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

April 14, 2019: Holiness All Around by Rev. Beth Hayward (Luke 19: 28-49)

I’ve never much liked parades; it’s a bit like after service coffee hour on steroids. Parades are quite a bit of stimulation for us introverts. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective but to my mind parades are all hassle. From the bad behaviour of people who push their way to the front even though you were there first, those with no regard for the sight lines of children and the inevitable fact that it’s always too hot or too cold or too wet. Besides parades are either small town hokey or big city corporate. I’m a true bah humbug Scrooge when it comes to parades. Given all of this it is possible that I approach the beginning of Holy Week with a bit of skepticism. Can anything good come of a parade?

You may recall hearing that there were two parades happening that day. The one that took place every year, the one that was quite possibly filled with people like me, there out of duty more than desire. That parade at the west gate of the city was big, it was a spectacular display of military force and it happened every year before the Jewish Passover as a reminder to the religious faithful that Caesar was Lord, not some liberator God. The Governor Pontius Pilate would extract himself from his beach home in Caesarea and ride into town with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. If anyone had an inkling of a thought of uprising against the powers that be, they would quickly think again.

The parade on the east side was different. There were no horses or armed guards, just Jesus on a donkey. There were no floats from corporate sponsors; just ordinary people, cheering and waving palms. These people were filled with expectant hope, dreaming of a new life, longing for a release from so many struggles and concerns. Every one of them would have known that when a prince rides into enemy territory on a donkey he comes bearing peace. Jesus wasn’t there to fight. By weeks end no one seems to remember this.

Parades don’t last, they aren’t meant to be permanent, just one off moments, a little out of the ordinary escape for ordinary folk. Everyone knows, whether you’re on the float or sitting with a numb backside on the curb, you’re a participant in a fleeting spectacle. When the last float rolls by you all pack up and escape the chaos, returning to your ordinary.

If you know the story that comes after the Palm Parade you’ll know that all of the enthusiasm quickly makes way for fear and betrayal. You’ll know that the street cleaners had barely finished picking up the palm branches when things took a turn for the worse. The protest for this way of Love quickly gives way to the cross. But on the way to the cross, in fact all the way to next Sunday, we call this week Holy. Holy Week, an entire seven days of holiness, ordinary holiness.

It’s not called holy week because it’s special or distant or a unique one off. No the thing that is holy about this week is just how ordinary it is, the holy thing about this week is the way it tells stories that we know as our own, deeply personal stories of triumph and betrayal and intimate friendships and death. This week is holy because it is our week, it tells our story, it tells the stories of our lives, the whole gammet of them and insists that God is part of all of it, that through the best of times and most especially in the worst of times God is faithful and present. This story isn’t about the past, it’s not history, it’s our story. And we call it holy so that we will know that in all these moments we’re not alone, that God too is with us. And we will be more able to see the holy to find it, name it, touch it, in the most tender and vulnerable places.

Holy like the evening Jesus gathered one last time with his closest friends and they shared a Passover feast that reminded them of the struggle and perserverance of their ancestors. They filled their bodies that night with the nourishment of good food and flowing drink, and tender touch, and conversation both robust and guarded. Where things are said or left unsaid. We know that table, where the holy is tangible if we just take a moment to see it and taste it. Tables where no matter the outcome we sit down with the intention to feed the bodies and souls of every single person gathered: Holy

We know what it means to watch a friend leave the room for good, without saying goodbye. Judas walks away from the table and sells out for a few gold coins.

Peter does it more subtly, after promising Jesus his loyalty one time after another he denies having known him. We know what it is to have friends walk away when we need them most. We know what it is to be the friend who can’t stay because we think we can’t bear the cost of the friendship, to walk away because in the moment it seems easier than staying there at the table and working through the murky stuff that is relationship. Walking away from the table because you can’t figure out how to stay – Holy

We know too what it means to look into the eyes of your mother one last time. There on the cross it was the last time to look into the eyes of his mother and to know as everyone throughout time has known that it’s not right for child to leave this world before parent. Jesus there on the cross, not as a martyr or a hero but as one who refused to sell out, knowing that had he cared less about the common good he may well have saved his own life, and spared his mother a broken heart. We don’t mean to break our mother’s hearts, none of us do. But it happens, sometimes, through bad luck or wrong choices, or because of the fact that we have this ability to irreparably break relationships.

