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



Lenten Thoughts on Forgiveness

Prayer for Lent

† Blessed are you, O Lord our God, the shepherd of Israel, their pillar of cloud by day, their pillar of fire by night. In these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that in this pilgrimage of prayer we might learn to be your people once more. In fasting and service you bring us back to your heart. You open our eyes to your presence in the world and you free our hands to lead others to the radiant splendour of your mercy. Be with us in these journey days for without you we are lost and will perish. To you alone be dominion and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.   BAS Canada

Forgiveness/  Forgiven-ness – A Lenten Reflection by Mother Beth

I awoke the other morning to thoughts about seeking affirmation.  I was thinking about social media and how we want others to affirm what we post there.  We want others to like our political ideas and our recipes.  There is something almost intoxicating about having our post “liked” by a number of other people.  It reminds us that we are not alone – that others think like us.  The problem is that constantly seeking affirmation from others just leads us to the fear of humanity. We do not want to disappoint them – we do not want to do things that they would not do or affirm.  BUT, Seeking affirmation from God sets us on a whole new trajectory.

The 40+ days of Lent gives us time to return to God – to focus on his work in our lives.  “We seek to unlearn the destructiveness of the world and of our own lives as we learn the ways of God.” P.173  Embodying Forgiveness L. Gregory Jones

I have been thinking a lot about our disconnectedness and how this disconnect is the very thing that makes it so easy for us to commit violent acts against each other.   It is this disconnection that makes it possible for crime to flourish.   It is this disconnect that allows us to gossip, judge and fear each other.

When we listen to the stories of Jesus in the gospel of John, …

In John 3:1-17, we hear the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night,

In John 4:5-42, we hear about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

In John 9:1-41, we hear the story of the man born blind and his healing.

In John 11:1-45, we hear the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  Each of these stories involves a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Each of these stories also involves a community – in Nicodemus’ case the community is one in which he holds a prominent position and significant status – perhaps he comes to Jesus at night because he is not sure if others will affirm his decision to talk with Jesus.

The Samaritan woman comes to Jesus in the middle of the day because she is not so welcome in the community – she keeps herself removed from the gossip and judgment that surrounds her life.

The man born blind is recognized by the community as long as he is blind and maintains the status quo.  Once he is healed the community has many questions for him and they’re not sure where he will fit.  Even his own parents do not want to answer on his behalf for fear that their response will exclude them from the community.

Lazarus is surrounded by community, even in death.  As he is raised to new life, it is the community that Jesus calls upon to return him and welcome him back to the community of the living.  We hear “Unbind him and let him go.”

It takes a community to include Lazarus back into life.   Jesus brought him out of the tomb but he calls on those around to unbind him.  We need each other – we need a community to welcome us back, to encourage us in new life – to speak encouragement and love and peace to us.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ shows us that God is not a disconnected God – HE is not a far off God – He does not dabble in the plans of humanity from his safety in heaven.  God comes into our time and space through His very Son Jesus Christ – He takes our sin and pain upon Himself – He acts for the welfare of you and I.  Not by a wave of his hand or by royal decree but with the very flesh and blood of His only Son.  God shows us what it means to be connected – to love and to forgive at great cost.

He doesn’t rain money down on a problem, He sends a human being to interact with the one who is having the problem – to love and show compassion – to speak, to cherish and to hold the one who has the problem so that connected together they can receive God’s solution to the problem.  God uses community to reach out to us.

When we are disconnected from each other, we can be easily deceived into thinking that the other person is against us.  If we have a good connection with the other then we are in a better position to believe the good about the other and resist the enemy’s lie (eg. That they do not like us, that they want to harm us, that they are only thinking about themselves).

What does it really mean to live in community?

What does it really mean to live a cruciform cross-shaped life?

Think about the cross – a vertical and a horizontal member – the vertical as a symbol of God’s love for us and our love in response to him.  The Horizontal as a symbol of God’s arms outstretched in love for all of humanity and our calling to love those whom Jesus loves.

Jesus himself says the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself?

And on Maundy Thursday we will hear him take this commandment and make it new = not just to love our neighbor as we love ourselves but to love one another as He has loved us!

We need each other.

“The deepest truth about ourselves is neither that we are self-sufficient nor that we are weak, needy and fallible; The deepest truth (it) is that we are created for communion with God, with one other, and with the whole of Creation.  We need God and others both to discover who and whose we are and also because it is only through our life together that we can fulfill our destiny for communion in God’s kingdom.”  P.61 Embodying Forgiveness

Recently during the service I began to think about forgiveness.  I have thought about it on many occasions but, for the first time it made sense to me.   In forgiving my neighbor, I am not acting on God’s behalf – I do not as an individual forgive someone for God – I am acting on my own behalf – I am choosing to unlearn the destructive ways of this world – the destructive ways of my human nature and choosing to learn the new ways of God and His kingdom.  That person is still dependent on making things right with God for themselves.   I am releasing the thing that keeps me bound. I am choosing to let God restore me to community and asking the other person to unbind me from those grave clothes.

