Everything after we say yes

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more.

            There are several unwritten rules that our culture seems to abide by. Things we are permitted to talk about. Things we are supposed to stay quiet about. That is even more true in church. I grew up learning that you do not talk about religion, politics or money. I guess Jesus didn’t get the message. He is always talking about all three. It is tempting to believe that somehow we can parcel off those three parts of our lives and remain silent or pretend we don’t have opinions. Politics these days are hard to avoid – especially if we tune into international politics. It is hard to remain silent in the face of injustices and discrimination. The political arena shapes the world we live in with laws that govern our daily living. Money while it does not make the world go around, if you don’t have any it is a big problem. Money covers off those basic necessities of food and shelter. And if we don’t talk about religion our lives of faith then how will people know about what God does for us and it shapes our living.

The truth is, it is impossible to parcel off politics, religion and money from our daily living and conversation. This past week I attended a conference all about stewardship where I learned the best definition of stewardship. It is everything after we say yes to God. Wow! It is how we live from day to day. It is how we take care of our children or care for aging parents. It is how we care for others around us. It is how we do our jobs each day. It is how we use our money. It is everything after we’ve said yes to God.

Jesus knew that all too well. He is teaching the crowds when the Herodian and Pharisees show up. That is the bible’s way of saying trouble is coming. The Herodians and Pharisees don’t agree on much politically speaking but they agree that Jesus must go. Here is what you need to know about the Herodians and the Pharisees. The Herodians are fine with Caesar’s tax, given Herod’s cozy arrangement with Rome. For the Pharisees, the tax is a problem but so is the coin used to pay the tax. The coin proclaims Caesar as a god which runs contrary to the commandment that says ``you shall have no other God before me.`` So they set the trap with flattery and what seems like a simple question.

 “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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" (Matthew 22:16 – 17) Their goal is to cost him his following or his life. If he approves payment of the tax, he supports the empire and people will abandon him. If says they should not pay the tax, he is committing treason.

Jesus calls them all hypocrites. "Show me the coin," Jesus says. With the coin in hand, Jesus then asks the two simple questions: Whose image is that? Whose title? They say, “The emperor’s” What follows is a well known passage of scripture. The King James Version translates it this way: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22: 21)

Dr. David Lose writes, “Because if their question is clever, Jesus’ response is ingenious or, more appropriately, inspired, leading to an exchange that is as revealing as it is brief. After asking if any of his questioners has a coin of the Empire – the only coin that could be used to pay the tax in question – they quickly procure one. Jesus asks whose image is on it, and they answer “The Emperor’s.” There’s more going on here than meets the eye, as along with that image is an engraved confession of Caesar’s divinity, which means that any Jew holding the coin is breaking the first two of the commandments. All of which leads to Jesus’ closing line, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And with this one sentence, Jesus does not simply evade their trap or confound their plans, but issues a challenge to his hearers that reverberates through the ages into our sanctuaries.” (In the Meantime, October 15, 2017)

Jesus knows what we know – everything belongs to God. We live in a place that governed by laws but we also follow in God’s ways. In Jesus time, the politics were complicated. The people were governed both by religious law and secular law. Jesus lived within the Roman Empire, ultimately under the rule of the Emperor. The Roman Empire granted Jewish people a unique status that allowed them to practice their religion and use the rules within their religion to govern themselves. Jesus owed allegiance to Rome and to his religious community.

Lynda Wright in the book This Is the Day reflects on the need to not only spend time in prayer with God but also to be in relationship with others, to be part of the community. This is reflected in two central parts of Jewish spirituality: “’Devokut’ or ‘clinging to God’ – our need for contemplating the Mystery [of God] and in it finding our nourishment and ‘Tikkun O’lam’ or “repair of the world’ our responsibility to work for justice and the bringing in of God’s kingdom.” (This is the Day)

To be whole we need to be connected to all parts of our lives. We need time to connect with God through prayer and contemplation. We also need people. Recent studies show that loneliness is worse for our health than smoking or obesity. We need community and part of living in a community is those systems that help us live together. That is what the ten commandments are about. That is the role that government plays. That said we also know that governments can be corrupt or do things that hurt the ways we live in community. That is when we need to engage the system and let our voices be heard.

