Pentecost V – Don’t you care that we are perishing?

The First Reading from I Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, and there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.  19Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.  32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” 38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.  40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. 41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lordwill deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”  48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 4:35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”   The Gospel of Christ     Praise to you Lord Christ

Pentecost V- Homily by Mother Beth

Recently I felt compelled to set a new goal for myself.  I decided that one of my new goals is to get strong – physically healthy and strong but also strong in the way I handle things – brave, if you will.  And of course, as soon as I set that as a goal – as soon as I started talking to a few people about it… do you know what happened?  I had to face some situations in which I had to be strong.

The disciples in today’s gospel are in a similar situation.  They have been listening to Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God and what that is like – that have been journeying with Jesus as he has performed miracles and set people free and then Jesus, at the end of a long day says, let’s go across the lake to the other side.  Let’s move on – Let’s continue our journey elsewhere.

So the disciples get into a boat with Jesus or rather they took him with them in a boat.  “And a great windstorm arose and the boat was being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.”

The disciples call out to Jesus – “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”  And Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

Notice that Jesus does not speak to the disciples first – He speaks to the storm.  Jesus is God – the creator of the universe – he speaks directly to the weather – to the wind and the sea.

Then he turns toward the disciples and says, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

Psalm 121 says,  “I lift my eyes up to the mountains.  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord – the maker of heaven and earth.”

II Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…  I will gladly boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for when I am weak then I am strong.”

Once Jesus had calmed the storm the disciples had a first hand encounter with who he really was – they were amazed that the wind and the storm obeyed him.  Only God has the power to do that!   And it is his strength that empowers and enables us to overcome – to stand strong in the face difficult situations and storms in our life.

In the first lesson, we hear the story of David and Goliath.  An encouraging story for anyone who has felt the need to stand up to a bully or to overcome adversity.  At one time or another we have all faced a giant or two.

But let’s not miss some interesting points.  David, as the youngest in his family, has been off tending the sheep while his older brothers have been training with King Saul and the army.  David comes to check on his brothers because his father, Jesse, said that he should bring them some food and check on their status.  While he is there, David overhears – well everyone can hear – Goliath boasting and calling even taunting the Israelite army.   He is calling for a challenger and the soldiers of Israel are afraid to go up against him.  He is a seasoned warrior and he towers over them – he is dressed in full armour and ready for battle.

David has never been in battle.  In fact, he cannot stand when he tries to wear the armour – he is not strong.  But David knows that Goliath is speaking against God – David sees this not as a battle between himself and Goliath but a battle between God and Goliath and he is certain who will win in that battle!

SO while it is ridiculous to his brothers, that David would be so arrogant as to think that he should go into battle against this massive soldier – this Philistine, all David knows is that God has always been faithful to deliver him in the past.  He recounts the many times that he was able to save the sheep from lions or bears.  He tells these stories not to show how strong he is or how smart he is but to encourage King Saul and the others that God did it.  He emphasizes this in verse 37,

37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”

He recognizes that it is not his own strength but God’s.  And God who has been faithful to save him in all the other encounters, will be faithful again.

You see my strength is limited, no matter how hard I work at it – and I intend to work at it – there are always things – circumstances that are Bigger than us. We need to be encouraged and reminded that our God is the creator of the universe – our God speaks to the wind and the waves and they obey.  Our God saves the young shepherd boy from the sword of the giant Goliath.

When Jesus invites us on a journey – when he calls us to go with him to the other side, it is His intention to journey with us.  It is His strength that keeps us safe and strengthens us to step out and do the things that we must do to carry on.   He is always with us and when we are at our weakest – that is when we recognize that these things are beyond our own ability – that is when we really recognize that God is God and depend on Him to be our strength and to deliver us.

As we step forward into that strange world of change that we do not like so much – as we begin this next part of the journey with Jesus Christ – let us remember that He is the one who invited us on this journey and that He who is God, the creator of the universe, is more than able to get us safely to the other side.  Amen.

Easter III – Reminders of the Good News

The First Reading from Acts 3:12-26

12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 22Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:36b-49

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

 

 

 

Easter III – Reminders of the Good News by Mother Beth

 

When you have had a bad experience or you have seen something traumatic it can take time to get over that feeling of grief and disappointment.  The customer service industry knows that it can take up to seven good experiences for you to change your mind about a bad experience.    And they are just referring to poor service or a mistake at the checkout.   Some of us have witnessed some horrible things in our time – and although hopefully we don’t focus too much time on it – there are reports of atrocities and evil events all around us being reported in the news, on TV.

