Sermons are now being posted here. To access the sermons from August 2009 to May 2011, please go to the St. James the Assiniboine website. The link is in the column to the right.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pentecost 15: By What Authority?

September 25, 2011
Good morning and welcome, especially to those who are visiting with us on this Back to Church Sunday.

A Provincial Water Resources representative stops at a prairie ranch and talks with an old rancher. He tells the rancher, "I need to inspect your ranch for your water allocation."

The old rancher says, "Okay, but don't go in that field over there."

The Water Representative says, "Mister, I have the authority of the Province with me. See this card? This card means I am allowed to go wherever i wish on any agricultural land. No questions asked or answered. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?"

The old rancher nods politely and goes about his chores.

Later, the old rancher hears loud screams and sees the Water Rep running for his life. And close behind is the rancher's bull. The bull is gaining with every step.

The Rep is clearly terrified, so the old rancher immediately throws down his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs...

"Your card! Show him your card!"

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” It’s a strong word, “authority”. The word "authority" is filled with meaning. When we hear the word there's a certain force about it. There may be even a certain intimidation about that word. We talk about the authorities and we rightfully have a sense of respect...maybe a sense of awe, maybe a sense of fear. The word "authority" denotes permission. It denotes privilege. It denotes power. It denotes rule, control, influence. When someone has authority that means they're on top of other people. They have responsibility beyond the norm. They are able to determine things, to decide things, to render judgments, to wield certain rights and privileges. And we say in the home there's authority resting with the parents. As in the opening joke, we hear of authority. In the government there are authorities, the police and those who govern us. In the schools there are authorities. In business, in the plant, in the job, in the Church, in any dimension of life there are authorities. People who have the privilege, the power, the permission to set the rules, to determine the judgments and the verdicts. (

By what authority are you doing these things?” This is the question of the chief priests and elders, the very ones responsible for Jesus’ death. The concept of authority and who has it is still very much with us today.

To better grasp what is happening, we turn to our Gospel passage to put it in perspective. This story occurs the week before Jesus died. Now let me remind you of the setting. Jesus has concluded His Galilean ministry, concluded His Perean ministry, crossed the Jordan River, entered Jericho, healed two blind men, one by the name of Bartimaeus, brought Zacchaeus into the Kingdom and now He, in the midst of a procession, goes from Jericho up the hill to Jerusalem for Passover. Having arrived in the vicinity of Jerusalem, He stays in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus that first Saturday night. He arrived on Saturday, He stayed that night with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

On Sunday, He awakened in Bethany to a great crowd that had thronged out of the city and gathered around the home to see Him. They knew Him as the miracle worker. They knew Him as the one who had raised Lazarus from the dead and they wanted to see Him and be with Him and hear Him and all of that. And so Sunday He spent with that multitude of people who had come to Bethany.

On Monday, He rose in the morning, sent His disciples to find the colt, the foal of a donkey to bring to Him, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. He got on that colt and rode triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem while they threw palm branches and clothing in His path and hailed Him "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the Son of David." They hailed Him as Messiah. It was His triumphal entry. He came in on that Monday and that procession ultimately ended at the temple. Then He returned to Bethany on Monday night to spend the night again in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Tuesday morning dawned. He awakened and went again back into the city, this time He went directly to the temple. And when He came to the temple, He saw the wretched wicked devastation by the selfish money-changers and animal sellers and all of that, so He cleaned out the temple. And this infuriated the religious leaders who already despised Him and wanted Him dead. Now the flames are fanned even hotter and hotter. When He is just finished cleaning out the temple, little boys began to sing "hosannas" and to sing to praise Him and this infuriated the leaders even more, perhaps those little boys were the sons of Levites being trained in some of the temple activities. And when they see the temple being cleansed and in that cleansing He unmasks their hypocrisy and the falseness of their religious systems, the religious leaders are threatened more severely than ever. And when they hear the hosannas of those little boys, they know they represent the people who are on His side and who are enamored with Him. And in fear they work all the more feverishly to plot His murder. They cannot tolerate a person who exposes their false worship, who unmasks their rabid hypocrisy and so they must eliminate Him as fast as they can before a religious revolution takes place.

