Archive for October, 2016

“A Thief in the Night,” (Sermon, October 19th, 2016)

Jesus said, ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

41 Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ 42And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Luke 12:39-48


Soooo slavery!

This is like the airhorn of the passage right here. It really drives home the reality that the foundational texts of our tradition were written in a world light years apart from our own. Although we know that slavery still exists, we in the West no longer accept it as a natural or desirable state of affairs.

This was not the world that Jesus lived in. Slavery was a part of life.

It might mitigate our discomfort a little to remember that there are different kinds of slavery, and our knowledge of the mindset and theology behind the Trans-Atlantic slave trade out of Africa was different from the beliefs about slavery that a lot of people in the ancient Near East encountered in their day to day lives. Although ancient kingdoms did take slaves during times of war, and did often treat them very badly indeed, there was also an established practice of bond slavery, where servitude was an attempt to pay off debt. Again, no-one was offering these slaves royal treatment – they were still viewed as property – but debt slavery was quite a different beast than chattel slavery, where slaves were not merely seen as property but believed to be literally subhuman and therefore treated not like children who are occasionally in need of discipline (as this story’s slave is treated by the master), but like animals, who possess no human emotions or intellect.

But it’s still super icky to hear Jesus talk this way, right? We know that the Bible has been used on both sides to legitimize or de-legitimize slavery, and thankfully the arc of the moral universe really did bend toward justice this time. We should be thankful that this passage makes us feel so icky, since it means that we no longer take this state of affairs for granted. But we also know that things get murky when we decide to throw out parts of the Bible we don’t like. What’s stopping us from throwing out not just the stuff that we think is bad, but perhaps the stuff that we think is hard, maybe even impossible? I don’t want to sell us short! There’s lots of stuff in there that God expects of us that may very well be impossible! The point is that in Scripture we are being called to wrestle, as Jacob did with the angel – to question and gripe and sob and laugh at these stories. If it were not so, our faith would be dead, rather than living.

So how can we make this story work for us today?

Well lucky for us there’s a piece of this story that is super weird, and that’s always a good place to enter.

So for most of the story, we hear about the master of the house, and the slaves, and how the master will come at an unexpected time. But for just one sentence, right up at the top, we have verses 39 and 40 – ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

It seems somewhat obvious in the parable that the master is a cipher for God. But then we have this oft-repeated maxim, which pops up in other Gospels, of the Son of Man coming “like a thief in the night.” I want to delve deeper into that. Let’s make it not just a simile to express the surprising nature of Christ’s coming. Let’s make it a metaphor for how Christ will be when he returns to us.

How could Jesus possibly be like a thief? Well, in a sense, he could be said to be very much like a thief! People come to him and he steals their attention, their possessions, and their lives. He doesn’t do it by demanding, but by the sheer force of his charism and his teachings. Remember when Peter and Andrew decide to follow, they leave behind everything. In a sense, Jesus stole the part of themselves that kept them there, doing what any ordinary men of the time would do to live. In a sense, he stole their hearts, and made them his own.

He also steals possessions, convincing those who do decide to follow to give everything away, or to put them into a common purse. He sends out the disciples with almost nothing, keeping their safety net held back…and yet unlike a thief he does not then use it for his own gain, but merely asks them to do as he does.

But here’s the most intriguing, beautiful thing about Christ the thief. Remember how we talked about slaves as property? Jesus steals people too. We already said that he stole Peter and Andrew, in a sense, and many others. But stepping back into the realm of metaphor, we are given a whole new perspective on how Jesus interacts with the world.

Let us then not see God as the master who hoards his treasures, but perhaps as a false God, one who demands more than is necessary, who pushes us up Sisyphean hills, who belittles and chastens and insists that we not live into our earthiness but transcend it to be more like him. Substitute any demagogue or modern myth that you like. I won’t name names because it would just be depressing. Think of the false God that keeps you up at night wondering if you’ve done your best, not because doing your best is what all people do, but because if you don’t do your best you will not be worthy.

We all know what this god looks like, even though he looks different from person to person. In this instance the metaphor of slavery works well, because slavery is not something which comes upon a person because of moral failings. It comes upon a person when they’re down on their luck, pushed into a corner, or simply stolen away in the nighttime of despair without any warning.

This is the god whose house Christ breaks into. This is the god who awakens to find all of his possessions gone – including his slaves.

This is the god from whom we slaves are liberated. Christ also must be a thief, rather than one who pays the debt, because Christ needs us to know that this god is not worthy of time, treasure, or toil.

All of us have been made free.

And now, we stand before the table, having been made free not to then become slaves again, but to become guests at the banquet of the True God’s love.

Oh, but even more than guests. Family.

Welcome home.

