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.

 

God Alone is Trustworthy

Sunday July 9th – God Alone is Trustworthy

The First Reading from  Genesis 24:34-67

34So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.36And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’  42“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” —let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”  58And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men.60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” 61Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb.63Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’;19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”  25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

God alone is Trustworthy – a Homily by Mother Beth

In preparing to teach Vacation Bible School one year a co-leader and I looked over the lessons together.  All of the Bible Stories are taken from the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible.  We were looking at the lives of Moses, Esther, Daniel, Jeremiah and Joshua.  The curriculum offered a tie-in to the gospels for each day but my co-leader and I were discussing the fact that these great stories quite easily stand on their own.  For sure all of scripture points to the gospel and we should quick to acknowledge that the Old Testament and New Testament both point to the same God – the Creator of the Universe.  But my co-leader and I were talking about how great the life lessons and stories of the Old Testament are.

In fact, I should tell you, I am an Old Testament gal – I love those great adventure stories – the superhero scale of things – the God who triumphs when all looks lost.   Those stories captured my heart and imagination as a young girl – I read and re-read them.

I encourage you if you have not read through Genesis and Exodus especially you should do so.  Find an easy to read translation and read through several chapters at a time so that you get the rhythm and theme of the story.  Alright, point made – Now I will move on to the lesson for today.

We come into the story of Abraham and Isaac at a time shortly after Sarah (Isaac’s mother) has died and Abraham realizes that Isaac needs to take a wife.  Isaac’s wife will be the matriarch of the family.  This story is important because Isaac is supposed to carry on Abraham’s family line and as a bachelor there is a problem – no kids means no one to take over from you – so God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a great nation and his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky – could end right here.  So Abraham sends his servant back to the land of Nahor (where he came from back in Genesis 12) so that Isaac can marry someone from his own tribe – his own extended family.

There are a couple of things to note here – 1) the servant is not named although some people think it is Eleazar who before Ishmael and Isaac came along would have inherited all of Abraham’s wealth.  But really the point is the servant is not named because the story is not about him – it is about Isaac and his wife to be. 2) Isaac does not go himself – the servant is sent on his behalf because he is too upset to go but more importantly Abraham has no intention of sending Isaac back to the place from which he has come.  The future is ahead of them.

The faith and trust of God is amazing in this story – Abraham trusts that God will direct his servant to bring back a wife for his son.   The verses that the lectionary leaves out make it clear as Abraham says, “‘The Lord, before whom I walk, will send his angel with you and make your way successful.”

This is more than an arranged marriage – this is a divinely ordained marriage.  This marriage is arranged by supernatural intervention.  Abraham makes it clear that his trust is in God so much so that he promises that the servant will not be held responsible for the results – just go and do and say what I have instructed you to do and if no one comes with you then you are released from the process. God directs and works through people but we are not to put our trust in the person but in God.  As I said last week, Abraham trusts that God has a plan and that God’s plan is better than anything that he can imagine for himself.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?  Each week at the end of the Eucharist we say,. Glory to God whose power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine.  Who are you trusting?  Who are you not trusting?  God is trustworthy.  We hear these stories so that they will remind us of all the times and in all the ways that God has proven Himself to be trustworthy.

So the servant goes and does what Abraham has told him – he stops at a well and prays that God will make him successful in his quest.  You might realize that wells are places where people meet – Jacob will meet Rachel at a well, Moses meets his wife Zipporah at a well – it is a common meeting place.

The servant makes a plan with God about what he will say and how he will recognize who is the right girl.  He decides that he will ask for a drink and will know it is the right person when the woman not only is willing to give him a drink but volunteers to water the camels also.

Her willingness to go above and beyond what she is asked will demonstrate – openness and hospitality.

Just as the servant finishes praying, Rebekah approaches the well and fulfills his request.  When he asks about her lineage it turns out that she is the daughter of Isaac’s cousin so the servant realizes this is the one that God has sent him for.

