Receive the Gospel with the joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

—1 Thessalonians 1:6

pastor-peter-sermonsMy name is Peter Mikelic, and I have felt called to be a pastor since my early teen years. Many aspects of parish ministry are important and have drawn me. Yet the art and science of hermeneutics and homiletics are the gift that I’m most inspired to share. In real language, that means I really like to interpret scripture, write sermons and preach!

My wife Sherry delivers very brief and pointed sermons, mostly to me!  But I find more time is involved. Exploring the depth and breadth of that intersection between the meaning of God’s Word and its relevancy in today’s complex world takes time, prayer, and soul searching. My purpose is to shed light on life in the here and now.

I hope these brief excerpts from recent sermons are meaningful to you. If you would like me to email a copy of any of the full sermons, please contact the office or let me know. Better yet, come on Sunday to hear one!

Inspiration for the Mind: Brief Sermon Excerpts

2020

Each year we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism—a story we think we know very well. But, when something is too familiar, we need another look. So this morning, we’ll re-examine this all too familiar story from the eyes of all 4 Gospel writers: Mt, Mk, Lk & Jn. Maybe we can learn something new and gain a new perspective.

Firstly, as I told the Bible Study group of 8 last month: theology is not a simple matter. I wish it was. It can be very complicated, not only because 20 centuries has elapsed since the gospels containing Jesus’ Baptism were written, but how we see things today is not how they were understood back then. So, let me explain.

The first version of Jesus’ baptism is from Mark’s Gospel, written around 70 AD, some 40 years after the baptism took place. As our Bible Study group learned: Mark’s Gospel was written at the end of a 4-year war between Israel and Rome—66-70 AD—a war the Jews lost big time—but a war in which Paul believed Jesus was going to return on the clouds of heaven……but did not.

MK’s Gospel is the shortest of the four and so he gets right to the point. Mark omits the first 30 years of Jesus’ life and begins with Jesus’ baptism which he describes in a mere 3 verses. MK is preparing his readers for Jesus’ immediate return, in order to set up the Kingdom of God which is imminent. And to prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming means to be baptized for the remission of sins. And so, Jesus allows himself to be baptized. “Repent and be baptized, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” Jesus tells us, according to MK.

But, as our Bible Study Group of 8 also learned, MT has a huge problem. He includes over 125 OT verses to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. But the Jews don’t buy it!! They reject Jesus as the Messiah. Why? Two reasons. 1. The Jews are expecting a Messiah like King David, who would drive out the Romans with military force to re-establish greater Israel. Jesus, however, disavows the sword, renounces militarism, and says that his kingdom is not of this world.

2. The church proclaims Jesus the Son of God. But the Jews were strict monotheists for centuries, well before Jesus was born. Commandment #1: I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me. So, when the church says there’s another god, Jesus—the Son of God—and still a 3rd god: the HS—how can the Jews transgress Com #1 at the penalty of death? And if that’s not enough, Jesus still does not return for a 2nd Coming.

MF, it’s a crisis of faith. St. Paul believes Jesus is he’s going to return in his lifetime; but Paul is executed by the Romans in 65 AD. No 2nd Coming would save Paul from Roman crucifixion. The Gospel writers, MK, MT & LK, writing between 70 and 90 AD—they all believe Jesus is going to return—that the Kingdom is at hand, as Jesus said many times. But the first C comes to an abrupt end, and Jesus still has not returned. Why not? What to do? What to believe? Well MF, along comes John’s Gospel to the rescue.

I believe we need to return to the Christianity of the 1st C, in which Christianity was a movement, in which each of Xian was a living gospel to his neighbor—each Xian was a living spiritual transformation which is what Xianity meant back then: to change, to reform and be transformed by the HS.

MF, let me put it to you this way: Jesus never said to his disciples: “Hey fellas. We’re going to start a new, centralized, institutional religion and name it after me.” Instead, Jesus was a nonviolent leader, who started a messianic movement with the classic words of a movement: “Follow me!” He then empowered his followers with the HS. And instead of demanding uniformity, he recruited diverse disciples who learned—by heart—his core vision and way of life. Then he sent these disciples out as apostles to teach and multiply his vision and way of life among “all the nations”—so says MT’s Gospel (28:19).

In dangerous global times like these, and where the church in NA and EU is on the verge of collapse, we must produce generations of dedicated, courageous, and creative Christians who will join God to bring radical healing and change to this damaged world, before it’s too late. MF, we need such a movement—not someday, maybe, but right now, definitely.

We Christians need to finally live and love as Jesus taught and embodied.” Rather than a top-down and top-heavy church concerned only about in-house salvation, Christianity must once again become a messianic movement which places the love of God, neighbor, self, and all creation at the center.

Everyone knows about the 3 Kings of Orient are, traveling by camel to hick town Bethlehem, to find the baby Jesus and present him with gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” No surprises here to anyone. After all, we’ve all been singing the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” for 163 years, ever since the Anglican Rev John Henry Hopkins Jr composed it in Williamsport, Penn. Likewise, everyone knows that the 3 kings mingled with the Shepherds and the sheep, the camels and the cows at the stable, with the Star above, Mary & Joseph below, and the Baby in the manger.

Nothing shocking here, MF, unless we pay attention to what is actually written in the birth stories by MT and LK—as our little Bible Study Group of 8 did back in Dec. With the festival of Epiphany—the arrival of the Wise Men taking place tomorrow—at least legend has it—what can we say about their arrival?

First is that the Wise Men were not Kings. They were astrologers who followed a star for many months and arrived at a house in Bethlehem, where the child was. No one knows the date of their arrival, just like no one knows when Jesus was born. These dates—Jan 6 and Dec 25—were chosen from other possible dates by the church fathers in the 4th century—300 years after Jesus.

The fact is this MF: The birth stories according to MT and LK were written by different writers, who did not know what the other was writing, which is the reason why the stories so very different.

LK’s birth story has angels, shepherds, sheep, and a manger (a feeding trough actually) with Baby Jesus in it. MT’s story has wise men, gifts, a star, King Herod, a child in a house, a slaughter of children and an escape to Egypt. LK’s story has Joseph & Mary residing in Nazareth and leaving for Bethlehem where the baby is born in a stall and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, because there was no room in an inn. In MT’s version, the couple already resides in Bethlehem, in a house, where the Wise Men arrive quite some time later—between 6 to 18 and possibly 30 months after the birth, to find Jesus, no longer a baby, but a child. And btw, LK has no donkeys and MT has no camels in their respective birth stories.

