Scripture Readings: Exodus 17:1–7 | Psalm 78:1–4, 12–16 | Philippians 2:1–13 | Matthew 21:23–32
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…
The choices we make each day reveal a whole lot about what matters most to us. How we respond to our circumstances says a great deal about what we believe in.
This week many watched as our neighbours to the South endured yet another round in what seems like their never ending political battle. This time, it was disputes around the approval of funding for their federal government… disputes that highlight the deep divisions not only between the two rival parties, but also the factions within the parties themselves… infighting that threatened to bring an incredibly powerful country to a standstill, freezing funding for federal employees, and shutting down all sorts of programs that their citizens rely on.
It’s yet another display of shameless arguments over power… fighting about who’s will is done… while millions are placed in a state of insecurity, facing unnecessary hardships and pain… without a clear pathway forward.
It’s another dramatic example… but it’s certainly nothing new. Time and again history shows us that those who seek to wield power and authority over others have been tempted to make use of it without real regard for how those without that power will be affected.
And we know this isn’t just a temptation for politicians… but for us all, and even the Church has shared in this broken abuse of authority, as the tragic story of residential schools reminds us. This weekend, we mark the Nation Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and as Anglicans we must remember the part that our own branch of the Church has played in using spiritual, social, and cultural power to remove indigenous children from their families and communities, and through force… and in many cases outright cruelty… tried to erase their identities… and to remake them in our own image.
My point is that when Christians seize control in the world, we can be just as self-centered and oblivious to the misery of others as anyone else. God’s people are not immune to these temptations… we all share in a common capacity for corruption, and the abuse of power.
The writers of the Holy Scriptures knew this well enough. And while at times in the Scriptures we find God’s people in places of authority, on the whole the Bible was written from the perspective of those without earthly power… penned by those who lived in a near constant state of vulnerability, and in danger of losing everything. And so, the Bible frequently addresses the concerns of those of us who are powerless… inviting us to learn to live God’s way in those moments we feel the most threatened, afraid, and alone.
In our reading from Exodus this morning we heard how the Israelites responded when they found themselves without water as they wandered in the wilderness. Despite the amazing ways that the Living God had delivered them, and provided for them, they didn’t trust God, or Moses, the man God had chosen to serve as their leader. They didn’t believe that God was truly with them… even though He was, despite their doubts.
And in our Gospel reading, St. Matthew tells of an encounter between Jesus and the Jewish Temple leadership… the chief priests and the elders of the people. Those used to calling the shots in Jerusalem.
They clearly don’t trust Jesus, and come to confront Him in the Temple, questioning His actions and the supposed source of His authority… finding their own positions of influence undermined by His ministry, and worried that this nobody from Nazareth might stir up Rome to come and use their overwhelming military power to wipe away everything that the leaders in Jerusalem had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to preserve.
Thirsting in a dry desert, and trying to keep a challenging and controversial teacher in check… These are situations we’re not likely to face here in Gondola Point. But what are the ways that we feel powerless today? What challenges are we facing that make it hard to trust in the Living God today?
Economic shakeups? Rising global tensions? Cultural shifts and changes that surround us with the unfamiliar and the confusing? Grief, and the sudden or growing recognition of our own mortality? Losing those we deeply love? There are lots of ways we feel powerless.
We may never wander in a dry desert… but there will be plenty of times when we feel like we’ve been led to a dead end, with no possible way forward.
We may never have to try to hold together the fate of our country in the face of hostile forces… but there may be plenty of moments when we feel that the fate of everything we love lies squarely on our shoulders alone.
In those dry wildernesses of life, when we don’t seem to have what we need… what do we do?
In those crucial moments when our sense of control is challenged… our actions questioned, and our vision for the future is undermined… how do we respond?
Are we quick to complain? To catastrophize? To cut down others in order to feel secure?
The choices we make each day reveal a whole lot about what matters most to us. How we respond to our circumstances says a great deal about what we believe in. And Who we believe in.
Back in Exodus, the LORD graciously provides water for His grumbling, distrustful people, but as they continue down their path of mistrust, they increase the strain on their vital relationship with their Saviour… pulling their hearts and lives away from Him, rather than faithfully sharing in His fellowship. And yet… God’s gift of living water invites them to draw near in faith again… to come to Him even when they are powerless and afraid, and trust in His saving love.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus confronted the leaders of Jerusalem in such a way that He exposed their hypocrisy… revealing that they were far more concerned with holding onto their own security and power than with sharing in God’s Kingdom at work right before their eyes.
They asked who gave Jesus the authority to say and do the things He was saying and doing, but Jesus turns it around and asks them what they thought of John the Baptist: that controversial preacher of repentance that King Herod had recently put to death.
To side against John the Baptist would be politically disastrous… they would lose the support from the common people, who thought John had been a prophet. But to side with John would then require them to drastically change the path they were on… to make very different choices and actually respond to John’s message… and ultimately to follow the One John himself had claimed was sent by God, and even greater than himself. After all, as N.T. Wright points out: “It was at John’s baptism of Jesus that the voice from heaven had named Jesus as Messiah, God’s beloved son.”
