where to hurt you.

Safer, then, not to love.

Or only to love a few.

We had to put our dog down last month,

And I was hit with a grief that knocked me over,

Like I had been standing in the ocean and an unexpected wave had hit me

Right at the knees.

“Grief is the price we pay for love,”

People told me at the time,

Which just made me angry.

It felt like one of those bait and switch ad schemes

Where you’re hit with an unexpected bill

At the end of a holiday.

I was vulnerable.

I cared.

And while nobody was actively seeking to make me hurt,

It was tempting to retreat into cynicism.

To say “never again.”

To shut myself off from the possibility

Of paying that price in the future.

Because sometimes it feels like the only power love has

Is the power to hurt

Those who have willingly made ourselves vulnerable to it.

And so we see Peter,

Already bruised by never really knowing

What wild thing Jesus is going to do next –

Ride a donkey? Ok.

Throw the money changers out of the Temple? Uhhhhhh …..

Accept an expensive anointing from a woman that prefigures his burial?

Hold on, now. –

Peter resists this invitation

Into vulnerability.

Oh, the story is often told as a morality play on humility,

But I don’t actually think that’s what Jesus cares about.

Because you see,

Jesus is about die

For Peter’s sake.

That’s the price

That Jesus is willing to pay for love.

He is willing to die –

To literally die,

Painfully,

All alone,

Abandoned by his key followers,

Including Peter, who will deny even knowing him –

Because he loves.

And in so doing, Jesus will offer Peter a gift.

The kind Peter can never repay.

The gift

Of eternal life with him.

This makes Peter vulnerable.

Because what if Jesus changes his mind?

How can Peter trust

That Jesus’s love will endure?

Better to make sure that he’s earned his own way.

Now, I’m sure nobody here tonight has ever felt like Peter.

But if you ever have, then hear this:

Love is powerful.

If you don’t believe me, as Presiding Bishop Curry says,

Then just remember how it felt

When you first fell in love.

It might be a time when you found your romantic partner.

It might be the first time you held your child, or your grandchild.

It might not have anything to do with another person at all!

You might have fallen in love with a vocation,

Or a place.

How many watched the spire of Notre Dame de Paris fall

Earlier this week

And found themselves knocked over by grief they didn’t expect,

Grief as intense as for a person

Or a dog.

Grief is the price we pay for love,

We know all too well.

And,

We know that that love endures

Even through grief.

We know that love,

Real love,

Has the power to withstand

Even the most dreadful,

Wracking gasps of pain

And to come out the other side

Ready to keep on loving,

Like the cross that still stands

Inside the flame-gutted cathedral.

That’s power.

That is the rock upon which the wise man built his house.

That is the sure foundation of everything we hold dear,

Jesus Christ,

The cornerstone.

Because he loves us,

We are able to love one another.

Not a cheap, sentimental, passive love,

But active love.

The kind of love that costs us something.

It might be our status or position in society

As we take on the humiliating task of caring for those

Folks would rather forget about.

It might be money,

As we stop chasing material wealth

And dare to own less so that others might have more.

It might be life itself

As we declare that some things in this world are worth dying for.

Jesus says to the Peters around this table

That we are worth dying for.

And when we walk out on that water,

When we trust him enough

To accept that gift,

We will find that his love holds

Through every fire

And every storm.

Amen.

 

 

 

Palm Sunday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

………….

And so it begins.

Our Holy Week journey

Where we walk with Jesus

Through the last week of his life.

Holy Week is a special time of year.

The rest of the year,

Our worship is primarily that: worship.

We praise God,

And thank God for all that God has done for us.

We might change emphasis

From Christmas to Lent,

From Advent to Ordinary Time,

But our purpose is to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.

Holy Week is a little bit different.

We’re still worshipping, of course,

But there is something a little more powerful

About this season

In which we remember the stories

Of Jesus’s last week on earth

As he walked toward the Cross and Grave.