After cleansing the temple, Jesus returns to Bethany that night, again most likely spending it with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And it is Wednesday morning. And on Wednesday morning, He goes back to the temple again. This time walking past the fig tree, which has been cursed, and teaching His disciples some profound lessons about false pretence and the power of prayer. And then on Wednesday, having passed that fig tree, proceeds directly back to the temple. And it is on Wednesday morning in the temple that we find Him in verse 23. He has cleansed the temple the day before. He now confronts the leaders and the people who are gathered there. It's almost as if He had to clean the place up before He could go back and minister. (

Now comes the question..... “By what authority?” Recall the municipal employee. His authority was identified by a badge, suggesting he had power given him. What about other signs of authority? You see someone coming up your walkway with a peaked cap, a badge, and holster with a gun and leaving a police cruiser on the street, you know this officer is in authority given him by the state. Often, we are reminded on the radio and in the news not to let someone into our home who does not have proper identification that proves they have authority of the organization they represent.

Who, then, does Jesus represent to these religious leaders of the day? In those days, the rabbis carried a lot of authority: they had hands laid on them and were ordained. The rabbis did not recognize Jesus as one in authority. Pay attention to His answer... He asks a question and shares a parable.

The question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” The religious leaders could not come up with a response.... “We do not know.”

And so, Jesus tells them a parable: Two sons are asked by their father to work in the vineyard. The reason there is a father and two sons is clear. Built into this relationship is a responsibility for obedience. Authority is very clear. There are two sons and the same question is answered. These are two bad sons apparently, as there is no third son who says “I will go...and then goes.”

Instead we have the responses...One son says “I will not go” and later changes his mind, while the other says “I will go, sir” and he did not go. When pressed for an answer as to which did the father’s will, the religious leaders answered the first. Jesus startles them by indicating the tax collectors and prostitutes are going ahead of them into the Kingdom. These leaders who would claim they are doing God’s work, and are pure, are fooling themselves. At one point, Jesus even says to the Pharisees, that they are like whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside, dead on the inside. They have the outward appearance of holiness but inside are far away from God’s will, even further than those deemed to be the worst in society. The tax collectors and prostitutes, after all, believed, but the religious leaders did not. This was evident in the fact that John the Baptist gave a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Many heeded the message and turned their lives around. The religious leaders failed to listen and did not.

It’s a stern message for us today, isn’t it? We have religious leaders today as well, and if we understand authority correctly, these leaders, like pastors, and nursery, Sunday School, and confirmation teachers, and Vestry members, etcetera, all are given a certain amount of authority over other church members. What are they teaching? Are they gentle and humble and teaching in love? What do they believe? Is Jesus the Lord of our lives? Is He the One who has the ultimate authority? What does that ultimate authority look like? Is the authority Jesus gives utilized to build up God’s Kingdom? Or is it used to keep people in fear or to bully others? Is it found in humility, or in power used negatively?

If we are truly about coming to Christ and bringing Good News we must first give allegiance and all authority in our lives to Jesus. We must pay attention to His voice in our lives and His direction through the Holy Spirit. Only then will we see a difference, a transformation in our lives and in the lives of those around us, in Church and in our neighbourhood and world.

In our Old Testament passage, clearly we see the power and authority of God at work during the time of slavery in Egypt… the people are grumbling and God clearly says to Moses... “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the leaders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.

Moses obeys and clearly the question of God’s authority is answered. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul recognizes the authority given by God and how that authority needs to be used.

Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition (or false authority) or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

Now think about that. If we truly regarded others as better than ourselves and acted in love and the best interests of others, this truly would be a different world. This does not mean pulling yourself down. Rather it means to recognize the servant ministry we are called to by our Lord Who Himself said “I have come not be to be served but to serve.”

As a religious leader, it is my task to ensure that our community is one that is built on a solid foundation. That foundation is one of love and the foundation is built on Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.

