Category Archives: Sermon

Don’t pray like either the tax collector or pharisee

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

For the past several months, we have been hearing Jesus’ thoughts about discipleship. We have heard parables and stories that Jesus has been telling his followers about what it means to serve, about what it means to trust and about what God is up in the world. As we round the corner toward the final few weeks of this liturgical year, Jesus provides a parable seemingly about humility. About two very different people and their prayers to God. Prayers that maybe sounded a bit like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: proud, haughty, self-righteous, or even like that on-fire-for-Jesus Christian. I bow my head when I pray silently, and I cover the amount on my envelope with my thumb when I slip it into the offering plate”.   

Have you ever prayed that prayer? Or had those thoughts? 

“God, how could you love someone like me. I am not like those other people who have it all together, who give more than I do, who volunteer more than I do, who are better people than I am. Have mercy on me, because that’s all I have”

What about this prayer and these thoughts?

It is easy to hear this parable and think that it is a lesson about the value of humility. There is the Pharisee, incorrectly dividing the world into categories. Thankfully we are not like him. And there is the tax collector. He knows what this is about, he is a good Lutheran. All sin. The only hope he has is for God’s mercy.

To our ears listening centuries after this story was first told, the details of this parable can just fly over our heads. We don’t know what it was like to stand in the temple of Jerusalem, the grand centre of Hebrew religion and power. The term Pharisee in our world is a derogatory, not a position of honour and importance. Imagining a haughty religious type praying this prayer in an opulent setting can make it seem easy to identify the villain. Yet there is so much we don’t know, images and symbols we miss, we have not heard the standard prayers of the Hebrew faith.

Understanding the context, as always, is very important. The temple of Jerusalem would have been grand sight to behold. It was big and it had rules. The people believed that it was where God lived – in the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The temple was the place where you had to earn every inch of God’s favour. Whether you were a Pharisee or tax collector, you knew where you stood in the eyes of God when you were inside the temple. 

The Pharisee knows that he is righteous. He prays a Benediction that every Jewish man was to pray each day. Thank you God that I am not a Gentile, a sinner, or a woman. The Pharisee modifies the prayer, but the point is still the same. He is genuinely thankful for who he is. The pharisees sees those around him and looks down on them because they are truly less righteous than he. 

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he cannot expect anything from God. His job requires him to break the rules of Judaism. To charge interest, to handle money with graven images on it, even to steal or assault. He is not righteous and his only hope is God’s mercy. The tax collector is so wrapped up in himself, that he doesn’t see the world around him. 

But both the Pharisee and the tax collector are quick to divide people into categories. It doesn’t matter if one places himself in the good category and the other in the bad 0 the effect is the same. Both are acting as judge on God’s behalf. The Pharisees judges himself righteous, the tax collector judges himself unrighteous. 

And when slow down and look at ourselves honestly, we are often guilty of the same.

Whether we are thanking God for not being thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors, or whether we are thanking God because we are not arrogant, self-righteous, or prideful, the issue is the same. We divide humanity into categories, justified or unjustified, saved or unsaved, loved or unloved. 

In fact, being divided into tribes and factions has become so pervasive over the past few years that we argue about everything, politics, culture, science and more. 

Human beings are constantly looking for the ways that we can identify who is in and who is out. We might not be standing on the street corner, boldly thanking God in prayer for our certain salvation. But have we looked down on others, the homeless, those in financial trouble, those hold differing views about the pandemic, about the war in Ukraine, about climate change and even those who are sick, and we thank God that we are not them. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”. 

But we are also often the ones thinking that we are worthless compared to those around us. That we unworthy, while everyone else seems so perfect. We are certain that no one has it as bad us, or that others have their act together while we are struggling to get by. 

Whether we are intentional about it, or whether we do not know that we are doing it, we too place ourselves in the same categories that the Pharisees and the Tax Collector do. 

Now, here is the problem with that kind of thinking. It is a trap of our own making. 

One that the parable today gets us to fall for again. 

We so easily identify ourselves with either the Pharisee or the tax collector, or both. But this parable is not about pride or humility, and it is just as much not about pharisees or tax collectors. 

The parable is about the storyteller. 

The parable is about Jesus.  

While we are busy trying to make things about us, God is reminding us that it is God alone who justifies. God alone decides who is good enough for the Kingdom.

