About raspberryman

I am a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, serving a parish in Ottawa Ontario. I am a husband, father, and admirer of the Ottawa Valley. I enjoy beaches, sunsets and waterways. I like to write, reflect theologically and meditate in the Christian tradition.

Window’s open – a funeral sermon

Pastor Martin Malina

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations … And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:2,5)

When Spring comes to Canada in late March, the windows in our homes still stay closed most of the time. Even though the promise of warmer days ahead beckons, there is still snow on the ground, freezing temperatures greet us each morning, and the occasional blizzard still assails us. It’s cold outside and the windows remain closed.

James died at that pivotal time of year. Not just when the seasons change in Canada. But at a time when the church is in the depths of the annual Lenten journey—a time of acknowledging our mortality, confessing our sin and turning our hearts, minds and will towards the promises of God. 

Staying with the metaphor of the closed window, Lent is the time when we stand by the window looking out at the signs of springtime emerging; we can even gaze far into the distance towards the hopeful horizon of new life—Easter is coming. But from our Lenten vantage point, we still remain on the inside of the closed window.

In grief, we can’t always bring ourselves to be by the window let alone look out it. In the depths of mourning the loss of James—a dear son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend—we will need, for a time even, to turn our backs on the window.

Many of us gathered in a Zoom room on Easter weekend to observe the mournful passage of the weeks following his death. We acknowledged that James had lived under the near threat of death his whole life long—that breathing was something he needed help with since the time of his birth. Fresh, abundant air was not easy for James to bring into his body. His lungs and his heart always had to work so hard to absorb life-giving oxygen. In other words, the window more often than not throughout his life and against his will and deepest desire remained more or less closed.

Nevertheless throughout his life, James would proverbially stand close to that window, his face pressed against the pane, engaging all the goodness in his life. You have highlighted these wonderful aspects of his personality – “witty, charming, sarcastic as well as fiercely independent and occasionally stubborn … He was deeply loyal and always had a friend’s back.” Despite the challenges facing him, James lived fully and fiercely. He brought it all to the table.

When we gathered in that Zoom room over Easter weekend in the midst of grief’s shadows, the seasons were turning.

Even though in Canada it was still rather cool and the windows in my house for the most part were closed, some of you were joining the Zoom call from southern climes, sitting outside or at least in a room with the windows wide open. How did I know this? Well, not only could I see with my eyes, I could hear signs of the outdoors. When you turned off your mute button to join the conversation, you weren’t the only one talking. 

The wind blowing through the trees and birds in the background caught me by surprise. I hadn’t heard birdsong and the wind through leaves for a long time through the winter season. And it was such a refreshing sound, a sign of renewing hope for me that life was again emerging in the springtime of creation.

Visions of nature tantalize all our senses in the Book of Revelation—rivers and trees, fruit and leaves and sunshine. The purpose of the trees alongside the river in Revelation 22 is “for the healing of the nations.” For healing, for wholeness, and for all people. This expansive vision can seem incredible, as would be the prospect of James using the full capacity of his lungs in this life. And yet, God’s promise, God’s vision, lures us, pulls us beyond the closed windows of our lives.

We gather at the verdant climax of earth’s growth. Nature’s fullness is peaked at this time of year in the middle of summer— we notice signs all around us of this fullness. 

Of course today is also James’ birthday—a day we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of his life. Over the past forty years, God’s love for him was conveyed through you—through your friendship, in the faithfulness of your attention, the care of medical staff and the support of therapies and medicine. 

Today we come full circle and affirm that what was true on the day James died has always been true: God’s eternal care of James’, who on the day he died, unlocked James’ window for him and held it wide open. We gather to give thanks for a life that today is animated by the expansive breath of God. In full communion with his creator, James stands today with arms wide open at a window with no frame, no pane, no boundaries separting him from the ever so sweet, sweet air.

Amen.

Canoe lesson

My plans for the rest of the summer still involve a couple short trips into Algonquin Park. And a stay in the Park isn’t complete without a paddle in a canoe or kayak.

On my reading list this summer is a recent national best seller by Roy MacGregor entitled “Canoe Country” in which the author surveys the importance of the canoe as a symbol for Canada. I am enjoying the stories he tells of his paddling exploits.

So I have to tell you one: On a journey down the Dumoine River in Quebec, MacGregor describes running the fabled white water rapids called “Canoe Eater”. The name itself suggests what can easily happen running these rapids.

While Roy was a seasoned paddler, he had mostly canoed flat water lakes and rivers. White-whiter was something relatively new to him. Just fresh off a white-water course, he was looking to learn more about this cherished mode of river transportation.

Roy details the two different approaches to running Canoe Eater rapids. Two canoes. Two different pairs of people. Two different approaches. 

The first pair beached their canoe above the rapids and scouted the shore line all the way to the bottom. They read the river, looking for the path between the standing waves, over the haystacks and along the deepest portions of the torrent of flowing water. They even memorized the route: Ferry left here, paddle hard to the right there, and so forth. After the scouting and memorizing were done, the pair, including Roy, got back in the canoe atop the rapids and aimed to replicate their plan.

