Category Archives: Reflections on Ministry

Looking to Jesus – A sermon

This is a sermon I wrote back in 1998.

It has stayed with me (that is, haunted me!) ever since.

I don’t know if it’s the “best” sermon I’ve ever written, but it is probably the most honest.

It has been slightly revised for the current day.

May it inspire your own wrestling and reflection.

Looking to Jesus


I Refuse

More hatred.  More shootings.  More death.

And more platitudes.  (You know them all, so I won’t repeat them here.)

Well, not for me.  This is my “Here I stand” moment.

I refuse to play that game anymore.

I refuse.

I refuse to sit back and be helpless.  If I do nothing, I am simply enabling the next one.  And the next one.  And the next one.

And the one after that.

I refuse to accept that all we can do is cry and wring our collective hands.  That does not change the situation.  And the situation must change.  Now.

I refuse to accept that nothing can be done, especially when the shooter is white.

(Just to be clear, I also refuse to accept that militarizing the police is a valid response when the shooter is black, and that strengthening the military and closing borders to hurting people is a valid response when the shooter is brown.  But let’s at least face the truth that most of these terror shooting are committed by white men.)

I refuse to accept that the law can’t be changed because of a misguided, fundamentalist reading of a 229 year-old document which has already been changed 27 times.

I refuse to accept that there is only one way to interpret that 229 year-old document.  The interpretation we have allowed to be popularized is killing people.  Every day.

I refuse to accept that this is the singular action of one deranged person.  He has been empowered to do this very thing by politicians, by gun manufacturers, by ammunition manufacturers, by on-line hate groups, by fear-filled citizens, by lobbyists, by at least one store owner, and quite possibly by family and friends who refused to see and address what was in front of them.

I refuse to accept that this is the price of freedom, or that there is some “greater good” being served by supporting a system which makes this not only possible, but inevitable.

I refuse to accept that the vitriol and hatred and anger and violence and division and fear mongering and racism that is coming every single day from the President of the United States has nothing to do with this.  Of course it does.

Of course it does.

I refuse to accept that the vitriol and hatred and anger and violence and division and fear mongering and racism that is coming every single day from right-wing media outlets in the United States has nothing to do with this.  Of course it does.

I refuse to accept that the victims are to blame.  The perpetrator caused this.  Those who enabled and empowered and armed him caused this.  Those who fed his fear and rage caused this.  Those who saw and did nothing caused this.  The victims are not to blame.  They’re not.  Period.

I refuse to accept that our religious communities can only offer words of comfort for the families, but should be silent about naming the systems which brought us inevitably to this point.  Where religious communities have been silent, or hidden behind “Our job is to get people into heaven,” or hidden behind “We are not called to be political,” we have been complicit.  We are making it ok to pull the trigger; we are, in fact, helping to pull it.

I refuse to accept that now is not the time to talk about this.  It is long past time to talk about this.  It is long past time to act.

And, just in case this isn’t clear….

I refuse to accept responsibility for your angst and discomfort if I have:

  • named things you don’t want named,
  • pointed to things you don’t want pointed out,
  • implicated you in a system which perpetuates violence,
  • challenged your political bias,
  • called out your racial, political or religious privilege,
  • wasn’t “civil” enough for your tastes.

That is truly not my problem.

I refuse to play that game anymore.

I refuse.

God help me.  Amen.

Divorce? Or something else?

The gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16), especially in its first part (divorce, etc.) seems to contain a whole lot of Law and not a whole lot of grace.  Especially for those in our congregations who have experienced separation/divorce, etc.

And yet, I don’t feel it’s faithful to the text we’ve been given to skip to the warm fuzzy part of Jesus welcoming the children, and only talk about that.  To paraphrase Martin Marty from a few years ago, we need to preach through difficult texts, not around them.