According to the law, the Pharisee came into the temple righteous, and left the temple righteous. But Jesus says something about the tax collector that should grab our attention, 

“I… tell… you,  this man went down to his home justified”. 

There is nothing that the tax collector did that earned his justification. His prayer did not make him righteous. 

Rather, it is Jesus who says that the man is justified. It is Jesus who decides. 

In the world of the Jerusalem temple, there were those were in and those were out. But everything changes with Jesus. 

Through birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus comes to tear down the categories we try to build. Whenever we try to make categories, God will stand on the other side, because God wants all to be included, all to receive grace, all to be loved. God has only one category – the Kingdom to which we all belong. We are God’s beloved children. 

The parable that Jesus tells is not a parable on how to act, or who to be like or how to pray. This is a parable about God. A parable that shows us God’s motives and shows us the way that God chooses to act in the world. That shows us that God wants to be with and care for the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone. God wants to care for us… because we are the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone.

Neither the Pharisee, nor the tax collector, nor us, want to see or admit, that being justified, that being saved is something that God does for us. Yet, that is what is told to us today.  The trap is laid that we try to divide humanity into saved and not saved. And it is God who alone who knows the way out. Through love and mercy God chooses humanity. God who chooses those who truly cannot be righteous on our own, God comes to us as Christ who lives and dies, with us, with imperfect and flawed human beings, God sends us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the resurrection and into new life. 

Perhaps our prayer today should be:

“God, we thank you that we ARE like other people: Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and saints.  We are justified by your righteousness; we are saved by your love.”

Image source:

Thanksgiving, 10 Lepers and giving thanks isn’t the point

GOSPEL: Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Thanksgiving has always been kind of weird Sunday to preach on. The theme of Thankfulness seems like a pretty obvious one for the church. Thankful seems like a good thing to be as people to faith. We use the term Thanksgiving regularly in worship. The greek word Eucharist, which is one of the names we use for communion, is translated as “Thanksgiving.”

And yet, Thanksgiving is a decidedly secular holiday. It is rooted in the meal shared by the pilgrims who arrived in North America with their indigenous hosts… or least the myth goes. Of course colonialism was not that at all, but is another sermon. Thanksgiving is also a harvest festival and its date was decided by an act of parliament in 1957, though it has a much longer and varied history going back to the 16th century. 

But it is not a church holy day. There is no thanksgiving story in the bible nor any commandment to set aside a day to give thanks. Maybe more difficult is that at the heart of Thanksgiving is an imperative for us to be thankful – something that we do.  Whereas the Gospel is rooted in God’s action – something that God does for us. 

Still in some kind of twist of fate, today’s Gospel lesson from the regular set of Sunday readings is all about thankfulness… and this story of the 10 lepers is centred around the return of the one to give thanks for what Jesus had done. 

So here I am, on Thanksgiving, having to preach about thankfulness!

As we pick up with Jesus, he is on the road, presumably still with his followers who were asking for increased faith last week. As comes into a village he is met by a group do 10 people with leprosy. Lepers were often segregated outside of towns and villages, even though leprosy in modern times we have discovered that it is likely not to be spread between people. The 10 lepers must have heard of Jesus before so they call out to him by name. They ask for his mercy. Now because we know the end of the story, we assume that what Jesus does next is heal them. But that isn’t so obvious. Instead, Jesus appears to redirect these lepers towards another source of healing, Jesus tells them to go to the priests. Whether the Jesus meant the priests of Jerusalem or some in this borderland town between Galilee and Samaria, the 10 turn and go.

Along the way, the 10 lepers are made clean. One of them notices that he was healed and turns back to Jesus in order to give thanks. When he returns praising God, Jesus asks why the other 9 haven’t returned along with him. Oh, and Luke mentions that this one was a foreigner, a Samaritan. 

The message here, especially on Thanksgiving Sunday, seems pretty obvious: Don’t forget to demonstrate your gratefulness. Maybe Luke was wanting to make sure we don’t forget our manners. 

Except it wasn’t good manners that allowed this Samaritan to turn back. It was that he likely didn’t know where he was actually headed to in the first place. It would have been difficult enough for these 10 Lepers to make their way through town and reach the priests being considered dangerous and unclean. But even if cleansed of his disease, the Samaritan would still have been unclean and unable to access the priests. 

Maybe what this one Samaritan recognizes is not the need for gratitude but something else. As an outsider in this borderland town, one existing on the margins, he cannot help but see that he has been healed from an unexpected place. 

