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.

Putting Things Right-Side-Up: A Sermon for Sunday February 19, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday February 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.

When I was in university studying English literature one of the key skills we learned was how to apply different interpretive approaches to a single text.   These approaches were kind of like reading glasses that allowed us to see different things.

Say, for example, you wanted to read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. You could imagine spreading all those glasses out on the desk in front of you and then picking them up and putting them on one by one.  You could then read that sonnet wearing the glasses of historical critical interpretation, or Freudian interpretation, or structural, or feminist, or, or, or.

You could even be really fancy and wear a couple of different pairs at the same time.

Each pair of glasses provided a unique way of seeing that sonnet and opened up new ideas and interpretations.

Each pair of glasses obscured elements in that sonnet making them difficult, or even impossible to see.

When I was a child, one of the first books I was taught to read was the Bible and no one ever mentioned to me that I would never be able to read the Bible objectively, I would always read it wearing a very specific set of glasses that I could never take off.

No one told me I was reading the Bible wearing the glasses of a white, middle class girl.

And those glasses were going to help me see some things, and they were going to obscure some things as well.

Even though I now know I’m wearing them, I still can’t take them off, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as I don’t ever forget that I’m wearing those glasses. As long as I don’t start to believe that the way I see things is the only way to see them. As long as I don’t start to think that every single person who has ever read the Bible has read it wearing the exact same glasses that I am wearing.

No one has ever read the Bible objectively, but throughout history most of the people who have publicly interpreted the Bible for us – by preaching or writing theological textbooks  – have been middleclass white men and they tend to forget that they are reading the Bible with white middleclass man glasses on. And, not only did they forget, pretty much everyone else forgot too. Their interpretations became the only interpretations.

That doesn’t surprise me, partly because of my academic training and partly because the fact that we are wearing different sets of glasses often becomes crystal clear to me simply because when I read the Bible, I often see very different things than those men do.

But that doesn’t mean they are mistaken and I am correct.  Their viewpoint is valid, it’s just not the only one. And I am just as likely to forget that my perspective isn’t the only perspective as they have been. I am just as likely to be taken by surprise when I realize that other people read the Bible looking through a very different set of glasses – the glasses of poverty, or environmentalism, or indigeneity or a combination of all three.

These people see things that I don’t.

These people have things to teach me.

One of my best experiences of studying the Bible was doing so with a diverse group of people, including an older Mennonite man who’d worked as a farmer for his entire life.  He was able to pick out and explain all the imagery connected to farming and growing things that I had always just glossed over. He could see things, I couldn’t.

In our gospel reading, Jesus is trying to tell people that the glasses through which they are used to looking at the world, are not the glasses through which he looks at the world.

We sometimes refer to this as Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, noting that Jesus came to turn our norms and expectations upside-down, but I like N.T. Wright’s insistence that Jesus’ way of seeing is in fact right side up, and it is ours that is up side down.

For example, we tend to see scarcity everywhere we look, whereas Jesus sees abundance.

I think it’s a good idea to regularly view the things we think of as “normal” with suspicion, because if we don’t, it’s likely we’ll live into upside-down thinking. The very kind of thinking Jesus came to challenge and to put right-side up.

Today’s gospel reading opens by telling us that Jesus is with a “great multitude of people” who come from a wide range of places.  Some we might recognize like Judea and Jerusalem, and some which might not, like the pagan seaports of Tyre and Sidon.

These people have come from a wide range of places to this “level place” to listen to Jesus and to be healed of their diseases and unclean spirits. (18-19) And they’re not waiting patiently in a line to be healed either, Luke tells us that “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out of him and healed all of them.” (19)

I do not envy Jesus at this moment.  This is an entirely unappealing scenario to me – to be in the middle of a crowd where everyone is jostling and trying to touch me.

No thank you.

And when does this crowding and touching stop? It’s not clear.  Are people crowding in and jostling each other for a chance to touch Jesus the entire time he is speaking?

Because of my particular set of glasses, I have always imagined that when Jesus was giving this famous speech, when Jesus was listing the people who are blessed, that it looked a little bit well, it looked a little bit like what is happening right now in church.

I imagined that Jesus was standing at the front of the crowd looking at them because that is the position I expect a teacher to be in.  I also assumed that there was a reasonable amount of personal space between him and the people, and they were calmly listening to him as he spoke.

But that might not be what was happening at all. It’s entirely possible that the entire time Jesus is trying to talk with his disciples about who is blessed, people are pushing into him, jostling each other, talking, making noise, and totally ignoring what he is saying because all they really want is to touch him and be healed.

It might very well be a grittier, more chaotic scene than the one I have always imagined.

And in case it’s not perfectly obvious, it can sometimes be difficult enough for me to get coherent thoughts out when we do have this sort of structure, when I stand here and you sit quietly there, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to continue to preach this sermon if you all decided to start rushing the front and touching me.

And let’s all agree to never find out.

And so as the crowd is pushing and reaching out to touch Jesus and be healed, what is Jesus trying to tell his disciples?

He’s telling them the same thing that Mary sang about in the Magnificat – the poor will inherit the kingdom, the hungry will be satisfied, those who are weeping will laugh.

God’s way is not our way. If we want to see the world the way God sees it, we need a new pair of glasses.

Our way of thinking is upside-down; God wants us to put it right.

This winter, on Thursday nights, I’m taking a course on Canadian history from an indigenous perspective. It’s part of the Anglican Church’s commitment to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

And if ever there was an experience that can emphasize that the glasses through which you see the world dramatically influence your perspective, comparing the way I was taught Canadian history in high school to how I’m learning it now is a pretty good one.

Because the differences are stunning.

