A New Day

What would it look like to start a  new church?  How would you go about this?  I am sure that many of us would simply say, “That seems like too much work!”  And to be honest, that was my first reaction.  And if it was up to me to make it happen that would be a problem.  The good news is that the new Episcopal church in Flagler Beach (Flagler Beach Mission) is not about me!   The good news is that Jesus loves the people of Flagler Beach and has called us to begin to gather a community to worship and serve God; sharing the good news about the love, grace and mercy of a forgiving Savior.

Would you be interested if I told you that partnering with this new church meant you could be a part of something creative and fun?  Or if it meant you could have some positive impact in and on a community?  What if it meant you could begin to build relationships that would transform your life and the lives of those you encounter?    Please join us as we begin to receive and extend the love of a great God in a great place. – Mother Beth Pessah

 

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All Saints

1 John 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

All Saints Sunday Sermon  by Mother Beth

I mentioned last week the story of a Cdn soldier, Cpl Nathan Cirillo’s tragic death, as he guarded the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.   With the reports of that attack came the reports of a related story.   A story of those who rushed to try to save his life.  One of those people was a Lawyer named Barbara Winters.  Barbara was on her way to work that day when she heard the gun shots and ran toward the sound instead of away from it.   Barbara tells about helping Nathan Cirillo and how she knew how important it was to tell the soldier that he is loved.  “Your family loves you. Your parents are so proud of you. Your military family loves you. All the people here, we’re working so hard for you. Everybody loves you.”  The impromptu team kept waiting for an ambulance, desperately willing Cirillo to hang on.  “You are so loved,” Winters told Cirillo. “We’re all trying to help you.”

Read more: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/you-are-so-loved-ottawa-lawyer-describes-trying-to-save-cpl-nathan-cirillo-1.2068275#ixzz3HrRCXUe6

If you don’t hear anything else today, hear this – You are loved.   We hear in I John 3, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

The two important things for you to note in these sentences are the phrase “that is what we are” and “now”.  This letter assures us that there is no delay on God’s love.  He is not waiting for us to become something more, to act any differently.  His love is for us now.  God calls us “Beloved” because that is what we are.

As we celebrate “All Saints”, we might want to ask “What is a Saint?”

And we know that the apostles are named as Saints because of the great example that they set for others.  They have been canonized by the Catholic Church and all agree and acknowledge their special behavior.

But the good news of the readings today, is that we are all saints – loved by God.  That does not mean that we are perfect or that we always do or say the right thing.  A true saint is that one who has been able to really accept the news that they are loved by God and walk in that love.

Saints are those whose lives have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is from the place of transformation – of Christ in us – that we are empowered, enabled, entrusted with the grace to respond to others – to exercise compassion – to put on love.  Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

– it is not stirred up from inside – it is not something that we store away until ready to use – It is something external – apart from us – like clothing that we put on.  Where do we get this from?  From God, of course.

And those of you who pay attention to what you put on your physical bodies know that when you clothe yourselves you do it with a specific purpose in mind.  You put on work clothes to work – so that you can settle into that task.  You put on formal clothes for a special event and when you do you carry yourself differently – you might even behave differently.  Clothing can impact your demeanor.   And so it follows that when we put on God’s love – that changes us – that allows us to behave differently.

The reading from the book of the Revelation shows us this beautiful picture of the saints around the throne of God.  Worshipping together – focused not on ourselves but on God.  It is a glimpse of what is to come.  It is a promise of what will be not just be for ourselves but all those who have gone before us.

Walking this journey can be difficult.  But, did you know that walking is literally a series of falls?  And life feels like that sometimes – we take a couple of good steps in the right direction and then something happens – we mis-step or get disoriented.  Sometimes when we struggle we think we are being faithless.  When we struggle or doubt or fear, we might think that we are letting God down.  But that’s just not true.  Martin Luther, in the middle of his reforms, once took up the matter of the “marks of the church” – preaching, sacraments, and all that. He left it pretty much unchanged, but added one “mark” – struggle. He figured that where there is faith there is also always struggle.

And that’s helped to remind people that struggle, doubt, feeling overwhelmed, wondering if God is out there – these aren’t signs of failure or lack of faith, but are actually a testament to profound faith as we wrestle with such deep questions and thereby take God seriously. (If this weren’t true, would we have so many lament Psalms in the Bible?) And so when we feel at our most low, and wonder if we have lost our faith, God names us among the most faithful. Blessed are those who struggle!

It is possible to persevere and all the more so when we know where we are headed and what is waiting for us.   We are strengthened by the resolve of others – the great crowd of witnesses.

We do not walk this road/this life alone.   Saints are not bigger or better – they are those who continued to run and finished the race.  They are those who keep on keeping on.

They are those who got back up when they fell down and those who found a kind word to say in the face of adversity.  They are those who relied on God to bring them through difficult times.