Although each story is about Jesus’ birth, they have no relationship with one another. They are completely different birth stories, which means that the Magi never met the shepherds, nor were the shepherds led by a star. Angels told the shepherds where to find the baby Jesus; whereas the Star led the Wise Men to a house where Jesus lived. Which is to say that our nativity scenes simply do not reflect historical reality. But, MF, that’s alright. It’s ok to put all of these figures together for one holy and silent night, provided we recognize that they are symbols of historical realities which have meaning and purpose in our lives on Christmas Eve.

So MF, it is not Jerusalem which becomes the birth place of this new born king of the Jews, but tiny unpretentious Bethlehem, a hick town by comparison to the once mighty capital city. It is no wonder that the Magi, now smitten by this divine foolishness, which is wiser than human wisdom, went home by an alternative route.

The story of the Epiphany offers us two communities: Jerusalem with its great arrogance about the past and its hold on the future, and little, tiny, unassuming Bethlehem—a hick town by comparison—Bethlehem, with its modest promise known only to Micah. Which is also to say MF, that Jerusalem and Bethlehem are also two different ways of living between which you and I are always choosing. The first choice is the one we most often take, the one represented by all the luxuries and excesses of big city life, with all its consumer spending and accumulating, all its technological baubles, beads and bangles, its representation of the so-called good life and all that that life has to offer, and, of course, its “me-first and my rights mentality” at all costs. Jerusalem—the good life and all which it offers!

All of which, put us Christians in immediate touch with other people and for which no ordination is needed. Ordination would probably even get in the way. Either we see Christ in everyone, or maybe we don’t even see Christ in anyone! Frankly, my hope for Christianity is that it becomes less “churchy,” less men dominated and driven, and more concerned with living its mission statement than with endlessly reciting creeds and beliefs about Jesus who gets me into heaven. There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christian lives beyond attending worship services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system.

MF, are we still willing to travel the 20 extra kms with the Wise Men to create a practical, practice-based Xianity? Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. Centuries emphasizing art and architecture, music, liturgy, theology, preaching, prescribed roles and the bottom line—finances, of course, all have their place, to be sure, MF! But their over-emphasis has made us a top-down and decorative church that is constantly concerned with its own in-house salvation. And that MF must change if the church is ever to survive. But it means that we must be willing to walk the extra long and hard 20 kilometers, just as the Wise Men did.

2019

So, here we are, MF, starting another New Year 3-days from hence: Anno Domini 2020. Christmas Day 2019 has come and gone, but not forgotten. Here we are, where we left off 5-days ago. It’s an important consideration for us, as it was for the shepherds who also had to return to where they had left off. I mean, had the sheep not returned and a cure for insomnia found, it would have put thousands of sheep out of work. There’s also the question about the black sheep in the herd. They probably remained black because there’s a black sheep in every family and it usually stays that way.

Or what would have happened to those magi from the east had they not “returned to their country by another way” as Mt’s Gospel tells us? I mean, what would their wives have done? They probably were just happy that their husbands were the first wise men to attend a baby shower, although like most wives, they probably had serious reservations about the gifts their hubbies were bringing this child. I mean, gold, frankincense and myrrh would have made great gifts for the wives! But for a little baby? The wives didn’t think so.

Now, had the husbands brought pot-luck, that would have been more appropriate. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were probably cold and hungry. But the wise men weren’t Lutherans or Anglicans and so didn’t bring potluck or casseroles with them. Now, if the wives had gone to the stable, they would have brought practical gifts for the child, like diapers, a stroller and a decent crib, for heaven sakes. I mean you can’t have the Son of God sleeping in a feeding trough for 2 years. I mean, what would the animals eat out of? After that, the wives would have cleaned out the stall, hung Christmas lights, and since they were Wise Women, we would’ve had real Peace on Earth.

Well MF, with that little humour, I’d like to point out that for 20 centuries, we Christians have combined the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke into one story, as if the writers meant it to be that way. But the fact is, as our little Bible Study group discovered, both Mt and Lk wrote two very distinctly different birth stories. Neither Lk nor Mt saw each other’s story. Mt wrote his birth story 80 years after Jesus’ birth. Lk wrote his 90 yrs after Jesus’ birth.

According to Luke, the home of Mary and Joseph is Nazareth, but because of the Roman census, they travel to Bethlehem, where Jesus’ birth occurs in a stable. Luke’s version says that angels tell the shepherds where the baby is to be found in Bethlehem. So, off they go, minus the sheep, to find Jesus wrapped in linen cloths and lying in a feeding trough. Together with the angels, the shepherds praise God for this special birth.

But in Mt’s version, Mary and Joseph already reside in Bethlehem, which is Joseph’s home town, and where they own a house and Jesus is born in that house. The Star which the Wise Men were following for months, after all the East is very far away—the Star rests over a house. The Wise Men enter the house, and find, not a baby, but a child and his mother—meaning Joseph wasn’t there. He was probably working at a carpentry shop somewhere else in town. The Wise Men present the child with gifts and worship him.

Scholars estimate that Jesus was between 12 to 30 months old when the Wise Men arrived. That’s also why King Herod had all the Jewish male infants slaughtered who were 2 years and under. The family then goes to Egypt, to escape the slaughter, and return to Nazareth 3 years later. By the way, Luke mentions no travel plans to Egypt. In fact, Lk says, “When Joseph and Mary had finished doing all that was required by the law of the Lord, they journeyed straight to Nazareth where the child grew up full of wisdom.”

Well, MF, here we are 20 centuries later and these differences perhaps only matter to theologians and historians, but to folks like you and me, we ask the question: Where do I now begin, where I left off 5 days ago with the Xmas Eve celebration? After all, the shepherds and wise men had to ask themselves the same question: Where do I now begin, where I left off a week ago with Baby Jesus in the manger or the Child Jesus at the house? Has what I have seen and experienced changed me in any way?

Is the world any better because of this past Christmas—or any Christmas for that matter? Is the church any better, because it proclaims the good news of Christmas? Is the pastor any more perfect than he was before Christmas? Does Christmas make you a better person than you were before Jesus’ birth? If the answer to these and other similar questions is NO—then why not?

