Not Quite "A Christmas Carol" - Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 25, 2022)
Scripture Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4–7 | Psalm 146 | 1 Timothy 6:6–19 | Luke 16:19–31
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
I know it’s only the end of September… but is it too soon to be thinking about Christmas?
I blame today’s Gospel reading, which got me thinking about A Christmas Carol: the classic short story by Charles Dickens, which I must confess I’ve never actually read... although I have grown up watching A Muppet’s Christmas Carol… which, even if its not always accurate, has the advantage of some really catchy songs. Anyway, as most of us probably already know, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich but hard-hearted Victorian moneylender, who is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of an old business partner, now suffering torments in the afterlife for neglecting the needs of his neighbours.
Later that night, Scrooge has three more ghostly visitors, who all help him see his past, present, and dark future in a brand new light, which not only scares, but stirs up in him a change of heart. The hard-hearted rich man changes course and becomes a fountain of good will and generosity.
While Dickens’ story is certainly well known today in our culture, there were other kinds of stories like this on in the ancient world as well… flawed characters turned back to the right path by a visit to, or from, the grave. Apparently, these kinds of stories were common in Jesus’ day too. Among others, the professor and Presbyterian minister, Marguerite Shuster, claims that: “The basic form of the story, which involves reversals of fortune in the afterlife, is common in folklore and was popular among Jewish teachers”.
And so here in St. Luke’s Gospel we have Jesus offering His own take on this common story, with His own unique twist which adds a whole new dimension to the warning and invitation it offers.
The warning? That God’s people already know the way of life, but are refusing to follow it… and the path they are on right now seems safe, but will only lead to agony.
The invitation? To trust and follow Jesus now, who is the fulfillment of what the Living God has revealed to His people all along… through Moses and the Prophets… it’s the invitation to believe now in the One who would soon enough Himself be returning from the dead.
Before we go much further, an important point needs to be made here: This story is another parable… that is, it’s a narrative or story not meant to describe in detail actual events, or to offer a fleshed out depiction of the afterlife… but rather it’s meant to drive home a message… to open us up to an important but challenging truth about God’s Kingdom… about what Christ Himself is up to, and how we are to respond.
And like most parables, if we want to understand their point… their message, it helps to take a closer look at their context and surroundings… which in this part of St. Luke’s Gospel highlight a growing confrontation around the priorities of God’s Kingdom.
St. Luke’s spends a lot of time in his account of Christ’s life and ministry depicting how God’s Kingdom was not quite what most people were expecting… especially those who were seen as the religious experts in Jerusalem… the Pharisees and Scribes who claimed they knew best what God wanted for His people, and who focused their energies on close observance to the Law, that is, the teachings of Moses, and the Prophets… much of what we call the Old Testament Scriptures.
But St. Luke tells us that Christ challenged many of their assumptions… not by arguing against the Old Testament teachings, but by pointing out that while these leaders were claiming to be faithful followers of the Law and the Prophets, in their hearts they were actually chasing after their own selfish desires.
Back in Chapter 14, St. Luke tells how Jesus challenged their understanding of the Sabbath… that it’s not just a religious duty, but a taste of the wholeness and healing that God’s Kingdom would bring about. In Chapter 15, St. Luke gives us Christ’s parables about God’s love seeking out those who are lost, which Jesus was putting into practice by welcoming outcasts and sinners.
And last week, we looked at the Parable of the Dishonest Manager in Chapter 16, which ends with a call for God’s people to be faithful, not just with their money, but with their entire lives. Luke 16:10-13 left us with these words:
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Once again, Jesus was challenging the assumptions and priorities of those who were opposing Him… as St. Luke makes plain that one of the major obstacles dividing the Pharisees from following Jesus was their attachment to material wealth… to money, and all it claims to offer.
Luke 16:14-17 says this: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.”
In other words, the Pharisees wanted people to think they were faithful to God and His commandments, but were not willing to put their money where there mouth was, so to speak. Christ was inviting folks to put their wealth into the service of God’s Kingdom by caring for their neighbours with compassion, generosity, and love, but the Pharisees were content to keep their material blessings for themselves.