            With Jesus, no topics are taken off the table. Our whole lives are an offering to God. So of course, we give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.  More importantly we give to God what is Gods. Stewardship is everything, everything after we say yes to God. We give thanks to God by following in Jesus’ footsteps and living with compassion, with mercy, with grace and with love. And when it seems hard, we remember that we are made in God’s image and with God nothing is impossible. Amen.

Giving Thanks, Giving Back

I find one of the lines from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a Paul’s line, “God loves a cheerful giver” from our reading this morning grates on my nerves a bit. It is a little too convenient for preachers like me. Every time the church needs to increase givings, we can use this one line to explain it all, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What does that have to do with living a life faith? What does that have to do with the abundance of God’s grace that we daily receive? Over the years, I’ve seen this one little phrase printed and quoted in so many ways, that I thought to myself, “I’m not going to preach on that phrase.” Famous last words.

So here we are its Thanksgiving and one of the passages set for the day is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminding us that God loves a cheerful giver. Because that one line bothered me, I’ve never bothered looking too closely at the rest of the letter. I didn’t ask myself why Paul wrote this phrase? I’d skip right to our Luke reading and talk about the one leper out of ten who turned back to give thanks and the importance of gratitude. But this Thanksgiving Paul called to me and invited me to look deeper.

Our reading this morning is part of a larger story. Paul is writing to the community at Corinth from Macedonia where he is encouraging them in their faith. While he is there, he has a collection for the Christians at Jerusalem. The community in Jerusalem is poverty stricken and facing many hardships.  As Paul travels from community to community he collects for the community there. Paul is writing to inspire the community in Corinth not to forget about their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Paul writes, “If I wrote any more on this relief offering for the poor Christians, I’d be repeating myself. I know you’re on board and ready to go. I’ve been bragging about you through Macedonia Province, “Achaia province has been ready to go on this since last year.” Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them.” It is only then that we get to giving cheerfully. Paul is trying to remind them of the importance of helping brothers and sisters who need it and doing it with an open heart. The Message translates the same phrase with these words, “God loves it when the giver delights in giving.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

That changes everything doesn’t it! Giving generously and delighting in the act of giving is one way of saying thanks for the gifts we have. Carla Works writes on this passage, “How believers use their resources -- time, money, talents, and attention -- is a reflection of what they believe about God and God's actions in the world.  Furthermore, how those resources are used preaches a message to others.  Paul wants the Corinthians' actions to be a reflection of the gospel in which they believe.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1319) God not only invites us to live out our faith by giving thanks but in giving back.

 This week, I read an article from the New York Times called, “Giving Proof” which reports on a study published in Nature Communications. The study explores what happens to our brains when we are generous. “Scientists at the University of Zurich and elsewhere began by recruiting 50 men and women and asking them to complete questionnaires about their current mood. They then were given 25 Swiss francs (about $25) once a week for the next month. Half of the 50 were asked to spend this on themselves. The other half were instructed to choose a new recipient each week on whom to spend the money. In other words, half the volunteers agreed to be selfish and the other half to be generous.” (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/magazine/giving-proof.html?referer=http://m.facebook.com)

At the beginning each person was asked questions about giving gifts and personal cost while in an MRI so that the researches could monitor brain activity. The same thing was done at the end of the study. At the end of the study the people who were generous made more generous responses to the MRI questions and were happier people.

This, I think is what Paul is getting at – when we give thanks, when we give back, when we are generous – our lives change for the better. There are so many ways for us to be generous. We can share out time with friends and family. We help someone who needs it. We can host a meal for friends and family or for someone who needs company. We can give money. We can sit with someone who is grieving or going through a really hard time. We can raise awareness and write letters to make our community a good place for everyone.

