The Last Sunday After Epiphany
March 3, 2019
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Today, on this last Sunday after Epiphany we hear the story known as the Transfiguration. For what begins as Jesus, taking Peter, John and James up the mountain to pray, there is certainly a lot of talking, speaking, said (three times), saying spoken and finally silence. I did this word search because the reading is really about listening. Listening to God through what is an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus and the disciples and our lives. Today, I want to talk about listening in worship, sharing our faith and prayer.
The first time we hear of talking and speaking in this passage is that suddenly two men, Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus. We read that they were speaking of Jesus departure in Jerusalem which we know and will see in his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Peter and the others are about to fall asleep and as Moses and Elijah are about to leave Peter says that they should make three dwellings to commemorate the event. But, while Peter is talking God interrupts Peter and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We have to be silent to listen to God in worship. Often times, when there is silence in a service it is thought that someone has forgotten something. I remember at St. Luke’s when I was an Assistant Curate and the other Curate, Rob Park was leading the service. At that point in the service, the then Archdeacon Ralph Spence is saying to himself, but audible to me, “The Psalm, Robbie, the Psalm, the Psalm!” Silence can be very hard to endure in a society where we are constantly bombarded with sound, speech and noise and we can take with us everywhere we go with our smartphones and it’s hard to listen to God. “Listen to him” is one of the key verses in the passage. It is in the Greek Present Imperative Tense, which implies that there is a continuing action as in, keep on listening to him. Listening in worship can come in those moments of silence more often than at any other time in the service as we keep on listening to him.
Silence is also something that can be found in sharing our faith. I have found that sharing our faith usually begins with listening. There is the phrase, “You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich no matter how good the sandwich might be." There are many aspects of our faith that can be shared, but we first need to listen to hear the need of the person we are talking with. If one is hungry, a sandwich is good news. If one is drowning, a rope or a life-jacket is good news.Often times we don’t listen to the needs of others. I remember visiting a parishioner who had a friend with them. The friend thought that they knew what the person I was visiting needed and as passionate a faith they had and what an excellent prayer she led it didn’t speak to the parishioners need.
We have all heard from time to time a life changing event in a person’s life or what we call a mountain top experience. We often use that phrase, mountain top experience, which as you might guess comes from the bible. Moses received the 10 Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, Moses is shown the promised land from Mount Nebo. A mountain top experience is some that some preachers, some Christians talk about on and on and it seems that they have become frozen in that event. The more relevant and important discussion should be what role has Jesus played in your life this week or today. Are we listening through our prayer time to God, being in the moment, not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. When we taking the time to listen to be aware of God’s word in our lives through our prayer time, sharing our faith and in worship. Amen.
THE RECTOR’S REPORT TO VESTRY – 2019
The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Old Testament and gives the account beginning at Mount Sinai where the Israelites have received the Ten Commandments and the laws from God. Numbers ends with them ready to cross the Jordan River. In the book we hear about the Israelites journey and their constant complaining. When they get about halfway to Canaan, Moses sends twelve spies into the promised land. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, tell the people that the land is beautiful and is theirs for the taking. The other 10 spies believe the forces protecting Canaan outmatch Israel.They refuse to take the land, and so God tells them that they will wander through the wilderness and God will give the land to their children. God says to Moses at one point, How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?The people refuse to trust in God and take risks in spite of everything God has done for them.
We use numbers all of time. Numbers are something that most of us can get a handle on and understand. The temperature, the steps we walked in a day, how much money we saved or spent on something, the score of the latest Leafs game. This year in my Report to Vestry I want to talk about numbers. To get more specific I want to look at our FINANCES, ATTENDANCE AND OUTREACH atSt. Mark’sand how we have taken risks, trusted in God and how we continue to do so in our ministry together as followers of Jesus.
FINANCES One of my favourite quotations about Stewardship is found in the Book of Common Prayer when the Celebrant blesses the Offertory with the words: Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel, for ever and ever. All that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine. All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.(1 Chronicles 29: 10, 11, 14) That pretty well sums up to me what Stewardship is all about. At Vestry last year we took the risk of passing a deficit budget and yet 2018was a very good year financially speaking. We received 5.8% above 2017’s envelope budget,$9759 in the Adopt-A-Bill program, and almost 12% over our Christmas Envelope budget. I am also glad to share that over the past three years our total givers, donations and average gift are all up. Our 2019 Budget is very tight and although we have another deficit budget I hope that in taking this risk again, we can do the same again in 2019 that we did in 2018.
ATTENDANCE Believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14: 1b)I was at a meeting recently where someone told the story about a man who was attending a service at a new church in his town. When he was leaving the church the Priest asked him if there were any improvements he could suggest concerning the ministry of the church. The man paused for a moment and said, “Your church follows the pattern of first you live a spirit led life, then you believe in Jesus and then you can belong to the church. What really should happen is that you belong to the church, come to believe in Jesus and then live a spirit led life.” This is a more biblically authentic and yet risky stance to take and I believe that it is the one taken by St. Mark’s. I read a statistic about how people start attending church: Advertising: 2%; Invited by the Priest: 6%; Organized Visitation: 6% and a friend invited me: 86%. We have been an inviting and welcoming community and yet there are still challenges. When it comes to attendance in 2018 it is a bad news, good news story. This past year our average Sunday attendance, a number that I watch carefully, dropped from 131 to 125. The good news is our Sunday attendance rose from 135 in the last quarter of 2017 to 146 during the last quarter of 2018. In so far as the beginning of 2019 is concerned our average Sunday attendance is also up over last year (2018 average Sunday attendance: 118; 2019 average Sunday attendance:125). My prayer is that this pattern continues in 2019.
OUTREACH Tucked away in the Letter to the Hebrews in chapter 13 verse 15 it reads, Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.Many here are St. Mark’s give of their time, talent and treasure towards our outreach. The Beacon, our Monday and Wednesday afternoon drop-in, is now in its seventh year and continues to provide a safe place out of the cold for many. Our Food Cupboard had over 225 visits since last April when we started recording statistics. The numbers were split almost exactly evenly between male and female and the majority of people were middle-aged, many with young children at home. The Rector’s Discretionary Fund also helped many through the generosity of parishioners with almost $3,000 worth of food cards given out. I have heard those who come to the Beacon say that they really appreciate a place where they can come and feel accepted. I have been hugged more times than I can count from those who come to our Food Cupboard and I will always remember the comment of one man who came to our Christmas Day Lunch that he had nowhere to go and we had given him Christmas. I quote a verse from the well-known hymn, “Will you Come and Follow Me”” Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? Looking forward into 2019 we will continue to risk and reach out into the community.
People are not numbers and yet this past year we have seen some extraordinary numbers from our people. After 12 years as our Music Ministry Coordinator and many decades before that serving in the music ministry of St. Mark’s, Pam Claridge retired. Pam brought an unparalleled commitment and passion to our music ministry and continues to serve in the community through our music ministry. Donald Grant, our People’s Warden, is stepping down having served for seven years in that capacity and four years before that as Deputy People’s Warden. Yvonne Guse Rahn, the Rector’s Warden, is also stepping down after four years of service and four years as Deputy Rector’s Warden. Both immediately said they would continue to help out in our ministry in the future. I personally have appreciated their wisdom and counsel over the years. Looking ahead into 2019 I am happy to report that Neil White has allowed his name to stand for Deputy People’s Warden and Carol Hulcoop has been appointed the Deputy Rector’s Warden. Both bring experience and wisdom to their positions.
Easter is a moveable feast and the date of Easter is determined with a series of numbers: It is the first Sunday, after the first full moon after March 21. Ash Wednesday is therefore late this year beginning on March 6 when we as a church will journey to the cross with Jesus and his disciples to the good news of Easter. I pray that St. Mark’s continue to be the church that takes risks, trusts in God and offers the hope of Easter in our ministry together. Amen
The Venerable Peter Scott 19th Rector of St. Mark’s
The Third Sunday After Epiphany
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
ENGAGING WITH THE WORLD
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” And whatscripture was Jesus referring to? It’s from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.Often, when we pray, we try to get God to give us a pain-free world. God, it would seem from our life experience, wants us to accept him in our pain-ridden world. In this way we will find happiness now rather than waiting for the future; the presence of God is here and now for us, today. I remember some time ago hearing about a woman who had been diagnosed with an illness that might end her life. She went through a number of therapies and then it was time to wait, wait and see if they worked. She said that whatever happened, life or death, she would be at peace. That’s the place we want to be.As I read somewhere, being "spiritual" does not mean escaping the world, but engaging the world today.
Today’s reading is an important one for it begins Jesus’ ministry. Luke begins his Gospel by saying that he wants to write an ‘orderly account’ about Jesus. Today we get what, by all accounts, is Jesus inaugural address where he lays out the plan for his ministry. Jesus states the message, embodies the message and is the message. We hear that the people glorify, or ‘praised’ Jesus, which is a weaker translation. As I like to say those smarter than me have discovered that “glorified” is only used three times in Luke’s Gospel: (1) today’s text -- response to Jesus' teaching (4:15); (2) the shepherds after seeing the infant Jesus (2:20); and (3) the centurion at Jesus' death (23:47) – all three are very important markers in Jesus’ life.But, after they hear what Jesus says, that he is the fulfillment of prophesy, they become enraged and want to kill him. We are hearing this with 21st century ears and know who he is and what he brings, one of which is hope.
In our Anglican funeral service, when I stand at a graveside, I say these words: ‘In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ… which are the words used as sand is placed on the casket or urn in the form of a cross.‘In sure and certain hope’– I like that phrase and it’s on my mind quite often, especially when times get tough. The word ‘hope’ has a different meaning in the Bible than it does today. When we say, “I hope it doesn’t get too cold tonight”, you know exactly what I mean: “It would be nice if this happened, but it might not”. There’s no certainty about this kind of hope; we’re wishing about the future, but we know our wishes don’t always come true. But when the Bible uses the word ‘hope’, it’s talking about something different. ‘Christian hope’, in the Bible, means the future that God has promised. We look around us now and see a world in which bad things happen to good people, in which people are oppressed and in which they die of deadly diseases. But the Bible promises us that things are not always going to be this way. There is the hope of heaven, the life after this. That hope is in us now.
Jesus had the custom of going to the synagogue and reading and it might have been just another Sabbath for the people, but it didn’t turn out that way. Today might seem like just another Sunday, but the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, so that same Spirit is upon us to do something, to decide something today. Amen.
The Baptism of the Lord
January 13, 2019
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today, we read about the Baptism of the Lord which followed the Visitation of the Magi last week, Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 the week before that and before that Jesus lying a manger- a busy time. We have begun 2019, a new year, with new hopes and expectations. We hear the opening words of today’s reading from Luke chapter 3 verse 15, As the people were filled with expectation… The people came out because they were expecting a great and fierce leader and John the Baptist fit that part; they were wondering if he was the Messiah. John the Baptist says he is not the Messiah, but tells them, the one who is coming after me whose thong on his sandals I am not worthy to untie who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. We read later in the passage: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”This is what God is saying to his son, Jesus. What a saying! What do we say to our children? Teaching our children faith in Jesus is one thing that we all hope to do.
We often use the quotation, there is nothing new under sun. The full quotation is from Ecclesiastes 1:9: What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.We follow in the footsteps of Christ and we hope that our children will also. I read recently some statements that are attributed to Bill Gates, but I think that we have heard them before – there is nothing new under the sun. I will read some of them to you and then give a corresponding piece of scripture – some of them agree with the statement and some of them don’t.
Life is not fair -- get used to it! Psalm 9:8 states: He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.There is much injustice in the world, but it is a comfort to know that God is a just God and will be the final judge. The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. Too many are looking to someone else to bring their happiness to them. “But let everyone prove their own work, and then shall they have rejoicing in themselves alone, and not in another" (Galatians 6:4). You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a cellphone until you earn both. Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper and be satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4). Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping -- they called it opportunity. In Colossians (3:23-24) we read, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ”.Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you are. So before you save the rain forest, try delousing the closet in your own room.First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye(Matt 7:5).
So how do we make sure that our children are taught well? There is a well-known illustration called footprints that speaks of footprints in the sand and how over the course of a person’s life they look back and notice there are two sets in the sand, theirs and God’s, but they notice especially during the difficult times that there is only one to which God responds, that is when I carried you. I heard recently of a Canadian take on that, Snowshoes in the Snow. If you have ever snow shoed you know that you leave tracks, but if you snow in out on a lake or open space on a windy showy day if you look back far enough you will see that your tracks disappear. But the point is that they were there. May our tracks seen and unseen help all children grow into the full stature of Christ. Amen