The other 9 perhaps never even considered that it was Jesus who healed them, but assumed it was the cleansing rituals performed by the priests. According to their religious understanding this would make sense. They had gone and followed the commandments, they had fulfilled religious law and they had achieved righteousness. 

When we hear this story with 21st century ears, we want to learn the lesson of gratitude. We want to be the like the obedient ones who don’t just move on with life selfishly, but give thanks for our gifts. It is an easy position to take. 

Pointing to the ingratitude of others is all too common. Boomers claiming that millennials are entitled and self-centred, and millennials out of touch and unaware of their privilege. The rich giving thanks for their power to earn while slagging the poor for not doing better. The educated look down on the uneducated. Political tribes believe they are righteous while their opponents don’t get it. 

We are pretty good misidentifying the source the blessings, benefits, mercies or righteousness  that befall. Far too often we thank ourselves for our good fortune and good luck. And as people of faith it is no different. 

Like the 9 lepers who incorrectly identified the priests or their own obedience to the law as the reason for their healing and salvation, we too often forget the source of our salvation. Even as we hear and proclaim the gospel week after week, our thinking so easily flips to our salvation being because of our goodness – our being moral, loving our neighbour and doing good works.

Failing to remember who has granted us mercy, who has saved us, is all too easy.

Now if you have been paying attention the past number of weeks, you might catch some familiarity with the numbers 10, 9 and 1. Just a few weeks ago we heard the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. The shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one and the woman  10 coins who tears apart her house to find the lost one. The 10 lepers are meant to evoke connections to these stories. 

And the one leper who returns? He isn’t the point of the story, his giving thanks is only incidental to the action – he doesn’t even get any lines. 

Instead as Jesus narrates the action, we are reminded again – just as we were in the parables of the lost – of what God is up to in our world. Jesus’s healing and salvation is given whether we know it or not, whether we see it or not. The Samaritan leper’s return highlights this: unclean because of his disease, unclean because of his ethnicity he has nowhere else to turn, nowhere but to Jesus. 

And once the Samaritan returns Jesus identifies his station, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus makes it clean that this one leper who has returned is one who is still on outside, still marginalized, still excluded from the faithful and righteous community. 

Then Jesus changes all of that. “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faith, trust, relationship to the one who is trustworthy and who grants faith… this One makes well. The God of Israel, the Messiah sent to save, the One who has been healing and teaching throughout Galilee, the one who is about to go to the cross and be raised on the third day… this One has declares the Samaritan acceptable and righteous, this One welcomes  the man into the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Whether this man was a leper or a Samaritan or a beggar – Jesus says that he is one of the faithful. This man to belongs to God… We belong to God

Then… just like the ones that Jesus has been sending out in his name throughout the book of Luke, like the Apostles on the road last week who asked for increased faith, Jesus sends this man too. Out of the borderlands, away from this place of isolation and into God’s world.

Today, Jesus says the same to us. As we come needing Jesus’ mercy, as we beg for healing and wholeness… Jesus grants us salvation whether we know it is from him or not. Jesus makes us whole even if we think it is because of something we did all on our own, or whether we have nowhere else to turn. 

And in this world that wants to convince us that we are the source of our own righteousness, Jesus brings us into God’s Kingdom. Jesus reminds us that God is the source of salvation. Jesus doesn’t wait for our gratitude or praise, but sends us into the world healed and renewed. 

Then Jesus declares that our faith makes us well also. Our trust in the One who is trustworthy, our faith granted by the One who is faithful restores us to health, returns us to community and joins us to the Body of Christ. 

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we given the same reminder that we receive every other week. That here in this community of faith, that here gathered around the Word, here made clean in the waters of Baptism, that here fed at the banquet table of the Lord… here God is doing what God has always done. God is giving out mercy to all who are in need – God is giving salvation to us. 

Artwork: Ten Lepers by Bill Hoover, 2013

Thanksgiving and the passage of time – Pastor Thoughts

As I write, it is the coldest day of Fall so far, the wind is blowing, flurries are falling but mercifully melting on the ground. After hanging on for longer than usual, the leaves are finally turning those beautiful shades of yellow and red for fall. 

Here we are at Thanksgiving weekend already and it feels like Fall snuck up on us. Weren’t we just sitting at the beach on a hot sunny summer afternoon just yesterday or something? 

