Don’t just do something, sit there!

Submission to the May “Connections” newsletter of Mill Woods United

This reflection borrows its title from a 1996 book by American meditation teacher, Sylvia Boorstein. As I begin a three-month sabbatical, I have adopted her phrase as a touchstone.

Boorstein puts a twist on a common cry of alarm. In its original form, it reminds us that in times of crisis, we are supposed to do more than just sit around. We are supposed to act to make a positive difference.

But despite this common sense idea, I agree with Boorstein that sometimes the best thing we can do in the ups and downs of life is to just sit and observe. Sometimes contemplation is what our souls and the situation require.

At least, I hope this is the case because for the next three months, I am not doing the usual activities associated with being the minister at Mill Woods United. I’m not going to preside and preach on Sunday mornings (and thanks again to David Faber and Jo-Anne Kobylka for filling in!). I’m not going to attend committee meetings. Nor am I going to involve myself in outreach and justice work. A lot of the time, I’m just going to sit.

Of course, I will be doing more than just sit. I plan to write every day; I will read more widely than I usually do; and I will listen to leaders of other faith communities. But despite these plans, my activity level will drop. I look forward to this time of contemplation, and I see it as gracious punctuation in my work at Mill Woods United, which is in its sixth year.

On December 23 last year, I delivered a sermon on the connection between contemplation and action. I was inspired by one of my mentors, Franciscan pirest Richard Rohr, whose community in New Mexico is named “The Center for Action and Contemplation.” Rohr writes:

“I founded the Center in 1987 because I had met many social activists who advocated for crucial issues but who were not working from an energy of love. They were still living out of their false self with a need to win and look good.

They might have answers, but they were not themselves the answer. In fact, they were often part of the problem. That’s one reason why most revolutions fail and too many reformers self-destruct. That’s why, I believe, Jesus and other great spiritual teachers emphasize transformation of consciousness and soul; for without inner transformation, there is no lasting reform or revolution . . .

When we can integrate our activism with a contemplative mind and heart, we embrace our shadow and live at peace with those who are different. From a contemplative stance, we come to know almost naturally what action is required.”

I realize there can be a shadow side to contemplation. Sometimes, we may practice Sabbath in the hope that it will make us more productive. We may meditate to gain a competitive advantage. We may sit in solitude even as we continue to wallow in the petty dreams and fears of our egos.

I hope I can avoid these traps. I appreciate this opportunity to retreat and contemplate. And I look forward to our life together this Fall and into the 2020’s. I will be back in the office on August 26 and back in the pulpit on September 1.

As members of a community characterized by both contemplation and action, I pray that we will find opportunities for relaxation this summer and that they will bring us closer to Source. May our actions to increase love and justice always flow from that Source and thus fill our lives with the joy of true companionship.

Blessings, Ian

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“You Deserve a Break Today!”

Texts: Genesis 1: 1-5, 26, 31, Genesis 2: 1-3 (the first, sixth, and seventh days); Exodus 20: 8-11 (“Remember the Sabbath”)

What does keeping the Sabbath mean for us today? In a 24/7 world in which competition between corporations and nations enforces economic growth without limit, do any of us still take seriously the fourth Commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy?

This morning we heard the origins of the fourth of the Ten Commandments. It is based on the creation story from the first chapter of Genesis, the one in which God creates the heavens and earth in six days and then rests on the seventh day. YHWH refers to his role in this creation story when he commands the Hebrew people to remember the sabbath via tablets that Moses brings down from a meeting with YHWH on Mount Sinai.

Except, YHWH is not the one who creates the heavens and earth. Genesis 1 states that it is a group of gods denoted by the Hebrew word “Elohim” which creates the cosmos in six days. YHWH, who is the tribal God of Abraham and his descendants, does not appear in the Bible until Genesis Two in a completely different and more chaotic creation story — the one that involves Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden. Scholars say that Genesis 2 was written centuries before Genesis 1; and the two creation stories are as different from each other as the different gods they mention.

Despite this, in his Fourth Commandment YHWH states that he is the one who created the heavens and earth in six days and not the group of gods called Elohim.

The Fourth Commandment presents another problem for me when it refers to slaves owned by the Hebrew people. How is it possible that the followers of YHWH and Moses, who were slaves in Egypt but who were supposedly liberated by YHWH, includes slave-owners?

As I have stated on other occasions, I am not a big fan of the book of Exodus. When I first read Exodus in a Bible course for my Masters of Divinity degree, I was shocked at how it portrays YHWH as a mass murderer.

My distaste continued when I came to chapter 20 and the Ten Commandments. Not only do the commandments include vengeful words like YHWH’s statement that he is a jealous god who will punish children for the sins of parents to the third and the fourth generation. The Commandments are followed in Exodus by chapter 21, which details rules for Hebrew slave-owners.

Exodus is considered to be a paradigm of liberation. But it plainly admits that the Hebrew elite, as much as the Egyptian one, are slave-owners. Moses, his brother Aaron, and a handful of other top leaders might have been freed from slavery in Egypt. But the rest of the 400,000 Hebrew people who supposedly spend 40 years wandering the desert before YHWH allows them to conquer Canaan, are still slaves. For me, this admission makes it hard to view Exodus as a story of liberation.

Of course, just as the two different creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 are not accurate accounts of natural history, Exodus is not an accurate account of tribal history.

But regardless of the status of Genesis and Exodus, the Ten Commandments have been central to the ethics of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people for centuries.

When I was a child, the Canadian state enforced Sunday as a sabbath day whether one was Christian, Jewish, an adherent of another religion, or of none. Shopping was not allowed on Sunday; and it was not possible to go to a movie theatre, a bowling alley, or even to watch TV in some parts of Canada until after 1960.

I am glad that restrictions on commerce, entertainment, and work on Sundays have been lifted. A religion that needs state coercion to enforce its traditions is one that is not worth its salt, in my opinion.

On the other hand, I appreciate the practice of Sabbath. In a world with so much busyness and with problems caused by untrammeled economic growth, a commandment to refrain from work at least one day in seven is healthy, I believe.

One of the ironies of ministry is that Sabbath can be a difficult thing for ministers to practice. Not only do I work on Sundays, usually rising early to finish my reflection and other service materials, but I have difficulty finding another day of the week to take off.

