Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Biblical House of Cards

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

 This summer Stephen and I decided that we would use the Lectionary to guide the themes and topics of our summer services. Throughout most of the year, we work with the Worship Ministry to choose themes that are meaningful and relevant to the congregation and I then find scripture readings that are most appropriate for the themes. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just pick up a predetermined schedule and choose from one of the four readings on any given Sunday to use for the basis of our sermons. The Lectionary was designed so that dedicated followers would make their way through the Bible every three years. One of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is the focus for one of the three years with the Gospel of John sprinkled throughout the more high holy times. This year, Year B, we are making our way through Mark. Two weeks ago we looked at the end of chapter five and, last week, we read the beginning of chapter six. Obviously, this week I chose not to stick with the Gospel reading but, rather, I went with the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scripture reading instead. The order of the readings is so that from Advent to Pentecost—December until about June—is arranged as Narrative Time which tell of how God has dealt, is dealing, and will deal with God’s people, with us. Ordinary Time, the time after Pentecost and back to Advent—so, June to November—tells us, then, how we should respond.
If you pay attention each week during the periods that we use the Lectionary, you will notice that, frequently, the readings do not follow directly from one to the other. From week to week, even within the reading itself as happens today, there are breaks in the verses read. Some portions of scripture are consistently skipped year after year. We highlighted this last fall when we used a reading or two from the Song of Songs—a rather detailed love poem that is supposedly an allegory describing God’s love for Israel. Stephen and I led a short bible study on a number of rather serious stories that are ignored altogether by the Lectionary designers and would never be read out loud in any sanctuary if a preacher only ever followed the Lectionary.
Today you can see that the reading is from chapter six of 2 Samuel. And for some reason some verses early it the chapter are left out as is the final bit of the chapter. Some might say that these verses were left out to make the reading a reasonable length. But let me tell you what’s missing and you might have a better sense of why the powers that be decided to set them aside. So, to give you the setting for the story, you need to know that just in chapter five David was anointed as king over all of Israel and had recently conquered Jerusalem, calling it the City of David. Remember King David was completely human and, as such, possessed an ego and desire for power. His ego and his want for power drove him to decide that God needed to reside within the gates of his city. Chapter six begins with David gathering his men—thirty thousand altogether. This vast number of people sets the tone of what’s about to happen—this shows how powerful David was to have had thirty thousand men at his beck and call. So, he gathers the thirty thousand men and he arranges for the ark of the covenant, the ark of God to be settled in Jerusalem. For those of you who will remember your Sunday School lessons, you will remember that the Ark is not filled with sand and angels of death as it was in the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark but rather, the Ark of God was a small box which contained the stone tablets that had the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them. It had rings at each corner and four men carried it by placing two poles through the rings on either side. This was the proper way of carrying the Ark—these were the instructions from God to Moses—no human was to touch the Ark itself.  The Ark was carried by the Israelites as they wandered through the desert for the forty years. Wherever they set up camp, it was put in a special tent called the Tabernacle. When the Israelites crossed over to the Promised Land and they were trying to conquer Jericho, they carried the Ark around the city once each day for seven days until the walls of the city came tumbling down. The Ark of God was central to the faith of the Israelites. Wherever the Ark was, so was God.
And so, fast forward hundreds of years…David has been anointed king and now wants it to be clear that he is God’s chosen leader so he declares that the Ark will be moved to Jerusalem. As it begins it move, David and the whole house of Israel celebrate by singing and dancing before the Ark along its route. And then there is a break the reading. What happens between verse six and the beginning of verse twelve is astonishing. Amongst this celebration, something devasting occurs. One of men in charge of moving the Ark dies a terrible death. You see, David did not follow the proper protocol of transporting the Ark. He had it placed on a cart pulled by oxen. It was carried by poles through the rings at each of the four corners. But the ox stumbled at one point and it looked like the Ark was going to fall off the cart. A guy named Uzzah placed his hand on the Ark to prevent it falling and he was immediately struck dead by God. Shocking! Just shocking. So, now, at this point, David and God have a falling out and, David is suddenly afraid of doing anything more to annoy God so he parks the Ark in a house nearby.
For three months the household finds itself suddenly blessed in all manners of being. This is where our reading picks up. David noticed the blessings bestowed upon the house and decided to give God another try. This time, as the Ark is being carried to Jerusalem, there is no mention of oxen or carts so its likely being carried in the proper fashion. But, David really upped his game. He sacrificed a bull and a fatted calf—something that normally only the priests would do. And he does so while wearing a priestly garment—an ephod. Which is kinda like an apron that you might see an employee wearing at Lowes Home Depot. Its significant here that he is wearing the vestments and performing the rites that are normally for priests only. But I’ll get to that in a moment. It seems that he was wearing the ephod and nothing else. We don’t realize just how indiscreet David was in his choice of garment when the Lectionary is read as is but for now we will carry on,  I’ll tell you more in moment. So, we have David wearing a priestly aprong and he dances with great enthusiasm as the Ark enters Jerusalem. The Ark is settled and there is a feast. The preaching for this scripture reading, without mention of Uzzah’s death of course, usually involves exhortations to celebrate God’s presence, that dancing is okay—a serious concern for some Christians—so dancing is alright and, just as importantly, we must remember to be joyful before God.
So, that’s the end of the reading but not the end of the chapter. It is in the last four verses is when we find out not only about David’s lack of underwear and we find out how David is working on his own House of Cards. We learn how his political machinations are as well considered as those of Francis Underwood. You see, in the last four verses, David returns home and gets bawled out by his wife. Do you remember that a woman named Michal was observing David’s entrance into Jerusalem and she despised him in heart? Well, not only was Michal the daughter of Saul, the first King of Israel, who by the way had put out a hit on David but, in a crazy turn of events, was himself killed and David was lifted up to take the throne. Michal as David’s wife helped him evade being found and killed. But, that love aside, she is very, very annoyed with David. She lays right into when he gets home. HOW DARE YOU embarrass me!! How poorly the King of Israel distinguished himself, disrobing himself as any vulgar fellow would. That’s actually what she says. So, here we know that’s David’s altogether was on display as he danced his way through town. But then the significance of all that’s happened is revealed. We find out the motivation behind David’s actions. He tells Michal, it is before God, who chose ME not your father, that I dance. And it is before the commoner that I reveal myself. THEY will hold me in honour. And, just before we leave Michal, I’ll let you know the chapter ends with these words: Michal, the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her deat. In other words, lived her life without worth. Either she was barren, or David set her aside, it makes no matter, her criticism mattered not.
David’s words to Michal towards the end of the chapter puts a different spin on the story than just one of celebration and joy. David is telling Michal of how important it is that his ascension to the throne needs to be recognized, accepted and celebrated not only by the powerful of the country—both the political leaders but also the religious leaders. And so we know why he insisted on behaving as a priest would—sacrificing animals and wearing vestments—or rather, one vestment. His bawdy nature appealed to those who lined the roadways as the Ark the Covenant, as God’s very self, made its way to take up residence in Jerusalem, the City of David. Make no mistake, this is a story of politics, of power, of ego, of dominance. Even poor Uzzah’s death cannot be overlooked. David’s arrogance allowed him to think he could set God aside when God’s wrath came down upon his plans. I don’t know why Uzzah was killed—maybe there was an accident and the poor man died along the way. Perhaps in an effort to explain why, it was realized that the Ark was not being respected and so its mistreatment was attributed to God. But’s placement in this story is necessary because it reminds of us David’s humanity—he is scared of God. He had been behaving as if it was all him that made his successful possible, as if God wasn’t involved at all. His feeling chastised doesn’t last long but he’s brought down a notch amongst his self-celebratory travels to Jerusalem.
I don’t know really how I feel about this story about King David. On one hand, the full story, the whole of chapter six, shows how deft David was in the political arena and gives us a rare glimpse of what little humility David possessed. On the other hand, unless we read the whole chapter together, we are left with an impression of David only as a man of faith. The edited scripture reading doesn’t show us David’s political manipulations and hidden agenda. The loss of Uzzah is forgotten, the fate of Michal is ignored. I find it frustrating when we don’t acknowledge the whole of the Bible. Its stories tells us so much about the early days of God’s people. I think that it would be easy for us to ignore the pieces of scripture that make us squirm. I understand sometimes storytellers want to leave out certain details because the wholeness of the story might make some uncomfortable. Picking and choosing only those pieces of scripture and those pieces of narrative in our lives that make us comfortable, acknowledging only the ‘good’ pieces of the story allow for us to overlook those who are hurting or those who are suffering or those whose humanity is being denied, overlooking the uncomfortable so that we may remain blissfully in our own comfort is not how our world will be healed. And remember, Jesus did not worry for a minute about the comfort of those who followed him or those who challenged him. Our scriptures call us to remember and know the uncomfortable so that we can learn and grow. And maybe use them to help figure out how to deal with what makes us uncomfortable in our world today. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