So is it any surprise that Jesus makes another resurrection appearance to us in the gospel reading for today?  It is important to be reminded day after day, week after week that the resurrection occurred and that it is still good news for us today.

The disciples, remember, are still reeling from the events of the crucifixion.  As far as Rome is concerned, they crucified Jesus as a statement to his followers – this is what we have done to your leader – much more will we do to you if you do not get into line and do what you should do – obey.

The disciples are unsettled and uncertain about how to go forward.  They were strong when Jesus was with them – He was speaking words of encouragement and cheering them on – leading them forward.  Now they are weakened by doubt and uncertainty.

Of course there have been reports that Jesus is alive.  The women have reported back from their visit to the tomb.  Mary has said that she has seen the Lord.  The two people on the way to Emmaus were in the middle of discussions around the events of the crucifixion and a stranger appeared to walk with them.  It wasn’t until he prayed and broke the bread that they realized that it was Jesus.  They have reported back to the others that they have seen the Lord.

And now we have another opportunity – today in the gospel lesson we hear, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them”.  He recognizes that they are afraid and that they have doubts.

He knows that they think maybe he is just an apparition, a ghost.

He says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

What does it take for you to be convinced of something?  Sometimes people will say, if Jesus walked in here today, then I would know for sure who he is and I would ask him that pressing question that I have been wondering about?  But the real question is… If Jesus walked in here today, would you recognize him?  Would you believe it was him?

Although we know the truth and we want to believe, sometimes this world shakes us up – Sometimes there is more death and dying going on around us than there is life and living.

It is not that we don’t want to have faith.  It’s not that we don’t want to believe.  We need to be reminded how great God is.  We need to remember that he has conquered sin and death.

Jesus now reveals just how “real” and live he is by asking for food to eat.  He wants the disciples to know – to be fully convinced He is not just a figment of their imagination – He is not just some spirit, ghost or apparition – this is not just a visit “from the other side” – some psychic’s rendering.  He is there in the flesh – present with them – and so he eats to prove his presence – to show himself as a real body.

Then he proceeds to explain what has happened.  That his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Why does Jesus reveal himself to the disciples?  Why does he go to such lengths to show who he is?  So that the disciples will be witnesses.  They will now be prepared to be sent out and tell others what they have seen and heard.

And they were faithful witnesses.  That is proven by the Acts reading from today.  We hear Peter’s testimony “13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead….“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out”

Peter explains that this is the power of God that heals and brings wholeness to the lives of others.  He is able to testify to this because he has seen and experienced it for himself and then also seen and experience its power to transform others.

That is the power of the church – of gathering together – to remind each other of the amazing God that we serve – to remind each other as witnesses to the great things that God has done and continues to do.

It can be hard to keep believing day after day, week after week, on our own.  There are too many reminders of death and not enough reminders of life. Globally, nationally, communally, personally, the presence of death is more palpable than the promise of life.

Life, here and now, is very hard to see. In the end, I think being resurrection people takes some effort, in fact, a lot of effort. And some weeks will demand more effort than others. Jesus knows this reality, our reality. And knows that we need a reminder.

Why does Jesus continue to reveal to himself to us?  So that we can be witnesses with each other about him and his presence in our lives.
So that we can encourage and remind each other day after day.    So that we can reach out to others who have not yet heard or seen or experienced.  So that the good news about life can overcome the bad news in this world.

How does Jesus continue to reveal himself to us?  Through each other.  But more specifically I believe we can see the tangible ways that we experience Jesus in the narrative of the gospel lessons over the last weeks.  On Easter Sunday, we heard that it was as Jesus spoke her name that Mary recognized Jesus and realized the truth of the resurrection.  Speaking someone’s name is a sacred and intimate act.   Can our friends and family trust us to speak their name with love and faithfulness?

In the gospel reading from last week, Thomas was entrusted with the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.  In this sacred and intimate act of touching – Thomas realized the truth about the resurrection.  To touch the wounds is to acknowledge and validate the suffering of another.  Can our friends and family trust us to handle their wounds – to acknowledge or validate their suffering?

