Fruits and Goods: A Sermon for Sunday August 11, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday, August 11, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When I was reading tonight’s passages in preparation for this sermon my first thought was OK… so my choices are money or sex. Money or sex. Hmmm…. I’m going with money.  Little did I know at that time that in addition to money I was also going to need to say something about guns.

Tonight’s gospel reading contains a conversation and a parable.

Someone in the crowd calls out to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

Jesus’ response makes it clear that this person has misunderstood Jesus’ mission. Jesus did not come in order to be a legal expert who would settle disputes between people through his wise analysis of legal code.

And Jesus doesn’t see this conflict as a conflict simply about who is right and who is wrong according to the law of the land.  Rather, he sees it as a conflict about greed and scarcity.

So rather than a clever legal analysis, Jesus gives a warning: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (15)

If both brothers were willing to let go of the belief that there was never enough, then the one would be more inclined to share and the other less inclined to believe that he was being cheated.

Jesus’ warning should be seen as good news by both brothers, because if they heed his warning, no one loses. They both win.

The parable that follows this conversation illustrates the point.

This parable is one that always jumps out at me because it is tied to a specific memory.  Several times while I was in university I had the opportunity to see Bruce Kuhn perform his one man show “The Gospel of Luke,” in which he acts out the entire King James’ Version of the Gospel of Luke word for word.

And in his portrayal of this story, this rich man is Scottish.  And oh, how I wish I could do a half decent Scottish accent for you right now so you could get a sense of just what that does to this story.

But even without the accent, it’s just a wonderfully crafted little story.

“The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”

It’s theatrical.  That lovely line, “And I will say to my soul, Soul…” Fantastic.

It’s lovely, but we are meant to see this man as a fool. At no point does he credit or thank God for his abundant harvest.  He assumes that everything his fields have produced belongs to him and him alone and his only responsibility is to store his wealth, not to share it.

Which takes me to the news of latest mass shootings in the United States.

While I am largely at a loss for what to say about the tsunami of gun violence overtaking the United States, I do have a few thoughts to share with you today.

First, in the first 219 days of 2019, there were 250 mass shootings in the United States. That is 250 too many.

Second, we need to be very careful about any sense of superiority we might feel about the fact that this is happening in a foreign country, not only because that superiority doesn’t help anyone, but also because the attitudes and beliefs that lead to that sort of unimaginable horror are very present in our own country and in our own lives.  Don’t let a sense of false superiority drown out that reality.

Third, while I do not have all of the answers, or any answers really, I do believe that the attitudes and beliefs we see reflected in this parable are also at the root of why so many people are buying guns and killing people.

Sadly, it doesn’t require too much of an imagination to add a few lines to this parable that would read,  “I will build barns to store all of my possessions, and I will buy guns to protect those possessions, and I will live in fear that at any moment a person – most likely a person whose skin colour is different from my own – will try to take those possessions so I will place all of my sense of safety and security in my ability to shoot them if they try.”

Lord have mercy.

This rich man believes that his ability to lead a good life is bound up in his ability to obtain and securely store a vast amount of goods for his own personal use, and, as a result, he winds up being a total loser.

Because he will not, in fact, simply “eat, drink, and be merry,” because God says to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (20-21)

What does it mean to be rich towards God? What are we supposed to do with our fruits and goods?

Our fruits and goods are not just reflected in our bank balances, but today I do want to spend some time focusing on money.

Talking about money can be a tricky thing, which doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it, it just means that we tend to avoid doing it, and as a result we’re often not really good at talking about money so we need to be prepared to feel awkward, and to make mistakes, and to apologize when we do.

One of the trickiest things about talking about money is that, in our culture, money is one of those things that it’s very difficult to generalize about and as such, especially in a context like this where I am speaking to a large room full of individuals and then also to our podcast audience something that hits one of you as good news may feel like condemnation to someone else.


Although it’s hard to generalize about money, here is one thing I believe is true of all of us. For each one of us there is some area of our relationship with our money and with our stuff that can be challenged. Some area where there is room for growth.  It won’t be the same for everyone, but it’s there.

So what I want to do now is tell you a series of stories of places that I have seen people push into the growth edge of their relationship with money and with stuff, in the hopes that it might spark your own imagination.

When we moved into our house, the former owner left a ladder in the back yard. The kind that is perfect for cleaning out eavestroughs.  I suppose it is our ladder now, but it doesn’t really feel that way because all of our neighbours use it too. It just sits in our back yard and they come and get it whenever they need it. And better yet, sometimes groups of neighbours come by and go from house to house cleaning out each other’s eavestroughs together.  And we borrow other things from each other as well because it just seems silly that everyone on the block would have their own ladder – a tool we all only need about twice a year – when we can share.


There is someone in this congregation – and don’t worry I’m not going to out you – who pays careful attention to the times when I need to be at church for extended periods of time – Holy Week or Sundays when we have both a 4 and 7 o’clock service or when Jamie’s away and they’ll text me to see if I need help and they’ll often slip me a Power Bar because they know perfectly well I haven’t had supper. It’s a generous and thoughtful act.  The kind that easily goes unnoticed. The kind that makes all the difference.


I have a friend who spent most of his life on social assistance. He spent a decent portion of his life living on the streets and in homeless shelters as well. When he turned 65 he moved off of social assistance and began collecting Canada Pension.

Suddenly he felt like his was rich because although Canada Pension is not a lot of money, it’s still higher than what a person receives on social assistance.

And not long after that, I noticed two things. One, he began going to Tim Horton’s almost every morning for a coffee, and two, every time we invited him to do things like go to a movie, his automatic response was “I can’t afford to.”  He didn’t pause, he didn’t think, he just said, “I can’t afford to.”

And after a while we had a conversation, the kind I wouldn’t recommend you have with just anyone, but the kind that made sense within the context of the trust we’d built in our relationship.

I pointed out that I noticed he always turned down our offers to go out by saying, “I can’t afford it,” and yet, it seemed to me, that he probably could afford it because he was spending at least the same amount as a movie ticket each week on coffee at Tim Hortons and if he chose to make coffee at home instead he could come with us.

Well, to summarize a fairly long conversation, we uncovered a few things that day.  The first, was that he didn’t really like going to movies but he did love the ritual of getting up, going for a walk, and chatting with people at Tim Horton’s.  It wasn’t just about the coffee, it was about community, it was about an experience. An experience he couldn’t simply replicate by making coffee at home.

The second was, that it was a choice.  And this was revolutionary. For the first time in a very long time he had a small amount of disposable income and he could choose how to spend it. He realized that he whenever we had asked him to go to the movies he had become so used to not being able to afford things like that that his response “I can’t afford it” was an automatic one. He never stopped to think if he wanted to go to a movie or if he could in fact afford it.

The realization that he had the power to choose was incredibly important and life giving even though his choices weren’t that expansive. Even though there would always be many things he actually could not afford. But he could choose what he did with what he had.



Since I graduated from university I have never worked in the for-profit sector. I have always worked for not-for-profits – charities and churches – and this has taught me an awful lot about money.  I could talk for a loooong time about scarcity and abundance and control in the finances of non-profits, but I’ll save that for another time and just share a few things I’ve learned with you today.

At the first church I worked at, the church’s bookkeeper taught me a lot about church finances and one of the key lessons I learned from her was this, “Everyone tends to think that churches like ours exist because a few very rich people give a large amount of money, but that’s just not true.  Our church exists because a lot of people with modest incomes each give a small amount of money. Our average donation is about $20 not $20 000.”

This inspired me because I realized that I thought my offering, which was rather small at the time, couldn’t possibly matter to the church. It didn’t inspire me to give more than I was already giving – I couldn’t afford to give more – but it did encourage me to think differently as I dropped my envelope in the collection plate. Since then, as I have continued to give to causes I care about, I have come to see just how important giving it, not simply because of how that money can be used by the charities I support to help other people, but how it changes me.  How it helps me to feel like I am part of making the world a better place, how it helps me to trust that I can live on less than I earn.

Later when I found myself running a small charity I saw that this principle was true there as well – we sometimes got bigger donations, but we relied on the faithful people who gave $10 or $20 a month to keep the lights on. I suspect it’s true of most churches and charities actually.  I wanted to highlight this reality and so I began to talk about our donors by describing a fictious donor who was a reflection of our actual donors. “Oma Schmidt from Plum Collee.” Oma who prayed for us regularly and faithfully sent $10 or $20 a month from her modest pension.

When we’d purchase something we needed we’d say, “Thanks Oma,” and when I asked people if they wanted to go for coffee with me they’d often ask cagily, “That depends, is Oma paying?”  Sometimes she did, sometimes we split the cheque.


Oftentimes, when people donate money to charity they try and control what the charity does with that money by designating what the charity can do with that money and usually by saying that they can’t use that money for their operating budget or salaries or admin costs.  It’s difficult, because a charity’s operating budget generally describes the things they need in order to do the work they were created to do. And paper for the photocopier might not seem like the most exciting thing to spend money on, but if you don’t give your people the tools they need to do the work, how can you expect them to do the work?

One time, however, I received a donation that came with a lovely note of encouragement and this line, “Use this money however you see fit.”

I had just discovered that we needed to treat a house that seven people lived in for bedbugs.  Now I just said the word “bedbugs” and at least about half of you shuddered, imagine living through it.

And so I used that donation to hire an exterminator but the tremendous freedom I felt I had been given by the line “use this money however you see fit” also allowed me to use that money to buy slurpees.

Now I feel reasonably certain that if I had sent out a fundraising letter requesting money for slurpees that I wouldn’t have had donors beating down my door to meet that request – even here in the Slurpee capital of Canada. But I can tell you that beyond a shadow of a doubt, when you are working with people who are living through one of the most stressful things a person can live through, that sometimes a break from the chaos and a little bit of sugar water are exactly what is needed.

I never met that donor, I’m not sure I ever will, but I will always be grateful for their choice to both be generous with their resources, and to release control of them as well.


Clearly, we are entering a new phase in this life of this particular church building, but for years, All Saints has operated under the belief that the things they have are not simply for their own personal use and as a result, this church was, until recently, the home of 3 church congregations and multiple charities like Agape Table. These buildings were used so regularly and so well that the church hall became so tired it literally needed to be torn down.

And I think it would have been so much easier for All Saints to simply tear it down and build a parking lot for the benefit of its members, or to generate some rental income but they had a much bigger and more expansive imagination than that – a 12 story apartment building sized imagination.

So what about us? What about saint benedict’s table?  What can we do with the fruits and goods we have?

What could happen if we each – in a way that makes sense to our particular situation – chose to release control of some of our own personal resources. Choose to believe that we, as a community, could do more with those resources by working together than each of us could do individually?

Well, currently, it looks like being able to meet together regularly for worship, to explore fringe theater or big ideas and then have meaningful conversations.

It means that last year, as in year’s past, we also gave away almost $18 000 to groups like Agape Table, Hand in Hand with Haiti, the Good Food Club, Bell Tower Community Café, and Art City to name just a few. We gave also money to help a hospital in Mali and migrant caravans in Mexico.   We told them all “use this money however you see fit.”

What are your “fruits and goods” and what are you going to do with them?   What are our “fruits and goods” and what are we going to do with them? How can we continue to lean into abundance and resist the myth of scarcity?

I can’t wait to find out.

In the name of our God who abundantly creates, sustains, and redeems. Amen.


