Sunday, 12 July 2020

Snatch-proof, Wilt-proof and Choke-hazard Free in Jesus—Thoughts on Some Readings for Today



Jesus

uses the parable of the sower to warn us of three classic reasons why the “seed” God has sown into our hearts does not flourish and bear fruit:


  1. It is snatched away by the evil one for lack of understanding 
  2. It withers away for lack of roots
  3. It is choked out of us for love of the world


How can we prevent that from happening to what God has sown in our hearts? 


First, from Jesus himself: if we want the seed sown in us to be snatch-proof we must learn to hear and understand God’s Word properly (Mt13.23). We must read it, pay close attention to it, learn from it, inwardly digest it, just as that lovely Anglican Collect says (BCP 97, BAS 391). Set and build all your understanding on it because God’s Word is truth (John17.17), truth is in Jesus (Eph4.21) and there is no condemnation in Him (Ro8.1).  Which is all contrary to what the evil one would have us believe in his attempts to snatch the good seed of abundant, fruitful life in Jesus out of our hearts. He will try and get us to question and misunderstand God’s Word just as he did in the Garden of Eden—“Did God actually say” (Gen3.1) thus and so? We must “Resist the devil,” as St James wrote, “and he will flee from you.” Instead, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James4.7-8). The best way to do that is to grow and strengthen your understanding of God and His Kingdom. 


As your understanding grows and you make yourself available for what God wants to do in you through his Word which, as He says in Isaiah 55


shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (V11)


God’s purposes and success will be accomplished in you and me and we will bear fruit. Guaranteed!


Second, how to wilt-proof yourself. First, see above. Then there are more strategies in today’s readings. For example, start walking—in the Spirit, that is—not in the flesh, mind. No. Living according to the flesh—in other words, living primarily for and through our bodily appetites— leads to wilting and withering bodies, minds and spirits, death, hostility to God, inability to submit to God’s law or to please God (Ro8.6-7). Setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, on the other hand, leads to freedom from sin and death (v2), and life and peace (v6). 


How does one walk in the Spirit? 


  1. Consult Him regarding all life’s decisions. He will always point you to and lead you to Jesus. He will never contradict Scripture. 
  2. Pray for more Gifts of the Spirit to be activated in you (see 1Cor12-14, Ro12.6-8 and Eph4.11-13). 
  3. Do some self examination every now and then to see that the Fruit of the Spirit is active in your life (Gal5.22-23)


Finally, dealing with choking hazards of  “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Mt13.22): I believe the fundamental and foundational first step to free ourselves from these threats to our spiritual growth is to be obedient with our tithe (Mal3.8-10)—not a watered down so-called “Anglican tithe” of 5% mind you (which is a contradiction in terms)—but the full 10%—off the top—of gross income—to our local church (offerings for charitable causes and other extras come after that tithe). Faithful, accurate tithing opens the windows of heaven, causes blessing to pour down and is a key spiritual discipline which is a practical demonstration of where we’ve set our minds, in whose hands we’ve placed our worldly cares and that we’ve determined to resist the deceitfulness of riches by acknowledging The One from whom all riches come. 


Practice these three steps and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, what God has sown in our hearts will remain snatch-proof, wilt-proof and choke-free in

Jesus. 

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Thanks Be to God: a Bit of an Hybrid Response to the Readings of the Day, Homily (had I been requireD to preach one) and Litany for the Fourth/Fifth Sunday after Trinity/Pentecost—with reference to Zech9.9-12, Ps145.8-15, Ro7.15-25 and Mt11.16-19, 25-30


Jesus Christ 

our Lord is The One through whom you and I have been created to give thanks to God—to know, worship and obey Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. 


Give thanks for what apart from that? The things to which  Jesus referred in today’s Gospel, for example—the things hidden from worldly wisdom and understanding—things which transcend that kind of wisdom and understanding—things which will make perfect sense to little children who are still open to heavenly enchantment (Mt11.25). Things like a Virgin giving birth to a baby in a barn. Like gallons and gallons of the really good wine made from water in an instant so people could have a good time at a wedding. Like storms stopped in their tracks and thousands sitting on the grass fed from not enough food. Like a dead man, Risen! The list goes on. 


