Archive for November, 2016

Lean in

There is so much pain, misunderstanding, lashing out, and disappointment these days. Remember, though, it has been this way forever, and if we didn’t feel it until now, then we’re holding a privilege somewhere.
So I am inviting all y’all to just lean into the season.

Christians? Lean into Advent. Lean into the prophecies, the conviction of occupied peoples, crushed beneath empires for so long, that a saviour was coming into the world. The world needs your voice.

Jewish relations? Lean into Hannukah, where you remember the story of the triumph of light and faith when hope was running dry. Light your lights and sing your songs. The world needs your voice.

Muslim relations? Lean into Mawlid, where you celebrate the birth of the Prophet (PBUH) who gave you Allah’s great gift. Listen to the stories, receive the poetry of your children, rejoice in the gifts your faith has given to the world and don’t be afraid to celebrate them. The world needs your voice.

Pagan friends? Lean into Yule, the turning of the earth and the return of the light. Burn your logs, light your candles, drink your cider, give thanks to the Goddess for her labour, and rejoice in the birth of the sun. The world needs your voice.

First Nations friends? Lean into your ancestors, your Mother Earth, your strength and courage. Lean into your traditions, the ones we denied you, the ones you continued regardless because you knew that they were gifts from the Creator and we were too ignorant to understand. The world needs your voice.

Agnostic, atheist, and SBNR friends? Lean into what brings hope, peace, joy, love, and strength. Note that it should not simply be what makes you comfortable. Hope, peace, joy, love, and strength, sometimes come from standing alongside the afflicted and oppressed; from round dances and songs; from petitions and arguments; from protests and prayer circles. A treasured friend of mine has given you a beautiful rallying call, using wonderfully inculturated spiritual language: “Solidarity is our saving grace.” Whether you believe it comes from a source beyond human understanding or whether it simply comes from the human capacity for beauty and kindness, call it out when you see it. Everyone needs help and hope these days, and you have plenty to offer. The world needs your voice.

We’re in this together. I’m with you.


– Originally posted on Facebook, November 30th 2016

“God’s Story,” (Sermon, November 13th 2016)

Note: In between the 8am service and the 10am service, I made some very minor changes to this sermon based on feedback I received from two people. I also opened the 10am version with a sort of content warning, letting people know that I owned these words and I was a little afraid to share them, again based on my experience at the 8am and the advice of a mentor. No-one at the 10am had anything but positive feedback for me (at least, so far).


When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.

‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Luke 21:5-19


“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”


Oh friends. The world turns even while it burns. No lack of drama here.

But no lack of drama anywhere, ever. Human beings are hardwired for drama, hardwired to notice patterns first, and to create them where none exist, like seeing Jesus in a piece of toast. This is why everything is assigned a narrative, even when there is none.

It’s kind of like assembling a puzzle, but without the box cover picture to help us out. Or maybe there is one, but we drew it ourselves. Some of those pictures are especially bewitching. The redemption story. The rebellion story. The love story. The one with the happy ending. The one where we see ourselves. The one where we’re given a piece of wisdom.

And yet, so often, we forget that we painted those pictures on the box.

The disciples ask Jesus for a sign of the apocalypse he is describing. Now we can get caught up in the metaphysical stuff when we hear that word, so remember “apocalypse” means “revelation,” or “unveiling.” Today I want us to hear this word more neutrally, metaphorically. The disciples think his answer will be a puzzle piece they can fit into a picture they’ve already got, a picture they were given as children by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents; a picture which they wove together from the pieces of Scripture, the vengeful and dramatic revelation of God to those who have oppressed their people for generations; a picture of God’s Anointed One who will ransom Israel in waves of blood and fire.

Jesus tells them that war is coming, but it is not the war the disciples are expecting. Instead of the Romans being cut down and flushed out, like the Egyptians at the Red Sea, they are to fall prey to judgement and the sword.

But hey, don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine. Yeah, right!