For one thing, I honestly believed when I was studying history in high school that almost all of the indigenous people in Canada died not long after they first made contact with European explorers and the few that may have survived peacefully assimilated into Canadian society.

Now I know that around the time that European settlers were first coming to Canada, the Christian church was enmeshed in some pretty upside-down thinking. They’d forgotten Jesus’ message in tonight’s gospel reading and replaced it with a series of upside-down messages that said:

“Blessed is European culture, blessed are our values, blessed are our methods of governance and ways of organizing society, blessed is our white skin, for God is on our side.

And woe to anyone who looks, or thinks, or acts differently than us.

And if when exploring the world we find land, we can take it, for God wants us to and the Pope has assured us of this through the Doctrine of Discovery.

And if when exploring we find land and it has people on it, but the people do not look and act like us or use the land in the ways that we use land, then we can still take it. Because God wants people to look and act like us, and anyone who does not use the land in the ways that we use land is just wasting it anyway.”

And the people who thought and acted in these ways didn’t realize that they were mixing up the glasses of colonialism with the glasses of Christ’s teachings and not only did this cause tremendous damage, it continues to do so, and it will take a long time and a lot of effort to begin to heal these distorted ways of thinking and damaged relationships.

When Kyle Mason spoke at our last Idea Exchange event – which was recorded and is available as a podcast – he spoke about treaties and territorial acknowledgements and how something as simple as acknowledging that treaties were once signed between diverse peoples detailing how this land was to be used, how just acknowledging those treaties, can help us all to begin to see things in a different way.  It can help us to begin to see through the glasses of reconciliation. It’s a small but powerful thing.

There is so much more that can be done, but each and everything we do matters and can make a difference.

Now, here’s another thing my worldview may be obscuring in this gospel passage.  After sitting with it all week and thinking about what to say to you, I took off my interpretive glasses, cleaned them, and looked again. I looked at the text and I looked at all the words I’d already written and I realized I was still missing something.

Earlier I told you that I’d made an assumption about where Jesus was standing and the distance between him and the rest of the people, assuming it was similar to the way we’re situated right now and I told you that wasn’t what the text actually says.

But even after having written that, I still looked at what Luke says Jesus said, and I assumed a sermon – the kind of sermon where people are placed into various categories and some are good and some are bad, and everyone generally just needs to try a little bit harder.

But now I’m not so sure that that’s what was actually happening.  What if instead of giving a speech, Jesus is looking at the people who are clamoring for his attention, and he is simply blessing them?

What if as they are reaching out to touch him for healing, he is reaching back to offer a blessing?  What is when he says, “Blessed are you who are poor, he isn’t thinking about an abstract group of people who will receive a blessing in the future, but he is looking at people who are actually poor and is actively blessing them right then and there?

And what if the same is true of that list of woes?  What if while he is blessing the people who are desperately trying to get close enough to touch him, he sees other people who are stading a little bit further off. People who think they have it all together. Who think their riches or their happiness or their full bellies are things they have earned and deserve and will last forever. People who think they are independent and don’t need anyone, including God.    What if Jesus see those people and wants to warn them that they are deceiving themselves?

What if blessing really looks like the realization that we need God, and woe looks like fooling ourselves into thinking we are God?

Jesus is doing a lot of things in this gospel reading and we certainly can’t cover them all tonight, but one thing he is doing is warning us about our capacity to deceive ourselves. When the church is more reflective of the list of woes than the list of blessings, then we are surely missing the point.

For the many places we have missed the point in the past, we need to repent and seek forgiveness, for all the ways we have the capacity to mess up again in the future, we need to do our best to see not as the world sees, but as Jesus sees, because that is the only way we will every turn our upside-down thinking and our upside-down world, right-side up again.

But we never have to do anything without first asking for and receiving Christ’s blessing.  A blessing that is always freely and willingly given. We just have to ask.


Tasting Notes: A Sermon for Sunday January 21, 2019

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday January 21, 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.

Growing up we didn’t have wine in our house. We didn’t have it in church either – for communion, we’d pass around trays of tiny shot glasses of grape juice instead.

I had a vague awareness from books and movies that wine was more of a category than a single product. It could be red or white, cheap or expensive. It could have “rich tannins” or “hints of oak.”

When I first started drinking wine, I thought it pretty much all tasted disgusting.

And then one day, some friends took me to a wine tasting and I was able to spend an evening going around with a trained sommelier who tried to teach me about wine.  She’d patiently say, “Now this one, this one is lovely with notes of cherries and cinnamon. Swirl your glass and smell. Can you smell the cherries? The cinnamon?”


“How about this one, it’s more floral. Can you smell the difference? Can you taste it?”


Slowly, however, I began to pick up on a few things. I began to be able to notice that one wine smelled different than another, but I definitely couldn’t accurately identify those differences. And I still can’t.

Tonight’s gospel is about transformation. It’s a story about water that becomes wine, and exceptionally good wine at that. It’s a story about people who are slowly beginning to understand who Jesus is.   They are beginning to realize that there is “something different about that kid from Nazareth,” even if they can’t identify exactly what that difference is.

It’s also the story of a mother and her son. Mary has been carefully watching and interacting with her son Jesus throughout his entire life and she’s able to pick up on all the subtle nuances of who he is and who he is becoming. She can detect the “strong notes of divinity” in him.

John’s gospel is full of “tasting notes” meant to help us identify Jesus’ character. John calls these notes “signs,” and today’s gospel reading is the first of seven signs that he writes about. Rather than simply providing us with a list of Jesus’ character traits, he gives us a series of stories that show, rather than tell, us exactly who Jesus is. Each sign helps us “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

The reading begins, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…”

In the first chapter of John, we read about a series of events that all begin with the phrase “the next day.” John is telling the people about Jesus and then “the next day,” he sees Jesus, and then “the next day” several of John’s followers decide to follow Jesus, and then “the next day” they go to Galilee and then, in the second chapter, instead of continuing with this particular grammatical construction, John switches to say, “on the third day.” [1]

John will use this phrase again towards the end of the gospel and I think he is purposely making a connection between this sign and Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day.”