So Christ was calling them out: contrasting their priorities with those of God… priorities spelled out clearly in the Law of Moses and the prophets… priorities brought forward by the message of John the Baptist, and fully unveiled in the Good News of the Kingdom that Jesus Himself was bringing about…. and calling into question our confidence placed in money.
Our first reading today from Amos utters this same challenge in his own day, with the prophet pronouncing woe to those wealthy Israelites indulging in luxury, but who give no thought to helping their own neighbours in ruin. Those on top, Amos claims, would soon find themselves the first ones to be led into exile.
This same message about the dangers of wealth are echoed in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy from our second reading: 1 Tim 6:6–10 says, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
The prophet Amos and St. Paul are on the same page: rather than a sure sign of God’s favour, wealth often poses a dangerous obstacle to practicing compassion, generosity, and love… dividing people from each other, especially creating distance between those with money and those without it. A distance completely at odds with the Kingdom of God.
After His challenge to the Pharisees’ love of money which was keeping them from sharing in God’s Kingdom, Christ goes on to tell the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man enjoyed a life of comfort and ease, unmoved by the suffering of his neighbour, Lazarus, whom he could easily have lifted up from his misery. St. Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth Century had this to say about Lazarus: “Cut off from compassion and care, he would have gladly gathered the worthless morsels that fell from the rich man’s table to satisfy his hunger. A severe and incurable disease also tormented him. Yes, it says that even the dogs licked his sores and did not injure him yet sympathized with him and cared for him. Animals relieve their own sufferings with their tongues, as they remove what pains them and gently soothe the sores. The rich man was crueler than the dogs, because he felt no sympathy or compassion for him but was completely unmerciful.”.
But in the end, death comes to all, rich and poor alike. We are told that Lazarus finally finds comfort and peace, while the rich man finds only agony awaiting him.
Now the rich man begs for compassion and relief, but is told they are now totally cut off from one another, divided forever. With no hope for himself, he now starts to think of the fate of his own family, and begs for Lazarus to be sent like a servant to warn them before it’s too late. But these haunting words come back to him: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
N.T. Wright makes the point that this ending is an unexpected twist to a fairly familiar story: “a variation on a folk tale that was well known in the first-century world—with one dramatic difference. In the traditional story, the request that somebody be sent back from the dead, to warn people in the present life of what is to come, is normally granted. In this case Jesus declares that his contemporaries knew enough, from their Scriptures, to see that their behaviour was out of line with God’s intention, and that even resurrection will not convince them otherwise.”
In this parable Jesus was challenging the hard hearts of the Pharisees… whose love of money was keeping them from truly loving their neighbours, or for that matter, the Living God in whose image they were made… offering a warning and an invitation both to those who opposed His ministry two thousand years ago, and to those of us who claim to care about God’s Kingdom today.
How are you and I like the rich man, or the Pharisees for that matter… seeking our own comfort, but blind to the pain and misery of those around us? And who is Lazarus today? “[W]e all know Lazarus.” N.T. Wright affirms: “He is our neighbour. Some of us may be rich, well dressed and well fed, and walk past him without even noticing; others of us may not be so rich, or so finely clothed and fed, but compared with Lazarus we’re well off. He would be glad to change places with us, and we would be horrified to share his life, even for a day.”
So in our temptation to ignore the Lazarus’ of our day, Jesus warns us that if we don’t take seriously God’s call to practice compassion, generosity, and love towards our neighbours, we too will find ourselves at odds with God’s Kingdom. But along with the warning we have the invitation to believe the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and put its ways into practice… to not only confess it with our lips, but to reframe our lives around its beautiful truth.
This is what St. Paul is talking about in his letter to Timothy which we heard this morning: 1 Timothy 6:11-12
“…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
And specifically when it comes to how we handle wealth, St. Paul goes on to say: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
The Pharisees in Christ’s day, and many in our world today are trapped by the temptations of wealth, but Jesus is inviting us into a whole new and beautiful life not based on money, or material possessions, but on an unending communion with the Living God and with one another based on His compassion, generosity, and self-giving love. What we do with our money is now to serve the priorities of God’s Kingdom, not simply to keep ourselves comfortable for a time, but to help break down the many barriers that keep us from loving each other, and our neighbours in their need.