They are the beloved of God and the good news is – so are you and I.

You are here for a purpose.  God has a plan for your life – Don’t worry about gaining notoriety or recognition – commit each and every day to God as an opportunity to have a positive impact on someone else.

Let the stories of those who have gone before us or who walk alongside us encourage you to continue on the journey.

Resist the urge to see others as competition and choose to see them as fellow pilgrims who along with us sing “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

The “Te Deum” from the Book of Common Prayer in the Morning Prayer service names this saying, “The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee;  The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee; The noble army of Martyrs praise thee;

The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee,  The Father, of an infinite Majesty;  Thine honorable, true, and only Son; Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.”

Beloved, we are the Church Militant, they are the Church Triumphant and one day we will all stand before the throne and sing together.

Take heart – you do not walk this journey alone and God says to you and I today – “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God and that is what we are.”  Amen.

Who or What do you Worship?

 

Matthew 22:15-22

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Who or What do you worship?  A homily for Sunday October 22, 2017 by Mother Beth

In the gospel reading for today, the church leaders try to trap Jesus by asking a question about taxes.  After some initial flattery – “we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality”,  they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

They are aware that if he says that people should not pay taxes then they can report him to the authorities and he will be arrested for inciting rebellion.  If he says that they should pay taxes then he is agreeing with the corrupt system that has been imposed upon the people.

So Jesus challenges them to produce a coin.  Note that he does not have a coin but he asks one of them to produce a coin which they do.

The coins at that time had the image of Caesar on them (as ours have the image of a President) and under the image of Caesar were the words “son of God” because the role of Caesar was treated as being divine or godly.

This is important because it would be against Jewish law to possess something with a graven image – that is an idol.  So when they quickly produce a denarius, Jesus has in effect revealed something about these leaders, these Pharisees as they reveal that they carry around this graven image.

But Jesus responds – whose image is on the coin?  And they answer “Caesar’s” and Jesus responds “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  And while this seems like a simple and straight forward answer, I would like to suggest that it is not.

I have often thought that we are in a sense caught between two worlds.  We live in a world we can see for a God that we cannot see.  It is all too easy to begin to chase after the things of this world the things that we can see, and handle and manage and yet we are called to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I believe this is what Jesus is alluding to here in this gospel passage.  There are things in this world – civic obligations like taxes – that require that we participate in the affairs of this world and yet as I mentioned last week we say, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee”.   Do we sing this with all sincerity recognizing that all things come from God and that we give back to him out of the abundance that he has bestowed upon us.  Nothing that we have is really our own but given to us on loan from God with the intent that it be invested wisely to create life and love in the community.

Jesus invites us — actually, demands of us — that we be thinking regularly and relentlessly about how all of our decisions — what we buy, who we vote for, how we spend our time — should be shaped by the confession that, indeed, the whole world is God’s and everything in it — including us!  How does our faith shape our economic decisions — our buying, saving, giving, and the rest?”

Whatever we render unto Caesar, or to the retirement fund, or to the offering basket at church, we can never afford to forget this: we belong entirely to God. We may divide our budget, but we must never divide our allegiance. The coin of our realm bears the image of the President, but each of us bears another image. Our King said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” We must never forget to render unto God the things that are God’s.

Throughout my many moves over the last years, in going through possessions, purging and donating – I realize that there are many decisions to be made.  What do we give away?  Do we give away only what we no longer need or use?  Do we give away only what we have used up – clothes and items that we cannot wear or use anymore?  Does our giving (and I am not now speaking about giving to the church) reflect the God who created us?  Are we generous as he is generous or are we grumbling and complaining all the way to the donation box.

How does what we spend our money on reflect the God whom we profess to serve?  The God who created us and fashioned us in his own image?

Today there is some attention placed on being a good consumer and knowing where things come from and how they are made.

When I was a child the focus in my household was on buying North American made products, Made in Canada or Made in the United States – I was taught to look at labels and that that was a factor in whether or not something would be purchased.   And that was the beginning of thinking about how my life and what I consume has an impact on the bigger picture.

Today we would do well to become informed consumers – we hear much about buying local which supports the local economy and local farmers but also helps to reduce the carbon footprint created by importing and exporting food long distances.  What does this have to do with being stamped with the imprint of God?  Our desire to faithfully live out complete and integrated lives of faith.    If how we spend money indicates what we value, then we need to be mindful of what economy or lifestyle or kingdom we are supporting.

Matthew 6:20-21 says “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6

Where is our treasure?  What do we value?  These are indicators of what we truly believe and who we trust.  Are we investing in faithful and integrity driven companies and communities wherever possible or are we contributing to the destruction and undoing of others?

Do our decisions and our lifestyles reveal our commitment to love of God and love of neighbor or do our choices reveal selfish and destructive motives?

