Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I never wanted to be a priest

My sermon this week was based on John 6:56-69.

Swear to God.  Being a priest was not my plan.  It was, in fact, something I vehemently avoided.

I call myself a lapsed atheist.  As a teenager, I tried really hard to be an atheist, because let's face it, being an atheist is easy: no accountability, no responsibility, no higher authority to whom you have to answer, not plagued by the 'big questions'.

Please understand, most atheists I know have a strong moral center and do indeed feel accountable and responsible, even in the absence of a higher authority, but that is the way I felt about atheism and religion at the time.  They don't ask the big questions which makes them a real drag at parties, but that is neither here nor there.  As a youth, I avoided religion and faith questions because it seemed like a hard life.  I didn't want to be accountable or responsible to anyone or anything, I didn't want to ask the big questions, and I certainly didn't want acknowledge that there was a higher authority than myself, let alone answer to it.

But the problem was that I could not make atheism stick as a philosophy, try as I might.  It simply could not stand up to intellectual scrutiny nor did it adequately describe my experience of creation and my place in it.  Of course, people who go from religion to atheism make exactly the same claim, but that is perhaps for another blog entry.

All this to say that I was as surprised as anyone could be when I received my call to ministry.  I was, as I recall, a teenager around 16 or 17 years old.  I was quite smug and happy with my atheism and my puerile skepticism of all things religious.  I was not seeking a spiritual experience, I was not asking any big questions, I was certainly not praying at the time.  If you have ever been a 16 or 17 year old male, you know that such creatures dwell in a pretty shallow emotional and intellectual pond.  I was interested in sex, drugs and rock n' roll, and I wasn't getting any of all three.

I was lying in bed one night trying to sleep when I was washed over with a feeling of absolute certainty that I was put on this earth to be a priest.  No voices, no lights, no vision of Jesus or any of that, just a feeling of pure and complete certainty that that was what I was created to be.  The only thing I can compare it to is that split-second, almost Jedi-like feeling you get when you wind up for a slapshot or get ready to swing at a baseball, where you know there is no way on earth this shot is not coming off.  All self-doubt was stripped away, and my heart felt at rest in the knowledge that I had found my calling.

And I said no to it.

"God," I said, "I don't even think you are real, and even if you are, I want nothing to do with you because you killed my dog and that girl I liked didn't like me back" (shallow pond, remember).

Long story short, I spent much of the years between 17 and 30 trying really hard to avoid that call.  I got several pointless degrees, worked several mundane jobs, I spiraled into drug abuse and depression, and I avoided all things religious like the plague, all because faith seemed too hard.

I know, right?

I will spare you all the details, but in the end, of course, I became a priest.  In those years, I came to know who I was and what I was, I came to know how God was working in my life, and I came to the conclusion that my heart simply would not feel at home until I decided to live into those things.

This is why Simon Peter's rhetorical question is still so poignant to me: "Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life".

I was drafted by God, and no bonespurs could get me out of it.  Where else was there to go?  I knew my truth, as distasteful as it had once been to me.

The truth sets us free, as the saying goes, but the truth is also often hard to deal with.  Many of us have had to accept certain truths that are not always easy to face: we need to end a relationship, we need to change jobs, we need to move house, we need to come out, we need to apologize to someone, etc.  The simple fact is that our hearts will not be at rest until we admit those truths and act on them.

Today, my hope is that if there is a difficult truth you need to face, that you would have the courage to pursue that truth and to live into it.  In the end, the truth will always catch up to you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The difference between having time and making time

My sermon for this week was based on John 6:35-51.

To hear an audio of my sermon, click here.

I had a homeroom teacher in grade 7 who, whenever a student claimed to have not had time to complete an assignment, would say, "No, you didn't MAKE time".

I often think of this saying whenever I try to claim that I didn't have time for something.  We all have exactly the same amount of hours in every day.  Yes, life gets busy and sometimes we literally do not have enough hours in the day to do everything we want or need to do, but the fact of the matter is that we all prioritize our days: we do what we feel is most important or what we most want to do.