“The Gift of Prayer,” (Sermon, October 5th, 2016)

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3   Give us each day our daily bread.
4   And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

Luke 11:1-4


Think of that grownup in your life who you trusted more than anyone, and who deserved every drop of that trust. It might be a parent or a relative, or it might be a family friend.

What was the thing that they said to you that you can still hear so perfectly in your head that you can mimic the exact cadence of their voice?

For me, it’s my mum, and it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

This is how it sounded: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”

It’s one of my earliest memories. I know this because I can remember hearing the words and mimicking the sounds with no real understanding of what they meant.

This was our nightly incantation. A talisman against the dark.

What was yours?

Was it words, or was it a gesture?

It’s that thing that filled you with a certain degree of awe, because it was probably one of the first things that gave you a sense of something – some piece of wisdom or some strange ritual – that was much bigger than this one person whom you trusted so deeply that they seemed close to divine.

It’s that thing that, when you got older, you recognized was not actually universal among families, and that changed things. You began to really understand that this thing was a marker of identity. It was both vastly important…and it was not shared with just anyone.

It’s something that’s so important that even the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child mentions that children have the right to this wisdom, just as they should have the right to challenge it as they get older.

We all have more than one family. Our blood family had this wisdom, but so too do the various other social groupings in which we find ourselves. And so too does this one, where we gather today.

Jesus’ disciples knew that John had special prayers. Some of them probably crossed the floor from John to Jesus and maybe knew these special prayers. They were in a new community now. They trusted Jesus so much that they had left everything behind. Now they needed something to tie them all together.

They knew that he prayed regularly. They figured it was something he was good at. They wanted their own prayer. A talisman against a world that had become hostile.

And so we were given this gift.

We were given the words of our Beloved, which we use together in prayer.

It doesn’t sound quite the same as the one we know. There are two versions – the one in Matthew is longer than the one we just heard from the Gospel of Luke. It is not included in Mark or John, which may suggest that it formed part of the hypothetical Q document that some scholars believed contained a collection of Jesus’ sayings. The context in which the prayer is given is different in each Gospel. In Luke we heard that the disciples wanted a prayer like John’s disciples had. In Matthew, Jesus gives them this prayer while going on a rant about ostentatious prayer. This prayer is then meant to be simple and accessible.

Markers of identity usually need to be, if they are to be universally adopted.

A piece of wisdom for our family, from the one who loves us.

We know it’s a family prayer, because Jesus referred to God in Aramaic not as the rather formal “Father,” but “Abba” – Daddy. If it’s difficult for you to speak to God in this way, that was the point. Jesus came to break down walls between us.

You could say the entire journey of the universe has been our building walls and God tearing them down. In the garden, we got it. God was still “Abba.” But in the quest to receive wisdom, we built walls. God’s first response is Torah. “You don’t remember how to be with me? I’ll give you exactly what you need to know. Here, write it down.”

We did what humans do. We ignored it, or we got so bogged down in details that we began to forget the spirit in favour of the letter.

God’s second response came to live among us. And we have his words now too. If we know nothing else about who God is, at some point at least our ancestors figured out that those words would bind us together across generations, and inserted them at the moment when God comes close to us in the Eucharistic feast.

So today, I encouraged you to put down your books at the Eucharistic prayer. You know the words – or if you don’t, let yourself lean into them as the rest of the community says them. Concentrate instead on sight. And when we speak the words of our Beloved, imagine that he is with us, as indeed he is.

In that moment, all is right. We have become again the fully trusting children of God.

And despite all other failings and all other uncertainties, that moment is worth everything.

“Feast on love,” (St. Francis Day Sermon, October 2nd, 2016)

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’

Luke 17:5-10


“Found alone and crying in garden.”

That was what it said at the top of our cat’s intake form from the adoption agency.

I almost cried myself when I read it! Quite a biblical statement, now that I think of it. I suppose we should have named her Magdalene! Instead we named her Kimchi, because my husband has a weird sense of humour.

She was hungry and cold and yet had clearly been cared for at some point in her life. We never found out exactly what had happened to her. If only she could speak.

It might sound cruel, but I knew we’d made the right choice when I realized that her fosters were shooing us quickly out the door because they were about to burst into tears. They both loved her, and had cared for her very well. They told us that she was friendly and loving and funny, and never caused any trouble.

stole my seatFor weeks she was curious and gentle, but very shy. She purred loudly and nervously everywhere she went – cats actually purr for all kinds of reasons, not just when they’re content. And over time, she began to trust us, to feel comfortable in the condo, to hop up on the bed at night, and then, one afternoon nine months in, to hop up on my chair while I was sitting in it and lie in my lap.

I could barely contain myself. I texted a picture to my husband. He texted back, “EEEEEE.”