Looking into the eyes of your mother for the last time, as you sit vigil by her palliative bedside, looking in the eyes of your mother for the last time as she turns her back to you in judgment because your God given identity challenges her socially established prejudices. Looking into the eyes of your mother for the last time. Relationships ended or paused or in limbo – Holy

We know Jesus calling out from the cross My God my God why have you forsaken me? Don’t think for a minute that this is a line from the story book that is the bible, no these are the words extracted from a breaking heart, when hope is lost, when we have run out of reserves to see a way where there is no way. These are the words we whisper when the thoughtless, cutting words of another leave us feeling exposed and weak. This is the cry when you give it your all and there is no reward. This is the cry when you are the one given the diagnosis, or the pink slip or the unfortunate bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My God my God why have your forsaken me, it is the cry from the thresholds, form the thin places, from the edge when we really don’t know if there is any coming back, whether this moment has finally gone too far to promise any sort of resurrection. Broken hearts and bodies and dreams- Holy

We know what it means to go on trial, to be beaten and crucified. Don’t tell me you’ve never been hanged on the cross. Don’t tell me you’ve never stood on watching as the nails were hammered into someone else. Holy, even the moments we stand helpless at the foot of the cross wondering if it all had to come to this or if we might have, could have, should have done something differently. The regret and the guilt – Holy.

You see the god of power has failed us, has failed for the past several centuries to deal with the problem of evil, has failed to take away our suffering and struggles. And so as theologian Jürgen Moltmann once wrote: “to recognize God in the crucified Christ means to… understand oneself and this whole world …as existing in the history of God. God is not dead. God is in death. God suffers with us. … Suffering is in God. God does not reject,… Rejection is within God.”[1] The entirety of our lives is IN God.

Back to parades: I don’t mean any disrespect to the parade. Parades serve their purpose. Parades and protest marches, and all description of one off gatherings of strangers. There is near electric connection that can happen when strangers gather together to celebrate or to protest, to dream or to mourn. No I mean no disrespect to those who show up once in a while hoping somehow that they might find a bit of what they are looking for by coming together for a parade or an Easter Sunday service.

No I mean no disrespect to the importance of such things. I just know, as you do, that most of life happens not on the parade routes but in the trenches or perhaps to put it less dramatically, around dining room tables, and at bedsides, and in parks and gardens and school yards. Most of life happens not in an Easter or Palm Sunday sort of way, but in the ordinary holiness of the every day.

And it’s in this ordinary holy that more often than not we have opportunity to meet the God we long know, to touch the heart of the divine, to know that we are not alone. In this holy ordinary we meet a God who suffers with us and by us but more important than that we meet the God who resides in the suffering. All of it, every bit of our human experience is lived within the heart of God. You right here right now are in God, not cheering God on from obstructed view curbside seats, not desperately grasping for some piece of a distant divinity but standing in the very heart of the divine.

Oh my, can we trust that truth? Or are we so busy waiting for a grand parade, a total transformation that we might miss the truth that we are right here, right now, and always living our lives within the very heart of God.

And if you’re too busy waiting for a parade or too preoccupied with the total transformation of a dramatic apocalyptic event you are likely to miss what one theologian called the proximate goals, the “gradual measures, the minor improvements, the piecemeal changes, the little bits of progress that are in fact in glorious revelation of the living God in whom we live and move and have our being.”[2] Holy is life, and when God was made known in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth we caught a glimpse of the fact that in his most human experience of dying on the cross, he revealed to us the true depth and breadth of his divinity. Holy Holy Holy

[1] Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003, 90.

[2] ibid

April 7, 2019: Giving Up Valleys by Rev. Beth Hayward (Ezekiel 37: 1-14)

Don’t you ever wish that the Spirit of God was as dramatic and clear as it was back in biblical times? If I were lifted up from my desk, hands yanked from the keyboard, teacup crashing to the floor and dropped down into a valley of dry bones, whoa, I would not miss that sign. I would know that God wanted me to pay attention. You can almost picture Ezekiel – or me! – scrambling, jumping up, brushing dust from clothes, taking a quick look around. He’s looking around in a panic – like I would be – “Hey Ezekiel, can these dry bones live?”