You Don't Know Everything I Know

Mark 6:1-13

A couple of years ago, when I was on sabbatical, I went to Amsterdam with my spouse and my Dad. We had a few days there before we started a river cruise through Germany. We took a bike tour through the city and one of the stopping points was in a rather large courtyard that had small little fenced in yards in front of doorways in the surrounding buildings. In some yards there were woman sitting reading or working in small flower beds. There was a small chapel in the middle of it all. The guide was telling us about the place—he was speaking German, French and English. He saved the English for last because the three of us were the only English speakers on the tour. I had heard him say the word Beguine when he was speaking to the others. When he came to the English, he described how this courtyard was for a group of women doing God’s work, the group of them were called, and he interrupted himself here, I don’t know the English for Beguine. And I suddenly realized where we were. We were amongst a cloister of faithful women who devote themselves to service in God’s name by doing the work of Christ for the surrounding community. I spoke up and said—there is no translation—they are the Beguine in English too. My spouse and Dad looked at me, confused. Why would I know that? I then explained to them who the Beguine were and what they did. Why do you know this they asked? Because these are my people I replied. The Order of the Beguine was one of the precursors to diakonia re-emerging in Europe.

When we were on another bike tour, this time in Germany, we found ourselves looking up in the hills to the Abbey of St. Hildegard. The tour guide was uncertain what the Abbey was about and I told him that I knew. Again, I caught my spouse and my dad off-guard as I gave a history of Hildegard von Bingen and the significant role she had in religion and in science in the 12th century. They didn’t know that I knew all that information. I remembered these two funny moments when I read this week’s scripture about a prophet not being respected in their own hometown. It’s not that my dear spouse and dad do not respect me here at home in Calgary, but I think, as with is often the case with people that we’ve known for a long time, they thought they knew everything I knew. They have debated and discussed with me over the years about all manner of things, but I had never really talked to them about these bits of historical knowledge that I’ve gained over the years since being called in diaconal ministry with the church.

I think this is what happened to Jesus when he returned to Nazareth. ‘What are you talking about?’ the neighbours and childhood acquaintances would have said. This IS Jesus, son of Mary, we’re talking about, right? The carpenter? Brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? What do you mean he can heal people? WHAT DO YOU MEAN he knows something new about God that hasn’t been said a thousand times already in the synagogue? WHEN did that all happen? You see, all those who knew Jesus when he was growing up and working in Nazareth before he went to be baptized by his cousin John and headed out to the desert, all those who knew him since he was a young, wee thing, thought they knew all what he knew. And, why wouldn’t they? They grew up side-by-side, with the same people around them as they went about learning a trade and going to synagogue each day. They figured they knew everything he knew. Also, social status was a fixed thing in those days. You couldn’t or even dare to try rise above your station. Before Jesus left town to find John the Baptist, he wasn’t a rabbi, a teacher, a learned leader of any sort. He was simply a carpenter. The son of Mary. Notice his earthly father Joseph is not even mentioned although Joseph is named in similar stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The biblical scholars take this omission of Joseph as further proof that the people of Nazareth would have had little consideration of Jesus as someone significant—he was fatherless—without lineage or ancestry.

We have, with today’s scripture, the realization of Jesus and his disciples, that they had to leave, had to go beyond their family and friends to create a wider community of faithful people who could work towards the kingdom of God. Jesus was able to heal just a few people in Nazareth. Last week we read from the chapter just before this one and explored how the healing amongst people requires not only the desire of the one who has caused the damage or hurt amongst but also requires the willingness of those who have been damaged or hurt toparticipate in the healing process. The example I used last week was that just because I, as a descendent from folks who immigrated to Canada years and years ago, just because I want reconciliation and healing to happen with the indigenous people who are living with the impact and consequences of signing the treaties and the creation of residential schools across Canada, just because I want healing to occur, it can’t happen until those who have been hurt are, themselves, ready to enter into the healing process. Such as it was in Nazareth so long ago. Jesus healed those people who were willing and able to participate in the healing. The bleeding woman told him the whole truth. The little girl got up and walked after he raised her back to life. They were not passive receptacles of Jesus’ healing touch. Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, was not open to healing of Jesus, whether it was by touch or by teaching. And so, he and his disciples left, going from village to village, offering the love of God’s word.