But Jesus’ words were not just a clever trap exposing their unbelief… but a challenge… a bold invitation to turn around and to trust Him… to make a clear choice to let go of their own agendas, and respond in faith to His words and His Kingdom work … an invitation to believe that He is God’s Messiah, God’s chosen King, and trusting Him, to bow their knees and hearts to Him. N.T. Wright goes on: “Now that the chief priests were in a rebellious state, they too, like the ne’er-do-wells, could have changed their minds and obeyed after all. Even at this stage the challenge contains a coded final appeal.”
How might Jesus be appealing to you and I today through the challenges we are facing?
Do we believe that the Spirit of God is still speaking to us through the Holy Scriptures in our times of powerlessness and insecurity… telling us that we can trust Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son sent to save us and to save God’s world… even when we feel like we don’t have what we need… or that we’re being asked to surrender our hopes, and plans, and even our fears into His hands?.
The Good News is we can trust Him, and not just because we believe He’s all powerful, and we’re not… but because of what Jesus has done with His power… because of what He shows us God’s power really looks like in action.
In His letter to the Philippians, St. Paul reminds us of God’s way to handle power, which Jesus our Saviour lived out for us all:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus did not grasp after influence. Or demand that others give in to His agenda… but instead He entrusted Himself to the love of His Heavenly Father, and He let go.
He emptied Himself… of all the honour and glory that were truly His, in order to share in the fate of those without honour and glory… to join Himself to the powerless, the oppressed, and the forsaken.
The Son of God allowed Himself to be publicly shamed… stripped of all apparent authority, and brutally executed as the lowest of the low.
And He did this all out of love. Love for His Father, love for His sin-filled, powerless people… love even for His enemies.
The choices that Jesus made reveal a whole lot about what matters most to Him. How He responded to His circumstances says a great deal about what He believes in: the Living God’s powerful self-giving love, which even death cannot undo.
And the cross is where we see God’s powerful love at work: at the moment when we were all at our worst, the Living God overturns our whole world’s failure and turns it into glory.
“Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord reigns… even when we find ourselves in dry deserts. And He reigns even when we must surrender the things that make us feel secure and in control. He reigns even when those who seem to call the shots here on earth make disastrous decisions… and everything seems to be falling apart.
Jesus reigns… and He calls you and I to live His way in His world. To let His powerful love… a love that trust’s Him enough to let go… to guide us. And to correct us. And to provide for us. And shape everything that we do. So that our daily choices, and responses to life’s challenges reflect His love more and more… and so that we can share God’s powerful love with one another, and with our world.
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ,” St. Paul says, “any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
You and I are meant to share in the mind of Christ… to actually become Christlike. Not through our own power, but through God’s power… and God’s Spirit at work in us.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, an ancient Christian theologian wrote these words about Jesus our Lord, and what He has come to do: “He humbled himself, according to the Scriptures, taking on himself the form of a slave. He became like us that we might become like him. The work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by grace into a perfect copy of his humbling.”
He became like us that we might become like Him… transformed by God’s Holy Spirit to chose to live God’s way, and let His good and perfect will matter to us more than our own anxieties or agendas.
I’ll end now with these words from St. Paul’s letter:
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Amen.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001), 108.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001), 109.
 Cyril of Alexandria, Festal Letter 10.4., in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 221.
This weekend we marked the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, a day calling Canadians to remember the tragic legacy and impact of residential schools for generations of indigenous peoples, to support the healing and restoration of their lives and communities in the present, and to affirm our commitment to working towards restored trust, respect, and reconciliation in the days to come.
As Christians in the Diocese of Fredericton, we have a particular calling to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in relation to all these things, which includes real repentance for our Church's role in the damage done, as well as actively embodying the Living God's compassion and love for our indigenous neighbours.
We acknowledge that the diocese conducts its activities on the traditional and unceded territory of the Wabanaki people, which includes the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Peskotomuhkati nations. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship,” entered into with the British Crown in the 1700s, to establish an ongoing relationship of peace, friendship, and mutual respect.
And in particular, we humbly pray for God's mercy and healing.
Here is a prayer to help us do this, entitled Remembering the Children, shared by the Anglican Church of Canada:
God of our Ancestors,
who holds the spirits of our grandmothers and grandfathers
and the spirits of our grandchildren,
Remembering the Children,
we now pledge ourselves to speak the Truth,
and with our hearts and our souls
to act upon the Truth we have heard
of the injustices lived,
of the sufferings inflicted,
of the tears cried,
of the misguided intentions imposed,
and of the power of prejudice and racism
which were allowed to smother the sounds and laughter of
the forgotten children.
Hear our cries of lament
for what was allowed to happen, and for what will never be.
In speaking and hearing and acting upon the Truth
may we as individuals and as a nation
meet the hope of a new beginning.