Rebekah’s willingness to go with the servant to meet a man that she has never seen demonstrates tremendous faith.  She is not forced to go – she chooses to go and it is her willingness to cooperate and fulfill God’s plan that makes her part of something so much bigger.  She now becomes part of the line of faith.  Rebekah demonstrates a similar faith to that of Abraham who left his home for an unknown land to respond to God’s call.

The family wants Rebekah to stay with them for ten more days and be prepared to marry but the servant refuses to wait and the question is posed to Rebekah, “will you go with this man?”  Will you seize this opportunity or will you let tradition or reason delay you?  Rebekah heeds the call – “Yes, I will go with this man!”

In what ways have we responded to God’s call?  In what ways have we delayed responding because we wanted to get our act together first – there were plans to be made and traditions to observe?

My own story of being called to ministry took a roundabout way of being fulfilled.  From an early age my heart was captivated by God and by these stories of faith.   I held many positions in church – Sunday School teacher, and Bible Study leader.   I worked for Youth for Christ and Campus Crusade for Christ and then as an adult I worked for Pioneer Clubs in their head office and whenever I felt like God was calling me to pursue a calling to the ordained ministry, I would justify my position by saying that I have done as much as I need to do.  I went to tour a Bible School in the States and I looked for every possible problem that I could find so that I could say no, it is not right for me to go.     I met Steve and we got married – he was in fulltime ministry as a youth minister and so I worked alongside him and did everything I could to support his ministry but God kept calling me.  And for the longest time, I kept saying, I think I am doing enough.  Plus, I said my kids are young and now is not a good time.

Many people had come and talked to me on different occasions about being called to ministry – some I suspect I rudely put off – Yes, I have thought about it and NO it is not for me!  Finally, when we moved to Barrie, Ontario, Canada in 2006, I was willing to think about going back to school and hearing what God would say to me.

I tell you this not to say that you are all called to go back to seminary and become ordained ministers but to say that I know what it is like to feel the constant nudging and to ignore it – I know what it is like to be presented with an opportunity and to not be ready to embrace it.   God is trustworthy – his track record speaks to his faithfulness.  May God help us to be open and willing to respond when God calls as Rebekah was with the servant – Yes, I will go!  And if we have not yet heard that call, may God be faithful to keep calling and nudging until we are ready to hear and respond.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

God is Faithful despite our faithlessness

Pentecost +3  – God is Faithful despite our faithlessness

a homily by Mother Beth

The First Reading from  Genesis 21:8-21

8The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”   14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 10:24-39

24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

God is Faithful despite our faithlessness – Homily Pentecost 3

 

Some problems are of our own making and some are caused by others.  Fear can be a great motivator.  And when we make decisions based on fear, we are giving in to the problem – we are acknowledging that this thing – this situation is bigger than anything else – that we cannot overcome it or at least that we are not sure that we can overcome it.  When God promises something he fulfills his promise – so when God has promised and then we shrink back in fear, we are not trusting God – we are uncertain about whether or not God will make good on his promise.

Sarah had laughed when God said that Abraham would be given a child – She was well beyond child bearing years – this thing that God was promising was completely impossible for humanity to accomplish – there was no natural way for that to happen – a child for Abraham and Sarah would take supernatural intervention – a miracle.  So Sarah laughed.  But God continued to remind Abraham of the promise – I will make you a great nation – and so Sarah – afraid that it would not come to pass – suggested that Abraham have a child with her servant, Hagar.  She had grown tired of waiting for the impossible and began to make decisions out of fear not faith.   So Abraham and Hagar have a child named Ishmael and then years later God fulfills his promise and Abraham and Sarah have a child named Isaac (Laughter).

In the Genesis reading for today, Isaac is now a thriving young boy and Sarah sees the two boys together and begins to fear that Ishmael will inherit Isaac’s birthright – perhaps she is afraid of how rough the boys play together or something but she is afraid and she asks that he – the child of the slave girl – be put out of the house/tent – be cast aside.

