It’s not too Late! by Mother Beth

The First Reading from I John1:1-2:5

We declare to you what was from the :beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.  5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  3Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

It’s not too Late! – John 20—A homily by Mother Beth

Some people believe everything they hear or everything they read.

When you stop for groceries and you’re waiting for the cashier, it’s sometimes interesting to read the tabloid headlines.   Some of the claims are so outrageous and it often causes me to chuckle about how ridiculous that form of media is.  The other day though I saw a headline that made me wonder.  It could have been true – maybe it is true and so that sent me in a search for some information to verify the story.    I asked a few friends if they had heard anything and then I went on a little investigation around the internet.  As yet, no other source has verified the story.

In the gospel reading today we hear the story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ.   First of all we should notice that the disciples are locked up in a room because of fear.  Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene (as we heard last week in the gospel lesson) has seen Jesus and has reported that back to the disciples – they are not convinced – they are afraid.  I point this out because we have often singled out Thomas as the only follower who doubted the resurrection but here we see the group of disciples locked in a room.

Jesus appears extends Peace to them and shows them his hands and feet.

When the disciples relay this information to Thomas – he is leery and declares that he will only believe if he sees for himself the hands and feet of Christ.  But is this really all that surprising?

Mary did not recognize Jesus in the garden – probably because she did not expect to see him there.  The other disciples did not declare the resurrection until they had had a personal encounter – then they said “We have seen the Lord”.  Many people still question the finality of someone’s life until the can see the body and know that they are gone.  Thomas wants to be sure.  He will not put his faith in someone else’s say-so – he needs to know for himself.

It sounds like a tabloid headline – it could be true but, it’s also pretty sensational.  They watched Jesus die a bloody and horrific death on the cross.  Thomas knows that was no slight of hand, it was a brutal and torturous way to die and everyone was there watching.

But Thomas’ need for further proof is good news for us for a couple of reasons.

The good news on this second Sunday of Easter is that God wants to be in relationship with you – He wants to reveal himself to you – it is not too late – the journey is still ahead – you have not missed the boat.

The significance of Jesus showing them the wounds in his hands and side – is that he is assuring them that he is in fact the bodily resurrected Christ – he is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination.  Once they realize that he is the Christ – they rejoice.  But the journey does not end with the resurrection – John goes on to tell us that Jesus says to them “Peace be with you as the Father has sent me so send I you” – Just as Jesus was sent to them so they are now sent to others.  They are commissioned by Jesus to go and to tell others about the forgiveness of sins.

You see they have been locked up in this room wondering what to do – afraid and probably more than a little disappointed — everything that they had hoped for and planned had ended and even once they realized that Christ had been raised, they were still left alone – Christ was gone but what did that mean for them?

But now Jesus appears before them and gives them new instructions.  It is not over – they have work to do and they are motivated by seeing Christ – resurrected – in the flesh – but also his words of commissioning – sending them off to keep up the work of the ministry – to continue preaching the kingdom of God.

And then we catch up with Thomas.  Somehow Thomas has missed the meeting with Jesus and he is not content to just take the others word for it.  HE now insists that he too must not only see with his own eyes to believe – he insists that he must put his hand in Jesus side before he will believe.

The church has traditionally given Thomas a hard time for not believing the word of the other disciples; calling him “Doubting Thomas”.  I, however, am encouraged by his determination to see for himself.

So if you are disappointed today – if things have not turned out the way you had hoped or planned, be encouraged.  Thomas could have thought he had missed it – there was one opportunity and he was off doing something else.   But instead of giving up and assuming that he doesn’t need to know, Thomas insists that he see for himself.

Don’t settle for less than a real encounter with the living Christ – Thomas doesn’t – he is bold enough to admit that he is not interested in just taking the word of the other disciples – he wants the full experience himself – and why shouldn’t he get it – the others did?

How badly do you want to know the truth?  Are you interested in a real experience or content to just take someone else’s word for it.  In the last year we have heard a lot about “Fake News” and we have been inundated with poorly researched information through social media and the internet.  Don’t settle for someone else’s opinion.  Don’t just believe everything you see or hear.  Don’t just pass along or forward those cute little sayings.  Many times we are just too lazy or too tired to do the work of researching to find the truth.    Often it is the same with church, we want someone to tell us the answer but, the truth is to be sought after.  It is good to listen to others but we should not check our brains at the door – we need to seek and find.

Thomas insists on a personal experience – and a week later, Jesus shows up and shows Thomas his hands and his side; allowing Thomas to touch and be sure that He is in fact, present in bodily form.  It’s not too late.  Thomas did not miss the opportunity.  Jesus takes the time to alleviate whatever doubts there are.  Thomas is not content with the reports of the other disciples nor is he content with seeing Jesus.  Thomas wants real connection – he wants to touch the very scars of the Lord, himself.    There is something really interesting about this level of intimacy – touch is an important connection.   Thomas is determined to really prove that this is the same Jesus – the–bodily resurrected Jesus – not some memory or vision but the real thing.

And the good news for us is that the encounter does not end there.  Jesus goes on to affirm those who will believe without seeing.  This is a word of encouragement for those who would read John’s gospel from that time to the present time and beyond.  It’s not too late!