Great Creator God
who desires that all creation live in harmony and peace,
Remembering the Children
we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation
where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart
and the chance of restoring the circle,
where justice walks with all,
where respect leads to true partnership,
where the power to change comes from each heart.
Hear our prayer of hope,
and guide this country of Canada
on a new and different path. Amen
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
The reading of Holy Scripture together as a community has been a central part of Christian worship throughout the Church’s long history, and it has deep roots within the spiritual and communal practices of Israel.
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.
In addition, here is a link to a short video put out by the Bible Project exploring the important practice of the Communal or Public Reading of Scripture.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Reflection Questions this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Through the Waters, To A New Beginning - Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 17, 2023)
Scripture Reading: Exodus 14:19–31 | Psalm 114 | Romans 14:1–12 | Matthew 18:21–35
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:7-9).
Water is a complicated thing in the Holy Scriptures.
It is of course essential… a basic necessity for the flourishing of Creation. Without water, there can be no life. But with it, life abounds. It truly is a gift from God.
And yet, water is also an image of dangerous, unpredictable power. And no wonder! We got a taste of water’s force this weekend, as the overly warm waters of the South Atlantic helped to generate Hurricane Lee, a storm which made its way to us here in the Maritimes.
Further afield, we’ve also heard about the devastating flooding in Libya this week. Over ten thousand lives were lost as dams burst, and the waters raged. Let us keep Libya, and especially the flood’s survivors, in our prayers in the days to come, as they mourn their incredible loss, and seek to rebuild their lives again.
For many ancient cultures, including those in the Bible, water… particularly the vast saltwater oceans and seas, held deep symbolic significance: they represented the abyss… the fierce chaotic forces always threatening to undo creation… the home of monsters and dragons… the realm of no return.
It’s no accident that in the first pages of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, God separates the waters and makes dry land appear so that new life can begin. Or that when, a few chapters later, all of humanity was hell-bent on destroying God’s good world with violence, that the flood-waters returned, washing away all but Noah’s family, so that humanity, might have a new, albeit still very broken, beginning.
And in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus, we heard of another key biblical story in which the Living God brings about a new beginning through the waves: freed for a moment from Pharoah’s grasp by God’s dramatic acts of deliverance, Israel was on it’s way out of the land of Egypt, and into the land the LORD had promised their ancestors.
But they found their way blocked by the abyss… the waters of the sea stood in their way… and suddenly Pharaoh’s army shows up behind them, trapping them between Egyptian swords and the watery depths. Death seemed to be their destiny… but the LORD was determined to save them.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22). And when Egypt’s army pursued them, the waters closed in again, washing them all away. Israel was saved through the waters of death, for a new life with the Living God on the other side.
The crossing of the Red Sea marks the dramatic break between Israel’s old life, and their new beginning, reminding them that what lay ahead would look nothing like what lay behind them… and that they could truly trust the Living God to lead them into life.
And this story points forward to God’s ultimate act of deliverance in Jesus Christ, God’s own beloved Son sent to rescue God’s beloved world and bring it a new beginning.
At the start of His ministry, the Gospels tell us that Jesus passed through the waters of the Jordan River… baptized by John, and identified with those Israelites who were again turning their hearts to the LORD with repentance and trust. In that moment, His unique connection to God the Father and God the Spirit was revealed, driving home how firmly united all Three divine Persons were, and would be in all that was to come.
And Jesus would once again pass through the waters, not of the Jordan, but the deep waters of no return… entering the abyss of death at the cross, washed away along with all the wickedness of the world, to set us free.
But the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be ultimately overwhelmed by any flood, and in God’s steadfast love, Jesus was raised again, overcoming death once and for all, to share God’s new resurrection life, and a new beginning for all.
And we the Church, followers of Jesus Christ who place our hope and faith in Him, have already begun to share in Christ’s new life, united to Jesus in His death and resurrection. In our own baptisms, we cling in faith to Christ, and through His Spirit at work in us, God leads us from our old broken ways to the New Life shaped by His holy love, which even the waves of death cannot overcome.
One day, like everyone since the beginning, we will die. But in Christ we know our physical death will some day give way to a physical resurrection like Jesus our Saviour, a new beginning, fully embodied, but filled with the power of God’s the Holy Spirit, united together with Jesus in the love of God for all eternity.
In many ways, all this remains a mystery… but because of Jesus, it’s a mystery we believe to be reality. As St. Paul writes in Romans 14:7-9, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
We are the Lord’s… whether we live or die.
Like Israel, once through the waters, we have a whole new adventure ahead of us. They were set free from Pharaoh’s power, not to wander each on their own way, but move forward together as God’s people in the world… to the destination that the LORD had in mind for them. Learning to live together His way.
And for us Christians, we’re not simply baptized… passed through the waters… to go our own way on the other side. Baptism is just a first step in a new journey, living God’s way… now no longer as one nation, but as God’s multi-ethnic, and beautifully diverse family that we humans were always intended to be.
Even so, as we know, this ‘new way’ presents us with many challenges: ones that can feel pretty overwhelming. How can we actually start to live God’s way in the world? Learning to put His holy love into practice in everything?
