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.

God can change Horrible Events into Positive Outcomes

The First Reading from Genesis 45:1-15

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

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

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

God can change horrible events into positive outcomes –

A homily for August 20 by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pure Faith

Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Pure Faith – a homily for August 13th by Mother Beth

Have you ever had a moment of pure faith?   A moment where you thought and felt like anything was possible with God?  Or maybe a moment where you were so caught up in worship or prayer that all the cares and concerns of this world seemed non-existent?   It occurs to me that we see something like that happening in the gospel reading for today.

Jesus has sent the disciples away in a boat so that he can have some time to pray.  The passage starts with an urgency, “Immediately”.  If we look back at what has happened just before this we learn that Jesus has heard about the death of John the Baptist and before he can respond to what he has heard, a crowd has surrounded him and they are hungry.  So Jesus encourages the disciples to feed the crowd of 5000 people.    You may remember that this involves a miracle – Jesus takes 5 small loaves and two fish and multiplies that food to satisfy the whole crowd.   Not only does Jesus feed the whole crowd but the disciples gather up an extra twelve baskets full.  There is a message here about generosity and God’s lavish approach of providing not just enough but much more than enough.

But now, Jesus has made the disciples get into the boat while he dismissed the crowds so that he could go aside to pray.   Why does he do this?  I don’t think it is that hard to imagine that Jesus must need time alone after all the healing and ministering that he has done.  Nor is it hard to recognize that he has heard the disturbing news about John the Baptist and now needs to spend time with God determining what the next steps are.   Perhaps he reads the signs of the times and the violence towards John as the approach of what must surely be coming his direction.

It occurred to me this week that something else may be happening as well.  If any of you are parents or caregivers you will know that as you are teaching small children there is a time when you need to offer them the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.  Perhaps Jesus is doing something similar with the disciples.  They have been with him while he fed the crowds, while he healed the sick and did many other great miracles.  Jesus releases the disciples to go for a while on their own.  He gives them space to practice their faith.

After quite some time, we read that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.”   Interestingly, we do not hear how the disciples are faring at this point.

But early in the morning, Jesus appears, walking toward them on the water.  And now we hear that the disciples are terrified.   Specifically, when they saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified.  They do not recognize that it is Jesus.  They think it is a ghost.  And they cry out in fear.

Jesus responds to their fear by encouraging them to “Take heart” or “Do not be Afraid”.   These are the words that we hear throughout scripture.  The angel says them to Mary at the Anunciation.   The Angels say them after the resurrection.   Jesus recognizes that this is a fearful situation.  His appearing to them, walking on the water, is miraculous and they are struggling to comprehend it.

You might say, why are they afraid of Jesus?  I remember as a kid, my parents had a book that was a collection of various pictures of Christ.  I used to love to go through it and see the many artist’s depictions of Jesus.  But there was this one picture that terrified me.  In fact, I would try hard to skip over it.  Jesus seemed to glow and his eyes were so intense.  It was scary – a ghostlike rendering of Jesus.  It was not how I imagined him to be.  The disciples are terrified because they have not seen Jesus like this before.  They left him safely on the shore and now here he is right in the midst of the chaotic and roaring sea.

Jesus assures them by saying, “It is I or I am”.  Remember waking up from a bad dream or nightmare and being reassured by your parent – it’s ok.  I am here.  Jesus is reassuring the disciples.  I am not just a figment of this terrifying storm.  I am here.

And Peter has this moment of pure faith.   Something about seeing Jesus walking on the water, prompts him to suggest that he too might experience this amazing feat.  So he says, Lord, if it is you, ask me to come to you.    And Jesus does just that.  Jesus says, Come.  And Peter takes a step out of the boat.  Peter steps out of the realm of impossibilities = he defies natural laws and begins to move toward Christ.

As soon as he looks around – he is reminded of the wind and the waves.  He is reminded of his own frailty and his human nature and he begins to sink.  I think we can relate to Peter.  We come to church and we hear the word of God or we spend time praying and we are lifted by the presence of God.  We spend time in worship and we are transported by praise and we have a moment of pure faith.   We see God and we recognize that he can do the impossible and in that moment we say, “If this is really you, ask me to come to you”  and we take the step.