So, with that in the background, I’m offering the following:

Instead of approaching this text as a description of what God “wants” from this broken creation, or understanding it as a direct quote for the mouth of Jesus (which, of course, must then be “obeyed”), might we instead approach this text as a parable? As a parable, not from Jesus, but from Mark?

It seems to me that a consistent theme throughout this reading (including the warm fuzzy part), especially if we read it as a parable, is the theme of power and its mis-use. According to Mark, for a man to divorce his spouse, all he had to do was fill out a sheet of paper saying “You’re not welcome anymore.” She did not have that right.  She had no power. The hubby had it all.

But, lest we think that Jesus is saying spouses should have that power equally, and then everything would be wonderful, we get the explanation to the disciples later on. In this section, Jesus says that neither party can unilaterally cut the other one off. Equality does not mean everyone has the same power. In this case, it means everyone has the same vulnerability.

Suddenly it makes sense that Mark would follow this up with a story of Jesus welcoming the children (especially given that the disciples try to exert power over them by keeping these unimportant people away from the important one, i.e. Jesus). Kids had no say in virtually anything; they were the epitome of vulnerability. So who does Jesus embrace?

So. We are left, not with a rule about refusing to allow any marriage to break up at any time; we are left with a parable about power and its mis-use, and the call to embrace our shared vulnerability.

Which I experienced last night at the local commemoration for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The official commemorations were done, but it hadn’t taken very long, and people felt no desire to leave right away, so it turned into a sharing circle.

At one point, I asked to speak. I said it was important for me to be there, representing the church, as an act of repentance, since the church has far too often aligned itself with the powerful, and as a supporter of the status quo. I said this is inappropriate, and it’s not the people of the power structures with whom we should be standing.

A while later, a woman, a Mi’kmaq woman who led part of the evening, said (still in the circle), “I want to thank you for saying what you said. It means a lot to me, because my mother was a survivor of a Residential School.”

I couldn’t help but think of the story from Mark. When one “side” claims all the power, and exercises it over others, life is not as God desires. When we share a mutual vulnerability, we learn to live together, and all the children can begin to find a welcome.

Thoughts about Easter 7

The first reading for this coming Sunday.

Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

This passage strikes me as a wonderful description of where we spend most of our lives – In Between.

We live In Between our baptism into Christ and the culmination of our hope.

We live In Between the promise of the reign of God and the fulfillment of that promise.

We live In Between “In the beginning” and the final “Amen.”

We live In Between the Alpha and the Omega.

The question for us is not, as the disciples tried to ask, when will all of this happen? When will we no longer be In Between?

The question is, How are we to live IN this “In Between”? How are we to live as people who have received a promise, but who have to wait for its fulfillment?

The disciples, for all their failures, get this one right. They gather, they pray, they support each other, they go through the In Between together.

One thing we might need to remember is that, even though Pentecost eventually came with all of its Spirit-driven hurricane-like impact, the disciples were still In Between. The Spirit came, but the church was still only “on the way.”  It had not arrived.  We still haven’t.

And that’s ok!

We are called to embrace the In Between.  Even as we have been embraced IN the In Between.

Reflections on the end of a 9-day Life

I’ve just returned from the cemetery, at which I presided over the burial of a 9-day old baby boy.

The baby never had much of a chance at life; born 10 weeks premature with complications too many to count, he wasn’t supposed to last one day, let alone nine. But he was a fighter, who hung on for hours even after the machines were unplugged.

The feelings at the grave side were palpable: anger, unbelief, shock, anguish, hopelessness…. The whole spectrum.

Certainly expected. Completely understandable. The intensity itself was intense.

And the pastor, who is, after all, merely human, is touched by this intensity.

Then the fear and self-doubt sets in. ‘I’m supposed to speak some Word which will…, what? Make things better? Take the pain away? Make sense of it all? Give everyone hope and peace so they can get back to their lives and their jobs and their homes as if they just had a 24-hour bug? How the hell do I do that? Can I even do that?’


