Scripture Readings: Malachi 3:1–4 | Luke 1:68–79 | Philippians 1:3–11 | Luke 3:1–6
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
The season of Advent is meant to stir up our anticipation… our desire for the coming of Christ… of God’s good Kingdom, and all it entails. This week we are invited to reflect on the theme of peace… a precious gift that seems to be in short supply these days.
Our communities and society as a whole are wracked by deep divisions, with widespread mistrust and hatred making true public co-operation seem like a dream. This has been a growing problem for years, but the pressures brought on by the pandemic have certainly thrown more fuel on the fire eroding our common good-will. Now all we hear is “it’s us vs. them”, as we circle the wagons, and point fingers… seeking security by looking out for “me and mine.”
But as we know, our homes are not necessarily places of solace either, with tensions tearing hard at the bonds of family too. Again, the pandemic has intensified this trend, and cases of domestic violence and abuse, already far too high, are rising sharply.
We know as well that so much of these interpersonal conflicts come from our own inner battles and lack of peace... reflected in the veritable tidal wave of mental health challenges. Cases of high anxiety, depression, and suicide are everywhere, but they are especially showing up among our youth.
These are all serious reasons for concern… reasons to take seriously our need to pray and work for peace in every area, in every facet of our lives.
But as we turn to our Scripture readings today, we are given a vision of a different, deeper kind of peace than we often imagine. A kind of peace that’s going to turn everything upside down.
Our Gospel reading today from Luke starts off with a list of names, introducing us to the ‘who’s who’ of political power. First off is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, successor to Augustus Caesar, then comes Pontius Pilate, the local Roman governor. Next Luke lists for us the puppet rulers, the sons of Herod the ‘Great’ who were put in charge of various parts of his old ‘kingdom’ after his death. And finally, we’re given the names of two of Judah’s High Priests.
At one level, by giving us these names, Luke is helping us locate his Good News within the scope of history. The story he’s telling us did not happen ‘once upon a time’, but in our own world, with all of its tensions, challenges, and conflicts. But Luke is also introducing us to a particular group of people: to those who would have been seen as responsible for providing and maintaining peace. One of the primary concerns of those with any authority in the Roman Empire was upholding the Pax Romana… the so called ‘peace’ of Rome: the relative stability of their wider society… often enforced ruthlessly with the cross and the sword.
It’s worth noting that Luke lumps together the High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, with the political Roman rulers. As a High Priest, one was supposed to be the recognized spiritual leader of Judah… the designated liaison between them and the Living God, ensuring that God’s people stood in right relationship with Him… not only in how they worshipped, but in how they lived each day. Long ago, the High Priests would have all descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses… but by this time, the High Priesthood had become highly politicized. The Roman authorities now claimed the right to choose the High Priest, selecting those that knew how to serve the interests of the Empire. Their sacred role for guiding God’s people had become a tool to appease the Emperor, which also put them in the position to find prosperity for themselves as well. Though they had wealth and political influence, Annas and Caiaphas and their crew were seen by many as corrupt… unfit to lead God’s people and guide them into life.
In complete contrast to all those powerful people, Luke then points us to John the Baptist: the wild man from the desert calling God’s people to turn around. Through John and his message, Luke is setting the stage for us to see the coming conflict between the ways of our world’s Empires, and the Kingdom of God… which in many ways will be what the rest of his Gospel, his ‘Good News’ story will be about… calling us to place our trust in God’s own Chosen King.
Luke tells us John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (Luke 1:3), which Luke then connects to the ancient prophetic word about preparing the way for God’s coming rescue.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 1:4-6).
Leveling mountains, hills, and valleys. Making straight crooked ways, and smoothing out the rough paths… all so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
That doesn’t sound easy. That sounds like disruption. Upheaval. Not to mention, hard work.
And how does this fit with how we tend to imagine peace in our own lives?
It can be so easy to equate ‘working for peace’ with ‘keeping quiet’… with ‘not rocking the boat’, and ‘not making a fuss.’ In some ways this makes straightforward sense: it seems unchristian to be contentious, so we try to avoid any conflict. Of course there’s a vital place for patience, gentleness, and longsuffering love in the Christian life, but there’s also a very real danger of distorting peace… of simply seeking to keep things running smoothly, of maintaining the status quo, even when that means allowing crooked ways to go unchecked, covering up abuse… and even enabling injustice. If the price of peace means doing nothing to stop the destruction at work around, and even inside of us, we need to stop and reflect on what kind of peace God really wants for us.
So what might God’s peace look like?
We can catch a good glimpse by looking closer at the Hebrew word for peace: shalom, which means far more than the ‘easy, unsteady peace’ that we too often settle for. According to John Goldingay, and Old Testament scholar, “The word shalom can suggest peace after there has been conflict, but it often points to a richer notion, of fullness of life.” And another scholar goes even further explaining what this peaceful fullness entails: “It describes the ideal human state, both individual and communal, the ultimate gift from God.”
And another scholar writes: “The concept of shalom… implies much more than mere absence of conflict. At root shalom means wholeness or well-being… shalom implies absence of conflict due to an absence of those things that cause conflict. The peace that God is after does not come from covering up corruption, or refusing to look at and deal with the difficult things in our relationships, and in our lives. God’s peace calls us to seek wholeness, completeness, fullness of life… not just for me and mine, but for all. For everyone.
The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome was about what’s best for Rome. It worked pretty well for their economy, and for all those at the top, maintaining a fairly reliable status quo, with many benefits. But in doing so it perpetuated a society built on slave-labour, and the violent suppression of conquered people, and any who ‘stepped out of line’. It was driven by greed, and fear, and only upheld by bloodshed. But God’s shalom aims to set things right. God’s peace is pure peace.
Our Old Testament reading today from the prophet Malachi gives us this image of God’s coming messenger as one who will purify His people:
“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:2-4).