While I don’t have a badge, I am ordained and licensed by the bishop to function on his behalf in the parish. My task, my call, is to be a shepherd to the flock that is loved and called by God. As a result, I teach, I preach God’s Word, I prepare people to receive the sacraments. I celebrate the Eucharist and enable and encourage the ministry of all God’s Saints.

In fact, all of us who are baptized are potential leaders and gifted by God to use those gifts to God’s Glory. We all fall under the authority of our Lord. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God. We thank you for calling us into a servant ministry to bring Good News to the world you have created and redeemed. Help us to love you with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength, through the Holy Spirit, and may all we do be to your greater glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pentecost 14: Grace in the Kingdom

Some time back, my family and I got a distressing call from my sister to tell us my mom had been admitted to hospital in Calgary.

As you can well understand, it was a difficult time for all of us. My mom had experienced a stroke and in her 70s, it is not something you want to hear about. Thankfully, my mom was with a friend at the time this happened and that friend just happened to have a nursing background and recognized what was happening to my mom.

Thankfully, the two of them were not far from Calgary’s Foothills Hospital and the stroke had just started. My mom was able to receive treatment, and surgeons placed a stint in her neck to control the flow of blood. Thankfully, as well, this all happened quickly and my mom was released. My brother, sister and I, among others, held her in prayer, and my brothers and I did not have to travel to Calgary.

About three weeks ago, my mom was due to travel to northern Alberta to conduct a workshop for a local First Nation band. I am always amazed at my mom’s boundless energy and her willingness and ability to help in the healing movement when needed. Anyway, just before Mom was to head out to this conference she had to see her doctor for an appointment that had been arranged earlier.

As it turns out, to make a long story short, tests discovered that the stint in my mom’s neck had broken down and may need replacement. If Mom had not gone to the doctor at that moment, this may not have been detected and she may have died. The next thing that happened to her concerned the replacement. Normally, this would have taken a long time to schedule, but upon calling the original stroke clinic she attended, arrangements were made and surgery was almost immediately available.

Now, I don’t have to tell you that my family was quite concerned and that we prayed constantly. From my mom’s perspective, prayers were answered, and God’s grace provided for the healing that was needed, in terms of being at the right place at the right time and seeing the right doctor and having the appointments cleared. I, for one, do not believe in coincidences. I do believe in God incidents.

God’s grace is an amazing thing, isn’t it? It is freely available and plays no favouritism. It is available to all who believe and are open to grace in their lives. Thanks be to God and for those whom He places in our paths to participate with Him in His mission in the world. That mission is to bring Good News, that God so loved all of us, so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe will not perish, but have eternal life.

It is God’s grace we see at work in today’s Gospel passage. Peter here asks Jesus who has priority in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus responds by telling the parable of the landowner. In this story, the landowner is God, the vineyard is the Kingdom, and the labourers are the servants, there by invitation. In essence, then, there are three aspects—the story itself that includes the hiring agreement, the twist in the story where the labourers were all paid the same, and the explanation offered.

1. First, the story tells of the landowner who invites labourers to work in his vineyard. It is early in the morning and the landowner knows where people are to be found, especially those who have no work. He then hires the labourers and agrees to the usual daily wage. Then, the landowner returns to the marketplace when he needs more workers. He hires a second batch of workers and tells them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” The landowner goes out again at noon, three, and five, and makes the same agreement with the labourers.

2. The twist comes at the end of the day, when everyone is expecting to be paid. In an unusual twist, the landowner calls the labourers who were hired last and pays them a full day’s wage in front of the other labourers, who had laboured hard earlier in the day. Obviously, there was jealousy and anger on the part of the ones who had worked longer through the day. If that scenario occurred today, and we went down to the employment office, then were sent off to a boss at different parts of the day and had this happen to us, we too would likely have been upset. It’s understandable.