This week I heard a wonderful story about a group of people in Port Blandford. Carol needed new shingles on her roof and a group of 20 volunteers showed up on Saturday morning and got the job done. Carol tells Here and Now, “It just makes you realize that in a world that’s so full of terrible things, it seems these days, that you just got to look across the road to your neighbours and there are wonderful things that are happening.” (CBC News)

This fall there have been a lot of things that make it hard to hold onto what is good between hurricanes and earthquakes that have devastated so many communities in so many places to and mass shootings that killed and injured so many. But the generosity of so many people have made it possible for people to find shelter, find healing, and find hope. Today as we give thanks for God’s many good gifts to us, we give thanks also for the generosity of neighbours, friends and strangers who somehow make our world a better place to live and whose actions remind us of God’s love at work in our community and in our world. For as Paul says, “God loves it when the giver delights in giving.” Amen

Feed My Sheep

John 21 is one of my favourite resurrection stories. It has everything – there is the reminder of God’s abundant grace and enduring presence. There is a meal of broiled fish and bread – that reminds of the meal we share with bread and wine.  There is an invitation to follow Jesus. As our congregation took a big leap of faith in setting up Cochrane Centre and building housing, other churches started asking what we were doing and why. We went to share our story with them. At the end of each presentation, I would share this story of Jesus’ invitation to follow. 

    Jesus had died and the meaning of the resurrection still had not sunk in with the disciples. They still didn’t really know what to do or how to live now that Jesus isn’t with them in the same way. They know that Jesus lives but they don’t know what it means. Discipleship is new work for them – it’s only been three years. They had a lifetime of fishing. Peter finally says to the other disciples, “I’m going fishing.” Maybe because there is comfort in the familiar. Maybe because at least he knows he can fish. Maybe because he does not know what else to do. Peter and the disciples spend the whole night fishing. The dawn is breaking and they’ve caught nothing. A voice calls from the shore, “Put the nets on the right side and you will find some.” 

    The disciples had nothing to lose at this point. All night they caught nothing. What harm would it do to cast their nets on the right side of the boat? And when they do. Amazing. They catch 153 fish. That is a lot of fish. The disciple whom Jesus love cries out, “It is the Lord!” And they disciples know it can only be Jesus. Peter jumps out of the boat and walks to shore. The rest of the disciples bring the fish in. The fire is burning. There is fish. There is bread. Jesus invites them to a feast. Not one person asks, “Who are you?” because they know deep in their bones that Jesus is with them. 

After breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside and says, “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter says, “Oh, Jesus, this is amazing. You are back. What are we going to do next? Do you have a plan? What did ask? Do I love you? Of course I do. So tomorrow we’ll put all the fishing gear away and get back on the road. Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Then Jesus grabs Peter by the shoulders and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter thinks he’s already answered that question. And says with a bit of impatience “Yes, Lord of course I love you.” Jesus says “Tend my sheep.”  Peter is starting to wonder about this conversation with Jesus. It seems to be going be going in circles. Jesus keeps asking him the same thing. Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and asks a third time, “Do you love me?” Now Peter is frustrated. Peter says, “You know everything about me. You know I love.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”

That is our calling as a people of faith. To love God, care for others and follow in Jesus’ way. It is not new. The church has been doing it in different ways over the past two thousand years. This city is filled with places that remind us that churches are about caring for others. Whether it is schools, or hospitals or seniors homes. In our daily living and community work we lived out this calling to care for others. 

    Today the first tenants are moving in at Cochrane Centre. Today ten people have new homes and it started with your firm conviction that God that was not yet done with this congregation, that we have more work to do as a people of faith. This congregation said no to dying. This congregation said no to selling its building. Instead you did something no other church in the city has done. You said yes to letting go of how it’s always been. You said yes to a new creation – Cochrane Centre an incorporated ministry of The United Church of Canada and not-for-profit. You said yes to a new way of living out our faith and following Jesus. 

    The last several years have been filled with those moments when the Holy Spirit’s presence is so strong that we had the courage to try something different and then the come the reminders that we are on the right path. There have also been challenges. We haven’t always agreed on the best way forward. There are faces we don’t see as often. Sometimes the path ahead hasn’t been clear. Somehow, through the challenges, the hard conversations and difficult decisions, we’ve kept at the heart Jesus’ invitation to “feed my lambs.” We’ve kept at the heart of the abundance of God grace. God’s grace and guidance has been with us through the whole process.