As we live in this world and go about the day to day business of life, while we have taxes to pay and government officials to elect, let us not forget that it is God whom we love, serve and worship and may God make us faithful to pray for our leaders and invest our time, talent and treasure into those things that will reveal faithfully our love of God and of neighbor.

II Corinthians 9:7 You should each give, then, as you have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the one who gives gladly.

Last week we heard that when Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God he was gone for 40 days and 40 nights and quickly the people began to seek out another god.  They encouraged Aaron to help them build an idol – the golden calf – they gave their coins and jewellery to be melted down.  In effect they bought themselves something to worship.

If we feel that God has been silent for a time, how quick are we to run and fashion for ourselves another god?  How often do we doubt the path we are on and run to find another way?

When we were in the process of immigrating here from Canada…waiting and waiting to hear if all the paperwork was ready and if Homeland security would give us the green light.  As sure as we were that we were supposed to come = that God had opened a door for us… it was not long before we considered bailing on the whole plan and buying a new home in Canada.   Faith involves patience.  How do our decisions line up with what we say we believe about God?  Are we fully committed to following God’s plan and serving him with our whole lives?  Who or what do we worship?

May God give each of us the faith and the confidence to go where he sends us and to be faithful to give when and where he tells us to give that all that we do and say will reveal the truth about whose kingdom we serve.   Amen.

The Parable of the Workers

The First Reading from Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“  13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20                 The Parable of the Workers – a homily by Mother Beth

It is hard, at times, to not look around and wonder why it is that if everyone is blessed why are some more blessed than others?   And in the interest of making sense of wealth and success we often find ourselves looking at strategy – measuring ourselves against others and attempting to judge the “fairness” of it all.  We could say this is a new problem – a problem in the Western world where consumerism and market share rules the world and yet, the gospel lesson today speaks about this very issue.

The gospel written more than a thousand years ago on the other side of the world.  And that tells me that it is not such a new problem but rather a long-standing human inclination – that we from the beginning of time, or at least the fall of man, have being keeping track of each other and measuring our worth against the worth of another.

Jesus starts his parable saying, “The kingdom of God is like a landowner”.  Let’s not miss the point of this parable – Jesus is explaining or painting a word picture of how God’s economy works.  He is revealing God’s character and that is the most important and encouraging point of the story.  No matter what we have experienced at the hand of others – at the hand of the religious – or at the hand of the church – this is who God is.

The landowner goes out to find workers and he agrees to pay them a fair wage for their work.  And the landowner continues to go out throughout the day to find workers – he doesn’t just invite once and then that is the end of his invitation –he continues to go out at the beginning of the day, at nine o’clock and noon and at three and then finally at five o’clock the landowner is still out looking for more workers to come in and get paid for their work.    God’s invitation is on-going.  There is still time to be welcomed in.  Do not feel like you have missed the one opportunity that there was to receive what God has for you.  Do not let others make you feel like you have missed it.  God is the patient and faithful landowner who keeps looking for workers throughout the day.

The parable starts at the end of chapter 19 when Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  And then ends with Jesus saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  We jokingly use this saying especially if we find ourselves at the end of the buffet line but, what is the point of this mixing up of firsts and lasts?  Who really wants to be last?

In a buffet line we might be worried that the food will run out before we get there.  Or at least we are concerned that that one piece of pie that we have been eyeing will not be there by the time we make it through the line.  The good news for us is that God’s love and grace are endless.  There is no danger that He will run out of whatever good thing it is that we need from him.

This parable reminds us that the last are treated just as the first and the first are treated just as the last.  Neither is a position of honor and both are equally welcome to God’s grace and mercy.   God himself is Alpha and Omega – the Beginning and the End.  Whether first or last we all are welcome to partake in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

But let’s face it we often get caught up the economy of this world.  When the workers get paid and the landowner suggests that the last workers to be hired should be paid first – they are given a full day’s wage.  So the others looking on are quick to assume that they must be getting more – that’s only fair.  And as the first workers get paid and receive also a full day’s wage – they are disappointed and complain, “You have made them equal to us!”  Isn’t that our response to others much of the time?  We might not mind working alongside someone but we are quick to notice that they do not do as much work as we do.    We notice how long their lunch break is or how often they stop to talk at the water cooler.   We are quick to feel slighted.

We could think about this parable in terms of the church.  We forget that we are not earning our way into God’s grace and so sometimes we are indignant that others who have just started attending church or those who don’t come all that often get to share in the great gift of God’s grace and mercy.  We are less inclined to have them in positions of authority or for them to have a say in how we do things around here.

But God’s grace knows no time – like the master in the parable – God is pleased that we have chosen to show up no matter what time it is – no matter how long the road that led us back to Him.

And those of us who have been in the church a long time should rejoice with those who are new to faith.  Excited that they have come to know God – pleased that they want to labor with us and alongside us.  Grateful to be on this journey with them and with God.