In the reading from Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones.  God tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones and command those bodies to come back together.  And once they were back together God breathed his life into them and restored them to life.  What if we began to speak to the bones of those around us?

What if we began to call back to life those who have been pushed out of the church?  Those who were written off by society?  Those who are blind and can’t find their own way to Jesus?  What if we remembered them.  What if we forgave them for whatever has come between us and in doing so we welcomed them back to the community.

Re-member – the opposite of dismember – to reattach to the body.

Romans 12

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12

“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.”  P. 301 Embodying Forgiveness, L. Gregory Jones

One of the options in the in my Lenten devotion activity is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis daily.  This prayer was written on a battlefield during the First World War.  IT was written on a card that bore the image of St. Francis and that is why it is known as the Prayer of St. Francis.


The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred, Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

If someone facing the horrors of the world war could write such a beautiful thing – challenging themselves and others to bring love, pardon, truth, faith, hope, light, joy, understanding and consolation to the darkest places then, surely we can begin to let go and forgive those things that have been done to us.

“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.” Embodying Forgiveness

As the song says, Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Jesus overthrowing Tables – Lent III

Lent III                       The Gospel of John/Jesus overthrowing Tables

The First Reading from Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder.14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 2:13-23

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.



Jesus Overthrowing Tables – a homily by Mother Beth

For quite some time people have referred to the church building as God’s house and that is not an entirely bad thing.  Thinking of the church building as God’s house helps us to treat the building with respect and hopefully means that we will take good care of the building that we use as a place where come together to meet with God.   By referring to the church building as God’s house we may also be creating some other problems for ourselves and for others.  In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go and see God?” or ”Do we build God a house so that we don’t have to invite him to ours?”  Her suggestion is that by naming the church building as God’s house we may be actually trying to create a box where we can place God.  Keeping Him in isolation so that we know where He is when we need to find Him but also as an act of control – trying to box Him in so that God doesn’t step outside our expectations of Him.

In the gospel lesson for today, we hear John’s account of Jesus in the temple.  We hear that in the temple, “[Jesus] found people selling cattle, sheep and doves and the money changers seated at their tables”.  It should be noted that there was nothing strange about this.  This was a normal part of temple worship.  In order to make sure that the animals offered in sacrifice were without blemish and properly prepared and inspected they were sold right there in the outer courtyard of the temple.

But Jesus overthrows the tables and upsets the marketplace saying, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Why the anger?  What is so upsetting about the way things have always been done?  Jesus is not interested in just keeping things going the way they always have.  He comes to disrupt the status quo so that people can fully embrace who God is and the life that God has called them to.

The buying and selling of the animals happened in the outer courtyard of the temple – this was as far as any Gentile was allowed to enter and some Gentiles would gather there to hear the prayers and to be part of the worship experience.  So perhaps this is one of the reasons that Jesus emphasizes in the other gospel accounts, “my Father’s house is to be a house of prayer”.  But here, John does not emphasize this.  We do however hear Jesus’ challenge “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.  A statement that makes no sense to them at the time.  In fact they challenge him back, “we have been building this temple for 46 years and you would be able to rebuild it in 3 days”.  C’mon Jesus – that is just foolishness.  It makes no sense.  It’s not even possible.  Later they realized that he was talking about his own body.  That his body is the temple – that it was torn down as he was crucified and that God raised him up in three days.

This account of Jesus and the overthrowing of the tables in the temple is more than just a story – it illustrates how his ministry overthrew the old forms of worship – it is no longer about outward appearance and doing all these things right – worshipping God is about a real encounter with the living God and about renewed hearts and lives.  Many who attended temple worship were just going through the motions – doing what they had been taught to do – this is what it looks like to be a good and devout Jewish worshipper.  And Jesus comes to bring life to what was dead – to challenge the empty form and to call people to true worship.

Paul writes a letter to the church at Corinth and he says, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”   Sometimes I think we wonder why don’t more people believe – why don’t more people turn towards Jesus?

But Paul explains – to people who are still looking for their own solutions – to those who are not done with pulling themselves up – trying their own ways to attain salvation – to those people the cross of Christ is foolish.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul asks.  The message of the gospel is not understood by human wisdom.  Although it is important to know what you believe and why – others are not won over to the gospel by clever sounding arguments.  They may come to agree or mentally ascent to the wisdom of the ten commandments or the idea that there must be a higher power or a great Creator.  To really believe that Jesus is the son of God and that His death on the cross is essential for life is not calculated in the brain or understood by human wisdom – it is a response of the heart – the Spirit. It is only as we come to the end of ourselves – lay aside our own reputations – our own abilities – our own works that we are truly able to receive and know the good news of Jesus Christ as the son of God – the saviour of the world.  It is only as we recognize that salvation is beyond our control – beyond anything that we can do for ourselves or for others – that we can receive it.

