Canon Lynne Thackwray's Sermons

Pentecost 16 – September 29,  2019

     Each year at this time, the Church celebrates the work and ministry of angels. We begin this celebration on Sept. 29, with the feast of the archangels — Raphael, Michael and Gabriel and in the Anglican tradition we also have Uriel.  We call this celebration the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels orMichaelmas.  How much do we know or even think about angels or about this specific feast day!  Scripture speak of how angels are sent to assist in God’s plan of salvation. They bring messages, accompany the faithful along the path of daily life. The Church reminds us on this day, of these four special messengers who were sent to accomplish very specific tasks.

     In the Apochrypha, the Book of Tobit tells the story of Raphael, who was sent by God to accompany Tobias in his quest to find medicine to cure the blindness of his father, Tobit and to free Sarah from a demon.  Raphael’s task is to lead, guide and protect his young companion in his quest.  Raphael served his purpose well; he carried out the mission God gave him to accompany, guide and protect Tobias from harm and to fight the battles of God. His name means “God heals,” or “God is fearsome.”

     Michael was also sent to fight God’s battles. The short letter of St. Jude describes Michael in an argument with Satan over the body of Moses.   In the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, Michael’s role is much more proactive. He is described as “the great prince, guardian of your people” (12:1). In his vision, Daniel describes the classic confrontation between good and evil at the end of time. Michael is the great champion of the people; he stands ready to greet those who rise from the dead and experience God’s great victory over evil. The New Testament continues to reveal Michael’s role as a champion for God.

     The most prominent and best-known of the archangels is Gabriel, the one who delivers special messages to those favored by God. We first hear of Gabriel through St. Luke’s depiction of the Annunciation:  We next encounter Gabriel in Matthew’s Gospel when he delivers the message to Joseph that he, Mary and Jesus must flee from the wrath of Herod.   Later, after the crisis has passed, once again Gabriel comes to Joseph instructing him to return to Israel (see 2:19-20).  The messages that Gabriel delivers were obviously highly significant and, thus, the Lord entrusted them to a special carrier.

      Uriel is the fourth archangel.  His name means “Light of God,” because he brings the light, or flame, of knowledge from ‘God to mankind.  His symbol is an open hand holding a flame. Uriel is considered to be the Archangel of the Earth responsible for protecting people from floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters.   I think he must be very busy these days.  Uriel is also the Archangel of Prophecy, helping people develop their psychic and intuitive skills, and the Archangel of Poetry and music helping people engaged in any form of creativity and providing flashes of inspiration for people who need it. The roots of Michaelmas can be traced all the way back to the third century when it was converted from a pagan spring festival to a Christian feast day.  Then during the eleventh century, Christians were required by English law to fast for 3 days before the start of this feast

     There are many traditions which surround Michaelmas and most of them revolve around the traditional holiday goose. This is because a goose was traditionally what was paid to landowners for rent on this day. In many of these traditions, those who consumed a goose on this day would be free of all money problems throughout the year, while those who didn’t, were said to have money problems the rest of the year.

     Another practice that is common on this holiday is the eating of desserts that contain blackberries. This tradition can be traced back to the legend of Lucifer being thrown from heaven. In this story, when Lucifer was tossed out of heaven, he landed in a blackberry bush. As such, every year Lucifer spits on the blackberry bush, and they turn bad if they aren’t collected by this day.  In Italy, it is customary to eat ginger on this day with many people making ginger ale, ginger snap cookies and ginger caramels. In most countries, it is also customary to collect Michaelmas daisies that are often used as decoration around the house or used in people’s attire. Michaelmas is not a feast that we traditionally celebrate in Canada but you can find information on google about Roast Goose and blackberry Cobbler and Michaelmas leaf crafts.