Refining silver requires first melting it down, then removing all of the dross, the non-silver bits, so that all that’s left behind is pure. Malachi’s vision is one of God coming to cleanse and purify His people. Removing everything from them that gets in the way of true life. Fast forward to John the Baptist, who called all God’s people to wash in the waters of baptism… to repent, to turn from their crooked ways and find God’s compassion and forgiveness. To prepare for the coming of God’s Chosen King, the Messiah, who would not simply cleanse them with water, but with the refining, sanctifying fire of God’s Holy Spirit… purifying them inside and out so they can share God’s shalom.
God’s shalom, His pure peace is not about avoiding conflict, but being remade… the hard work of having our hills and mountains brought low, our valleys filled in, our crooked ways straightened.
What are some of the ways this cleansing work needs to happen in us? Where have we made peace to easily with the crooked ways of our world? Maybe we too have been guided by greed, or driven instead by fear? Maybe we just go along with it all because we simply can’t see any other way?
Thankfully, Luke’s whole Gospel shows us another way… the way of the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s Chosen King, the Eternal Prince of Peace. Luke wants us to see that in Jesus, the Living God
“has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” (Luke 1:68-71).
John was to prepare God’s people for the pure peace that Jesus would bring: God’s great rescue, not through hiding our crookedness, but through forgiving us. Not imposing peace by shedding the blood of others with the sword, but creating shalom, cleansing us from all that stands between us and the LORD by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross, shedding His own blood to bring us life.
At the cross, Jesus did for us what we could not do: He gives us His own pure peace, so that His saving work can remake us. And continue remaking us more and more as we await His return. St. Paul makes this point in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” And he goes on to say: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 3:6, 9-11).
The pure peace God longs to share with us is His gift of wholeness, of holiness, of fullness of life through Jesus our Lord. It is the result of His Spirit at work in us, remaking us to share in His Kingdom… to rid us of all that keeps us from truly loving and striving for peace within ourselves, with those closest to us, and even with our enemies, just as our Saviour Jesus Christ did for us to set us free.
At this time, when so many are finding themselves sitting alone in darkness, may the work of pure peace Christ has begun in us continue to grow more and more, not just for our sakes, but so that through us, God’s compassion and salvation might be known by all, and in all that we do may our Risen Saviour guide us into the way of His peace.
I’ll end now with the well known prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be
consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
 John Goldingay, Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone, Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2010), 204.
 Mark Allan Powell, ed., “Shalom,” The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 942.
 Joanna Dewey, “Peace,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 763.
Today we celebrate the second week of Advent: a season of anticipation and preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ, both in His birth at Christmas, and in His future return to reign forever over a renewed creation.
Many artists and musicians have been inspired by this season, exploring its themes and message of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, leading us to Jesus. I hope you enjoy this link to a song based on the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38), entitled Peace by the band Poor Bishop Hooper.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon can be found here:
Our Advent Hymn can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 33:14–16 | Psalm 25:1–10 | 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 | Luke 21:25–36
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).
Today we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent: a season of anticipation and preparation… getting ready for the coming of Jesus, first of all at His birth, but even more so His coming again at the end of time to bring God’s good kingdom to completion at last. It is a season meant to get us excited, but also to get us going… to inspire us to act, and remember what it means to share in Christ’s Kingdom today.
The Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it well: “The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”
Our Scripture readings today also invite us to reflect on what it means to await God’s Kingdom, and to do so in hope.
This morning our first reading comes from the prophet Jeremiah, who shared a message of hope for God’s people at a time when things looked pretty bleak. Within Jeremiah’s lifetime, the kingdom of Judah would fall to Babylon. The city of Jerusalem, and the Temple of Yahweh would be destroyed, and its people would be killed or carried off into exile.
But even so, the Living God gave these words to His people: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” The LORD would be true to His word. Though they suffer, God would not abandon His people.
Though it was not in our reading today, Jeremiah’s prophecy goes on: “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.
…Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me… Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.” That was Jeremiah 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26.
At a time when the kingdom of David’s descendants, and the priesthood of Israel were all in serious jeopardy, God was re-affirming His covenant promises, assuring His frightened people that even though they were headed for exile… that would not be the end of their story. They would return, and God’s kingdom and priesthood would never come to an end.
Several centuries later, during the time of our Gospel reading this morning, the people of Judah were back in the land, but things were not yet as they should be: they had a royal family, but not from David’s line. Herod the “Great” and his sons had served as Israel’s rulers for some time, but only under the rule of the Roman Emperors who used them to “keep the peace.” A few weeks back we heard how Herod had rebuilt Solomon’s Temple, but by this time the priesthood had become compromised in the eyes of many… enmeshed in all the political power-games of the day. Though it was better than sitting in exile, God’s people were still waiting for the LORD to fulfill His promises… to bring in His ultimate, and unending Kingdom at last.
But Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading don’t seem to offer a hopeful picture. Instead, He’s warning His followers about the hard times to come. The words we heard today mark the conclusion of a much longer passage in which Jesus predicts the downfall of Jerusalem… it’s leaders, it’s Temple… and many of those who live there.
Right before our reading today, Jesus says this to His disciples in Luke 21:2-24, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Jesus goes on, as we heard, to speak of “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations… People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26). In other words, chaos. A world where everything that seemed steadfast and sure would suddenly come undone. Where even heaven and earth, it seems can no longer be counted on.
Doesn’t exactly seem like a hopeful message… but it’s one we might be able to appreciate a bit more these days, especially after COVID. So much of what we had trusted in has proven to be unsteady, leaving us longing… waiting for this season of fear and uncertainty to end.
But here is where Christ tells His disciples, including you and I today, to hold onto hope… to “stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.” For the Son of Man, the LORD’s Messiah, is coming in power and glory to bring about the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to trust, to place our hope, not in our own leaders, or piety, or power… but in Him, whose words are more faithful and enduring than Heaven and Earth.