The second canoe. This pair was led by Lorne, a retired judge. During his days in court Lorne had the reputation of being meticulously prepared for each case he judged, and painstakingly by-the-book.

But for the irony of it all, his super-conscientious, hyper-planned personality in the courtroom was at odds with what took over in the canoe. He was one to show disdain for scouting rapids. Instead of first disembarking and reading the river, Lorne approached Canoe Eater the way he approached any set of rapids:

He stood in the bow of his canoe “like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic,” about to spread his arms to take in and survey the water lines from his perpective. “The ultimate freelancer, he would make it up as he went.”[1]

Of the two canoes, which one do you think made it through Canoe Eater rapids, and which one dumped?

In the concluding sermon in our series this past month we ask one last time: Why do we have congregations? Congregations are the only place in our society where a community learns to love. Congregations are schools of love. In school, we learn. 

How do we learn the faith? Emphasis on how. Three ways:

First, we practice. When we practice loving others, it’s the best and only way to learn our faith. If we are not ready to practice loving others, frankly, we are not ready to learn anything about God, faith or the church. The two are inextricably linked: learning faith and loving. 

Most paddlers on the Dumoine are experienced. These paddlers have taken white-water canoe courses and have spend thousands of hours paddling. All the people in McGregor’s party were expert paddlers and some had already canoed and practiced on this river before. We have to practice, over and over again, how to love.

The second way we learn  faith is being able to change our way of thinking about things. A colleague of mine told me recently that she begins each worship service with these words: “You may not get what you want in this service, but I trust that the Spirit of God will give you what you need.”

Schools of love will challenge us to grow, and that may not always feel good at first. Being challenged in faith is not an indictment against the past. It is simply (yet not easily) a challenge to grow.

In the Gospel text for today, the crowd came looking for Jesus to seek out and learn more. They came with expectations: They thought they knew where Jesus and his disciples were. But he wasn’t there. They had to go somewhere else to find him, to Capernaum by the sea. They themselves had to get into boats to go there – that’s not the mode of transportation they initially thought they would be using to find Jesus. They had to change their way, literally.[2]

“Faith isn’t about having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without everything figured out ahead of time.”[3]

Maybe you’ve already guessed it right. Who dumped their canoe? And who made it through? At the first turn in Canoe Eater rapids, the well-prepared, well-intentioned, meticulously-planned pair hit the flat rock they wanted to avoid, then dumped the canoe into the fast-paced and frigid waters of the Dumoine River. Roy MacGregor obviously lived to tell the story; they came out of the water fine, if not soaking wet, at the bottom of the run.

Roy had watched from shore as Lorne, the meticulous judge, chose the far side, quickly kneeling from his standing position, “prying the bow over into a dark tongue that seemed to pull them like a giant slingshot down into the churning waters. They danced, slammed, slipped, twisted, shot free and bounced through Canoe Eater, deftly turning to the left at the bottom into quieter water, swirls, and small, harmless whirlpools.”[4]

Like Lorne in the canoe, sometimes our learning in faith will mean we have to change tactic from what we are normally accustomed to, for the sake of others, and for the sake of life to the world.

Finally, learning the faith is about looking for signs of life in the world. The crowds ask Jesus how to do God’s work. Believing in Jesus is about watching for “signs” of Jesus. That’s important for us, over two thousand years later. We have to perceive correctly. And what is that sign of Jesus? 

“The bread of God from heaven that gives life to the world.”[5]Life to the world. Not just life to me for my own sake and personal satisfaction. But, the world. Wherever we perceive God giving life in the world, to others, to creation, there is Jesus. Wherever love and mercy and compassion and forgiveness and right behaviour, justice and goodness are expressed and shared – that is ‘life’ to the world. That is the work of God. 

Learning faith is a process of “being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.”[6]This learning takes time, and it is intentional. Being schooled in love means that coming to church is “not primarily about personal satisfaction or fulfillment; it is about being shaped in ways that enable our lives to reflect the life and love of Christ to the world.”[7]

In congregations, we practice being loving to others. We are challenged to change our minds from time to time. And we train our perception to spot signs of God’s life in the world around us. In so doing, we deepen our trust in God’s being in the world. 

We trust that, at the end of the torrid run and turbulent waters we occasionally encounter on the journey, we eventually come out at the bottom into quieter, small whirlpools where peace and love remain.


[1]Roy MacGregor, Canoe Country (Toronto: Penguin Random House; Vintage Canada, 2016), p.57-60

[2]John 6:24-35

[3]Attributed to Rachel Held Evans

[4]MacGregor, ibid.

[5]John 6:33

[6]M. Robert Mulholland, Invitation to a Journey (Intervarsity Press, 2016), p.16

[7]Dave Daubert & Richard E.T. Jorgensen, Jr., Becoming A Hybrid Church(Day 8 Strategies, 2020), p.36-37

A timely meal

In the children’s story entitled, “Six-Dinner Sid”,[1] a cat named Sid eats six dinners a day. But not in one place, not just in one home does he enjoy a daily meal, but in six different, neighbourhood homes.

