Share In His Story... Mind, Spirit, & Body - Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent (February 26, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:15–17, 3:1–7 | Psalm 32 | Romans 5:12–19 | Matthew 4:1–11
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (Romans 5:18)
Today we mark the first Sunday of the season of Lent: A time of preparation for the unfolding of Holy Week, and the story of Christ’s betrayal, death, and resurrection. Lent invites us all to slow down, to take stock, and turn back to the LORD with all that we are. And for many, Lent is a time to take up the spiritual practice of fasting… deciding not to eat, or to avoid certain behaviours for a time.
I have a bit of a confession to make: this year, I’ve struggled to come up with something to give up for Lent. Since I was introduced to the practice of Lenten fasts some years ago, I’ve often looked forward to this season, giving up things like: drinks with sugar in them, caffeine, meat, screentime in the evenings… all sorts of things that I might enjoy, but which I can choose to give up if it opens me more up to God. But this year, for some reason, I’ve really had a hard time getting a Lenten fast of the ground.
Preparing for today’s sermon, I spent some time reflecting on why this was… what was going on inside of me. And to be honest, I think I’d sort of forgotten what fasting is really all about. I think I had fallen into the trend of treating fasting like some sort of spiritual workout… some way to challenge and improve myself when it comes to the Christian life.
But there’s much more to fasting than this. There’s much more spiritual nourishment, and fulfillment that Christian fasting can help us receive… not as a technique or a method of making something happen… inside us, or out in the world… but as a way to say “yes” with all that we are to all that God has for us.
I’m deeply indebted to the New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, who literally wrote the book on Fasting, and who I think defines it very well: “Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.”
McKnight goes on to unpack how this ancient practice fits into the story of Scripture, which then calls us to re-imagine what fasting might mean for us today.
McKnight claims “Because Israel’s perception of the person was unified, repentance often expressed itself in the physical act of fasting. The moment of turning from sin and back to God, of turning from a false path onto the path of light, of empathizing with God’s grief over Israel’s sin, was so sacred and so filled with the potential of the grace-giving God that Israelites chose not to eat.” There is a deep sense of ones whole life, body, mind, and spirit, as being all wrapped up together, all integrated, so that any major events in ones life would call for a bodily response, just as much as one of the heart or mind.
So as we think about the season of Lent, and all it entails… the turning, or returning to the Living God… the practice of fasting, and so on, the question before us is: how are we turning to God with all of our heart, and mind, and body? With all that we are? Thankfully, our Scripture readings today point us towards the answer.
They hold up for us two stories… two paths, to approaches to life… to ways to be human… one rooted in the ancient depiction of the first humans, Adam & Eve, and the other arising from the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So, this morning, I want to invite us to compare these two paths, these two stories side-by-side, and see what light they might be able to shine on our own lives today:
In our first reading from Genesis Chapter 3, we find Adam and Eve in the garden paradise of God: Created to bear and be the image of God, serving as His representatives and agents on earth… charged with caring for His good world, with tending and keeping His garden.
And in our reading today from St. Matthew’s Gospel we find a very different picture: we see Jesus being led up by the Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness. Into a dry and desolate land, wild and waste, and empty of life.
Now right before being led into the desert, Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan River by John… which was the first moment when His unique identity was affirmed: Matthew 3:16-17, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Armed only with this divine declaration of love, Jesus goes out to the desert and fasts, deprived of even the basic necessities for forty days and nights, until He was famished. While in the garden, Adam and Eve had everything they could have wanted.
But despite these differences, these stories do have a few things in common. For instance, both the first humans in the garden, who were created in the image of God, and Jesus of Nazareth, who St. Matthew tells us is the beloved Son of God, would have their identities challenged and called into question by the voice of a deceiver.
In Genesis, a cunning serpent, who comes to signify dark spiritual forces opposed to God’s will, deliberately twists the words of the LORD to Adam and Eve, convincing them to doubt the LORD’s love for them, and that instead of giving them good limits that will lead them to abundant life, God was really just withholding something really good for them that they could simply seize for themselves: that is, the wisdom to discern good from bad on their own apart from God.
The serpent insists that they shouldn’t trust God’s word to them, and that instead, if they eat the forbidden fruit,
they “will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
The irony is, of course, they were already made to be like God: created as His image-bearers, they were made to reflect His divine character, and care for creation as His co-rulers, under His loving lordship. But the serpent offered them a path to being “like God” without this essential relationship. And they took the bait. They saw the fruit, they ate of it, and brought the power of death into God’s good world.
