June 2, 2019: Oh The Places You’ll Go by Alecia Greenfield (John 17: 20-26 New Revised Standard Version)

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

who will believe in me through their word, 

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

 The glory that you have given me

I have given them,

so that they may be one,

as we are one, 

I in them

and you in me,

that they may become completely one,

so that the world may know that you have sent me

and have loved them

even as you have loved me. 

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me,

may be with me where I am, to see my glory,

which you have given me

because you loved me

before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you,

but I know you;

and these know that you have sent me. 

I made your name known to them,

and I will make it known,

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.”

Hello. It is a pleasure to be here today. I’m Alecia, and as we get going there are a couple things that might be helpful to know. First, I worship in the Anglican tradition, and those Anglican’s we’re big into the liturgical year, the church’s calendar, just a heads up. Also, I am a recent VST graduate and like every student totally into all that classroom learning right now. Today, it may be useful for you to know (or remember) that the Greek word John uses in his Gospel for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete. It is also translated as comforter or advocate. And equally important I am a classmate and friend of Frances Kitson who has been talking about you (this community) and how fabulous you are for years and so it is a such a delight to be here and finally meet you.

And now that we know we are all friends and disciples in Christ together, I can admit how I first read our Gospel reading today. You know how you can read the words but they don’t stick. It is my practice to read a passage three times, then reflect. So I read and then walked away and I realized I had retained nothing.

Which is disturbing. Because I believe the church has chosen a passage has something to say here in this specific (liturgical) time.

Today we have a passage for dangerous times. These are the words Jesus leaves the disciples with when he is on his way to arrest and death. And we hear them in the liturgical year in an in between time. This past Thursday was the feast of Ascension when the resurrected Jesus leaves the disciples. Jesus rises to glory. The disciples, they go to Jerusalem and wait.  Because Pentecost is coming, when the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples. But Pentecost is not yet; it’s next week.

And these were dangerous times, the empire gathers on the other side of the door. Just outside. In biblical times that looked a little Roman, like the random violence of oppression. It looked like crucifixion for gathering too many people who believed that their faith was more important than life or death.

But there are other ways to look at danger. Empire might also look like a corporation. Identity of profit that expands into our imagination and defines what normal, reasonable, appropriate might look like. I drove into Kelowna a couple weeks ago to visit Frances and couldn’t see the water, couldn’t see the hills for the billboards plastered on the roadside dictating my attention to the importance of new car tires and more gas. The corporate empire fills up my sight, dangerously.

On the other side of the Kelowna hills are stands of dead, burnt wood. Wildfire ravaged the region, the climate is changing, but through that change billboards blot out the burn site.

And into the waiting of change, the church gives us, gifts us, this reading. This is a prayer. This is what Jesus prays as he prepares to leave his disciples. This is a moment before faith and empire collide.  The chronicle of events is that Jesus prays these words, then goes out to get arrested, and Simon Peter cuts off someone’s ear with a sword. The disciples are preparing for danger – they are carrying weapons and they get- – –  this prayer.

*****

And I come back to hard to read. This is NOT one of those famous passages that we can recite off by heart. This is not what people read to rally the troupes for expeditions or to bless special occasions.

It’s not a story, it’s not a list, ten commandments to a life of righteousness, it’s not so beautiful that these words catch in our heart… And after spending all week waddling about in these words what catches my attention first is how much these words just slip through my attention. This is a hard passage to hold

I find, when I cannot easily understand or hold a passage – I turn to the community to help me read it.

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

In the pattern of this passage I hear     

Dr Seuss.

What happens when we stop looking at the scripture with our most serious and most earnest faces and look instead for beauty? What happens when, inspired by Dr Seuss, we recognize both the danger and still look with a sense of adventure and fun? It’s partly in the rhythm, and partly in the imagination. But all of a sudden this scripture strikes a picture – we can ascend higher, we can fight the empire.

Lets look at it together. Remembering that when Jesus says disciples – in John, he means all disciples, including us.  So listen up! In the Greek it is even clearer –in this passage, when Jesus says they he is talking about us.

Jesus says:

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

Jesus prays for us to be one with God. Just as he is one with God.

That’s huge claim. When was the last time you walked into a room thinking – yup, here goes me and God, together, one. It’s so alarming that it is too scary to think let alone say- —- and still Jesus prays, for us, his disciples.

Next week in Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. Anglicans officially believe at baptism that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. I am filled with the Holy Spirit.     The trinity is IN me.    and I am in God. The trinity is IN us. And we are IN God. Take that closer. Jesus prays for you, the disciple. May you be one with the Creator.

And if I take that too seriously I lose all the mysteriously, I might behave all imperiously. But what if we step into this truth, poetically, playfully.

 Imagine, this is true. God is in you, right now. The Holy Spirit a flame, a wave, a dove, that wiggles and jiggles and tickles your insides. I don’t know why, but when we keep our eyelids up, we see it all, in the Gospel.

Except, when we think poetically, we can sentimentalize, we penalize the Gospel for our inability to imagine both earnestly, and playfully. Teachers like Dr Seuss sensitize our ears and hearts, to hear truth when we are frightened. Frightened by alarming claims, or frightened by dangerous times. Dr Seuss wrote about nuclear arms race, about Nazis and about environmental emergency.  And we can hear truth when we smile at the name of Yertle the Turtle and then remember that the turtle on top relies on the turtle on the bottom. Or read on despite despair guided by the rhyme of The Lorax.