It doesn't mean what you think it means: A Sermon For Sunday July 21, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday July 21, 2019.  You can also listen to the podcast version by clicking the link below or searching for it wherever you typically listen to podcasts.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Not long before my great-grandmother died, I travelled to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to visit her. Most of the time we talked about the weather or what my dad was like as a young child, but we also kept returning to the subject of my schooling. At first, I thought this was a random topic she chose to generate conversation but toward the end of the visit I realized it was much more than that.

My great-grandmother was the oldest child in a large American family. Although she was whip smart, she’d had to leave school at an early age because her parents couldn’t afford to send all of their children to school. In that time and place, it made sense to send the younger boys to school and have her stay home and help out around the house.

What was a girl going to do with an education anyway?

I’m not sure I love anything more than I love learning new things. It’s been a while since I was enrolled in a formal degree program and every year I look wistfully at the store shelves when they are stocked with school supplies. Does anything smell better than a brand-new box of pencil crayons?

So as I listened to my great-grandmother I tried to imagine how I would have felt if my parents had made the same decision for me, if I’d had to leave school so my brother could go—my brother who will readily admit that I loved school way more than he did. What would it have felt like to look out the kitchen window every day, a dish cloth in my hand, as he left for school?

As my great-grandmother told her story, I could imagine a different life, a life she could have lived if she’d been given the chance to continue with her studies. She was glad my life would be different than hers. I had so many more choices than she did. I had the power to choose my own destiny in a way she never did. Her story was a pain filled story, but it made me feel grateful for the choices and opportunities I’d been given. I promised her I would graduate from university and wouldn’t take any of it for granted.

Not long after she died, I had the chance to spend a week in England. When I wandered around the various colleges in Oxford I imagined what it would be like if I could study there. I tried to come up with scenarios that would make it possible and had almost convinced myself to pick up an application when, on my second day in Oxford, I took a guided tour of some of the colleges and came face to face with a harsh reality.   As a tourist in the early 2000s, I could enter the main doors of those colleges and wander the lawns imagining what it would be like to study there. I could even pick up that application, change my entire life and study there. It was all within the realm of possibility.

But each of those colleges had two doors. A front door which the students and teachers could stride confidently through on their ways to lectures, and a small back door through which the servants could enter to cook the meals and clean the rooms used by those students and teachers.

And through most of Oxford’s history, the servant’s door was the only door I would have been allowed to enter those hallowed halls of learning through.

It wasn’t until 1920 that some colleges at Oxford began to allow women to earn a degree.

For most of its history, Oxford had clearly established boundaries. Men could learn, women could cook and clean.[1]

NT Wright, referencing both last week’s story about the Good Samaritan and this week’s gospel about Mary and Martha, notes that Luke is using these stories to “alert us to something special about Jesus’ work. Not only was he redrawing the boundaries of God’s people, sending out a clear message about how the gospel would reach to those outside the traditional borders. He was redrawing the boundaries between men and women within Israel, blurring lines which had been clearly laid down.” (130)

So what boundaries are being blurred in today’s gospel story, and what does that tell us about Jesus and his kingdom?

And spoiler alert: Despite the fact that this story is often taught as if it’s about the difference between action and contemplation – Mary sat, Martha worked – that’s not what I think is happening here.

In our gospel reading, Jesus and the disciples arrive in a village and Martha welcomes them into her home. Her home. Interesting.

Martha has a sister named Mary, and Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens as he talks.

Which was an incredibly daring and unconventional thing to do.

In that time, to sit at someone’s feet was literally to be their student. And to sit at the feet of a rabbi like Jesus was not only an expression of the desire to learn. To sit at the feet of a rabbi was to say, “I want to become a rabbi too.” As N.T. Wright observes, by sitting at Jesus’ feet, “Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be preacher and teacher in the kingdom of God.” (131)

This is not a story about contemplation versus action. Mary isn’t a contemplative, at least not based on this story. Mary is a student. Mary want to learn. To learn to be a rabbi.

And that’s just not something a woman was, and in many parts of the church to this very day, is supposed to do.

Now the only person in this story who questions whether or not Mary should be sitting at Jesus’ feet is Martha, and we will get to her soon enough, but when Martha challenges Mary’s behavior Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (42)

Learning. Sitting at the feet of Jesus. Declaring her intention to become a rabbi. Jesus declares that this is good and furthermore says that it “will not be taken away from her.”

It will not be taken away from her.

But education, the right to learn, the possibility of becoming a church leader would be taken away from so many other women.

And at least in the context of the church, the person who usually gets most of the blame for this is Paul. Which is fair enough, he wrote multiple verses saying women should be silent and submissive and didn’t include even one sentence like, “Let me be clear, of course women can be church leaders.

So, he’s not my favourite person, but I’m about to say some nice things about him anyway. Nice things I learned from George Schillington who deserves most of the credit for what I’m about to tell you.

So Jesus came and ushered in this new kingdom. A kingdom where the various hierarchies and categories that people used to separate themselves no longer had any meaning. Paul tells us that in this new kingdom, which is here and is not yet here, there is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek. (Galatians 3:28)

Those categories no longer mattered.

But I wonder if, in his more private frustrated moments, Paul vented and said, “Sure, that’s wonderful for you to say, Jesus, but I’m the guy who has to help people figure out how to actually live in this new way when they have only ever known the old way. Thanks a lot!”

So imagine it for a moment. One day you go to bed and the lives of men and women are very different – they have different and distinct roles, they have different and distinct expectations placed upon them – and the next day you wake up and “poof” none of those things are supposed to matter anymore.

It would be messy, and confusing, and it would definitely take some getting used to.

So imagine, you’re a Jewish woman, and for your entire life, religious life has been strictly segregated and suddenly you’re allowed to worship with the men.

There is no way you would automatically know what you were supposed to do, and it’s likely that you’d have a lot of questions.

Now, imagine a church service where 50 percent of the people have been worshiping in a particular way for their entire lives and sitting next to them are their wives, their mothers, their sisters who have never worshipped in this way in their entire lives.

And imagine all of those women turning to all of those men at roughly the same time and whispering their questions, “Why are we doing that, what does that mean etc. etc. etc.”

This in the context into which Paul writes, “Let a woman learn in silence…” (1 Timothy 2:11)

For waaaaaay too long, the church has focused on the word “silence” and ignored the verb “learn.”

If women are indeed to keep silent, then it’s not silence for the sake of silence, it’s silence for the sake of learning.

Let a woman learn.

Paul expects women to learn. That learning should be done in an appropriate manner that doesn’t disrupt public worship but they are supposed to learn.

It wasn’t enough to simply say that men and women were equal and then – poof! – women suddenly knew everything men did, they needed to learn.

And so, at first, men would need to be the teachers and the leaders while women caught up. But what should happen when the society got to the point where women were equally as educated and experienced as their male counterparts?

They could lead.

George Schillington notes that, “The learning will equalize both genders for the work of the ministry of the churchThe women, through their diligent, peaceable learning will come to know as much as the men in due course. If that is the outcome, as indeed it must be, then the learned women will qualify to lead in church with equal grace and equal insights and equal gifts.” (52)

Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus doesn’t tell her to leave. He says that she has chosen the better part and asserts that it will not be taken from her.

Which for so many people sounds like dangerous, world view shifting news. News they will fight to ignore and bury, but for me, for me, it sounds like such good news.

Now what about Martha?

We are told that Martha has invited Jesus and his disciples into her home and that she is “distracted by her many tasks; so she came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (40)

To which Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

Now I’ve been going to church and listening to sermons about this passage my entire life, and I’ve never heard a preacher actually wonder what these “many things were.” In every sermon I have ever heard, Martha is only ever distracted by one thing.

With the exception of a truly disturbing interpretation where Martha is in love with Jesus and jealous of Mary, somehow, Martha is always stuck in the kitchen worrying about preparing supper. Supper is the one thing. The text doesn’t say she is in the kitchen and it doesn’t say she’s making supper, but that’s how I have almost always heard this preached.

As if supper is literally the only thing she’d need to worry about when she’s suddenly found herself with at least 13 extra people in her home. I’ve never heard a sermon where she’s busily trying to make beds or wash dirty feet or …. Any of the other myriad things she could be attending to.

Nope. She’s always in the kitchen making supper.

And the solution that the preachers I’ve heard always seem to find for Martha’s problem fall into one of two categories:

They either try to find some strange way of saying that Martha’s work in the kitchen is indeed valuable, which it totally is, although this is a strange story with which to make that point, or…

They say that the problem isn’t that she legitimately has a lot of work to do and could use some help, the problem is that she’s too uptight. She should just relax and throw together some sandwiches and come and join the party.

As if sandwiches for at least 15 hungry people on short notice was an easy task in and of itself. Skip the Dishes didn’t exist yet.

This sort of reading is simplistic and belittles the hard work of hospitality. It dismisses Martha and the essential work of hospitality by turning her into a caricature.

And so, I wonder if, while it is certainly possible that Martha would like some additional help, I wonder if when she asks Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her that there is something else going on underneath the surface of that question and that Jesus gets it, and responds accordingly.

Have you ever gone to a party and before you get there you turn to your roommate, friend, or spouse and say, “OK, so I’m not sure this party is going to be any fun and so if it’s not, I’m going to talk about pickles and that’s your signal to suddenly get a head ache so we can go home.”

What if what’s happening looks a little bit more like that?

What if Martha views her job as making sure her guests are comfortable in her home and she sees her sister doing something that should make any man of that time profoundly uncomfortable. What if she looks at her sister at Jesus’ feet and thinks, “Poor Jesus, Mary is up to her old tricks again, transgressing every single boundary our society has for women, and he’s just too nice to tell her to go away. I’ll give him an excuse to send her away without having to look like the bad guy.”

Because, as NT Wright says, “The real problem between Mary and Martha wasn’t the workload that Martha had in the kitchen. That, no doubt, was real enough but it wasn’t the main thing that was upsetting to Martha…No: The real problem was that Mary was behaving as if she were a man…” (130)

And what if Jesus knows exactly what Martha is doing and so his words, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” are less of a rebuke and more of an invitation?   What if those words are not only good news for Mary, but for Martha as well?

Martha, Mary can learn to lead in the new kingdom I am bringing about and, what’s more, you can too.”

Which is very, very good news indeed.

Let the women learn. And when they have learned, let them lead.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[1] To say nothing of the additional challenges you might face if you were poor or a person of colour.

Not What You're Expecting: A Sermon for Sunday July 14, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday July 14, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Tonight we’re celebrating the feast of St Benedict, the man this church is named after.

Benedict was born near Rome around 480 CE. His family was wealthy enough to be able to send him to Rome to be educated but he never quite fit in and so he left the city and eventually found a cave in an isolated spot in the wilderness where he lived for three years.

One day, Benedict was visited by an entire monastic community.  Their abbot had recently died, and they wanted Benedict to become their new leader.  He refused, warning them that that his leadership style was different from what they were expecting, but they persisted and eventually they wore him down and Benedict agreed to become their new abbot.

As he had predicted, Benedict was indeed not what they’d been expecting and the very monks who had begged him to lead them now plotted to kill him by poisoning his wine. They were unsuccessful in their attempt but when Benedict realized that they had tried to kill him he gathered the community together and said, “Look, I told you. I told you I wasn’t the kind of leader you were expecting and you begged me to lead you anyway.” Then he left the community and returned to the wilderness.

It wouldn’t be the last time someone tried to poison Benedict. In another instance, a jealous priest will send Benedict a poisoned loaf of bread. Again, Benedict will not be fooled and he will command his pet raven to get rid of the poisoned loaf.  Benedict is often depicted in art with a cup, a loaf of bread, and a raven because of these stories.

