Idle Tales and Other Stories We Dare to Believe

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, based on Luke 24:1-12.

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I have this bad habit of not believing people. I always think they’re bending the truth, making the story a little bigger than it is, or skirting around the timeline.

“Did you put the laundry away?”

“Yes.”

But all I hear is, “No I have not put away the laundry, but now you’ve reminded me of my intention to do it, so I’ll say yes, and then go and quietly put it away before you notice.”

Belief is about trust.

I am not inclined to trust that people are being truthful. I am not inclined to trust that people know right from wrong—especially if it has to do with how to wash the dishes. I am not inclined to trust that people know better than me.

**

The disciples, certainly don’t think much of the women in Luke, who bring a perplexing story back with them from their morning visit. They are dismissed…

“Women like to gossip.”

“Women like to stir up trouble.”

“Women are so gullible.”

Can you hear the angry muttering of the disciples? Crowded together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem, tired, worried and grieving.

Have you ever been in a house like that? Some people have brought over food—a lasagna. You’re in the living room, perched on couches and dining room chairs, feeling a bit numb. Grief washes over you in waves of sadness, anxiety and fury.

Because grief comes with a special kind of anger—it just sits below the surface, bubbling up with the slightest irritation.

And here these women come, talking about the Teacher. They were supposedt o be bringing spices to his tomb, they were supposed to go and care for his body—and then they come back with this crap? Shame on them!

**

Besides, if he wasn’t there, then what? If wasn’t really dead, which we all saw, then where is he?

Because he’s not here, with us.

He’s not… here.

**

Sometimes imagining the other possibilities, the impossibilities, is more painful….

But Peter—Peter who never wanted any of this to happen—he listens. He doesn’t believe the women at first, but… but there’s a chance.

Peter, who loved the Teacher so deeply, with the wild abandon of a toddler who would rushes forward so quickly he inevitably falls and stumbles. Peter who gets so much right and so much wrong in a single breathe.

Peter’s heart asks, What if?

And suddenly his sandals are slapping the packed dirt road, his cloak flapping madly behind him.

“What if” moments are terrifying, because while they go unanswered our deepest fears and greatest hopes hang in the balance.

What if… I don’t get accepted to the program?

What if… the cancer comes back?

What if… we can’t make this relationship work?

But, “What if” moments also offer us that tiny terrifying sliver of hope:

What if… the impossible could be true?

What if… there’s more than this?

What if… everything works out ok?

“What if” moments are terrifying—they are vulnerable acts where we silently mouth our deepest desires and squeeze our eyes shut tight, fingers crossed, barely able to breathe because as long as the question goes unanswered there’s that infinitesimal amount of hope.

**

Resurrection stories are not about proof, Luke shows us women who encounter two strangers when they find the world not as it should be—strangers who tell them the impossible has become reality.

And the women are “perplexed”, confused. Yet, they embrace that “What if?” and bring it back to the others. They open themselves up to the terrifying possibility of more.

There’s the risk in this story: the risk of sharing your hope, and of trusting it with another.

And, what happens when we dare to hope, even if it’s just that infinitesimal amount?

Well, this story is not tidy. Those who risk, who make themselves vulnerable, and they don’t get the kindest greeting. Even more frustrating is the fact that Jesus doesn’t show up and settle the issue for a little while yet.

But, it is the start of something, the beginning of the Easter season.

The belief that there is new life beyond death is the small shoot springing up from the desolation of the forest fire—it is small, fragile and painful.

As a church and as a community, we can choose to sit in the darkness of Good Friday, drinking sour wine, and beating our chests in grief, or we can dare to imagine an Easter morning filled with the hope and possibility of new life.

And that’s terrifying.

Believing the impossible could be true, that there could be more than this, that everything could work out ok, is terrifying.

Yet, every time we recite our baptismal vows and wet the head of an adult or child, we make a declaration of hope.

Every time we break bread at the Table, sharing the cup of remembrance together, we make a declaration of hope.

We say together, that despite the death and grief around us, we’re willing to let ourselves be vulnerable for the chance at something more.

Over Lent we’ve spent six weeks contemplating our human nature, our mortality, our creatureliness. And, now we step into Easter with the declaration that the Spirit transforms and uses us—springing new life within us as a response to the hard things in our world.

Good things come and go, tragedies strike, and we are reminded of our smallness and our humanity, but God offers us more. She calls us blessed and invites us to trust her, to risk ourselves and hope.

Hope that she will take what we find impossible and make it true.

Hope that she will offer us more than this, more than we can imagine.

Hope that she will work everything out in her way and time.

Stirred by this terrifying leap of trust we are invited, like the women and Peter, not to stay silent and patient, but to be stirred to action.

**

Have you felt hopeful this Lenten season? Have you watched the news and said, I feel really optimistic about where we’re headed?

Maybe not.

Yet, we are dared by a God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine, to face the new morning, hearts in our throats, with an infinitesimal amount of hope.

So what will you dare to hope for, this Easter?

A planet loved and cared for by humanity.

A city without poverty and addiction.

A news cycle without violence and massacre.

And, if you’re willing to risk that hope then who are you going to go and tell it to?

What road are you going to race down? 

**

May we dare to risk this Easter season, dare to see God’s new life taking root within us. Amen.

