Peter Scott's Sermons
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020
A READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
In my Easter letter, which will be sent out shortly, I begin it with the following thoughts: As followers of Jesus we engage, offer, invite, welcome, love, and proclaim. New terms have recently entered our vocabulary such as social distancing, self-quarantine and flattening the curve. In light of this, we have had to cancel, stop, hold off, postpone, uninvite, and close our doors on the Lord’s Day. This goes against everything we have learned from the teachings of Jesus and who we are as Christians. And so, due to COVID-19, we are for the time being, the church dispersed. This means that the church, the body of Christ, carries on outside its walls.
We are now gathering through technology, which we may have thought might be the case in some remote distant future time, but here we are today. I know that some of us from time to time might watch services on Sunday’s from other churches, but this is a first for St. Mark’s. Today, I would like to talk about who is in control and the light of Christ.
I want to begin with T.V. and movies. When we watch T.V. or go to the movies, there are what are known as trailers, a short ad for a movie, which are shown before the main feature. There are always the common phrases which seem to show up in many of these trailers: “In a land before time”, “Now more than ever”, or “When your life is no longer your own”. I’ll stick with my day job! As I thought about how often these phrases are used in trailers, I think they represent what we are often faced with in life I guess that is why they are so often used and they can be applied to our Christian journeys especially during this unique and difficult time: “In a land before time” – that was way back then and this is now we might say, but what Jesus said still has meaning; “Now more than ever”- there is an urgency in our lives in these times; “When your life is no longer your own”- sometimes we may feel that our lives are not own, not of our own making, that things are out of control.
We like to be in control, but God is in control, always has been, always will be. Remember that list I used in a sermon a few weeks ago; Justin Trudeau, Bernie Sanders & Donald Trump – they’re not in control -God is. And the light of the world: In today’s gospel, Jesus said that he came to the world that the blind should see and those who see should be blind; Jesus then sheds light on the situation and what that means. It begins with the Pharisees asking whether Jesus considers them to be blind. He assures them that because of their sin, they are blind. We have to admit our sin and blindness knowing that Christ is our light and our salvation and then we will see.
There is a phrase that we use that we think might can get us off the hook. In March 2009, a 62-year-old woman was charged with stealing more than $73,000 from her church in the state of Washington. When the detectives interrogated her, she told them: “Satan had a big part in the theft.” It sounds like she was saying, “the devil made me do it”. Satan played a role in her choice, but she has some faulty thinking about temptation and sin. The devil tempts believers, but doesn’t make us sin, we do the sinning. When we sin, we hurt ourselves or someone else, or both, and that grieves the heart of God. Jesus sheds light on what we do wrong and is the guiding light to life now and eternal life. Earlier in this passage from scripture from John, Jesus says that he is the light of the world.
We were talking about our stained glass window, “The Light of the World” a couple of weeks ago in our Confirmation Class. We talked about the symbolism of light and how Jesus is that light. Light in the physical world has the property of revealing things so that we can see where we are going and not trip up. This idea is carried over into the spiritual realm, in that Jesus brings things to the light: Jesus reveals things about people that they would rather leave hidden in the dark and trip us up spiritually. Light in the physical realm, as well as in the spiritual, is seen as a creation of God. We ourselves cannot create light; Christ’s light shines through us and we give God the glory. God, the creator of light, is alone to be worshiped, since he is ‘above all and through all’ he has made. Admitting that we have sinned is a release; we have to admit our sin to ourselves, to the person we wronged and to God and we are forgiven in Christ.
I pray, as we continue to journey through Lent as the church dispersed, that here and wherever we find ourselves, that we are forgiven and we forgive. I would like to end with one of my favorite passages from Luke 6:38 which speaks of forgiveness, and being what God calls us to be: Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ That is what we are to be, giving, especially in this very trying time when we hear of hoarding and those who are not following the guidelines of the Health Department. And remember, God is in control and let the light of Christ shine through us and give God the glory. Amen.
The Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2020
John 3: 1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
For God so loved
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature as Luther called it. It is a verse in scripture that we know and love and captures the heart of the message of the gospel; God’s love, Jesus, belief and eternal life. Today, I want to continue with a theme that I started last week, which is, naming that which is not found in the Bible. Last week’s items were Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, and the word, “Easter”. Having said that, in Acts, as far as coming together to celebrate the act of what we call Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, we read in Acts 20:7: On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread…. Here is another list of other things that are not found in the bible which are possibly on our minds these days: Covid-19, Teacher’s strikes, Truth & Reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples, Justin Trudeau, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. I think that the language of God should be in our response to what is going on: love, Jesus, belief and eternal life.