Jesus sends the Twelve disciples out in pairs. They are to take nothing but a staff and the clothes they are wearing. They take no other burden as they travel, sharing what they have heard and witnessed and experienced along the way as they followed their leader and teacher. Jesus tells them that if those they visit do not welcome them, they are to shake the dust off their sandals and carry on. If they are unwilling to hear the loving words of God, they are not prepared for the healing that comes with the message. It takes full participation in the healing of ourselves and in the healing of that which is needed by others so that the kingdom of God can break through into our world in the here and the now. People of southern Africa have given us a phrase for this healing—unbuntu. It means—I am not whole until the world is whole, the world is not whoel until I am whole. The world is not healed until I am healed, I am not healed untilt the world is healed. Full participation for God’s kingdom is required. But our time is limited and so Jesus says, don’t waste your time. If a household is resistant to hearing the Word of God, then move on. Move on and don’t fret and linger over what you cannot change. The Serenity Prayer by Rheinhold Niebuhr comes to mind in this dusting off one’s sandals. This is how he wrote the first stanza—it’s been altered slightly over the years, but here’s how he wrote it:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

What happens though when we discover that it is, us, ourselves, who are resistant? It’s all well and good to lay the refusal to heal, to change, to improve, to work towards God’s kingdom, at the feet of the other. Using their unwillingness to participate in the healing of God’s world as reason to not, yourself, participate in living out the teaching of Jesus? What happens when there is some area, some regret we can’t get over, some grudge we can’t let go of, some hurt that has come to define us, some addiction that imprisons us, some anger that has taken ahold of us that we are we are having difficulty entrusting to God? What happens we are the people of Nazareth, refusing to see Jesus for who he was, for who he is—the one who offers the love of God to all, to each and every person, regardless of their status, their occupation, regardless of who they love or who loves them, regardless of how they look, how much they weigh, how tall they are or how able they are. Some might call that salvation. I call that healed. In the knowing that all are worthy of the love of God, and in the knowing that we are to love one another as we would love ourselves, what is holding us back from making that real for each and every one we meet? Healing is not a passive event. Healing does not happen simply because you will it into being nor does it happen in isolation. Healing happens because you work to make it happen. Healing happens in community, in loving one another and allowing yourself to be loved in return. Healing happens when you are willing to hear the other and to allow that they might know and understand something that you didn’t know they knew. Healing happens when we don’t restrict the other to who they were years, months, days ago. Healing happens when we acknowledge that others could have grown and learned and had their eyes opened just we, ourselves, are attempting to do. Healing happens when we recognize the work that is being done by others as they participate in the coming of God’s kingdom. Healing happens when we know we are not alone working towards making heaven happen right here on earth. We live in God’s world. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Celebrating Canada's 150th & Healing Ourselves

Mark 5:21-43

Last year I spent Canada Day in Chicago, Illinois. It was an odd thing, being out of the country for Canada’s birthday. Particularly since my family wasn’t with me on a day that we usually spend together and because it was a special year. It was Canada’s 150th. I was in Chicago, and I say that like I was touring Chicago, which I wasn’t as I barely left the university for the entire ten days I was there but I was there because I was attending a world gathering of the diaconate from the many different denominations of Jesus’ church. It was an incredible feeling being in the States because as a Canadian I had freedom of movement—I had crossed the border with no issues and did not worry about needing to carry my travel documents with me, because, back then the United States still considered Canada its friendly neighbour to the north, not some milk-subsidizing national security threat with a highly offensive and duplicitous prime minister. I had no problems traveling to Chicago unlike serval others of the conference who were not permitted to enter the country because of their nationality—people from Asia and Africa. We left their name tags on empty seats throughout the conference to remind us of who was missing that week.

Anyway, the Diakonia World Federation had gathered in Chicago. Diakonia is a greek word that means ‘service among others’. The diaconate was created in the very early days of the emerging church when it was realized there was a need to share what was happening at the gatherings of God’s people that were taking place in each other’s homes. After Jesus was resurrected and then ascended to the heavens, the followers of Jesus began meeting together. They realized, due to illness or other serious matters, there were others who could not make it to the gatherings and it was decided that a certain style of people would take food and the good news from the meetings out into the community as well as stand at the door to the homes where the gatherings took place and welcomed everyone into the meeting. They welcomed people in and they took that welcome out to those in need.

With certain culture influences on the church, the role of the diaconate fell by the wayside until the 1800s when a desperate need emerged for care and attention to given to those who could not manage for themselves—particularly for prisoners who were not fed or given basic necessities unless the church or families provided for them, those folks who were too sick to work or to care for their families—remember, in the 1800s people were imprisoned not necessarily because they did something heinous but because they were too poor to pay their debts or they had committed some small infraction. There was no social safety net back then in any form. If you were destitute, you had no assistance outside what the church and your family could provide. And so, the diaconate was revived to help serve those who were oppressed, poor, ill or widowed. You might be familiar with the more modern terms of deacon or deaconess. Depending on the denomination, the diaconate’s responsibilities range from reading the gospel during the worship service, taking consecrated elements from communion out to the sick following worship, offering pastoral care, leading children and youth programs, working as parish nurses, as teachers at community schools of all sorts, as organizers of food banks and shelters for women and children, as allies for the LGTBQ community and for those working towards reconciliation with indigenous communities.

The diaconate is by and far made up of lay professionals. People who have been trained in specific professions and then use their gifts and skills to serve the church. The United Church of Canada is the only denomination that recognizes the diaconate as paid accountable clergy and as such, the diaconate also serve and lead congregations in the same capacity as ordained ministers. In the United Church, as a diaconal minister, I am called to social justice, Christian education and pastoral care. Stephen, as an ordained minister, is called to the word, sacrament and pastoral care. When I became a minister I was gifted with a bowl and towel to represent that it is service that I am called and Stephen was gifted with a chalice and plate, representing his call to sacraments. We are both trained in all aspects of ministry but the focus of our education has been slightly different.

So, now knowing all this about the diaconate, you can appreciate when I say that our Canada Day celebrations last year in Chicago were, at times, somewhat uncomfortable because of our calling to social justice—we could not ignore the growing awareness that was sweeping across Canada last spring of the juxtaposition that the nation of Canada was created at the expense of the First Nations of people who were living on this land before the settlers arrived. We were celebrating our nation being 150 years old but the indigenous people had been on the land for much longer than the settlers. Many Canadians were feeling uncomfortable with celebrations that were predicated on the attempted destruction of culture and way of living. In discussions that were taking place at the time at home and in Chicago, I heard it said and I likely said it myself, why can’t it just be done? Why can’t the damage and hurt that was done just be fixed and we move forward? Why can’t the healing be as simple and quick as it was for both the woman and the girl in today’s scripture? Jesus made it look so easy. 

