The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 17, 2018
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Seeds and God’s Kingdom
Today we begin our journey in this season of Pentecost through Mark’s Gospel with the parables about the seed growing secretly and the Mustard Seed. The definition of a parable isa simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.The meaning of a parable can often be obscure and we hear at the end of the parable that Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples.
We begin with the question, who is the “someone” as stated in the first parable. We are the “someone”, and what does the “someone” do?The “someone” casts the seed on the earth, sleeps, gets up and ultimately, takes the sickle to the harvest, but they don’t know how the seeds grows; that is God’s job, to bring about the growth. That can lead to the idea that we can sit around and do nothing because the real work is done by God and God will look after it all.Here is a story that illustrates this point. A Rector tells the story of a man who called him to speak of her dissatisfaction with the program of the Church. He invited him to come to his office and talk about the falling numbers in the congregation with him. He accepted the invitation and brought to his attention some of the things that were needed and could be done. He gratefully acknowledged the wisdom of his ideas. He then said, "This is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person this Church needs. His reply was just as immediate. "Oh, no, I don't want to get involved. With the hours that I put on other things, I just don't have the time. But I will be glad to advise you any time." The preacher's answer was just as quick: "Good, gracious, that's the problem now. I already have 150 advisers. I need someone who will work."Although God makes the plant grow, we have the job of sewing and harvesting the plants, showing people in our lives our Christian faith and bringing them to into the fold. St. Mark’s has had a good record of bringing people to our church, almost each and every month. I pray that that continues.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is more difficult to unpack. Jesus could have picked the mighty cedar of Lebanon known well to his listeners for its longevity, size and beauty. But no, he picks a shrub. What was he thinking?To bring this into the present day, I would change the opening of the parable to: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like bamboo…. In our garden we have bamboo at the back and it is insidious; it grows everywhere and crowds out everything and seems to be able to jump over paths and continues to spread. A mustard seed, like the bamboo, when it grows it has takeover properties and it’s not going to neat and tidy, but it is the way God works.
I want to conclude with the story of Mother Teresa when she began her orphanage in Calcutta with something like a mustard seed. Mother Teresatold her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage." Her superiors told her, “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies...with three pennies, it just isn’t possible." "I know," she said, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything.” Amen.
The Third Sunday After Pentecost
June 10, 2018
MATTHEW 25: 34b-40
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We read in Acts 2:42, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers – that was a Rule of Life for the early church and I believe we each should have one too. On Easter Day, everyone received a Rule of Life insert in their bulletins and there are more at the back or the on website. The Rule of Life is based upon that of St. Benedict of prayer, study, work/volunteer, re-creation and hospitality on which we based a preaching series. It was my hope to be finished the preaching series by the end of May, but the weather and scheduling of feast days did not help. Today we are looking at the last ‘rule’, Hospitality. The accompanying question in the pamphlet about Hospitality was: How can I use my gifts in the service of God and for the benefit of others? I think it comes down to being perceived as God’s ambassadors as described in 2 Corinthians 5:20. There are many ways to do that at St. Mark’s: Volunteering in the area of Hospitality at our drop-in centre, The Beacon, which will start up again after the summer break in September; St. Mark’s Food Cupboard; Christmas Lunch; Greeters; Senior’s Lunches and Coffee hour to name a few.
What does the hospitality of God’s ambassadors look like? Here is an example. There is the story of a young couple, who about 30 years ago, decided to go back to church. The walk up the three steps to the church door felt like the longest and more nerve-racking steps they had taken since walking down the aisle at their wedding. They entered through the front door of the church, they got that part right, because it wasn’t well marked. When they entered the church, they were given an order of service and two books, and they made their way to a pew near the back. A woman, whose name was Else, saw that they were new, and went and introduced herself and welcomed them to the church. She sat with them and guided them through the service and took them down to coffee hour. The couple, because that warm welcome, stayed and are in still in the church today. That young couple, 30 years ago this year, was…. my wife, Elizabeth, and myself.
In Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romans 12:9-17), Paul states, Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. The reading doesn’t have "we must," "we should," and "let us"; there is no moralizing here, it simply says that the spirit will lead us in these ways and when we are not going in this direction, to remind us and help return to the right path. I ask that you take another, or a first, look at the Rule of Life pamphlet. I like to say that the measure of a person’s life is not seen through what they have, but what they have given and the Rule of Life can lead in that direction.If there was ever a reading that captured how to live our Christian lives, I think the reading from Matthew is it. Jesus says whether we feed the hungry, the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick or visit the prisoner, when we do these things to least of God’s children we do it to Jesus. That is something I hope and pray that we can live out in our lives as we remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors. Amen.
