Tag Archives: covid-19

Having only Bad Choices – God’s Third Option

Matthew 18:21-35
21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
(Read the whole passage)

I wonder what was going through the minds of the Israelites standing on the banks of the Red Sea… an army chasing them down from behind and turbulent waters ahead of them. No good options, only bad ones. 

Here we are, into month 7 of this global pandemic, and it feels strange to be preaching again about a virus… and yet this illness that spreads so easily and makes just enough folks really sick has changed life and the way we live it. It is in the news every day, it has become an important factor in nearly every decision we make from how to buy groceries, to visiting with family, to going to work or school or even coming to church. 

We have been walking along side the stories of God’s people during this entire pandemic in a new way, a way different from before when we likely felt degrees of separation from the struggle. Again and again we have found the world and story that we have been living out in real time is one that is already told and experienced in the bible. From Abraham and Sarah and their descendants making their way in the wilderness, to the disciples cluelessly following Jesus, to Moses and the Israelites preparing to escape Egypt. 

We are firmly in the back half of this long season of green. 15 Sundays into Ordinary Time, and there are only ten or so left before we flip the calendar on a new church year in Advent. Yet, even now, those ten weeks seem like they are still a lifetime away, the predictability of our lives has been taken from us as we wait each day to hear whether or not this pandemic thing is getting better or worse. 

Along side the the story of the Israelites feeling Egypt’s armies and crossing through the parted waters of the Red Sea, Peter asks Jesus how many times ought he to forgive. Peter’s guess was a number he thought to be quite generous. 7 times. But Jesus responds by multiplying that number 70 times 7. Which is not to say 490 times, but forgiveness ought to be offered more times than Peter imagines possible. 

There is something about the Israelites standing on the brink of destruction or disaster that goes with Peter’s question about forgiveness. 

As the people of Israel, the community of God’s people stood there on the banks of the seashore, the feeling of helplessness and defeat must have been overwhelming. There was no good choice to make, only bad options. Options that both include death for many. Death at the hands of Egyptians soldiers, or death in the waters.

In the same way as Peter considers forgiveness, he too stands between hard choices. Forgiveness really exists at the edge of a difficult choice, to let go of harms and wrongs done. Does forgiveness condone bad behaviour? Does it simply allow for more harm and abuse? Or does not forgiving hold us in bitterness and judgment, in resentment and anger? There is no easy answer or obvious choice. 

The people of Israel and Peter are standing at the precipice of bad options and choices all around. Not dissimilar to where we are stand theses days. We too have been struggling with how to move forward in life when there are are only bad and unsatisfactory options all around us. Do we stay home or risk seeing family and friends for the sake of mental health and wellbeing. Do we go back to workplaces and jobs risking exposure but needing to support businesses and the economy? Do we send children to school with untold numbers of contacts or do we risk their growth, learning and development. 

And of course, do we begin gathering in-person for ministry and worship as churches once again? Is the community that we share in this place worth the risk of transmission? Do the restrictions placed on how we worship (masks, no singing, no visiting, socially distant and brief) justify the effort to be together inside of a beloved church building and church home?

Today, the Lord God of Israel and Jesus the Christ offer third options. A parting of the waters, a new and unexpected pathway to salvation. An understanding of forgiveness that expands far beyond what seems generous and reasonable at first. 

Yet, as Moses raises his staff and hands over the sea and the waters part… I am not so sure that stepping into the newly revealed sea bed would have felt any safer. I don’t think I would have been the first to follow the path between the two walls of water, not knowing if or when they might come crashing down. Salvation and rescue doesn’t always feel low-risk and secure. Being safe isn’t always comfortable.

Yet, as Jesus speaks of forgiveness beyond what Peter can imagine, forgiveness that is not just generous but abundant and lavish. Forgiveness that extends beyond close friends and family, that is given for the whole community, for all of creation… I am not sure I would want to walk away from the ability to hold others accountable, to hold them in my judgment… who knows how that might be taken advantage of. Letting go my judgment and resentment doesn’t feel natural or straight forward. Setting feelings and gut instincts and coping mechanisms aside isn’t easy. 

Yet, the Lord God of Israel brings the people through the waters to safety to other side and on their way to the promised land. 

Yet. Christ goes to the cross and even while hanging there in the final judgment of humanity, prays for mercy and forgiveness for all of us. 

