Waiting For God, Waiting For Us: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

That opening line from the reading today really grabs you doesn’t it? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” I think it grabs us because we have all prayed something like it before. Where are you, God? How long, O Lord, must I suffer? Maybe it was because of a bad diagnosis, unimaginable suffering or loss, a broken relationship or a failed career, but at some point, most of us have felt the gut-wrenching reality of that opening line.

The Hebrew scriptures do a deep dive into these messy parts of the human experience. The book of Isaiah is no exception. Biblical scholars tell us that the book of Isaiah is really an edited volume that contains three distinct parts. Chapters 1-39 deal with the time before the nation of Israel is sent into exile in Babylon. It is filled with warnings that if the Hebrew people do not change their ways, then there will be consequences. Chapters 40-55 deal with the period of the exile but are filled with promises of a return of the Hebrew people to their homeland. Finally, chapters 56-66 deal with practical concerns within the newly returned community.Obviously, everything in their return is not going smoothly. All one has to do to see this is read the books of Nehemiah and Ezra to see that the return home might not be all that it is cracked up to be. The people who are returning have never lived in the land promised to their ancestors. Many years and generations have passed since the exile. They return as strangers to this land. For many of them, even their customs and traditions have been forgotten. What they thought would bring fulfillment and joy instead feels hollow and foreign.

In the midst of this struggle they fall back on the ancient tradition of lament. Lament is not quite complaining, but neither does it wallpaper over the fractures and scratches of life. Lament is raw in its honesty. It is a collective and public airing of grief, disappointment and anxiety. The Hebrew scriptures tend not to shy away from giving voice to the not-so-nice aspects of life. The psalms and prophets are full of lamenting. But again, it is not just complaining. It is a form of prayer. Walter Brueggemann says that lament is ‘a prayer meant to mobilize God’. Lament,then, is a bullhorn – a desperate attempt to get God’s attention, but also a type therapy, a cleansing of the spiritual palate.Lament is the gateway to hope. We cannot enter the land of hope without first walking the path of lament. 

So when this reading from Isaiah starts with “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”, we know that we are dealing with lament. What we’re seeing here is a people who are overwhelmed with the sense that things are not going according to plan. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. We’re in the promised land but nothing is like we thought it would be. We still struggle. There is no ‘happily ever after’. At the heart of this lament, and all lament, are questions: Where is God? Where is God when it hurts? Where is God in the face of injustice? Where is God when things don’t work out the way God promised?

These newly-returned exiles are looking back, expectantly longing for God to do the same things that God always does.They remember the stories of creation, the stories of liberation from slavery, the stories of great military victories. They expect the God of their ancestors to show up and do some name taking and smiting, some divine butt-kicking. But if we’re honest, who can fault them for that?

Still, in the middle of this lament, their hope is still rooted in the covenant fidelity, the covenant-keeping God. Their hope is not just wishful thinking. They have a history – a story – to draw on. The one constant, then, in all of the Hebrew scriptures is that God is faithful and keeps God’s covenant promises. They are God’s people and God has made a promise to them to never forsake or forget them. They wish that he would hurry up about it already. 

If lament is the gateway to hope, then where is the turn here?The linchpin that is missing here comes later in chapters 65-66.It is in these two chapters that Isaiah cast a vision of hope in the words of Yahweh that God is doing a new thing, making all things new. These chapters contain some of the most beautiful language about the renewal of the heavens and the earth, of salvation. The Israelites are looking back, looking for God the way their ancestors reported experiencing God, while God is telling them something new and unexpected is coming. What they feel as the absence or hiddenness of God, is really justmisplaced expectations. God is always up to something. We often are just looking in the wrong place. 

As we approach this Advent season, hope seems in short supply. We are still ravaged by Covid-19, economic uncertainty, racial tensions and climate crisis. But I think that this Advent hope cannot really begin until we make room for lament – to give voice to the grief, disappointment and anxiety we carry as a church and as a society. We cannot shy away from the truth that things will likely never be the same for us. Covid has changed everything, and in many ways there is no going back. The same is true for the church. Challenges that we knew before Covid have been magnified and sped up. There is an increasing sense that what we know and experience as church is simply not sustainable. But before we rush to what comes next we do need to make space for lament for what we have lost and are losing. To fully embrace the new thing that God is doing in our midst, we have to give voice to what we now feel slipping away. At the same time, though, we must remember that our hope is rooted in the covenant faithfulness of God. Even though this God can often seem absent or hidden, and we might cry out with the writer of Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”, this same God is still faithful, present and active, though in new places and in new ways.

