We all know a good story when we hear it. The story line connects to a part of life that we can identity with in our own lives. A good story teller knows how to use humour, elicit emotions, draw on our fears or lift up our hopes. A story that connects with our lives is one that will, most likely, stay with us for a while. So in the reading, Jesus is telling about his use of parables. A parable means to bring along side for the use of comparison. A parable can serve to be a good story since it comes along side and connects with life. However a story that compares well to life can just as easily draw us in or if it gets a little too close, may repel instead. The parables Jesus told did both.
The parable of the sower is well known. A sower spreads seed on a variety of soils with mixed results. The seed that fell on poor, rocky soil produced nothing but the seed that fell on good soil produced a tremendous crop. Any gardener or farmer knows that good soil has a much better chance of producing a great harvest. There is nothing surprising here, except for what the parable does as it comes along side our lives, it exposes us. This is precisely why Jesus used parables in response to the disciples’ question.
The grace of God is everywhere. It fills all of creation with life. Jesus showed how that grace enhances life in his compassion, empathy, care for the sick, invitation to the outcast, concern for those walked on by others. His resurrection shows God is a God of life and not death. The love of God is like seed ready to bring life to its fullest. Yet the seed is not always received that way. The question is “Why?”
Some people are simply hard as a rock and the concept of grace just won’t easily take root. Some people have been so beat down that like a well worn path, a seed will have a hard time finding a crack in the hard crust for life to put down roots. Some people like the idea of grace and want more of it but they get absorbed into the life offered by the world. Some people are where life in the kingdom of heaven flourishes.
We all know what a good story is when we hear it by how it compares to life. Parables are like a good story in that they come along side and connect our lives with life in the kingdom of heaven. The parables of Jesus expose our hardness. They can also plant a seed which will bring astounding results produced by the grace of God. As Jesus told the disciples, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
It must be difficult to be a person of science in a culture that ignores facts. Wearing masks is known to reduce the spread of Covid but so many refuse to wear them. The young believe themselves immortal and are now the greatest spreaders of the virus. Conspiracy theories are believed as fact while truth is dismissed as political garbage and therefore ignored. In the assigned reading for Sunday, Jesus was talking about the generation of that day but he was equally describing our modern generation too. He was lamenting the “pseudo” wisdom which was so prominent then and now.
Jesus described the generation as,
But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:16-19
There is a way the world works. If you can master it, you can become extremely powerful and wealthy by the world’s standards. The trouble with Jesus was that he wouldn’t play the game. He refused to dance to the melody played and what was expected of him. He socialized with tax collectors and sinners. His attention was not directed to polling numbers but to healing the sick and for the poor to actually hear good news for a change. Heaven’s wisdom will not be found in playing childish games but is revealed by the Father. To know this wisdom is to know Jesus; to know Jesus is to know the Father.
Jesus spoke these wonderful words to the disciples and they are for us to hear as well.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
There is a weariness that comes from constantly swimming against the culture’s current. There is an exhaustion that comes from caring for our neighbour’s well being…calling out the lies that keep the poor oppressed…repenting from our own and naming the racism that is interwoven in culture…, especially when life could be so much easier in just giving into the childish power games. What we fail to recognize is how soul diminishing a life consumed with hate and oppression can be. So Jesus invites us to learn from him. What we will learn is a wise way of living that re-freshens the soul. The way that follows Jesus is to learn from him and his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Peace and please wear your mask.
When was the last time you felt welcome from others? It may have been a while. These days of polarization have made the concept of welcoming seem rather rare. Yet, the invitation to join a group, an organization, a family, a club gives the feeling of acceptance and that is a blessing. So as we turn to the reading for this coming Sunday, blessing is the order for the day.
The reading is a continuation of the past couple weeks. Jesus had been prepping the disciples to go out and tell the world of God who loves it. The act of telling about a kingdom where the hungry were fed, the sick receive healing care and the outcast received was to be their new identity in life. What were they going to receive from announcing this wonderful message? They were going to be prosecuted, persecuted and divided against family. There are times when families don’t always get along with each other and those times aren’t good. What Jesus was describing was even worse. In those days a person’s identity wasn’t defined by individuality, it was defined by community, your family. Separated from the family meant you lost what defined you. Jesus was sending them out and they were at risk of losing everything this world offers. Jesus now turns to speak words of blessing and welcome.