For you see, God reveals something beyond our impossible choices, beyond the risk of armies and raging waters. God pours out forgiveness, release from judgement and condemnation that cannot fathom. 

God invokes options and futures that we cannot conceive of. Christ shows us the way to abundant new life beyond ourselves, and beyond what feels safe. 

And for us, for the church as we face a world full of bad options, full of risks and stress and anxiety about what the right thing to do is, God is working among us already, parting waters that will send us on our way to the promised land – there just might be 40 years in the wilderness first. 

And Christ is exhorting us to forgiveness knowing that resurrection and new life have begun already in our world, even if the cross of Good Friday comes first. 

God in Christ promises that even through this pandemic, even through the separation of communities, friends and family, even through the limitations on the way we worship and the way we can gather… that the transformation and salvation of God’s people has already begun… that there will be parted waters ahead for us, that there’s abundant forgiveness waiting for us… that a new way of living and being in the world for this pandemic church of 2020 is on its way. 

We might feel stuck to between bad choices theses day, but God is with us, God is beside us, God is among us… carrying us to the new and unexpected thing that we cannot imagine yet. 

Because God has already brought God’s people, and will bring us, through the struggle and to the other side, 

to the promised land 

of mercy and new life. 

Saying ‘No’ to God

GOSPEL: Matthew 16:21-28
…22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

What would you say?

What would you say if you were standing in front of the God of all creation, in front of the divine made incarnate in flesh? 

Moses stood in front of the burning bush. Peter stood in front of Jesus revealed as the Messiah. And it didn’t go all that well for either of them. 

Here we are, the last Sunday in August, heading into the back half of this long season of green. This time should be about soaking in those last few days of summer break, the last few days of of that relaxed pace of life before the fall ramp up. And instead, we are far too much in the same headspace as Moses and Peter. Confronted with a world fraught with danger that we would rather avoid. 

This summer, we have been hearing the stories of God’s people in Genesis and we have been hearing these stories of Jesus and the disciples in Matthew. These familiar stories have come to us with fresh ears to hear and eyes to see. It has been enlightening how our story of 2020 is being told along side stories that come to us from the ancient past. 

Last week we began with the book of Exodus and the story of Moses, who was just a baby boy. He is hidden from danger, adopted by princess, raised in Pharaoh’s household. He kills an Egyptian slave master and flees. Eventually he settles in the land Midian, takes a wife and becomes a shepherd.

And it is while living this new life that he comes across the burning bush… and discovers that it is the God of Israel, coming to call Moses back to his people. But Moses isn’t so sure about this idea of God’s. 

Peter on the other hand has just confessed last week that Jesus is the Messiah, in response to Jesus’ question about who people are saying that Jesus is. Yet with Jesus’ words of praise still hanging in the air for Peter’s confession, Peter bungles it up by scolding Jesus for talking about dying. 

You would think that both Peter and Moses, when faced with God in fire and God in flesh, would take a moment to choose their words… but they don’t. 

But why they don’t is a little more complicated than it seems. It isn’t just that Peter likes to put his foot in his mouth. It isn’t just that Moses has a phobia of public speaking. It is that the burning bush and a cross focused Jesus evoke versions of the world that Moses and Peter are trying to leave behind. 

Moses doesn’t just want to avoid speaking to a crowd. He is avoiding his old life, the imbalanced world of powerful Pharaoh enslaving an entire nation. The contrast to the life of luxury in Pharaoh’s court with the suffering of Moses’ people. 

Peter in the same way wants Jesus to avoid the world of the Pharisees and the Scribes. The imbalanced world of the religious haves and have-nots. The risks of facing up against the powerful religious elite who will do almost anything to maintain their power and status. 

Moses has a good life being a shepherd in Midian. Peter has found a good gig following this popular miracle worker around the country-side… Neither want to wake up and face the real world full of death and suffering. 

And so they protest. Moses protests to the burning bush. Peter scolds Jesus. When faced with God’s summons towards the danger for the sake of God’s people, both hesitate and try to stay in the relative comfort. 

And just maybe we understand Moses and Peter in 2020 more than ever before. We have been surviving a great ordeal ourselves. We have and are enduring pandemic. We watched and prayed for the sick, for health care workers, we stayed home for the sake our neighbour. 