The Day of Pentecost
May 20, 2018
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“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.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.This is the last verse in today’s first reading from the book of Acts the traditional reading for the Day of Pentecost. Today we celebrate for the Day of Pentecost or Whitsunday, as it is known in England. Whitsunday came from "White Sunday" from its association with the white robes that were presented to be newly baptized in the early church. We hear today the first post-Pentecost sermon given by Peter after he and the other disciples receive the Holy Spirit. I want to look at the last line which I believe to be the most important: Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Peter quotes Joel for most of today’s portion of the sermon which is 509 words long (mine are about 600) and I would like to unpack the meaning of that verse and also deal with that tricky verse in Matthew, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Some of us will remember James Taylor, the American Folk Singer, who wrote many hits in the 70’s , one of which was, “You’ve got a friend”.
Here are a few lines:
When your down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.
You just call out my name,
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, oh yeah baby
To see you again.
We have all at one time or another in our lives called upon the name of God. It may happen daily in a spontaneous way, “O God, get me through this …” or more formalized when we pray and call upon God to help us. The verse ends with “will be saved”; salvation is the result of calling on the name of the Lord and so we need to understand what “calling on God” means in Scripture.The word “call” is also translated “appeal” and when we appeal, which in the Greek can also mean submit, we submit to God’s authority and serve him. This may help us understand that verse in Matthew 7:21‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.We read later in the chapter that three thousand repented, were baptized, and then devoted themselves to the disciples teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer. In our lives, if we repent and return to God in our Christian journeys, forgiveness is there. This is not to say that repentance and baptism have always been synonymous with “calling on the name of the Lord.” Calling on the name of the Lord in addition to repentance includes obedience, worship and service.
It’s the time of year when we may get back out into the garden, or out on the golf course, tennis court, or walking the trails. Like most things in life, they take work to get good at it (except maybe golf), to be more enjoyable and to be a focus in our lives, and calling upon the name of the Lord is the same. The Day of Pentecost begins the longest season of the year, The Season of Pentecost which will take until the First Sunday in Advent on December 2. If there ever was a time, a long time to work on a key component of our faith, calling upon the name of the Lord, this is it. Amen.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER IN ACTION
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. "An acquaintance passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The man passing by looks down the hole, says to be man “I be thinking of you” and moves on. "Then another person comes along who the man in the hole knows and the guy shouts up, 'I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' This man says that he’ll say a prayer for the man in the hole and moves on "Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
You may have heard that story before, but I have somewhat changed it using the now oft-used phrase, “thoughts and prayers”. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” rolls off the tongue very easily and sometimes that’s all we are to do, but if a situation is staring us in the face that requires action, then we are to be show deliberate love. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “love one another.” The noblest form of love is agape and this is the word used here. William Barclay, the biblical scholar said, Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.
I have a list of things that I set myself to do each Easter Season. Generally, the list has 10-15 new initiatives on it that I want to accomplish or begin in the Easter Season. One of the new initiatives was introduced by the Food Bank who wanted us to keep statistics of how many were coming to our door and getting food from our food cupboard. Twenty-two people came to St. Mark’s food cupboard in April. There was one person who was coming to the food cupboard almost every week in the past year. This person didn’t look well, and after talking with them I found out that they didn’t have a job, were living with 3 others in an apartment meant for one. Then suddenly as can happen, they stopped coming. This past week, I ran into the person who had been coming to our food cupboard at a local grocery store where they had a job at the check-out. They looked well and had moved. We had responded in love and had helped them through a tough patch.
If we don’t respond then we fall into the trap stated in James 2:16: “If a person says to those who are cold and hungry, ‘‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” What I am talking about here is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, in a word, empathy.There are two ways to respond; one is that you feel the same as the person we are concerned about. In my own calling, I knew of a priest who responded in a distressed state and would cry their way through many of the funerals they took – not helpful. The other way to respond is to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and reach out and help them. That’s love in action, living deliberately, agape love.May that be the principle by which we live. Amen.
April 22, 2018
Rule of Life Preaching Series: Study
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Today, as we continue in our preaching series on the Rule of Life, I want to talk about study and by study I mean the study of the word of God, through scripture, art, music and discussion as we teach and admonish each other in all wisdom.In the Rule of Life handout under the “Study” rule two questions are asked: How will I express creativity and develop my mind (Reading, arts, music, study)? And, What day(s) and times(s) in the week will I take this time?In this sermon, I hope to give you some guidance and resources that you can use to weave you faith and study together in your faith journey.