We are invited to be thankful for the many good gifts we have received… not only enjoying the comforts that come from money, but the greater gifts of friendship, of being brought into God’s worldwide family… of not only receiving His compassion, generosity, and love, but of being given the opportunity to share it with others as well.
Pope Leo the Great, also in the fifth Century says it well: “Let those who want Christ to spare them have compassion for the poor. Let those who desire a bond with the fellowship of the blessed be “readily disposed” toward nourishing the wretched. No human being should be considered worthless by another. The nature which the Creator of the universe made his own should not be looked down on in anyone.”
Love of money may be the root of all kinds of evil, as St. Paul says, but the love of God at work in us is the root of all kinds of good.
Going back to A Christmas Carol, Dickens gives us a nice story of rich man having a change of heart scared onto the right path by some ghostly encounters, which spur him to love his downtrodden neighbours.
But in Christ, we have the true Christmas story: God sending His Son into our broken world to rescue us all… pouring out His life in self-giving love at the cross to reunite us all in Jesus Christ with God and with each other.
Far more than a parable or a classic tale, Christ Jesus has truly been raised from the dead, as the fulfillment of God’s plan at work from the very beginning. Unlike our earthly wealth, Christ’s Kingdom will have no end, a bright future guiding us forward. And it calls to us today in the present to put into practice the compassion, generosity, and love of God… to take part in the work of His Kingdom here and now, so that along with our neighbours, in Christ, we may take hold of the life that really is life. Amen.
 Marguerite Shuster, “Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 419.
 St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 111. Quoted in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle C (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 225.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 108–109.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 200.
 Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 9.2. Quoted in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle C (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 225.
At this time we remember in our prayers all those in Atlantic Canada who have been impacted by hurricane Fiona.
The following is a prayer shared online by Bishop Bruce Myers, of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec.
Almighty God, by your Word you laid the foundations of the earth, set the bounds of the sea, and still the wind and waves. Surround us with your grace and peace, and preserve us through this storm. By your Spirit, lift up those who may fall, strengthen those who will work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Puzzling Parable - Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 18, 2022)
Scripture Readings: Amos 8:4–7 | Psalm 113 | 1 Timothy 2:1–7 | Luke 16:1–13
“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13).
What in the world are we supposed to do with the parable in our Gospel reading this morning?
Few of the sayings of Jesus can trip us up quite like this one: a parable about a dishonest manager… praised by his master for acting shrewdly while trying to save himself.
It seems like such a bizarre, and out of place example… an image completely at odds with the way of life Christ calls His disciples to follow… the way of faith and faithfulness… trust and trustworthiness. No wonder so many of us simply shake our heads and skip over this passage.
But this strange story from Jesus is also a part of His Good News for us and for our world. So rather than passing it by, let’s take a closer look and listen to the voice of our loving Master, and seek to understand what He is giving to us.
Part of the problem, I think, is that we’re not all that used to parables… at least, we’re not used to hearing them the way that Jesus uses them. In the Gospels, these short but powerful stories and word-pictures have a very particular purpose: they’re not “timeless truths”, or “sage advice”, but glimpses of what the Living God is up to… glimpses into the mission of Jesus Christ, calling for our response. Though we might be able to glean all sorts of other wisdom and insights from Christ’s parables, first and foremost, they are imaginative invitations to understand God’s Kingdom in a new light. If we misunderstand this purpose, we’ll likely miss out on what they mean.
With all this in mind, lets quickly go over the story again:
A dishonest manager get’s ‘busted’, and his master gives him notice of termination: “Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer” (Luke 16:2).
The ex-manager then panics, and jumps into ‘self-preservation’ mode. His primary concern? How am I ever going to survive once this job is taken away? He’s suddenly feeling vulnerable, and starts weighing his options.
He quickly settles on a strategy to set himself up well in the uncertain days to come: still in possession of his master’s business records, he drastically cuts the debts of those who owe his master money… hoping to make some friends who will remember his unjust generosity, and offer him hospitality and welcome him into their homes. His master then hears all about the scheme, and admires his ex-managers shrewdness. That is, his forward-thinking practical judgment about how to respond to the crisis… even if it was a crisis of his own making.