And we too read on in our scripture, because this packed passage is in fact not done. We tracked one meaning but there’s more. Jesus prays for love,

Jesus says:

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.

In this one passage Jesus uses the word love five times. A poetic clue that this is important glue. Love and being one in God are connected.

So what about that? Have you ever walked into a room and announced you are one with God and that God loves you like God loves Jesus? What about walking into a room just knowing it? Tucked into your heart and showing in your posture, you actions, you are in God, and God is in you and Jesus prays that the Father might love you the way the Father loves Jesus. I guess, it’s a little easier to listen when there is no division, from love.  When our vision fills up with, with poetic prayer.

****

And then, remember, this passage isn’t talking about the easy times.  These are the queasy times, when we have choices that are about more than our life and death. These are the times when it feels like Jesus has gone to glory, and we are surrounded by stands of dead burn sites and billboards.

And Jesus prays:

 The glory that you have given me

I have given them,

so that they may be one,

as we are one, 

In dangerous times, do you walk into the street, feeling all filled with up, complete with Paraclete? It’s no conceit. It’s Gospel.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

Gathering all these themes, a hard to hold passage, the guidance of quirky Dr Seuss, prayer in dangerous time. I add one more consideration. When our hearts fill with gloom. There seems like no room. Where our little action feels without traction. When we choose to do nothing because a little seems to small, that is the time to remember this passage. Jesus says we are one. Us and the Holy Spirit. One.

So let us get whimsical, lyrical, and a whole lot biblical. Let’s go into a dangerous time as poets.

Therefore I pray,

Creator, as we step into our dangerous times, when change is hard and scary and we want to stop and be all cautionary, help us to remember that disciples go about. This is not time to hideout.  Remind us we are never without Jesus’ prayer.

God be with us, God be in us. Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, wiggle and jiggle, and tickle our insides to shift us and shape us towards your love. Gather all our little actions, be one with you and your justice.

June 9, 2019: The Problem with the Holy Spirit by Rev. Beth Hayward (Pentecost Acts 2: 1-21)

I remember this news headline from several years ago in the satirical online publication The Onion. It read “God Quietly Phasing Holy Ghost out of the Trinity.” The Holy Ghost, the article said, will be given fewer and fewer responsibilities leading up to its formal resignation following Easter services. The rational included the usual over staffed and over budget but my favourite reason for the layoff was the “unclear nature of the Holy Ghost’s duties.[1]

I remember this news headline from several years ago in the satirical online publication The Onion. It read “God Quietly Phasing Holy Ghost out of the Trinity.” The Holy Ghost, the article said, will be given fewer and fewer responsibilities leading up to its formal resignation following Easter services. The rational included the usual over staffed and over budget but my favourite reason for the layoff was the “unclear nature of the Holy Ghost’s duties.[1]

There’s some truth to it, right? The church will tell you that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. But really, what does that mean? I’ve taken an entire course on the Trinity and the Holy Spirit still eludes me. The other two persons of the Trinity are marginally easier to comprehend. Jesus was the Galilean who lived and died and was resurrected. There’s something tangible about him. God, well we could spend a lifetime debating the nature of God. At least we share God with the world’s great religions; worth hanging onto for that reason alone. What exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is it useful to us even if we can’t quite grasp it?  

If you were here two weeks ago you’ll remember that Tama, our Minister of Children Youth and Families, stood here and told you that the most important thing in the Christian faith is story, not doctrine or practice! The biggest problem with the Holy Spirit may well be the fact that the church, in her wisdom, has boxed the Spirit into the doctrine of the Trinity. In trying to make sense of this presence that shows up in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and is described as everything from a dove to breath to tongues of fire, well it’s possible that we’ve sucked the life out of the Holy Spirit. Maybe, the Spirit was never meant to be tamed.

And then we make it more complicated. You can be spiritual but not religious at the same time. Spiritual things are different from material things. I mean Spirit is about those lofty things we aspire to through quieting our minds, leaving behind the physical for a while and touching instead, well, the spiritual.

But what if Spirit stirs us up to pay attention to what’s happening right here right now? What if the Holy Spirit is the persuasive, persistent, presence of God that won’t let you go, until you pay attention to this life, your real physical life? What if Spirit has everything to do with our actual physical lives, inextricable from the food we eat and the company we keep and the seemingly innocuous decisions we make day in and day out? What if the Spirit is that which lures us back to the truth of the oneness of all creation? What if the Spirit is actually here, right now?

That first Pentecost day there they were 120 members of the newly formed Christian community and several thousand others out for an enjoyable long weekend afternoon. Those 120 had been waiting and wondering for ten days, since Jesus was unceremoniously swept into the skies: when would the promised Spirit arrive? He had told them that Spirit would come and that they would be empowered to be his body in the world. You have to wonder if they thought Spirit would come in this way, barging in, interrupting a perfectly fine celebration:  no visions in dreams, no doves gliding by, instead: tongues of fire resting on everyone: not just those who had been patiently and prayerfully waiting but on everyone, as if not even discerning who might be worthy of such a gracing. In the aftermath of Pentecost I expect the most lasting impact, the thing that none of those effected could shake was the fact that the Spirit was so undiscerning, every last person there was impacted in some way, invited to a complete and utter transformation.