I want to begin by saying that our faith, our way of Christian living is not, was not, shall not be about living in the past, for a past generation, or a past way of life but rather, is about what is to come. In our Christian lives we need to take time to study, to read, to listen to observe and we do all of these, not to dwell in the past when forming our Rule of Life, but prepare for the future. Recently, I have come home on occasion to find a book of books, memorabilia, maps, cards, pictures, letters, bills, Mastercharge Bills, old toys, in my office at home. The above list has been put there by my beloved as a straightforward manner without comment or note to the effect that most of it should be thrown out. I will admit that I am a bit of packrat as I find it very hard to throw things out and leave the past behind. I have been throwing about one box a week, but I will say two things in my defence, the first being that my mother has chosen me to be one to receive all of my father’s files (knowing I would be on the one to keep them) and secondly, before Christmas we throughout all the files containing information about the renovation of our kitchen, including the serial number of our stove only to have it break a week later.
I have a hard time putting the past behind, I read history, am a hopeless romantic about past events, places and people and yet I know that, as Robert Zimmerman, a.ka., Bob Dylan, said, “For the times they are a-changin’”. There are lots of quotations about the past: If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.Winston Churchill; The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came to do three things. He came to have my past forgiven, you get a purpose for living and a home in Heaven.Rick Warren; Forget the past. Nelson MandelaThere are no less than 54 quotations in scripture about putting the past behind: Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”; Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, Ecclesiastes 7:10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
If we are not to dwell in the past when forming a Rule of Life, what do we want to do in order to study and learn about Jesus, who as it is states in Hebrews 13:8, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever in Christian writings, art and music. We are surrounded at our services by those things which inspire us: our music, the art in the stained glass windows and church architecture.I find that Sunday afternoon is the best time for me to continue in my study.This has not come to me as you might think because of what I do, but rather that I want to learn more about what is going on in the church and in the world. Studying God’s word is what we do at our Thursday morning bible study which runs September- end of May each year. We have had book studies and occasions throughout the years where we have learned about our faith and how it is lived. You will see that I have included an insert which includes a number of resources where you can find ways in which to study and learn about our faith and study. The internet or library, are both good places to start as well as our library, which Lynne is working on to make it more of a reference library in the future. ART If you have ever have the occasion to go to an Art Gallery, specifically a larger one, you will find countless examples of religious paintings that can inspire you. I believe movies to be a modern day art form and I recently saw three shows on Netflix that have Christian themes: Broadchurch, Greenleaf and “The Bible”. MUSIC For those who are wired in, Spotify and Tidal, among many other streaming services, some free, some quite expensive, where you can find lots and lots of Christian music. There is lots to listen to and even if you just play it in the background, I find it more relaxing and inspiriting than the rest of what is on the radio. There is even Youtube, where you can even find St. Mark’s singing Amazing Grace and Silent Night.
When we look at the two questions,How will I express creativity and develop my mind (Reading, arts, music, study)? What day(s) and times(s) in the week will I take this time?think about, or continue to think about when we come to do our Rule of Life what Paul says in2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefor if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Amen.
Easter Day 2018
Archdeacon Peter Scott
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Jesus Acts, We Respond…
The story was told some years ago of a young pastor who found the roads blocked on Easter morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of this very conservative church back in the day were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord's day. After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally one elder asked, "Did you enjoy it?" When the preacher answered, "No," the board decided it was all right!
Church may seem like that to some people, if there is no joy, then it is alright. But, today is a joyful day, the day of resurrection, and we respond in turn and are a joyful people for joy is a fruit of the spirit! The women went to the tomb with heavy hearts that morning but immediately sensed something was different and they are told by the young man, “Do not be alarmed, Jesus has been raised; go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”Who is the young man?There has been an unending discussion about who he is. I believe he was a messenger for the Greek word for messenger is “angelos” from which we get angel.If we look at the statement of this young man we see that Jesus acts immediately after his death and resurrection and the disciples eventually respond.
