Scripture Readings: Genesis 21:8–21 | Psalm 86 | Romans 6:1–11 | Matthew 10:24–39
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” (Matthew 10:24-25).
Few practices seem as obviously evil to us today than slavery.
And yet, for most of human history, slavery was simply a given. It was the status quo. In the ancient world, one could become a slave in several ways: one could be born a slave, or become one through being defeated in war, or being abducted… or as a legal punishment for a crime. Or one could end up sold into slavery in order to pay off debts. But whatever the cause for individuals becoming enslaved, the practice of slavery shaped the world as we know it.
Basically every ancient civilization that we still tend to admire for their achievements and success was built on the backs of slave labour… exploiting the lives of our fellow human beings, oppressed and forced to serve others against their will. And tragically, though we usually tend to think about slavery as a thing of the past, it’s cruel reality continues to shape our world today.
Though it’s officially illegal, modern day practices of slavery are everywhere, and people continue to exploit and oppress those who are vulnerable in all sorts of ways. Think of the abusive labour conditions that help produce so much of the consumer goods we enjoy, or the engrained prejudices and systemic racism that keep on perpetuating generational poverty. Or the truly heinous human trafficking and sex-slavery that’s going on in society’s shadows, preying especially on young women and children, to feed dehumanizing desires.
Sadly, slavery is very much alive in our world today. The world you and I are called to serve, care for, and protect.
Back in the beginning of the Bible, in the first Chapters of Genesis, we are told that humans were all made in God’s own image, and we were supposed to be partners together with God, to care for His good creation… but after the Fall, we turned against each other… and started seeking to dominate and rule over one another.
And so, when we see slavery at work in all its forms, we see the fruit of human evil: the distortion and corruption of God’s gift of life.
But if slavery is so evil, why doesn’t God do more to protect slaves in the story of Scripture? Why does He not do more for folks like Hagar and Ishmael, for those who are vulnerable, exploited, and oppressed? And if we’re to follow God’s lead… what does all this have to tell us about our responsibility to our neighbours today?
Wrapped up with these important questions is our understanding of who the Living God truly is, and what it means for us to love this God, and to love all of our neighbours as well. And I can think of no better place to seek to understand these things than in the pages of Holy Scripture: which is where we encounter the story of God’s dealings with Hagar and Ishmael… Sarah’s Egyptian slave, and Abraham’s firstborn son born to Hagar… both of whom were cast away and forsaken by none other than God’s chosen couple.
Before we dig into the story though, there’s something that needs to be said: Just because God chose to bring His blessing through Abraham and Sarah does not mean that everything they do is in line with God and His holy ways!
Sometimes we assume that the characters we read about in the Bible are all supposed to be spiritual heroes and models of proper morality. But that’s not the case at all! Most often, the characters God interacts with in Scripture are the prime examples of people who get things completely wrong… those who go completely off course… and yet, time and again, the Living God continues to work with these messed up people in order to bring new life out of the destruction we humans have created.
In short, the Bible, is not about people who do what is right… it’s about how God keeps bringing His blessings out of our wreckage. Turning even our worst failures and faults into fertile ground for His new life to grow.
Now this is not the same thing as saying that God caused these evils in the first place. Or that God wanted them to happen… that God makes people do horrible things so that something better might come about.
Some Christians teach these kinds of things. But I can’t. And I believe that to do so takes the story of our Saviour… of who the Living God has always shown Himself to be, and drags it right through the mud, completely missing the point of who God is, and what He is up to in our world.
So, let’s look a bit closer at the story of Hagar and Ishmael, a story that finds it’s beginning in the lack of faith of Abraham and Sarah… and see what it has to shows us about the kind of heart God has for the oppressed, and what that means for Christians like you and I today.
Back in Genesis Chapter 12, God had promised to Abraham that, despite his old age and the fact that Abraham and Sarah his wife had not been able to have children, that he would become the father of nations, and that through his descendants, God’s great blessing would flow into the world. God’s gracious gift of this miracle was to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was the LORD’s own hand at work bringing His healing touch to our broken world.
But in the face of what seemed like the sheer impossibility of the hope God had offered to them… rather than believing… than trusting God to do what He had promised, Abraham and Sarah came up with their own plan to bring about a family: Sarah would use her Egyptian slave, a woman named Hagar, to get a son for her husband. You can read all about this turn of events in Genesis Chapter 16.
Long story short, their plan ended up with Abraham sleeping with Hagar, and she became pregnant. Hagar had been treated as a tool to get what they wanted, and nothing more. An expendable instrument to bring about their own desires… which they thought God would be on board with! They used Hagar’s body, and she gave birth to a son, Abraham’s firstborn… named Ishmael.