How does he do all that in a world so full of conflict, abuse, addictions, broken relationships and twisted appetite with a pandemic on the side? Well, I don’t know, except that somehow Jesus holds it all together (Col 1.17). Heavens! I’m like Paul. I can’t even understand and control my own actions (Ro7.15), let alone critique God’s! Neither can I consistently do the thing I know is right (v18). 


Yet, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (v25) for what The LORD has for us in the reading from Zechariah today—that Jesus, our king, having salvation, is coming again. Rejoice greatly, shout aloud! That He will speak peace to the nations and shall rule from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth. He will restore double whatever we have lost (Zech9.9-12).


Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! for what The LORD is saying to us in today’s Psalm. No accident. It is the one The Father, in His perfect wisdom, wants you and me to hear and take to heart on this particular day—that:


The Lord is gracious and merciful, 

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

 9  The Lord is good to all, 

and his mercy is over all that he has made. And that The Lord is faithful in all his words 

and kind in all his works.

 14  The Lord upholds all who are falling 

and raises up all who are bowed down, and will give us our food in due season. (Ps145)


Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! that, even though we don’t understand our own actions, Jesus will deliver you and me from these wretched, death-bearing, sinful bodies. 


Thank you God for your gracious will (Mt11.26) and for all that has been revealed to us in Jesus even in our lack of wisdom and understanding. Thank you that not only have all things have been handed over to Jesus as we read today (Mt11.27), but He is also before all things and it is in Him they all hold together (Col 1.17). Thank you that Jesus has chosen to reveal you to us. Thank you for the rest only Jesus can provide. Thanks for His gentleness and lowliness of heart, for his easy yoke and light burden, all of which abound with your steadfast love (vv27-30). 


For these and all our many blessings, 

thanks be to God 

through our Lord

Jesus



Sunday, 28 June 2020

Jesus: a Scandalously Particular Welcome: a Short Homily for the Third Sunday after Trinity—with reference to Romans 6.12-23 and Matthew 10.40-42 NRSV


This, sans the skippable optional insert, was today’s homily for Morning Prayer at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Regina, Saskatchewan…

Jesus 

is the first of two words I have for you today—as in Jesus Christ our Lord—The One in whom God’s free gift of eternal life comes to us according to St Paul in today’s reading from Romans (Ro6.23). The only one through whom that gift comes, as it happens. St Peter makes it clear in Acts chapter 4—not one of our readings for today, but to the point—when he wrote

there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved. (Acts4.12)

No other name. No one else, but Jesus only. 


Well that’s not very open and inclusive someone might say—and people do. So, George Carey, three Archbishops of Canterbury ago, once wrote that

This is the scandal of particularity with which we must live. Christians cannot yield this un-negotiable element in their faith. We believe that the God of the universe longs to reveal Himself and He does in many different ways and forms, through religion, through reason, art, and human intelligence, but each and every one of these ways is limited. Only in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can God be fully known, worshipped, and obeyed. (The Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, “Archbishop’s Voice,”The Anglican Digest, Pentecost 1992, p63)

Jesus only.


So—more from Archbishop Carey: 

Let’s not have any truck with bland theology, that Jesus is just one option among many. Dialogue with other faiths is very important, but I can respect another faith and a believer of that faith by saying I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Do with that truth what you may, but my job is to say that to you. 

It’s our job, too, and just as the Archbishop wrote, Jesus, however scandalously particular, must always be the first, the most important, the defining Word on our lips and in the things we do and the places we go. Which leads me to the second word for today.

Optional bit if one wished to make this homily a little longer…


Being too scandalously particular or theologically bland aren’t the only things that can get in the way of us doing our jobs keeping Jesus front and centre. There’s another which thoroughly distorts any believing in, knowing, worshipping, obeying and saying Jesus is the only way of salvation—Sin. Do not let it “exercise dominion” (Ro6.12) over you, writes St Paul in Romans 6, because if you do, your wages will be death (v23)—that’s a pretty scandalously particular statement, too. Instead, “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from the death to life” (v13) in Jesus. Death or Jesus. Gulp. But it’s the truth. The choices are: 


Jesus:  The Way, The Truth and The Life (John14.6)


Or


Not: where, instead of the utterly trustworthy, eternal life-bound Way, Truth and LIfe that Jesus brings; there are the dead-ends, lies and death that come from allowing sin’s mortal passions (v12), wickedness (v13), impurity, iniquity (v19) and shame (v21) to have their fatal dominion over us. It really is a matter of life and death. Everyone must choose. It really is as scandalously and particularly simple as that.  


