Resolve Face: A Sermon for Sunday June 26, 2022

The following sermon was preached on June 26, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking 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 or redeemer. Amen.

The memories feature on Facebook is a funny thing. Sometimes a photo or happy memory from a few years ago pops up and you feel happy, sometimes whatever appears can feel more like a punch in the stomach, a photo of a beloved person who died for example.

In May and June, Facebook likes to remind me that in 2015 I was in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

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

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

For example, scholars note that Luke frames his entire gospel narrative in the context of a pilgrimage. NT Wright observes that, “Travelling in obedience to God’s call is one of Luke’s central pictures for what it means to be a Christian. Following Jesus is what it’s all about.” (NT 117-118)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty harsh don’t you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you be gentle with yourself as you reflect, curious about what you discover, and inspired to say “yes”  and “no” fully and without conditions.

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


A Sermon for an Ordination on Corpus Christi: June 15, 2022

The following sermon was preached at St John's Cathedral at a service where four people were ordained as deacons and one as a priest.  You can also view a recording of the service here. Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash 


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

Tonight we are celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi and the ordinations of five lovely people.

Corpus Christi is a feast that invites us to celebrate the gift we received from Jesus on the night of his arrest and betrayal: the eucharist, the bread and wine that are his body and blood.

In our reading from First Corinthians, Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

These are some of the most repeated phrases in our liturgies. Since Jesus first spoke them to his followers, faithful people have been repeating these words and eating and remembering together.

Even in the pandemic when gathering together at tables was not possible, we found ways to remember. We learned, and are continuing to learn, just how important this eating and this remembering are.

It feels so good to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi with you all today – both those gathered in person and those participating online. We are all together the body of Christ.

One of the things that I love about being an Anglican is that we acknowledge that when we gather together at Christ’s table something happens to the bread and wine.

We acknowledge that something happens, but we don’t get too fussy about the details of what that something is. And if you think something different happens than what I think happens, that’s OK too. We are all still invited to eat together.

The bread and wine are changed.  It’s OK if the details remain a mystery.

Today five people will also be changed, and again, we don’t need to get too fussy about the details. Five people will stand up and say vows, be prayed over and blessed, and they will be changed.

And this is a good thing, worthy of a celebration.

Congratulations to all five of you.

Today is the culmination of years of hard work, of struggle, and, although I don’t know all of the details of all of your stories I suspect that it is also the culmination of years of having to learn, over and over and over again, the art of waiting patiently.

But in as much as today is a day about you and the change that today marks in your life, today is also not about you at all and you are not the only ones who are changed.

Just as I can’t celebrate the eucharist by myself, you cannot exercise the ministry God has called you to alone.  You are part of a family, a community, a body. The body of Christ.

And when you change, the body changes too.

The church, the body of Christ will change today.

And this is a good thing, worthy of celebration.

There are so many good things to celebrate today and we should celebrate them fully. But I also want to acknowledge that today five people are entering into ordained ministry at a particularly challenging time in the life of the church.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over and we have not even begun to fully grapple with the impact of the past few years.  And we probably won’t for quite some time, partly because we are still living in a pandemic, but also because many of us – all of us? – are exhausted.  It’s a lot.

When I see that the Anglican Church is in the news, I hold my breath- Dear God what now?

Because lately, the news hasn’t been about things I can be proud of.

It’s a lot.

When I look at my own yard, I can see the effects of climate change. When I talk to younger people about their futures they often ask, “What future?” or “If I even have a future then...”

It’s a lot.

And when I look at our churches, I see more of them emptying and closing than filling up and expanding.

It’s a lot.

But you know this. You’re not learning all of this for the first time and still you have chosen to commit to life of ordained ministry.

Which means you are weird, weird people indeed.

And I am so grateful for each one of you.

As you move into ordained ministry, if you aren’t already doing these things, I hope you will commit to a deep and rich practice of prayer. I hope you will seek out wise mentors, spiritual directors and therapists to help you walk this journey.

Because pretending you can do this on your own goes against everything Christ was trying to teach us about being his body.

You cannot do this alone, but the good news if you were never meant to do it alone.

It’s also not helpful to pretend you can do this on your own because the church needs to see its leadership modelling healthy behaviours. We need to see leaders who set boundaries, who do not send emails at all hours of the day and night, who take breaks, who have people and things outside of work that bring them joy.

We need our leaders to be human. Fully and completely and utterly human.

There is a deep, deep wisdom in our tradition. There are many wise people who have been walking the path a bit longer than you and it is wise for you to surround yourself with these kinds of people and listen to them.

But know that you are being called to serve a church that looks very different from the churches they have served and you are being called to take the church to places most of them could never have even imagined.

This path is filled with massive challenges, many of which seem insurmountable – aging buildings with far more seats than people, budgets with far more expenses than the offering plate is covering, the effects of the pandemic that is still not over and will continue to impact the church for years and years to come.   Racism, misogyny and homophobia that are still so deeply deeply rooted in the life of this body of Christ.

It's a lot.

And it doesn’t help anyone to pretend that it’s not a lot.  Your work will require you to have one hand firmly on tradition and one on a walking stick that helps you to blaze new trails.

I know it’s a lot and I never want to pretend that it’s not, but I also want to tell you that I believe you are entering into ordained life at one of the most exciting times in the life of the church.

We have been shaken, we have been shattered, and you can help determine if we solidify back into some version of ourselves that is less than who God calls us to be– mired in fear and scarcity and “we’ve never done it that way thinking” OR if we allow sunlight and nourishment to reach into those cracked places so that new things can grow.