3. The explanation comes from the landowner... “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

Peter came to Jesus thinking he and other disciples should be given greater rewards for their service or ministry with Jesus. After all, they had left everything to follow Jesus. The parable is clear. God’s grace is for all, whether you are freshly called into service or whether you have been in ministry, in service, an entire lifetime. There is never a time in our lives as baptized Christians that we can say “My time is done, let the younger ones serve”...I have witnessed some incredible ministry happening in care homes as an example.

The Lord is sovereign over His kingdom. Because He is the landowner, He can pay people whatever He wants to pay them, as long as He is just. And no one here could accuse Him of being unjust. He owed no man an explanation of His dealings with the workers in the vineyard. He arranged for the first workers to be paid a day’s wages--that was fair. But the other workers He only promised a fair wage, and He certainly was more than fair there.

In God’s kingdom, then, He is absolute sovereign, and He can deal with all people in whatever way He chooses. He is free to give some people more than others in relationship to their years of service or contribution. He alone makes the decisions of what to give people for service, how to use them (all day or not), and how to reward their faithfulness. And no one can challenge the decision of the sovereign Lord.

Everyone who serves the Lord will be treated fairly. The workers either got what they agreed to, or they got more. In fact, in the parable, the latter servants came to work without an exact agreement, so they actually trusted the landowner that they would receive a fair wage. They did not have a settled agreement fixed. And because they trusted His equity, they were rewarded with the same wage that the others who worked all day were receiving. But they got paid first when the owner paid the wages. This no doubt was designed to underscore the point that the last shall be first.

How the Lord treats all of His servants is by grace. Until the workers were approached by the landowner, they had no work. If He had not found them and arranged for them to enter his vineyard, they would have remained with nothing. No one can complain that such a gracious provision is unfair—unless they think that everything must be based in a legal arrangement. Everyone should be thankful that God opened up the opportunity for service. (

These Kingdom principles apply through the ages. Before we met God, before we came to belief, we had nothing in terms of understanding kingdom values. God approached and invited us in...maybe cautiously at first, maybe from a distance, as we noticed others with a faith life, or maybe through the traditional manner of being baptized as an infant and brought to Church on a regular basis....a “cradle Anglican,” so to speak. That would describe me.

Yet, even those who are brought up in the Church sometimes take their leave. Some return at a later age as I did, and some choose not to return or return at Christmas and Easter. Regardless...God’s grace is equal for all. His love is unconditional and applies to all. So, whether you come to faith in your old age or at a very young age, God’s grace is equal for all.

Then, what are the implications for us today? Let me leave you with these thoughts:

1. What does it mean for us today, that the first shall be last and the last first?

2. In what sense will many that are first be last?

3. If this parable’s teaching is correct, then those who enter into ministry early in their lifetimes work longer than those who enter into the kingdom at some later period.

4. If reward in the kingdom of heaven is based upon meritorious service, then those who work from early youth may deserve more than those who work from later life.

5. However, since rewards in the kingdom are based on God’s grace, not meritorious works, then no one deserves more than another.

While one may be first in point of time of entrance into the kingdom, i.e., at an early age, that person may be last in appreciating the generosity of God.

1. And whereas one may be last in time of entrance into the kingdom, i.e., at a late age in life, he may be first in God’s esteem for appreciating His generosity.

2. The two attitudes of generosity and jealousy in this teaching are contrasted at extremes to each other, and everyone may examine himself or herself to place themselves somewhere on a continuum between them.

The question is “Where are you in the parable?”

1. Have you entered to work in the vineyard at the 1st hour? There is no guarantee you’ll have another opportunity to enter into the Lord’s vineyard.

2. Have you entered at the 3rd, 6th, 9th, or 11th hour? i.e., at your first opportunity?

More importantly, what is your attitude toward the Master’s generosity?

1. Do you think you should have more than others? Did you bargain for what you shall receive? Are you jealous of what others may receive from the Lord?