I am a big fan of the Canadian game Trivial Pursuit and I love to watch Jeopardy.  I feel good when I know the answers.  It is great to be thought of as smart or the one who has the answers.  We all want to be respected or recognized for something – some wisdom or some skill – some ability.  It can be difficult to die to those things – it can be difficult to risk your reputation to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for your life and yet that is what it means to become a fool for Christ.  Others may not understand why God is so important to you – they may question your judgment and yet someone once said, “I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of man than a fool in the eyes of God.”

Jesus says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.  And we might say to ourselves, “Well at least we got that part right.  We don’t buy and sell things here!”  What is a marketplace but somewhere that transactions occur – someone gives money so that they can get something or buy something from someone else?

Already this year in Lent, God has been speaking in the Old Testament passages about covenant.  Last week his Covenant with Abraham, the week before His covenant with Noah and all humanity and today we hear about the ten commandments or the Old Covenant – the rules, if you will, for living a holy life before God.  But do we understand that the Covenant that God makes with us is a vow and not a business contract?  Do we realize that God longs to be in real relationship with us – to love us unconditionally and he longs to be loved by us in return?

I think it is easy for us to slip into thinking about our relationship with God and the church as a contract or as a transaction.  I will do these things for God so that God will love me or protect me or prosper and bless me.  I will exchange one hour a week of my free time so that God will honor his commitment and watch out for me and my family.

Maybe this is thinking that Jesus needs to turn the tables on.  We do not earn or buy God’s favor.  His love for us is not a transaction.

So the question is, what tables need to be overturned in your life?  What are the things in your life, in my life, in the life of this church that need to be thrown over or set aside so that others can be drawn into God’s presence?  Wouldn’t it be great if we came to church not because this is the only place that we meet God but we come to church because in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the sharing of the sacraments, and in the community of Christ’s body we perceive God’s grace most clearly and love Him mostly ardently.  And from here then we are sent out to look for God and, even more, to partner with God in our various roles and venues to love and bless the people and world God loves so much?

May God help us to see this place not as a house where we keep Him until we need Him but as a recharge station – where we come to be encouraged and renewed so that we can go back out into the world  – into our lives to partner with God in sharing His love and grace.  May God help us to long to be in His presence and learn from Him not so that He will do things for us but because we love Him and long to worship him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Amen.


Epiphany 3 – Are you a Leader or a Follower?

A homily by Mother Beth

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

  1. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

How would you answer the question on the application?  Are you a leader?  I think we all would assume, like the girl did, that the right answer should be yes!  We teach our children not to be followers at school – they should be the one to lead – they should be the one to make up their own mind – do not give in to peer pressure.  Are you a leader?  I am genuinely asking the question – this is not some trick to get you to sign up for a position in the church or to write a vestry report.  Are you a leader?  As I considered the idea of following and being a follower, I realized that it is not usually a characteristic that we admire.

Think about playing Follow the Leader when you were a kid.  Did you want to be the leader or the follower.  I remember wanting to be a good follower and wanting to support my friend or classmate who was leading but it wasn’t too long into their turn as Leader and I was thinking… ugh we are hopping again?  I don’t want to hop.  Or we are going in this direction?  I would have gone the other way!!  I suspect we still do this in some situations.

The gospel lesson this morning shows us a picture of immediate response.  We are plunged into to end of John the Baptist’s ministry and the beginning of Jesus ministry within a couple of verses.



Mark is drawing us into the action.  John was proclaiming the one who is to come and Jesus is saying here it is  – the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God has come near – it’s the right time now!

John is arrested.   That does not sound like good news.  And yet it is right on the heels of this scary and serious news that Jesus appears and begins to proclaim the good news.  How many times have things not worked out the way you planned?  Can you hear the good news even while the bad news is ringing in your ears?  Take heart – while things look lost and the plan seems to have gone awry, the Kingdom of God has come near. It’s the right time for us to hear the good news now!

The quick shift from the future to the present tense emphasizes the writer’s focus on the importance of Jesus’ ministry.  After all that time of waiting – 400 years of silence between the prophets and the gospels – let’s cut right to the chase!

So we see a picture of Jesus calling followers as he walks along.  First we have Simon and Andrew as they are fishing.   Jesus calls out and invites them to follow him and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow.

Are you a decisive person?  Are you able to quickly make up your mind and do something?  I must confess that I often take my time in making a decision.  Some of us are very cautious around making any decision and then the big decisions, the life changing decisions can take months or even years to be made.