By the end of the story, the six neighbours, or hosts, that provide the meals for Sid don’t mind feeding him, don’t mind that he was getting six meals a day, don’t mind giving grace upon grace to Sid. They all loved Sid, who was by nature a six-dinner-a-day cat.

For Sid, the daily meal never ended. It went on, from one house to the next, every day. Kind of like a progressive dinner not just for different courses but a full meal each time! Lucky Sid.

Luke’s version of the Lord’s Supper presents a challenge of timing. For one thing, Jesus “eagerly desired”[2] to share this meal with his disciples. Yet, in the very next verse, he declares he won’t eat it until the Reign of God is fullfilled, presumably sometime far into the future, at the end of time. Not once but twice in these short verses Jesus says he will not partake of the meal “until the kingdom comes.”[3]

It’s like the meal is both in the present moment and at the same time never ended, never finished. The Eucharist is part of something that extends beyond any given moment. As with so much that surrounds the meaning and practice of the Holy Communion therein lies a holy mystery involving time and space.

Why doesn’t Jesus eat with his disciples the night before his death? Perhaps Jesus is being a good host. Jesus does not eat until the fulfilment of the Reign of God because as a good host who loves his guests he eats last. He first serves others with the gifts of God.

Jesus’ love is nevertheless not reserved only and exclusively for those first disciples in the Upper Room on that first Maundy Thursday. The Holy Meal began on Maundy Thursday. And, the Meal continues over time and in different places to its completion with the fulfilment of the kingdom of God, when Jesus finally eats—lastly—as a good host.[4]

The meal is ongoing because we, too, are part of that meal. God’s love in Christ embraces you and me and everyone who comes to the table of the Lord to be nourished in faith. The real presence of Christ is intended to embrace us all, in every time and every place:

Including, in our homes and at different times of the week, online even, whenever we watch the service. As we have been saying long before COVID in the introduction to the Eucharistic Prayer: “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and everlasting God.”[5]

Not only here. Not only on Sundays. When Communion happens we’re not the ones creating all these separate Eucharistic meals, but rather we participate in the one Eucharistic Meal already happening.

Sid the cat was blessed with the gift of gracious hosts. In Christ, we have a host who does not hold back the gift of his presence and grace for us. Christ is the host of the one Meal in which we partake each time we eat and drink together in his name—wherever and whenever we are. Christ is the host whose love is so great that he will wait for us until all have eaten their fill. No matter how long the line is to Christ’s table, and no matter if you are at the back of that line, there will always be enough bread for you.

And with Paul, we can then express confidence in God, that God, “who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion”[6] at the end of time when Christ, too, will eat with us.

“Why do we have congregations?”—this is the question we have been asking throughout this month’s sermon series. Today, we answer by saying that we have congregations in order to connect with each other in meaningful, tangible and loving ways. We do this gathered around the table with all the saints in Christ, of every time and every place. 


[1] Inga Moore, Six-Dinner Sid (New York: Simon & Schuster, Aladdin Paperbacks, 1991)

[2] Luke 22:15

[3] Luke 22:16,18

[4] Thank you, to the Rev. Dr. Allen Jorgenson, Professor of Systematic Theology at Martin Luther University College, for articulating this response to the question of timing.

[5] Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2006), p.108

[6] Philippians 1:6

Possibility thinking

Two items I will have with me every time I venture outdoors for a canoe camping trip: A spork (one end is a spoon and the other a fork) and my hat. Well, on the first night of this recent trip, both suffered serious damage. 

While washing up after dinner by the campfire, my plastic well-used spork exploded in serveral pieces. It was done. And then the strap for my well-worn hat, essential for keeping the hat on my head during windy lake crossings, ripped. It was done. What would I do if in the next gust my hat would fly away? Even more concerning, how would I eat my food for the rest of the trip without any cutlery?

Fortunately, I was not alone. John was with us. And he is an outdoor survivalist. For those my age, remember the original TV show “MacGyver”? Well, he was MacGyver. Bush-crafting is John’s passion. And, wouldn’t you know it, he had some paracord handy – that orange rope that can hold up to 500 pounds. He cut some off, melted the ends with his lighter, and in no time had my hat all strapped up.

Then, John eyed a deadfall cedar tree lying on the ground at the edge of our campsite. He said, “That wood is perfect for carving …” He took out his knife and before our next meal the following day, had carved a spoon for me. Impossible! I would never have thought …

Living in faith will challenge us to live into what we might first think impossible. Having faith, according to Brian McLaren, is “to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible.”[1] What we think is possible and what we think is impossible will be different for each of us and will depend on the unique circumstances and challenges each of us faces.

Normally, that line is not blurred. Normally, that line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible is a hard and straight line that we dare not cross. Because in this world we are rewarded for reducing our reality “to a series of scientific obversations and algorithms.”[2] We are rewarded for presenting only what is empirically justified.