What’s the point… the purpose of this parable? Remember, it’s not a roadmap for best business practices… or just
general guidelines for life… Christ’s parables are about God’s Kingdom, and how we as God’s people respond to it.
So what does Christ say? Luke 16:8-9, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Use our money to make friends… so when it’s all gone, we too will be welcomed. OK… but what in the world does this have to do with the Kingdom of God? How does all this connect with what Jesus was, and still is, up to?
It seems that in this case, Christ is offering a warning… by contrasting the dishonest but decisive wisdom of the world which looks ahead, sees trouble, and acts quickly… with the apparent cluelessness of the children of light, who don’t recognize the coming crisis and risk losing everything we have been given. Part of the point is to urge God’s people to quickly get our priorities straight… to use what we have right now, and which will not last forever, to work for what is everlasting.
But although this parable uses the images of money and wealth, it’s about way more than that… encompassing everything that God’s people have been entrusted with. That is, it’s about what it means to be a faithful servant of our Heavenly Master, who will not ignore the dishonest, and unjust practices of His servants.
Our First Reading today from the prophet Amos should be ringing in our ears now… where the Lord warned His people Israel that their wickedness and greed would not go unnoticed or unanswered. Starting at verse 2 of Amos Chapter 8, this is what God says to His people:
“Then the Lord said to me,
‘The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.’”
According to Amos, Israel, God’s covenant people, had turned from His holy ways and become corrupt… trampling the needy, oppressing the poor… and chasing after dishonest wealth. They were no longer serving the Lord, but serving money… following their own desires… they had failed to faithfully manage their Master’s affairs, and were now being called to account.
In the light of these warnings from Amos, as well as the warnings of many of Israel’s prophets, the New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright makes this claim about the meaning of our parable: “If we were faced with a first-century Jewish story we’d never seen before, about a master and a steward, we should know at once what it was most likely about. The master is God; the steward is Israel. Israel is supposed to be God’s property-manager, the light of God’s world, responsible to God and set over his possessions. But Israel—as we’ve seen in so much of this gospel—has failed in the task, and is under threat of imminent dismissal.” And again, in another place he writes “Jesus regularly charges his contemporaries with infidelity to their commission: called to be the light of the world, they have kept the light for themselves, and have turned it into darkness.”
In other words, Israel had mismanaged what had been entrusted to them: the opportunity to share God’s light and life and holy love with the world, and with each other. But as they had lost this sense of their mission… like the dishonest manager, and Jesus now warned that the time would soon come when they would have this honoured role taken away.
Almost two thousand years after these words of warning were first spoken… are we Christians paying attention? Have we been any better at managing our Master’s affairs?
This passage speaks to all God’s people… to Israel, to the first disciples… and to the Church today… to all who would follow Jesus Christ into the way of life. In it, Christ warns that how we handle what has been given to us really does matter… not only our money, but our whole lives as God’s children, and our precious opportunities to share the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12).
The sad truth is, the Church today is not all that better off than Israel was in the days of the prophet Amos. We too have often turned away from the Living God, and chased after our own desires… our own interests… our own sense of security, and power.
And like the dishonest manager, when our own way of life feels threatened, we too can quickly jump into self-preservation mode… more concerned with our own survival and comfort than with being faithful to our Master, and what He’s entrusted to our care.
Like Israel in Jesus’ day, we Christians will also be called to account for what we have done with what we’ve been given. And we too will face the just judgment of our Master.
But the Good News is, Jesus did not just come to pronounce judgement on God’s people… He came to be judged along with us … to take our failures and sins upon Himself at the cross… and more than that, to make a way for us all to face God’s just judgement and yet find grace and life… cancelling our debts by His own blood to rescue and reconcile us to the Living God forever.
As we heard in our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
Unlike the dishonest manager, who desperately tried to buy his survival by cheating his master, Jesus Christ came to fulfill His Father’s will to rescue us rebels, and lead us all into the truth.