Later, of course, Jesus’ own life became the completed puzzle, and unfortunately that picture is just as horrendous. Instead of Jesus taking the Empire, the Empire takes Jesus outside the city walls and murders him brutally, as befits a criminal, not a king.

This picture is one that the disciples could never have put together on their own. In that context perhaps their betrayal of Jesus makes sense. It probably seemed to them a terrible mistake; that God was not the God of love and justice but a savage God of tyranny, or an inert God of helplessness; or worst of all, perhaps there was no God at all.

And yet.

So often we confuse human stories with God’s story. It’s not that they’re mutually exclusive. It’s that God’s story is so much bigger, bigger than anything we could possibly understand. There are so many more characters, so many more twists, so many more surprises and losses and triumphs than we can see at work in one lifetime.

Out of the ashes of shattered hope rises God’s actual story: a story of a new flood unleashed upon the earth, a flood of justice; a story of a new exodus, an exodus from the bondage of fear; a story of death being rolled up in rebirth, like a garment.

None of our human stories could have prepared us for this, although now that we know this story, it can be found written into the fabric of the universe – in the supernova, in the seed, in fallen beasts which provide food for the earth even in death, in human beings who give of themselves so that others may have life. By our endurance we gain our souls.

In the face of that story, all worry about the future becomes laughable.

Politics, if nothing else, teaches this, the futility of earthly kingdoms and the struggle for earthly power. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” Despite all of the anxiety and rage and self-righteousness, despite all of the thinkpieces a person could read and all of the frothing news anchors a person could hear, we the Church must not fall prey to those stories of fear. We come together to traffic in the metaphysical non-sense that so much of our world now rejects. We do it to laugh at time and its limitations, to make a mockery of empire while yet speaking out against its injustice. We do it to encounter something larger than ourselves, something we believe is a name above every other name. We do it knowing that all empires have an end. The Church was born in the shadow of empire, and that empire, once so mighty and dreadful, rose, declined, and fell, just like all of the others. The hidden truth of the apocalypse is that all crowns succumb to rust but one – and that one cannot rust, because dead thorns do not put forth blossoms…and even that, we say to our detractors, is up for debate.

There will be days when the kind of strength and confidence we need for the work of telling this story will be thin and ragged. But we do not do it alone – not as individuals, not even as the Church. The great preacher Fred Craddock reminds us, “Not even the community of faith is adequate as the arena of Christ’s saving work. The whole creation stands at the window eagerly awaiting the arrival of the day of redemption for the children of God.”

Friends, if this is so, then we should have great joy indeed. For then any apocalypse would not be the pouring out of God’s great jars of wrath. A revelation of this God has far more in common with the moment when a husband lifts his bride’s veil on their wedding day. What have we to fear, knowing what we know: that Christ came into the world to save sinners, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to let the captive go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour – even in this place, even in a world where war claims so many of our brightest and best; where fear can dictate policy; where children go hungry and the earth groans under the weight of our excesses; where our brothers and sisters who worship the God of Abraham are too often met with suspicion and vitriol; where love and victims of violence are so often subject to harsh scrutiny while the greatest sins are excused; where a little girl who asks to go to school can be shot while a rich man can admit freely to lies and assaults and go unquestioned; where so much sadness goes unhealed and so much beauty goes unknown.

This place. Not another. Not a paradise or a planet free of all evil.

God chose this. God chooses this, every day.

God is at the cross-roads and beckons like a lover. God invited, and continues to invite us, to live and tell this story of love breaking down the walls of death and hate.

Today I call to you, children of God. I call to you, beloved of God: Accept that invitation. Accept even if you’re not sure. Accept even if you’re afraid. Accept even if you’re ticked off, or sad, or hurting, or your life is going just fine, thank you. Accept even if you’ve got a thing in the morning. Accept even if you think, or you know, that you’ll forget or turn away later. Accept even if you know it will be hard. Especially if you know it will be hard. Because taking your first breath was hard too, but you did it, and you wouldn’t take that back, would you? Because giving birth to anything in life is harder still, but we all do it, because someone must for beauty to be shared and known.

