Living Faith | Growing Love | Sharing Hope - Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany (February 12, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15–20 | Psalm 119:1–8 | 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 | Matthew 5:21–37
“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Have you every been turned around in an unfamiliar part of town? Last week, I was driving to an appointment in Saint John in the evening. Though it was in a part of town I don’t often go to, I knew the route pretty well, and I thought I had plenty of time… until, just as I was drawing near to my destination, I saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles up ahead. Apparently, there had just been an accident, and the road was completely blocked. I had to turn around and find a new way to get to where I needed to go.
Here's where my… let’s say, somewhat fuzzy mental map of Saint John comes into the story.
I was pretty confident I knew another way to get to my appointment, although it would mean backtracking a bit, and travelling less familiar roads. So I went with my gut, and all seemed fine at first… but the further I went down my new route, the clearer it was becoming that I had taken a wrong turn.
Actually, it was a bit worse than that. I had taken the right turns. The ones I intended to make… I was following my new route flawlessly… it just turns out that my intended destination was on a completely different road, and growing further and further away with each passing moment.
So, as frustrating as it was, I had to pull over, and pull out my phone, and finally figured out where I actually was, and how to get un-lost.
From time to time, we all have to do this kind of thing in life: we have to stop for a moment, regain our bearings, and find the right way forward again.
This past year, members of our Parish Mission Visioning Group have been doing just that: taking time together to reflect on how we at St. Luke’s can keep taking part in the mission of the Living God here in Gondola Point and beyond.
Part of what we considered was the need for a clear sense of direction for our Church: a vision for where we are headed together, to keep us all on the right track. This led us to propose a new vision statement for St. Luke’s, which we brought to Vestry, and was eventually adopted at our Annual Meeting last Sunday afternoon.
So our new vision statement, our best sense of where God is calling us to go as a Church community is this: Living Faith | Growing Love | Sharing Hope.
All the decisions we make about how to move forward as a Parish family, or how to carry on doing what we do will take this new vision into account. So even when we end up in unfamiliar territory, we will at least remember what matters most, and work together to pursue it.
But what do we mean by Living Faith, Growing Love, and Sharing Hope? How might this vision statement help us stay on track together? There’s a whole lot we could say about this statement in itself, but we don’t gather here to just to hear human words, but to contemplate the word of God.
Thankfully, our Scripture passages today invite us to reflect on what it means to be Living Faith, Growing Love, and Sharing Hope. While we won’t address every aspect of what our new vision statement intends to cover this morning, I hope it will give us a taste of what we believe the Lord has in mind for our Parish.
In our first reading today from the book of Deuteronomy, we catch a glimpse of what Living Faith looks like: Choosing to put our trust in the Living God into practice.
This passage comes at the conclusion of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible that serve as the foundation for the rest of the Biblical story… anchoring all that follows in the creating, rescuing, and sustaining work of
Yahweh, the Living God, in partnership with His people, who have been set apart to share His holy life, so that all the world might be blessed.
The trouble is though, that time and again, God’s people get lost… spiritually speaking. They think they know which way to go, but end up far from the life God intends for them, trusting their own instincts and desires, instead of trusting their Lord to guide them.
And so, at the end of Deuteronomy, God’s people are being called to stop… to regain their bearings, and choose the way forward that will truly lead to life… not by going their own way, but by walking in God’s holy ways:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
While we may not be ancient Israelites, about to enter into the Promised Land, we too must keep choosing every day to live as those who trust the Lord to guide us into life, even when we feel pulled to go off in all sorts of other directions.
We too are called to trust that the Living God really wants what is best for us, or our community… and for our world… following God, and deepening our faith in Him is essential to all we do.
Which leads us to our Gospel reading, in which we explore what it looks like to be Growing Love: nurturing the holy love of God with our whole lives.
Our passage today from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes from the so-called Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus Christ God’s Son, teaches His followers, back then and today, what it means to wholeheartedly follow God’s ways here on earth, and to become a people reshaped and renewed by His holy love.
But before we take a close look at the words of Christ, let’s take a second and think about the difference between a garden, and a patch of wilderness.
Both likely involve some plants. Both likely have their own beauty, and attractiveness. But one thing that gardens have that wilderness does not have is a sense of intention. An order and purpose that includes but goes beyond simply growing things for their own sake. A garden is cared for and cultivated in order for certain, chosen things to grow and bear fruit, and to keep all other things from taking root in its soil.
What Christ is doing in our Gospel reading today is teaching us what it takes for God’s love to grow in us… the ways to tend to our hearts and our relationships so that His love can flourish among us and bear good fruit in the world.
What Jesus tells us about how to nurture God’s love goes well beyond the world’s experience and expectations… and what often comes naturally to us. But Jesus is not just trying to help us be “good people”, but “God’s people.”
A people who are learning to resist the pull of anger, resentment, and wrath… a path which leads us to division, and ends up having us demonize all those we disagree with.
A people who recognize that our own desires can often lead us into disaster… distorting how we see and relate to the people around us, that God calls us to love with purity and kindness, and goodness, not just as objects to be used for our own gratification.
A people who are striving to be committed and faithful to one another, understanding that our human relationships are not simply disposable, but are the very soil in which the Living God is at work, reconciling, and redeeming deeply broken people like us, and putting us back together through the practices of repentance, grace, and forgiveness.
A people of integrity, who don’t need to be compelled to speak the truth, but who seek to live honestly in our daily lives, especially when that is difficult, because we are bound to the One who is the Truth.
Through the commands Christ Jesus gives to His followers, we find the garden of God’s holy love: patience and forgiveness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness, integrity. These are the fruit that the Holy Spirit cultivates within the life of God’s people, meant not just for their own benefit, but to be share with all those around us.
This holy love is inseparable from the life God calls us into. And so, growing His love must be at the heart of all we do.
But as any seasoned gardener will tell you, sometimes growing things is really hard work! Especially if we’re starting from scratch, and are still just learning the basics.
This is the challenge of the Christian life too. Sometimes it’s really hard to choose to trust God, and to do what it takes to let His holy love begin to grow in our lives. We can often feel discouraged… inadequate… especially when we trip up and fall, or when we suddenly find ourselves lost, and far off from where we thought we were headed.
Thankfully, we don’t need to give up, or give into our doubts or despair. As we are reminded in our second reading today, the way forward for us means Sharing Hope: helping each other to hold on, and carry on because of Jesus Christ.
In our second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle confront some deep misunderstandings that were causing all sorts of chaos and trouble in the Church of Corinth. One of the issues was that the Christians were rallying around their favourite Christian teacher or leader, setting up all sorts of rivalries that were tearing their community apart.
In many ways, they were lost… far off track from the kind of love Christ Jesus calls us into… the holy love at the heart of the Gospel message St. Paul and others had shared with them.
But as lost as they were, St. Paul doesn’t just give up on them. He calls them to stop. To take a look at themselves, and what they were doing… and turn back to what mattered most: the life of the Living God at work in them.
And as he does so, St. Paul shares real hope with those of us who are still mere beginners when it comes to living out our faith and growing God’s holy love.
He speaks of these divisive Christians as infants in the faith, still needing to be fed spiritual milk… but with the expectation that they, that we will continue to grow! He redirects their attention from where we are all inclined to place our confidence… in strong leaders that we look up to, or in our own capabilities, or sense of maturity… and points us to the only One on whom our hope is secure.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
It is God who gives the growth. He is the One our confidence must rest upon. We all play a part. We all have ways to be involved in His mission and work, serving together with the common purpose of His kingdom, side by side. But we can face the future with hope, not because we are on the right team, or because we’ve got everything figured out, but because of the Good News of what the Living God has done and is doing even now.
Because Jesus, God’s Son has come into the world to set us free. To forgive us our sins, reconciling us to God and each other by His own blood. To show us what God’s holy love truly looks like as He gave His life for the world at the cross. To rescue us from the fear and chains of death through His resurrection from the grave. To fill us with God’s holy love by giving to us His own Holy Spirit.
As we strive to live out our faith, and grow in God’s love, we too will share in the work of hope. Apollos, Paul, you and I… all of us, even when we feel lost, and way off track… this hope is for all of us to share: carrying on because we believe God’s Holy Spirit Himself is at work in, among, and through us. No one is too far off… too lost to be beyond our Saviour’s reach.
And so we keep working in God’s garden. We plant, we water, we weed, because we trust, we believe that God Himself is going to make something good grow here.
Living Faith, Growing Love, Sharing Hope. Choosing each day to put our trust in God into practice. Nurturing the holy love of God with our whole lives. And helping each other hold on, and carry on because of Jesus Christ. This is all at the heart of where we believe God is leading us as a Parish here in Gondola Point. By the gracious power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, may we always be living faith, growing love, and sharing hope. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School