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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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.

Transfiguration – When the Smoke clears

The First Reading from Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went to speak with him.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Gospel of Christ.

When the Smoke Clears – a Homily by Mother Beth

When we were first married, Steve and I used to live in Victoria, British Columbia.  Victoria is a beautiful city of gardens and our apartment had a lovely view of the Olympic Mountains.  The Olympic mountains are part of the mountain range known as the Rockies.  They are majestic and beautiful but it was surreal for a girl like me from Ontario – to see mountains.

Lately the western coast of Canada and the US is experiencing many forest fires caused in part by the extreme heat this summer.  So today, if we were to sit on my former balcony in that little apartment I can assure you that we most definitely would not have a view of those mountains.  The smoke from the forest fires has made it impossible to see.     Are the mountains still there?  Absolutely.  My not being able to see them does not mean that they have moved or ceased to exist.

Today in the gospel we hear the story of the Transfiguration.  In the preceding chapter of Luke’s gospel people have been trying to figure out who Jesus is.  There has been speculation that he is a prophet John the Baptist or – a reincarnation of Elijah.  Jesus has asked his own disciples who do you say that I am – and Peter has answered “You are the Christ of God”.   In the passage we hear read today – Jesus takes Peter, James and John apart to pray.  While they are praying Jesus is transfigured.  He begins to shine bright white and two figures appear beside him, talking with him.  The figures are Moses and Elijah.

This would lay to rest any concern that Jesus and Elijah are the same person but it also reveals that Jesus is more than just a special human or a great teacher.  Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of the divinity of Christ.  Their eyes are opened to the truth about Jesus.  They can now see that what Peter has said of Jesus is indeed true – he is the Christ – he is God.

Now let me clarify, Jesus is transfigured in so much as the disciples can now see what was there all along.  Oh yes, Jesus has been walking around in human form – He has not been all shiny and bright as they see him now.  But Jesus is not the one who has changed.  The disciples are changed because their eyes are now able to see what was hidden from them before.    The penny has dropped – so to speak.

Peter is prompted to respond to what he sees and offers to build huts or tents for them to stay there and linger in the glory of the moment.   Then the voice from the cloud announces “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

You may remember that there was also a voice that made an announcement at Jesus’ baptism which said something similar.  “you are my Son – in you I am well pleased”.  I think it is important to note that the voice at Jesus baptism was directed at Jesus himself – “you are my Son” but this time the voice is directed towards the disciples.  “This is my son, my chosen” – is a statement of introduction – a statement of affirmation for the disciples that Jesus is God’s son.  And then comes the response “listen to him”.

This is God’s endorsement.  This is the confirmation that they have needed.    So what are the disciples to do when they are confronted with the Christ – when the light finally dawns and they realize that Jesus is who he says he is?  Listen to him.  They are called not to build huts and stay on the mountain top.  They are called to follow Christ down from the mountain and listen to him.  Learn from him.

You see when the smoke clears from those wildfires out West the mountains will reappear in all their glory.  What will it take to clear the smoke from our own eyes so that we can truly see Jesus?

Do you remember the song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”?   Turn your eyes upon Jesus – look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

What happens when we look at Jesus?  What happens when we refocus our life around Christ?  The things of this world, the distractions – the good things and the bad – the troubles, the problems, the work, the leisure –all of it tempts us to get our eyes off of Jesus and onto something else.   When we look at Jesus all these things seem as the song says, “strangely dim” – not as shiny or important – not as serious or scary – they hold less power over us.  They create less anxiety for us.

Perhaps you think that you are not in the right place to receive such revelation from God.  Well the gospel tells us that just before this great moment of Transfiguration, Peter has answered Jesus question saying, “You are the Messiah.”  But when Jesus begins to explain that he will have to suffer and die, Peter resists him, even rebukes him.   And then right after this correction, Jesus has taken Peter, James and John up to the mountain and there he is transfigured.  They see the truth – no longer is there any confusion.  Peter realizes that this is what really matters – this is the only truth worth seeking after –Jesus Christ is the son of God and nothing else is as important as that.

Surely we can take courage from that.  Peter who seemed to know the truth – after all he gave the right answer to the question- even Peter did not understand what he was saying.  Jesus had to rebuke him.  So no matter whether you think you understand or not.  No matter whether you think you have just blown it with God.  God longs to reveal himself to you.  God wants to be truly known by you.    The transfiguration reveals the truth about Jesus.  And this truth is the hope that will help Peter, James and John as they journey the next steps on the road to the crucifixion.    Today may we each have an encounter with Christ that will reveal the truth of who he is – that will confirm for us that He is indeed the Messsiah – the chosen one – the son of God.   I pray that that encounter would drive us to seek out ways of observing and worshipping him as the Lord of our lives – to build not huts on a mountain top but to build our lives around those times of seeking his face and listening to Him.  We call him Lord – which is an old fashioned word today but which acknowledges the place that we give him in our lives – to call Jesus Lord is to say that he is more important than we are – to call Jesus Lord is to say that he is someone that we choose to serve.