Abraham is not pleased about this – he is concerned and cares about his son – but God encourages Abraham to go along with Sarah’s request. God assures Abraham that Ishmael will still receive his blessing – he will still prosper because of Abraham.   So Abraham has Hagar and Ishmael put out of his home and they are left to fend for themselves.

Once the food and water run out and they call out to God in distress – God responds to the cry of the boy – He provides a well of water for them and God ‘was with the boy” and he became a nation.

Sarah’s fear led to the problem in the first place – she wanted to help Abraham to fulfill God’s promise but when God promises – God fulfills it

Sarah’s fear continued to grow and she grew afraid of the solution to her problem too – Ishmael might actually inherit Isaac’s birthright so she reacts and has Ishmael – who she does not even name – put out.

BUT GOD, makes promises to Abraham and Hagar regarding Ishmael – because God has promised in Genesis 12 that by Abraham will all the nations of the earth be blessed – Ishmael will receive blessing – he will prosper – it is not up to Sarah.

Our mistakes are not as easily set aside or undone as we would like them to be – we think we can just forget about them or move on but there is a price to pay for choices that we make – we must count the cost

And even though Sarah is determined that Isaac and not Ishmael will receive all of God’s blessing from Abraham that is not her decision to make – God makes the decision – God chooses who will be blessed by Him.  Although fear was the motivator – God provides.  God hears the calls of those in distress and responds.

In the gospel reading for today Jesus warns the disciples about the difficult things that will come to dissuade and discourage them as they live the life of following Him.  Three times in this passage he tells them not to fear.  In verse 26 he tells them not to fear those who say bad things about you – they said bad things about me and you are not better than I was so – they will say bad things about you too.

In verse 28 he tells them not to fear those who kill the body – reminding them that death of the body is not as important as the death of the soul – not believing is more dangerous than death

In verse 30 – He assures them and us by explaining that He has counted even the hair on your head – He knows them that well /He knows us that well – He values them so do not be afraid. – He is watching out for them.

Then comes the challenge about love and commitment – being more sold out to God than anything or anyone else.  We heard in the Old Testament reading about a tough decision that Abraham had to make regarding family and now Jesus challenges the disciples saying that families will be disagreed about faith – that not everyone will agree or be happy that you choose to live a life of faith – some might even be threatened by your choices.

I was raised in a very conservative home   During high school when I went to a party and others were drinking, I did not drink.  One young man at the party said, “oh!  Now I get why you don’t get invited to these things much – it’s not fun to be around someone who isn’t drinking – you make me feel bad about myself.”  And it is true that after that I did not get invited to participate in these events – my life choices did not line up with theirs and it was awkward.

Now I realize that any awkward experience that I have had in no way compares with the kind of persecution that Jesus is talking about and thank God that we in North America have freedom of religion so we do not experience what some others around the world – even today experience when they confess that Jesus is Lord.  In other countries, people are shunned, disowned by their family and many are killed when they choose to follow Jesus Christ.

But here and now – although we are free to believe – we are often tempted to not be vocal about what we believe or are afraid to be clear about our life choices because others will make fun or not understand or as in my situation – family or friends may choose to not invite you to some things because they know you will not or do not encourage their behavior.

But Jesus says, do not be afraid – I am with you – I care about you.

“Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 

Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God

Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God – June 4, 2017

A homily by Mother Beth

The First Reading from the book of Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

When asked, what is the most important element of any relationship, most people say the most important element is communication.  I have spoken before about the frustration that we bring to communicating with others.  Sometimes we read into emails or notes a certain tone; depending on the last interaction that we may have had with the person.  And by far, the best form of communication – in order to be understood is – face to face communication.  This is largely because 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and only 7% is the actual words spoken.  True and effective communication is about being in the same time and space as the person that you want to build relationship with.

There are moments though when you might ask yourself – what language am I speaking?  I do not feel understood.  There are just times when despite your best efforts you and the other party just seem to be missing each other.