This story has “subtle hints of Easter.”

The wedding doesn’t take place in Jesus’ hometown, it takes place in Cana. Cana is not in Judea, it’s in Galilee, and Galilee was known for it’s “thieves, rebels, and Gentiles.”[2]

The location of the wedding highlights that Jesus did not come to build walls or to shore up boundaries between countries, between religions, or between ethnic groups. He came to show that those kinds of boundaries are not relevant in God’s kingdom.

A wedding was an important community event, a celebration that likely involved everyone in the village and at least some people from neighbouring villages as well – Mary, her son, and his friends have all been invited for example.

Running out of wine at a wedding wasn’t just an unfortunate mistake. It was disgraceful: it could easily be seen as a bad omen about the future of the marriage they were all gathered to celebrate.

But even though running out of wine at a wedding was a serious problem, it still seems like an odd thing for Jesus Christ, the savior of the entire world, to concern himself with.  Surely wine at a local wedding is a job for middle management.

But he does choose to become involved, and that choice points to several other things about his character.

Firstly, Jesus is a man who listens to women. This may be the first, but it won’t be the last time a woman will change Jesus’ mind in the gospels.

I’ve been thinking about Mary all week as I have been preparing this sermon. If anyone ever tells you that the Bible isn’t funny, just show them this exchange between Jesus and his mother, because it’s hilarious.

Mary, noticing that the hosts have run out of wine, points out the situation to Jesus whose reply is basically, “How is that my problem? They should have hired a better catering company,” and Mary doesn’t even dignify his comment with a response. She just turns to the servants, instructs them to do whatever Jesus tell them to do and leaves, knowing full well that her kid is going to take care of the situation whether he wants to or not.

I love the trust and confidence that she displays in this interaction. She doesn’t need to debate or argue or plead. She just states the need and trusts that Jesus will take care of it.

She has been watching Jesus carefully for his entire life and she knows who he is and that knowing, that deep knowing, has resulted in a deep sense of safety and trust.

It’s something I admire, even if I can’t always manage to emulate it.

Jesus’s choice to get involved in the menu at a wedding is also a sign that his compassionate nature will regularly lead him to engage with people in need in surprising ways.

Not unlike a fine wine that, after you’ve swirled it around in your glass a few times begins to open up and reveal complex flavours you weren’t expecting.

And how does Jesus re-stock the wine supplies for this wedding? Does he create new wine jugs out of thin air?


We know the people have consumed all the available wine, does Jesus have the servants collect those empty jugs so he can re-fill them?


He doesn’t use vessels meant for wine at all, instead he chooses water jugs used for Jewish purification rites.   Here is another complex flavour in John’s account. NT Wright points out that Jesus is doing some new “within the old Jewish system, bringing purification to Israel and the world in a whole new way.” (Commentary on John, 22)

Six water jugs, each meant to hold 20-30 gallons of water filled to the brim with the best wine. Jesus’ actions are also characterized by abundance. He doesn’t create a few bottles of wine and tell the servants to make do, he creates more than enough and of the finest quality.

Jesus’ first miracle affects a large number of people, but is only noticed by a small handful. We’re not told about the panicked bride and groom tearfully yelling at their parents because not only has their poor planning ruined their wedding, it’s a bad omen over their entire marriage. We’re not given scenes of parents who are shocked and perhaps a little disgusted by guests who are guzzling wine so quickly they couldn’t possibly have predicted how much to order. We not given a scene later in the story where any of the guests realize just how good and plentiful the wine at this wedding has become.

Mary is the only person we know for sure even noticed that the wine was running out. The only recorded reaction we have about the replacement wine comes from a servant, the steward, and even he has no idea where the wine came from because none of the servants tell him. Throughout the gospels, people who would typically be the least important are the ones who consistently possess the insider knowledge of what Jesus is capable of.

This is not a flashy show of Jesus’ power performed to a large crowd, even though a large crowd was readily available. It’s a quiet miracle. Performed by servants in a back room.

I’ve said this before, but one thing I find so interesting about biblical stories, is that so much of our interpretation of a story depends on the tone of voice we choose to ascribe to individual characters. And that tone is almost always someone we have to choose to add, it’s usually not written into the text.

I’ve heard this story my entire life and always thought that when the steward says to the groom “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,” that he is paying the groom a compliment. (11)

But it was recently pointed out to me that there is no reason to assume it’s a compliment at all. In fact, it equally likely, more likely even, that the steward is throwing some “serious shade.”[3]

People who have consumed a lot of wine don’t have the most sophisticated palates. They can’t appreciate good wine so it’s silly to serve it to them. It makes every kind of sense to serve the best wine first and move to the inferior quality product when not only are people less likely to care, there are less likely to notice.

Isn’t it a waste to give such high quality wine to people who can’t even appreciate it?

But Jesus doesn’t think like the steward, or like me for that matter. Jesus always gives us the best, not because we are worthy but in the midst of our unworthiness.

Jesus always gives us the best even when he knows we won’t be able to fully appreciate it.

God feeds us and satisfies our thirst even when we can’t fully appreciate the quality of the wine. God doesn’t wait for us to become worthy because we never will be. We’re all unworthy.

And God loves us anyway.

Unfortunately the church has a pretty terrible track record of thinking that God is more like the steward than like Jesus.

