Love the Lord your God... and your Neighbour - A Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost (October 29, 2023)
Sermon by the Ven. Cathy Laskey
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1–12 | Psalm 90:1–6, 13–17 | 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8 | Matthew 22:34–46
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...
You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Matthew 22: 37 & 39
The other day I was talking with my sister about the year she and her husband, dressed up as Star
Trek characters for a Halloween party. I can still see in my mind the picture of them all decked
out in their coloured uniforms, pointy ears and make-up while both doing the Vulcan Salute.
My brother-in-law is a Trekkie, period. His man cave/theatre room is full of figurines, ships,
phasers, tribbles, dvd’s as well as a life size cardboard cut-out of Captain Kirk. He constantly
watches episodes over and over and over again.
My sister and her husband looked like the real deal for that party. She had made a costume
before when they were dating. He had looked out the window one day and saw someone dressed
up in a Star Trek uniform and got all excited. As her love for him was beginning to take hold,
she saw her opportunity to impress this young man and said that she could make one with her
sewing machine. She did and as they say the rest is history.
I was quite surprised years later to see her all dressed up that Halloween because I did not know
that my sister had become a Trekkie too! She was now into it. How come? Because her
husband loved Star Trek and she loved him. She loved what he loved, even though it was never
her thing. But her husband loved Star Trek and she loved him and so she now loved Star Trek
Our Gospel reading from St. Matthew today talks about love. Loving God and God’s love. This
passage sets the tone for our entire life. A life where we make God our thing.
So far in the 22nd chapter we have heard about how the religious leaders have been questioning
Jesus to try to trap Him. I do invite us to take some time this week to read again the entire
chapter in one sitting. Today, we are now reading at the point where Jesus answers one final
question. Soon their hatred will lead them to drag Him to the cross.
The religious leaders, thinking they will be able to contradict Jesus no matter what He says ask:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus answers, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law the
Jesus, the Son of God, is telling us how to live our life. This is the heart of the Law. Print this
out, put it on your fridge, frame it and put it on your wall, have it as a screen saver on your
phone, tablet, and computer. Begin each day by reflecting upon Jesus’ answer.
At the pastoral care workshop last week offered at Trinity Church, Hammond River, on The Art
of Visiting, the presenter, Rick Benson, encouraged those present to begin each day by taking a
moment to pause and give thanks. To name at least one thing at the beginning of the day that
one is grateful. Even when there seems to be nothing to be thankful for, remember that we do
have a Father in Heaven who sent His Son Jesus to love this world and to be our Saviour. God is
Over time, this pause and intentional focus at the beginning of each day will naturally create a
posture of gratitude within our hearts and how we live our lives. I would also think that
remembering and reflecting upon the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and
mind, will go a long way in encouraging us to live a life of gratitude. Live a life of loving God.
This greatest commandment calls us to direct all our energies and all our love towards the
highest love. God. It sets the tone for what we do, what we say, how we use what we have, how
we respond to others, how we walk through each day.
I know that for me, this isn’t always the tone of my daily walk. I get distracted. I get focused on
other things. I sin. Here’s what happens.
[large paper heart with the word GOD in the centre placed on the floor] I know that Jesus has commanded
me to love God with my whole being. My love, my life is to be directed towards God.
[several smaller hearts] But, my heart, my love, that which I have been gifted with is often directed
elsewhere. Wealth, time, skills, energy, family. I’m really using these for my own benefit, not
out of love for God. [face them vertically so that they are not directed over the heart on the floor and drop them
one by one – they will miss the GOD heart]
Now watch what happens when our whole life is directed towards God, focused upon God. [after
picking up the smaller hearts, face them horizontally over the heart and drop them one by one and watch them land
on the GOD heart]
When our posture is intentionally directed first towards God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When
we intentionally take the time each day to discern God’s call on our lives each day. When we
have a heart of gratitude, a heart of love our whole being, our life is daily drawn towards God.
God must be the centre of our life. The focus of our life. The purpose for which we get up each
day and the reason for the life we live. Let us begin each day by reminding ourselves to love
God with all our heart, soul, mind before our feet touch the floor. Everything else in our life will
find the right position. Love God First.
St. Augustine is quoted as putting it this way. He said, “Love God – and do what you please. If
you love, what He wants will please you.”
This is the greatest and the first commandment, but did you notice that Jesus wasn’t asked by the
religious leaders for a second commandment. He voluntarily adds this in. Why did He offer this
Well, God loves everything and everyone that He has made. They wouldn’t exist unless He
loved them. Therefore, if we love Him with all our heart, soul and mind then we love what he
loves. We love Him, we love all that God loves.
[hold up the heart and turn over to show the word NEIGHBOUR]. As The Rev. Rob shared last week in
reference to the image on the coins, “[a]ll humans together bear the image of God.”
This is why the two commandments are intertwined. Jesus says all laws ‘hang on’ love for God
and Neighbour, meaning Law and the Prophets can be understood and lived only by one who
loves both God and others.