The healings that take place in today’s scripture reading are twofold. The first, the woman, an individual, who in her own personal suffering reaches out and, without seeking permission, is healed. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to menstruate for twelve years—cause make no mistake, this is what’s happening in this story. As a man you may not fully appreciate what that might mean. You may have to reach a bit to find yourself somewhere in this story but in the famous words of Matthew Taylor-Kerr, suck it up princess because women, for years, have had to find themselves in the stories of men. So, men, today I invite you to find yourself in the story of this individual woman. Can you imagine her discomfort and pain and the inconvenience she might have been experiencing, and it lasting weeks, and months and years? It would have been a horrible thing. And to top it off, not only would she have been feeling miserable all the time, she would not have been permitted to do most normal daily activities because she would have been in a constant state of uncleanliness. So, this woman risks everything to venture out to see the famed healer Jesus. Not considering herself worthy, she just touches the hem of his robe, hoping his power is strong enough to work through the slightest of contact. And it does. And from there Jesus goes to raise a recently deceased young girl—did you notice that she was twelve years old, the same length of time the woman had been bleeding? The storyteller wants there to be no mistake that the stories of these two are connected. Anyway, the family of the girl seek Jesus out to make their daughter well again. She dies but then is resurrected by Jesus, which he seems to do with very little effort, with very little cost to himself. Of course, it is the girl herself who is healed, however it is the gathered family who is amazed. The girl rises, the family rejoices.

Certain Christians tell anyone who would listen that, if only they knew Jesus, healing and blessings would be heaped upon their heads. Like it is a simple thing. Like it is an easy as a thing as the healing of this woman and this girl. But we know this is misleading. We know that just because we wish for something to happen, life doesn’t work that way. Jesus does not work that way. God does not work that way. The work of Jesus was not one-directional. While it may seem that it was easy for Jesus to heal or perform miracles but we must remember that Jesus very often required something from those he healed. He demanded they walk to him, to have faith, to explain themselves, to get up, to tell him the whole truth. The little girl was not brought back to life and had no expectation put upon her but she was to immediately get up. She was to walk despite just having been bedridden. The bleeding woman came forward to confess it was her who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and, did you notice this, she then told him the whole truth. Jesus offered healing but the healing needed to be received. This demonstrates that healing the hurt, the pain, fixing the broken and damaged requires not only the desire to be healed but also requires an ability to offer a healing path forward. And both of those things together require a lot of work. Because humanity is perfectly imperfect, it is not easy to be completely open ourselves to healing in any given moment or to assist another down a path—whether through apology or reparations or offering another form of justice—and having that path that is free and clear of any other personal agenda.

In Chicago last year, there were a plethora of discussions about what justice might look like for many different groups of people. Those denied the fullness of humanity because they are black or brown or because they find themselves with the LGTBQ spectrum, or because they are differently abled or because cultures and ways of living have been denigrated or because they live with any sort of mental illness. And God knows, we wish that justice for everyone was as simple as Jesus telling the young girl to get up. That we could reconcile with the people who make up the First Nations of this country for all the pain and damage created in the systemic racist policies of our various incarnations of government and for the ongoing missteps we collectively take in trying to sort out the many different layers of discrimination and bias that affect relationship between all citizens of this peace-loving and polite nation of ours. However, we know that healing does not happen with the touch of hem. It happens when the whole truth of a matter is revealed. And, at any time relationships are broken, the whole truth can be hard to find. Hard to acknowledge. Hard to admit. And it is not just our desire to fix what’s broken, those who have been hurt need, themselves, to be in a place that will allow for healing to happen. And some hurt runs so deep and ragged, it’s difficult to get to a place that one can hear the other telling their truth. It can be overwhelming to know where even to start in the fixing that the relationships and situations that are hurting or broken is some significant way. Maybe the place to start is simply with leaving the chair empty when someone does not show up because they are not permitted, or welcomed, or physically able, or were not invited or forgotten, or ignored, or not even considered. Healing involves being made welcomed AND being welcoming. And healing involves being prepared to be open to hearing the truth and telling the truth. The whole truth. May it be so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Scripture Shall No Longer Be Used As a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Matthew 25:31-45

 Today, in the United Church of Canada, is Aboriginal Sunday, the Sunday closest to June 21st, the summer solstice, which is the day that was declared by the Governor General of Canada in 1996 as National Aboriginal Day. Last year the day was renamed as National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The lives of all Canadians, those who have relatives that immigrated here years and years ago and those, like my friend Louise, who will become a Canadian in early August, the lives of all of us are bound up with the lives of the first peoples of this land we now call Canada. Depending on when and where you grew up, your connection with the Indigenous people of Canada may be extensive or it may have been limited or even non-existent. However, whether you realize it or not, your life is connected to the lives of the indigenous people of Canada. For no other reason your life is bound up with their lives, is because of you sitting here, right here in this space, on this holy ground, your life is bound up with the lives of indigenous people because of scripture. Because you have decided to be Christian. Because you have decided to be counted amongst those of us who follow the prophet Jesus who upon his resurrection and ascension, became our Christ. Because you woke up this morning and came here to worship instead of sleeping in or going for an early brunch. Your life is wrapped up in the life of Canada’s indigenous people because you are here today.

Throughout the history of time, humanity has used its imagination to create weapons of mass destruction so that one group of peoples could gain dominance over another. The desire for power seems to be a universal characteristic for us humans. It might, in fact, be our fatal flaw, a piece of our DNA that prevents what would actually ensure our own happiness and peace. Peace for ourselves and the peace we want for others, if for no other reason, so that their problems would no longer infringe on our lives. Or, it could be that this want and need for power is a learned behaviour so embedded in our different cultures that it’s hard to distinguish between what is nature or nurture. Humanity has a remarkable array of weapons at its disposal for use when leadership and power is threatened. Guns. Gas chambers. Nuclear bombs. Torture. Incarceration. Separation of families. Financial sanctions. These are weapons of mass destruction. But the weapon that has been used to hurt, by and far, the most number of people in the history of humanity is scripture. The word of God, the word of Allah, the Mormon word of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the Scientologist word of Ron Hubbard, the word of Saint Paul have all been used to hurt, to condemn, to ridicule, to dehumanize, to disempower, to disenfranchise, to belittle, to hate. The Pharisees used scripture to crucify Jesus and leaders today have used scripture to damage and to inflict pain upon the least amongst us. It’s being used TODAY. In our western, so-called civilized place in the world. 

