Archive for April, 2018

“Through Locked Doors,” (Easter 2 sermon, April 8th 2018)

This sermon was preached at St. John’s, Port Moody.

 

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

John 20:19-31

 

Good morning, St. John’s. I’m so glad to be with you.

My name is Clare, and I’m the community director of Hineni House, a ministry of St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage in East Vancouver. It’s an intentional community of five youngish singles living in the former rectory, having made a commitment to deepen their spiritual lives while going to school or working and hopefully becoming an active member of a faith community – not necessarily St. Margaret’s.

When I’m not there, I serve as chaplain at St. Jude’s Anglican Home, a care home for elders living with dementia.

I would call the ministry I practice in both “cross-roads chaplaincy.”

At Hineni House, we have young people trying to make sense of their lives, to find deeper meaning. Some of them are trying to find their place in the world; some of them have come through significant trials and need a soft place to regain themselves. They are searching for a presence beyond themselves that both knows them intimately and yet is ultimately unknowable to them.

At St. Jude’s, we have elders who are beginning to transition not just from one stage of life to another, but are indeed beginning to dance closer to death than to life. And in a way, in their dementia, they are beginning to exist in multiple layers of time at once – their bodies, say, sitting in a chair next to me, but their minds elsewhere, in other decades. One could almost say that they, like Jesus, are beginning to pass through locked doors. But they too are searching for a presence beyond themselves that both knows them intimately, and yet is calling them into a new state of being that is incomprehensible to those of us still on earth.

What I have learned serving both communities has made me feel especially close to the disciples on this day – and particularly to Thomas.

It is difficult enough to live through the earthquake of sudden and violent loss. But when the violence is not accidental, when it is at the hands of the Empire, the pressure in the fault is all the more severe, and the resulting split and its chasm all the deeper.

And as if that weren’t shocking enough, the poor broken body suddenly disappears without a trace, leaving behind only linen and the lunacy of resurrection – or at least it would have seemed that way when Mary came with her impossible proclamation.

Here is a strange thing, though. A week after this nonsense, they have decided to meet again in a locked room. We are not told why – only that Thomas is not with them.

Poor Thomas.

He gets such a bum rap. It is so unfair the way he is treated in our day – some kind of negative nancy who doesn’t have the stamina to believe the way the disciples do, as if men locking themselves in a room together demonstrate a great and steadfast faith in resurrection.

Why wasn’t he there? Maybe he was out searching.

We know little about Thomas, but he does have a couple other scenes. When Jesus proclaims that he is going back to see to Lazarus, Thomas is the only one who truly understands the risk. In either great passion or sarcasm, he says, “Let us go so that we may die with him.”

Later, as Jesus gives his final farewell to his friends in the upper room, he says “And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

He’s got a keen mind, doesn’t he? And all he wants to do is use it, to God’s glory and in service to his teacher and friend.

So after Jesus is gone, maybe Thomas decided to try to find the way, not remembering in his grief that Jesus had explained that he was the way. It was a pretty cryptic answer; we can cut Thomas some slack.

I think we can cut him some slack too for wanting to see Jesus. We children of the 21st century should be the last ones to judge the desire for a close, physical encounter with the divine. Everyone knew that crucifixion was a gruesome business. The body doesn’t come back from that unbroken. And even if it could…why would Jesus return to these men who had scattered?

What kind of awesome, world-breaking love brings the Beloved not only back from death, but speaking peace?

What about a love that brings the Beloved back not only speaking peace, but inviting them, without judgement, to explore with fingers and hands in such a frightfully intimate manner?

Because there is no judgement here. Jesus invites Thomas to do exactly as he wished to do.

It’s not clear, because our English text is flawed in three ways.

First, Jesus says, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Three sentences. The breaks make it sound kind of harsh. But in Greek, it is not three sentences. It is one sentence, separated only by a series of “ands.” And that final clause is, “And not be unbelieving, but believing.” This is an invitation. Thomas said, “I will not believe unless I can do these things.” Jesus says, “I want you to believe, so do them.”

