In This Corner, From Parts Unknown: A Sermon for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost

Jacob Wrestling the Angel
Ed Knippers – oil on panel – 12’x8′ – 2012

You can read Genesis 32: 22-31 here.

I’m speaking to you today just a few hundred feet from the banks of the Virginia River that flows just behind the church building here at St. Mark’s on Logy Bay Road, as it flows down to Quidi Vidi Lake.  Rivers are hugely important to the sustaining of life, moving nutrients around, providing clean water and food.  Rivers are also deeply symbolic, pointing to the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world.  Rivers are symbols of cleansing and transformation.

In our story from Genesis today we read of Jacob at the Jabbok River, the story of a strange encounter – a story of personal transformation for Jacob.  But this story is not just about Jacob, our ancestor in the faith, it is our story too.

Jacob is a fascinating character in Genesis.  His importance is shown by the twenty chapters dedicated to telling his story.  And what a story it is!

If you’re expecting a nice, pious story about a devoutly religious man and his family then you will be sorely disappointed.  From the very start of his life Jacob is born with a reputation.  His name actually means ‘heel-grabber’ (a reference to his in-utero struggle with his twin brother Esau, where Jacob is born after Esau, grabbing his brother’s heel as they are born).  It also carries the connotation of usurper, crooked, deceive or follow.  Jacob does everything he can to live up to his name.  He lives a life of struggle, mistakes and deceit.  Jacob puts the fun in dysfunctional.

He has a dysfunctional relationship with his father, Isaac.  He tricks his father into giving him the dying blessing that was meant for his elder brother Esau.

He has a dysfunctional relationship with his brother, Esau.  He also tricks Esau into giving him his birthright inheritance for a bowl of soup.  Fearing his life in a reprisal from Esau, Jacob runs away.

He has a dysfunctional relationship with his overprotective mother, Rebecca.  It is she that encourages Jacob’s deception of his brother and father.  It is Rebecca that suggests he flee to her family back home.

He has a dysfunctional relationship with his father-in-law, Laban.  In Laban, Jacob meets his match.  Jacob works for Laban for years in order to be granted permission to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel.  Instead, Laban tricks him with his elder daughter,  Leah. He works again for many years before finally being granted Rachel’s hand in marriage.  Just imagine how awkward family gatherings must have been!

Yet in spite of all of this, Jacob is still central to the story of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people.  Despite all his flaws, this crooked trickster is a key figure in the fulfilment of God’s covenant faithfulness to not only the Hebrew people, but all humankind.

In this particular story God has told Jacob to go home.  Going home means confronting his past, his mistakes and his brother,  Esau.  In typical Jacob fashion he has a plan, or better yet – a scheme.  He divides up his vast estate into two camps – in case Esau attacked one, he would have something left.  He sends ahead an extravagant gift, aka a bribe, to Esau in the form of livestock and other riches.  Old habits die hard, I guess.

Finally, with Esau and 400 men approaching, Jacob sends his wives and children across the ford of the Jabbok River.  Jacob, though, stays behind, alone.  Jacob is no doubt fearful – perhaps the jig is finally up.   Perhaps he is once again considering running away.

Suddenly a man appears and Jacob wrestles with this mysterious figure throughout the night.  When the man sees that he is not getting the upper hand on Jacob and that daylight is approaching, he strikes Jacob on the hip, knocking it out of socket.  Jacob still refuses to let go.  Instead he demands a blessing.  The blessing comes in the form of a name change.  No longer will he be known as Jacob – now he will be Israel.  No longer will he be crooked, a deceiver, a follower – instead he will be one who struggles with God and humans, and prevails.  The newly-minted Israel asks the stranger his name but the man refuses.  As the sun rises, bringing a new day, Jacob limps towards his brother and his future.

This is a wonderful story, filled with many layers of meaning, but it does not give up its meaning easily.  One big question is who is Jacob’s wrestling opponent?  Who is this man hailing from parts unknown who wrestles with Jacob throughout the night?  Is it God or some other angelic being?  Or to take a more psychological approach, is it Jacob himself?  In a ‘choose your own adventure’ style ending to this sermon, let’s consider both.

If this is a story about wrestling with God, what does it say about our relationship with God?  On the surface, wrestling with someone may not be the most spiritual of images for our relationship with God.  But think about it – to wrestle with someone is an intimate encounter.  You can’t wrestle from a distance; you have to get in close and grab on.  Jacob does seem to share the personal relationship with God that his grandfather Abraham did.  But it is never neat and tidy, never comfortable, but one fraught with struggle, mistrust and wrong steps.  Yet the relationship holds.  Somehow in the church, especially in the Western Church, faith has become very sanitized, more about self-help and positive thinking than the striving seen in Jacob’s faith.  We have made faith about believing the right things, belonging to the right group, and following the right rules and rituals.  But I think we need more of the raw, honest struggle of faith that Jacob shows us.  A relationship with God where there is room for questions, doubt and screwups.  A faith where we don’t always get it right; actually a faith where we rarely get it right, but yet God remains faithful.  Remember that the blessing that Jacob so desperately wanted, finally came to him in woundedness, not in perfection.