This was not a problem when I was settled in Borderlands in southern Saskatchewan eight years ago. Other than having to preach at three sparsely attended worship services every Sunday and to preside at about one funeral per month, there was not much for me to do in that pastoral charge. The three churches had no outreach projects and virtually no committees.

After struggling to come up with a day off for myself, I arrived at the following formula. I pledged to take no days off of work, but to work on no days. Do you see the sad irony in this formulation?

Coming here five years ago was a wonderful change. I feel blessed that this is a busy and ambitious congregation. It has a lot of committees, outreach projects, justice initiatives, and fun and fund-raising projects in which I can involve myself and learn. In some ways, I feel like I began ministry when I started here in January 2014.

The busyness of Mill Woods United means that I continue to grow from working with you even as it also means that I often spend three evenings a week at the church, and that I sometimes work seven days a week, with my days away from the office often the busiest ones.

For this reason, I am grateful to the United Church of Canada for its policy of a paid sabbatical of three months after every five years in ministry and to Mill Woods United for making this policy a reality for me starting tomorrow. Thank you.

Not only will I gain from the rest. I am going to try and expand my heart and mind in the task of articulating how to preach hope, peace, joy and love in such turbulent and interesting times.

As I stated at two evenings of sharing in early 2017, the success of racist and sexist populism, alongside the challenges of Climate Change, artificial intelligence, and increasing secularization, have left me feeling off-balance. I plan to use my time away from congregational work to read and write; to talk with other spiritual leaders; and to see if I can find ways to articulate my perspectives so that others can hear me better, and to gain a better ability to listen to other people so that I can learn how they are coping and thriving in these strange times.

I understand that my preoccupations and interests are not the same as everyone else. For example, when my mind turned to Sabbath this week, I thought of the incredible rise in human productivity over my life time. When I was born in 1957, Canada had 15 million people. Today it has 35 million. In 1957, the world had fewer than 3 billion people. Today it is over 7.5 billion. In 1957, only a handful of passenger jets were manufactured. This year it will be 7,000. In 1957, fewer than 10 million barrels of oil were burned each day. Today, the figure is 100 million barrels. In 1957, only a negligible amount of plastic entered the oceans. Today, it is 8 million tons per year. One could go on.

The productivity of a world market that enforces limitless growth by the threat of competitive failure is one of endless wonder and ceaseless change . . . and of terrifying environmental and social problems.

This is one reason why I believe the world could use more Sabbath. If the human race is going to survive the productivity increases of the past few centuries, it needs new economic models that don’t involve competition. How this will happen, I have no idea. But I imagine it will include upholding the spiritual principles of rest, relaxation, peace, and sabbath.

Sabbath doesn’t only mean one day a week of rest, or three-months of rest every five years. We can experience Sabbath with every breath out; with every moment of mindfulness; with every prayer; and with every good night’s sleep.

Sabbath might have dubious roots in Genesis and Exodus, but I see it as a precious heirloom of our ancestors, and a gracious note to remember and to play at any time.

To close this reflection, I offer a paraphrase of the first chapter of Genesis. It came to my In Box this week from the people of Wood Lake Books in Kelowna, which is a United-Church related company that supplies the Church School curriculum we use here at Mill Woods United. Although this paraphrase from a new book Read, Wonder, Listen: Stories from the Bible for Young Readers shares with Genesis the notion that the cosmos resulted from a deity’s intelligent design and not from natural history, I like it. I hope that hearing it, particularly its last sentence, will underline the idea that all of us deserve a break today.

“In the beginning there was nothing. No up or down. No near or far. No yesterday or tomorrow. Only God. Here. Now.

Then came the idea. The idea came from God and was part of God, yet it seemed to have a life of its own.

From that idea all things came to be. Light and darkness. Time and space. Energy and matter. Everything needed to make a universe.

God gathered them together and set to work. Out of swirling gas clouds, fiery stars ignited with a whoosh. Planets and moons spun together, and galaxies danced like snowflakes on a winter night.

It must have been wonderful – dreaming, imagining, making all those things that had never been made before. God could see that it was all good.

The idea kept growing. On the edge of one galaxy – a sun. Whirling around the sun – a planet. Small. Lifeless. Covered in dark waters. Nothing special at first.

Then the breath of God came like a breeze and ruffled the surface of the waters.
Something wonderful happened. Deep in the seas, there was life. Simple at first,
but then more complex.

It was as if God could simply not get enough of dreaming up new forms of life. They filled the seas. They walked on the land. They flew in the air.

Flowers bloomed and insects buzzed. The little world teemed with life and colour, scent and sound. God looked at everything with delight.

You know how it is when you make something. You picture it in your mind, but sometimes your own creation can surprise you.

It was all so good – so wonderful: lovely patterns hidden everywhere, the cleverness of living things who rode on the wind and waves to make their homes in every imaginable place.

God enjoyed every bit of it. Day and night. Light and dark. Land and sea. Sky and earth. Sun and moon.

Maybe God even laughed out loud at the sight of dolphins leaping, or birds doing funny dances to attract each other.

This is too good to keep to myself, thought God.

So God made another kind of living thing, one even more like God than all the others. This living thing could love, laugh, delight in beauty, think, imagine, wonder,
choose, maybe even have ideas of its own.

When God was finished working, it was time to rest. Glad to be part of such a wonderful world, the new creature rested too.”

May it be so. Amen.

Preamble to Worship on April 28, 2019

Dear friends,

“Remember the Sabbath” said YHWH to Moses on Mount Sinai about 3000 years ago, or so the story goes. And those of us gathered this morning have remembered the Sabbath, because here we are at another Sunday service at Mill Woods United Church. I hope that all of us will feel nurtured by a time of sacrament with the baptism of two infants; a time of prayer and song; and a time of reflection about Sabbath on the eve of a three-month sabbatical break for me.

I always love gathering with groups large or small here on Sunday mornings; and so I will miss being part of the congregation’s spiritual life for the rest of the spring and summer. At the same time, I look forward to worshiping with 17 other communities of faith between now and Labour Day. This will be 17 Sundays and not just 13 because after my three-month sabbatical, I will take two weeks of vacation followed by two weeks of study leave in August. This means that I won’t be back in the office until Monday August 26, and I won’t be here at the front of this sanctuary on a Sunday morning until September 1.