What would it take to inspire such a response?  We could say that Simon and Andrew are impulsive decision makers but then we see the same response from James and John in the next verse.

Something is going on here.   What would it take for you to drop everything that meant security; everything that meant your identity and change directions?  What could create such urgency, such excitement, such desperation to follow?

I have to be honest and tell you that in preparing to write this I was struggling to remember a time when I responded to anything with this urgency.

I think many of us (including myself at times) think that we need to have the answers all worked out – that we need to know exactly what we believe about every aspect of who Jesus Christ is before we take the next step.  And some of us are hesitant because life experience has taught us that even with the best intentions, things don’t always go the way we plan them.   But right here in the gospel we see four examples of following without complete understanding.

According to the gospel of Mark and also in Matthew, these men responded to the call to follow without knowing very much about Jesus.   So what was the motivation?  Why do we follow someone?

To follow someone is to want to go where that person is leading.  In this scripture Jesus is proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near so perhaps these four men are interested in getting to or seeing evidence of the kingdom of God.

To follow someone is to trust that they know what they are talking about.  Lots of people today listening to hear what leaders or so-called leaders are saying –

Lady Gaga who is a singer or a pop music artist has 74.6M followers on Twitter – people can sign up to follow someone and then every time they make a statement you are notified on your phone or computer.  You can literally hang on every word that someone has to say.   Millions of people trust that Lady Gaga has something to say and so they follow her.
Who do you trust to have something to say?  The disciples trusted that Jesus knew what he was talking about and so they immediately followed him.

To follow someone is to stop following other things and focus on where they lead.  The disciples dropped their fishing gear – left it right where it fell.  To follow Jesus for them meant to abandon their livelihood – to change their identity.  They were no longer going to be fishermen but to become fishers of men.  And we don’t know if they even knew what that meant.  They trusted that Jesus would lead them.

To follow someone is to surrender control of the details of your life.    When I was ten, my parents and two other families from our church planned to drive to Florida for the March break.

My family had never been to Florida but one of the other families had and they had mapped the route.  And so we drove from Ontario to Florida – three vehicles in a row – following the leader.  But when someone else leads they choose the details of where to stop, when to stop, how long to stop, maybe even what route to take.

I think for my father who was a bus driver it must have been very frustrating at times to let someone else lead – to surrender control of some of the driving decisions to someone else.  He trusted that the other family knew where they were going and how to get there.  And we did in fact get there!

Andrew, Simon, James and John had to trust that Jesus knew where he was going and how to get there.

They must have trusted that he was going somewhere that they wanted to go or maybe they just wanted to be with him.  Have you ever wanted to be with someone so much that you didn’t care where they went – you wanted to go along.  Think about a time when you first met that someone special – they could have been going to the doctor or the dump but if they asked you to go you would have gladly followed after them.

The gospel lesson today is challenging.  We each might ask ourselves, if Jesus walked in here today in his physical body and asked us to follow him – would we drop everything and follow?  Would we trust that He knows where he is going?  Would we trust that he has something to say?  Would we surrender control of the directions? Would we want to be with him so much that it wouldn’t matter where he was leading?

The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to have it all figured out – we don’t have to know the answers.  Jesus calls us all, all who are willing – to follow him.  The good news is that it is ok to follow Jesus.

We don’t always have to lead – we can trust him to know where we are going and to get us there safely in his time.  Gracious God may each of us have some time this week to visit with you in new ways and to hear your Son call us to follow him.  May we in this Church trust you to lead them into this new year and may we be willing to follow.  Amen.

The Call of God

I Samuel 3:1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 1: 43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


The call of God                       I Samuel 3/John 1    A Homily by Mother Beth

The Old Testament lesson for today has always been a favorite of mine.  As a child, hearing the story of Samuel, I was excited to think that God could be trying to talk to me!    Samuel’s Mother, Hannah, had struggled to have a child – she had prayed faithfully for God to bless her with children and when her prayer was answered she committed her son, Samuel to be a servant in the temple.  Little Samuel was dedicated to God and the service of God and was taken to train alongside, the High Priest Eli.  While Samuel is there living in the temple and learning how to serve God, he hears a voice calling out to him.  Samuel assumes that the voice is Eli’s and runs to find out what he can do to help.  Note that his answer is immediately “Here I am”.  Samuel’s response is that of availability.    When he gets to Eli, Eli tells him that he did not call – go back and lie down.  This happens three times and finally at the third call, Eli realizes that the Lord is calling to Samuel.

Eli encourages the boy; telling him to go back and lie down but this time to say, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening”.