And this is not all bad. Naming what is possible respects our limitations. At times we need to acknowledge our vulnerability, our limits and the real constraints pressing on our capacity to function and produce.

When followers of Jesus come up against the prospect of scarcity at the feeding of the five-thousand, in their minds they immediately want to offload their responsibility for others. They advise Jesus to “send them away so that they may … buy something for themselves to eat.” Even when Jesus challenges them, “You give them something to eat,” the disciples are still in the ‘what is possible’ side of the line; you can follow their logic: “Are we to go buy enough bread for everyone?” [3] You can just hear them saying – “We can’t afford that!”

Our minds naturally resist thinking beyond our limits, and our fears. Our minds will want to understand God and the world we inhabit according to the rationalized conditioning of our culture. Yet, while our world and faith can be understandable through our heads in many ways, our world and God is most powerfully experienced through our hearts.[4]

In this sermon series, we have been considering the question: “Why congregations?” And a vital piece to answering that question is something many of us have cherished coming together to worship and serve, because congregations create space—onsite and online—for awe and wonder. 

To be in awe and express wonder is to cross that line from what is possible to what is impossible. The stories of Jesus’ miracles and healing that we read about from the Gospel of Mark intend to create a sense of awe and wonder about God and God’s good purposes on earth. That’s why we have congregations: To learn, and train the heart’s eye to see the possible in what might appear, at first, impossible.

Yet, this awe and wonder of God is born not from some herioic, newsworthy spectacle. The character of God’s greatness that moves us into the realm of awe and wonder comes from the simple things, and the often mundane and hidden acts of service and love.

Paracord is just a piece of rope. And felled cedar logs are common in the bush. Yet, John took these simple gifts and used his skills to express caring love for me. Simple things and simple, generous acts created in my heart a sense of awe and wonder for the goodness in it all. My inner vision of God expanded in that experience.

Brian McLaren promotes what I call ‘possibility thinking’ in reflecting on the vision and poetry of Isaiah[5]; he writes, “Could we ever come to a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares? When the predatory people in power—the lions—would lie down in peace with the vulnerable and the poor—the lambs? When the brokenhearted would be comforted and the poor would receive the good news? 

“If you think, Never—it’s impossible, then maybe you need to think again. Maybe it’s not too late for something beautiful to be born. Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine.”[6]

When we grasp this essential truth, we are freed – freed to love, to celebrate, and to hope.


[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), p.68-69.

[2] Cameron Trimble, “Why Congregations?”,  https://convergenceus.org/category/cpr-connects/, 10 June 2021

[3] Mark 6:36-37

[4] Cameron Trimble, ibid.

[5] Isaiah 2:4, 11:6, 61:1-2

[6] Brian D. McLaren, ibid.

It all matters – a graveside sermon

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, For Thou art with me …(Psalm 23:4)

For my camping trip last week, I packed my go-to spork (fork on the one end, spoon on the other). I like this item for its efficiency in packing on a canoe-camping adventure into the back-country of Algonquin Park.

But on the first night, and after the first meal as I was cleaning the dishes by the campfire, my plastic spork exploded into several pieces. It was done. And then I wondered how I would eat my food for the rest of the trip without any cutlery. 

Fortunately I was not alone. John was with us and he is an outdoor survivalist. Bush-crafting is John’s passion. He eyed a deadfall cedar tree lying on the ground at the edge of our campsite, and said, “That wood is perfect for carving … “ John took out his knife and before our next meal the following day, he had carved a spoon for me. 

I thought of Albert as I enjoyed the gift of John’s handiwork. Your Dad was known for his ‘MacGyvering’ skills. My experience of grace in the bush brought Albert to mind, and made him present to me in that moment last week.

A lot in our world sends us the message that nothing we do matters. Especially the small things that don’t get noticed in the world. That deadfall cedar trunk lying on the sidelines of a campsite in Algonquin Park – does it matter? The little things we craft from nothing – does it matter? Gathering outside today in the middle of summer’s heat three months after Albert’s death – does it matter? The words we say and the seemingly simple things we do – does it matter? The names we bring to mind and pronounce of loved ones gone – does it make any difference?  Does it matter? Any of it?

Grief will sometimes take us there, into the shadows of our hearts. At the same time, that’s where God goes. I sure felt the love, care and support of my friend John when he took his skill and his time to work for me – to help me. This little, cedar spoon might not amount to much ‘in the real world’. But this little spoon brought to my mind and heart the awareness of God’s presence, God’s love through the caring act of a friend.

It matters. Yes. All of it matters. And as we bring to mind our memories of Albert Frederich Reiche, as we speak out loud his name, he comes to life in our hearts today. All the MacGyvering, all the little things—these serve as reminders that God is real, and God is with us.

In the time to come, I ask you to pay attention to the little things. Every little thing around you, every one you meet, every thing you do—therein lies the pathway to experience the presence of your beloved Albert and the God in whom he rests, eternally.