Second, in response to Thomas’s beautiful proclamation of faith, Jesus says in English, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”

Again, the question sounds a bit accusatory. And again, in Greek, it is not a question. It’s a statement: “You have believed because you have seen me.” This is a neutral statement of fact. No judgement.

But third, and most significant for us, the Greek connects us to the disciples in a way that the English doesn’t.

You see, the tense in the English passage is always past. But in the Greek, we shift back and forth between past and present.

When the author refers to the disciples and their actions, they are referred to in past tense. When the author refers to Jesus’ physical actions, those too are past tense.

But when the author refers to what Jesus says, that, for the most part, is present tense.

“Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and says, ‘Peace be with you.’”

“When he had said this, he breathed into them and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

“Jesus says to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands.’”

“Jesus says, ‘You have believed because you have seen me.”

This is not a mistake.

This is a transcendence of time and space. We are in the room with the disciples. Like the elders that I sit with on the edge of time, we are invited to dance to the edge of time to listen to the words of the teacher. And we too are invited, like Thomas, to explore Jesus with fingers and hands.

And if you’re thinking, “How is that possible?” well, you do it every time you come here. Every time we gather, we are invited to commune with Jesus in a manner just as frightfully intimate as Thomas. We come forward with questing hands held out, and are given holy flesh, and holy blood.

Not out of guilt or fear, but out of desire for deeper intimacy.

There will be times where this is easy to remember. And there will be other times where, like Thomas, we will be searching, outside and inside the locked rooms of uncertainty.

And then, in the slightly adapted words of the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas,

“There [will be] times
when, after long on [our] knees
in a cold chancel, a stone [will roll]
from [our] mind, and [we will] look
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

So do not let doubt be fearful. Doubt should be a friend, a most desired guest. For it is in the moments of doubt, of seeking, that we are in fact invited into deeper relationship; indeed, into moments outside time, held gently in the cupped hands of the Beloved.

Holding Fast Track #10 – Mary Stands A-Weeping

“Open Arms,” (Good Friday sermon, March 30th 2018)

I don’t know who first came up with the experiment, but whoever they are, they should really be given the credit for my first Good Friday sermon.

The scene is a busy street corner. The subject is a young brown man who appears Middle Eastern. As the crowds surge by, he sets up a sign which says, “I trust you. Do you trust me? Hug me.”

As he stands up, he puts on a blindfold.

Then, he opens his arms.

And stands there.

The video is a composite, but it’s clear from the changing of the light that he is on that street corner for quite some time.

At first, only a few people, usually in singles, stop and hug him. The first one we see is a woman. She looks a little older than he is. She pats his back with a smile on her face.

The second one, a blonde woman, ducks under one of his arms to hug him from behind and rock him.

A man in a maroon shirt next, who hugs him for a long time, resting his chin on one shoulder, then the other.

By now, the camera shows us a little knot of people has gathered, waiting their turn. Some are filming it on their phones.

A black woman leans in, hugs, steps back. His arms enfold her, and as she steps back, they open again. A middle-aged man takes his turn. The arms enfold, open, enfold, open, like a butterfly’s wings.

Some people come in twos and threes to hug him together. Someone brings him a small child, who he spins in a circle.

The video is about 6 minutes long. I counted 58 people, although I’ll bet he hugged more. Toward the end, three friends come to hug him together, and one of them beckons others to join until there are six or seven people hugging the man at once.

All kinds of people. Elders, middle-aged, and young. Men and women. A rainbow of skin tones. Young people in jeans and Tshirts. A man in a business suit, a girl in hijab.

All humanity, flocking to this young man, willingly vulnerable, widely wildly open, arms enfolding, opening, enfolding, opening.

A butterfly. A hen, brooding over her eggs.

To those of us gathered here, the posture should say it all.