You may remember a little story in Genesis chapter 11 about the building of a tower.

“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

The creation of different languages created confusion and chaos.  Those who had been working together for a common purpose could now no longer work together because they could no longer communicate.

We hear about them scattering over the face of the earth – this is the establishing of many different nations.

So when we hear today the story of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, we may see a restoration taking place.  The tower of Babel story – creates chaos and disunity – confusion and misunderstanding but Pentecost unites humanity towards the story of God.

We hear that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven – the whole earth is represented here.

The barrier that was created by all speaking different languages is removed here – they all hear in their own language.  The thing that normally kept them from being united – from understanding each other – is overcome by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The good news is that God is not limited by language.  All those times that you feel like you can not be understood – or you don’t know what to say or how to say it – God, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, can provide for.

Peter begins to explain to all who are there what is happening.  He says, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”.  This is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Joel – I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh – all – no exceptions.

Sons and daughters will prophesy – no discrimination in the sexes – both will be anointed by the Spirit.

 

Young men will see visions and Old men will dream dreams – no Ageism – God empowers both young and old alike.

God breaks down all the barriers that divide humanity – He pours himself out – please note this is not just a trickle – this is a pouring out – on all.

Pentecost is not the birth of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity always was – and up until this point – the Holy Spirit has been manifest in and on specific people – Moses, Elijah, David, the prophets, John the Baptist but, now God pours out his Holy Spirit on all.

Pentecost is considered the birth of the church – up until this point the average person received something from God through the person of Jesus Christ (in his physical form) or through the prophets but with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God makes himself available to all.  This is the birth of the church as an inclusive entity – the move to acceptance of all people – all ages, all races, all sexes.  As in Babel all the nations and races were separated so now all the nations and races are unified through the story of Christ as revealed to all people.

 

 

I think it is interesting to note that in each of the readings that we heard today – there is an intentional gathering of people – the disciples are gathered together in John and in Acts.  As we gather together we receive the good gifts that God has for us.  I think it is especially important to note this at Pentecost because the Spirit empowers us with gifts but these gifts are not for our own personal use – but for the building up of others – for the encouragement and equipping of the church.  As we gather together and each bring the Spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on us – we complement each other.  As we come together in the power of the Holy Spirit we make up the body of Christ.  I think it is important because sometimes we get tired of working on the relationships or we get tempted to go off on our own – just me and God – nothing else matters.  Each of the scriptures that we heard today emphasize over and over the importance of all and everyone.  It is significant that God reveals himself no longer to just one or two people – the Holy Spirit is not just dripped out on Billy Graham or your local priest or pastor.  NO.

The Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost was poured out on all – to break down the barriers that divide us and to unite us together in the great story of God and his son Jesus Christ – that the church might be faithful to God’s mission to this world.

Last week we heard Jesus say in Luke 24 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

May God empower us by His Holy Spirit to go out into our communities as witnesses to his son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Heavenly Minded – a sermon for Ascension Sunday

The First Reading from the book of Acts 1-5 Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”  When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”  7-8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  9-11 These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:44-5344Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Heavenly Minded – a sermon by Mother Beth

Have you heard the expression, “She’s so heavenly minded she’s no earthly good?”  This often refers to someone who has their head in the clouds – unaware of what is going on around them.   Sometimes it is difficult to balance ourselves between the now and the not yet but that is the tension that we live in as Christians.  We live in a world we can see but we live for a God that we cannot see.  I’ve mentioned before it is like straddling between two camps.  We have one foot in the world and one foot in the next world – we are here now but we know that we are promised life beyond this physical world.

Each week we are bombarded by some pretty horrific messages –  the news is almost overwhelming.  Some weeks, word of the bad news outweighs the good.  That is the time when I am tempted to just turn it all off and think about my heavenly home.  I might reassure myself by saying – “it’s ok, this world is not my home” or I might say “sometimes I hate this place – this world – this culture that allows such injustice and brokenness to reign”.