Water-way

Down the Barron Canyon river system, Algonquin Park (photo by Brian Kauk)

Read Mark 6:14-29,15:39

My brother and I paddled across several small lakes on our journey down towards the Barron River Canyon this last week. We had to portage several times to get from one lake to the next. Each time we put in, we surveyed the far shore of the lake we had just entered to determine our direction forward.

When we started paddling across the long Highfalls Lake, we knew from the map that at the far end we should find a narrowing of the lake into a river which would take us to the next portage. Yet for most of the paddle up the lake, I couldn’t see any exit. All I could see was a typical rocky and forested shoreline barring any water-way forward.

Were we in the wrong lake? Did we make a wrong turn somewhere? Did we just spend the last hour hiking a brutal portage just to have to turn around and go back? Despair started to settle in.

Yet as we finally neared the far shore, the closer in we paddled, gradually the unique contours of the shoreline revealed itself. And, sure enough, angling off to the side, a narrow river opened to us the way forward.

John the Baptist is known for his radical way of introducing people to faith. Standing in the Jordan River he baptizes with water people yearning for new life. Then, John the Baptist introduces people to Jesus, who will baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of the living God.

The Gospel text for today[1] describes the grusume circumstances of John’s death. Yet a closer reading suggests that this story really points a clear finger at Jesus. For one thing, this story begins with a debate about who Jesus is: Is he Elijah, or a prophet, or John the Baptist raised from the dead?

In Mark’s Gospel, the answer to this question is not revealed until the crucifixion. Here, a Roman soldier watching Jesus die on the cross recognizes Jesus for who he is: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”[2]

God’s revelation in the Gospel centres on the cross. The cross represents the place, the moment, where God is most profoundly revealed for who God is in Christ Jesus. In the moment of Jesus’ greatest vulnerability is the place where we witness God’s truth, God’s message and God’s love.

When death confronts us—whether our own or the dying and death of a loved one—we are at our most vulnerable. And the Gospel of Jesus announces that especially when we are most vulnerable God is most present, and most clearly revealed to us.

Vulnerability requires us to approach a distant shoreline. Vulnerability, as difficult a way it is, calls us to approach another person with love and tenderness, mercy and curiousity. It doesn’t happen quickly. As in the canoe paddling across the lake to the distant shoreline, the vision of the other happens slowly, gradually, and after some hard paddling.

When congregations allow for vulnerability of its members, God is present. When congregations allow for “our full selves to show up”[3], Christ is with us. In short, it is in God’s vulnerability where we learn how to be with one another and how to treat one another in Christ Jesus. And that’s why we have congregations; that’s why people will gather in Christ’s name. Not to show off, but just to show up as we truly are.

Paul writes in the New Testament, “By grace you have been saved”[4]. That’s one of the earliest insights in the Christian tradition: it’s not by what you do that you earn God’s love. Not because you appear attractive and have purged out all the sin in your life does God accept you. But as you are. Not by performing impressive feats nor by being considered good, not by your works. But by gift, that you have been saved. 

That means you belong. God has taken you in. God embraces you as you are—shadow and light, everything. God embraces it all, by grace. And it has already happened. For you, and for everyone.[5]

Dare to approach closely the other shore. Resist the temptation to stay at a distance. Resist the temptation to draw conclusions about others too quickly. Resist the temptation to believe you know everything about them without taking the time and energy to get to know them, shadow and light. Because from a distance your vision may be impaired.

Yet when you do come closer you will discover the way forward. Closer in, not only will you notice the crags, the cracks as well as the beauty in the unique features of the other person’s life, you will find the water-way into channels that lead to deeper connection and a deeper love.


[1] Mark 6:14-29

[2] Mark 15:39; read Richard Rohr, “Mark’s Good News: A Secret Message” Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament (Daily Meditations, www.cac.org, July 5, 2021)

[3] Cameron Trimble, “Why Congregations?”,  https://convergenceus.org/category/cpr-connects/, 10 June 2021

[4] Ephesians 2:8

[5] Richard Rohr, “The Shadow in Christianity”, Shadow Work (Daily Meditations, www.cac.org, June 16, 2021)

We are earthlings

Tomato plants require abundant water. Before the recent rains, I was out pretty much every evening watering our one tomatoe plant in a small raised bed. It concerned me, in the heat and dryness of the past couple of months, when I missed a day or two in a row. I was worried that I wasn’t doing my part to ensure a healthy yield at the end of the summer.

When we received the deluge of much needed rain in the last week, I could see the plant fill out immediately and expand even out over the edge of the box. How much it needed the rain! How much it depended on it, to grow.

I realized, in that mundane example, how interdependent life is on this earth. That it truly takes all parts, all members of creation, to participate in the maintenance and growth of life. I did my small part when it wasn’t raining. And when the time was right, beyond my doing, the much-needed rainfall did its part.

These days, we face a new beginning. We are like Moses and the people of Israel on the mountain looking into the Promised Land. We are like Moses and the people of Israel looking into the Promised Land, and considering how best to cross the Jordan and live in this new land. This new land, I call the post-pandemic church. We are now in liminal, inbetween space, one foot in the near past, and one foot begging to take the next step.