You might think that if the first community you try to lead attempts to kill you, to say nothing of multiple murder attempts, that you might not be cut out for leadership, but that was not the case for Benedict.  Eventually Benedict would form his own monastery, and then another, and then another.

Benedict would go on to write down the basic guidelines by which he organized these communities and those guidelines, called “The Rule of Benedict,” are still used by both members of monastic communities and individuals like myself to organize their daily lives.

The Rule is a short but fascinating little book that describes in great detail what you can expect if you choose to live in a Benedictine community. One of its most revolutionary aspects is the way Benedict chose to radically restructure cultural norms and hierarchies in the creation of his communities.

Benedict lived in a very hierarchical social structure in which people were given respect and power by virtue of their wealth and their family name. But all of that ended when you entered into a Benedictine monastery.

There was still a hierarchy, but the hierarchy was based on when you first entered the monastery, nothing else.  If the poorest man in the kingdom entered the monastery one minute before the king himself, then the first man would always be of higher rank than the king.

Additionally, Benedict counselled that whenever the leader of a monastic community needed to make a decision that they should seek the counsel of the lowest ranking member of the community and consider their advice.

Benedict structured his communities in these radical and counter cultural ways because he saw these sorts of values modelled throughout the Bible and in the life of Christ.

Now, Benedict didn’t ever write a direct commentary on tonight’s Old Testament reading, but a lot of his insight and wisdom about how to live a good life can be seen at play in that story.

In our Old Testament reading, we learn about a man who had leprosy named Naaman.   The Hebrew word translated as “leprosy” (tzara‘ath) refers to a range of skin conditions that would make a person ritually unclean.

Anyone who touched a person with leprosy would also become ritually unclean so, not wanting to become unclean themselves, people avoided them.  Lepers were marginalized and excluded from mainstream Israelite society and they weren’t popular in other cultures either.

Naaman wasn’t Jewish. He was Syrian. He was a successful military leader who was held in high regard by the king.  The combination of his high-status position and his low status disease seems to have resulted in a kind of mid-level status for Naaman.  He may have lost some of his social capital, but he wasn’t completely marginalized.

Naaman had all of the trappings of a successful military man.  Including enslaved people.  Enslaved Israelite people.

Naaman’s armies had conquered the Israelite armies and, as was common practice at the time, the winner took some of the losers as slaves.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be someone’s slave, someone’s property.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be viewed not as a person, but as property.

It’s horrifying.

The enslaved girl in this story is of the lowest social standing – she’s not just a slave, she’s female, she’s young, and she’s a foreigner. She isn’t even really considered to be a person, she is Naaman’s property, not even worthy of a name.

If I was in that position, I think I’d keep my mouth shut and chuckle gleefully to myself when I saw my captor suffer.  Or if I wasn’t that vindictive, I’d at the very least choose to keep my mouth shut because not saying anything was the probably the safest thing to do.

And besides that, who was going to listen to me anyway?  Slaves listen to their masters. Masters don’t listen to their slaves.

And so it is utterly amazing to me that she would choose to speak up and try to help Naaman.  That’s a bizarre and risky and brave choice.

She has compassion for Naaman and takes a leap of faith. I mean, even if she was certain that Elisha could heal Naaman, how could she be certain that he would heal someone from an enemy country?

It’s a risk, and she takes it.

And that’s shocking, but it’s equally shocking to me that anyone bothers to listen to her.  You tell a slave what to do, you don’t go to slaves for advice.

This young girl tells Naaman’s wife that Elisha is capable of curing Naaman’s leprosy.

And for whatever reason, Naaman decides to give Elisha a chance.

I suspect that Naaman’s decision to listen to a slave isn’t an act of wisdom, it’s an act of desperation.   Despite all of his wealth and power, he can’t control his own health.  He wants to healed, and, at least at this moment, he’s open to suggestions from the most unlikely sources.

Anyone who has ever had to face the reality of their own vulnerability, the fact that they cannot control everything in their lives, will know just how scary and unsettling that can be.  Naaman’s entire career is based on his ability to command and control other people, but he can’t control his own body.

So Elisha might be able to help him, but he can’t just go knock on Elisha’s door.   He is a soldier from an enemy army. So political wrangling will be needed in order to avoid starting a new war.

But his king is willing to let him try telling Naaman, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.

So Naaman rolls up to Elisha’s house like the high-status man he is – bringing with him all the trappings of wealth and power – ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.  His entourage includes horses and chariots.

Naaman is a powerful man who is used to giving orders. He is used to getting what he wants.  If Elisha really is capable of healing him, then Naaman expects to be healed, and to be healed with style.

But I think Elisha sees that Naaman is also a vulnerable man. A scared man.  His disease has made him realize that all of his wealth and power can’t protect him from everything. His disease has made him realize that there are some things he can’t control.

And that’s terrifying.

It must have been terrifying to realize that the only person who might have the power to heal him was a man from a foreign country. I suspect Naaman’s outward signs of wealth and power are a way of protecting himself from the terrifying realization of just how truly vulnerable he is.  It’s another form of armour.

Power and status have served him well in the past, and he hopes they will serve him well again.

But Elisha is like a wise spiritual director who sees the vulnerable spot that the armour is trying to hide and gently points to the weak spot saying, “That armour is pretty cool, but what’s going on over here?”

Elisha is not impressed with Naaman’s power and social status and goes out of his way to show it.  If Naaman wants to be healed, he is going to have to shed his protective armour and access that part of himself that was humble enough to listen to a servant girl.

Elisha doesn’t honour Naaman by coming to greet him in person. He sends a messenger instead.  And the humiliation continues. Elisha isn’t going to meet with Naaman at all. There won’t be a feast or a fancy healing ritual worthy of a man of Naaman’s status.  If Naaman wants to be healed, he’s going to have to take a DIY approach.

He will need to go and wash himself in the Jordan river seven times.

This is not what he was expecting.

Elisha has asked him to strip off every single layer of power and wealth and status and do something that makes absolutely no sense.  He’s not even allowed to use a high-end body of water.

Naaman is furious and storms off saying, “I thought that for me – for me – he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” (11-12)

Naaman had arrived at Elisha’s home with very clear expectations.  He thought his power and status would earn him not only a cure, but a cure suited to someone of his station.  But instead he gets a second hand message about a DIY cure in an “off-brand river.”[1]

But all is not lost, because despite his rage, Naaman still has within him a willingness to put aside his expectations and listen to his own servants who try to calm him down by saying, “Sure it’s a weird thing to suggest but isn’t it worth a try? What’s the worst that can happen?”

And Naaman listens. And he realized that the potential humiliation of smelling like a third-rate river is worth risking on the chance that he might be healed.

So he takes off his expectations, he takes off the armour of wealth and power and social status.  He shifts from a man who commands others and gives orders and become a man who listens and does what he is told.

And his is healed.

It is a truly terrifying thing to strip away our armour and be vulnerable. It’s a risky thing to admit we don’t have it all together and to ask others for help, but it is the only thing that can truly save us.

When Benedict invited people to leave mainstream society and form monastic communities, he knew that they would only be successful if they didn’t hide who they were.  He knew that they needed to take off the various forms of armour they used to protect themselves and to be the people they were created to be, not merely the people they were pretending to be, in order for the community to thrive.

And he knew that they needed to not only break down social barriers but be willing to really listen to one another as well.

Over and over again in Naaman’s story, the wise people are the ones who society teaches us are the easiest to ignore – the women, the foreigner, the enslaved person.

Status and wealth do not automatically confer wisdom and the people who society teaches us that it’s OK to ignore have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen.

Earlier this year, Kyle Mason challenged us at Idea Exchange to think about who we are listening to. He pointed out that if you only listen to music and read books or get your news from members of the dominant culture then you are missing out on a wide range of other perspectives, other stories, other ways of seeing.

So I’ve taken some small steps to diversify who I listen to and it’s been fascinating, for example, to listen to the perspectives of indigenous and latinx people this past week as we celebrated both Canada Day and the Fourth of July.

If Naaman had only listened to fellow soldiers of a similar rank to his own, he would never have been healed.

If Benedict had allowed people to maintain the same rank and social standing inside the monastery that they had once held outside of it, then those communities would not have been the revolutionary force for change that they have been for over 1500 years.

What might we learn if we removed our own armour and listened, really listened, to people whose experiences and opinions are different from our own?

We’ll never know, unless we try.

But it we try then perhaps, like Naaman, we will experience healing.

May it be so. In the name of our God who creates, redeems, and sustains.


[1] Thanks to Nadia Bolz Weber for this descriptor.

Pilgrim Road: A Sermon for Sunday June 30, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday June 30, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.

Before we move into the readings I want to take a moment to thank you all for all the ways you have supported and encouraged me as I went through the ordination process.  It’s been an eventful five years and I am endlessly grateful for each one of you.

Most of you will know that I was ordained as a priest about two weeks ago but what you may not know is that June 17th was already an important date for me.  Five years ago on that day I completed the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Northern Spain.

A pilgrimage can be a literal journey to a physical place, but it is also common to use the idea of pilgrimage as a metaphor to describe our daily lives. People casually talk about their lives as a journey and we devour stories like The Lord of the Rings and the Wizard of Oz.

There are lots of references to pilgrimages in the Bible as well. You could even say it’s one of the main themes in the Bible, it’s that common.  It’s there, but it’s subtle, one of those themes you can easily overlook. I’ve been reading the Bible my whole life and I never really noticed all the references to pilgrimages, until I did notice them, and then I couldn’t believe it took me so long to see something that now seems so obvious.

For example, scholars note that Luke frames his entire gospel narrative in the context of a pilgrimage. NT Wright observes that, “Travelling in obedience to God’s call is one of Luke’s central pictures for what it means to be a Christian. Following Jesus is what it’s all about.”

Jesus’ contemporaries would also have been familiar with the stories of the pilgrimages of their ancestors. Stories like the Exodus when their ancestors travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land.

They would have known the story of Ruth and Naomi’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem.

They would have sung the series of psalms (120-134) that speak directly to the idea that our lives are a journey and are commonly referred to today as the pilgrim psalms.

They would also likely have had their own personal experience of pilgrimage. Jewish people who lived in Galilee regularly went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A journey that would take about three to four days.

A lot of the action in Luke occurs as Jesus and his followers are on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Neil Elliot has observed that, “All that Jesus teaches about justice, about the right use of wealth, about prayer and steadfastness in his cause, he teaches as he leads his followers toward a final confrontation in Jerusalem.”  (People’s Bible)

Our reading from Luke begins, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (51)

Jesus has his game face on, his do not mess with me face, his nothing is going to get in my way face.

I have a friend whose face gets like that when she decides it’s her turn to pay for dinner. When that happens, there is no point in arguing with her. I let her pay.

Jesus is going to go to Jerusalem by way of Samaria. That’s an odd choice given that Jews and Samaritans aren’t supposed to get along. Most Jewish people in Galilee would have avoided going through Samaria by walking along the Jordan Valley and beginning the ascent to Jerusalem at Jericho.

By the way, have you ever noticed that a lot of older churches are built in such a way that you often have to climb a set of stairs to get inside and then another series of stairs to get to the altar?  All Saints is built like that. The purpose of this design choice isn’t simply to frustrate folks with mobility issues – although I am sure it does frustrate them – it’s designed to mimic the fact that in order to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you had to climb up a hill.