For the most part, our world is not asking this kind of question. It’s far more concerned with other matters. And many times in our history, Christians have forgotten God’s ways, and tried to be more like our neighbours… swept along with the current of whatever our culture says matters most, or just going our own ways, instead of moving towards the New Life God has prepared for us.
But this morning, our two readings from the New Testament remind us of God’s way… highlighting for us two very important facets of this New Life this new beginning we have been given as God’s family, both of which might seem unsafe… dangerous… and even likely to bring about our end at times… but our Saviour Jesus leads us through them both, not to overwhelm us, but to share His New Life with us… and those around us.
The first of these dangerously deep waters that Jesus leads us to in St. Matthew’s Gospel is forgiveness.
In Chapter 18, St. Peter asks a pretty important question for those who want to live alongside others about the reasonable limits of forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Seventy-seven times. That’s quite a number… and oddly specific. I’m sure many of us would have a hard time wrapping our heads around forgiving someone even seven times, as St. Peter suggested… but seventy-seven times? That sounds a little extreme.
And it is extreme. Jesus is trying to make it as clear as possible for us what kind of life God has shared with us… the kind of life built on forgiveness, not vengeance.
This clearly stands out from the ways of our world, where ‘getting even’ in one form or another consumes so much energy, and tears apart so many lives. And even in the first few pages of the Bible, in Genesis Chapter 4, we hear an account of this spirit of violence and pride at work in one of Cain’s descendants, a man named Lamech.
As we might remember, Cain was the first murderer: out of envy and anger, he killed his innocent brother. But God had mercy on Cain, and offered to protect him from the violence of others he would meet. God promised that “Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” (Genesis 4:15). In this way, God sought to spare even a murderer’s life, and stop the spiral of violence, and vengeance from spreading.
But several generations later, Lamech looked at God’s promise to Cain, and twisted it to be used to intimidate others, threatening those who insult or injure him with death. In Genesis 4:23-24, Lamech proclaims
“I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
And so the cycle of bloodshed grows, throughout humanity’s story. ‘If you do wrong to me, I’ll get you back... seventy-seven times worse.’
But Jesus flips all this on it’s head. He shows us God’s way is not too escalate retaliation, but to abundantly forgive.
To go far beyond the reasonable limits when it comes to seeking reconciliation, setting each other free from our failures and faults… to find a way forward together.
Jesus then tells a powerful parable, highlighting the logic of forgiveness at work within God’s family: that we must extend to each other what God has already given to us.
For how can we presume to receive God’s gracious forgiveness ourselves in Jesus Christ, and then withhold it from each other?
Jesus’ command far exceeds the expectations of His followers, back then and today. Even now, we can hear the voice of those who call themselves Christians calling for bloody vengeance, and targeting others around them with brutality. But imagine if God were to do the same thing to us whenever we fail? That’s what Jesus calls us to do: to reject the way of wrath, and to side with God’s gracious forgiveness instead. It might seem too dangerous to forgive… to unpredictable to step out and seek reconciliation. But Jesus leads us through these waters, and there is no other way that we can go to share in His New Life.
This leads us to the second dangerously deep abyss that Jesus calls us to cross, explored in St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome: the rejection of judgmentalism.
How many friendships, families, communities, and even churches have been torn apart by differences that ultimately don’t make any difference at all? How strong is the instinct that has been polarizing so much of our world today? Looking down with distain at anyone who disagrees, and desperately grasping after power.
But speaking to the Roman Christians, a community struggling with many deeply ingrained divisions… especially those at work between Christians from Gentile and Jewish backgrounds, St. Paul shows us a very different way.
Romans 14:1, “Welcome those who are weak in faith”, he says…that is, those still struggling in the early stages of understanding the nature of God’s gracious, saving love offered to us all in Jesus Christ. The Church was not to be an elite order for spiritual experts, but a family where we are all welcomed, and continue growing in God’s love together.
And an important part of this flows from what St. Paul says next: all are welcomed “but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” Those who are weak in the faith… beginners, might struggle with knowing the nature of this new community. That unlike the world around us, it’s not based on common interests, shared preferences, or opinions, but on the saving grace and love of God for sinners revealed in Jesus Christ.
And the examples St. Paul touches on may not seem too important to us, but they were actually sources of deep divisions within many early Christian communities.
I mean, these days what we eat has become a pretty big concern for many. People have strong ideas about what is the most ethical, healthy, and morally sound diet, and it can make it hard to relate to those who make other choices about their food.
But back in St. Paul’s day, there were lots of other reasons, including religious reasons, why food was such a source of contention. In Gentile cities throughout the Roman world, meat was often purchased in markets after being sacrificed in pagan temples.
St. Paul makes the point elsewhere, in his letters, that mature Christians know that there’s only One God above all, and that any food received with gratitude to Him does us no spiritual harm. But St. Paul knew that not everyone’s able to see this yet. Some were still worried it would be a sin to eat such meat, so they just ate vegetables.
