Tag Archives: covid-19

COCO and the God who Remembers All The Saints

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
(Read the whole passage)

Reformation Day, Halloween, All Saints. These are the signposts of the end. They are way stations on our journey towards the end of the Church year. Soon it will be Advent again, and soon we will be singing of the coming birth of Christ. All Saints Sunday is one of those yearly celebrations that remind us of the cyclical nature of the church, of how we tell and retell the story of God in Christ.

All Saints Sunday also speaks to a different kind of end and different kind of waiting. It is a reminder of the big ending, of Christ coming again to gather up all the faithful, to make all creation new. All Saints is also a very specific reminder and opportunity to remember loved ones who have died. Those who have been drowned and brought to new life in the waters of baptism, and those who have taken their last breaths here on earth. And in a way, we are waiting on this day too. Waiting for that moment when all the saints will be together, in Christ, robed in white before the Lamb. We wait with hope and anticipation of God’s fulfillment of the resurrection promise.

The opportunity of All Saints is also the problem. To remember loved ones, is to revisit our grief and our suffering. It is to remember that we are lonelier without them, and that no matter how long their lives were, they left us too soon. 

This year All Saints is intensely local and personal and intimate as we remember those who have died in our community, those whom we have been unable to gather to remember and mourn and celebrate as we normally would. 

All Saints is also intensely global as we grieve and mourn those who have died here in our province: 62 people, 42 just in October. And 10,000 across Canada. And almost 1.2 million people around the world who have died during this global pandemic. And among the dead are our most vulnerable: the elderly, the poor, minorities and those on the margins.

Yet no matter whether All Saints Sunday comes on a year when we can be grateful there are only a few to remember or whether it comes when there is too much remembering to bear… our task is the same. To pray and to remember. To give thanks for saints and to entrust them again into God’s care. To trust and hope in the promise of God given to all the saints. 

And as we take up this task, we hear two stories about crowds. The first crowd is a crowd gathered around Jesus to hear the sermon on the mount. 

A sermon that forces us to deal with the tensions of grief and hope. Jesus proclaims blessing for things that really aren’t blessing. Things that we might assume we should strive for in order to be holy… poverty of spirit, meekness, righteousness, to be merciful, to be persecuted. Yet Jesus is not reciting a formula on how to be blessed or prescribing new life style choices. Rather, Jesus is making a radical statement, an outrageous reversal of how we understand the world. Jesus is describing a God, whose world is upside down from ours. Jesus tells us that God sees the poor, the suffering, the hungry, the thirsty, the mourning and the persecuted…. God see us… and declares that we are blessed.

The second crowd is the great multitude gathered before the throne of God at the end of time. A great crowd robed in white, clothed in Christ, and worshipping the lamb of God. A great crowd joined to the heavenly worship of the Kingdom of God. The great multitude of the saints who have gone before us in faith, who remind us just how big this body of Christ is, to which we belong in faith. 

Two crowds, one living and one dead. Yet forever connected to one another in the Body of Christ. 

(Pause)

For the past few years, our family has had the tradition of watching an All Saints movie together. Pixar’s movie Coco. Coco tells the story of Miguel. A young boy in Mexico who loves music but whose family has banned music for generations since his great-grandfather left his wife and daughter to pursue a career music. This point of  family conflict comes into tension right around Dia de Meurtos, the day of the dead or All Saints. 

In search of information about his grand-father, Miguel goes to the tomb of Mexico’s favourite singer, where he is magically transported to the world the dead, which is bridged to the mortal world on Dia de Meurtos. 

Along the way Miguel encounters Hector, a kind, musical grifter, who helps him.

The hinge point of the story comes because the people living in the land of the dead only continue to exist when they still remembered by the living, and Hector is in danger of being forgotten and fading away in what is called the last death. Hector’s daughter, his last living relative that knows him, is forgetting in her old age. 

Eventually Miguel, with Hector’s help, manages to reconcile with his family in both the land of the dead and the living world – with a few plot twists along the way. 