Have you ever heard God call out to you?  Or maybe you just heard or felt something but you weren’t sure what it was.  Or maybe you had an inkling or an idea that you were supposed to do something or call someone but you weren’t sure if it was just an idea in passing or something more.  Samuel knows what that is like.  He heard a voice.  He didn’t know who was calling but he knew who to respond to =he knew who to run to for help.  Samuel goes to his mentor, his Spiritual Advisor, Eli.  HE assumes that it is Eli who has called him because he is in training under Eli and he has been learning to do those things that Eli requests of him but, the good news is that Eli knows how to direct him – Eli knows what it is like to be called by God – Eli knows what it is to hear the voice of God and so he is able to point Samuel in the right direction.  He is able to prepare Samuel to listen – to turn his availability and willingness toward God.

In the gospel lesson we hear about the calling of the first disciples.  Previously in John chapter 1, John the Baptist has given witness that Jesus is the Lamb of God.   John then encourages Andrew, one of his own followers to follow Jesus – and Andrew, in turn, seeks out his brother Simon Peter and brings him along to follow Jesus.   Andrew declares we have found the Messiah!   And then comes the short passage that we heard read today.

The next day Jesus goes to Galilee and calls out to Philip, “Follow Me” and Philip follows.   In his joy at being called to follow, Philip goes to find Nathanael to invites him along.  Nathanael is skeptical.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, he questions.   And instead of explaining or trying to explain the situation, Philip extends an invitation. “Come and see”.

There are a couple of things to note here.  God is calling and as we read in the Old Testament lesson God is not the only one involved in the process.  Jesus calls to Andrew in a firsthand experience – Come and See! But, then Andrew invites his brother Simon Peter to join him.  Jesus calls out to Philip, Follow Me! And Philip invites Nathanael.

Statistics say that the most effective means of encouraging others to be part of the church or learn more about Jesus is personal invitation.  That advertising and creating a beautiful space, and perfecting the service are good and important but none of these things are as important as personal contact.  And here we see in two of the scripture lessons for today, the importance of connection and friendship in the hearing and responding to God’s voice.

Samuel hears the voice but does not recognize it without the help and mentorship of Eli.  Is there someone in your circle of friends who needs to help them recognize God’s call in their life?

Andrew and Philip are so certain that Jesus is the one that they have been seeking that they refuse to follow alone = they can not help but tell their friends and family that they have found the one – the Messiah – the one that God has sent to help and redeem them.

A colleague of mine said recently, “Jesus did not seek you out and find you just so that you can sit back content in being found. He found you so that you can go out and find someone else in his name. Has Jesus found you? Get on out there and find someone else!” (John 1:43-45) Fr. Jonathan Turtle

Is there someone in your life that needs to know that you have found what you were looking for?

And lest you think that I am suggesting that you must explain everything to them – that you must have all your theology figured out – take heart from Philip who answers Nathanael doubts and skepticism with a simple response, “Come and See!”

We are not responsible for making the decision for someone else.  We are not even responsible for answering all their questions or for convincing them that Jesus is the answer.  We are witnesses to what we have experienced.  We need only share what we know.  We invite others to come and see – to have their own experience – to recognize the times and places that God has already been calling out to them.

God will reveal himself.  Jeremiah 29:13 tells us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Nathanael is skeptical when he is first invited to follow Jesus.  He goes with Philip at Philip’s invitation, but when he comes face to face with Jesus then he is convinced.  He is convinced by Jesus himself.  You see it is only a personal encounter with God/Jesus that will truly convince anyone.

Are we ready and available to respond to God’s voice?  Are we ready and available to help others to recognize and respond to the call of God in their own lives?   Have we discovered something special here, in this place that we would want others to discover as well?

I encourage you to think about that.  What is it that you would want to tell others about?  What have you experienced, heard, felt or seen in the Church of Jesus Christ that you are excited about – so excited that you cannot help but invite others to be a part of?

May God help us to hear him and prepare us to take action in response to his invitation.  May God inspire us to invite others to Come and See!


Advent II– God is in this Relationship for the Long Haul

The First Reading from Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lordshall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

2 Peter 3:8-15

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,


The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;  3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


Advent II– God is in this Relationship for the Long Haul

By Mother Beth

Last week in Mark we heard about the ending – not just the ending of the book but the end of this world.  This week Mark opens with a beginning.  This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God.  It seems an odd place to start – there is no nativity story – no lineage – no Mary and Joseph with dreams or angelic visitations.

Mark starts further back – with a quote from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  And this is important because the truth is the good news about Jesus and it does not start with a baby in a manger – but rather with a promise.

A promise that goes way back to the beginning of all things.  If you have ever had the opportunity to celebrate Lessons and Carols – you will remember that we trace the coming of Jesus back to Genesis to show that Christ is a promise right from the beginning of the world.

Jesus is not God’s back-up plan but Jesus was God’s plan all along.