New, exciting, Christ filled ways of being the body together.

A few years ago I could never have imagined holding worship services online and now I can’t imagine services without an online component. I have so many ideas and desires and dreams about what we could do with the things we have learned from those experiences that can help us to strengthen and grow this particular expression of the body of Christ we call the Anglican Church of Canada.

When I reflect on the creativity and vulnerability and sheer grit I have seen in my colleagues over the past few years it energizes me. I hope it energizes you too.

And this is good news for Christ’s body here on earth.

A few years ago, I thought being treated poorly because I am a woman was just something I would have to grin and bear forever if I wanted to serve Christ’s body. But now, I’m just not going to take it anymore. I hope you won’t either. And I hope we will all work to create an even bigger table where everyone knows they are not only welcome, they are wanted.

And this is good news for Christ’s body here on earth.

I am also learning to change and repent of the ways I have caused harm to people of colour, my indigenous siblings, my LGBTQ2SIA siblings. I have felt the freedom that comes from apologizing, and the energy and passion that comes from working to also say to them, “Never again. I will do better.”

And this is good news for Christ’s body here on earth.

We are here today because we all, collectively as Christ’s body, have come to discern that God is calling you into ordained ministry.  What a gift, what a thing for us to celebrate.

I cannot wait to get to know you better, to learn about your passions and unique gifts and the ways that you will be unleashed to serve and strengthen the body of Christ in Rupert’s Land.

Because we are all in this together – everyone of us, clergy and lay people together.  Not one of us can do this or should even want to do this work alone.

And that is good, good news, for Christ’s body here on earth.

In the strong name of the holy and undivided trinity.  Amen.

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday: June 12, 2022

The following sermon was preached on June 12, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking 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.

It’s Trinity Sunday. The day when preachers all over the world say an extra prayer that they will somehow manage to avoid saying something either incomprehensible or heretical in their sermon so I thought it would be fitting to begin with a literal prayer of protection from the opening stanzas of a song written by Gayle Salmund and made popular by Steve Bell.

I bind unto myself today
The gift to call on the Trinity
The saving faith where I can say
Come three in one, O one in three

Be above me, as high as the noonday sun
Be below me, the rock I set my feet upon
Be beside me, the wind on my left and right
Be behind me, oh circle me with Your truth and light



“I bind unto myself today the gift to call on the Trinity.”

Father. Son. Holy Spirit.

Creator. Redeemer. Sustainer.

The three in one.

Holy and undivided.

The Trinity.

The first theology course I ever took in university was an upper level course on Trinitarian theology.  Logically (?) I skipped the intro classes. Partway through the term a friend asked me how I was finding the class and I said, “I think I only understand about a third of what we’re discussing, but I have come to the conclusion that the Trinity is really important.”

I still don’t really understand the Trinity, and that’s partly because the Trinity is a mystery.  You’re not supposed to be able to fully understand it, and fortunately, you don’t need to fully understand it to believe in it or appreciate it.

So many things in life come in threes.

There is the classic three point sermon. There were three Bronte Sisters, three Stooges, and three little pigs. Poutine is made up of cheese, gravy, and French Fries.

None of these perfectly describe what we mean when we say we worship one God, who is also three persons.

In contemporary culture, we say that human beings are made up of body, mind, and spirit. But even when we throw those terms around, we often don’t see them as equally important.

I have a friend who refers to her body as a meat sack, another who says that his body is the “container that carries his brain around,” and another who says that their body is “a bunch of goo held together by skin.”

We tend to have complicated relationships with our bodies.  I do. But I also know that God created each one of us with a body, sees those bodies as good, and even willingly took on a human body at one point.

Our passage from Romans begins with the word “Therefore,” which is a clue that in order to understand what comes next, we really should look at what came before. In the section just before our reading, Paul talks about bodies, Abraham’s aging body, and Jesus’s resurrected body.

Paul concludes this discussion by saying at the start of our reading, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1). Which sounds amazing, but then Paul quickly shifts to tell us we will also suffer – it is natural and to be expected – but we can also expect that our suffering will produce good fruit like endurance, character, hope.Which sounds like good news to me, but we need to be really careful how we use passages like this from scripture, because it is so easy to take this good news and turn it into a weapon, into bad news.

If you know someone is suffering, it’s not the time to say, “Hey you’re so lucky to be suffering because it’s going to produce all kinds of good things!”

If you know you someone who is suffering, you need to either do what you can to alleviate that suffering or sit with them in that suffering.  We need to avoid adding to someone’s suffering by claiming it is good for them.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples to expect the coming of the Spirit of truth.  NT Wright tells us that the Spirit’s role is to “prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment all three of which are aspects of the world’s rejection of Jesus…The world judges incorrectly by refusing to recognize Jesus as being sent from the Father and by its inability to penetrate beyond external appearances.”

The Spirit helps us to begin to see as God sees.

One of the key things that the doctrine of the Trinity shows us about how God sees the world, is that God sees everything in the context of relationships. Even God’s relationship to God’s self is relational.  God is a community and not an individual, and God keeps inviting us into that communal experience.  In our increasingly individualistic world, God calls us into community.

Community is difficult, and it’s dangerous.  Community involves putting ourselves into situations where other people may not think or act like we do. It opens us up to vulnerability and to judgment – our own and the judgments of the people we are in community with.

Community can be scary, and it has the potential to make us feel both very comfortable and very uncomfortable.

There is another set of three that I have come to find really helpful. I use them a lot in my retreat and spiritual direction work. I didn’t make this up, but I can’t remember the original source either.

Imagine a series of three concentric circles. In the middle, you have your comfort zone.  For most of my life I’ve been taught that a comfort zone is a bad thing, something I needed to get out of, but the truth is, there is nothing inherently wrong with a comfort zone. It’s, well, comfortable. It makes us feel good and warm and safe.  We all need to spend at least some of our time existing in this sort of space.

The outer most ring is the exact opposite of your comfort zone, it’s your extreme discomfort zone.  In this zone you feel like your life is at risk. You become so focused on staying alive that you don’t have the energy to focus on anything else.

Although the comfort zone and the extreme discomfort zone are opposites, they do have one important thing in common.

You won’t learn or grow in either space.  In one because you are too comfortable to be motivated to change or question anything, and in the other because you are too uncomfortable to be able to change or question anything. That’s what we need the middle circle for.

The middle circle is the “slightly uncomfortable zone.” A space in which you are both not entirely comfortable and not concerned for your personal safety.  Something about the situation is motivating you to change and to question, but you have enough of a sense of safety to actually question and change.

Many of you have been part of this parish for a very long time, and I suspect that in 2019, many of you felt very comfortable here. If asked, many of you would have said that St George’s was definitely in your comfort zone.

But since that time, I know of at least two major things have caused you to shift, at least some of the time, from experiencing St George’s as a comfort zone to a slightly uncomfortable zone.

The first was the pandemic.  By March 2020, it was no longer possible for you to do all of things you normally did, the things that made you so comfortable.  Everything shifted and changed and it was, at bare minimum, pretty uncomfortable.  You weren’t even allowed to come into this building for a long time.

The second big changed occurred when Helen left to become a Bishop. She had been a part of this parish for such a long time and I suspect it felt really comfortable having her here.

But she did leave, and that might have felt… uncomfortable. And I came, and that may have felt uncomfortable as well.  And you know I will be leaving again and someone else will come and maybe that feels uncomfortable too.

Each of you would have had your own reasons for feeling uncomfortable and I can’t read all of your minds but some of you may have been uncomfortable because both the pandemic and the news that Helen was leaving meant that things would change, and change in uncomfortable.

Some of you might have felt uncomfortable when you learned that Helen was leaving because you have conflicting feelings about the situation. You were happy for her, but sad for you, sad for the parish.

Changes that make us uncomfortable, like a pandemic or saying goodbye to a priest and a friend can be really hard, and I don’t want to pretend that’s not true.

They can be so, so hard.

But, because they also move you from your comfort zone to your uncomfortable zone, they can also be really exciting, because this is sweet spot where there is tremendous opportunity to stretch and grow.  This is where there is tremendous opportunity to learn new things, to try new things, and to dream new beautiful dreams.

It can be hard, but it can also be really exciting.

It’s important to acknowledge the discomfort, the pain, and the grief that can come with an uncomfortable change.  You don’t have to pretend you are doing better than you are.

It’s also really important to pay attention to the things the change is teaching you – what new questions, new ideas, new hopes and dreams are rising up in you as you navigate through this time of transition?

And where is God in all of that? Because the God who is relationship and who desires relationship with each one of us if surely right in the middle of all of this.

God who desires good things for you and for this parish is here and is a part of all that is happening, evening the parts that currently feel uncomfortable.

Let’s circle back to our passage from Romans for a moment. Paul says that we can hope and “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (5)

Which is such good news.

In the strong name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.



Inside Out: A Sermon for Sunday June 5, 2022

The following sermon was preached on June 5, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash


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.

There a number of funny things that happen to you when you become a pastor. First of all, you suddenly become the only person in any room who can pray out loud. Even when your pretty much a saint who has been praying her whole life grandmother is in the room.  Even then, you’ll be the one asked to say the blessing over dinner.

People also often think they have to apologize if they swear around you.

Even if you know you swear WAY more than they do.

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost was not originally a Christian holiday.  It’s a Jewish One. Pentecost is an agricultural festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was the day when people offered the first of their crops to God, partly as an expression of gratitude, and partly as a hope that the rest of the crops will grow well so they could feed their family for the rest of the year.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus had left his people in a dramatic way twice in the past little while. The first when he died and then rose again, and then, even more recently when he ascended to heaven.  Will he come back again in a few days? What is going to happen now?  No one knows and so they have all gathered together.

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

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

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

But they are in for a surprise.

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

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

It made no sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, but the church that was birthed on this day had a particular character of openness and inclusion. Sadly the church has not always lived up to those values.

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

Which is a fantastic detail if you ask me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

















[1] Thanks for Nadia Bolz Weber for this term.

Who's In and Who's Out?: A Sermon for Sunday May 15, 2022

The following sermon was preached on May 15, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash


At the end of Sunday services I often include the following blessing by William Sloane Coffin, a cleric and activist who was chaplain at Yale in the 1960s and later the Senior Minister at Riverside Church in New York City. A few people have asked for the text so I thought I'd include it here before the text of yesterday's sermon:

May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short;

Grace to risk something big for something good;

Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous

for anything but truth,

and too small for anything but love.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be amongst you and remain with you now and always. Amen.




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.

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.[1]

Acts is a 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 at the Mennonite Church I used to work at 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 wear a mask.

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.

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 Gentile 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 I have a friend who talks passionately about 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.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] From the series “Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible.”


Always Room for More: A Sermon for Sunday May 8, 2022

The following sermon was preached on May 8, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking 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.

Today is the fourth Sunday in the Easter season and this Sunday is commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.  All of today’s readings focus on the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

“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 are anointed with oil, our souls are refreshed, our cup overflows and we feast at a table lovingly 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 and 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 today’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 they will all 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 today’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.” (22-23) 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.  (24-25)

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.” (28)

I used to have a dog named Oliver and when Oliver was a puppy, I would 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” or “my sheep obey my voice.”  (27)

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 today’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 seemed 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. (28)

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 is going to have to be excluded.

So maybe I should try and push other people out of God’s hand to make sure there is enough room for me.  And if I can’t push them out, then at least I 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.

It is human beings who are obsessed with determine who is in and who is out, who is excluded and who is included. God is only every interested in including people.

After years of regular visits to the sacred space of the dog park, Oliver and I stopped going because 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. My anxiety that it might happen again was just as real, if less visible.

We stopped viewing the dog park as a place to make friends. We both began to view it as a place where we had been hurt, and might be hurt again. So we stopped going.

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.

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

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.

On May 4th, 2019, one of my heroes, Rachel Held Evans, died suddenly. I think about her fairly regularly, but especially around the anniversary of her death.

She courageously and unequivocally declared that God’s love included everyone. Everyone.

She had been 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.

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 went to every single one of those conferences.

Rachel’s legacy lives on in her writing, in the communities of faith she created, and in her family.  It brought tears to my eyes when I realized that this year and every year her two young children celebrate Mother’s Day without their Mom.

But I know that while her children will almost undoubtedly be lonely, they will not be alone, because the community of faith that she worked so tirelessly to create surrounds them.   They are safe in God’s hands.

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.”

In a few minutes we will gather around Christ’s table.  Christ sets the guest list and declares that everyone, everyone is welcome.

There is always room for more. So come.


The Worst Thing You Ever Did: A Sermon for Sunday May 1, 2022

The following sermon was preached on May 2, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.  Photo by Benjamin DeYoung on Unsplash


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.

Today’s gospel reading is from the last chapter of John’s gospel. In this chapter, John expects you to remember a lot of details about things that have happened earlier in the story.

For example, this story takes place in Cana. The same place as Jesus’ first miracle. We are ending where we began.

There are a lot of other recurring themes, like fishing, not catching any fish and then catching more fish than anyone could possibly need.  The abundance of fish also reminds us of the abundance of wine in Jesus’ first miracle in Cana.

So in some ways this story feels familiar but not necessarily predictable. We see common places and common themes we’ve encountered before in the gospels but it’s also common for Jesus to subvert our expectations.

At the start of the story, the disciples have returned to the things of their ordinary pre-Jesus lives, like fishing.

The fear that left them hiding in locked rooms seems to have dissipated, and they are trying to figure out how to exist in this new normal.

The scene feels humorous to me.  After all of the extraordinary events of Holy Week, after hiding in a locked room, after seeing Jesus resurrected, Peter looks around and says, “Might as well go fishing.” (paraphrase, 3)

So they go fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore and begins to talk to them but they don’t recognize him right away. Jesus asks if they have caught any fish, they say no, and then Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  They obey and their nets become so full of fish they can’t even pull them into the boat.

Then John, who is still referring to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved” turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!” (7)

In her commentary on the gospel of John, Karoline Lewis notes that John uses imagery of nighttime to symbolize unbelief, and daytime to symbolize belief. So it is interesting that this story begins in the dark of night, and ends in the early morning light.  (254).

As the scene moves from darkness to light, from unbelief, to belief, Peter realizes that Jesus is on the shore and then he behaves in ways that we have come to expect from Peter – he is impulsive, exuberant.

First of all, he has been fishing naked and then he decides to put clothes on to jump in the water. (8) Both feel like unusual choices to me.

I would want to meet Jesus fully clothed and I would be excited to see him but I would also want to be dry so I might take a more practical approach and stay in the boat until we could get to shore.

But if you have been following the gospel story this far then you know that Peter is an impulsive person. He sees Jesus and he’s going to rush to see him as quickly as possible - even if that means jumping into the water and swimming the hundred yards or so to shore.

We aren’t told but I suspect that at least one of the other men in the boat was annoyed that Peter wasn’t helping them as they made the responsible choice to bring the boat and the net full of fish to shore. (8)

A little later we will learn that they caught 153 fish. (11).  This large number of fish is a symbol of abundance and a reminder that abundance is always a sign of Christ’s presence.  Where Christ is, there is always more than enough.

When they arrive on shore Jesus has bread and a fire started where he is grilling fish. Where he got these particular fish is unclear. (9) It seems he has already started cooking them before the disciples arrive on shore with their catch.

Jesus invites them to join him for breakfast and we are told that, “none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (12-14)

Now I don’t know about you, but I think it’s interesting which things from Jesus’ life that the church has chosen to remember and incorporate into modern worship practices. On Maundy Thursday we wash each other’s feet because Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.   We share bread and wine because Jesus shared bread and wine.

But I have never been to a church service where I was served bread and grilled fish.

Have you?

What do you think? Should we try wine and fish sticks next Sunday?

After breakfast, Jesus turns to Peter and begins a conversation. In order to understand this conversation it’s important to be familiar with some events that occurred earlier in the story.

Earlier in John’s gospel there is a story where, shortly after Jesus is arrested,  Peter and another disciple go with Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest. (18:15)   We are told that there is a charcoal fire in the courtyard and as Peter is standing near it warming himself he will be asked the same question three times:  Are you one of Jesus’ disciples?

And three times Peter will give the same answer: “No I am not.”

I wonder how many times this scene has rolled around in Peter’s mind since it happened? I wonder how much shame he has been feeling for his choice to deny Jesus not just once, but three times.

I imagine that every time Peter has seen Jesus since he was resurrected, this shame has bubbled up. I imagine he is afraid of what Jesus must think of him. I imagine he feels confused about what he should say and what he should do.

The shame puts a barrier between Peter and Jesus.

But now here they are eating breakfast together, and Jesus wants to talk.

And John wants us to know that they are sitting around a charcoal fire.

The only two events in this entire gospel that occur around a charcoal fire are Peter’s denial of Jesus and this conversation.  John links these two stories and we are supposed to look for connections.

In the first story, Peter is repeatedly asked if he is a follower of Jesus, and he repeatedly denies it.  In today’s story, Peter’s loyalty to Jesus will once again be questioned, but this time by Jesus himself.

Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (15)

And Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

And then Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.”

We’re not told how much time passes after Jesus says this. Is there a long stretch of silence or does Jesus launch in immediately to ask a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (16)

Jesus will ask Peter this same question three times, “Do you love me?” and each time Peter will reply, “you know I love you.”

Jesus asks three times, which mirrors the three times that Peter denied Jesus.

Last time Peter denied Jesus, but this time he says again and again and again, “I love you.”

And three times after Peter’s response Jesus will ask Peter to do something – the request varies slightly – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep – but the meaning is the same.  Jesus – the great shepherd – is asking Peter to be an active participant in the care of the flock.

Prior to Jesus’ death, Peter thought he understood what it meant to follow Jesus. Prior to Jesus’ death following Jesus was something Peter wanted to do and something he felt he was capable of doing.

But when Jesus was arrested, fear overtook him, and a drive towards self protection took over and Peter denied that he even knew who Jesus was.

In this conversation, Jesus is making sure that Peter knows that he is forgiven, that the denial does not disqualify Peter from service.  Jesus still wants Peter to be one of his disciples.

This would be a beautiful place to end the reading, it would be a story of redemption, of restored relationships, of Jesus’ deep and powerful love, but it’s not the end of today’s reading or this story.

Jesus is asking Peter if he still wants to be one of his disciples, while also making it clear what that really means – are you willing to do whatever it takes to follow me, even if it means you will lose your own life?

Prior to his death and resurrection this may have felt like an abstract question, something that probably wouldn’t really happen, something it was relatively easy for Peter to agree to.

But things have changed, recent events have made it clear to Peter that the choice to follow Jesus could mean he too will be crucified.

And now Jesus will tell Peter that this is not just a possibility, it is exactly what Peter can expect will happen if he chooses to continue to follow Jesus.

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (18)

John tells us that Jesus said this so that Peter would know, “the kind of death by which he would glorify God.” (19)

The last line of the reading is, “After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Which is exactly what Peter does. Peter will continue to follow Jesus until his death.  Christian tradition says that Peter was crucified upside-down because he didn’t want to be killed in the exact manner that Jesus was.

This story raises a lot of great questions that are worth spending time thinking about. Questions like, “In the light of this story, how do I understand what it means to follow Jesus today?” or “Would I be willing to die for what I believe?”

Good questions, but the part of the story I have spent a lot of time thinking about this week is connected to the fact that Jesus didn’t think that Peter’s choice to deny him disqualified him from service.

Jesus looked at Peter, knew everything he has ever done, and still said, “feed my lambs.”

That gives me a lot of hope.  Because if only perfect people can serve God then there is no hope for me.

None of us are as bad as the worst thing we have ever done, and in God’s economy there is always room for hope, forgiveness and new life.

And that’s good news.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Just Breathe: A Sermon for Sunday April 24, 2022

The following sermon was preached on April 24, 2022 at St George's Transcona's service for Easter Sunday. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash

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.

Today’s gospel passage opens with the description of some very anxious individuals.

The story begins on the evening of Easter Sunday.  Jesus has risen, some of the disciples have seen him but they are still filled with fear, doubts, and anxious thoughts.

They are so scared, in fact, that they are hiding in a locked room terrified that there are people preparing crosses for them at that very moment.

It is easy for us to judge the disciples at this point in the story because we know how it all turns out. But try to put yourself in their position for a moment.  Imagine living through the events we commemorate during Holy Week with no real certainty of how things will turn out. Imagine living through those events with a strong sense that if the leaders of the day could crucify Jesus, then surely they would have no problem killing you as well.

I’d like to believe I’d be courageous and steadfast but the truth is I’d probably be anxiously locked in that room with the rest of the group. And like Thomas, I would need to see Jesus with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands.

John tells us, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.” (19)

Think about that for a minute. It doesn’t say that they heard a knock at the door and when they opened it Jesus was there. It says that the disciples were in a locked room because they were afraid and Jesus just.. appeared. One minute Jesus was absent and in the next “poof” he’s standing in front of them.

It’s fair to imagine that the tired, beleaguered, anxious disciples can now add shocked to the list of emotions they are experiencing.  This kind of shock would be enough to take your breath away.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “ (19b-22)

One of my favourite definitions of a priest’s role is that they are to seek to be a non-anxious presence in an anxious world. This is exactly what Jesus embodies in this moment.  When he says, “Peace be with you,” I imagine the subtext is “calm down, I am really here and all is well.”

Peace be with you.

John tells us that Jesus’ presence fills the disciples with joy - Jesus’ presence transforms their fear and anxiety into joy and peace.

Jesus’ presence transformed their fear and anxiety into joy and peace, but it wasn’t a permanent transformation.  Some of these disciples had seen Jesus on Easter Sunday, but they were still fearful enough to be hiding in a locked room.  Jesus appears to them in that locked room and tells them to be at peace, but eight days later, they are still hiding out in that room. (26)

A single encounter with Jesus can change a life forever, and I have no doubt that these disciples were changed by all of these events. But an encounter with Jesus doesn’t erase our humanity and so doubt and fear can easily creep back in. This is one of the reasons that spiritual disciplines like prayer and meeting for worship are so important – they continually call us back to Jesus.

Why does Jesus breathe on the disciples? Doesn’t that seem like a rather odd thing to do?

I find the intimacy of this astonishing – breathtaking even. In some Christian traditions, people have modeled this behavior in their worship practices by breathing on each other. Can you imagine if instead of a handshake we breathed peace on one another during worship?

I couldn’t imagine this before COVID, and I definitely can’t imagine it now!

It’s an amazingly intimate action. Jesus, who had drawn his last breath in the presence of John and the female disciples, Jesus whose lifeless breathless body was laid in a tomb for several days, has been brought back to life.  Jesus who breathed his last on the cross is now alive and breathing again. And this resurrected living and breathing Jesus comes and breathes on the disciples.

Breathing is something we spend an inordinate amount of time doing- we breathe approximately 23 000 times a day.

Breathing is something we spend a lot of time doing but very little time thinking about.  Maybe we think about it more now that we are living with COVID, but certainly we don’t think about breathing as often as we actually need to breathe.

Some Christians even get anxious if we begin to talk about breathing because it seems like a new age or un-Christian thing to focus on.

And yet breathing is a major focus in the scriptures. If you want to engage in an interesting exercise this week, do a search and go through all of the passages in Scripture that talk about breath or breathing -you’ll have more than enough material to keep you busy all week.

It is, however, a tricky assignment because it is difficult to accurately count all the references to breath in the Bible.  The Greek word for breath is “pneuma.”  Our English word “pneumonia” – a sickness that affects your ability to breathe – comes from the same root word.

Pneuma can also mean wind or spirit.  The same is also true in Hebrew.

The same Hebrew word (ruach) means wind, breath, and spirit.

Now it may sound confusing to have one word that can mean three different things, but the ideas of wind, breath, and spirit were also interconnected and interchangeable. They didn’t draw clear distinctions between these ideas like we do today.

In our passage, pneuma is translated as “receive the Holy spirit”, but when John wrote those words he knew that the people he was writing to would hear all of the possible meanings in that one word. (22)

They would hear, “Receive the holy spirit” and “Receive the holy wind,” and “Receive the holy breath.” The concepts of breath, wind and Holy Spirit were that closely linked for John’s original audience.

Later in the Book of Acts the Holy Spirit will come in a windstorm. (Acts 2:1)

God breathing into the world is a powerful, important image. God breathes life in creation as recorded in Genesis, and God breathes and resurrects life in Ezekiel. The Holy Breath, the Holy Wind, the Holy Spirit. The breath that comes to the breathless. And here again in John, breathing is the way new life comes. This time it’s Jesus breathing into the disciples so that they receive the Holy Spirit.

Henri Nouwen wrote, "When we speak about the Holy Spirit, we speak about the breath of God, breathing in us."

When we breathe – a largely unconscious action -, we are at the most basic level acknowledging the life-giving presence of God with us. God who is as near to us as our next breath. Every breath we take is an opportunity to connect us with God. Every breath we take can be a prayer.

Breathing may seem like a ridiculous focus for prayer. Yet scripture presents breath as the fundamental metaphor for the spirit of God.

For a number of years during Advent, I engaged in a prayer practice that required me to stop, breathe and acknowledge God’s presence every time I find myself waiting. Waiting in line at the grocery store, at a stop light, waiting for a computer program to load. Advent is a season of waiting, and I always find plenty of opportunities to engage in this practice throughout the season.

Although that Advent exercise is over, I am still trying to incorporate an awareness of breathing in my prayer life. There are a lot of different ways to do this and time won’t allow us to get into them, but I am trying to remember that God is breath, that God gives breath and is breath, to remember that God breathes through me, sustains me with breath, and that I somehow am participating in that sustaining with God.

How many of you have houses that aren’t as dry as you’d like them to be today?

Me too.

Last night I heard the drip drip drip of water coming from the ceiling and instantly I sprang into full panic mode.  My whole body tensed up and I began running around and my mind launched into full on anxiety thinking: How much damage will this cause? Is the whole roof leaking? Where are the other leaks? Is the house going to fall down? I can’t handle this! How will I pay for this!

And then suddenly I stopped, sat down, and made myself breath deeply. I sat like that for only maybe 30 seconds or so but it was enough to calm me down and help me regroup.

I will be OK.  This may be hard but I can handle it.  Now go get the towels and the recycling bin and get to work.

I am sure that that pause, that time of deep breathing actually meant I was not only able to respond to the situation more effectively, but also my response was faster and more efficient than my initial reactivity.

Another important thing to realize about today’s gospel story is that Jesus breathes on the disciples together – as a group. The Spirit is given to the community of believers.  I think each of these people has the choice to consent – to believe or not believe, but the gift is given to everyone at once. This is not happening in isolation, this is part of a bigger picture. The Holy Spirit isn’t just being given to Jesus’ favourite disciple or a select few, Jesus breathes the Spirit into all of them.

The same is true today. In today’s gospel text,  in the Book of Acts, and in our present day the Holy Spirit is given to all of us together, not just select individuals.

How do we collectively breathe in the Holy Spirit? Maybe it’s a process that happens when two or three or thirty are gathered together in Jesus’ name. Maybe even as we’ve been sitting here we are breathing in the Holy Spirit, maybe the Spirit is filling our lungs with life at this very moment. Jesus permeating every particle of us. Jesus being incorporated into us, being transformed into energy. Jesus coming out of our very fingertips. Maybe we’ve been doing this all along without even realizing it.

Here’s another important thing to remember. Have you ever tried to hold your breath? You can be successful for a short period of time, but eventually your body takes over and you have exhale.

We can’t simply breathe in God’s presence. We also need to breath God back out again. We can’t keep this all for ourselves but rather breathing out God’s love to everyone we meet needs to become a natural as breathing in God’s love.

I’m not sure where your growth edge is on this. Some of us find it easier to show love to others than to accept that God also loves us. Some of us try to hold God’s love in – afraid that if we share it with others there might not be enough for us.

Ultimately health and balance come from doing both. From breathing God’s love in and out with equal measure. Breathing deeply, without fear that we will ever run out of air. Trusting that in God’s economy there is always more than enough.

Let’s pray:

Lord hear us breathing together.

We are breathing in your peace.

Lord, hear us breathing together.

Help us to breathe out your peace this week.


60% Easter Joy: A Sermon for Sunday April 17, 2022

The following sermon was preached on April 17, 2022 at St George's Transcona's service for Easter Sunday. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


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

I have been going to church since before I was born and I’ve been part of a lot of different kinds of churches.  In the mid 90s I was part of what you might describe as an evangelical mega church – a least a thousand members, multiple services, large church building and even larger parking lot.

One Easter Sunday I arrived to discover some unusual things in the sanctuary - the table with the overhead projector and the screen were gone and in their place were even bigger screens -two of them – there was also a fancy projector and a man with a computer.  I didn’t think much of it.

The first song was peppy – lots of drums and clapping – but I was completely distracted by what I saw on the screen – in giant font there was one line of text repeated three times, “God is dead, God is dead, God is dead.”

It was like the screen was shouting a heresy at me.

I quickly turned by attention to the worship team who I was able to discern were cheerfully singing, “God is NOT dead, God is NOT dead.”

And then I turned to the poor man behind the computer, sweat on his forehead frantically trying to figure out how to fix the PowerPoint slide.

Christ is risen. God is NOT dead.

Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.

Let’s try that again: Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.

Normally as we walk through Holy Week, our liturgies make intentional choices to guide us through a series of emotions. On Good Friday, even though we know that Easter is coming, we resist the temptation to tell that part of the story. We sit in the pain and the confusion and the sorrow of Christ’s death. On Saturday we push even deeper into those feelings, and then, normally, on Easter Sunday we lean deeply into the joy, the celebration, the victory of Christ’s resurrection. We pack the church and shout at the top of our lungs “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

It's been hard, if not impossible, to do that over the past few years.  This year feels a bit better but I’m not sure we’re quite at full strength. At least to me, this year feels like a cautious Easter.

I mean I am still going to proclaim, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!” but I’m going to do it wearing a mask.  And for most of last week, I thought I might be proclaiming it online from my home.  I’m getting there, but I’m not at 110% Easter Sunday joy just yet. Maybe like 60%?

And yet, one of the most interesting things to me about Easter is that my feelings about the story and the celebration don’t change the truth of the story and the celebration.

Christ has risen, my feeling don’t change the truth of that. So this year, I want to remind us all that on that first Easter, the women who went to the tomb didn’t march there in Easter bonnets intent on a joyous celebration either.  They were in mourning, and they were afraid.

All of the feelings were felt on that first Easter and it’s fitting that we make space for them today as well.

Our gospel reading begins in darkness. We’re told that “while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed…” (1).

It’s not Easter for Mary yet.  She has come to the tomb to grieve and care for the body of a dead loved one and instead of being able to enact those healing rituals of grief, she is punched in the gut with the shock of Christ’s missing body.

Mary runs to two of the disciples and says, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (2)

Before we continue, a few details about these disciples. One is Simon Peter and the other is described as “the one whom Jesus loved. (2)” We’re meant to understand that this disciple is John, the author of this gospel.

John’s personality comes through in this story in a few interesting ways – first by choosing to describe himself as “the one whom Jesus loved,” and then in the next few lines we’re told that after hearing Mary’s awful news, the two men run to the tomb to see for themselves.  John tells us that he ran faster than Peter and beat him to the tomb.  (4)

I find it fascinating that John is cheeky enough to want us to know who the faster runner is.

The two men see the empty tomb, the linen wrappings and we are told that John “saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” (9)

So what did he believe if he didn’t understand that scripture?  That Jesus was dead and his body missing?

It’s unclear.

What is clear is that these disciples are not at 110% Easter morning joy either. Maybe minus 50%?

The disciples return home, but Mary stays. (10-11)

She is weeping, and as she weeps, she looks into the tomb and sees two angels who ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (12-13)

She tells them she is crying because someone has taken Jesus’ body and then she turns around and sees a man she does not recognize standing outside of the tomb. (14)

This man, who she thinks is a gardener, also asks her, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” (15)

Mary begins to beg saying “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (15)

And then Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!” (16)

And when she hears him call her name, she knows who he is. And she responds by calling him one of his names, “Teacher. (Rabbouni)” (16)

And then I imagine Mary rushing to hug and cling to Jesus in relief and joy and confusion both because I think that’s what I would do and because Jesus’ next words are, “Do not hold on to me…” (17)

And then Jesus tells her to go and tell the disciples what she has happened and she does.  When she reaches the disciples she proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” (18)

Here, I imagine, she reaches 110% Easter joy.

Mary Magdalene is regarded as the first evangelist in the Christian church and is referred to as the apostle to the apostles because she was the first person to see the risen Jesus and then to tell others about him.

Simon Peter and John went home before they could see Jesus. Mary stayed.

A few years ago, Susanna Singer preached at St Gregory of Nyssa church  - it wasn’t Easter, but I thought, “that’s a great Easter sermon.”  In her sermon she asked the question, “Am I just looking for resuscitation or do I dare to hope for resurrection?”

I never want anyone to die. The death of a person is a tragedy and should be mourned, but I do think that there are a lot of things in my life and in this world that need to die.  Ideas, habits, ways of thinking, systems. For too long we’ve settled for artificial resuscitation instead of defiantly demanding resurrection.

Early in the pandemic during a lockdown, Comedian Sinhu Vee, reflecting on her own recovery from COVID-19, said that because we can no longer go out, we must go in. This is a time to reflect on our interior lives, on who we are, who we are becoming, and who we want to be.

The pandemic isn’t over, but we are now able to leave our homes and do things like worship together.  I hope we will never have another lockdown, but life will never return to the way it was before the pandemic began, and I don’t want it to.  I want resurrection, not resuscitation.

Because a lot of my old ways, a lot of our collective old ways, weren’t working.  Sometimes we pretended they were working, especially if they were working for us – capitalism works for a lot of us, white supremacy works for a lot of us, patriarchy  and homophobia work for a lot of us.  Before the pandemic, if we did acknowledge that our systems were broken, we often also believed that that was just the way it was, that change was impossible.  That a new resurrected life was impossible.

But we were wrong.

Resurrection is possible. Necessary even.

The first thing I believe needs to die in order to make way for resurrection, is the way our society privileges hyper productivity and frenetic busyness.  At the start of the pandemic there were all sorts of messages that said essentially, “If you don’t emerge from this pandemic with rock hard abs, the ability to speak 3 new languages, the great Canadian novel, and the world’s best sourdough bread you have let the entire human race down and you should be deeply ashamed of yourself.”

No one should ever feel ashamed of slowing down during the pandemic. Or of slowing down for any reason.

Now in this current phase of the pandemic one current theme I hear when talking to other people, and I feel this myself as well, is a rising level of anxiety that we’re going to go back to being as busy as we were in 2019.   Sure, many of us are longing for increased connection, the ability to travel and socialize with friends, but we also learned to like the slower pace, having fewer things on the calendar and we’re wondering how to balance our need for social interaction with our need for a slower pace of life.

We want resurrection – a new life filled way of being – not artificial resuscitation. We want meaningful connections with others, without the hyperbusyness that used to seem to require.  But we’re not quite sure how to get there.

If you’re feeling a resistance to an increased sense of busyness, you haven’t let anyone down; you don’t need to be ashamed. In fact, this manic drive to be endlessly productive has been kept alive on life support for way too long. It’s time to pull the plug and let it die.

Resurrection might look like a slower pace of life where we all take naps without feeling guilty, make our own food because we want to and enjoy the process, and choose not to buy things that we’ll never use or don’t really need.

Resurrection might mean saying “no” to more things in order to say “yes” to the things that really matter to us.

Which means it also might mean taking the time to be curious and explore what does really matter to us.  At St. George’s for example, we don’t have to simply pull up the 2019 church calendar and try to make the rest of 2022 and beyond look exactly like that.  There are some things I know folks have been missing that I hope we will be able to return to like consistently being able to worship in person. But we can also leave some things in the past. We can try some new things too.

So we have some work to do, some sifting and sorting before we simply fill up the calendar, but I believe that this is good and worthwhile work for us to do. It’s the work of resurrection, not resuscitation.

When Jesus died and lived again, life didn’t return to normal. It changed forever.  And while I am sure it was terrifying and confusing and unsettling on that first Easter morning, we have come to understand it as good news. Incredibly good news.

Today is a day of resurrection. May we all refuse to settle for resuscitation.

Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!



Good Friday: A Sermon for Friday, April 15, 2022

The following sermon was preached on April 15, 2022 at St George's Transcona's service for Good Friday. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here  Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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

Kate Bowler is a best selling author, podcaster and a friend. You may be familiar with her book, “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve loved. To paraphrase one of my favourite things she’s ever said, 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 began worshiping in the Anglican church 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.  At both services we’d quickly acknowledge that Jesus died and then spend most of our time celebrating the resurrection.

We Eastered the crap out of Good Friday.

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

I had to update my personal information with a company awhile ago 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 few 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 – it’s more than just the pandemic, which is hard enough on its own. 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.  That is saving 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 attend the Good Friday service  at my former parish and with tears in their eyes said, “I hope it’s OK to be here today when I’m clearly not OK.”

Is it OK to be here today if you’re clearly not OK?

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

On Maundy Thursday we typically strip the church, removing linens and coverings and flowers and candles. When we gather for Good Friday the church is emptier, and we are emptier.

This year we’ve taken that one step further. The church is completely empty and we are gathered online.

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. We would hear Jesus telling them to weep 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 but I’m not going anywhere. We can sit in this Good Friday space for as long as you 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 strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


[1] My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman, 133