Advent I/ The “Origin Story” of Jesus

The First Reading from Isaiah 64:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advent I or the “Origin Story” of Jesus     

by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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.

The Parable of the Talents

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.29For to all 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The Parable of the Talents      by Mother Beth                                   Matthew 25

Several years ago when Stephen and I were on vacation with our boys it became obvious that fear was playing a big part in deciding what theme park rides we could all go on together.  You see Stephen and I are both roller coaster riders but our sons are not quite that daring.  So one afternoon by the pool I decided to have a chat with the boys about fear and how it can sometimes have the upper hand in our lives.  I wanted to emphasize that fear is not necessarily logical and if they could just see the logic of a situation they could overcome their fear.  When the chat was over, Nathan asked if I would go down the waterslide at the pool.

Now this waterslide is a completely enclosed tube that goes into a small brick structure and winds around to come out into the deep end of the pool and I do not like enclosed spaces.  I attempted to put Nathan off by saying that I would rather not go down the slide, to which he blurted, “Mom you can’t give us a lecture on overcoming our fears and then give in to yours!”

Ah yes.  The old adage “do as I say not as I do” had come back to haunt me.  So I decided that I would attempt to go down the slide.    I watched as many small children and many adults went down the slide unscathed: plunging with a smile into the warm pool.  I went to the top of the slide, I sat down in the slide and froze.

I could not muster the strength to go down that slide.  I was paralyzed with illogical fear.  I summoned all my strength, I told myself that if four and five year olds could go down without fear, I need not be afraid.  I tried again and backed out.  Nathan and Matthew swam waving at the bottom of the slide cheering me on.  Steve coached from the top and still I cowered in fear at the thought of getting into the slide!  It was not rational or even reasonable but it was real fear.  Now I realize that in one way it made absolutely no difference if I ever went down that slide but I wanted to show my children that I could overcome fear and make my own decision.

Finally, another gentleman came along and said, “Just so you know, you have a crowd of kids cheering you on so why don’t you just close your eyes and go – with your eyes closed you won’t know if it’s dark or light and the water will just pull you along.”  So that is what I did.  I closed my eyes and went down that slide twice – the first time to show Nathan that I could do it and the second to prove to myself that I could do it again.

So what is the point of this story?  The point is that fear is real and it can be powerful.  Fear can keep us from doing the things that we need to do or from taking a risk and doing something new and different.  Fear can control us if we let it.

In the gospel reading today we hear about risk taking.  Jesus tells the parable of the talents.  To one servant a master gave 5 talents, to another he gave two talents and to the last servant the master gave a single talent.  This master entrusted to his servants large sums of money.

Today a talent is thought to be about 20 years-worth of wages (about 1.5 million dollars).  The first two servants are praised for being faithful with the money that they were given.  They each managed to invest their sums and double it.   The third servant takes his talent and buries it.  Why does he do this?  Fear.  He is afraid of his master and he is afraid of losing the money.  He is given an opportunity to show faithfulness but he is paralyzed by fear.

Further we see that the third servant thinks that his Master is harsh and calls him someone who reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he did not scatter seed!  But is this a true picture of the Master?  The master entrusted to this servant a large sum of money – a generous offer; allowing the servant an opportunity to show faithfulness.  Unfortunately, the servant does not seem to know his master.  Perhaps he has a picture in his mind’s eye of who the master is and he has allowed this picture, this idea of a harsh master to cloud his behavior and make him afraid.

Have you ever walked through a fun house and looked in those mirrors?  The reflection back is a very distorted picture of who you are.  One mirror will exaggerate your head, another will stretch your body.  It is a reflection of you but not an accurate one.  Sometimes I think this is how we view God.

We may have had a bad experience with other Christians or we may have heard a distorted interpretation of scripture.  Someone may have used God as a punishment for our behavior.  When we hear that God is a Father we may have a distorted view of him because we did not have a very good experience with our own father.  Do we have a distorted picture of who God is?  Does that picture of a harsh, demanding God keep us from fulfilling His purposes here on Earth?  We have been entrusted with the gospel – a message of good news; a message of hope and reconciliation.  Our image of who God is and what he expects of us might limit our willingness to share that good news with others.

Our distorted image of God might even keep us from seeing the gospel as Good News.

What about how we see ourselves?  Sometimes I think the paralyzing fear comes in the insecurity about our own abilities.  What if the last servant doesn’t trust his own ability to make a good decision?  I mean it is all well and good to invest the master’s money but what if I choose the wrong thing to invest in?  What if I am not smart enough to see the good thing when it is offered to me?  Many times I think we have a distorted view of ourselves, as well.  And that indecision and fear keeps us from moving forward.

Just being entrusted with something is not enough.  The servant was given the talent but he didn’t do anything with it.  Just being given the peace and forgiveness of the gospel is not enough – we are expected to share it.  Burying it will not do any good for us or for our neighbours.   You may have noticed that in our society we have a little problem with hoarding things – just turn on the TV and you will see shows called Consumed, Hoarders or Storage Wars.  We are amassing things just because.  Not for their usefulness, not to help others but just to have them.  Keeping these things stored is costing us thousands of dollars a year!

Things are meant to be used or to be shared.  The Master rewarded the servants who took what they were given and used it for his gain.  God has entrusted to us his message of hope for the world.  It is good news to us and to others.   What is our motivation?  Are we held back by fear of risk and failure OR are we motivated by God’s great love for us and His generosity towards us?   May we see in our Master the generosity and grace that that extends great gifts to us.  May we see ourselves as He sees – entrusted with the gospel – chosen to take risks and to make an impact on our community.  May His love compel us to be faithful to go out into the world and share the great gift that He has entrusted to us.  Amen.

 

All Saints

1 John 3:1-7

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

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

Revelation 7:9-17

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

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

 

All Saints Sunday Sermon  by Mother Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who or What do you Worship?

 

Matthew 22:15-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.