For Christmas to make a real difference in your life and mine, as we move into a new year, we must practice what we believe about the mew born Child. If we believe he brings us light and love, we must shine light on the path for ourselves and others. If we believe Jesus brings us truth, then we must live truthfully. If we believe Jesus expects us to do the right, then we must do the right, but also do it for the right reason. MF, if Christmas transforms us, then we ourselves are changed and are therefore in a position to be an effective, change agent for others who need us.

A shabby, tired-looking couple appears at the door. The woman is expecting a child. The man says that the baby is going to come very soon, and so asks for a room in the inn. We sigh, a long depressing sigh. It’s most unfortunate, we say. But the inn is already full…that is, full of paying customers, we think to ourselves. We are even somewhat relieved that there isn’t room, because this couple, you see, just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the clientele.

But there’s something about them that pulls at our heart strings—something about the man’s rugged resolve and the woman’s serene countenance. And so, we give them room in a stable out back, out of sight and out of mind, because we just can’t shut them out altogether, you see. Shipwrecked at the stable door, little do we realize, that upon this small act of half-kindness, depends the very hope of humanity.

The Baby is born in the compressed heat of the night. He comes into the world like any other child: crying, helpless, defenseless and vulnerable, needing warmth, protection and nourishment. And so he’s fed at his mother’s breast and then rocked back to sleep in her loving arms and heart.

The Baby sleeps peacefully in its straw-filled feeding trough, all the while is heard the cacophonous sounds of the cattle, as their musky aroma fills the dense night air. A tenuous disquieting joy overtakes the family and little do we realize, just how uniquely special this rather common birth, in the crude unsophisticated surrounding, actually is.

MF, each year we re-enact this simple scene. Amidst rounds of parties, gifts, decorating and feasting, our society makes limited space for the birth of this Baby. But, of course, we’re all at the mercy of our own material inventions, time restrictions and psychological defenses. Shipwrecked at the door of the stable, sometimes we’re not even able to enter. And so we gaze from afar, even though we are invited to hold the Baby in our own arms.

In each heart here tonight, there lies an inn, where each one of us must ultimately answer whether there is room for the Christ Child. If not, we will then consign him to the stable of our lives, at whose door the timber of many shipwrecks lie. MF, we all come to the stable this evening—me too—with our wounds and our lists of who did what to whom—all ancient wounds and historic hurts which resurface, especially at Christmastime.

Like each of us, Jesus was also born absolutely vulnerable and helpless, which oddly enough, is the best disposition for the beginning of a spiritual journey. Why? Because the deeper the awareness of our vulnerability as humans, the more willing we are to finally reach out for help—to turn ourselves over to God who can and does heal us from the inside out. MF, God works with us in the long journey of dismantling our emotional and psychological baggage, our fears and anxieties, our obsessions and preoccupations—all of which we’ve allowed to accumulate over decades, all the while convincing ourselves that we’re ok.

But the cruel irony is that each one of us here tonight knows what it feels like to be shipwrecked—me too!—shipwrecked and at war with an enemy of our own making. Each one of us knows that we in the West—here in NA & EU—are starving spiritually—starving for a life that is personal and connected, spiritual and meaningful, not only to one another here this silent & holy night, but to our global village, to Mother Earth and to God herself.

So MF, when I speak of mtg our spiritual needs, it is not to keep cranking out more and more consumer goods, which we think we need, but which are planet killing at the expense of those who have little or nothing in this world—all the while, we pray and prattle on about angels and shepherds, wise men and stars—however important they are. Rather, we must finally begin to treat relationships to one another, to Mother Earth and God herself as vital and sacred. Because they simply are.

Christmas does not automatically nor immediately change everything in your life or mine. How could it? But if you prepare your life by making room to worship him—he who came to you in the obscurity of a manger, where he wants you to invite him into your life and heart, then Christmas will have found you and you will be changed.

Ultimately, there are only two kinds of religion. Most people believe in the first one which says: If I change, God will love me. But the 2nd one says: Because God loves me, I can change. So MF, because God already loves you, you can change and be transformed. You can make room for the Christ Child. You can let go of your old ways, which isn’t easy. Because the old will always defy the new. The old willy always deny the new. There is only one way to bring in the new and that is to let go of the old.

If “thy Kingdom come and thy will be done,” as we pray in the LP MF, then we must first let go of our man-made kingdoms and our own stubborn wills. Jesus does not come into our lives uninvited; otherwise, we’d be just robots. Jesus wants a disciple who freely choses to love him in return for his love. MF, if you make room for the Christ Child, then he will not only form and inform you, he will reform and transform you in his likeness, which is what Christmas is really about! Alleluia! Amen!

MF, we all know the Reason for this Season, don’t we?! It’s the birth of the Christ Child in an obscure manger in Bethlehem. Jesus is the Reason not only for this Season, he’s the reason for all seasons. And yet, with all the gift-giving this season, I often ask myself: Just whose birthday is it anyway? I mean, we give and receive gifts to one another—over 3 billion $$ worth. But MF, it’s not our birthday!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like giving and receiving gifts. I mean: a gift of candy means friendship; a bouquet of flowers is the gift of love. And the gift of a diamond means real business. But Christmas, MF, isn’t your birthday or mine! It’s Jesus’ birthday! So what will we do to celebrate Jesus’ birthday this Christmas? It’s the only question whose answer really matters this morning. This morning, let me tell you a little story, which has relevance to the question: Just whose birthday is it, anyway?

This Christmas Eve, MF, we will celebrate the birth and birthday of the Christ Child. We are—you and me—we are always the stable into which the Christ Child is born. And all we can really do is keep our stable honest and humble, and the Christ Child will surely be born there, as he was born in that first stable, and as Agnes was re-born that November night in the stable of Mel’s Diner.

MF, did you know that every major religion in the world—Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and all the eastern religions—all agree, but each in their own way, that finally we are all called to a transformed consciousness, a new mind, a new body being “born again,” a second time in some way. Each religion has different words and experiences for it, but somehow they all point to God’s union with us, which for us Christians is what Christmas is about. Emmanuel. God with us. God in us. Incarnation. God becoming one of us. He is in us and we are in her.

Perhaps this morning you feel something like Agnes. You had not thought about a birthday party. Although Christmas is about many things, maybe you’ve never thought of Christmas as a birthday party for Jesus. But then, what could we possibly give Jesus for his birthday? Now, the Wise Men once gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. What could we possibly give him? What could he possibly need, which we can afford? The really precious gifts are priceless: love, mercy, truth, for openers. For everything else, there’s Visa.

