Scripture Readings: Isaiah 64:1–9 | Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 | 1 Corinthians 1:3–9 | Mark 13:24–37
Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Hear we are again.
As the second wave of this pandemic seems to have finally reached our region, again we are faced with many hard choices, and quickly changing plans. For a long while, we had done fairly well here in southern New Brunswick, and even now things are certainly not as bad as they could be. We had several months of relative stability, where it almost seemed like things were staring to get back to normal. But now we’ve had our wake-up call. Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. Safety measures have needed to be stepped up again, and we have all been urged to be vigilant… acting for the good of ourselves, and those all around us. Not simply driven by our fears and (understandable) anxieties, but spurred on to do our best, even in taking the smallest steps, to be a people of compassion, of longsuffering patience… a people who love their neighbours, and who point them towards the light. For as disruptive and (in many ways) disappointing as this year has turned out to be, the darkness is not complete, nor will it always endure. Though here we are again, we will not be hear forever.
But what would we have done differently, how would we have behaved, if we knew this time last year how 2020 would unfold? If we knew for certain that this pandemic would upend our entire world, and bring so many changes… what would we have done with that knowledge? Visit more of our family and friends? Get out and do some traveling? Maybe invest some money in a little-known company called Zoom? But seriously, we know we all would have done some things differently, had we known what was coming. But like the rest of the world, we too were caught off guard.
Today marks the beginning again of the Christian year, which starts off with the holy season of Advent: the time of expectation of the coming of Christ… re-entering the scriptural story in anticipation of His birth at Christmas; the incarnation of the One who alone is God-with-us. But just as importantly, it is the season of anticipation of His final return, not in a humble manger, but in glory… to bring an end to our world’s sin, our sufferings, and strife, and to ultimately unveil the blessed Kingdom of God. The current time of waiting will then finally be over. Every tear wiped away. Every wound mended. Every knee bending at the blessed name of Jesus.
It is fitting that on this first week of Advent that we often focus on hope, for from the beginning, until the final day when the Lord Jesus returns, the Church is urged to be a people of hope, through and through. Not simplistically optimistic, trying to only see the ‘sunny side’ of life, while denying the darkness all around. And not driven by anxiety to desperately ‘do something’, trying to fend off the darkness by our own urgent efforts alone. No, Advent reminds us of the Christian character of our hope: that is, waiting… faithfully enduring the present times of tension by trusting in the Risen Lord, through His strength given now by His Spirit, and in the end, looking for the fulfillment of the promise of His salvation. What’s more, Advent urges us to wait by taking action. By acting in all things in the light of what we’re waiting for.
Our Gospel reading today is from the thirteenth chapter of Mark, and this whole chapter contains much for us to carefully contemplate: many dire warnings, and unsettling imagery… of nation rising against nation, families against their own kin, and even the powers of earth and heaven being completely upended and shaken. Given the dark and dramatic words Christ speaks to His disciples here, many have come to see this passage as only speaking about some cataclysmic catastrophe at the end of the world. But it seems from the text itself as though there is another situation being spoken of, first and foremost, a crushing event which would soon change everything for God’s people: the destruction of Herod’s Temple, and the obliteration of all Jerusalem by the Roman legions, all in the not too distant future. For Christ’s disciples, who at this time were all part of the Jewish community, they were being warned that the world they knew would soon be gone forever.
“Jesus’ main concern” in this chapter, the Bishop and scholar N.T. Wright maintains, “is to warn his followers of the signs that will immediately herald the end—the end of the Temple, the end of the Jewish national way of life up to that point.. Indeed, Mark 13 begins with the disciples pointing out how impressive and magnificent the Jerusalem Temple looked, with Jesus responding: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2). The shocked disciples then ask Him about when this unthinkable event would happen, leading our Lord to lay out a grim vision of violence and terror to come, which did in fact come in the year 70 A.D. when Caesar sent his armies to crush a Jewish rebellion centred in the holy city. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, described the aftermath of this Jewish-Roman war like this: “Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple”, and apart from some towers and sections of wall the Roman armies preserved, “it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” For the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and for all of the people of God who had built their hopes and lives upon their ongoing connection to God’s Holy Temple, Jesus was truly describing the end of their world… the upending of everything they knew. But alongside this warning He also held out another source of hope: the enduring Kingdom of God they had come close to and had found in Him. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” He tells them, “but my words will not pass away.”