When Spirit showed up on Pentecost people didn’t fall to their knees and pray, they didn’t pack their bags for an eight-day silent retreat, nah they turned to one another and said “what is going on here?” They were confused and surprised all at the same time. Their initial responses were as varied as ours would be. Some of them tried immediately to contain the Spirit and box it up in their usual answers. They tried to dismiss this transformative, life giving moment by saying “those people are just drunk on cheap wine.”And some of them stayed in that question long enough to be brought to their knees but others went to their usual excuses, or to put it more gently their usual efforts to box up and explain and package the power of the Spirit. But some of them caught a glimpse how the walls that divide, the walls we build, the languages that keep us safe and secure are a lie, or at least an inadequate story.

And when the Holy Spirit shows up well we know it’s happening because old worn out stories start to crumble and the walls we build up between us and them are revealed for what they truly are, permeable barriers. The Spirit can’t be kept out. Maybe the Spirit is not the presence that helps us escape the troubles of this life but the nuisance that keeps drawing our attention back to this life.

No matter how much the church has tried to contain the Spirit in doctrine, it is truly all about story. I wonder what stories we are telling, without even realizing it? I wonder if we know, I mean really know, that the Spirit is right here in our midst inviting us to dream bigger, to turn some stories on their heads?

Scholar and activist Joanna Macy wrote a book a few years back entitled Active Hope.[2] She is rooted in the Buddhist tradition but her work translates and I don’t suppose she’d be offended to hear me interpret her work through the lens of the Holy Spirit. She talks about how we can respond to any moment and specifically this moment we are in globally, this moment where fear is seeping in and we are living the story of climate change. She suggests that there are three ways to tell the story of the times in which we are living: Business as usual, The Great Unraveling and the Great Turning.

Business as usual is just as it sounds. It is carrying on with life saying all is well, without a questioning perspective. Business as usual says economic growth is essential for prosperity, it says consumption is good, getting ahead is right, it says nature is a commodity to be used by humans. The measure of success in Business as Usual is around how much more we have than we used to or how much farther and faster we can go. It’s a bit difficult when living in the midst of it to see that you could actually ask questions of the business as usual model. 

            The second story is The Great Unraveling, Or put more crassly we’re going to hell in a hand basket. The great unraveling is when you look around at the list of things that are going wrong and you throw your hands in the air not because you don’t care but because you feel powerless. Climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor the world over, mass migration, political upheaval, nuclear threat, mass species extinction. I dare say there are moments in our own small lives mirror this reality and we are sure that there is no way out of the mess we are living of grief or brokenness, or loss. Some of us find ourselves moving back and forth between these two realities many times in the span of a day, in fact most of us do.

Macy proposes a third way. She calls it the Great Turning but for our intents and purposes today I’m going to call it the way of the Holy Spirit. The third way as three dimensions: action, and I like to call it the way of The Holy Spirit.

The first action of the third was includes protests like the one happening this afternoon, but ask anyone who’s dedicated their life to social action and they’ll tell you if can suck the life out of you. The second is changing behaviours, like how this congregation took its investments a decade ago and decided profit was not the only measure we’d use to determine where to invest we wanted to invest ethically and not in the fossil fuel industry or think about the rise in farmers markets and CSA boxes, or how you bring your own bags to the grocery store and your own cup to the coffee shop.

The third aspect of the third way, is the place where the Holy Spirit is at work. Our changes in action and our behaviour cannot stand-alone. She talks about refreshing our sense of belonging in the world. In the past, changing the self and changing the world were seen as separate endeavours, in either-or terms. But in the story of the Great Turning they are mutually reinforcing and essential to one another. We need to let go of the “us” and “them” story. We are one. Sounds rather like what the Holy Spirit was up to that day.

It sounds simple, it makes good sense and yet the Third way IS IN fact a monumental shift. It is a grieving, if you will, of the both business as usual and the great unraveling, it is like what happens when the Spirit shows up and suddenly young men have visions and old men dream dreams – that’s not how it’s supposed to be!!!

We have a choice about the stories we will root ourselves in, the stories we live and the stories we will dream and vision together. But it comes down to which story will you tell, which story is worthy of your life? Which story has the power to breathe life into your very being and turn your entire life upside down.

The story the early church experienced, lived, breathed on that first Pentecost day – it was one that at its core broke down every division people had put in place to make sense of the world. First the disciples emerged from the room in which they’d taken up residence, then the crowds came running, then people understood one another, they even understood those ruddy, backwater Galileans.

Underneath the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity that was not only touched but enlivened and experienced, profoundly, by many who were there. Others scoffed and interpreted even the most amazing of events through the eyes and ears of cynicism, but those with hearts and minds that were open to the movement of the Spirit knew that a new day had come.

