Category Archives: Theological Ramblings

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

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Gay Pride in Lunenburg, 2019

The following was the litany written by myself, and read by myself and the Rev. LauraMarie Piotrowicz, from St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg, on the occasion of the 4th annual Gay Pride Flag Raising in Lunenburg, on July 19, 2019.

Quite well received, actually.

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We are here as allies, and as representatives of the church.  As allies, as representatives of the church, we would like to say the following.

For assuming we have had the right to tell others what their value is, we admit our brokenness.

For insisting that we have the ability to tell other how to be, we admit our brokenness.

For attempting to exercise power over others, and demanding conformity with standards that don’t even apply to ourselves, we admit our brokenness.

For turning our back on the image of God in you, we admit our brokenness.

For your grace-filled welcome to participate in this celebration with you, we offer our thanks.

For reminding us all of the kind of church, community, nation and world we are called to be, we offer our thanks.

For being who you are, and inviting us to share the same adventure, we offer our thanks.

For reminding us of the image of God in all of us, we offer our thanks.

May this day, our lives, and all our interactions reflect the presence of the God who is love.

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Photo by Grant Dixon.

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.

Christmas Eve 2017 Litany

This was the sermon at the Lunenburg Luther Parish Christmas Eve services in 2017.  It’s a 3-voice Litany.  Feel free to adapt, adopt or use.  I just ask that you let me know how it goes!

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A Christmas Eve dramatic reading (2017)

1 – Mary

2 – Joseph

3 – Shepherds

1 – Three witnesses

2 – Three perspectives

3 – Three voices

1 – Calling us tonight

2 – Calling us to the story

3 – Calling us to hear

1 – To pause

2 – To listen

3 – To reflect

All – To respond

[Pause]

1 – Mary

2 – The mother of Jesus

3 – The mother of our Lord

1 – The UN-WED mother of God

2 – A girl, really

3 – Probably no more than 16, and possibly younger

1 – A girl who said “Yes”

2 – “Yes” to God

3 – “Yes” to scandal

1 – “Yes” to risk

2 – “Yes” to the possibility of being ostracized by her family

3 – “Yes” to the possibility of being abandoned by her fiancee

1 – “Yes” to the possibility of being killed for being unfaithful

2 – A girl who said “Yes”

3 – “Yes” to God

1 – Mary

2 – The mother of Jesus

3 – The mother of our Lord

1 – Was no shrinking violet

2 – Placid, submissive, quietly taking what was dealt

3 – Softly sitting in the dark, singing soothing lullabies

All – Not HER!

1 – Mary, the mother of Jesus

2 – Was, in fact, a burning flame

3 – Was, in fact, a prophet of justice

1 – Was, in fact, a voice crying out in the wilderness

2 – Upsetting the apple cart

3 – Overturning the status quo

1 – Heralding the new creation

2 – Where justice and peace are the norm

3 – And foreigners are welcome

1 – Where the hungry are fed

2 – And the rich are turned away

3 – Where the poor are embraced

1 – And the mighty are stripped of their strength

2 – Where the anonymous masses are named by God

3 – And the arrogant are reduced to nothing

[Pause]

1 – Joseph

2 – The father of Jesus

3 – The father of our Lord

1 – Stoic

2 – Quiet

3 – Worker

1 – Provider

2 – Protector

3 – Dreamer

1 – Always in the background

2 – Always the silent partner

3 – Always in the shadows, behind the mother and child

All – However!

1 – He is just as crucial to the story

2 – He is just as important

3 – And he is just as dangerous

All – Yes, dangerous!

1 – Because he, too, said “Yes”

2 – “Yes” to God

3 – “Yes” to scandal

1 – “Yes” to risk

2 – “Yes” to accepting a wife who would be regarded as tainted

3 – “Yes” to public mistrust of his OWN standing and behaviour

1 – “Yes” to having to confront his own jealousies and fears

2 – Joseph, the honourable man

3 – Joseph, the radical lover

1 – Joseph, the over-thrower of the expected

2 – Who refused to let suspicion set his agenda

3 – Who refuse to let fear dictate his response

1 – Also burned with divine flame

2 – Was also consumed with a vision of justice

3 – In which all are welcome

1 – ALL are welcome

2 – No matter how disruptive they might be

3 – Joseph welcomed the Christ-child into his own family

1 – And let go of the need for revenge

2 – And let go of the desire for retribution

3 – And let go of being in control of his life

1 – And lovingly

2 – Faithfully

3 – Dangerously

1 – Embraced his dangerous wife

2 – Embraced her dangerous son

3 – Embraced the dangerous new creation

All – Coming to birth in front of him

[Pause]