Exchange the bread of anxiety for the bread of his body and the wine of your wedding banquet.

You are the Church, and you are his bride. Let your veil be lifted. Let him see your face. Let him hear your voice. For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

You who are here by love, for love, cry aloud in this place, and to the whole world: Love wins, and Love never ends.


“Jesus and Zacchaeus,” (Sermon, October 30th, 2016)

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Luke 19:1-10

Today, as we approach the feast of All Saints and All Souls, I am going to tell you a story.

It is a story of an unconventional saint, a saint whom an English translation error in our Gospel makes into a reformed sinner. The one who is seen by Jesus in this story is painted as one who has decided to live a new life of generosity, when the Greek actually states that he, unlike many other rich characters in Luke’s Gospel, is already living as though the Kingdom of God has come near.

So today, to celebrate this community’s good work which often goes unsung; the faithful stewardship of all believers living on earth and in the next world; the healing presence that discovers us and makes a home among us when we live as though we truly believe that all things are reconciled, I offer you this story, perhaps even our story.

It had been a long day already and it wasn’t over by a long shot, and yet Zacchaeus lingered over his papers, tracing lines of numbers until his head ached and his eyes felt as if they’d been juggled in his skull like dice in a palm.

If only that racket outside would hush up for a minute. It had been growing steadily louder from a dull buzz to a chaotic jumble like a flock of birds fighting over scraps in the marketplace.

Perhaps, he thought wryly, God’s armies had returned to tear down the walls of Jericho once again.

He would love to go and tell them to tone it down, but what was the use? He was a chief tax collector, reviled and scorned. And did he think he could escape those long-ago childhood chants of “Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus, can’t you see? / Better climb up that sycamore tree.”

“Oh one time, one time I did that,” he grumbled.

He had tried to forget that chant – it had been decades – but his work had only dulled the taunts to resentful mutters when his back was turned.

Annoyed, he stared at the documents in front of him. His father didn’t give him the name Zacchaeus – “righteous one” – for nothing. His father had always taught him to be responsible with the blessings of life. Zacchaeus therefore went out of his way to give money to the poor, and every month he scanned his documents meticulously to search for discrepancies in his income in order to right them later, as he was doing now.

As he got older, he had learned to be gracious when others spat at him, or called him names, or worst of all when the rich, the bulk of his clients, haggled with him over taxes owed on their lavish property. Worse, they convinced the poorer people in town that he was defrauding them, and so they too scorned him.

All he wanted was a friend, someone who would greet him with a smile instead of an averted glance or an angry sneer, who would be happy to see him, who would share in stories and laughter and a good meal.

But fat chance of that. It had been years since anyone had offered him a kind word or invited him over.

Maybe he really should just be as bad as they thought he was. What would be the difference?

His brooding silence was interrupted as a huge cheer welled up from the crowd outside. The headache which had been burbling resentfully behind his eyes awoke with a roar.

Without thinking, he got up and stomped out the door. He would see to this problem. Maybe then he would get some respect.

He burst outside and blinked like a mole, for surrounding him was a riotous wall of colour and sound. He wondered for a moment if he had been right and the armies of God had broken into Jericho. The street was packed with people, maybe everyone in town.

He noticed the crowd was following something, something beyond the wall of bodies that he couldn’t see. He wiggled his way through and was pushed along for a while like a salmon headed upstream. Before he knew it he found himself in the town square. His cheeks burned as he saw the old sycamore tree in the distance, but he soon forgot about it as shouts from the crowd morphed into words he could understand:

“Jesus, over here! Jesus, let me touch you! Jesus, heal my son! Jesus, save us!”

“Who the heck is Jesus?” Zacchaeus grumped to no-one in particular.

There was yet another spontaneous outburst from the crowd, so loud Zacchaeus thought it might blast him through a wall. In the middle of it he heard a man shout, “I can see! I can see, praise be to God!”

