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.

Who or What do you Worship?

 

Matthew 22:15-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parable of the Workers

The First Reading from Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“  13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20                 The Parable of the Workers – a homily by Mother Beth

It is hard, at times, to not look around and wonder why it is that if everyone is blessed why are some more blessed than others?   And in the interest of making sense of wealth and success we often find ourselves looking at strategy – measuring ourselves against others and attempting to judge the “fairness” of it all.  We could say this is a new problem – a problem in the Western world where consumerism and market share rules the world and yet, the gospel lesson today speaks about this very issue.

The gospel written more than a thousand years ago on the other side of the world.  And that tells me that it is not such a new problem but rather a long-standing human inclination – that we from the beginning of time, or at least the fall of man, have being keeping track of each other and measuring our worth against the worth of another.

Jesus starts his parable saying, “The kingdom of God is like a landowner”.  Let’s not miss the point of this parable – Jesus is explaining or painting a word picture of how God’s economy works.  He is revealing God’s character and that is the most important and encouraging point of the story.  No matter what we have experienced at the hand of others – at the hand of the religious – or at the hand of the church – this is who God is.

The landowner goes out to find workers and he agrees to pay them a fair wage for their work.  And the landowner continues to go out throughout the day to find workers – he doesn’t just invite once and then that is the end of his invitation –he continues to go out at the beginning of the day, at nine o’clock and noon and at three and then finally at five o’clock the landowner is still out looking for more workers to come in and get paid for their work.    God’s invitation is on-going.  There is still time to be welcomed in.  Do not feel like you have missed the one opportunity that there was to receive what God has for you.  Do not let others make you feel like you have missed it.  God is the patient and faithful landowner who keeps looking for workers throughout the day.

The parable starts at the end of chapter 19 when Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  And then ends with Jesus saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  We jokingly use this saying especially if we find ourselves at the end of the buffet line but, what is the point of this mixing up of firsts and lasts?  Who really wants to be last?

In a buffet line we might be worried that the food will run out before we get there.  Or at least we are concerned that that one piece of pie that we have been eyeing will not be there by the time we make it through the line.  The good news for us is that God’s love and grace are endless.  There is no danger that He will run out of whatever good thing it is that we need from him.

This parable reminds us that the last are treated just as the first and the first are treated just as the last.  Neither is a position of honor and both are equally welcome to God’s grace and mercy.   God himself is Alpha and Omega – the Beginning and the End.  Whether first or last we all are welcome to partake in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

But let’s face it we often get caught up the economy of this world.  When the workers get paid and the landowner suggests that the last workers to be hired should be paid first – they are given a full day’s wage.  So the others looking on are quick to assume that they must be getting more – that’s only fair.  And as the first workers get paid and receive also a full day’s wage – they are disappointed and complain, “You have made them equal to us!”  Isn’t that our response to others much of the time?  We might not mind working alongside someone but we are quick to notice that they do not do as much work as we do.    We notice how long their lunch break is or how often they stop to talk at the water cooler.   We are quick to feel slighted.

We could think about this parable in terms of the church.  We forget that we are not earning our way into God’s grace and so sometimes we are indignant that others who have just started attending church or those who don’t come all that often get to share in the great gift of God’s grace and mercy.  We are less inclined to have them in positions of authority or for them to have a say in how we do things around here.

But God’s grace knows no time – like the master in the parable – God is pleased that we have chosen to show up no matter what time it is – no matter how long the road that led us back to Him.

And those of us who have been in the church a long time should rejoice with those who are new to faith.  Excited that they have come to know God – pleased that they want to labor with us and alongside us.  Grateful to be on this journey with them and with God.

Years ago in North Bay, Ontario we received a full basket of Christmas goodies – a gift from a church community and I remember being overwhelmed but also feeling embarrassed – we take it as someone’s judgment of our inability to pay for ourselves.  We are so used to being criticized and judged that we see being helped as a sign of weakness and so we resent it – like we don’t need the help – feeling like we should repay it if not to the person it came from then to someone else.

But God’s generosity is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about  – nor is it something that can be repaid.

God’s generosity doesn’t make sense in the world’s economy and it does not play by our rules of fair.  It just is.  The very essence of God is generous.

Let’s remember God’s generosity towards us and be thankful that no matter where we come from or what hour of the day we have arrived, God is pleased that we showed up!   God welcomes us.

As we go about our week, let’s look for opportunities to extend God’s welcome to all those who might feel like they have missed their chance to be reconciled to God and to the church.   Let us extend to those who are willing to come and join in our labor in God’s vineyard.

And as God’s representatives we ask that God we help us to learn to be generous in our approach to others.   I know that sometimes it is hard to be vulnerable and to talk about Jesus with others.  It can be uncomfortable to invite people to join us in prayer or at church.  The challenge in the gospel today is for us to extend generously to others – to not just ask once but to keep asking – to keep offering – to keep extending just as our Heavenly Father has continued to ask, offer and extend to us.

How will the Love of God make itself manifest in the world but through us!   We love God because we have been loved by God and that love should flow through us to others.  We are gracious because God has been gracious with us and that grace cannot help but flow through us to others.  We are generous in hospitality and welcome because God has been generous toward us and as we spend time with Him and become more like Jesus that generosity flows through us to others.

This week, may God open our eyes to those individuals around us who are longing to be invited and welcomed.  May he strengthen us and give us courage so that we might partner with him in welcoming others on this journey with Christ.

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.