Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 22, 2017. Sermon: Nicodemus Seeks Jesus


Sunday October 22, 2017

Sermon: Nicodemus Seeks Jesus

Scripture: John 3: 1 – 17

The story of Nicodemus is a well-known and well-loved story in our scriptures. He comes, alone, to visit Jesus at night. Why? Who is Nicodemus?

Living a privileged life, he was a wealthy Jewish aristocrat from a well-established and respected family in Jesus’ day. Nicodemus was one of 6,000 Pharisees, an elite group of religious rulers and leaders. To join, they had to swear in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of their scribal Jewish laws. He was also one of seventy members of the Sanhedrin, the powerful Jewish religious Court which helped the Roman Empire rule Israel. Nicodemus was a renowned teacher, well-respected and admired by his peers. He was a righteous man who sought after truth, and he seeks out Jesus, one Rabbi and Teacher of Israel seeking out another.

It would be easy to think that by coming at night, Nicodemus is being secretive and furtive. Perhaps he doesn’t want other Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin to know he is in the company of Jesus, for many were opposed to him. Yet, Rabbis understood that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. It may well be that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he wanted an absolutely private and completely undisturbed time with Jesus.

This must have been an amazing encounter! Nicodemus says to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus believes that Jesus has come from God. He recognizes Godly power and authority in Jesus. Nicodemus the Teacher of Israel has come to learn more about Jesus the Teacher from God. He has come to learn about who Jesus is, and why he was there, and what Jesus was teaching, and where was this teaching taking him and others? “You must be born again,” says Jesus. Reborn in the Spirit. What Spirit?

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he is speaking of heavenly things. Jesus says: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” A favourite expression Jesus uses for himself is “Son of Man.” When Jesus speaks of himself being “lifted up,” he is referring to himself hanging on the cross. When Jesus mentions Moses lifting up a snake in the desert, he is referring to the time when Moses was leading the Israelite people in exodus through the Sinai desert, and when the people complained against God, they were bitten by venomous snakes. The Israelites confessed their sin and prayed for deliverance. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole, lift it high, and anyone who looked at it would live. This is the image seen to this day symbolic of the medical profession offering life and healing to all.

When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus refers to himself being “lifted up” on the cross, offering forgiveness of sins and salvation to all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” Jesus tells Nicodemus. God saves the world through him, Jesus says. We are offered new life and we are “born again.” This Greek translation can also mean “born from above.” Both meanings are consistent with Jesus’ redeeming work. We are reborn in the Spirit of Christ.

As Christians, we may say – “I go to church, yes, I believe in Jesus,” but do we see our Christianity as something that is just tacked on, almost like wearing a hockey sweater or a badge? When Jesus talks about being “reborn” in the Spirit, he is talking about a much deeper level of involvement. If we are “born again,” made new in Christ, we are changed down to the very basic core of our self. Everything in us becomes dedicated to Jesus. He becomes Lord of our life.

For Nicodemus, Jesus did become Lord of his life. He speaks up for Jesus in the assembly of the Pharisees when they bring accusations against Jesus. In John 7: 50-51, we read: “Nicodemus, who had gone to him [Jesus] before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”

And Nicodemus helps to bury Jesus after the crucifixion. In John 19: 38-42, we are told that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body away: “Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes…So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices…and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” Nicodemus loved Jesus. He had been reborn with the Spirit of Christ. He was dedicated to Christ and he lived his life for Christ.

I have an exercise to share with you this morning. It is an encounter with Jesus. Pretend that you are Nicodemus going to see Jesus at night, except that it is you. I invite you to close your eyes, quiet your mind, sit comfortably, relax, breath gently ~

~ imagine you are walking down an unpaved street in Jerusalem over 2,000 yrs ago. It’s evening, it’s dark, and it is quiet. In front of you is a small, square whitewashed house. You knock on the door. “Come in,” says a voice. In front of you, sitting cross-legged on a low mat is Jesus. He looks just as you always imagined he would look. Jesus beckons for you to sit down and as he does, his eyes meet yours, and you experience an extraordinary sense of being known, accepted, appreciated, and loved in a way that goes beyond anything you have experienced in your life so far.

~ Jesus asks you: “What is on your heart that you long to tell me?” (pause)

~ as you express your thoughts in Jesus’ presence, you are able to put into words some of your deepest feelings and longings

~ Jesus speaks again, gently: “You are my gifted child. What untapped talents have you kept hidden, what skills lie submerged which will bring freedom and joy to you, and to Me?” (pause)

~ the eyes of Jesus never leave you. He asks: “Would you like my Spirit to bring you freedom and joy? Would you like my Spirit to bring you fulfilment? Would you like my Spirit to live in you? To fill you with my compassion, understanding, acceptance and peace? Just ask me.”