Jesus is determined, he has set his face towards Jerusalem and nothing is going to get in his way.

Well, some things may get in his way.  Luke tells us that Jesus sent scouts ahead of him who went to a Samaritan village to prepare things for his arrival but “they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (53)

Now our gospel reading doesn’t make this clear, but it’s possible that Jesus has been spending time and gaining a following in Samaria. He may not simply be passing through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem, he may have already been in Samaria for quite some time.

This is suggested by the story in John of the Samaritan woman at the well. (4:4-41)

In that story, Jesus and a woman from Samaria have an in-depth theological discussion and one of the things that the Samaritan woman discusses with Jesus is the correct location for worship. Samaritans believed it was Mount Gerizim while Jewish people believed it was the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus explains that this debate no longer matters because he has come to bring about a new way of worshipping God that is not dependent on location. The Samaritan woman believes this is truly good news and she becomes one of the first evangelists, sharing the gospel with her neighbours.

If people in Samaria have begun to hear and believe this good news, Jesus’ choice to go to Jerusalem would be confusing.  “Hey Jesus, after years of hearing our Jewish neighbours say that Jerusalem is better that Mount Gerizim, you came along and said that location doesn’t matter and we believed you but now, now you’re going to privilege Jerusalem by traveling there?”

This pilgrimage to Jerusalem might seem like a betrayal. It might very well be why they are now angry enough that they would refuse to offer Jesus hospitality.

Whatever the reason, the villages won’t receive Jesus and James and John are not impressed. They turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (54)

Sooo… I have a couple of questions for the disciples, but the first one is: What makes James and John so sure that they are capable of calling down fire from heaven?

We don’t have any stories that indicate this is something they have ever been able to do. Calling down fire from heaven to destroy a village isn’t even something we’ve seen Jesus do, let alone one of his followers. But James and John offer to do just that as if they are sure that they can and as if they believe that Jesus will appreciate this offer. As if they are doing Jesus a favour.

It’s like there are saying, “Step aside Jesus and let us handle this one. We’ve been waiting our whole lives for a chance to smite some Samaritans.”

Where does this sort of profound confidence – overconfidence? – come from?

But there will be no burned villages or villagers this day. Jesus rebukes James and John, and their pilgrimage continues.

Incidentally, if you decide to walk the Camino de Santiago, the way of St James, it is this James’ burial space you are purported to be walking to.  He may seem like a bit of a mess now, but James does learn along the way and eventually becomes a man worthy of admiration.

As Jesus and his disciples continue their journey to Jerusalem, Luke describes a series of encounters with three different people along the way (57-62).

Now before we look at those interactions, there are a couple of things I think we need to keep in mind. Firstly, these three people are three individual people and when Jesus interacts with them, he is interacting with them as unique individuals at a unique point in his earthly ministry.

Remember that Jesus has “set his face towards Jerusalem.” He is a man with a mission that will require all of his focus and concentration. There is no time for anything or anyone who will try and distract him from doing what he knows he needs to do.

And if we want to follow him on this road, we need to be willing to be equally focused.

I had a lot of great adventures on the Camino, but I also turned down an equally large number of them because I needed to be in Santiago by a particular date. By saying “yes” to the Camino, I had to say “no” to other things.  I had to say “no” to good things, important things even, because those things conflicted with the thing I had said “yes” to.

When Jesus meets these three people along the way, they all say they want to follow him, but Jesus tests them to make sure that their “yes” is really a “yes.”  Do they understand what they will have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to Jesus?

The first man Jesus meets says, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Which is a pretty audacious statement. You’ve got to admire this guy’s confidence. Over confidence?

I mean really, you’re going to follow Jesus wherever he goes? How can you even say such a thing when you have absolutely no idea where he is going? This journey will end with death on a cross. Are you sure you’re prepared to go that far?

We make these kinds of audacious statements all the time, when we sign leases or job contracts, in church services, marriage liturgies, ordinations….

Will you obey your bishop?

I will.

And I mean it. And I have no idea what that means.

And while it is impossible to fully understand what we are agreeing to in those moments, in a healthy process the person who we are pledging such unfailing loyalty to should do their best to let us know something of what we are getting ourselves into.

And Jesus does just that, he says to this man, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (58)

These are some of the conditions of following Jesus.  Saying “yes” to following Jesus on this pilgrim road is also saying “no” to security, safety, and stability.

Jesus directly asks the next person he meets to follow him, and this man is willing to do so, on one condition. “First let me go and bury my father.” (59)

But Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (60)

That’s pretty harsh don’t you think?

Now it’s not clear what the man meant by “let me go and bury my father.” Has his father literally just died and is about to be buried?  Is he near death? Or does the man simply mean that he won’t be able to follow Jesus until some unspecified point in the future when his father is no longer living?

We don’t know.  What we do know is that it was a sacred Jewish obligation to make your father’s burial your top priority.  It was more important than even saying your daily prayers.  So Jesus’ statement that the man should let the dead bury the dead would certainly have caught people’s attention.

The man’s willingness to follow Jesus is conditional and that just doesn’t work anymore.  You can’t put something or someone ahead of Jesus. You can’t say, “My first priority is to bury my father and then I’ll follow you.”

And I think this issue, this idea of priorities is what Jesus is speaking to rather than literally condemning the importance of burying a family member.  And church tradition seems to agree.  Some of our most beautiful liturgies are our funeral liturgies.

Jesus is on an urgent, time sensitive mission.  He can’t be distracted or allow anything to get in his way, and he needs the people around him to be similarly focused.

In times like this, our priorities need to shift and some things that are normally highly valued need to be put on the back burner.

Kalyn Falk once said to me, “I mean, Sabbath is truly important and we should all practice it, but if your house catches fire on the Sabbath you need to stop resting and get to work getting everyone out of the house.”

Then a third person comes forward wanting to conditionally follow Jesus. “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

I will follow you, but first let me bury my father. I will follow you, but first let me say farewell to those at my home.

Again there is a desire to follow Jesus, but not to make following Jesus the top priority.

And Jesus uses an interesting metaphor to explain why this just doesn’t work.

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (61-62)

I’m not sure if anyone in this room has ever tried to plow a field by hand. I certainly haven’t, but basically, it’s a task that requires you to focus on where you are going, not on where you have been.  If you focus on a spot ahead of you where you intend to wind up, you can create a fairly straight row.  If you keep looking behind you, you won’t. You have to choose to keep looking forward in order to be effective.

Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. There is no looking back, and he needs the people who will join him on this pilgrimage to have the same level of focus.

There are times to look behind you, there are times to rest and to care for your family, and there are times to set your face towards Jerusalem and make sure that nothing distracts you from that purpose.

Whenever you say “yes” to something you are inevitably saying “no” to something else.  It’s interesting to me that the only people who receives a rebuke from Jesus in this passage are the disciples who want to bring down judgement on others whose choices differ from theirs. It’s also interesting that Luke doesn’t tell us what the three men decide to do.  Do they return home to their families? Do they bury their father? Do they follow Jesus on this road to Jerusalem?

What are the things you are saying a conscious “yes” and “no” to in your life? What are you saying “yes” and “no” to without being fully aware you are doing so? Does any of that need to shift? If so how?

May you be gentle with yourself as you reflect, curious about what you discover, and inspired to say “yes” fully and without conditions.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


What does it mean? A Sermon for Sunday June 9, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday June 9, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

So I was talking to a friend of mine about my upcoming ordination to the priesthood and trying to explain what it all means, and when I had finished talking she thought for a little while and then said, “Oh, so you’ll be kind of like Nadia Bolz Weber, but with less tattoos and less swearing.”

And I thought about that and said, “Well, you’re right about the tattoos part.”

Language is such a funny thing isn’t it? Technically a word is just a combination of meaningless symbols and sounds. They shouldn’t have any power. It shouldn’t be possible to say that some words are bad and some are good.

But words do have tremendous power. Words can be used to uplift, to empower, to wound, to demean. Words can used to include or exclude.

There is a reason why we need to think carefully about the words we use.

Tonight’s reading from Acts is one of those readings that anyone who has ever volunteered to read the Bible in public dreads. It contains a rather impressive string of unpronounceable place names. Well done Paul.

The reading begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (1)

If you were a Jewish person in the first century, you would know that Pentecost is an agricultural festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. It’s the day when you offer the first of your crops to God, partly as an expression of gratitude, and partly as a hope that the rest of the crops will grow well so you can feed your family.

You’d also know that Pentecost is more than just an agricultural festival.  It’s also the day that you remember that your ancestors were once enslaved in Egypt and then were finally freed only to wander for fifty days in the wilderness before they came to Mount Sinai where Moses would speak to God directly and receive the law. The law that became a framework for the way of life that you and your ancestors have been trying to follow ever since.

If you were there on the particular Pentecost that our reading from Acts describes, or if you heard that story afterwards, you would see all of these earlier stories and symbols bubbling up and colouring this experience.

I think it would still have seemed pretty bizarre. Terrifying. Less Pentecost and more Pente-chaos.[1]

Now if you’ve been following along with the lectionary readings from Acts in the past little while you are probably noticing themes of inclusion. Story after story shows how groups of people who were once excluded are now included. Story after story shows the early followers of Jesus beginning to become emboldened by this new way of living.

But tonight’s reading takes us back to an earlier time in the story, when things are a little more raw, unsettled, unclear.

Jesus has left his people for a second time – first when he died and then we he ascended to heaven – and no one knows what is going to happen next and so they have all gathered together.

It’s likely that everyone is gathered in one place because there is safety in numbers. It’s likely that everyone is gathered in one place because this group of Christ followers are afraid for their lives.

But it’s also likely, that they are gathered together because rituals and traditions are powerful ways of infusing a sense of stability, a sense of normalcy into turbulent times.

And so they gather together to celebrate Pentecost, just as their ancestors had done for generations.

But they are in for a surprise.

A sound comes from heaven like the rush of a violent wind which moves and fills the entire house. Tongues like fire appear and rest on everyone present. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and develop the ability to speak in multiple languages. (1-4)

These events were loud enough that people came from throughout Jerusalem to the house to see what had happened and pretty soon a large crowd had gathered. And each person in that crowd was shocked to discover that there was someone in the house who was able to speak to them… in their own indigenous languages. (5-8)

It made no sense.

They weren’t all suddenly able to speak the same language. They weren’t suddenly all able to speak the same language as the people inside the house. Rather, all of the insiders were given the ability to speak all of the different languages of the crowd of outsiders who have assembled outside the house to find out what’s going on.

This gift. This ability to speak multiple languages was given to those first followers of Jesus, but it wasn’t for them.

God was calling God’s people into a new way of living, into a new way of being.

Amy Oden explains that “This gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the birth of the church is a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement, those who had lived displaced in a language-world not their own. We cannot miss this! It is a spiritual gift given not for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening. God’s gift reaches outward to those outside of this immediate circle of Jesus followers. It seems that one mark of the Holy Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.”

One mark of the Holy Spirit is that we are empowered to connect with others, not by expecting them to learn our language and customs, but by learning theirs.

Somewhere in our history, the church lost this message. We forgot that our job is to speak in ways that other people can understand. Ways that invite them in. Somewhere along the lines, we forgot this gift and began to believe that our beliefs, our cultural practices, and even our languages were superior to everyone else’s. We lost this Holy Spirit mindset in favour of a colonial one.

Four years ago I spent a couple of months in Spain and I came to love the lispy lilting sounds of the particular type of Spanish that is spoken there.

