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 is Faithful despite our faithlessness

Pentecost +3  – God is Faithful despite our faithlessness

a homily by Mother Beth

The First Reading from  Genesis 21:8-21

8The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”   14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew 10:24-39

24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

God is Faithful despite our faithlessness – Homily Pentecost 3

 

Some problems are of our own making and some are caused by others.  Fear can be a great motivator.  And when we make decisions based on fear, we are giving in to the problem – we are acknowledging that this thing – this situation is bigger than anything else – that we cannot overcome it or at least that we are not sure that we can overcome it.  When God promises something he fulfills his promise – so when God has promised and then we shrink back in fear, we are not trusting God – we are uncertain about whether or not God will make good on his promise.

Sarah had laughed when God said that Abraham would be given a child – She was well beyond child bearing years – this thing that God was promising was completely impossible for humanity to accomplish – there was no natural way for that to happen – a child for Abraham and Sarah would take supernatural intervention – a miracle.  So Sarah laughed.  But God continued to remind Abraham of the promise – I will make you a great nation – and so Sarah – afraid that it would not come to pass – suggested that Abraham have a child with her servant, Hagar.  She had grown tired of waiting for the impossible and began to make decisions out of fear not faith.   So Abraham and Hagar have a child named Ishmael and then years later God fulfills his promise and Abraham and Sarah have a child named Isaac (Laughter).

In the Genesis reading for today, Isaac is now a thriving young boy and Sarah sees the two boys together and begins to fear that Ishmael will inherit Isaac’s birthright – perhaps she is afraid of how rough the boys play together or something but she is afraid and she asks that he – the child of the slave girl – be put out of the house/tent – be cast aside.

Abraham is not pleased about this – he is concerned and cares about his son – but God encourages Abraham to go along with Sarah’s request. God assures Abraham that Ishmael will still receive his blessing – he will still prosper because of Abraham.   So Abraham has Hagar and Ishmael put out of his home and they are left to fend for themselves.

Once the food and water run out and they call out to God in distress – God responds to the cry of the boy – He provides a well of water for them and God ‘was with the boy” and he became a nation.

Sarah’s fear led to the problem in the first place – she wanted to help Abraham to fulfill God’s promise but when God promises – God fulfills it

Sarah’s fear continued to grow and she grew afraid of the solution to her problem too – Ishmael might actually inherit Isaac’s birthright so she reacts and has Ishmael – who she does not even name – put out.

BUT GOD, makes promises to Abraham and Hagar regarding Ishmael – because God has promised in Genesis 12 that by Abraham will all the nations of the earth be blessed – Ishmael will receive blessing – he will prosper – it is not up to Sarah.

Our mistakes are not as easily set aside or undone as we would like them to be – we think we can just forget about them or move on but there is a price to pay for choices that we make – we must count the cost

And even though Sarah is determined that Isaac and not Ishmael will receive all of God’s blessing from Abraham that is not her decision to make – God makes the decision – God chooses who will be blessed by Him.  Although fear was the motivator – God provides.  God hears the calls of those in distress and responds.

In the gospel reading for today Jesus warns the disciples about the difficult things that will come to dissuade and discourage them as they live the life of following Him.  Three times in this passage he tells them not to fear.  In verse 26 he tells them not to fear those who say bad things about you – they said bad things about me and you are not better than I was so – they will say bad things about you too.

In verse 28 he tells them not to fear those who kill the body – reminding them that death of the body is not as important as the death of the soul – not believing is more dangerous than death

In verse 30 – He assures them and us by explaining that He has counted even the hair on your head – He knows them that well /He knows us that well – He values them so do not be afraid. – He is watching out for them.

Then comes the challenge about love and commitment – being more sold out to God than anything or anyone else.  We heard in the Old Testament reading about a tough decision that Abraham had to make regarding family and now Jesus challenges the disciples saying that families will be disagreed about faith – that not everyone will agree or be happy that you choose to live a life of faith – some might even be threatened by your choices.

I was raised in a very conservative home   During high school when I went to a party and others were drinking, I did not drink.  One young man at the party said, “oh!  Now I get why you don’t get invited to these things much – it’s not fun to be around someone who isn’t drinking – you make me feel bad about myself.”  And it is true that after that I did not get invited to participate in these events – my life choices did not line up with theirs and it was awkward.

Now I realize that any awkward experience that I have had in no way compares with the kind of persecution that Jesus is talking about and thank God that we in North America have freedom of religion so we do not experience what some others around the world – even today experience when they confess that Jesus is Lord.  In other countries, people are shunned, disowned by their family and many are killed when they choose to follow Jesus Christ.

But here and now – although we are free to believe – we are often tempted to not be vocal about what we believe or are afraid to be clear about our life choices because others will make fun or not understand or as in my situation – family or friends may choose to not invite you to some things because they know you will not or do not encourage their behavior.

But Jesus says, do not be afraid – I am with you – I care about you.

“Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 

Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God

Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God – June 4, 2017

A homily by Mother Beth

The First Reading from the book of Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

When asked, what is the most important element of any relationship, most people say the most important element is communication.  I have spoken before about the frustration that we bring to communicating with others.  Sometimes we read into emails or notes a certain tone; depending on the last interaction that we may have had with the person.  And by far, the best form of communication – in order to be understood is – face to face communication.  This is largely because 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and only 7% is the actual words spoken.  True and effective communication is about being in the same time and space as the person that you want to build relationship with.

There are moments though when you might ask yourself – what language am I speaking?  I do not feel understood.  There are just times when despite your best efforts you and the other party just seem to be missing each other.

You may remember a little story in Genesis chapter 11 about the building of a tower.

“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

The creation of different languages created confusion and chaos.  Those who had been working together for a common purpose could now no longer work together because they could no longer communicate.

We hear about them scattering over the face of the earth – this is the establishing of many different nations.

So when we hear today the story of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, we may see a restoration taking place.  The tower of Babel story – creates chaos and disunity – confusion and misunderstanding but Pentecost unites humanity towards the story of God.

We hear that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven – the whole earth is represented here.

The barrier that was created by all speaking different languages is removed here – they all hear in their own language.  The thing that normally kept them from being united – from understanding each other – is overcome by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The good news is that God is not limited by language.  All those times that you feel like you can not be understood – or you don’t know what to say or how to say it – God, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, can provide for.

Peter begins to explain to all who are there what is happening.  He says, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”.  This is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Joel – I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh – all – no exceptions.

Sons and daughters will prophesy – no discrimination in the sexes – both will be anointed by the Spirit.

 

Young men will see visions and Old men will dream dreams – no Ageism – God empowers both young and old alike.

God breaks down all the barriers that divide humanity – He pours himself out – please note this is not just a trickle – this is a pouring out – on all.

Pentecost is not the birth of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity always was – and up until this point – the Holy Spirit has been manifest in and on specific people – Moses, Elijah, David, the prophets, John the Baptist but, now God pours out his Holy Spirit on all.

Pentecost is considered the birth of the church – up until this point the average person received something from God through the person of Jesus Christ (in his physical form) or through the prophets but with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God makes himself available to all.  This is the birth of the church as an inclusive entity – the move to acceptance of all people – all ages, all races, all sexes.  As in Babel all the nations and races were separated so now all the nations and races are unified through the story of Christ as revealed to all people.

 

 

I think it is interesting to note that in each of the readings that we heard today – there is an intentional gathering of people – the disciples are gathered together in John and in Acts.  As we gather together we receive the good gifts that God has for us.  I think it is especially important to note this at Pentecost because the Spirit empowers us with gifts but these gifts are not for our own personal use – but for the building up of others – for the encouragement and equipping of the church.  As we gather together and each bring the Spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on us – we complement each other.  As we come together in the power of the Holy Spirit we make up the body of Christ.  I think it is important because sometimes we get tired of working on the relationships or we get tempted to go off on our own – just me and God – nothing else matters.  Each of the scriptures that we heard today emphasize over and over the importance of all and everyone.  It is significant that God reveals himself no longer to just one or two people – the Holy Spirit is not just dripped out on Billy Graham or your local priest or pastor.  NO.

The Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost was poured out on all – to break down the barriers that divide us and to unite us together in the great story of God and his son Jesus Christ – that the church might be faithful to God’s mission to this world.

Last week we heard Jesus say in Luke 24 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

May God empower us by His Holy Spirit to go out into our communities as witnesses to his son Jesus Christ.  Amen.