MF, the very best gift we could give Jesus for his birthday is invite him into our heart and life; invite him to be born into our day to day living. The Christ-Child who was once born in a manager now wants to be born in your life and mine—and not just on Christmas, but everyday. The Christ Child wants you and me, wants Agnes and our world to be transformed by his birth. God wants us to be transformed, inside out, by throwing a birthday party for his Son.

MF, only transformed people can transform other people. Where we ourselves have changed and healed is where we can be effective agents of change for others. God wants us to give birth to the Christ Child—that our bodies become his stable, our hearts his home and our souls his spirit!! That’s Christmas MF!! That’s Christianity. Religion is for people who are afraid of hell and afraid of God. But Christianity is for people who have been through hell and experienced God first-hand and therefore experienced transformation—experienced new life and new living.

MF, we cannot think ourselves into a new way of life and living. We must live ourselves into a new way of thinking and believing. Without action and without lifestyle decisions, without concrete practice, words alone will never cut it. You know MF, here in NA and in Europe, we have created a pseudo-happiness, largely based in having, in possessing, in purchasing, in texting and tweeting, etc—instead of a genuine happiness created in who we are: God’s children. We are so over-stimulated that the ordinary no longer delights us. We cannot rest or abide in our naked being in God, as Baby Jesus was. Christmas is always more than just what we believe about Jesus. It is more than Christmas trees and candles, music and laughter. Christmas is each of us giving birth to the Christ Child. Christmas is celebrating his birthday, and then, not just once a year, but every day—every day making living and breathing Jesus.

MF, each of us is pregnant with the Christ Child. He lives within us and now wants to be born by you and me; wants to be our Saviour; wants to be the Saviour of the world. And so, Christmas Eve, give birth to the Christ Child in your life. Let him shine from your life as he has never shone before.

The word that is translated into English as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” – which means a radical change of mind and heart. And for the church to foster a culture of repentance simply means that, what is needed is a radical change of mind and heart to reflect the image of God within us, which then changes what we do and how we behave. MF, God allows us to make U-turns in the middle of our lives, and this is part of the process of repentance and spiritual transformation. A culture of repentance means that this capacity to change our heart and mind is what fuels our spiritual transformation and growth. MF, God is not finished with us! She’s never finished with us! We must grow in God and grow spiritually all the time, or we die. The fact is: Too many Christians have simply stopped growing after confirmation, which has become a glorified graduation exercise out of the church.  

When we preach love without conversion, then we will not have lasting love. If we don’t call people to grow and grow up, to change and mature, to call our values and priorities into question, our behaviour and thinking into question and go to a new level of consciousness, then we can never sustain real love. That’s why the church has been forced to an honest and humiliating conclusion: Too much of our ministry has been concerned with “churching” people into an all too comfortable, ethnic and racial belonging system, rather than a spiritual repentance, conversion and transformation into who God is and what she expects from us.

I suspect that too much ministry has focused on pastors and priests who go about church business as usual, rather than the need for prophets like John the Baptist who challenge us to repentance and conversion, to reformation and transformation.

Christianity must do more than just disguise the ego behind a screen of church going and 1-way tickets to heaven. Jesus intended discipleship to be a real and vital movement toward the living and loving God. There needs to be an authentic, bona fide urgency with respect to repentance and the need for spiritual transformation, not only by the institution of the church, but also by its own members, too many of whom are members only on paper

Try to imagine, for just a moment:

A society without guns and high-powered weapons used to kill each other. A society without McMansions in sprawling suburbs, without mountains of unnecessary packaging, without tons of plastic bottles and wrap floating in our oceans and in the stomachs of whales and sharks, now dead in the water, without giant mechanized monofarms, without energy-hogging big-box stores, without electronic billboards plastered everywhere spewing dollar deals, cloaked in lies, without endless piles of throw-away junk, without the overconsumption of consumer goods no middle class person really needs.

We in the West are starving spiritually. We need spiritual nourishment, like we need air to breathe. We are starving for a life that is personal and connected, spiritual and meaningful to one another, to our world and to God. So, when I speak of meeting our spiritual needs, it is not to keep cranking out more and more consumer goods which are planet killing at the expense of those who have little or nothing in this world—all the while, we Christians pray and prattle on about Christmas angels and shepherds, wise men and stars. We must finally begin to treat relationships to one another, to Mother Earth and God herself as vital and sacred. Because they are.

How is it that so many churches and Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught?We’ve evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount (MT 5-7): Eg, Jesus’ claim that the poor of this world—and not the rich—will inherit the Kingdom; his warning about idolizing wealth; his clear directive and example of nonviolence; and Jesus’ command to pray for and love our enemies. Perhaps we think his teaching is just some nice words in theory, but very impractical in real life. I mean, we don’t turn the other cheek, because nonviolence changes nothing—or at least so we think.

One reason for our failure to follow Jesus’ clear teaching on nonviolence, on learning war no more, lies in the fact that the Gospels have primarily been expounded by a small elite group of white, educated EU & NA men. The bias of Caucasian males is typically power and control. From this perspective, MF, nonviolence and love of enemies, of course, makes no sense. It’s simply impractical.

Trouble is: Because we Christians haven’t taken Jesus’ teaching and example of non-violence seriously, much of the world refuses to take us seriously. Christians talk of a new life, critics say, but the record shows that most Christians are afraid to live in a new way—a way that is responsible, caring and nonviolent. Too many think that going to church, being saved and a 1-way ticket to heaven is what Xianity is about. The fact is Christianity is precisely about changing people from the inside out and therefore changing the world. Xianity is precisely about allowing ourselves to be transformed by the power of the HS and therefore transforming the world.

Hate is not only a prelude to personal vengeance, but to retaliation on a national and global scale. That’s why in his Sermon on the Mt, Jesus said whoever hates is also guilty of murder. That’s why Jesus also stood on the side of the 10 Commandments which say that “You shall not kill,” and yet we deliberately kill and do it with impunity. Then we rationalize every possible means to prove to ourselves that killing is right and even necessary for our survival.

From tribal wars to world wars, we have violated every standard of justice and civility, every standard of reason and morality, in which the innocent have been sacrificed on death’s altar in untold millions. Their names are legion: Auschwitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, My Lai, Basra, Belgrade, Rwanda, Armenia, Somalia, Kosovo, 9/11, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan etc.    