2. Or, are you simply expecting the Lord to do what is right?

My mom told me she is grateful to God and His grace for keeping her going all these years. She is a great inspiration for me, because she helps me to understand that no matter what age you are, if you have breath, you have work you can do for God. God has called each and every one of us into His kingdom and has gifted each and every one of us with health and abilities that are to be used to His glory and for the Kingdom on earth.

Our task, then, is to be thankful for what we have, for what God has done and is doing in and through us, and to discern how we might help God in His mission in the world, to bring about Good News. Let us pray.

Gracious God, we give thanks for your grace and the fact you have called us into service in your Kingdom. Give us grateful hearts for the gifts you have given and a keen sense of your mission in the world and especially in this neighborhood. Thank you for the blessings you bestow upon us. May we continue in your love until our lives end.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pentecost 13: The Kingdom Ethic of Forgiveness

Good morning and welcome. Today, we are continuing our look into what I would dub “Kingdom Ethics,” or the way we as Christians should live as dictated by the Word of God.

In my research, I found this delightful piece by Phil Calloway in his book, Golfing with the Master. Any golfers out there? I’m a golfer and happy to say a casual one at best, so I found this amusing. Calloway writes:

I'm so thankful that God says,"You'll never measure up, so accept the gift of grace from One who did. It's the one key that will unlock heaven's door." Listen to these liberating words of grace: "Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!" (Ephesians 1:7-8 MSG).
Have you ever wondered what would happen if certain Bible characters sent letters of application for ministry positions in a church? Would the Thursday night search committee meeting sound something like this?
"Let's talk about this Adam."
"Well, he seems like a good man, but he takes bad directions from his wife. And you don't even want to know what he wears in the woods."
"How about Noah?"
"He's prone to taking on huge building projects without a permit. He's a pessimist too."
"What about Joseph?"
"Brags too much. Has a prison record. He's even been accused of adultery."
"And Moses?"
"Are you kidding? He's a lousy communicator. He stutters and stammers. He has a bad temper and has been known to hit things with a stick."
"So he's a golfer then?"
"That's another of his shortcomings."
"What do you know about Job?"
"Well, he's loaded, so he won't need a salary. But he's pretty gloomy. He complains too much."
"David looks like he has promise."
"Yes, but his kids are out of control, and his wives are a handful. To make matters worse, he's a strong proponent of instrumental music in worship."
"Tell me about Solomon."
"Well, he has a good head on his shoulders, but he's got problems when it comes to building projects. It took him seven years to complete the temple and thirteen years to build his palace. I guess he was trying to please all those wives."
"What about Elijah?"
"No way. Prone to depression. Collapses under pressure. Spends too much time by himself in the wilderness."
"And Samson?"
"Hair's too long."
"Good runner, but he makes up big fish tales. Has been disobedient to God."
"Not a chance. Works for the IRS."
"What about this John the Baptist?"
"He sure doesn't dress like a Baptist. Strange diet. Makes the Pharisees mad."
"And Peter?"
"Bad temper. Curses sometimes. Claims to have visions."
"Powerful preacher and a good leader. But he's short on tact and has been known to preach all night. Puts people to sleep. Controversial on women's issues. He's single, too."
"What about these others on the list?"
"Lazarus is dead."
"Zacchaeus is too short."
"Timothy is way too young."
"Methusaleh is too old."
"Sarah laughed too much."
"What about Judas?"
"Well, let's talk about him. He comes with good character references. Good connections. He's conservative, so he won't rock the boat. Handles money well. Maybe he's the one." 
Aren't you glad God in His mercy chose to use the likes of these? They literally shaped the course of human history. And He will do it again through you.

All of us have sinned. But we don't have to live with the guilt. When we truly repent, God forgives and restores us to favour. (Divine Mulligans, Phil Callaway, Golfing with the Master. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2006, p. 170-173.)

Our Gospel passage today hammers home the important Christian ethic of forgiveness. According to research, in the Gospel of Matthew there are five great discourses of Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7); the commissioning of the disciples (ch. 10); the parables of the kingdom (ch. 13); life in the church (ch. 18); and the end of the age (ch. 24-25).