We have a vast storehouse of great wine but oftentimes, we act like all we have are empty jars or the cheapest wine.

Many of us saw a horrific example of this yesterday in video footage that exploded across social media of students from a Catholic high school who were shockingly disrespectful to an indigenous elder in Washington DC.   Young people who somehow got the message that on a field trip with their Christian school, it was a good idea to spend their time engaging in the sort of ugly behavior that builds up walls and creates divisions between people.

Their actions leave a bitter, acidic taste in my mouth. They don’t taste anything like Jesus.

That wise elder responded with a quiet dignity I can only hope I will someday have the grace and maturity to emulate. In his actions, we can taste the finest wine.

Those kids behaved in ways that make me so very sad, and angry, and in that rush of emotions I have the temptation to build my own new set of walls, to say, ‘Those kids are not welcome at Christ’s table.”

But those kids don’t need to be excluded from Christ’s table and I don’t get to make that decision. They need someone to show them that the swill they have been consuming is indeed garbage and that, in Christ Jesus, we have a story and a way of living that tastes so much better.

All are welcomed without exception at Christ’s table because it is God’s table and not our own. The table has been set with an abundant feast of the highest quality. We are all welcome at this table, no matter what we have done, no matter how unworthy we feel.

At the table we are offered a taste of what God is like.

So come, taste and see. The Lord is good.


[1] Which means this is actually a series of 4 days, 3 that Jesus was present for.

[2] Roy Harrisville

[3] Thanks to Reagan Humber at HFASS for the image of the steward with attitude.

Ponder This: A Sermon For Sunday December 16, 2018

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday December 16, 2018.  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.

Sometimes, when I look at the list of readings for the coming week, I know what to expect before I even look up the verse. John 3:16? I have that one memorized.  1 Corinthians 13? The love chapter. One of the most popular texts to read at a wedding. Got it. And even if I don’t know the exact verse, I usually have a general sense of the book.

But Zephaniah?  I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, having completed at least a few of the read through the Bible in a year programs I attempted as a kid, but when I saw it listed for this Sunday, I didn’t know what to expect.

I knew Zephaniah was a prophet and so I assumed tonight’s reading would be something challenging and apocalyptic. Something that would be difficult to preach without wagging my finger, but, as it turns out, we’re at the point in Advent where the readings begin to turn towards more positive themes. Jamie got the tough ones over the past few weeks when I was away. He got the readings that remind us that “I’m not OK and you’re not OK.”

Tonight is the third Sunday in Advent, sometimes called Gaudete, or pink, or joy Sunday.  Things are beginning to shift, to soften as we get closer to Christmas.

The third Sunday in Advent has a different tone, but not a different message.  We are not OK. The world is still a complete mess. But even though we have failed God, God will not fail us and today’s readings remind us of that.

Zephaniah is a short book, only 3 chapters long, tucked near the very end of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The first two chapters follow a pretty standard pattern in prophetic writing. The “day of the Lord” is coming, get ready!

In this case, the people of Judah have strayed from the path and are following false gods.   They smugly believe that “the day of the Lord” is the day that they will finally be given power and control. But they are wrong and Zephaniah is here to set the record straight.  When “the day of the Lord” comes, they too will be judged, and found wanting.

This message has been fleshed out in the earlier chapters, but tonight’s reading is from the end of the book and the prophet has shifted to the good news portion of the story. Having firmly established that judgment is deserved, Zephaniah begins to describe a joy-filled future:

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you… the Lord is in your midst, you shall fear disaster no more.

The prophet gives reason upon reason to be joyful, to sing, and to shout.

Given that I usually consider Advent to be one of the quietest seasons of the Christian year, this is a pretty loud reading. It’s more “Joy to the World” than “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

But Zephaniah provides ample reasons for this loud celebration.  The Lord is here. There is no longer any need to fear judgment, or disaster, or oppressors or anything else because God has taken care of everything.

It’s a time of celebration.

It’s a time of celebration but not just for the people.  God will also celebrate. When the day of the Lord comes, God and God’s people will celebrate together. Singing and shouting as loudly as they can.

Stories of people singing loud songs of praise to God make a lot of sense to me. I have, on more than one occasion felt a sense of joy well up in me that was so strong I couldn’t help but burst into song.  As someone who has gone to church her entire life, I’ve logged a lot of hours singing songs of praise to God with other people as well.

But the reverse? The idea that God would so delight in me, in us, that God would burst into song? Well, that’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.

But that’s what Zephaniah describes.  The prophet tells us that God is here, that God is rejoicing over the people with gladness, renewing them in love, and exulting over them with loud singing.  (3.17) God sings. God shouts. God rejoices.

And the people cannot help but join in and sing along.  What other response can you have when you realize just how much God loves you?  Just how much God delights in you?

It’s a common biblical metaphor to describe the relationship between God and God’s people as a love affair, as a marriage.

Can you imagine a marriage where only one partner does all the work? Well, you probably can, but then you’re not picturing a healthy marriage.  Ideally a marriage is meant to be a partnership, a relationship based on mutuality, where each person loves and care for the other.

Zephaniah is describing a time when the relationship between God and God’s people will be restored.  A time when the love between God and God’s people will be renewed.

It is so easy to think of our relationship with God as a one-way street and focus only on our role – we are to love God and sing praises.  We so easily forget that God delights in us too. But God does. God loves us so much that God can’t help but sing about it.

Another key theme that runs throughout the Bible is that God is thrilled whenever we choose to turn towards God.  God loves and delights in us.

Zephaniah describes God bursting into joyous song. In our gospel reading, Gabriel describes Mary as “favoured.” Later in the gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about angels throwing a party every time a sinner repents. (Luke 15:10)

But Zephaniah goes further still.  God will not be satisfied to celebrate with the people who turn and follow. God’s love will extend even further, to the margins of society to welcome everyone to the party.