In today’s gospel, Jesus partakes in a meal with the disciples.  To break bread together – to sit and dine together is a sacred and intimate act.  Are we welcoming our friends and family to partake in meals with us?  Is our table a place of hospitality and grace?  As we go about our day to day lives, are we faithful to reveal the love of a resurrected Jesus through the ways we interact with each other?  Are we open to receiving the faithful witness of Christ as we speak, touch and eat with each other?

May God make us faithful in these and many other ways to remind each other of the good news of Jesus Christ and may He give us boldness to speak that good news to all.   Amen.

Jesus overthrowing Tables – Lent III

Lent III                       The Gospel of John/Jesus overthrowing Tables

The First Reading from Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder.14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 2:13-23

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

 

Jesus Overthrowing Tables – a homily by Mother Beth

For quite some time people have referred to the church building as God’s house and that is not an entirely bad thing.  Thinking of the church building as God’s house helps us to treat the building with respect and hopefully means that we will take good care of the building that we use as a place where come together to meet with God.   By referring to the church building as God’s house we may also be creating some other problems for ourselves and for others.  In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “Do we build God a house so that we can choose when to go and see God?” or ”Do we build God a house so that we don’t have to invite him to ours?”  Her suggestion is that by naming the church building as God’s house we may be actually trying to create a box where we can place God.  Keeping Him in isolation so that we know where He is when we need to find Him but also as an act of control – trying to box Him in so that God doesn’t step outside our expectations of Him.

In the gospel lesson for today, we hear John’s account of Jesus in the temple.  We hear that in the temple, “[Jesus] found people selling cattle, sheep and doves and the money changers seated at their tables”.  It should be noted that there was nothing strange about this.  This was a normal part of temple worship.  In order to make sure that the animals offered in sacrifice were without blemish and properly prepared and inspected they were sold right there in the outer courtyard of the temple.

But Jesus overthrows the tables and upsets the marketplace saying, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Why the anger?  What is so upsetting about the way things have always been done?  Jesus is not interested in just keeping things going the way they always have.  He comes to disrupt the status quo so that people can fully embrace who God is and the life that God has called them to.

The buying and selling of the animals happened in the outer courtyard of the temple – this was as far as any Gentile was allowed to enter and some Gentiles would gather there to hear the prayers and to be part of the worship experience.  So perhaps this is one of the reasons that Jesus emphasizes in the other gospel accounts, “my Father’s house is to be a house of prayer”.  But here, John does not emphasize this.  We do however hear Jesus’ challenge “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.  A statement that makes no sense to them at the time.  In fact they challenge him back, “we have been building this temple for 46 years and you would be able to rebuild it in 3 days”.  C’mon Jesus – that is just foolishness.  It makes no sense.  It’s not even possible.  Later they realized that he was talking about his own body.  That his body is the temple – that it was torn down as he was crucified and that God raised him up in three days.

This account of Jesus and the overthrowing of the tables in the temple is more than just a story – it illustrates how his ministry overthrew the old forms of worship – it is no longer about outward appearance and doing all these things right – worshipping God is about a real encounter with the living God and about renewed hearts and lives.  Many who attended temple worship were just going through the motions – doing what they had been taught to do – this is what it looks like to be a good and devout Jewish worshipper.  And Jesus comes to bring life to what was dead – to challenge the empty form and to call people to true worship.

Paul writes a letter to the church at Corinth and he says, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”   Sometimes I think we wonder why don’t more people believe – why don’t more people turn towards Jesus?

But Paul explains – to people who are still looking for their own solutions – to those who are not done with pulling themselves up – trying their own ways to attain salvation – to those people the cross of Christ is foolish.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul asks.  The message of the gospel is not understood by human wisdom.  Although it is important to know what you believe and why – others are not won over to the gospel by clever sounding arguments.  They may come to agree or mentally ascent to the wisdom of the ten commandments or the idea that there must be a higher power or a great Creator.  To really believe that Jesus is the son of God and that His death on the cross is essential for life is not calculated in the brain or understood by human wisdom – it is a response of the heart – the Spirit. It is only as we come to the end of ourselves – lay aside our own reputations – our own abilities – our own works that we are truly able to receive and know the good news of Jesus Christ as the son of God – the saviour of the world.  It is only as we recognize that salvation is beyond our control – beyond anything that we can do for ourselves or for others – that we can receive it.