It’s a good time to recall and recover the basic question of who we are, as the people of God. “Why congregations?” The first point is that congregations create a place for deep social bonding.[1] Perhaps the key word in this phrase is ‘deep’. Or, ‘deeper’ than what we might initially think.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is rejected by his home town. His response to this rejection redefines what relationships look like in the reign of God on earth. And, it goes deeper than what we might initially think.

For one thing, it is often a social bonding born out of conflict and difference—as Jesus himself experienced. “And they took offence at him.”[2] Whether with his family members or hometown neighbours who only knew him as a carpenter’s son, Jesus recognized our knee-jerk capacity to exploit our differences and assume that what makes us different from one another is somehow bad and unacceptable. And must be rejected outright.

The deeper bonding is not about overlooking or denying our differences. It is about respecting those differences while acknowledging our deeper, common humanity underneath the surface of human interaction.

The deeper social bonding that congregations, churches, and communities of faith offer and from whom each of us will benefit is a bonding that goes beyond traditional family definitions, social club constructs, meetings of the ‘like-minded’. These may serve an ego-purpose of feeling good.

But the reign of God is much more than feeling good, or everyone conforming to some arbitrary standard of behaviour. It is recognizing how interdependent we are on this planet Earth.

I like illustrating truth from stories on the big screen or in books. I know not everyone here is a sci-fi movie buff, so please bear with me as I give you an example from what is now an old movie. Do you remember back in 1997 a movie called “Contact”?

In an interview with astronomer, Dr. Jill Tarter, she was asked about her work searching for life on other planets. Jill was the inspiration for the main character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, in that movie, staring Jody Foster.

During the interview, Dr. Tarter often referred to ourselves as “earthlings”. While this term is not one we normally use to describe our common humanity, she suggests that understanding ourselves as earthlings might just save the world.

She says, that calling ourselves “earthlings” is like “holding up a mirror to every individual on this planet and saying, ‘See, all of you? You’re all the same, when compared to something out there that had evolved independently.’”[3]

This broad perspective helps us notice our differences “over which we’re so willing to shed blood, when, indeed, we are all human. We are all earthlings.”[4] And if you see yourself as an earthling before you see yourself as American, Canadian, Indigenous, Asian, rich, poor, privileged, Muslim, Christian, gay, straight, etc., perhaps we can have a more fruitful conversation and deepen the social bonds in the community of faith.

And not reject someone for being different.

Jesus responds to his rejection at Nazareth not by giving up nor conforming to the pressures of his local tribe to just ‘be like them’. Jesus responds by moving forward in God’s mission to go out into the world not depending on anything else besides the promise and vision of the all-inclusive Gospel of Christ. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two … [and they] cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”[5]

The Gospel ends with a call for repentence – a turning around. “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.”[6] In the Gospel repentence is not just for individuals. We are at our best, not journeying alone as autonomous individuals doing our own thing, even with the Lord. We are at our best when we are in community.

The word ‘devil’ comes from the Greek which means, ‘to divide’, bring ‘discord’ and separate. Good religion realigns us. Good religion will always bring different people to be together in one place, to be a congregation and a faith community that includes rather than excludes, widens the circle rather than shrinking it, follows Jesus into the world rather than circling the wagons.

Those tomatoes needed me as much as I needed them. Not just for me or my family and friends to enjoy eating at the end of a season. But to remind me of my place from the larger perspective, to remind me that while I may play an important part in watering them when it’s dry, ultimately I depend on and trust in God’s timing and God’s gifts; and, to remind me that if anything my job is to pay attention to just how interdependent we all are in God’s reign. And love others, for that.

The heart of Christian community is the heart of God, who is community. For Christians, God is not one person, but three. I believe that unless we live in communion with one another, our witness to a God who is first and foremost community will fall on deaf ears.[7]

There is no more important place for you in the community of faith, no more important job for you to do in the community of faith, than starting by just being yourself, and doing what small thing you can, as part of the interdependent web of relationships to which we all belong. Just be you. Because that’s who God created you to be, out of a great and deep love. And then, turn to another, and love them for being who they are, created also in the image of God.

Amen.


[1] Cameron Trimble, “Why Congregations?”,  https://convergenceus.org/category/cpr-connects/, 10 June 2021

[2] Mark 6:3

[3] Cited in Cameron Trimble, ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mark 6:7,13

[6] Mark 6:12

[7] Br. James Koester, “Community” in Brother, Give Us A Word (www.ssje.org, 17 June 2021)

On St Jean Baptiste Day – a Confirmation

Dear siblings in Christ, 

On this St Jean Baptiste Day—June 24—we heard about John the Baptist from the Gospel (Mark 1:1-8). He was obviously a strange man: He wore clothes with camel hair, and he baptized and preached repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

All of this he did for one reason. The reason he named: “After me comes he who is mightier than I,…I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.“

Again, that’s kind of strange. John’s purpose is to be a forerunner of Jesus Christ. He prepares people for the coming of Jesus.