The Gospel, the four books of our Bible, tells of a person of God who was so filled with the light and love of God’s peace, that people from far and wide were drawn to him to learn how they too, could be the hands and feet of God in a world that was fraught with fear and uncertainty. A world filled with people whose greed had them working diligently to oppress and repress others. Jesus showed up in a world of laws, of restrictions, of government, of empire. Jesus showed up and said to the world, the laws do not matter, the rules do not matter, sabbath does not matter, prayers do not matter, if first and foremost we do not love God and secondly if we do not love one another. Nothing else matters. He then spent the rest of his ministry trying to show the people what loving God and loving one another would look like. Like when he spoke the words we heard today. The righteous are worried, it’s not overly clear to them how they will know whether they will be the sheep or the goats when the Son of God returns. Whether they will be entering into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, oh, that’s easy. Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me. When you have loved the other as you would have loved yourself. Jesus not only told stories but acted so that others could see how one might behave if love above all else was the driving force in life. He ate with the tax collector, with the prostitute. He visited the poor and destitute. He healed the sick on the sabbath, he offered a hand to the downtrodden, to the mentally ill, to the widowed, to non-Jews, to the uneducated, to the weak. 

Since his execution, the followers of Christ have interpreted his words and actions. Some of those interpretations made it into the Bible. Letters were written. Prophecy and revelations were shared. But, if you’re Christian, you understand that no further divine laws were created after Jesus. However, this has not stopped humanity from searching through the words written and bound up in the Bible to find ways to gain or maintain authority and power in their lives. Scripture from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians was quoted to keep slaves in their place in the United States – servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart. The Bible was used to tell black people that they needed to submit to white people and then used to help the white people whose riches were built literally on the backs of the black people, to develop a gospel of prosperity, declaring their success was a sign that God’s favour was upon them. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches took a line from Matthew 28, the one where Jesus says, go and make disciples of all nations, they took that as direct instruction to go and compel those unfamiliar with Jesus to declare Jesus as their personal lord and saviour. Because of this mission, along with their strong commitment to universal public education, it was a natural fit for the Presbyterians and the Methodists to assist in running Residential Schools for the Canadian Government. 
Unfortunately, their mission goal of providing education and proclaiming the gospel was not tempered by respect for the existing culture, values and spirituality of First Nations. In another letter from Paul, written to followers of Jesus who were living under a dictator and whose lives were under constant threat, Paul commends the fledging church to keep its head down, to submit quietly to the prevailing political winds so that they might evade persecution. He wrote them, ‘everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.’ These words from Romans 13 were used by Adolf Hitler to legitimize the Nazi authoritarian rule in 1930s Germany. I’m sure these words were used by the fictional leaders of Gilead to subdue the handmaids. And they were used this very week by a nation’s administration that seeks to repel, not welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The problem with picking and choosing pieces of scripture to back our leadership, to justify of our actions and our beliefs, the problem is that we forget something crucial, we deny something essential. And that is underlying everything that has been written and said about Jesus since the time of his ascension, needs to be laid upon the foundation of love. Which, according to the story today, is understood through action, through the treating of each and every person as if it were Jesus himself standing before you. Or at the receiving end of your email. Or is the one impacted by the law or bill just passed in Parliament. Or the one waiting line in front of you at the drive through at Tim Hortons. Sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re honking at a real person rather than just a vehicle when you’re waiting in line at Tims, isn’t it? Or is that just me? I can understand that the Presbyterians and the Methodists viewed the native people of Canada as the least of these that Jesus spoke of in story of the sheep and the goats. The establishment of the treaties and the resulting system of Reserves set in motion a series of circumstances in which the cultures and languages of the native people were not valued. As such, people new to the land that became known as Canada did not gain awareness or learn about the fullness and richness of the lives of indigenous people that existed when the Europeans began showing up on their shores. 

When the Methodists and 70% of the Presbyterians voted to create together the United Church of Canada, they brought with them, responsibility to oversee twelve Residential Schools across Canada – from Norway House in northern Manitoba, where my family lived when I was a small child, to Alberni in British Columbia to Mount Elgin in Ontario. The church leaders and volunteers who ran these schools understood one of their mandates to be was to form the Indian child so that they could grow up to interact and be productive in the western European culture that the new country of Canada was being built upon. We hear today the phrase used behind closed doors in certain government meetings was, ‘beat the Indian out of the child’. The Indians were annoying. They were barriers to complete control and ownership of the vast lands of Canada. Mixing this belief with the religious seeking to convert the so-called savage allowed for the devastation of the Residential Schools to develop.

Can you imagine, just for a moment, what might have happened if those religious leaders, those faithful at the table planning with the government, if they remembered for just a moment Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats? That Jesus said, whatsoever you did not do the least of these, you did not do to me. And whatever you did do to the least, you did it also to me? If the faithful imagined for a moment that Jesus, as young child, would no want to be separated from his family or, possibly as a parent, would not want to have his children taken from him. Or from their mother. I can’t help but think that if some Christian, early on in the process of creating Residential Schools, if that Christian stopped to think, hmmm…what a minute, Jesus never said anything about destroying cultures when bringing the Word of God to all people. Jesus did not tell us to conquer and divide. Jesus taught us and showed us how to build up one another with love.

This is why the lives of each one of us here are bound up in the lives of all indigenous people today. Because scripture calls us, Jesus tells us, that for the kingdom of heaven to be possible on this earth, we must first treat the least of those amongst us as if we were treating Jesus himself. And we now know better than we did before. We are aware of the necessity and value of a diversity of cultures and people living together in the same land, in the same nation. We know that we have much to learn from one another. That one way of being does not supersede another. We have admitted wrongdoing. We have apologized. We have participated in a Commission to find out what truth and reconciliation might look like. And, we’ve been told, it looks like what is contained in the 94 Calls to Action listed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a series of actions which are intended to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. We are bound up in the lives of others because our scriptures tell us that peace on earth is not possible without caring for and creating justice for the least amongst us. The least like Jordan River Anderson from Manitoba.