If this story is about wrestling with ourselves, I think it means that we have to come to terms with, face-to-face, who we are, to do the hard work of self-reflection.  Names in the bible carry great meaning, speaking to the character of the person.  So, when the man asks Jacob his name, he is in a way asking “who are you?”  I think that question haunts Jacob all his life.  If we’re honest, it haunts all of us.  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  Why do I do the things I do?  What’s wrong with me?  We’re all Jacob.  We all wear a mask that tries to deceive those around us, and even ourselves, that we are something that we are not.  That we are someone who has it all together and under control.  For many of us it’s a mask that was given to us, or better yet forced on us, by a lifetime of people, situations and relationships.  Some of it is beyond our control, some of it is of our own making.  But the story of Jacob should fill us with hope.  This is a story about transformation and enlightenment.  Before Jacob can be reconciled with his brother, Esau, he must first face his own demons, his own mistakes.  He must face himself.  Jacob’s answer to the stranger’s question of ‘who are you’ is much like our own.  He has deceived himself into thinking that he is broken, crooked, weak – perhaps irreparably so.  Jacob is told that he is not that, but instead something whole, something good, something that is worthy of love and respect.  This is what the psychologist calls self-actualization, the mystic calls the dark night of the soul, and the televangelist calls salvation.  It is only when Jacob hears and accepts these words that the dawn of the light of enlightenment shines on and in him.

Or perhaps it is both.  Maybe in struggling with God we come to see who we truly are, and when we dive deep into ourselves we find God, and the divine image we bear.  Whatever the case, God’s grace is present and we are transformed when we encounter it.

Rev. Robert is the Rector of St. Mark’s Church in St. John’s, NL.

Prayers of the People for Pentecost 9

praying hands
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Gracious God, as we gather together to offer our prayers for the needs of the church, our communities and the world, let us pray to the Lord saying …”Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for the Church Universal; in our Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the new Province of Alexandria – created from the former Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa in the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East.  And in our Tri-Diocesan Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Parish of Port de Grave and the Parish of Port Saunders.

We pray to the Lord.             Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for peace in our world. Give peace to your Church, peace among all nations, peace in our homes and peace in our hearts.

We pray to the Lord.             Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for ourselves, for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives.  Let us pray especially for our brother and sisters in Christ of the parishes of St. Mark’s, St. Thomas, St. Nicholas and St. Lawrence.

We pray to the Lord.              Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for God’s protection, for the health and safety of everyone during this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic. For continuous coordinated efforts among individuals, nations and societies as we all work together to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

We pray to the Lord.            Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for those who are ill, in hospital, or in care homes. We pray for those who have asked for our prayers and for those known to you alone.  Let us give thanks for those who are on the road to recovery.  We pray for all those who tend to the needs of these individuals, give them strength and guidance to carry out their everyday work.  We continue to pray for those struggling with Mental Health and Addictions issues.

We pray to the Lord.             Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for all who have died in the peace of Christ, and for those whose faith is known to God alone.

Rest eternal grant to them O Lord, And let light perpetual shine upon them.

We pray to the Lord.             Lord hear our prayer

Let us pray for those who are worshiping with us virtually. Let us remember especially those whom we have forgotten. Lord, you know the need of all and have heard each prayer; save us in your merciful loving-kindness and eternal love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The prayers of the people this week are written by Susan Hall of the Parish of St. Lawrence, Portugal Cove, NL. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like … A Sermon for the 8th Sunday After Pentecost

abendstimmung agriculture back light cereal
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The 13th chapter of Matthew contains seven parables of Jesus which each begin with the words ”The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Two of these parables, the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, were given separate treatment in the lectionary.  Today’s text groups the remaining five – the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Leaven, the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Dragnet.  There are some similarities between some of the parables as well as some differences, but as a whole, they together give us a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure again reinforces the idea of the hiddenness of the Kingdom.  To the average person, all they saw was a plain field.  It might have some value in itself, but its true value was hidden from sight.  If they only knew the treasure the field contained!  How this man discovered the treasure is not told.  All we know is that he found it.  He had to have this field, so he sold everything to buy it.  No one else would have done this, but the man knew a secret.  I just wonder how he contained his joy until he had the deed in hand.  It is important not to press parables too hard.  Jesus was not saying to keep the secret to one’s self.  In fact, Jesus says otherwise in all seven parables and in all the gospels.  What the parable is teaching is that the gospel was so valuable to him that he was willing to part with everything he had to obtain it.  There is a cost to discipleship, sometimes a great cost, but the reward is worth the loss.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but read this passage from Matthew’s gospel and not think of the Beverly Hillbillies and Jed Clampett.  If you have never seen the classic show, let me remind you of it.  Jed Clampett is, as the intro song tells us, “a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed.  Then one day, he was shooting at some food, and up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude—oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.”

