An incredibly powerful holy week sermon

Briallen Hopper is a divinity student at Yale, a faith blogger, and a future leader of the Church of NALT. She shared her Passion Week sermon with Dan Savage and gave him permission to post it on his blog. This is an incredible piece of writing that get’s to the heart of the the Christian message for us today.

“Thus says the LORD:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.
Thus says the LORD:
Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the LORD:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future, says the LORD:
your children shall come back to their own country.”

Read the whole sermon at http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/04/17/a-sermon-for-passion-week

Marilyn’s Wisdom

In the fall of 2010, Marilyn Ferrel, a woman who all her life has battled the physical challenges of cerebral palsy and the emotional challenges of a society that did not understand her condition, was found to have an inoperable brain tumour. A member of The Church of the Holy Trinity, an Anglican parish in downtown Toronto, Marilyn was supported by a group of friends from that community as well as other friends and her ex-husband, Michael, as she moved into palliative care.

A few years earlier, Marilyn had embarked on an ambitious program of reading a number of contemporary Christian theologians and responding to their ideas out of her personal experience. It must have been an arduous process, physically, for Marilyn to type out many passages from these works, adding her comments of agreement or questioning particular interpretations of Scripture or broader theories of science and human nature. Some of these reflections took shape in dialogue with others through Holy Trinity’s online discussion list, or in face-to-face conversations. The reflections offer insights into Marilyn’s theological perspective as well as her convictions about disability and inclusion. For her, the two were inextricably interwoven.

Marilyn’s hope was to publish her reflections some day. When the progression of the brain tumour made that dream impossible for Marilyn to carry out, a group of her friends decided to gather a number of those reflections to share with others. The title we chose – The Great Flaring Forth– is borrowed from Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s book which had a significant impact on Marilyn’s thinking.

We wanted our friend Marilyn to understand that we honour her as a woman with a deep

curiosity, determination and faith who wrestled with age-old questions of suffering and what it means to be a person and a people of faith in our age. We wanted to honour her unique perspective and to acknowledge the woundedness she has experienced in her lifetime and the courage she has shown in challenging attitudes and practices that devalue and marginalize those who do not fit neat definitions of ‘normal.’ We value her insights. We are challenged by them, and we hope that the wider community will learn from them.

Editorial team – Jim Houston, Vivian Harrower, Marilyn Dolmage, Victoria Wilcox.

Contact Vivian if you would like to receive an order form for a copy of Marilyn’s reflections. The cost will be $15. We’d like to know in advance how many copies to print.

Who’s Included in the Promise? (Dick Moore’s Homily for Lent 2)

My journey of Lent started with an air flight to Los Angeles to visit my daughter and her family last week. I had packed the book Best Laid Plans and was about to begin reading it when my seat mate asked me about the book. I talked about the CBC Canada Reads contest and the books chosen for this year, some of which I had read.

My seat mate, Yilmaz Alimogul, told me that he was an author and had recently published his first book. In response to my enthusiasm and questions, he presented me with a copy.

I began reading it at once and in response to my questions about the setting and circumstances of the story Yilmaz disclosed that the book was his own story, the account of his journey to Mountains and Deserts, (the title of the book) to a deeper self awareness and religious practise

The book’s protagonist, Ali, is a Sufi, a branch of Islam. After the birth of his children Ali returns to the practise of his faith, attending the dragah regularly and praying the zehr. His Christian wife is embarrassed by his fervour and makes sarcastic remarks about it.

Ali feels that what he perceives as his wife’s rejection of his religious practise may be a deal breaker for his marriage and decides to take some time away from his family to undertake a journey to mountains and deserts to find his way.

The Sufis are the mystical branch of Islam. Like their mystical Christian and Jewish, and I asssume Hindu brothers and sisters, Sufis relish and delight in their up close and personal relationship with the divine. Also like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, they often rub up against the mainstream of their religious traditions causing friction. The mystics care less about dogmas and doctrines that separate believers and more about the relationship with God, which they share.

It is this “beyond the differences and beyond the dogmas” that attracted me to the story. I am regularly and painfully aware of the “us versus them” mentality that seems to have captured the world. Reading the papers, listening to the radio I am regularly assaulted by the intolerance and conflict of the “us and them” mentality.