     I understand that not everyone buys into angels but Scripture makes it evident that angels played an important part in creation and in the lives of God’s people. We would do well to be aware of them and the possibility of their presence in our lives today.   Now, interesting, the gospel that was chosen for this feast day!  It doesn’t contain any of the angel stories rather we meet Nathaniel, an ordinary man on the shore of Galilee.   In a way, he’s the mystery disciple of the New Testament. His name doesn’t even rate a mention in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, only in John’s gospel.  And what we heard this morning in chapter 1 is all we hear about Nathaniel until chapter 21, where he was among those on the boat when Jesus appeared on the shore and told them to cast their nets over one side if they wanted to catch any fish.       Like Peter, Nathaniel is a fisherman by trade, a young man with all the hopes of any young man of that time.  One day, he is minding his own business, doing whatever fishermen do on their day off, probably stitching a torn net, when Phillip approached him with the news, “We’ve found the Messiah, the one we always heard about and hoped for!  Come and see.”    And to everyone’s surprise Nathaniel went to see.  Here’s what theologian Frederick Buechner says about Nathaniel:   The most remarkable thing about the story is not that Nathaniel believed, but that Jesus, in a phrase, gave Nathaniel his first glimpse of who Nathaniel was: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Nathaniel had never thought of it just that way before. But come to think of it, that was who he was. And he knew immediately he was in the presence of someone exceptional, someone whose importance was of a different kind than anything he’d known or expected.  He obviously responded to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me”, as we read later that he was in the fishing boat with the other disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  Nathaniel didn’t rank as one of the 12 but I think that made him no less an important disciple of Christ.

      A sense of calling comes both from deep within, and also from the unexpected source that lies without. The casual “Come and see,” Philip offered him transformed Nathaniel’s whole life, inside and out. That “come and see” invitation is meant for us as well.  It requires listening, even if we resist it at first, and responding. When we know who we are and recognize in others who they are, we can become so much more.  Ordinary, skeptical Nathaniel was transformed when he encountered Jesus.  When we can see the Christ in others, our lives are enriched and transformed too.  And with the help of those archangels, who knows where our gifts of ministry will lead us.   When Jesus started his public ministry it was from the outset an “on-the-road” show. Jesus’ first invitation to his first disciples was “Follow me” or “Come and see.” Notice, it was not “sit down and listen,” or “kneel and pray.” It was an invitation to movement, motion, and mission. Notice too: Jesus’ invitation was not to “follow him” to some specific location or to “come and see” a central sanctified place. Rather it was an open-ended invitation, a challenge for all followers to “come-to-go.” In John’s gospel the moment John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “Son of God”, as the “Lamb of God,” and points his own disciples towards him, Jesus is on the move.

     We are called to be on the move too. We all have a purpose, a mission and in order to accomplish that, we need to know ourselves and to recognize our gifts for ministry. They should not be hidden or go unused.   We are recognizing “Orange Shirt Day” today and are having Dr.Wesley-Esquimaux speak to us in the parish hall after lunch about reconciliation.  If you haven’t heard me tell the story of “Orange Shirt Day” or read the posters I have put up, please read them or ask me downstairs. The Shirts are to remind us of the pain that was experienced by many indigenous children at residential schools. And to that end I would like to read a Pastoral Statement from our Primate Linda Nicholls and our National Anglican Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. A Pastoral Statement concerning ‘a first release of names of children who died at Residential Schools’

BY GENERAL SYNOD COMMUNICATIONS ON SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

  • The wrenching legacy of residential schools is felt not only by those who survived. It lingers in the pain of families whose child died while at school. It lingers in the agony of not knowing why they died or where they are buried. It lingers in the inadequate record-keeping that does not tell the cause of death. It lingers in the neglect to even record the names of almost one-third of those who died.

      For a parent the death of a child in an unimaginable pain. On September 30th a first list of known names will be publicly released by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at a ceremony in Ottawa at the Canadian Museum of History. Releasing these names may bring relief at the public acknowledgement of this family pain but it may also open wounds of grief afresh. While publishing the names may honour the children, the act of doing so is another public reminder for every family of the legacy of residential schools, paid by indigenous people across Canada.