Coco is ultimately a story about the power of memory and love of family – important lessons at any time. But Coco is strongly connected to a thread that ties the movie and its story to the root of faith that Christians claim on All Saints. 

Memory. 

Being Remembered. 

Miguel’s family encouraged him to learn the stories of his ancestors, to keep vigil for them at the family ‘Ofrenda’ or offering – an altar with photos of loved ones used for Dia de Meurtos.

And we gather today with candles and photos to remember our loved ones. 

The root of All Saints in found in memory. 

And while we remember today, it is not our memory that is the most important. 

All Saints is ultimately about God’s memory. 

About God re-membering the two great crowds that we hear about day. 

The crowd listening to Jesus’ sermon on the mount and the crowd gathered before the throne at the end of time. 

Two crowds, one from the living world and one from the land of the dead. 

Made one Christ. One Body in Christ. 

A living crowd whose upside down blessings, whose world is up-ended and signal the coming Kingdom of God. 

And crowd at the end time, a crowd of the gathered faithful, crow of the poor and rich, the joyful and mourning, the hungry and the full, the merciful and merciless. 

Sinners AND Saints. 

Brought finally the throne of that same Kingdom of God that Jesus witnessed to. 

A crowd born in the memory of God. 

God who remembers us from before creation was spoken into being.

God who remembers us from before we were in our mother’s womb. 

God who remembers us throughout our lives, in our poverty, in our mourning, in our meekness, our hunger and thirst, in our need of mercy. 

God who re-members us by making us members of the body of Christ  

God whose memory puts us back to together, builds us up and assures us that we are known. 

God who re-members us, to the great multitude robed in white, unforgotten at the end of time, gathered before the throne, worshipping the lamb. 

All Saints is a promise that we are not forgotten, but that the God of life remembers us. 

And so as we gather to remember the saints, as we are joined here on this signpost day pointing to the end of the year, we are reminded that whether we remember or whether we forget, we are known.

That whether it is is year to remember just a few who have died, or like this year to remember and pray for too many – God always remembers us. 

That God remembers all the saints to the New Life that is found in Christ, to New Life promised to each one of us in the waters of baptism and New life that wraps us in the white and pure robes of Christ. 

New Life for those in the world of the living and those Brough to new life in the land of dead. 

Today, God Remembers us all – as saints belonging to the body of Christ. 

Amen. 

[James Baldwin, who was an African American writer and civil rights activist wrote, in his book Go Tell it on the Mountain powerful words that paint us a picture of what God’s promise of New life will look like: 

Then John saw the river, and the multitude was there. And a sweetness filled John as he heard the sound of singing: the singing was for him. . . . No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. They wandered in the valley forever; and they smote the rock, forever; and the waters sprang, perpetually, in the perpetual desert. They cried unto the Lord forever, they were cast down forever, and lifted up their eyes forever. No, the fire could not hurt them, and yes, the lions’ jaws were stopped; the serpent was not their master, the grave was not their resting-place, the earth was not their home. Job bore them witness, and Abraham was their father, Moses had elected to suffer with them rather than glory in sin for a season. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had gone before them into the fire, their grief had been sung by David, and Jeremiah had wept for them. Ezekiel had prophesied upon them, these scattered bones, these slain, and, in the fullness to time, the prophet, John, had come out of the wilderness, crying that the promise was for them. They were encompassed with a very cloud of witnesses: Judas, who had betrayed the Lord; Thomas, who had doubted Him; Peter, who had trembled at the crowing of a cock; Stephen, who had been stoned; Paul, who had been bound; the blind man crying in the dusty road, the dead man rising from the grave. And they looked unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of their faith, running with patience the race He had set before them; they endured the cross, and they despised the shame, and waited to join Him, one day, in glory, at the right hand of the Father.]

Bubonic Reformation & COVID-19 Reformation

John 8:31–36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 (Read the whole passage)

A sure sign for Lutherans that the end of the church year is just around the corner, is the Sunday when we break out A Mighty Fortress, put out the red paraments and vestments, and remind ourselves from whence we came – Reformation Sunday. 