So, choose life (Dt30.19-20) and find out how to share the life Jesus brings to the people around you so they can choose it, too. 


I remember Kate Berringer, our daughter, telling Emily and Samantha, her daughters, to “Use your words!” when things were tense. Things have been rather tense for us, too, for these last few months what with covid-19, losses and forced isolation. Sin’s dominion makes it worse, so use your words, too. Here’s a good one that goes along with Jesus, the first one. )

The word appears six times in our Gospel reading. It’s closely associated with Jesus. The word is WELCOME (Mt10.40-41, NRSV). Jesus is God’s Word of welcome into the eternal life we read about in Romans this morning. Just as Archbishop Carey wrote, our job as Anglican Christians is to say, in all our words and deeds, in our relationships and consumption, in the way we live, as winsomely as we can, that we believe Jesus is the only way of salvation— welcome! Come on in. Come with us. Taste and see how good He is (Ps34.8). Welcome to the freedom and relief of a forgiven life—in Jesus (Lk1.77). Welcome to the richest, most satisfying, most challenging, fullest abundant life there is—in Jesus (John10.10). 


As you live your welcoming life—welcoming Jesus into your own life and welcoming others into His—do it with absolute confidence that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ 

always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere (2Cor2.14). 

Always. Sweet smelling. Welcoming. Even across the social distances visited upon us these days—perhaps especially across those “distances”—spreading the heady, heart-warming, heavenly fragrance of the knowledge of our unique and scandalously particular Lord and Saviour.


Two words which go together for today. Welcome, and

Jesus. 

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Practicing Jesus: Thoughts on a Sunday in June Almost As If I Was Going to Preach Them but Not Really—with reference to Isa 40, Ps 19, Php 4 and John 1

Jesus 

is the Word who was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Jesus and without him was not any thing made that was made—including you and me. In Jesus is life and the light of us all. Jesus still shines in the darkness (John1.1-5). From the fullness of Jesus we have all received, grace upon grace, and truth (John1.16-17). Jesus is The One who is at the Father’s side and who makes the Father known to us who have never yet seen God (John1.18)—all from John chapter one this morning. 


The Holy One who John calls Father and Isaiah describes this morning, as—LORD, everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth, who does not faint or grow weary and whose understanding is unsearchable (Isa40.28)—can only be known and seen through Jesus. 


Jesus is the key. Just as the words of different languages carved on to the Rosetta Stone became the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Jesus is The Only One by whom any speech, words, voices, can be properly discerned as declaring the glory of God through all the earth and to the end of the world (Ps19.3-4, John14.6), or not. Jesus is The Word written in the language of the Holy Spirit, without which no one can discern, decipher and translate the unsearchable understandings (Isa40.28) and mysteries of God. 


As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Jesus is The Only One who can truly free our hearts to rejoice (Php4.4) in life and in God’s goodness and steadfast love. Jesus embodies and exemplifies the purity of The LORD’s commandments, enlightening our eyes (Ps19.8). It is in Jesus that fear of The LORD becomes forever clean (Ps19.9). Jesus is Grace and Truth (John 1.14, 17). And Jesus is the personification and exemplar of whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Php4.8). Whenever I am wondering about how I must behave—how I must treat an indigenous person, my father, a wife, a husband, a child, a parent, a friend, someone I disagree with or dislike, where to spend my money and use my time, how to forgive someone who has wronged me—Jesus must be my key and guide for translating the truth into all my situations and relationships. Only in Jesus can I be reasonable to everyone (Php4.5), free of anxiety (Php4.6), true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Php4.8) in my behaviour and actions.


The LORD is at hand, declared St Paul this morning. So I need not be anxious about anything! If in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, I make my requests known to God (Php4.5-6), all else will follow. I will mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint (Isa40.31). The God of Peace will be with me and those around me (Php4.9). The words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be acceptable in God’s sight (Ps19.14).


Practice these things (Php4.9)—the wise and practical teachings of Jesus, Paul, Isaiah and the Psalmist we heard today—and we will all receive grace upon grace from the fullness of Jesus (John1.16) and we shall see his glory, 

glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John1.14).

in the face of our LORD and Saviour,

Jesus.


