The Call of God

I Samuel 3:1-10

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

The First Reading from Isaiah 40:1-11

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

2 Peter 3:8-15

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

 

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

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

 

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

By Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Advent I/ The “Origin Story” of Jesus

The First Reading from Isaiah 64:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advent I or the “Origin Story” of Jesus     

by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

All Saints

1 John 3:1-7

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

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

Revelation 7:9-17

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

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

 

All Saints Sunday Sermon  by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who or What do you Worship?

 

Matthew 22:15-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlikely to be part of God’s Plan?

Exodus Chapter 1:8 – 2:10

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

A Homily by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God can change Horrible Events into Positive Outcomes

The First Reading from Genesis 45:1-15

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

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

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

God can change horrible events into positive outcomes –

A homily for August 20 by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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