But this was not the plan that God had for Abraham’s family. That was not the kind of gift that He had in store. It may have seemed good in their own eyes at the time, like sin so often does… but their selfish abuse of Hagar would serve to create more and more conflict instead of peace.
And yet… instead of just giving up on this messed up couple… God does something surprising: He re-affirms His promise to Abraham, and even explicitly says that Sarah will bear him the promised son… not because they somehow deserved it… but because that’s what it would take to bring God’s great rescue plan for all the world to life.
And so, in time Abraham and Sarah bear a son, Isaac… but only because the Living God is gracious… giving us humans far more than we deserve… and He longs to bring His salvation to all the oppressed of the earth, including those that Abraham and Sarah have had a hand in oppressing.
But in the midst of the story, that saving purpose is not all that clear. At times, it even seems like God doesn’t care all that much what happens to Hagar and her child, like when God tells Abraham to let Ishmael and Hagar go, like Sarah demanded… essentially sending them off to die alone in the wilderness.
But we know God hears the cries of those who are oppressed, and He sees the pain that we humans cause one another… the callous indifference we show, instead of compassion and love. And as the story goes on, God shows His compassion to Hagar, precisely when all hope seemed lost. (Genesis 21:17-19).
“God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.”
In that moment, God provided water for them in the wilderness… but much more than that, God saves them from their bondage to Abraham and Sarah!
When she saw herself as forsaken and abandoned, God showed Hagar His saving love, and led her into new life… with the promise that Ishmael, would also become a mighty nation… that her family would be blessed by God with a brand new beginning, one they could not have imagine possible.
Now there are many things we could explore and focus on in Hagar’s story, but this is the one we’ll contemplate together today: that God sees and loves the ones who are used, oppressed, and forsaken, even by those who were supposed to bring God’s blessing to the world. God Himself defends them. God sustains them. And God weaves even their painful stories into the tapestry of His salvation.
Of course, this good news goes far beyond the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Like Abraham and Sarah, we know that God’s people have been guilty of causing all sorts of grief and oppression in the world too. We too lose sight of our loving Saviour, and turned back to our old ways of self-centeredness and sin.
As Christians today, we must own up to our share of the responsibility for the broken shape of our world, both in centuries past, and in the present: for the open or hidden support of slavery… and the oppression of our neighbours… whether the reason be religious, racial, political, sexual… or anything else.
Just because we have come to know that the Living God is gracious and doesn’t give up on us, or abandon His promises to us, doesn’t mean that He ignores the wrongs we have done, or forsakes those we have wronged.
No, the New Life of God that Christ Jesus gives to us is meant to break our bondage to these sin-filled ways of being… to set us free from fear, from violence, from selfishness, and from everything that urges us to dehumanize and abuse our neighbours, instead of caring for them as fellow bearers of God’s image.
As St. Paul reminds us in our reading from Romans Chapter 6, following Jesus is meant to be a radical break from these sins that so easily ensnare us.
Romans 6:6-11, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us all /at the cross, we no longer need to serve the old ways of sin and death. Through His Holy Spirit at work in us, we are free instead to become like our Master… to share in the life of Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord.
In order to save the world, Christ Jesus gave Himself over to be abused, rejected, oppressed, and forsaken… becoming one with all those who suffer at the hands of their human neighbours. As the truly righteous one, Jesus gave up His life to God’s own people who crushed Him. Driven by jealously, and fear… they cast out and killed the Firstborn Son of the Most High God.
Like Hagar and Ishmael, Jesus was cast off as unwanted… left to die a cursed death… but it was through the very horrors of the cross that God’s gracious gift of New Life for all came about. And rising again from the grave, Christ broke through the chains of sin and death that kept us all in bondage. Bringing forgiveness, and setting free all who place their faith in Him.
Through Jesus, God’s saving love has turned the story of human destruction into hope for all the world: hope for a whole new way forward, that changes how we see and relate to everyone… especially to the people in our own lives today.
In Jesus, we have a new way to see those who hurt, use, and oppress us: He gives us a freedom from fear, trusting in the Lord who sees all, and who will never forsake us.
As Jesus said in our Gospel reading: …“have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:26-31)
We can trust the heart of God that Christ Jesus shows us… even if we must face our own crosses, we know that His saving love will finally set us free.
And just as importantly, Jesus gives us a new way to see those who are oppressed in our world, by ourselves or others:
In Jesus, we are being set free… free to be forgiven, yes… but also free to make amends… to bring help and hope to others… to work to undo the wrongs done by ourselves and others, so that God’s new life can flourish. In other words, we are to become true instruments of righteousness… tools in God’s saving hands, serving Him as He works to set our world back on course.
As St. Paul also reminds us in Romans 6:12-14: “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
In Jesus, we are God’s servants, God’s joyful slaves… bound not by cruelty, or by self-centered desires, but by His gracious love, set free to share His saving love, and the freedom it brings to our world.