    Caroline Lewis writes what grace upon grace can really be, “-- a hell of a lot fish, … when you least expect it, just like the wine at Cana, when all hope is gone, when you wonder what you are doing, when you think there is no future, when your well has dried up, when you doubt that grace is true, when you question if grace is for you. This is the resurrection story we need. Desperately. All of us. That we will, indeed, experience the truth of the resurrection beyond the empty tomb. That Jesus will always show up on the shore [and] will invite us to share a meal once again” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4583)

    Today we are standing on the shore and once again Jesus invites us to a simple meal.  As we taste gifts of bread and wine we are reminded that our God’s grace never runs out. There is new life for all. After the meal, Jesus pulls each of us aside and says, “Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Follow me.” Amen. 

No Fair!

When I was a kid I had a keen sense of fairness – particularly when it came to my brother. If he got more than me – no fair. Or maybe it was the question “why did he get to do that and not me?” No fair! Maybe it wasn’t so much a sense of fairness but it seemed that it should be the same for both of us. As a parent now, I know m parents must have grown weary of my cries of no fair because sometimes I would be told, “Life’s not fair.” Fair doesn’t always mean the same. At the heart of the no fair complaint is the idea that somehow we are missing out on something a sibling or neighbour has or that someone has received something more or better. This not something that exist between sibling. It is part of our culture. We expect that that who work the hardest, longest best will get the biggest reward. We expect that those who’ve done the right things be held in higher esteem than those who have not. 

I’m guessing things weren’t much different in Jesus day. Somehow, we want what the other has. Then Jesus comes on the scene telling parables that open our minds and change our hearts. Today is a kingdom of heaven parable. Parables about the kingdom of heaven remind us of the difference between our world and world shaped in God’s image. Today’s parable gets to the heart of what’s fair. This parable reminds us that our sense of what is fair is so different what God says is fair. It is one of those challenging parables because sometimes I think we would like to keep God’s grace in a box and dole it out only to those we think are worthy or who have earned it. 

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out to hire day labourers.” They agreed to work for the usual daily wage and went to work in the vineyard. Life for day labourers was extremely difficult. They went to the market place each day hoping and praying that someone would hire them. It was a precarious way to earn a living. The usual daily wage for day labourers is barely enough to support a family. You can imagine how important it was to get hired.  The landowner returned to the market at 9 o’clock, and noon and three and saw people waiting to be hired for the day. So hired more workers each time. Each time the landowner told the workers hired later in the day that he’d pay them a fair wage. At the end of the work day all the workers are told that those who were hired last would be paid first. So the labourers all line up. The landowner then pays those hired later in the day the usual daily wage. They must have been shocked. They did not expect this at all. They were only expecting a portion of a day’s wage instead they got the whole thing. 

    As the line worked its way toward those who were hired at the start of the day, you can almost feel the expectations rising. Can imagine what those hired first are thinking? They ones who’d worked hard all day. The ones who saw everyone get the full days wage. They were expecting some kind of a bonus. They are probably thinking to themselves, “If they got the full day’s wage, then I surely will get more. I worked through the heat of the day” Not unreasonable. But when the land owner hands them the same as those who’d been hired late in the day, they cried out, “no fair. I worked all day, through the heat of the sun and I get the same as they do? No way.” The landowner says, “'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13 – 15) It is the kind of parable that turns people’s expectations upside down. 

    In this kingdom of heaven parable there are no favourites. This is God’s generosity at work. The truth is no one has been robbed of anything or treated badly. It is more a problem of expectations. Those who worked longest and hardest expected that they would get more than those who only worked a portion of the day. It does not jive with their sense of justice that says, “those who work hardest and longest deserve the most.”  From the perspective of the one who was hired late in the day – it is an unimaginable gift. He is the one who worried about going home yet again with no money for food. For him it is a story of incredible grace. 

    And so it is with God’s grace. It is generous. It gives us all that we need. It is a parable that reminds us that God’s kingdom is for everyone those who laboured through the heat of the day and those who come late. We all get the same gifts of grace, forgiveness and abiding love. 

It is perhaps easy imagine that this parable has nothing to do with our daily living. But maybe there are times where we too might confess that we resent that others have something we want or don’t have. I know I’ve been there. It is hard place to be because the resentments grow and fester and it has a way of blinding. When hearts are filled with resentment it is difficult to appreciate what you do have. Filled with longing for what others have we miss the signs of God’s grace at work. Jesus reminds us that God’s generosity is not limited by our expectations of what is fair. 