All through His life, and especially at the cross, Jesus was the one true and faithful servant of God, surrendering everything in order that, through Him, all of us could become God’s friends and be welcomed into His eternal home. This is what Jesus came to do… this is the Kingdom He came to bring about: turning dishonest stewards and corrupt caretakers into faithful children of light… drawing Israel and all nations together into God’s family.
If this is the glimpse of God’s Kingdom that this parable offers to us, how are we called to respond to it? How does this parable still speak to us today?
We’ve already noted that this parable is a warning… that we too can have what we have been entrusted with taken away… especially if we persist in squandering what belongs to our Master.
It also serves as a reminder that God’s Kingdom does not call us to amass money or possessions for our own self-protection or survival, even when we can see times of great challenge and change on the horizon. Our primary calling as the Church is not simply to survive, but to be faithful with all that we have in order to share God’s generous welcome with each other, but just as importantly, with those who have not yet come to know the One who has cancelled their debts at the cross. N.T. Wright puts it beautifully: “The master loves the world outside, and wants stewards who will seek its salvation, not merely their own.”
This parable also reminds us of our calling: to act decisively and be faithful with what little we have… our money, yes… but also our time, our abilities, and our opportunities to share God’s love with everyone around us… fostering communities where all can experience God’s welcome. This isn’t easy, especially when we are feeling vulnerable and uncertain. But it is precisely when things are toughest that we need to cling to the core work of God’s Kingdom. Again, Wright says it well: “The church passes through turbulent times, and frequently needs to reassess what matters and what doesn’t.”
So, how will you and I, and all of us here at St. Luke’s use all that we have been given? How is Christ calling us to be faithful servants of God’s Kingdom? What can we do to help others come to know the truth of what Jesus has done to save us all? How can we help them, and each other experience God’s welcome today? Amen.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 194.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 106.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 107.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 195.
In our Gospel Reading this week we hear a parable, a short and puzzling story or word picture, that Jesus tells to His disciples. For those of us trying to follow Jesus today, this parable seems pretty strange, and it's not always that easy for us to understand the point our Lord is trying to make.
Part of the problem, it seems, is that Jesus uses His parables in a particular way: not simply to offer us wisdom, or spiritual advice, but as a way to reveal God's Kingdom, and what He is really up to.
For a bit more on how Jesus uses parables, and their deeper meaning, check out this great video by the folks at The Bible Project.
Or to dig even deeper, check out their 7 part Podcast Series on the Parables.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Two Sides... - Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 11, 2022)
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15).
There are two sides to every story… and coin… and sheep, I suppose.
In our Gospel reading today St. Luke gives us two parables from Christ: storied images meant to tell us something important about the surprising Kingdom work that He is up to in the world.
The first is about someone who was willing to leave behind a flock of ninety-nine, in order to go searching for one solitary lost sheep.
The second tells of a woman who turns the whole house upside down… searching everywhere for just one lost coin, even though she still has nine more.
Both parables end with joy, and the invitation to celebrate because what was lost is finally found. A powerful image of our salvation. These two stories have offered much comfort, and strengthened the faith of many over the centuries, reminding us that at the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ is God’s searching, rescuing love for us… and the mind-blowing lengths He went to to bring us home.
Of course, that’s true of the entire story of Scripture as a whole… this majestic theme of God’s rescuing love runs all the way through it.
Like in our reading from Exodus today, where we see Israel on the brink of disaster. At the very moment when Israel was entering into a sacred covenant partnership with the YAHWEH, the LORD, we hear God’s chosen people had forsaken Him, building an idol to worship, and spitting on His honour, justice, and goodness.
And yet the LORD makes room for Moses to intercede, to stand up for His sin-filled people and plead on their behalf… and so the people are spared. Much damage was done to their relationship, but the way forward was preserved. The Living God would continue to go with them and lead them to the Promised Land.
And again, in our reading from first Timothy today, we heard St. Paul tell of how God’s grace had found him out, and turned his life around. Turned from a persecutor of the Church to a penitent, faithful servant, St. Paul had seen up close the difference God’s mercy can make.