This Advent, in the midst of all the uncertainty and, dare I say, hopelessness brought on by Covid-19, I cannot shake the feeling that rather than us waiting for God to show up and save us, we should instead think of God waiting for us to get our act together. Perhaps we need to see that God is waiting, lovingly and patiently, cajoling us to work together, to be light, to love. God has given us what we need – he has given us Jesus – to show us how God has always intended for us to live together. Jesus is always calling us to not only read the signs of the times, but to see him, active and alive in the world. Advent is a season of seeing, of seeing the breaking in of hope, peace, joy and love into the world and a season of us participating in that breaking in. Advent reminds us that Jesus is not only coming, but is always coming; always showing up where we least expect him; always calling us down unfamiliar paths and into risky, unknown ventures. As the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote, Christ plays in 10,000 places for those who have eyes to see him, and faith to follow where he plays. That is where our hope lies this Advent season, in this age of Covid; that in Christ God is making all things new and we get to participate. Amen.

The Prayers of the People for the First Sunday of Advent

The Prayers of the People for the First Sunday of Advent

Heavenly Father, on this first Sunday of Advent fill us with the hope that you are always with us. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of your son, remind us also that we should always be preparing for his return, that in truth we have never been alone. Receive our petitions;

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

Let us pray for the church and all who minister within our parish community that we may be faithful stewards of our time, talent and treasure. We pray for the Church in Lusitania as well as the Parish of Trinity/Port Rexton and the Parish of Twillingate, that your church throughout the world brings hope to your people in times of trouble.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

We pray for Bishop-elect Sam Rose, that you fill him with your Holy Spirit, and give him the wisdom and courage to lead us as we all follow the way of Jesus together.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

We pray for places of conflict and violent clashes, where it may seem that all hope is lost. We pray especially for the people of Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Belarus, and Thailand. May all involved seek peaceful resolutions so that hope can be restored.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

We recognize World Aids Day this week, and we pray for continued progress in testing and treatment for the 38 million people worldwide living with HIV and AIDS. We pray that science continues to evolve and that we move towards eradication of this public health challenge.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

We lift up those who are sick or suffering in any way during this time, whether in body, mind or spirit, especially Pam Janes, Doris Cook, Sadie Clarke, Joe Murcell and any others that we now name either silently or aloud. Send your spirit to strengthen them and help us to bring them hope in their dark days.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

We pray for those who have died recently and for their loved ones who celebrate their lives and mourn their loss. May we be bearers of light and comfort in their grief.

Lord of Hope: send your Light among us.

Lord of Hope, as we enter into Advent we look forward with eager anticipation. Help us to be willing servants, seeking out opportunities to help those in need and bringing your word to every corner. You are always with us, and we are always seeking to show your love to others. This we pray In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The prayers of the people this week are written by Allison Billard.

Advent Light in Covid Darkness: Advent 2020 at St. Mark’s

Advent Light in Covid Darkness: Advent 2020 at St. Mark’s

It probably goes without saying, but this Advent and Christmas will be unlike any other we have ever experienced as a parish community, or as a society.  As Advent approaches, we are still in the throes of the global Coronavirus pandemic that has turned our world upside down.  As I write this, the number of global infections is over 50 million and almost 1.3 million people have died from Covid-19.  In addition to this tragic loss is the toll on our economy, our mental health and our ability to gather together. Eight months in, the pandemic fatigue is real.  We’re tired of the restrictions, tired of the masks, tired of not being able to be around the people we love.  And yet, we wait for a vaccine; for a return to some sense of normalcy; for the day when the fear and anxiety will be over.  In the midst of all of this, it’s hard for many of us to imagine what Christmas might look like, either for our families or our church family.

When you think about it, though, Advent is well-suited to this time in which we find ourselves.  Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipation.  We await the arrival of the Christ; the light of the world; the light that shines in the darkness; the light that the darkness, no matter how hard it tries, cannot overcome.  We await the setting right of this broken world, a setting right that is sung about by an unwed, pregnant, first-century peasant girl.  She sings of a time when the rich and powerful will be brought low and the lowly lifted up, when the hungry will be fed, and the gluttonous rich will be sent away empty.  We wait for Jesus, the word made flesh.

This waiting is not an idle one.  To show the part we play in this coming redemption, we light candles against the creeping darkness of this world.  We light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love as signs of protest against the darkness and as signs that the light is, even now, emerging among us. Finally, we light the Christ candle, to proclaim that God’s light has truly entered the world.  But the light comes in an unexpected way, in a defenseless, pooping, burping baby.  The light comes in human form.  And the light continues to shine in human form…in us…broken and frail mortals that we are.

This Advent, in the midst of all the uncertainty and anxiety brought on by Covid-19, I cannot shake the feeling that rather than us waiting for God to show up and save us, we should instead think of God waiting for us to get our act together.  Perhaps we need to see that God is waiting, lovingly and patiently, cajoling us to work together, to be light, to love.  God has given us what we need – he has given us Jesus – to show us how God has always intended for us to live together.