I am confident that everyone will appreciate the results of the work of the Worship Committee to cover my absence. For the four Sundays in May and the four Sundays in July, a candidate for ministry out of Riverbend United, David Faber, will preach and preside here. And for the five Sundays in June, our friend the Rev. Jo-Anne Kobylka will be here.

This past Tuesday, David, Jo-Anne, Ethel, and Cathy and I met to discuss Sunday mornings during my sabbatical. We already know and love Jo-Anne, and so I am glad she will be with you in June. As for David, I am confident that his joyful presence, his energy, and his extensive experience over the past few years in pulpit supply will translate into meaningful and hope-filled Sunday mornings in May and July as well.

I wish David, Jo-Anne, and the congregation the best as you gather to pray, celebrate, and reflect with one another. Please let me know of your experiences on my return. Not only will I have gained from worshiping with other congregations during my sabbatical, so will you by having different leadership. I look forward to incorporating innovations and learnings into our ongoing life together when I return in September.

One of the things we talked about on Tuesday is music. Picking music has been one of the most challenging aspects of my ministry since I began here in January 2014. The hymns we sing and the musical offerings of the choir are a big part of what we look forward to on Sunday morning. And this is yet another area where I suspect having different leadership here will be useful for the congregation.

This morning’s service provides examples of the challenges and joys of singing at Mill Woods United. The Opening Hymn is one that we have not yet sung in my tenure here, but which was sung as the choral procession every single Sunday when I was a child at Knox United Church in Cornwall, ON. I know I am not the only one here who had this experience; and I wonder what percentage of United Church congregations back in the day sang Hymn #1 from the 1932 Blue Hymnal, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” as the start of every single Sunday.

We are singing it today because we ask baptismal families if they have a favourite hymn to sing on the morning their child is baptized. The Kincaid family didn’t have one, but the Small family asked for “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and it only seemed appropriate to me that we open with it. I hope that I am not the only one here who has a nostalgic moment as we sing a hymn that is familiar to many of us.

In contrast, our closing hymn is one that is new to us. Unlike “Holy, Holy,” which is inspired by the Nicene Creed from the Fourth Century and which was written in the 19th Century, More Voices, #82 was written just a few years ago. The choir knows it because we sang it as an anthem in February; and I trust that with memories of hearing that anthem and with the support of choir members, we will enjoy singing the beautiful hymn, “Bathe me In Your Light” near the end of the service. I chose it because its words echo baptism.

In between, we are going to sing a Children’s Song that probably has not been sung here since the late 1990s. This year, Laura Goss has been choosing Children’s songs for us to sing, for which I am grateful. I enjoyed learning this Linnea Good song at choir practice on Wednesday night, and I hope that you will also enjoy singing it. But because it is unfamiliar to most of us, we are now going to spend a few minutes learning to sing it. To do so, we will rely on today’s guest pianist, Kim Denis – and welcome Kim! And on Wendy Edey, who will now lead us in learning “Everyday Loving” by Linnea Good. Wendy . . .

This welcome here is simply free.
It’s for the world, for you and me.
We bring our smiles and cares,
Our hearts’ own prayers
and the stories of our days,
to worship God in many ways
And together we’re everyday loving!
Everyday loving!
We’re just everyday loving!
The way that God love us!

God’s love is deep, God’s love is wide.
It’s all around, and here inside.
So when we lend a hand or take a stand,
It’s love we’re sending round.
In every day, that’s where it’s found.
And together we’re everyday loving!
Everyday loving!
We’re just everyday loving!
The way that God love us!

Thank you. May we enjoy singing this song after the two baptisms. May we be fed by all the other elements of our spiritual gathering this morning. And may we Remember the Sabbath throughout the spring and summer – to the benefit of our hearts and minds, and to the benefit of the world.

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The everlasting instant

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (the empty tomb)

Easter Sunday confronts us with big issues like the meaning of suffering and death; the nature of resurrection and the mysteries of eternity.

Most ministers choose to hear the story of the empty tomb as told in the Gospel of John on Easter Sunday. That is the version in which Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb a second time. There she encounters a man whom at first she imagines to be a gardener, but who is revealed as the Risen Christ when he calls her by name.

But for the third time in the six Easters I have been at Mill Woods United, I have chosen to hear the story as told by the earliest-written gospel, the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s version is the only one with no appearances of the Risen Christ. It is the only one in which Mary Magdalene and two others find a mysterious person in white in the tomb who says Jesus has been raised and will meet them back in Galilee. It is the only one in which they flee in terror and tell no one. And it is the only gospel in which this detail is the end. The passage Ethel read for us today is the end of Mark.

I like this version because it presents us with mysteries. How did Mark come to know of this story if the three witnesses at the tomb told no one? Why does Jesus not appear to anyone if he has been raised? What is actually going on here?

I like this version because it puts us in the same position as Jesus’ friends. Like us, they are told Jesus has been raised to new life, but they don’t see him. Like us, the three women are presented with the mystery of an empty tomb but without a good explanation; and perhaps like us, their reaction is to add fear to their grief.

In the face of death, the promise of resurrection, and eternity, both grief and fear seem like reasonable reactions; and that has sometimes been my experience.

And yet, the Risen Christ is here today, living as a Spirit within us.

For me, the Risen Christ becomes real in everlasting instants, which, with Grace, sometimes follow loss, grief, and acceptance; and I imagine that all of us have experienced such moments. I urge you to reflect on ones from your own life and to see them as your entry into the Easter story. Easter was Mary’s story. Easter was Jesus’ story. And it is also our story.

I got the title “The everlasting instant” for this sermon from the hymn of response we will soon sing. Called “You, Christ, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd,” we have only sung it once before in my time here, and it may not be well-known to many. Each of its four verses end with the suggestion that the Christ is an everlasting instant.

This statement is a paradox, but a true one. Eternity is a difficult concept to grasp, and perhaps an off-putting one. As Woody Allen once said, “existing for all of eternity could get a little boring . . . especially towards the end.”