And St. Paul’s advice was not to get caught up in arguments… to seek the truth, but at the same time not to look down on those who don’t agree with you! Don’t judge them! Love them! Walk with them. Make concessions for them as younger siblings in God’s family, regardless of their age or status. In short, treat them God’s way: with patience, grace, and welcoming love, even when it’s hard. And over time, help them to grow in their faith, just as others have helped us grow.
But another reason why eating food might prove divisive had to do with differences of religious heritage: Jewish Christians might opt to eat only vegetables to avoid non-kosher foods. In order to maintain their intentional distinctiveness from the Gentiles all around them… including those in the Church, causing all sorts of tensions between these two groups.
And this relates to the other example St. Paul deals with: considering one day as more important. This likely refers to the practice of Sabbath, resting on the seventh day, which was a central mark of Jewish identity, that some were arguing was a necessary practice for all Gentile Christians too.
According to St. Paul, this ancient Sabbath practice was not bad, but it was also not binding for Christians… those kinds of distinctions aren’t what make God’s people unique anymore. Their new way of life in Jesus Christ is what counts now… seeking to honour the Lord with our whole lives. In short, we must learn to welcome, and share our lives with, and love people who are very different from us. This can feel scary, and unsafe, but if we are to live as God’s people today, we must leave judgmentalism behind, washed away, just as God welcomed us all through His Son.
In Romans 14:4, St. Paul says “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
Can we trust the Living God to deal with us in His own wisdom, and righteousness, and gracious love? Can we learn to welcome each other the way Christ welcomed us? Freely, in order to set us free by His own blood?
There will always be tensions and differences within the family of God. The question is: What is God’s way for us to deal with these differences? And with each other?
It’s not to abandon our commitment to the truth, to the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s saving love… the Living Faith we have received.
It’s not to retreat into our own private corners, and keep from Sharing the Hope we have been entrusted to extend to each other and to all those around us.
God’s ways forward is to continue to Grow in Love… to learn to walk with each other, even with our differences… to stay devoted to each other, despite the tensions that will arise from time to time. To offer compassion and care to each other, as Jesus Christ has offered to us all… especially at the cross… not to condemn, or seek vengeance, but to forgive and set even enemies free.
And though it might seem too daunting and dangerous of a path to open ourselves up to God’s forgiving and welcoming ways, we know that our Saviour Jesus has already passed through these dark waters, and with Him we will find His New Life at work in us… which is what we and our struggling world desperately needs: Signs of God’s new, forgiving, and welcoming beginning, that they too are invited to share in.
I’ll end now with a sonnet by the poet and priest Malcolm Guite, for the Baptism of Christ:
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-One;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings,
‘You are belovéd, you are my delight!’
In that swift light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quivering rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river,
To die and rise and live and love forever.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
New Food, For a New Way Forward - Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 10, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Exodus 12:1–14 | Psalm 149 | Romans 13:8–14 | Matthew 18:15–20
One of the things I really missed during the long days of COVID was sharing meals with others… eating alongside friends and neighbours in fellowship, and without fear.
It’s one of those things most of us took for granted. I mean, eating food is something we do each day, but which takes on a whole new level of purpose and meaning when it becomes something we do together.
In the womb, an unborn child is nourished directly from their mother… secretly, unconsciously… but once the child is born, they must begin to be fed in a whole new way. Now they must be sustained by love… by the gracious care and intentional provision of another human. Suddenly, they’re part of a community, and a whole new way of life opens up for them.
As God’s children, we too are nourished and sustained in a new way… by the grace love of God… rescued and invited into a whole new way of life. A way of life meant to be shared… picked up and practiced in community.
In our Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus this morning, we heard about a key moment of the saga of Abraham’s family: the first Passover, a sacred meal, inviting those who eat to share in the story of the Living God’s gracious rescue of Israel… saved from slavery in Egypt and given a brand new beginning… born into freedom for a whole new way to be God’s people together.
The celebration of Passover was to become a perpetual practice, an incredibly important reminder of how God had graciously delivered them: hearing their cries of distress, dramatically defeating their oppressors, and in every way inviting them to share in fellowship with Him; the Almighty Creator of all that is, sharing His Heavenly life with a people with no home, no land, no strength, and no future… and giving them everything they needed for a whole new kind of life.
On Passover, all of the congregation of Israel, in their own households were to kill a lamb, consume it together, and cover their doorposts with it’s blood, marking themselves off from those around them, as those ready to respond to God’s instructions… who believed in His deliverance:
Exodus 12:13, “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
This sacred meal marked the start of the Exodus… Israel leaving their old way of life as frightened and powerless slaves in Egypt behind… and it marks the start a new beginning for them as the rescued people of God.
Having eaten the lamb, and having been protected by its blood, in faith and obedience to the Living God, Israel was being formed into a new community… one meant to live God’s way in the world, and to share His rescuing love: telling and retelling the story of God’s salvation from generation to generation… by returning again and again to the table together… eating and drinking the sacred meal the Living God had set for them. A meal meant to shape every aspect of their lives… drawing them to their Saviour, so that they could share in His holy love.
And here we find ourselves today at St. Luke’s, one household within the worldwide Christian community, united across time and space by our response to God’s gracious and saving love: to what the Living God has done in Jesus Christ at the cross… the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
We believe the Good News of His self-giving love: laying down His own sinless life at the cross to rescue us sinners, and set us free from our sins, our guilt, and our shame. We believe in His resurrection, setting us free from the fear of death… the fear of abandonment, of loss, and rejection… the fear of our enemies… the fear of each other… and opening up for us a new way to live God’s way even now. A way that will never end… uniting us in Jesus to the Living God and to each other once and for all.
We believe Jesus died for us. That He was raised for us. And that He lives to sustain and save us… that we are baptised into His death and resurrection… in order to be born from above to share in His New Life.
By faith, we eat His body. We drink His blood, trusting in His perfect sacrifice and power to make us and our world new… to stir up in us God’s New Creation, through His Holy Spirit at work in us.
Jesus Christ is Himself our sacred, spiritual food… setting us free to leave our old ways behind, and to begin a whole new Exodus together… to share in the life of a new community… one meant to live God’s way in the world, and to share His rescuing love: telling and retelling the story of God’s salvation from generation to generation… returning again and again to the Lord’s Table together… eating and drinking the sacred meal that the Living God had set for us all. A meal meant to shape every aspect of our lives… drawing us closer to our Saviour, so that together, we can share in His holy love. And share it with all those around us.
The New life of God that Jesus has set us free to share in is His holy love… which has always been at the heart of what it means to be God’s people… together.
I know there are lots of questions that we Christians and whole Churches are asking these days… questions about what we should be doing in times like this to stay relevant, or to bring more people to us. Questions about how to keep our own communities alive and well, and able to last from generation to generation. Questions about who’s right and wrong… and how to best move forward in a strange and frightening world.
But one big question I believe we all need to be asking, again and again, is this: How do we really love one another? How does God’s holy love call us to live today?
In our reading from the letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds us of the centrality of love for those around us when it comes to living God’s way. Romans 13:8-10,
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
To be God’s people today… to be a Church family, a Christian community… means sharing together in God’s love. Drawing near to Jesus together to receive and reflect His self-giving love. We are fed and sustained by what Jesus has done for us all, but then we are called to offer the grace and compassion He offers us to each other… growing closer together in His love.
This all sounds great, but of course it’s not easy, as both the story of Israel and the Christan Church reminds us. And even Jesus prepared His disciples for the real challenges they would face as they sought to be His followers, a people shaped by His holy love.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives His followers instructions on how to deal with the divisions and the fallout from sin at work within their community… acknowledging that as we’re learning to live God’s ways, we will not always get it right.
Matthew 18:15-17, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” That is, as one who is now outside the fellowship, because they have chosen to break their fellowship with their fellow believers and not to be reconciled. This whole process is meant to pursue every opportunity for restoration and reconciliation, not to shame others, or play power games.
The point is that even though sharing God’s holy love is God’s will for His people, His love cannot be forced. We can resist it. We can reject it. We can turn against each other and wreak havoc within God’s family. But Christ shows us God’s love does not ignore discord, and the evil still at work in His people… but instead He charges us to deal with it. To be open ourselves to correction, and to seek reconciliation, and to leave our old ways of life behind for the sake of those around us.
In short, we cannot be careless in sharing God’s love. We must take it seriously.
Again, St. Paul’s words to us this morning ring true: Romans 13:11-14, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
‘Wake up’, we’re told, ‘and live in the light.’ Put on Jesus, and with Him take up a whole new way of life together.
Remembering that this is not a solo journey, but the new Exodus for God’s whole family. That none of us are meant to being doing this alone, but alongside our sisters and brothers in Christ. And even more, with Jesus Himself! With the Risen Lord, our Saviour, who promised that: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20).
It can be so easy to feel like we’re on our own though. To feel like it’s all resting on our shoulders, and that if we can’t keep things up it will all come crashing down around us.
Each one of us have areas in our lives where we feel like this, but this morning I want to touch on one example that we happen to share in common: the future fate of our Church.
St. Luke’s is a beautiful but small Church community. Thankfully, by God’s grace and the devotion of so many of you, we are still stable, and God’s Spirit is at work among us. But even so, as we look forward into truly unfamiliar territory, and see the world around us changing so fast, I know many of us at times are deeply afraid of losing our Church.
And this fear, while completely natural, can also get in the way of God’s holy love… making it harder to actually be the kind of community God set us free to share in, because we’re more concerned with holding onto what we know… than loving those around us.
When we find this fear at work inside us, we need to remember Jesus’ words: when even two or three are gathered together in His name… He will be with us!
In Jesus Christ the Risen Lord we are assured of our eternity, together with all of God’s people, throughout all of time. And even now, as we worship Him together we are actually gathering with the whole host of heaven! When we sing His praises, even if we only hear a few voices, we are truly joining in with the heavenly choir… glorifying the Living God together with all of Creation.
We could be a whole cathedral, packed full… or merely two Christians praying together by a bedside, and yet in that moment God is with us, and we are partaking in His Heavenly life.
Of course, it is right to acknowledge our fears, and concerns, and to faithfully do what we can to steward well what we have been entrusted with. And when we experience significant changes, or loss, it is good to grieve… to cry out to God, who hears and cares, and to bear our hearts to one other.
But as long as we faithfully draw near to God in Jesus Christ, and to each other in Him, we ultimately have nothing to fear. God’s holy love will see us through.
So then, if the way of holy love, which seeks to draw God’s often divided children back together again, is our new way of life… if this heavenly reunion is the future and freedom for which Jesus Christ gave His own precious body and blood to save and sustain, not only us, but everyone… what does this mean for how we seek to take part in it?
In other words: How do we really love one another? How does God’s holy love call us to live today?
Regardless of how long into the future our Parish continues to share in God’s mission, we here at St. Luke’s Gondola Point are called to fulfill the law of love… together, today. We’re called to let Christ’s love rule in our hearts, and our minds, and actions, and choices… sharing it with one another and all those around us. Receiving it from God’s Table in order to feed God’s hungry world. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 3:1–15 | Psalm 105:1–6, 23–26, 45 | Romans 12:9–21 | Matthew 16:21–28
“The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10).
As you may know, I did not grow up an Anglican. I was raised in the Free Methodist Church, which is much more common in Ontario and further West… a branch of the Methodist movement, which was begun by John and Charles Wesley, way back in the 1700’s and existing within the Church of England until after the brothers had died. The Methodist movement was begun with intention of helping Christian people to stay on track… to remain faithful to God’s calling in a time of great upheaval and challenges, instead of slipping into complacency, or compromise with evil at work in that corner of the world.
Anyway, I grew up as a Free Methodist, and cutting a very long story short, it was with the intention of becoming a Free Methodist pastor that I attended Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican seminary in the heart of Toronto.
After my time at that wonderful school, I was struggling to find a clear next step: there were very few positions open for me within the Free Methodist Church across the country, and those I had been able to explore ended up passing me over. It was a pretty disheartening time, to be sure.
Shortly after hearing back from one such congregation, I ran into one of my Wycliffe friends who encouraged me to check out New Brunswick, and explore ministry with the Anglican Church… which by that time I had come to know and love while attending Wycliffe. That conversation led Bethany and I to consider a whole new path forward… one with many unknowns, and also many exciting possibilities. One thing led to another, and soon we were on our way to the Kennebecasis Valley, for me to work with young people and pursue Anglican ordination. And the rest is history.
Years ago, I would never have imagined myself here, with the life and ministry I firmly believe God has invited me to share in. But it seems sometimes what we… and our whole world, really needs is a change of plans. To let our goals give way to God’s… and let Him guide the way.
In our Scripture readings today, we see two people called to a whole new path in life… one they could not have imagined, didn’t seem to want, and even strongly resisted. And yet, both of them would come to learn that the Living God draws us to Himself, not to give us what we think we want, but to change our lives for good by His holy love. And so, drawing near to this God requires us to respond with humility and trust, but it also opens us up to share His New Life… not only for us, but for our world.
In our first reading, we heard the story of the call of Moses: how the Living God encountered him in the wilderness, in the burning bush, and commissions him to go back to Egypt as His chosen messenger to bring freedom and deliverance to His oppressed people.
“Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…
The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-8a, 9-10)
Now this was not at all what Moses had wanted for himself. He was content to hide out in the wilderness… to start a new life as a shepherd, in Midian, and to avoid all the dangers of Egypt that he had fled. Confronting Pharaoh the mightiest King in the region on the behalf of a people he technically belonged to, but barely knew did not factor into his life goals at all. But it turns out, God had other plans.
Plans to turn Moses’ life, as unlikely as it may have seemed, into a means of His grace… to work through him to rescue Israel from their bondage and misery, and to reveal to them the good news that the God of all creation really does care for them. That He knows their pain, and their suffering, and that He will save them… changing their lives for good… so they can come to know and share their lives with their loving Saviour, and learn to walk in His ways.
Long story short, Moses runs out of excuses, and soon get’s swept up into God’s great rescue mission… empowered to lead the people of Israel out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into a New Life with the Living God.
If Moses had stuck to his old plans… think of how different the story would be… not just for Israel all those years ago, but even for you and I today… for our world. God drew him close to change his life for his own good, and for the good of us all.
Turning now to our reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, we heard Jesus teaching His followers about God’s plans for His own life… and how it would lead, not to triumph after triumph, but to suffering, to rejection, and to the cross.
Christ begins to let them in on God’s ultimate rescue mission: that He was heading to Jerusalem in order to confront the powers of darkness that held, not only His covenant people, but all of humanity trapped in bondage: breaking the chains of fear, of guilt, and of death. But this would mean choosing to suffer for the sake of all… bearing the sins and sorrows of the whole world on the cross. It would mean accepting humiliation, rejection, devastation, and a cruel, shameful death.
But doing so would reveal once and for all that the God of all creation really does care… not just for one people, or for “good” people… but for all. For sinners of all shapes and sizes. That He knows our pain, our failures, and our brokenness, and that He will save us… changing our lives for good… through His death and resurrection, so we can come to know and share our lives with our loving Saviour… so we could be filled with His Holy Spirit, and learn from Him to walk in God’s ways.
But not everyone was on board with the direction Jesus was plotting for Himself, and for their whole movement.
Matthew 16:22, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’”
And whether he understood this or not, St. Peter’s attempt to change the mind and path of Jesus was not just a temptation to avoid the horrors of the cross, but to abandon the entire project of God’s rescue mission and His Kingdom work in the world.
Up until then, Peter and the disciples were content to follow Jesus, assuming it meant growing their influence, achieving success… and that all the good things they saw Jesus do would keep happening. But all that would end if Jesus moved forward in this new direction. The cross simply didn’t fit into St. Peter’s plans, but God had other plans, and the cross turns out to be completely essential to what the LORD was up to all along.
And so we here in Matthew 16:23, Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
And then our Lord goes on to say that, if we want to share in God’s New Life, this is the path He must take, and the path we must follow Him on… not the path of triumph, or of hiding and biding our time, but of practicing faithfulness to God and His ways, even in a world that has no place for it.
Even if it means that we must suffer like Jesus, maybe not on a cross, but in all sorts of ways, we do so in the hope of being raised to life with Him. Of sharing in God’s New Creation, finally set free from all sorrow, suffering, sin, and bondage to death. Set free by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord shed once on the cross for all.
Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to His disciples, back then and here today: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
But to actually do this… to follow Jesus, we really do need to trust Him.
To trust that God’s plans for us are actually better than our plans for ourselves. To trust that the hard road of the cross is actually the path to life. To trust that the One who created our world cares for us all far more than we could ever imagine, and that He will not abandon us, even if we must lay down our lives. To trust that just as Jesus our Lord was raised from the dead, in Him, we too will rise victorious.
So, will we trust the Living God and follow His ways… even if it means changing our plans?
Here’s where we run into our own set of temptations: the temptation to retreat like Moses, and avoid our risky calling to be God’s agents of grace in our own corner of the world. Or the temptation to turn aside like St. Peter, from the core of Christ’s mission, and seek to make Him into a means, not of God’s saving grace, but to achieve our own hopes for ourselves.
This temptation is a big one we can see at work all over the place: trying to make Jesus our Lord into a tool to bless our plans and to make our dreams come true… using God and the Christian faith to justify all sorts of things:
Rampant consumerism, selfishness, and greed. Oppression of others, cruelty, hatred, and violence. Idolized individualism… “everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes” …instead of being transformed and shaped… changed by the holy love of the LORD for good.
Following Jesus really does mean denying ourselves… in the sense of saying 'no' to anything at work in us that resists God’s work, and leads us away from His plans.
In our reading from the letter to the Romans, St. Paul, whose whole life is a witness of what it means to let God change our life, gives us a clear image of the kind of life God has in mind for us His people… the kind of shape, reflecting God’s own holy love, that we are meant to embody: Romans 12:9-21,
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Many who call themselves Christians live lives that look nothing like this... or like our loving Saviour. Instead, they simply chase after their own desires, and wear a religious disguise... whether they realize it or not.
And if our lives are at odds with the clear path that Jesus our Lord has called us to follow, then we too need to heed His words to St. Peter… “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Thankfully, like St. Peter, we too can hear these words, not only as a rebuke, but as a renewed invitation to draw near again… and let Jesus change us by His saving grace. And like Moses, our fears and insecurities are no match for God’s mercy and power, able to work through us His rescued children to bring His New Creation to life.
The point isn’t to just get caught up in focusing on our own private religious experience… but to draw near to the Living God… and by His grace to participate in His Kingdom work and Great Rescue Mission in Christ… sharing God’s forgiveness, and the freedom of God’s holy love in our corner of the world here in Gondola Point.
The Living God draws us to Himself, not to give us what we want, but to shape us by His holy love… and so set us free. To follow Jesus requires a response of humble trust… of faith. But such faith opens up God’s New Life, not only for us, but for our world.
When as God’s people we trust Him enough to change us, and our plans… to truly take up our cross and follow Jesus, we play our part in God’s great rescue mission: revealing to all we encounter in our corner of the world that the God of all creation really does care for them, and wills to save them too.
That the Living God knows and cares about their struggles. That He understands all their burdens, and longs to set us all free and save us for good… through Christ’s rescuing love and resurrection life at work even now in His people… so we can all be filled with His Holy Spirit, and learn from Him to walk in God’s holy ways.
That together, we all might find the true life that only comes when we lay our lives down with Jesus. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & 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