So this year, in response to the pandemic and all its fallout, let us recommit ourselves to the way of Jesus.  Let us have our eyes and hearts open to the unfolding light of Christ in our world.  Let us bring the lights of hope, peace, joy and love into the world in word and action, for in doing so the light of Christ shines forth.

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

Prayers of the People for the Feast of the Reign of Christ the King

Prayers of the People for the Feast of the Reign of Christ the King

Father God, you sent Jesus the Christ to teach your children to live in love.  As we celebrate the Reign of Christ, hear us now as we ask, through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

We pray for your church throughout the world.  In particular today, we pray for the for the Church of Bermuda, the College of Deacons in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador and the Vocational Deacons serving the Dioceses of Central and Western Newfoundland.  At St Mark’s, we give thanks and pray for the Archives Working Group.  May the people of your church throughout the world experience and share your love.  

Through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

We pray for the episcopal election this week in the Diocese of Newfoundland and Labrador and give thanks for those who have been nominated to be our next bishop. May those who vote be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and may we continue to work together in ministry as a diocesan family. 

Through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

On this Reign of Christ Sunday, as we look forward to Advent and the glorious celebration of Christmas, we are reminded that so many of us have so much, while too many of us have so little.  Fill our hearts with love and a yearning to feed the hungry, welcome strangers and show compassion for all members of your earthly family. 

Through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

We pray for the people of Central America and all those who lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods and maybe their hope during this hurricane season.  Bless the work of relief agencies and all providing emergency assistance. Help us to respond with compassion and generosity.  

Through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

We give thanks this week for the promise of new vaccines to end the spread of COVID 19.  Help us all to receive and use this gift to maximum effect.  We pray for the millions suffering from the pandemic and for all those in need of comfort and healing, especially Pam Janes, Doris Cook, Sadie Clarke, Joe Murcelland those we now name aloud or in the quiet stillness of our hearts. [PAUSE]  

Through your grace: Help us to be loving neighbours

We give thanks for the lives of those who have entered into eternal rest, especially the many, many people who have died from Covid-19. We pray that those who mourn feel the hope and glory of Your resurrection.  Help us to do all in our power to provide support and comfort. 

Father God, like the shepherd who cares for the flock, you guide all things through Jesus whom you put above every name that is named and head over all things for the church.  Please hear these prayers we offer in His name.  Amen.

The Parable of the Whistleblower: A Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

The Parable of the Whistleblower: A Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

You can read the gospel from the NRSV here.

It’s as if a wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 investment firm called in three of his top junior partners and announced to them, “Boys, I’m headed to Tokyo to finish up on that hostile takeover.  While I’m gone, I want you to take this money I’m about to give you, invest it and make us some more money.  He gave fifteen million to the first, ten million to the second, and five million to the third.

They all looked at each other as they walked out of the office, knowing this was a test.  The old man was nearing retirement – this was a golden opportunity to climb up the ladder.  Each went to their office right away.

The first two invested the money the boss gave them and quickly doubled their investment.  They bought up companies with questionable environmental practices in developing countries, right-sized them by laying off employees, and then flipped them again.  They bought up huge stretches of low-income housing, gave eviction notices to the residents and then bulldozed the units.  They then sold the land to a developer at a tidy profit.  And so on and so on…

But the third person didn’t do anything with the money that was given to him.  For a long time he hadn’t felt right about what the firm was doing, what he was doing.  He was increasingly uncomfortable with getting rich on the backs of the poor, of poisoning water and ground, the tax evasion and outright breaking of the rules.  He didn’t want to end up like the boss.  He couldn’t be part of it anymore.

When the boss came back he gathered them all together again.  The first two reported what they had done and how much money they had made.  “Excellent work. You have passed my test, so now I am making you full partners.”

The third employee stepped forward and said, “Sir, I’ve been here long enough and seen enough to know just what kind of person you are, and what kind of company you run.  You are greedy.  You make your money off the pain and suffering of others.  I’m afraid I can’t be part of this anymore.”

The boss angrily retorted, “First off, you’re fired!  All you had to do was just invest the money like I told you, and then we would have made so much more money.  It would have been huge, but you let your conscience get in the way.  Get this guy out of here and give his money to the one who had the biggest return on investment.  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

As the employee was thrown out in the dark alleyways outside the office tower, he found his teeth chattering from the cold.  As he rounded the corner he saw a group of people huddled around a fire trying to keep warm.  What would he do now?  His entire life was the company and making money.  One of the women around the fire noticed him standing there and stepped aside so he could take her place next to the warm fire.  As the warmth of the fire pierced his expensive suit, he felt a warmth in his heart and knew what he had to do.