This relocation, this recentering of hope is not meant just for those who heard Him speak these words about two thousand years ago. They remain His words to us, speaking to us all as well. The things they had taken for granted about the world all those years ago, like the Temple, their traditions, their nation, would all soon come to an end, and we know the things we build our lives upon will have their endings as well. How quickly the things that seem so steady and sure can be swept away! But the hope of all the Church, from the beginning, through today, and until the very end, belongs firmly in the hands of our faithful Master, Jesus: in His resurrection, His victory, and in His coming again. Our hope truly belongs, from first to last, in Him.
In light of the destruction of the Temple and all Jerusalem, Christ did not tell His disciples to try and look on the bright side… to deny the traumatic impact of the suffering shortly to come. Nor did He urge them to do everything possible to prevent it from happening, or to plan ahead for ways to retrieve everything that would be lost. No, we heard today that Jesus urged His followers, then and now, to be vigilant. To stay awake. To be diligent in doing the vital work of God’s Kingdom… wholeheartedly devoted to God, and actively loving those around us. Christ urges us all to faithfulness, knowing that as dark as things may seem, the tensions and suffering we face will not be the end of our story. “Keep awake”, Jesus implores us, keep following Him diligently… don’t give in to despair, or desperation. Keep up hope, and keep going.
Despite all of the upheaval, and uncertainty we have encountered, we know ultimately where the story of our world is heading: Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord will return to judge the living and the dead… to establish justice, to end all strife, and to finally bring to fulfillment God’s good Kingdom of life and light at last. In light of this future hope, which through the Holy Spirit, is present among us even now, how are you and I being called to respond? What are we going to do differently? Though the world may be caught off guard by the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, how are we going to live in line with our Master’s reign today?
With the hope of Christ before us, and with God’s help let us stay awake, both in spiritual devotion, and in acts of loving service. May we not give in to despair, and give up on living as His people. May we not get overly comfortable with the current status quo, which we know at any time could come to an unforeseen end. But rather, may we grow more and more as diligent disciples of Jesus; putting into practice all that He has asked of us, and praying in certain hope for His rescuing return. Amen.
 Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 186.
 Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews VII.I.I. Accessed through the online source: “Christian Classics Ethereal Library” https://ccel.org/ccel/josephus/complete/complete.iii.viii.i.html
Today we enter the holy season of Advent, where we reflect and prepare for the coming of Christ Jesus our Lord.
This first week, Christians often reflect on the biblical theme of Hope, and the folks at the Bible Project have put together a great animated video exploring how the Bible treats this vital gift.
At St. Luke's we take time each week in Advent to light the candles in our Advent Wreath. While we are not gathering together in our Parish Church at this time, we can still carry on this tradition from our homes.
The Candle Lighting liturgy can be found in our Service of Morning Prayer. If you have candles at home you can light them during your practice of these home prayers, or you can follow along with our Advent Lighting Video.
Many blessings to you this first week of Advent, and may the Holy Spirit fill us with His hope.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can all be found here:
Our Advent Lighting Video can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can all be found here:
Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24 | Psalm 95:1–7a | Ephesians 1:15–23 | Matthew 25:31–46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats...”
Today, we Christians celebrate the Feast of Christ the King; confessing that the Living God has raised up Jesus Christ as Lord of all, and that through Him, the reign of God will encompass all of creation. This feast comes at the end of the Church’s yearly journey through the Scriptures, pointing us toward this ultimate end and destiny of our world. And yet it is also the present, though often hidden, reality as well. We know Christ is King even now. In the face of all fear, and suffering, and strife, this Good News gives us hope: that Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord of Lords still reigns even today, and it is His Kingdom alone that will endure forever.
But what king of a King is He? What can we say about Christ’s Kingdom? What does it really look like to be faithful to His reign? Our Scripture readings for today from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew give us an interesting image of what God’s King and Kingdom are like: The image of a shepherd, carefully sorting out their wayward flock.
In Ezekiel, we hear the Living God speaking to His people, the remnant of Judah, after Jerusalem had been overthrown by Babylon. In Chapter 34, God is calling out Judah’s leaders for their unfaithfulness; for caring only about themselves instead of for their people. He likens them to shepherds who take advantage of their sheep, all the while neglecting their responsibilities. The Kings, Priests, and Prophets of Judah had let God’s people wander away from their Lord and His ways, and so they all ended up losing their country, living as exiles in Babylon. And so, in the face of their utter failure, God promises to step in Himself and set His beloved people straight, sorting out His straying sheep, and bring them safely home again. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness (Ezekiel 34:11-12).