But when I came back to Canada and began to study the language with a teacher from Mexico, I realized that the sounds that were so comforting to me, were a reminder of colonial oppression to him. When the Spanish explorers first came to his country they came to dominate it, and the Christian religion and the Spanish language were two of their most powerful tools of oppression. The colonial enterprise was successful – like most other people from Mexico he speaks Spanish – but his accent is not the accent of colonial Spain and his feelings about that country are infinitely more complicated than mine.

The same thing happened here in Canada, as indigenous people were forbidden to speak their own languages and forced to learn English and French.

Which is the exact opposite of what happens in our reading. The outsiders who rush to the house to find out what’s happening don’t first have to learn the insider’s language in order to do so. Instead, the insiders are given the ability to speak to everyone in their own languages.

And when they are caught up in the work of the spirit, they naturally turn outward, to those who have not yet been formally included and begin to share this good news in languages they can understand. It is the work of the insider to translate and speak in a way that can be understood, not the other way around.” (Amy Oden)

A gift given for the sake of others is an odd thing, a threatening thing even, and not everyone who witnesses these events celebrates them.

Luke writes, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (12-13)

Whenever we encounter something new, something we cannot understand, we face a strong temptation to judge. To restore our sense of comfort and stability by saying that there is something wrong with this new thing.

Those who sneered and said, “They’re drunk,” could walk away riding the high of smug self-righteousness. But in doing so, they lost out on the chance to be transformed by this new thing.

Lost out at least for that moment, because the welcoming work of the Spirit means there is always time for a second, third, or three hundredth chance.

Judgement shuts down communication. It shuts down learning. It’s a barrier to relationship and community.

A better way to respond is to resist judgement and lean into curiosity instead. To ask good, open ended questions. Questions like, “What does this mean?”

The people were not drunk. God was doing a new thing. Those who were curious enough to ask would begin to discover just what that was.

Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church – we don’t, but some churches will even wheel out a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to the church today.

So today is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, but the church that was birthed on this day had a particular character. One the institution known as the church has not always managed to reflect.

So when some people have decided that the people gathered are drunk, others ask, “What does it mean?” and to this question, Peter replies: “Indeed these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” (15)

Which is a fantastic detail if you ask me.

Also I think it’s sad that this is a detail of our story that we haven’t chosen to commemorate liturgically. Can you imagine it? What is we celebrated the birthday of the church by making sure we’re all out in public at 9:00 in the morning engaging in acts of barrier breaking love for people we do not know that the most logical thing that people witnessing the spectacle can conclude is that we’re drunk?

So Peter explains, “They’re not drunk,” and then he quotes from the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, everyone is to be included – young and old, women and men, slave and free. Everyone will prophesy, everyone will speak God’s word into being. Peter wants everyone to know that on that day, the things Joel said would happen are in fact happening.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s arrival declared in no uncertain terms that anyone who wants to follow Jesus can follow Jesus. Just as they are. The Spirit came to break down barriers, not to build them.

Vance Morgan writes, “God wants human beings to cooperate and communicate effectively. Furthermore, our ability to do so is a divine gift. Whenever we overcome the vast differences that separate us, differences too many to count, the divine is present. Whenever human beings connect, not by eliminating differences but rather by finding commonality, enhanced and deepened by our diverse perspectives and experiences, God is there. The divine strategy, culminating in Pentecost, is simple and profound…

Pentecost also tells us that the divine solution to our failure to understand each other is not conformity, getting everyone on the same page and believing the same thing. Everyone did not miraculously start speaking the same language at Pentecost, as humans did at the start of the Babel story. Each person retained his or her language and was divinely enabled to hear the good news in his or her own tongue. God met everyone exactly where they were, as the divine continues to do.”

God desires to meet us where we are at and God desires that we, empowered by the Spirit, would do the same for others.

May it be so. In the name of our God who creates, redeems, and sustains.


Peter Tells His Story: A Sermon for Sunday May 19, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday, May 19, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The lectionary will plunk us squarely in the book of Acts for the next little while and I want to thank Willie James Jennings for his excellent commentary. It was a major influence on this sermon.

Acts is story of revolution. It’s a story told by a master storyteller about the “disrupting presence of the Spirit of God.”

Listen to how Jennings describes it:

“The book of Acts is like the book of Genesis. It announces a beginning but without the language of a beginning. Like Genesis it renders without pomp and flag-waving a God working, moving, creating the dawn that will break each day, putting into place a holy repetition that speaks of the willingness of God to invade our every day and our every moment.

This God of Israel waits no more for the perfect time to be revealed. Now is the time, and here is the place…God moves and we respond. We move and God responds… Cards are on the table and the curtain is drawn back, and God acts plainly, clearly, and in ways that are irrevocable. There is no going back now.” (1-2)

The book of Acts unfolds at a breakneck pace and each chapter shows the early Christ followers learning just how inclusive their new community was going to be.  Group after unexpected group receives the Holy Spirit and is added to their number. Saul learns that he has been wrong to persecute the Christ followers and joins them instead. Phillip can see no reason not to baptism the eunuch from Ethiopia, and now it is Peter’s turn.

When Peter arrives in Jerusalem, the people have already heard about how Peter has recently broken a number of rules and they have questions.  Hey Peter, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (3)

Peter has some explaining to do.

They aren’t asking if Gentiles can become followers of Jesus, they have already discovered that they can, but their question is “We’ve accepted the new reality in which Gentiles are to be welcomed into our community, but don’t they also need to follow all of our Jewish customs as well?  Aren’t practices like circumcision and dietary laws important components of what it means to follow Christ?

In N.T. Wright’s translation of this passage verse 2 says, “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, those who wanted to emphasize circumcision took issue with him.”

These men had a clear idea of what it took to be a follower of Christ, and circumcision was on the list.  It was one of the key ways to determine who was in, and who was out.

Every group has a list like this.

I was sitting at the table waiting for everyone to arrive when a volunteer approached me.

Her expression was deadly serious as she leaned towards me and gestured with her finger for me to lean in too so she could whisper.

“You know,” she said in hushed tones, “some Anglicans are actually Christians!”

The Alpha course, which was designed as a sort of Christianity 101 and became very popular in evangelical churches in the 90s was created by an Anglican.

This detail made a lot of people scratch their heads. It directly challenged some of the basic things they had always believed about so called mainline churches. Used to sizing up people and organizations to determine if they were in or they were out, they couldn’t argue with the fact that Nicky Gumble seemed to believe all the right things, and that the course he created seemed to be working.

It made no sense, but their experience participating in the Alpha course made it impossible for them to continue to believe that Anglicans couldn’t be Christians.

It may not have been the most important or powerful moment in the ecumenical movement, but the Alpha course did successfully covert many evangelicals to this new way of thinking, “Some Anglicans were in fact Christians!”

And to be perfectly fair, I could tell a number of very similar stories about Anglicans as well.

What does it take to belong?  In some communities the litmus test for inclusion might be skin colour, your views on abortion or whether or not you’re going to be watching Game of Thrones after church tonight.

It’s always something.

But God gives Peter a vision of inclusion. It’s a vision of hospitality and welcome in which God says unequivocally that everyone is welcome into the family. As they are. Circumcision and purity codes no longer apply. God says that everything has been made clean. Who can argue with God?

Well, Peter can.

It took Peter, the direct recipient of the vision, 3 times to get the hint. It took the people hearing Peter’s account of the vision significantly less time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So Peter arrives in Jerusalem and he has some explaining to do. First, for accepting Cornelius’ hospitality and secondly for baptizing Cornelius and his household and thereby inviting them into full membership in the community without having to first become Jews.

Does Peter dazzle them with rhetoric or complex theological ideas?  No. He tells them a story. A very detailed story of exactly what happened to him in Joppa.

If you’ve been reading along in Acts, you’ll know that this is the second time we get the details of Peter’s vision.   You may think, hey I just read this in the last chapter! Luke should have gotten himself a better editor who would have cut this unnecessary material!

But the repetition is not an accident. It indicates the importance of Peter’s experience not only for Peter but for the entire community. In Joppa, God subverted Peter’s expectations and now, through the re-telling, God will subvert the community’s expectations as well.

Peter’s dream “… must be told in detail so the hearers can begin to see their lives in it. God spoke to Peter and now through Peter God is speaking to the saints gathered to hear.  The power of God is present in weakness, in the voice of one disciple of Jesus who simply tells the truth of what has happened to him and what God did through him.”(117)

Then, as now, there are few things more powerful than the story of a personal experience.

And so Peter begins to tell them about his vision in great detail. He was praying in Joppa and had a vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven.  The sheet is filled with all sorts of animals and a “voice from heaven” tells him to eat them. Peter refuses because some of these animals were considered unclean and he has always honoured Jewish dietary laws. (4-8)

But the heavenly voice responds, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (9)

This process happens three times. (10) Is this a call back to other series of three in Peter’s life? The denial? Jesus’ questions on the beach? Is it simply a sign of Peter’s stubborn refusal to believe?

Whatever the significance, the sheet is lowered and pulled up to heaven three times and after the final time three men from Caesarea appear in its place. The Spirit tells Peter he is to go with them and also “not to make a distinction between them and us.” (12)

The men have also had a vision in which they were told to find Peter and listen to the message of salvation he would share with them.  Peter begins to speak but before he can finish, the Holy Spirit falls upon the men and Peter recognizes this as the fulfillment of the promise that “John would baptize with water but they would baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

As Peter is conveying the story he makes sure to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit throughout in order to make it clear that although his behavior has been unconventional, he really had no choice but to conclude that Gentiles believers needed to be welcomed into the fold as they were.

I imagine him getting to the final line of his account and throwing up his hands and shrugging his shoulders as he concludes, “If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

In other words, “If you want to take issue with my actions, take it up with God, not me.”

With the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s easy for me to place myself on Peter’s side – to put myself by his side before this story even began actually – and to write off the men who want to emphasize circumcision as ignorant fools.

How on earth could they possibly have been so ignorant, so naïve, so self righteously exclusionary as to think that circumcision mattered to God? Keep up folks! God is making all things new!

But recently I was talking to a friend who was passionately discussing the importance of reclaiming her indigenous heritage.  She wants to learn her language and participate in ceremonies. But one of the horrible legacies of residential schools is that she didn’t learn these things as a child and there are very few elders who can teach her now.

She feels adrift without the language and practices that should anchor her identity. She grieves all the things that have already been lost and worries about the challenge of saving the things that still remain.  She wants to participate in the dominant culture, but she does not want to be assimilated into it.

Now the circumstances are very different, but I suspect this is part of what the men who want to emphasize circumcision are also worried about.  The Jewish people were a minority group and their practices were an essential component of their cultural identity. Their religious beliefs and practices kept them from being assimilated into the dominant culture.

Without the practices that helped to form and strengthen their identity as children of God, what will happen to them?  Would they lose their culture? A culture that had been given to them by God and that had sustained them for generations? (115)

These are valid concerns.

The people who favoured circumcision were asking these questions from a sincere desire to know what the right thing to do was. They had open ears and soft hearts. Softer, it seems, than even Peter’s because they know exactly what to do after hearing the story, second hand, only one time.

Peter finishes his story and the people fall silent. A silence that is broken, not by critical words, but by praise. Luke tells us, And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (18)

“This silence is a break in space, and time, and sound that God has orchestrated. This break does not silence Israel’s past, but it is a break in the musical sense, in the sense of jazz improvisation.