As Christians today, we are meant to become like our Master, Jesus Christ… the one who joined Himself to the outcasts and the oppressed of the earth, so that God’s redeeming love and compassion might reign forever.
What would it look like for you and I this week to become more like Jesus in this way? To let His Holy Spirit set us free to serve as God’s instrument of righteousness?
As we seek the answers to this question, I’ll conclude with the words of a familiar prayer:
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.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:1–15 & 21:1–7 | Psalm 116 | Romans 5:1–8 | Matthew 9:35–10:23
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)
What does it mean to be a ‘Christian’?
This word gets used in all sorts of ways… some of them closer to the truth than others. In a fairly vague sense, to be Christian simply means to have some sort of connection to Christianity… a worldwide religious movement that has made a massive impact on history, and helped shape billions of lives over the last two thousand years. In this sense, we can talk about Christian music, Christian art, Christian practices, and so on. And some will speak more directly about Christian countries… Christian worldviews… Christian cultures, as though it’s obvious to everyone what they may be.
But as we know, words can be tricky. Sometimes we end up using them in ways that distort their original meaning, maybe without even knowing we’re doing it.
Sometimes people might deliberately use words like ‘Christian’ as weapons… mis-using them to influence and manipulate others into getting on board with their own agendas.
One blatant example of this kind of distorted use of the word ‘Christian’ happened in German under the Nazi’s in the buildup to World War II. As the National Socialists grew in influence, there were many within the Protestant Churches in Germany who sympathized with their racist and fascist agenda. Calling themselves the “Deutsche Christen” or “German Christians”, they promoted Nazi ideology as if it were fully in line with the historic orthodox Christian faith… convincing many of their fellow citizens that the “Christian” thing to do was to give full allegiance to Adolf Hitler… leading to truly horrific atrocities that can only be called evil.
Mercifully, there were others within the Churches in Germany at the time who weren’t fooled by this. They knew the heart of the Christian faith well enough to not be led astray, and so they stood up against this so-called “German Christian” movement, even though this stand eventually led many of them to suffer greatly… having to fleeing the country, to go into hiding, or face persecution, imprisonment, or death.
Yet their faithfulness through those dark times continues to inspire Christians around the world to not give into those who would mis-use our faith for evil. And their examples show us that knowing what the word “Christian” really means is not just an idle question. It has huge implications for how we live in the world today.
And there are lots of people in our world today trying to do the same thing: to co-opt the word ‘Christian’ and use it to convince others to support their own agendas, which may have absolutely nothing at all to do with Jesus Christ.
So how do we know what it means for us to be Christian, here in Gondola Point in 2023? How do we keep on the right track, and not be led astray from the path of our Lord?
If we want to understand what it means to be Christian, we need to keep looking to the Scriptures, and seek to understand what it tells us about another word: discipleship.
Discipleship. What is a disciple? In brief, a disciple is a student. But not just someone learning information. It’s someone learning a whole new way of life… how to truly become like their teacher in thought, word, and deed. A disciple is closer to an apprentice: someone who pays close attention to the ways a master goes about their tasks… adopting their pattern of life, and practices, and leaving their old habits in the past.
When we hear the word “disciple”, we often think of the Twelve, those who in the Gospels followed our Lord Jesus Christ, and who, apart from Judas Iscariot, guided the Church after His resurrection and ascension. But as Matthew points out at the end of his Gospel, Christ sent these disciples out into the world to make more disciples. To teach His ways to all the nations, and all the world be drawn into His good Kingdom.
In short, to be a Christian is to be a disciple… an apprentice of Jesus Christ. Someone whose life is now dedicated to following and becoming more and more like Him… not as solo students, but as part of the one Christian Church… the community of disciples.
We can be a disciple without being a Christian… following all sorts of teachers, leaders, or lords. But we cannot be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Earlier this year at St. Luke’s, we adopted a new Vision Statement, a brief summary of the direction we believe that God is leading us: Living Faith | Growing Love | Sharing Hope, and in a way, it’s all about discipleship: following and becoming more like Jesus together.
And as we explore our Gospel reading this morning, and consider what it tells us about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, I believe we can see some interesting ways that our Vision Statement helps us stay true to the heart of what it means to be a Christian disciple today.
First of all, it all begins with the Living God: With the work... the mission God the Father sent Jesus, God’s Son, to do in the world through God the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 9:35, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.”
As the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus was fulfilling God’s promises to His people, that He would rescue them, and bring about God’s good Kingdom at last. Not through violence, or through political power, or through the normal ways earthly kingdoms are made, but through compassion… and healing brought to the most vulnerable… and hope being proclaimed far and wide. In Jesus, God was at work stitching our broken world back together, not trying to tear it apart. He was reaching out to those who were lost, and longing to bring them all safely home.
Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This is the starting point of all discipleship: God’s heart for the hurting and helpless, and His desire… His commitment to save them. To save us. To save His world.
And so, moved with compassion for the crowds of hurting, harassed, and helpless people before Him, Jesus calls His disciples, His apprentices to pray… pointing them to the Father in Heaven as the One they are to look to in times like these to bring healing, and help, and hope into the world… to bring His Kingdom to life here on earth.
Matthew 9:37, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” There was much work to do in the service of God’s good Kingdom. Pray to the Father for more labourers.
But prayers like these invite participation. They ask us to take part in bringing about the hoped for answer. Jesus calls His disciples to seek for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom work… but also to be open to sharing in that work. To put their prayers into practice.
Matthew 10:1, “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”
And He says to them in verses 7-8, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
These might seem like impossible tasks, but they were never expected to do these things on their own. They were being empowered by Jesus, and entrusted with a share in His mission… and so the power of God’s Holy Spirit would be at work through them as well. They could never do the things Jesus commissioned them to do without God’s help, and so they would have to trust Him to work through them again and again.
The disciples were being sent out to share in the work of Jesus… and they would have to depend completely on the Living God… to place their trust in the Lord to bring it about. In other words, they would need to be Living their Faith to do what Jesus commanded.
And as it turns out, Living Faith can be a risky way of life. Jesus made no empty promises to His disciples about their work being easy. He told them the truth: Matthew 10:16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…”
They would face harsh opposition, and rejection as they sought to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Yet, instead of being told to arm themselves for a fight, or to stock up on what they would need to be self-sufficient, Jesus does the opposite: He sends them out completely defenseless and vulnerable, and dependent on the hospitality of the strangers they would encounter.
Matthew 10:8-14, “You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
Why would Jesus want His disciples to take on these added risks? To voluntarily be so vulnerable? To knowingly face the possibilities of rejection, and suffering… and instead of taking precautions… to make themselves more dependent on those who might bring them harm?
It seems to make no sense from a practical point of view. That is, if the goal is safety and feeling secure… but it’s not. The goal Jesus has in mind for His disciples is to follow, and become like Him… to learn His way of life. A way of life that involves relying on God’s provision, and the care of other people. Even strangers. To be open to the risk of rejection… but also to the joys of being received and welcomed in. To be unexpectedly loved.
The faith that Jesus called His disciples to live out by being so vulnerable as they shared in His work would open them up to receive God’s sustaining love, as well as to receive love from their neighbours, inspiring those they met to offer and experience it as well.
They were not coming as those who would impose their will, or force their way into places of power, but like Jesus, they were agents of God’s self-giving love… which can still be rejected, and opposed, but that is the nature of love. And even the suffering of Christ’s disciples is not pointless when it points others to God’s life-changing love… for then we’re truly sharing in the love that Jesus revealed at the cross.
St. Paul’s words from Romans 5 remind us what the love of God looks like, and how even our suffering can play a part in how it takes root and grows within us. These words are well worth repeating.
Romans 5:1-8, Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
The life-changing, saving Love of the Living God is what Christ wants to Grow in the life of His disciples. A love that is vulnerable in order to be open to anyone. Including you and I. The self-giving love that Jesus embodied at the cross, dying to save even His enemies is at the core of the entire Christian story. This is the heart of the Good News the Hope for the world we disciples are called to believe and to Share.
A hope not based on how good we are, or how well we compare to others. Or how powerful we feel, and how secure we can try to make ourselves… but a hope that comes from experiencing God’s love in our own lives, growing through the love we share with one another… and then coming to see that this is the same life-changing, saving love that God has for everyone, and that Jesus calls us to make known to them.
As disciples of Jesus, we’re to Live out our Faith, Grow in God’s saving, long-suffering Love, and to Share the Hope that Jesus gives to us, all of which flow from the Living God working in us. There’s far more to say about what it means to be a Christian disciple, but this is a good start.
So with all this in mind, we can re-examine our understandings of the word “Christian”, and how people around us might be using it… or mis-using it today.
Is what we call “Christian” something that’s based on our own ideals and agendas? Or is it continually looking to the Lord Himself, and open to His leading… or even correction?
Does what we call “Christian” invite us to act more like distant spectators, or passive recipients? Or does it invite us to participate in God’s gracious work in the world?
Is our understanding of “Christian” characterized by God’s suffering, and self-giving love? Or by fear, defensiveness, or self-centered concerns that cut us off from our neighbours?
Does it fill us with confidence that God is not giving up on our world? And does it inspire us to share this hope with the people in our lives? Loved ones as well as strangers?