My sister loved Star Trek not because it was originally her thing. She loved it because the one
she loved, loved it.
We love our neighbour and everything that God has created, living as good stewards of this earth
our fragile home, within the great love we have first for Almighty God.
A fun fact to finish with. And no, I am not a Trekkie. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) who came
up with the Vulcan salute shared that he based it on the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish
Priests. When he was a child, his grandfather had taken him to an Orthodox synagogue where he
saw the blessing which one part meant ‘Almighty God’. Over time, this Vulcan salute has
become known as the universal sign for ‘Live long and prosper’.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, verse 33 includes the phrase as part of Moses’
admonitions to the Hebrew people prior to entering Canaan. “You must follow exactly the path
that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with
you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.”
Christ came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. This is God’s desire and love for
Friends, let us live a life of gratitude each day loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and
with all our soul, and with all our mind ...and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Let us make
God our thing and love what God loves. Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week (from our Honorary Clergy, the Ven. Cathy Laskey) can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Give to God the Things that are God's - Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost (October 22, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Exodus 33:12–23 | Psalm 99 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 | Matthew 22:15–22
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
This past week, the world has continued to wrestle with how to respond to the ongoing conflict in Gaza between the Israeli Defense Force, and Hamas, a militant group bent on Israel’s destruction… with many, many civilians caught in between. In retaliation for the truly brutal attacks on Israeli civilians, the IDF has blockaded Gaza, and bombarded the territory, in preparation for a full on assault apparently to rescue hostages, and to end the threat that Hamas has continued to play.
In the midst of conflicts like this, more tragedies are almost inevitable. And this past Tuesday, one such tragedy took place: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City was hit with an explosion that killed hundreds of people. Both sides blame each other for this horrible loss of life… and people around the world joined in to voice their outrage by picking sides and protesting.
As it has been for centuries, our world is still deeply divided… and for many, the only way forward seems to be to just keep on fracturing, and then fighting over the pieces.
But there are other ways forward… ones which call us to step back from the power games at play around us, and to look at each other and ourselves from a very different perspective.
Our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew tells us of an encounter between our Lord Jesus, and members of two very distinct groups that had come together to trap Him and take Him down: the religious Pharisees, and the politically motivated Herodians.
The Pharisees are probably pretty familiar to many of us. They show up a lot in the Gospels, usually in confrontations with Jesus about what faithfulness to God and His Kingdom really looks like. As a group, they were not so much rulers or official leaders, as they were religious reformers… calling God’s people to separate from the ungodly, and to practice a more strict adherence to the Law of Moses given at Mt. Sinai. They were known for an uncompromising demand for religious obedience… but in the Gospels Jesus often calls them out for hypocrisy… neglecting the needs of their neighbours, while promoting a basically self-centered spirituality.
On the other hand, we have the Herodians: supporters of the puppet “King” Herod, the ruler of Galilee kept in place by the good graces of the higher-ups in Rome. Like Herod, his followers were a bit more politically savvy and power hungry than the Pharisees. They cared more about keeping control of the country, than with any particular ideology or agenda, be it godly or not. Rather than getting caught up in the religious debates of the day, the Herodians were more focused on self-centered power-games.
As you can imagine, these two groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians were usually at odds with each other. They represented the opposite ends of the political and social spectrum. The Pharisees were firmly entrenched in their Israelite heritage, seeking to bring back the glory days of God’s people by promoting moral purity… and obedience to God’s holy Laws… at least as they interpreted them.
The Herodians, however, had embraced the dominant culture and values of the wider Greco-Roman world… seeking to bring about a new and glorious future for… well, first of all themselves… and for the rest of their country too, all by keeping in Rome’s good books… through obedience to the Emperor’s whims, whatever they might be.
Like so many groups we could think of today, these two communities were polar opposites… but as we heard today they both came together to fight against a common threat: someone who challenged the influence and power of both parties… stirring up the common people’s hopes in a new way forward… a way devoted, not to their own sense of moral superiority, or to the whims of the tyrants of the day… but devoted to the Kingdom of Heaven, to the glory of God they had glimpsed at work in Jesus Christ.
As the saying goes: the enemy of my enemy is my friend… and so these two groups set aside their differences for a change, and teamed up to take this Jesus down… and trap Him with an unwinnable choice: Should God’s people continue to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
Of all the questions to trap Jesus with, why would they choose this one? Why was this such an issue?
Well, it makes a lot more sense when we remember the long story of God’s people, and their unique relationship with the Living God to be set apart… to be a community devoted to Him alone.
A few weeks back, we took time to reflect on the 10 Commandments together. Without looking, can anyone remember Commandment Number 2? Right, ‘No graven images!’
And last week, we heard how at the crucial moment when the Covenant agreement was being sealed, Israel had broken this very Commandment, and made an idol of a calf to worship.