Sunday, 14 June 2020

Faith, Hope and Love: Something Like a Homily for the First or Second Sunday After Trinity or Pentecost Depending on Your Book (Its fun to be an Anglican in Canada) with reference to Romans 5.1-8, Matthew 9.35-10.8 And 1 Cor 13.13 which wasn’t even a reading for today…


I love the Bible. I love the way through the words of Scripture Jesus lays me down to rest with something like a mother’s soothing touch one moment while in the next putting a shot across my bows with some seemingly unfair or utterly demanding requirement. I love the way it is impossible for me to wrestle it to the ground in quite the way I want it so I don’t have to be quite so countercultural. 


So when I was preaching every Sunday I worked hard to try and let the Scriptures assigned for the week dictate and fill what I was being called to say so it wasn’t so much my own clever ideas and opinions supported and enhanced by the readings of the week as it was God’s Word written speaking and drawing attention to itself through me. Although I didn’t go looking for them, I tried not to avoid the hard teachings about things like sex, marriage and money when they came up. I enjoyed the process of living with the text for the week while looking for path it always presented by which to speak The LORD’s word written and incarnate, Jesus, to his people at that time. In later years, I also decided it was important to begin and end each homily with the name of Jesus—a sort of Alpha and Omega spiritual exercise for me and a reminder of who holds all things together for the souls for whom I was responsible. 


Sometimes it was a bit of a weight, especially when the path was not obvious at first or when I thought it was getting a bit late in the week for comfort. But I enjoyed the sense of anticipation and discovery as I waited for the way to be revealed. For me, God’s Word was, and is, living and active, indeed!


For the last few weeks, even though I don’t have to preach, I’ve enjoyed pondering over each Sunday’s readings and writing down what I might have said if I’d had to preach. I read it to Judy, my wife, and we talk about it. 


Here are this week’s musings:


Jesus both promised and breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples. St Paul also wrote in this morning’s Romans passage that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. Has been given. Note the tense. And note, too, that that is how God gets his love to us. It has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Ro5.4). 


When did that happen? At conversion says the ESV Study Bible, in other words, at the moment when we knowingly confessed with our mouths that Jesus is LORD and believed in our heart that God, the Father, raised him from the dead (Ro10.9). We Anglicans then promised to trust in that love when we were baptized, if we were making our own vows, and/or when we were confirmed. There was also a prayer asking that we would be witnesses to that love for the rest of our lives (BAS, 154, 155, 623, 629). 


Romans 5, this morning’s epistle, is a bit like a commentary on the last verse of 1 Cor 13—the Love Chapter—and the core chapter of Saint Paul’s great presentation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they are to be used in 1 Cor 12, 13 and 14. 

And so faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love(1Cor13.13). 

Faith, hope and love. 

Look at Romans 5 again:

Therefore, since we have have been justified by faith, we have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand (Ro5.1-2). 

And 

Character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Ro5.4-5).

Faith, hope, love. 


Faith and hope are good, but love is greater and is what gets poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Love. Not just warm fuzzies, mind. There’s warmth in it, but so much more. The strength and breadth of God’s John 3.16 love for all the world. A love that needs no love in return, but appreciates it and revels in it, that is intelligent and purposeful, always directed at the need of the other. Not a love into which you fall. A love by which you rise. A love to do, by choice of will, no matter what. That’s the greater and amazing love that has been poured into our hearts. 


It’s the love which caused that compassion to well up in Jesus when he saw the crowds in our gospel, because they were so harassed and helpless, like sheep with a shepherd (Mt9.36). And it’s the love which sent the disciples out and has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us so we, too, will venture out among the lost sheep around us—and they are everywhere, no less harassed, helpless and shepherdless than the crowds in Jesus’ day—neighbours, family members, friends, workmates, strangers—having no hope and without God in the world (Eph2.12). People to whom we are called and empowered to witness to the love of God by proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is at hand in our day. 


Jesus sent the original twelve out to do this by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting our demons—for free! (Mt9.8). Should it be any different for us disciples since the Holy Spirit has been given to us, too? Or was that just for then? Are we are just left to do what we can do as people who can no longer heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse our equivalent of lepers and cast out demons? Not to mention the speaking in tongues, prophesying and extolling God with new fervour and abandon we heard about at Pentecost a couple of weeks ago. 


Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Has God put a stop to such signs and wonders for some good reason? Have we put a stop to it in some way? 