As those called to be Christ’s disciples today, let us also pray that God, the Lord of the harvest would send labourers like this into His fields, that are ready right now for an abundant harvest. And through God’s own power at work within us, may we be open and ready to Live out our Faith, to Grow in Love, and to Share the Hope Jesus our Master and Teacher laid down His life to share with us… and with our world. Amen.
Today is Father's Day in Canada, and so many will mark this day by remembering and honouring their fathers who have loved, cared for, guided, and raised them up. For many of us, this is a day of deep gratitude, and it is right that we give thanks along with them for those who truly embodied the gift of fatherhood.
For some of us today is less straightforward, and perhaps more of a struggle... perhaps due to difficulties or losses in one's parental relationships, or for those whom the experience of pursuing fatherhood has been one of sorrow and disappointment. Along with them, we do well to acknowledge that family life is often a challenging road, and to listen to and honour their sufferings, which are also known and shared by our loving God.
Whether today is a day of celebration for you, or a day of difficulty, or some mixture of both: may you receive God's blessing today exactly as it is needed. May God surround you and those you love, as well as all those who have loved and supported you, with peace, hope, fellowship, kindness, and understanding.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Blessed Faith in the Face of Brokenness - Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost (June 11, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Genesis 12:1–9 | Psalm 33:1–12 | Romans 4:13–25 | Matthew 9:9–13, 18–26
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
It’s hard to feel blessed when all we see around us is brokenness.
Speaking just for myself, I know how easy it can be at times to fixate on even minor issues… to grumble and complain when things don’t turn out as I’d hoped… and to lose sight of all the things in life I should be grateful for… the many blessings that surround me each day.
Sometimes I think we all need those simple reminders to keep things in perspective. To focus on and give thanks for all that is good, and stop being so negative.
But of course… sometimes the problems we face are actually pretty big problems! Sometimes the answer’s not as simple as trying to stay positive, or adjusting our attitudes. Sometimes in life we come face to face with real tragedy… real suffering and even disaster.
Sometimes our world is truly broken in ways we can’t put back together.
I know that some of us here today have faced times like these, when everything seems to be falling apart. And all of us have people in our lives… family members, friends, neighbours… who have experienced serious struggles and haven’t known where to look for help.
The last thing anyone needs in times like these are pat answers and platitudes. We know words alone won’t put our world back together. We need something more.
So when all we see is brokenness… in our own lives, or in the world around us… where do we look for hope? Where can we find the blessings of wholeness and restoration that we need?
Our Scripture readings today invite us to see and experience this kind of blessing even in the midst of our brokenness; calling us to trust that the Living God’s healing hand is at work in our world and our lives, even when we cannot see it. Even when all hope seems lost.
In our first reading from the book of Genesis, we meet the patriarch of Israel and our own forefather in the faith: Abram, or as he is known later on, Abraham, who here encounters the Living God when the whole human story has just been shattered.
After generations of humankind rejecting God’s good ways, and violently pursuing power for themselves, Genesis 11 tells the story of how our ancestors once tried to create a unified society based on their own self-centered pride, embodied by the building of a city and tower that would reach up to the heavens. Seeking the security they thought they could provide for themselves, they were becoming ‘one’ by together turning their backs on the Living God, and defying His will. So, in Genesis 11: 8 we’re told that, “the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” And it’s in the aftermath of this great scattering that the story of Abraham begins… the story of God’s gracious blessings breaking into our broken world.
Genesis 12:1-4 “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
The rest of what happens in the Bible flows directly from this promise of the Living God. Everything that follows these words is the unfolding of this gracious gift, extended first to Abram, and through him to all the families of the earth.
The biblical scholar, Elizabeth Achtemeier spells out the significance of what is going on in this promise to Abram: “We are introduced here in these three little verses to the universal purpose of God for all people, and Abraham is called to leave his home in Mesopotamia not because he is especially privileged, but because the Lord God wishes to bring his blessing on every one of us. It is a long and complex story, this story of God’s working for us. It has its heights and depths, and it seems as if it will never come out right. But God has spoken his word to Abram, and God always keeps his promises.”
One is blessed, so that all might be blessed through them. United and restored not by pride, or self-centered power, but by God’s gracious gift, His blessings intended for all.
And this promise came to someone who was completely powerless to bring it about except by believing and obeying God… it was a promise built on trust. Abram was being led to a completely new country, a completely new life, far from anything and he had known before. And not only that, he could not make himself into “a great nation”… he and his wife Sarai were already old, and had no children. Only God Himself could bring about this promised blessing, but Abram chose to believe, to trust God… and I guess the rest is history.
Let’s turn now to our reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, where we find God’s blessings again breaking through to bring new life to some very broken people… in very different ways.