When I was a child, the concepts of eternity, infinity, and life after death puzzled and frightened me. So, as a teenager, I was pleased to be introduced to the poetry of William Blake. Blake was an English mystical poet and illustrator who lived from 1757 to 1827. I chose my favourite line from his poetry as the epigraph to this service — “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” This is how Blake starts a poem titled “Auguries of Innocence.”

Blake suggests that Heaven is for real . . . and that it can be a wildflower. Blake views infinity and eternity not as concepts that are impossible to grasp, but as realities that can be held in the palm of your hand and experienced in an hour.

In Blake’s conception, eternal life is something that, with Grace, we might stumble into at any moment. For me, these are everlasting instants are ones in which our egos drift away and the Risen Christ appears in our hearts. They are moments of being in the flow or in the zone, and in union with all of life.

Infinite and eternal moments are ones in which we realize that our individuality is an illusion. Such moments are a foretaste of what it might mean to return to Source after one’s death. They are everlasting instants of Easter bliss.

Heaven is not a human fantasy. It is the ecstasy we feel when we encounter beauty. Eternity is not the horror of one’s petty fears and desires being extended into an endless nightmare. It is an everlasting instant when the Risen Christ replaces our suffering egos.

I was reminded of Blake’s poetry this spring when the choir that Kim and I belong to, the Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus, prepared a performance of a new piece inspired by Blake called “Ancient of Days.” Our performance of it at the Winspear, alongside the Concordia Symphony Orchestra, four soloists, two actors, and projected images of Blake’s paintings, happened this past Monday evening.

I was pleased that one of the lines of poetry the composer, Allan Bevan, chose for the actors to recite was the phrase I quoted above.

I’m not sure that Bevan’s piece nor our performance of it conveyed the full mystical power of Blake’s romantic and mysterious vision. But I loved singing in the chorus, and I was pleased at how well the assembled groups came together to perform it.

Our performance may not have been in-and-of-itself an everlasting instant of the beauty that Blake’s poetry — or the writings of St. Paul, or the words of our hymn of response — point towards. But performing this work reminded me of Blake’s mystical approach to death, eternal life, and our struggles as individuals and communities to live in accord with our sacred values.

When we become aware of the Risen Christ in an everlasting instant, we are freed from our petty fears and desires, which enables us to love with wild abandon and to struggle for peace with justice without fear or either failure or success.

When we become aware of the Risen Christ, we remember that we are healed; that we are saved.

Friends, Easter has arrived again. We have heard a story of an empty tomb. We have sung Hallelujahs. And soon we will leave this sanctuary to continue living a new life with the Risen Christ.

May we experience innumerable everlasting instants amidst the ups and downs of our days. May we use the beauty of these Easter moments to continue down paths of faith, hope and love with family, friends and fellow pilgrims. And may we again be surprised by joy when we find ourselves holding infinity in the palm of our hands and experiencing eternity in an hour.

And in such instants, may we feel free to shout, “Christ is Risen. Risen Indeed!

Amen.

And now, as a hymn of response, let us sing You, Christ, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd” VU #210 (words by Sylvia Dunstan, 1984)

You, Christ, are both lamb and shepherd. You, Christ, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword-bringer of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant; you, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain, stripped of might upon the cross,
shining in eternal glory, beggared by a soldier’s toss.
You, the everlasting instant; you who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us, sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow, have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant; you, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus! Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and victory. Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant; you, who are our death and life.

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“Torn in two” — temples, cathedrals, and us

Text: Mark 14 and 15 (the trials and execution of Jesus)

Good Friday came early this year. For me, it came on Monday when I heard of the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Notre Dame is one of the best-known and loved religious buildings in the world. At 800-years-old, it ranks alongside places like the 500-year-old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the 900-year-old Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, and the 300-year-old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

I am glad that no one was killed in the fire in Paris and that the cathedral was not totally destroyed. But the destruction caused by the fire is felt as a painful loss by many people of different backgrounds around the world.

The connection between the fire in Notre Dame and Good Friday is provided by the three references to the Temple in Jerusalem in today’s readings from Mark.

YHWH’s Temple in Jerusalem was one of the most magnificent buildings in the Mediterranean world; and it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. In that year, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem after a four-year siege. They killed tens of thousands of Jews who had rebelled against Roman occupation; they burned the Holy City to the ground; and they took apart the magnificent Temple of YHWH stone by stone.

Mark writes that when Jesus breathes his last, the curtain of the Temple is torn in two. This might be a sign that access to the Jewish God YHWH, who was thought to reveal Himself in “the holy of holies” behind the curtain, was now available to anyone. It also cements in my mind the connection between Mark’s gospel of the life of Jesus and the Temple.

Most scholars date the death of Jesus of Nazareth to the year 30 CE, 40 years before the victory of the Romans over the Jewish rebellion and the destruction of YHWH’s Temple. But to me, the truth of the crucifixion is found as much in the horror of death and destruction in Jerusalem in the year 70 as it is in Mark’s stories about Jesus set 40 years earlier.

From the time Rome occupied Jerusalem in 63 BCE until they destroyed it in 70 CE, wave after wave of Jewish rebels tried to win their freedom. The trauma of their defeat in the year 70 rested not only in the burning of the Holy City and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, but also in the destruction of the Temple, which was considered to be the earthly home of the YHWH.

Jews from around the Mediterranean traveled to the Temple to offer animal sacrifices; and the size, beauty and magnificence of the Temple were signs of YHWH’s strength. So, by taking the Temple apart stone by stone, the Romans broke Jewish hearts. It must have seemed to them that the Romans had killed YHWH.

Easter represents the joyous reality that a new life of faith, hope and love does not depend on rebuilding sanctuaries or returning to old ways of worship. New life can flood into our hearts after disillusionment, destruction and death. Despite our losses, we can find always find new ways to love.

Following this pattern, Jews found new ways of obeying the Law of Moses in synagogues far from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.