He is the one we’re hoping for. He is the one we’re waiting for. The Son of God and Son of Man who will come again one day to bring God’s glorious redemption… the one who will fulfill the promises God made to His people. Jesus is the King of Kings… the Righteous Branch of David’s family, who as the Risen Lord will never leave His throne empty again.
Jesus is the Eternal High Priest, who offered up His own life at the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. In Jesus, God’s promised salvation has come, but not just for Judah and Israel, but for all nations… all people everywhere.
And as we hope and wait for Him to renew Heaven and Earth, Jesus puts His own Spirit within us so we can share in His rule and ministry. In Him, we are drawn together into what St. Peter called: “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). As the Church, the body of Jesus, filled and empowered by His Holy Spirit, we are graciously being made a part of God’s promise through Jeremiah for kings and priests without number… called to make God’s kingdom and mercies known in every way we can.
In his book, Surprised By Hope, the bishop and scholar, N.T. Wright makes this point: “what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom.” We’re called to actively participate in God’s mission here and now, resisting the real temptations that can so easily distract us.
In our Gospel reading, right after reminding us to place our hope in Him, Jesus tells us to “Be on guard so that [our] hearts are not weighed down with dissipation (that is, indulgence)… and drunkenness and the worries of this life” but to pray for the strength to stand before the Son of Man when He returns. And St. Paul, in our reading today from 1 Thessalonians, prays for these Christians to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all…” that the Lord may “strengthen [their] hearts in holiness that [they] may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thess. 3:12-13). Resisting the traps of overindulgence, and preoccupation with life’s distractions. Living lives of holy love, for one another and for all. These are the hallmarks of what it means to share in God’s Kingdom. This is how we anticipate and prepare for our LORD’s return.
Advent offers us hope that our Risen Lord is coming again to redeem Heaven and Earth, but it also invites us to put this hope into practice here and now… even in the midst of our own times of fear and uncertainty… when we are tempted to distract ourselves, and get caught up in other things… or when we are tempted to give up on the work of holy love. But in Jesus Christ, God calls us to take our part in His Kingdom. To place our hope in Him, and put our whole lives in His hands.
I’ll end now with another, longer quote from N.T. Wright, encouraging us not to lose heart as we wait for the Lord and get to work: “what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to fall over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something which will become, in due course, part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation which God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which has begun with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world.” Amen.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, ed. Jana Riess, trans. O. C. Dean Jr., First edition. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 2.
 Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), 218–219.
 Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), 219–220.
Today mark the start of a new year in the Christian calendar, and the beginning of Advent: a season of anticipation and preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ, both in His birth at Christmas, and in His future return to reign forever over a renewed creation.
Many artists and musicians have been inspired by this season, exploring its themes and message of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, leading us to Jesus. I hope you enjoy this link to a song based on the story of Zechariah, John the Baptist's father (Luke 1:5-25), entitled Hope by the band Poor Bishop Hooper.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, Article, and Video can be found here:
Our Advent Hymn can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Today with Christians around the world we celebrate the Feast of the Reign of Christ the King.
Here at St. Luke's Gondola Point, this week is also the Sunday we commemorate and honour the ministry of our ACW (Anglican Church Women).
As our ACW will be leading most of our In-Person service this week, there will not be a traditional sermon. Instead, please take a moment to read this article about the Feast of Christ the King, and watch this Bible Project video exploring what Christ's Reign really looks like.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, Article, and Video can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 1:4–20 | 1 Samuel 2:1–10 | Hebrews 10:11–25 | Mark 13:1–8
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. (1 Samuel 2:1)
This morning we spent some time attending to the story of Hannah, an oppressed and despairing woman who comes to the LORD in search of mercy. Like all of the people that we encounter within the pages of Scripture, Hannah’s story might seems small, but it is a part of a much greater movement… the Living God’s own mission to rescue and re-create our broken world. Through Hannah’s pain-filled prayer and triumphant song, we can catch a glimpse of that mission at work… and see how it has the power, not just to change the world, but change us too.
Her story takes place in the distant past before Israel was a kingdom. Back then the Israelite tribes relied solely on local leaders. The closest thing they had to a central government was their priesthood: descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, from the tribe of Levi. And back then there was no Temple. No permanent structure dedicated to YWHW, the Living God. Instead, the presence of God among His people was marked by the Tabernacle,
the sacred Tent set up to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was like a portable throne where people would come and offer sacrifices and pray.
And this is where our reading today introduces us to Hannah, as she comes with her husband and his other wife and kids to worship, sacrifice, and pray.
Back then, it was not unheard of for Israelite men to have more than one wife, but to my knowledge in Scripture it’s never a recipe for marital bliss. And though Hannah’s husband loved her dearly, his other wife tormented her because Hannah was childless… seemingly unable to be a part of bringing about future generations for her family.
Many people have felt the sting of being unable to raise a child, though in her culture Hannah would have experienced deep shame as well. It was often believed that women who had no children were out of God’s favour. As if they must have done something wrong not to receive this blessing. Even the phrase used to describe Hannah’s situation points to God’s hand at work. “The LORD had closed her womb” we’re told… but never the reason why.
What we are told is what Hannah does one day in her despair. She goes alone to the Tabernacle, to draw near to the presence of God, and bares her heart to Him in tearful prayers, seeking heavenly mercy. She pleads for a miracle… for a son, and then promises to give him back… to dedicate him to the LORD all the days of his life.