Years ago in North Bay, Ontario we received a full basket of Christmas goodies – a gift from a church community and I remember being overwhelmed but also feeling embarrassed – we take it as someone’s judgment of our inability to pay for ourselves.  We are so used to being criticized and judged that we see being helped as a sign of weakness and so we resent it – like we don’t need the help – feeling like we should repay it if not to the person it came from then to someone else.

But God’s generosity is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about  – nor is it something that can be repaid.

God’s generosity doesn’t make sense in the world’s economy and it does not play by our rules of fair.  It just is.  The very essence of God is generous.

Let’s remember God’s generosity towards us and be thankful that no matter where we come from or what hour of the day we have arrived, God is pleased that we showed up!   God welcomes us.

As we go about our week, let’s look for opportunities to extend God’s welcome to all those who might feel like they have missed their chance to be reconciled to God and to the church.   Let us extend to those who are willing to come and join in our labor in God’s vineyard.

And as God’s representatives we ask that God we help us to learn to be generous in our approach to others.   I know that sometimes it is hard to be vulnerable and to talk about Jesus with others.  It can be uncomfortable to invite people to join us in prayer or at church.  The challenge in the gospel today is for us to extend generously to others – to not just ask once but to keep asking – to keep offering – to keep extending just as our Heavenly Father has continued to ask, offer and extend to us.

How will the Love of God make itself manifest in the world but through us!   We love God because we have been loved by God and that love should flow through us to others.  We are gracious because God has been gracious with us and that grace cannot help but flow through us to others.  We are generous in hospitality and welcome because God has been generous toward us and as we spend time with Him and become more like Jesus that generosity flows through us to others.

This week, may God open our eyes to those individuals around us who are longing to be invited and welcomed.  May he strengthen us and give us courage so that we might partner with him in welcoming others on this journey with Christ.

Go Where I Send You

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”  11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 16:13-20

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Go Where I Send You – a homily for September 3

One of the dangers of hearing a sermon on such a familiar passage that many of us have watched over and over again on the big screen,  is that we all think we know exactly what happens in the passage.  When we read about Moses we picture Charlton Heston, who by the way, was replaced by Christian Bale in the new movie version of the Exodus story entitled Gods and Kings.  The danger is that whether or not the movie depicted it rightly, we assume that we know how it all goes and sometimes movie producers do not worry about biblical or historical accuracy.  So I suggest that we look at Exodus chapter three with a conscious effort to hearing the story as it appears in scripture as opposed to how we assume it goes.

This week in Chapter 3 we hear about Moses out tending his father-in-law’s sheep.

So what happened to lead Moses to this place? When we left him last he was a baby being rescued from the water.   To recap chapter two…. Moses grew up in the palace of the Egytian Pharaoh he was raised as a prince and yet he was watching out for the welfare of the Israelite people.  When he sees an Israelite worker being treated unjustly, he acts on the worker’s behalf; challenging the Egyptian and fighting with him and killing him.    Moses goes out the next day to watch over the Israelites and when he tries to settle a dispute it becomes obvious that the two workers are aware that he killed the Egyptian supervisor the day before.   When the news gets to Pharaoh, Pharaoh threatens Moses so, Moses leaves – flees the area and ends up at the well where Jethro’s daughters are drawing water.    Moses defends the women who are being harassed by some men near the well.  Moses marries one of Jethro’s daughters and he stays to work for Jethro.

(Note Moses is born in 1526 and the Exodus happens in 1406). Moses has been working for Jethro about 40 years at this point.

Remember that the children of Israel are waiting for deliverance and that Moses has been doing the everyday work of a shepherd.  Things did not just happen overnight.  We see the story as an action movie which quickly moves from one scene to the next but I want us to notice that there was patience involved – there was time involved.  God’s plan happens in God’s time.  We don’t always understand what takes the time but we need to remember that God has not forgotten us.  God has a plan that will happen in God’s time.

So while Moses is out tending the sheep he notices a bush that is burning but not consumed by fire.  He makes a point to go and find out what is happening with this bush.

Are we too busy going about our own business to be interrupted by God?  Do we notice when something is trying to get our attention?  Do we take the time to stop and check it out?

The Lord calls to Moses “when he turned aside to see”.  If Moses had not stopped, would the Lord have called out to him?

When the Lord calls out to Moses, Moses responds saying, “Here I am”

This is a response of availability.

5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Sandals – are protection – keeping feet safe from things in and on the soil.  Sandals are status – many people did not have sandals and sandals then, as shoes today, would show various levels of income.  To remove your sandals is to identify with the poor and afflicted – to stand in humility.

When my father was a child – his father went to town and bought the shoes and clothes for everyone for a year – it was not about choosing the fit or the style – it was very practical – it was covering you so that you could do the work around the farm.  Others would know that those shoes were not about fashion but about practicality and frugalness.