MF, we’ve come to believe that war is somehow redemptive, that war will end war. That’s what was said about WWI. It was the “last great war,” it was said. MF, the opposite is actually the case. War only generates more war. War only spirals into more war. We, our children and children’s children, have been totally indoctrinated, that the violence of war is the only solution to our human conflicts. In 1964, PM John Diefenbaker said, “There are only two species that actually go to war, men and ants. There’s no possibility of any change in the ants.” War and hate are not inherited, MF: they are taught.

Jesus, Gandhi, Teresa, Mandela and King transformed evil without resorting to evil—a revolution which changed them, as well as those who opposed them. The love of enemies requires not only the meltdown of defense-mechanisms and the painful gut-wrenching understanding of foes, but the daily application of love which is always non-violent.

The question asks if there is a passionate intensity about what Jesus means to us? Is Jesus really relevant for our day to day life and living? Or, do we just believe in Jesus in order to have our sins forgiven and get to heaven? Jesus may be the King, but is he my King? 
That’s why Jesus isn’t asking for an intellectual response to my question. He’s asking for a personal, emotional and existential response when he knocks at the door of our hearts, to let him in, and allow him to inform our believing, reform our faith, and transform our lives! Otherwise, our Christianity is nothing more than a book on a shelf—pretty to look at, but unread and unlived. 

Last Sunday I said that the reception of HC is often rote and ceremonial in many congregations. After administering HC a few thousand times to communicants, I often wonder about our personal responses. While it’s important to be thankful for the forgiveness of sins, MF, let me tell you: That’s just the beginning! Why? As I also said last Sunday: We are what we eat. We eat the bread and drink the wine—meaning: We become Jesus’ Body. We are Jesus’ Body.

The Eucharist is a transference of Jesus’ identity to you and me! We are now the living, breathing Body of Christ in this world, or as Luther liked to say: We ourselves are the little Christs of this world. We are the moving Tabernacle of the OT, just like the Ark of the Covenant. MF, if you haven’t realized it yet, that’s a huge deal!! It’s much more than forgiveness. It is life transforming and life-giving.

Today’s brief exchange Pilate has with Jesus is a prime illustration of what it means to remain on the surface, because of fear of facing inner truth, fear of having to put his privileged life under the microscope. So, Pilate intellectualizes his argument with Jesus.

MF, we do the same, whenever we make the emphasis of Jesus’ Gospel as something which is “out there” or “up there,” but never what is “in here”—inside the depth of the here and now. For instance, insisting on a literal belief in the virgin birth of Jesus is a very good starting point. But unless it translates into a spirituality of interior poverty, humility and human vulnerability—unless it translates into a readiness to give birth to the little Christ within us all, then the VB is only a belief of the brain. It “saves” no one.

Likewise, believing that Jesus rose from the dead is a good start. But unless we are struck hard by the awareness that the Risen Jesus is travelling the same journey with us, right now—and that this journey is the destination with him, right now—then MF our belief in the resurrection is harmless, if not harmful—because it is a belief that will leave us and our world unchanged. MF, we need to stop our fixation on heaven, or we’ll never see the forest from the trees.

Practice-based Xianity has been avoided, denied, minimized, ignored, delayed, and sidelined for too many centuries, by too many Christians who were never told that Xianity was anything more than church attendance or a belief system which supposedly got them to heaven. I know Lutherans and Catholics who would never step foot into each other’s church for fear of theological pollution & eternal punishment.

MF, let me tell you as honestly as I can. There is no Lutheran or Pentecostal way of being spiritual, for the HS moves and motivates without rules. There is no Mennonite or Salvation Army way of living Jesus’ simple and nonviolent life. There is no Presbyterian or Christian Reformed way of being right, for Jesus never said “You shall be right!” He did say: “Have faith. Be faithful.” There is no United or Baptist way to baptize, as if only adult immersion or child sprinkling has God’s stamp of approval. There is no Anglican or Catholic way of burying the dead, and then doing so in sacred soil, as if all other soil is immoral and impure.

Lk 21:27: Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory.

1 Thess. 4:16-17 The Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ, will rise to life first. Then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

MF, I’m not making this stuff up. It’s too bizarre to make up. The fact is: Nowhere in the entire NT is the word rapture used or found. But, if you reread today’s Lucan gospel, and then reread its parallels in MT and MK, which together with 1 Thess, the Rapture sure sounds like a kidnapping to me. The word rapture was not even used in the first 1900 years of Christianity, until the Scofield Bible, published in 1909, used the word in a heading, together with margin notes. The Moody Bible Institute and other US Bible schools spread this “rapture” message and spawned an entire “rapture racket” in which millions of dollars are being made.

MF, the concept of the “Rapture” has proliferated in evangelical circles in parts of the US and Western Canada. Rapture is actually a new form of an old heresy, called Manicheism, which says that the world is evil and the goal is to escape it, which is what God does through the Rapture. But that’s not the Gospel, MF. Xianity is not about escaping an evil world which God first made and pronounced good. The Gospel is about receiving the Kingdom of God, here and now, as Jesus said many times over.

MF, it is also interesting to note that those who believe in the Rapture, also believe that we are in the end times and that Jesus will return any minute. Let me tell you, back in the 1st C, the church also believed Jesus was going to return any minute. In fact, St. Paul believed Jesus was returning in his lifetime. In today’s epistle, Paul says: “We who are still living will meet the Lord in the air.”

Well, Jesus didn’t return during Paul’s lifetime, nor did he return in the first century, as the early church thought he would. Nor did Jesus return at 1,000 AD, nor at 2,000 AD when, you may remember, thousands of “rapturites” sold all their belongings and waited on US mountain tops for Jesus’ return on the clouds with armies of angels. But he did not. It’s now 2019, and Jesus still hasn’t returned. Nor have I seen churches holding fire-drills in expectation of his return.

1. What you probably don’t know MF is that tiny Israel initiated that war with the mighty Roman Empire, believing that that would force Jehovah to intervene to send the real Messiah and save his people, the Israelites/Jews. Meanwhile, Christians thought that this war would cause their Messiah, Jesus, to return and save them and his church. Not only did Israel lose the war, Jehovah did not intervene, nor did Jesus return. Why not? I don’t know. But I do know that Thou shall not tempt the Lord, thy God.