Jesus acts immediately after his death and resurrection, This is a time when we might think about how death has touched our families. I remember right after I began at St. Mark’s, my father died suddenly. I remember coming out of the hospital the day he died and wondering why the world had not stopped. It was a strange feeling that life just continued on for everyone else, but not for my father and not for me as I had lost him.I returned to my life, but it was different.The disciples went back to Galilee after they thought Jesus had died which was where most of them were from.They went back to their lives, back to fishing and whatever they did before. But Jesus is already there waiting for them because it would have taken them about a week to get home walking.Jesus goes before them and it is there that they will see the risen Jesus.Jesus is always going before us, always in the everydayJesus in the mundane, everyday events and intervenes, I believe.
One of the things that the early church did was pray and we continue in prayer today ,but there are a lot of things that can get in the way of prayer. Technology has grown at a fantastic rate especially in how we get around. Some cars today have sensors for just about everything: the wipers will come on if it’s raining; the headlights will come on when necessary and some cars will now even turn the high beams on and off as needed; sensors that tell you something or someone in front of you and/or behind you; sensors that warn you if it goes below freezing or have a flat tire. One of the problems with the new technology is that you get used to it, and when you are in a car without these sensors, you can get into trouble. I was parking my car recently which doesn’t have the sensors on the bumpers and after stopping my car noticed that I millimeters from the car next to me. This event occurred at our Cathedral in Hamilton, now it wasn’t the Bishop’s car that I had narrowly missed, but whoever it was I am sure they and me for that matter would not have been pleased. Coincidence, good fortune, or luck you might say, but I did pray for safe passage that day and as a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said, "When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.
Finally, how did the disciples respond? The disciples responded in prayer and other ways as we read in Acts 2:42, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers – that was a Rule of Life for the early church and I believe we should have one too. Today, everyone received a Rule of Life insert in their bulletins. The Rule of Life is based upon that of St. Benedict of prayer, study, work/volunteer, re-creation and hospitality. I would you all to read through the insert to create your own Rule of Life. It will take time, but as I say in the handout, start small and keep it simple. Easter is both a day and a season and so during the 50 days of Easter until the May 24thWeekend we will be exploring the five “rules” in our sermons. I believe that what better time than the Easter Season to look at how we live our Christian lives. Happy Easter to you all.
Palms, Cloaks and Our Reason for Being
Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 0Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
I recently have joined a health club where I go and work out five or six times a week instead of walking around and around Island Lake for my exercise. I have started doing spinning classes on what I would have called a stationary bike back in the day, but now they are called spin bikes, exercise bikes, exercycle or cycloergometer. I used to get on the stationary bike where there might have been a speedometer and mileage gage and I stared a blank wall. They are now called spinning classes and the way you exercise has evolved. In the first class I did was in England, the lighting was low, there were purple neon tube lights around the ceiling, the music was so loud that you couldn’t hear or speak to the person next to you. At points during the 45 minute class it got so dark that you really thought you were in a disco. Your progress was a big screen which kept track of your calories burned compared to everyone else. Whatever you do on the bike, or in the class, the effect is the same: you get some exercise.
Whatever we call this day in our church calendar, the effect is the same: we begin the journey to the cross with Jesus and his disciples with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the Book of Common Prayer it was called, “The Sunday Next Before Easter Commonly Called Palm Sunday”, although the reading was the Passion Narrative of Jesus trial, crucifixion and death. In the Book of Alternative Services, our green service book which we now use, the title is, “The Sunday of the Passion with the Liturgy of the Palms”. The idea has always been that today sets the stage for the week ahead, Holy Week, to remind us that we are heading to Good Friday and Christ’s Passion. As with my stationary bike, or spin classes, the outcome is the same whatever we call today: we know that we are heading to Jesus’ death on the cross.
We heard the reading we heard today from Mark 11 of Jesus triumphal many times, but we can miss important points in this familiar reading. Here are three from the beginning, middle and end of the reading: a colt that had been never ridden, cloaks on the road and the end of the day. A colt that has been ridden. I don’t ride horses and it was pointed out in our bible study that anyone else riding that colt would have been thrown off. But not Jesus, who was Lord of all, and we mean all, even the colt. Cloaks on the road. If we look back at the reading, the people spread leafy branches (John’s Gospel is the only one that mentions Palm Branches) and cloaks on the road. The first thing we notice is that it’s called “Palm Sunday”, not “Cloak Sunday”. We will take away Palm crosses which captures that dual focus of the day; the triumphal entry bended into where it leads, the cross. And finally, it is late in the day and it’s almost a letdown, an anticlimax from the triumphal entry and the lead up to it. There has been all the preparation, the crowds and then they get into the city go the temple, but it’s late and there is no one around and they return to Bethany. Jesus wants people, not buildings in his mission and kingdom.