**At this point I shared with the congregation that I had just recently realized how close Jordan's story is to my family situation. I had a sister who was born in 1961 while my family was living in Norway House, MB - the same community as Jordan. She was also born with a very disease and was flown to Winnipeg. The health care system permitted my sister to live at home for periods of time between hospital visits until she died in Norway House at the age of two.**

Jordan’s Principle, as it’s called, is the basis for the third call to action listed by the TRC and it states: We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle. Jordan was from Norway House Cree Nation. He was born in 2000 with a very rare disease that required hospitalization. As people from northern Manitoba do when they need acute medical care, Jordan was moved to Winnipeg where he lived the rest of his life. He lived in the hospital for two years until it was determined that he could move out to a family home as long as it was near the hospital. However, the different levels of government could not decide who would pay for what. The result of which meant that Jordan lived the rest of his days in hospital. He died at five years old having been prevented from living in a family home due to financial disputes. Eleven years later—eleven years!! the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal determined that approaches to services for First Nations children was discriminatory and Jordan's Principle was created. It says: all First Nations children can access the products, services and supports they need, when they need them. This means giving extra help with a wide range of health, social and educational needs when needed so First Nations children have an equal chance to thrive. Which, in a nutshell means, the government of first contact pays for the service and resolves jurisdictional/payment disputes later.

There is nothing easy about the 94 Calls to Action and nor should there be. Travesties were done in no small part as a result of taking scripture and using it to deny the spirituality that was in this land long before any European arrived. But surely to God, we can manage number three which more or less says that we will treat children, who are vulnerable, who need love and care, who enter the world at no fault of their own, who live in remote areas, we will treat these least amongst us just as we would treat my sister and any other child in our  country regardless of ethnicity, language used, family of origin, where they call home or who their parents are. We could use scripture for the good news it was supposed to be. We could stand up and demand that we treat the least of us as would treat Jesus. We can stand up and declare that our children will not be left hungry, not be left naked, not denied the access to return home just as we would never deny those things to Jesus. It is time to take back our scriptures and no longer allow them to be used for weapons of mass destruction. It is time to take back our scripture and use them as Good and Holy News for our world, for our communities, for our friends, for our family, for ourselves and always, always, for the least that live amongst us. May it be so.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Images of God: House Fires and the Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-15

**Remarkably enough - when I got home after church on this Sunday, I discovered that someone in my life lost their home to a house fire in the early hours of Sunday morning.**

This year on Pentecost Sunday, which was just on the long weekend last month, anyway on Pentecost Sunday, colleague of mine, who lives in a small town, went to church in the morning, as usual, and led worship. He preached, as I did that day, about the miracle that happened on the first Pentecost—he spoke how tongues of fire came down, as if from heaven, and rested above the heads of those followers of Christ who began to gather together in community in the days after his  ascension. Remember the fire represented the Holy Spirit moving in and amongst the people who were not giving up the teachings of Jesus, even though he was no longer there in body to lead them. God, through the Holy Spirit, inspired Peter to preach and three thousand were joined to their number that day. Anyway, my colleague preached about this fire descending upon God’s people and it did not harm or burn anything. He left church after worship and returned home as he normally does on Sundays. And then his beeper went off. Not his phone or an alarm. It was the beeper he carries everywhere with him because he is volunteer firefighter. He spent the rest of Pentecost Sunday trying to quell a fire that ended up consuming a family’s home that afternoon.

Several times in the Bible, God shows up in people’s lives as some form of fire. God was in the pillar of fire that went before the Hebrews as they escaped Egypt. God lit the way as a torch in Genesis. The Holy Spirit came as fire on Pentecost. And God is revealed to Moses in the burning of the bush that was not consumed by fire. The bush was at foot of what is now known as Mt Sinai. Fun fact, Saint Catherine’s Monastery has been built up around what is believed to be the bush that continues to grow from the roots of the original burning bush. The experience of my colleague was a sober reminder that fire is a force in our world that we have every right to be wary of—to be careful around and to be scared of in some circumstances. I’m sure the early Hebrew people had a similar relationship to fire as we do today. Fire is necessary in our lives but we very well know that fire consumes and it harms when it escapes our control. As an aside, when the alerts went off on all of our phones in May while I was at a large gathering of clergy for the Conference. When the alert sounded on the one hundred phones in the sanctuary, the minister from Fort McMurray, went into a bit of shock as the collective noise of the alerts sounded so very much like the alarms that rang through her town in 2015, telling people they had to evacuate in a great hurry.

The power of fire is incredible and immense. Maybe that’s why the Hebrew people used the image of fire when trying to explain how God was making God’s self known in their lives. But, rather than the fire being a frightening sight, the fire that represents God is a fire that continues to burn without having to consume anything. The fiery bush is an icon of the Divine—a biblical symbol that offers a window into God’s presence—an awesome and powerful holiness that is, at once, dangerous and attractive, frightening and comforting, untamed and reassuring. We have talked about humanity being made in the image of God and how an expansive view of God goes beyond the male imagery of our Creator to include not only women but also those non-human images. We need also to consider a vast range of imagery for God because no one image can encapsulate the totality of what or who God is in our world and universe. And, as I’ve said before, we, the people of God are perfectly imperfect and so we do not have enough understanding of the mystery that is God and, as such, we cannot give a comprehensive description of the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, the God of David, the God of Jesus. We do, however, have enough imagination to use metaphors and similes to describe our God whose face has been seen only by one person—Moses in his old age, just before he died. Each of these comparisons give a small picture of God but when we all share what we believe to be true about God, the mystery of God is revealed a little more every time and what we understand about God is increased bit by bit.

So, we have this story and the others, that are images of God filled with the immense power of fire and yet the fire is not destructive, affirming that our God is a Creator not a destroyer. Just as when the breath of God moved over the earth, it created the world, it did not destroy it. Just as the wind of Pentecost did not blow apart the gathering place of God’s people. Just as the hen of Jerusalem protected her chicks, she did not force them to stay out in the cold, all these images tell of a God that continues, without ceasing, to care for our well-being. We don’t name God after these images. They are metaphors and similes. They paint for us a picture from which we can discern the nature of God. And so, we don’t call God ‘Fire’ but we call God Powerful. We call God Beloved. We call God Creator. We call God Lover.