————————————————————————————————–

Here we have another of the parables of Jesus from the end of the Gospel of Matthew.  You might be breathing a sigh of relief and saying – finally a parable that is familiar and makes sense.  True enough that that this parable is familiar.  We interpret it something like this: God, like the rich ruler, bestows talents upon us, his slaves, and we then use those talents to further the Kingdom of God.  What we mean by furthering varies, depending on what tradition you are from.  For some it has the evangelistic meaning of saving souls, and for others it means ministry within the church.  Generally, we interpret talents as abilities, like singing, public speaking or hula hoop spinning.  If we don’t use these God-given abilities, we squander them, angering God and risk losing them.

You may be comfortable with this reading, but something doesn’t sit right with me.  I am left with some questions.  Is it wise to identify God with the absentee landlord in the parable?  How did the slaves get their return on investment?  Is the third slave wrong in his assessment of his master?  Are we to believe that the heroes of a story told by Jesus are the ones who make the most money?

Wealth in Jesus’ day was centered in a very few people like the person described as the master in this story.  They were basically absentee landlords.  They owned huge tracts of land that they had obtained through foreclosing high-interest, predatory loans.  If they were lucky, the people who lost their land often became indentured slaves.  If they were not so lucky, they would become day labourers, or worse…beggars.  The servants tasked with the master’s property, really ran the business.  They made sure people paid up. They likely spied out vulnerable farmers and landowners, potential new clients.  Often these landowners were in cahoots with the religious leaders, and money would go into the temple treasury to avoid taxes from Rome.  Of course, the religious leaders would get a generous cut.  The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

The people who were listening to Jesus tell this story knew all too well the scenario being described.  They had been on the receiving end of such tactics.  They knew this kind of master.  They knew his cronies too.  They probably nodded in agreement when the third slave said, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” Notice, too, that the landlord never denied this accusation.  It seemed to live up to his reputation in casting out the disloyal slave with these harsh words, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  It’s unlikely that they would have heard the master or the two loyal slaves as the heroes of the story.

We should acknowledge, too, that this is not the only version of this story. Luke also includes a version in his gospel.  It’s telling that Luke’s version comes after Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus, the crooked but curious tax collector.  In Luke’s version the wealthy landowner goes off seeking royal power.  The people hate this rich man and refuse to do business with him and his associates.  The same pattern is followed upon his successful return. Two are rewarded for their savvy.  The third says he did not invest the master’s money because he was afraid of him and did not want to invest the money so that the boss could reap where he did not sow.  The returning master calls for the immediate slaughter of the disobedient slave.

If we hold this parable up next to the Beatitudes, or even the Parable of the Sheep and Goats that we read next week, can we truly hold to an interpretation that applauds the actions of the master and his moneymaking cronies?  Is this the same Jesus that gives such high regard to love of God and love of neighbour?  What, then, are we to take away from Jesus in this parable?

Maybe this story is not so much the parable of the talents, divinely-gifted abilities, but the parable of the whistleblower.  Perhaps this story is not about obtaining a return on divine investment, but a story about justice.

Notice that in Matthew’s gospel this story falls in a clump of stories that have to do with the Kingdom being connected with how we treat other people.  The parable of the unfaithful slave has to do with the mistreatment of other slaves by their caretaker.  The parable of the bridesmaid could be read as an injunction against not looking out for each other.  The parable of the sheep and goats that follows has to do with the way we treat the most vulnerable.  The parable also comes after Jesus has just predicted the destruction of the temple and religious system because of the way that it mistreats people.

The kingdom that Jesus talks about, is a kin-dom of justice and solidarity.  It means caring for, standing with and standing for the oppressed and marginalized.  It means putting oneself in harm’s way and speaking truth to power.  Power is never concerned with those who are powerless, but Jesus shows us a kingdom that is unconcerned with power, and absolutely concerned with those who are powerless.

Finally, remember that this story is told in Jerusalem on that last week of Jesus’ life.  It is told in the shadow of the cross.  Soon Jesus, God in the flesh, will confront the powers that be, and they will seem to win a victory over him.  But we know that’s God’s identifying with suffering and injustice, is never the end of the story, but the sight of a new beginning, a new world and a new creation, because it is only in giving our lives, that we can truly find them.  This story is more relevant than ever, and the call to work for justice is more urgent now than ever as racism, hatred, misogyny, homophobia and the exploitation of vulnerable people and creation spreads seemingly every day.  Look at the way that local essential workers – striking Dominion employees – were just treated by the wealthy Loblaws corporation.  The struggle continues.  

What will we – the church, the followers of Jesus – do?  Will we stand with the whistleblowers, those who fight injustice, who hunger for justice?  Will we call out greed and name the evils of this world?  Will we welcome with open arms and open doors, in a world filled with those who seek to build walls and create division?  Will we serve the least, the lonely, the weak in a world where we worship the rich and powerful?  Will we who worship the bread of life, feed the hungry and thirsty, in a world where it’s often every person for themselves?