The change of weather reminds us of the passage of time. These days my relationship with time feels forever altered; maybe you feel the same. Days of the week and months of the year all feel a little more fuzzy than they did just a few years ago. The wet weather this Spring and Summer certainly changed the way time passed in the natural world with a delayed Spring, delayed Summer and now a delayed Fall. 

Time feels “off” from the pace and routines that we used to follow. There used to be structure and order to the way we experienced time. 

When I was younger I used to measure the days by orchestra and football practice, youth group events and the freedom of weekends. In university and seminary, time passed as semesters, reading weeks, exam dates and essay deadlines.

Then it all changed 13 years ago. Once I was ordained and in the parish, my life became governed by Sundays. Every seven days another Sunday arrived. And in between I needed to prepare for worship, write a sermon, collaborate with all those involved in various roles of making music, reading scripture, making and distributing bulletins, choosing hymns, setting up communion, etc. In some ways it is like putting on a small-scale musical theatre production every week, but different in that all the people attending participate in some way. 

We all have rhythms to our weekly cycle, but in the church during all the other days, and considering whatever other responsibilities, activities and stuff  we have to do, Sunday is always in the background. All the other days point to Sunday. Most pastors take Monday off because it is the furthest from the next Sunday, and the urgency to prepare is lower. My colleagues who do work on Mondays often cite a desire to get a head start on that Sunday urgency. Others have other tricks, like I start memorizing the dates of the Sundays about two months out from wherever I am – it feels helpful to know what is coming. 

Along with the rhythm of Sundays, there are the seasons and festivals that orient us to “when” we are in time. The liturgical calendar has governed my months and years in a way I could understand since I started serving in ministry. It is the same for teachers and the school calendar, for accountants and the fiscal/tax year, for business owners and the schedule of holidays and sales times, etc.

And so here we are being governed by calendars and schedules that have been knocked off their axis by the pandemic. Thanksgiving arrives and it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving as we once knew it. Re-orientation to the structure of time as we once knew it isn’t an easy thing. 

And yet, through all that we have been through these past years, the grounding of God’s story in time has remained the same. Even as we did not work, play, serve or worship as we were used to these past years, we still found ways to tell the story of God. Of God’s death and resurrection each week. Of the coming of Messiah in Advent, of the birth of Christ at Christmas, of the revelation of Jesus at Epiphany. We still walked in the wilderness of Lent following our Teacher and Master, and we still bore witness to the drama of Holy Week, and rejoiced on the Day of the Resurrection at Easter. 

In the midst of “fuzzy” time and holidays that don’t feel like the versions that we used to know, God’s story still holds us, and, indeed, holds us close. The story of God’s promise to carry God’s people through this life with mercy, grace and new life is clear and true. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins and Lost in 2022

GOSPEL: Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Today we get to hear some familiar parables about the Lost – the Lost Coin and Lost Sheep. There is something deeply familiar about the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, about the woman who tears apart her house to find her one lost coin. And if we were to continue after this, to hear the story of prodigal son. 

But just maybe this year, there is something different in the way we hear these parables. Something helps us identify different and see our selves differently in the story. 

If I am honest, I should confess my own bias in preaching these stories before. The previous four times I have preached on these parables, I have always found myself identifying with the 99 sheep, the 9 coins or more importantly the grumbling Pharisees. I have found it hard to see myself in the lost thing. Before, I tried to redefine what I meant to be lost or just preached about grumblers. In my sermon from 3 years ago, at the time a father of a 5 year old and 3 year whose whose whole life was chasing after lost people and things, I gave lost things and people a bum rap. 

But this year in 2022, as I read this story of Jesus and these two parables again, and it was almost like hearing them for first time. Since the last time this gospel lesson was read in church, our whole world and lives have been turned upside down.  We have known an experience of being lost and alone, all experiencing it at the same time, that probably many of us had never before endured. We all know today, in new ways what is means to be alone, to feel lost, to be surrounded by danger, and to long to be found and rescued in new and profound ways. And if you don’t, what were you doing during the past two years?

In the old world of 2019 where feeling lost and alone, abandoned and forgotten was a foreign, or at least private experience… this new world that we are now living in has plenty of loneliness to go around. It doesn’t take much to remember how recently the walls of our homes kept us in and others out, or that the streets and walkways were emptier than we have every seen. We have felt the danger of simply being with others, we have seen the rage of protest and frustration, we have welcomed the refugee fleeing a war that feels too close for comfort.