In a similar way, when the tempter comes after Jesus in the wilderness, famished after his long fast, the devil goes right for the stomach. But importantly, just like with Adam and Eve, this temptation was also a hidden jab at Jesus’ identity, seeking to plant the seeds of doubt in His relationship with the Living God. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3). But unlike Eve and Adam, Jesus does not doubt His Father’s word, or His loving care, trusting Him to graciously provide all the nourishment and strength required in His hour of need. Jesus answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4).
Back to the Garden, after they take and eat the fruit, we can see how the tempter had cut off the first couple’s confidence in God to care for them… and now, instead of serving as His images on earth, reflecting His goodness and glory with their lives for all the world to see, the humans, now full of shame, seek to hide themselves from the LORD, and one another. They were no longer free to be fearless… able to trust God to preserve them from harm.
Turning back to the Gospel, we find the devil leading Jesus to Jerusalem, to the very top of the Holy Temple… the pinnacle of God’s sacred place, where he dares Jesus to make the most public display of His faith imaginable: “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6).
Twisting the Scriptures to suit his own purposes, the devil prompts Jesus: “Don’t you trust God? If you really are His Son, won’t He rescue you? Prove You have nothing to fear. Prove that You really trust Him! Prove You’re really who You think You are!”
And Jesus does prove He trusts God… just not at all in the way the devil demanded. Jesus responds by simply saying no. I trust My Father. I do not have to prove anything. I will “not put the Lord God to the test.” Unlike Adam and Eve, who had lost their faith in their relationship to the Living God, Jesus was able to place His complete confidence in His Father without any spectacle at all… just simple, quiet obedience and faithfulness was needed, not a dramatic show of so-called devotion. Faithfulness is how we can live fearlessly before the Lord.
So now the gloves come off. The time for subtly is over, and the devil lays all his cards on the table. He shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth… all their glory, and splendour… and says: “It’s all Yours. All of it can be Yours. Just worship me, and I will give you the world. Everything!”
This is, of course, at the heart of the temptation that Adam and Eve were offered as well: ‘become like God, knowing good and bad for yourselves, and you can rule the world without Him. You can have everything you want, whenever you want it. You don’t need God, trust me.’
And of course, that’s what we did. Not just Adam and Eve in the Garden, but all of humanity… all through the ages… all over today’s headlines… this is the story of our world. Our story. Whether we’re talking about whole nations invading and seeking to dominate or destroy their neighbours… or people in positions of power, exploiting and abusing the vulnerable… or even the simple, self-centered lifestyles we just take for granted, that revolve around our desires for comfort, security, recognition, and success, whatever.
We see with our own eyes what we want. We reach out and take it for ourselves… and we re-introduce death into God’s good world… again and again and again.
Adam and Eve embody our story. Our path. Our way of life, apart from the Living God. Where we fearfully search for fulfillment, and only find ourselves famished instead.
But the Good News is, there is another story. Another path. Another way to live. One embodied in none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
To the tempter’s best offer, Jesus replies: “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:10).
Jesus flat out refuses to serve the devil, or become a slave to His own desires, but radically reaffirms His devotion to His Heavenly Father alone. Where Adam and Eve were deceived, and led astray by doubting God’s love for them, Jesus completely passes the test by placing His trust, His life completely in God’s hands.
At this point, there’s nothing more that the devil can do to Him, and so this time of temptation comes to an end… but all through His life, Jesus will remain just as devoted, just as committed to His Father, which will require this same steady faithfulness every step of the way. The same way, the same path that Jesus calls you and I to follow.
And here, we too face a temptation: the temptation to reduce all that Jesus has done here to merely an example to emulate… showing us that faithfulness is possible, and then sending us out on our own to go, and do likewise.
This is one of the great temptations that plagues the religious life: the temptation to believe that all we need is to figure out what we need to do to make ourselves better… more spiritual… more godly… more like God, if you will… If that rings a bell.
This impulse can be deceptive, preying on our desires to do good, and be good, but offering us our own path to self-improvement and spiritual growth on our own terms. So then, even sacred seasons like Lent, and practices like fasting can become just one more forbidden fruit… good things, twisted to make us trust in ourselves and what we can achieve, instead of in God’s great love for us.
But the Good News is that Jesus did far more than just show us how to become good, or how to pass our own temptation tests… on our own. He passed the test for us! He faithfully faced every temptation in order to undo their fierce power over us, and now He shares His victory and New Life with us as well.
In other words, Jesus restarted and rescued the story of humanity once and for all.
This is the wonderful message that St. Paul was working through in his letter to the Romans, showing how what Jesus alone has done has changed everything.
Looking back to Genesis, St. Paul says “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
He then goes on, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Romans 5:15).