Rev. Robert is the Rector of St. Mark’s. The book Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed by William Herzog inspired the title and content of this sermon.

Holding Hope and Keeping Faith: A Sermon for the 23 Sunday After Pentecost

Holding Hope and Keeping Faith: A Sermon for the 23 Sunday After Pentecost

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

I want to start off this sermon by making a confession: I really struggle with this parable.  I know that’s the point of the parables of Jesus – to make us uncomfortable and to challenge our perceptions – but if I’m being honest, I have been struggling with all of the lectionary gospel readings of late.  They are some of the most cryptic of the parables.  Maybe it’s just pandemic-induced exhaustion that’s making me cranky or clouding my judgment, but I just struggle to make sense of what we are supposed to take away.  This is especially true of this week’s gospel.

Here are my main beefs.  First, the nature of the wedding celebration in the parable is just so foreign to us, that it makes it incredibly hard for us to make sense of what Jesus is talking about.  This is just not that way we do weddings.  No one sits around waiting for the bridegroom to show, especially not knowing when he will show up.  There is always a clear date, time and location of when and where the wedding will take place.  What Jesus describes here comes across as archaic and hard to relate to.

Second, the whole thing seems a tad unfair.  The bridesmaids wait for a groom, but have no idea when he will arrive.  How in the world can you be prepared for that?  Who can blame them for growing tired and falling asleep?  And why don’t the non-foolish bridesmaids share their oil with the foolish ones?  Wouldn’t a better outcome of this story be the lesson that if we all share what we have there will be enough for all and no one will be left out?  And the response from the groom when the bridesmaids show up late hardly matches the hospitality that Jesus seems to practice himself.

Then, there’s the general tone of Matthew.  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that Matthew is the most angry and vengeful of the Gospel writers.  There’s a lot of being cast into outer darkness, gnashing of teeth and eternal punishment.  What gives, Matthew?  So much for grace and mercy.

On that point a little context might be helpful.  Scholars tell us that Matthew was writing to a community that had been through some hard times over the years.  From reading between the lines of Matthew we can see that this community was mistreated for their faith in Jesus.  They had been kicked out of their synagogues, rejected by their families, and some of them even suffered violence and imprisonment.  When you have had those kinds of experiences, you might be eager for a little justice.  You might be looking for your enemies to get a little comeuppance.  I think all of us can relate to that and, in the process, cut Matthew some slack for his zeal.

The other thing to remember is that Matthew’s community has a fervent hope in the second coming of Jesus.  By the time this gets written down they have been waiting as much as eighty years.  That’s a long time to be waiting for such a momentous event.  Clearly some had lost hope that it would ever happen.  When you couple this with what we just said about persecution, you can see how many people may have not only lost hope, but lost faith.  Matthew, then, is writing to encourage his people not to lose hope and to keep the faith.  Their waiting will not be in vain, but they must remain prepared and vigilant for what they are waiting for.

This too seems so strange to us.  Even though we repeat week after week in the creed that we believe that Jesus will come again, most of us don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking and worrying about it.  We tend to associate that type of thinking with smarmy televangelists and street corner preachers.  Be ready or be left behind, they shout at anyone who will listen.  They use fear so that we will buy what they are selling, which is a heavenly insurance policy where they are the sole beneficiaries.

So how can we make sense of what Jesus is saying in this parable?

I think there are a couple of things this story can help us with.  One centers around waiting.  We all know too well what it’s like to wait.  Perhaps you have waited and waited for the call back from the doctor with the test results.  Perhaps you have waited and kept vigil with a loved one as they breathed their final breaths.  Perhaps you have waited for something or someone to change, for things to get better, more bearable, but they never do.  Perhaps you have waited for justice, waited for your rights, waited to be accepted for who you are.  Waiting can be agonizing.  It’s easy to lose hope, to give up.

As a society we know all about waiting, especially these days.  Just recently we all collectively held our breath as we waited for the final election results from the US and how they will move on from the divisiveness of the past four years.  We wait for an end to this pandemic, for a vaccine, and for a return to normal – a world of gatherings, hugs, and voices raised in song.  This has been a hard lesson in waiting.  We know not the day or the hour when this will happen.  We’re all feeling it now: the isolation, the pandemic burnout, the constant media coverage, the sustained, heightened caution that a pandemic requires of us.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed, easy to turn in on yourself and be consumed with your own waiting, your own discomfort, your own inconvenience.  It’s easy to lose hope.  But hope is no solo sport – it requires a team effort.  The waiting that Jesus refers to is not a passive, individual waiting, but one where we wait together.  I think that’s why we struggle with the story and the bridesmaids who don’t share.  In a time like this we need to help each other more than ever.  We need to share what we have, meager and frail as it may seems to us most days.  It is only in hoping together, that hope moves from wishful thinking to real tangible change.

The next things to which this parable calls our attention are the question of where we see Jesus and the idea of keeping faith.  Like the bridesmaids in the story, perhaps we spend so much time waiting for some divine pronouncement or heavenly billboard that says Jesus is here or there, that we forget to see Jesus in our fellow waiters and watchers.  In a sense, Jesus is always coming, always returning.  We often just don’t have the eyes to see him.  It’s easy for us to see Jesus in the bread and wine of communion, but not so easy to see Jesus in the soup kitchen or the coffee shop.  It’s easy for us to see Jesus here in this comfortable safe building, but not so much in our own homes, places of work or our neighbourhoods.  Keeping awake, then, is seeing Jesus beyond where we expect to see him, and seeing him in the unfamiliar places – in the marches for justice, with the poor and disenfranchised, with the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  Not in the places of power, but wherever there is suffering, hunger and injustice.  And to not just see Jesus, but to follow him.  To truly keep faith means to continue to trust that Jesus speaks words worthy of heeding and offers a way worthy of following.

So, may we keep hope together, bearing each other up in these difficult days of waiting.  And may we keep the faith, having eyes to see Jesus when he appears in the unexpected places of this world, and the courage to follow him where he calls us.  Amen.

Rev Robert is the Rector of St. Mark’s.

Prayers of the People for Pentecost 23/Remembrance Sunday

Prayers of the People for Pentecost 23/Remembrance Sunday

Heavenly Father, we ask for the blessing of your abiding presence in our lives, strengthening us to live in your service and empowering us to share in the peace and love of your kingdom.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

We pray for the church; especially for Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury; for the Anglican Church of Canada and the work of the church within the lives of women, men, and children around the world; we pray for the Church of the Province of the West Indies and for the parishes of St. Philip’s and St. Thomas. May they be led by your Holy Spirit.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

We pray for the upcoming episcopal election in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and give thanks for those who have been nominated to be our next bishop. May those who vote be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and may we continue to work together in ministry as a diocesan family.

Lord, in your mercy                         Grant us Peace

On this special day of remembrance, we pray for all who suffer as a result of war and conflict. We pray for the men and women who’ve served in our armed forces, especially those who’ve been wounded or killed in the violence of war, that their sacrifice will not be in vain; for all members of our armed forces who are in harm’s way today, that they will safely return to their homes and loved ones; and for peacemakers and peacekeepers who seek to keep this world secure and free, that their service in the cause of peace will bear fruit in our time.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

God of love and liberty, we bring our thanks today for the peace and security we enjoy in Canada.  We pray for the many refugees who are looking for the kind of homes we have and pray that a solution may be found where war is no more and people can live in peace and harmony. We pray especially for our sister and brothers in the United States as they deal with the outcome of their recent presidential election that they choose a way forward that includes compromise, cooperation and compassion.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

We pray for the care and healing of those who are sick or have special needs, especially for Pam Janes, Doris Cook, Sadie Clarke, Joe Murcell and others we now name. (pause) May they find comfort in your continuing love.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

We remember those who have died recently (especially….). We give thanks for their lives and pray for their families and all who miss them.

Lord, in your mercy              Grant us Peace

God of peace, receive our prayers, and bring about the day when the peoples of the world shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, when nation shall neither lift up sword against nation nor shall they learn war anymore; this we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

The Prayers of the People for this week were written by Marilyn Beaton.

Prayers of the People for All Saints’ Day

Prayers of the People for All Saints’ Day

O God, you call us by name, welcoming and washing us in the living waters of baptism. We come to you with our prayers and petitions, knowing that you will hear our cry saying: Sustain us, O God

We pray for the local and universal church: for the church of the province of West Africa. In our province, the Parish of St. Michael and All Angels in St. John’s and the Parish of St. Peter’s in CBS. Give us the humility to walk in your way.

We lift our prayers to you:  Sustain us, O God

We pray for our faith community of St. Mark’s, giving thanks for our leadership team and the continued support of parishioners who work to allow us to worship in person and online. We also give thanks for our online auction organizers. Help us continue to find ways of meeting our spiritual needs and support those in need through outreach programs such as the breakfast program during these challenging times.

We lift our prayers to you:  Sustain us, O God

We pray for Grace Rosalie who is the receive the sacrament of baptism this week. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.

We lift our prayers to you:  Sustain us, O God

We pray for the leaders in our nation and nations around the world. Give them the wisdom and courage to walk in peace.  Guide them to find peaceful resolutions to the many conflicts in this complicated world.