Jed

Here was this poor country hillbilly from the Ozarks who is out hunting one day, just trying to survive, and his missed shot strikes oil.  He sold his land for $25 million dollars and moved to a mansion in Beverly Hills – from Redneck to riches.  The show chronicles the comedic mishaps of a country family who has now come into the bright lights and the big city of Beverly Hills, the land of swimming pools and movie stars.

I think our parable from St. Matthew is telling us about something very similar to the situation the Clampetts found themselves in after Jed’s miraculous discovery.  The man in our parable was out trying to procure food for his family as well.  Well, Matthew doesn’t get that specific, but the inference is clear that this man had to have been plowing in a field, going about his daily routine, most likely as a country peasant, not unlike Jed Clampett.  And in the course of his ordinary task, he encountered the extraordinary buried treasure.  We aren’t told what the treasure is that the man finds, but it is evidently something worth much more than all his other possessions combined.

Well, we may find this a strange story that seems unlikely at best or impossible at worst, but before we judge this parable it is important to keep in mind the cultural and historical context of the parable.  In Jesus’ time, there was no Royal Bank or Credit Union where they could place their valuables for safekeeping.  Warfare and political strife were common occurrences, and sometimes the safest place to store your valuables was underground.  But this was also risky, because what if you died before you could tell someone where you stashed your treasure?

The rabbis had done some thinking on this and there was an understanding that if a man found treasure that had been buried, and that no one could clearly lay claim to, it became the property of the finder – sort of an old version of “finders keepers, losers weepers”.  Well, the man in our parable found something very valuable in the ground, and then hides it again.  In his great joy, he goes and sells everything that he has and buys the field.  He sounds a bit underhanded.  I wonder if Jed Clampett would have sold all he had and bought the land he found oil on if it wasn’t his.

But we shouldn’t get too caught up in thinking about the moral fabric of this fortunate hillbilly from Jesus’ parable.  The main point here is that this man was so filled with joy at what just came out of the ground that he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way of possessing it.

Most people get very depressed when they have to sell some possession, or even all they have.  Auction houses are full of things that used to be someone else’s.  Some people have to sell all they have to pay off debts or to pay for some medical expenses.  You hear of people trying to raise money to travel somewhere for medical reasons all the time.  Other people who are addicted to gambling have had to sell off their possessions to settle the debt.  Selling all that you have is not a joyful experience.

But this fortunate peasant from the parable is actually happy about selling everything that he has.  Nothing else matters- he gives up all else, joyfully even, to possess the treasure awaiting him under the ground.  I am happy for the guy in our parable.  I hope we all have the discernment and the cunning and the wisdom that this guy has.  Too many of us spend our days searching after things that we couldn’t joyfully part with.  We spend our lives in pursuit of treasure that is on top of the ground.  Our treasure is a bank account with a lot of money in it, a fancy car, a nice house, a plasma television.  Look all you want; you simply won’t find buried treasure on top of the ground.  The real treasure is buried.

Old Jed Clampett was fortunate.  He was shooting at some food on top of the ground, but luckily, he missed.  His missed shot was much more on target than it would have been had he shot some food that day.  Sometimes we, too, would be much more fortunate if we missed what we were aiming at.  We need to aim not at what is temporary, but at what is eternal.

The sad thing about the Beverly Hillbillies is that after striking it rich, they entered the rat race with all the other people of great wealth.  They moved to Beverly Hills, got a swimming pool and a nice house.  Although they still kept a lot of their country ways, the Clampetts were just not the same after that.  In a way, some of their innocence was gone when they became millionaires and got caught up in the same rat race as so many other people.  You see, even if you win the rat race, you’re still just a rat.  Every time I watched the show I wanted to yell, “Jed…move away from there!”

The Pearl of Great Price is like the former parable.  Like that man, he in his course of acting like a merchant came across an extremely valuable pearl.  What is different is that as a merchant, both buyer and seller know how valuable pearls were.  The value in this case was out in the open.  Yet, this merchant knew he had to have that pearl.  I would suppose as a pearl merchant that he had many valuable pearls.  He may have had other great possessions.  He had to liquidate everything to get it.  This shows the great value of the Kingdom.

The last parable is that of the dragnet.  Large numbers of fish can be brought up with a net.  The problem is that nets do not discriminate.  There were a lot of trash fish brought up with the good.  After bringing the net on board, the good fish had to be gathered and the bad thrown back.  Net fishing was exhausting work.  This is the way the disciples were to spread the gospel.  The kind of fishing we are to do is net fish.  Just preach the pure gospel to everyone and let come what may.  God is in charge of the increase.  And the angels will do the sorting too.  We have a part in the growing of the Kingdom.  The sower did not till the ground, nor did he add fertilizer.  He simply cast the seed everywhere.  Not all of the soil would be conducive to bringing forth fruit, but that was not his job.  We are either called to plant or water, but God gives the increase.

To sum up the parables we can conclude, first of all, there will be a kingdom.  It was not a great kingdom as worldly people understand kingdoms.  It would start mainly with Jesus and mostly common fisherman.  Yet there was hidden treasure in the message.  There was no splendor and no glory yet, just hard work, discipleship, rejection and even cross-bearing.  But the Kingdom of Heaven will come in splendor.  The kingdoms of this world are but common pearls in comparison.

The parables also tell us that we need to evangelize.  This is summed up at the end of the gospel – “when you have gone out, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” This gospel is not to be added to, nor diminished.  It is to be as it has been said: “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

We need to persist in our work and not grow discouraged.  The church had humble beginnings, and great things came.  And an even greater future awaits all of us, even if it looks like the church is in sharp decline.  If we follow the Lord, his Kingdom shall prevail!

Rev. Gail Macdonald is the Rector of the Parish of St. Thomas in St. John’s, NL. This sermon is part of the summer shared worship between St. Mark’s, St. Lawrence, St. Thomas, and St. Nicholas. 

 

Prayers of the People for Pentecost 7

woman in red top praying
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Merciful God, as we gather virtually to worship and celebrate, receive our petitions for your world in a time of crisis. Hear our prayers and help us to remember that in all situations we should strive to be the helpers, to bring love and support wherever it is needed. We bring our prayers to you saying Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray for your church the world over that no matter the circumstances faith communities will come together to bring your word to those around them. Today we pray especially for the church in the Philippines, the parish of Marystown and the parish of Meadows. We pray for our Bishop and Diocesan Executive as they work to lead our diocese through the challenges brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic. Give them wisdom and courage to make the decisions that are needed at this difficult and unprecedented times.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray for our nation and our world in these unprecedented times, that leaders will work together to face the challenges that still lie ahead in containing and dealing with the novel coronavirus. As it continues to wreak havoc in many areas, we pray that all people will exercise kindness and compassion in times of fear and uncertainty, and that those in health and essential services are bolstered by your presence as they risk their own safety to care for others.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray also for our local community, that we all continue to follow the guidelines laid out for our own safety, that we love and support one another and put aside our judgements and criticisms. We remember all those in need, as those needs have increased in this time of pandemic – the poor, the sick, the hungry, the isolated – your ministry needs our time, our talent and our treasure, moreso now than ever before. Help us to find new and innovative ways to meet those needs.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray for the sick and the shut in, whether they suffer in body, mind or spirit that they are surrounded by your love and feel your healing hand upon them.  We pray especially today for those on our parish prayer lists in the parishes of St. Mark, St. Thomas, St. Lawrence and St. Nicholas. May we be a source of love and support to those struggling through challenging times, even when we cannot be present physically we can reach out and offer support.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Heavenly Father, we pray for those that have died recently (especially…) knowing that you were with them even if loved ones could not be close. Guide us to bring comfort to those who mourn, inspire us to reach out in new ways in this new world order we find ourselves in.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

God of wisdom, we know that you are with us always, in times of sorrow and celebration. Through your son Jesus you show us the way to live lightly and freely. Show us ways to bring light and freedom to others, and bless our efforts as we carry out your work in the world. Amen.

The prayers of the people this week are written by Allison Billard from St. Mark’s Church. 

(Mis)Adventures in Pulling Weeds: A Sermon for the 7th Sunday After Pentecost

macro photography of green grass
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You can find this past Sunday’s lectionary readings here.

For those of you who garden, you know the hard work involved in caring for a crop.  Whether it’s growing a bed of flowers, or cultivating acres of ground, the plants need much time and attention.  I grew up around gardens.  My father worked a full-time job- Monday to Friday- and in the summer, he would come home from work, eat supper, and then go to tend to his vegetable gardens.  These gardens were two and a half acres of everything from potatoes, carrot and turnip; to broccoli, onions, and calaribi.  From a very early age, my brother and I would help our parents in the gardens- it was just part of our chores.  One day, early in the growing season, I went with dad to help him with the weeding.  Once we arrived, he stooped down to show me what to do.  After giving me instructions, he proceeded to do his work in another part of the field; and I, always the eager one, got right down to work.  The only problem was, however, that the plants and the weeds all looked the same to me.  Everything in the drill was green, and the plants were small as they had just broken through the soil.  I was forced to judge which plants were weeds and which were vegetables.  Needless to say, when dad came back to check on me, I had pulled more vegetable than weeds!  While to my untrained eye everything looked the same, the gardener (my Father) knew which plants were weeds and which were vegetables.  I am always reminded of this childhood memory whenever I hear today’s Gospel.