In language similar to other prophets like Micah, Zephaniah shows God, the good, good shepherd welcoming outcasts and “the lame” – those who have been marginalized because of a physical disability.  Those who have felt invisible will be made visible – they will be “renown in all the earth,” and they will be “praised among all the people of the earth.” (3:19-20) All will be welcomed, all will be seen, all will be loved and belong.

But Zephaniah is a prophet, painting a picture of the future.  The celebration will come, but not yet.

Fast forward to our gospel reading, and we see another step in God’s plan to redeem humanity: God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary with a message that will interrupt and forever change the plans she has for her life.

Gabriel begins as he always begins, as God always begins -since this is really God’s message, not Gabriel’s – with the affirmation that all that God has created is good.“Greetings, favoured one!” Gabriel proclaims to Mary. “The Lord is with you!” Before she hears anything else, God wants Mary to hear this: She is favoured and God is with her.

Mary may wonder, “Who am I?” but God’s answer is clear, “You are my favoured one, beloved and beautiful to me.”

It is unlikely that Mary would have ever had an opportunity to develop a distinctive identity apart from the one given to her by God. She is too young to have had time to achieve much on which to base her identity. She is too poor to purchase her place in society.

Add to this the fact that she is female, which means that even if she did have accomplishments or social stature to her credit, they likely would have gone unrecognized because of her gender.

All of this makes Mary a most unlikely candidate for helping God save the world, which may just be why God chooses her. Nothing about Mary suggests that she can be who she is apart from God’s favour.

So Gabriel begins by affirming God’s love for Mary and continues, as angels speaking to human beings tend to do, by telling her there is no need to fear:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus… [and then] Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (30-35)

One thing that amazes me about biblical stories like this is that, even after hearing them year in and year out for my entire life, it seems that every year I learn some new detail that opens up the story for me in a new way.  Last year you may have heard me go on, and on, about the shepherds. You can ask me about that later if you didn’t. I’m still pretty excited about it.

This year, I learned about an unusual piece of medieval theology from a fantastic book called, “A Word to Live By” by Lauren Winner.

Presumably uncomfortable with the physical details of this miraculous conception story, the medieval church imagined that Jesus was conceived through Mary’s ear.  Don’t think too deeply or too literally about that, it’s just plain weird, but that’s what they taught.

Now that would perhaps have stayed as an odd piece of church trivia to bring out at parties, if it weren’t for the way Lauren continues to unpack this idea:

“To conceive means to ‘become pregnant with a child’ and it also means ‘to form an intention in the mind or heart.’ (‘Why hast though conceived this thing in thine heart?’ Peter asks the duplicitous Ananais in Acts 5:4, KJV)” Mary conceived a child through her ear, said the medievals; when I – Lauren – listen to the Scriptures in church, I might find the sounded word plants an intention in my heart. I am, in a very small way, imitating Mary, trying to find an openness to whatever God wants to root and gestate in me.” (45)

Mary is someone who listens carefully and thinks deeply about what she has heard. The word “ponder,” which means to weigh or consider the value of, is used to describe her actions more than once in scripture.  Earlier in our gospel reading it says she “pondered” Gabriel’s words of greeting. (29) Later in the story, after a visit from the shepherds in Bethlehem, we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (2:19)

She’s a thinker.  She knows the importance of taking time to quietly reflect on her experiences, to ponder them.  To weigh and consider their value before deciding what to do.

Gabriel tells Mary of God’s plan and as she listens, something is planted in her heart.

The text doesn’t say how long it took Mary to respond to Gabriel’s message – seconds, minutes, hours, days. It just tells us that when she did respond she said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

This to me, is the quiet work of Advent.  What happens when I slow down long enough to listen to what God is trying to say to me? What happens when I am quiet long enough to absorb and reflect on what I have heard? To weigh its value. What will grow in this waiting that could never take root if I continue to rush?

What new and precious hope will be born?

In Zephaniah, the prophet paints a joy filled picture of what will happen if the people heed the warnings and turn to God.  But the book ends before we find out what happens. Do they listen and allow what they have heard to take root in their lives? We’re not told.

In Mary’s case we do know.  She will take in Gabriel’s news, ponder it in her heart, and later burst into a song so beautiful that many of us still sing it today.

But that’s a story for another time.


On Kings and Kids: A Sermon for Sunday November 25, 2018

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday November 25, 2018.  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.

Tonight is the final Sunday in the liturgical year, the last Sunday before Advent, commonly called Christ the King Sunday.  It is a Sunday to focus on Christ’s power and authority before we shift to the themes of Advent and begin to wait for the Christ who comes as a child in a manger.

Not every denomination celebrates Christ the King Sunday.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden used to call this Sunday the Sunday of Doom, which is pretty intense.  Now they call it Return of Christ Sunday, which I think was a pretty wise decision.

In some Anglican Churches, today is also referred to as “Stir Up Sunday,” in part because the collect that used to be said at the beginning of the service began, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” but also because if you want to have your fancy Christmas pudding ready by December 25th, you need to stir it up today.

But here, tonight, we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday, so it’s fitting that our reading from the Psalms begins, “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.”

The Lord is king, Christ is king. What does that mean to you? When you hear the word “king,” what images come to mind?

Personally, the images that come to my mind, aren’t overly helpful.

Queen Elizabeth is my clearest association with the idea of a ruling monarch. I couldn’t come up with the name of a modern day king without the help of Google. It turns some countries still do have kings, but not ones I’m overly familiar with.