And perhaps that is what makes Pentecost so terribly ordinary and remarkable: perhaps that day serves as a loud reminder that Spirit is in our midst, sweeping through our very beings all the time.  That day people felt something overwhelming and it changed their lives, it was a moment of commitment of reigniting the fire in their bellies…  it was not a moment of signing up to a particular set of religious beliefs,  there was no test about whether those gathered believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or whether God is some other worldly being or whether their theological views were in total alignment with the community.  This was not a melting pot moment, this crowd gathered was not made to fit in some sort of box rather it was a moment where each one tapped into the deep wisdom within, the innate call to life that we all fiercely share. 

Was life perfect after that, heck no, most of those disciples were martyred as the story unfolded. But they caught a glimpse, or more accurately they caught a breath of the presence of the Spirit, and they knew in their hearts that there are a story to be lived where the bounds of who we have capacity to care about were broken open, their minds were blown.

Maybe the duties of the Holy Ghost aren’t so unclear after all, its role is to cause trouble, to mess with our heads, to disorient, to shake us into paying attention, to insist when no one else will that there is another way, and it’s a way where every last division we use to make sense of the world and to protect ourselves is shaken to the core. Maybe Spirit is the power that shows us we are all one.

Way back in the years following WWII astronomer Fred Hoyle said that onece a photograph of the Earth was taken from outside, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Twenty years later when Bill Anders, the astronaut who took the first pictures of earth from the moon, commented, “We came all this way to explore the moon and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” The earth with no political borders, from way up there in space no divisions of race or class or species, just one, great world.

What stories is Spirit calling us to live about this world and our place in it.

One of the ways we seek to touch into the power of Spirit is in this sacrament that transcends time that links us to the first followers of Jesus while at the same time draws us into future possibilities of a new story. Flow into an invitation to the communion table…


[1] https://www.theonion.com/god-quietly-phasing-holy-ghost-out-of-trinity-1819566754

[2] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy, New World Library, California, 2012.

There’s some truth to it, right? The church will tell you that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. But really, what does that mean? I’ve taken an entire course on the Trinity and the Holy Spirit still eludes me. The other two persons of the Trinity are marginally easier to comprehend. Jesus was the Galilean who lived and died and was resurrected. There’s something tangible about him. God, well we could spend a lifetime debating the nature of God. At least we share God with the world’s great religions; worth hanging onto for that reason alone. What exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is it useful to us even if we can’t quite grasp it?  

If you were here two weeks ago you’ll remember that Tama, our Minister of Children Youth and Families, stood here and told you that the most important thing in the Christian faith is story, not doctrine or practice! The biggest problem with the Holy Spirit may well be the fact that the church, in her wisdom, has boxed the Spirit into the doctrine of the Trinity. In trying to make sense of this presence that shows up in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and is described as everything from a dove to breath to tongues of fire, well it’s possible that we’ve sucked the life out of the Holy Spirit. Maybe, the Spirit was never meant to be tamed.

And then we make it more complicated. You can be spiritual but not religious at the same time. Spiritual things are different from material things. I mean Spirit is about those lofty things we aspire to through quieting our minds, leaving behind the physical for a while and touching instead, well, the spiritual.

But what if Spirit stirs us up to pay attention to what’s happening right here right now? What if the Holy Spirit is the persuasive, persistent, presence of God that won’t let you go, until you pay attention to this life, your real physical life? What if Spirit has everything to do with our actual physical lives, inextricable from the food we eat and the company we keep and the seemingly innocuous decisions we make day in and day out? What if the Spirit is that which lures us back to the truth of the oneness of all creation? What if the Spirit is actually here, right now?

That first Pentecost day there they were 120 members of the newly formed Christian community and several thousand others out for an enjoyable long weekend afternoon. Those 120 had been waiting and wondering for ten days, since Jesus was unceremoniously swept into the skies: when would the promised Spirit arrive? He had told them that Spirit would come and that they would be empowered to be his body in the world. You have to wonder if they thought Spirit would come in this way, barging in, interrupting a perfectly fine celebration:  no visions in dreams, no doves gliding by, instead: tongues of fire resting on everyone: not just those who had been patiently and prayerfully waiting but on everyone, as if not even discerning who might be worthy of such a gracing. In the aftermath of Pentecost I expect the most lasting impact, the thing that none of those effected could shake was the fact that the Spirit was so undiscerning, every last person there was impacted in some way, invited to a complete and utter transformation.

When Spirit showed up on Pentecost people didn’t fall to their knees and pray, they didn’t pack their bags for an eight-day silent retreat, nah they turned to one another and said “what is going on here?” They were confused and surprised all at the same time. Their initial responses were as varied as ours would be. Some of them tried immediately to contain the Spirit and box it up in their usual answers. They tried to dismiss this transformative, life giving moment by saying “those people are just drunk on cheap wine.”And some of them stayed in that question long enough to be brought to their knees but others went to their usual excuses, or to put it more gently their usual efforts to box up and explain and package the power of the Spirit. But some of them caught a glimpse how the walls that divide, the walls we build, the languages that keep us safe and secure are a lie, or at least an inadequate story.

And when the Holy Spirit shows up well we know it’s happening because old worn out stories start to crumble and the walls we build up between us and them are revealed for what they truly are, permeable barriers. The Spirit can’t be kept out. Maybe the Spirit is not the presence that helps us escape the troubles of this life but the nuisance that keeps drawing our attention back to this life.