Today’s reading is a continuation of last week’s reading- a parable in a series of parables that are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.  Today we hear of the sower who sowed good seed in his field and while he was asleep an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.  As the wheat grew, so too did the weeds.  Seeing what was happening to the beautiful crop, one of the hired hands says to the landowner, “Let us go and gather all the weeds.”  Instead of giving this eager worker permission to do just that, the owner replies, “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 to collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, and gather the wheat into the barn.”

During the time that the Gospel of Matthew was written, Ancient Palestine was predominantly an agricultural society.  The people hearing Jesus’ words through the writer of Matthew, would have been quite familiar with his analogy.  Wheat was gathered into barns, while weeds were burned and used as fuel.  During the early stages of growth, weeds and wheat often looked the same; and it was quite easy to mistake a plant for a weed.  In addition to having this agricultural knowledge, the people of the day were very much aware of the climate within the church as well.  The writer of Matthew penned his Gospel approximately 85 years after the death of Jesus and by that time there was a Church, or a community of people organized by rules of order.  This was a Jewish Christian community that was becoming increasingly distant from more traditional Jewish groups and it was a group that was becoming more and more Gentile in terms of its membership and its beliefs.  This Church was very much preoccupied with determining who could and who could not be part of their number.  They were often so focused on who was in and who was out, that they neglected to do the work they had been called by Christ to do.  That is why the writer of Matthew’s Gospel portrays a church where both the Jew and the Gentile will flourish in growing the Kingdom of Heaven together.  To Matthew, we are called to focus less on judgement and more on grace.

Interestingly enough, it’s not difficult to see how today’s Church is not all that different from the early church to which Matthew is writing.  When we read this Gospel as a continuation of last week’s parable, we immediately think of it in terms of judgement.  We judge who is good soil and who is bad soil.  We judge who among us is the wheat, and who are the weeds.  And we would be right to reflect upon how the weeds of injustice, oppression, greed, and power are choking the efforts of the justice and equality God desires for all God’s children.  Reflection, particularly self-reflection, is an important part of the Christian life.  But to solely focus on this series of parables strictly from this point of view, is to miss the point of the parables themselves.  Rather than focusing on the Judgement of God, these parables focus on the lavishness of God’s grace.  The landowner could have easily given his hired hands permission to take the weeds and burn them right then and there.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he instructs them to leave the weeds until the harvest.  We know this parable is analogous to life- Jesus is the landowner and the people of the world are the weeds and the wheat.  Through this parable, Jesus is teaching those of us who are his followers, not to be preoccupied with judgement- determining who are weeds and who are wheat- but instead to be preoccupied with the crop God has entrusted to our care.  God knows the hearts of all God’s people and the motives behind why people do the things they do, and God desires all of us to have the opportunity to know God- to grow, to be nurtured, and to mature in our faith of God.  God does not want any of us to be counted out, and so God allows all of us to grow until harvest time.

This theme of the lavishness of God’s grace becomes even more clear when we reflect upon this parable in light of the reading from Genesis also contained in the lectionary for today.

In Genesis we have the story of Jacob’s ladder and how the God of Abraham appeared to Jacob in a dream.  Now, while I will not go through the entire history of Jacob’s life, I will sort of give you the Cole’s Notes version.  Jacob and his brother Esau were twins- the sons of Isaac and Rebecca- the grandsons of Abraham.  From the womb, they struggled against each other.  Esau was the oldest and, therefore the one to inherit everything from his father.  Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite and the two often schemed together to give Jacob the upper hand.  Jacob forced Esau into selling him his birthright, and also, with Rebekah’s help, tricked his father into giving him the paternal blessing, rather than Esau who should have had it.  When Esau discovers what Jacob has done, he vows to kill him once their frail father, Isaac, dies.  Rebekah overhears this rage and warns Jacob who then flees to Haran to be with his mother’s family.  This is where we find ourselves in the Genesis reading today.