First of all, we see how St. Matthew’s own life was interrupted by the call to follow Jesus: answering the invitation to leave his old life behind, and take part in something new.
In many ways, Matthew’s old life could be called broken: he was cut off from his neighbours, by his life-choices… taking up tax-collecting, a despised career built on exploiting his neighbours in their need… and aiding the Roman enemies of his people. He had burned bridges to get ahead. Or at least, to avoid the crushing poverty and oppression faced by his neighbours. Serving his own security and selfish ambitions, he would be scorned by all those who took things like holiness and God’s good ways seriously.
And yet, just like God had sought out a seemingly hopeless case with Abram, Jesus comes up to St. Matthew completely out of the blue and simply says: “Follow me.”
And Matthew does. He leaves everything he had known before… his old broken way of life behind, and follows Jesus, trusting Him with everything. Little did Matthew know that he was being invited to share in the mission of Jesus… who had come to bring God’s blessings to our broken world in ways Matthew never could have imagined.
And no one else would have imagined Jesus would seek out someone like Matthew to join Him in God’s blessed work. In fact, even afterwards, some of Christ’s critics could not get over the strange people Jesus surrounded Himself with. The scholar Dean Leuking points out that, again and again, not just in St. Matthew’s story, but in ours too, “Jesus calls to himself people totally lacking in all ordinary qualifications of piety, rectitude, or deservedness… everything about discipleship is based on the radical grace of Jesus’ call: ‘Follow me.’”
Following Jesus Christ is not just for those who have their lives all put together. He draws deeply broken people to Himself, and loves to make them whole.
Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13).
“Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Asks the bishop and scholar NT Wright, “Because, while other religious leaders of the day saw their task as being to keep themselves in quarantine, away from possible sources of moral and spiritual infection, Jesus saw himself as a doctor who’d come to heal the sick. There’s no point in a doctor staying in quarantine. He’ll never do his job.”And as our Gospel passage today reminds us, Jesus has plenty of healing work to do: Not long after St. Matthew answered Christ’s call, we hear of two more people whose lives had been shattered in other ways, and had come to Jesus, seeking His help.
The first was a heartbroken father, the leader of the local Jewish synagogue, whose 12 year old daughter had just died. And yet, he still held onto hope. Kneeling before Jesus, the father pleaded: “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matthew 9:18). Setting aside his pride, and the opinions of his peers, many of whom were outright opposed to Jesus, this desperate father came seeking mercy, and help… and found Christ eager to bless. Jesus got up right away, and with His disciples, followed the father home where He would turn their sorrows into joy.
While on the way, we’re introduced to someone else seeking His mercy and help: a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 long years. Her burden was severe, more than just the physical symptoms, which would be bad enough: because of the purity laws of her people, she would have been cut off from her neighbours, and considered ritually unclean all that time. Imagine being an outcast from your whole community for over a decade. Imagine the pain, the shame and blame she must have felt… wondering why this was her cruel fate. Longing for someone to set her free from this misery… to bring her healing and wholeness at last.
What would we do if we were in her shoes to be made well?
But help it seemed was out of reach. She must have heard about Jesus… the one who had healed so many hopelessly broken lives before… and when she heard He had come to her town, imagine how excited she must have been.
But how could she get close enough to Jesus to actually receive His help? Because she was ritually unclean, she could not even touch anyone else without making them unclean as well. Wading through a crowd to get close enough to Jesus to be noticed by Him was out of the question.
And yet, she was desperate. This was her one chance! She couldn’t let it slip away.
Saying to herself “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” (Matthew 9:21), she secretly makes her way through the crowd surrounding Jesus and reached out and touched the fringe of His cloak.
How many of us have reached out to God like that from time to time? Desperately longing just for the slightest contact… the smallest ounce of His healing power to pour into our lives? Maybe we don’t think He notices our pain. Maybe we don’t think He cares. Yet still we reach out in hope that in touching Him we really can be made whole.
And the Good News is Jesus notices. And Jesus cares. And Jesus longs for God’s blessed life to reach out even into our brokenness and make us whole.
Matthew 9:22, “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” The theologian Stanley Hauerwas points out that: “It is not faith in general that cures her, but her faith that Jesus has the power to cure. She is at once cured and her isolation ended.” Despite her fears and secrecy, she could not hide herself from Jesus, who wanted her to have more than physical healing, but the healing of her heart… to know that God has seen her pain and isolation… and has sought her restoration… pouring out His blessing on her life through her faith… her trust in Him.
This is what lies at the heart of not only her story… but the whole story that St. Matthew and all of Scripture is telling us: that we can truly trust God… believing the Good News that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has come to save us… to bring God’s blessed life to our broken world… but to see this blessing as it truly is, we are all called to believe… to place our faith in Jesus, and find our lives draw into His story too.