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We, of little faith

This sermon was prepared for the Trinity United Church, Montréal’s for Sunday, October 15th, 2017. The scripture reading it is based on is Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6,19-23 (Year A, Proper 23).

This Exodus story always reminds me of Peter, who, on seeing Jesus walking on water jumps out of the boat, rushing towards him.

But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”[i]

Anyone who has felt bold enough to get on an especially steep roller coaster or an especially long zip-line, and then immediately regrets that decision when faced with the drop, knows what I mean.

When everything is going well, it is so easy to have faith. There’s nothing at risk, everything is good. The line looks sturdy enough…the cars will stop at the red light…it’s a safe bet…. We make countless decisions in our life based on the fact that we, more than trust, the outcome—we are darn sure of what it’ll be.

But, it’s an entirely different matter when what’s important to us is at risk.

It’s in those times when we can’t see or feel something secure, where there isn’t anything that seems sturdy enough to rely on when we really have to bring out our faith and see if it’s enough.

I had the privilege of working as a chaplain at the Halifax Infirmary this past summer, and I talked with patients and families about this exact issue. In crisis, we see what our faith is made of, and sometimes it isn’t enough to get us through hard times.

When senseless violence takes place, or an unexpected diagnosis comes our way, our beliefs can get rocked. Because what we’re living doesn’t match up with how we’ve seen the world so far—the story doesn’t fit anymore.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

The people in Exodus had been very patient. I know they often seem whiney when we read their stories, but we also know how it will all work out in the end. They don’t.

Here they are, in the middle of nowhere, alone and scared. We’ve read how they left an oppressive, but somewhat comfortable place, to follow this crazy man into the wilderness, where they’ll wander around in literal circles with the hope of reaching a “promised land”.

They left behind a life of “certainty”, not a great life but a certain one, for a future based on hope. Where we’re reading today, that hope has yet to be fulfilled. Instead, they got a bunch of rules, at Mount Sinai, and their leader, who wandered up the mountain to talk to this new unfamiliar God and has left them all alone with no more instructions.

So, in the face of uncertainty and discomfort, they revert back to what they know best—they go to the second-in-command, Aaron, and they say, “Look, buddy, Moses left us high and dry, and we need something. Something to believe in.” So, Aaron makes them a god, not unlike other gods they would have come across—something familiar and safe to believe in.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

I have met people who put their faith in the power of medicine, the hands of doctors, the power of prayer, of nature, and the power of their own minds. Some of these folks are able to articulate this clearly and easily, and others might not have used the language I’m using, but they spoke about hopes and certainties.

I have met people who have regurgitated things they thought they were supposed to have faith in. But, were filled with fear and dread, because those ideas, of the world and of God, weren’t strong enough, or real enough to bring them peace.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

I would love to tell you, that when I’m faced with crisis I meet it with total confidence in God’s goodness. No doubts, just total unquestioning dependence on God. But that would be a bold-faced lie.

My faith has been tested, and will likely be tested again, by the circumstances of my life. And, I’m not ashamed to say that at times my faith has been found wanting. At other times, there have been parts of it that have held fast—that have held me up. These are what I call my life preservers.

Life preservers are the little snippets of belief that have always stayed with me—the stuff that works. When I’m struggling I try to reflect on who I truly believe God is and what I see God doing in my life. Then, I try to weed out all the stuff that doesn’t mesh with God’s character as I’ve seen it in our scriptures, our communal tradition, and in my own life.

Even if someone has spent my entire life trying to convince me otherwise.

There’s a really fancy word for this type of work, and it’s constructive theology—it’s very “in” right now so you may hear different writers and ministers talking about it. But, it just means you’ve thought about who God is and whether other parts of your belief system align with that. It’s about finding a way of talking about God that is consistent with God’s character as revealed to us.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

Our faith, is made up of the things that we sincerely believe are important or true. And, it informs the way we live. How we make moral choices. Our personal and work ethics. Our faith sets the stage for how we receive the wonders and tragedies of our lives.

Sometimes we find ourselves repeating lines, like platitudes, even though we might not believe them.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

God must just be testing you.

God just wants to teach you a lesson.

But, are these ideas consistent with the God we know from scripture and personal experience? What has your experience taught you about who God is and isn’t.

All that reflection is the work of theology—you’re all theologians when you reflect on the character of God. And know, doubting and questioning is what we’re built to do. We see countless stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Testament showing our ancestors in the faith doing just that.

Jesus said to Peter, “Why did you doubt?” I love that question because he’s calling him into self-reflection. He’s asking him about where the fear came from, what about his beliefs wasn’t enough to hold him up.

When you’re in crisis, and your stomach drops, what are those things you struggle to believe in? And, what has your experience taught you about who God is? Is there a disconnect there?

And, what are your life preservers? The ideas that support you in difficult times? What keeps calling you back to God? Do you always come back to God’s love, God’s grace, or God’s compassion?

For me, I always hear a call back to peace. That has been a defining experience in my journey—Christ, for me, will always first and foremost be the Prince of Peace, the nonviolent revolutionary, the God of the Sabbath Day.

I invite you to take a few moments to reflect, for yourself, on who God is. And, do so knowing that God, and Jesus the Anointed, are big enough to handle all of our doubts, all of our questions—waiting, as ever, to reveal their character more fully to us.

Amen.

[i] Matt. 14:30-31, NRSV