What would you do under the circumstance? Would you stand there frozen and squeeze your eyes shut, in hopes that this horrible dream would vanish? Would you tiptoe gingerly to the edge of the valley or maybe you’d sprint out of there as quickly as your legs could take you, hands over your ears to drown out the sound of bone-crunching beneath your feet.

”Can these dry bones live?” What kind of question is that? Is it rhetorical? Is it a joke, a trick? Ezekiel doesn’t seem to know so he does the smart thing, he panders to God’s ego (because we all know God has an ego): ‘Oh Lord God, only you know the answer to that.” All the while under his breath he must have been whispering: “Get me out of here!”

As I was mulling over this text in my head this week, even as my vascular surgeon was extracting blood clots from my leg, (which I promise you was not serious, just gross), I was talking about dry bones. I just thought, you know, a doctor like that might have something to add to the musings. But he said to me in no uncertain terms that he can look at all manner of medical ickiness but any time he’s experienced death, he’s left the room as quickly as possible.

Who else might I have consulted? Plenty of you here could have advised me on matters medical – I just ran out of steam. But I do know this: our culture has an aversion to death. We really do, we talk about ‘passing away’ instead of naming. We throw broken things rather than figuring out how to fix. We tell stories of narrow escapes from untimely death. You know the tales of a friend who beat cancer and lived to tell about it, which allows us to avoid the uncomfortable footnote that reminds us of the eventuality that awaits us all. We deny death, and it’s vital role in life, in countless subtle ways each and every day. We look away; we avoid.

Ezekiel’s people were no different. Theirs was a story of death: death of home – the temple in Jerusalem was levelled; death of hope –  would liberation ever happen after all these years? Death of dreams, and possibilities

In the vision, God breaks Ezekiel free of the persuasive powers of nostalgia, breaks him free from the fear of an utterly hopeless future, pulls him bone-by-bone out of death denial, and drops him squarely in the dry bones of the here and now. And God tells Ezekiel to prophesy, to say something, to do something, to confront the death and the denial, breathe a vision that is different from the one that has taken up residence in the hearts of his people.

This is a “how big is your God moment”, if ever there was one. A “how big is your God moment,” like Joseph talked about on the first Sunday of Lent. Every revival, every resurrection begins with the protagonists saying: yes my God is big enough to accompany me through this valley, even this impossible situation. Though I might not be able to feel, taste or touch that truth from my current vantage point, though my head tells me hope is lost, though there is no evidence in my peripheral vision indicating there is any hope for the future, I am going to dare to listen, to, tap into the voice of the holy whispering, to prophesy, to breathe, to say something, to look at the destruction all around and to dare to live like I believe God will never abandon me, todare to know that the holy heart of the universe that is God’s love continues to beat even right here in the valley of dry bones. A how big is your God moment. This is a moment when you are awakened again to the truth that the weight of the world is not on your shoulders alone AND awakened to the truth that God has never and will never abandon.

God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. Wow. People out there who do yoga – take note! Prophesy to the breath.  And his prophesying to the breath, that is his “my God is bigger” moment.

Listen to these words from preacher and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor about the breath.

If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil that we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years or so to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating. Which means that every time any of us breathes, we breathe stardust left over from the creation of the earth. We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya, and air that has turned yellow with sulphur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo, not to mention Hitler and Lizzie Borden. Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby’s first breath, or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us with it into the next person or tree or blue-tailed skink who uses it to live.[1]

A how big is your God moment reminds you how it is all connected, how we are all connected, how the cycle of life and death of every one of us is connected. All ecosystems are created to harvest nutrients to create new life. It’s just that for us right now, in a world that recycles all the breath, we’re testing the limits.

You- or I – may, some day, hear God, or someone asked: “Can these dry bones live?” Or maybe, it will be more the whisper of some other question: Can this overheating planet live? Oh God you know. Can this culture of consuming live? Oh God you know. Can a people who do everything in their power to say death has no part in life live? Oh God you know. Can my family, with the gaping hole of grief or brokenness live? Oh God you know. Can I, in this current circumstance live; I mean really live? Oh God you know.