Because we don’t just remember them

In the sense that we are reminded of them.

In walking with Jesus in Holy Week,

We re-member the stories.

We reconstitute them,

Reincorporate them.

We take out the dusty, dry bones,

And breath new flesh onto them.

We re-enact them.

We live them

Again.

When our Jewish neighbours celebrate Passover, as they will on Friday,

They say a prayer in which parents tell their children

“Because of what the Lord did for me

When I came out of Egypt.”

They say this prayer

Because the story is personal.

It happened to them.

It doesn’t matter that the people Israel actually came out of Egypt

More than 3500 years ago.

It is still the story

Of what the Lord did

For each and every person

Today.

Which is why it is so important

That today, Palm Sunday,

As we read the Passion Gospel

And relive Jesus’s trial, sentencing, and death,

We play the part of the crowd.

Because honestly?

That is the likeliest position

We each would have occupied

Back in the day

As this story was first being lived through.

Just like that ancient crowd,

We welcome Jesus in

With palms and processions

With hosannas

And proclamations of his kingship.

Like them,

We are so excited to see Jesus

Give us everything we long for:

Freedom from Rome,

Whoever Rome is in our hearts,

Peace and security,

The restoration of a long-lost glory.

Maybe the assurance that we’re the ones

Who’ve gotten it right all along – ha ha! Now they’ll see.

And, like that crowd,

We are so ready to turn on Jesus

The moment that following him seems dangerous,

Or even just

Inconvenient.

The moment he fails to meet

Our expectations.

Palm Sunday is one of my favourite days in Holy Week,

Precisely because this quick change is so important.

This lightning fast shift

From Hosanna

To Crucify.

It is crucial that we remember

How quickly we would

How quickly we have

Betrayed Jesus.

It is essential that we remember this story

With ourselves as part of the crowd.

Not least, of course, because historically,

Blaming “the Jews” for Jesus’s death

Has been a misreading of history

Anti-Semitic,

And violently wrong.

Not least, of course, because in our own history,

We too have crucified

Lynched

And executed

Many innocents

Because they failed to meet our expectations.

But especially

Because as we sink in

To the story of what the Lord has done for us

When we came out of our metaphorical Egypt,

Our slavery to Sin and Death,

We allow ourselves to reckon with the weight

Of how much, exactly, God has done for us.

Of his gift of salvation

Offered to all,

Even those

Who called for him

To be crucified.

I invite you, then,

To the observance of Holy Week.

Join us in the Upper Room on Thursday,

At Jesus’s final meal with his friends,

When he washed their feet

And commanded them to love one another.

Sign up to wait

In the Garden of Gethsemane

As he prays through the night

Before his arrest.

On Friday, venerate the wood of the Cross

On which hung the Saviour of the world.

Walk behind him as he goes to Golgotha,

As we introduce children to the Way of the Cross.

And on Saturday night,

Come and wait at his Tomb.

Hear the ancient stories of God working out our salvation

Throughout recorded time and history.

Renew your baptismal vows

As we welcome a new member to join us

In walking through the Red Sea

And into the new light of the resurrection.

If you have never observed the full Holy Week before,

Make the time this year.

I promise,

You will not complete it unchanged.

For as we welcome Easter morning,

We who have remembered the stories

Emerge from the Tomb with Jesus

Proclaiming new life

For all

Even us

Who once called out

Crucify!

Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

Let us pray.

Lord, our adversary prowls like a lion.

But you are a God who steps into the arena.

Who does not leave us on our own.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

……………….

On Ash Wednesday, we gathered to mark our heads

With ashes and with dust.

We remembered that we are going to die.

It’s a weird thing to do

With one’s Wednesday night, isn’t it?

“What’d you do last night?”

“Oh, nothing special.

Just put dirt on my head

And remembered I’m going to die one day, you?”

There’s something powerful about it as a ritual, though.