There are those who say our response to the above list of Covid 19 etc. are what we are about, and those who say that is not what we are about but rather God’s love, Jesus, belief and eternal life. I don’t think that this is something that we can take the Peter Scott middle road on, or the via media of the Anglican Church. I would say Covid-19, etc are not what we are about wherever we might find ourselves in support or not of this list. When it comes to these realities, and they are real, don’t get me wrong and they do affect us, I would suggest a way to respond which is, unfortunately, harder. It’s hard because it gets at the root of most of the issues facing us. Jesus preached against greed, hypocrisy, specifically of religious leaders, self-centredness, and preached for fair treatment of the poor and lowly, salvation, faith, prayer, repentance, and righteousness. We apply these words, these teachings to whatever is before us.
I preface the following remarks with the point that my point is that we come from a Christian perspective in our dealings with the world; I can’t pretend to solve the issues. So let’s talk about what we talk about greed and love. Greed is often associated with money which is the root of all evil. But money is not the root of all evil. One would wonder how this could be so, especially in a few minutes we will ask God to bless the money given to the church, cash, cheques and those who give by PAP; it doesn’t make sense. As some of you know, we read in 1 Timothy 6:10, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. I think that you get the point and this is the language that gets to the root of many of the problems and issues that we face.
This then makes us think about love, the love of what/who as in, For God so loved the world… I think that we should start and end with love; it’s the middle part that can be difficult. I am reminded of the response that Otto, played by Kevin Klein in the movie “A Fish Called Wanda” who used to ask after something was explained to him, “What was the part in the middle?” The part in the middle is also love, but it gets complicated. This then leads to ask, who do we love and the subject of inclusion. I don’t think that the church should be about inclusion. Now having said that, let me explain. I include you, may be a start, but it doesn’t end there, and it doesn’t have much impact. The language of Jesus is love, and love that includes somehow our enemies and that will have an impact.
I have been talking about coming from a Christian perspective on issues that face us today. In the end what I wish that the church would speak through the Christian lens, using Christian terms, the language and teachings of Christ. It sometimes seems that the church is embarrassed, forgotten in the melee of the discussion to use the words of Jesus, or what he said or taught.
I conclude with the phrase, “born again”, one of a number of challenging phrases that Jesus uses in today’s passage. The Greek word is anothen and it is usually translated, born again or anew, or from above, but most literally translated it means “from up”. If you chose to use that translation, when asked are you born again, it will probably open up a conversation, that could include Covid 19 etc. and our Christian response of God’s love, Jesus, faith and eternal life from people who are from up. Amen to that.
The First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2020
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Lead us not into temptation
We began a season, the Season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, neither of which are mentioned in the Bible. The day before that, we had our largest meal of the year, on Shrove Tuesday, which is not mentioned in the Bible. It takes 40 days and 40 nights to get through this season to get to Easter, which is not mentioned in the Bible, although it is used in the King James Version once (Acts 12:4), but it is a poor translation which is corrected in the New King James Version where it is probably translated, Passover. Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent have been used by the church to remind us of Jesus’ self-denial. They prepare us in body, mind and soul for Easter Day when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Each and every year of our three year cycle of readings on the First Sunday of Lent, the scripture passage is about the temptation of Jesus. I myself and many others have looked at, studied and preached on the three temptations that Jesus resists. But not this year. Today, I want to focus on the first line of the passage which is often glazed over because we have heard it so often, or we just want to get to the nitty gritty, the important stuff in the passage – the temptations themselves. The first line reads: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted (or tested) by the devil. I want to begin today’s sermon begin by asking does God test God’s people? The answer is yes, God does test us. One reason why God tests us, like Jesus was tested, is given in Deuteronomy 8:16: “to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.” No one really likes to going to have test at the hospital or doctor’s office, but we know that the tests are prescribed for our good. We may well ask then in the Lord’s Prayer, what does Jesus mean by “lead us not into temptation? This phrase, then, must be understood in the sense of “permitting.” Thus translated, Jesus taught us to pray, “Do not ‘‘permit’ us to be tempted to sin.” I found this illustration which may help us understand, “Lead us not into temptation”. It goes like this: A mother takes her young children grocery shopping with her and comes to the candy aisle. She knows that taking her children down that aisle will lead to bouts of whining and pouting. In wisdom, she takes another route. In this way the mother spares her children a trial. Praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” is like praying, “God, don’t take me down the candy aisle.” I suspect we have all done something like that ourselves.
The Lord’s prayer does not teach us to pray against God testing us. What the Jesus’ prayer teaches us is that temptation does not take us in. Don’t lead me into temptation. Today and each day in our lives we will have to make choices. And so we pray that God will hold us back from stepping inside the temptation. God tests us to discover the depths of our faithfulness, while Satan tempts us to sin. God’s purpose is to strengthen faith. Satan’s purpose is to weaken faith.