It’s then that we’re introduced to Eli, the priest in charge of the Tabernacle, who assumes from her strange behaviour that Hannah’s had too much to drink. If we were to read on in the book of first Samuel, we’d find other reasons to suspect Eli’s competence as God’s High Priest. Eli’s own sons were blatantly abusing their role as priests, extorting those who came to worship, and treating God’s holy place with contempt. They were making themselves comfortable and powerful at the expense of those who stood in need of their spiritual guidance and care. Rather than bring an end to their shameful practices, Eli simply scolded them, allowing the priesthood to fall into compromise and corruption. All this is a much longer story, but for now it’s enough to understand that when Eli sends Hannah away, asking the LORD to grant her request, we are not meant to imagine him as an ideal spokesperson for God. It is through a weak and failing High Priest that Hannah receives these words of hope: “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:17)
And as the story goes, the LORD does grant her petition… He remembers Hannah’s sufferings and prayers, and gives to her a child, a boy she names Samuel. And true to her word, she gives him back to God, entrusting him to Eli, who raises Samuel to serve in the Tabernacle as well. But unlike Eli’s own sons, Samuel will grow to be a devoted priest, and prophet, who faithfully leads Israel for many years, and one day is chosen by God to anoint David, a humble shepherd boy to be their king, and from David’s family would one day come a king God promised would reign forever.
In turning to the LORD in her moment of suffering, Hannah becomes an integral part of the story of God’s kingdom coming. To herself and those around her, Hannah had seemed like a nobody. But the LORD heard her cry, and lifted her up in ways nobody imagined. And so Hannah’s song which we read together today reminds us of the signs of God’s kingdom: the overturning of corrupt rulers; the lifting up of the lowly; the re-creation of all that is broken is what God’s reign will bring.
But as both the Scriptures and our own experience makes plain, there are lots of signs that God’s reign is not yet complete in the world. That compromised, self-seeking rulers still hold others under their thumbs. That many who are low remain in very desperate straits. That we’ve built a world for ourselves on broken foundations that still need to be remade.
This leads us to our reading today from the Gospel of Mark… to some cryptic words that Jesus our Lord says to His confused disciples.
Our Gospel text today takes place at another sacred site… not the tabernacle of old, but the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Actually, this was the second Temple in Jerusalem. The first was built by Solomon, the son of King David, but it had been destroyed several centuries earlier when the armies of Babylon had destroyed the kingdom of Judah. The Temple in Jesus’ day had been built by those who returned from Exile in Babylon, decades later, and was famously and fabulously restored by King Herod “the Great”. Herod was really a puppet-king of Judea, who served the Roman Emperor. This was the same Herod who met with the Magi when they came from the East searching for the newborn “King of the Jews”, and the same Herod who ended up slaying the children of Bethlehem in order to stop this promised King from coming. Murdering innocent children, his own subjects, to hold onto power… Herod was a twisted example rulers who ‘do whatever it takes to get things done’, and the rebuilding of the Temple was one of his ambitious achievements.
Centuries after the Exiles returned, the Temple had now fallen into disrepair, and stood in serious need of renovation. As a means of securing his legacy, and the loyalty of his subjects, Herod began a decades-long project to restore and expand it. But as grand and as wonderful as his legacy work with the Temple may have appeared, Jesus reminds His followers that one day all of Herod’s accomplishments would be overturned.
Mark 13:1-2 “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” All will be thrown down.
And He was right. 40 some years later, in 70 AD., after years of violent revolt by Judaean nationalists and would-be messiahs, the Roman armies would raze Jerusalem, and lay low Herod’s Temple for good.
Of course, Mark wants us to see that much more than a building was being spoken of. Echoing Hannah’s song, all those who were using this Temple to make themselves ‘great’ were being confronted as well… not only Herod, but the politically and spiritually compromised priesthood of Jesus’ day, the pillars of Jewish authority and power were being called into question too. As great as they all might seem, in God’s kingdom even these mighty institutions and rulers will be brought low, and the lowly will be raised to glory.
These kinds of words seem safe to us in the distant past, but what about in our own day? What are the mighty ‘buildings’ systems, or people that we can be so impressed with, even as they actually act to oppress others, and oppose God’s kingdom? How have we in the Christian Church become complicit ourselves? Siding with the powers of our day, instead of walking in our LORD’s ways, who teaches us to turn our eyes towards the lowly, whomever they may be, with eyes of mercy? How does God’s kingdom confront you and I?
But as important as these questions, and our response to them may be, Mark wants us to hear even more in Jesus’ words than that “all will be thrown down.” For Mark is telling the story of how God’s Son will be thrown down for us all on the cross. How He will endure great suffering and shame, and cry out in pain-filled prayer. How the One who is God’s own presence with us in the Temple of His body will be brought before and condemned by the corrupt kings and priest of His own people. How He will descend to be with and counted among the lowest of the lowly… to raise them up with Him, to share in His eternal Kingdom.
Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today draws all this out: reminding us that the revolution of God’s good kingdom comes not through proudly building ourselves up, or violently tearing others down, as wicked or compromised, or corrupt as they may be, but through the grace of the Living God, re-creating our world, and us in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
Our passage from Hebrews 10 proclaims that Christ is the true and supreme King, the conqueror of the powers of darkness and death, and that He is reigning even now at God’s right hand… a reign which has no end. It proclaims that Christ is the perfect priest and ultimate sacrifice… able to intercede, and offer forgiveness of sins once and for all by His own blood shed… so that God’s law of holy, self-giving love might be written upon our hearts. That we too might be transformed even now… that our failures might be set right… that all that needs to be brought low in us might be leveled, so that God might raise us up to take our own parts in His life-giving story.
We can catch a glimpse of what this looks like in our lives in our reading from Hebrews as well. Hebrews 10:19-25. “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
What role are we Christians called to play? We’re invited to come before the Living God with our sufferings and pain-filled prayers, along with the sufferings of our broken world with faith… with our lives purified from darkness and sin by what Jesus has done for us. We’re called to hold fast to the hope we confess, not just with our words, but provoking one another, to active love and good deeds. We are urged commit to gathering together so we can encourage each other, to come alongside and support each other as we walk in the ways of our Lord, anticipating the great Day when His Kingdom will be complete.
Intertwined with the story of Hannah long ago, all the way through to the story of St. Luke’s Gondola Point, today, our Christian hope and confidence for the future cannot based on our buildings or legacies. It cannot rest on seeking influence or power… or even in preserving our religious heritage. Our hope is, and always must be, built upon Jesus Christ: our Risen King of Kings and Perfect Priest, and on what the Living God has done through Him to raise us up. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Micah 4:1-5 | Psalm 46 | Romans 8:31-39 | John 20:19-22
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37.