Psalm 118 is probably not on many people’s favourite psalm list, but Psalm 118 is quoted 4 times in the New Testament. Mark quotes from Psalm 118 (24-25), “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Lord”, which we repeat every Sunday during the Eucharist. The word “Hosanna” means save; so what are the people saying here, save me, save us, and from what? Two processions entered Jerusalem that week. One was that of Jesus who rode a colt cheered by his followers. On the opposite side of the city another procession entered the city: Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. When the people were proclaiming, “Hosanna!”, they were hoping that Jesus save them from the Romans. And so…. Are we wanting to be saved from Jeremy Williams? Or, are we here to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Are we wanting to be saved from Sylvia Jones? Or, are we here to persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Are we wanting to be saved from Premier Kathleen Wynne? Or, are we here to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Are we wanting to be saved from David Tilson? Or, are we here to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving out neighbour as ourselves? Are we wanting to be saved from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Or, are we here to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? Are we wanting to be saved from President Donald Trump? Or, are we here to be fed to the bread of life to further the kingdom of God? Are we wanting to be saved from Peter Scott? I won’t answer that question.
We are to stay focused on our mission and the Kingdom and remember why Jesus came and what he accomplished after he went through the gate into the city. He was not a political messiah, and when we say, “Hosanna!”, we are saying, Lord save us from our sins, forgive us and remember us in your kingdom. Amen.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
WE WERE MADE TO DO GOOD DEEDS
14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Keith Miller, a well-known author and Episcopal churchman, arrived in Bloomington, Illinois, for a speaking engagement. He got to town the night before he was to speak so he bought a local newspaper to catch up on the local news. Close to Bloomington were two towns: Oblong and Normal. To his surprise the headlines on the society page read: "Oblong Man Marries Normal Woman." He thought that was hilarious. In the pulpit the next morning he told the congregation what he had read in the society section of the newspaper the night before. No one laughed. No one even made a snicker. They had grown so accustomed and familiar to those phrases and words that they weren’t humorous.
It is easy for words and phrases to lose their meaning. We become so used to them that they no longer are important. This happens for words and phrases we use over and over again. We might see that in our Christian lives and in our Anglican way of following a service we have done many, many times. The danger we face in our constant use of both the Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer is the possibility of reducing them to just words and phrases that roll off our tongue and not lived out. Our faith would be diminished if we lost the meaning of some key words. The word “deeds” is one of the key words in our Christian vocabulary. Today we heard in our gospel reading from John: 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We are children of light because of Jesus’ death on the cross, not because we do good deeds. We also have to remember this from Ephesians 2:10: “We were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”. We cannot forget that message.
The verse we are looking at begins with, 21But those who do what is true come to the light. Almost every Sunday, I find myself looking the stained glass window, “ The Light of the World”. I have seen one of the originals at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which is a much darker painting giving the light of Jesus a more pronounced and prominent place in the painting. We have a choice in how we react to the situations that come before us that they either lead others to that light or they don’t. I read recently Psalm 18:21, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit, you choose.” We have a choice in life, to be known as someone who is a light shining or a source of negativity. We all know those people who we can go to find the light of God shining through them and those who don’t. It comes down to their behavior, their deeds which will either encourage us or discourage us.
The verse ends with, “so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” Recently, I saw an interview by David Letterman, who now, it you have seen pictures of him, looks like Santa Claus and has a new program on Netflix called, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”. His first guest was former President, Barak Obama. During that interview they were talking about his time as President and leading the country. Here is some of that interview. Barak Obama: Part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, it doesn’t have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness. David Letterman: It’s behavior. We watch the behavior and we learn from that. Barak Obama: It’s something people can relate to, it’s something they can see, feel and touch.
Our faith has to do with behavior, being children of light, God’s representatives. People will watch and we pray learn from our behavior. They will either want to find that source of light that we have or if they see negativity and darkness they will go the other way. I pray that we can that this coming week ahead. Amen.
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. I want to take us through this well known statement by Jesus and unpack it for our lives today. The reading starts with two questions and, as we hear, Peter gets one right and one wrong. The question Peter answers correctly in today’s Gospel reading from Mark is, "Who is Jesus?" by simply answering, “You are the Messiah.” The question Peter doesn’t get right is, "What must Jesus do?" which is that he must suffer many things, be rejected, be killed and after three days rise from the dead. We in turn must ask ourselves what we are to do. The answer Jesus tells us is, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
In verse 31, Jesus begins to teach them something new as we hear, “Then he began to teach them…” Certainly, Jesus had been teaching them all along, but this teaching is different. Prior to this the emphasis as we heard during the season of Epiphany had been on Jesus' authority and power to heal. He casts out demons, heals diseases and heals the infirm. Jesus’ emphasis for the rest of the Gospel, the second half of Mark, will be on his rejection, suffering, death and rising from the dead. Our response to Jesus is to deny ourselves and take up our cross.