Today in the both the gospel of Luke and the Acts reading we hear about the ascension of Jesus Christ.

*A side note here is that Luke and Acts are written by the same author and they work together like a two-part book.*

The gospel passage picks up right after the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus has appeared to the disciples, and the two on the road to Emmaus and now he meets again in the upper room with the disciples.  They have seen his hands and his side – he still bears the scars from the crucifixion and now he explains to them once again how he is the fulfillment of all of the scriptures.

Jesus explains that the things that they have just witnessed – the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ were planned from the beginning – they had to happen.  He is connecting all the dots for them; reassuring them about the events so that is his absence they can know for sure that salvation could not have come some other way.

Jesus knows that as humans we second guess ourselves – once he leaves if they are not convinced, they will question whether or not it needed to happen.

By directing them back to scripture – in verse 44 he refers back to the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms –  he is giving them the tools to reassure themselves about the outcome.  Jesus does not just tell them the answer he equips them to find the answer – to retrieve the answer should doubts arise later.

How often have you been in conversation with someone and they have tried to derail you – maybe you have been talking about your faith and

someone has an argument about what you have said.  They try to confuse you.  The good news is that scripture has a response for that.  You may not know the answer right in that moment but you can go and find it.  The scriptures provide for us a place to seek the answers – a place to hear the truth and Jesus assures us that the scriptures point us to him.

After assuring them, Christ commissions them; sends them on a mission – as witnesses – they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit – and then they are to witness to what they have seen and heard and learned.  Where are they to be witnesses?

In Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and the outermost parts of the earth.

Why Jerusalem first?

That is where they are right now – so we need to start in our own backyard – but also it is important to remember that it would be difficult for the 1st century Jews to testify about Jesus in their own backyard.

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was killed – and they have been very afraid.  So Christ does not send them out to do what will be easy for them but he empowers them to do what needs to be done so that others will see that the power is not in them but from God.  If we only do the things that we have always been comfortable doing or naturally able to do, how will that reveal Jesus Christ?  God is revealed in us as we are empowered to do those things that are “supernatural” or not what we would be able to do on our own.

For the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem in the face of fear – in the face of Roman persecution – is for them to demonstrate changed lives and to demonstrate the power of God working in them.

For you and I to witness to the changes that God has made in our lives at home and in our communities – where we are known so well – where we have made mistakes in the past – where others have seen the messes we have created – is to testify that the good news of Jesus is not about you or me but about Jesus – about God and what he wants to do in each person’s life.  I do not testify that I am perfect but rather that I have met the one who is perfect and His grace extends towards me.

Once they have been witnesses in Jerusalem then they will be sent out to Samaria – the next territory – then Judea – the next country and then the outermost parts of the earth.  I have tremendous respect for people who have left everything and gone to do mission work around the world but, I also recognize that sometimes it might be easier to step out of the broken life that surrounds me and go and be someone else someplace else.  To go where someone does not know you or the problems or weaknesses in your life and to testify about the change that God has done without first being a witness at home is to leave out the miraculous parts.  To stand in the middle of the community where you having been living your life and to witness to the faithfulness of God is to acknowledge the power of God in your life.

After all of the reassurances that Christ provides to his followers – he departs – he ascends into heaven and they stand there watching.  It is important that they get the opportunity to see him go.  This is the final act for them to witness – it will be an important part of how they tell the story to others.  They will be able to refute anyone who would come to suggest that Jesus was not in fact raised from the dead and that is why he is no longer here.  They will testify not only that they saw him after he died and was raised but that they also saw him ascend.

Two men appear and ask, “Why do you stand here watching?”  Once they know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, they do not need to stand there looking into heaven.  What are they waiting for?  Christ’s return?  Well certainly they were told by the two men – he will return in the same way that he left.