I am a big fan of the Canadian game Trivial Pursuit and I love to watch Jeopardy.  I feel good when I know the answers.  It is great to be thought of as smart or the one who has the answers.  We all want to be respected or recognized for something – some wisdom or some skill – some ability.  It can be difficult to die to those things – it can be difficult to risk your reputation to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for your life and yet that is what it means to become a fool for Christ.  Others may not understand why God is so important to you – they may question your judgment and yet someone once said, “I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of man than a fool in the eyes of God.”

Jesus says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.  And we might say to ourselves, “Well at least we got that part right.  We don’t buy and sell things here!”  What is a marketplace but somewhere that transactions occur – someone gives money so that they can get something or buy something from someone else?

Already this year in Lent, God has been speaking in the Old Testament passages about covenant.  Last week his Covenant with Abraham, the week before His covenant with Noah and all humanity and today we hear about the ten commandments or the Old Covenant – the rules, if you will, for living a holy life before God.  But do we understand that the Covenant that God makes with us is a vow and not a business contract?  Do we realize that God longs to be in real relationship with us – to love us unconditionally and he longs to be loved by us in return?

I think it is easy for us to slip into thinking about our relationship with God and the church as a contract or as a transaction.  I will do these things for God so that God will love me or protect me or prosper and bless me.  I will exchange one hour a week of my free time so that God will honor his commitment and watch out for me and my family.

Maybe this is thinking that Jesus needs to turn the tables on.  We do not earn or buy God’s favor.  His love for us is not a transaction.

So the question is, what tables need to be overturned in your life?  What are the things in your life, in my life, in the life of this church that need to be thrown over or set aside so that others can be drawn into God’s presence?  Wouldn’t it be great if we came to church not because this is the only place that we meet God but we come to church because in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the sharing of the sacraments, and in the community of Christ’s body we perceive God’s grace most clearly and love Him mostly ardently.  And from here then we are sent out to look for God and, even more, to partner with God in our various roles and venues to love and bless the people and world God loves so much?

May God help us to see this place not as a house where we keep Him until we need Him but as a recharge station – where we come to be encouraged and renewed so that we can go back out into the world  – into our lives to partner with God in sharing His love and grace.  May God help us to long to be in His presence and learn from Him not so that He will do things for us but because we love Him and long to worship him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Amen.

 

Epiphany 3 – Are you a Leader or a Follower?

A homily by Mother Beth

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

  1. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

How would you answer the question on the application?  Are you a leader?  I think we all would assume, like the girl did, that the right answer should be yes!  We teach our children not to be followers at school – they should be the one to lead – they should be the one to make up their own mind – do not give in to peer pressure.  Are you a leader?  I am genuinely asking the question – this is not some trick to get you to sign up for a position in the church or to write a vestry report.  Are you a leader?  As I considered the idea of following and being a follower, I realized that it is not usually a characteristic that we admire.

Think about playing Follow the Leader when you were a kid.  Did you want to be the leader or the follower.  I remember wanting to be a good follower and wanting to support my friend or classmate who was leading but it wasn’t too long into their turn as Leader and I was thinking… ugh we are hopping again?  I don’t want to hop.  Or we are going in this direction?  I would have gone the other way!!  I suspect we still do this in some situations.

The gospel lesson this morning shows us a picture of immediate response.  We are plunged into to end of John the Baptist’s ministry and the beginning of Jesus ministry within a couple of verses.

 

 

Mark is drawing us into the action.  John was proclaiming the one who is to come and Jesus is saying here it is  – the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God has come near – it’s the right time now!

John is arrested.   That does not sound like good news.  And yet it is right on the heels of this scary and serious news that Jesus appears and begins to proclaim the good news.  How many times have things not worked out the way you planned?  Can you hear the good news even while the bad news is ringing in your ears?  Take heart – while things look lost and the plan seems to have gone awry, the Kingdom of God has come near. It’s the right time for us to hear the good news now!

The quick shift from the future to the present tense emphasizes the writer’s focus on the importance of Jesus’ ministry.  After all that time of waiting – 400 years of silence between the prophets and the gospels – let’s cut right to the chase!