Are we prepared to shed our shoes and whatever our shoes say about us or provide for us – so that we can stand vulnerable and available before almighty God?  Do we recognize that we protect ourselves; putting up defenses – wearing armour around others but that we need to shed that armour – that pretense before God?

God identifies himself to Moses – “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”We don’t know that Moses ever knew his father and yet God starts by saying

I am the God of your father.  We know that his father was a Levite – a man from the tribe of Levi – this is the tribe that was not promised land but given the role of the priesthood.

God commissions Moses to go on his behalf I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

And now Moses initial response of availability “Here I am” becomes “Who am I?”  Isn’t that our natural response as well.

When God calls we would be most happy to say here I am but, it is not long before we ask, “Who am I to do this thing?”  We question God’s wisdom at choosing us.  We wonder what would make us a likely candidate to go and do what God asks.  Surely there is someone more suited to the task.  There must be someone with better qualifications.  Maybe we are able to look at the call of Moses and see how obvious it is that God has prepared him especially for this task.

Moses with his foot in both worlds – A Hebrew raised in the Egyptian palace – he would know how to go before the Pharaoh – he might even already have some rapport in the king’s court.  He has clearly already shown himself concerned with the welfare of others – in protecting the Hebrew slaves to the point of death and then protecting Jethro’s daughters at the well.

But, when the call comes for ourselves it can be much more difficult to see how God has been preparing us and the circumstances around us.  We quickly question, “Who am I?”

God responds to Moses, “I will go with you”.  And that is what we need to hear today as well.  God says to you and I, “Go where I send you and I will go with you”. Moses continues to ask some questions – If the people ask me who sent me, then what do I say?  Basically he is asking, “what is your name, God?”  How do I refer to you so that they will be convinced that I am coming on your behalf?

And God responds, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Please note that God is not “I was”.  God is I am –  His identity is constant – there is no changing – no evolving – no developing  – the God who Moses stands before is the same God who we stand before today.

“I am” is a powerful name.  Later in the gospels when Jesus is asked about his identity, He will respond “I am he” and it is a powerful reminder that they are the same God.

We have an interesting play with words in this chapter.  Moses responds, “Here I am” and then questions, “Who am I?”  and God sums it all up by naming himself, “I am who I am.”

The truth is, it is not important who Moses is – God chose him and uses him but God is the one who is important.  God will deliver the children of Israel – Moses has a part to play in it but, it is not something that he can do on his own or in his own strength.

The call of God involves a surrender of self.   We hear this especially today in the gospel lesson.  Peter has an idea of how things are going to happen.  He will defend Jesus against any sort of surrendering or suffering and yet Jesus recognizes this is not the way God has planned.  To suffer and die is the very thing that Jesus needs to do.  And so, Jesus rebukes Peter and proceeds to explain God’s plan.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”   God calls us from selfishness or self-centeredness towards his plan – his concerns.  God points to those things that He is concerned about.

And the more we notice those things, the more we empathize with others, the more we are aligning our will with his.  This is what it means to take up our cross – to focus on those things that are on God’s heart – to reorient our lives toward the Kingdom of God.

God calls us today saying, Go where I send you – I will go with you and if anyone asks who has sent you, you should respond “I am who I am”.  We go into the world to offer God’s grace and mercy and deliverance and we go knowing that wherever we go, God goes with us.  Amen.

Unlikely to be part of God’s Plan?

Exodus Chapter 1:8 – 2:10

8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.   15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16“When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”  2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.  5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

A Homily by Mother Beth

This week we make our way into the Book of Exodus.  Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures – Exodus means a mass departure of people.  And although last week’s focus was clearly about Joseph and how God used him to save his own people and the people of Egypt, this week we are confronted with a Pharaoh/King who has forgotten Joseph.

So what happens when the cultural memory shifts?  What happens when people forget certain norms of behavior?  Look around the world today and you will see that we have all lived through these shifts.  And sometimes we even comment on the changes around us saying things like, “There was a time when you would never see anyone do that in public” or “There was a time when a woman would not go to church without a hat.”  We have all observed some of these changes and the longer you live the more things seem to change.

I mention this as a reminder that we are now in a time when going to church is something that is not in people’s cultural memory.  There has come a time when people do not have any personal memory of what it means to attend church.  What does that mean?

Well what did it mean for the King to have no memory of Joseph?  It meant that he had no indebtedness to the children of Israel.  It meant that he had no reason to be on good behavior towards those who came from Joseph’s family line.  (From the call of Abraham, when God first told him he would make of him a great nation, to the deliverance of his seed out of Egypt, it was 430 years, during the first 215 of which they were increased but to seventy, but, in the latter half, those seventy multiplied to 600,000 fighting men.)

In terms of what this means for the church today – no matter how great the church events of the past or the glory of the former Church, there will always come along cultural change that does not remember the former glories of the Church or of Christians.