Both of these stories reveal God’s heart of love as well, in their own special ways: Though the crisis at Sinai pushed God’s plans for Israel to the very limits, God prompts Moses to pray on their behalf, and then God listens to those prayers… showing Himself to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7a).
And though St. Paul’s story was filled with bloodshed and regret, he came to see it as an example of the greatness of God’s love: “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15).
From Moses to St. Paul, to you and I today, this is what God has been up to all along: seeking out and saving those who are lost… not as something extra on the side, but as the very core of all Christ has come to do! It’s the reason that all of us are here today… to receive God’s gracious gift of life offered to us through the work of His faithful Son.
We are the lost sheep. We are the lost coin. We are the ones who had turned our backs on God, and needed someone to pray for our salvation. We too are sinners, sought out and saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
This is one side of the story. One side of the coin.
But what is the other side? What else is it that these parables of Jesus have to tell us today?
We’re used to thinking of ourselves as the sheep that Jesus pursued… the one who wandered, but who was finally found by love and brought safely home.
But what if we’re actually also one of the ninety-nine in this story? Or one of the nine coins safe and sound inside the woman’s purse?
No less loved. No less valued or precious… but what if Christ’s actually calling us to be concerned about, and join with Him searching after those ones that aren’t yet safe at home? What if theses stories aren’t all about just you and I?
St. Luke tells us that Jesus had a specific reason for telling these two parables: Luke 15:1-2, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
Religious folk were frustrated that Jesus was spending His time with the wrong sort of people. People that no one who was truly close to God would want to welcome.
Who comes to mind when we hear the word “sinner” today? Or maybe that word’s too familiar… too spiritualized… Who is it that we can’t even imagine welcoming into our door, or to share at our table? Who are the ones we would rather Christ not care about?
I’m sure we all have our reasons why. The Pharisees and scribes had their reasons too. But this is the other side of the story… the other side of the coin: How are we going to respond to God’s searching, saving love… for other people? Especially for other people that we might, on our own, want nothing to do with?
Christ spells it out for us: “Rejoice with Me. Rejoice with Me.”
Jesus invites us to share in His joy with all who come to Him. Because all His sheep belong together. All His coins are precious. There’s no hierarchy of importance or worthiness among God’s children. No first and second class. No inner circle. No outcasts.
So why do so many of God’s people today seem to struggle so hard with this one? Why is it that Christians of all people are often seen as those most likely to look down on our neighbours? Why are we the ones with the reputation for being judgmental and standoffish? Who have so much trouble inviting others to join in the joy of heaven?
One answer is that we’ve forgotten the real meaning of the first side of the story. We’ve forgotten the depths of the love of God for sinners like us. For everyone.
I’m convinced that the Pharisees and scribes were so upset that Jesus was welcoming sinners because they had lost any sense that they had at onetime needed saving themselves. And the same temptation lies before us all the time: the temptation to forget the generous love of our Father, and frown disapprovingly at those who are drawing near to Christ, but who don’t measure up to our particular standards.
But what are God’s standards to be saved? First of all, that they are lost! That’s the starting point… as N.T. Wright so helpfully describes: “What was it, after all, about that one lost sheep that made the shepherd go after it? It wasn’t the one with the woolliest coat. It wasn’t the one with the sweet, almost human bleat. It wasn’t the one that regularly nuzzled up close to his knees. It was simply the one that was lost. No qualification except a disqualification. No structure to its life, no good sense, no obedience. That was the one that got the ride home on the shepherd’s shoulders. That was the one that made the angels sing for joy.”
The sheep, the coin… they’re searched after and found because they are lost. They’re just as precious, just as valued, just longed for as the others… and nothing else was needed in order to make them worthy of rescue. The sole motivation behind the search is the saving love of the one searching, and their Saviour's longing for all to share together in the joy of perfect reunion.
Bottom line: we’re not saved because we deserve it, and others don’t. We’re saved by the great love of God, who has reached out to us in Jesus His Son, and who’s still at work through the Spirit reaching out to everyone else as well. This is Christ’s mission, and as His people it must be at the heart of our life too.
Again, this theme runs through all of Scripture: the saving love of God offered to sinners, none of whom deserve it.
In the moment of crisis at Mt. Sinai, as the scholar Brevard Childs points out, “Moses does not attempt to excuse or mitigate Israel’s sin, but he seeks to overcome it by falling back ultimately on what God can do in making a future possible.” In other words, Moses calls on God to forgive, and to somehow bring life out of the death that Israel had rightly earned for themselves. And that’s what He does. Time and time again, the LORD remains faithful, and listens to the prayers of those who intercede to save His people.
And again, St. Paul was convinced that he was turned around by God’s grace, not his own worthiness. Wright makes the point well: “He wasn’t just a lost sheep; he was a wolf, harrying and devouring the flock. But even he received mercy, so that he might serve as an example. If he could be rescued, anyone could.”
If St. Paul could be rescued, anyone could. Anyone could. Anyone CAN! Because it’s not we who do the saving…
Jesus Christ is the One who still searches for every lost sheep, and every lost coin… He’s the One interceding for all of us, even in the midst of our worst failures… He’s the One who can turn all our hearts around by His love, and turn our lives into signs of God’s great forgiveness at work… He’s the One who bids us all share with Him in the joy of His Father in heaven.
Both sides of the story, both sides of the coin, God’s searching, saving love… for you and I, and for everyone, come together in Jesus Christ, who came and found us at the cross, and lost His life to rescue ours… and rose again to reunite us with God and with each other in His eternal joy.
We are the rescued sheep who had once wandered. We are the recovered coin, that once was lost. We are the people who turned away from our LORD, yet received forgiveness. We are sinners, saved by “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 1:14).
So then, if this is who we are… how does that change how we see everyone else? If we were once lost, but now are found, how will we treat those who aren’t yet in the fold? As those Christ loves and longs to save, and bring back rejoicing? As those, like us, embraced not because we did something to deserve it… as those, like us, saved by the mercy and grace of God alone? Equally dependent on the rescuing love of Jesus?
I’ll close now with a prayer from the writings of St. Basil: “O Lord, the helper of the helpless, the hope of those who are past hope, the savior of the tempest-tossed, the harbor of the voyagers, the physician of the sick; you know each soul and our prayer, each home and its need; become to each one of us what we most dearly require, receiving us all into your kingdom, making us children of light; and pour on us your peace and love, O Lord our God. Amen." ” 
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 104–105.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 568.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 105.
 Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, found in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle C (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 212.
A Statement from the Bishop of Fredericton,
"What a life. What an extraordinary life.
And yet the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a shock to our sense of permanence, because of her long and steadfast reign, which helped us make sense of our identity as a nation. It was a reign that was not only for the United Kingdom. It was a reign that was for the whole world. Round the world in the work I do I hear so many people who spoke of her not as anything other than The Queen. She showed us permanence. She gave us a sense that life wouldn’t change, and so with her death, we feel that permanence is rocked. And for many of us it is almost impossible to imagine a world without her.
For all those who yesterday found themselves bereaved in their own families or from their own friends, because many other people died yesterday, they will know especially that sense of great loss, the uncertainty, the loss of identity, the fading of what seemed permanent.
But that is the lie of death.
For Her Late Majesty showed us that when we build our lives on God’s faithfulness, we are on the solid ground of eternity that cannot be shaken..."
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
We read Holy Scripture together not simply to learn new information about God’s dealings with humanity in the past, but also to listen in faith to what the Living God is saying to us His people today. We listen to His Word to draw closer to Him, and to one another.
This week, as we did for much of the Summer, we will be engaging with the Scriptures in a more open-ended way: carving out some time for silent contemplation, as well as sharing some questions for further reflection, rather than having our usual Sermons.
After every Scripture Reading in the At-Home Morning Prayer service, we’re all invited to take a few moments (1-2 minutes) in silence to reflect upon the passage, and how God’s Spirit might be addressing us through it, as individuals or as a community.
In those moments, pay attention to any words, ideas, or images that stand out to you. In the silence afterwards, ask God to help you hear His heart for you today.
After the Gospel is read, and we’ve taken a moment to in silence to reflect upon it, review the Reflection Questions for the week that Pastor Rob has prepared to help us dig in a bit deeper.
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