So we see a picture of Jesus calling followers as he walks along.  First we have Simon and Andrew as they are fishing.   Jesus calls out and invites them to follow him and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow.

Are you a decisive person?  Are you able to quickly make up your mind and do something?  I must confess that I often take my time in making a decision.  Some of us are very cautious around making any decision and then the big decisions, the life changing decisions can take months or even years to be made.

What would it take to inspire such a response?  We could say that Simon and Andrew are impulsive decision makers but then we see the same response from James and John in the next verse.

Something is going on here.   What would it take for you to drop everything that meant security; everything that meant your identity and change directions?  What could create such urgency, such excitement, such desperation to follow?

I have to be honest and tell you that in preparing to write this I was struggling to remember a time when I responded to anything with this urgency.

I think many of us (including myself at times) think that we need to have the answers all worked out – that we need to know exactly what we believe about every aspect of who Jesus Christ is before we take the next step.  And some of us are hesitant because life experience has taught us that even with the best intentions, things don’t always go the way we plan them.   But right here in the gospel we see four examples of following without complete understanding.

According to the gospel of Mark and also in Matthew, these men responded to the call to follow without knowing very much about Jesus.   So what was the motivation?  Why do we follow someone?

To follow someone is to want to go where that person is leading.  In this scripture Jesus is proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near so perhaps these four men are interested in getting to or seeing evidence of the kingdom of God.

To follow someone is to trust that they know what they are talking about.  Lots of people today listening to hear what leaders or so-called leaders are saying –

Lady Gaga who is a singer or a pop music artist has 74.6M followers on Twitter – people can sign up to follow someone and then every time they make a statement you are notified on your phone or computer.  You can literally hang on every word that someone has to say.   Millions of people trust that Lady Gaga has something to say and so they follow her.
Who do you trust to have something to say?  The disciples trusted that Jesus knew what he was talking about and so they immediately followed him.

To follow someone is to stop following other things and focus on where they lead.  The disciples dropped their fishing gear – left it right where it fell.  To follow Jesus for them meant to abandon their livelihood – to change their identity.  They were no longer going to be fishermen but to become fishers of men.  And we don’t know if they even knew what that meant.  They trusted that Jesus would lead them.

To follow someone is to surrender control of the details of your life.    When I was ten, my parents and two other families from our church planned to drive to Florida for the March break.

My family had never been to Florida but one of the other families had and they had mapped the route.  And so we drove from Ontario to Florida – three vehicles in a row – following the leader.  But when someone else leads they choose the details of where to stop, when to stop, how long to stop, maybe even what route to take.

I think for my father who was a bus driver it must have been very frustrating at times to let someone else lead – to surrender control of some of the driving decisions to someone else.  He trusted that the other family knew where they were going and how to get there.  And we did in fact get there!

Andrew, Simon, James and John had to trust that Jesus knew where he was going and how to get there.

They must have trusted that he was going somewhere that they wanted to go or maybe they just wanted to be with him.  Have you ever wanted to be with someone so much that you didn’t care where they went – you wanted to go along.  Think about a time when you first met that someone special – they could have been going to the doctor or the dump but if they asked you to go you would have gladly followed after them.

The gospel lesson today is challenging.  We each might ask ourselves, if Jesus walked in here today in his physical body and asked us to follow him – would we drop everything and follow?  Would we trust that He knows where he is going?  Would we trust that he has something to say?  Would we surrender control of the directions? Would we want to be with him so much that it wouldn’t matter where he was leading?

The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to have it all figured out – we don’t have to know the answers.  Jesus calls us all, all who are willing – to follow him.  The good news is that it is ok to follow Jesus.

We don’t always have to lead – we can trust him to know where we are going and to get us there safely in his time.  Gracious God may each of us have some time this week to visit with you in new ways and to hear your Son call us to follow him.  May we in this Church trust you to lead them into this new year and may we be willing to follow.  Amen.

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.

The Reign of Christ

Ezekiel 34:11-24

11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

The Reign of Christ                by Mother Beth                          Matthew 25

We have come to the end of the year – the Lectionary year or Liturgical year that is.  Next week we begin a brand new year with the first week of Advent.  Since we are at the end of the year, now is a good time to make resolutions.  What would you like to change for this new year?  What would you personally like to work on?