“Free gift”, “grace”… these are the words St. Paul uses to describe how we now receive the New Life of God. A free gift, that has its source in one man: Jesus Christ.
He goes on to explore the differences between the works of Adam and Christ: through the first came condemnation, the domination of death for all through disobedience. But through the second comes justification, abundant grace, the free gift of righteousness, and new life for all “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21).
Jesus Himself has opened up another story for humanity… not to pursue or fulfill on their own, but to receive as a gift in Him. He took on Himself all the consequences for our failed story… taking up His cross and bearing the full brunt of the death that Adam and Eve earned for us all in the garden, and which we all keep on embracing in our own ways… and He did this to bring God’s New Life to those who place their faith, their trust not in themselves and what they can achieve… but in Jesus God’s Beloved Son, and what He has done.
And so we can commemorate Lent, and practice fasting, not to make ourselves better somehow, but to turn wholeheartedly to our Saviour. To step out of our old stories, and receive the free gift of His story… all that He is, all that He’s done for us, all that He will do in and through us. We can fast to entrust ourselves, our whole selves, mind, spirit, and body, into the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, who rest completely in the faithful, loving hands of our Father in Heaven. We fast to say no to ourselves, so we can say yes to Jesus, and in our weakness our emptiness, to find that He is our strength. That He is our sustenance, He is our bread from heaven, and the Word that comes from the Living God.
So then, whether or not we take up a fast, or other Lenten practice this year, let us wholeheartedly entrust ourselves, our minds, our souls, and bodies, to Jesus, our loving Saviour, and step into His life-giving story. Amen.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xiv.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 24-25.
Today marks the first Sunday of Lent, a sacred season where Christians prepare in mind, body, and spirit, for Holy Week: the commemoration of the betrayal, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Some of the traditional practices of the season of Lent include fasting, study, reflection, and generous almsgiving. And so for each Sunday of Lent, in addition to our weekly At-Home worship resources, we'll also be sharing a link to an episode from the five-part podcast series by the Bible Project on the topic of Generosity.
This first episode is called "Abundance or Scarcity".
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs this week can be found here:
As we begin the sacred season of Lent, a time of repentance, prayer, and preparation for Holy Week, Ash Wednesday calls us to remember not simply our mortality... the fragility and fractured nature of our lives and our world, but also to remember the abundant mercy of the Living God, who in Jesus Christ "welcomes sinners and invites them to His table."
For those of us unable to join us in person for our Ash Wednesday service at St. Luke's this year, here is an At-Home Ash Wednesday order of service. (Note: There is no Imposition of Ashes rite in this particular At-Home service.)
Many blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.
Scripture Readings: Exodus 24:12–18 | Psalm 2 | 2 Peter 1:16–21 | Matthew 17:1–9
“While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5).
What does God have to say to us today?
Along with Christians around the world, today we’re celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, the final week before Lent begins, and taking place at the end of Epiphany: a season we contemplate the Good News that Jesus has been revealed as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s well beloved and eternal Son, sent to save not only one people, but all the peoples of the Earth.
The Transfiguration story itself marks a kind of watershed moment in the life of Jesus, where Christ’s hidden glory is suddenly glimpsed by three of His frightened followers, challenging and changing their understanding of His significance forever.
More than just a righteous religious teacher, or powerful miracle worker… the Transfiguration proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ… the beloved Son of God… whose word above all we must heed.
Of course, there are many other voices that we are drawn to… there are lots of other ideas about who God is, and what He is up to in the world. Voices inviting us to give them our ears, and hearts, and loyalties.
And many of these other voices use the Bible to back up what they have to say. Taking up portions of the Holy Scriptures to amplify and justify their own agendas… often in ways that distort or completely conflict with what the Christian faith proclaims.
But these voices can be pretty convincing, making it hard to know who to believe. And on top of that, there are seasons in all of our lives when it can seem like God’s face is hidden from us… like His presence is somehow veiled by a cloud our eyes and minds can’t penetrate.
In times like this, how are we to discern what God is actually trying to say to us? How can we be sure that we are truly listening to His voice?
In the story of the Transfiguration, St. Matthew is inviting us to contemplate how we Christians can come to hear the voice of God with confidence… teaching us where we are to turn to know His will, and walk in His ways.
In this strange and short episode in the life of Jesus, the entire expanse of the story of the Bible comes to into focus… with key representatives from both the Old and New Testaments on the scene.
We heard how Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, with Him up a mountain, where they would witness a startling change in their Master, and a remarkable meeting. St. Matthew tells us that Jesus was “transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” (Matthew 17:2-3).