Here in Toronto, the folks at City Hall seems to care more for saving taxpayers’ dollars (us) than they are by the plight of homeless people or low income people housed by the Toronto Housing Corporation (them).

In Ottawa the federal government seems intent on punishing and jailing offenders rather than eliminating poverty, preventing crime or rehabilitating offenders. A very small program assisting Palestinians appears to be sufficient cause for eliminating the funding of all the programs sponsored by Kairos worldwide.

The governor and Republican legislators in Wisconsin declare war on public servants depriving them of the protections of collective bargaining and efforts of common cause.

Listening to the radio I regularly hear comments and commentary on the news directed against Muslims and nothing of such heroic acts as the hundreds of Egyptian Muslims, who after the bombing of a Coptic church by extremists, surrounded Coptic places of worship to protect worshippers there from attack.

If we examine this morning’s readings I believe we can find an antidote to these poisonous “us versus them” messages.

In the Genesis reading we find Abram and Sarai called by God to get up and go. They are called to leave the security of all they hold near and dear: family, friends, their land and their people.

In return for this God makes promises to them:

They will be given a land of their own in some undisclosed future.

They will become a great nation, despite their advanced ages and their infertility.

All families of the earth will be blessed through them (today’s jack pot promise)

The universality of that promise is key here. There are no “us or them”, all families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and Sarai. This promise recalls to me the teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding developing a profound respect for other religious traditions (another of the teachings of that council that is yet to be fulfilled).

It seems to me Holy Trinity’s aspirations to reach out and grow, to connect with Ryerson University and its student body and situated as it is near the Islamic Centre at Dundas and Edward Street, that a public education series on the beliefs of the Islamic faith is a timely and feasible initiative.

In the second reading Paul wrestles with the size and inclusiveness of Abraham’s family. He comes down on the side of inclusiveness of the gentiles, the hot button issue of his time. Paul’s conclusion is an antidote to bother modern day Christian and Islamic fundamentalism which both limit the inclusion of the promise.

In the Gospel we depart from the reading of Matthew and have the first of four Sunday readings from John , whose Gospel does not have its own lectionary cycle. On this and the following three Sundays we have the opportunity to explore John’s theological perspective.

We read of Jesus’ first encounter with Nicodemus, a passage that is both dramatic and symbolic. First it occurs at night, a time that in John’s mind is a time of doubt and /or ignorance. Nicodemus is curious about this new rabbi but is not ready to commit or to let his Pharisee colleagues know he what is is up to. One commentator labels his actions “faithful curiosity”. As Nicodemus appears twice more in the Gospel in more committed circumstances, perhaps we might proclaim him as the patron saint of doubters, of whom we count many in these pews.

In this first encounter Nicodemus comes off as weak and undecided. Jesus in answering his questions moves his focus away from Nicodemus and addresses himself to a wider audience: us. Jesus encourages us to wake up and evaluate the evidence of his life and works. Come into the light of belief. Come away from those actions that we fear being exposed to the light. Live in the light plainly and simply and do what you do in God.

This message is an agenda for all of our Lenten journeys.

Tonight’s Oasis service was great

This is the first one I’ve been able to get to. I’m very glad I went. The focus was on International Women’s day and the Echo choir and a movement/dance group were both guests. Very quick and refreshing service. The pot-luck supper afterwards was great and most folks seemed to stay. Several of us brought instruments and had a bit of a sing-song/jam after the meal. An excellent time. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

“What more are you doing than others?” Wendy Telfer’s February 20th homily



Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Matthew 5:38-48

Church of the Holy Trinity

20 February 2011

Jesus asks, “What more are you doing than others?”

Here at Holy Trinity preachers often give titles to their sermons. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives a title to his entire ministry: Repent, for the reign of heaven has come near. In his Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which we just heard, Jesus sets out how his listeners are to repent in order to allow the reign of heaven, coming near, to break through.

To put today’s gospel reading in context, we need to ask three questions: What does it mean to repent? What is the reign of heaven? How do Jesus’ teachings about not retaliating against, and even loving, one’s enemies hasten the coming of the reign of heaven?

Repent” is a rendering of the Greek word “metanoia”. It means to think differently after having done something. It describes a change of mind that is accompanied by a change of conduct.