Also following this pattern, people who followed Jesus discovered they could seek faith, hope and love after his crucifixion with the help of the Inner Christ. Both Jews and Christians discovered that they didn’t need Jerusalem or its magnificent Temple to pursue justice, kindness, and humility. They only needed to share their personal stories of joy and pain, and of loss and new life, and to reflect on their lives in the light of the sacred stories of their ancestors. God was not confined to one place like the Temple, nor was God found only in one remarkable person like Jesus. God was a spiritual reality living within and between all people of good will.

Despite its magnificence, the Temple had never been heaven on earth. It was home not to a universal God who is Love, but to the tribal god YHWH. It was the site not only of animal sacrifice but also priestly corruption. And so, the loss of the Temple — although horrible and painful — did not mean the end of faith, hope and love.

Despite its magnificence, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is not heaven on earth. While it is a place where the Risen Christ has been worshipped for 800 years, it was constructed during the Crusades, one of the darkest moments of racism and war in the history of the church. Notre Dame was the heart of the French Church during the expansion of the French Empire in the 1600’s and 1700’s into places like Canada, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. Cardinals, bishops, and priests in Notre Dame supported the expansion of the Empire despite the war, conquest and genocide that it entailed.

Even after a Revolution in 1789 overthrew the French kings and the ability of a corrupt church to support their tyranny, Notre Dame was the place where Napoleon was crowned Emperor in 1803 and where the secular Presidents of France were buried.

The illusions represented by Notre Dame didn’t need to be exposed by fire. The disillusionment of the people of France in the church occurred long before Notre Dame burned on Monday. Today only five percent of people in France attend mass on a regular basis; and the rebuilding of Notre Dame will be a secular effort more than a Catholic one, I imagine.

Happily, our ability to awaken to the Risen Christ does not depend on the existence of magnificent sanctuaries. Sometimes our sacred buildings are destroyed, and these are Good Friday moments. But the Risen Christ — in all the many ways that religious or secular people name that spiritual truth – can arise as a guiding light within us following disillusionment; and it can appear as a Spirit of Love between us in acts of kindness and justice.

Buildings, as much as individuals and empires, never last forever. But Love is eternal and can never be destroyed.

On Good Friday, we remember the agony of Jesus on the cross and the loss felt by his friends. We may also remember the suffering of others who are oppressed and killed by unjust systems; and we may remember the pain of our own losses and our fragility and mortality.

Every Good Friday, we come to the foot of the cross to stare at things we might rather ignore and then wait in hope for Easter morning.

Some people prefer to skip Good Friday and rush forward to Easter, which I understand. But sometimes Good Friday thrusts itself upon as when a loved one dies or a Temple is destroyed. In such times of pain, may we remember that Friday never has the last word, and that out of Friday’s losses a strange and new life of love can arise on any Sunday.

Today we have heard the stories of Good Friday. They may have brought grief or fear to our hearts and minds. They may have reminded us of some of the pain and difficulties of our own lives.

And now we wait. We wait in prayerful silence. We wait in expectant hope. We wait and pray knowing that doing so prepares us to enter a space even larger than our grief – an empty tomb on Easter morning.

It might seem that we live in a Good Friday world. But it is a world in which every day people find paths that lead from disillusionment to a new connection to Love. This might be a world filled with too much violence, but it is also world with an even greater abundance of Grace and Love.

And for this Easter truth, we give thanks.

May it be so. Amen.

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Confronting evil

Text: John 12:1-8 (Jesus is anointed for burial)

Are you ready for Good Friday? Lent is a season in which we metaphorically journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and prepare for the passion of Good Friday. This morning on the fifth of six Sundays in Lent, we are almost there. The journey has taken Jesus all the way from his home in Galilee to Bethany on the outskirts of the capital city. It is six days before Passover; so, today’s reading is set on the day before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Jesus needs just one more thing to be ready for his fate in Jerusalem; and Mary supplies it. She anoints Jesus for burial with some expensive perfume.

This extravagant action upsets Judas and the other disciples. They still haven’t absorbed the idea that Jesus is going to be arrested and killed in Jerusalem despite the number of times Jesus has told them this.

Perhaps Mary is an exception. By anointing Jesus for burial, she seems to understand that their journey has been towards death. By anointing him, she helps prepare Jesus for the work of Good Friday, which is death, and the work of Easter, which is resurrection.

So, in today’s story, Jesus is made ready for Good Friday and Easter.

But are we ready? Have we understood the journey of Lent as taking up our own cross to follow Jesus to his fate? Do we understand that we are journeying to death? Have we too been anointed for burial?

Anointing with oil is not something we do very often at Mill Woods United.

Happily, I consider the two sacraments that we do practice regularly– baptism and communion – as akin to anointment for healing, burial, and resurrection. In baptism, we are symbolically buried with Jesus and we symbolically rise from the baptismal waters to live a new life in Christ. And at the communion table, we remind ourselves of death – both Jesus’ death and our own – in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, and in which we celebrate new life in Christ.

Next Sunday, we will participate in both baptism and communion. So, if we don’t feel ready for Good Friday today, perhaps next Sunday will do the trick!

The whole of life’s spiritual path can be seen as a preparation for death and rebirth – one’s physical death and reunion with Source, but also the death of our illusions, which helps create the space in which new life can arise.

The arc of Lent and Easter describes the reality of our lives. Whether we want to experience Good Friday or not, it comes to us unbidden in moments of failure, loss, or disillusionment; and whether we feel ready for new life at Easter or not, resurrection is always available to us in moments of change, crisis and hope.

Rituals like anointing with oil, baptism, and communion symbolize this reality. But they are not necessary for death and rebirth. Nothing is necessary for death and resurrection since they form the warp and woof of life. Grace will come to us regardless of what we believe, do, or profess.

This is not to say that death and resurrection are always welcomed. Far from it. Judas speaks for many when he objects to Mary’s extravagance. Judas and the other disciples are hoping for worldly success. Jesus’ friends want an end to Roman occupation and oppression. They want power. They want freedom.

But instead of these things, they get the mob violence of Good Friday. Their leader is crucified and their hopes are dashed.

On Good Friday, Jesus and his disciples run into a level of evil that can seem hard to comprehend. Why do the religious and imperial rulers react with such savagery to Jesus and his movement of Love? Why do the crowds so readily turn on Jesus and bray for his death just five days after they had shouted hosanna on Palm Sunday?