As we know, Moses and Elijah were two of ancient Israel’s most renown prophets, serving as those who shared God’s message, God’s word with His people in powerful ways. Moses had been the one God had chosen to lead Israel through the wilderness, after the LORD had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Moses was seen, even centuries later, as Israel’s ultimate hero: the one who God gave the Law and Commandments of the Covenant to at Mt. Sinai, entering the cloud to meet with the LORD alone, as we heard in our first reading today, making known how Israel was to live as God’s people in the world… transforming how they were to relate to the Living God, each other, and all their neighbours too.
While this meant that Moses would come to be closely associated with the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible, the Prophet Elijah, who came on the scene many centuries after Moses, had a different role: he served as a messenger on a mission to call God’s people to repent… to turn back to the LORD, whom they had abandoned to serve the gods of the Canaanites, led by their unfaithful Kings. Elijah called out King Ahab and challenged the people to give God alone their allegiance, and the LORD worked through Elijah to dramatically display His divine power and authority.
But this moment of Elijah’s victory would be followed by discouragement and despair, as he would be hunted by Israel’s leaders who persisted in resisting the LORD and His ways. Eventually, Elijah would also find himself alone on Mt. Sinai (or Horeb, as it is sometimes called), encountering God’s presence in the silence after the storm, and listening to His voice.
In time, Elijah would come to stand as a key representative for the whole prophetic movement in the Scriptures… for those who speak on God’s behalf, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to share God’s message with His people… calling them to turn back to Him, and find true life by walking in His ways.
Both the stories of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, involve chosen figures who were set apart to share God’s word with the world: making known God’s own character, His divine will, and the ways for His people to faithfully follow.
And yet, both of their stories, and the whole of the Law and the Prophets point forward beyond themselves to One who will fulfill God’s promises, and rescue His people once and for all: the promised Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.
But now we must turn to consider the others that St. Matthew tells us had gone up the Mountain with Jesus: three of His disciples, St. Peter, St. James, and St. John.
These three disciples will all have special roles to play in the story of the Christian Church. St. James would be the first of the Apostles to be put to death, slain by Herod in Jerusalem in the years after Christ’s resurrection. St. John, James’ brother, would be the only Apostle not put to death, and his influence on the Church’s understanding of Jesus would by significant, with one of the four Gospels, three letters, and the Book of Revelation being linked to him.
And finally, we have St. Peter, who has been widely recognized as the leader of the Apostles, and who God uses mightily as a key servant in the early days of the Church, but who also has a bit of a mixed track record… including in our Gospel reading today.
But as usual, having some context is key. Just before the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus had asked His disciples who they believed that He was, and St. Peter replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus praises Peter’s response, and then warns his followers not to tell anyone He is the Messiah yet, because His mission was about to take an unexpected turn:
Matthew 16: 21-23, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
St. Peter had not yet wrapped his head around what Jesus had been sent to do as God’s Messiah. The idea that his beloved Master would have to suffer such a cruel fate was one he would not willingly listen to. It went against all of his own expectations, all of his hopes, and plans.
But as Jesus points out, Peter was listening to the wrong voices… setting his heart and mind on human designs, rather than listening to and following divine designs.
And so, when the three disciples see Jesus transformed before their eyes, and see Moses and Elijah, two heroic saints from his people’s ancient past, talking with Jesus, St. Peter still struggles to understand what’s really going on, and what it really means for Jesus to be the Son of God.
“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Matthew 17:4).
In this pious sounding suggestion, St. Peter was trying to elevate his Master to the level of Israel’s two heroes, Moses and Elijah, making them equals in his estimation. But what happens next shatters this vision, as God sets the record straight:
“While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” (Matthew 17:4-6).
The cloud overshadows Peter, James, and John… they too are brought into God’s holy presence on top of a mountain, just like Moses and Elijah experienced centuries earlier, when the LORD shared His divine word with them. But the message these three disciples hear is simple and direct and clear: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’
The story of the Transfiguration reveals to us that it is in Jesus Himself that we are able to truly hear God’s word. As St. John would one day put it, Jesus is Himself the Word of God in the flesh!
Jesus is God’s Word to us today. Jesus is where we must turn to know what the Living God is up to in the world, and how we are to take part in it.
In Jesus, the message of Moses and Elijah comes to its fulfilment… as He is the One the entire Old Testament and the story of Israel is pointing us to.
In Jesus, the stumbling voices of St. Peter, the rest of the Apostles, and all of the members of the Christian Church throughout the ages is taken up and transformed into God’s message of Good News for the world… as He is the One that brings to life the faith, and hope, and love revealed in the New Testament.