Now Zacchaeus was really interested, but he knew that hopping and elbow-jabbing would never do. He had to do something drastic.

He cut his eyes at the hateful sycamore and grimaced.

Whatever was going on had better be worth seeing.

He turned tail and ran ahead of the crowd as it boiled along the street like an angry river. For a moment he thought he understood how the Egyptian armies might have felt as the waters of the Red Sea crashed toward them.

He got to the sycamore tree and stared up at its branches reluctantly. Those childish voices from so long ago suddenly seemed very loud.

But as he heard the crowd approach he felt a twinge of exhilaration, and something else less familiar, something small and hopeful that he thought had been stolen from him long ago.

He scrambled up the tree, wincing as he heard the rip of his expensive embroidered tunic snagging a branch. But at last he was high enough to see over the crowd.

This Jesus character was nothing much to look at. He seemed to be a healer, perhaps a teacher as well, but there was no nothing otherworldly about the simple peasant clothes, the mop of unruly dark hair, or the soft brown eyes.

Zacchaeus’ heart sank. He felt sure that everyone knew he was there, that they were all laughing at him. “Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus, can’t you see? / Better climb up that sycamore tree.”

And then – oh horrors! – the brown eyes turned up and fixed on him in the tree.

Zacchaeus cringed as he waited for the crowd to follow the healer’s eyes and see him up the sycamore. Now he would hear that awful chant, you bet. And the teacher would surely laugh along, or shuffle past with averted eyes, embarrassed. Which one was worse?

All of these thoughts winked out of existence as a voice came to his ears, cutting through the noise of the crowd.


“Huh!” Zacchaeus barked, too surprised to pretend at dignity.

“Get down from there!” It was the healer, grinning up at him, as though they were sharing an inside joke. “I’m coming to your house today!”

Zacchaeus felt the world around him fade like a piece of parchment left out in the sun. All he could see was the warm, slightly cheeky smile.

The unspoken prayer had been answered. Here was his friend. He had come. How was this possible?

As he marveled at this, he realized two things. One, perhaps it wasn’t for him to understand. Two, he had made it down and out of the tree just as fast as he had done all of those years ago. Maybe even faster.

A hush fell over the crowd. Several of his rich clients were there and openly glared at Zacchaeus. He heard someone mutter, “Seriously? He’s going to his house? That cheat?”

Jesus’ eyes were full of kindness. It was such a contrast to the eyes Zacchaeus saw over his shoulder. Something about that incongruity made something snap.

Zacchaeus looked at Jesus and spoke slowly and clearly. “I don’t cheat. I give half of my possessions to the poor, and I pay back any discrepancies.”

One of the rich landowners suddenly shouted, “Lord, he says he will do these things in the future, but he never actually does them!”

Zacchaeus gritted his teeth, but when he looked back at his new friend, his anger melted away. “If there are any discrepancies, I always pay people back, plus twenty percent, just like the Torah says I should. And you know what?” he added, “This time, if I find any discrepancies, I will pay back eighty percent.”

Jesus threw his head back and laughed. There was no trace of irony or spite in it. Zacchaeus smiled, confused and yet delighted.

Jesus drew Zacchaeus into a sideways hug as he looked back at the crowd.

“Today, salvation has come to his house!” he said, and his voice was just as joyful as the earlier howl of the crowd.

Friends, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to add just one small piece to Luke’s lovely story.

So perhaps, as they left the crowd behind, Zacchaeus blurted, “Lord, stay in my house forever!”

“I’m sorry,” Jesus said gently, “I can only stop for the night. I’m on my way to Jerusalem. I have very important business there.”

“Are you going for Passover? Can’t you come back after?”

The brown eyes grew sad…but only for a moment. “Let’s not talk about it now. Kill the fatted calf and bring out the wine. We have all the time we need.”

So too do we, friends. Let us linger in this autumn time and remember those friends we have treasured. Let us linger in this house and break bread together.

Love, the guest, is on the way.