Idolatry, the worship of graven images, which was a practice shared by all of Israel’s neighbours, would remain a near constant trap and temptation for God’s people, from Sinai and down through the centuries… and after their Exile in Babylon, and eventual return to their homeland, many Israelites were afraid of what would happen if idolatry took root among them again. And so, groups like the Pharisees took a strong stance against graven images.
But on every Roman denarius there was the image of the Roman Emperor… a tangible reminder of who was supposed to be in charge and calling the shots in day-to-day life. Every transaction, every exchange was done in this Gentile Emperor’s name, and with his image. While under Roman rule, God’s people were forced by using these coins and paying taxes with them, to acknowledge again and again that their whole lives were in the Emperor’s hands.
And while some like the Pharisees might resist this claim… to openly reject it and teach others to stop paying taxes to Caesar would get Jesus into a whole lot of trouble… likely leading to His arrest, or worse.
But, if Jesus publicly supported giving taxes to Rome, the Pharisees would make sure that all the religious leaning folk who deeply resented Roman rule would know about it, and turn on Jesus, losing Him most of His popular support.
And so, while it might look like an honest question about Israelite religious law, this was all a political trap… an attempt to publicly force Jesus to choose between two options that would each have a disastrous effect.
It was a trap… but it was a trap based on a very particular perspective… an assumption both parties seemed to share: the idea that Jesus’ mission relied on the approval of other people… the crowds, the authorities… just like they did. And so they assumed that they could stop him by forcing him to choose one side or the other… undermining His support by dividing public opinion, so his opponents could finally gain the upper hand.
But Jesus knew full well that their assumption was wrong. He didn’t need anyone else’s support or approval to accomplish His mission. Rather than courting the favour of religious reformers or savvy political hacks, all Jesus needed was to remain fully devoted to His Father in Heaven, and to do His Father’s will here on earth.
Jesus knew that rather than playing power games, or fighting over control… the way forward is only to be found by sharing in the glorious life of the Living God.
This is what Moses was wrestling with in our first reading this morning. Atop Mt. Sinai, we found him interceding on behalf of the Israelites, pleading with the LORD and searching for a way for God’s people to move forward after Israel’s disastrous idolatry had threatened to completely destroy their new relationship with the Living God.
At this point, God had agreed not to abandon this whole project, but told Moses He would no longer dwell in the presence of His sinful people. He would not go with them personally, but would remove His glorious presence. Moses knew this would be terrible news, as God’s people only stood a chance if God was with them always… and so he pleaded for the LORD to reconsider. Exodus 34:15-17,
Moses said to the LORD: “‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
For Moses’ sake, God agrees to go personally, to share His divine presence and life with Israel. Once again, Moses’ intercessions open up the way for God’s people to dwell with the LORD… to stay in close connection to the One who is their only hope.
And in this moment, Moses expresses one of the desires of his own heart: that is, to see God’s glory. Not just to witness an awe-inspiring sight, but to have an experience of knowing the Living God intimately… of getting a deeper and truer sense of God’s own heart, and what makes Him tick.
And Moses is granted a glimpse of God’s glory… the most any mortal creature could handle. And as it turns out, it becomes a life-changing experience that reshapes Moses’ whole life, and changes forever how he related to those around him.
In Exodus 34:6-7, we’re given a glimpse of God’s glory too, a glimpse of His divine character and heartbeat as He reveals this picture to Moses:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God 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, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
There’s so much we could talk about here, but that will have to wait for another time. In short though, these words reveal God’s holy love to Moses, a holy love that invites Israel and the whole world to share in it wholeheartedly.
But then something else amazing happens. Exodus 34:29, “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
Sharing in God’s presence and life changes us. And so getting a glimpse of God’s glory, Moses began to share in it too. Without even realizing it, he began to reflect God’s radiant life through his own life… which, after all, was God’s intentions for humanity since the beginning… and which was His gracious desire for His chosen people: to reflect His glory with their whole lives… as His images of holy love.
Turning now back to Matthew. Confronted by the trap from the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus asks them for a coin. Then He asks them: “Whose head is this, and whose title?” In short, whose glory does this coin represent?
The word here for “head” is actually “icon” or “image”… a word that we know ripples back all the way to Genesis 2, when all humans are described as being created in God’s own image… destined to reflect His divine glory through their lives together, sharing God’s goodness and love with each other, and with all of creation.
When the Pharisees and Herodians respond that the coins bear the image of the Emperor, Jesus says to them: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:20-21).
The Roman coins made the claim that Caesar is in charge, and deserves everyone’s devotion. God’s image however is not found on coins, but on His human creatures… and so everything about them… about us all rightly belongs to Him.
All humans together bear the image of God. All humans exist to share in and reflect His goodness and glory, to the world and to one another. What we do with lifeless coins, which so many prize above all else, is so much less important than what we do with our whole lives… which belong to our Father in Heaven, and which we’re called to devote to Him wholeheartedly here on earth.