      The Anglican Church of Canada stands with the families and communities in sorrow. Sorrow for the preventable deaths of children in our care. Sorrow for every family that unwillingly released their child to a residential school expecting them to be cared for only to be told the child died and for most, no body ever returned.

Archbishop Mark Macdonald and I invite all Anglicans to join in prayer and remembrance in this week.

Our hearts weep with all who mourn on this day.

With sorrow,

  

The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls
Primate

The Most Rev. Mark Macdonald
National Anglican Indigenous Archbishop

 Prayer for the Children

God who came into the world as a child, we bring before you in deep grief the children who did not survive Residential Schools. Continue to hold them closely in the safety, comfort and everlasting Love which you desire for all creation. Holy Spirit, in the unimaginable pain of this loss, when all words fail, hear and hold our “groans too deep for words”* as we see and honour the anguish of families left without the life, love and laughter each child represents.  . Guard also the hearts and minds of survivors as they are faced again with memories of their own trauma and suffering. Jesus, who showed us how Love is meant to live in the world, call us again out of denial and into truth, out of despair and into hope. Spur us to action in the places where systems of injustice prevail. Provoke us to speak out against racism, discrimination, climate injustice, and all that stands between us and the good, just, beautiful life you designed for us together. Be our strength when weak, our courage when afraid, our light in dark places. Hear our prayer, God of all, in the name of your son the Reconciler of all things, Amen.

 

Pentecost 12            –   September 1, 2019

      There is a story of George Bernard Shaw, who was invited to a woman’s house for tea. She was one of those people who liked to “collect” celebrities so that she, herself, might be considered a celebrity. She sent Shaw her card, which read, “Lady So-and-So will be at home Thursday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.” Shaw wrote a note on the card and sent it back.  It said, “Mr. George Bernard Shaw likewise.”

      In every institution there is some formal or informal structure, some hierarchy with titles and salaries, privileges: the corner office, the sign on the door, the parking spot. Status consciousness.  It is everywhere. It’s endemic.  Every institution, any grouping of people, will manifest it, including the Church.   And Jesus condemned it. Luke tells us that Jesus is the guest at a fancy dinner.  The host was a prominent man in that community – a ruler, a leader in that community. People looked up to him. People paid attention to him. He was also a Pharisee. He moved in the right circles.  He invited some friends to dinner to meet this newest celebrity in Israel, the man from Nazareth, who had gained such notoriety as a preacher and a healer. There were even stories about miracles. Thousands of people came out to hear him. Everyone at the dinner that day had heard of him, but probably none of them had taken the time to go out and hear him. It was a lovely catered affair. After the meal the host got up and gave Jesus a most gracious introduction. Then he asked Jesus, “Would you like to say a few words?”  I think he probably regretted that.  Jesus stood up and began, “I noticed the way that you maneuvered for seats at this table. You can get away with that here, but I tell you, when you are invited to a marriage feast, do not sit down at the place of honor, lest a more eminent person arrive, and the host has to come over to you and, in front of everyone, say to you, `Give your place to this person.’ Instead, when you are invited, go to the lowest place, so that when the host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move on up higher’; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

     This is a judgment parable.   The marriage feast was one of the metaphors for the Kingdom of God. Jesus was pictured as the bridegroom. When the Kingdom comes it will be like a great banquet, a marriage feast.  These banquet metaphors are concerned with who is invited, who comes and who doesn’t come, who gets in and who doesn’t get in. The purpose is to give us a glimpse of the end time. It says, don’t count on what you count on now, counting then. Don’t count on what you think is important now, being important then. All this jockeying for position.  All this wanting to be in the right place. All this wanting to be number one, being on top. None of that is going to count.  The only thing that counts in the Kingdom is humility. For at that banquet, at that time, the appropriate place for all of us is at the foot of the table.  