2. In reading Mt, Mk & Lk, it seems that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple is an event which will happen in the future, unless you know that the gospels were written after the war with Rome. Mk was written in 70; Mt in 80 and Lk in 90 AD—all after Jerusalem and the Temple had fallen to the Romans in 70 AD and the Jews then dispersed throughout Europe.

3. MF, you also need to know that with respect to the rapture, ie, meeting Jesus in the air to escape this Jewish-Roman war—these words from Paul sounds very literal because, you see, they’re taken from a cosmology which differs radically from our 20th C cosmology. Until Galileo and Copernicus of the 15th C, everybody believed that the world was small and flat. If you walked or sailed too far, you’d simply far off. Now, above the flat earth and sky was a dome over which God lived. When you looked up, you couldn’t see the dome, because it was invisible, as was God. Below the earth and seas was hell, where Satan lived. So, when Jesus returns, he returns inside the dome where everyone on earth will be able to see him up in the clouds. The righteous will join him up there, but everyone else will be swept away, into the fire below. Sounds grim, eh?

MF, St Paul was a great theologian, but he wasn’t a scientist and that’s not his fault. All disciplines, science and religion included, take time to evolve and mature. That includes Xianity! The end of the world will come, but not as the NT writers foresaw or as rapturites believe. How could it? The NT writers lived in a different time and place. The Book of Revelation, eg, saw the world ending in Armageddon, a final battle on the plains of Abraham. I understand why the writer of Revelation saw it that way, writing during violent times for Christians under Emperor Nero or Domitian in the first C.

MF, the world will end, but not at the hands of the 7-headed beast or by a man who has 666 stamped on his forehead—both of whom are in the Book of Revelation. The world may very well end in atomic destruction and/or radical climate change bringing world and civilization ending floods, scorching heat or even a new ice age.

Jesus never came to start a new religion, but to reform the one he had. His disciples started Christianity, which means Jesus was not the first Xian. Jesus was a lifelong Jew who believed in Judaism, which is to say, Jesus’ religion is one thing, but what happened over the centuries in the church is that the religion of Jesus eventually became the religion about Jesus and his sacrifice.

While Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, the Church preached Jesus as the personification of that Kingdom, now made available in Bread & Wine. That’s why the Eucharist eventually began to focus more and more on the sacrifice of Jesus’ death, and less and less on his radical invitation for hospitality at an Open Table Fellowship where everyone is invited.

That’s why the RC, Anglican & Lutheran denominations are sacramental churches which refer not to a Table, but to an Altar where a sacrifice of body and blood have taken place, just like in the OT where animal sacrifices took place. The other Christian Churches, United, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Christian Reformed, Salvation Army, etc, refer to a Table and HC as a Rite (Rite) and not a sacrament. For these denominations, bread and wine or grape juice are only symbols of Jesus’ body and blood. Then, in the 20th C, the church made the following theological and practical changes to HC:

1. Only the properly initiated, confirmed & educated, who shared the same beliefs, were welcomed to the Lord’s Table. Children could not take HC because they were not really true believers. Why? Because they could not yet comprehend the meaning of the Eucharist.

2. The new sacramental meaning of Bread & Wine now required ordained priests to dispense the elements. Why? Because only they were called by God and, given their holy life, they alone could change bread & wine into Body & Blood, or at least bless them.

3. As a practice within an institutional church, HC was no longer the welcoming of everyone and the transforming of society, but was the enactment of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. HC now became a sacred activity within the membership of the church and meant only for them. Jesus’ Open Table became a Closed Altar, which had a fence or rail around it, setting it aside from the secular and the public, and which only priests and pastors could approach.

MF. Think of all the denominations which do not allow other Christians to their Communion table. It’s an indication of the restrictions the church has placed on an originally welcoming and openness to all by Jesus. There are thousands of priests and pastors of the RCC and other Lutheran denominations, plus some Pentecostal, Baptist, Christian Reformed and thousands of independent sectarian parishes where sincere, honest Christians are denied HC. Why? Because they don’t agree with all the teachings of these churches. Even Joe Biden was recently denied HC in his own RCC. Why? Because as a politician, he agrees with abortion.

It’s absolutely tragic and heartbreaking how we’ve turned Jesus’ Open Table Fellowship into a closed, self-righteous, arrogant and absolutist activity in Christ’s Church. 2.000 years of the church playing god, which is the farthest removed from Christ’s vision to be all welcoming and all inclusive. MF, it is always the Lord Jesus himself who invites you and me and everyone. all 7 plus billion inhabitants, to his Table of Bread & Wine.

MF, if you’re still with me—I know that most communion services seem rote and ceremonial. The experience of eating bread & wine can be comforting, but it should also be deeply discomforting. Why? Because forgiving sins is not enough. It’s only the beginning, MF, which is why Jesus pushes us even further, meaning “We are also what we eat.” We become Jesus’ Body in this world. We eat his Body and so we are his Body, which means we are to act like his Body. Which means we now feed the world on behalf of Jesus who is no longer here. He hasn’t been here for 2000 years. We’ve taken his place, you see. Now, it’s our job to feed the world.

But Jesus pushes us still further, MF. We’ve become his body, and becoming his Body, Jesus calls us to live in solidarity with the body and blood of every person whose blood has been unjustly shed on this earth, as was Jesus’ blood. Eating & drinking bread & wine, we are consciously uniting with all unjust suffering in the world, from the beginning of time till its bitter end. Wherever there is suffering, including Jesus’ suffering.

In Mt, the Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Lk, the Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. But Lk has a major addition: After 5 or 6 Blessed’s, Luke ends with 4 Terrible’s: If you’re rich now, you will be poor later; if you’re full now, you’ll be hungry later; if you’re laughing now, you’ll be weeping later; and if people are speaking well of you now, you will be derided later, as were the prophets.

Both Mt & Lk begin with the same one-liner from Jesus: “Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God belongs to you!” This one liner is a real sizzler, especially if your bankbook is filled with green dough and your stomach with cookie dough, or if your mouth is filled with laughter and your life with love. MF, let me try to get inside this Jesus who pronounces blessedness to the poor, but terribles to the satisfied.

So MF, do you know what made Jesus such a loving person? Not only “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but because Jesus knows what hurts us. He knows what hurts the human heart. He knows our pain firsthand: from the woman caught in adultery in danger of stoning to the sinful woman who touched him and the scandal of his host; from the Samaritan woman at the well, to the women of Jerusalem who wept for him on his way to the cross.