All humans together bear the image of God. Every life belongs to Him, whether they know it or not… and how we treat every life, every person, really does matter! While our world may be convinced that the only way forward is to tear humanity apart, Christ calls us to entrust our neighbours… and even our enemies, to the holy love of God. No one is disposable. No one is written off. All are beloved, and belong to Him. As Christians, this is the Good News our lives must make know to God’s broken world.
But these days, we’re constantly being asked to choose between all sorts of conflicting sides. To prove our devotion to this or that political party, social priority, and so on… and also to vilify and demonize, and de-humanize everyone on the other side... to imagine that “we alone” are the image of all that is good, and right, and true… and that there will be no peace until the “other side” is taken care of.
The truth is, it’s easy to fight. To turn on each other, and tear each other apart. But the way forward calls us to believe that the One who created, and sent His Son Jesus, to save us all, has not simply abandoned us to tear apart His good world. He has revealed His glory, His holy love… most of all through Christ’s own death for His enemies at the cross… so that we might share in it… and share it with those all around us.
Jesus calls us to not get trapped in the world’s ways of doing things, but to give our whole selves whole-heartedly to God… to the One who gave up His life to save us, and to share His glorious life with us.
Jesus, the One who truly is the image of God uncorrupted by sin and self-centeredness, is still with us… and He prays for us even now. In our moments of terror and temptation, He stands right by our side to save. And we can trust that in Him, God truly hears our prayers, and that He will not abandon those who turn to Him… even if, for a time we too must suffer, we know that we will share in Christ’s glory forever.
The Faith we’re called to Live is not about choosing the right side of any of the divisions that our world demands we make… our Faith calls us to see our lives and the lives of all others as destined, through Jesus Christ, to reflect the Living God’s goodness and glory.
The Love we’re called to Grow is not just for those who are like us in mind, body, or convictions. We’re called to extend God’s holy, self-giving love to everyone, even to our enemies, just as Christ Jesus did for us on the cross.
The Hope we’re called to Share is not based on “our side finally coming out on top”… but on our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, who has given His life to save us sinners from the wrath to come… so that all those around us might catch a glimpse of God’s glorious New Life too.
I don’t claim to have all the answers to the many deep divisions and conflicts tearing our world apart today. But if we’re to give to “God the things that are God’s”, as Christ calls us to, and as He empowers us to do, through His Holy Spirit… trusting Him with our whole lives, nurturing His love among us, and sharing this hope with our world, then I truly believe that our Risen Lord Jesus will guide us forward… and that His saving presence will dwell among His people, so that His healing, and resurrecting power might shine, and fill the whole earth with God’s saving glory. Amen.
All throughout the Scriptures, the Living God shares His heart with humanity, and invites us to come to know His divine character and steadfast love.
The Bible Project has released a series of great videos exploring the Character of God. You can find them here:
For those who want to dig even deeper, here is a Podcast series they released on the same subject:
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 32:1–14 | Psalm 106:1–6, 19–23 | Philippians 4:1–9 | Matthew 22:1–14
“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.’” (Matthew 22:1-2).
Have you ever showed up at a special event, and felt incredibly out of place because you didn’t really understand the expectations of your host? Imagine showing up to a back yard BBQ in a suit and tie. Or arriving at a fancy banquet in shorts and old work boots. Now at one level, we know that clothes aren’t all that important, really. They don’t make us any better or worse… even though all to often, we humans end up judging one another based on something as trivial as our appearances.
But at another level, if we show up unprepared to take part in something special that we have been invited to share in, it does say something about our attitudes towards our would-be hosts. It might say that we don’t really value their invitation… and the experience they had hoped to share with us… or maybe even the relationship we have with them. At this level at least, when we’re invited to a party… if we value our host at all… it’s actually pretty important to respond appropriately.
Right before our first reading from Scripture this morning in the Book of Exodus, the Living God had just invited the people of Israel into a special relationship with Him: they were invited to be His chosen, set apart people… shaped by His character and intentions, so that the whole world might also be drawn into His fellowship, and receive along with them the blessings and joy God longs to share.
But things had not gone as planned. Right after the vows of this covenant, sacred relationship akin to a marriage between God and this community, been made, as Moses was working out the final details of how the LORD would live in the presence of His people, down at the foot of the mountain, Israel was actively breaking faith with their divine Bridegroom… bowing down to an idol of a golden calf, and claiming that this lifeless statue was the true image of God, embodying their heavenly Saviour who had set them free.
Obviously, this was not how the celebration was supposed to unfold. And so, exasperated, God turns to Moses, and threatens to shut the whole party down, make an end of this whole project he had planned for Israel.
In Exodus 32:10, God says to Moses: “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” What had been planned as a great celebration… the start of a beautiful life together had turned into a moment of horrible betrayal, and near disaster for God’s people.