The incomprehensibility of evil is something with which many of us struggle. Today offers a terrible example. Today, we remember a moment of racist insanity, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which began 25 years ago today. Over 100 days, more than 500,000 people were killed simply because they were from one ethnic group – the Tutsi – and not another – the Hutu.

This remains a high water mark of horror in human history and a cautionary tale as to how fear and racism can lead to depravity and death.

But is this genocide so incomprehensible? Today, nationalist leaders in Europe and the U.S. are gaining power by promoting fear and racism. Of course, their evil has not yet risen to the level of hundreds of thousands of people being butchered. But the closing of their borders has led to the drowning of thousands of refugees in the Mediterranean and the deaths of hundreds of refugees in the deserts along the U.S.-Mexican Border. The closing of their borders has also condemned millions more to slavery and terror in refugee camps in North Africa and the Middle East and to a fearful life marked by murder, rape, and government corruption in Central America.

When I was a child, I could not comprehend the success of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s. Why did millions of Germans – a privileged country that has given the world such luminous figures as Beethoven and Einstein – flock to the supposed charisma of Adolf Hitler. To me, Hitler seemed ugly, stupid, and mentally ill. How could this racist brute inspire mass adulation?

But now we have the example of the United States. While the level of state violence in the U.S. is still tiny compared to Hitler’s Germany, I find it as hard to understand the enthusiastic support that Donald Trump commands today as I do Hitler’s popular support in 1930s Germany. Not only do I disagree with most of Trump’s positions, I find him to be a singularly unappealing figure. He appears to me to be a racist and sexist brute who is mentally ill, incompetent, and ignorant. And yet he continues to be supported by 40% or more of Americans and to receive the enthusiastic support of the religious mis-leaders of most of America’s white evangelical churches.

Support for racist politicians in Europe and the USA has not yet led to genocide. But the willingness of so many ordinary people to put nation ahead of humanity and ahead of sacred values of compassion and love might help us understand why the stories of the crucifixion of Jesus continue to resonate and why disasters like the Rwandan genocide might not be so hard to comprehend after all.

In times of economic stress, technological disruption, and radical social change, many of us are vulnerable to immoral leaders who offer crucifixion, ethnic cleansing, and genocide as solutions. In this sense, Good Friday is not just a commemoration of an irrational and tragic murder 2,000 years ago. It is also something that happened in Germany 80 years ago, in Rwanda 25 years ago, and which continues to happen in the Mediterranean and along the U.S.-Mexican border today.

Many of us prefer to skip over Good Friday and go straight to Easter; and I can understand this. Healing and salvation are as much a part of the human condition as are fragility and mortality. Easter eventually comes to everyone, I believe, whether we mark Good Friday or not.

But I also appreciate the discipline of spending time in Lent reflecting on the shadow side of human history and of our own hearts. I appreciate how the stories of Good Friday remind us of how political division and religious zealotry can lead to violence; and I appreciate how the dark shadows of Good Friday throw the light of Easter into greater relief.

For most of us, a lot of pain must be endured before our illusions die and we enter a deeper reality in which we are reunited with one another and with our common Source, the God who is Love.

I don’t perceive the illusions of Hutu people in Rwanda 25 years ago as all that different from the racist poison that pollutes the hearts of so many of us in the West today. Unfortunately, in 1994 many Hutu people resonated with the evil lies of their leaders who said that the Tutsi were an abomination who had to be wiped out for the Hutu people to be safe. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. and Europe today resonate with the evil lies of their leaders who say refugees are the enemy and that support for national purity is more important than climate change, human rights, or pursuing beauty, truth and love.

Stories of crowds braying “crucify” 2,000 years ago, of genocide in Rwanda 25 years ago, and of genocide in Germany 80 years ago might strike us as incomprehensible. But then we see today’s politicians gaining political power through fear and bigotry. We hear leaders arguing that the nation is the highest value. When fear and racism are on the rise as they are today, the evils of genocide and of Good Friday begin to appear less incomprehensible.

Racist violence is one of the Good Friday realities with which we live today. Unfortunately, this is a world in which the cry “crucify” forms on too many lips.

But then a new dawn appears. Easter comes again. And people who once were stuck in nationalist illusions find themselves gathering in grief and joy with diverse people from all nations and cultural backgrounds. We find ourselves remembering that life is not about us as individuals or as a nation. It is about all of humanity. It is about all of life. And it is about Love above all.

My prayer today is that as we continue to walk toward Good Friday, the quiet but joyful truths of Easter will lead us onward. Today, there may be too much fear, racism, and violence. But there is also the promise of healing. There is also the possibility of unity in diversity. And there is the ever-present reality of Love.

This year, Good Friday may resonate with current realities more than we wish. But arising from the death it symbolizes, I pray that we may resonate even more with our common Source of Love and with the eternal light of Easter and its promise of new life.

May it be so. Amen.

My preamble to worship on April 7

Friends, sometimes I find writing sermons to be a risky business. When I sit down on Friday or Saturday to craft a message based upon an idea that had occurred to me on Monday, I never know what the end product will be.

Last Monday, I imagined that my reflection on today’s Gospel story in which Mary anoints Jesus for burial on the eve of his entry into Jerusalem would include a story about a car crash I endured six years ago. I also wondered if I might write about our fears of natural disasters like an eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano.

But when it came to actually writing yesterday, I found myself instead captured by an anniversary that many in the world are marking with sadness today. Today is the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in the small southern African country of Rwanda in which more than 500,000 Tutsi people were murdered just because of their ethnicity.

I was reminded of this anniversary last month when people from four different United Churches gathered here for an evening called “Stewardship Buzz.” It was organized by General Council staff person Kathryn Hofley from Winnipeg, and I was glad that Mill Woods United could provide a venue.

I recognized three people from St. Andrew’s United Church who came to the meeting . Jennifer and I had met them in 2016 when we conducted a Pastoral Oversight visit at St. Andrew’s for Edmonton Presbytery. As I chatted with one of these three — a woman named Joy — she reminded me that she was a refugee from Rwanda. She told me that she had arrived in Edmonton just a few weeks before the genocide began on April 7, 1994, and she mentioned some events that are happening here this week to mark today’s sad anniversary.