And here in 2020, we are 503 years on from the commemoration of the day when Martin Luther went to the church in Wittenberg where he nailed to the door his 95 Theses regarding the sale of indulges and the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. While some might argue the Reformation was already on its way, this moment is often remembered as the spark that began the period of great change in the way Christians around the world would gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

And interestingly enough, the reformation also took place during a plague. The bubonic plague had been cropping up around Europe for decades and in 1527 it came to Wittenberg. Martin Luther wrote to a friend with some advice about how to minister and care for his people during that time. He said, 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

So it seems that Reformation and pandemic go hand in hand. And with all that we as the church have endured and adapted to during the past months of the COVID-19 Pandemic,  one might wonder if we too are experiencing a reformation of sorts, a transformation in the way we gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

As we sort out just what is going in our world and in our community faith, it is perhaps appropriate that today we contemplate the Reformation. On this day, we remember Martin Luther standing up against the injustices of the pope and the church – the selling of salvation, the abuses by church leaders, the exploitation of the faithful. We remember that our faith and our beliefs are important. Important enough to die for, important enough to defend. 

But on Reformation Sunday we also remember the division that change caused. We remember those who died as a result of the the protests of the Reformers. We remember that between 125,000 to 250,000 people died in the peasants war that was inspired by Luther’s writings. We remember that after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the church in Wittenberg, Christianity was split from 2 denominations (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) into as many as 25,000 today. And these divisions have caused violence, chaos, oppression, abuse, suffering and death for 500 years.

Reformation Sunday is day of two realities. Of promise, hope and freedom, contrasted by division, conflict and oppression.

Today, as you notice the red paraments that adorn the chancel you may know that red is one of the 5 liturgical colours, but only used a handful of Sundays each year. Red is the colour we use to symbolize the Holy Spirit. The changing, transforming, reforming work of the holy spirit among us. Red is used on Pentecost when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples, red is used for the spirits call names in the ordination of clergy and today Red is for spirit moving in the reformation Reformation. 

And Red is also used to remember martyrs in the church. 

The red reminds us of this mixed experience of Reformation. A moment of change and hope and renewal. A moment of struggle, suffering and death. 

Our observance of Reformation speaks to our time. It speaks to great change we are undergoing from how we worship, gather and build community as a church, to our understanding and attitudes of race, racism and oppression, to the re-working of our social safety nets, to how we will care for a suffering climate. 

And it speaks to the suffering and struggle that is still ongoing. To those who are sick and dying during this pandemic, those who giving every ounce of strength to care for strangers and their community, in hospitals, schools, grocery stores and so many more places. To how this moment has exposed the vulnerability of poor who are both most affected by the virus and who are forced to work the front lines our society in order to make ends meet. 

Fittingly, Reformation Sunday is about all of these things and more. About the conflicting experiences of division, conflict and war that accompanied the Reformation, as well as the striving for justice, the proclamation of grace and mercy, the hope we have in God’s promises. 

God’s promises like we hear Jesus utter today, promises like, 

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

And if there is anything to remember today it is that. 

Even as Canada and the world struggles with this pandemic while considering the opportunity for radical change. Even as Reformation Sunday demands that we recall hope and the struggle: the gospel proclamation of Martin Luther and the reformers, the bold declaration of grace through faith alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and that this belief is important enough to stand up for contrasted with the division, conflict, violence and suffering caused by the reformation. Even as these realities of both 2020 and 1517 sit with us, they are ultimately still the second most important things today. 

Because even Reformation Sunday it is still about what each Sunday is about for Christians. 

Today is firstly about Christ. 

Today is about God and God’s mighty deeds among God’s people. Today is a reminder we simply cannot save ourselves on our own. 

Just as in today’s Gospel readings the Jews said that as descendants of Abraham they were slaves to no one (even though they had been slaves to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and now Romans). Just as Martin Luther declared that he and we we were not slaves to law and freed by God’s grace (even though he was threatened by the Pope and others). Just as we try to declare ourselves slaves to no virus or pandemic restrictions (even though cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise)…

We are still slaves to all of those things. We still must mask and social distance. We are still declared unrighteous by the law. We are slaves to fear, fear for our safety, fear of losing more, fear for being forgotten by God. 