And yet… in God’s words we find, not only a warning of His righteous wrath, but also an invitation… an invitation for Moses to intercede. To step up and act as an advocate for Israel… as someone to act on their behalf, and plead to God for mercy and their deliverance.
God’s saying here: “Don’t try to stop Me, Moses… I mean it!” But these words beg the question: What would happen if Moses did try to stop God? What would happen if instead of taking up the offer God makes to start over with Moses, and abandon His unfaithful people… Moses actually tried to defend them? What would happen if Moses care more about God’s honour, and the lives of His people, than about Moses’ own glory… and what he himself might stand to gain?
In this high stakes encounter, God is inviting Moses into the tension between what it means to share in God’s goodness, His holiness… as well as in His faithful, steadfast love, even for His stiff-necked and sinful people.
Moses is given a choice of how to respond to God’s subtle invitation to intercede… and unlike the lifeless hunk of metal the people were worshipping at the bottom of the mountain, Moses actually ends up embodying God’s true likeness and character… God’s image by setting aside his own interests, and mercifully pleading the cause of God’s people… asking the LORD to set aside even well-deserved wrath, all in the service of holy, self-giving love.
By standing up before God, and pleading for Israel’s forgiveness, Moses actually reflects God’s own heart… His divine faithfulness and steadfast love… responding to God’s invitation to intercede by becoming even more like his LORD.
Of course, this does not mean that there will be no consequences for Israel. They had shattered their brand-new relationship with God… bringing about all sorts of heartache on themselves because of their choices. But through this encounter, and Moses’ prayers, we are assured that God will not abandon them to destruction. Instead, He graciously makes a way to maintain their covenant relationship… staying faithful to His own character, and promises, even if they don’t.
In all this, Moses’ response gives us a powerful picture of what it looks like to live as God’s image in a world that has all too often forgotten Him: loving God and our neighbours means praying for them. Praying for God’s mercy, and seeking the deliverance of those around us, even if the threats they may be facing would seem to be deserved.
Turning now to our Gospel reading this morning, we hear another parable of Jesus… with a particular context: at this point in St. Matthew’s account, Jesus was in the middle of a growing conflict with the leaders of God’s people in Jerusalem.
The parable paints a picture of those who respond with disdain and even violence to a king’s gracious invitation to the wedding feast of his son… and through this parable, Jesus was calling out the leaders of God’s people, who had once again turned their back on their relationship with the Living God, rejecting the messengers God had sent… the prophets, and their message of true repentance, and were now standing opposed to Jesus Himself, rejecting the One who is God in the flesh right before their eyes.
This is a parable of warning, to be sure… but it is also an invitation to turn around and take another path… to actually believe in Jesus, and follow Him, and find God’s kingdom at work in and through Him… just like many others from all corners of society were doing.
In the story, instead of the chosen, special, honoured and invited guests sharing in the fellowship banquet, it’s everyone else… the common crowds… the broken, the lost, and lonely and wandering, who end up sharing in the joys of the celebration.
This all reflects Jesus’ embrace of not just those seen as righteous… but sinners… those who were seen as worthless and lost causes by the religious leadership of the day. Through this story, Jesus shows us that sharing His time and teachings and compassion with these outcasts was not an expression of His lack of holiness… as evidence that He was somehow wandering away from the light, but rather, this is actually how He was embodying the compassionate, steadfast, and holy love of God… advocating and interceding for His lost and scattered people, and inviting them to be reconciled to God.
And in this light, it’s actually the leadership’s rejection of Jesus that proves that they are actually the ones who are out of sync with the character and intentions of the Living God and His holy ways.
The king wanted a joy-filled celebration for his son, but those he invited didn’t want to join in. Jesus tells us God wants the wide world to share in His blessed fellowship, but the most powerful and ‘respectable’ of His own people could not have cared less. Their responses to Jesus’ invitations to come join God’s kingdom celebration was to flat out refuse… and in the end, to pursue His death.
So much for the honoured guests who miss out on the party. But what about the guy who gets in, and then gets kicked out because he’s wearing the wrong kind of clothes?
As it turns out, this parable is not just a warning against responding to God’s gracious invitation with outright rejection… but it’s also a warning about saying yes but with presumption… taking the gift of this gracious invitation for granted, and in so doing, treating it with disdain and contempt, but in a different way.
The story goes that one of the guests shows up completely unprepared for the wedding party… assuming that as they were graciously invited, they don’t really have to bother to respond appropriately to the great honour they had just been given. And Jesus wants us to understand that saying yes to God’s kingdom… to the new life that God is inviting us all to share in… requires us to respond to this gift with reverence, gratitude, and love, not as if it’s no big deal.
The people of Israel at Mt. Sinai in our Exodus reading, had been graciously invited into a covenant partnership with God, and yet at the very moment when their union with Him was to be celebrated, they were shattering it… treating His gift as if it was nothing.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus had come to Jerusalem, which could have been the moment that the leaders of God’s people welcomed him as their Messiah… but they turned their backs on Him.