In other words, we choose to make time for some things, and choose to not make time for other things.

This will by no means be news to you, but anything worth having requires effort.  Any relationship we value requires work, and if we value it, we will put the time and effort into it.

Once again, not news, but our relationship with God is much like any other relationship: it takes work, and if we value it, if we want it to be fruitful, rewarding and productive, it will take some effort on our part.

God makes his effort.  God is always present and does not waver in his presence, but what does waver is our ability or willingness to reach out to God.  I am not the only person to have remarked this.  Michelangelo seemed to be of the same mind when he painted The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.

Forgetting for the moment how offensive it is that God is portrayed as a white male, notice how God is reaching out, straining every muscle, but Adam is reclining with his elbow on his knee, seemingly unwilling to even lift his hand to touch God.

Yeah, sometimes that's me too.

I suffer from depression, and when I am at my lowest, I don't so much feel that God is absent, but I don't want to talk to him because in my petulant little heart, I somehow blame him for "letting" me feel down.

One would think that I would be more inclined to talk to God when I am feeling great though, right?


When I feel great, I actually feel like I don't need God, so I don't talk to him.

One would think that I would make ample time between those two extreme ends of the spectrum in which to talk to God, right?

Nope again.

Even as a priest, I get "too busy", a say I will do it later, I say there is no need to work on that relationship.

That is a failure on my part to make time for God, and I always suffer for it.  I always suffer for not being grounded, for touching base with the divine, for not keeping God in a central position in my life, for not working on that relationship.

Make some time today.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The God Hole

My sermon this week was based on John 36:24-35.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

When I was a child, I had this toy that I am sure many of you had, and my own son is now trying to figure out how to use.  It was a wooden box with different-shaped holes in the sides, through which you were supposed to fit different-shaped pegs, and of course only the right-shaped peg would fit through each of the holes.

Years later, a friend of mine referred to "The God Hole", referring to that space in him that only God would fit into.  He explained that over the course of his life, he had tried to put a number of things there: money, possessions, drugs, alcohol, sex...but none of these things satisfied him.  He discovered that God was the only thing for him that would fill that vacancy in his spirit.

I could certainly relate, having been down a number of those same roads, and having found myself at the end of them, totally unsatisfied and spiritually and morally bankrupt to boot.  Chances are, most of us can relate.

Jesus today speak of himself as "the bread of life", saying that whoever comes to him will never hunger and never thirst.  As I child, I remember being somewhat disappointed by the Eucharist because I was hungry immediately after taking it!

Of course, now that I am a little older, I have had cause to reflect on what Jesus actually meant by those words.  He is, of course, not talking about bread that feeds our body.  He is talking about bread that feeds the soul.

This would have been a much more poignant metaphor in his own time and place.  In our time and place, bread is but one of literally thousands of things we can eat to nourish our bodies, and in fact in recent years, the nutritive value of bread has been called into question.

In Jesus' time, bread was much more important, partially due to the fact that in a time which pre-dated refrigeration and many of the other preservation techniques we now employ, grain could be stored for long periods of time.  Bread quite literally was the stuff of life.

Many of us are diligent consumers: we read labels to make sure that what we are putting in our bodies is healthy and nourishing, but why are we not more careful about what we put into our spirits?  Why do we insist on seeking stuff, money, respect or even other people to fill the empty spaces in our souls when we have proven to ourselves time and time again that those pegs simply do not match up with the empty spaces?

I don't actually know the answers to those questions.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that we can immediately go out and buy something that makes us feel better for just a few minutes, and feeling better spiritually often takes longer to achieve.  Maybe it has to do with our culture that emphasizes stuff and does not emphasize personal emotional or spiritual wellness.

Either way, I think we know in our heart of hearts that certain roads we are currently on are simply not going to be satisfying, no matter how long or how far we trudge them.

Today I would like to encourage us all to seek new paths of meaning, to place our spiritual well-being at our centers, to place God where he needs to be.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Value of Being Lazy

My sermon for July 22nd was based on Mark 6:30-56.