To all of these folks and many others, Jesus reached out from his very insides to each of them. For each person who hurt, his heart was torn…not some sweet, sticky, syrupy, sentiment. Rather, Jesus felt what they were personally feeling, you see. Why? Because Jesus was so human, that he was attuned to all that was human. Not attuned to adultery, but to the adulteress; not to leprosy, but to each leper; not to the priceless perfume poured over him, but to the woman in tears and pain; and attuned not to a dead Lazarus, but to his sorrowing sisters and to his own tears for his friend.

MF, if you want to be like Jesus—to know what hurts another—then you need only to be there for him/her, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Listen to him/her with your whole self, to everything that is being said, but especially to what is not being said. And if you do this well—it’s not easy—it takes work—if you really do this well, you will hear what they are hoping and fearing, you will hear where they hurt and you will feel their pain, all of which they sometimes can’t even acknowledge to themselves. And, like Christ, you will be able to live with them in their world and share what they feel inside. That’s what it means to love someone, MF, really love someone—no matter who it is—family or friend, someone inside the church or outside.

40 years of pastoral ministry has taught me a great deal. I believe that worship services are the very centre of the life of every parish. No matter how well everything else goes in a congregation, unless the heart of a church is its weekly gathering for worship, that parish will die a slow death or simply become another club for personal interest groups, one of which often revolves around the pastor or some other prominent member or group within the parish. Jesus is the reason for every season in the church year. Jesus is the master of this house and we are his disciples and his Body in this world. That’s why we gather for weekly worship—to be fed and to feed!

The work of the church is not easy, and that’s an understatement—big time! After all, in addition to politics, there’s no business like church business. The church needs to have both a long and a short view of its life and mission. The church needs to do the right things for the right reasons. It’s all too easy to get side-tracked. MF, we live in a seductive culture of instant gratification, where to be informed is maximized, but to be transformation is minimized. Most Christians don’t think they need transformation because they’ve already got the truth with a capital T, and so there’s no need to change.

Too many Christians operate on cruise control. Meaning: Our responses are habituated reactions. We react out of years of habit, and not from fully conscious decision-making. We may have moments when we are conscious of our real motivations and actual goals, but it takes years of practice, honesty and humility to be consistently awake, in order to make loving choices. Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona—not the mask, we usually present to others—and that includes us Christians.

I’ve said it numerous times: To believe in Jesus is only the first step in the journey of faith. The crucial step is how we believe, how we live out our faith from day to day and year to year; and how we make our faith come alive inside these walls, but more importantly, outside these walls! That’s real, actual, bona fide, living faith MF!

It is extremely difficult for most Christians to be spiritually hungry. Too many Christians are complacent, while others disagree with the direction of the church, the in-fighting and finger pointing, the narrow-mindedness and pettiness which characterize too many congregations, where the bottom line is either money or the pastor. It’s no wonder that so many churches are almost half empty.

MF, only those who love rightly, can see and hear rightly, and be the vehicles who transform the church into a sacred place where we meet the God who transforms us.

Luke 14:1,7-14

Trouble is: Jesus always subverted the social hierarchy by inviting people who had no business sharing a mutual meal at the same table. He broke down the well-established social and religious hierarchies. One of the most damning accusations levelled at Jesus by his opponents was that he ate with sinners—wine bibbers, adulterers, social outcasts and the poor—meaning Jesus upset the hierarchy big time!

The fact is this: Almsgiving to the poor was the last great refuge of the rich and famous against the terror of having to sit down with the poor and the very poor—sit down with people who are not your equal—people whom you loathe and despise, folks whose poverty and illness was a clear and compelling punishment from God. In other words, giving alms to the poor is much easier than having to sit down with them and actually talk to them and help them!

Almsgiving, you see, leaves the lines of social distinction and status in place; whereas sharing a meal with the poor obliterates those lines, which of course is precisely the gospel. Jesus invited the sinners and untouchables to dinner and actually eats with them.


A true story: A white South African woman found herself sitting next to a black man on a British Airlines flight, just when apartheid was about to collapse. She called the flight attendant and demanded to be moved to another seat. The economy section is full, explained the attendant, but there is a seat still available in first class, she said. The flight attendant then turned to the black man and said: Sir, if you’d like to get your things together, your first-class seat is ready!

Sermon: 4 Decades of Learning Lessons the Hard Way

40 years ago tomorrow, August 26, 1979, I was ordained in my home parish, St. John’s Lutheran Church, downtown Hamilton….And so, this morning, MF, I’d like to reflect on some of the important lessons I’ve learned over these 4 decades of parish ministry….

What I’ve learned reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon, where Lucy—remember her? —“the crabgrass in the lawn of life”—she was constructing 2 lists of stuff she learned. Charlie Brown happens along and asks “Why is one list longer than the other?” “The longer list,” says Lucy, “is the stuff I’ve had to learn the hard way!

Now, the very first lesson I learned the hard way is that I’m not the only minister here this morning. All of us are God’s ministers, not only to care for one another, so that no one slips away from us ignored—but equally important, to minister to our neighbours and to God’s world. Luther called this “the Priesthood of all Believers.”  We are all priests and pastors who work for the Lord in his vineyard—all of us! The church’s ministry is for all the baptized everywhere. There are no exceptions MF—not a one!

Last Lesson #7 It is the most difficult to learn, because it requires change, if we Christians want to grow, and not stagnate and die. MF, there are only 2 kinds of religion. One believes that God will love me if I change. The other believes that God loves me so that I can change. The first is common and a substitute for the second. But the second is grounded in a spiritual experience of God’s love. God loves me so that I can change. But will I change? And if not, why not? Why not? Because as Christians, we want to grow, to strive and thrive and we also want that for our church. Why? Because the church is in major decline. It is in crisis. We’re already closing church doors. That’s why change is absolutely imperative!

You and I need to be the change the church requires—just like Jesus was the change necessary to shake up Judaism, the Roman Empire and begin Christianity; just like Buddha was the change necessary to shake up the prevailing suffering to reach a state of spiritual oneness; just like Martin Luther was the change necessary to shake up the Roman Catholic Church and its papacy of the 16th century–its exploitation, corruption and theology to start a new church; just like Gandhi was the change necessary to shake up Hinduism, challenge the British Empire and show the nations how non-violent pacifism actually changes the world; and just like Martin Luther King Jr was the change necessary to shake up black conformity to white power and America’s segregationist society. 