God offers these exiles, who have lost absolutely everything… homes, family, freedom… the hope that He would again come to seek and to save them. That even in their darkness, the Lord would not abandon them to be lost forever. And with this hope God offers them the promise of a new King, coming from the line of their hero of old, King David, but unlike all those faithless shepherds they had come to know, those who cared only for themselves, this King would share with them the blessings of God’s good Kingdom. He would be their faithful shepherd, finally setting everything right. Bringing justice to His people by ending oppression, and lifting up the lowly… bringing them back safely into the gracious arms of God. Ezekiel gives us the image of God’s chosen Shepherd-King sorting out His people, in order that they may be led into the Kingdom of God’s peace.
The picture in our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew is a bit more complicated, but hopeful nonetheless. In the passage Christ paints the picture of a final, cosmic act of judgement: the Messiah, the Son of Man, sitting on a glorious throne, sorting out, not only Judah, but all the nations of the earth. Drawing on the images from Ezekiel and many of Israel’s prophets, Jesus portrays the moment of God’s ultimate justice, God’s setting things to right at last, once and for all. As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, all people are separated before Him, to take their place in God’s good kingdom, or to depart and share the condemnation prepared for the devil.
This is a powerful image, in which Jesus offers us insight into the essence of who He is, and what He has ultimately come to do, but if we remove this passage from where it belongs, with the rest of the Gospel, it can easily be used to distort our understanding of our King, and His good Kingdom. So as we look closely at this passage, let us try to set aside our preconceptions, and listen to what the LORD is trying to tell us today.
Again, we are being offered the promise of God’s justice coming at last: that the Lord will not leave evil unchecked forever, and will set things right, once and for all. This itself is good news, especially as we see so much evil still at work: so much greed, violence, and selfish pride tearing our world apart. To know that there will come a day when all of this will end, and to know that God’s goodness will have the final word is a tremendous source of hope. But that is only one part of it.
We are also given a glimpse into the very heart of God, which stands in the sharpest contrast to the kingdoms of earth we are familiar with: those maintained by violence, and self-protectiveness, fueled by visons of endless progress, but which fail to bring about real peace, or protection for the vulnerable.
Here in Matthew we see the character of Christ’s kingdom, God’s kingdom, as His mighty reign is revealed… in the feeding of the hungry… caring for the sick… visiting prisoners… clothing the naked… welcoming the stranger. Whatever else this passage has to tell us, let us not miss this: Christ shows us that living in line with the Kingdom of God looks like self-giving love. It looks like actively showing compassion and mercy for the very least in Christ’s family… tangible service offered to those in the greatest need… and giving freely to those who seem to have nothing to offer in return. This is the most basic point of this passage: Devotion to God is intertwined with loving and caring for those around us. God’s will for His people is that they share His holy, self-giving love with others, especially with those in need. If we refuse to do so, we are walking away from His Kingdom.
What’s more, Christ does not just care about how we treat the weak, and vulnerable, and suffering from afar. He identifies Himself with them wholeheartedly. The King of Kings, we’re told, meets us in those who are completely powerless, and how we treat the least of the least is how we treat Him too.
Which means of course, that when we are weak, and vulnerable, and suffering, that the King of Kings is not far off, but sharing our burdens too. Even the ones we have earned for ourselves. Christ calls His people to love the lowly and lost, because He does… and rather than leaving us all to fend for ourselves, or trample each other in greed and fear, He as come like a shepherd to rescue us all and lead us safely home. Jesus said He came to seek and to save us the lost, to save His wayward world… dying on the cross, taking on the burden of our sin, and enduring our just condemnation; the Judge of all, judged in our place. And He was raised again from the grave to bring us into God’s New Life, so that, freed from sin and death, we could serve Him without fear, and share His Kingdom of holy love with those all around us.
This is the kind of King we serve: the One who was crucified… resurrected… and enthroned at God the Father’s right hand… to sort out the nations, and bring God’s everlasting justice and peace to it’s completion, reconciling us to God through His death while we were still sinners, and leading us out of darkness into the light of His love.
Our King is not a disinterested judge, eager to meet out condemnation, but a most merciful Saviour… who calls us His sheep to share in His Kingdom, to be shaped by His holy love poured out for those who need it the most.
So today, as we celebrate the Feast of Jesus Christ the King (though we are for the moment scattered, worshipping our Lord from the safety our own homes), may we be gathered by the Holy Spirit to take our place in God’s good Kingdom. May our lives be filled with His holy love; actively serving and caring for those we see in need all around us. And may we trust more and more in the saving mercy of our Shepherd-King, who gave His life on the cross to sort out our wayward world, once and for all. Amen.