No matter what our leaders declare, no matter the bravery we display, the sacrifices we make, the peace we try to uphold. We simply cannot save ourselves. We simply cannot free ourselves. 

We are slaves to sin, slaves to suffering, slaves to death, and there is nothing we can do about it. 

But that is why today is ultimately about Christ. 

Today is about the promise that God gives to slaves. To those enslaved by sin, those enslaved by suffering, to those enslaved by death. Today, is about the promise that God gives to us. The promise that despite our condition, despite our slavery, that God is showing us mercy, God is giving us grace, God is making us free. Free in the son. 

And this promise of freedom comes to us first in baptism. In baptism where we drown and die to sin, and where we rise to new life in Christ. 

So it is fitting today, that of all the things that Reformation might have us consider, the good and that bad, the hopeful and depressing… that the most important truth is God’s promise given to us first in the waters of baptism. The promise we belong to God, and that God’ names and claims us as God’s children. That no matter what befalls us, plague or war, violence or hate, suffering or tribulation, that God’s promise for us will hold: 

That God is our Mighty Fortress
That God is our Refuge and Strength
That God is redemption from sin
That God is freedom found in Christ
That God is our God and we are God’s people. 

And this promise is a powerful act of defiance against fear and violence, against oppression and powerlessness for us to proclaim this gospel truth today. That this gospel proclamation, that this reminder of what is central in our chaotic world, that our worshiping together in faith is an act of hope. That God is passing on through us, through the Body of Christ, this hope and this promise of grace to the world. 

Even while we are slaves to sin, to suffering and most of all to death, we pass on our hope for the future. A future promised by God in the midst of slavery. A future given by grace and mercy, even though we are dead. A future found with New Life in Christ. 

God’s October (Third Day) Surprise

GOSPEL: Matthew 21:33-46
37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

What a week. 

Unless you live under a rock, the breaking news, local and world events of this week hit us like a torrent of hail. Here in Winnipeg we began by entering into the ‘Orange’ zone because of increasing COVID transmission. Gathering sizes have been limited to 10 indoors and outdoors. Our own cautious plan to potentially begin in-person indoor gatherings for worship has been put on hold for the time being. 

And then on Tuesday the worst United States presidential debate took place, like a dumpster fire inside a car crash inside a train wreck as one commentator put it. Two angry old men took the stage, with one being particularly belligerent and bullying, refusing to denounce white supremacy and seemingly endorsing neo-Nazi groups. 

On Wednesday, the CERB came to an end, with a potentially messy transition of millions of out of work Canadians to Canada Response Employment Insurance programs. 

By Thursday, Ontario and Quebec were introducing greater lock down measures with cases spiking there. And here in Manitoba, the Exposure App came online (make sure you download it!). 

And then by Friday morning, the news came that President Trump and the First Lady, along with some staffers and other legislators tested positive for the coronavirus, shaking a good chunk of the world with a big October surprise… on the 2nd day of October. 

Events that have captured our attention in gripping and anxiety inducing ways. 

In case we have forgotten, this is actually a sermon and not a news report! 

So let’s talk about Jesus then. 

In the midst of all that other stuff going on in the world, Jesus hits us with this curious parable. The 3rd parable in a row about a landowner. First it was the labourers in the vineyard getting hired throughout the day, yet being paid the same daily wage. And then it was the sons who said one thing and then did the opposite. 

And now we get this parable, which is rather nakedly an allegory for Jesus’ own death and resurrection. 

A landowner rented his land to some tenants. When it came time to collect the rent or harvest, he sent his servants to collect it. Yet, the tenants took a wicked a turn and killed those servants. 

So the landowner sends more slaves to retrieve the harvest and again the tenants kill the messengers. 

Finally the landowner deciding he needs to get serious, sends his son. 

It is a curious parable with a curious ending. Certainly, those listening to Jesus would have wondered the same thing that we might wonder. Why would the landowner keep sending messengers. Why not an army? Why not soldiers?