This week we remember those from our families, our Parish, and communities who served this country during times of conflict and war. We acknowledge their suffering, and their sacrifice for us… laying their lives on the line for the sake of future generations they would never know.
We do not honour or glorify war itself. War is hell breaking loose on earth. No, we honour those who endured hell on earth so that others might be spared. We honour and give thanks for their courage, for their commitment, and we pray not to forget or take for granted the high cost others have paid for our lives. We remember them, in the hopes that one day all wars will be no more. Tragically, it’s all to clear that that day has not yet come.
Not only are there many places in our world today where brutal warfare continues, putting both military and civilian lives in serious threat, but there are other, less obvious but still destructive conflicts brewing all around us… tearing apart our families, communities, and countries. Over these past few years, especially since the pandemic began, it seems like the pressures to pick sides and turn on each other have only gotten worse. Suspicion, fear, and outright hatred seem to have firmly taken hold in our divided culture. In many ways, we seem to be at war with ourselves.
Of course, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). But that hasn’t seemed to slow the spread of this spirit of conflict at work these days. And even worse, some claiming the name of Jesus Christ our Lord are among the most vicious voices, causing all kinds of discord both inside and outside our Church communities. I am not saying there’s no room for tensions, or debates, or even arguments in the Church… but it matters a great deal what kind of spirit is at work in us when they happen. We can be right about the details, and dead wrong about the ways we share them. Especially when we forget the ways of the Living God.
Our first reading today from the prophet Micah helps us to remember that the Christian hope is not about “us vs. them”, but rather “God for us all”.
Micah’s days were no less filled with conflict and bloodshed than our own, and Israel’s powerful enemies were always on the horizon. And yet, like many other faithful prophets, Micah was given a message that spoke of God’s future as one of peace, justice, reconciliation… of waring nations being brought together by the rule of the Living God.
Micah 4:3-4 says “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”
Despite the divisions and conflicts marring God’s good world, the LORD has promised to bring His peace… to make “war to cease in all the world” (Psalm 46:9) as the Psalmist says. If this is the heart of God for His world, if this is the goal He longs to bring about, that gives us some indication of what He wants from His people today. But even more clearly, in Jesus Christ His Son, God reveals His heart and ways to us… calling us to trust and follow Him in His way as well.
All throughout His ministry, our Lord laid His life on the line to bring us God’s peace: bringing freedom, healing, and release to those who were held in bondage. Confronting corruption and hypocrisy, in friends and foes alike. Offering God’s forgiveness to broken-hearted sinners. In countless ways Christ worked to end all that divides us from God and each other.
But nothing compares to His taking up the cross on our behalf… accepting our sentence of death Himself, all to secure our pardon. He did not shy away from enduring mockery and shame. He did not fight back or flee when they whipped and tortured Him. At the cross our Lord faced hell on earth, to bring an end to it’s reign. To make peace, not only for His friends, but for His enemies. To reconcile this waring world to God, and win it’s forgiveness by His own blood poured out, and His own body broken. At the cross, Christ reveals God’s self-sacrifice for the sake of us all. And in His death and resurrection, God’s Spirit of peace begins to breaks loose.
John 20:19–21 “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
That first Easter Day the Risen Christ greets His frightened disciples by offering them peace and sending them into the world to share it. The Church throughout the ages has received of the peace of Christ as well: commissioned to carry this gift out into our world where it is dearly needed. But to do so, we can’t just talk about it. We actually have to live it. We are called to actively follow the way of Jesus every day… empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist the spirits of this age: fear, division, hatred, coercion… and instead to be led by His peace, generosity, love, self-control, kindness, gentleness faithfulness, patience, & joy.
This itself is a serious battle! To truly practice patience when everything seems urgent. To embody gentleness instead of lashing out when we are hurt. To choose self-control and faithfulness when all that is in us wants to run the other way. To walk in love when everyone around us wants us to hate.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians spoke of this ongoing spiritual battle, and how to prepare for it: Ephesians 6:10-17
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, the word of God, and the Gospel of peace… this is our Lord’s way, this is our way too.
This is the battle Christ calls us to fight, the battle of faithfulness to God’s Kingdom of peace, truth, and love… looking forward to the day the Risen Lord Jesus causes us all to beat our swords into plowshares, and turn our spears into pruning hooks; when our nations shall not lift up swords against nation, and we shall not learn war any more. We are called to prepare ourselves even now for that coming day when the peaceable reign of the Living God will be completed at last.
This week we rightly remember the sacrifice of our veterans, and we have much to be inspired by their courageous examples, especially in their willingness to suffer for the sake of others. But we must also remember our ultimate battle is not against fellow people… it is the battle against the spirit of darkness that’s already been won by Jesus Christ at the cross… His victory, which we are called to share in by the way we live each day… Not taking His sacrifice for granted, but through the Holy Spirit’s power living in the light of God’s peace and holy love.
I’ll close now with these beautiful words from our New Testament reading this morning, reminding us that whatever troubles we face, no matter how hard the fight may seem, our Saviour is with us, and will be forever.
Romans 8:37–39 “37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
Today we mark Remembrance Day together as a Parish, honouring those who faced the horrors of war in order to bring life to others, all in the light of Jesus Christ, who in self-giving love gave up His life at the cross to bring God's peace to all.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 24 | Revelation 21:1–6 | John 11:32–44
“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’”
Today we celebrate together the feast of All Saints, remembering that in Christ we share in His holy, world-wide communion… stretching not only across the globe, but across all ages as well. Each one of us who belong to Christ… our Parish family… we never stand alone, but belong together in God’s eternal Kingdom.
Our Scripture readings today highlight an enduring message of hope for God’s people, empowering us to faithfully persevere even in the face of despair.
Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah came at a dark time in Israel’s past: the ancient empire of Assyria was violently dominating the whole region, and had just overrun and carried off the Northern Kingdom of Israel into Exile. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was now surrounded… hemmed in by hostile nations, and living under the constant threat of losing everything. In this dark time the Living God sent Isaiah, to remind His people to stand firm and be faithful to their LORD, trusting in Him even in the face of their powerful enemies.
Today’s reading stands out in Isaiah as a surprisingly hope-filled passage… promising not just Judah’s deliverance, but God’s ultimate victory, not through destruction and death, like the Assyrians… but through the destruction of death.
Isaiah paints a picture of universal peace… of the Living God drawing all peoples to Jerusalem to share in a splendid feast. And the LORD Himself will “destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:7-8). A royal feast for all, death itself destroyed, God wiping away the tears from every eye… this is the future hope of God’s eternal Kingdom.
We know this wasn’t the end of Judah’s troubles. Not by a long-shot. But they would hold onto this hopeful promise, for centuries to come… helping them to trust in the LORD, and in His saving love.
Our second reading today from the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation draws on and renews the message God gave to Isaiah. Revelation was written near the end of the first century A.D., at a time when followers of Christ could expect to face serious trouble as well. As the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, Christians were often the target of official persecution, or rejection from their old communities for embracing this new way of life.
In Revelation, John shares an epic vision, rich with symbolic imagery drawing together all of the themes that run throughout the Scriptures… and opening up our eyes to see our world from God’s perspective. It is an intense, startling, and all too frequently misunderstood message, drawing our attention to the ultimate end of the ages. And again, Revelation points us towards the arrival of God’s eternal Kingdom, calling for Christians to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of death.
This time though, it’s not just the nations that are being gathered together, but Heaven and Earth are reconciled, united together for good through the victory of Jesus; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Our reading today is the consummation of God’s great rescue mission… the ultimate wedding feast celebrating His perfect salvation… destroying every obstacle that keeps us from His love:
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them /as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
God Himself will be with them. Death will be no more. The LORD will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Again, we are given a glimpse of God’s eternal Kingdom, promised to us by the one who is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
We know that Christians continued to face all sorts of persecution over the centuries, and in many places today our brothers and sisters still suffer for Jesus’ sake. But this vision of God’s eternal Kingdom of life continues to carry us through… providing us with the hope that our Saviour will have the final say.
These days, of course, we face our own challenges, temptations, and fears. Each generation of God’s people have our own narrow path to tread. Right now, most of us are concerned with the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, our friends, or even ourselves. We’re feeling cut off, and isolated from those we long to be with. We’re uncertain about the future of every aspect of our lives. We’re in need today of a hope that we can truly hold onto.
Our Gospel reading reminds us that the Christian hope is not just for some distant day at the end of time… No, God’s eternal Kingdom has already broken into human history in Jesus Christ. Our reading today gives us a hope-filled glimpse of His ultimate victory, as our Saviour comes face to face with the death of someone He loves.
There are many miracle stories in the Gospels, accounts of Jesus restoring the broken bodies… and spirits… and families of His people. But today we hear that He comes to bring the restoration of His friends… Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, who had all been torn apart by Lazarus’ death. This is one of the most stirring and striking stories in all of Scripture, pointing us to the climax of the cross that is soon to come, and it is well worth more time and reflection than we can give to it this morning.
But as our Saviour, the incarnate King of glory confronts death at the tomb of Lazarus, He reveals God’s life-giving power for us even now… inviting you and I to see where Christ can be found today in the midst of our darkest moments…. bringing His eternal Kingdom near.
How does Jesus reveal God’s eternal Kingdom of life in the face of death? First of all, He weeps. Jesus grieves at the grave of His friend.
Too often in Church, we have this picture of Jesus untouched by pain or tragedy. We might see Him as merciful, or compassionate, but in a distant, untroubled way. We assume for Jesus to be God’s Son, all-knowing and all-powerful, nothing could really disturb His sense of composure or peace. But what if the fact that Jesus is God’s Son… that He fully shares in the power and knowledge of the Trinity, what if that actually makes Him more open to being moved by the suffering and grief of His people, not less? What if, in taking on our human flesh, Jesus did not hold back, but actually bears our griefs and sorrows like the prophet Isaiah says?
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Jesus our Saviour weeps with Mary and Martha at the grave of Lazarus, and He weeps with us, suffering with us in His love. This simple act tells us that it is not wrong for Christians to grieve. That having hope does not leave us unmoved by the pain and loss that we and others face. Rather, it shows us that we are called to share in the suffering of others. St. Augustine once said “Why did Christ weep except to teach us to weep?” As we wait for God’s eternal Kingdom in which He will wipe every tear away, Christ calls us today to mourn with those who mourn, just as He does. To make known God’s unfailing love to the brokenhearted.
Our Saviour teaches us to weep, but also to believe. To place our faith in Him, not only to grieve but to give life. Even in the midst of their pain, Jesus invites Martha and Mary to trust Him, and if they do, despite all their fears, “they will see the glory of God.” (John 11:40). Jesus then prays, not for His own sake, but that all those present may come to believe that God the Father always hears the prayers of His beloved Son.
We too are invited to put our confidence and trust in Jesus Christ, placing our future hopes and present fears into His loving hands, that He may intercede for us… praying on our behalf… bringing us with all our cares and sorrows to the Father, who so loved the world that He sent the Son to rescue us.
We can all think up lots of reasons not to believe in Jesus, but we are assured that faith in Him is truly the path to life. As the scholar Ben Myers puts it: “At the center of the Christian faith is not an idea or a theory or even a vision of life but the name of a person, Jesus Christ. Our faith centers on personal attachment to him.” And as our Gospel reading today reminds us when we do believe in Him, all sorts of glorious, life-giving surprises await.