And here in Gondola Point, how might this parable be a warning for you and I as God’s people today? A warning against rejecting God’s gracious invitation… or maybe a warning against treating it as if it’s nothing special. As if it doesn’t require us to make any changes at all in our life to say ‘yes’ to the Living God, and share our lives with Him?
What do we think it means to receive God’s invitation to share in His gift of New Life?
Are we content to be casual Christians… happy to enjoy comfort and blessings for ourselves, but not bothering to clothe ourselves with the compassion and mercy of God that we have received?
Are we just looking forward to our share of a heavenly feast, but forgetting all about the needs of those hungering for fellowship, sustenance, and hope all around us?
Are we embodying… are we the image of the holy love of the Living God… or a self-centered spirituality?
Or, like Moses… are we starting to share in the character of our LORD… willing to intercede, and sit in the tension between a world wandering far off course, and the Saviour who gave His life to seek and to save the lost?
Are we like the guests that were invited freely, and still honoured their host through their appropriate response… the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners who messed up, but still find forgiveness, mercy, and new life by turning to Jesus in faith… letting go of our old ways, and turning to our Saviour who gave His life to set us free?
Jesus Himself is the truest image of God… He alone fully embodies the holy, self-giving love of God. And He does this by turning the world upside down, and taking onto Himself the fate of those who rejected Him, and who treated God’s goodness and grace with distain and contempt.
At the cross, Jesus gave Himself up to be cast out into the outer darkness of death for the sake of the world, laying down His life to intercede and advocate for us sinners… to make amends for us, and fully reconcile us to our loving Heavenly Father, and to one another. And rising again from the dead, He shares His New Life with us through the gift of His Holy Spirit, helping us respond rightly to His love, and reshaping us in Christ’s image.
None of us earn our invitation into God’s fellowship… it’s God’s gift to us all in Jesus Christ. And His parable is a warning and an invitation for us all to respond faithfully to all that He has already done for us: rescuing us from our sins and failures, and drawing us into the fellowship of God.
If we have been invited into God’s party… His fellowship of holy love… what does it look like to respond faithfully in our day to day lives here in Gondola Point?
It looks like trusting in and following Jesus. Letting His Spirit and New Life reshape our own… in every facet of life. In our relationships, our choices, our priorities… consciously conforming everything we do to the way of Jesus.
One simple and personal example of this shows up in our second reading. In St. Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Philippi, we find him urging their community to become a people of peace and reconciliation. He even names two Christian women, Euodia and Syntyche, and encourages them to overcome their issues, whatever they were, and work together again as sisters in Christ. This is just one example, but it’s a powerful one: a reminder that at the heart of God’s character, and what Jesus has come to do, is drawing people together in holy love and fellowship with Him. If we have been invited to share this gift already, our faithful response must also include putting this Holy love into practice with those around us.
Our world desperately needs God’s holy love, and we His people are to be the way our world encounters it. Through the Holy Spirit, freely given to us in Jesus Christ, you and I are now to embody God’s self-giving, holy love… growing more and more each day in Christ’s own image, and being made into His hands and feet, working to bring God’s healing, forgiveness, compassion, and peace to everyone we can.
I’ll end now with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, 4:4-9. May they remind us of what it looks like to faithfully say yes to the life Christ has invited us to share in:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Amen.
What is the Living God really like? And what does he want for His people, and His creation?
These are questions that the Bible encourages us to explore, and one of the ways it does so is by talking about the Image of God. Here is an excellent video from the Bible Project that looks at the Image of God theme in the Holy Scriptures:
To dig even deeper, they also have a four part Podcast series exploring the same theme, which can be found here:
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
The Gift Of Learning To Love God's Way - Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (October 8, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Exodus 20:1–20 | Psalm 19 | Philippians 3:4–14 | Matthew 21:33–46
This weekend, folks all over Canada are marking this holiday, which reminds us of the joyful gatherings and feasts that would accompany the harvests each year in the Fall. It’s a time to stop and reflect, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year, as well as to share both food and fellowship with those who are in our lives.
And it's a nice tradition in and of itself. But it can also become a true blessing if it can help teach us to live with gratitude, not just one day, but every day of the year… if it can help us respond to the many gifts we have received by encouraging us to work towards making thankfulness a way of life.
And as strange as it may sound, that’s what our Scripture readings this morning are doing as well: inviting us to stop and reflect on what we’ve already received… to express our gratitude, and to respond rightly with our words and actions… not just once and a while, but always… sharing in a new way of life together as God’s people.
Turning first to our Gospel reading this morning, we hear a less joyful harvest story: Jesus tells a parable about unfaithful workers in their master’s vineyard… a story meant to expose the unfaithfulness of the powerful leaders of Jerusalem… the chief priests and the elders of God’s people, who were resisting and rejecting Jesus, instead of receiving Him as God’s Chosen One… the rightful Son of the Master, sent to fulfill God’s good will once and for all.