It’s so compelling that strangers at bus stations and on thoroughfares

Find themselves drawn to participate,

Even when they don’t know exactly what it means

Or why they’re doing it.

It’s visceral.

You can feel the dirt spreading on your forehead

As surely as dirt will be dropped on your casket one day.

We don’t talk like that very often,

Perhaps because we’d rather not imagine that unthinkable future.

That, as Sarah Condon writes,

Devastating impossibility that always happens.

Death gets shoved aside, often.

We are asked to die neatly in special hospice centres

Set aside for the purpose

And within 6 months our family members will be told,

“Oh gosh, surely you’ve moved on by now, right?”

When I served in the Peace Corps in a small village in northwestern Ukraine

Just 30 kilometers from the Polish border,

Death was right in the middle of things.

A whacking great war memorial made up most of the town centre

And everybody knew somebody who’d died in the war

If not in the military

Than in the famine

In the Holocaust

In the aftermath.

When my Ukrainian tutor’s husband was tragically killed,

His funeral wasn’t just open casket

It was open bier.

We set him on a platform

And after the funeral

We loaded him up on a flatbed truck

And processed behind it to the cemetery

Where he was buried

Among rainbow coloured streamers.

The Orthodox have a hymn they sing on such occasions

“Receive, O earth,

The body formed of you

By the hand of God

And again returning to you as its mother.”

Ashes to ashes.

Dust to dust.

Earth to earth.

Everyone dies.

Even Jesus.

Death seems close to Jesus in this story of the temptation in the wilderness.

He’s out in the wilderness

Away from the crowds that surrounded John

Baptizing in the Jordan River.

His humanness feels especially apparent.

He’s hungry, Luke tells us.

Our God

Feels hunger.

He’s dirty, no doubt.

He’s got sand clinging to him everywhere

As he waits for whatever insight

The Holy Spirit is trying to show him

Out there in the wilderness.

And then the devil turns up.

Isn’t that just always the way?

Always kicking you when you’re down.

And he tests Jesus

With three temptations:

First, with material comfort.

An end to his very human pains.

Second, with glory and authority,

The ability to do whatever he wants.

Third, with proof of his status

As the Son of God.

That always strikes me, every year,

That the devil begins his taunts with this insidious word “IF.”

“IF you are the Son of God.”

Which implies that maybe even Jesus

Isn’t entirely sure yet

Of who he is

And who God is calling him to be.

Down here in this very human muck

Feeling these very human feelings

It would be easy to doubt

Even if he did remember

The glory he’d set aside.

That’s the really extraordinary thing about Jesus, I think.

That, though he was in the form of God,

He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped

Clung to

Taken advantage of,

But emptied himself

To come and join us down here on the earth.

With dirt on his forehead.

And even when the devil

Made him question

If he even really was the Son of God anymore

He didn’t take the bait.

He didn’t abandon us in the dirt.

We worship a God

Who gets down in the muck where we live

Even when it’s awful

Even when it’s dirty and gross and visceral and physical and tragic and heartbreaking

And who stands in the brink

When the devil comes to call

And says “Yes, I am the Son of God.

Not in spite of this but because of this.

Because I am down in the dirt with my people.”

God does not run away from us in the difficult times.

God does not ask us to suffer neatly

Away

Far from Him

So that nobody has to think about how the changes and chances of this life

Are too often a devastating impossibility

That always happens.

God joins us in the dirt.

He hungers and he thirsts.

And ultimately the earth He created

Receives his body

As a mother.

This Lent, as Jan Richardson writes,

“Let us be marked

Not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

Not for shame.

Let us be marked

Not for false humility

Or for thinking

We are less

Than we are

But for claiming

What God can do

Within the dust

Within the dirt,

Within the stuff

Of which the world

Is made.”

Our God makes beautiful things out of dust.

Our God chose to become dust

With us

And held to it even when the devil tormented him for it.

Because he loves we who are his image

That much.

Amen.