Matthew the tax-collector believed and answered the call to leave everything and follow Jesus.
The grieving father believed Jesus to be the Saviour for his daughter, and found Him eager to restore her to life.
The woman believed that the slightest contact with Jesus would be enough to set her free, and she found herself fully seen and fully restored by His mercy.
He is the One through whom God’s blessed life is offered to all.
Jesus Christ the risen Lord who St. Paul tells us “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25) brings God’s blessed life to broken people in so many different ways, each one a unique story, and yet all find Him to be their Saviour through placing their faith in Him.
So… will we trust Jesus with our broken world? Will we believe that the Living God is still reaching out to you and I, eager to seek out and save sinners like us? Will we believe that as Jesus turned even the cross into God’s blessed gift of New Life, that Jesus can and does bring God’s blessed life today even in the midst of our darkest moments?
I’m not promising that if we just ‘believe enough’, all our problems will go away. Or that everything that’s broken in our lives will suddenly be put back together. Christ Himself walked the path of suffering, and called His followers to take up our own crosses too… facing all sorts of heartbreak and pain as we walk the path of God’s love with Him.
But we are promised that, even when we come face to face with life’s darkest moments, when everything seems to be falling apart, we can turn to Him and trust that Jesus our Saviour is right there with us! We can trust Him to be at work in our lives bringing God’s blessings to life in surprising ways. We can believe that He sees our pain, and knows what we need, and longs to restore us, and make us whole in Him forever.
We need much more than words alone when all we can see is brokenness. We need Jesus, our Saviour, who alone can put us back together.
So how can we look to Jesus when we feel discouraged, frightened, and alone?
We can take time to reflect on how God has already been at work in our own lives so far… especially in our moments of brokenness… inviting Him to help us see how He has brought healing and hope to us in our times of need, and asking Him to help us keep trusting Him if we can’t yet see His hand at work.
We can invite God to share more of His blessed life with us… actively seeking Him out and drawing near to Jesus our Saviour… through prayer, through studying Scripture, and gathering around His table in worship with fellow believers… and we can also draw near to Him through acts of mercy offered to others! We can encounter God’s blessed life when we share the love, and hope, and faith He has given to us with the people He’s placed in our lives.
All of us are just a small part in the big story of God’s great love for the world… and the blessings we have received are one portion of God’s gift to everyone. No matter how broken our lives or the world around us may seem, take heart! God sent His Son Jesus to bring God’s healing where it is desperately needed, and to call us all to share His blessed life with His broken, but still beloved world. Amen.
 Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 25.
 F. Dean Lueking, “Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 49.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101.
 Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 102.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1–2:4 | Psalm 8 | 2 Corinthians 13:11–13 | Matthew 28:16–20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Have you ever had someone tell a story about you that wasn’t true?
It could be a bad story… a slanderous story… one that undermines your character and reputation, making it harder for people to trust and want to get to know you.
Or it could be a good story… a flattering story… one that makes you seem more exciting, more virtuous… or more attractive to others than you might otherwise appear.
Either way though, regardless of whether the story is good or bad in our eyes, whether we face slander or flattery the problem is the same if the story’s not true: false stories keep us from being known as we truly are.
They get in the way of us forming real relationships. Of knowing and being known. Of loving and being loved.
In short, distorted stories prevent us from truly sharing our life with others. They become barriers we have to overcome with our words and our actions, so that those we long to share our lives with can encounter and come to know, trust, and even love us for who we really are.
It's not just about accurate information, it’s about the basis of our relationships. Without sharing our true stories, we will always remain a mystery to one another.
If this is true for our relationships with one another, with our fellow humans… imagine the importance of knowing true stories about the Living God!
There are so many conflicting stories about who God is… about what God is like… about what God has, or has not done… about God’s intentions for the world, and for all who dwell in it. How are we to come to know, and trust, and love God, if we don’t know the truth about Him?
Of course, this is not just a question of choosing between the stories of God told by different religions. It’s a challenge that exists within every faith community as well! Every religious group has to deal with tensions and questions of this sort: How do we know who it is we are to worship? Who we’re called to orient our lives around? Who we are to love, and serve, and entrust our stories to?
The early Christians had to sort through these kinds of questions, but like us, they had been given a tremendous gift: the story of the Living God found in the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. They believed the stories of what we call the Old Testament, the sacred Hebrew texts faithfully passed down for countless generations, as well as the writings of the Apostles in the New Testament: the Gospel accounts and pastoral letters linking the stories of the Living God in the Old Testament to the story of Jesus Christ, and the new community of His followers.