For Jesus does more than mourn, and invite us to trust in Him… in the words of a beautiful old hymn: “He speaks, and listening to His voice new life the dead receive.” Against all hope… all reasonable expectations… Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb… out of death… and he obeys. No longer the undefeatable foe, the grave gives way before the Lord of Life. A foretaste of Christ’s final victory at the cross, and Easter morning.
For that is when God’s eternal Kingdom of life truly began… the first moment when death itself was swallowed up “forever.” N.T. Wright makes this point: “Lazarus came back into ordinary human life. For him, the process of death was simply reversed. He could still become ill again. One day, he too would die… But the journey Jesus would make would be through death and out the other side into a new sort of life. One which will never taste death again.
This is the same New Life that Jesus offers to those who trust in Him; that passing through death united to Him, we await a resurrection life. Reunited with all the saints all who trust in Christ throughout the ages, gathered together at God’s table for all eternity. Where every tear from every eye is wiped away in His love. Sharing in the eternal Kingdom Christ won for us all at the cross.
Christians believe in the Communion of Saints; that in Christ Jesus, all believers are bound together in ways that even death cannot break. Whether we are isolated, or surrounded by our sisters and brothers… whether we feel cut off, or are able to be embraced… whether we died millennia ago, or will live ‘til the Lord returns, we are all one, always, together in Christ with all the saints.
So may our fellowship with one another be shaped by this beautiful truth. May we bear each other’s burdens, and support one another in times of sorrow. May we spur one another on to grow stronger together in our faith. May we serve God’s eternal Kingdom today, sharing Christ’s self-giving love. And may we rejoice as we remember that our world ends in life together. Amen.
 St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.19. Quoted in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle B (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 252.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 37.
 Charles Wesley, O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.
 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 15–16.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints (Transferred from November 1).
Here is a few words from the introduction to the liturgical book For All The Saints.
"Whenever we say the Apostles’ Creed, we confess our belief in “the communion of saints.” This term is rich in meaning and kaleidoscopic in its references. It can mean “the holy people of God,” the community of all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus. It can refer to the activity which sustains the unity of God’s people, sharing in the body and blood of Christ...
The habit of remembering “the friends of God” has been one of the great delights of Christian people since the dawn of the Church. The reason for this is neither fancy theology nor sub-Christian superstition. It is simply that the history of God’s mighty acts of salvation is always a personal history. The Church believes that the divine purpose of justice, mercy, and love is revealed in the stories of particular persons. Indeed, it is through the stories of individual saints that the Almighty renews and strengthens the witness of the whole community
of “the holy people of God.” Thus, the Calendar of Saints is meant to jog our memories, to remind us that today or tomorrow is the heavenly birthday of someone whose faith, holy life, and witness to Christ were so great in their own time that they continue to be a cause for celebration by us in our time."
May we all be blessed today by the memory of God's grace at work in the lives of His saints, either those marked by the Church, or those whom we have known ourselves.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon for this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9 | Psalm 126 | Hebrews 7:23–28 | Mark 10:46–52
“Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”” (Mark 10:51).
A lot has happened to the outside of St. Luke’s Church this past month. After years of hopes and plans, and service, our building restoration work is now almost complete. That said, our restoration fundraising is still very much in progress. Right now we’re about one third of the way towards our fundraising goal. Much has already been accomplished, but we know there’s still much to do. Even so, it’s wonderful to actually see the longed-for restoration actually taking place.
There are of course many other kinds of restoration we’re still longing for: pre-COVID-19 rhythms of life… full pews, and a packed Sunday school… reunions or reconciliations with those we love… healings of our bodies, our minds, and our souls.
Our Scripture readings today from Jeremiah and the Gospel of Mark give us much to contemplate when it comes to hope of restoration.
Things were looking pretty grim in Jeremiah’s days. Israel’s Northern tribes had already been overrun by Assyria, their people taken away as slaves, and scattered out among the nations. Those left in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, reduced to the region around Jerusalem, had survived Assyria’s onslaught, but were now living in the shadow of another ancient superpower: Babylon.
By the time of our reading today from Jeremiah Chapter 31, Babylon had already defeated Judah once, and had taken away it’s royalty and upper classes into exile. This was a crushing blow to Judah’s people, who were on the brink of collapse… so many were trying to come up with plans to regain their nation’s independence… to find powerful allies to help them break free of Babylon. At this crucial time, Jeremiah kept preaching an unpopular message from the LORD God: that there was no way to go back, or to fight off this enemy… because it was God Himself who was sending Judah into Exile.
In Jeremiah 29:4-6, the prophet sends word to those already in Exile, dashing their hopes, fed by several false prophets, that Judah’s pain would soon be over, and that things would shortly go back to normal. “4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” Settle in, God says to His people. Learn to live in this strange land. The message was clear: they would not be going back to the lives they once had known.
But despite this heart-breaking message, the LORD gives His people unexpectedly good news too. Through Jeremiah, God promises that even though Exile seems like an utter defeat for Judah, there’s far more to their story, and their future, then they imagined… and God gives them a mission, a purpose to take part in they would never have expected.
Jeremiah goes on to write to the exiles in 29:7
“7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Seek the welfare… of Babylon? Pray to the LORD for their worst enemy? Why? “For in its welfare you will find your welfare.” In this bizarre twist, Judah’s ultimate fate was now bound up with the fate of their Babylonian conquerors. They were to become neighbours, and seek to prosper together, side by side. While in Exile, God wanted His people to focus not on doing whatever it takes to get back to the ‘good old days’, but to play a real part in blessing their new neighbours, who knew nothing about the Living God. This was the surprising work the LORD had prepared for them to do.
But the people of Judah were also promised they would eventually return to their land. The LORD had not forgotten them, and was still their loving Saviour.
In Jeremiah 29:11-14, God makes this promise to His people: “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” God still had plans for His people… plans for their good… for a future with hope! Restoring, not only their fortunes, but their whole community that had been scattered and lost… and most of all, restoring their communion with their Saving LORD. God was going to restore all that had been broken or lost… He would restore them.