[Wynton Marsalis explains that] in the break the band stops playing and leaves space for a soloist to play. In the break the soloist is alone for a moment carrying the time, suspended in air and holding everything together in a single performance: ‘It’s the pressure-packed moment, because you have to maintain the time flow of the whole band by yourself: Our time because your time – yours and yours alone.’

Peter brings them to the break, but the Spirit of God carries the time, holding it in the silence. The moment of silence after [Peter’s] testimony reveals a God who has been keeping time beautifully and faithfully with Israel and now expects the hearers to feel the beat, remember the rhythm, and know the time… After the silence God’s love has modulated into a new key, but the rhythm and song of Israel continues. The beat goes on.  (118)

Peter tells his story. The people listen.  They spend time in silence and then recognizing the truth of what Peter has said, they adjust their thinking and praise God.

Their behavior is worthy of emulation.

When I watch the news it seems to me that more and more we are dividing into camps, building walls and throwing stones over the top.

We aren’t listening to other people’s stories.

Could we emulate those early Christians who listened to Peter’s story, fell silent, and changed their minds?

Can we learn to sing a new song of praise and invite others to sing it too? Just as they are.

May it be so.



Safe in God's Hand: A Sermon for Sunday May 12, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday May 12, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God’s abundance.

We lie down in green pastures, we walk beside quiet waters.   Our heads our anointed with oil, our souls are refreshed, our cup overflows and we feast at a table prepared for us.

We can walk through the darkest valley without fear, and proclaim confidently that “surely goodness and mercy will follow [us] all the days of our [lives.]

This is a beautiful picture of life with the Good Shepherd.

But what happens if we’re not sure who the shepherd is?  What happens if we’re not sure who the sheep are?

The psalmist confidently proclaims, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Cool. But is that an exclusionary claim?  Can Christ be my shepherd, your shepherd, too?”

The psalmist doesn’t answer that question, but Jesus does.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd and whenever he talks about sheep it’s pretty clear that it’s not a hard club to get into. Anyone who wants to be a sheep, can be a sheep.

In the section just before tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus tells the people he is speaking to that all it takes to be a sheep is the decision to follow. Anyone who wants to can be a sheep. And in fact, there are more sheep than they can even imagine, including some they haven’t met yet. Sheep that Jesus intends to collect and bring back to the sheepfold so that there will be one sheepfold under one shepherd. (10:16)

The idea of a more diverse, integrated sheepfold leads to a variety of responses from the crowd.   Some people believe. Some people speculate that Jesus might be mad or demon possessed. (19)

This is the context for tonight’s gospel reading which begins, “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”  The festival of the Dedication was established to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple and is still celebrated today, although you may know it as Hanukah.

People began to gather around Jesus and impatiently ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe.”

I hear an edge of frustration in Jesus’ voice.  Tell you plainly? Tell you plainly? I have told you plainly and you didn’t listen.  I have also done things in my Father’s name that make it clear who I am and you still don’t believe me. The debate you are having amongst yourselves about my identity will not end because of anything I say or do this day. Why should I try again?

But then, instead of walking off in disgust like I would, he tries again.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

When my dog Oliver was a puppy, I used to take him 4 or 5 times a week to Little Mountain Dog Park.  We both loved it, he could run and play with other dogs and I could walk at a leisurely pace through the woods and then return home with a tired puppy.  It felt holy and miraculous every time.

The paths through the woods were often fairly solitary but at various points they would open up into larger fields where we’d sometimes come upon dozens of dogs and dog owners.

Oliver would race off to play and I’d stand on the edge of the field with the other humans.  It was a loud, boisterous environment, but I was always amazed how his ears would perk up when I whistled or shouted a command.

He knew my voice.

He didn’t always listened to it, if he was having fun playing my shout of “come” was taken as more of a suggestion than anything else, but I could always tell he heard me, even if he didn’t obey.

I love that in the passage, Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice” not “My sheep listen to my voice.”

Oliver also rarely, if ever, walked beside me at the dog park.

But even though he was not attached to me by a physical leash, I often marvelled that he seemed to have an innate sense of an invisible leash, of an acceptable distance to be from me.  He would trot happily ahead of me at that distance for as long as I would let him, but if he got a bit further ahead than that, he would look behind himself and stop until I came a bit closer.

And on more than one occasion on our walks, I thought about tonight’s gospel reading.

And I thought about how, just like my dog, I rarely walk lock step with Jesus, I like to run ahead and explore, and like my dog, I don’t always listen when I hear Christ’s voice.

Sometimes, I choose to trust that my sense of what is good and fair and right is better than Jesus’.

I do it, but I don’t recommend it.

It’s not always out of sheer defiance. Unlike my dog who seems to be very adept at distinguishing my whistle from other whistles, I’m often unsure of whether or not the voice I am hearing actually belongs to God.

Everyday I am bombarded by thousands of messages about how to live “my best life.”  There are so many voices that claim to speak for God.

They tell me that I will be worthy when I believe the right things and behave in the right ways.  And they tell me exactly what to believe and how to behave to earn their favour.

But as Elisabeth Johnson observes, that’s just not how Jesus works.

“… the Good Shepherd tells us that everything depends on belonging to him. Never does our status before God depend on how we feel, on having the right experience, on being free of doubt, or on what we accomplish. It depends on one thing only: that we are known by the shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:28).

The voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice that liberates rather than oppresses. It does not say, “Do this, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep.” It says, “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you out of my hand.””

You belong to God already. No one can snatch you out of God’s hand. No one.

I love imagining myself sitting in the palm of God’s hand. It’s beautiful and it’s comforting, but as far as I can tell, it’s also deeply threatening to some people.

I mean, it’s logical, isn’t it, to view the space in God’s hand as finite. There is only so much room to go around and so if there is going to be enough room for me, then someone else if going to have to be excluded.

And if not pushed right out of God’s hand, then at least we can push those folks as far away as possible. Right out to the margins. Right out to the tips of God’s fingers.

But that’s not how God’s economy works. We don’t have to fight for space. We all fit with room to spare.

We all fit in God’s hand, but folks who are locked into this scarcity mentality can do a tremendously good job of pushing other people out of earthly institutions, out of churches.

If you don’t look, think, act, or love in ways that make them comfortable, then you aren’t welcome.

Oliver and I don’t go to the dog park anymore.  After years of going and finding it to be a sacred space, we had some bad experiences.  One that required us to rush off to the vet for a surgery that left him with a long scar that’s still visible. My anxiety that it might happen again is just as real, if less visible.

We no longer view the dog park as a place to make friends. We view it as a place where we have been hurt, and may be hurt again. So we don’t go.

Now it’s not a perfect metaphor – a church is not a dog park – but think about what it must feel like to be a person who – for whatever reason – has been made to feel unwelcome in the church.    Some of you don’t have to imagine it, you know exactly what it feels like.

And hear this good news.  Hear it as encouragement if you feel excluded. Here is as a challenge to all the ways we exclude.

Human beings can push people to the margins, we can make them feel so unwelcome in our churches that they never come back, but we can never, ever snatch them out of Christ’s hand.

I lost two of my heroes in the past week or so. Well, I didn’t lose them, they died. Rachel Held Evans and Jean Vanier.

Two people who courageously and unequivocally declared that God’s love included everyone. Everyone.

In 1964, Jean Vanier, a Canadian professor of philosophy and a retired naval office, was searching for his calling. His spiritual director encouraged him to visit a series of institutions for men with intellectual disabilities in France.

Vanier was disturbed by the rejection and loneliness of the men he met in those institutions, yes he was also moved by their openness.  He began to feel a call to share his life in community with some of them.

With support from benefactors and professionals, Jean renovated a small home and invited a few of the men he had met to live with him. He call the home “the ark” which in French is “L’arche.”

This shared life was both challenging and full of joy. It was a place of growth for them and inspiration to others.

From these humble roots, L’Arche grew and today there are more than 149 L’Arche communities, in 37 countries around the world, including here in Winnipeg.

Jean Vanier dedicated his life to inviting people who didn’t think they could live together to do just that and he structured those communities in such a way that the people who would typically be at the margins became the heart of the community.  The folks with intellectual disabilities who call L’Arche communities home are referred as “core members.”

Jean Vanier has died, but his legacy lives on in his ideas, his books, and in the communities he helped to found.

Rachel Held Evans, who was a model evangelical Christian for most of her early life before leaving the church entirely only to discover that no matter how far away she ran, she was still in God’s hand.  When she eventually returned to her faith and to the church she insisted that the folks she had met on the margins – the people who doubted, the women who believed God has called them to lead, people of colour and folks in the LGBTQ+ community – she insisted they were welcome to come with her.

For the past five years, Rachel helped to curate a series of conferences and invited people who couldn’t shake Jesus’ voice but also had been made to feel unwelcome in the institutional church to come together and discover they were not alone and in doing so, they became a community.

I am one of those people and as a result, roughly one month ago I travelled to San Francisco to sit with a group of friends and listen to Rachel preach. I had no idea it would be for the last time.

Rachel’s legacy lives on in her writing, in the communities of faith she created, and in her family.

Today I am saddened by Vanier’s death, but I am gutted by the image of Rachel’s beloved husband Dan, and her two tiny, tiny children Harper and Henry trying to get through Mother’s Day without her.

But I know that while they will almost undoubtedly be lonely, they will not be alone, because the community of faith that she worked so tirelessly to create surrounds them.

There is a project to collect stories about Rachel’s life and influence for her kids.  If you want to contribute something, let me know and I’ll collect them and make sure they get to the right place.

I want to end with one of the most popular and most powerful things that Rachel ever said:

“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

There is always room for more. So come.


Good Friday?: A Sermon for Friday April 20, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Friday April 20, 2019.  On Good Friday, Jamie Howison and I both preach and you can hear both of our sermons on our podcast.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

To paraphrase Kate Bowler, I’m tired of people trying to Easter the crap out of Good Friday.

Although I have been going to church my entire life, it wasn’t until I came to saint benedict’s table that I began to truly celebrate Good Friday. Prior to that I would typically attend church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but the services would have looked almost exactly the same. We’d quickly acknowledge that Jesus died and then spend most of our time celebrating the resurrection.

People often try to Easter the crap of out my life too.

Recently I had to update my banking information and my response to almost every question was, “Oh, that’s not true anymore.” That’s no longer my phone number. No, I don’t work there anymore. Yes, I used to teach there, but I don’t anymore. And on the drive home I thought about just how many things have changed for me in the past two years. How many things I’ve lost. How many dreams have died.

There have been Easter moments too, there has been new life and new dreams and things so good I still sometimes have to pinch myself to confirm that they are true.

But those things were born out of death. In order to get to the Easter moments, I have to fully live into the Good Friday ones, and the Holy Saturday ones too.

And it’s been hard for me, but it’s also been difficult for the people around me. People who, with the best of intentions, have more often than not wanted to force my Good Friday into an Easter Sunday.

And my choices boiled down to pretending it was Easter Sunday to make other people more comfortable or owning the truth that for me it was still Friday and that some days, I wasn’t sure Sunday would ever come.

I don’t know why things had to be so hard, but I do know that one of the key things that has saved me in this season has been a decision I made early on to be honest, to resist the temptation to please people and live into a false Easter. The decision I made to say, “This is hard. This is not what I wanted. This did not all work out for the best. I did not land on my feet, I smashed my face off the sidewalk. It hurts.”

I needed to sit in a Good Friday space. To acknowledge the harsh reality of death. To feel the pain of it. To resist the temptation to pretend it was already Easter Sunday.