As of yesterday (November 21, 2020), the Provincial Government has moved the Saint John region (Zone 2) back into the Orange Phase, in the hopes of controlling the community spread of COVID-19. In light of this, we at St. Luke's GP decided to refrain from gathering in person for worship this morning.
Today, of course, we are reminded that no matter where we are, no matter what fears or dangers we face, that Jesus Christ remains King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. In Him, we are united by the Holy Spirit. In Him, we place our faith and hope for the future of our world. And in Him we find the freedom to love and serve those around us.
In addition to our regular At-Home worship resources, here is an excellent video by the folks at the Bible Project helping us explore the Gospel of the Kingdom. May Christ our King bless you and keep you, this day and always.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Zephaniah 1:7, 12–18 | Psalm 90:1–12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11 | Matthew 25:14–30
For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
Once again, we are nearing the end of the Christian Year: the Church’s yearly rhythm of retelling the story of God’s salvation. In two weeks time we’ll begin the season of anticipation in Advent, where we look ahead in hope for the coming of God’s Messiah. In a little less than six weeks time, we’ll be celebrating Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ, God-with-us, in the flesh. Next will come the season of Epiphany, where God’s great rescue mission through Jesus comes into focus. And then we come to the season of Lent: a time of reflection and repentance… preparing us for the horror and world-changing joy of Holy Week: where Christ suffers and dies on Good Friday for the sins of the world, and is raised again on Easter bringing God’s New Creation to life. 40 days later, we’ll celebrate Christ’s Ascension to the right hand of the Father, and then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Form there we’ll enter the long season of Ordinary time, where we dig deeper into what it means to be God’s people hear and now. And then the year will end with the feast of Christ the King, where we celebrate the good news that Jesus is Lord of Lords, now and forever.
All year long, the Church retells this story… we’re drawn into it again and again, allowing its message of joy and hope to take root deep within us… to transform the way we see our world, and our own place in it… to help us learn to live each day as God’s own faithful children. Today’s readings, though they may seem dark and troubling, and confusing, have that same good goal in mind: to help us to become children of God’s light.
In our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew, we find ourselves confronted with one of the parables of Jesus, commonly known as the Parable of the Talents. On the surface, it seems pretty straightforward, almost like a moral lesson, meant to reinforce a bit of wisdom to help us succeed in life. Something like: “Be diligent; don’t be lazy and waste your talents.” That seems like pretty good advice, and no doubt, we should follow it… but if we follow the parable more closely, that moral message gets a bit messy: “Don’t waste your talents… or… God will… punish you?” Is that what Jesus is saying? “Use your talents well, or else?” How does this message fit in with the Good News of Jesus? With all we know about the story of God’s salvation?
I don’t think it does… but not because there is something wrong with the parable… but with how we often try to read the teachings of Jesus: as if they were simply bits of spiritual wisdom for us to learn from, instead of a part of a wider story He is constantly calling us to share in. This parable, along with the rest of the teachings of Jesus, belongs together with the story of what Jesus Himself has done… bringing about the precious gift of God’s salvation… and confronting all that stands in the way of the Kingdom of God. If we want to understand what this parable is about, we need to keep it close to the rest of God’s story.
Before getting too far ahead though, there’s one word we should talk about first: what does the word ‘talent’ mean in this parable? In English, we use this word to talk about our gifts or abilities: like in the reality TV show “America’s Got Talent”. In the Bible though, a talent had nothing to do with someone’s abilities… a talent was a sum of money. A whole lot of money! Which some claim was “worth roughly what a labourer could earn in 15 years.” We’re talking about serious wealth here, with genuine treasure.
What’s more, in the parable, we’re dealing with someone else’s treasure. The wealthy master hands the money over to the servants, who obviously expect him to return for it one day. This is where the understanding of this parable as simply a lesson in using our abilities really breaks down: Though it’s good to use our abilities and gifts wisely and with purpose, Jesus is talking about something else entirely: not about using well what we have, but being faithful with what we’ve been given. Or better yet, being faithful with the treasure we have been entrusted to manage. This is a message about stewarding the precious treasure of God… and it’s a message directed at those Jesus claimed had dropped the ball.
Where this parable fits into the Gospel of Matthew is important: It’s not found when Jesus is teaching his followers in Galilee, but at the height of His confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem… where Jesus calls out the unfaithfulness of those charged with guiding God’s people, who were instead fighting against the signs of God’s Kingdom Jesus was bringing about… all while claiming to be God’s true and faithful servants. Christ identifies those religious and political leaders of His people with the wicked servant who had abandoned his responsibility… burying their Master’s treasure, instead of helping it grow. The bishop and scholar NT Wright makes the point like this:
“The scribes and Pharisees had been given the law of Moses. They had been given the Temple, the sign of God’s presence among them. They had been given wonderful promises about how God would bless not only Israel but, through Israel, the whole world. And they had buried them in the ground. They had turned the command to be the light of the world into an encouragement to keep the light for themselves...They had been worthless slaves. And now, when their master was at last coming back, he was going to call them to account.” This parable packs a powerful punch: it is a prophetic indictment of the faithless leaders of God’s people… accusing those who abandoned His holy ways and followed their own, much like the prophet Zephaniah had proclaimed in our first reading, when calling out the complacency and corruption he saw in his day.
At it’s core, this parable is intended as a warning, one which we too must also take to heart. As God’s people today, have we also grown complacent, refusing to believe the Living God is still present and at work? Tired of trying to live as those set apart for His service? Are we comfortable with compromising our commitments to our LORD? Giving our hearts to idols, like security, success, pleasure, and power? Are we, like the unfaithful servant, trapped living in dread, unwilling to move forward at all, out of fear of failure? Are we like those who plotted the death of the Son of God; completely misunderstanding the mind of our Master, and fighting to keep His good kingdom from coming to light?
We too have been entrusted with God’s own precious treasure. Will we bury it in the ground, or will it grow in our hands?
I guess we should ask: What is this treasure? I believe it’s the gift of belonging in God’s kingdom. The treasure of sharing in the holy life and love of the Living God… a treasure meant to bring hope and joy to us and to our world. We know that as God’s people, we’ve often been careless with the gift of being God’s children; abandoning the way of life our Lord has entrusted to the Church.
So how do we handle it faithfully? How do we keep from burying the treasure of God’s Kingdom in the ground? For starters, we can remember the bigger story that we are a part of: the story of God’s salvation come to us in Jesus Christ.
In writing to those early believers in Thessalonica, St. Paul was careful to pass on to them the core of the Christian story: Christ Himself. The conviction that ultimately, we are not left here alone to rescue and fend for ourselves… but to receive and to hold onto the Good News of Jesus Christ… that in Jesus, the Living God has come to take us from the darkness of our sin and into His life-giving light… to bring forgiveness and mercy, instead of condemnation… to reconcile us to God even when we were still sinners… “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep… [alive or dead] we may live with him.”( 1 Thess. 5:9–10). We faithfully handle the treasure of belonging in God’s Good Kingdom by placing our trust, our faith in Jesus, so that God’s story of salvation becomes our story too.
In light of all Christ has done, St. Paul reminds us this means we’re to stop acting as though we belong to the story of darkness anymore… behaving as if the dawn of God’s new day has not arrived. NT Wright puts it well: “God’s new world has broken in upon the sad, sleepy, drunken and deadly old world. That’s the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the spirit— the life of the new world breaking in to the old. And you belong to the new world, not the old one. You are wide awake long before the full sunrise has dawned. Stay awake, then, because this is God’s new reality, and it will shortly dawn upon the whole world.”
So as children of the light, let’s keep awake and be alert… sober, self-controlled, intentional as we follow Jesus, and in Him taking our part in God’s unfolding story; secure in the faith, and love, and hope we are given in the Holy Spirit; looking ahead to the joy of our Lord for all eternity; and seeking ways to bring this blessed life with those around us today. Not burying the treasure of belonging in God’s Kingdom, but sharing it. Amen.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 137.
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 138.
 Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 128.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
We continue to remember our Veterans of W.W. I, W.W. II, Korea, and Afghanistan for those who served our country to allow us the freedoms we enjoy.
Those Presently Serving
And for any we my have missed and for all others
who are presently serving in the armed forces.
We also remember and prayer for their families at home & abroad.
(* Indicates They Died While In Service)
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping
all the men and women of our armed forces at home and
abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace;
strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them
courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a
sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through
Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single
peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of
our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace
among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Scripture Readings: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 | Psalm 78:1–7 | 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 | Matthew 25:1–13
“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
This week I was reminded of a film from my childhood: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Alongside the late Sean Connery, who died just last Saturday, the film stars Harrison Ford as an adventuring archeologist, racing to find the Holy Grail before the bad guys do. The Grail was a cup supposedly endowed with magical properties… giving perpetual life to all who drink from it. At the end of the film, both the hero and villain find out where the precious Grail is hidden, but instead of just one cup they find all sorts of them. In order to discover the true Holy Grail, they must choose one of them and drink from it. But of course, the stakes are high: they are warned: “You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true grail will bring you life, a false grail will take it from you.” The villain chooses poorly, and suffers a horrible death. The hero chooses wisely. He makes the right choice, and then he acts… he does something in line with that choice, /and so brings life to his dying father.
Aside from being an entertaining and fun adventure story, this film can help to highlight the importance of the choices we make in life: asking us to reflect on where our devotion and loyalties truly lie. As we all know, choices can change us… and can even change the world.
This week, like many, I found myself eagerly waiting to hear about the results of the choice the American people had made about their next President. After days of dragged out vote counting, their choice became clear yesterday. But as many are quick to point out, now that they’ve finally made their choice there is much for the American people to do. For their choice to really matter, they have to actually live in line with that choice. To put into practice their communal commitment.
In our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Joshua, we heard another nation making a choice about the one they would follow… about the one they would trust and serve, and devote themselves to. This passage takes place at the end of the book of Joshua, which tells of Israel’s story as they entered the Promised Land. Their years of wandering the wilderness were finally at an end, and after Moses’ death, the LORD chooses Joshua, Moses’ assistant, to lead His people onward. In Joshua Chapter 1, God says this to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-7). God intended to lead His chosen people to their new home through Joshua… but to do that, Joshua would need courage, and complete devotion to God and His ways. They would be facing fierce opposition, and what looked like impossible odds a times, but the way forward was the way of faith: trusting that their Saviour was with them.
As the book of Joshua unfolds, Israel has it’s share of ups and downs: miraculous victories when they were careful to keep to the LORD’s instructions… and humiliating failures whenever they went their own way. Despite these ups and downs, the LORD was true to His people, and they end up in the land, relatively safe and secure. But near the end of the book, as an aged Joshua prepares to die, he does not seem convinced that Israel will stay true to the LORD. And so, we heard today, Joshua calls for their re-commitment: to reaffirm their devotion to the Living God.
At Mt. Sinai, Israel had vowed to belong to the LORD, entering a covenant relationship, much like a marriage. Here at Shechem, Joshua was challenging Israel renew their vows, or forsake them. To make a definitive choice to be God’s faithful people, or not. “Now therefore revere the Lord,” Joshua says to the people, “serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15). He lays out for the people a choice with consequences: choose the LORD, and then live in line with that choice.
The people, for their part, seem to choose wisely. “Far be it from us” they said, “that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” And then they go on to recount all the LORD had done for them and their ancestors. “Therefore” they finally reply, “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Sounds like they made the right choice… but Joshua doesn’t buy it.
Why? Because he knows the LORD is holy, and he knows his people are not. Joshua has seen his people repeatedly turn their backs on God, from Egypt, to Mt. Sinai, and all the way to the Promised Land. He has seen them break their word to the LORD, again and again. Yes, they say the right words, they make this right choice, but for their choice to truly make a difference, they actually have to keep living in line with that choice. To put into practice their communal commitment… to be God’s faithful people. To be changed by their choice. The stakes are high for Israel. Everything is on the line.
But the people insist, and swear to serve the Living God alone. They double-down on their choice: “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” (Joshua 24:24). But sadly, we know story of Israel plays out as Joshua predicted. Despite all their promises, not long after their leader Joshua dies, the people abandon their covenant, and turn from the ways of God. Repeatedly choosing the cup of death, instead of the life the LORD offered them. Though there are moments and times of renewal, this pattern of betrayal continues throughout the centuries: through the time of the Judges, through the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, leading to God’s chosen people being carried away into exile, then after long years of hardship humbly returning to the Promised Land… no longer living in freedom, but under the rule of powerful, foreign empires.
The whole story of Israel in the Old Testament confronts all of us who would claim to love and serve the Living God, to reflect on our own choices: on where our devotion and loyalties truly lie. To not assume that words alone are what the LORD wants from us: He wants our hearts in line with Him… our lives to reflect His holy love. As Christ’s parable of the wise and foolish virgins reveals: It’s not enough to simply have a lamp, there must be fuel and fire too if there is to be any hope of shedding light. Jesus was confronting those people in His day who assumed they were being faithful to the LORD, but who were really turning away from Him, and were rejecting His Chosen One. Those who, despite outwardly seeming to make all the right choices, foolishly did not keep the flame of devotion to God alight in their hearts… and whose lives reflected religious practice empty of God’s holy love. And just as easily, we can fall into that very same trap: assuming that God is on our side, while choosing to walk away from Him. We can have a beautiful building, a perfectly practiced liturgy, and rich spiritual traditions, and still not know the LORD. We could have made the right choice to follow God some time ago, but if our life today is not backing up that choice, we too can expect to find some trouble ahead of our own choosing.
So where in this is the Good News for us today?
Well, I suppose warnings are a part of the good news as well. Being reminded that the stakes are high; that there is a true path for us to be following… a life-giving way ahead is not a bad thing at all. Christ’s warnings to “keep awake!” surely come from His heart of compassion, longing to stir up in us deep faith, and hope, and devotion.
All this is true, but the Good News is more than what we ourselves can do. It’s what the Living God has done for us in Jesus Christ! That is, God’s choice to be, not only our Leader, but our Saviour. God’s choice to shed His own blood once and for all at the cross, to reconcile His rebellious world, and bind us to Himself. Forgiving all our failures, as a gift of gracious love. Drinking the cup of death for us that we might taste eternal life.
Despite Israel’s pattern of unfaithfulness, Joshua had chosen with his household to serve the LORD. Like an even greater Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, chose to humbly take on our frail human life, and in our place He remained unerringly true to His Father, never once turning to the right or to the left from the will of the LORD. In His life and death, and resurrection, never to die again, Christ offers to all who trust in Him a place in God’s own household… joined to God’s own family in faith, as Christ shares His faithfulness with us, offering us His Holy Spirit to ignite our hearts with His holy love, empowering us to follow Him. To have our lives be shaped forever by His life-giving grace.
In Christ, the Living God has chosen graciously to come to the rescue of us, and of our world. He has chosen to pour out His saving, life-changing love on us. With the Holy Spirit’s aid, may we answer His call in faith, keeping alive the flame of devotion to the LORD, as we seek to follow Jesus in every choice we make: serving our faithful Saviour in all we say and do. Amen.
This Sunday at St. Luke's, in addition to our service of Holy Communion, we will take a moment to remember those of our Parish who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces. This Wednesday, Remembrance Day, we will also be posting our Parish Honour Role, as well as some prayers here on our website.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Holy Hope For Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow - Sermon for All Saints Day - November 1, 2020
Scripture Readings: Revelation 7:9–17 | Psalm 34:1–10, 22 | 1 John 3:1–3 | Matthew 5:1–12
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
What keeps us going when things get tough? I mean, really tough? I think this has been a pretty tough year… a truly crazy year. Even though here in southern New Brunswick, we have been largely sheltered from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, we still feel the weight of what our world is continuing to grapple with: rising numbers of cases and deaths, widespread economic uncertainty, disrupted patterns of life, and increasing isolation. Although we still have much to be thankful for, it makes sense if we’re feeling overwhelmed these days, in need of some sources of comfort and strength to help us carry on.
One common direction to look when we’re feeling discouraged is to the past: to the days when we felt safe and secure, and when the world made sense to us. As Christians we are blessed to belong to a community with a rich sense of history, and long memory. For thousands of years the Living God has caught up regular folks like you and I into the great story of His rescuing love. Through all sorts of troubles, the LORD has been faithfully caring for His people, leading them through challenges that make even this crazy year seem pretty tame. But as comforting as it can be to revisit days gone by, God’s story is not stuck in the past… it’s ongoing even today. And as we step into it we find ourselves being led towards blessed days that are to come… and a future filled with hope.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints, honoring God’s gracious gift given to humanity: drawing us into the blessed life of the Holy Trinity… into the holy communion of love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today we remember that we are a part of God’s glorious fellowship… comprised of believers from all nations, and cultures, and backgrounds, and times… stretching across every age, and into eternity. We’re reminded that we share our stories with those well-known Saints of old: people like St. Peter, St. Mary, and our Patron Saint, Luke the Evangelist. We remember that we are still bound to those Saints of our own acquaintance… with those we have known, who have lived and died keeping the faith. But even more than that, we remember that we are all called to be Saints… to take our place in this sanctified community; to be shaped by God’s own holiness, and transformed by His love.
It may seem like a stretch, thinking of ourselves as Saints, but this is what God has been up to with His people all along: setting some apart in order to offer His holy love to the world. Bringing some close in order to bring His blessed life to all.
We saw all this play out this Fall as we’ve been exploring the Exodus story. We heard how God rescued Israel, a helpless family of slaves, to make them into a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. Moved with compassion, the LORD overthrew their Egyptian oppressors, led them through the wilderness, and brought them into a sacred covenant relationship… so that they would be His people, and He would be their God; bound to each other in every facet of Israel’s life. The Law was given to train them in the way of faithful love: to reflect God’s own holy character out into the world, so that all the nations and peoples would come to know the Living God through the way that Israel actually lived… through God’s holy love embodied and practiced in their community, surrounded by a world that had basically forgotten Him.
We can see God’s plan for Israel way back in His promise to Abraham. In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were called to be a holy people in order to bring God’s blessing to all the families of the earth. From the very beginning, this calling to holiness is God’s gift to Israel, and to all. The few are set apart, in order that all might be blessed through them.
We can see this in the context for our Gospel reading this morning. Here Jesus is speaking to His disciples in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which in Matthew’s Gospel covers all of chapters 5-7. Just like God called Moses up Mt. Sinai to give him the Law for Israel, Jesus called His disciples up from the crowds, to teach them in the way of faithful love: to lay out what it looks like to trust and follow Jesus and walk in the ways of His Father in Heaven… offering a very distinct vision of the world. For how most people see life, you might know you’re on the right track if things were going well. When you have everything you need, feel successful and satisfied. But here, Jesus flips that picture completely on it’s head… and offers a different assessment of what it means to be blessed.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Not exactly what many today would call a picture of ‘the good life’. Gentle? Noble? Maybe. But blessed? Really? To live with this perspective in a world which prizes security status and power, and shuns all suffering, is to be on a completely different track… following a different path. But Jesus is not basing these claims of blessedness on the present, on one’s current circumstance, but on where this path is leading them, by the grace of God. He’s not offering abstract ideas about how good it might be to face challenges… as if to glorify suffering in and of itself. No, Christ is calling His disciples to follow the road He Himself is taking… to share with Him the blessed life of faithfulness to His Father. To live in line with the character of the Living God, even if that seems out of sync with the world around us, which is bound to bring real challenges and troubles our way.
For Jesus though, these blessing are deeply rooted in the future: with the good fruit that will come from living God’s way today. In the face of tough times Jesus points us to the future in hope; to see that our current circumstances are not how our stories will end. Christ does not promise that His followers will have an easy life, but He does offer us a share in the blessed life of God. Set aside to be holy, through the Spirit’s work within us, Jesus is drawing us into the community, into the communion of Saints… where all the troubles of today are met with God’s rescuing love.
In our reading from the book of Revelation, this morning, we are given insight into our world’s story from a heavenly perspective. St. John the visionary is shown, not a small huddle of super-spiritual elites… but an innumerable congregation drawn from every corner of the world, praising God after having come out of great trials and trouble, yet holding onto their faith, they find God faithful to the end. Listen again to this vision of the fate of God’s holy ones: Revelation 7:16-17,
“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb [Jesus] at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
What started as small gathering of ragtag disciples on the hillsides of Galilee, becomes this multitude, cleansed and made holy by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, now sharing together in the perfect peace of the Living God.
This is where God’s saving story has been headed since the very beginning: from an old childness couple, Abraham and Sarah, that God graciously gave the promise of a family, to the enslaved Israelites, graciously set free, and set apart to belong to Him completely, in order to reflect His character to all the nations, and now to the Christian Church, where the Holy Spirit is still at work taking ordinary, struggling, discouraged people, and drawing them His fellowship… into His holy family, as we heard in our New Testament reading. Let’s hear it again: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Not what we will be one day, but what, in Jesus, we are today! Beloved and blessed daughters and sons of our Father in Heaven, rescued by Christ’s sacrifice, and made holy through the gift of His Spirit.
Today it can be easy to give up on hope. But as God’s beloved children, called to be a holy community today, we can find our hope by remembering where our Lord Jesus Christ is leading us: towards a time when every tear is dried and every wound mended… where racial injustice and divisions are finally overcome… where poverty and loneliness and fear are washed away… and where we are united by the holy love of God once and for all.
This is our future, which we hold onto in hope… and through the Spirit’s work in us we can begin to see this holy hope take real shape in the present, today. By trusting in Jesus, and walking faithfully in His holy ways, the Spirit can bring the gift of God’s blessed life to our world drawing us His children into His great rescue mission, caught up into God’s gift of saving love meant for all.
As we mark the Feast of All Saints, may we look back, forward, and all around. May we look back and remember that the Living God has sent Jesus to rescue our world, dying and rising again from the dead once, and for all. May we look forward and face the future with confident hope, trusting in God’s holy love, which will wipe away every tear. And may we look around and faithfully follow Jesus Christ today; guided by His word, transformed by His Spirit, and drawn close to Him to share God’s blessed life with everyone. Amen.
 “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.” Exodus 6:7.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School