The passage for this study on forgiveness is a part of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18 on life in the church. The chapter begins with a discussion of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (vv. 1-9), followed by the parable of the lost sheep (vv. 10-14) which underscores the truth that in God's eyes even "one of these little ones" has such immense value that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes after the one that has wandered off. This is followed by last week’s instructions to the church on how to deal with a brother who has sinned (vv. 15-20).

It is in this context that Peter asks how often he must forgive an offending brother (vv. 21-22). In answer, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant (vv. 23-34), followed by a final warning (v. 35). Recall here that Peter knows the importance of forgiveness. He knows that if someone has sinned against us, we must forgive, but how often?

Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times, perhaps based on Amos 1:3, 6, 9 and Job 33:29-30 (note Luke 17:4). Peter thought his willingness to forgive seven times was much more generous than Jewish tradition and thus surpassing the righteousness of Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 5:20).

Jesus' answer was that the Christian must forgive seventy times seven. In other words, there is no limit for forgiveness. To help Peter gain further insight, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. It’s the story of a servant who went out and dealt mercilessly with a fellow servant who owed him a debt that was a minute fraction of what he himself had owed. For his mercilessness, this first servant was condemned.

To truly drive the point home, the parable points out how much the first servant owed his master....his debt was more than the total budget of the ordinary one person trying to pay off the debt of the entire Province of Manitoba. In comparison, the fellow servant owed the first servant considerably less...100 denarii or about one - five thousandth of the first servant’s debt.

The contrasts between the debts are staggering. The point then is that there is nothing that another can do to us that can in any way compare with what we have done to God----recall that Jesus was put to death after the cries of the crowd---“Crucify Him, crucify Him!” We are the ones who deserve death, but Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all of us.

Now, if God has forgiven us the debt we owe to Him, we must forgive others the debts they owe to us. What is it the Lord Himself taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How do we do that? On our own, this can seem an impossibility, but with the grace and help of the Holy Spirit, we can forgive, we are compelled to do so.

Isn’t it interesting this is one of the key ethics or values we try to instil in our youngsters at an early age? I ran across an interesting story that hammers this home more for us. There is no author’s name attached. The author, a mom, writes:
One rainy afternoon I was driving along one of the main streets of town, taking those extra precautions necessary when the roads are wet and slick.
Suddenly, my son Matthew spoke up from his relaxed position in the front seat. "Mom, I'm thinking of something." This announcement usually meant he had been pondering some fact for a while and was now ready to expound all that his seven-year-old mind had discovered. I was eager to hear.
"What are you thinking?" I asked.
"The rain," he began, "is like sin. And the windshield wipers are like God, wiping our sins away."
After the chill bumps raced up my arms, I was able to respond, "That's really good, Matthew." Then my curiosity broke in. How far would this little boy take this revelation? So I asked, "Do you notice how the rain keeps on coming?
What does that tell you?"
Matthew didn't hesitate one moment with his answer. "We keep on sinning and God just keeps on forgiving us." (
A great teaching...we keep on sinning and God just keeps on forgiving us. What was it Paul asked “Should I continue to sin so that grace can abound?” His answer... “By no means”. This teaching is not a blueprint or permission to allow sin to continue or to condone behaviour that is wrong. Rather, it is to hold up the essential truth of the Gospel, that we are to forgive as we are forgiven.

Here are some other questions for you to ponder and I leave them with you:

  1. What is the most difficult situation you have been called upon to forgive? How did you feel and do you still feel about trying to forgive that offense against you? 
  2. In Romans 12:21, Paul says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Do you know of an instance where someone overcame evil with good?
  3. This parable seems to link an unforgiving spirit with ingratitude. What connection, if any, is there between forgiveness and gratitude?
  4. Peter's question concerns a "brother." Must we forgive a non-Christian enemy or is our obligation to forgive limited to fellow Christians? Does forgiveness mean you don't sue someone who wrongs you or press charges against someone who assaults you?
  5. Are Christians to forgive and forget? If you forgive someone, can you nevertheless remain cool and distant? Can you limit your contact with that other person for fear they may hurt you again?
  6. Sometimes it is said that a person is "too proud" to forgive. What relationship do you find between pride and the unwillingness to forgive? (
Let us pray. Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that you have taught us that when two or three gather there you are in the midst of them. Thank you for your presence here today and for your grace and mercy. Teach us to have the same mercy and to rely upon your grace when we have sinned or when others sin against us. Thank you for teaching us to forgive and that forgiveness has no limit. This we pray in Jesus name.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pentecost 12