The Holy Scriptures, Old and New together are an amazing gift. And yet, the early Christians still had many questions. They still struggled to wrap their heads around the Living God they were coming to know, and trust, and love… and this became an even bigger challenge when the Church began to spread… when the Good News was shared with people far from Jerusalem, and who had never heard the true stories about the Living God. With people who had stories of their own that didn’t match up with the stories of God found in the Holy Scriptures.
In many ways, their situation is not all that different from ours. In our day, there are so many, even here in New Brunswick, who have not heard the true story of the Living God. What does that reality ask of you and I today? How might we be called to help our neighbours come to know, and trust, and love the Living God?
As our early Christian sisters and brothers prayed and wrestled with these kinds of questions, searching for the truth about the Living God through the Holy Scriptures, they came to see the need for clear statements and guides to help them stay on track… to help them remember the true heart of the story of the Living God, and keep them from twisting the story of Scripture to try and make God fit their own agendas.
And so, the Creeds came into being: attempts to clarify what it was that the Church truly believed… what the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ was all about.
The word creed comes from the Latin word “creedo”, which simply means: “I believe”. And in the first few centuries after Jesus first sent His followers out into the world, to make disciples of all nations, and teach them to obey everything He had taught them, the Church was proclaiming the Apostle’s Creed, and a bit later on they added the Nicene Creed… telling the story of who Christians believed the Living God to really be.
And they found they could not tell the true story of the Living God encountered in the Bible without speaking of God the Father, and Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.
All Three shared in what it means to be God… all Three were United, and yet in some way were distinct from one another. They knew there was only One God. And yet these Three all shared in God’s unique identity. Eventually, to speak of the Living God Christians began to use the word Trinity. Tri-Unity. Three-In-One, and One-In-Three.
And so today, many centuries later, we Christians celebrate Trinity Sunday: joyfully worshipping the Living God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Contemplating together this beautiful story of who the Living God has shown Himself to be: From before time began, and forever more, God is Three-In-One, and One-In-Three.
The strange thing is though: the word Trinity isn’t actually found in the Holy Scriptures, or in the Creeds. But even so, the story that the Scriptures and the Creeds tell… the story at the heart of the Gospel that we have been entrusted with… the story we Christians believe to be true points us directly to the Trinity. They may not say the word explicitly, but its truth shines through all the same.
For instance, on the very first page of the Bible, in Genesis Chapter 1, we find an account of the One true God bringing all creation into existence. And yet, this One God creates all that is in a surprisingly Trinitarian way:
God the Father speaks the cosmos into existence with only His Word… the same Word who became Flesh, Jesus Christ. This Word flows directly from the Father, and the Breath… the Wind, the Spirit of God carries that Word and makes the Word known, felt, and experienced.
The Speaker, the Word, and the Breath all act together, and together they bring everything into being. Thousands of years before the word “Trinity” would ever be used, Genesis Chapter 1 poetically describes God’s creative act in ways that hint at and fit incredibly well with this Three-in-One story of God.
But it is not until our Lord Jesus Christ enters the picture that the reality of God as Trinity really starts to come into view. In Jesus, we come face to face with the Living God in the flesh. Embodying everything God is, while taking on our humanity too… revealing the depths of God’s love for us all by dying for us on the cross, and rising again from the grave to share God’s forgiveness and resurrection life.
And as we saw last week at Pentecost, Christ Jesus the Risen Lord has now given us His Holy Spirit… God’s own personal presence and power, to dwell inside us, drawing us into God’s holy fellowship, and empowering us to truly be His people in our world.
And both Jesus, God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit He sent, share in and show us the heart of the Father in Heaven… revealing what He is truly like, and what He wants for His creation: that is, to rescue it. To redeem it. To reconcile us to Himself, and to each other. For us to share together in His saving love forever.
This is what Trinity Sunday is all about: the beautiful truth that the Living God longs for us to set aside all the distorted stories we have come to believe about Him… and instead, come to know Him, trust Him, and love Him as He truly is. It tells us that Jesus Christ is truly God. That the Spirit of Jesus at work in us is truly God. And that to look to Jesus, and experience the Spirit is to truly come to know the Father’s rescuing love.
Speaking of God as the Trinity does not answer all our questions about Him, or remove all the mystery that surrounds God’s glorious identity… but it does keeps us on the right track. It keeps us speaking truthfully about the God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ, and who shares His life with us today in the power of His Holy Spirit.
If we are to know, and trust, and love the Living God of the Bible and the Creeds, the Trinity shows us the way.
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to tell the true story about the Living God… to be true to who God has shown Himself to be: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, united in holy love for all eternity, and at work in us drawing all of creation to share in His saving love.
I’ll close now with the words from St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Corinthians 13:13). Amen.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day Christians reflect on the Living God's self-revelation as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and what this means for us and our world.
Here is a great video from the folks at the Bible Project exploring how the Bible teaches us to speak of and come to know the Triune God.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School