“Found alone and crying in garden.”

Found, and loved. And love was returned.

What a gift it is to be taught faith by something that can’t even speak to us.

Think of the faith that your pets have, or have had, in you. The irrepressible love, the desire to be with you all the time, the complete trust. It’s what makes them so special. It’s what makes us so devastated when they leave us.

It’s hard to imagine a person having faith like my cat’s. I can’t imagine finding the ability to be so trusting in people after being abandoned like she was.

And yet what choice did she have?

“Increase our faith!” the disciples cry. And yet it’s sort of funny, because they’ve already left behind everything to follow Jesus. They already have tremendous faith. Jesus knows this; he tells them this. It’s not about planting mulberry bushes in the sea. It’s about listening and acting, which they have already done. The problem is not that they’re unequipped for the work; it’s that they’re not finished.

So many people in the church today look at the world around them, and pray for faith – faith for them, for the people they love, for the people in charge, for the people who are on the down and out. They pray and pray…and yet don’t stop and wonder who they think they’re praying to if they have such little faith!

Look around. You are already here, in this place, instead of somewhere else, on a Sunday morning, when you could be sleeping in, or doing any number of other things. You could be plying your trade or having fun with friends and not thinking about all of the work and prayer and saving grace that the world needs.

But you’re not. You’re here.

You do not have the luxury of saying, “Oh, I just wandered in here by accident.” You were called here. And God doesn’t make mistakes. God chose you.

If God chose you, then you are enough. There’s no hiding from it. God’s that frustratingly friendly, mildly annoying person that won’t listen to your excuses. There’s a good example in an episode of a TV show I like where Roger, a selfish alien, decides to marry a sadly desperate woman just so he can get an expensive appliance for free by placing it on the registry. On the day of the wedding, having picked it out from the gifts table, he tries to sneak away before the ceremony even starts, but the bride’s father catches him in the act. Roger tries to dissuade the father by admitting that he is not who he made himself out to be, but the father, who really wants to see his beloved daughter married, will not hear it.

“I’m not really an orthodontist.” “That’s okay. You can work at my greeting card company!”

“I’m not actually Jewish.” “You’ll convert!”

Finally, Roger, out of options, blurts, “I’m not even human!”

The father cries happily, “Who is?”

That’s what God is like.

That incessant. That accepting.

So, convinced you don’t have enough faith? Too bad. God has faith in you. And God is probably the most relentless, faithful force in the universe.

Like that big shaggy dog that gets so excited when you come home that it can’t help but jump on you, even though you always say no. Like my cat, who sticks her paws under the closed bedroom door in the morning because she wants us to just wake up and play with her already!

We made domestic animals that way; trained them to trust us, to live in covenant with us. This is why people get so angry when they’re abused. We can’t imagine something so vulnerable, so trusting, so open to love, being mistreated.

How much more has God made us, breathing that love into our earthy bodies at the sunrise of the world? How much more sad and angry does God feel when we are abused and mistreated, and how much more does God cry out to us to practice justice and love mercy with each other and the earth upon which we live?

There’s a reason that faith is grouped with hope and love. One could almost say that faith is like a synthesis of the two. Faith is about hope in things unseen, but it’s also about trust – think of having faith in a friend or a leader – which in its purest form is another face of love.

It’s hard to imagine having faith like my cat’s.

st-francisIt’s hard to imagine having faith like Francis’, faith big enough to leave behind security, riches, and a good name, and trade it for ridicule, poverty, and pain.

And yet in doing so, he gained everything.

It seems very foolish. His father certainly thought it was. When Francis took a bolt of expensive cloth from the family shop and sold it to repair a run-down church, Francis’ father took his son to court to demand the money back. Francis insisted that God had spoken to him at the old church, saying, “Francis, Francis, fix my house.” His father didn’t care. “Pay what you owe.”

So Francis took off all of his jewelry, and all of his clothes, and handed them to his father. He stood in the court naked, having divested himself of everything that bound him to his family. Then he left, and never returned.

There was nothing supernatural about that. Francis didn’t move mountains or plant mulberry bushes in the sea. He just listened. Not just “heard,” but “listened,” letting what he had heard and seen move him to action.

So what’s your “Francis, fix my house”?

Think of it less as a command, and more as an invitation.

Friend, search for me.

Friend, let me love you.

Friend, do your work of love.

Remember, faith isn’t just for church. It must be lived in the world. God is on the move, and so are we. Every day, we are found, and every day, we are called.

It took Francis twenty years to act, but he did, and changed the world.

You have been called on a long, wonderful journey.

You’re going to have to think about how you’ll respond.

While you’re thinking about it, and before you go, come to the table, and refresh yourself for the work to come. The one who calls us does so having made a gift of himself for the work.