Jesus is the One, who through His own suffering, betrayal, death, and resurrection, sets in motion God’s great rescue mission… bringing His forgiveness, mercy, self-giving love, and New Life into our world torn apart by our obedience to bitterness, condemnation, self-centeredness, violence, and death.
Jesus Himself is where the Living God has chosen to make His character, will, and ways known to the world, once and for all.
So, if we want to know what God want to say to us today, and every day, we must look to Jesus. We must constantly make time to listen carefully to Him. Not just to what we assume He would say… or what we might want Him to say… we need to honestly focus… to fix our eyes and our ears on Jesus, and listen.
And what might this kind of listening looks like?
Well, first of all, listening looks like humility. To listen to anyone means recognizing that we all have much more to learn. That we all have plans and ideas that can be way out of wack, and need to be challenged.
To listen to Jesus means to be open… to trust. To have faith that He knows better than we do. Especially when He challenges all the voices that tell us what we naturally want to hear.
Remember how St. Peter had his own ideas about what Jesus should and shouldn’t do. Remember how often we too have needed to have our eyes opened to see things from a new point of view.
To listen to Jesus means to learn to trust Him above every other voice… even our own.
This kind of relationship of trust does not just happen in an instant. It comes with time spent with Him in prayer, both together with others and alone.
Christian prayer is a posture of openness and readiness to obey our LORD… to say to our Father in Heaven “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth… starting right here in my heart.”
But like any relationship, if we’re always the one talking, we aren’t really listening. Prayer isn’t just going on asking God for what we want, we are also making sacred space in our lives for God to make Himself and His will for us known, inviting the Holy Spirit to speak into our hearts in Jesus’ name, and testing that voice to make sure it lines up with what Jesus Himself has already made known in the Holy Scriptures.
Which leads us to another vital way we listen to Jesus: by reading and studying the Bible, both together and alone, becoming familiar over our whole lifetime with the story of God.
We read both the Old and New Testaments together, and both with Jesus Himself in mind, reflecting on how every part of this story points us to and fits within His story… Christ’s cross and resurrection, as God’s ultimate victory.
If we want to know what Jesus is saying to us, we need to keep prayerfully turning to Scripture, and seeking to understand it. But the point of all this understanding is to put it into practice. To not just hear what Jesus is saying, but to heed His words… to obey His voice.
In Hebrew, the word for listen ‘shema’ is the same word as obey. The two concepts are indistinguishable: to listen means to hear and do!
It won’t help us at all to memorize the entire Bible, and pray every day, if we refuse to do what Jesus tells us to. The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus invites you and I to be transformed as well by listening to Jesus, and doing what He says. This is what it means to have a Living Faith… trust that turns into action, that shapes our lives as we learn to listen to the voice of our Lord.
Speaking of listening to our Lord: What is the first thing Jesus says in this passage, to the three disciples, and all of us today?
“When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” (Matthew 17:6-8).
To His frightened disciples, back then and today, Jesus says “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
There are so many reasons today for us to want to simply stay put… paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. To let ourselves be overwhelmed by the unknown, or to be weighed down by our pain, or our mistakes and failures… or our growing sense of helplessness.
But even so, Jesus Christ our Saviour is reaching out to touch our hearts today, and to raise us up… calling us to trust in Him, to listen to His voice, and not to be afraid. To lift up our heads and fix our eyes on Jesus alone, and find our hope in Him.
May the Risen Lord transform our minds and hearts and lives so that we may truly listen to God’s beloved Son… get up, follow Him, and not be afraid. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, when Jesus reveals a glimpse of His glory as God's beloved Son, which calls for us to respond in faith by listening to Him.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs this week can be found here:
Living Faith | Growing Love | Sharing Hope - Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany (February 12, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15–20 | Psalm 119:1–8 | 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 | Matthew 5:21–37
“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Have you every been turned around in an unfamiliar part of town? Last week, I was driving to an appointment in Saint John in the evening. Though it was in a part of town I don’t often go to, I knew the route pretty well, and I thought I had plenty of time… until, just as I was drawing near to my destination, I saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles up ahead. Apparently, there had just been an accident, and the road was completely blocked. I had to turn around and find a new way to get to where I needed to go.
Here's where my… let’s say, somewhat fuzzy mental map of Saint John comes into the story.
I was pretty confident I knew another way to get to my appointment, although it would mean backtracking a bit, and travelling less familiar roads. So I went with my gut, and all seemed fine at first… but the further I went down my new route, the clearer it was becoming that I had taken a wrong turn.