I want to be clear here and say that whether I say Jesus is my Lord or not the truth is that Jesus is Lord of all – my believing it does not make it true – it is true and when I believe it then I am aligning myself with that truth.

This is why Philippians 2 says, [Phl 2:9-11 NIV] 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Have you discovered the truth of who Jesus is?  God wants to give you a picture of his glory so that you can press through difficult times; knowing that God is greater than any dark road that you may have to walk.

Peter, James and John are given that experience as a gift as they witness the transfiguration.  The truth of who Jesus is enabled them to also walk faithfully with Christ to the crucifixion –when it looked like their whole world was falling apart.

God the Father says to us today, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to Him.”  Are you ready to lean in and listen to what God will say to you?  May Christ reveal himself in Glory to each of us and may we heed the call of the Father when he says, “This is my Son, my chosen.  Listen to Him”  Amen.

 

The Wheat and the Weeds

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 13:24-43

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!       The Gospel of Christ.

The Wheat and the Weeds – A Homily by Mother Beth

I read a story online recently about a woman who had cancelled her wedding and she was told by the hotel (where the reception was to be held) that she would be unable to get a refund on her deposit because it was too close to the date and the food was already purchased.  The woman and her fiancé decided that they did not want the money or the food to go to waste.  So the woman decided that she would host a party for all of the homeless people in the neighbourhood.   She would go ahead with the party.  I mention this story because when I heard it, it made me think of the kind of story Jesus might tell.  The kingdom of God is like a man who invited his friends to a banquet…  So my first question for you today is “Do you see images or pictures of what God is doing or wants to do when you look around the community?”  Are there life-giving things happening around you that remind and encourage you to be about kingdom business.  I pray that God would open my eyes more and more to the things around me – the places where He is working to show us what His kingdom is really like.

We hear about three images or parables that Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew today.  And as an overall message of the whole passage I would say that the images of wheat, seeds and yeast that Jesus uses in this passage to create a picture of the kingdom seem to speak at least one common idea.  The spreading and Growth of the kingdom is happening – slow and steady – we should be patient and keep on keeping on.

In the first parable about the wheat and the tares, we hear that “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.”  When the slaves noticed that there were weeds growing then they came and asked, Master did you not sow good seed in the field? =

How many times in your life have you wanted to ask God if he has sown good seed in the field?  You look around at the way things are going – in the world – in the nation – in your community – in your life.  And you think – Really?  Is this what it is supposed to be like?  Is this what God intends to have happen?  Well yes and no.

Yes God has sown the good seed and there are good things growing and no not all the things that are happening around us are the result of that seed.  The master explains to the slaves that the enemy has also sown seed – some of the stuff around us and some of the things that are happening are a result of the enemy’s seed.

And so the slaves say, as we might, shouldn’t we pull out all the weeds – shouldn’t we get rid of all the bad stuff???  Wouldn’t we love to live a world where everything was ordered and went according to our plan?  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone did as we do and thought like we think?

But the Master responds explaining; the wheat and the weeds are growing together and if you pull out the weeds you will disturb and destroy some of the wheat.

If any of you are gardeners you will have realized that sometimes weeds look like the plants –they grow near – they masquerade as it were.  What you see is not always what you get.

 

 

There are weeds that are fake versions of plants.  Unless you are a very adept gardener, how do you know the difference?   Well you don’t  – until it comes to bearing fruit you can’t tell which is the weed and which is the plant. We are known by our fruit.

Matt 7:16 “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

Don’t worry that you will not be recognized by God – the fruit that you bear will be obvious to God and to others.  God knows the difference between wheat and weeds and He is the one that matters.

This can be difficult for us because we want to stand out – we want to be recognized – we want to be affirmed.   Well, let it become obvious – not in an obnoxious way – not in waving a banner about how great you are – or calling attention to yourself but by bearing good fruit.  What is the fruit that we are called to bear… the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians  5:  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

God is the one who decides who is “in” and who is “out” not us

I recently read a little saying…

“While I was busy judging others, I left the closet door open and a bunch of skeletons fell out.”

Our temptation often, is to look around and to try make sense of things by sorting people into categories.   But, what if we stopped trying to figure out who is “in”and who is “out” and loved everyone?  What if we spoke hope and peace to everyone?  What if we actually took God at his word when he told us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbour ‘as yourself”?  What impact might that have?  How would things change for us and for our community?

In looking back at the picture that Jesus gives us of wheat and weeds, we know that weeds don’t become wheat so the analogy stops there.  But we do know that we are new creatures through Jesus Christ and we know that God wants to transform others as well.

So can the people around us  – even those that look like weeds to us – can they be transformed into new creatures?  Isn’t that how we got to be part of the kingdom of God – someone, maybe many someone’s did not give up on us!    They loved us.  They prayed for us.  They spoke words of hope and encouragement to us.

Let us keep doing the kingdom work and trust God to sort out the rest.   The great news that we hear in the gospel this morning is that God is responsible for what happens on the day of judgment.  It is not my responsibility or your responsibility to determine the outcome of each other’s lives.   We can trust that the master has planted good seed in the field and that he knows the difference between wheat and weeds.  In the meantime, we are called to bear fruit. We are called to be evidence of the good seed and in so doing to have an impact on the field, the family, the community, the nation where we are planted.  Amen.