     This story from Luke gives us the best clue as to how you can get there, who is going to be there. I mean, if you are interested in that sort of thing. The humble will make it. “For everyone who humbles him or herself will be exalted and everyone who exalts him or herself will be humbled.   We also know from other teachings, like the Last Judgment scene in the Gospel of Matthew that humbling yourself means thinking about other people, about serving them.  You probably remember it. “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats,” the most significant part of that story is the surprises. Everybody is surprised. Those that get rejected are surprised. They thought they were shoo-ins. They thought they had “reservations” at that banquet. What is even more significant, those who do get in are even more surprised. It is about humility. They weren’t even thinking about getting into heaven. All they were thinking about was helping people in need.

      Robert Coles, psychiatrist and author, who teaches at Harvard  wrote a book about Dorothy Day, a well-known Catholic social worker, the founder of the Catholic Worker Org.. He relates the story of when he was a medical student at Harvard, He volunteered to work at the  organization. He was a Harvard graduate and was in medical school and was going to be a psychiatrist.  In this society, that is about as high a status as you can get. He knew that. He was really proud of it. He was also proud that as this person with all these credentials, he was volunteering to help the poor. It was the kind of thing people would sit up and take notice of.

He arrived at the premises of the Catholic Worker and asked to see Dorothy Day. He went right to the top. Being told that she was in the kitchen, he went there to find her sitting at a table with someone who looked like a street person. He had enough medical training to recognize that the disheveld man that she was talking to was obviously addicted to some dangerous substance. Dorothy was listening intently to what he had to say. Now keep in mind Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet.  

Dorothy is at table with this street person, giving him her full attention, so she didn’t notice Coles come in the room. He stood beside the door, waiting for her to finish. When she finished the conversation she stood up. That is when she noticed Coles. She asked, “Do you want to speak to one of us?”

He was astounded. Dorothy Day was famous. This man with her was a nobody – a derelict. “You wanted to speak to one of us?” Coles had never seen anything like this before. Humility that can identify with another person so completely as to remove all distinctions between them. It cut through all of the boundaries, all the categories that society sets up to separate us from one another. There were just two people, the one concerned about the other.

It changed his life. He said he learned more in one moment than he did in four years at Harvard. He saw in one moment what it means to humble yourself as Jesus did, “who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, and took on the form of a servant.”

One of the most shocking aspects of Jesus’ advice to his host was his admonition to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (v.13). This cast of characters hardly even rated the designation of “humble” people in most cases. They were actually outcasts and outlaws. According to the law, in Leviticus, such people were not even legally permitted to go into God’s holy presence. Inviting these lowest of the low would not only destroy the status of the host among his precious “A-list” acquaintances, but according to the old law, it could actually threaten his own chances of being well-received by God. Associating with “less-than-perfect” people was just not safe.

But Jesus denies that God is looking for human perfection, for only those who are healthy and whole and clean and beautiful. Jesus stuns his listeners by asserting that the coming kingdom of God will reveal these outcast, humbled humans as among God’s favorite, the most exalted.

Jesus’ message to his fellow guests and his host at the banquet urged them to act humbly without expecting any rewards at least not from the mouths and hands of fellow human beings. Jesus says “take the lowest seat,” “identify with the lowest people,” “don’t expect a reward or even a return on your investment.”

       Jesus took his relationship to God very seriously, but he did not observe all the rules and regulations.  Scripture teaches that the Jews were God’s chosen people. However, Jesus insists that God has a special relationship with all of creation. We are all in the same family — God’s family. We are all the chosen people of God. Our identity, our “worthiness” comes from the fact that we are God’s children. We keep faith with the family membership, not by observing the law, but by loving one another.-

 From this you can conclude that we are worthwhile simply because of whose we are. Our value as a person does not rely on having our name on the social register.  We are the loved child of God.  You cannot improve on that social standing.  

      A hundred years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted three qualities he deemed marks of true “success”: the ability to discern and appreciate beauty, the ability to see the best in others, and a commitment to leaving the world a better place.    Notice that Emerson does not say that success comes in having the best seat at the table, acquiring more material possessions, or in belonging to the best clubs. Emerson contends that success comes with appreciating God’s world, developing loving relationships with God’s people, and working to improve God’s creation.  

     In fact, today’s gospel ends with a wonderful suggestion of how to work to make the world a better place. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to dinner. They are all members of your family. Just think how much richer your table talk will be and what wonderful things can happen around the table when we come together a members of God’s family.

      Just how does one approach an age-old, well-known, often heard story from the bible to a bunch of church-going Christians. That’s what my head threw out at me when I read the story of the Good Samaritan – for the umpteenth time. Well I lucked upon an article about Martin Luther King which helped me out of my muddle.The day before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he delivered his last speech to a crowd of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The address is known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, and like many King speeches and sermons, it illustrates his knack for taking famous Bible stories and brushing off the dust of over-familiarity that has settled on them. In this speech, he looks to the well-known story of the “Good Samaritan.” Here’s how King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech recasts this parable, connecting it to modern attitudes. Why, King asks, didn’t the priest and the Levite—both devout religious men—stop to help the seriously injured man? He says: “Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious lawy that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect. “But,” he continues, “I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking it, and was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I Stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

     A somewhat different approach from “Who is my neighbour?” These questions regarding the characters of the three different men on the road to Jerusalem triggered in me another story. Let’s leave the middle east and head out to the old west. Back in those days, you will remember, of course, that one of the major means of public transportation was the stagecoach. But, did you know they had three different kinds of tickets you could buy… 1st class, 2nd class or 3rd class. A First Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down. No matter what happened, you could remain seated. If the stagecoach got stuck in the mud… or had trouble making it up a steep hill… or even if a wheel fell off, you remained seated… because you had a First Class Ticket. A Second Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem… and then you had to get off and stand to the side until the problem was resolved. You got off, stood to the side and watched somebody else fix the problem. When the situation was corrected, you could get back on the stagecoach and take your seat… because you had a Second Class Ticket. A Third Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem… and they you had to get off and push! You had to put your shoulder to it… and help solve the problem ,,,,,,,,,,because you had a Third Class Ticket. As in life today, some people think they have a First Class Ticket… they ride along and they just sit there… and expect to be catered to and waited on and pampered. Others think they have a Second Class Ticket. They ride along until there is a problem. Then they bail out and become detached spectators. They get off, stand to the side and watch somebody else fix it. Still others (and thank God for them) think they have a Third Class Ticket. They ride along until something goes wrong… and then they get off and push! They address the problem creatively, they work on the situation productively, they help fix it. They, give their energy to the immediate task of solving the problem. They roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Now, going back to the middle east, is this not what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is also about. The Priest and the Levite in the story thought they had “privileged tickets.”
– They didn’t want to get their hands dirty.
– They didn’t want to get mud under their fingernails.
– They didn’t travel “tourist”… much less third class. – They didn’t want to put themselves in possible danger. They were special people, important people, holy people. They didn’t need to get smudged up by the problems of the world. “Let someone else see to it.” That was their thinking. But, on the other hand… the Good Samaritan realized that he had a “third class ticket,” so when he encountered the problem… he knew exactly what he was supposed to do… Get off and help solve the problem… put his shoulder to it… and bring healing, roll up his sleeves and go to work. That’s what third class ticket holders do.
– They don’t mind dealing with the difficulty.
– They don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
– They don’t mind taking a risk or getting involved.