Actually, it was a bit worse than that. I had taken the right turns. The ones I intended to make… I was following my new route flawlessly… it just turns out that my intended destination was on a completely different road, and growing further and further away with each passing moment.
So, as frustrating as it was, I had to pull over, and pull out my phone, and finally figured out where I actually was, and how to get un-lost.
From time to time, we all have to do this kind of thing in life: we have to stop for a moment, regain our bearings, and find the right way forward again.
This past year, members of our Parish Mission Visioning Group have been doing just that: taking time together to reflect on how we at St. Luke’s can keep taking part in the mission of the Living God here in Gondola Point and beyond.
Part of what we considered was the need for a clear sense of direction for our Church: a vision for where we are headed together, to keep us all on the right track. This led us to propose a new vision statement for St. Luke’s, which we brought to Vestry, and was eventually adopted at our Annual Meeting last Sunday afternoon.
So our new vision statement, our best sense of where God is calling us to go as a Church community is this: Living Faith | Growing Love | Sharing Hope.
All the decisions we make about how to move forward as a Parish family, or how to carry on doing what we do will take this new vision into account. So even when we end up in unfamiliar territory, we will at least remember what matters most, and work together to pursue it.
But what do we mean by Living Faith, Growing Love, and Sharing Hope? How might this vision statement help us stay on track together? There’s a whole lot we could say about this statement in itself, but we don’t gather here to just to hear human words, but to contemplate the word of God.
Thankfully, our Scripture passages today invite us to reflect on what it means to be Living Faith, Growing Love, and Sharing Hope. While we won’t address every aspect of what our new vision statement intends to cover this morning, I hope it will give us a taste of what we believe the Lord has in mind for our Parish.
In our first reading today from the book of Deuteronomy, we catch a glimpse of what Living Faith looks like: Choosing to put our trust in the Living God into practice.
This passage comes at the conclusion of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible that serve as the foundation for the rest of the Biblical story… anchoring all that follows in the creating, rescuing, and sustaining work of
Yahweh, the Living God, in partnership with His people, who have been set apart to share His holy life, so that all the world might be blessed.
The trouble is though, that time and again, God’s people get lost… spiritually speaking. They think they know which way to go, but end up far from the life God intends for them, trusting their own instincts and desires, instead of trusting their Lord to guide them.
And so, at the end of Deuteronomy, God’s people are being called to stop… to regain their bearings, and choose the way forward that will truly lead to life… not by going their own way, but by walking in God’s holy ways:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
While we may not be ancient Israelites, about to enter into the Promised Land, we too must keep choosing every day to live as those who trust the Lord to guide us into life, even when we feel pulled to go off in all sorts of other directions.
We too are called to trust that the Living God really wants what is best for us, or our community… and for our world… following God, and deepening our faith in Him is essential to all we do.
Which leads us to our Gospel reading, in which we explore what it looks like to be Growing Love: nurturing the holy love of God with our whole lives.
Our passage today from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes from the so-called Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus Christ God’s Son, teaches His followers, back then and today, what it means to wholeheartedly follow God’s ways here on earth, and to become a people reshaped and renewed by His holy love.
But before we take a close look at the words of Christ, let’s take a second and think about the difference between a garden, and a patch of wilderness.
Both likely involve some plants. Both likely have their own beauty, and attractiveness. But one thing that gardens have that wilderness does not have is a sense of intention. An order and purpose that includes but goes beyond simply growing things for their own sake. A garden is cared for and cultivated in order for certain, chosen things to grow and bear fruit, and to keep all other things from taking root in its soil.
What Christ is doing in our Gospel reading today is teaching us what it takes for God’s love to grow in us… the ways to tend to our hearts and our relationships so that His love can flourish among us and bear good fruit in the world.
What Jesus tells us about how to nurture God’s love goes well beyond the world’s experience and expectations… and what often comes naturally to us. But Jesus is not just trying to help us be “good people”, but “God’s people.”
A people who are learning to resist the pull of anger, resentment, and wrath… a path which leads us to division, and ends up having us demonize all those we disagree with.
A people who recognize that our own desires can often lead us into disaster… distorting how we see and relate to the people around us, that God calls us to love with purity and kindness, and goodness, not just as objects to be used for our own gratification.
A people who are striving to be committed and faithful to one another, understanding that our human relationships are not simply disposable, but are the very soil in which the Living God is at work, reconciling, and redeeming deeply broken people like us, and putting us back together through the practices of repentance, grace, and forgiveness.
A people of integrity, who don’t need to be compelled to speak the truth, but who seek to live honestly in our daily lives, especially when that is difficult, because we are bound to the One who is the Truth.