With this promise in mind, we can hear much more fully the joyful words of hope found in our first reading this morning from Jeremiah 31. “7 For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.” This scared and scattered people will be reunited and restored. Not just the strong and powerful, but even the most vulnerable as well… the blind, the lame, those about to give birth... no one is to be left out of God’s restoration of His people.
Let’s turn now to Mark’s Gospel, where we have already seen God’s restoration at work in and through Jesus Christ… even though at this point of the story the ultimate act of restoration at the cross has not yet occurred.
Today’s reading takes place as Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem… in fact, this was His last encounter before His triumphant entry on Palm Sunday. He’s passing through Jericho, preparing to confront Israel’s leadership and face His own death, when suddenly Jesus hears the voice of a blind man, named Bartimaeus, crying out for His help: “Jesus, Son of David,” he shouts “have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). It is a cry of desperation… and a cry of hope. Giving voice to his heart’s longing to receive his own restoration.
But Bartimaeus’ cry is not welcomed by the crowd surrounding Jesus. Mark tells us that “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet” (Mark 10:48). Cries for help and cries of hope, of course, can be quite disruptive. Disruptive to those who want things to keep on going, just as they are. Disruptive to those who only have their own agendas in mind. Disruptive to those who have no time for people who seem hopeless. Yet Bartimaeus keeps on crying out, and Jesus stops dead in His tracks.
Christ turns to those surrounding Him, and says to them: “Call him here.”
Imagine this scene playing out. Try to picture it in your head. Picture Jesus, and the crowd, and blind Bartimaeus, loudly crying out. Yet Jesus doesn’t go to him. He stands still instead, and tells those following Him to call the blind man to come.
Why does Jesus do this? He could have healed the man from a distance. He could have walked a few steps back to meet him. Why does this scene Mark gives to us play out the way it does? Who knows why? But one thing we can know is what happened as a result: Jesus involved everyone… the disciples, the crowd and Bartimaeus… and restored them all.
First of all, the disciples and the crowd. Many of them, Mark tells us, tried to sternly order the man to be quiet. Many of those who were following Jesus had hearts that were closed off to the man’s cries. So Jesus directly involves them… He tells them to change their course completely. Rather than discouraging Bartimaeus, Christ tells them to draw him near instead. Those who had once been an obstacle of grace, getting in the way, were now to become a means of this blind beggar receiving grace.
There is certainly a message here for those of us who follow Christ. How often have we Christians acted as obstacles to God’s grace? Discouraging others who desperately need new life by our actions or words… forgetting that our Lord has come to seek and to save the lost… to restore them in His mercy, and reconcile us all by His own blood.
Yet, even when we forget, and fail, we are still not without hope. The LORD remembers the plans He has for His people… plans to make us a part of His restoration work… which often needs to take place again and again, within our hearts too.
So, Christ restores the hearts of His followers, by calling them to embody His mercy, and invite this blind man to get up and come to Him.
Bartimaeus doesn’t miss a beat. He leaps up, throwing off his cloak, and makes his way to Jesus… most likely still relying on others to help get him there. Then Jesus asks a poignant question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Not long before, in Mark 10:36 Christ had asked this very same question of two of His own disciples, James and John, when they had come to Him hoping for places of honour for themselves in His kingdom.
Jesus replied to their bold request by saying “You do not know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38). They still could not see what Jesus and God’s kingdom was really about. Then He turns to the rest of the disciples and tries again to drive home the point that God’s kingdom is not about status or power, but service and self-giving love.
Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45 “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The disciples still hoped that Jesus was going to offer them their own kind of kingdom. Instead He invites them to offer their lives in service to God’s kind of kingdom… one shaped by humility, and sharing healing, and hope.
This is the same invitation that Jesus offers us again today, to put our hopes and plans in the service of God’s hopes and plans for His world. Like the people of Judah in exile long ago, God is calling us to turn with eyes of love towards our own community… to seek to bless our flesh and blood neighbours, many who do not know much about the Living God. We are called to seek their wellbeing and pray for them, knowing that our fates are all intertwined… and trusting that God’s promised restoration in Jesus Christ, the Good News that we the Church have been entrusted with is meant for them just as much as it is meant for you and I.
And again, Jesus our Lord is calling us not to disregard those crying out in desperation and hope… those longing for new life, in body, mind, and spirit… to tell them that Jesus is calling for them… that He has heard their cries. That all who are broken and lost have a place in God’s good plan to reconcile and restore His world… God’s re-creation work begun and fulfilled by Christ at the cross.
Things may never go back to the way they once were… but our crucified and Risen Saviour has promised us a future with hope as He makes all things new. The question for us is will we believe that the Living God remains at work? That what He had planned long ago and accomplished at the cross will one day be complete? And that even now, His Spirit is drawing us into God’s great restoration?
In response to Jesus’ question, Bartimaeus simply says ““My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:51-52). May the Lord Jesus Christ restore our sight to see and take part in His good kingdom. May the Holy Spirit restore within us all that is broken, lost, and needing repair. May our Heavenly Father draw us together with our neighbours in His eternal love. And may we too have faith to share in God’s great restoration. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon for this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song for the Fall can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Gathering with us this Sunday as we marked the Feast of St. Luke was our Archbishop David Edwards and Archbishop Linda Nicholls, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Archbishop David was the Celebrant, and Archbishop Nicholls offered the sermon. Here is her message for our Parish.
And here are some more photos from Sunday's service.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist (normally celebrated on October 18).
Joining us this Sunday is Archbishop David Edwards, as well as Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. We are excited to hear Archbishop Nicholls offer the sermon this week, which can be found here:
In addition, here are some videos put out by the Bible Project which offer an animated account of the two books written by St Luke: the Gospel of Luke, and the Book of Acts.
Our service of Morning Prayer and Bulletin this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song for the Fall can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here: