Before I was ordained and still working as a police officer in New Scotland Yard, London in the UK I used to work as a volunteer bereavement counsellor for a local hospice near where we lived in south London. Amid all the grief and tears of the bereaved relatives the one common factor I discovered was fear – fear of what had become of their loved one, fear of what life was going to be like alone (one of the specific fears of widows in particular was the finances – “my husband had always looked after all that”), fear of being abandoned by friends and just about afraid of everything to come in the future, especially their own deaths.
And fear is not just confined to those suffering bereavement, it is endemic in our human natures and it pervades our society – political parties play upon it (especially on the immigration issue), adverts on TV and in the media use it to sell their products (particularly in the medical field), bullies in school and on the Internet delight in it and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are all influenced by it to a greater or lesser extent. It can become like a cancer in our systems and can lead to low self-esteem where bullying, paranoia, stress and an inability to trust others become the norm for those suffering badly from fear and lack of self-confidence.
It is not surprising then that Jesus tries to deal with this matter not only in our Gospel reading this morning but elsewhere on many occasions. As we saw in Ian’s sermon last week this 14th Chapter of John’s Gospel is all about Jesus wanting to reassure us that there is nothing to fear. You will recall from last week that the chapter opens with his saying to the disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and towards the end he repeats those words in verse 27 and adds “and do not be afraid”. And in our reading this morning he seeks to reassure the disciples who were anxious and worried about his predicting his death and eventual Ascension from this world which we celebrate this coming Thursday. In his stead he promises to send them another Advocate who will be with them and us forever – the spirit of truth. I will not leave you as orphans, says Jesus, I will come to you and because I live, you also will live.
Lovely words of encouragement aren’t they? And, of course, they were not just for Jesus’ disciples then, they are for his disciples down the centuries to us, his disciples today. Jesus affirms this both in his words to Thomas after the disciple had felt the wounds in Jesus’ resurrected body and declared his faith. ”Blessed are those”, says Jesus, “who have not seen and yet have believed”. Also in his great prayer in the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus states “My prayer is not for my disciples alone, I pray for those who will believe in me through their message.” That’s us, wherever we are in our fears and worries, we have Jesus’ blessing and reassurance that he prayed for each and every one of us and he is with us through his sending to us His Advocate, the Holy Spirit, The Spirit of truth.
If we require more confirmation of this, we need look no further than our other readings this morning. In his speech to The Areopagus in Athens Paul tells his hearers all about their Unknown God, ‘how he gives all of us life and breath and everything else and how in Him we live and move and have our being’. And Peter in his letter to the church in Rome, “Do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”. Encouraging words for the disciples but what about the “they” Peter talks about? From what he says elsewhere he is talking about people who are anti God and anti-faith in Him and His Son Jesus Christ – the very same people Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading who cannot receive the spirit of truth who comes from Jesus – “This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.”
And this brings me back to my bereavement counselling days – the reason so many of my clients could not come to terms with their fears was that they were stuck in the secularist norm of neither seeing nor knowing Jesus through His Spirit. I longed to tell them the reassurance we and they all have in our Lord and Saviour but realised it was not the time to do that. However, they were constant sources of prayer and I know many of them became aware of and came closer to God through the reassuring Spirit of Truth emanating from His Son Jesus. May we in our spiritual journeys come closer to Jesus, receive Hi Spirit of truth in our hearts and minds and know that we have no need to fear or worry because of what he has for us and continues to do. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid”. Amen.
Why did he do it? (Seeing the heart of another matters)
One of the things that makes me scratch my head on Easter Sunday is, why? Why would Jesus do this? What is his the reason or his purpose? Why we do things often says more than words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
If you are married and your spouse comes home and says to you, “You know what, I was on my way home and I just felt the need to stop off and get you something. I picked up the flowers you like, and these premium chocolates.” Then they give you a big hug and a big kiss and says “I just want you to know I love you.” What is your first reaction? Shock, and wonder. You would probably be thinking, “What did you do or what did you buy.“ Right? You figure there is probably a new boat in the driveway, a new car on the way or something else that you are afraid to imagine, but oh boy is your head trying to figure it out because something must be up.
On the other hand, if your wife (Sorry ladies) goes shopping and the first thing she says to you when she gets back is, “Can you guess how much money I saved today?” Are you excited about how much money she saved? No. (Personally, I have heard that phrase quite a bit in my marriage.) On the inside you are starting to freak out because she is telling you the good side of the story first. What are you buttering me up for here?
Why we do things matters more than our words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
My son is 3 and my daughter is 7. They have just entered the phase where they drive each other nuts, and drag their mother and I along for the ride. I was hoping they would get along wonderfully for ever. I was hoping to live a Leave it to Beaver kind of life. They just annoy each other all day. They complain all the time that one does not play the right way. They mess each others stuff up. They even mess up my stuff too. Not Mom’s so much. I think they both know better. The one time they are consistently nice to each other is first thing in the morning. Morgan gets Alec a drink of juice. Alec says, ‘thank you Morgan’ and they both eat reasonably quietly together most mornings. If you come to my place in the morning you would likely say, “Wow your kids really do love each other. Look at that.” But why they are behaving this way makes all the difference. Alec does not want to do anything in the morning. He just wants his sister, or Dad on occasion, to get him what he wants so he can play Lego’s or watch T.V. in peace. Morgan just wants her little brother to be quiet and leave her alone.
Why we do things matters more than our words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
When people do things for selfish reasons we are not really impressed. However, when we see people with good, selfless reasons, – and they are doing something just for you, no strings attached, – you are seriously impressed. If you have ever had someone do something thoughtful just for you, you will remember that. It will stick with you for the rest of your life. You can not forget them. The reason was solely for you and your benefit. This is kind of what our Family Friday ministry is all about. The way our heart moves matters.
Years ago when Koulla and I were still living in my mother’s basement we would have friends over every Sunday afternoon. I was working shift work at that time, and I generally did not get a lot of time with my wife or my friends. What is worse, is I do not really like people doing things for me. I have a really hard time receiving gifts. This one Sunday I was exhausted and the bank account was less than full, but I still wanted my friends around. I wanted a barbeque and a beer, but I could not afford the time or money to go to the store to get the needed. Then the door bell rang. All of my friends arrived. We told them we could not do what we normally do. They said they knew, and that is why they brought the best meat they could find from the butchers and a couple of beers. I was told to sit down this time. They were cooking. They did not need to do any of that. They just did it. I will never forget it. It was completely selfless on their part, and it fed my soul.
When we see the heart of another, is stays with us. The way our heart moves matters.
What was Jesus’ motivation
Jesus’s reason, the why he did what he did, with the cross and resurrection, was complete and perfect love for you. Not just for the clergy. Not just for the choir, the other people in robes and children. God’s love is for each of us. The reason he chose the cross is because he loves you. God gave his son to the world – to you – for your benefit. It is the ultimate action of selflessness. It is the ultimate expression of love for us – for you. God gave his Son – All that God is and has Himself – for us … for you. There is nothing that compares. God became us, to give up his life, to free us. Let that sink in a bit because it is amazing.
God’s love is selfless. That is just the way it is. That is what we get. When we think, talk or act in Godly love we do so for the sole benefit of the other. This also means that God’s love is given, grown and experienced through relationships. Your relationship with God and your relationships with others. The relationship matters because that is where love resides.
That does not mean that we will always have lovey dovey times. No. Does that mean that we only say things that others want to hear. No. There are times that love is just plain hard. These are the times that we are called to say something true, and we will be met with resistance. Truth is not always easy to accept and share, but it does help to build a relationship with God. The concern is not to be right and to beat the other up with truthful reality. At that point it is not love. That is judgement. This is what Jesus the Christ did for us. Complete, full, 100% selfless love for us. This is why Jesus freely chose the cross and resurrection.
Jesus wants to continue to restore your relationship with God. Jesus knew you and I are broken. Jesus knew that we have issues that separate us from God. God took the initiative, God took the chance to correct it and fix it, so you could actually be with God again. The stuff that drew you away from God in the past. It is stuck in the past. There are no time machines. It does not matter how much good you do in the future, the past ugliness – what we call sin – will always be there. We are all stuck with it.
Now listen to this next part. Really dial in and listen. Jesus did not come and say, “Get yourself right and then I will die for you fixing this whole thing.” Instead Jesus says, “I know you are stuck and I already know you are broken. You can’t clean yourself up, so I am going to take care of it for you.” That is the way it works because that is the way God’s love works. First we go to God the way we are, not the way we want to be. We often think, “I better clean myself up first and then get to God.” Or more the more popular, “I better get my act together before I can go to church.” That is backwards. No. First, we go to God, just as we are, and then we get straightened out. We celebrate Easter because our relationship with God is restored.
If there is a part of you that still thinks there is a wall between you and God, then Easter Day, today is the day that the wall is removed. You and I can truly call God your friend because of the resurrection. We are even called sons and daughters as part of his family.
The other thing he did was to give you a purpose. God knows that we can not take our stuff with us when we die. So if you have been playing a really great game of, “who ever has the most toys at the end wins.” I got bad news for you. That is a life filled with hopelessness. Jesus gives you something to live for. Not only does Jesus die for us to restore our relationship with him, but we are given a new purpose that matters in this life and the next too. In a real, tangible way we are new people with new lives. God offers each of us this chance. It does not matter who you are or what you’ve done, or what has happened to you, God is offering a chance at a new start. Right here. Right now. God has already taken those things in the past away and started you out new.
God has given us the job of helping others reconcile with God. Our purpose is to help others restore their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We speak for Christ when we invite others to come back to God, or when we lovingly speak truth. This is our purpose. This is your purpose. This is amazing and it is powerful. Without the resurrection, we do not have this.
The life, death and resurrection is a gift presented to you. It is a gift that Jesus put out there for each of us … for you personally. The reason behind it is infinite and unbelievable love for you. The purpose is to give you a chance at a more God filled life which is a chance at the most robust full life imaginable. Easter marks that day that are all given a shot at a new life, to start over. That is why we are all here. Take this gift. Let go of the old, comfortable, painful life and exchange it for the life that God wants to give you. The resurrection gives life meaning, direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what the circumstances. This is the reason Jesus chose the cross and resurrection and it is reason to be joyful too. Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today in our sermon series on Addressing Death the topic is on providing care. For me, this is a very difficult thing to talk about. That may seem strange to come from a minister, but it is the truth.
I have never had to directly care for another near end of life for an extended period of time. I have had some very difficult experiences to deal with both personally and professionally. I have not directly felt or experienced what it is like to care for a spouse or immediate family member when it comes to failing health and death. The closest I have come is to tell the doctors to stop the machines when my late grandmother was failing many years ago. My mother was overseas at the time. My two aunts agreed with the course of action but could not bring themselves to say or do it themselves. My sister was the same. I was the one, the youngest of all of them, who spoke for the family. I was the one who did what needed to be done. I was the one who took the misplaced darts of anger, grief and sorrow from my family.
The readings from this morning address two key things in our series on Addressing Death. Today we are going to take some time to reflect on what we mean by autonomy and suffering. These two things, autonomy and suffering, are key idea’s when it comes to us being disciples of Jesus Christ, and trusting in God with all your, “heart soul mind and strength.”
All around the rectory are plastic plugs in the electrical sockets. At first, I detested them since getting them out of the socket is a real pain. I do not really want the plastic covers on the outlets yet, if I want my children to live past the age of three, I need to put them in. Curious children with forks approaching open electrical sockets are enough to scare any parent, grandparent or other family member into preventative action. We love these crazy little people and do not want any harm to come to them.
Baptism, Death and Life in Between – Based on John 3:5-8
In September of last year Margaret and I got talking after a Sunday Service as we usually do. We shared our insights of the parish, ministry and life in general. This conversation was particularly interesting since we were just starting to wrestle with the Canadian Government policy change on end of life care. Since mid-June 2016 when Bill C-14-passed “Medical Assistance in Dying” it is now legal in Canada to choose medical assistance in dying – under set circumstances. Regardless of whether you personally agree or disagree with this decision as a parish, we need to take time to reflect and understand this new reality. We may be personally faced with this decision at some point. We could have family members of friends considering this choice. We could end up with fellow parishioners who consider this as an option where we are called to pastorally respond to the situation.