We lift our prayers to you: Sustain us, O God

We pray for those in need; the lonely, the unemployed, the homeless and the sick; especially for those on our parish prayer list; Pam Janes, Doris Cook, Sadie Clarke, Joe Murcell and others we now name. (pause) May they find comfort in your continuing love. Help us to support them at this time.

We lift our prayers to you: Sustain us, O God

On this day, we pray for all those who have died, especially Ruby Warren. As we commemorate All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days we remember those who have died in the past year: Norma Major, Sylvia Barfoot, Bessie Kendall, Daphne Squires, Shirley White, Charles Brown, Harold Miller, Ron Reid, Lucille Mayo, and the Right Reverend Geoffrey Peddle. May they rest in peace. Help us bring comfort to those who are left behind.

We lift our prayers to you: Sustain us, O God

We lift our hidden prayers to you, in silence, for you to hear even that which is unspoken. Let us pause to offer our silent prayers. PAUSE

Holy God, your wisdom has formed all that has been, that is and that shall be. Thank you for revealing your glorious ways in Christ and in the lives of all your saints. Strengthen us to live faith filled lives, with confidence in your eternal love. Amen.

The prayers of the people are written by Charlotte Barrington.

Apprentices of Love: A Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Apprentices of Love: A Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this would have, at some point in your life, done some type of internship or apprenticeship where you learned on the job from a more skilled and senior worker.  For me, my greatest internship didn’t happen in an academic or church setting.  The apprenticeship where I learned the most about what it means to be a pastor, leader, Christian and friend happened on Maypark Place, on the shores of Kent’s Pond, just down the street from St. Mark’s.

It was my first year at Queen’s College.  I was young and full of idealism, eager to learn even though I thought I had it all figured out anyway.  My apprenticeship was not a part of the official program at Queen’s.  Normally you get a couple of years of book learning, and then you go out into a parish to try all that stuff out.  My apprenticeship happened because of who my neighbour happened to be.  For the first semester of my theological studies, Bishop Mark Genge lived two doors down from me and my family.

From Bishop Mark I learned two things: how to love people unconditionally, and to never turn your back on your tea when he was around (otherwise salt, pepper or whatever was handy was going in your mug).

Even though he had been the bishop of my home diocese in Central Newfoundland, I had never met Bishop Mark until we moved in next door.  So my experience of him was completely outside of the church.  But in knowing him as a neighbour and friend, I learned more about the church and about Jesus than I ever could from a book or a classroom.

I have so many fond memories of those few months.  I marveled at the way he knew everyone on the street and everything they were dealing with.  He was always there to help, and I often got roped into helping too, whether I liked it or not.  I remember one particularly bad winter storm where our cul de sac street hadn’t been cleared for almost 24 hours.  There was a knock on my door, and there stood Bishop Mark in his snow suit with an idling snow blower that belonged to a neighbour down the street.  This one was for me – his was idling in the middle of Maypark Place.  “Come on, my son,” he said “the road is not going to clear itself.”  We spent the better part of the day clearing the street along with most of its driveways.

When my dad came to town for heart surgery, Bishop Mark was so helpful.  First when my parents arrived we mentioned that we needed a wheelchair for my mother to get around.  He grabbed dad by the arm and said “Come with me.”  In no time I saw them coming back up the driveway, Dad in the wheelchair and Bishop Mark pushing him, both of them galing with laughter.  After my dad’s surgery, Bishop Mark visited every day.  Years later, when I told dad that Bishop Mark had died, Dad choked up on the phone.

From Bishop Mark I learned that to lead means to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work.  I learned that to be a Christian means being like Jesus.  I learned what it means to love your neighbour and that it’s not a law or rule we keep, but a way of life.  It’s the closest I have ever come to understanding the words of Jesus from today’s gospel.

This is the last of three ‘tests’ of Jesus by the religious leaders.  First, Jesus is tested by the Pharisees on whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor.  Next, Jesus is tested on a matter of doctrine by the Sadducees: is there a resurrection and, if so, what will be the relationship status of resurrected widows who were married more than once (note that the Sadducees didn’t even believe in the resurrection)?  In both cases they mean to trip Jesus up, to turn the people against him, to make themselves look like the authorities on all things religious.

Again, the Pharisees come to test Jesus.  One of them, a biblical scholar, comes and asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the Torah is the greatest?”  I can imagine for a moment that Jesus thought, “Not you jokers again.  God give me strength with this crowd.”  The answer that he gives, though, is Jesus at his most orthodox.  He is quoting directly from the Torah, from everyone’s favorite books of the bible, Deuteronomy and  Leviticus.  It is, in part, the Shema, the summary of the Torah, recited each day by any good Jew.  Jesus is not saying anything that anyone listening didn’t already know to be true.  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I imagine them looking at each other, rather disappointed with this safe answer.  One of them probably shrugged, “Ah b’y, I thought we had him on that one.”  Another stroking his beard and nodding slowly thinking, “Maybe this kid from Nazareth is not as bad as we thought.”

