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.

Go Where I Send You

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”  11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 16:13-20

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Go Where I Send You – a homily for September 3

One of the dangers of hearing a sermon on such a familiar passage that many of us have watched over and over again on the big screen,  is that we all think we know exactly what happens in the passage.  When we read about Moses we picture Charlton Heston, who by the way, was replaced by Christian Bale in the new movie version of the Exodus story entitled Gods and Kings.  The danger is that whether or not the movie depicted it rightly, we assume that we know how it all goes and sometimes movie producers do not worry about biblical or historical accuracy.  So I suggest that we look at Exodus chapter three with a conscious effort to hearing the story as it appears in scripture as opposed to how we assume it goes.

This week in Chapter 3 we hear about Moses out tending his father-in-law’s sheep.

So what happened to lead Moses to this place? When we left him last he was a baby being rescued from the water.   To recap chapter two…. Moses grew up in the palace of the Egytian Pharaoh he was raised as a prince and yet he was watching out for the welfare of the Israelite people.  When he sees an Israelite worker being treated unjustly, he acts on the worker’s behalf; challenging the Egyptian and fighting with him and killing him.    Moses goes out the next day to watch over the Israelites and when he tries to settle a dispute it becomes obvious that the two workers are aware that he killed the Egyptian supervisor the day before.   When the news gets to Pharaoh, Pharaoh threatens Moses so, Moses leaves – flees the area and ends up at the well where Jethro’s daughters are drawing water.    Moses defends the women who are being harassed by some men near the well.  Moses marries one of Jethro’s daughters and he stays to work for Jethro.

(Note Moses is born in 1526 and the Exodus happens in 1406). Moses has been working for Jethro about 40 years at this point.

Remember that the children of Israel are waiting for deliverance and that Moses has been doing the everyday work of a shepherd.  Things did not just happen overnight.  We see the story as an action movie which quickly moves from one scene to the next but I want us to notice that there was patience involved – there was time involved.  God’s plan happens in God’s time.  We don’t always understand what takes the time but we need to remember that God has not forgotten us.  God has a plan that will happen in God’s time.

So while Moses is out tending the sheep he notices a bush that is burning but not consumed by fire.  He makes a point to go and find out what is happening with this bush.

Are we too busy going about our own business to be interrupted by God?  Do we notice when something is trying to get our attention?  Do we take the time to stop and check it out?

The Lord calls to Moses “when he turned aside to see”.  If Moses had not stopped, would the Lord have called out to him?

When the Lord calls out to Moses, Moses responds saying, “Here I am”

This is a response of availability.

5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Sandals – are protection – keeping feet safe from things in and on the soil.  Sandals are status – many people did not have sandals and sandals then, as shoes today, would show various levels of income.  To remove your sandals is to identify with the poor and afflicted – to stand in humility.

When my father was a child – his father went to town and bought the shoes and clothes for everyone for a year – it was not about choosing the fit or the style – it was very practical – it was covering you so that you could do the work around the farm.  Others would know that those shoes were not about fashion but about practicality and frugalness.

Are we prepared to shed our shoes and whatever our shoes say about us or provide for us – so that we can stand vulnerable and available before almighty God?  Do we recognize that we protect ourselves; putting up defenses – wearing armour around others but that we need to shed that armour – that pretense before God?

God identifies himself to Moses – “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”We don’t know that Moses ever knew his father and yet God starts by saying

I am the God of your father.  We know that his father was a Levite – a man from the tribe of Levi – this is the tribe that was not promised land but given the role of the priesthood.

God commissions Moses to go on his behalf I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

And now Moses initial response of availability “Here I am” becomes “Who am I?”  Isn’t that our natural response as well.

When God calls we would be most happy to say here I am but, it is not long before we ask, “Who am I to do this thing?”  We question God’s wisdom at choosing us.  We wonder what would make us a likely candidate to go and do what God asks.  Surely there is someone more suited to the task.  There must be someone with better qualifications.  Maybe we are able to look at the call of Moses and see how obvious it is that God has prepared him especially for this task.

Moses with his foot in both worlds – A Hebrew raised in the Egyptian palace – he would know how to go before the Pharaoh – he might even already have some rapport in the king’s court.  He has clearly already shown himself concerned with the welfare of others – in protecting the Hebrew slaves to the point of death and then protecting Jethro’s daughters at the well.

But, when the call comes for ourselves it can be much more difficult to see how God has been preparing us and the circumstances around us.  We quickly question, “Who am I?”

God responds to Moses, “I will go with you”.  And that is what we need to hear today as well.  God says to you and I, “Go where I send you and I will go with you”. Moses continues to ask some questions – If the people ask me who sent me, then what do I say?  Basically he is asking, “what is your name, God?”  How do I refer to you so that they will be convinced that I am coming on your behalf?

And God responds, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Please note that God is not “I was”.  God is I am –  His identity is constant – there is no changing – no evolving – no developing  – the God who Moses stands before is the same God who we stand before today.

“I am” is a powerful name.  Later in the gospels when Jesus is asked about his identity, He will respond “I am he” and it is a powerful reminder that they are the same God.

We have an interesting play with words in this chapter.  Moses responds, “Here I am” and then questions, “Who am I?”  and God sums it all up by naming himself, “I am who I am.”

The truth is, it is not important who Moses is – God chose him and uses him but God is the one who is important.  God will deliver the children of Israel – Moses has a part to play in it but, it is not something that he can do on his own or in his own strength.

The call of God involves a surrender of self.   We hear this especially today in the gospel lesson.  Peter has an idea of how things are going to happen.  He will defend Jesus against any sort of surrendering or suffering and yet Jesus recognizes this is not the way God has planned.  To suffer and die is the very thing that Jesus needs to do.  And so, Jesus rebukes Peter and proceeds to explain God’s plan.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”   God calls us from selfishness or self-centeredness towards his plan – his concerns.  God points to those things that He is concerned about.

And the more we notice those things, the more we empathize with others, the more we are aligning our will with his.  This is what it means to take up our cross – to focus on those things that are on God’s heart – to reorient our lives toward the Kingdom of God.

God calls us today saying, Go where I send you – I will go with you and if anyone asks who has sent you, you should respond “I am who I am”.  We go into the world to offer God’s grace and mercy and deliverance and we go knowing that wherever we go, God goes with us.  Amen.

Unlikely to be part of God’s Plan?

Exodus Chapter 1:8 – 2:10

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

A Homily by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God can change Horrible Events into Positive Outcomes

The First Reading from Genesis 45:1-15

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

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

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

God can change horrible events into positive outcomes –

A homily for August 20 by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Wheat and the Weeds

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

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

The Wheat and the Weeds – A Homily by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently read a little saying…

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

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

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

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

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

 

God 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.