Those bones, the moment Ezekiel prophesied to the breath and they found their voice again, what did they say? Did they say thank you? Did they say this is awesome? Did they say, what shall we do now that we live?  No, they said “our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.”

We live in a time that is wrought with things to make us anxious. I hear your cries of lament. I hear so many cries of lament that the ringing in my ears can reach a feverish pitch. I know you hear the cries too. The state of the very world, the dire warnings come in weekly news flashes, one week it is that the ice is melting too fast and the next that Canada holds the honour having its average temperatures rising more quickly than the rest of the world.

And in response we bring our canvas sacks to the grocery stores and if we have the privilege we purchase electric cars, all the while knowing deep down that death is all around, that there is no hope that our bones are dried up and there are bones of death further than the eye can see. And if we aren’t paralyzed by the thought of it all then we numb ourselves with the illusion that it is life as usual.

And those cries reverberate and echo and are reflected in the cries of lament that are deeply personal, that really are our personal crosses to bear. Those cries of lament for the state of the world have a connection like the ripples of a pebble thrown into a still pond, where right at the heart we lament the loss of our loved one, and perhaps the loss of one’s health, and the loss of futures we once took for granted or at the very least futures we hoped for.

I don’t want to be over dramatic and I certainly don’t want to suggest that I have any claim on the spiritual gift of prophesy but I do think long and hard and I pray often about you this beautiful community of people who come to this place for so many reasons. Many of you come here when your hearts have been ravaged by loss, or you come here looking for something more, or your show up because someone said, I think you might find some of what you’re looking for in this place, or you come here because you’re trying to make meaning in a world where options seem endless and confining all at the same time.  And I pray about the future of this place. And I do endeavour to pay attention to the breath.

I have been meeting with a small group to test and flesh out an emerging vision for our community. It’s early days; it’s an evolving process and you, in due course, will be invited to contribute to this vision. I want to share a glimpse, just some early thoughts and images with you. There is something from the field of dry bones coming to life that seems to call to this moment.

This vision that I am extracting from the laments, like Ezekiel looking for the breath in the valley, it is about looking for hope, real hope, hope that is not an escape but a promise in our context. We can’t escape the things that scare us, the laments, the heartbreaks, the dire forecasts that flow at us more quickly than we can comprehend. This can’t be a place to get away from it all or to be inoculated against the world out there.

Instead building capacity in each and every one of us

  • to stand in the valleys,
  • to name the truths all around,
  • to practice burying what is dead and
  • to name where there is life

And yes I hope building capacity for each and every one of us to prophesy, to speak and act and live from the promise that we are all one, and that we are connected one to another and indeed to the bones below our feet and the earth below the bones AND most certainly to the breath.

Today the sermon is titled “Giving up Valleys” but let me review that now – there is no shame in rethinking an ongoing process – it really isn’t about ‘giving up the valleys’: they are part of life, some are much deeper than others, some full of dry dead bones, but even so that is a part of the cycle of life.The question is not to avoid, or give up the valleys of life, but what will we do when we find ourselves there? How then shall we live? How shall we stand there, will we learn to breathe deeply enough that the air that has been the first and last breath of those who have come before might be exhaled in words and deeds that say yes my God is big enough, big enough to keep my fears in check, big enough to partner with me to offer vision and hope, big enough to breathe out a revival of spirit that is neither an escape to some dead nostalgia nor an escape to some fairy tale future, but a revival of the here and now that is resilient and real and honest and hope filled all at the same time. So let us breathe life into death, let the valleys be lifted up, let every one sing a revival…

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., Plymouth UK, 1999.

March 31, 2019: Giving Up Resentment by Rev. Beth Hayward (Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32)

This is a story by Teri Daly, an Episcopal priest in Arizona. She talks about her grandmother who could remember every single sin her grandfather ever committed.