And in that acknowledgment, there is direction, there is purpose for being here. The Pastor does have a Word to speak.

So we begin with honesty.

“The fact that we have to be here today is just wrong.”

The tears begin.

Not a bad thing. In fact, it means that this Word has spoken to their reality, brought the demon into the light and named it.

More truth. Might as well go into the deep water.

“And talking about a loving God who cares for all of us and doesn’t want us to suffer, can, in a situation like this, sound like a cruel joke.”

The religious demon needs to be named here, too. Too often the Church has not named this demon. Too often we have made Jesus into a kind of Zeus: all powerful, all controlling, capriciously deciding who lives and who dies, against whom we have no recourse but resignation and despair.

But the pastor is, quite intentionally, not a spokesperson for Zeus.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the kids come! Don’t get in their way. They are as much a part of the reign of God as anyone else.'”

This is the story that was read over the baby when he was baptized, still in the hospital, still connected to the machines, tubes still going everywhere, wearing a gown provided by the nurses.

This is the story that was read when it had become obvious that he was not going to make it; that he was, in fact, going to die.

And now it was being read as he was buried.

This Jesus, this Jesus who welcomed children, does not sit off in heaven making decisions about our lives. This Jesus comes to us, and suffers with us, and cries in hospital rooms, and moans at gravesides, and takes 9-day old babies and the baby’s parents and the baby’s grandparents and the baby’s aunts and uncles and the baby’s friends who never even met him, into his arms.

This Jesus says, to the baby, and to everyone here, ‘You are as much a part of God’s reign as anyone else.’

We belong to God, even here. With whatever feelings you have. Now or tomorrow. That’s the promise.”

The father lowers the ashes into the ground. Tears are shed.

“Our Father” is prayed. Tears are shed.

“God bless you all, now and always.” Tears are shed.

And Jesus took them, gathered them in his arms, and blessed them.

Blessed them all.

Including the Pastor.

And all of this through a 9-day life.


A Day in the Life….

Spent this morning and early aft walking through the Court system with a family. After waiting interminably, the charges were finally dropped. Big sighs of relief all around!

What struck me as we waited (and waited and waited!), was how similar the process felt to going to the hospital.

– You go to a foreign-feeling institution through no choice of your own.

– The building itself is overwhelming, let alone the situation.

– You feel lost and alone. And afraid.

– People in uniform are walking around looking important (and also looking like they know what they are doing).

– There’s a lot of “Hurry up and wait” that takes place.

– All you have is your own story, and at that particular moment, that doesn’t feel anything like enough.

– Maybe you make small talk with whoever is around (friends, strangers, anyone who is nearby) just to pass the time, while you try to ignore the lead ball in your stomach.

– You want to go the washroom, or the cafeteria, or outside, but are afraid you’ll miss something if you do.

– You try to be optimistic, but you know that things can go either way.

– Your name is called, and you force yourself to go in.

– People are there who “know things,” either law or medicine, about which you haven’t got a clue. You are a stranger to them, yet they hold your life in their hands.

– You know in your head that the people around you are just “doing their job,” but your gut tells you that some of the people around you might not have your best interest at heart; they might have other priorities.

– Then, you are confronted by the “Important Person” (doctor or judge), who has a hideous amount of power over you.

– You are terrified to hear what the “Important Person” is going to say, yet know that your life can’t continue until you do.

– At the same time, the “Important Person” might say something which will change absolutely everything in ways you can’t even imagine.

– The only prayer you can pray is, “Please, God!”

– In this case, the “Important Person” said, “You are free to go.”

– The lead ball in your stomach begins to fade (slowly, though, because it took a while to form in there).

– You’ve been sitting all day, but suddenly you can’t stand.

– And yet, for now anyway, life can begin again.

And what was, and is, the humbling part for me is that I was allowed to walk through this valley with these people.

Every once is a while, as a pastor, you get to do what you thought you would be doing.