     The Good Samaritan was bold enough to deal with the problem in a creative, redemptive way. – He didn’t just sit there and let someone else see to it. – He didn’t just stand off to the side and watch and critique how others were dealing with the difficulty. – No! He felt responsible… he felt “called” to help… and he addressed that troublesome situation lovingly… in the Spirit of Christ… and that’s why to this day, we call him the Good Samaritan. Jesus taught us that not only here in this parable, but also in many other places. Over and over he said it: “I am among you as one who serves”… go and do likewise! In our families, in our businesses, in our nation and especially in our church, we need people who are willing to work, anxious to help, ready to love, eager to serve. we need people who are determined to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. we need people who are “quick to get out and push” when we get stuck in the mud. We are blessed with many of those in this parish – people who have 3rdclass tickets. There is a story about a man interested in joining the church and approached the minister with his request. He said: “I want to join the church because I want to be fed.” The minister’s answer: “Well, that’s fine, but we would all be better off if you would take off your bib and put on an apron! The Scriptures make it crystal clear through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ… that God gives us a First-Class Love, but a Third-Class ticket!

      So, how is it with you this morning? Have you given a thought to what kind of ticket you might be holding right now? We all know who our neighbour is but in order to make this story of the Good Samaritan our story we need to get out our third class ticket and heed the teachings and examples set by Jesus and live our lives with caring and compassion in what we say and think and do.
Amen!

Pentecost 3

June 30, 2019

ONE OF THE GREAT SECRETS OF SUCCESS IN LIFE IS THAT OF PERSEVERENCE. People often fail because they quit too soon. They give up before they have a chance to realize success.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was one person who discovered that success comes from not giving up. Let me read some excerpts from his diary:

Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.

Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”

Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.

Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.

Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street.

Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.

Sunday, A.M., June 2 Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.

Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE CAME OUT TO HEAR ME.

John Wesley would not give in or give up. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The imagery is vivid, isn’t it? the plowman concentrating on the furrow before him, guides the plow with one hand while goading the oxen with the other. Looking away even for a moment would result in a crooked furrow. Whatever you do, says Jesus, don’t look back.

This morning, in his gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” A literal translation of this verse reads he “set his face towards Jerusalem.” – the capital city of the Jews – the place where religious and political power met in ancient times. Jesus’ disciples thought he was going to Jerusalem to establish his earthly kingdom there. They were excited. In fact, in verse 46 just before this, they had been discussing which of them would be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. To them, Jerusalem meant power and status But In reality, Jesus is starting off on the ultimate road trip — his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. The world views this journey as the epitome of a “bad trip” — a trip that ended in Jesus’ betrayal, rejection, torture, and death. But Jesus’ disciples — whether in the first century or the twenty-first century — view this Jerusalem road trip as something quite different: — the triumph of Christ’s mission in the world, the journey that transformed the life paths of all subsequent generations who have followed Jesus. It’s a fascinating story. The disciples really did not understand where and what Jesus was leading them into. Primarily at this time he was trying to help them refocus their lives on the things that really count The fact that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was not going to be down some familiar beaten pathway of life was evident from the beginning. Galilean Jews almost invariably traveled the longer, more circuitous route through the Trans Jordan to reach Jerusalem. In this way they completely by-passed all Samaritan regions. Samaritans and other Jews had a long established “Hatfield and McCoy” type feud that simmered hot, and periodically boiled over into outright violence. Samaritans simply never accepted the precedence of Jerusalem and its Temple as the center of Jewish life and faith. Yet Jesus chose to travel through the Samaritan regions as he started out on his road trip. He chose to invite and include this ostracized group at the outset. And they rejected him. No room at the inn. We don’t want any. Guess what? Go away! No wonder James and John responded with a recommendation for fire and brimstone. Like any good “feud,” the desire for revenge, to get in the last lick, fueled their first response. James and John didn’t realize that as followers of Jesus they were not on a road to revenge. They were on a road to redemption. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a sacrificial pathway to service. Rejection was part of the scenery. Retaliation was never even on the map. To follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to be a disciple on the way with the one who is “The Way” means taking that slap across the face and then offering the other cheek. As Jesus’ road trip continued he encountered others who thought they might come along for the journey. The first wanna-be follower claimed the desire to follow Jesus “wherever you go.” Jesus’ surprising response reveals that there is no established roadmap for disciples. Disciples don’t know where they are going — they only know who they are going with. Followers of Jesus don’t know where they will spend their lives. They only know how they will spend their lives serving Christ. On a road trip there is always some bad news. Construction delays. Collapsed bridges . Flat tires. Flooded roadways. Lost luggage. Credit card declined. But committed travelers keep going.