Be assured of that.  We can be assured of that too and we watch for that day.  It is not for us to just stand and watch – we have been given a role to play in this world – and as much as I mentioned at the beginning of this homily that there are times when I look longingly toward heaven because I am tired of the horrific things in this world.  It does no good for me to be so “heavenly minded”.  There are things to be done here.  I am a witness to the grace and love of God in this world.  There are people in my life who need to know that God loves and cares for them.  There are political systems in this world that need to be countered and fought against – there are broken systems that keep other people oppressed and imprisoned – there are injustices that need to be corrected.  All these things are yours and mine to minister to – to rally against.  There are individuals around us who need to be assured of God’s love and presence in this world.

What are we waiting for?  May God give us the boldness and the grace to be witnesses of his Love in our homes, our communities, the country and to the outermost parts of the earth.  Amen.

If you love me, keep my commandments

John 14:15-21

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sermon – Easter 6 – John 14/Acts 17

The gospel lesson for today picks up where we left off last week.  Jesus is giving his final instructions to the disciples – He is preparing them for his departure and encouraging them with words of comfort.

Last week – the gospel talked about being sent out to do God’s work.  You may remember that Jesus had promised you will do the things that I have done – and greater things than these shall you do.  How is it that we do greater things? Each of us is sent out in the name of Jesus – as his ambassador – to do God’s work in the community – to be his representative – his ambassador right where we are.  At the same time as we hear these words of Jesus in the gospel of John, we also hear today about the early church in the reading from Acts.  This gives us an opportunity to hear what Jesus says to the church and then also to see what that looks like as it was lived out by the Apostles after Christ left this earth.

 

So this week the reading starts with Jesus saying, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

What are the two commandments? – Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength AND Love your neighbor as yourself.  What is more fitting then to talk about LOVE? – and the discipline and action that LOVE requires of us.  LOVE is a Verb – we show our love by how we talk, treat each other and the priorities that we keep.   Love is a language that we speak – we speak it with our words but we also speak it with our money and our time.  We have all known people who told us they loved us and yet their actions did not match up with their words.  Real love follows through – Real love demonstrates itself in more than words.

Jesus has said, “This is how people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love one to another” and He also said, “A new commandment I give onto you that you love one another as I have loved you.”

In the Acts reading we hear Paul speaking to the people of Athens.

He sees that they have a monument to an “unknown god” and he takes the opportunity – not to berate them – or to judge them but rather to do the work of God – to extend towards them.  He does the work of hospitality by creating a space for them to hear the good news of the gospel.  So he says, I see that you are religious and interested in religion – and that you speak about an unknown god.  Let me introduce you to God – let me make God known to you.  And then he proceeds to tell about God calling the nation of Israel – choosing Abraham – sending him out into the land.  Paul proceeds to explain how we are made in the image of God and if that is so then obviously God is not a statue or made of gold or silver but is alive. That God appoints places and times and that he calls people to repentance because a time is coming when we will be called to judgment and brought before the man appoint to judge all.  Who is this man?  God has revealed him by raising him from the dead.  This is man is Jesus.

 

 

You might ask, how do these two passages fit together – Jesus is speaking to his own disciples and sending them out to do God’s work and then we hear about Paul – out doing the work of God.  But I do want to emphasize that this is all motivated by love.    What is it that draws us towards God? – it is his love for us.  “While we were still sinners Christ died for us”  – Christ’s unconditional love for us draws us to him.  But that is not all.  Once we have experienced that kind of love we can not help but love him back – Our love for Christ compels us – drives us to want to do – Remember Love is a verb – and we show love by action.

But that is still not all.  God tells us that we show our love towards Him by loving our neighbor – by loving each other.

In the last part of the gospel for today Jesus says, “21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

If you want a picture of the love of God you can read about it in I Corinthians 13.  We hear this passage most often at weddings but it is not just about love between a man and a woman – the passage is revealing the characteristics of real love – true love – unconditional love.