But once we are out of the boat, we are reminded of the rough sea and the wind.  We have a hard time focussing on Jesus.  We forget that he is right there with us and we begin to sink.

The good news for Peter is that Jesus was right there and was able to reach out and catch Peter.  And that is the good news for us too.  When we look around and we see the rough sea and the waves and we forget for a moment that we are not doing this alone, Jesus is right there.  Jesus is ready to catch us.  He says to us, “Do not be afraid, It is I.”

Jesus guides Peter back to the boat and in the boat with Jesus the wind stops and there is peace.

Christ guides us back to the safe place and restores peace for us too.

May God give us strength this week as we navigate the rough sea of this world.  May we keep our eyes on Jesus as we are battered about by the waves of chaos and evil that we hear so much about.  May he reach out and catch us if we momentarily forget that we are walking with him.  May he bring us back into the boat and restore his peace.  Amen.

Transfiguration – When the Smoke clears

The First Reading from Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went to speak with him.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Gospel of Christ.

When the Smoke Clears – a Homily by Mother Beth

When we were first married, Steve and I used to live in Victoria, British Columbia.  Victoria is a beautiful city of gardens and our apartment had a lovely view of the Olympic Mountains.  The Olympic mountains are part of the mountain range known as the Rockies.  They are majestic and beautiful but it was surreal for a girl like me from Ontario – to see mountains.

Lately the western coast of Canada and the US is experiencing many forest fires caused in part by the extreme heat this summer.  So today, if we were to sit on my former balcony in that little apartment I can assure you that we most definitely would not have a view of those mountains.  The smoke from the forest fires has made it impossible to see.     Are the mountains still there?  Absolutely.  My not being able to see them does not mean that they have moved or ceased to exist.

Today in the gospel we hear the story of the Transfiguration.  In the preceding chapter of Luke’s gospel people have been trying to figure out who Jesus is.  There has been speculation that he is a prophet John the Baptist or – a reincarnation of Elijah.  Jesus has asked his own disciples who do you say that I am – and Peter has answered “You are the Christ of God”.   In the passage we hear read today – Jesus takes Peter, James and John apart to pray.  While they are praying Jesus is transfigured.  He begins to shine bright white and two figures appear beside him, talking with him.  The figures are Moses and Elijah.

This would lay to rest any concern that Jesus and Elijah are the same person but it also reveals that Jesus is more than just a special human or a great teacher.  Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of the divinity of Christ.  Their eyes are opened to the truth about Jesus.  They can now see that what Peter has said of Jesus is indeed true – he is the Christ – he is God.

Now let me clarify, Jesus is transfigured in so much as the disciples can now see what was there all along.  Oh yes, Jesus has been walking around in human form – He has not been all shiny and bright as they see him now.  But Jesus is not the one who has changed.  The disciples are changed because their eyes are now able to see what was hidden from them before.    The penny has dropped – so to speak.

Peter is prompted to respond to what he sees and offers to build huts or tents for them to stay there and linger in the glory of the moment.   Then the voice from the cloud announces “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

You may remember that there was also a voice that made an announcement at Jesus’ baptism which said something similar.  “you are my Son – in you I am well pleased”.  I think it is important to note that the voice at Jesus baptism was directed at Jesus himself – “you are my Son” but this time the voice is directed towards the disciples.  “This is my son, my chosen” – is a statement of introduction – a statement of affirmation for the disciples that Jesus is God’s son.  And then comes the response “listen to him”.

This is God’s endorsement.  This is the confirmation that they have needed.    So what are the disciples to do when they are confronted with the Christ – when the light finally dawns and they realize that Jesus is who he says he is?  Listen to him.  They are called not to build huts and stay on the mountain top.  They are called to follow Christ down from the mountain and listen to him.  Learn from him.

You see when the smoke clears from those wildfires out West the mountains will reappear in all their glory.  What will it take to clear the smoke from our own eyes so that we can truly see Jesus?