Preparing, that is what we also do in confirmation classes. Over the last couple of years—indeed your whole life since you were baptized—you have been preparing yourselves for saying yes to Jesus Christ. Yes I am a Christian. Yes I will trust God and continue on the journey of learning about and figuring out for myself the meaning of God and God’s son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

When we think about it, that’s what all of us are doing every year and every time we come together as the church to pray, to worship and serve in Christ’s name.

But isn’t that a bit strange? Is it not enough to prepare just once? In a way, the confirmation service is a conclusion of sorts. But, if we are honest, we all know as Christians we are never finished learning about and growing in faith.

This is what is special about Christianity. You are never finished. You never really graduate and say, “Now I know everything.” The grace of God and the gift of faith accompany you all your life. And the good thing is that God accompanies you all your life, too. So, you are never alone.

The church is a community that is here to support your growth and learn from each other. We offer each other gifts to help us on the way. So, today, we want to give special gifts to our confirmands—we’re calling it the S.O.S. box to help you not only survive but thrive in your life of faith.

So, in your S.O.S. box, you will find:

1) First, a compass.

A compass shows the way. It points you in the right direction and reminds you that there are Christian churches all over the world where God is worshipped and served, and where you can find your spiritual home anywhere on earth. Many of our parents and grandparents came from overseas in Europe over the last few centuries. And now here, 6000km away, we celebrate a service together, in person, for the first time in 15 months. God’s word is proclaimed all over the world, and online. And you are welcome everywhere to be with your siblings in faith. 

2) Then, in your S.O.S. box you will find a flashlight.

A flashlight is handy when the power goes out, or when you are out at night

But apart from nighttime or not being able to see where we are, there are other kinds of ‘darkness’ in our lives. Some people speak of death as a great abyss.

But also moments that make us afraid, situations and changes that we cannot understand, feelings that feel heavy and wrong can become weighty for us.

Despairing thoughts buzz in our head, in our heart, in our soul.

Especially in such times, Jesus wants to be light for us. His love and power wants to give us security and show us a way through the shadows. Sometimes the first step can be the help of friends, a bible verse or a song that gives courage.

The light of Jesus has conquered every confusion, every grief, every fog until now – even death!

When you trust Jesus, then every confusion, every secret and every terrible experience will eventually lose its power and terror. You will feel how his light begins to shine in you and gain strength – until you yourself begin to reflect the light of God’s love again.

3) Third, in your S.O.S. box you will find a key.

Doors usually lock something. The apartment door protects us from burglars, the fire door prevents fire from spreading, the washroom door ensures privacy, soundproof doors dampen loud noises from the other side …

Locked doors all serve their purpose precisely when they are closed. But you can use the key to unlock them when you want to cross the threshold of a door.

There is a Bible verse in which Jesus compares himself to a door, he says:

I am the door; if anyone enters by me, they will be saved, and will go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10,9)

Jesus says he is the door! But he is not a closed door. On the contrary, this door is always open, for all who want to come to God. Through him one can come to the good pasture, that is, to the glory of our loving God.

And we have the key—our relationship with God. In the word of God we can make our way through the door. Here we learn the love that Jesus has for us. Through the stories of the bible we also learn to live our lives out of this love. We learn to love ourselves and to accept Jesus as our best friend, forever! And then this door is open to us—wide open!

In some countries, this key is suppressed by law. But by God’s grace everyone in Canada is free to have this key and use it.

Remember, though, this key is of no use if it is just lying uselessly on the shelf. Only when we have it with us and use it, it can be helpful for us on our journey of faith.

4) We also give you this small tree as a reminder of our growth in faith. This little tree will need a lot of help to grow into its mature fullness. It will need sunshine, water, and likely soon a bigger pot and fresh soil. And, time. 

Like for you, and for us all, our growth in faith will take time, a lifetime. Also, we can’t grow without help. Throughout our lives, we, too, will need the regular nourishment of the holy meal, friendship in faith, support in difficult times and gifts of God in all creation. We can’t force the tree to grow. But we can nurture it. And see what happens!

Take care of the tree. And watch it grow.

5) The last item in your S.O.S. kit, mentioned already, is the Bible.

Of all the other items in your kit, this is the very important. Here we´ll find all the stories of God and his people. Here we can hear God’s promises to us!

Here we read about times of joy and also about times of sorrow. Here we can find our way forward when we have questions about faith. The Bible is the best-selling book in history! Lots of people have read it. For 2000 years it exists in this printed form. Amazing! There is always more to discover, and be surprised about, when we journey with our survival kit.

But we don’t go alone, and we are prepared for whatever comes. That is why we baptize and confirm in Christian churches. That is why we lay hands over your head and bless you.

We baptize not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

And your confirmation verses will remind you that throughout your life and through the Holy Spirit, God gives you Jesus (John 3:16) every day in your heart; therefore, we can be courageous because God goes with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9); and, that no matter happens, nothing will separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:28) for you. Amazing promises!