Through the commands Christ Jesus gives to His followers, we find the garden of God’s holy love: patience and forgiveness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness, integrity. These are the fruit that the Holy Spirit cultivates within the life of God’s people, meant not just for their own benefit, but to be share with all those around us.
This holy love is inseparable from the life God calls us into. And so, growing His love must be at the heart of all we do.
But as any seasoned gardener will tell you, sometimes growing things is really hard work! Especially if we’re starting from scratch, and are still just learning the basics.
This is the challenge of the Christian life too. Sometimes it’s really hard to choose to trust God, and to do what it takes to let His holy love begin to grow in our lives. We can often feel discouraged… inadequate… especially when we trip up and fall, or when we suddenly find ourselves lost, and far off from where we thought we were headed.
Thankfully, we don’t need to give up, or give into our doubts or despair. As we are reminded in our second reading today, the way forward for us means Sharing Hope: helping each other to hold on, and carry on because of Jesus Christ.
In our second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle confront some deep misunderstandings that were causing all sorts of chaos and trouble in the Church of Corinth. One of the issues was that the Christians were rallying around their favourite Christian teacher or leader, setting up all sorts of rivalries that were tearing their community apart.
In many ways, they were lost… far off track from the kind of love Christ Jesus calls us into… the holy love at the heart of the Gospel message St. Paul and others had shared with them.
But as lost as they were, St. Paul doesn’t just give up on them. He calls them to stop. To take a look at themselves, and what they were doing… and turn back to what mattered most: the life of the Living God at work in them.
And as he does so, St. Paul shares real hope with those of us who are still mere beginners when it comes to living out our faith and growing God’s holy love.
He speaks of these divisive Christians as infants in the faith, still needing to be fed spiritual milk… but with the expectation that they, that we will continue to grow! He redirects their attention from where we are all inclined to place our confidence… in strong leaders that we look up to, or in our own capabilities, or sense of maturity… and points us to the only One on whom our hope is secure.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
It is God who gives the growth. He is the One our confidence must rest upon. We all play a part. We all have ways to be involved in His mission and work, serving together with the common purpose of His kingdom, side by side. But we can face the future with hope, not because we are on the right team, or because we’ve got everything figured out, but because of the Good News of what the Living God has done and is doing even now.
Because Jesus, God’s Son has come into the world to set us free. To forgive us our sins, reconciling us to God and each other by His own blood. To show us what God’s holy love truly looks like as He gave His life for the world at the cross. To rescue us from the fear and chains of death through His resurrection from the grave. To fill us with God’s holy love by giving to us His own Holy Spirit.
As we strive to live out our faith, and grow in God’s love, we too will share in the work of hope. Apollos, Paul, you and I… all of us, even when we feel lost, and way off track… this hope is for all of us to share: carrying on because we believe God’s Holy Spirit Himself is at work in, among, and through us. No one is too far off… too lost to be beyond our Saviour’s reach.
And so we keep working in God’s garden. We plant, we water, we weed, because we trust, we believe that God Himself is going to make something good grow here.
Living Faith, Growing Love, Sharing Hope. Choosing each day to put our trust in God into practice. Nurturing the holy love of God with our whole lives. And helping each other hold on, and carry on because of Jesus Christ. This is all at the heart of where we believe God is leading us as a Parish here in Gondola Point. By the gracious power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, may we always be living faith, growing love, and sharing hope. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 58:1–12 | Psalm 112 | 1 Corinthians 2:1–16 | Matthew 5:13–20
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
“You are the light of the world.”
What a thing for Jesus to say to the rag-tag band of disciples who had gathered around Him… that strange new community He was drawing together to take part in God’s Kingdom, both back in Galilee all those years ago… and here in Gondola Point today.
But do many of us feel like we are the light of the world? How does Jesus want us to live up to this high calling???
One way that many of us Christians have understood what it means to be the light of the world is to strive to be preservers and proclaimers of the truth… champions of the doctrines, teachings, and traditions of the Church, determined to make sure everyone comes to share our understanding of God and His ways. For some, sharing God’s truth is what it takes to be the light of the world.
Others take a different approach. For them, being the light of the world is more about doing what is right. Acting with compassion and mercy, challenging injustice, helping people in all kinds of need. For these folks, it is the practical good things we do that shine out into the darkness. Doing the right thing is what it takes to be the light of the world.
Now of course, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to know and share the truth… or seeking to do what is right. Both of these belong fully within the life of the Kingdom of God.
But when we reduce our shared calling as Christians to be ‘the light of the world’ to one or the other… to speaking the truth or doing good… something is deeply amiss. And we know this because at various times in our history, the Church has done both of these things… and when we have, the results have left us more divided and in the dark than ever.