We cannot live off the events or accomplishments or the spiritual awakenings of the past, we must continue to move forward – we must continue to be lead by God into new areas and keep telling the story of who God is to every new generation and to every change in cultural memory.

When the new king looked around and noticed how numerous the Israelites were, he grew worried that if he did not control their population then they would easily be able to overpower him and take control of Egypt.  So the king plots what we have seen all too often over the course of history – he plots a genocide – or the killing of a whole people and orders that the midwives work on his behalf.  He suggests that as the baby is being born if it is a male child the midwives should kill it and if it is a female child they are allowed to let it live.

The irony of this chapter is that it is full of strong women and somehow the king thinks that he will be safe from harm and uprising if he kills the male children and lets the females live!?

So we have these two midwives – Shiphrah and Puah – who take it upon themselves to violate the king’s command.  They decide that they cannot kill these innocent children so they tell the king that the women of Israel are so quick in labour that the babies are born before they get there.   The midwives have a healthier fear of God then they do of the king.  And so the king’s plan to obliterate the Israelites is thwarted and Moses is born.

Proverbs Chapter 9 verse 10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  And Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”

And so in verses 20 and 21 of Exodus 1 we hear, 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

But there is still fear that male babies will be hurt if they are discovered so one mother builds a boat – an ark – and places her baby in it and floats it in the Nile River.  The baby’s sister waits by the side of the river to see what will become of him.

The daughter of Pharaoh comes down to the river to bathe and sees the ark and sends her maid to get the boat and see what is inside.    The baby cries and the Pharaoh’s daughter takes pity on him – she recognizes that this is a Hebrew child and so she rescues him – defying her own father.

The little girl then asks if Pharaoh’s daughter needs a nurse for the baby and proceeds to get her mother to be the nurse for her own brother.

All of these women doing what they know to do and in so doing defying the order of the king.  The midwives, the mother, the Pharaoh’s daughter, the big sister – each given an opportunity to be part of a bigger plan that God is working.

This week I was reminded of the story of Ashley Smith, an Atlanta woman, who was held hostage by a gunman in 2005.  She recorded the events of her ordeal in the book entitled, ”Unlikely Angel”.   Ashley was was a young widow and single mother struggling with addictions that is why she considered herself  “Unlikely” to be an angel.  But Ashley managed to stay calm while she was held hostage and she convinced the fugitive to let her read aloud a book she had been reading.  That book was “The Purpose Drive Life” by Pastor Rick Warren.  Ashley spoke to the fugitive about purpose in life and managed to convince him to leave her apartment.  When he left Ashley called the police to report the fugitive’s location and he was arrested.

Ashley did not expect to be used by God to have such an impact on Atlanta that day but God enabled her to do something that turned into a heroic event.

As we hear the Old Testament readings over the next weeks, we will watch and be reminded of the great exodus of Israel led by the servant Moses.  Each of these women that we read about today in Exodus 1 had a part to play in God’s bigger plan.  What if I told you that something that you do today could help fulfill some part of God’s plan?  Would you believe it?  Is it possible that in faithfully going about your business and living your life you could impact the future in a big way?

I am sure that those midwives did not know that their faithfulness would lead to the deliverance of Israel.  I am sure that Miriam – the big sister watching at the riverbank – was unaware of how important her presence was that day at the seashore.  I am certain that Pharaoh’s daughter had no clue that in rescuing that helpless baby she was securing the deliverance of the very people that her father was determined to destroy.

Often I think we assume that we are “unlikely” to be used by God – that our lives and the things that we are doing are too small to have a significant impact.  The truth is that God’s plan involves many people and although we readily recognize the “Joseph” or the “Moses” of the story – they could not be who God calls them to be without the faithfulness of many others.   God knows not just Joseph or the Moses but the name of each and every one.   He sees the Shiphrah and Puah, the Miriam, the Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ mother.   God has a plan and a purpose for each one.   Be encouraged.  God calls you to be a part of His plan for this world too.  Amen.

 

God can change Horrible Events into Positive Outcomes

The First Reading from Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’12And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 15:10-28

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

God can change horrible events into positive outcomes –

A homily for August 20 by Mother Beth

The Genesis readings have been revealing to us the story of the election of Israel – how God chose a particular people – how he caused them to prosper and thrive in the face of tremendous adversity.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham and promises to make him a great nation.  The chapters that follow tell the miraculous stories of Isaac, Jacob and Genesis wraps up with the adventures of Jacob’s twelve sons who will become the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Joseph is an important part of how God miraculously keeps Israel from becoming extinct.

The Joseph story shows how God is able to take horrible circumstances and bring about a positive outcome.   Joseph is a dreamer and he tells his dreams to his brothers – the dreams reveal that Joseph will be a powerful man and that others will bow down to him.  The brothers who are already tired of their father doting on Joseph are not happy to hear about Joseph’s great ideas about his own success, so they plot to kill him.  The brothers take Joseph and throw him in a pit.  When some slave traders pass by – Judah suggests that they sell Joseph as a slave instead of killing him.