Jesus said to them,
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Remember the importance of community? The “you” is not singular, it is plural. Jesus was saying that those who receive one of the disciples wasn’t accepting only the person but the whole community of those following Christ. To put it another way, the disciples were already a part of a community and that was the followers of Christ and members of God’s kingdom. Even a cup of cool water offered on a hot day to a disciple was an act of welcoming Christ, the kingdom and finding a new identity in Christ.
These days of polarization may leave you (singular) on the outside and feeling very much alone. Daring to speak of welcome and grace in the name of Christ may even leave you feeling more so. This is where Jesus’ words are such a blessing. There is a community that finds its identity in Christ. You are a part of that community. Anyone who welcomes you (plural), welcomes that community to define them well. You may feel isolated but you are not, you are a part of the kingdom (family) of God. This is a blessing.
Fear is a strong motivator. There is a lot of fear these days. We fear getting Covid. We fear change and what is different from what we think is normal. We fear the loss of job and paying the rent. We are told to fear the immigrant and those of a different race. We fear the loss of privilege. We fear exposure as we lose that carefully developed facade of who we think we are. Of course, there is the fear of death. At the core of fear is loss and losing what we own. No wonder that fear is used so effectively in politics. The reading from Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to not be afraid. If there were a group of people having a right to be afraid, the disciples would be that group. What Jesus was asking of them would lead to loss, a lot of loss. What Jesus also announced to them and to all willing to listen, was their value to God who is concerned about the insignificant sparrow. Obviously we are of greater value than a sparrow. What Jesus was stressing wasn’t just the recognition of what may be lost but the importance of gaining life – life that is found within the kingdom of God.
Jesus was preparing the disciples for a big evangelism effort. He was also warning them of the consequences and what they might lose. He warned that his coming was not for peace but will bring the sword, division instead. They will lose relationships with brother, sister and in-law. They will even face death itself. Why? The message to be proclaimed will bring exposure…what is done in secret will be revealed…the coming of God’s kingdom promises to cause tremendous change with the powerful brought down and the low lifted up. There will be fear.
Jesus repeatedly told them not to be afraid and that is for us to hear as well. The God who raised Jesus from the dead and who will raise us as well, cares for us to know even the number of hairs on our heads. This same Father knows even when a little sparrow falls to the ground and we are of greater value than a sparrow.
The final verse talks about what is gained and what is lost. Those who find their life will lose their life. Those who find life on this world’s terms with tear-gas bombs, photo-ops, violence and fear will lose the life they have in the kingdom to come. Who loses their life for Christ will find it. Those willing to speak to what is done in secret for it to be exposed in the light of Christ are the ones who find life
These days of rallies and protests are filled with fear and anger. Racism and its various forms which have been kept in secret are becoming exposed. As Jesus said,
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
Exposure is needed because that leads to confession. With confession, comes the opportunity for healing to begin and for us all to find our life in the kingdom of God.
Summer finally seems to have arrived. Beaches are beginning to open up. Lawns are needing to be mowed. Fans are still waiting for the “crack” of the bat hitting a baseball. Many are yearning for ‘normal’ to return but that normal is not present. “I can’t breathe,” are words refusing to be silent. Will the next wave of Covid-19 be a ripple or tsunami? The presidential campaign is turning into a full out sprint. The worry is how will the connective fibres holding us together as a country withstand the efforts to tear us apart into divisive camps.
Jesus had gone around the area preaching the good news of the kingdom as well as healing the sick. The crowds were large with no one to unite and bring healing to them. He had compassion for them. So the disciples were sent out to continue what Jesus had been doing. The more workers meant more could be done. Jesus told them to do this freely, without payment. He also told them to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The kingdom of heaven and its reign comes to us freely without a cost. Make no mistake, the cross was costly for Christ but the gift of his kingdom is free. The disciples needed to model this and to be aware of the push back they would face. There were those, like wolves, who profited and enjoyed having power over the sheep (people). These wolves will prosecute and persecute anyone getting in the way of their privileged position. The disciples needed to know this and to also understand that they’ll have the Holy Spirit’s support with them.
The summer season has arrived and the desire for many is to get back to what is considered to be normal. However the political division, racial issues and progression of Covid-19 infections are forcing us to face a world that is far from that normal. Into this world, Jesus is sending us (the church). The message is that there is another way for the world to exist and it comes freely, the kingdom of heaven which comes to us through Christ. This other way is where the sick are cared for and our neighbour’s health is important for us to support and keep. This other way brings healing to injuries formed by racial and political divisions. This other way calls out with honesty the evil that sits at the doorway of our lives, naming it for what is done. Will this cause a push back? Of course. However, don’t forget that the Spirit is present and will give the support needed. A lot of work needs to be done. The more announcing the kingdom of heaven that comes near to us in Christ, the more that good news gets spread.