So yesterday, as I reflected on the Gospel reading, I found myself making connections between the horror of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, the horror of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the rise of fear and racism here and around the world. This was aided by a podcast of today’s Sunday Edition from CBC Radio. I usually listen to The Sunday Edition on Saturday, since the CBC loads the files onto its server before broadcast; and the centerpiece of today’s episode is an interview with the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire who was the leader of a UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda 25 years ago as the genocide unfolded.

I hope that the connections I make today between Good Friday, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and the damnable success of fear-based racism will remind us that Lent is a season in which we reflect on state violence and popular support for such violence. I found it to be a difficult reflection to write. But I pray that it might help us get ready for Good Friday; and that the light of Easter with its hope and joy still shines through it. Please let me know what you think after the service.

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The Rise and Fall of the Prodigal Empire

Text: Luke 15: 11-31 (the Parable of the Prodigal Son)

During Lent, we journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. This can feel like a dark season because it ends in Jesus’ death. But the path is illuminated by the light of Easter, which shines back at us. This light is the promise of resurrection.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son views death and resurrection as metaphors. Twice the father says that his errant younger son – the Prodigal – has died but is now alive. He was lost but is now found. Death may be inevitable. But new life often arises from it. The parable is one for both Lent and Easter.

This parable has often been viewed as a precis of life’s spiritual journey. In our foolish youth, many of us chafe at parental traditions and head off into a far country to seek our fortune. Unfortunately, we often stumble. We may fail in career or marriage. We may find ourselves involved in unjust social movements. We may be caught in oppressive social structures that can feel as restrictive as the family traditions we have left behind.

The parable suggests that these failures or disappointments can be so painful that they feel like death. The Good News is that such moments of failure and pain are also opportunities for grief, conversion and repentance. After hitting rock bottom, sometimes we return home chastened, but with hope still alive.

The extravagant welcome of the father in the parable illustrates the gracious possibility of new life. The younger son may or may not be sincere in his words of repentance to his father. The older son may be right to be skeptical. Regardless, the father rushes to greet his son with open arms and plans a party even before the Prodigal says a word.

The parable says that those who have died can live again; and that those who are lost can be found.

But if death and resurrection refer to spiritual crises and spiritual rebirth, why does the church put so much emphasis on the death of Jesus?

This week, I engaged in a Facebook thread of United Church ministers. A minister in Toronto raised the age-old question of why Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday. In my comments, I stated that for me Good Friday is not about an historical event. It is a metaphor for humiliation. Nor is Easter about an historical event. It is a metaphor for rising to a new way of life following ‘death’ as on a cross.

As the apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul had experienced the painful death of illusions in the possibility of new tribal king like David (the Christ) and a new tribal god like YHWH (Jesus) and the mystical joy of finding that both sovereignty (the Christ) and divinity (Jesus) lived in the space where his ego used to be.

Regardless of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago, Paul experienced his own Good Friday and his Easter, and that meant everything to him. Regardless of whether the Prodigal ever knew of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he had his own Good Friday and Easter, which is why the story may matter to us.

The key moment in the Parable for me is when the Prodigal realizes that he could go home again. There is no inevitability to this moment. In the ups and downs of life, it is possible to ignore one’s predicament and misery indefinitely. But I hope that all us can remember moments when grief has helped us to accept reality and therefore to realize that we can return home.

Unfortunately, the ability to deny painful realities seems almost unlimited. To illustrate, I now turn briefly to the Brexit debacle in the United Kingdom.

This past Friday was supposed to the date that the UK left the European Union. But in vote after vote, the UK Parliament finds itself unable to agree on any of the many available options.

In my opinion, Britain is ripping itself apart because it is former empire living in denial of its own death.

My ancestral homelands of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in Europe and as did most young people. But overwhelming majorities against Europe in rural England led to the narrow victory of Brexit in a referendum three years ago.

This 2016 vote on Brexit allowed many people in England to vent racist sentiments with little understanding of what leaving the EU would actually mean.

Britain was on the “winning” side of the First World War and so many people in England still feel about Britain the way their ancestors did when its Empire ruled the world.

Thankfully, the British Empire is a pale shadow of its former self, but many people in England live in denial of how the world has evolved over the past 100 years. This is one reason, I believe, why none of Britain’s leaders have been able to create a consensus that would allow Britain to either remain in the EU or leave in a way that isn’t terribly destructive.

As Brexit continues to stumble towards who-knows-what end this spring, it may take even greater humiliation for Britain before people in England finally grieve the end of Empire and to move towards new life as citizens of the world.

Each Lent, the church invites us to experience Good Friday and Easter. This involves examining our illusions, painfully shedding some of them, and preparing the way for new life. Participating in Lent and Easter doesn’t necessitate belief in what happened in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. Nor does it rely on whether the parable of the Prodigal is based on an “actual” story. It relies on the reality of the human condition and how we might cope and thrive in any moment of wonder and awe.

Pretty much every life has moments that feel like crucifixion. And happily, pretty much every life has gracious moments that feel like resurrection.

The Parable reminds us that we are spiritual beings who are struggling in lives marked by a particular family, a particular moment in time, and a particular society.

As mortal humans trying to manage our fears and desires and trying to pursue our sacred values, we often stumble. But as many times as we stumble, the arms of Love’s Mercy open to us and offer to bring us back home; and as many times as we die, we can rise to new life that is closer to the God who is Love.

My prayer is that this Lent we will feel our hearts being shaped by stories of prodigals and disciples and be reminded that out of defeat, disappointment, and death, God’s Grace can help us to rise to a resurrected life that is one of reunion, joy, and the eternal Easter of light.

May it be so. Amen.

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God is like . . .

Text: 1 John 4: 7-21 (God is Love)

“Let’s talk about love.” That’s the title of a mega-platinum album released by Celine Dion in 1997 and of a single from that album written by Bryan Adams. It’s also how I think about church.

For me, church at its best is a never-ending conversation about love. Each week, we gather to focus on love. We hear ancient stories about it; we share concerns and joys as people who struggle to love ourselves and our neighbours; and we reflect on what love might mean in this moment in family, neighbourhood and world.

Of course, we do more than just talk. We also try to act.

No matter how we list our sacred values — as faith, hope and love; or as humility, honesty, respect, courage, wisdom, truth, and love; or in any other kind of list – these values are not just objects of conversation. We uphold them to inspire one another to reach out in care, to work with others for justice and peace, and to help us behave in ways that live up to these values. Church is not just a talk shop. It is also an incubator of ethical behaviour, of personal and communal healing, and of social change.

Nevertheless, conversation plays a big role. The reading we heard from the letter First John has been influential for many people in the church since it first began to circulate in the Second Century and especially since a consensus developed in the Third Century that it be included in the New Testament.

The reading might not strike everyone as eloquent or persuasive. But because of its repeated refrain that God is Love, it has helped many of us frame our understanding of church tradition and of the other books of the Bible from the perspective of Love.

I chose “God is Like . . . ” as the title for this brief reflection based upon the children’s song we sang last week. It offers a variety of metaphors for our understanding of the divine. The first verse says God is like a flashlight shining in the dark; the second that God is like a mother giving us a hug; and the third that God is like a father saying welcome home. I enjoyed its simplicity and how it encourages us to imagine the divine with a variety of metaphors.

For me, the most important metaphor is the phrase “God is Love.” Other passages in the Bible suggest that we imagine God in other ways: as a vengeful judge, as a mighty warrior, or as a moralistic accountant. But those metaphors don’t encourage me. In contrast, God as Love feels infinitely encouraging.

However we imagine the Divine, or the Sacred, or the transcendent side of consciousness, I believe that when Love is at the centre we are on the right track.

There is more to life than just conversation. But the power of conversation should not be underestimated. Words matter. Refining our concepts can helps us. Pouring out our hearts to compassionate friends can increase our ability to cope and thrive in challenging circumstances.

Because of this, I value deep conversations that help us navigate our way through each stage of life and each moment of blessing and challenge. If these conversations help us to understand love more completely and to orient our hearts, minds, and actions towards compassion and joy, then they are worthwhile.

I have deeply enjoyed being in conversation with Elder Evelyn Day this winter in this series on Sacred Indigenous Teachings. What a privilege to listen to her teachings, to hear her drumming and singing, and to be transported by her energy.

Reconciliation between Canada’s First Nations and those of us who are descendants of settlers involves many things. One of them is conversation. We gain a lot by listening to the stories, perspectives, and teachings of First Nations people.

Listening, reflecting, and responding in love might not always seem like much. But for me, it is healing; and I pray that it is for others as well.

So, without further ado, I now invite us to prepare our hearts and minds to hear a seventh teaching from Elder Day. Evelyn . . .

And here is the “preamble” to the service that I delivered yesterday

Dear friends,

“What time is it?” This a question I often find myself asking; and today is one of those times. So, I begin with some answers that fit with this morning’s gathering. Well, to start, today is the last Sunday of winter 2018-19. The spring equinox occurs on Wednesday afternoon. And I am sure I am not the only person here who is happy that we can so clearly sense the change of season this weekend.

Today is also the second of the six Sundays in Lent in 2019. And so our spiritual journey to Jerusalem continues. I hope many of you saw the reminder in Thursday’s “What’s The Buzz” e-newsletter of the suggestion from last Sunday that we consider not just giving up something up for Lent, but also adding things like acts for reconciliation and random acts of kindness. We distributed two lists that encourage us to think of how can we pay it forward this Lent. There was a link in WTB to the sheet we handed out last week, and there are more copies of it at the table near the entrance to the church. Please do consider taking a look at those lists if you haven’t already done so.

This morning, we also continue our practice in Lent of having a different member of the congregation lead us in prayer each week. I look forward to what Ethel Ray will offer us this morning.

Today is also the seventh and final of a series of Sundays in which Elder Evelyn Day offers us a teaching on Sacred Indigenous Teachings. I am pleased that this last one focuses on Love, which is a sacred value in all traditions; and I look forward to what Evelyn will offer us today. This will include a chance for us to feast on some Bannock and strawberry jam in the Lower Hall after the service, and perhaps a chance to dance with Evelyn at that time. I have been delighted by this series this winter and the gracious way that it came to be. Thank you so much Evelyn.

Today is also St. Patrick’s Day, which for a person with as much Irish ancestry as me, should be a big deal . . . but which, yet again, I have ignored. I even forgot to choose some Celtic music that might remind us of the Emerald Isle or of the blessings of the Irish to both church and world. But regardless, I wish you all a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Today is also the baptism of Laura’s daughter, Alex Paquette. I always love welcoming a new baby into church and world with the ancient and evocative sacrament of baptism. Not only does it help us express our joy that Alex is here. Baptism also symbolizes our entry into the universal Body of Christ. With its watery symbols of birth, burial, and rebirth, baptism feels to me like a perfect way to prepare for springtime and Easter.

As you may have noticed in “What’s The Buzz” on Thursday, Laura is having a luncheon for her family and friends in the Lower Hall to celebrate Alex’ baptism, and she has invited all of us to join them! Thank you Laura! So, if you like chili, please feel free to stay not only for Bannock and jam, but also a chili lunch!

Finally, on a more sombre note, today is one in which a terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand on Friday is on many of our minds. In that regard, I will now offer a poem published on Friday by the United Church of Canada’s Moderator Richard Bott. I found it helpful, and I hope you do too:

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
In Christchurch.
At worship.
At prayer.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
For one reason:
because they were Muslim.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
Hundreds grieving the death of family and friends.
Thousands even more afraid
for their loved ones and for themselves.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
Because of fear, turned into rhetoric,
turned into anger, turned into
white supremacist hatred.

It is time to pray.
It is time to act.

It is time to stand, together,
to counter acts of hatred,
large or small,
with acts of love;
to counter acts of hatred,
wherever we encounter them,
with all that we have and all that we are;
to counter terror
with God’s peace.

Grieve.
Pray.
Act.
Love.

So, on this Sunday filled with many blessings and concerns, we turn towards Love. And as both the Moderator’s prayer and the series on Sacred Indigenous Teachings remind us, one of the best ways to bring all of our blessings and concerns together is to end with Love. May this be so during our time together today.

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