No matter how much the church has tried to contain the Spirit in doctrine, it is truly all about story. I wonder what stories we are telling, without even realizing it? I wonder if we know, I mean really know, that the Spirit is right here in our midst inviting us to dream bigger, to turn some stories on their heads?

Scholar and activist Joanna Macy wrote a book a few years back entitled Active Hope.[2] She is rooted in the Buddhist tradition but her work translates and I don’t suppose she’d be offended to hear me interpret her work through the lens of the Holy Spirit. She talks about how we can respond to any moment and specifically this moment we are in globally, this moment where fear is seeping in and we are living the story of climate change. She suggests that there are three ways to tell the story of the times in which we are living: Business as usual, The Great Unraveling and the Great Turning.

Business as usual is just as it sounds. It is carrying on with life saying all is well, without a questioning perspective. Business as usual says economic growth is essential for prosperity, it says consumption is good, getting ahead is right, it says nature is a commodity to be used by humans. The measure of success in Business as Usual is around how much more we have than we used to or how much farther and faster we can go. It’s a bit difficult when living in the midst of it to see that you could actually ask questions of the business as usual model. 

            The second story is The Great Unraveling, Or put more crassly we’re going to hell in a hand basket. The great unraveling is when you look around at the list of things that are going wrong and you throw your hands in the air not because you don’t care but because you feel powerless. Climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor the world over, mass migration, political upheaval, nuclear threat, mass species extinction. I dare say there are moments in our own small lives mirror this reality and we are sure that there is no way out of the mess we are living of grief or brokenness, or loss. Some of us find ourselves moving back and forth between these two realities many times in the span of a day, in fact most of us do.

Macy proposes a third way. She calls it the Great Turning but for our intents and purposes today I’m going to call it the way of the Holy Spirit. The third way as three dimensions: action, and I like to call it the way of The Holy Spirit.

The first action of the third was includes protests like the one happening this afternoon, but ask anyone who’s dedicated their life to social action and they’ll tell you if can suck the life out of you. The second is changing behaviours, like how this congregation took its investments a decade ago and decided profit was not the only measure we’d use to determine where to invest we wanted to invest ethically and not in the fossil fuel industry or think about the rise in farmers markets and CSA boxes, or how you bring your own bags to the grocery store and your own cup to the coffee shop.

The third aspect of the third way, is the place where the Holy Spirit is at work. Our changes in action and our behaviour cannot stand-alone. She talks about refreshing our sense of belonging in the world. In the past, changing the self and changing the world were seen as separate endeavours, in either-or terms. But in the story of the Great Turning they are mutually reinforcing and essential to one another. We need to let go of the us and them story. We are one. Sounds rather like what the Holy Spirit was up to that day.

It sounds simple, it makes good sense and yet the Third way IS IN fact a monumental shift. It is a grieving, if you will, of the both business as usual and the great unraveling, it is like what happens when the Spirit shows up and suddenly young men have visions and old men dream dreams – that’s not how its supposed to be!!!

We have a choice about the stories we will root ourselves in, the stories we live and the stories we will dream and vision together. But it comes down to which story will you tell, which story is worthy of your life? Which story has the power to breathe life into your very being and turn your entire life upside down

The story the early church experienced, lived, breathed on that first Pentecost day – it was one that at its core broke down every division people had put in place to make sense of the world. First the disciples emerged from the room in which they’d taken up residence, then the crowds came running, then people understood one another, they even understood those ruddy, backwater Galileans.

Underneath the differences of nationality and language, there was a fundamental unity that was not only touched but enlivened and experienced, profoundly, by many who were there. Others scoffed and interpreted even the most amazing of events through the eyes and ears of cynicism, but those with hearts and minds that were open to the movement of the Spirit knew that a new day had come.

And perhaps that is what makes Pentecost so terribly ordinary and remarkable: perhaps that day serves as a loud reminder that Spirit is in our midst, sweeping through our very beings all the time.  That day people felt something overwhelming and it changed their lives, it was a moment of commitment of reigniting the fire in their bellies…  it was not a moment of signing up to a particular set of religious beliefs,  there was no test about whether those gathered believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or whether God is some other worldly being or whether their theological views were in total alignment with the community.  This was not a melting pot moment, this crowd gathered was not made to fit in some sort of box rather it was a moment where each one tapped into the deep wisdom within, the innate call to life that we all fiercely share. 

Was life perfect after that, heck no, most of those disciples were martyred as the story unfolded. But they caught a glimpse, or more accurately they caught a breath of the presence of the Spirit, and they knew in their hearts that there are a story to be lived where the bounds of who we have capacity to care about were broken open, their minds were blown.

Maybe the duties of the Holy Ghost aren’t so unclear afterall, its role is to cause trouble, to mess with our heads, to disorient, to shake us into paying attention, to insist when no one else will that there is another way, and it’s a way where every last division we use to make sense of the world and to protect ourselves is shaken to the core. Maybe Spirit is the power that shows us we are all one.

Way back in the years following WWII astronomer Fred Hoyle said that onece a photograph of the Earth was taken from outside, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Twenty years later when Bill Anders, the astronaut who took the first pictures of earth from the moon, commented, “We came all this way to explore the moon and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” The earth with no political borders, from way up there in space no divisions of race or class or species, just one, great world.