Now’s not the time to drag up all the examples that could come to mind, but we know how easily we Christians have embraced at times the evils of judgmentalism and violence, all in the name of standing up for the truth… turning on our neighbours, and even our fellow Christians to try to prove that we are right.
On the other hand, when the Church has just thrown truth to the wind in favour of ‘getting things done’, we have fared no better… often causing all sorts of confusion and damage we did not foresee. There have been many examples over the centuries of well-meaning Christians creating more problems through the ‘good’ we were trying to accomplish. When our actions are out of line with God and God’s ways, even our best intentions can end up in darkness.
This struggle to be the “light of the world” has been an ongoing problem for God’s people for a really long time. As we heard in our first reading today, this was an issue the prophet Isaiah was called to confront… with Israel seeming to be concerned with “drawing near to God” and following His ways, and yet being far off from the life and light of the LORD.
Centuries later, in Jesus day, this problem still remained, as the remnant of Israel in the land of Judah wrestled with one another about how to best be the people of light in the world. One well known faction in those days were the Pharisees, devout Jews who took God’s laws very seriously, and tried to teach others to do the same.
And rather than choosing between holding fast to the truth, and actively doing what was right, the Pharisees strove to do both. They were concerned both with the truth, and with doing ‘the good and right things.’
But as Jesus Himself points out in our reading today, and all throughout the Gospels, the way many Pharisees tried to be “the light of the world” somehow missed the mark. Even though their commitment to truth, and right action may have been commendable, something essential was off… something was missing… something was out of line with the life and light of the LORD. Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What was it that Jesus was looking for in His followers that would make all the difference? What would truly make them… make you and I… into “the light of the world”?
What is the key? It’s God’s holy love alive within His people… leading them into all truth, empowering them to do God’s good work in the world, and given to them through Jesus Himself, by what He accomplished for us all at the cross.
God’s holy love alive in us is what makes us the light of the world. Without His love, all our best words and deeds won’t be able to break through the darkness. But with it, even when we stumble and struggle, God’s power and grace shines out for all to see.
Let’s think back to the two approaches I mentioned earlier that many of us take in trying to be the “light of the world”: through believing and teaching the truth, and through doing good things for others.
Both of these approaches belong together, and belong in the life of God’s people, but it is only God’s holy love that transforms them both into light… into something more than we could ever hope to achieve on our own.
Though it wasn’t one of our Scripture readings for today, I think it would be fitting to reflect together on another well-known passage: 1 Corinthians 13. In this short Chapter, St. Paul gets to the heart of what the Christian life is all about, and what it really means for us to be “the light of the world”:
Regarding the first temptation to focus solely on holding to the truth, St. Paul points out that, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Powerful speech, and complete understanding of the truth is nothing when separated from God’s holy love.
Regarding the second temptation to focus simply on doing good to those around us, St. Paul again makes the case that these acts alone aren’t what God is after: “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Even sacrificial giving, going to extremes to meet the needs of others, if cut off from God’s love gets us no closer in the end to the life and light of God’s kingdom. Without love, all the good we may do remains in darkness.
Love is what lights up the world.
But let’s be clear, were not just talking about natural, human love here… the kind of connection we feel for those close to us, or those who we admire or pity. We’re talking about God’s holy love, that has it’s source not in us, but in Him, a love that is able to connect us with people that we would never consider caring about on our own. It’s a love that does not just look out for its own interests. A love that forgives, and reconciles, and seeks the best for everyone, especially when it is not easy. A love that does right and seeks the truth… that binds us to God and to our neighbours. A love that when put into practice, shines like a beacon for all to see, drawing those sitting in darkness closer to the Lord of Love.
This is the power of God! This is what our God has done for us! Sharing His holy love with us through Jesus His Son at the cross… and working inside us, through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ’s light and life might shine through us too. Drawing us into the community of the Church, who are meant to grow together in God’s holy love, becoming the light of the world in word and deed, through our Saviour’s love.
The beautiful simplicity of the Gospel leads us into the depths of God’s saving love: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave His life at the cross to rescue us from the power of evil, sin, and death… and rose again to bring us into God’s New Life, now and forever.
And so, when we’re tempted to place our confidence in anything, apart from God’s love made known to us at the cross, let us remember St. Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth that we heard this morning:
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
That power is God’s holy love; the source of all our light.
Knowing Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, transforms our lives and reveals the wonderous depths of His holy love, which is His power at work in us, shining through us, through our words and actions, out into God’s world.
I want to end now by reading 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 again for us in full. May this holy love of Christ be our light today.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School