And then in the middle of a pandemic, the murder of yet another black man, George Floyd set the world on fire. Protests erupted all over the world and even in our own city. 

Yet that was June. And now it is August… and as the pandemic stays mostly, kind of, almost under control, our world opens up to some semblance of a new normal. Even as we wonder about plans for back to work and back to school and of course back to in-person church. 

At least there is hockey, basketball, and baseball all at the same time. 

It is… or was… almost a world we can live with and be kind of comfortable in. 

And then there was another cop shooting an unarmed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And  a big Hurricane slamming into the South-East United States. And there are renewed protests, vigilante shooters barely touched by police, and forget watching basketball, baseball and hockey this week – players are boycotting. 

Then there were the days of record cases numbers and more covid deaths in our province.

And all of sudden it feels like we are cowering in front of a burning bush or an angry Jesus reprimanding us for thinking that we could just stay in that kind of comfortable world we thought we had found. 

So what would you have said? 

How would you have responded to I AM who I AM? 

What could you say to the Christ who says, “Get Behind me Satan” to you?

Peter gets reprimanded by Jesus for thinking of human things and not divine things. 

Moses is informed that his fears aren’t sufficient for shirking God’s call. 

Yet there is more to what the burning bush and Jesus are saying to these two men. There is more than rebuke. And there is more that God in Christ is saying to us. 

As Moses pushes back, the burning bush promises that Moses will be given what he needs to face the future. That God’s plan for Moses and God’s people isn’t just danger and the risk of death. God has more mind, God has a new and different future in store for a people stuck in slavery. And God promises to go along side Moses each step of the way, God promises to provide a community to support Moses and work with him. 

And as Peter pushes back against Jesus’ talk of death, Jesus reminds Peter and the other disciples of the promise at the heart of the incarnation. It isn’t just a promise to wander the country-side doing miracles, being popular with the crowds. 

The Messiah, that Peter has just named, has come into the world for the salvation of God’s people. For their salvation from danger, sin and death entirely. The Messiah is on the road to confrontation with religious and political authorities, on the road to confront the danger, and to do something about it, to transform it by ushering in the Kingdom of God. By reconciling the great “IAM who I AM” with all creation, by undoing the power of death through the promise of New life found only in the One who us the source of all life, by declaring that after the death on Friday there will be resurrection on the third day. 

And so Moses and Peter are reminded that their comfortable enough worlds are not God’s intention. So we are reminded that this moment of being just comfortable enough to live is not God’s intention for us. 

God’s promise is that danger, sin and death are not the great powers of this world. That they are not the ultimate authorities over us. 

God’s promise is the very place of salvation. The promise given to the Israelites who escape slavery and find the promise land, and those who don’t, those didn’t make it out of Egypt, those who didn’t leave the wilderness are still bearers of the promise. 

And Christ’s resurrection promise is the very place of salvation. The promise given to those who became the witnesses of the resurrection and those who have not seen but hear the good news are still bearers of the resurrection promise. 

And God’s promise to us, in the midst of a world on fire, a world battered by storms, a world rife with fear is given to us who have heard the good news, and those who have yet to hear, those who hear but doubt, those do not hear at all. 

For you see God’s promise transforms us, just as it has transformed God’s people from the beginning. For God’s promise declares that right here and right now, that the dangers, sufferings, sins and death of the world will not define us. Whether we follow, whether we protest and push back against God’s call, whether we long for the small bit of comfort that we can find, or whether we take up our cross and follow Christ into the future. 

God’s promise re-defines and returns us to God. God’s promise that declares that we belong to the God of creation and life, the God resurrection and new life. 

God’s promise is life for people born into sin and death. God’s promise is life for Moses, Peter and or us.  

And today, we might protest and push back against this promise of life in favour of comfortable death… But God makes and bestows the promise none the less. Moses leads God’s people out of slavery, Peter follows his teacher to the cross, and God promises to carry us through this ordeal as well. We might not all see the other side, but in the promise God has already given us salvation. 

Salvation found in promise.