What stories is Spirit calling us to live about this world and our place in it.

One of the ways we seek to touch into the power of Spirit is in this sacrament that transcends time that links us to the first followers of Jesus while at the same time draws us into future possibilities of a new story. Flow into an invitation to the communion table…


[1] https://www.theonion.com/god-quietly-phasing-holy-ghost-out-of-trinity-1819566754

[2] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy, New World Library, California, 2012.

April 28, 2019: How does Jesus Save our Bodies? by Frances Kitson (John 20: 19-31)

Christianity has somehow made salvation about our souls, and often we’ve taught that being saved means going to heaven instead of hell. But what about today? What about here and now? How are we saved in this life, in these bodies? That is the question that intrigues me this morning with this passage.

Jesus shows up as a body: a body that breathes, a body with wounds. This is not a ghost, this is not a spirit; neither is it a shiny, intact body, restored to what it was before his death. Jesus shows up in a body.

Christianity has a shameful history of degrading, belittling, and denigrating the body. We have taught that it comes second to the spirit; that it is something to be denied and punished; that any physical pleasure is morally suspect.

We have punished the bodies of women: we have taught that the pain and risk of childbirth is the price women are meant to pay as a result of Eve’s actions; we have taught that women are called to be virginal and without any physical desire; we have taught that women are responsible for the behaviour of men and that any assault they suffer is their fault.

We have punished the bodies of non-white people, lending theological credence to lynchings, enslavement, and racist laws.

We continue to punish the bodies of our queer siblings: rejecting those who don’t fit gender binaries or love the people we insist they are supposed to love.

There is much of which we are called to repent.

And the problem with all of the above is that is actually goes against one of the most fundamental pieces of Christian doctrine: Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

The Athanasian Creed of the 4th century has this to say: “He is God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; / and he is Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world”. Every one of the statements of doctrine in the United Church manual make reference to Jesus as God incarnate.

The human body is not only created by God; it has been assumed by God. Christianity teaches that God has inhabited the human body and walked in it on earth. The human body is loved by God. It is not something to be despised; it is created by God and God has called it good.

The Jewish heritage of Jesus did not preach ascetism, or denial of the body, as a means of faithfulness. There were ideas about purity and impurity, but impurity wasn’t a bad thing. It was just a fact of life, and it was the place where people lived our everyday lives.

Jesus doesn’t preach punishment of the body either. There might be demands placed upon the body in order to focus it to prepare for the urgency of the coming of the kingdom of God, but Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard by his peers, because he seemed to always be feasting and merrymaking with his friends.

Jesus used everyday situations to illustrate his points. He talked about sheep, and a woman sweeping her house, and mustard seeds. He talked about a physical, tangible life that is lived in the body. Jesus healed the physical suffering of people who came to him. Jesus celebrated at wedding feasts. Jesus lived a physical life in his physical body.

Jesus died a physical death in his physical body.

And Jesus rose from his physical death in a physical body.

The factual veracity or biological likelihood of any of this is not the question at issue. This story is handed down to us from our forebears in faith as a story of good news, a story of salvation, and our job is to listen for how God is speaking to us today, here and now, through this story. My question, then, in interrogating this story would be this: from what do our physical bodies need saving here and now?

In the world in which we live, we are offered stories that are both life-denying and life-affirming. One of the most life-denying, dangerous stories the world offers, and it’s a story that gets some people killed, is that some bodies matter more than others. The bodies that matter are the young, white, straight, cisgender, slim, muscular, polished, well-dressed, male, masculine bodies that never suffer illness.

Which leaves a whole lot of us out.

It leaves out trans bodies, queer bodies, old bodies, female bodies, soft bodies, round bodies, black bodies, south Asian bodies, Indigenous bodies.

It leaves out the body that uses a walker, a wheelchair, or a crutch.

It leaves out the body with wrinkles, rolls, age spots, and white hair.

It leaves out the body with pain, whether it’s the pain of knees wearing out or endometriosis.

It leaves out the body that doesn’t fit into categories: the body that doesn’t express its gender in either pink or blue; the body that isn’t skilled at the activities its gender is supposed to be good at, whether wearing makeup or wielding a chainsaw; the body that wears the clothes it isn’t supposed to.

And when a body doesn’t matter, then it’s dispensable.

It can get shot by police.

It can have its assault belittled by the justice system.

It can be a target for the rage of good guys who have just had a little too much to drink.

The story that some bodies don’t matter will get some of us killed. The story that some bodies don’t matter will make its wounds upon all our hearts. And one of the wounds is that we will at some point be complicit in that story.

Jesus says “no” to that story.

Jesus said “no” in his life, in his ministry, and in his resurrection.

The risen Jesus has gone on saying “no” to that story for the last two thousand years.

Jesus rises from what should have killed him – in fact, did kill him. None of this spiritualizing or sanitizing his death: Jesus of Nazareth died a horrible death, and it most emphatically killed him, but that was not the point. The suffering and the death are not the point of the crucifixion; the resurrection is the point.

Jesus has suffered as we suffer. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate entered agony, humiliation, betrayal, rejection, and death. God knows our pain because God has lived it. Jesus was most definitely a body that didn’t matter.