As a kid, I understood that kings were boys and I wasn’t a boy so they were never the character I was overly interested in paying attention to in books or films. But it was more than a gender issue, because almost all of the kings I can think of from films and literature are awful human beings who use their power only for personal gain, do not listen to or care for the people in their realms, and quite often behave like petulant children throwing temper tantrum after temper tantrum.   Not much to inspire in that.

It makes it difficult for me to get excited about celebrating Jesus Christ as a King.  Christ the mother hen Sunday I could get behind. Christ the social justice warrior. Christ the destroyer of hierarchy. Christ the host of great feasts.  All of these images are infinitely more exciting to me than Christ the king.

But today the lectionary says we need to talk about Christ the King.  Which is probably one of the best reasons to use a lectionary. It forces us to talk about things we would rather ignore and means that as a preacher, I can’t just cherry pick and preach only on the passages of scripture I like.

In tonight’s gospel reading, Pilate asks Jesus directly if he is a king and Jesus gives characteristically vague answers.  He never explicitly says, “I am a king,” but, in this exchange with Pilate, Jesus does describe his kingdom, saying, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (v.36)

“By explaining that his rule or kingdom is not of this world, Jesus means that its origin, values, and methods are from God rather than the world (v.36), evidenced by the refusal of the use of force and violence to defend himself.” (Collegeville Commentary 358)

Jesus may be a king, but he is not a king like any king we have ever known and so in order to understand what kind of a king he is, we have to set aside everything we think we know about kings.

About a month ago, Matthew Shepard’s remains were interred in Washington National Cathedral. The church service was broadcasted via live stream and was something to behold.

Matthew Shepard was a university student who volunteered in his local Episcopal Church. He loved his friends and family, and knew from an early age that he was gay. He died twenty years ago at the age of 21 because some people did not like the way Matthew loved. They drove him to a remote area, tied him to a fence, beat him savagely and left him to die.

His death made national news and inspired an entire generation of people to work to ensure that love is love and that no one would ever again have to feel that their life was in danger because of who God created them to be.

I watched the service at the Cathedral where Matt’s life was celebrated and his ashes were interred and I thought,  “For all the things the church gets so very, very wrong, when we get it right, it is truly beautiful.”

I watched Bishop Gene Robinson gently place the urn containing Matthew’s remains in a place of prominence at the front of the church and carefully, reverently smooth out the veil covering the urn, treating them with a care and a gentleness that Matthew did not receive in life and I thought, “This is what is means to use power and authority for all the right reasons and in all the right ways.”  To show love and care for the one that many despised. To take the one that many wanted to say did not belong, and to say not only that he belongs, but to place him in the seat of honour.

Theologian Gordon Lathrope says, “Draw a line that includes us and excludes many others, and Jesus Christ is always on the other side of the line. At least that is so if we are speaking of the biblical, historic Christ who eats with sinners and outsiders, who is made a curse and sin itself for us, who justifies the ungodly, and who is himself the hole in any system.” (Lathrop, Holy Ground: a Liturgical Cosmology)

Draw a line that includes us and excludes many others, and Jesus Christ is always on the other side of the line.

Jesus is a king whose power and authority is always used to erase the dividing lines we so love to draw.

Standing in a big fancy church, wearing fancy clothing, and treating Matthew’s remains and his memory with such love and respect, Bishop Gene gave me a glimpse of what it might mean in the Psalms when it says that “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength”

It looks a lot like love.

But even before I watched that service, and saw a glimpse of Christ the King in Bishop Gene, I have long considered Matthew Shepard to be a Christ-figure.

There is a song about Matthew on my favourite album by Peter, Paul, and Mary, “In These Times.” We’ll put a link to it on the website this week. (  In the song, Mary sings alone, her warm voice telling the story of Matthew’s last days on earth, and after each verse, Peter and Paul join in on the chorus that opens with the line, “Jesus, is on the wire.”

The album came out in 2004, I have listened to it countless time, and it still gets me every time.

The line works in two ways, first, because I do believe that Jesus was with Matthew that night. But also because Jesus, like Matthew, was killed because people didn’t like the way he loved. They didn’t like the way Jesus threatened the status quo, they didn’t like the kind of king Jesus came to be.

Anytime you see an image of Jesus as King that neatly matches the image you have of an earthly king, something has gotten lost in translation.  You have to look for something different to see the Christ who is king, you have to go to the margins of society, you have to look on the opposite side of any dividing line you are trying to uphold, you have to look on fence in Laramie, you have to look on a cross.

That’s a way of inhabiting kingship that stretches and challenges me to ask, who am I excluding? That’s a way of inhabiting kingship that I can get exited about and celebrate, not just on Christ the King Sunday, but everyday.

But we’re not just here tonight to celebrate Christ the King Sunday, we’re also here to celebrate the baptism of Adalynn Rose Phillips and Danica Si’ipn Phillips and you may think that there is a huge shift to make from the idea of Jesus as a very different kind of king to the baptism of two beautiful little girls, but there really isn’t. Because baptism is also about love and a countercultural narrative that says that God’s way of doing things is different from the world’s way.

Adalynn and Danica are fortunate to have been born into a family that loves them very much – their parents and siblings and extended family love them dearly.

They have two older brothers who are doing a fantastic job of being big brothers. At least when I’m around, Benjamin tends to be the quieter of the two bothers and so tonight I want to share a few things that I’ve learned from Caleb.

Before Adalynn and Danica were born, Caleb came up to me at church and said, “Do you know that we are having two babies? A girl, and a girl.”

And I’ve thought about that many times since then and I think Caleb was saying something very wise. It is really important to remember that while Adalynn and Danica are twins, they are also individuals. They are a girl, and a girl.