Just this week, we have born witness to tragedy in James Smith Scree Nation and Weldon. We got the alerts on our phones, TVs and radios. We grieve the violence and loss of life. And we are reminded of the complicated history that Canada bears with indigenous peoples and communities. 

And if that wasn’t enough to endure, the news came on Thursday that Queen Elizabeth died. After 70 years on throne, she is the only monarch that most of us have known or remember well. Her death is not only the loss of a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother whose life was dedicated to service in an role that was not of her own choosing, but she represents in many ways the end of era that spans the time from the Great Depression and World War II all the way to our 21st century pandemic world. We have known that that time late 20th century world was ending, but now it feels even more like we have transitioned fully to a new 21st century existence.

Now with all of that on our plates this week, we know understand now that feeling lost and abandoned, alone and in danger, has been a common experience for human beings through the ages. Being lost seemed like it was just a thing for those on the margins, those who fell into lives of abuse, addiction, and crime. But certainly as Jesus preaches to the Scribes and Pharisees, tax collectors and debtors, we can now understand the ancient world was full hardship and struggle. Feeling lost, hoping for salvation was common place. The people who hear Jesus preach would have known what it was to be lost, at least most of them. 

Their world was not one where there was much mercy and grace to be found. Sinners, debtors and the unclean rarely found help and care, rarely were they able to escape their circumstances. Once in debt it was nearly impossible to get out, once unclean it was a whole process to become clean again, once a sinner the whole community turned its back to you. 

So these crowds following Jesus, listening to his preaching about discipleship would have heard these parables of lost things as radical and unexpected, as stark contrasts to the image of a judgemental God that they were so often warned of. 

When the sinners and debt collectors hear the pharisees and scribes grumbling about Jesus caring for the lost, the expected response would be for Jesus to shape up and start following the rules. It simply wouldn’t track that a shepherd might risk the 99 for the sake of the 1. It is a waste of time and energy to tear apart one’s house just to find a single coin, when you still have 9.

So imagine the crowds hearing Jesus tell the story of the shepherd that leaves the 99 behind to go and find the one lost sheep. The story of the woman who takes apart her whole house in order to find a lost coin and then throws a party to celebrate. And finally the story of the prodigal son, the child who has lost to the world seemingly for good, returns home to the joy of his father and of course the jealous older brother. 

These stories of the lost things would have been radical to the ears of the crowds because they revealed a God far different than the one they had been taught to fear. They tell the story of a God who loves so deeply that God will search and find the lost and forgotten, God will go out to meet those who are alone and abandoned, God cares not just for the whole, the community, the herd, but just as much for the one, the individual, the personal. God who knows us as the family of faith called the Body of Christ, and who knows us that the beloved baptized child in whom God is well pleased. 

And this Shepherding God who goes out for the 1 sheep this finding God who searches frantically for the 1 coin, this loving God who runs out to meet the lost son on the road and goes out to me the resentful son in the field… this God is the One whom finds and gathers us up. Gathers us up from our scattered and separated lonely places, who brings us together in to one Body, one congregation, one family, who rejoices that we have been found, that we have been retuned home, that we are reunited in Christ. 

This same finding God continues to meet us in our world this week. As God weeps and mourns with the communities of James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, God promises that death is not the end and that there is New Life found in the Shepherd who search for the lost. As a commonwealth grieve’s the death of a beloved Queen and matriarch, while wrestling with the legacy of colonialism, God joins us again and again to a community, a Body and Kingdom in Christ that spans all time and space. As we contend with change that do not know how to manage, God reminds us that God has walked this journey with God’s people before, and God will show us the way now. 

This week, this year, more than ever before in our lives, we may have needed to hear these parables of the Lost as a church. We needed to be reminded of the loving finding God who doesn’t just look for those others that we consider lost, but loves and finds us, all of us. Because God knows knows that we are just as much the one lost sheep as we are the 99. God knows we are just as much the one lost coin as we are the 10 found ones. 

And the God who seeks, finds, knows and loves us is exactly who we need. 

When Jesus interrupts our summer chill

Luke 12:32-40
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

*Thanks to Feedspot for putting my blog at #3 on their Best Canadian Pastor Blogs list!:

We are getting into those long summer days now, where finding a nice patio to sit on, or a shady tree to sit under with a cold drink, a good book and lots of sunlight and gentle summer breezes is about as good as life can get. As Canadians know, we like to put life on hold in the summer as much as we can, to enjoy the warm weather. School, sports, work, hobbies, and other activities are suspended as much as possible while we do whatever summery things we can fit in to life.  