We use the word “love” in so many ways – we overuse the word love in our everyday language.  Think about it… When we are shopping, we might say… I love those shoes.  Or when we are travelling we might say, I love this place.  When we are young we might say, I love this movie star or I love this singer or performer.  But is that really what it is to love?

Love is a verb – Love is demonstrated through actions and over time and in difficult situations.  Love is best revealed in community.   Some of you may have discovered that it is not always easy to love people.  In fact, I would say that it is often difficult to love people.  So how can we do this difficult thing?  What will empower us?

Jesus promises in the gospel for today – to send another advocate.  I will not leave you orphaned or in other words, I will not leave you all alone.  I have been your advocate – your helper – the one who is looking out for you and when I leave my Father will send another one to look out for you – the Spirit of Truth.   So we can be assured that we have the Holy Spirit – empowering us – encouraging us – equipping us and giving us the words to say – the works to do.

Someone said this week, “to be willing to be uncomfortable so that someone else can be comfortable that is love”.  God asks us to step outside of our comfort zone in order to extend love to others.

This week I also heard someone say,  “Visitors don’t usually come to a church because of the coffee or the music, they come because someone invited them.”

Many times in the church today, we get distracted by thinking that we need to change to draw people in – we need to do something really impressive and then people will be drawn to that event and start coming to church.  But the truth is… Love is what we need.  We need to be so motivated by the God’s love for us that we love him unconditionally.  We need to be so motivated by the love of God that we long to do his works – to demonstrate our love for him and in appreciation for his love for us.  We Love Him so much that we Love those people that he loves.

For God so loved all of the people in this world that he sent his Son so that anyone who believed on Him would not die but have everlasting life.  Have we received the love of God?  Have we accepted that he loves us no matter what we have done?  Have we fallen in love with Him?  What about those people around us who God loves… do we love them?

This is how others will know that we are his followers – we will love each other – we will love those around us.  May God give us the grace to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Amen.   

 

Preparing a Place – an act of hospitality

Sermon –Easter 5 – John 14:1-14

John 14:1-14
14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?   Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do

it.

 

Preparing a Place

The passage from John’s gospel is probably most recognizable to us because it is read at the beginning of the funeral service.  It is a passage that speaks of the promise and hope of what lies beyond this world and this life.  It seems fitting to hear these words on the same Sunday that we hear the story of the first martyr, Stephen.   We know that in this world terrible things happen to good people – Good Friday reminds us that death is an all too present reality – that the world is threatened by those who do and say things that are challenging.  In the face of that reality, we hear John 14.

John chapter 14 is part of a larger passage that is known as Jesus farewell discourse – that is – Jesus is preparing the disciples for a time when he will no longer be with them and so he gives them his final words of advice.

To place this on the timeline of Christ’s life, I will tell you that in the previous chapter, he has partaken in the last supper – and washed their feet, but he has also announced that one of them will betray him and that Peter will deny him.  He has spoken quite bluntly about the fact that things are going to get very difficult.

This is where we come into the story – Jesus encourages the disciples by challenging them to believe in God – believe also in me.  He is speaking words of comfort and trust.

Do you know what it is like to be forewarned about something? To see ahead of time what is to come?  In some instances it can be disappointing because it can reveal something that was intended to be a surprise.  As a small child I remember asking for pots and pans for Christmas – my sister and I really loved to play house and I had spotted this shiny red set of pots and pans at the toy department in the Eaton’s store.

About a week before Christmas my sister, brother and I were playing hide and seek and I decided to hide in my parent’s closet.    I looked up and there I saw the shiny red pots and pans that were one of my Christmas gifts.  At first I was excited to realize that I was getting the very thing that I had asked for and then it began to dawn on me that I now knew ahead of time what would be in that beautifully wrapped package on Christmas day.

How could I pretend to be surprised as I opened that gift when I knew ahead of time what was in it?  That glimpse of what was to come left me a little disappointed.  The joy of the surprise taken away by knowledge ahead of time.