It will be so easy to just lump them together as “the twins,” but while that is an important part of their identity, it is not the only thing that will define them.  As they grow older they will have different interests and gifts and passions and we need to watch for and celebrate those things.

And I want to work on seeing them as a girl, and a girl as well, but I’m not quite there yet, I still can’t quite tell them apart, which is why I need to admit that this next story happened when I was holding one of the girls, but I can’t remember if it was Adalynn or Danica.  I’m going to get better at telling them apart, I promise.

On the first Sunday that Adalynn and Danica came to church, I was holding one of them and Caleb wasn’t sure this was a great idea.  He watched me very closely and made sure that I knew that this baby belonged to his family, that she was going to go home with them, that I could NOT take her home with me.

“You could give her back to me right now,” he told me, “I can hold her.”

And Caleb, you were absolutely right once again.  Adalynn and Danica belong to your family, to the Phillip’s family, and tempting as it may be, I can’t take them home with me. They will go home with you, and that’s as it should be.

But tonight, we’re going to publicly celebrate another fact, and that is that while I will never be part of the Phillips family, we are in fact, family.

Tonight through baptism, we are publicly stating that Adalynn and Danica are part of God’s family, just as I am part of God’s family. Just like each person here is part of God’s family.

It still doesn’t mean I get to take your sisters home after church, but it does mean that I have a responsibility to love them and to care for them and play a part in helping them become exactly the people that God created them to be.

I’m supposed to do the same thing for you Caleb, we all are, and you are to do the same for us.  By continuing to be exactly who you are, you are already doing a great job of reminding us of the same things that baptism reminds us of – that God made us, that God loves us, and that we are all part of God’s family. Thank you for that reminder.

And so, now I’ve talked long enough and it’s time for us to welcome Adalynn and Danica into God’s family through baptism.  We’re going to sing shortly, and as we sing, I invite the baptismal party and members of the family to join us at the back of the church. Other friends of Chantelle and David are also invited to gather around the back with us.

Let’s sing.

Crawling Camels and Closed Minds: A Sermon for Sunday October 14, 2018

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday October 14, 2018.  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.

This sermon is influenced by a sermon preached by Reagan Humber, the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.

Today’s gospel passage is often referred to as the story of the rich young ruler. It’s not a title you can easily infer from our reading from Mark, but the story also appears in the gospel of Matthew, where the man is described as young, and in Luke, where he is described as a ruler.

So this man, runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees and says, “Good Teacher, what much I do to inherit eternal life?” (17) He’s basically asking Jesus to lay out a road map for eternal life.

And Jesus’ response has a bit of an edge to it. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (18)

If I was this rich young ruler I’d be instantly confused. I might even mumble an answer like, “Um, because you ARE good or because that’s just a thing we say in this culture as a sign of respect?”

But Jesus doesn’t give him a chance to answer, rather he continues with a short list of commandments. He doesn’t even list them all. And the rich young ruler quickly dismisses the list saying, “Yes, yes, I’m already doing all of that. What else do I need to do?”

Jesus is trying to give this man good news. He is trying to say that this man already knows the way. He doesn’t have to do anything to inherit eternal life, it’s already his.

Jesus is saying, “don’t worry, you’re in good shape,” but the man doesn’t believe him. Surely it’s impossible, he can’t possibly be doing enough already. Surely he needs to do more.

And Jesus, we are told, looks at the man, and loves him. I love these details, Jesus knows and loves this man. He is looking at him, paying attention to him and it is out of that love and that knowing that Jesus speaks the words the man most needs to hear. (21)

Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (21)

Jesus looks at a man who seemingly has it all – he is rich, young, in a position of power, and says, “You lack one thing…” He doesn’t say, “You have too much, get rid of your stuff,” rather he says, “there is something you are missing.” This isn’t about subtraction, it’s about addition.

What does the man lack?

I think, what he lacks is the imagination to believe that another way is possible. The imagination that would lead him to suspect that the way he has been taught to think since birth, might not be the only way to think.

He wants solutions – actions and reasoning that he can understand and if the truth doesn’t fit into that paradigm, he can’t recognize it as truth.

Eternal life is a free gift? There is nothing more I need to do? I’m fine just as I am? It’s unimaginable. It’s impossible. There must be a catch and the rich young ruler wants Jesus to show it to him.

Sometimes we become so locked into our old ways of thinking, that we can’t even imagine a new way is possible. There can be a solution staring us in the face, Jesus can be standing right in front of us telling us that a different, better way is possible, and we won’t be able to see him because we are blinded by our old behaviors and past experiences.

“But throughout the gospel, Jesus lays out that eternal life isn’t built on our effort, on our work, or on our deservedness. The way to eternal life is built upon God’s grace as a gift, which has nothing to do with our own goodness. But the man in the gospel can’t see this because he is blinded by a system of transactional relationships based upon effort and reward.” (RH)

My first spiritual director loved to tell stories and he had some great pithy lines that I will never forget. He once told me the story of a man who was very much like the rich young ruler in our story, and when he described the man he said, “He was one of those guys who spent his whole life earnestly trying to put Jesus out of a job.”

And yes, in case it’s not obvious, he told me this story for a reason. He told me this story because he could see that I was one of those gals who was spending her life earnestly trying to put Jesus out of a job.

And I still am sometimes, but I’m working hard to learn to ask the question, “What is mine to do?” I have a role to play to be sure, but so does Jesus. I need to do my work, and trust that Jesus will do his.

But the rich young ruler can’t imagine a life like that, at least not in the portion of his life story recorded in Mark. He is so stuck in his old way of thinking that Jesus words are shocking to him and Mark tells us that he goes away grieving. (22)

And grief is a deep, and active, and painful emotion. But grief can also be healing. It’s possible, that this man will, after that grief subsides, be willing to have his imagination expanded by Jesus’ words and do exactly what Jesus counsels him to do.