Even enough for the dogs

GOSPEL: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”… (Read the whole passage)

Six months ago yesterday – March 15th – was the last time that we gathered in-person for worship. At that time, we imagined a few weeks of lockdown and then a return to normal. Six months later, social distancing is still a thing, lockdowns and restrictions of various degrees are sill  in force. And this pesky little virus continues to overtake our attention. Even as protests over police killings continue to erupt, even as political scandals make headlines, even as hockey resumes only to disappoint (sorry Winnipeg and Edmonton and Toronto), even as Tornados tear through the province, even as a woman of colour is historically named to the ticket of an American presidential candidate… the coronavirus still is the most important issue in our world. This month case numbers are rising, and the daily death toll remains tragically high. Many stress over going back to school and going back to work. Six months of the world still turning with all of the usual turmoil and historic events, that by themselves would make 2020 a memorable year… and the Coronavirus pandemic has gripped us all that entire time putting everything else in the back seat. 

Throughout this summer we have been hearing the story of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. Today, we finally her the last story of our Genesis wanderings. Sarah and Abraham’s great grand-son Joseph, who had been sold into slavery because of the jealousy of his brothers, has risen to power in the court of Pharaoh. And when famine comes into the land of Jacob, his family and herds, he sends his sons to find help in Egypt. There they meet Joseph, though not knowing it is him, and Joseph plans to recuse his starving family by bringing them to the abundance of Egypt. 

This story of Joseph rescuing his family may not seem on the surface to have much to do with the story of Jesus that we hear today, as he encounters a persistent Canaanite woman who is advocating for her sick daughter. And yet how Jesus and the disciples came to be standing in gentile territory to be annoyed by the persistence of Canaanite woman is deeply connected to the Israelites picking up and moving into Egypt at Joseph’s direction. 

For you see, soon after the story of Joseph, we start Exodus and story of Moses and the Israelites slavey in Egypt. As foreigners living under oppression, God promises Moses and God’s people that he will deliver them to the promised land. When the Israelites escape Pharaoh and Egypt, they wander the desert for 40 years only to eventually settle in the land of Cana. The land of Canaanites. 

Centuries later, as Jesus and the disciples stand in gentile territory, annoyed by the presence of this gentile woman pressing Jesus for a miracle, they have forgotten that their ancestors were themselves granted reprieve and salvation by a foreign nation. They once were a lost people wandering the deserts only to come to the land they were now in, as outsiders looking for hope and promise. 

Instead, the disciples insist that this Canaanite woman be sent away, as she is an unclean outsider and foreigner, unworthy of their attention. And at first, Jesus almost seems to agree with his followers. 

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He declares. 

That doesn’t sound like the Jesus we usually hear from in the gospels. 

And still the woman presses Jesus. He responds in a most un-christlike manner comparing her to a dog stealing food meant for children. 

This does’t sound like the caring and compassionate Jesus we usually know and hear in the gospels. Yet, there is also something about Jesus’ response to this woman… something almost comfortable. 

The disciples probably felt like they finally understood what was happening and weren’t clueless. Jesus was falling in line with how they understood the world, with how they expected the rules to be followed, with how they saw the boundaries between peoples, nations, tribes and religions. 

And there is a certain guilty comfort and security that we probably don’t want to admit. Because we too know what our first instinct is in similar situations. We too like clear distinctions and boundaries, we like knowing who is in and who is out. And finally Jesus is giving us some clue about who can be counted out from God’s love… even if we don’t actually know any Canaanites personally, we do know that we aren’t them and they aren’t us. And feels like we are on the inside. 

That first thought, that first instinct, that first reaction to set the boundary, to call some people worthy and others not… that is what is getting us, the whole world, in heaps of trouble these days. From the new, almost daily uncovering of racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic institutions, to the way we police and protect our world, to the way we engage in political discourse. This first thought and instinct has led us to create bloated city police departments across the continent. It has given way to racist attacks against the first woman of colour named as vice-presidential candidate for a major US party. It is why the Canadian Museum for human rights (of all places) needs to hire a new CEO to fix racism and sexism in their workplace. It is why here in Manitoba there has been so much shame heaped on those in our community of who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Whether we like it or not, we are those disciples asking Jesus to send that Canaanite woman – and her troubles – away. 

We are human beings whose first instinct is to set the boundary and do our best to make sure no one crosses it.  

We are people simply casting about for some certainty in a difficult and chaotic world, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of others. 

But then just as Jesus has put her down and in her place, the Canaanite woman makes one final appeal for her daughter. 

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Surely by this point our hard hearts have been exposed, the disciples’ annoyance with this persistent Canaanite woman, our first instinct to set the boundary and keep the undesirables out are revealed. 

Would the disciples still want Jesus to send her away at this point? Would we?

Whether we know the answer or not, Jesus responds. 

Jesus responds and he is back to his compassionate if not scandalous self. 

He commends the woman for her faithfulness. A gentile, a woman, a Canaanite of all people… full of faithfulness. 

But Jesus doesn’t just open up a spot on the edge of the kingdom of God, he doesn’t just do the bear minimum for her. 

Jesus opens the Kingdom wide, Jesus expands the space for this woman to be more than just a charity case, more than a forgettable instance of healing. Jesus commends the woman for her faith, for her insistence on proclaiming her trust in God. Jesus elevates her to the level of disciples, to those tasked with going out and proclaiming the word, to preacher and proclaimer of the good news. In one short line this woman, seeing the need of her own daughter and discerning God’s presence in her midst, proclaims the coming of God. 

She proclaims that God has enough for all, enough for the down trodden and lowly of the world, enough for even the dogs. 

And we cannot help but wonder if Jesus was holding our first thought, our first instinct up for us too see. To show us just how cruel a world is that makes distinctions about who is in and who is out to determine who has access to God’s mercy. To see the cruelty of turning a person in desperate need away because they didn’t belong to the right tribe, the right political party, practice the right religion, work in the right job, come from the right country, speak the right language, bear the right colour of skin. 

And after holding up our first thought for us to see, Jesus holds up God’s first thought about us. God who chooses to be revealed in the most unlikely of places. In the Canaanite cities of Tyre and Sidon, through a Canaanite woman pleading for the healing of her daughter. In this gentile, this woman, this brand new follower of Jesus, God preaches the gospel of grace and mercy. 

God’s first thought is the good news given for us, for all of us, for the most unlikely of us. The grace of God given even to the dogs eating the table scraps from the floor. 

God ’s first thought is to use methods and people we would never expect to preach the gospel of mercy and grace. God gives us the promise of mercy anew in church structures built on Facebook, Youtube and Zoom. And God has given us all the people and more that we once hoped would come back to us – but not how we imagined. God proclaims the good news for us and for the world with new voices that we wouldn’t have heard from within our walls and boundaries.

And so here we are in this August of pandemic… and all too often our first thought turns us to set boundaries and declare some to be on the outside of God’s love. And yet God is surprising us in the most extraordinary ways, by sending us the most extraordinary people to proclaim to us the good news of God’s mercy, given in such abundance that even the dogs have enough. 

And through this Canaanite woman, through these unexpected means of pandemic realities, God is preaching the good news to the world in new and unexpected ways. Six months ago, back in Egypt it all seemed so unimaginable to us… and here we are in Cana and God is revealing to us a promised land that we have yet to fully understand… but where the Good News is given anew for us and for all, even for the dogs eating table scraps.

Wrestling with God, a hungry crowd of 5000 and a surviving a pandemic

GOSPEL: Matthew 14:13-21
16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

If you were all here in person, I would probably begin with an informal survey where you would raise your hand. Even though you aren’t here, we are going to try it anyways. I’ll pretend like I know what your answers are. 

So 4 and half months into this pandemic, who here is feeling a little tired of social distancing measures? 

Most of you? Okay, that makes sense. 

Who here is ready to go back to normal? 

Everyone? I can see that. 

Who has learned or acquired some new skills or abilities during this time, such as new technologies or cooking and baking or puzzles or new workout routines? 

Ah, yes, I see a lot of hands up. 

Who here finds themselves judging pre-pandemic tv shows by pandemic standards, as in hey those people aren’t social distancing!? 

Yup, a lot us. 

Who finds themselves judging others about their social distancing while out and about in public?

Be honest now. Yeah, most of us eh?

Who here has bent a social distancing rule to see family or friends? 

Yeah, almost all of us.

Who is ready of trust that most other people will diligently follow restrictions in order to keep us all safe?

That few of you… umm hmmm… 

Okay, who feels completely confident in government plans to re-open our economy safely and without unnecessarily increasing risk? Including the re-opening of schools?

Anyone? I am not surprised. 

Who is anxious about jumping back into fully participating in public life before a vaccine? 

Wow… most of us… yup….

So on the surface our little informal survey shows a pretty mixed response. Most of us are pretty tired of all the pandemic restrictions and ready for life to go back to normal. Yet, we also are finding it hard to trust that our neighbour and trust political leaders to safely guide us through this pandemic. And most of us are guilty of bending the social distancing rules ourselves. 

So we want all this stuff to be over, but we aren’t sure we are ready to trust the outside world. 

This Sunday, on the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we continue with the story of Jacob and his family (the grandson of Sarah and Abraham). We also hear a family story from Jesus’ life and ministry, the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two small fish. And in both, there is a glimpse of just where we may be at these days.

Jacob is the second born Son of Isaac. And Isaac the second born Son of Sarah and Abraham. Abraham is one of two brothers. And from Abraham all the way to Jacob’s own sons, God shows a surprising pattern of preferring second born sons to pass on the covenant, the promise given to God’s chosen people… when of course by normal Hebrew custom, the double portion and birthright was passed on to eldest sons. 

So far we have heard the stories of Isaac following his brother Esau by holding onto his heal right out of the womb. And then tricking his older brother out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. Jacob then met the angels of God descending from heaven on a ladder. And last week Jacob was tricked himself into years of servitude in oder to marry the woman he loved. Women with whom he would father 13 sons and more daughters. 

Yet, finally this week we meet Jacob in an unusual place. He is into solitude. Despite being surrounded by his wives, children, servants and herds he is fearful about finally being reunited with his estranged brother. 

As Jacob sends his large posse ahead, he spend the night alone on the river Jabbok. There he encounters and then wrestles with God. 

While Jacob encounters and wrestles with God alone, the disciples are wrestling with things in the midst of a great crowd. Shortly after the popular John the Baptist was executed by King Herod, a community in shock gathers around Jesus. Even as Jesus mourns his cousin, he is confronted by a community in crisis. A great crowd gathers before him and he teaches and heals them. 

By the end of the day, the disciples are worried about feeding the masses. They implore Jesus to send the crowds to the villages for food. But Jesus tells them to feed the crowds and all that they can come up with 5 loaves and two fish. Seemingly not enough for 5000. 

Jacob’s lonely dark night of the soul and the disciple’s consternation about the feeding the crowd may seem to have little in common at first glance, yet in both stories there is wrestling with circumstances. Jacob wrestles not just with the unknown stranger in his tent, but with the prospect of meeting his estranged brother across the river. The disciples wrestle not just with feeding the crowds, but with understanding just what is going on with their beloved teacher as he compassionately preaches to the masses in crisis. 

Mixed feelings about complicated situations all around. 

Certainly we recognize the wrestling. Certainly we recognize the difficulty understanding just what and who we are wrestling with and why. 

As we struggle with how long this pandemic is lasting with no clear timeline for an end in sight we wrestle with our feelings of wanting life to go back to normal and fearing a serious outbreak of the virus in our community. 

Jacob chooses to wrestle with this stranger and to focus on winning a blessing, rather than the looming confrontation with his brother in the morning. The disciples become event planners and managers for Jesus, focusing on the practicality of feeding the crowds rather the looming confrontation between their Messiah Master and the religious authorities (like his cousin John just faced). 

And our wrestling pushes us to focus on issues other than the big ones before us. Our whole world is debating the technicalities of safe re-opening. We are twisting ourselves in knot over border closures, self-quarantine requirements, safely opening malls and hair salons, remote working conditions, school and day care reopening and of course resuming in-person church services. We are trying to avoid thinking about how this prolonged pandemic and 2nd wave realities will force us re-evaluate how we structure out society, what we consider safe working conditions, how we support families, the elderly, students rather than forcing so many to live on the brink of financial ruin just to keep our consumption of cheap products habits afloat. 

We would rather wrestle all night and demand a blessing or mask wearing then consider what our world needs to become on the other side of this pandemic. We would rather event plan the catering than consider just what God might be already up to in our midst, changing and transforming and preparing our community for the next thing by giving us what we need. 

And yet, as Jacob wrestles, God blesses him with a new name. Israel – the one who wrestles with God (and wins!). A new name confirming his identity as the bearer of his families birthright, the covenant and promise of God’s chosen people. An identity confirmed by the embrace of his brother Esau, whom God had blessed in the way that Esau needed.

And as the disciples distribute the loves and fish, they discover that their Messiah teacher insists on being revealed even in event planning. As they pass the food around the meagre offering blessed by Jesus, they discover an unimaginable abundance. Enough food to feed thousands and 12 baskets left over – enough for the 12 tribes of Israel (the 12 sons of Jacob). 

And certainly, as we wrestle with our pandemic world… with our event planning and insistence on the things we imagine to be of importance, God is already at work preparing to surprise us with the very things we need. 

With the abundance of covenant promise. 

With the blessing and identity that we have trouble accepting. 

With the revelation of the divine even in event planning. 

God is already at work bestowing us with the gospel promise of life and salvation no matter how we gather to hear it – in person or online. 

God is already preparing to walk with us into places that we never imagined we would fear, workplaces and schools, malls and restaurants. And God promises to go with us out into the world or stay with us at home. 

God is already carrying our tired and aching souls. Tired from pandemic, tired from compliance. Aching for community, aching for the familiar. 

God is already where we need God to be, even when, especially when, we would rather wrestle with some other problem, focus on some other issue to keep from having to face the looming danger, the presenting problem, the uncertainty of today that was unforeseen yesterday, and the uncertainty of tomorrow that is unimaginable today.

And so today, with mixed feelings prevalent in our hearts and minds, with wrestling with the things we think we can control in the face of problems and overwhelming anxiety… we go with Jacob across the Jabbok river, we collect the abundance of 5 loaves and two fish with the disciples…

Today, God is already before us, already in our future, already preparing us for the world we need to face. God is already making ready the blessing and abundance we need. 

Today, God reveals to us again that God is already ahead of us, already in the places we have mixed feelings about going toward… And God promises that no matter what will befall us that our future is held in God’s hands. 

The Kingdom of Heaven Isn’t In Hidden Places But In Surprising Places Meant to be Found

GOSPEL: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
{Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

It was a month ago that I last preached a sermon to you. And a lot can change in a month’s time. 

A month ago COVID-19 was slowly but surely being socially distanced out of our communities (although with some alarming rising case numbers in the US). Our province of Manitoba was talking a lot about restarting economies and lifting restrictions. The protests of May were falling out of the public awareness and the end of school and summer plans were on the minds of most. 

Today, surging case numbers across Canada and a tsunami of cases numbers and deaths are crashing into our neighbours to south. Our Manitoba government’s plan to further lift restrictions to near normal levels of activity was met with swift push back from citizens. Political leaders in Canada are under ethics violations for possibly giving wealthy government contracts as favours to a cozy with politicians WE charity. And south of border an unstable President with strong facist tendencies is sending in secret police to escalate non-violent protests and punish protestors all while looking like the “law and order” candidate to his electoral base of support.

No to mention the persistent issues of racism, discrimination (such as recent attitudes towards Hutterites in Manitoba in response to covid outbreaks) police brutality, the unavailability of childcare for working parents, questions about a safe return to school in the fall, the outsized effect of this economic downturn on women and the recovery being put on the back of essential workers who are often the poorest among us. 

Phew… does that about cover the last month?

Nothing in 2020 has been normal or expected and each day, week, month brings with it things that we wouldn’t imagine being possible. 

And somehow in the midst of this unimaginable world we are living in, we are left to sort through what God might have to say about all of it, and just where the good news of the Kingdom of God might be. 

Today, we continue along into our season of green Ordinary Time. Jesus again is speaking in agricultural terms and in parables. And the people of Genesis, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah continue to navigate their way through the world with God’s covenant promise along side them. Their complicated story continues with Abraham and Sarah’s grandson Jacob making agreements for marriage only to be tricked into having to do twice as much work in order to get the woman he wants to marry. 

And somewhere in the collision of our COVID world and Jacob, Leah and Rachel’s reality, we find something of our story being retold in the biblical witness. Somewhere in the parables of Kingdom that Jesus tells today, we are reminded of where the Kingdom of heaven is revealed. 

Today, Jacob sets out to make a deal Laban for marrying his daughter Rachel. Jacob as you recall is Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, son of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob we already know is a trickster. He has tricked his older brother Esau out of his inheritance and wrestled with God. Yet, when it comes time to negotiate with Laban he meets his match and Laban tricks Jacob into marrying both of his daughters for 14 years of work. 

But of course there is a back story here. Laban is not some vague relative as the story suggests, but the brother of Jacob’s mother… Laban is Jacob’s uncle. And when Laban was younger, Abraham sent his favourite servant to find a wife of Jacob’s father Isaac. Laban was in charge of that negotiation too. But the clever servant managed to trick Laban to giving Rebekah away for less than he wanted, by appealing to divine Providence. 

So this time Laban is ready to negotiate, maybe even to get back with interest what he lost out on by negotiating harder and tricking Jacob. 

So now let’s set aside. The problematic aspect of this story. The close family relationships, the sale of women as if they are chattel to be owned and traded for. 

This family is a complicated system and web of relationships. And we know that after this Jacob ends up fathering children from 4 women, Leah and Rachel and their two maids, Bilhah and Zilphah. And the 12 sons that result become the forebears of the 12 tribes of Israel, with the most famous son, Joseph, whom after being sold in slavery by his brothers saves his family from slavery by bringing them into Egypt… which then leads us to the story of Moses and so on. 

In fact, the twists and turns of the story of the family of Sarah and Abraham feel awfully familiar. Jacob puts in the time and work with the promise of getting what he wants at the end, only to find out he has to start all over sounds a lot like what many of us are feeling after months of staying home only have to a resurgence of the virus. 

What Jacob imagined for his life and what he ended up getting in Rachel and Leah and his many children sound an awful lot like the expectations we hold for coming out on the other side of this pandemic wanting things to go back to normal while at the same time knowing that 2020 is going to change our lives and world forever in ways we cannot imagine. 

As the new coronavirus surprises at each turn,

As we grow tired of restricting our lives for what can feel like an invisible benefit,

As we juggle keeping people safe, healthy both physically and economically during this pandemic, 

As politicians make messy promises and make self-serving decisions,

And as the people of the world having unimaginable stressors placed on us…

Maybe we are just an extension of the story of Abraham and Sarah’s family. 

And maybe as they did, we might wonder what does God has to do with us? What does God have planned for us? Where is the good news of the Kingdom of heaven?

As Jesus speaks in parables today, he describes the Kingdom of God over and over again. The Kingdom of God is like… Like mustard seed, like yeast, like a treasure in a field, like a fine pearl and so on. 

And we might wonder, why is that the Kingdom seems to be in hidden places? 

But I think that it isn’t about where the Kingdom is hidden, but that the Kingdom is found. Found in unexpected places, founds where we wouldn’t usually think to look, found in the messy and surprising places of life. 

The message of these parables isn’t that God’s kingdom is hidden from us, but that it is constantly being found. Found where? Amongst our complicated and twisting and turning lives. And boy do we know about complicated, twisting, turning life, don’t we?

The Kingdom of heaven is constantly showing up in places we never imagined it would be, so that in our complicated, twisting and turning lives, the good news of God’s love and life given for us keeps finding us. 

The Kingdom of heaven that was promised to Abraham and Sarah in the covenant at the beginning of their story, and that God keeps bringing back to this family, this chosen people over and over again as they cast about in the wilderness. 

The Kingdom that we got used to hearing promised to us in person, at church, and next to our neighbour, at the font and at the table, has been finding us through computer screens, through zoom calls, text messages and over the phone. 

The Kingdom of God that is hard to see, hard to know, hard to believe some days, is finding us unexpectedly and surprisingly the care that we have been giving to one another in hard and difficult times of which we don’t when the ending will come. 

Today, our story, like Jacob, Leah and Rachel’s seems to start and stall. Our world, like theirs, is a world with twist and turns and challenges and surprises. And yet in the midst of that, the promise that God made in beginning, the promise of the covenant, the promise of the Kingom, the promise of love and live given for us…. That promise somehow keeps finding us. The God of that promise keeps finding us, keeps showing up where wouldn’t expect to find God, or to be found by God. 

And God promises that the complications of this life won’t overwhelm us, that the surprises of this world will not define us… but rather the Kingdom of Heaven will. 

God promises that when we wonder where God is in this messy world of ours, that God is coming and finding us in the Kingdom of God.