Jacob is indeed cunning and sly.  He knows how to exploit the needs of others for his own personal gain.  He is a liar and a cheat who is forced to flee for his life because of his actions, and yet; God is very present to this exiled one.  Jacob’s reality is consumed by fear, terror and loneliness, so God appears to him in a dream.  Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickins, A Christmas Carol, this dream is not a review of his shameful past.  Instead, the dream presents Jacob with an alternative way of life- a life with God.  In this dream, heaven and earth are connected by a ladder, demonstrating that God is not unaffected by what happens here on earth.  In fact, quite the opposite, God comes to meet us even in, especially in, the mess of life.  This story from Genesis is somewhat incarnational in nature- it shows that God is with us.  God comes unexpectedly to Jacob during a very trying time in his life and God promises him two things- “I am with you” and “I will keep you.”  When all others have turned their back on him, God is with Jacob. God doesn’t judge Jacob.  Instead God lavishly pours out God’s grace upon Jacob and the nation that will one day be born of him.

Likewise, in the parable of the sower, the sower lavishly sows seed everywhere.  He is not concerned with the type of soil it falls upon- he just knows that regardless what kind of soil the seeds fall on, the potential is there for growth.  And, lest we think the Church has a monopoly on those seeds- on the word of God at work in the lives of others- I am reminded of the words of a Lutheran Pastor and author, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who says, “…the Word of the Lord is anything that brings good news to the poor and comfort to those who mourn.  Whatever heals the brokenhearted, whatever opens the prisons…God’s Word is scattered all around us joyfully scrawled on protest signs and heard in newborns’ cries, and seen in city streets and county fairs and shopping malls.  The Word of the Lord is written on the broken tablets of our hearts, it is falling like rain in the tears of the forgiven, it is harnessed in the laughter of our children….”  The Word of the Lord, the grace God bestows upon us each and every day is all around us.  With this in mind, then, it is quite plausible that God is at work in the lives of those who many of us would judge as weeds.

My friends, as a child in my father’s garden so many years ago, I made an incorrect judgment- I plucked weeds that were actually plants.  So rather than solely reading these passages and praying to God to help us recognize the weeds in our world while helping us be the wheat, maybe we would do better to, instead, pray for eyes to see God’s grace lavishly poured out all around us, even in the most unexpected places.  Maybe we would do better to pray for hearts to feel God’s Spirit at work in the lives of ordinary people in our communities, even in the most unlikely of people.  Maybe we would do better to pray for our hands to be agents of God’s mercy and love to those who are hurting or in need.  May God bless each one of us as we do just that in the places and spaces to which God has called us.  Amen.

Rev. Amanda Taylor is the Rector of the Parish of St. Lawrence, in Portugal Cove, NL. This sermon is part of the summer shared worship between St. Mark’s, St. Lawrence, St. Thomas, and St. Nicholas. 

Prayers of the People for Pentecost 6

man planting plant
Photo by Binyamin Mellish on Pexels.com

As people called to unity with one another and the whole of creation, let us pray for the world we share, saying:

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Gracious God, your word has been sown in many ways and places. Today, the technology we have learned to embrace since the advent of Covid-19 allows your word to be heard far beyond the walls of our traditional worship spaces and we worship together from wherever we find ourselves this morning.  Inspire us to be faithful witnesses to the faith that we share.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Creating God, the mountains and hills burst into song and the trees and fields clap their hands in praise. We pray for the birds of the air, the animals of the field and forest, and the fish of the sea.  Assist us to be caregivers of creation, and sustainers of the earth.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Reigning God, in this season of unrest and uncertainty, we pray for the leaders of the nations, the chief medical officers and the law enforcement agencies.  Give them strength, and increase their desire for justice and equality. We pray for those we disagree with. Bridge the chasms that divide us and guide authorities to a deep and lasting peace.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Abiding God, we pray for all who are in need, especially those we name in our homes or hearts this morning.  For those who are doubting, renew faith. For those who are struggling, ease burdens. For those in fear, give hope. For those who are suffering, bring relief.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Renewing God, revive your church in this place. Nourish and nurture the seeds you have planted, that we might grow as disciples. Direct our ministries and deepen our relationships with one another and with our neighbours.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Eternal God, we give thanks for all who have died, remembering especially those known to us.  Comfort us in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

The prayers of the people for this week are written by Debbie Pantin from the Parish of St. Thomas. 

 

The Kingdom of God is Like …

Choir-hands

A few weeks back, as part of a Zoom Book Study of Rachel Held Evans’ book Inspired, participants were asked to complete the statement “the Kingdom of God is like…” They were encouraged to use story, song, poetry, art, whatever captures the essence of the Kingdom for them. The following are Rosalind Bartlett’s thoughts on the Kingdom of God. What do you think? What is the Kingdom of God like for you? We would love to hear from you and share them here for others to read. Please email your kingdom thoughts to rcooke@stmarksanglican.ca. 

The Kingdom of God is like a choir with God as the great Choral director. Everyone in the Kingdom is given a part or song to learn, to practice, to work on. Sometimes we hit sour notes.

Sometimes we lose our place in the music. Sometimes we get tired of rehearsing the same song over and over until we get it right. We even get upset with God occasionally for requiring a greater effort from us. At times we get a little envious of the one who we think God chooses to sing a special part and we decide that we really don’t like our part at all.

But as we practise our music a strange thing happens. We find ourselves laughing together, gently teasing and encouraging one another, holding each other up when life silences our song and celebrating the beautiful moments that shine in each individual part.

Finally, we are filled with awe when our voices rise together under the great Choral Director’s guidance,  as the music pours forth more beautifully than anything we could have imagined. We know that somehow, this kingdom music needs each voice and each song to be complete.

Rosalind Bartlett is the Choir Director at St. Mark’s Church in St. John’s, NL.

The Prayers of the People for the 5th Sunday After Pentecost

religious wall art inside building
Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

Uniting our prayers and praises into one, let us pray to the Lord saying, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Lord, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, we pray for your church as it strives to find new ways to reach out to the communities it serves. We pray for all of our parishes at this difficult time, but in our Tri-diocesan cycle of prayer, we especially remember the Parish of Lewisporte, with it’s rector, the Rev. Moses Tucker, and the Parish of the Living Water and its rector, the Rev. Neal Buffett. We also pray for the Diocese of Pakistan, and its Bishop, the Most Rev’d Humphrey Peters. May we always do our best to discern the leading of your Holy Spirit.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for a society, that continues to discriminate against people due to sexuality, ethnicity, class, and gender. That Your people may be enlightened to the love You have for all your children and that, through Your example, we may learn to love one another as brothers and sisters of all creation

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the parishioners of St. Mark’s, St. Lawrence, St. Nicholas, and St. Thomas. In particular, we pray for those who are sick, and who have requested our prayers, as well as for those whose suffering is known to You alone. We also pray for those who have passed on from this life to their eternal comfort. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord. And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We continue to pray for doctors, nurses, and for researchers looking for a vaccine for COVID-19. We give thanks for all front-line workers who work to ensure our health and well-being during this pandemic. May You guide and protect them as they place themselves in harms way for the benefit of all your people.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

We give thanks for the gift of peace and prosperity in this province and this country, in a world where so many live with poverty, and under the constant threat of war and violence. At the same time, may we also be mindful of the indigenous peoples who came before us, and the injustices of our ancestors in taking this land from them.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

In these summer months, we give thanks for the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. May we find this to be a time of rejuvenation so that when we can once again meet as congregations, we may find ourselves rested and ready to proclaim the good news of Christ in the world in word and deed.

Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

For summer 2020 the parishes of St. Mark’s, St. Thomas, St. Lawrence, and St. Nicholas are partnering to share worship via Facebook and NTV broadcasts. These are the prayers of the people for the four parishes as written by the Rev. Bob Earle, Deacon at the Parish of St. Lawrence in Portugal Cove, NL.

The Burden of Love: A Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Pentecost

Dr. King

‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famed civil rights activist, penned these words in his book “Where Do We Go From Here”.

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love.  For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.  And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.  I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today.  I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.  And I have seen too much hate.  I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South.  I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.  I have decided to love.”

Less than a year later Dr. King would be murdered in a Memphis hotel by a white supremacist.  In reality it was not just one man that pulled the trigger that day, but an entire nation – a nation filled with hatred and bigotry; a nation that could not bear Dr. King’s message of racial and economic justice, his message of peace.  Dr. King knew the cost of the burden of love that he proclaimed.  He must have known his eventual fate at the hands of the people who bore so much hate for him.  But even in knowing the cost of love, he knew that the burden of love is far better than the burden of hate . In another speech Dr. King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  He knew that love was our only hope of ever ridding our world of hate.

I can’t help but wonder…when Dr. King wrote those words about the burden of hate, if he had in mind the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading today – those well-known and often read words about Jesus light and easy burden for those who are heavy laden.

In this portion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just been approached by the disciples of John the Baptizer.  John is in prison, and in a moment of understandable doubt he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus answers them by telling them to go back and tell John what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the unclean are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor hear the good news.  When John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns to the crowd to praise John, saying he is the greatest of the prophets.  Jesus chides the crowd, which one assumes contains many of the religious leaders, for their treatment of both Jesus and John.  John came fasting and they said he had a demon.  Jesus comes feasting and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard.

Then we get to the most familiar portion of this gospel reading,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

You may have heard this section of the gospel read at a funeral and interpreted as Jesus referring to the reward of heaven after a life of struggle.  You may have also heard this passage quoted by someone who is telling you that if you just trust in Jesus then all of your problems will go away, because Jesus will take away everything that is weighing you down and make you happy.  I don’t think either of those interpretations fits the context of the passage.  The former is well-meaning but misses the point; the latter is dangerous and has done tremendous damage, especially to those who struggle with mental illness.