Amen.  

This sermon was written by and in collaboration with the Rev. Judith Kierschke from Martin Luther Church in Ottawa

That holy space in-between the words

On this National Indigenous People’s Day, I’m standing on the ancestral and un-ceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe People, on the banks of the Ottawa River. 

When Indigenous communities across Canada are suffering the pain of grief and loss after the discovery of 215 bodies of children buried beside a residential school in BC earlier this year, what are we to say and do? For all that has been said and done—and most of our words and deeds have not been loving—now is the time for us to stop talking, and listen. 

Listen to the voices that have not been heard. Listen to the stories that have been muted. Listen to cries of the grieving and mourning people. Listen to the first peoples on this land we now occupy. Now is the time for our words to cease, and our ears to do the working. 

The practice of meditation re-aligns the landscape of our inner lives. Specifically, the prayer of the heart over time begins to change how we speak and how we act, when we engage the world around us. The discipline of prayer is like learning a new language for our lives.

Learning a new language requires those involved in the conversation to slow down, to speak clearly, to choose your words carefully. And, more often in the conversation, to listen. 

A small way we can align our heart with our words and actions is indeed to slow down. It’s ok to allow space amidst our speech. By speaking slowly and creating spaces of silence between our words we open up room for the heart—the heart of love—to come out. When we stop our talking, or at least slow down our speech, we give permission for others to find their own words. And I can’t think of a better way, these days, to love others who are grieving. 

I want to thank the meditation group leaders across Canada who gathered with me in a Zoom room in the late Spring to listen to each other. In Zoom rooms we can’t all be talking all of the time. For these online meetings to work well, everyone needs to do more listening than anything else. Especially in large groups, as this one was (over fifty attended)! Thank you for practising healthy relationships by hearing each other and allowing for that holy space to grow, inbetween the words.

The storms of life – a guided meditation

Mark 4:35-41 is one of my favourite stories about Jesus from the Gospels. It is a parable for us, today, whenever the storms of our lives confront the presence of Jesus …

As the weather turns from mild to severe, listen to this guided meditation to help you reflect more deeply on this story, and what it means for your life. Wherever you are seated right now, I invite you to become quiet in your heart and mind. Notice your breath. Feel your body pressing down on the seat of your chair. Hear the faithful, regular beating of your heart. You may close your eyes gently …

“You are on the rough seas. Your boat is tossing and turning in the stormy waters. Think of the storms in your own life …. Then . . .

Relax.

Quiet yourself in the space you inhabit right now.

Enjoy the silence.

Let go of the distractions.

Breathe in.

Hold.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Hold.

Breathe out.

Be still.

Relax.

Let all your thoughts, like the birds, fly away far into the sky above.

Breathe in.

Hold.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Hold.

Breathe out.

Imagine . . .

What a great time you have had.

You and your friends have been following Jesus for days now.

You are dead tired, but still content as you find a place to rest in the boat.

Look around at the friends you have made.

Look at Jesus who is sitting at the stern.

How you admire him!

Feel the slow-moving lull of the boat.

Relax as the waves gently lull the boat back and forth.

Back and forth.

Relax.

Some of your friends fall asleep.

Jesus falls asleep, too.

The boat keeps moving across the lake.

You think about the day.

Your mind is just wandering.

The wind starts blowing.

You can tell it is becoming harder to row now.

The current is choppy.

The sky is now black.

Take your turn with the oars.

Work hard against the waves and wind, pushing.

Feel the storm approaching.

The waves begin to surge into the boat.

The water is coming in over the sides.

Everyone is working so hard. Where is the bailer? 

Someone yells out, “Wake up Jesus.

We need his help.

Now.”

You let go of your oar and scramble over the slippery deck towards Jesus.

Wake him up …

Jesus sits up and looks around.

He calls out, “Quiet” to the wind.

The wind stops.

Just like that, the waves settle down and the wind dissipates.

Jesus looks like he wants to go back to sleep.

What just happened?

Jesus looks at all of you and says,

“Why are you so terrified?

Why are you lacking in faith?”

A great awe comes over you.

You wonder,

“Who is this man whom even the sea obeys?”

Stay with this feeling of wonderment.

You crawl back over to where Jesus is resting.

You approach him cautiously.

And you ask him your question,

“Who are you that the sea obeys you?”

Listen to his answer.

Tell him about something in your life that is raging,

a storm in your world,

a situation that could use Jesus’ touch.

When you are finished you hear only the gentle lapping of the waves against the hull of the boat. For now, you simply rest in Jesus’ presence. Be with him.

It is time to re-enter your space.

Say good-bye for now.

Ask Jesus to lead your way into the rest of the day.

You thank him.

Come back gently.

Open your eyes.

Remember.

This Guided Meditation was adapted from Patty McCulloch, Encountering Jesus: 20 Guided Meditations on His Care and Compassion (Ave Maria Press, 2001).

Thank you for listening.