    The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out to hire labourers for the work of the vineyard – and gives everyone gifts of grace. The kingdom of heaven is not like the world we inhabit day to day. The kingdom of heaven has nothing to do with fair or not fair. It is the promise that all who follow in Christ’s way will receive gifts of grace, forgiveness and abiding love. It is generosity beyond our imagining. Whether they worked through the heat of the day or were hired at the last minute, we God’s grace defies expectations. The gifts of the kingdom are for everyone. That is good news. That is grace. Amen

Parting the Sea

All week I have been focusing my attention on the few lines I was struggle with. “Then the waters returned and covered the chariots and chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.” (Exodus 14:28) I’ve been thinking about their families and the people who will miss them. That led me to thinking about all the refugees that have drowned in the sea because they were on overcrowded boats. And then given the choice between returning to their home and getting in an unsafe boat. They choose the boat, hoping for something better.

      I stewed. What to say. How is this a story of liberation? I asked these kinds of questions until I happened to watched a video preview for a new bible study called, “Following a Nobody from Nowhere: A series of videos on the invitation to follow Jesus.” Greg Boyle reminded me that God is always about those who find themselves on the margins. The quote that stands out comes from Richard Rohr, “God is in immediate personal solidarity and union with what I’m suffering right now. That Jesus you will fall in love with. That Jesus you will give your life for.” (theworkofthepeople.com) 

      Then I knew. It was like I was looking through microscope and I was only focussing all my attention on one part of the story. Jonathan Sacks in his book, Not in God’s Name writes “The Talmud records a striking passage in which the angels are portrayed as wishing to sing a song of triumph at the division of the Red Sea. God silences them with the words, ‘My creatures are drowning – and you wish to sing a song?’” (Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name) So we too lament the terrible parts of this story. But we also need to zoom out and remember that God is with those who are most vulnerable in our communities.  We need to remember why Moses was standing at the edge of the Red sea, staff in hand, like Gandalf not letting the Egyptians pass. 

The Israelites came to Egypt seeking refuge from a famine. They were welcomed because Joseph who both listened for God’s voice and was a shrewd planner who saved the Egyptians from suffering during the famine. But then it changed. Exodus beings with these words, “Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and that whole generation. …Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land. Therefore they set task masters over them to oppress them with forced labour.” (Exodus 1:6, 8 - 12) By the end of the first chapter of Exodus, Pharaoh has told the midwives to kill all the boys. When I tell the Godly Play story it is described this way, “When they came to Egypt, the found food and work, but Pharaoh trapped them. They could not go home again. They had to do what the Pharaoh said. They had to live where Pharaoh said.  They had to go to bed when Pharaoh said. They had to eat what Pharaoh said. They had to do the work that Pharaoh said. They had to do everything the Pharaoh said. They were slaves.” (The Complete Guide to Godly Play vol. 2 page 69)

      It was a terrible time for the Israelites. God called a leader, Moses, to lead the people to freedom. This was no easy job. Pharaoh did not want to lose his labour force. Ten plagues came and went and still Pharaoh would not let the people go. Moses would go and beg for his people’s freedom until finally the Pharaoh let them go. It says just before our reading for this morning, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; … The Egyptians pursed the Israelites, who going out boldly.” (Exodus 14: 5 – 6, 9)

      They are terrified. Many cried out, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11) In the midst of the fear, God was there. The pillar of cloud was going before them and it followed them, at night a pillar of fire. When it seemed that there was no escaping the wrath of the Egyptians. Moses raised his hand and the waters were divided and they walked to freedom.

      The journey was not easy. At many points along the way, the Israelites were not always sure which way to go. The same is true in our own lives. We do not know where to go or which way to turn or how to live. The good news for all of us is that God is with us in this moments –reminding us of mercy and compassion. The good news for our world is that God is with those who are most vulnerable. It is our calling as a people of faith to help make our community, our country and our world a safe place for all God’s people to live.

      It sounds like a daunting task – changing the world. We do not do this work alone. God will guide us as we show mercy, act with kindness and show compassion for all those in need. Together, by God’s grace we can help shape a future when the most vulnerable in our community are cared for. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Where Two or Three are Gathered

      I have always found our gospel reading for this morning challenging – to the point that I almost didn’t preach on it. There is something a bit scary about two or three people gathering and having the authority to bind things in heaven and earth. It seems so final and it doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the good news of God’s abiding love. Because I know, and perhaps you know, what can happen when two or three people are together. They can bind on earth and in heaven that this one is in and that this one is out. They can loose and on earth and in heaven a variety of terrible ideas.