Joseph is taken to Egypt and ends up being a slave in the house of Pharaoh.  It is not an easy road but God continues to bless Joseph.  Eventually when the Pharaoh has some dreams that he does not understand Joseph is called in to explain the dreams and Pharaoh promotes Joseph.    God gives Joseph the wisdom and insight to predict a famine and plan a strategy for storing food and saving the nation.

When the famine hits the land of Canaan – Jacob sends his sons to seek out help from Egypt and the brothers end up face to face with Joseph.

Joseph is not recognized by his own brothers – remember they assume by this time that he may be dead since the life of a slave is not usually a long one and they have no idea where he was sold.  Who thinks that a slave will become an important dignitary in another country?  So when the brothers come face to face with Joseph it is out of context and he is dressed as an Egyptian so they do not recognize him.  He, however, does recognize them.  So Joseph is presented with a dilemma – should he reveal himself or should he avenge himself?  What would you do?

When the power shifts and we who were once offended or beaten are now in control – what will we do?  When given the opportunity to seek out vengeance, will we take it?

Joseph tests the brothers integrity.  He tries to determine if they will do again to someone else what they have done to him and so he demands that they get Benjamin (his youngest brother and the only other child of Rachel).  He puts the brothers in a position to sell out Benjamin for their own safety.  But this time instead of selling or betraying a brother – Judah offers his own life in exchange for his brother.   This response shows Joseph that it is safe for him to reveal himself.   And so this morning we hear the final scene and this amazing story as Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.  It is a beautiful portrayal of forgiveness.  Joseph is able now to see how God turned the horrific events of his young life into an opportunity for the success and continuation of the nation.  Joseph emphasizes God’s place in the events but it is important to note that he does not justify the actions of his brothers.   He notes that they intended evil toward him – “What you meant for evil – God meant for good” and he acknowledges “you sold me into slavery” – so he names the offense that they committed against him.  Sometimes I think we imagine forgiveness is just about forgetting what happened but the Joseph story reveals that forgiveness is about naming the wrong, confronting the other person and then choosing not to use your power over them – surrendering your right to vengeance or retaliation.

It is a powerful story of redemption for the brothers who reveal that they have indeed changed and that they now are willing to lay down their lives for another.  This new motivation – this change in their approach to others is what makes it possible for Joseph to be reconciled to them.  God has created a wonderful opportunity for complete healing in this family.

We might be tempted to say – Joseph has let his brothers off the hook – how will they be made accountable for their actions?  Joseph sends the brothers back to his father.  They will now have to explain how it is possible that this beloved son whom Jacob has presumed dead all this time is now alive.  They will have to own up to what they have done so long ago and then there can be complete forgiveness and reconciliation.

So the challenge that I see in this passage is … are we able to step back from our own lives and see the bigger picture that God has in store for his church?  Joseph was able, over time, to recognize how God was taking the horrible events of his life and building something of greater significance.  Are we able to see that God is doing something on a grander scale or are we so focused on our own daily troubles that we can not see God’s hand at work?

In the gospel reading Jesus is explaining to the disciples that the intentions of the heart are what is most important.  He emphasizes that the washing of hands is just a symbol it does not determine if someone is clean or unclean but the intentions of the heart and what someone says is what reveals whether or not they really understand who God is.  And then we hear about a woman desperate for her daughter’s healing.  The disciples are more concerned about freeing Jesus up to do the ministry that he needs to do for those who are already accepted as believers.

Even Jesus comments that he has been sent to the house of Israel – that there is enough work for him there – he doesn’t need to seek out other nations to minister to.  But the woman is persistent and recognizes that even the crumbs – the bits that drop off the table – are enough to bring about a miracle for her daughter’s life.  She is willing just to take the leftovers – she doesn’t need to sit right up to the table.  Jesus commends her faith and her daughter is healed.   The woman who is a gentile – an outsider – recognizes how powerful God is and how she needs some of what he offers so that her daughter can experience healing.

Are we desperate for what God can give?  Are we desperate enough to humble ourselves and ask?  Are we so intent on checking out who is in and who is out – who is Christian and who is not that we miss those opportunities when we could extend grace and mercy to others?

Like Joseph’s brothers, are we willing to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness for the horrible things we have done so that healing and reconciliation can happen?  What are the thoughts and intentions of our heart?  Can we see God working on the bigger picture – bringing healing and hope to our community?

God has a plan and his plan is bigger than any of our personal goals or dreams.  May God give us the grace and mercy to see his hand at work in our own lives and in the lives of those around us and may we be willing to work in partnership with him.  Amen.

 

Pure Faith

Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Pure Faith – a homily for August 13th by Mother Beth

Have you ever had a moment of pure faith?   A moment where you thought and felt like anything was possible with God?  Or maybe a moment where you were so caught up in worship or prayer that all the cares and concerns of this world seemed non-existent?   It occurs to me that we see something like that happening in the gospel reading for today.

Jesus has sent the disciples away in a boat so that he can have some time to pray.  The passage starts with an urgency, “Immediately”.  If we look back at what has happened just before this we learn that Jesus has heard about the death of John the Baptist and before he can respond to what he has heard, a crowd has surrounded him and they are hungry.  So Jesus encourages the disciples to feed the crowd of 5000 people.    You may remember that this involves a miracle – Jesus takes 5 small loaves and two fish and multiplies that food to satisfy the whole crowd.   Not only does Jesus feed the whole crowd but the disciples gather up an extra twelve baskets full.  There is a message here about generosity and God’s lavish approach of providing not just enough but much more than enough.

But now, Jesus has made the disciples get into the boat while he dismissed the crowds so that he could go aside to pray.   Why does he do this?  I don’t think it is that hard to imagine that Jesus must need time alone after all the healing and ministering that he has done.  Nor is it hard to recognize that he has heard the disturbing news about John the Baptist and now needs to spend time with God determining what the next steps are.   Perhaps he reads the signs of the times and the violence towards John as the approach of what must surely be coming his direction.

It occurred to me this week that something else may be happening as well.  If any of you are parents or caregivers you will know that as you are teaching small children there is a time when you need to offer them the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.  Perhaps Jesus is doing something similar with the disciples.  They have been with him while he fed the crowds, while he healed the sick and did many other great miracles.  Jesus releases the disciples to go for a while on their own.  He gives them space to practice their faith.

After quite some time, we read that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.”   Interestingly, we do not hear how the disciples are faring at this point.

But early in the morning, Jesus appears, walking toward them on the water.  And now we hear that the disciples are terrified.   Specifically, when they saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified.  They do not recognize that it is Jesus.  They think it is a ghost.  And they cry out in fear.

Jesus responds to their fear by encouraging them to “Take heart” or “Do not be Afraid”.   These are the words that we hear throughout scripture.  The angel says them to Mary at the Anunciation.   The Angels say them after the resurrection.   Jesus recognizes that this is a fearful situation.  His appearing to them, walking on the water, is miraculous and they are struggling to comprehend it.

You might say, why are they afraid of Jesus?  I remember as a kid, my parents had a book that was a collection of various pictures of Christ.  I used to love to go through it and see the many artist’s depictions of Jesus.  But there was this one picture that terrified me.  In fact, I would try hard to skip over it.  Jesus seemed to glow and his eyes were so intense.  It was scary – a ghostlike rendering of Jesus.  It was not how I imagined him to be.  The disciples are terrified because they have not seen Jesus like this before.  They left him safely on the shore and now here he is right in the midst of the chaotic and roaring sea.

Jesus assures them by saying, “It is I or I am”.  Remember waking up from a bad dream or nightmare and being reassured by your parent – it’s ok.  I am here.  Jesus is reassuring the disciples.  I am not just a figment of this terrifying storm.  I am here.

And Peter has this moment of pure faith.   Something about seeing Jesus walking on the water, prompts him to suggest that he too might experience this amazing feat.  So he says, Lord, if it is you, ask me to come to you.    And Jesus does just that.  Jesus says, Come.  And Peter takes a step out of the boat.  Peter steps out of the realm of impossibilities = he defies natural laws and begins to move toward Christ.

As soon as he looks around – he is reminded of the wind and the waves.  He is reminded of his own frailty and his human nature and he begins to sink.  I think we can relate to Peter.  We come to church and we hear the word of God or we spend time praying and we are lifted by the presence of God.  We spend time in worship and we are transported by praise and we have a moment of pure faith.   We see God and we recognize that he can do the impossible and in that moment we say, “If this is really you, ask me to come to you”  and we take the step.

But once we are out of the boat, we are reminded of the rough sea and the wind.  We have a hard time focussing on Jesus.  We forget that he is right there with us and we begin to sink.

The good news for Peter is that Jesus was right there and was able to reach out and catch Peter.  And that is the good news for us too.  When we look around and we see the rough sea and the waves and we forget for a moment that we are not doing this alone, Jesus is right there.  Jesus is ready to catch us.  He says to us, “Do not be afraid, It is I.”

Jesus guides Peter back to the boat and in the boat with Jesus the wind stops and there is peace.

Christ guides us back to the safe place and restores peace for us too.

May God give us strength this week as we navigate the rough sea of this world.  May we keep our eyes on Jesus as we are battered about by the waves of chaos and evil that we hear so much about.  May he reach out and catch us if we momentarily forget that we are walking with him.  May he bring us back into the boat and restore his peace.  Amen.