Over the last several weeks the scripture readings have been emphasizing a sense of urgency about the return of Christ and a need to be prepared – we heard the parable of the ten bridesmaids – with oil in their lamps waiting for the return of the bridegroom and then we heard the parable of the talents – the slaves or workers waiting for the return of their master.  In both instances the waiting was delayed long than expected but there was a need to be ready no matter when the return should happen.

Now today we hear another parable about the return of the King and when he comes how he will determine who has been faithful.  It is very clear here that the role of judge is played by Christ alone.  As much as we are tempted to suggest who is “in” and who is “out” – that is not for us to say – who deserves to be rewarded and who deserves to live in torment.    And we may be prone to thinking of the person who cut us off in traffic or the one who bullied us in school.  But the truth is… Only God sees the heart of someone – only God knows what they believe or what intent they have used.  And that is all the more clear to me as I read this passage.  The people themselves are surprised at the results!

The image we see is of Christ as Shepherd.  The Ezekiel passage and the gospel both refer to this image.  And we need to see all aspects of the Shepherd here – In the Ezekiel passage is emphasized the Shepherd looking out for the sheep – protecting and seeking them out.  The Shepherd is the keeper of the sheep.

In Matthew’s gospel the Shepherd is separating the goats from the sheep.  The sheep he refers to as blessed by his Father and these are the ones who fed him, clothed him, and welcomed him.  And yet they did not realize that they had done these things.  They ask, “When was it that you were thirsty or hungry?  When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?  And Christ explains – when you did it to the least of these – you did it for me.

So what is the surprise for them?  Are they surprised that they did not recognize Christ?  Are they surprised that Christ was in those moments?  Isn’t this the least likely place to see the King of Glory?  And yet that is the very place that He appears.  Soon we will begin looking towards that stable in Bethlehem – to the humility of the incarnation – looking towards the birth of a baby – a baby who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Because the beauty of the manger is that Jesus is born in the least likely place to the least likely people and he is the same King of Glory – the Son of Man that we hear about today in this passage.  The baby does not become these things – he does not grow up to become great.  No, he is the divine son of God right from the beginning of time – “God of God, Light of Light, begotten not created”

So is it that surprising that we should find him out with those who are in need of food, clothing and welcome?

Matthew has been revealing this about Christ throughout his whole gospel.  We struggled more than once in this year with the Beatitudes and how in Matthew 5 we have this list of who God called blessed – those who mourn, those who are peacemakers, those who are poor, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

So it should be no surprise that to serve these people is to serve Christ – to feed and clothe and welcome them is to do these things for him.  And yet I think there is more to this parable than just the idea that if we need to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.

We hear again an urgency about reassessing our priorities and I suspect it is not just about getting things right for eternity.  The idea is that we are missing out on these moments of ministering to Christ while we are here on this earth.  That in keeping our eyes on the end game – and assuming that we are all set to get to Heaven is to miss out on what we should be doing in the meantime – while we are still here on earth.  That our lives should be impacted not just for ourselves – and making sure that we are going to get into heaven but that we should be looking to the welfare of others.

That true love of God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is made manifest is my love for neighbor – loving them as I would love myself.

And I suspect that is what makes the difference in these two instances – that the deciding factor is not just whether you helped the poor and the homeless but whether you and I are able to do that from a place of love – love of God and love of neighbor.  It is not about doing things to feel better about yourself or doing things so that you or I can justify our own lifestyles and relieve our own guilt – you’ve seen the commercials that play up the emotion of the situation.  I believe there is a lot of that kind of motivation going around.  It is not about helping others in the spirit of Christmas or in response to an inspirational movie.  But truly letting the love of God permeate our whole being so that whatever we do we do as onto Christ himself.

Most importantly about this passage I think is that we are invited to see God in the here and now not just in some far away hope or dream of what might be.  We are encouraged to see the face of Christ and to see Him in all the least expected places.   We are reminded that God is Emmanuel – God with us – right here in the midst of us.   And so as we prepare to begin the Advent of the Christ, we are expectant and hopeful.  God is not a long way off – looking down on us – waiting to discipline us but rather He is here among us – even among the least of us and each day we can faithfully worship him in love and service to others.  May we take this opportunity at the beginning of a new church year to refocus and reassess – may we seek out Christ in all the places that we frequent.  May we see His face in all of those around us – ministering to them out of His love and compassion.

 

Amen.