In the parable, Christ compared these leaders to ungrateful, greedy servants who cared more about scheming after their own gain than with faithfully handling their Master’s harvest. It comes as a pointed rebuke of the profoundly self-centered motivations of those leading God’s people, motivations that would in the end cause them to reject Jesus, and pave the way straight to the cross.
Knowing what we know now, that the cross was not the end of Christ’s story, we can give thanks that God turned their envy and murderous rejection of Jesus into God’s gracious gift of salvation offered to all. But even so, this parable sheds light on a problem that we still face today.
After all, it can be easy to listen to other people be criticized, and their hypocrisy exposed… but Christ’s words serve to expose the sin at work in our hearts as well, laying bare our own tendencies towards self-centredness.
Our Gospel reading invites us to stop and reflect on some difficult questions: How might we be like the chief priests and elders in Jesus’ day? Preoccupied with our own concerns, and with what we can get, instead of being dedicated to our LORD? How are you and I driven by self-centredness as well?
When push comes to shove, who are we really devoted to? What does devotion to the Living God actually look like?
Turning now to our reading from the book of Exodus, we are given an important glimpse of what godly devotion looks like in the famous Ten Commandments, the cornerstone of the Law of God given to Israel at Mt. Sinai.
To modern ears, the idea of divine commandments can seem quite restrictive and limiting… an unwanted imposition from the outside, keeping us from experiencing the supposed ‘joys’ that come with the freedom to do whatever we want.
But in fact, God’s commands are actually meant to bring us freedom… to set us free from fruitless pursuits and destructive patterns of life, and to guide us towards the joys that come from putting God’s good ways into practice.
In short, these commandments are God’s good gift to help His people learn to respond to His saving love with joyful devotion to the LORD, and to each another.
But to be clear from the start: these commandments were never about earning God’s favour or good graces, but about learning to respond faithfully to what God has already done. The foundation for the Covenant relationship between the Living God and His people was not Israel’s obedience, but the saving love of the LORD.
The reading begins in Exodus 20:1 with this vital reminder: “Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” Long before God asks anything of His people, He had already shown them His mercy and love, rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, and graciously inviting them into a whole new and blessed life with Him.
The commandments were then given to teach Israel how to live with Him, and with one another… how to share in God’s good and life-giving ways… shaped not by self-centeredness, but by His holy love.
And so, the Ten Commandments show us what this holy love, this new way of life looks like:
No worshipping other gods beside Yahweh, the Living God who had rescued them.
No making idols… graven images that seek to reduce the Creator of all that is into something of our own design.
No misusing or dishonouring of the Name of God, wrecking His reputation.
No forgetting of the Sabbath day, which set aside sacred time each week for God’s people to worship and rest.
No dishonouring of ones parents.
No committing adultery.
No bearing false witness, distorting justice.
And no coveting.
That’s a whole lot of “no’s”… lots of things we’re being commanded not to do. These days, we tend to think of the word “no” as a challenge… or even as a violation of our free will… as a barrier, keeping us from experiencing the joys of life that come from pursuing our hearts’ desires. But the truth of the human heart, as the stories of the Scriptures and our whole history makes plain, is that so often what our hearts naturally desire would bring about all sorts of pain and destruction in our world. Unchecked, the human heart does not tend to bring freedom and joy, but enslavement and devastation… especially to those who are the most vulnerable.
And so yes, God’s commandments to Israel are restrictive, but in the sense that they guide His people away from self-destruction and exploitation… from turning on one another. His commandments are given to restrict His people’s self-centredness, and to teach them to love God, and to love one another… to be devoted to their LORD, and seek the best for their neighbours, not just for themselves.
In his book on the Ten Commandments, the scholar Peter Leithart makes this point: “we are genuinely free only if our desires are trained, only if we have been brought out of the Egypt of self-love to embrace proper objects of love.” In short, God wants His people to grow in love with Him and with one another… and to be free from only serving their own interests. And so, the Ten Commandments, the Law of Love, teaches us to learn to say “no” to to ourselves… self-centeredness in all of its many forms.
The first commandment calls us to place the Living God at the very centre of our lives… allowing no one else to become His rival for our devotion. When we elevate anyone or anything above Him in our hearts, we’re on the path away from freedom and life.
The second commandment calls us to resist the temptation to try and shrink God down, and remake Him according to our own ideas and ideals… to worship a god of our own creation, instead of worshipping the One Creator of all. When we pick and choose what kind of ‘god’ we want to believe in according to our own preferences, instead of seeking to know what the Living God is actually like, we’re only fooling ourselves, and devoting ourselves to lifeless objects, instead of to our loving Saviour.
The third commandment calls us to be devoted to honouring God with our whole lives. It’s not just about avoiding curses with our mouths, but lifting up God’s holy name with every action and choice we make. When we claim to be God’s faithful people, and yet live in ways that would drag His name in the mud, even when no one else sees it, we’re guilty of slandering our LORD, which He does not take lightly.