Obviously the video is edited so we can’t be 100% sure if every response he got was a hug. But having left misanthropy behind in pursuit of more honourable viewpoints several years ago, I would suspect the alternative responses were probably just non-engagement. Human beings are lazy far more often than they are actively malicious, even though the results often work out to the same horrid behaviour.

Either way, though, it is a risky act. Evil does exist. And so does cynicism, which often drives people to mock or sabotage acts of sincerity like this.

But this is why it’s so prophetic. Because while being cynical is a buzzkill, it’s also easy. After apathy and blind obedience to authority it’s probably the easiest position to take. It’s easy to find fault and ignore nuance and the complexity of human intent. It’s easy to assume that nothing is worth saving. It’s easy because it encourages non-action.

Compare it to something like skepticism, which plants seeds that become the fruits of seeking and discernment, of curiosity and the desire for more knowledge. Skepticism like cynicism may lead us to question the motives of others, but it doesn’t stop there. Skepticism drives us to seek out the underlying narrative.

Cynicism is a weed that infects and kills everything in the garden. It has no fruit but resentment.

It’s not evil in itself – it’s more symptom than disease. It’s running rampant in North America right now, and it’s not hard to understand why. Sincerity and conviction have been used as weapons to justify violence and prejudice. It’s easy to feel morally superior to a rabidly shrieking Fundamentalist or open carry advocate or white supremacist terrorist. It’s fun to mock the depth of their incredibly flawed convictions, and it’s a comfort to imagine that we are level-headed and realistic, above such displays of torrid emotion.

But we are never immune, and our cynicism of any kind of sincerity helps no-one.

Maybe we should consider re-claiming sincerity.

What’s intriguing to me is the caption below the video, which is in Arabic. According to the illustrious Google Translate, it says, “We need to feel safe again and come back to trust each other.”

The phrase seems a bit clumsy. I don’t speak Arabic but I made a guess that if I did I might rephrase it slightly: “We need to go back to trusting each other,” or “We need to return to trusting each other.”

This in itself seems interesting – it suggests that at one time, we did trust each other. Did we? How long ago was that? “The good old days”? I feel like we’ve established pretty well that such a thing never really existed.

But I’m curious about the implications of the phrase with that possibly clumsy translation. “We need to come back to trust each other.”

Come back to where?

To suburbs? To villages? To tribes and families?

Come back to walking naked in a Garden, as unashamed of our bodies with all their wrinkles and spots and rolls and bumps as we were before shame existed, and as innocently trusting in our speech and postures and hearts as we were before we decided to sow the seeds of lies alongside the crops of trust.

Come back to whom?

Come back to an incarnate One whose ways to us are strange and odd, as the old hymn says, who chooses to show power by showing weakness, to show royalty by submitting to the cruel taunts and petty slavery and cynical struggles of Empire, who stands on a street corner willfully blind to the horror of humanity’s bitter heart with arms wide open, daring to be beaten while at the same time daring to be enfolded.

Come back to something that was woven into our veins and sinews that we never allowed to grow, because we chose to steal wisdom rather than trusting that one day it would be given to us willingly; come back to a hidden DNA, if you like, that if allowed to activate would indeed make us look very strange and odd ourselves, wandering through the world emboldened by a holy mischief, the kind of spirit that pushes us to hug strangers and put flowers into the barrels of guns and sing songs to the police that arrest us and aspire to the spiritual mastery of little children and eat and drink with outcasts and sinners.

This might seem like a tall order, but don’t despair.

On March 24th, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered by a member of the El Salvadoran death squads while celebrating Mass. His crime? Believing that the poor were holy, and preaching to the soldiers of El Salvador’s brutal regime that they had his explicit order as a Bishop to abandon their mission of murder for God’s law.

He wrote,

“The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”

“We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. …We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”

No-one in this life will ever fully comprehend what this foolish Beloved of ours accomplished on the cross. What was done once, was done for all. We cannot aspire to recreate this fully, in this Body.

But we are the Body, and we can therefore be like God, and indeed, today, as three days from now, this is our call.

This is our call.