Come to the table. Feast on love for the work of love.

“Matthew and Jesus,” (Sermon, September 21st, 2016)

One of my favourite websites to visit is It’s mostly a comedy website, but within the last five years or so it has also been branching out into what it calls “personal experience” articles, which are just what they sound like: they solicit interviews from folks on an online forum – folks who have had strange jobs or uncommon experiences. Some of them are funny, some of them are very weird, some of them are heartbreaking, and some of them are inspiring.

One of them is called “5 Things I Learned as a Neo-Nazi,” composed by one of the Cracked staff writers and the subject, Frank Meeink. In it, Frank tells the story of his time as a racist skinhead, beginning with his recruitment when he was just a teen, and ending with his reformation after time in prison and a beautiful relationship with a Jewish man who hired him to do odd jobs.

One insight from Frank was really interesting. He describes a terrible upbringing, a feeling of constant fear and worthlessness, which the men who recruited him recognized and exploited by introducing him to random acts of violence, at first without any racial element. He describes the fear on the face of a man they attacked, and how big it made him feel. He describes how that was really how they hooked people, and the racism came later, at first couched in positive language of heritage and white pride. However, he soon discovered that although the recruitment began with an invitation to feel proud of who they were, once the kids were in, he said, “We never talked ourselves up, never tried to feel better about ourselves. It was all focused on other people. Probably because the only people we hated more than everyone else was us.”

Take a moment to ponder the tragedy of that statement. “The only people we hated more than everyone else was us.” Hate your neighbour as you hate yourself.

Frank continues, “The driving power behind these movements is fear: fear of inadequacy, fear of being forgotten, fear of not mattering. And as hard as we tried to scare people, no one was ever more scared than we were. Hate is just repackaged fear[.]”

This is what was on my mind when I read today’s passage. Here’s Matthew, the tax collector – reviled, condemned, abused. According to Wikipedia, “The right to collect taxes for a particular region would be auctioned every few years for a value that (in theory) approximated the tax available for collection in that region. The payment to Rome was treated as a loan and the publicani (the tax collectors) would receive interest on their payment at the end of the collection period. In addition, any excess (over their bid) tax collected would be pure profit for the publicani. The principal risk to the publicani was that the tax collected would be less than the sum bid.”

You can imagine that these fellows would be very interested in collecting as much as possible.

This is the job that Matthew finds himself in when he meets Jesus.

We aren’t given any circumstances for how he got himself into that line of work. He would have been a man of means from a family of means, since a tax collector needed to be literate and would have to have contacts and funds to apply for the bid.

In short, he was not a victim. He chose this. He chose to spend his time wrangling money out of people, many of whom couldn’t afford it. We don’t know why. We don’t know anything else about him. He’s a blank slate – like the skinhead you’d want to cross the street to avoid. There he is at his little booth, probably dodging rocks.

And what does Jesus say to him?

“Follow me.”

That’s it.

No finger-wagging, no yelling, no cold turn of the head as though he can’t even see something so profane.

Just, “Follow me.” And Matthew does it.

And then invites him over and throws a party with all of the disciples.

I imagine that the Pharisees were feeling a little like the prodigal son’s brother at this point. “Are you serious?” I imagine them saying. “You’re going to get into fights with us, the keepers of the law, but you’re going to eat and drink wine with these degenerates?”

Jesus is typically witty here. “I didn’t come for the healthy, I came for the sick.”

This isn’t just a throwaway line. There are two separate collections of three healings by Jesus before and after this story, along with other instances of disciples being called. Finally, in the chapter immediately following this, Jesus sends out the Twelve to do some healing of their own.

This is the beauty of the one we call beloved.

It’s one thing to cure someone of their physical illness. It’s something else entirely to heal someone’s heart.

Matthew went from squeezing people dry to feeding strangers in his home.

What could he teach us about how to live our faith? Who do we know in our world that are sick, sick with hate and fear and a sense of worthlessness?

“The only people we hated more than everyone else was us.”

If you don’t know anyone like that, you can still search for and confront that attitude. It exists everywhere – in the persistent narratives of revenge that fuel many of our systems, in the reliance on bootstrap policy over compassion, in the tiny passive-aggressive jabs that are so much easier but much more damaging in the long run than having difficult conversations between us and the people we like and dislike.

There’s a lovely saying, “You might be the only Jesus that people ever see.” I’ve seen every single one of you do it. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Matthew knew it. That was why he wanted to celebrate when he discovered this new way.

So celebrate with me, right now. You were called, some of you before you could even speak, before you could even walk. It takes all kinds.

What a gift.

Celebrate with me…then go out into the world and find a frightened other to invite back to our house.