Do you remember the song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”?   Turn your eyes upon Jesus – look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

What happens when we look at Jesus?  What happens when we refocus our life around Christ?  The things of this world, the distractions – the good things and the bad – the troubles, the problems, the work, the leisure –all of it tempts us to get our eyes off of Jesus and onto something else.   When we look at Jesus all these things seem as the song says, “strangely dim” – not as shiny or important – not as serious or scary – they hold less power over us.  They create less anxiety for us.

Perhaps you think that you are not in the right place to receive such revelation from God.  Well the gospel tells us that just before this great moment of Transfiguration, Peter has answered Jesus question saying, “You are the Messiah.”  But when Jesus begins to explain that he will have to suffer and die, Peter resists him, even rebukes him.   And then right after this correction, Jesus has taken Peter, James and John up to the mountain and there he is transfigured.  They see the truth – no longer is there any confusion.  Peter realizes that this is what really matters – this is the only truth worth seeking after –Jesus Christ is the son of God and nothing else is as important as that.

Surely we can take courage from that.  Peter who seemed to know the truth – after all he gave the right answer to the question- even Peter did not understand what he was saying.  Jesus had to rebuke him.  So no matter whether you think you understand or not.  No matter whether you think you have just blown it with God.  God longs to reveal himself to you.  God wants to be truly known by you.    The transfiguration reveals the truth about Jesus.  And this truth is the hope that will help Peter, James and John as they journey the next steps on the road to the crucifixion.    Today may we each have an encounter with Christ that will reveal the truth of who he is – that will confirm for us that He is indeed the Messsiah – the chosen one – the son of God.   I pray that that encounter would drive us to seek out ways of observing and worshipping him as the Lord of our lives – to build not huts on a mountain top but to build our lives around those times of seeking his face and listening to Him.  We call him Lord – which is an old fashioned word today but which acknowledges the place that we give him in our lives – to call Jesus Lord is to say that he is more important than we are – to call Jesus Lord is to say that he is someone that we choose to serve.

I want to be clear here and say that whether I say Jesus is my Lord or not the truth is that Jesus is Lord of all – my believing it does not make it true – it is true and when I believe it then I am aligning myself with that truth.

This is why Philippians 2 says, [Phl 2:9-11 NIV] 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Have you discovered the truth of who Jesus is?  God wants to give you a picture of his glory so that you can press through difficult times; knowing that God is greater than any dark road that you may have to walk.

Peter, James and John are given that experience as a gift as they witness the transfiguration.  The truth of who Jesus is enabled them to also walk faithfully with Christ to the crucifixion –when it looked like their whole world was falling apart.

God the Father says to us today, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to Him.”  Are you ready to lean in and listen to what God will say to you?  May Christ reveal himself in Glory to each of us and may we heed the call of the Father when he says, “This is my Son, my chosen.  Listen to Him”  Amen.

 

The Wheat and the Weeds

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

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

The Wheat and the Weeds – A Homily by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently read a little saying…

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Generosity of Grace

 

The First Reading from  Genesis 25:19-3419These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.   29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 13:1-23

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” 10Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ 16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. 18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”       

 

God’s Generosity of Grace  a homily by Mother Beth

The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar’s need. Why give him gold?” Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”

This week we pick up our Genesis reading with Isaac and Rebekah.  Isaac prays to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she is unable to have children.  Isaac is forty when he starts praying and the he is sixty when the children are born so although the response to Issac’s prayer is handled here in one verse and   sounds like a quick response to Isaac’s effective prayer – recognize that there is time involved – there is patience involved – there is faith involved.  Isaac believes through all the years of difficulty that Rebekah will bear children.  Often it is easy to lose hope and to assume that God has forgotten us or chosen not to answer us but do not despair – God is faithful.

As Rebekah carries the children – it is not a comfortable pregnancy – the twins wrestle within her.  And when she asks God what is happening – He tells her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

So Esau and Jacob are born and we are given the detail that Jacob is born second but comes out of his mother’s womb grasping the heal of Esau and we recognize that this will be significant because we have already heard the prophecy that the older child will serve the younger.