And Mark makes this point about Jesus by starting his gospel with a quote from Isaiah – showing that Isaiah foretold about John the Baptist – the man who would come before the Messiah – the man who would prepare the way for the Christ.

We hear in our 2 Peter reading that “9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” God takes the time and patience to wait on people – so that they would be able to come to a place of repentance – to come to the end of themselves – to hit the bottom, so to speak and realize that they need a Saviour.

The beginning of the story is the very beginning of time.

And Mark writes that it is the beginning of good news – which is the gospel – literally good news.  So what is good?

And what is news in the Christmas story?  We have heard it over and over again.  We can tell it in our sleep.  It has become nostalgic and we know it by rote.

Doing the same thing over and over is not news – Christmas brings with it a measure of memory and nostalgia – if you’re a traditionalist at heart – doing things the same you always have is comfortable and important.  But what is news about that?   How can we listen with new ears this year?  How can we celebrate in a way that honours the faithfulness of the past and looks forward to the future with expectancy?


The Isaiah reading that we hear today is a cry to be comforted.  Are we more interested in being comfortable then comforted or comforting?  The Advent Conspiracy program talks about the idea that Christmas is a love story – that God pours out his love for us – in coming to be one of us – pitching his tent among us and yet at Christmas we are often celebrating another kind of love story.  A weird love story that involves people pushing and shoving others at Black Friday sales or going into debt to give extravagant gifts to their children.

Think about the fact that going to the mall becomes a Christmas worship experience for many.  They line up to get in and make plans and preparations for what they will accomplish while there.  People look for meaning in the purchase of things.  And honestly I will tell you it is hard not to get pulled into that love story and that worship experience because that has become just as much about nostalgia and tradition as the story of Jesus as a baby in a manger.  We celebrate both the consumerism story and the story of Jesus alongside each other and we have become comfortable with that.

I am right there with you and I am not suggesting that we don’t give gifts to our family or friends this year.  I am asking us to consider the words we hear this morning in the gospel of Mark…

What is the good news about Jesus Christ?  We have heard it and we have memorized it but have we truly let it impact our lives?  Have we been transformed by it?

Perhaps the only way to experience the good news is to move out of what is comfortable – and shake things up.

One Christmas we had the experience of being in a rental home with all of my treasured ornaments and Christmas paraphernalia in storage and being without those things helped me to think about Christmas in a different way.  It helped me to really think about what was important about the celebration of Christ come to live among us.  It helped me to think about all the people, in my community and around the world, who did not have access to all the trappings of Christmas.  I am not suggesting that you all need to go and get rid of everything or pack it all away.   I am suggesting that being uncomfortable or displaced can help us to experience the good news as news – as something fresh and inviting – not just the same old, same old.

The gospel of Mark reminds us that the good news of Jesus comes to a people who have been waiting and watching for a Saviour.  A people who respond to the preparation of John the Baptist who calls for the baptism of repentance.

Are we waiting and watching for a Saviour?  Are we calling out to be comforted?  Or maybe we have been lulled into the comfortable place of nostalgia and sentimentality.   Rather than Advent being a time of expectancy and preparation – of allowing the good news of Jesus Christ to transform us – we are content with the story of the innocent baby in a manger that is no threat to us or our lifestyle.

Do we recognize the miracle that the coming of Christ is?  Do we recognize our own need for a Saviour?  Is the nativity story just another tradition that we are happy to unpack at Christmas, along with Santa?

Do we hear in the promise of the prophets the love of God that waits patiently for us?  God is in this relationship business for the long haul.   I remember one day sitting in a church and looking at the nativity figures and realizing that God’s plan involved thousands of years and many generations.  I thought about all those people who watched and waited – who did not lose faith despite the fact that very little seemed to change in their lifetime.  I thought about how quick I am to grow tired of waiting for God to answer my prayer.  How quickly I lose sight of the plan or the trajectory that God has put me on.

God’s plan is to draw all people to himself – to reach as many as he can.  Can we hear in the words of the prophet, the beauty of a great love that calls to us both from a time and a place far away and from the here and now?

May God give us new eyes and open hearts to receive in a new way the message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

May God give us ears to hear the story of the God of love who waits patiently for his people to turn to him and continues to send messages of love.

May God give us hearts to receive in both old, traditional ways and in new, exciting ways the good news of the gospel.


Advent I/ The “Origin Story” of Jesus

The First Reading from Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.  6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 13:24-37

24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


Advent I or the “Origin Story” of Jesus     

by Mother Beth

Lately there has been a new interest in superheroes.  As a kid I watched the cartoons but, now many of the comics have been made into movies and television shows and they attract large audiences.  There is something exciting about watching that larger than life character who acts on the behalf of those of us who are just ordinary humans.  Someone who has ability beyond our own who seeks out justice and who delivers the world from whatever kind of evil.    This kind of intervention offers hope in extreme situations.