That saved me.

And the people who were willing to sit with me at the foot of the cross. The people who didn’t need to find a silver lining.   The people who simply said, “I see how hard this it.”

They saved me.

There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

A couple of years ago someone came early to our Good Friday service and with tears in their eyes said, “I hope it’s OK to be here today when I’m clearly not OK.”

You bet it is. It’s always OK and on this day we will acknowledge that truth in a particular way.

Yesterday, after our Maundy Thursday service, we stripped the church, removing linens and coverings and flowers and candles.

The church is emptier.

We are emptier.

The story of Jesus’ death is a powerful and important story that we should tell and re-tell again and again. Today is the day that we boldly and defiantly say, “It’s not Easter yet. It’s OK not to be OK.”

On this day we have full permission to hold the empty, to sit in the meaninglessness, and to acknowledge that not everything can be resolved.

On this day we have full permission to hold space for suffering, for grief, for death.

And we call it good.

And we do this in a world full of people who want to fill the empty, to

find meaning, however shallow in the meaningless, to mute suffering and grief and cloak death in euphemisms.

Christ did not pass. We did not lose him. Christ died.

 And it was good.   It was horrible and painful and it sent everyone around him into a tailspin, but it was also good. Wasn’t it?

Reflecting on the horrors of WW2, German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wondered how theology could exist, how theology could speak, in the face of such overwhelming suffering. He determined that modern theology must be developed “in earshot of the dying Christ.”[1]

Theology, which really just means our thoughts about God, must be developed in earshot of the dying Christ.

What would we hear? What would we see if we resisted the temptation to skip straight to Easter and chose instead to sit quietly at the foot of the cross?

We would hear the sounds of death by crucifixion. The pounding of the hammer, the crack of the wood, the grunting of the soldiers, the panting, the groans, the screams of three men as their flesh is pierced by nails.

We would hear the conversation between Jesus and those other two men. Short, raspy sentences as they all struggled to breath.

We would hear the soldiers and people in positions of leadership casting lots and mocking Jesus.

And we would hear Jesus saying again and again and again, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

We would hear the women, loyal to the end, “beating their breasts and wailing.” Their grief too great to be contained.

And we would hear Jesus telling them to continue to weep, but not for him, but for themselves and for their children because even more difficult days are coming.

And we might hear the wind moving through the grass as death leads to silence.

And we might begin to develop a greater humility for all the times that we have also “known not what we do.” And we might learn to hold space for those who weep. And we might condemn less and forgive more.

We might learn to pay attention and say to each other, “I see how hard this is. I can’t change it, and I’m not going anywhere. We can sit in this Good Friday space for as long as we need to.” 

Dr. Sheila Cassidy drew attention to the human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime when she wrote about her own experience of being imprisoned and tortured in Chile in the 1970s.

Dr. Cassidy knows, in her very bones, what it is to suffer, what it is to hold space for the darkness and the difficulty of death. She knows that it is only by living fully into Good Friday that we can ever hope to be an Easter people.

Listen to the words of her poem, “Starting Over – Fighting Back:”

And so we must begin to live again,
We of the damaged bodies
And assaulted mind.
Starting from scratch with the rubble of our lives
And picking up the dust
Of dreams once dreamt.

And we stand there, naked in our vulnerability,
Proud of starting over, fighting back,
But full of weak humility
At the awesomeness of the task.

We, without a future,
Safe, defined, delivered
Now salute you God.
Knowing that nothing is safe,
Secure, inviolable here.
Except you,
And even that eludes our minds at times.
And we hate you
As we love you,
And our anger is as strong
As our pain,
Our grief is deep as oceans,
And our need as great as mountains.

So, as we take our first few steps forward
into the abyss of the future,
We would pray for
Courage to become what we have not been before
And accept it,
And bravery to look deep within our souls to find
New ways.

We did not want it easy God,
But we did not contemplate
That it would be quite this hard,
This long, this lonely.

So, if we are to be turned inside out, and upside down,
With even our pockets shaken,
just to check what’s rattling
And left behind,
We pray that you will keep faith with us,
And we with you,
Holding our hands as we weep,
Giving us strength to continue,
And showing us beacons
Along the way
To becoming new.

We are not fighting you God,
Even if it feels like it,
But we need your help and company,
As we struggle on.
Fighting back
And starting over.[2]

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman, 133


Follow Me: A Sermon for Sunday April 17, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday April 17, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Most of you will be aware that I was in San Francisco last week – I have the post travel cold to prove it.  You could call it a vacation, or professional development, but for me it was a pilgrimage – an intentional journey to a holy site. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get to San Francisco for about ten years.

More specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get to St Gregory of Nyssa Church for about ten years.  So if you’re not already tired of “at St Gregory’s they…” stories, don’t worry, you soon will be.

So at St. Gregory’s when they read the gospel the Bible is carried from one side of the room to the other and unlike in some churches you may have been to where the reader holds the book carefully and reverently up in front of them, at St Gregory’s the person carrying the gospel rests the book on their right shoulder.


Roman emperors used to be carried on people’s shoulders. Early Christians chose to carry the Bible on their shoulder in worship as a way of saying, “Christ is the only king we serve.”

Which is pretty amazing symbolism, if you ask me, but as we generally don’t carry our political leaders around on people’s shoulders anymore, it’s also a symbol that is completely divorced of any cultural significance and it only makes sense if someone helps you decode it.

The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a story that is filled with symbolism. It’s theatrical not just in its scale, but in the attention to detail, details that given how different our culture is from the one in these stories, may also need to be decoded.  Things that would have been very clear to the people experiencing this event first hand no longer make sense to us.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem he is following a pilgrimage path that many others had already followed and would continue to follow.  By the Middle Ages, people making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem were referred to as “palmers” because they often carried a palm branch home as a symbol of their pilgrimage.

Later in history, Shakespeare would have Romeo angle for a kiss from Juliet by referring to his lips as pilgrims and encouraging her to kiss them as “holy palmer’s kiss.”

And we are still celebrating Palm Sunday to this very day, waving branches and taking home palm crosses to tuck in a safe place as a reminder throughout the year, only to return them to the church next year to be burnt and turned into ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday so that this whole process of remembering can begin again.

Holy Week is a pilgrimage, a sacred path that we travel together as we re-tell ancient stories.

It’s a time rich with symbolism and tradition, and as such it can be deeply meaningful or dry and lifeless.  I was talking to someone recently who said, “I just don’t get the point of Easter anymore.” The same day I spoke to another person who said they were really looking forward to Holy Week because it’s “their favourite time of year.”

Where do you fit on that spectrum?  Are you more “what’s the point?” or “it’s the most wonderful time of the year?”

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, we are told he is riding on a “colt that has never been ridden.”  (22:30)

That’s an interesting choice.

I am definitely not an expert on horses, but I have ridden a few times – at summer camps or while on vacation, and every time I have done so, I have chosen a horse that was an expert. In fact, probably due to a combination of care for their customers and the threat of lawsuits, expert horses were the only kind available to me.  Horses that would calmly follow the assigned trail regardless of what the rider chose to do.

That’s just smart right? When you’re going to do something new or dangerous, go with an expert.

But Jesus chooses a “colt that has never been ridden.”

In movies and church re-enactments I’ve only ever seen Jesus riding an animal that was more reflective of the ones I road at summer camp – calmly plodding although despite the crowds of shouting people and palm branches and cloaks with a heavy human perched uncomfortably on top of their back.

But it’s just as likely that this unridden colt would have been wide eyed, filled with panic, and seeking to buck Jesus off at every turn in order to turn around and run back home.

Or at the very least, surely Jesus wouldn’t have been able to calmly wave to the crowd from atop this animal, rather he’d be working hard to control both the direction the animal was walking and working to avoid being bucked off and trampled on the ground.

A colt that has never been ridden.

It’s a weird choice.

It’s weird, but Jesus’ choice to ride an inexperienced colt is teaching me something about the nature of God.

God doesn’t need experts or perfect people. In fact, God often purposely chooses the untried and the unexpected. The people who are wide eyed and anxious and fully aware that they have no idea what they are doing.  The people who want nothing more than to run from the limelight they have sudden been thrust into and run straight back to the safety of their homes.

That’s who God chooses, and that sounds like good news to me.

The various gospels describe the animal that Jesus road in different ways.

Mark and Luke say Jesus chose a colt that had never been ridden (11:2), John says it was a “young donkey,”(12:14) and Matthew says it was a “donkey and a colt.” (21:4)

A donkey AND a colt? Was it some kind of a tag team situation where Jesus rode one for a little bit and then the other?

Or was he riding both at the same time like a circus stunt rider? One leg on each of these animals?  Have we just moved from the bizarre – choosing a colt that doesn’t know what it’s doing to the – well I don’t even know what the word for that kind of spectacle would be.

So at St Gregory’s they move throughout their worship space for different parts of the service – the sermon is in one spot, Eucharist in another, and when I said they move from one space to another, I should have said, they dance from one space to another.  Which could be incredibly overwhelming for a first timer, except that they’ve thought it through, and before you can panic, someone from the church will look you in the eye and say, “welcome friend, put your hand on my shoulder and follow me, and as long as you follow, you’ll be OK.”

I can’t be certain, but I don’t think that Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a stunt rider with one foot on a donkey and one on a colt, but I do think that he may have taken both animals with him.

One of the reasons Matthew references both animals is because he wants us to see that Jesus’ actions are the fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah. A prophecy that said:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (9:9)

I wonder if this scene looked less like a circus, and more like those trail rides I took at camp – with the mother donkey leading the way and her child – the colt that had never been ridden – following behind her with Jesus on its back.

The colt knowing that as long as they followed their mother, they would be just fine.

Just like last week at St Gregory’s as long as I followed the person in front of me, I was just fine.

We don’t have to travel this pilgrim path alone. We just have to keep an eye on our loving mother who is always just a few steps ahead of us.

And that definitely sounds like good news to me.

But why ride any kind of donkey at all? Why not walk? Or ride a horse or a chariot?

It’s not an accident, it’s all part of the spectacle.

Jesus is a king, but not like any king the people have seen before. Writing in the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom noted: “[Jesus] is not drawn in a chariot like other kings, not demanding a tribute. Nor surrounded by officers and guards. Then the people ask: ‘What king has ever entered Jerusalem riding upon an ass?'”

With each choice Jesus makes he is communicating that his kingdom will not be like any kingdom they have ever known or imagined.

In Matthew, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave…” (20:25-27)

Jesus is a king, but not a tyrant who will “lord it over them.” Jesus will be different.   In Zechariah it says:

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth. (9:10)

“The chariot and war horse are instruments and symbols of war. The new king banishes both. [Jesus] proclaims peace to the nations.”

If anyone in the crowd is reading the symbols correctly, they will recognize that Jesus is a king. A king who comes in peace but a king none of the less. And having never had a king like Jesus before, there is no way that they can fully comprehend what’s happening.

But that lack of comprehension does not stop the people in the crowd from getting caught up in the excitement of the moment. It does not stop them from waving their branches and shouting “Hosanna!”

I have a vague understanding that lately in our city there has been some important “sportsing” going on.  I don’t understand it, but I know it’s happening. And it’s more than likely that if I happened to find myself downtown on a particular day and there were crowds of people filling the streets and shouting excitedly that I might find myself being swept up by the enthusiasm and joining in.

I’d have no idea what I was saying, but even I might be inspired to shoue “Go Jets Go!”