Good Morning and welcome! It’s great to be back in our Collegiate Street Church after a very productive summer. I hope all had a chance to get away and relax and enjoy the summer heat. It certainly was the year of hatch, match and dispatch at our heritage church—we had a baptism, funeral and a couple of weddings.

I’d like to begin this morning by sharing with you a neat little story that was sent to me by Mary Lobb. I’ll read it now:

When I was a kid, my mum liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work. On that evening so long ago, my mum placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my mum, and ask me how my day was at school.

I don't remember what I told him that night, but I do remember hearing my mum apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits. And I'll never forget what he said: "Honey, I love burned biscuits."

Later that night, I went to kiss Dad good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, "Your mum put in a long hard day at work today and she's real tired. And besides... a burnt biscuit never hurt anyone!"

You know, life is full of imperfect things... and imperfect people. I'm not the best at hardly anything, and I forget birthdays and anniversaries just like everyone else. What I've learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences, is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.

So...please pass me a biscuit. And yes, the burned one will do just fine! And please pass this along to someone who has enriched your life... I just did!

Life is too short to wake up with regrets... Love the people who treat you right and forget about the ones who don't.

Enjoy life now - it has an expiration date!

There’s a real truth in that, isn’t there? “Enjoy life, it has an expiration date.” I share the story with you because of its inherent connection to the Gospel passage today. Jesus has just finished teaching about the importance of the one, of how much the individual matters….the parable speaks of the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the flock to search out the one missing.

In today’s teaching, Jesus turn His attention to the community, those who are members of the same faith group, those who make up what we know of as the “Church,” or, according to The Apostle Paul, the Body of Christ. The teaching is about forgiveness, and how we treat those in the community when they commit sin against one another.

The particular sin is not described here so you would have to assume it could be anything. In the case of community, though, it may involve a triangle of relationships, where one in the relationship says something to anger or hurt another member. In frustration, one of the two turns to a third and hopes to gain support. Unfortunately, advice can be misunderstood, causing more damage. Often, in the life of the Church, one of the deadliest sins in community is gossip or breakdowns of communication. People may become separated from each other due to inaccurate messages and many times those messages may have been misunderstood. The actual truth is not known or ignored.

And so, says Jesus, if another member of the Church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. Then, Jesus says that if in fact the member does not listen, take along one or two others with you, so there are witnesses. If that is ineffective, Jesus says take it to the Church, the gathered Body. If there is no luck there, Jesus says we are to treat the offender as an outsider. So, it appears, there are three opportunities to restore a relationship, starting with offender and victim.

As one commentator suggested, this is most certainly a problem for the Church, especially if someone is expelled or treated as an outsider. Those familiar with the Book of Common Prayer will recall a rubric dealing with Communion. I quote:

“The Minister shall frequently remind the people of what is required of those who come to receive the Lord’s Supper, as set forth in the Catechism and Exhortations.

“It shall also be his duty to warn individually any whom he knows to be living in grievous sin that they presume not to come to the Lord’s Table until they give evidence that they truly repent; and if they do not heed his warning, he shall refuse to administer the Communion to them.