It is a parable where we can see the ending coming a mile away. The son will not fare well. Certainly, Jesus’s first hearers knew that the landowners rationale for sending his son was incorrect. Like when one of the characters in a horror movie decides to investigate the dark basement or abandoned mental hospital… things are not going to end well. 

And sure enough there is no surprise or twist. The wicked tenants kill the son.

But then Jesus asks a question. A question on which the whole parable hands.

“What will the landowner do?” 

I think we know what we would do. The crowds listening say it out loud. 

They think the landowner will answer violence with violence. This is the way of our world. When someone does you wrong, do more to them to make sure they understand their mistake. The punishment must fit the crime. 

There is something about this kind of narrative that grips us. There is something about the power to kill and the power of death that catches our attention. When those first slaves are met with violence and hostility we are hooked. 

And with each wave of messengers, with each response of violence and death on the part of the wicked tenants, we are drawn deeper into the dark narrative. Death has a hold over us, its power both frightens and allures us. But the time the son is sent, based on the flawed thinking of his father, we are caught up in the story even though we know the ending. 

Such is the power of the original sinner within us, the part of each human being that fears and craves the power of death. The thing within us that makes us unable to turn away from an accident scene, from breaking news, from a dark story, with dark twists and turns. The original sinner within both fears death and wishes for its power. We imagine the control we could exercise in the world were we to wield the power of death. 

And so this parable takes us along for the ride, hitting the right parts of our flawed humanity and biological self preservation instincts to keep us rapt.

The parable is almost like different version of our barrage of news this week. Enough violence, drama, suffering and death to keep us glued to screens. 

And yet, the parable isn’t meant to be a litany of things gone dark and wrong. 

For you see, the parable also is supposed to make us think of the other story of a son who is send to wicked people and is killed. 

A story that goes much the same way all the way to Good Friday. 

But that doesn’t end there. 

A story that completely surprises with a twist we would never imagine by Sunday morning. 

The Easter story keeps going. Resurrection changes the game. Life continues on. 

And this parable that we hear today only makes sense with the easter story as the backdrop. 

For you see, as the tenants keep killing and killing. As the hearers of the story keep expected more and more death. God is focused and intent on something else. 

God keeps expecting, hoping for, anticipating life. It seems almost naive. 

The landowner sends more and more messengers and finally sends his son. 

Just as God sent prophet after prophet, messenger after messenger to the people of Israel. God sends messengers and teachers to proclaim life, again and again. To keep calling a death focused humanity to something different, to something new. 

Finally, God sends the son, the revelation of God incarnate. The Messiah who has come to meet God’s lost people, to walk their paths and challenge their death focused ways. 

And when the son encounters the power of death head on… something new happens. The God who keeps expecting life, who keeps expecting something new, shows us a power greater than death, a continuation of the story when there should have been only end. 

And so it is with us during our heavy news week. At a time when we are bombarded over and over with death, with COVID restrictions, with ugly political debates, with shocking breaking news…. God is there in the background, expecting different outcomes. Expecting life, over and over and over again. 

And then when we least expect it, when death seems to have won, once and for all, there is new life. There is a new ending, there is resurrection, there are empty tombs, and there is the realization that death does not have the power we thought it had. That death is not our ending. 

Instead, God doggedly pursues new life. What God has been doing since the begging, chasing after Adam and Eve as they leave the garden, going with Abraham and Sarah into the wilderness, showing the Israelites the way out of Egypt, rescuing the Israelites from foreign occupation, calling for the repentance of God’s people, sending prophets to proclaim a return to God. 

And finally God sends us the son. 

The son that we will surely listen to, but don’t. 

The Messiah who calls out to us, 

who heals the sick, 

receives the poor and down trodden, 

who eats with sinners, 

and frustrates the powerful. 

The son who is nailed, unsurprisingly to a cross. 

And the son who walks out of the grave, extended the story. 

Extending life.

Loosing our grip on death. 

Showing us a new way. 

What a week, we declare today. 

And God responds by saying, 

“Just wait until you see my October, my third day surprise.”

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.