 

God’s Generosity of Grace

 

The First Reading from  Genesis 25:19-3419These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.   29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 13:1-23

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” 10Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ 16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”       

 

God’s Generosity of Grace  a homily by Mother Beth

The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar’s need. Why give him gold?” Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”

This week we pick up our Genesis reading with Isaac and Rebekah.  Isaac prays to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she is unable to have children.  Isaac is forty when he starts praying and the he is sixty when the children are born so although the response to Issac’s prayer is handled here in one verse and   sounds like a quick response to Isaac’s effective prayer – recognize that there is time involved – there is patience involved – there is faith involved.  Isaac believes through all the years of difficulty that Rebekah will bear children.  Often it is easy to lose hope and to assume that God has forgotten us or chosen not to answer us but do not despair – God is faithful.

As Rebekah carries the children – it is not a comfortable pregnancy – the twins wrestle within her.  And when she asks God what is happening – He tells her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

So Esau and Jacob are born and we are given the detail that Jacob is born second but comes out of his mother’s womb grasping the heal of Esau and we recognize that this will be significant because we have already heard the prophecy that the older child will serve the younger.

And if we had any doubt that parents really do love all their children the same it is refuted right here – Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Favoritism happens in families – we are more comfortable with someone’s personality or we are proud of so and so’s accomplishments.  We are drawn more easily into dealing with certain situations and things just get too complicated with that person – whatever our reasoning – we choose our favorites.

So one day Jacob was making stew and Esau came in from hunting and was very hungry.  Esau demands that Jacob give him some of the stew.  And Jacob sees this as an opportunity.  HE asks Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of the stew.  I am sure that many times children – boys or girls – barter with their siblings.  I often hear my boys negotiating a deal – if one of them has money and the other needs some – or if one is buying or getting something then the other will encourage or advise what to buy so that it will come out to their advantage or at least so that they can both benefit from the transaction.

Jacob is an opportunist.  He sees how hungry his brother is and I am sure that he has learned from past experience that Esau is all about instant gratification, so he strikes on this particular opportunity.  Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Honestly it seems to me that neither of these men are painted in the best light.  Who thinks so little of their birthright that they would sell it for a meal?  Who is that impetuous?  But, we could also say, who is so opportunistic that they take advantage of the situation and offer so little?

Who would take the birthright from their own sibling?

Now, we know that God had already prophesied that the older would serve the younger AND that both men will be great nations and be blessed.

God chose Jacob before his birth – a choice that is more about who God is than about who Jacob is.  God is generous with grace and he gives as a sign of who he is and not because of who the receiver is.

In the gospel reading for today we hear the parable of the sower.  And many times I suspect we have focused on the different kinds of soil that the seed is planted into.  And the parable does emphasize the fact that the difference in the soil makes the difference in the growth of the plant.  I remember when we lived in North Bay and we bought our first house.  I was exploring the property and there was a small shed just along the property line.  I went to look around the shed as I was planning where I would plant a garden and as I looked behind the shed in this sheltered location – there blooming in all its beauty was a clematis.  I was struck by how ridiculous this seemed – no one could see this plant from most of the yard.  You literally had to step back behind the shed and crane your neck around to see it.  But there it was blooming away – loving that secluded spot.   A clematis wasting away its beauty in some hidden spot reminded me of how extravagant God is.  God’s grace extends to all and there is no way to earn it – it is not about how well we are situated – it is not about being nice people or being born into the right family.

The sower scatters the seed generously – and some seed falls on the path – some seed falls on rocky ground – some seed falls among the thorns and still other seed falls on good soil.

God is generous with grace and he scatters it liberally.  That is the good news – God’s grace is extravagantly tossed about.

Sometimes it occurs to me that we are too careful with it.  We want to know that we are only sowing in good soil.  We want to know that the person deserves to hear the good news or that they will respond positively before we tell them.  We are stingy with the love and grace of God.  We are calculating – not wanting to waste what God has so generously bestowed on us.  God gives to us generously so that we can generously give to others.  God chose Jacob – extending grace to him – not because he deserved to be chosen but because God uses whomever he chooses.  The sower sows the seed generously in order to get a generous harvest.  The parable is a picture of the faithfulness of the sower – to keep sowing extravagantly all around.
Only God sees the heart – only God knows when someone is ready to hear the word and receive it.  We need to seize any and all opportunities to sow the seed generously and to trust that God’s grace extends toward us and toward others.   We do not get to decide who will respond or when they will respond just as others could not decide for us.

Wayne Gretzky has been quoted as saying, “This one thing I know that you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”   And the same is true for us.  We may not know who is ready to respond to God’s love and grace but if we never sow the seed then you can be sure that we will not have had a hand in the harvest.

God chooses who he will and we need to leave the results to him.  As we have generously received from God’s hand so we should generously give without partiality.  May God help us to love unconditionally, to be gracious and merciful to those around us and to sow generously into the lives of those in our community.  Amen.