And if we had any doubt that parents really do love all their children the same it is refuted right here – Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Favoritism happens in families – we are more comfortable with someone’s personality or we are proud of so and so’s accomplishments.  We are drawn more easily into dealing with certain situations and things just get too complicated with that person – whatever our reasoning – we choose our favorites.

So one day Jacob was making stew and Esau came in from hunting and was very hungry.  Esau demands that Jacob give him some of the stew.  And Jacob sees this as an opportunity.  HE asks Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of the stew.  I am sure that many times children – boys or girls – barter with their siblings.  I often hear my boys negotiating a deal – if one of them has money and the other needs some – or if one is buying or getting something then the other will encourage or advise what to buy so that it will come out to their advantage or at least so that they can both benefit from the transaction.

Jacob is an opportunist.  He sees how hungry his brother is and I am sure that he has learned from past experience that Esau is all about instant gratification, so he strikes on this particular opportunity.  Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Honestly it seems to me that neither of these men are painted in the best light.  Who thinks so little of their birthright that they would sell it for a meal?  Who is that impetuous?  But, we could also say, who is so opportunistic that they take advantage of the situation and offer so little?

Who would take the birthright from their own sibling?

Now, we know that God had already prophesied that the older would serve the younger AND that both men will be great nations and be blessed.

God chose Jacob before his birth – a choice that is more about who God is than about who Jacob is.  God is generous with grace and he gives as a sign of who he is and not because of who the receiver is.

In the gospel reading for today we hear the parable of the sower.  And many times I suspect we have focused on the different kinds of soil that the seed is planted into.  And the parable does emphasize the fact that the difference in the soil makes the difference in the growth of the plant.  I remember when we lived in North Bay and we bought our first house.  I was exploring the property and there was a small shed just along the property line.  I went to look around the shed as I was planning where I would plant a garden and as I looked behind the shed in this sheltered location – there blooming in all its beauty was a clematis.  I was struck by how ridiculous this seemed – no one could see this plant from most of the yard.  You literally had to step back behind the shed and crane your neck around to see it.  But there it was blooming away – loving that secluded spot.   A clematis wasting away its beauty in some hidden spot reminded me of how extravagant God is.  God’s grace extends to all and there is no way to earn it – it is not about how well we are situated – it is not about being nice people or being born into the right family.

The sower scatters the seed generously – and some seed falls on the path – some seed falls on rocky ground – some seed falls among the thorns and still other seed falls on good soil.

God is generous with grace and he scatters it liberally.  That is the good news – God’s grace is extravagantly tossed about.

Sometimes it occurs to me that we are too careful with it.  We want to know that we are only sowing in good soil.  We want to know that the person deserves to hear the good news or that they will respond positively before we tell them.  We are stingy with the love and grace of God.  We are calculating – not wanting to waste what God has so generously bestowed on us.  God gives to us generously so that we can generously give to others.  God chose Jacob – extending grace to him – not because he deserved to be chosen but because God uses whomever he chooses.  The sower sows the seed generously in order to get a generous harvest.  The parable is a picture of the faithfulness of the sower – to keep sowing extravagantly all around.
Only God sees the heart – only God knows when someone is ready to hear the word and receive it.  We need to seize any and all opportunities to sow the seed generously and to trust that God’s grace extends toward us and toward others.   We do not get to decide who will respond or when they will respond just as others could not decide for us.

Wayne Gretzky has been quoted as saying, “This one thing I know that you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”   And the same is true for us.  We may not know who is ready to respond to God’s love and grace but if we never sow the seed then you can be sure that we will not have had a hand in the harvest.

God chooses who he will and we need to leave the results to him.  As we have generously received from God’s hand so we should generously give without partiality.  May God help us to love unconditionally, to be gracious and merciful to those around us and to sow generously into the lives of those in our community.  Amen.

 

God Alone is Trustworthy

Sunday July 9th – God Alone is Trustworthy

The First Reading from  Genesis 24:34-67

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

 

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

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

God alone is Trustworthy – a Homily by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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