So when Jesus offers advice about being prepared and on guard… it is hard to get into the spirit. He gives us different images: Give away your possessions. Pull up your sleeves. Attend to your house for the coming of the Son of Man. Keep watch and wait… These aren’t normal summer activities. They don’t really fit our summer schedule of afternoon naps and long evening sunsets.  

While we don’t read this today, Peter follows up Jesus’ commands with a question. He says out loud what many of us are thinking,  ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ Like a good Canadian in summer, Peter is hoping that these commands to be diligent are not specifically for him, but more of a general warning, a take it or leave it kind of idea. 

Peter makes a good point. Are these commands really for us? Is it even possible to do fulfill all of these demands? Giving away all our possessions just isn’t realistic in today’s economy. Waiting up all night for the master to return from a wedding banquet… well that image is outdated because none of us are slaves. And protecting our house from the thief is what locks, guard dogs and alarm systems are for. It is like Peter is saying, “Come on Jesus, its Folklorama. Can we we just give the discipleship talk a rest for a few days?”

Jesus throws so many images at us that its easy to get lost in them. They are overwhelming and sorting through the meaning of each one may or may not provide answers. To figure this out we need to step back, take a breath and consider what the big picture is. 

When it comes to faith and sorting out how all this God stuff applies to us, we are quick to look for the tasks that we think we need to do to make God happy. What do we need to get out of the way, so that we can get on with life, so that we can get to the real business of summer? This is at the root of Peter’s, and our question. If all these demands really do apply to us, what is the fastest and easiest way we can get them finished. How many times do we need to come to church? How many prayers do we need to pray?  How much money should we give? What else do we need to do to make Jesus happy? 

We hope that completing the assigned tasks will satisfy Jesus, but that isn’t really what he is getting at today. Its not about the details, is not about breaking down faith into tasks and to do lists. The impossible demands that Jesus lists are just that — impossible. Faith is not something that can be reduced to simple instructions that we follow. Rather, faith is that relationship that finds us and grabs on to us. Faith comes from our gracious God who claims us and marks us in baptism. God pulls out of the details and our need to just complete the tasks that make God happy, and God does it with the first words that Jesus speaks today. 

Do not be afraid. Words that echo throughout the bible. Words that always come before the announcement of the good news. 

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Sarah and Abraham as God calls them to be the mother and father of a nation. 

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Daniel as God promises to be with him in a foreign land and even in a den of lions. 

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with Mary as she is told that she is pregnant with the Messiah, and that he will be Emmanuel — God with us. 

Do not be afraid. And we are standing with the disciples in the upper room hiding in fear, and Jesus appears among us bringing peace, showing the holes in his hands and the mark in his side. 

Do not be afraid. And we are standing here, and Jesus is telling St. John, that it is the Father’s pleasure to give us the Kingdom of God. 

Its easy to overlook these first few words at the beginning. Its easy to get stuck with the details, stuck with trying to figure what exactly it is that Jesus is telling us to do. 

Do not be afraid, these words, always accompany God’s promise. Do not be afraid. They come to us in big moments, important moments of faith. Moments when God is going to change the world. When God turns everything we know on its head. Do not be afraid, God speaks these words to us in moments that are confusing and terrifying, moments that give hope in the darkness. Moments when all seems lost and destroyed. Moments of promise that remind us first and foremost that God is doing something amazing in our world. Do not be afraid. 

With these words, Jesus’ impossible demands to give ALL we have to the poor, to be ALWAYS on guard and ALWAYS watching for the return of the master, and to be CONSTANTLY alert for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man… with these words, Do not be afraid, Jesus reminds us that all those instructions coming next have less to do us and more to do with God. 

And even more we hear today in this place that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom… whether we are ready or not. God gives us a treasure more valuable than any and all possessions: Grace and forgiveness… whether we are diligent or not. God comes from the heavenly banquet to bless and serve us with water, with bread and wine… whether we are watchful or not. As the Son of Man, God is breaking into our world, into our lives… whether we are waiting or not. 

God pulls us out from all these impossible details. And in the midst of sunny days and olympics, Jesus says yes, these words are for you. Do not be afraid, for it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom!