The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:30-34; 53-56
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Rest & Disciples
Today we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. And so, I want to talk about rest and disciples. When I read today’s gospel I thought, what a perfect passage to preach about just before my holidays which begin at the end of this week. Sometimes we can get too caught up in our lives with our work, volunteering, or ministry and forget that even God rested on the seventh day. It is almost a badge of honour that some people wear who work day and night week after week, month after month, year after year without taking a break. There are times when we need to get out of the rat race. We are humans and we need to rest and if we don’t change our minds while doing so, a rat at rest is still a rat. The meaning of the Greek word translated “rest” means to “stop”, as in, stop yourself from doing so much. If this doesn’t happen, the body and the mind will usually eventually tell us that we need to rest or, something happens that tells us to stop from doing so much.
I am reminded of a true story of a young priest in our diocese who was training to do a wedding. It was his first wedding and it was about this time of the year and he was quite tired. He was at the rehearsal and the priest in charge led him through the service. To be fair, the senior priest had trained me at one point in my early ministry was not the most thorough teacher. I remember being asked to administer the chalice only to be told, and this was all of my training, “Peter, would you please administer the chalice.” At the rehearsal the young priest wondered about when the bride and groom kiss. The senior priest quickly said, after you have declared them husband and wife, you may kiss the bride. At the wedding the next day the service was going along very well, no one was late, no rings were dropped or names forgotten and when it came to the declaration of marriage and kiss, he took his mentor’s words literally, and he kissed the bride. It was time to stop doing so much.
Rest is important because like the disciples we are sent out and that can be tiring. The Greek word for apostle means “to send out”. Our new Bishop, Susan Bell, has asked that the following message be placed on the diocesan website: As followers of Jesus, we seek to embrace all people by engaging God’s mission of love in the world.Christianity does have a mission in the world and it is the reason for the existence of the church. Christianity has been pushed out into the world since its beginnings and like a fledging bird it has been nudged out of its cozy nest by its parents. Christianity is driven not by getting exposure, or power, or to be show itself superior to other religions but because it is sent out by God to tell of our faith and live it.
Jesus has difficulty finding rest in his mission, but he does go up the mountain to pray after the feeding of the 5,000 which is what verses 35-52 are about. The crowd eventually finds Jesus and we are told that Jesus has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Disciples all need rest and they need shepherding. God took a rest and we are to rest. I hope that we can all rest, stop from doing so much over the summer and know that God will look after things even if we aren’t being so busy. Amen.
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 17, 2018
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Seeds and God’s Kingdom
Today we begin our journey in this season of Pentecost through Mark’s Gospel with the parables about the seed growing secretly and the Mustard Seed. The definition of a parable isa simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.The meaning of a parable can often be obscure and we hear at the end of the parable that Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples.
We begin with the question, who is the “someone” as stated in the first parable. We are the “someone”, and what does the “someone” do?The “someone” casts the seed on the earth, sleeps, gets up and ultimately, takes the sickle to the harvest, but they don’t know how the seeds grows; that is God’s job, to bring about the growth. That can lead to the idea that we can sit around and do nothing because the real work is done by God and God will look after it all.Here is a story that illustrates this point. A Rector tells the story of a man who called him to speak of her dissatisfaction with the program of the Church. He invited him to come to his office and talk about the falling numbers in the congregation with him. He accepted the invitation and brought to his attention some of the things that were needed and could be done. He gratefully acknowledged the wisdom of his ideas. He then said, "This is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person this Church needs. His reply was just as immediate. "Oh, no, I don't want to get involved. With the hours that I put on other things, I just don't have the time. But I will be glad to advise you any time." The preacher's answer was just as quick: "Good, gracious, that's the problem now. I already have 150 advisers. I need someone who will work."Although God makes the plant grow, we have the job of sewing and harvesting the plants, showing people in our lives our Christian faith and bringing them to into the fold. St. Mark’s has had a good record of bringing people to our church, almost each and every month. I pray that that continues.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is more difficult to unpack. Jesus could have picked the mighty cedar of Lebanon known well to his listeners for its longevity, size and beauty. But no, he picks a shrub. What was he thinking?To bring this into the present day, I would change the opening of the parable to: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like bamboo…. In our garden we have bamboo at the back and it is insidious; it grows everywhere and crowds out everything and seems to be able to jump over paths and continues to spread. A mustard seed, like the bamboo, when it grows it has takeover properties and it’s not going to neat and tidy, but it is the way God works.
I want to conclude with the story of Mother Teresa when she began her orphanage in Calcutta with something like a mustard seed. Mother Teresatold her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage." Her superiors told her, “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies...with three pennies, it just isn’t possible." "I know," she said, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything.” Amen.
The Third Sunday After Pentecost
June 10, 2018
MATTHEW 25: 34b-40
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We read in Acts 2:42, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers – that was a Rule of Life for the early church and I believe we each should have one too. On Easter Day, everyone received a Rule of Life insert in their bulletins and there are more at the back or the on website. The Rule of Life is based upon that of St. Benedict of prayer, study, work/volunteer, re-creation and hospitality on which we based a preaching series. It was my hope to be finished the preaching series by the end of May, but the weather and scheduling of feast days did not help. Today we are looking at the last ‘rule’, Hospitality. The accompanying question in the pamphlet about Hospitality was: How can I use my gifts in the service of God and for the benefit of others? I think it comes down to being perceived as God’s ambassadors as described in 2 Corinthians 5:20. There are many ways to do that at St. Mark’s: Volunteering in the area of Hospitality at our drop-in centre, The Beacon, which will start up again after the summer break in September; St. Mark’s Food Cupboard; Christmas Lunch; Greeters; Senior’s Lunches and Coffee hour to name a few.
What does the hospitality of God’s ambassadors look like? Here is an example. There is the story of a young couple, who about 30 years ago, decided to go back to church. The walk up the three steps to the church door felt like the longest and more nerve-racking steps they had taken since walking down the aisle at their wedding. They entered through the front door of the church, they got that part right, because it wasn’t well marked. When they entered the church, they were given an order of service and two books, and they made their way to a pew near the back. A woman, whose name was Else, saw that they were new, and went and introduced herself and welcomed them to the church. She sat with them and guided them through the service and took them down to coffee hour. The couple, because that warm welcome, stayed and are in still in the church today. That young couple, 30 years ago this year, was…. my wife, Elizabeth, and myself.
In Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romans 12:9-17), Paul states, Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. The reading doesn’t have "we must," "we should," and "let us"; there is no moralizing here, it simply says that the spirit will lead us in these ways and when we are not going in this direction, to remind us and help return to the right path. I ask that you take another, or a first, look at the Rule of Life pamphlet. I like to say that the measure of a person’s life is not seen through what they have, but what they have given and the Rule of Life can lead in that direction.If there was ever a reading that captured how to live our Christian lives, I think the reading from Matthew is it. Jesus says whether we feed the hungry, the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick or visit the prisoner, when we do these things to least of God’s children we do it to Jesus. That is something I hope and pray that we can live out in our lives as we remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors. Amen.
The Day of Pentecost
May 20, 2018
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.This is the last verse in today’s first reading from the book of Acts the traditional reading for the Day of Pentecost. Today we celebrate for the Day of Pentecost or Whitsunday, as it is known in England. Whitsunday came from "White Sunday" from its association with the white robes that were presented to be newly baptized in the early church. We hear today the first post-Pentecost sermon given by Peter after he and the other disciples receive the Holy Spirit. I want to look at the last line which I believe to be the most important: Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Peter quotes Joel for most of today’s portion of the sermon which is 509 words long (mine are about 600) and I would like to unpack the meaning of that verse and also deal with that tricky verse in Matthew, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Some of us will remember James Taylor, the American Folk Singer, who wrote many hits in the 70’s , one of which was, “You’ve got a friend”.
Here are a few lines:
When your down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.
You just call out my name,
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, oh yeah baby
To see you again.
We have all at one time or another in our lives called upon the name of God. It may happen daily in a spontaneous way, “O God, get me through this …” or more formalized when we pray and call upon God to help us. The verse ends with “will be saved”; salvation is the result of calling on the name of the Lord and so we need to understand what “calling on God” means in Scripture.The word “call” is also translated “appeal” and when we appeal, which in the Greek can also mean submit, we submit to God’s authority and serve him. This may help us understand that verse in Matthew 7:21‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.We read later in the chapter that three thousand repented, were baptized, and then devoted themselves to the disciples teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer. In our lives, if we repent and return to God in our Christian journeys, forgiveness is there. This is not to say that repentance and baptism have always been synonymous with “calling on the name of the Lord.” Calling on the name of the Lord in addition to repentance includes obedience, worship and service.
It’s the time of year when we may get back out into the garden, or out on the golf course, tennis court, or walking the trails. Like most things in life, they take work to get good at it (except maybe golf), to be more enjoyable and to be a focus in our lives, and calling upon the name of the Lord is the same. The Day of Pentecost begins the longest season of the year, The Season of Pentecost which will take until the First Sunday in Advent on December 2. If there ever was a time, a long time to work on a key component of our faith, calling upon the name of the Lord, this is it. Amen.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER IN ACTION
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. "An acquaintance passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The man passing by looks down the hole, says to be man “I be thinking of you” and moves on. "Then another person comes along who the man in the hole knows and the guy shouts up, 'I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' This man says that he’ll say a prayer for the man in the hole and moves on "Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
You may have heard that story before, but I have somewhat changed it using the now oft-used phrase, “thoughts and prayers”. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” rolls off the tongue very easily and sometimes that’s all we are to do, but if a situation is staring us in the face that requires action, then we are to be show deliberate love. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “love one another.” The noblest form of love is agape and this is the word used here. William Barclay, the biblical scholar said, Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.
I have a list of things that I set myself to do each Easter Season. Generally, the list has 10-15 new initiatives on it that I want to accomplish or begin in the Easter Season. One of the new initiatives was introduced by the Food Bank who wanted us to keep statistics of how many were coming to our door and getting food from our food cupboard. Twenty-two people came to St. Mark’s food cupboard in April. There was one person who was coming to the food cupboard almost every week in the past year. This person didn’t look well, and after talking with them I found out that they didn’t have a job, were living with 3 others in an apartment meant for one. Then suddenly as can happen, they stopped coming. This past week, I ran into the person who had been coming to our food cupboard at a local grocery store where they had a job at the check-out. They looked well and had moved. We had responded in love and had helped them through a tough patch.
If we don’t respond then we fall into the trap stated in James 2:16: “If a person says to those who are cold and hungry, ‘‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” What I am talking about here is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, in a word, empathy.There are two ways to respond; one is that you feel the same as the person we are concerned about. In my own calling, I knew of a priest who responded in a distressed state and would cry their way through many of the funerals they took – not helpful. The other way to respond is to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and reach out and help them. That’s love in action, living deliberately, agape love.May that be the principle by which we live. Amen.