The Celebration of Easter is not in the Bible either, but getting together on first day of the week is. The early church did gather together and broke bread as we read in Acts 20:7: On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread… We gather together today and on all the Sunday’s in Lent to celebrate our new life in Christ. This is another reminder that today and the other Sunday’s in Lent are just that, they are not of Lent, but in Lent. We will gather each and every Sunday to be strengthened by God to resist sin, not to be lead into temptation and to prepare to celebrate the chief feast day of our faith, Easter Day. Amen.
THE RECTOR’S REPORT TO VESTRY
FEBRUARY 9, 2020
“The Word of the Lord Endures forever”. That was the motto of the Lutheran Reformation based on 1 Peter 1: 24-25: “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures for ever”. I remember being asked by one of our Assistant Curates why I attended our bible study on Thursday mornings. My response was simple: I wanted to continue to learn. Over my years here at St. Mark’s, I have learned, you have learned, we have learned about God’s word. I know that there will be more learning in 2020.
A former Bishop liked the phrase, “Bloom where you are planted”. There is no sense in living in a bubble in our community. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us and Paul said, “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10) Mental health and poverty often go hand in hand. I think that these are two issues going forward that we need to continue to focus on. It touches almost every family in one way or another from Alzheimer’s to mental illness in youth. In the coming year we will continue to partner with a number of mental health organizations in town who use our kitchen and parish hall, some of whom we have given a significant break on rent.
This past year the Word of the Lord has kept us on the move with a number of new projects, initiatives and ministries. Somewhere out there under the snow is a new parking lot and we have one more layer to add in the spring. I would like to thank everyone who donated to this important, but not very interesting project, which was needed to be done, is now completely paid for, and I thank you for your patience. In 2019, we refurbished and dedicated our library in the Elizabeth Room in memory of The Rev’d Mary Ranger. This project was a great example of treasure at St. Mark’s, all of which was given anonymously and it also exemplified the gift of time and talent of many parishioners. This was also seen through members of our Outreach Committee who gave their time and talent to opening the door due increase in traffic to our Food Cupboard.
Our organist, Greg Dickison began his ministry with us in February of last year and in January of this year we dedicated a new rehearsal piano in thanksgiving for Pam Claridge’s music ministry. We launched a new website in the fall of this year and now have St. Mark’s sermon podcasts. St. Mark’s has had a long tradition of being a training parish for both lay and ordained and 2019 was no exception. New servers, greeters, chalice bearers, lay readers have all been, and continue to be, trained and we had Amy Pauley as a seminary student. We are called, as it says in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:12), “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” I know that this will continue into this new decade.
You might remember last year Bishop Susan asked us to take on ‘One Thing’. The idea is that you would take on one thing in your Christian journey to increase your relationship with Christ. I would like us in 2020 to think about the one thing that gets in the way between us and God. If you have a list, pick one and concentrate on that one thing for the year ahead. Money, dislike of a person, group or religion, and ‘we never did it that way’ are all examples of what can get in the way between us and God. With this in mind, we all are seeing the church in every denomination shrinking as the years pass. At the end of each year I tally up the statistics for baptisms, weddings, funerals, average Thursday and Sunday attendance amongst others for the past year. There have sad times as we lost a number of stalwart long-time parishioners. And, we have gained new ones which has resulted in the average Sunday attendance remaining the same as the previous year. 2020, I pray, will be a year when we discover, as we say in our Celtic service, “new ways found to touch the hearts of all”. All the new technology does not replace the face to face interaction of bringing new parishioners to St. Mark’s which I hope will continue.
In 2019 St. Mark’s received two bequests from the estates of Carmen Shepherd and Connie MacDougall. They were both inspired by our ministry to leave a legacy to our church which is very important for our ongoing ministry. In the next few weeks we will be launching our new Heritage Pamphlet. I want to thank the Stewardship Committee who put a lot of time and effort into creating the pamphlet which clearly outlines our commitment to remembering our heritage and reaching out into the community. The money invested helps us each year with our budgeting and we have managed for two years not to draw on the principal in this fund. I hope that this continues in the years to come. Our finances have been a major challenge over the last number of years and I don’t see that changing.
The advice theologian Karl Barth gave to ministers of the Word was to preach using the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The exact quotation is, ‘Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible’. With this in mind, in 2020 we hope to:
- Sponsor Refugees (the money will be in hand before we even begin)
- Put out a new Photo Directory
- Continue to rethink our liturgy and music at St. Mark’s
- Begin to repay our Rectory Fund (as per the request by Synod Office)
- Offer Confirmation Classes & new initiatives to children and youth
- Expand St. Mark’s Lunch & Learn Series
- Invite guest preachers who will speak about reconciliation with indigenous peoples
I conclude with the phrase I began with in Latin: Verbum Domini Manet in Areturnam, The Word of the Lord Endures forever. I hope that God’s word continues at St Mark’s to inspire, comfort and guide us as we continue to proclaim the hope of Easter message of the risen Christ in our ministry together. Amen
The Venerable Peter Scott 19th Rector of St. Mark’s