And if we think about it we will realize that the superhero is often a type of Christ figure – the character who is willing to risk his own life and happiness for the welfare of others.  Sometimes these characters live according to a higher moral code and they always want to “save the world” from whatever destruction is heading this way.

So as we start Advent and we hear the reading from the gospel of Mark which sounds very much like an end of the world reading, I assure you that Jesus is proclaiming hope in the face of destruction.

We hear the extreme language of the end of time – but if this is the beginning of a new year, why do we start at the end?  Isn’t this a little like reading the end of the book first?  But that is, in a sense, the point… No matter how bad things get to be here on earth – no matter what the signs of the weather say – Jesus will return.

Let’s face it we all want to know that in the most adverse circumstances someone is going to be looking out for us and Jesus is the one for the job!

Just as the coming of Christ into the world – a baby in a manger – brought hope to a world suffering under the extreme military power and excesses of the Roman empire, so does the second coming of the Son of Man.  Early Christians suffering persecution and torture at the hand of their oppressors wanted to know that there would be an end to their suffering that Christ would return to set them free – to bring justice.

The end of this world is a message of hope and to be assured of that end – to know who wins – to realize that God is bigger than any of the problems that this world offers – is true hope indeed.

This language of end times is also a reminder that God is not to be tamed –we so often want to make Advent and Christmas a Hallmark moment – a Christmas card portrait – a gentle little smiling baby in a crib.

But God surprises us with shaking the mountains and coming down to earth – with things we do not expect.

So during this time of watching and waiting… Where are we looking for God?  A vulnerable baby born into a harsh world is not the answer that the people are expecting and yet it is the very thing that upsets the political and religious and social powers of that day.

But to think that Christ’s return will come in the same way and prepare ourselves for another baby we would be to deceive ourselves.

If we try to read the signs and know for sure when it will happen – we are fooling ourselves and we will be wasting our own time.

The beauty of the hope that Christ offers us is that we can be assured that he will deliver is in God’s time and that we do not have to concern ourselves with the how or the when that will happen.

We have a glimpse of the end and we know that God is the victor – in the meantime we await his coming not by idly standing around and counting the hours but by redeeming the time.

If we really believe that our time on this earth is finite – that we only have so much time – then there are important things to accomplish – and although the world would like us to believe that the only way to make a mark on this earth is to leave a legacy of a business or notoriety or fame – the truth is that God is all about relationship.

So it seems fitting as we enter Advent that we refocus our priorities about God and our neighbors.   Let us use this reminder about the end of the world as a wake-up call – a reminder that time is indeed limited – and as the busyness of Christmas gifts, concerts and events encroaches on us – what will we prioritize?  What are those things that we have meant to say but keep putting off?  What are those things that we have been meaning to do – not for our own accomplishment but rather for the betterment of our relationships?  Who is it that we need to spend time with?   How can the way that we worship God and love others tell the true story of Christmas this year?

What little or big differences can we make in the way that we relate to each other?

Many times we are dismayed at the lack of Christ in the Christmas celebrations around us – at the mall or in the community.  I challenge you to think about this…  Whose story is the story of Christ?  Who is responsible to tell the story?  Is it the responsibility of the shopping mall or the local school?   Is it the responsibility of Hallmark or the toy manufacturers?  No.  It is our story to tell.  It is the story of those of us who have been grafted into the story.  It is a great story and it is our story to tell.  Instead of us being frustrated or dismayed at how others seem to overlook the gift of Christ in Christmas, let us enjoy the great privilege of telling our story – THE story of how we received the greatest gift at Christmas.

In Kindergarten I clearly playing on the jungle gym with another little girl – her name was Christine.  I remember being so excited about the true story of Christmas that I said to her, “You may think that Christmas is about Santa Claus but Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus.”  Now honestly, I’m not sure that I had the greatest approach.  I’m not sure that I handled the whole thing very well but, in my joy and excitement, I could not help but tell someone the good news.

The hope of advent is not just the reminder of the good news of Christ being born into this world over 2000 years ago but that we watch and wait in hopeful expectation that he has plans to return and to redeem all that has gone wrong in this world.

Our actions towards God and towards each other will reveal whether or not we believe this to be so.  The more seriously we believe it – the more faithfully we will live it.  Are we willing to be daring and vulnerable?  Are we willing to put into word and action the things that we know that we should do?



The desperate language of the end of time that we hear in the gospel calls for a radical response – Wake up!  Do not wait for tomorrow!  Be vigilant!  Be ready!  Don’t hold back – love those around you with all that is in you.

There is no need to fear rejection or disappointment – the things of this world are coming to an end – Take heart – Christ the Messiah will return and He is the Savior of the World.  Amen.