This has been a rough week. Unemployment numbers are high. Covid-19 infection rates are still climbing in several states and throughout much of the world. The country is embroiled with protest. I find it frightening how the protesters are called to be dominated by military force and cities spoken of as battle spaces. Amazing how the call for racial justice leads to such hostility. Where will this end as we proceed into summer? Will the protests continue? To what extent will force be used in the effort to stop the protests? This has been a rough week and what will next week bring?
The final verse has Jesus telling the disciples:
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age
These words of Jesus are comforting because we don’t want to be alone in times like this. We want God to be with us. However, what does this really mean? Often we talk of Jesus as being a companion, a buddy, someone supportive of our efforts and goals. Yet, Jesus’ promise to always be with us goes much deeper than simply being a friend or rubber-stamping our political agendas. Jesus told the disciples to go and baptize…make disciples of all nations…teach others to obey the things he commanded. The great challenge in this is that Jesus didn’t teach that people were to be dominated by military force or that cities are battle-spaces. The Roman Empire did this, including crucifixions. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are proof that the ways of God’s kingdom are far different. If we are to teach the ways of the kingdom which contradict “might makes right,” then we really do need him…we need him.
Jesus was leaving the disciples and they did two things, worship and doubt. A great summation of the life of faith. The life of faith includes worship which is the easy part. The life of faith that teaches a contradiction to the powers of the world, is one of worry and fear and doubt. We need Jesus with us.
As you go into another new week which looks like a continuation of the last, remember Jesus’ promise to you…he is with you always.
The heading “Coherent Voices” sounds a lot like an oxymoron. Coherence means there is a unifying reference. Yet in the middle of an argument when all sides are shouting there is no coherence. This country is in the middle of an argument about race, I like to call it human dignity. The protests of the past few days are an eruption of it.
Another man of color, George Floyd, has died while under arrest at the hands of the police. This continues to happen and it should not. Protests have happened in thirty cities because this must stop. Yes, there has been damage to property. The other side has labelled the protesters “thugs” and connects “looting” to “shooting” as pointed out in a recent Twitter comment by the President. The argument continues to be fanned for political gain.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Jews from the known world had gathered for a festival when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a strong wind and tongues of fire settled above the heads of Jesus’ disciples. They spoke and those present, even with different dialects and languages, could hear clearly what was being said. There were many voices but they were coherent in the message which was about the wonderful things that God has done. One of the great things God has done and continues to do is work toward unity of all people.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people with no distinction between age, rank or sex. God is pouring his Spirit on all people. We divide but God unifies. We degrade each other but Christ’s death and resurrection was for all and brings value to all humanity. We destroy but in Christ all creation is being made new.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 20: 19-23) has Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. He sent them out with the business of forgiveness which is about restoration and the renewing of relationships (with God and each other). The church is being sent out today with a coherent message among the voices. The message is about human dignity that is granted not by us but by Christ himself. The message speaks directly to the division that it must end because the kingdom of heaven is not of this world. The message is about what the wonderful things God has done for us in Christ. It is for all.
Memorial Day weekend has arrived but this doesn’t feel like much of a vacation. The death toll from Covid will be 100,000 in the next couple days. Stores are starting to reopen while others still remain closed because it isn’t worth the risk. Most people are wearing masks while a few defiantly refuse. Churches have become a major point of contention as some pastors go to court in order to have in-person worship while others are still being cautious. The summer begins with us a divided people. The times are unsettled and with this being an election year, politics will likely make the dynamics worse. So regarding the church in the midst of all of this we might ask, “What Now?” For the answer, we look to the prayer of Jesus out of the Gospel of John.
Jesus was about to be arrested as he prayed for himself and the disciples (for us). He had come to give eternal life. Eternal life was to know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. So this was his prayer for himself,
And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5
Jesus then prayed for us. His prayer was interesting because of what was missing. He didn’t pray for us to be powerful. He didn’t pray for us to be politically connected or to adopt the world’s ways. What he did pray for is that we know his joy that comes through our relationship with him. Jesus also prayed that we be protected because we are to be in the world but we are not of the world. The world has different meanings but one point to be stressed is that it is loved by God. Jesus was going to return to the Father but his followers were to continue in the work of letting the world know that it is loved by God. Jesus’ love won’t be known by political games or by separating into our private enclaves but only by an engagement with the world, thus the need for prayerful protection. If the world is to know eternal life, the world needs to know Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. The knowledge of Christ comes through how we reflect him in the world.