We may not have chosen this decision yet we are all called to begin to sort out how to navigate new and uncharted waters of our collective lives of faith. For the next 5 weeks, we will be reflecting on some uncomfortable and needed topics. This series is based on Rev. Margaret Johnston-Jones’s, our fantastic Honorary Assistant’s work with the National Church. I am personally grateful for her work in this area … even if I get to do most of the homilies.
There are times in each of our lives where we regret not being prepared. For me, this was one of those weeks. Once a month I visit Wynfield Retirement residence and do a service for about 10 people. I take a travel communion kit and a copy of the readings for Sunday with me to use in the service. This week, I neglected to review the readings prior to my arrival. I thought to myself, “There will be nothing surprising since the Gospel reading is part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.” Then I began to read the Gospel to the residents. Oh, how I wished they were all deaf or sleeping. It would have made my life so much easier.
Later in the week I sat down to investigate more deeply what was going on in Matthew. I have a personal stake in this – my parents divorced many years ago. While I have not always had a great relationship with my Father I do not want my Dad to go to hell, or for my mother to suffer any more consequences of something that happened a life time ago. A good and just God would not punish these people in this way, right?
As I prayed, re-read and studied this passages I began to get a little upset. How can I operate in the world if I am not allowed to vent my anger? When I am angry and upset with someone, I want to pray about what to do and not talk with the person I am upset with. I might make it worse, or I may get worse. To top it all off, Jesus’s stance on divorce is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and does not appear to give any wiggle room on the matter. Divorce happens when lies and lust take root and begin to choke out the beautiful plant of marriage. Jesus is taking a clear and extreme stance and we are left to twist in the wind. Thanks Jesus for intending to send my Dad, who is broken like the rest of us, to hell. God’s judgment appears to be arbitrary, and will eventually catch up with you in the end. What is really going on here because it does not sound quite right to me.
One of the striking things about this entire passage is the extreme nature of it. Caught yourself looking at a pretty boy or girl too long … pluck your eyes out. That is extreme. This extreme tone permeates through the entire passage. This is a rhetorical style that drives home a point. It would be impossible to avoid the impulse of noticing an attractive person. However, we are called to avoid the long gaze and lust filled imagination that follows … and yes, we have all done that from time to time. We have all been angry with another person, and we have all had to reconcile with someone too. The point in all this is not to get bogged down in endless debates about what precisely is allowed. We know what is right and wrong, and we are called to do our best to hold to these standards as best we can. We are also called to love, forgive and reconcile with ourselves and each other as best we can too.
My parents are as reconciled as they can be. Forgiveness has been offered and received by both sides. I have reconciled with my father and forgiven him, as he has done for me, for things I had done. This stuff is to be worked on now, and not in some distant time far in the future. God’s process of judgement begins now, and continues each day after that. So, don’t give up on yourself or others. God, in Jesus hasn’t and neither can you. I do not believe a good, just and loving God would condemn my family in light of all this faithful work of restoration and reconciliation – work that Jesus commands too.
Discipleship in community
When we read this section of Matthew we tend to focus on the individual directives that are laid out for us. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture itself lends to this kind of initial reading to be sure. When you move your focus back from the individual examples something new comes to the forefront. This thing is what binds the reading together and each of together. Our sense of belonging to a community of faith is holds each piece together. If the individual examples are concerned with what is right and wrong for an individual, the collective story is how a faith community is called to account, support and lovingly nurture each disciple.
Nothing we do as Christians, believers of Jesus Christ, is an autonomous action. What you do and what you say … how you live influences those around you. When we remember that there are others around us our actions begin to shape who we are as a community. This is part of the reason that we need to pray for and with each other.
What you do and say with your individual faith actually matters. It matters to the people sitting next to you in the pew every Sunday. It matters to your family, friends, and children. It matters to you too.
Two weeks ago a man came to Family Friday’s well before we were ready to eat. He was not well kept. He was meek and had a sad, depressed way about him. He entered the hall quietly. I stopped talking with the caterer, turned around and greeted him. I asked him if he was staying for a bite to eat, and I asked him if he was okay.
He was not. He could not stay for dinner. He told me that he was moved by what we are doing. He told me how much the program means to him and his friends. He told me that he believes in God and was having a really rough time. A friend of his, who came with him to Family Friday’s last year, committed suicide. His group of friends are having a really hard time with this and they don’t’ know what to do, … so they drink a lot. They don’t know how to deal with what is going on in them and around them. I asked if I could say a short prayer with him. Standing in an empty hall, in the door way to the stairs we prayed. He cried. He could not talk. He reached in his pocket, took out 6 dollars – all that he had on him – and placed it in the basket. He wanted no food, but he wanted to give back because we had given to him and his friend last year. I offered to speak with him and his friends to see if we could sort out where God was in all this, and to help connect them to services in the area that might be able to help. He only said, “Thank you, thank you …. Thank you.” This man lives in the house across the street.
When you leave this building, and share your faith in God, you are sharing more than just you and your beliefs. You are sharing a relationship and a claim of Godly connection. You are sharing this community of faith. You share God with the other person. This may feel heavy – and it is – and it is part of what it means to be part of this parish. When that man entered the hall, he was looking for more than a soft shoulder and a listening ear. He was looking to connect to God in someway – and I was privileged to be there and help connect him. He knew he needed help to see the truth of what was going on in him and around him. He needed a community of faithful people to connect with. He needs each one of you too.
Communal life means that we follow Jesus together. It means that faith and belief are not only private affairs and that there is a right, and a wrong. There is no way to do what Jesus will ask of you, and reach your full potential, without community with you and beside you. The community helps each person figure out what is right and what is wrong – and helps to remind us that we are forgiven when we fall short of Jesus’s demands too. Even more than this, when you realize that your potential as a disciple, who you are called to be, is not just dependant upon you and solely rests on your should, but is helped by another, it is then that you begin to believe it.
This may seem obvious to you, but this is very hard to speak and live out. The modern age favors and rewards individualism, autonomy, and independence. When we speak about communal right and wrongs, community and dependence on others, we will not be sharing popular messages. We will need to be prepared for questioning and resistance, or even a flat-out rejection of Jesus’s demands because they go against what the world favors and values.
When we remember that God is with us, not just that God is with me, we begin to realize we are not simply members of community but shapers of that community too. The shape of this community proclaims a critical thing that is absolutely true, – our God is a God of community, this community right here right now. In this community, we are called to support each other, and hold each other accountable in forgiving love, kindness and grace … just as Jesus does. Amen.
I have a confession to make. I am horrible at losing weight and keeping it off. My goal this year is to lose 10 pounds. I only have 15 more to go. There are times that I wake up excited and full of energy to tackle this important task of getting into good physical shape, and by noon I am frustrated. I mean I had been controlling my urge to eat unnecessary things all morning and I do not have a six-pack yet! I know that losing weight is a constant battle of self denial, and consistent intentional good choices for the rest of my life. Perhaps, the battle is the problem. I am a lover not a fighter. I am a lover of cheese flavoured snacks.
No Ian keep on track, I tell myself. I am going to lose this belly. I am going to exercise everyday. I am going to watch what I eat and stick to it …. Are those nachos? After all, I only seem to remember I want to lose weight after eating them. Perhaps I should just stop the complaining and pick up my, eat my fork salad and be sad. If losing weight was as easy as losing my keys, cell phone or even my mind I would be in the best shape of my life.
In my mind, I am still 18 or 20 years old. Deep down, I am having a real problem believing that my body does not work the same way that it used too. I want it too, but the cold hard reality is that it does not. I hurt after I work out… when I do workout that is. I mean a lot too. I am genuinely afraid of sneezing the day after I workout, because I will hurt all over. After a good workout with my arms (raise arms slightly) this is as high as I can lift them. All of this is new to me.
When I was younger I could take the pain better. But now with kids, and being older I have a hard time with this. I feel shame, sad and disappointed in myself for not achieving what is wanted. What is worse is my wife is a great encourager for me on this in keeping me accountable, am I consistently let her down. If it was just me, I would not care so much. My wife and kids are rooting for me, and I keep failing. It feels like no matter how hard or long I work, I will never get to the end goal … whatever that is or looks like. In the end I often feel like giving up, and giving in. I am frustrated. In my head, I don’t want to but my heart is aching with pain.
When it comes to our individual relationships with God and Jesus, I suspect that this pattern of trying, not measuring up and then feeling down is more common than we think.
Work and our relationship with God
For some people doing good things means that they are good Christians. It seems like a logical thing. If I help a young kid who is down and out, I am a good person. I did what God wants me to do. The kid is in a better spot and I was the one who helped. I did what I was called to do. This is the gold standard in trying to work into God’s favour. Helping the little guy. Even the Bible writes about that. For others, it can be different
The more common way that we can think of working our way into God’s good graces is by living a good, noble life overall. Sure, I may not be perfect but I help where I can. I do not ask for praise or even acknowledgement of my work. When I help in the little ways I am still working to ensure that God is happy with me.
Lastly, we may even try reading all the right books and praying all the right prayers to please God. We may come to church every Sunday, actively work or lead a ministry. Through our activity, we show our faith because words fail us, and that is just not us. Instead I will do something to help.
In each of these instances our work is what is at the forefront. We are working to please God, show Gods’ love, or maybe even to try and make God like me a little more. If I do all the right things, then I must be a good person and a good Christian.
If any of this was completely true, then why did Jesus die on the cross for you or for anybody else? Why did he suffer being abandoned by his close friends on the eve of his trial? Why bother getting out of the tomb on Easter morning? If our works and deeds could get us into God’s good graces, then Jesus would have died for nothing. Of course, doing good things has their place in the Christian life. Service is a hallmark of it, but ensuring salvation and a close relationship with God is not one of them. We are saved by faith and not works, and a faith that does no work, is no faith at all.
Prayer and Contemplation and our relationship with God Great. I guess what really matters is believing. If I accept all the right things, and believe all the right things then I am good with God … right? I guess I really do have to believe Easter and the Virgin Mary, and the Jesus was all God and all a person at the same time, … even though it makes no sense to me. This must be the reason I ask people to read the Bible. This must be the reason we need to share our prayer lives with each other. Well not exactly.
There are some who are more academically and theologically inclined and prefer a good, hard Bible study for their mind to chew on. There are people who can eloquently speak a great fruitful Christian language and appear to know it all. Perhaps you see me this way?
Then you would be wrong. If all you did was study and pray, and did nothing with what you believe, then you have missed the point of what you had been reading. We pray to know more about God and how God works. We read to learn more and grow deeper in our faith so we can have more confidence in what we believe. These things are indeed work, and it is not the only work. If you prayed everyday of your life, and did not notice the poor hungry person across the table then you have not really prayed at all.
Prayer and personal reflection should move us to act. Our actions should move us to pray. When we find ourselves doing this, then we have an engaged, active life of faith that God is really working in and out of. Therefore, works and faith must go together. If you only focus on one, you will feel like a baby trying to lift a barbell. No matter how hard you try that barbell will never be lifted.
How do we do this
Working in harmony with God takes a lot of practice. I am sorry, but it is the truth. As Christians, we are called to be go-getters and followers. It is easy to get ahead of God working in your life. After all, God is always calling us to do something. The trouble is some of us need to learn to not get ahead of God, because when you do, confusion, disorganization and disharmony will result. Then the ministry and life in Christ that we are so excited about will need to be started all over again. We may feel we have wasted valuable time, – God’s time – simply because we are to proud and ambitious to wait for God to lay out the path before us. This is what happens when you workout too hard when you first start. You over work your muscles and end up hurting yourself and then need to start over. This is same thing that happens when we expect our work to be good enough for God, instead of waiting on God to point us in the right direction, for where the work needs to be done.
One of the things that I have had the learn to do is slow down. (Don’t laugh … Just because my slow is your fast, does not mean it is not slow for me …) Instead of going full on and getting right to work, take time to pray. Intentionally and deeply pray before you act. Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your head and heart with fresh new ideas. Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with more than enough energy to take on the task in its fullest. We may need to slow down long enough for God to get ahead of us, and place the right people around us to keep Gods mission moving.
If you feel God’s call for you to do something, slow down for a while. Really get in tune with what is going on inside you and around you and then act passionately. Then your faith will be in action.
The reading in both Corinthians and Matthew encourage us to remember how God comes to us, and spurs us on to grow in Him. In Paul’s letter, he is reminding us that ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Through Christ Jesus, God comes to us as the source of all life and goodness. Through faith we can take comfort in our blessings.
In the gospel, there are two words that are repeated and these two words are incredibly important. Matthew repeatedly writes, “Blessed are ….” Not bless if, or bless when. Blessed are those who do these things. This means that if you are doing one or some of these things, God is already with you and is actively working in you too! God has already forgiven you for the things that you can’t forgive yourself for. This means that you do not need to slave away trying to work your way into God’s good books, … you are already in them. God is with you, … are you with God? Can you accept that Jesus loves the real you, despite all the stuff that you have done … or failed to have done? Jesus wants to take good enough that you already are and transform it into something even better. This is all given to you through your active faith.
I began this homily with a confession of my failure to lose weight and keep it off. I shared how I continually let myself and my family down, and that I feel sad, disappointed and ashamed. These things are not going to keep me from trying though. These things will not define who I am, and I will not let them seep into my heart. If God can suffer on the cross to show me he loves me, then I can suffer through some sore muscles and some hunger pangs to be more of the person I can be. I am doing this for myself and my family. What are you going to do for yourself and your faith in God? Amen.
Have you ever had a moment where you were trying to find something really important, but just could not find it? As you search your memory, it can feel like you are trying to hold onto fog. You try to grasp it but it falls away. You work hard to trigger your memory retracing steps, flipping the couch cushions, checking your pockets. You tidy the house up as you search for this really important thing. After awhile, you just give up, sit yourself down and try to let it go. But you can’t! As you sit there your brain keeps running, you start to hope that something will magically appear in your mind and you will suddenly find clarity. The minutes begin to feel like hours that drag on. You pull a friend or loved one into your darkening abyss as you try and sort out what happened, and where it has gone. Then, in the middle of the dark of night, after you have finally let go and resigned yourself to embracing futility, failure and disappointment, you spring out of bed, go to your coat pocket, and there under who knows what, you finally feel them in your hands. Your keys! Your beautiful wonderful keys. You have them and used them all the time, but somehow these valuable things are lost, forgotten and miss placed in the course of everyday life. They are always in the last place you look.
The reading from Isaiah says , “For the yoke of their burden, and bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” This last sentence from Isaiah are the lost keys to understanding what is going on from our passages this morning.
Day of Midian
This cryptic reference in the last line of Isaiah gives us a clue to understanding what all three readings use in their reference point of ‘the day of Midian’. If you were a first century Jew, you would immediately understand the reference. It would be like someone saying, ‘we were shocked like on 9/11’. The emotions, circumstances and turmoil comes to the forefront of our minds and we immediately understand what is being shared. This is what is going on with ‘the day of Midian.’
“It is what it is” – this is the favourite saying of my regular golfing partner whenever we walk down the fairway after a good long drive each and then, to our dismay and frustration, we discover our balls have bounced off into the rough or into the bunker (I know you Canadians say “trap”). Before any expletives can come out or any words you would not expect a priest to utter, Rheal booms out the famous words “It is what it is”!
And in his own way this is what Jesus is telling the disciples of John the Baptist in our gospel reading this morning. They had been sent by John from his prison cell where, I am sure, he was mystified. He had been so certain Jesus was God’s chosen one; yet surely The Messiah, coming to bring God’s judgment, would by now have taken control and vanquished the opposition? John has heard of miracles of healing and teaching about loving your enemies, tales of a man who does not fast as a pious Jew should and who consorts with Gentile sinners as a pious Jew should not. Doubts have crept in; can this really be The Messiah?