I think the only way to make sense of what Jesus is saying here is to connect it back to what Jesus says to John’s disciples, and to read it in light of the religious leaders’ treatment of the very people Jesus is talking to.  Jesus tells John’s disciples that the sign that he is the one expected as Messiah is the liberation, healing, reconciliation and justice that follows in his wake.  Jesus is known to rail against the religion and politics of his day.  Even here in chapter 11 Jesus refers to the “powers that be” taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force (V12).  Most scholars think that Jesus is taking a dig at the religious leaders here.  Instead of liberation and healing they heap up heavy burdens of legalism, sacrifice and taxation.  They are in cahoots with the hated Romans, whose feet are on the necks of the Jewish people.  Jesus offers his way, his burden, as an alternative to the burden of dominance, brute force and cold religiosity.  Like his 20th century disciple, Dr. King, Jesus is proposing the burden of love, for it is only in love that we fit our meaning and purpose; only in love do we find true freedom and peace.

mlk-icon

But don’t be mistaken – Jesus is not advocating for some kind of wishy-washy, sentimental version of love, but a strong, demanding love.  Yes, the burden of love is lighter than the alternative, but it is not easy.  In fact, the word ‘easy’ in the text should be better translated as ‘good’.  The burden of Jesus, the burden of love, is good.  And remember that later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus will again talk about carrying his burden, only next time he will refer to it as a cross.  Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (16: 24-25). This is the kind of self-giving love that Jesus gave his life for and calls us to.  It is the love that Dr. King carried, forsaking the heavy burden of hate.  And in this time of darkness and rampant hatred, it is this burden of self-giving love that we need to now, more than ever, pick up, and to follow in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.

I give the last word to Dr. King:

“If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.  And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love.  He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”

May we all say amen to this.

Prayers of the People Pentecost 4

votive candles on table
Photo by Michael Scott on Pexels.com

Lord God, provider and friend of those in need, you sent Jesus to show us how to welcome you into our lives by caring for others. Trusting in your compassion, we offer our prayers for all who feel lost or troubled in today’s world, as we say, give us welcoming hearts         Give us welcoming hearts

We pray for the church, especially for the clergy and people of the United Church of North India, the Parishes of Labrador West and Lake Melville, and for all who minister within our parish community. As we learn to live with Covid-19, may the Holy Spirit guide each of us to joyfully share your love by caring for each other and for all of your creation.

God, our Provider                                        Give us welcoming hearts

On Memorial Day, we remember the many lost lives of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel, who so willingly lost their lives in the senselessness and brutality of the First World War.  We give thanks for their great sacrifice and ask your blessing for those who honour them by bringing peace, security, and relief to areas of strife and devastation in today’s world.

God, our Provider                                        Give us welcoming hearts

This Canada Day, we celebrate our great nation, a rich land of beauty and bounty, a diverse land shared by diverse peoples from coast to coast, a land of opportunity – but also challenges. May your wisdom and compassion guide our leader’s decisions in these turbulent times of discrimination, Covid-19, economic troubles, and climate change. Open our hearts to listen, learn, and celebrate our differences, that together, Canada may grow into a community where all may live in peace and harmony with the earth, with each other, and with other nations, as you intended.

God, our Provider                                        Give us welcoming hearts

We pray for those who struggle… with financial uncertainly, homelessness, fear, or loneliness; for those whose lives have been destroyed by hatred, violence, or greed. We give thanks and ask your blessing on all who work and volunteer each day to ease their hardships. Grant us the empathy to appreciate each person lives under quite different circumstances, that we, too, may eagerly offer meaningful help as we move into Covid-19 Alert Level 2.

God, our Provider                                       Give us welcoming hearts

We remember all those who are ill and in need of our prayers, especially: Doris Cook, Pam Janes, David Hood, Ashton, Reg Thorne Jr., and others, who we now name, aloud or in the silence of our hearts (pause). Bless them, their medical teams and families with patience and strength as they seek healing under the current health emergency. Help us provide support and reassurance that they are not alone.

God, our Provider                                        Give us welcoming hearts

Lord, we entrust those who have recently died into your tender care. May those who grieve be comforted by their faith and the gentle companionship of others as we share their loss.

God, our Provider                                        Give us welcoming hearts

O God, sustainer of all, open our hearts to love and trust you as Abraham did. Fill us with your grace, that we may hurry to make you welcome, not only in our concern for others, but through our generous and faithful service to them in your  name; that we may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers of the people for Pentecost 4 are written by Audrey Power.