Jesus, seeing the Pharisees talk among themselves, decides to ask them a question.  I think he knows that the religious leaders are hypocrites and they really have no concern for the law beyond their puritanical doctrine and rituals.  They have no real concerns for their neighbours’ wellbeing, but instead question him out of self-serving pride.  He gives them a question that their literalist brains should be able to understand.  Whose son is the messiah, David’s, or is the messiah greater than David?  Usually this type of question would be right in their wheelhouse, but instead they do not answer.  I love the way the Message interprets verse 46: “That stumped them, literalists that they were.  Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good.”

But something seems to snap in Jesus and Matthew has him go off on the religious leaders for a whole chapter.  Perhaps he’s had enough of their crap so he goes up one side of them and down the other.  Snakes, hypocrites, white-washed tombs, and self-indulgent are just some of the words that Jesus uses to describe the Pharisees and Sadducees.  I think the gist of his issue with the religious leaders is summed up in 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The hypocritical religious leaders were concerned with treating love like just another one of their laws.  It was an idea, a concept, but it had no real implications in how they treated their neighbours.  They were like the lover that Bono sings to in the U2 song One: “You say, love is a Temple, love a higher law, you ask me to enter and then you make me crawl.”  The people of the day couldn’t hold on to this burden that was heaped on them by those who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders.  When Jesus talks about love he is not just talking about an idea or a feeling, but an action, a way of living – something that draws us close to our neighbour in solidarity.  Their religion, any religion, that does not care for neighbour, cannot lay claim to love of God.  In fact, Jesus goes on to say that the brand of religion the Pharisees and Sadducees deal in, cannot stand and will fall, brick by brick.

What Jesus is talking about is, in a way, simple.  All of the laws and prophets summed up in love of God and love of neighbour, everything else is commentary.  When we think about it, though, it is the most difficult thing we do.  I, for one, don’t really know where to start.  Left to my own devices, I have no idea how to love God or my neighbour.  I need someone to show me what that looks like.  For me, I see that best in Jesus and that is why I have decided to dedicate my life to being his apprentice, to learn from him.  In Jesus I see that loving God is loving neighbour, and that loving neighbour is loving God.  There isn’t really two commands but one – the call to love.

And I need you, the community of faith, because it is only in you, the body of Christ, that I see Jesus most clearly.  As the mystic, Theresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  Actually, the church is nothing more than a community of apprentices of Jesus, who by loving each other and the world, point the world to the way of love that God intends for all people. We muck that up a lot and make it more complicated than it needs to be. And the warning that Jesus gave to the religious leaders of his day also applies to us. If we build our religion on anything other than love, like power, status, or rules, it will not stand. Our mission is love – not a program or strategic plan – love of God and love of neighbour. Amen.

Prayers of the People Pentecost 21

Prayers of the People Pentecost 21

Prayers of the People – Pentecost 21, October 24-25, 2020

Throughout time, we have tried to test God and prove that we, the created, are wiser than the creator.  Despite our vanity, God is patient with us and gently leads us after our pride subsides.  Let us gather our voices together as we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour.

We pray for the Anglican Communion, especially for the Church in Wales.  Remind us to be thankful for each other and that we are not alone.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for the Anglican Church of Canada, especially Linda (Primate), Mark (National Indigenous Archbishop), and David (Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada).   Lay your hands on our church leaders and give them the spirit of wisdom.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for the Anglican Church in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially for the parishes of St. Mary the Virgin in St. John’s and St. Michael and All Angels in Corner Brook.  May we work together to please you.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.  Open our ears so we may hear the fears and concerns of our fellow Anglicans and give us a gentle voice when we speak. 

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for St. Mark’s.  Our faith practices have been interrupted; give us confidence to let go of the familiar and try new ways to minister to our faith community and to our neighbours.  Open us to embrace the efforts of the auction organizers so that it may enrich our finances and fellowship.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for ourselves.  We can feel overwhelmed with negative emotions and find it hard to see hope and light.  You are our hope and light.  Only through you will we build a just society in which everyone is valued and loved.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for the sick and the tired and the lonely and the hurting.  We pray especially Pam Janes, Doris Cook, Harry Hallett, Sadie Clarke, and Joe Murcell others who we now name.  Pause.  May they know your gentleness.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

We pray for the deceased, (especially…)  Grant them eternal rest in your kingdom and use us to comfort those in mourning.

Lord God, we humbly pray: Help us love our neighbour

You told us the greatest commandments to guide us.  May the prayers of our hearts be pleasing to you, the words of our mouth honour you and the actions of our hands heal your creation. Amen

The prayers of the people were written by Rick Hibbs.