“He shall deal in the same manner with those between whom he perceives malice and hatred to exist, not allowing them to be partakers of the Lord’s Table until they be reconciled. But if one of the parties is willing to forgive, and, to the best of his ability, to make whatever amends may be proper, and the other party refuses to do so, the Minister shall admit the penitent person to the Holy Communion and refuse him that is obstinate.” (Book of Common Prayer, University Press, Cambridge, 1962)
This rubric is still in force today and you can read it in the preface to the Holy Communion in the BCP ahead of page 67. I must admit this rubric and the Gospel passage from today have troubled me over the years. Usually, if this scenario happens, the offender simply leaves. I have heard of this and while this may be acceptable to the victim, the offender is free to reoffend and may not learn or grow in the process. Yet, for me, the troubling question is “What must we do with the offender in order that the person is restored?” You see, unless something can be learned from the incident, in my opinion only a partial healing occurs and someone, somewhere, has been treated like an outsider. The offending individual has not learned and may continue to reoffend in a new environment, or worse, simply leave the “Church.”

Certainly, in the case of the First Nations and Indigenous community, many individuals did just that after their time at Residential Schools, but many who left were not the offenders but the ones who were offended against. Today, in my conversations with some of them, the Church is perceived to be the cause.

The outsider in this case, the offender, may blame the Church for all that went wrong instead of the important work of looking at himself or herself and the actual reasons for what went wrong…in this case human individuals committing acts of horror—physical, sexual and spiritual abuse. As Paul states in his letter to the Romans, it is important to have a Christian ethic, an ethic of love, as it is love that fulfills the law. This is what students needed to hear in the schools. This is a message we all need to hear.

Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Paul then goes on to give this advice. “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13, 14)

Having said all of that we hearken back to the early story of forgiveness…perhaps the cookie is burned, but maybe, just maybe, we need to overlook the faults, the imperfections of others and accept forgiveness when offered and offer it when we have offended. You see, when we do this, we demonstrate that we understand the full message of the Gospel, that no human being is perfect. In fact, there was only one—Jesus, and he became imperfection and took upon Him the sins of all of us, so that we would have a way to the Father, a way to eternity. It is to be a life lived as Jesus lived it, full of unconditional love.

On the surface, this may seem like pop psychology. Yet, it is not. It is not easy work sometimes to forgive. We can harbor resentment and let it build up in us. We can let it build so bad that it alienates us from many people, including family and friends and Church. Our own actions can cause others to stay away from us or avoid us when possible. To be an outsider in the faith is to be one who does not understand the importance of forgiving as Jesus forgave. Just think of the difference it would make in this world if we were able to do just that.

Putting on the Lord Jesus as Paul describes is also work…pleasant work that involves prayer and connecting through the Holy Spirit to the living Lord Jesus Christ in one’s life. It is the same Holy Spirit, working in us, that convicts us of sin. Some may talk of having a conscience…that sense comes from the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit. If we have done wrong, usually, we know it.

In the Indigenous community, we are working at healing that will take many generations. I believe strongly that healing will come to them and to us when the individual first recognizes that Jesus Himself has abused no one. His is the power of prayer and the power of healing. Jesus has not sinned against any. He is without sin. We, as Christians, are a part of Him through our baptisms, which is why Paul refers to the Church as a body. We are all connected. When one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. The work of putting on Jesus is all about prayer, about reading and studying our Bibles, about growing in faith and about regular attendance and connectedness to the Church, on Sundays and other days.

I have heard it said by those who leave the Church, “I am not Christian anymore.” You may choose to say that. You may even choose the leave the “Church” as you understand it to be. Christ has not left you. Your baptism cannot be wiped out like chalk by a brush. The Holy Spirit within you will continue to work and to nudge you to reconcile, preferably with the Church and certainly with whomever may have offended you or whomever you may have offended. That is what reconciliation is about: a restoration to wholeness.

I am a firm believer in restorative justice. If there is an offender in our midst, let that offender and his or her supporters’ come together with the one or ones offended, and let the community work out a solution. I have seen this happen and it is a powerful thing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the scriptures call us to reconcile. In fact, we are to be reconcilers. Let us then take the message seriously and be found putting on Jesus Christ and bringing Him to every situation in life. It is through this reconciliation that the world will be saved and come to that peace that passes all understanding. May God bless us and move in us to practice life in Christ, a life of love.