She could actually construct a genealogy of them – telling you which wrong begat which subsequent wrong. Her grandparents help her move states one time using their motor home. They had owned it for several years but it had never before left the driveway, which Daly insists is a story all its own. And so this moving trip was both the motor home’s maiden and final voyage. All this is to say that her grandfather was not an experienced motor home driver and so when he pulled in off the highway to do some shopping along the way he drove into a parking garage not tall enough for the Winnebago, they got stuck.Immediately, grandma turned to grandpa and laid out in full the map of his sins. “It’s all your fault,” she snapped.

“If you weren’t so lazy you would have been out working on the rental property every afternoon instead of sitting on the stool in the restaurant drinking milkshakes, then you wouldn’t have gotten so fat that your clothes don’t fit and we wouldn’t have had to stop at JC Penny to buy you a new pair of pants, and we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with!”[1]

I don’t know if you know anyone like that? That kind of resentment, that takes years to build up!

The thing about a parable is that every time you come to it you find a new angle, a new entry point, and a glimmer of truth that eluded you before. This week when I sat with the prodigal son I saw so much resentment.[2] Resentment from the eldest that his hard work wasn’t acknowledged, that his younger brother was honoured after wasting his inheritance.

Resentment from the younger, that he had to ask for his fair share in the first place. Maybe he felt he was being held back by his father’s expectations. I even wonder if there was are all sorts of hidden resentments from the servants. Did they resent being relegated to the role of voiceless extras in a rich man’s story?

None of us sets out to carry a truckload of resentment with us in our lives.  None of us wants to be that person the one who can’t dare to enjoy a moment of grace, so bitter that it’s like as if we aren’t even living anymore. None of us sets out to be that person. Resentment is a long game emotion. It doesn’t just show up, it’s the sum of one small indignation after another. Those little bursts of judgment that we offer day in and day out. But over time as we keep keeping score, and those righteous indignations add up we end up with a sum total of deep-rooted resentment.

It starts subtly, one little righteous indignation at a time. You know what I mean, right? How did you get a better mark when I worked harder? Who don’t you ever empty the dishwasher, or clean your room, or pick up your socks when I’m working so hard?

You know it, the voice inside your head that starts asking questions like: why do I always have to remember to pay the visa bill, to call your mother, and pick up the bread and milk after work?

Righteous indignation, because he cut me off in traffic, and she gets paid more for doing less,

you name it, we know how to get angry about the small stuff, and the big stuff for that matter.

Indignation is an anger response and we are so good we often don’t even notice we’re doing it

There’s a political cartoonist base din New York who thought a lot about this when he was drawing cartoons during the Bush presidency. Tim Kreider says he was professionally angry for eight years! It feels good. He says it’s like a rush of adrenaline running through your body.

And when you realize that anger is a physical pleasure, you begin to understand why you have this “perverse obstinacy with which the mind keeps returning to it despite the fact that, intellectually, we knew it is pointless self-torture.[3]

All of this is to say that I am really very sympathetic to the characters in this parable who end up if not resentful at least a bit indignant. If God is represented by the father in this parable as is suggested with an allegorical read by many scholars throughout time, clearly God either doesn’t know right from wrong or chooses to execute justice without appreciation for the facts.

The prodigal son? How about the dad of questionable ethics? Just imagine the places you could take this: God – the parent who rewards both kids with an ice cream when only one cleaned their room. God the player who sees someone snatch $200 on the way to Monopoly jail and says nothing. God, the teacher who doesn’t just see the child in the back of the room cheat but takes the paper from the A student and gives it to the cheater to help. It just makes no sense why – doesn’t God keep score? 

As the youngest child in my family of origin, even I feel for the eldest brother. He’s loyal, hard working, conscientious and faithful. He is all the things a firstborn should be and what does he get in return for the years he stood by his dad and worked his fingers to the bone? He gets a slap in the face. Meanwhile, the younger brother wastes all he’s been given, comes home groveling and Dad throws him a party. Not just any party, this is a kill the fatted calf, uncork the good wine, bring in the band, party til the sun comes up party.

Meanwhile out in the field big brother finishes another grueling day, dragging his feet home

dust caked on to the sweat of his brow and learns not only has his loser of a brother returned

he’s the guest of honour at the party of the year, and the elder brother wasn’t even invited.

If those who work hard are treated like this and the high rolling, swindling ones are rewarded without so much as a please or thank you, what kind of God is this? 