Later, in this story of the burning bush, God reveals something akin to a name for God’s self, which, in turn, reveals more of the character of God. Moses is being difficult with God. God tells Moses to go free the people of the Egypt and Moses is resisting. Because I have a somewhat belligerent sixteen-year-old, I can imagine the non-edited version of what this discussion with God sounded like:
  • Moses, you aren’t doing anything important right now, go set my people free.
  • Do I have to?
  • Yes, they are enslaved, they need freeing!
  • Right now? Because I’m in the middle of a game of Fortnight—I might win.
  • You have to go now, it’s important – go before I unplug the PS4.
  • It’ll be a waste of time because they won’t listen to me.
  • Oh, for the love of Pete, will you just go already? They’d be free by now if you had left when I told you to go.
  •  What if they ask for a password or something so they know it’s you that sent me? I know, why don’t you tell me your real name? Better include your middle name, so they know it’s you.
  • Arg! Just tell them I AM WHO I AM has sent you. No middle name. I AM for short. Now go!
  • Alright, alright, I’m going already. Sigh.
So, God very cleverly avoids giving Moses a name but does give this expression of I AM WHO I AM. I can’t help but think it’s like responding to the kids after they’ve asked why they have to do what you say and you say, because I’m the mom that’s why! So, Moses is resisting, and God says I AM WHO I AM and that’s plenty enough authority for you to do what I need you to. The scholarship around this great I AM suggests that this phrase could be more accurately interpreted from the Hebrew as I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. Either way the expression ends up as YHWH in the scriptures—there are no vowels in Hebrew. In English, we pronounce that as Yahweh, which we use as an alternate name or title for God. The name Yahweh is built upon the Hebrew “to be”. Through saying, I will be what I will be, God reveals that God will be made known through God’s actions for others. And, as you make your way through the Bible, it is easy to get caught up in the chaos and turbulence in the lives of God’s people. No one would blame a first-time reader if they judged God as being harsh and unforgiving. But upon closer inspection, we realize that it is not God who is harming and punishing people (let’s not get into a discussion right now about the flood or Lot right now, shall we? I’ll need another hour of worship time to talk those ones through). If we look more closely at the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, you will see that the misfortunes that befall the people of God were because of their own actions or inaction. King David asks for a lot of smitting to happen by God in the Psalms that he composed but there is little evidence that God responded to his requests of vengeance.
If we can agree for now to set aside the flood and poor Job, it can be said that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures offers again and again for humanity to return to righteousness. To remain in relationship with their Creator, to be welcomed back again and again into the love that is God. God freed the slaves of Egypt, led them through the desert despite their contentiousness, led them into the Promised Land. God did not set aside Jacob for his greed and his betrayal of his brother Esau. God gave the exiles living in Babylon hope through the words of the prophets. God gave the people Jesus to live the love God knows that is possible in our world. God did not let Jesus perish but rose him from the tomb to declare to the world that hate and terror will never win out over the power of love. I will be what I will be – God has shown that God will be many things. God will be just, kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, full of hope, peace and joy. There are so many images we can use for God and how the Holy Spirit moves in our life—fire, wind, the majesty of the mountains, the perfectly formed intricate flower, a crop of wheat rippling with the breeze, the open sky of the prairie, the crashing waves of the ocean.

God is seen even these goofballs and my friends Andrew and Samson. But let us remember that images are only perfectly imperfect glimpses of our God. God will be what God will be and so take you the images you have of God, lay along beside them, what characteristics of God you know to be true to help make the picture you have be less fuzzy and more in focus. We each may only have a limited ability to see and understand God but if we can share our images with one another and talk about how God will be through describing God’s characteristics, together we might better reflect the God that made humanity, made each and every one of us, in God’s own image. May it be so.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Why Do You Stay Alive?

Two weeks ago I took two books home to read by the end of May. A big one and a little one. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s autobiography and Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Naturally I picked up the little one first cause it wasn't going to take very long to read before I started the brick-sized book of Martin Luther King.

Well. Theory is one thing and reality is another. Matt Haig's book is a compelling read that a fast reader could whip through in a time of dedicated reading. But that would be doing him and his book an injustice.

Matt Haig is a best-selling author who is married with a couple of children. (I did a bit of work on the Google while taking reading breaks.) By all accounts, he is an accomplished man who have people who loves him and who he loves. In addition to his creative talents and his identity as a spouse and father, Matt has another facet to his life - mental illness. It is easy to look at successful people who have found love and who family in their lives and assume they are happy. But we forget each and every one of us has a history and a life full of details that we choose not to lay bare at the feet of anyone who knows of us. Kate Spade comes to mind as I write this - her death by suicide after years of depression came as a shock to those who felt they knew Kate through her designer handbags.

Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses lie to those people who live with them. I know this because depression is not an unknown entity in my life or those I love. Matt found himself suddenly and completely disabled at the age of 24 by mental illness. With his parents and girlfriend supporting him, Matt crawled out from under his illness over a long period of time. He still has moments when the illness tries to take back power over his mind and life but he has managed to choose life over death for nearly twenty years.

Reasons to Stay Alive is a recounting and description of his debilitating illness and his subsequent recovery. It is a challenging and difficult read. It is also a story of hope and encouragement. It is an excellent read to have a better understanding of the impact that mental illness has on a person's life (and those who love that person). We would never ask someone with a broken leg to help us move our furniture and yet, people who live with mental illness, are often told they are lazy and/or unwilling to get better when they are unable to participate fully in their lives. Mental illness is very real. And it can be incapacitating. The more of us who understand mental illness, whether we have it or not, the better our world will be.

The bookends of this book have photos of reasons why people choose to stay alive. Here's my reason to stay alive.
What is your reason to stay alive? Feel free to post a photo in the comments of this blog or on my Facebook post. And then go read the book. As always, if you want to borrow my copy, drop in to the church and I'll lend it to you.

PS. I'll read about Martin Luther King next week. 😊

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Old White Guy in the Sky

Genesis 1:26-27

I love going over this story of Creation with the youth group during confirmation classes. There are a few of these quirky events in the Bible where you think you know the details but it turns out they are made up—like the number of wise men who visit baby Jesus—we think there are three because three gifts are listed but the actual number of people who traveled to see the Christ Child is never revealed. The youth are always surprised when they find out there are two creation stories—this seven day one with God saying things like, let there be light and then creating humankind and then the story in the next—you know the one where the man is created and given the job of naming all of creation and God feels sorry for him being all alone and creates a woman from his rib. Two very distinct stories of creation. Anyway, the creation story Donna read for us is from chapter one and takes place after God has created everything in the world, except for humans. We don’t know much about God at this point other than how powerful God must be to have created so much out of nothing. Over these next three weeks, Stephen and I will be exploring the images that we have for God. Many of us grew up in a time in which there was not much question of how we would describe God if asked—the answer would likely be, an old white, bearded man, living in heaven up in the sky. I don’t know about you but when I was younger I couldn’t help but think of Charleston Heston like in this photo—he was actually playing Moses but to my mind, this is how I thought of God while I was in Sunday School.  It’s hard to know when this older male image of God was created in the imagination of humanity—perhaps Michelangelo had something to do with it when he revealed his painting in the Sistine Chapel—you know the one, where God is creating humanity by reaching out and touching fingertips with Adam.

Translating the Bible into English would likely also have been a factor. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, were written in Hebrew. Hebrew does not have pronouns such as the English language—no ‘he’ or ‘she’. But the Hebrew language does assign a gender to all things in a similar way of the French language. As such, God had a masculine designation, not necessarily because the early Hebrew people understood that God was a man, God was just happened to be masculine. I suppose, it’s just as likely God could have had a feminine designation just as the Hebrew words for grapevine or sun. Of course, later in the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, Jesus refers to God as Abba, which is Aramaic for father—abba refers to a relation of personal intimacy—which is exactly what God is to Jesus. Jesus was likely very aware of the story of how his mother was made pregnant through divine intervention and so it follows that Jesus would have thought of God as his father, therefore directing humanity’s imagination to the image of a older man. The lighter features of God comes from the very fact that it was western Europeans who have had authority over the church for so many years. Using English, Bible states, God created humankind in his image. The word for God is masculine and the English language requires a pronoun to be used in this situation, so the sentence is God created humankind in HIS image. Our history had men interpreting the Word of God for the people, and so they read this bit of information revealing what God was and they looked at themselves. Their logic probably went like this…if God made us in his image, we must be what God looks like. Which leads us to the pervasive uses of older, male imagery for God today. Even in the TV show, The Simpsons, the character of God is light skinned and has a long white beard. Here’s a fun fact that I’ve shared before but I still like to point it out…God is the only Simpson character to have five fingers, the other characters all have four fingers on each hand.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this older male imagery for God other than it can be restrictive when portraying God if other perspectives are not permitted. The English language is limited when it used to describe the Holy Mystery that is God. Last week we heard the early Christians speaking about the Holy Spirit using images of fire and the sound of wind because they did not have the language to describe the fullness of how God was moving in their lives on the day of Pentecost. As much as we try, developing a comprehensive image of God is very, very difficult, impossible even. But humanity, as a general rule, likes order in the world. And, let’s admit it, we the faithful, like rules and organization. If you need any proof that humanity values consistency as a virtue, have a look at the success of McDonalds or stand behind someone at Starbucks as they discover the location they are at has run out of earl grey tea. You can’t possibly make a tea latte with anything other than earl grey. And, no, English breakfast is never, ever an option for a London Fog, thank you very much! As much comfort rule and order offers to us, sometimes consistency can be filled with ruts that are hard to escape. And when our religious structures become too rigid with the portrayal of God, there is not room for those people who do not find comfort or peace in those portrayals. If a child suffered at the hand of their father growing up, perhaps the image of God as the loving Father cannot be reconciled with their abusive father. If a person has been sexually assaulted by a man, it might be hard to find comfort in praying to a man for strength and courage. There are also people who find it challenging to consider the greatness of God’s mystery being contained within any type human form. It is helpful for those folks to be given space for God to be more, to be bigger, to be wider than any one person. For people whose vision of God does not include Charleston Heston, we to allows for an expansive view of the one we call the Almighty.

Let’s take a moment to look at our scriptures to examine what they tell us about God. There are many, many descriptions for God throughout the whole Bible—metaphors such as fire, wind, the quiet after a storm and also characteristics such as being just, loving, wise and in all places at all times. So, in this very first chapter of the entire Bible, we find ourselves at the end of a rather impressive list of things and creatures that God has managed to create and we know that all of it is good. Then God makes humankind. In a stunning revelation we find out suddenly that God does not seem to be alone. God says, “Let US make humankind in OUR image.” It turns out that God is not an ‘I’ but rather, God is an ‘us’. As an aside here, this is a piece of scripture that certain Christians use to explain the Trinity and to ‘prove’ that Jesus was with God since the very beginning of time. However, the same Christians then ignore the next few lines and use only the creation story from chapter two to explain how women are to be subordinate to men. But I’ll leave that for another Sunday. So, to recap, God is an us, not an ‘I’ and God wishes to make humankind in their likeness—again plural rather than singular. God goes ahead and makes humankind and AGAIN we hear plural not singular—God created THEM. Male and female.

Did you notice that the male is not named Adam in this story? That happens in chapter two. The Hebrew word for red dust is adama and it is believed that Adam is named for the dirt from which he was created. Back to chapter one and the male and female being created together. One thought is that this one being had the male facing from one side and the female facing from the other. Psalm 139 says, "You hem me in—behind and before, you have laid your hand upon me.” At some point, they were separated. Or it could simply be that both were created at the same time as individual beings. What is important to take away is that both men and women were created in the likeness of God. Which then begs the question of how it is that we haven’t used other images for God alongside the father, an old man with a beard? If we, each one of us, are made in the image of God, we do not have to look very far to find out some of the possibilities of what God is. Male, female, transgendered, homosexual, heterosexual black, brown, white, tall, slim or wide.

Last summer, in Zambia, in response to the question as to why the United States and Canada had so many gays when Zambia had none, I told the Zambian taxi driver that we, in Canada and in the United Church know that a person has no more control over whether they are born gay or straight than they are born black or white or male or female. We are born the way we are, just as God would have us be. And each and every one of us is made in the image of God. God can be many things. I’ve shared here before that when she was four years old, Abigail described God as being big and blue and riding a bike. I think of God as being a big cloud type of thing, like a massive flock of birds that move in tandem together in the sky—as the love from which we are born and the love to which we return when our time on earth is at an end. But it is helpful for me, particularly when I’m in the drive through line at Tim Hortons and I’m feeling tense about who might cut into the line to remember that each and every one of us reflects God and all the possibilities of God. However, individually we are not the sum total of all that God can be. Remembering that God created humanity, both male and female together from their likeness—from the plural we were created into community. Neither one alone is the full image of God—only in the community of humankind is God reflected. For us to begin to understand the Mystery of who and what God is and the power of God in our world, we need to be with each other. We need to be together, acknowledge one another, try to understand one another, be loving to one another, offer grace to each other just as God’s grace is given to us, to ensure justice for our neighbor as we would want for ourselves, to be compassionate and full of mercy just as God is, for each and every one of us is made in the image of God. God has created us into a community in which we are encouraged each and every day to call each other into full being in fellowship, a fellowship that can only be accomplished when we look at the other and recognize that God is as reflected in the person before us as God is reflected in ourselves. And, if you need reminding of all the possibilities of who the US is that is our God, of the US that made humankind in their image…here are some photos of just a few in this world who bears God’s image…

**At this point a slide show of images of a diverse group of people, including Donald Trump, Syed Soharwardy and Wab Kinew- photos and selfies - appeared on the screen while Donna and Karen sang I Am a Child of God - #157 More Voices - by Cheryl and Bruce Harding, 2002**