In his resurrection, Jesus rises in a body that bears the wounds of the cross but is very much alive. Jesus lives a physical resurrection from a physical death, and in so doing, lives out divine love of the human body.

Your body.

My body.

Our bodies.

Our bodies that, for whatever reason, society deems unworthy of love. Our bodies that don’t count. Our bodies that aren’t good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, white enough, normal enough, straight enough, cis enough, young enough, disciplined enough, hot enough.

The resurrected Jesus rose as a human body, warm and breathing, living a life that by all known rules of the universe should have been impossible, and that is the story Jesus offers us. That is the good news this story offers us.

The wounded, discarded, rejected body is loved by God and invited into new, impossible, joyous life. A life with scars, yes. A life that will not be the same as the life we had, or the life thought we should have, or the life we thought we wanted. We might not live a life that will get us on a magazine cover. We might not live the shiny, pretty life that is supposed to be the life that matters. We definitely will not live a life without pain.

But my friends, we are going to live a life in God. In our bodies.

Your body.

My body.

Our bodies.

These beloved bodies are who we are, and they are beloved by God. We are the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is full of life and possibility. And as such, let’s take the risk of faith this morning.

Let’s dare to say “yes” to God.

Let’s dare to live faith and resurrection and impossible life in these beautiful, broken, scarred bodies of ours.

Let’s dare to hear God’s call to rise from our graves, put away our burial cloths, and come out of the tomb into a life in God, in Christ, in the Spirit. For truly, I tell you: it is calling us.

Thanks be to God.

April 21, 2019: Just another Easter by Rev. Beth Hayward (John 20: 1-18)

Come into this story with me, come close, narrow your gaze with me to one focused point. I wonder, in fact I truly hope, that in narrowing our gaze to the smallest detail, we might just uncover a glimpse of resurrection. Come with me to look at Mary, after the other disciples have come running and left running. There she stands alone, finally mustering the courage to peer inside the tomb for herself, to confirm with her own eyes what she already knows in her heart, that the tomb is empty, the body is gone; it is finished. Picture her looking into the empty tomb, a couple of angels offering a brief extension of comfort. She turns around, and this is the moment, I want to invite you all into.

She turns around and sees the gardener. And he asks why she’s crying and she begs him to tell her where the body has been placed, who took it, please tell me!

The gardener calls her by name: “Mary!” That’s when she knows that she is standing in the presence of her Lord, the moment she hears her name spill from his lips. We don’t know if she reached for him, if she was about to throw herself at his feet or pull him close in a tender embrace because before we can even see how the scene might unfold he says to her: “Do not hold on to me.” Don’t cling to me.

The thing about resurrection is that the moment you witness it, the moment you are standing face to face with it you know too that resurrection is not something you can hold on to. You can’t cling to it, you can only run with it. Resurrection is always running ahead, it’s like you see it, you feel it, you know it to be true and then it says to you sternly, no, no you can’t hold on to this, try as you will but resurrection will disintegrate in your hand it’s like catching air

For now, hold the image of Mary. There, face to face with the risen Christ and in a split second having to decide will she try to cling to him or run with it that moment when she is so wanting to cling to resurrection and there within reach is the very voice of resurrection saying go on now, run with it. Just hold that.

            Now allow me pull a thread from there to here. Just a thin glistening thread, right from that scene to this very week in the world today. As Holy Week began for Christians the world over, this past Monday, a fire broke out in the 800 year old Notre Dame Cathedral.

One skeptical journalist, writing about the fire, questioned why it was that within minutes of news breaking, social media feeds were flooded with photos of tourist visits to the great Parisian landmark. Why as this stunning incarnation of architecture and religious grandeur was still burning, did every last person who ever took a trip to Paris post a picture of their personal moment with the great cathedral?[1]

This journalist concedes that for some people there was a tangible sense of grief at the destruction of a stunning piece of gothic architecture and for others a deep sadness at the loss of a symbol of faith but for most, he says, the main significance of Notre Dame is how it was on the tourist loop. You visit Paris; you see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Cathedral, not necessarily in that order. With news that a few uber-rich families committed hundreds of millions to a yet to be established rebuilding fund, the predictable counter argument took shape. Social media feeds, at least in some circles were, flooded with other images, other calls, most notably the words “save this cathedral” pasted over images of dead coral reefs and suffering rainforests and garbage littered seas

In many ways what unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral is not dissimilar from what happened after the tragic death of Princess Diana when crowds flooded the streets, laying flowers and teddy bears at the gates of the palace, in a public display of grief unseen since perhaps the death of Kennedy; people going through the motions of a massive display of global, public grief.

It begs the question, are we playing a part? Are we really grieved at the loss of this building? Are we really going to save the coral reefs? or are we in a sense just going through the motions? I think It’s more than that, I think the reaction is real, I’m just not sure it’s sustainable.

I’m not going to be critical of those who have posted photos of their time in Paris, (goodness, knows people would only think I’m jealous because I’ve never been)

whether they visited the Cathedral as part of a spiritual pilgrimage, or to witness a stunning piece of architecture or just because it was on the tourist loop. And I understand the impulsive reaction of some to send money to rebuild a pretty old church. Just as I hear the pleas of others to put your money where it matters and save this planet.

All of it is our human longing, our innate desire to cling to the stuff that matters. to choose life. We want to be connected; in fact we need to be connected. But of course we know, if we’re honest that even this will be a fleeting moment of global mourning and unity.

I wonder if the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has endured, if it has been more impactful, enduring and sustaining than the viral response to a burning church. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Jesus didn’t persuade those first witnesses, including Mary, of their moral obligation to spread the word. No he seduced her.

Yeah, I just went there. But do let me clarify. Anyone who’s followed the story thus far will know without a doubt that Mary will run to spread the news of resurrection. Because this isn’t going through the motions for her, this isn’t about grasping for some sense of meaning and connection no, she was seduced long ago by Jesus and his movement she was seduced into trusting that there is a power of life and love at work in this world that is greater than the countless deaths we impose on each other daily, greater than the forces of fire that turn buildings to ash, greater than our daily commitment to choose comfort over conservation.

She was seduced by the way he lived this up-side down Kin-dom where the last are first and the unworthy are loved. Mary ran with resurrection because she’d spent three years being seduced to love, along with the motely crew of people who Jesus gathered around him. Resurrection embodies the truth that moral obligation or its counter, moral indignation will never be enough to sustain us, just as it will never be enough to motivate us to do anything more than stand there and cling.

No, we need love to fill us with the courage to run from the places where we hear the voice of resurrection and carry that truth of life from death, that truth of the living presence of Christ in our midst, and run and tell the others.

Yes, this Easter day let me declare that what we need in church is a whole lot more seduction. We need to get out of our heads and into our hearts because every one knows that we protect what we fall in love with. Sustainable communities require seduceable hearts: hearts that can fall in love with beauty.  Resurrection of a life, a community, a cathedral, the earth will only truly happen if it begins with seduction[2].

When have you been seduced? Holding new born life in your arms, human or animal? When have you been seduced? In the presence of one who loves not in spite of your human imperfections but because of them? When have you been seduced? In a community of people who say you’re worth loving when you mess us, when you let me down, when you’re a broken, insecure mess? And having been seduced by love, true love, real love, all you can do is release. There is no clinging in seduction. You are compelled to go and tell the others.

If you take a look at your life and you’ll know that always without fail, you give your life to what has captured your heart, to the people and places that have seduced you into loving them. That’s why resurrection matters, because it continues to say boldly that we are bigger than this, we are deeper than this, we are more together than alone

Sometimes we settle for a Tweet or an Instagram post because we get scared that there’s not enough to go round, not enough love to go round, more than anything not enough conviction in our hearts to go round. Perhaps we wonder if the apparent strength of moral obligation or indignation will be more persuasive that seduction

All of it will fall short, the rebuilding of the cathedral, the renewal of the dead coral reefs or felled forests, the fulfillment of your very life, all of it will fall short if we come to it only with moral obligation. Or if we approach it with clinging and going through the motions

We need to practice falling in love, sticking with one another long enough to see that Easter morning is not some mythical safety net but an invitation to life, to choose life, to live like this moment is all you have, not because you’re delusional but because you know in your bones that death does not have the final word.

How will we fall in love? How will we nurture seducable people within suducable communities? Start by listening for your name. Every time you hear your name,, remember it is a call to seduction, an invitation to fall in love with life again.

Those first disciples including Mary, they believed in the resurrection because they’d already lived it, they’d already built capacity to fall in love, to be seduced by the promise that we are greater than we now think possible and you are more worthy than you ever dreamed.

I wonder where resurrection might lead us if we practiced being communities of seduction like our lives depended on it? I wonder. Amen


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidalm/2019/04/17/why-do-we-post-our-vacation-photos-of-notre-dame/#57cad5037190

[2] https://www.openhorizons.org/trust-in-beauty.html

Invitation to participate in spring gardening

Well-tended gardens feed the soul of the community and of the gardeners.

The CMUC gardening ministry team welcomes additional volunteers to help care for the perennial beds around our property. Tools, training and group-building are available. The options below accommodate various schedules and preferred working styles:

Group Gardening: Sherry Burrows or an experienced alternate will be available to give ideas on areas for focus to those who want to garden on a given day. You can come as little or as often as you wish,  on most Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:30-11:00am, give or take. (Please register so you can be informed of any schedule changes.)

Individual Gardening: You are welcome to come when the spirit moves you, using the Garden Log kept in the office to find out the areas of focus for that week and communicate what you’ve accomplished. (Please register so you can be in the loop about developments that affect gardening activity.)

Gardening Connection Circle: Care of Self, Others, and the Garden – This group of eight individuals will meet 9:30-11:00am on Friday mornings (May 3, 10 and 31, and June 7, 14 and 21). Sessions will begin and end in the Meditation Room. Each session will combine open-hearted listening to ourselves and others at the opening and the closing, a short presentation on an environmentally-friendly gardening topic, and about half an hour of silent unstructured time in the garden to use as your soul guides you – contemplation, artistic pursuits, and/or active gardening. Wilda Bostwick will facilitate.

MORE INFORMATION:

For more information about any of these opportunities, speak to Sherry Burrows or Wilda Bostwich during Coffee Hour each Sunday, or drop by Tuesday/Friday mornings and chat with any of the gardeners present.