What kind of God is this? We’ll get to that but maybe we should begin with what kind of people are we? Do you resonate with the younger today?  Wanting your fair share of whatever it is you think you’ve earned in life? What kind of people are that we dare to come back looking for mercy when we’ve wasted the opportunity put before us?  Or maybe the elder brother’s experience rings true today: What kind of people are we that we get bent out of shape because someone else seems to have been given a better break? What kind of people are we that we can’t even join the party that’s being thrown to celebrate the redemption of others?

In the face of all this resentment what does the father do? He welcomes back the one who is lost, brings him into a great big bear hug, lavishes him with grace. It’s interesting isn’t it that this has been titled the parable of the Prodigal Son. I mean it doesn’t say that in the scripture that’s just the title it was given somewhere along the way. As if the focus is meant to be on the foolish, wasteful son. As if those of us who waste our God given gifts should consider ourselves duly warned!. But prodigal, as it turns out, means both reckless and lavish. And so it could easily be titled The Parable of the Prodigal Father. The father who recklessly lavishes us with grace and love.

Which one was more reckless really: the young one who spent what was rightfully his or the, father who welcomes him back? The idea that the nature of God is so reckless, well, it stops us in our tracks, it confounds us. We keep thinking that maybe this Kin-dom of God is just a better version of our best versions of reality when in truth the way Jesus describes it, the Kin-dom of God is so counter to our resentments and score keeping that we can barely comprehend it,

in fact we don’t comprehend it, we mostly only catch glimpses.

What does it look like when we catch a glimpse of the kin-dom where no one keeps score?

where you have no idea who is winning or losing, where there is no tracking of billable hours,

no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debts on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?” no counting old grievances or grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. And more than that for some reason, people in this Kin-dom have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.

We almost can’t even imagine such a place.[4]

The prodigal kin-dom of God is like the Shakespearean kingdom of King Lear. Remember Lear and his favourite daughter Cordelia. When he goes to divide his kingdom, her profession of love it doesn’t seem extravagant enough for him so he banishes her from the kingdom.

Later, when he’s completely lost his mind he awakens to find Cordelia at his bedside, but she doesn’t give him what he deserves no instead she offers total forgiveness. Lear asks if he’s in France, he can’t fathom that this is happening here in his own kingdom.[5]  And the fact is Lear may be physically in his kingdom but really he has left his world and entered another. A world ruled by forgiveness, grace and all encompassing love. A prodigal world.

What does it mean to give up resentment? How will that change us and change others?

it starts small. Not with a big step. It ‘s not, in the first place, about a sudden reconciliation.

We don’t start on this path by calling up that person from whom you have been estranged for a decade and saying, “I’ve decided this is over, let’s get along.” No, I’m not suggesting that you drop your bags full of resentment and get down on your knees.

So what do we do? What’s the point of this prodigal story, this gracious reconciliation, this overflowing love that touches us in the angry, resentful places of our lives? Is there something about just learning to see things differently? Like a continued evolution of consciousness where we must break free of our quick reflexes, our desire to sort things into categories, and instead practice quieting our minds enough for another voice to enter, another possibility to be imagined?

I can’t explain it, but the gospel points to, invites us into this foreign land again and again, where not only are all welcome but grudges aren’t held and resentments don’t take root,

because no one is keeping score. A gospel land of no one-up-manship, no score-keeping, A gospel land where inner peace seems to be the starting place.

Jesus paints a picture of a world in this story of a foolish son and an even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Some people, especially in our desperate world today,

some people won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years, I’ve done all this, I’ve worked so hard, and this is what I get …”

But this is – as Lent is – about the story that makes no sense and is ours. This brother of yours, this co-worker of yours, this partner of yours, this child of yours, this one who was dead has come to life… And in that life there is such graciousness and such love, such peace, such hope, that we can never be the same again.

[1] https://www.openhorizons.org/why-is-it-so-hard-to-forgive-are-baby-steps-alright.html

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5307#comments With gratitude to Karoline Lewis for the angle of resentment this week.

[3] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/isnt-it-outrageous/?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Opinion&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=Blogs

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1513 These thoughts and phrases are borrow graciously from David Lose.

[5] ibid