This Memorial Day weekend the world is divided and in disarray. It needs to know that it is loved. It needs to know a life that is eternal. It needs to know Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him. This is the work for the church that might be wondering, “What Now?” Remember, always remember, Jesus has prayed for you. He has prayed for you to know his joy. He prayed that you be protected in this truth.
The nation is beginning to open up. Whether this was a wise move will be shown over the next couple months. However, the idea of getting back to some sense of normal human interaction does feel good. Yes, there are those for whom the thought of being shut in at home with nothing to do but play video games is heaven on earth. Yet even for them, human interaction is still needed. We have tried drive-by waving at family. Zoom has suddenly become an indispensable app. They help but aren’t the same as actually being with family and friends.
Jesus is continuing his farewell address to his disciples and needless to say they are anxious and fearful. He promised them that they would not be abandoned, orphaned. Another Counselor — the Spirit of truth — will be with them. This Counselor will be one who comes along side and continues Jesus’ relationship with them. If there was ever a time when we seek the assurance of God’s presence, these would be the days. The Counselor is more than God “hanging out” with us. The Spirit has a purpose and that is to give us the truth. The world isn’t a fan of this truth. Our political environment has left ‘truth’ on life support. The truth is that we are infinitely loved by God and that includes our enemies and political foes. The truth is Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the way this loving relationship is put into action.
So how do we live out this loving relationship? Well, we do the things Jesus taught us to do. We know what they involve…loving our neighbor…serving not ourselves and our personal interests but what is best for our neighbor. Jesus was correct, the world wants nothing to do with the truth of a loving God. If the world listened to the truth and followed Jesus’ commands, our current political environment would be radically transformed.
These are difficult times as we feel the loss of presence with family and friends. These days make us wonder of God’s presence with us. Yet, the message today is that you are loved and so is the rest of the world. The Spirit is along side you to keep reminding you of that reality. The way to live out this love is to show it to our neighbor so they will know that they are not alone either.
One of the things exposed about us in the past few weeks is our vulnerability. We don’t like feeling that way. The unemployment rate is rising causing the fear of losing health insurance and paying the rent to leave us feeling very vulnerable. Wearing masks and continuing to social distance seems to be the best we can do for now to keep the pandemic at a further distance. We still feel vulnerable because we can’t do more to gain control over our lives. We don’t like feeling vulnerable.
One way we can use to chase away these unwanted fears is denial. This is just a political hoax in an election year. Somebody else will get sick, not me. Somebody else will die, not me. Denial in the face of a dangerous reality isn’t very helpful. Another approach to gain control is violence. We scream at those forcing us to shelter in place. We walk around with our guns on display. We refuse to wear masks. These actions might help us feel more powerful and in control but reality hasn’t changed, we are still vulnerable.
The disciples were feeling vulnerable in the above reading. Jesus had just told them that he would be leaving them. He predicted their betrayal. Jesus was speaking about his upcoming death. Life for the disciples was going to change, drastically.
Jesus comforted them by saying that in the Father’s house there are many rooms. Jesus also told them he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be with him. These words of comfort are why this reading is often used at funeral services. However, Jesus wasn’t going away to hang drywall and do landscaping. The Father’s house is more than a condo. Father’s house implied household, being part of the family. The ongoing and anxious moments taking place were how Jesus was preparing the way for us to have a secure place in the Father’s house, family. In their vulnerability and in ours, is the security of knowing we are a part of the Father’s house.
One of the disciples, Philip, still needed more reassurance. He wanted to see God. Jesus’ reply was that because of their unity, to see Jesus is to see the Father as well. What does Jesus show us about God to us who are so vulnerable? We see compassion…empathy…willingness to share our vulnerability…willingness to face death. What we see about God, the Father, is love in action. What we see in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the great lengths that the Father will go to bring us into his household and give us a resurrected life no longer vulnerable.
These days we feel vulnerable. We don’t like it at all. While we live in denial, yell at each other and put others at risk to claim some sense of control, nothing has changed. We are still vulnerable. This is why Jesus’ words are so important for us to hear. Knowing that we have a secure place in the Father’s house, we can allow ourselves to feel vulnerable. We can allow ourselves to see the vulnerability of others too. We can emulate Jesus’ compassion and empathy. We can point to Jesus so that others can also recognize God’s presence in their vulnerability.