I can’t shake the feeling—hunch, bee in my bonnet, something—that there is more, perhaps there should be more. So with the compassionate Jesus and those first disciples in mind, lets believe in the possibility. Faith it, rejoice in God’s promises, hope for it, and LOVE. Love God and love the people around us by praying earnestly for sick ones to be healed; for the dead, even if just the spiritually dead, to be raised; for the cleansing of whoever are the lepers today; and that the demons which oppress, entangle and steal our joy be cast out. 


Let faith, hope and love prevail—for Jesus. 

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Participation—Thoughts on a Trinity Sunday with reference to Genesis 1, 2 Cor 13 and Matthew 28


Another something I might have said had I been the preacher this morning…

Jesus is the Grace-giver according to “The Grace” we say to close many of our meetings and which comes from the last verse on 2 Corinthians—this morning’s Epistle: 
2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV): The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you (us) all. 
Notice the Trinitarian formula: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—which is why this is one of the readings on Trinity Sunday. I’m going to leave the Holy Trinity to brainier folk than I. I believe it but I don’t quite understand it—one of those wonderful mysteries which contain more truth than I can quite get my tiny mind around or articulate. Today, I’d just like you to notice, in addition to the aforementioned Jesus, the Grace-giver, that God the Father is the lover and the Holy Spirit is the fellowship provider—or the communion-giver, depending on your Bible translation—with whom, in the love of the Father and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we get to participate according to what St Paul wrote in Philippians chapter 2, viz.…
Philippians 2:1–2 (ESV): So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit…
Participation here is the same Greek word translated as fellowship or communion in the 2 Corinthians reading. This kind of participation with the Spirit is to be desired and carried out so that—jumping ahead a few verses…
Philippians 2:10–12 (ESV): at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
Which is a good thing and is what the Father had in mind from the beginning when he got the whole thing going by setting his Spirit to hovering over the face of the waters in Genesis chapter 1, verse 2—part of the Old Testament lesson for today and the second verse in the whole Bible. The Holy Spirit has been the hovering, sweeping wind of love, grace, truth and resurrection, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, ever since. 

Jesus saying “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” in the last verse of Matthew’s gospel—our gospel lesson this morning—is just a continuation and intensification of that participation as the Holy Spirit brings orderly beauty, form and shape out of our present chaos. God’s creation continues to unfold in the new creations (2Cor5.17) we become in Jesus. The Holy Spirit fills our empty voids with the fullness of Jesus. The Holy Spirit illuminates our dark places with the light of Jesus so every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

And whenever we get stuck in the dark and formless voids of grief or addiction or disobedience or prayerlessness or broken relationships or sin—the Holy Spirit is The One who blows in to hover over our hearts, souls, minds and bodies bringing truth, order, light, resurrection life, power, ability and relief. This is the Holy Spirit with whom we have fellowship, communion and with whom we participate as he guides, comforts and moves us along. He will give Holy and Godly form to your formlessness. He will fill your emptiness with all the goodness and love of God. He will fill your dark corners with the light of the world—your Lord, Saviour, Spirit-breather and Master, Jesus.


Saturday, 6 June 2020

I’d Forgotten…


how good the readings set for the week after Pentecost in The Book of Common Prayer (Canada, 1962) are. Rich fare, especially for these Ember Days.From Ezekiel’s 
I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. …And they shall be my people and I will be their God (11.19&20)
and the Valley of Dry Bones to fanning the gift of God into flame (2Tim1.6) and 
By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us,  guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Tim1:14)
…with stops in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 2, 3, 12 and 13, 1 Kings 19, the Wisdom of Solomon 1, 7, 8 and 9, Ephesians 6, Exodus 35, Numbers 11 and 27, 2 Corinthians 3, 5 and 6, Jeremiah 31,  Isaiah 61 and Galatians 5 along the way. It’s a remarkable list—a veritable Book of Common Prayer syllabus for a Life in the Spirit. If you’re looking for a place to tarry while doing a little post-Pentecost soaking in The Spirit these 24 readings are worth a prayerful look. 

For Ember Day Three

—a couple of challenges from today’s readings: 

2Tim1.14—what is the “good deposit” entrusted to me for such a time as this? 

Mt10.20—is the Spirit of our Father is speaking through me. If so, what is he saying? 

God bless you all. 

Love in Jesus, 
Gene+