      I know because sometimes when I am gathered with my closest of friends how the conversation can go. Its starts off innocently enough. Perhaps with the question “did you know?” And before you know it, you’ve arrived at “well I never really liked so and so anyway.” It is human. Most of us do it. It happens among friends, in families, in community groups. People think it shouldn’t happen in churches. But human beings make up the church. And sometimes we don’t get along. Sometimes we are unkind with one another. Sometimes we can’t resist the urge to judge. So it makes me wonder, “What was Jesus thinking trusting two or three people to bind and loose things in heaven and on earth?”

      Then I read these words by Stanley Saunders, “The point of Matthew 18 is not that the church or its leaders possess special authority or insight when dealing with disputes, but that whenever it does exercise authority, it must pay ceaseless attention to the least powerful members of the community. Whenever and whatever we bind or loose, the Christian community is called to defend the interests of the least ones in our midst, as well as to create the space and conditions for forgiveness and restoration to flourish.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3392 It helps put our reading in the context of everything that happens in Matthew chapter 18.

      The chapter opens with the disciples asking Jesus, “Who get the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” (Matthew 18:1). Jesus answers the question by placing a child in their midst and reminding them whoever becomes like this child will be greatest and if you welcome a child you welcome Jesus. And he doesn’t stop there, if you put a stumbling block in front one of these little ones it would be better for you to be dropped in the lake with a milestone around your neck. In the verses just before our reading, Jesus reminds us what happens when there are 100 sheep in the fold and one wanders off and gets lost. God goes after the lost sheep because he does not want to lose a single person.

      It is only after Jesus reminding us of the importance caring about the well-being of all these, that Jesus begins his teaching for today, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love. Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:15 – 20)

      This reading is not about binding law. It is about living together in community. It is about how we treat one another and work out our differences. Dr. David Lose writes, “All of which makes me think that this week’s passage is not simply the product of an all-too-legalistic Matthew (as many, including myself at times, have been tempted to read him), but rather is offered by someone who knows that relationships take work to maintain and that community is harder to forge and nurture than we might imagine. Because – think about it – going to someone with your concern or grievance is a lot harder than talking behind his or her back. Bringing others to listen closely to what is said a lot more courage than posting something on Facebook. And working out disputes as a community together rather than simply dispensing judgment can be really, really hard.” (In the Meantime, Wednesday September 9, 2017)

      The good news is this. Jesus knows we are going to get it wrong. That people are going to get hurt. That at some point we are all going to say the wrong thing and hurt another. So Jesus gives a roadmap on how to work it out. Jesus offers us the reminder to care for the vulnerable in our community. Jesus reminds us about the importance of forgiveness. Jesus reminds us that when we are lost God is always seeking us out. And then Jesus shows how to work it. Talk with one another. Listen to one another. Don’t give up on another. Offer forgiveness. This is the hardest work we will do because it means being vulnerable. It means admitting we are hurting. It means admitting we are wrong. Thankfully, we don’t do this hard work alone. Jesus says it so well, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” (Matthew 18:20) This is the work of the body of Christ and Jesus us entrusted us with binding and loosing all matters in in heaven and on earth.

      David Lose concludes with these words, “There is so much that is challenging in our world just now – from hurricanes to displays of hate, from injustice to intolerance – that the world desperately needs us to be the Body of Christ.  Moreover, there is so much going on in [our lives] – from heartaches we barely sense to hopes we can scarce imagine – [we all] need to be cared for by, and to be part of, the Body of Christ. And so I’ll say it again: authentic community is hard. But also powerful. And healing. And a tremendous witness. And a heck of a lot of work, to be sure, but always worth it. And when we grow weary following the path Jesus set, perhaps we can remind each other that we have Jesus’ promise that each and every time we try, he is there with us – instructing us in the way of love, urging us on, forgiving us, and sending us out to be agents of reconciliation and peace, accompanying us wherever we may go.”  In the Meantime, Wednesday September 9, 2017) Amen. 

Voice of Hope

Our scripture reading today is at once challenging, disheartening and a gentle reminder of what is really important. Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon. They are not on home turf. They are in the land of the gentiles AKA – those who are not descendants of Abraham. Not long after arriving, a woman approaches Jesus and the disciples. She cries out“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) But no one paid attention to her. Jesus kept walking with the disciples following behind him. She is after all a Canaanite woman, a gentile – there was no need to listen to her. But she will not be ignored. Again, she says “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Still nothing.

She will not be ignored or pushed aside. Her daughter’s life is one the line. She knows about Jesus and what he can do. Again, she says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) The disciples are tired of this nagging and say to Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Jesus knew his mission and it was not for her kind. Jesus says to her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  And he keeps going. We might as well just say it like it is. Jesus is worse than rude. He dismisses her because of her race and keeps walking.

But she will not be ignored or pushed aside or told that she and her daughter’s life are of no account. She puts herself in Jesus path and kneels at before him saying, “Lord help me.” (Matthew 15:25) And still Jesus does nothing. Can you believe it? Our Jesus who heals. Our Jesus who is compassionate. Our Jesus who loves us back to life refuses to help this woman whose daughter is being tormented by demons simply because she is from the wrong place. And then it does not get better as the story progresses. He says, her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) He calls her a dog.

Most people would have walked away. First ignored, then dismissed and then insulted. But not this woman. She says “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) And finally Jesus see her – not where she is from – but her. A mother crying, begging for her daughter’s life to be restored. Jesus says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28) And in that moment her daughter is healed and Jesus mission and ministry changed.

I’ve read and preached on this story countless times. I’ve reminded myself that because of this woman’s persistence Jesus ministry changes – which it does. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “through the Canaanite woman’s faith [Jesus] learns that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he had imagined and there is enough of him to go around. (Seeds of Heaven. p. 63)

Somehow this week I hear this story differently. I remember Jesus pushing the Canaanite woman aside and I think of the riots in Charlottesville. I watch as Jesus dismisses her and I think of the people who show up at protests using the hate filled slogans of KKK and Neo-Nazis. And when Jesus called her a dog and I am reminded of the divisions that are occurring in our own country and around the world. I think of the all the people who’ve been pushed aside because arbitrary lines have been drawn that say “you are in and you are out.” This gospel reading reminds me that racism isn’t new. It’s an enduring problem.

Dr. David Lose in his column In the Meantime writes “It’s way, way too easy for us to assume that God is on our side, looks like us, favors our positions, and endorses our views. Call it sinful, call it human, but let’s be honest: it’s really, really easy for us to imagine God is just like us. …And just as the Canaanite woman teaches Jesus that God’s mission and vision and compassion and mercy are bigger than what he may have initially imagined, so also might the Canaanite woman teach us the same at a time when synagogues are threatened, mosques are being fire-bombed, and neo-Nazis and white supremacists march the streets: every time you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you will find the God made manifest in Jesus on the other side. (Dr. David Lose, In the Meantime August 15th, 2017)

The good news, is that Jesus is changed by his meeting with the Canaanite Woman. Our Gospel reading, shows us a path that brings hope. A path to wholeness for communities. The Canaanite woman teaches Jesus that his mission is to share God’s love with everyone. No exceptions. The same is true today for us today.

As we watch the news and wonder what kind of world our children will grow up in. Pay attention to the signs of hope – for the signs that our world is changing for the better. There all the people who showed up to say no to racism, violence and hatred. The ministers, clergy, pastors, rabbis and leaders of many faith communities who formed a line of protection at the riots in Charlottesville. The people of Boston who showed up in droves to protest against the right wing free speech rally and whose voices drowned out the ones spreading hatred. The people of Vancouver who showed up to protest the anti-immigration protest and whose words of welcome were the only ones that could be heard. 

This is where hope is found. The everyday people like you and me who gather and use their voices to stand up for a world where all are welcome. As we head into the new week, let our voices be the voices of hope. Let the message of the Canaanite woman who showed Jesus the way of love, challenge us to be hope at work in our community. Let us pray and work for a day when our world will reflect that hope in every place. By God’s grace may it be so. Amen.


Wheat and Weeds

As you might imagine, the gospel reading for this morning has inspired me to think about wheat and weeds. Gardeners and famers all know that they don’t want weeds in their flower beds or fields. They take the good nutrients from the soil and they make it harder for the stuff we want to growing to grow. My front lawn, much to Scott’s chagrin, is a testament that very principle. We want grass but there are dandelions everywhere. For several years we even waged a battle with gout weed in our flower beds.

            Here is my problem. I like weeds – well maybe not gout weed. Some weeds have beautiful flowers. A field of dandelions is a glorious shade of yellow. When I come home from work and see that field of yellow, I smile. Queen Anne’s lace has a delicate flower. The thistle is beautiful shade of purple and green. The lilies of the field that Jesus talked about – beautiful red weeds that grow in every crack in the concrete. I’m not alone. The Iona community published a whole book called Dandelions and Thistles. My favourite poem from the collection is called Dandelions and Thistles.

In the beginning

God saw the cheerful unrepentant weeds:

Thistles and dandelions—

They were fruitful and multiplied.

They bloomed on poor soil

And in the barren wilderness;

They brought colour into a solemn world.

God, knowing the secret of life and death,

Created green shouts that spring up after rain,

flowers that follow sun

fruits that will only grow

if they fall in the earth and die.

These weeds – as down-to-earth as you or me

are parables of the wisdom and work of God.

            Jesus parable for us today is as complex as our relationship with weeds. Don’t get confused with last week’s parable of the Sower. This different. Jesus is talking about wheat and weeds. It is another kingdom of God parable. There once was a farmer who sowed good seed but at night while the hired hands were sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds. When the wheat started to grow so did the weeds. The farm hands came and asked the master if he used good seed. He says, “An enemy has done this.” (Matthew 13:28) When they ask if they should pull up all the weeds. The farmer says, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let 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.” (Matthew 13:29 – 30)

This is a parable of God’s grace. It is easy to miss if we focus the weeds being bundled and burned. Pay attention to some other details in the parable. The person who planted the seed was the boss – the master. In Jesus’ day that was unheard of. The master doesn’t plant, the workers do. Then, the master instructs them to let the wheat and weeds grow together. Elizabeth Johnson says, “What Matthew most likely refers to, however, is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=979

Here is the challenge of the parable and for us in our daily lives. You can’t always tell the difference between the wheat the weeds and God looks on things very differently than we do. Maybe we humans are a strange mixture of wheat and weeds; good and bad. Sometimes we do wonderful things and sometimes we turn from God’s ways. The master, God, lets them both grow together because you can’t always tell who is going to be bear the fruit of the kingdom. That’s the beauty of this parable. God is telling is it not up to us decide who is the wheat and who is weeds – who is in and who is out. God is saying – leave that to me. Because sometimes – maybe most of the time – people will surprise you.

 That was certainly true of Jacob. God did not choose Jacob but not because he was perfect or even at first glance a good human being. Jacob is a liar and a cheat. He stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing and now his on the run from his rightfully angry brother. After a long day spent fleeing his brother’s wrath, Jacob find himself alone in strange place. God comes to him in a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder.  As he dream, God makes a promise to Jacob that echoes the one made to Abraham and Isaac before him:

            “I am the Lord... the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13 – 15)

            Then Jacob changes. Love has a way of transforming lives. Jacob says, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, ... so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” (Genesis 28: 20 – 22)

            This is the heart of the good news. It is for all of us. God’s love transforms our lives. God takes the broken or missing pieces in our lives and makes us whole. Jacob was a strange mixture of wheat and weeds and yet God made him the heir to a promise. God says “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” The same is true for us. God is with us no matter what. God knows our hearts. We too can pray Psalm 139, “O God, you have searched me and known me. ...How deep your designs are to me, O God! How great their number! I try to count them but they are more than sand. I come to the end – I am still with you.” (Psalm 139)

            God’s kingdom is beyond compare. God searches our hearts and knows us – the good and the bad – the weeds and the wheat and loves us and walks with us. That is God’s amazing grace to us. We do not need to worry about who is in or who is out. Our calling is simple – follow in Jesus way of compassion and love. Then leave the rest to God’s infinite and amazing grace. Amen.