Jesus is speaking to us – encouraging and blessing us – for believing without seeing him in the flesh – for persevering in faith even if we have questions or so called “doubts”.

Thomas was brave to voice his demands – to insist that he get his own opportunity to see and feel Christ.

Are you brave enough to ask God for the assurance that you need?

Do you have doubts that need to be laid to rest?  It is not too late to have an encounter with the risen Lord.  It is not too late to believe.

God wants to hear your concerns and questions – HE can handle them.

And once you’ve had an encounter – the good news is – it’s not over – there is still more for you.  Christ comes speaking peace and breathing the Holy Spirit into and over you so that you might go out and tell others about the forgiveness that you have found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Easter Sunday may be over – the excitement and anticipation set aside but we are not finished – we have not missed the opportunity – there are still many opportunities to be taken and experienced.

This is just the beginning of our ministry – Christ calls us to take up his charge and to go and tell.  The words he uses here are powerful.

23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

God gives us the responsibility to help others come to an understanding of forgiveness.

One commentator put it this way, “Jesus is not giving his disciples some special power to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. Rather, he is further specifying what it means to be sent, to make known the love of God that Jesus himself has made known. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” (aphiemi) from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held onto” (kratéo). The stakes of this mission are very high indeed.”

The good news is – it’s not too late for us – for God to reveal himself to us – for God to use us.  But it is also good news for those around us – in our homes – in our community – it is not too late for them – God wants us to go out and reveal his love to them – to show them the good news of God’s forgiveness.   To make space for them to have a real encounter and connection with the living Christ.

Easter Sunday may be over – but it’s not too late.

I Have Seen the Lord

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture,that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter Sunday 2018    I Have Seen the Lord, a homily by Mother Beth

Today is the game changer.  This day is the day in the church year that you really have to decide what you believe.  No other faith or religion professes that their leader died and was resurrected.  This claim sets Christianity apart from all the others.  The empty tomb presents the dilemma.  The empty tomb exclaims that Jesus is much more than just a good man or even a martyr who died for what he believed in.  The empty tomb suggests that something much more radical happened.  The empty tomb proclaims the resurrection.  And although many would like to tell you that it is the same for everyone – we all come to faith in the same way – the gospel for this morning reveals otherwise.  We see and hear three different responses to the events.

It was early on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb.  Why has she come?  She is grieving.  Jesus was her friend, her teacher, her leader and so she comes to mourn his loss, to visit the site where he was laid – to pay her respects.

But when Mary gets there she notices that the stone is missing and she immediately runs to report this news to the disciples.  She reports, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him”.

Mary assumes that something has happened – someone has tampered with the body – moved it so that his followers cannot visit, or mourn.  She wants someone, like the disciples, to know about the problem and to do something about this.  She tells what she sees so that the problem can be solved.

The disciples, Peter and John, set out toward the tomb.  They run together but John outruns Peter and gets there first.  John bends down and looks in and sees the grave clothes lying there but does not go in.

Peter goes right into the tomb and sees the clothes, notices that they are neatly folded and that the cloth from Jesus head is lying neatly by itself.

Now John goes in to the tomb, and the scripture says, “he saw and believed”.

So these two men had different reactions – Peter steps right into the tomb – a look was not enough – he wanted the full experience. This is not surprising if you remember about Peter from other scripture passages.  Peter is the one who steps out onto the water with Jesus.   He is going to make sure that the tomb is actually empty.

John looks in and sees that what Mary has said is true – the body is gone.   And when he steps into the tomb, something happens and he believes.

The two disciples leave the site and head back home.  Mary alone is left weeping outside the tomb.   And as she stands there alone, she looks back into the tomb and sees two angels in white, sitting where Jesus body had been lying.   They ask her, woman why are you weeping?”

She explains her situation to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”.

You see she ran to the disciples for help saying almost the same thing and yet they came and saw and left.  And Mary remains there with her question.  She wants to know where the body is so that she can mourn – and attend to it.

Mary is not content to just look into the tomb and be satisfied.  Even with the presence of two angels, she asks the hard questions…. Where is he?  What happened to him?

When she turns around she sees a man standing there and she supposes that he is the gardener.   She wasn’t surprised by the angels so why would she be surprised to find a gardener in the garden or a caretaker in a funeral home?

The man asks her why she is crying and again Mary explains her situation. “if you have carried him away,  tell me where you have laid him.”

And Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”.  And it is when he calls her by name that she recognizes him and calls him Teacher.

Mary has an encounter with the risen Christ.    In fact, she is the very first to see and speak to the risen Christ.

And how does it happen?  She stands and struggles with the tough questions.  She asks not less than three times – where is the body?  What have they done with the body?

She is determined to get an answer to her question and instead of an answer she becomes the first eye-witness to the miracle of the resurrection.  Oh, she didn’t see the resurrection happen – no one did but, she is the first to have a face to face encounter with the resurrected Christ.

And of course, she is the first to tell the good news.  She runs back to the disciples and announces, I have seen the Lord!

So the question today for each of us is, what will we do with the empty tomb?  Are we like John able to look in, cautiously step in and then believe?

Are you or I like Peter who goes quickly in to the tomb and sees that there is nothing there and goes home?  Are you and I like Mary who is determined to find Jesus?  She keeps asking the question until she is given an encounter.  She presses past her own grief and dismay to discover the truth about what has happened.

And today maybe you’re saying, I’ve sorted it all out a long time ago.  I know what I believe.  And if that is true then good.  So today I ask you, what challenge does the empty tomb hold for you?  Easter is all about celebrating new life.  It is a time to step out of fear into faith and hope. What does it mean to live as resurrection people; assured the Christ is risen and so are we?  So today I ask you to consider, what ways have we slipped back into an apathy – or sleep in our faith?  In what ways have we let the cold, dark winter slip into our life?   This day we celebrate the new life that is ours through Jesus Christ.  Let’s step out into that life with renewed energy and excitement.

Let’s awaken from our contented sleep with a fresh call to love and minister to those around us.  Because the good news that Jesus is risen is not for us alone.  Mary ran to tell others, may the Lord enable us to do the same.

Today is the game changer.  Today is the day that makes a difference.  Let us live into that difference.  From this day forward, may we live our lives as people of the resurrection and run to tell the news, I have seen the Lord!  Amen.

 

Two Things I Know by Mother Beth

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 15

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

 

Two Things I Know; A Good Friday Sermon  by Mother Beth

Two things I know for sure – “There is a God and I am not Him!” from the movie Rudy.

Recently I mentioned control issues and the fact that I have them.  Many of us have them, in fact – whether we want to admit it or not.  We may be able to surrender control in certain situations – or we may have learned to trust others to take control in certain situations.  I may recognize that I am not a Doctor therefore if I need a doctor and want to get better, I will have to trust someone else who has those qualifications and the letters MD after their name.

But the truth is that in this world it is hard to surrender the control of our lives to someone or something else.  I am not suggesting that we all become fatalists or that we stop being active in our own decision making – not at all – to not make a decision is after all to decide not to decide and to let someone or something else decide for you.

The truth of the cross is that we need a Saviour – everyone one of us.  Things in this world have gone horribly wrong and we need God to set it right.  There is no other way.  And no matter how hard we try or how faithfully we work, No matter how good we are – we cannot save this world – I cannot save myself and we cannot save each other.

We need to be rescued, we need a Saviour!

We hear in the passion reading that that there was a sign nailed to the cross that read “The King of the Jews”.   There were two responses to that sign – the Jewish leaders scoffed and asked Pilate to change it to read – “This man said he was the King of the Jews” and Pilate’s response was “What I have written, I have written”.  Both responses show a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what is really happening.

Many, including some of the disciples, were looking for a political victor – and earthly king and kingdom to overthrow the political power of Rome.

But Jesus knows, that as much as he loves his people and watches with anguish as they are oppressed – a political kingdom will not be enough – this is a bigger and more important battle than that.  The evil that was in the world – the need to seek out political power through violence and aggression need to be overcome eternally – once for all.

Sometimes I think we are still looking for political power – we want to legislate morality – we want laws and a government that complies with our standards – but Christ’s death is about so much more than social justice and advocacy.  He dies to take our place – he dies to do what no one else has been able to do.  He dies a death so that those that he stands in for will not have to die.  Through him we are reconciled to God – restored and brought back into covenant with the God of all creation.

His death is not just about being kind to those who are on the fringe of society.  His death is payment in full for the evil of this world.  He takes upon himself the suffering and brokenness and sin of mankind.

Pilate smugly, comments “What I have written, I have written” because although he can find no fault in Jesus, this is an opportunity to mock those of the Jewish faith.  This is an appropriate death, he thinks, for the one who would be king of the Jews.  This is the death that Rome would require of someone who the people worship and exalt over the Roman emperor.  Pilate jeers at the fact that Jesus is given to them as a King and yet they surrender him to be crucified.  He laughs at the idea that they have given up their leader.  And yet, the truth is Jesus is King – not just of the Jews but King of Kings and Lord of Lords – very God of very God.

There is so much in this world to pull us one way or another.  There is so much within ourselves – control, the desire for power, the temptation to succeed at all costs to pull us one way or the other.  And the very fact, that we insist on being so self-sufficient – that we are determined to be self-made women or men – leads us to the place where we take the role of god in our own lives.  We decide – we choose – we plan – we plot – we judge – we control.

But the good news of the cross is that Christ has overcome sin and death – the good news of the cross is that Christ has bought us with a price – that we have been ransomed, redeemed and reconciled to God.

“Jesus has come not to offer one more political alternative but the break the stranglehold that the powers have on the world.  HE offers a new world, a world in which God is God and human beings are set free to be human beings.”  NT Wright,  The Crown and the Fire

The good news of Good Friday and the cross of Christ is that God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.   There are two things that I know for sure 1.  There is a God and 2.  God’s son Jesus Christ died upon a cross because we all need a Saviour.  Amen.

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.

All Saints

1 John 3:1-7

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

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

Revelation 7:9-17

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

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

 

All Saints Sunday Sermon  by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.