But we don’t get to hear the rest of his story and, by walking away when he does, this young man misses out on the next few things that Jesus says.

After the young man leaves, Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom. (25)

People have been trying to figure out what Jesus meant by this since the moment he said it. A fairly well known interpretation goes something like this: In Jesus’ time there was a gate in Jerusalem called the “Eye of the Needle.” And for whatever reason, the people who built this gate built it in such a way that it was too small for a camel to walk through. And, for whatever reason, they didn’t also build a second camel accessible gate.

In order for a camel to go through this gate, you would have to remove all the cargo the camel was carrying and then the camel would have to sink down to the ground and crawl through the gate.

But here’s the thing. “There is no evidence anywhere in the Mideast” that such a gate existed.” (Collegeville Commentary, 120) None. There is no evidence to suggest that a gate called the Eye of the Needle ever existed.

Well, you might say, we haven’t found any evidence that this gate existed, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist in Jesus’ time. Fair enough, except, that we still have camels, and camels can’t crawl.

Jesus is not making a reference to a literal place, he is using a form of hyperbole that is a natural part of Semitic speech.

But why then, did the understanding that there was a literal gate with literal crawling camels become so popular?

I suspect it’s because it is a more comfortable interpretation than to believe that it is utterly impossible for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.

On one hand, people, especially wealthy people, don’t want to believe that it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven. This crawling camel interpretation provides them with a convenient workaround. It allows them to believe that what Jesus is saying is that it may be hard for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom, but it’s not impossible.

But it’s not only rich people, a category as North Americans we basically all fall into by the way, it’s not only rich people like us who have a hard time with this story.

The church has always had a really hard time hearing that eternal life is a gift. This literal gate/literal camel interpretation is a way of trying to erase God’s grace from the story. And while this story is our focus today, it’s certainly not the only time we have been tempted to erase grace from God’s story.

We reject grace, because we prefer a story that says if we work hard enough we can earn salvation. If we, like that mythical camel, remove all of our baggage, humble ourselves, drop down to our knees and crawl, then we can enter God’s kingdom. If we do this slow, hard, painstaking work, then we will be allowed to enter heaven on our own steam. That’s a story that most of us can wrap our minds around. That’s a story we can be comfortable with.

That’s a story that completely eliminates God’s grace.

We’re uncomfortable with any idea that suggests that we are not in control of our own destinies. We are uncomfortable with any idea that challenges the negative transactional tape in our heads that says we have to do something in order to get something.

We are uncomfortable with the Jesus who says not, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I’ll run you through an intensive salvation boot camp,” but rather says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

The rich young ruler hears Jesus’ command to sell all he has and come follow Christ and he walks away grieving. And, as I said earlier, by leaving when he does, the young man missed the good new that Jesus shares with the disciples. He misses hearing Jesus say that, “It is impossible for a person, by the sheer force of their own will, to enter God’s kingdom, but nothing is ever impossible for God.”

Eternal life is God’s job, not ours. There are so many things that are impossible for us to do on our own, but nothing is ever impossible for God.

Stuck in his old ways of thinking, the rich young man leaves before hearing this good news. Where do you as an individual get stuck? Where do we as a community get stuck? Where do we all need to stretch our imaginations?

This past week, Jamie, Danielle and I went to Collegeville for the first session of the Communities of Calling initiative that our church will be a part of for the next 5 years. Jamie and I also returned home and dove straight into 3 days of diocesan synod so we haven’t really have time to unpack all that we heard and experienced in Collegeville just yet, but you will continue to hear more about the project as it unfolds.

What I can tell you today is that a major component of this project is an invitation for us, for all of us, to expand our imaginations and think creatively about vocation, faith, and what it means to be a church.

I’m excited for all of us to have the opportunity to discover the places where we may have fallen into crawling camel thinking and to begin to live into grace-filled God like thinking instead. I’m excited for what will happen when we allow ourselves to be stretched and challenged and inspired by the other participants in this project and by each other.

And, although I can’t imagine what all will happen as a result of this project, I do know about some of the beautiful things we have been able to do as a community when we were bold enough to stretch our imaginations. And those stories give me to confidence to risk stretching my imagination again.

For example, as a small church with a tight budget, it would be easy for us to believe that we cannot afford to be generous. Prudent even. It’s unlikely that anyone would criticize us for saying that we need every single penny that arrives in those offering baskets at the back of the church each Sunday just to keep our basic ministries running. Who would disagree with that?

Not me, that’s for sure.

And yet, in the past 11 years that I have been a part of this community I have watched people with bigger imaginations than mine utterly reject the sort of scarcity mentality that I so often cling to and say, “God is a God of abundance and God calls us to live lives of extravagant generosity.” These people in our community called us to imagine a more generous way of being church. They said, do we really believe that we can do more with 100% of our budget than God can do with 90%? And it captured our imaginations and over the years we gradually grew our budget for missions until it was 10% of our overall budget.

And that’s why, in November, our Mission Fund committee will have the extreme privilege to review your submissions and disburse those funds to people who are doing good work outside the walls of this church.

I stand here before you today saying that this is an amazing and beautiful thing that we do together that several years ago I was utterly convinced was impossible. If it had been up to me, I, like the rich young ruler, would have walked away from this idea with sadness in my heart, and a conviction that such a thing was simply impossible.

But nothing is impossible with God.

At the end of our service, we regularly say a prayer that includes the beautiful lines, “Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine….”

What could happen if we really leaned into that truth? What could happen if we all begin to both ask and imagine?

I can’t imagine all the possibilities, but I do know that nothing, nothing, is impossible with God.

Thanks be to God.