If I told you you were lazy for having a good night's sleep last night, if I called you greedy for eating breakfast this morning, or if I told you you were selfish for wearing clothes today rather than giving them all to the poor, you would likely think (quite rightly) that I was a lunatic.

A simple fact exists: we need to care for ourselves in order to care for others.  You can't use energy to help others if you yourself have no energy.  You can't feed others if you are starving.  You can't give someone the shirt off your back if you are not wearing one.  This is not selfish.  It is not even self-interested.  It is self-care.

But many of us have great difficulty doing that.  Many of us, myself included, work ourselves to exhaustion, making ourselves spiritually and indeed physically ill in the process.  We have trouble resting, relaxing and refreshing ourselves because we feel like we are "doing nothing", and we feel that that is lazy and self-indulgent.

I would like to encourage you to be "lazy" every once in while, and there is ample Biblical precedent for it.

In today's Gospel passage, Jesus calls his Disciples to "come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while".  This piece of advice comes after Jesus has sent them all out into the Galilean countryside to teach, preach and heal.

The Disciples had been busy, and I think Jesus could tell that.  He could also tell when they needed a break, and he calls them to do so.

We all need a break and rest sometimes, whether it is to get our nightly sleep, to get over an illness, to regain our spiritual strength, or just to veg out and do nothing.  Heck, even God needed to rest on the seventh day.  If God needed a rest, how much more do you and I need to rest?

I have always been intrigued by the word "recreation", which most people seem to think is the opposite of work.  I consider it to be a necessary corollary, literally taking the time to "re"-"create" the energy we need to go out there into the world and do our jobs.  It is a necessary part of our lives because all that energy doesn't just come from nowhere.

Today, be lazy.  It's summer, take a nap in a hammock, play with the kids, watch a dumb movie, pray, meditate, putter in the garden, go to the beach.  Do whatever it is you do to recharge your batteries, because the world needs you at your best.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The unlikelihood of a good shepherd

Another super-long break in blogging!  On the bright side, this delay is due to the fact that my new parish is a vibrant and busy place, and so I just don't have the time most weeks to sit down and write out a recap of my sermons.  I am still recording them, though, and hopefully most of my readers/listeners will be ok with just downloading my podcast instead of reading.

My sermon this week was based on John 10:11-18.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mary's choice

My sermon for Advent 4 was based on Luke 1:26-38.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

This Advent has brought back to the surface questions about choice for me, specifically Mary's choice to bear the Christ child, and how it relates to my choice to follow my vocation.

I got my call to ministry when I was a teenager, and I said no.  I was overcome one night out of nowhere with a feeling of absolute certainty that this is what I was made for...and I said, "Not interested, thanks".

Wouldn't it make a funny Pythonesque sketch if Gabriel has had to ask a few other women first, and Mary was just the first to accept.

Here is what sadly often gets dropped to the wayside when we talk of the Annunciation, and which has been made all the more poignant given the backdrop of the #metoo campaign in recent months: Mary made the choice to bear the Christ child.  She was not forced, convinced or coerced in any way.  Gabriel and therefore God gave her the option, and after some polite and prudent questions on her part ("How can this be?"), she answers, "I am the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to his word".

Mary made an educated and informed decision, despite the uncertainty of the future, despite the responsibility it brought on her (raising a child is a heck of a responsibility, much less God's child), despite the sure knowledge that it would lift her from what would otherwise be a life of obscurity.

But she chose to follow that path, and far from being a passive thing she did, it was a act of defiance in the context of a society that did not give women too many choices.

Sometimes, I think the world hasn't changed that much since the time of the Nativity: women still have to fight for control of their bodies, refugees are still poorly treated, tyrants still reign, and the poor and marginalized still struggle to fulfill their basic needs.

Over this Advent and Christmas season, I invite you reflect on how giving someone a choice, giving someone a voice is equally a sacred gesture, and an act of defiance.

Why John calling FROM the wilderness is significant

My sermon for this week was based on John 1:6-28.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.