But we can and must walk their talk, and talk their walk, in order to shake up today’s church here in North America and in Europe, to find a path forward. We must be the change the church so desperately needs. Otherwise, we and the church will die.

1 Corinthians 1:11b-13

Two young boys were friends. The one asked the other to come to his church; but he could not. “Why not?” he asked. “Because I belong to a different abomination.” Denominations, MF, can be an abomination.

The Christian Church is divided into four major divisions, each represented by the names in the passage for 1 Corinthians: St. Peter & the Roman Catholic Church; St. Paul & the Protestant Church; Apollos & the Orthodox Church; Christ & the independent Christian Churches.

First, there is the Church of Saint Peter, which is the church of Rome—the RCC. You may remember the story in Matthew in which Jesus gave Peter the power of the keys and said that Jesus will build his church up him….Tragically, the RCC today still practices closed communion. There are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

Now my grandfather who raised me was RC. He didn’t care for me to become a pastor. On the other hand, he was glad I didn’t become a RCC priest, because, as he put it: “I would have to give up my sex life, but also listen to everyone else’s sex life in the confessional booth. So, little Peter, as a Lutheran pastor, you can have your own sex life.”

Lutherans and Anglicans have much in common, theologically and liturgically. They both believe that Jesus walked on water. But Canadian Lutherans believed he walked on water in the wintertime.

The miracle this morning is that Christian unity is not a matter of every Christian holding exactly the same view. After all, church families, like nuclear families, are still families even when they don’t agree with each other. Rather, the miracle for unity is for all Christians to listen to the same voice and respond by going beyond tribe and clan, beyond race and religion, beyond denominationalism and “abominationalism.” 

Psalm 84:4a

Those folks who don’t like to lighten up in church say: “Pastor, religion is serious business. You don’t see Jesus laughing or telling jokes, do you?” Of course they don’t have to argue with George Bernard Shaw who said: “If we sing in church, then why can’t we also laugh?” Or, listen to the wicked wit of Oscar Wilde: “If you’ve not got any humor, then you’re finished. You might just as well be a clergyman.”

Every pastor can pretend to be serious, but on pastor can pretend to be humorous. And that’s because humor is not a state of mind, but a state of the heart. Humor is a gift from God and she expects us to use it, especially in church. Now, you may remember the principle to which most church members adhere: Do not associate with the pastor during the week, lest you find yourself in the sermon at the end of the week. After all, to all things clergic, most folks are allergic.

Now, in case you think I’ve lost my marbles, there are times when I do say something sensible and judicious. For instance, no long after the gardening episode, Sherry and I were sitting down to have supper. I began to eat without offering my customary prayer. “What? No prayer for God to bless the food?” Sherry asked.

To which I responded: My dear wife. I have prayed for God’s blessing on these leftovers on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Additional blessing over the same food is simply not necessary, even with the best of human and divine intentions.

We don’t own laughter. Laughter from the belly owns us. It is a gift of God which keeps on giving. It’s the work of the soul. It heals the heart and keeps the church from suffering cardiac arrest.

Luke 12:13-21

Greed: unbridled, unfettered, unvarnished, unadulterated greed. The gift that keeps on taking and taking and then some. Why? Because more is never enough. It’s one of the original deadly sins—not because it’s wrong to own a lot of stuff; but rather because the stuff ends up owning us, you see! Trouble is: We never see it or accept it. Our human capacity for denial is incredibly profound.

But Jesus tells this younger brother, as well as you and me, to think critically about where our greed is leading us. If we use our inheritance to amass more wealth, to whom will we leave it? Will this wealth make them better people, more sensitive and empathetic, more caring and sharing? Will our inheritance build the character of our children and build up the Kingdom of God, by helping the poor and the refugees of this world? Or will our inheritance cost relationships, family breakdowns and marital breakups?

The fact is: Inheritance is a soul-issue. It’s a spiritual matter, as much as it is a material and monetary one. Greed always originates from a perception of scarcity: believing that I will never get enough or that there will never be enough.

In the end, like at the beginning, everything, but everything belongs to God. The only inheritance that will ever make us really happy is to bloom and blossom in the little corner of God’s Kingdom where she has planted us.

Luke 11:1-13

“Hallowed be thy Name” is the reverence evoked in God’s presence. But when this reverence is directed towards cars and lifestyles, towards, actors and athletes, rock stars and celebrities, then this is plain and simple idolatry.

“Thy Kingdom come.” But how can God’s Kingdom come, unless our petty little kingdoms first go?

Do you know that one of the scariest verses in all the Bible is in today’s Gospel from Luke? “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And when Jesus says ‘sins’, there’s no telling what you see: the stolen chocolate bar, the rumpled sheets of bed you shared without someone else’s spouse; a large pipe spilling orange sludge into a once-blue river, a clutch of homeless people sitting around a fire built in a vacant lot between skyscrapers. The picture will be different for everyone, but the experience is one that makes a part of our insides die, which is how transformation begins.

Sin is a broken relationship with self, with others, with enemies, with God and with Mother Earth. And the only way to restore these broken relationships is through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the willingness to put justice and mercy ahead of revenge and retribution. This alone breaks the violent cycle of an eye for an eye and a toot for a tooth. Without forgiveness, we’d all be blind and needing dentures.

The fact is: The Lord’s Prayer breaks down the illusion of self-sufficiency and cultivates an attitude of gratitude for God’s good gifts.

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus isn’t saying to Martha that one casserole would have been quite enough. Rather, the one singular prerequisite for being a follower is listening to God’s word and therefore learning to live as a disciple. Listening and learning is the better part. Martha was everything good and right about Jewish women. But one thing she was not: She was not present, not living in the moment, not rooted in the reality of what was happening in her own house, right then and there.

Presence is always being present to and for someone with one’s whole self and being…and to do so without the distraction of the chattering monkey mind. How we do the moment is what counts. Everything else is secondary—even the personal ego-driven pursuit of salvation.

It’s all too easy and frequent to not only misplace priorities, but lose values, especially spiritual ones. Now, I don’t mean to imply that domestic chores are misplaces priorities, when in fact, domesticity is an authentic issue of social justice.

True spirituality is always about letting go of the ten thousand things which occupy and preoccupy us, that condition and precondition us, that keep us from letting go and letting God take over—letting go of my private little kingdom so that God’s Kingdom can come and happen to us. Are we listening and learning at Jesus’ feet , so that we may be formed, reformed and transformed by the Holy Spirit?