On the other hand, sometimes a glimpse of what is to come can be reassuring.  I remember watching the Wizard of Oz with my children when they were much younger and as we sat cuddled together on the couch my son began to grow uneasy.  The appearance of the witch had scared him and he said to me, Mommy, I will only continue to watch if you can promise me that this movie has a good ending.

Have you seen it before?  Do you know what is going to happen?  I assured him that I had seen it before and that I could promise that the movie had a happy ending.  He settled down and continued to watch; trusting that I had not steered him wrong and that things would get better.  Isn’t this the assurance that we are all looking for in life?  We want to know that things are going to get better and that there is a happy ending.  This is often what motivates us to keep going through the tough times.

Jesus, knows that the road ahead for his disciples will be difficult and that there will be moments when they doubt or when they just want to give up or run away and so he speaks words of assurance to them.

“I am going to prepare a place for you if it were not so, would I have told you that? And I will return and come to get you.”  Jesus is preparing them to carry on without him.  He knows that it will be hard for them to keep on so he gives them something that they can hold onto.

Jesus further assures them saying, “you know the way to the place  where I am going”.

Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”  Isn’t that like us.  We want to know the steps.  We want to know the details.  Draw me a map, Jesus so that I do not get lost!

Jesus responds, “I AM the Way, the truth and the life” – Jesus says look to me, follow me – knowing me that is the way – that is how you will know the Father.

Philip responds, “Show us the Father and then we will be satisfied”.  How often have we said, “I just need this one thing – I just need to know this one answer – I just need to be sure of this and then I will be ok – then I can go on and not worry or wonder”?

Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  Believe me.  But, if you cannot just believe me then look at the works that I have done and believe because of the works.

You see, Jesus does the work of his Father in heaven.  It is only God that can forgive sins.  It is only God that can do miracles and heal sickness. The disciples have witnessed these things.  The works that Jesus has performed point to the fact that he does the acts of God.

And you may have noticed over the last several weeks in particular, that Jesus often expresses not just assurance but also instructions.  Jesus says, Believe in me and those who believe “will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father”.

How is this possible?  Jesus takes these followers who aren’t sure that they know the way – who need to see the Father to be reassured and then he blesses them by saying that they will do the amazing things that he has done – and even greater things they will do!!

 

We hear that it is possible because he will do whatever we ask him to do if we asking in his name.  This is Jesus extending his power – his authority to us.  Praying or asking for something in Jesus name – is to say that Jesus has given you the right to ask on his behalf – it is as if he is asking the Father for it himself.

Ok maybe we can get our mind around doing the things that Jesus has done because we do these things on his behalf – we ask in his name that it be done.  But Greater things?  How can we do greater things?  I have heard it said that we do the greater things because there is more of us.  When Jesus walked this earth, he was the only one doing God’s work – he was limited by his human body to only be able to reach so many people.  But now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he releases us to do work on his behalf – we can all be out doing the work of the Father.  How great is that?  What if everyone of us here went out and did God’s work today?  What an impact we could have on this community!

What will it look like for us to prepare a place in our lives and in our community for others?  I am struck by the idea that Jesus is modelling for us a great picture of hospitality.   The reassurance and peace that we have gained through our own personal connection to Jesus Christ compels us to speak words of hope and peace to others who have not yet experienced it.  I am challenged anew by this passage to begin to explore the ways that I might begin to prepare for new relationships with friends, family and the community around me.

Whatever you are facing this week, do not let your hearts be troubled.

Believe in God and know that he is preparing a place for you – is there anything as wonderful as being welcomed home?  That is what Jesus promises – that he has gone ahead to prepare a place where you and I can be welcomed home – be assured of that.

In the meanwhile, we have been given the name of Jesus and sent out to do the works of God at home and abroad.  Wherever we find ourselves on this planet, we go as Christ’s ambassadors that the world might see and know that God loves them and that they too might be assured that Christ is preparing a place for them.  Amen.