The Reign of Christ

Ezekiel 34:11-24

11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


The Reign of Christ                by Mother Beth                          Matthew 25

We have come to the end of the year – the Lectionary year or Liturgical year that is.  Next week we begin a brand new year with the first week of Advent.  Since we are at the end of the year, now is a good time to make resolutions.  What would you like to change for this new year?  What would you personally like to work on?

Over the last several weeks the scripture readings have been emphasizing a sense of urgency about the return of Christ and a need to be prepared – we heard the parable of the ten bridesmaids – with oil in their lamps waiting for the return of the bridegroom and then we heard the parable of the talents – the slaves or workers waiting for the return of their master.  In both instances the waiting was delayed long than expected but there was a need to be ready no matter when the return should happen.

Now today we hear another parable about the return of the King and when he comes how he will determine who has been faithful.  It is very clear here that the role of judge is played by Christ alone.  As much as we are tempted to suggest who is “in” and who is “out” – that is not for us to say – who deserves to be rewarded and who deserves to live in torment.    And we may be prone to thinking of the person who cut us off in traffic or the one who bullied us in school.  But the truth is… Only God sees the heart of someone – only God knows what they believe or what intent they have used.  And that is all the more clear to me as I read this passage.  The people themselves are surprised at the results!

The image we see is of Christ as Shepherd.  The Ezekiel passage and the gospel both refer to this image.  And we need to see all aspects of the Shepherd here – In the Ezekiel passage is emphasized the Shepherd looking out for the sheep – protecting and seeking them out.  The Shepherd is the keeper of the sheep.

In Matthew’s gospel the Shepherd is separating the goats from the sheep.  The sheep he refers to as blessed by his Father and these are the ones who fed him, clothed him, and welcomed him.  And yet they did not realize that they had done these things.  They ask, “When was it that you were thirsty or hungry?  When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?  And Christ explains – when you did it to the least of these – you did it for me.

So what is the surprise for them?  Are they surprised that they did not recognize Christ?  Are they surprised that Christ was in those moments?  Isn’t this the least likely place to see the King of Glory?  And yet that is the very place that He appears.  Soon we will begin looking towards that stable in Bethlehem – to the humility of the incarnation – looking towards the birth of a baby – a baby who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Because the beauty of the manger is that Jesus is born in the least likely place to the least likely people and he is the same King of Glory – the Son of Man that we hear about today in this passage.  The baby does not become these things – he does not grow up to become great.  No, he is the divine son of God right from the beginning of time – “God of God, Light of Light, begotten not created”

So is it that surprising that we should find him out with those who are in need of food, clothing and welcome?

Matthew has been revealing this about Christ throughout his whole gospel.  We struggled more than once in this year with the Beatitudes and how in Matthew 5 we have this list of who God called blessed – those who mourn, those who are peacemakers, those who are poor, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

So it should be no surprise that to serve these people is to serve Christ – to feed and clothe and welcome them is to do these things for him.  And yet I think there is more to this parable than just the idea that if we need to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.

We hear again an urgency about reassessing our priorities and I suspect it is not just about getting things right for eternity.  The idea is that we are missing out on these moments of ministering to Christ while we are here on this earth.  That in keeping our eyes on the end game – and assuming that we are all set to get to Heaven is to miss out on what we should be doing in the meantime – while we are still here on earth.  That our lives should be impacted not just for ourselves – and making sure that we are going to get into heaven but that we should be looking to the welfare of others.

That true love of God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is made manifest is my love for neighbor – loving them as I would love myself.

And I suspect that is what makes the difference in these two instances – that the deciding factor is not just whether you helped the poor and the homeless but whether you and I are able to do that from a place of love – love of God and love of neighbor.  It is not about doing things to feel better about yourself or doing things so that you or I can justify our own lifestyles and relieve our own guilt – you’ve seen the commercials that play up the emotion of the situation.  I believe there is a lot of that kind of motivation going around.  It is not about helping others in the spirit of Christmas or in response to an inspirational movie.  But truly letting the love of God permeate our whole being so that whatever we do we do as onto Christ himself.

Most importantly about this passage I think is that we are invited to see God in the here and now not just in some far away hope or dream of what might be.  We are encouraged to see the face of Christ and to see Him in all the least expected places.   We are reminded that God is Emmanuel – God with us – right here in the midst of us.   And so as we prepare to begin the Advent of the Christ, we are expectant and hopeful.  God is not a long way off – looking down on us – waiting to discipline us but rather He is here among us – even among the least of us and each day we can faithfully worship him in love and service to others.  May we take this opportunity at the beginning of a new church year to refocus and reassess – may we seek out Christ in all the places that we frequent.  May we see His face in all of those around us – ministering to them out of His love and compassion.