The fourth commandment calls us to devote out time to God… to reorient our days and lives in ways that nourish deep faith and genuine worship. Setting aside time, which is one of the most precious gifts we’ve been given, to be with God and with God’s people sets us free from the competing claims of our world, and gives us a taste of the sacredness of life. When we let busyness our preoccupation rob us of this sacred rhythm of rest and adoration, we forget our place in God’s good world, and the peace He longs to share with us all.
The fifth commandment calls us to honour our parents… to show devotion to the ones that God used to bring us into the world, and to give us life. It reminds us that no one is truly self-made… that life itself is a gift we have received, and that we are meant to respond to this gift with gratitude. Again, Peter Leithart words it well: “Your parents aren’t God, but they’re God’s gifts to you, as you are God’s gifts to them.” When we refuse to honour our parents, and treat those who raised us up with indifference or worse, we’re closing our hearts to those God has placed in our lives, for the benefit of all.
The sixth commandment calls us to be devoted to the preservation of human life. To recognize that we have no right to take God’s gift of life from one another. When we begin to disregard the sacredness of our fellow humans, created in God’s own image, we end up serving the forces of death and darkness, and defying the Living God who is the merciful Father of all.
The seventh commandment calls those who are married to be devoted to our spouses… to be faithful to those we have pledged ourselves to… in thought, and word, and deed. It calls us to say “no” to every opportunity that tempts us to break trust with them, and to reaffirm our commitment to them, again, and again, and again. When we turn our backs on those we’ve vowed to share our lives with, we turn our backs on the faithful love that God has shown to us all, and has called us all to share in.
The eighth commandment calls us to be devoted to our neighbour’s wellbeing, and to resist the temptation to simply take whatever we want from those around us. At the heart of this commandment is not simply the need to protect ‘property rights’, but the recognition that we must protect and not exploit one another. When we steal from others, we’re not only hurting our neighbours, we’re also embodying a lack of trust that God can provide what we need without us having to seize it for ourselves.
The nineth commandment calls us to be devoted to upholding the truth. Bearing false witness is not simply lying, it is perjury… building a picture of reality that is untrue, and which undermines a whole community’s integrity. When we bear false witness, we distort justice, and soon start confusing evil with good.
And the tenth commandment calls us to be content. To not covet, or long for what others have… which can be so hard in a society like ours built around consumerism… where we’re constantly told we’ll only ever be happy if we buy the next new thing… or have a house, or a job, or a family, or a life like those other people. When we chase after what others have… or even what we think they have… we cut ourselves off from gratitude, and embrace self-centredness, which is at the root of all kinds of misery.
These Ten Commandments are God’s gift to us, to teach us how to love Him, and to love each other… and to avoid the trap of self-centeredness that can so easily ensnare us. They are a gift I think we too often take for granted, forgetting the role they play in our lives… and we do well to stop, and reflect, and give thanks to God for them.
And yet, we need more than God’s commandments alone… we need His own holy love, which they teach us about, to actually be alive in us. To transform us from the inside out.
And this is what Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift, offers to us: pouring out God’s holy love not simply written in stone, but now engraved in our hearts through His Spirit… empowering us to actually live God’s way in the world today.
The chief priest and elders of Jerusalem knew all about the Ten Commandments, and yet they continued to resist Jesus, and His work bringing God’s saving love to the broken and lost. And as our reading from Philippians tells us, St. Paul was once fully devoted to following the commandments, but he still found himself trapped by the same self-centeredness that had blinded him to the Good News of Jesus the Risen Lord… that is, until the Risen Christ forced him to stop and reflect, and ‘opened his eyes’ to the wonderous truth… that our relationship with God is never based on how good we are… but on the gracious gift of God’s Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ… the Cornerstone of our faith.
Listen again to St. Paul’s words:
“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:4-11).
Jesus Christ our Saviour is the living embodiment of God’s Law of Love… the One that the Ten Commandments prepare us to trust in, and point us to. And it is Christ’s power at work in us that enables God’s people to actually begin to overcome our slavery to self-centeredness, and to grow in true devotion to the Living God, and to our neighbours.
So today, may we stop and reflect on the great gifts that God has given to us all: sharing His self-giving, holy love with the world, first at Mt. Sinai, and ultimately in Jesus Christ His precious Son. May we express our deep gratitude to Him, and respond with sincere devotion all of our days… and may we share together in the joyful freedom and blessed new life we have been given in Jesus. Amen.
 Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 121.
 Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 68.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
There are so many things to be grateful for each day, but it can be easy to lose sight of them, or to simply take them for granted. Often it helps to set aside time to reflect on the profound gift of life that the Living God has given to us.
Here is a great video narrated by Br. David Steindl-Rast to remind us of some of the most basic and beautiful gifts we have already been given:
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