Denying ourselves is something that we may indeed think about during this season of Lent. Some us may have denied ourselves certain foods so that we might look or feel better, but we really are not denying ourselves. What we are doing is dieting for the good of ourselves. What we should ask is what are we giving up that we really value because are followers of Christ. Taking up the cross is another matter because only Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The cross was also an instrument of humiliation as those who carried to cross through the streets would be abused, spat at and ridiculed by the crowds along the way. When we pick up and carry the cross we are to show our faith to the point of suffering the consequences of our belief and being humiliated. That, I believe, sums up what “take up your cross and follow me” means.
Here is a true story of what that “humiliation” can look like. I was the power of attorney for an aunt of mine who had a caregiver we had hired to look after her. After some time it became apparent that we had hired the wrong person. Her brother, my uncle, had dropped in on her a couple of times unannounced only to find my aunt alone face down in her meal while the caregiver was upstairs watching T.V. One of the other caregivers found that she was not there on occasion, but had gone out and left my aunt alone. I did the only thing I could do, I fired her. That day I received a call from my aunt begging me not to fire her along with some of her friends who all got on the phone, possibly at the request of the caregiver, to ask me not to let her go. Finally, one of her friends got on the phone and after a long list of reasons for not firing her, told me it was an unchristian thing to do.
Sometimes in life even or possibly, when we are doing the right thing, we can be put in a difficult position. We can be humiliated for what we believe, what we stand for. As we continue in this season of Lent I hope that we can think about how we have suffered consequences of taking up our crosses and continue to do so. Amen.
Have you had an epiphany?
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Today, we continue in this short season of Epiphany which means, manifestation or showing. This is a good way to begin the new year with passages that “show” that Jesus is God, what that means and the possibilities that come with that knowledge. Some churches leave their crèche until 40 days after Christmas until February 2 when Jesus is presented in the temple to remind them Christmas is the first and greatest epiphany. Christmas is followed by the showing of God to the Gentiles and the Baptism of Jesus follows which shows John and the people who Jesus is. The Season of Epiphany will take us until Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day, while Easter Day in on April 1, April Fool’s Day and the Day of Pentecost is on May 24th Weekend.
In today’s passage, Nathanael states after Philip finds Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” – that is an epiphany! The word “find” is used a number of times in this passage. I don’t think that it is theologically correct to talk about finding God, or as one commentator put it, if God were to hide from us, I don't think that we could find God. Yet, we hear Philip say, We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. The two most common definitions for “find” are: (1) "to learn the location of something, either by intentional searching or by unexpected discovery;" and (2) "to learn something previously not known, frequently involving an element of surprise", or I might add, to find out about who or something. It is the second definition of "surprise" that isn't translated well the word "to find". When we hear Andrew "finding" Simon or Philip "finding" Nathanael it should not be understood as them "finding" the Messiah. They found each other, the location of each other, while when they found Jesus it was an unexpected, non-anticipated surprise of Jesus being the promised one, the messiah.
There are many epiphanies that I can think of that have happened at St. Mark’s. One epiphany was someone asked about whether there was a Christmas lunch to which I answered that there were a number around town. They then asked, but really what I am asking about is there one on Christmas Day. And I said, you know, (aha) you’re right, there isn’t. And you know the rest of the story. The other epiphany happened quite recently. I have had on my computer a file that talks about a rule of life. The file is tucked away in amongst all the other files and I think it’s been there for about five years. A rule of life is living out what we believe in a workable way of living. If you know the great commandment is to love God with all you are and to love your neighbour as yourself, a “rule of life” describes what you hope living that love will look like. And I said to myself, aha, I think it’s time to act on this. I will say more about this in my report to Vestry.
Our attitudes change once we actually make the decision to try something new. That happens in our lives, in our faith and church. The same change happened to Nathanael in today’s passage. His conversation with Jesus transformed him from skepticism to confession and the possibility of even greater experiences. The new year brings with it possibilities. Try something new, isn’t what the new year is about, isn’t that what our faith is about? Amen.