Similarly, the people waving their branches and shouting “Hosanna,” which literally means “please save” or “save us now,” probably don’t fully understand what’s happening.  They are right that Jesus has come to save them, while being wrong about how he will save them.

This week I’ve spent a lot of time being disappointed in earthly leaders. I’ve watched my friends fight funding cuts made by the Ontario government that directly impact my godson’s ability to thrive.  I’ve watched bill C-262 – a bill that asks us to treat indigenous people with dignity – I’ve watched that bill languish in the Senate, and I’ve watched leaders in the Anglican communion make decisions that seem to be based more in fear than in love.

I’m disappointed by my leaders.  I disappointed by people who seem to care more about power and safety and money than about people’s lives.

And I’m longing for something different.

I’m longing for someone who looks a little more like a powerful, but humble man riding on an untried colt. A colt that is patiently following its mother through a crowd on a pilgrim path.  I’m longing for someone whose actions are rooted and grounded in the power of self-giving love.

I’m longing for someone who looks well, who looks like Jesus.

The Jesus we will encounter as we remember and re-enact these stories throughout the coming week. And I hope you’ll join us when we do.


Shiny Skin and Shrieking Demons: A Sermon for Sunday March 6, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday March 6, 2019.  You can also listen to the live recording or subscribe to our podcast. Just click here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

In our reading from Corinthians Paul references a story from Exodus.  When Moses returns from Mount Sinai with the ten commandments, his skin was shining and it was so bright that people were actually afraid to approach him. (34:29-30) He visits God several more times and every time he returns he face is glowing. Moses’ shiny skin terrified the people and so he began to wear a veil whenever he was with them (34-35).

If you’ve ever wondering why Moses is sometimes depicted in art with shiny horns on his head it’s because of a mistranslation of this story. In the medieval period the word for “veil” was mistranslated as “horns,” and while an image of Moses wearing a veil may strike you as odd, images of Moses with horns can also be very confusing… and very creepy. In the window at the back of the church, Moses isn’t depicted with literal horns, but he does have horns of light coming out of the top of his head.

In Corinthians, Paul uses this story in order to help the people realize that they, like Moses, have seen God and they, like Moses have shiny skin.

But their shiny skin doesn’t need to be covered with a veil, rather they can act with hope, freedom, and great boldness. (13-15) They can see the glory of God reflected in their own shiny skin, and in the glowing faces of others. (18)

Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (18).”

We also have shiny skin. We are all also being transformed, from one degree of glory to another.

The first line in our gospel reading begins, “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” (28)

Right away I want to know, eight days after what?

Eight days earlier, Jesus spent some time praying and talking with his disciples. He asked them questions about his identity – who do the people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? There isn’t a clear consensus. Some think he is John, others Elijah, but Peter believes that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  Jesus doesn’t dispute this, but he orders them to keep it secret and then, Jesus tells the disciples that he will suffer, be rejected by religious leaders, die and three days later be raised from the dead.

Which is a lot to take in, but wait, there’s more! Jesus continues by saying, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (9:18-23)

Our gospel reading begins eight days after Jesus has said all these things. Eight days is not a very long time and I would definitely still be processing Jesus’ words. I would definitely still have an awful lot of questions.

And I am pretty sure that most of my questions would revolve around trying to find a way to avoid all the things that Jesus is saying are going to happen. To avoid watching Jesus die, to avoid dying myself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “When Christ calls a [person] to come and follow, [Christ] bids [them] come and die.” That is, after all, what “taking up your cross” meant to people under the rule of the Roman Empire. It meant you were going to die the slow, horrible, painful and embarrassing death that is crucifixion.  Christ bids us come and die. In many ways, this week’s Ash Wednesday service is a reminder of Christ’s call.

It is not an easy thing to pick up your cross, daily, and follow Jesus. Jesus never promised us an easy life. But when you do decide to pick up a cross, make sure it’s yours.

There are verses that make me a bit jumpy because I have seen how the church has taken the life-giving transformational message of God and deformed it into something else, and this call to take up our cross is certainly one of those verses.

Jesus will die on a literal cross and he is calling each one of us to take up our own crosses if we want to follow him.  There is no interpretive dance I can do to get us out of that one, but time and time again, people in the church have misused this verse to justify or encourage another person’s suffering, and that’s just plain wrong.

The only person who gets to tell you which cross to pick up, is Jesus. Anyone else who tries to do so, is out of line.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you don’t have to stay. That’s not your cross. If you are being mistreated at work, you can say something about it.   And if you see a place where people are suffering because of their race, economic status, sexuality or any other thing, you can not simply turn a blind eye and say, “Well, Christ calls us to suffer.”

Because those are all profound misuses of this text.  Jesus can call us to pick up our cross – ours, not the one someone else wants us to pick up, ours – and wise and trusted mentors can help us figure out exactly what that might look like, but when we see a person who is suffering, our call is to help alleviate that suffering, not to the additional weight of our own judgments.

Jesus is getting ready to go to Jerusalem and take up a literal cross but before he does, he takes three of his disciples to the top of a mountain to pray.

The choice to take only three of his disciples – Peter, John, and James – is the second thing that jumps out at me from that opening verse.   Why is Jesus singling these three out? Are they his favourites? The ones most in need of some remedial work? Is there so much important work to be done  that Jesus can’t spare all twelve disciples, he can only take three?

At this point in the story, who do you most associate with? Jesus? The three on the mountain? The nine who have been left behind? Someone else entirely?

When Jesus and the three disciples arrive at the top of the mountain Jesus spends time in prayer, and “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (29) Moses and Elijah appear and they begin to talk about what will happen when Jesus goes to Jerusalem.

People whose Greek is way better than mine – because mine is non-existent – tell me that the best way to translate the word used in this gospel to describe what happens to Jesus isn’t “transfigured” or even “transformed,” but “othered.”   It’s not the transfiguration of Jesus but the “otherification” of Jesus. Jesus literally becomes “other” as in, utterly unlike us.

Jesus is othered, but he is not alone. He is transformed within the context of community, and within the context of tradition. These aren’t just random angels who have appeared to talk with Jesus – if there ever was a Jewish Leader’s Hall of Fame Moses and Elijah would certainly have had prominent places in it.

When community is unhealthy, it has the power to deform, but when community is healthy it can accomplish amazing transformations.

Seeing all of this, Peter blurts out, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (33)

Peter can see that Jesus has been transformed, he can identify that this is a good thing, but beyond those initial impressions, he really doesn’t have any idea what is going on and rather than taking a moment to pause and consider his response, he reacts and just blurts out the first thing that comes to mind without any real awareness of what he’s saying. A typical Peter maneuver.

It also seems that Peter – still not fully comprehending Christ’s mission on earth – wants to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem. “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here!” Peter is saying, “This is a good place to be – so let’s just stay here.”  Surely this is better than following you to Jerusalem where you will be killed! Surely it’s better than having to take up my own cross in order to follow you! He is still resisting what Jesus has said must happen next.

I can understand the urge to stay on the mountain.  The desire to keep Jesus safe by staying on the mountain also makes sense.  What I’m curious about is the fact that the text gives us no indication that Peter thinks it might also be a good idea to go get the other nine disciples before camping out on the mountain.  Is Peter really so selfish that he wants to maintain this mountain top as an exclusive experience for a chosen few? So exclusive in fact, that not even all 12 disciples will be included?

Maybe. After all, it’s not an uncommon impulse. The news is often filled with stories of people trying to construct walls, or barriers, to determine who is included and who is excluded – governments do it, businesses do it, and churches do it too.

Peter hasn’t thought about what he is doing, he is acting purely on instinct, but those instincts are telling.

Like so many of us, when Peter encounters the glory of God he tries to hold on to it, to enshrine it, to frame it in a way that makes sense to him. To make the experience smaller than it actually is.  Peter has just had an encounter with Jesus in all his glory, and he doesn’t want to leave, he wants to stay put and build a building.

But God does not reveal all that God is so that we will build shelters and live on mountaintops.  Jesus may have gone with the disciples to the top of a mountain but he has no intention of staying there, and if they want to follow him, neither can they.

And neither can we.

I mean, it is wonderful to be here this evening, but we are not supposed to stay here all week.

Don’t forget that the glory revealed on this mountain is inseparably connected to the glory revealed on another mountain – Golgotha, the Mount of Calvary.

In today’s gospel reading we see Jesus transformed by the power and glory of God and yet this is not the moment we choose as the greatest moment in human history. Rather we firmly, we recklessly, believe that Christ’s death and resurrection were the most glorious moments in the history of human kind.

Peter, having seen Jesus transformed, tries to control the situation and tell Jesus what he should do – let’s build three shelters! Let’s stay right here! But when he is doing this, God literally interrupts him, affirms Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved and tells Peter to “listen to Jesus.” (35)

The grammatical structure of the phrase translated into English as “Listen to him,” indicates continued action as in, “keep on listening to him.”  As in slow down, stop being reactive, stop talking, and listen. And when you think you are done listening, listen some more. Keep on listening to him.

And what will Peter hear if he chooses to listen to Jesus? If he chooses to take up his cross and follow?

He will learn that while mountaintop experiences are valid, we are not called to try and contain them, we are called to climb back down the mountain.

Despite how wonderful it was to be on the mountaintop, Jesus doesn’t stay there, and neither do the disciples.

I have actually climbed a few literal mountains myself and one of the things I have learned from those experiences is that it is significantly harder to climb down a mountain than it is to climb up.  It’s baffling to me that people use the phrase “it’s all downhill from here” to suggest that something will be easy.

When Jesus and his disciples come down from the mountain they are greeted by a large crowd that includes a man who begs Jesus to heal his son, a child who has been plagued with a violent shrieking demon, and Jesus will do just that. (37-43)

All the gospel writers include the story of the boy who requires healing which, to paraphrase an insight from N.T. Wright, should serve as a reminder to us that life isn’t meant to be a smooth flat walk in the prairies – however beautiful that might seem.  There will be mountains to climb up, mountaintops to enjoy, difficult descents, shrieking demons, and deep healing. It’s all part of the package.

And know this, if the characters in this story that you most identify with are the disciples who were left behind in the valley or the child possessed by a demon. If you see people trying to contain God in shelters a great distance away and they are not making any room for you, then know that while the human impulse may always be to attempt to contain and control and exclude, that this story shows that God categorically rejects that kind of thinking.  When Peter suggests that they build shelters and camp out of the mountain God interrupts him and tells him to listen to Jesus.

And Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes, that’s a great idea! Let’s build shelters and stay here forever.” Instead he goes down the mountain to where the people are waiting for him and one of the first things he does is heal a child.

Jesus will not allow himself to be contained in a shelter on a mountain. Jesus will go where the people are.

N.T Wright notes, “The disciples were overwhelmed by the transfiguration, and blurted out things they didn’t mean… They were unable to understand how it was that the glory they had glimpsed on the mountain, the glory of God’s chosen son, the servant who was carrying in himself the promise of redemption, would finally be unveiled on a very different hill, an ugly little hill outside Jerusalem.

We, too, often find it completely bewildering to know how to understand all that God is doing and saying, both in our times of great joy and our times of great sadness. But the word that comes to us, leading us on to follow Jesus even when we haven’t a clue what’s going on, is the word that came from the cloud on that strange day in Galilee, “This is my son, my chosen one.  Listen to him.” (N.T. Wright)


Thanks to friend Dave Henson and the conversations he initiated on Facebook about the gospel reading for sparking my imagination this week.