Along the same lines, the reign of heaven can be called a tone of mind. When we set the tone of our mind to hearing and following the teachings of Jesus, we turn from the practices of this world to the ideals of God’s reign. We feel the sway of grace in our hearts.

What does Jesus teach? He says that he has come not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them – to do more. The familiar phrase “the law and the prophets” refers to the message of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus reminds his listeners of hearing these Scriptures read in the synagogue when he says, “you have heard that it was said”. Note the past tense.Jesus is going to fulfill these words now, in the present – “But I say to you”.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd that unless their justice exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will never enter the reign of heaven. In order to do this, Jesus asks them to do something more – way more. He asks them to repent, to change their thinking and their conduct in ways that shock them.

Jesus’ first astonishing statement concerns the proper response to those who harm or take advantage of us. In his time a person who was physically assaulted had the right to retaliate in kind. If someone gouged out your eye, you could gouge out theirs in return. Primitive as this sounds to us, it was more merciful than the earlier practice of taking not just your assailant’s eye but his or her life. This represented a breakthrough in justice.

But Jesus asks his listeners to do more. They are not to retaliate in kind; they are not to retaliate at all. In fact, they are to stay open to further physical harm. They are not to act with violence, like their assailant. They are to respond with peace, the same peace that prevails in the reign of heaven.

No doubt this left the crowd speechless. Jesus goes further. He heaps on more illustrations of unthinkable behavior to make his point. If someone takes you to court to seize a piece of your property, don’t defend yourself: offer them more of your property. If a member of the occupying army presses you and your donkey into service to carry his materiel for a mile, offer to carry it a further mile. Give freely to everyone who seeks to beg or borrow from you. Calmly and with grace, offer everything you have and everything you are – do more.

Surely it is bad enough that Jesus asks people to accept insult to themselves and to their property. But then he goes completely over the top – he asks them to love their abusers and to pray for them. Are not even their private acts of caring and of religious devotion spared Jesus’ demand to go beyond what is normal?

Last week a friend e-mailed me photographs of church signs bearing amusing messages. One said “love your enemies, it messes with their heads”. Perhaps it does, but this is not what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is not relenting in his strict demands and allowing his listeners to get some of their own back by playing mind games with their persecutors. As he did earlier with his call to non-resistance, Jesus is asking his hearers to repent, to change, to respond in a way that allows the reign of heaven to break through.

Jesus asks them to love and to pray for people who do them harm. His list of seemingly impossible demands has reached its climax. The crowd on the mountain sits stunned. So do we. How can we possibly do this much more to usher in heaven’s reign?

Last Sunday the leader of the prayers of the people expressed her discomfort with offering prayer for the bishops of Uganda. How can we pray for the leaders of a church in our Anglican communion that does not value the life of queer people? Why does Jesus ask us to pray for people who do us harm? I can speak from my own experience.

A few years ago Jesus moved me to pray for someone who had treated me abusively. As you know, it is much more comfortable to hear the Gospel than to try and live it. It felt like a further violation to utter this person’s name to God in the midst of my prayers for the people I love. I felt like a hypocrite. But I continued to pray for him. And as I did, I felt compassion for the suffering his behavior has brought on him. I began to acknowledge his humanity, to see him as God’s beloved child. I came to peace with the situation and was able to move on.

My experience resulted in repentance. In prayer I came to think differently about this person, and to sever the remaining ties without bitterness. His behavior did not change in any noticeable way, but it did not get worse.

Jesus knows that the only person you can change is yourself. That is why he asks us “what more are you doing than others?” He uses extreme examples to challenge us to think and act differently.

In conclusion, Jesus calls us to love. Not to the treacly sentiment of Valentine cards – but to the active, costly love of God and neighbour. The love that cost him his life.

When we do our best to love others, no matter how much we may disagree with them, no matter how badly they treat us, we model the attitude of God towards us and so become God’s children. God loves every one of us, the just and the unjust, freely, unconditionally, profligately, without regard for our response. God’s love is perfect, or to use a word that is more accessible to us, complete. When we do more, when we try to show God’s complete love to our incomplete and broken world, we show those around us a viable alternative to unending cycles of violence and abuse.

We offer a glimpse into the reign of heaven.

Thanks be to God.