A great example is the story of Gladys Aylward, a young housemaid in London whose life was changed when she heard an evangelist preach on serving God with your whole life. That day, Gladys developed a passion for international missions. She began reading about China, and took on extra jobs to save up money to travel there. Gladys was a small, shy, poorly-educated woman, but she trusted that if God was calling her to the mission field, then He would equip her for the work. By 1932, she finally saved enough money to go to China. The safest route involved traveling by ship, but Gladys couldn’t afford that. Most of her trip took her by train through dangerous war zones. Humbly Gladys set to work spreading the message of Jesus in Yangcheng, China. In 1938, when Japan invaded her region, Gladys led 100 Chinese orphans through the mountains of Yangcheng to safety and she cared for many of them through the war. She worked at the Chinese orphanage she founded until her death. Her ministry was so powerful and effective that she was invited to speak in major churches in Europe, she met the Queen of England, and her life story was made into a movie that you might remember: “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” But listen to what Gladys Aylward said about her ministry? “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. There was somebody else . . . I don’t know who it was–God’s first choice. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing. And God looked down . . . and saw Gladys Aylward.” (5) Gladys felt like she had so little to offer God. But when she sensed God calling her to give her life to mission work in China, she resolved to go no matter what it cost her. She set her face toward Jerusalem. She wanted to follow God’s plan for her life rather than her own. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” One of the great secrets of success in life is that of perseverence

To follow Jesus may require disciples to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and established expectations. It’s just not enough to recognize the presence of God in our lives, we need to listen to that still small voice however it comes to us, we need to respond to God’s voice and we need to remain committed to that life of service that we have been called to, no matter how insignificant or unqualified we may feel we are. We are not all called to do big tasks that are great, more often we are called to do small tasks that are great. During Jesus’ final approach to Jerusalem, he meets three men who wish to follow him and he warns them that it will cost them dearly to do so. To the three he says, you will be homeless, your family will be left behind, and your past life must be forgotten. As you can imagine the three, who were once so certain, are now hesitant. This story is about commitment or the lack thereof. It is about Jesus “setting his face” and three men “turning their heads.” Why did these three hesitate? Because they did not know who walked with them? The question today is: Do you? Amen.

Trinity Sunday

June 16, 2019

I understand that there are two main ways to go about teaching someone something. You can teach them what you think they need to know, or may need to know sometime later on. Or you can teach them only what you think they’re ready to understand at the moment. There was a discussion that centered around how much Bible could or should be taught to young children. There were those who felt that the Bible was basically an adult book. In their view, young children were not up to understanding much of what was going on in the Bible. “Tell them the stories of Jesus, and leave it at that,” was this approach to teaching the scriptures. Even things like the Ten Commandments can be a little embarrassing when you try to explain to four- and five-year-olds what not committing adultery means? How do you teach the Ten Commandments and leave one out? No easy task. On the other hand, there was the other school of thought who felt that you needed to teach children not just what they were ready to learn, but what they might need to know later on that would prepare them for what they would surely encounter in this complex world of ours. Granted, children may not understand all that they were being taught, but later on with a little help, they may be able to piece it all together so that it makes sense to them.