1 – Shepherds

2 – The first witnesses

3 – First recipients of the Good News

1 – Glad singers of tidings

2 – Joyful tellers to all who would listen

3 – Praising and thanking God for what they had seen and heard

1 – Shepherds

2 – Biblical symbol of those who care

3 – Protectors of the vulnerable

1 – Leading their flocks

2 – Feeding their sheep

3 – Finding green pastures in which their charges can find rest

1 – But THESE shepherds are dangerous

2 – THESE shepherds upset the status quo

3 – THESE shepherds over-throw what passes for normal

1 – NOT by what they DID

2 – NOT by saying “Yes”

3 – NOT by their singing and telling and praising

1 – These shepherds are dangerous because of what happened TO them

2 – Because of what they were TOLD

3 – Because it was SHEPHERDS who were told it

All – Because of WHO.  THEY.  WERE.

[Short pause]

1 – We need to remember the truth about shepherds

2 – In spite of all the good PR

3 -And biblical imagery

1 – They were assumed to be lazy

2 – Which might have been true

3 – They were portrayed as dirty

1 – Which was PROBABLY true

2 – They were regarded as smelly

3 – Which was CERTAINLY true!

1 – They were, in fact, viewed as outsiders

2 – As less than important

3 – As undesirable

1 – And THESE shepherds were also UNRELIABLE

2 – Remember what happened when they had their vision?

3 – Remember how they responded?

1 – They RAN!

2 – They LEFT THEIR FLOCK!

3 – They ABANDONED THEIR DUTY!

All – They had ONE JOB!

1 – “Stay with the sheep!”

2 – “Care for the sheep!”

3 – “Don’t leave the sheep!”

1 – And they left

2 – They ran off

3 – Leaving their livelihood

1 – Or possibly, even worse, leaving someone ELSE’S livelihood

2 – In order to see a baby

3 – The child of an un-wed mother

1 – The child of a radical father

2 – Who had been born a nobody

3 – Just like them

All – JUST.  LIKE.  THEM.

1 – Just

2 – Like

3 – Us

[Short pause]

1 – The angels came to shepherds

2 – Lazy

3 – Dirty

1 – Smelly

2 – Unreliable

3 – Shepherds

1 – Saying, “To YOU is born a Saviour.”

2 – To YOU

3 – To YOU

1 – A dangerous

2 – Scandalous

3 – Risky

1 – Saviour

2 – Through whom God says “Yes”

3 – To shepherds

1 – And outsiders

2 – And strangers

3 – And everyone who is considered “Other”

[Pause]

1 – Mary

2 – Joseph

3 – Shepherds

1 – Three witnesses

2 – Three perspectives

3 – Three voices

1 – Calling us tonight

2 – Calling us to the story

3 – Calling us to hear

1 – To pause

2 – To listen

3 – To reflect

All – To respond

1 – Respond to the flame of justice burning within

2 – Respond to the new creation being born in front of us

3 – Respond with joy to the Good News being sung to us

1 – The lowly are regarded with favour

2 – The fearful are shown mercy

3 – The weak are lifted up

1 – The hungry are fed

2 – The outsiders are welcomed

3 – And the dangerous

1 – Scandalous

2 – Risky

3 – Promise of love

1 – Is fulfilled

[Short pause]

2 – In you

[Short pause]

3 – This night.

[Short pause]

All – Amen.

Water Creed

I believe in almighty God,
Creator and Divider of waters:
Salt and fresh,
Running and still,
Falling and frozen and fog;
Holy liquid, without which we would not be.

I believe in Jesus, the Christ,
Holy Child of God,
who was infused by the Spirit into the waters of creation,
who was nurtured and grown in Mary’s womb-water,
who entered the river-water with John,
who restored the storm-water to calm,
and who shared living-water with the woman at the well.

This was the One
who was condemned by the political sea-scape of the day,
whose blood-water was spilled on the cross,
whose breath-water was released back to God,
and who was placed in the ground to return his life-water to the earth.
But who, after three waterless, lifeless days, returned,
splashing us with heavenly identity
and holy promise.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
who hovered over the waters,
who pours God’s very self into us,
who unites us with each other in the regenerating flow of love,
who restores our parched souls with reconciliation,
who promises life,
and who pledges that we will never be thirsty again.

Amen.

(Feel free to use in any appropriate setting. I just ask that you let me know! Thanks.)