In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, we see Jesus using a combination of both of these educational approaches, and maybe even another one in addition. Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Up to this point in his ministry, Jesus has taught them a lot of things about who he is and how much God loves them and how they are to love one another and, eventually, extend that love beyond their little circle of friends. But there was simply not enough time to teach them everything he might have wanted to teach them. Whatever these “many things” were, not only was there no time to teach fully about them, but the disciples were simply not ready. One day they might be, but not now. At this moment, aware of the chaos they will soon be thrust into, Jesus offers something new, something entirely different, something that would ease the confusion and soothe the furrowed brows of the disciples. He tells them that the Spirit will lead them into the truth. The Spirit will speak with the authority of God, telling the disciples what God is thinking. The Spirit will give Jesus glory because he will translate what Jesus has to say to the disciples. Jesus tells them that he possesses all that the Father has. Jesus and God are one. In that one instant of declaration, we have the Trinity — Father, Son and Spirit, different and yet the same, speaking the word of God, being the Word of God and enabling the word of God to become inextricably bound with the disciples. And, in all likelihood, the disciples missed it. They were still caught up in what Jesus had said about what was going to happen, what he had said about himself, about how the world was going to treat them because of their relationship with him. They heard, but they didn’t understand. “Let him who has ears, hear,” as Jesus had said so often. Jesus was talking in those theological terms that always got them so confused. They really didn’t want to get into any deep reflection upon what the future might hold. Of course, they didn’t know that the future was going to be very different in just a few short hours. Yet they were concerned. There was enough being said that they knew that things were about to be different. Jesus was promising them that there would be someone around to help make the confusion clear. The Spirit brings clarity and power it is true but the Pentecost Spirit was not what they had expected.

Two thousand years later, the church isn’t much different. We are still confused by the theological implications of a God made flesh on earth. We still stumble around when we try to put faith into action. We still need the constant presence of the Spirit to make sense of our faith. And we are still surprised every time the Spirit comes into our lives to make us truly God’s children Not too long after Jesus’ death, the early church found that they had some big problems on their hands. Could Jews be Christians without first being circumcised? Could Greek Christians eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods? Could Greek and Jewish Christians sit down and eat together? All of these issues were thrashed out under the guidance of the Spirit. Some of these issues were worked out better than others, and some were left for future generations to resolve. The problem was that Jesus had not given specific directions on any of these. Under the guidance of the Spirit, the church had to arrive at the truth. Christians today continue to have some big issues that are equally difficult to resolve: in some circles, the place of gays in the church, women’s ordination, and married priests; in other some circles, stem-cell research, and beginning of life issues on the one hand and end-of-life issues on the other. These are some of the pressing issues that divide good Christians not even considering concerns such as war and capital punishment. Jesus did not speak specifically and directly on any of these issues, or at least, not all Christians agree that he did, or on what he may have implied by what he did say. As Christians, we need all the guidance of the Spirit we can receive! As human beings made in the image of God, we have the capacity to respond to the prompting of God. John Wesley often talked about the movement of the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of people, turning them toward God and God’s way even before they were aware of God’s presence! Quakers often speak of this prompting as the “inner light” that directs our lives. The Bible affirms that there is that within us to which God can speak. We often call this “conscience.” Whatever it is, it is this which seems to distinguish us from the rest of God’s creation. St. Paul put it this way, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) This, I think, is what we all need: to have our consciences directed by the mind and spirit of Christ. He is the true north for the compass of our souls.

On the church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday. Some denominations make more of this Sunday than others. Many have not always known what to do with the Trinity. Meister Eckhart, 13thC German theologian, philosopher and mystic explains the Trinity this way: Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? I will tell you.

In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.

One thing about the Trinity that I do see in today’s Gospel is that the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — does what we call these days “multitasking.” Look at the way the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work. The Spirit extends the ministry of Jesus, allowing us to go beyond what he had to say when he was here on earth. That’s why God can give us the guidance we need with how to deal with these uncharted areas of ministry that Jesus left for us to decide. The one thing the Spirit will not do for us is to decide for us. As Christians, we still have a job to do but we can take comfort in knowing that the Spirit will be guiding us all the way and in due time, the Spirit will unfold for us what it all means. Wherever the Spirit leads, it is always consistent with what Jesus taught about God the Father when he was here on this earth. That’s the standard and the measuring stick. “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). As for us, on this Trinity Sunday, we can rejoice in knowing that the Holy Spirit not only gets the message onto the page for us to read, but also gets it off the page and into our minds and hearts as we live out our lives as Christians. Amen.