~ you ask the Spirit of Jesus to come live inside you. You ask to be born again in His Spirit. You sense joy flooding in on you – your burdens are lifted – challenges are clarified – the way ahead seems clearer. Jesus is with you.

~ your time with Jesus is coming to an end. You prepare to leave. He blesses you. “My peace I give to you,” he says. “I am with you always,” Jesus says. You will never forget the most loving, comforting look he gives you deep from within his own eyes as he looks deeply into yours. You know that Jesus is with you always.


(“An Encounter with Jesus” – The Gathering, David Sparks, rewritten in part by Rev. Mary Fletcher.)



Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 15, 2017. Sermon Topic: The Wedding Feast


Sunday October 15, 2017

Matthew 22: 1 – 14: The Wedding Feast

Sermon: All Invited!

What is interesting about this parable told by Jesus is that it is actually a combination of two older parables or stories well known in Jesus’ day which Jewish Rabbis taught in their schools and synagogues. Jesus puts a different twist and new meaning in his parable recorded in our scriptures, but the two original stories or parables were known in Jesus’ day and familiar to his listeners. I didn’t know this until I read commentaries concerning this passage in Matthew chapter 22. The two older parables known in Jesus’ day were about (1) a King who prepares a feast and invites guests to come, and (2) a story concerning royal robes.

According to Jewish custom, it was quite common that when the invitations to a great feast, like a wedding feast, were sent out, the time was not stated. When everything was ready and prepared, then the servants were sent out with a final summons to tell the guests to come. This Jewish custom was understood in Jesus’ day. In the older known Jewish story or parable, a King invites his guests to a feast without telling them the exact date and time, but he tells his guests that they must wash, cloth and anoint themselves to be ready when the summons came. The wise prepared and clothed themselves at once, taking their places outside the palace door while they waited, for they believed that in a palace a feast could be prepared so quickly that there would be no long warning. The foolish believed that it would take a long time to make the feast’s preparations and they thought they had plenty of time. So they went back to work. Then, suddenly, the summons to the feast came without any warning. The wise were ready to sit down in the banquet hall, and the king rejoiced over them, eating and drinking together. But those not arrayed in their wedding garments had to stand outside, sad and hungry. They looked on at the joy they had lost. This Rabbinic parable tells of the duty of preparedness for the summons of God, and the garments stand for the preparation that must be made.

Now in the second Rabbinic parable well known to the people, this story tells how a king entrusted royal robes to his servants. Wise servants took the robes and carefully stored them away, keeping them clean in their pristine loveliness. But foolish servants wore the robes to their work, and soiled and stained them. The day came when the king asked for his robes back. The wise servants handed their robes back fresh and clean, and the king bade them go in peace. The foolish servants handed their robes back stained and soiled, and the king cast them into prison! This parable teaches that a man or person must hand back their soul to God in all its original purity; but a man or person who has nothing but a stained soul to offer back stands condemned.

Jesus knew these two older parables when he retold his own. And Jesus adds a little bit more to the story. He says that the wedding hall is filled with guests, and Jesus adds: “When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen,’” (Matthew 22: 11 – 14)

What did Jesus change in his retelling of the two older parables? What are the differences in the stories?

– First of all, in the older well-known story, the king invites his guests to a feast. We’re not told the occasion. In Jesus’ parable, the king invites his guests to a wedding banquet for his son. The feast or banquet honours the king’s son.

– In the original older story, guests are invited and the same guests are expected to come whether they are ready or not. In Jesus’ parable, guests are invited but they refuse to come, some even killing the king’s servants sent to summon them. So outsiders are invited as guests instead, the good and the bad, complete strangers not previously invited.

– In the original older story, the servants presenting the king’s soiled robes are cast into prison. In Jesus’ parable, someone wearing inappropriate garments or robes in the king’s presence is cast outside with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

– In the older well-known story, the prepared guests feast with the king enjoying his company, while the unprepared guests are left outside, missing the feast. In Jesus’ parable, all are invited in, all are present with the king, it is an open door, but someone is unacceptable in the king’s presence, and this person is taken outside. “Many are invited, says Jesus, “but few are chosen.”

What new lessons, or new thoughts, did Jesus want to teach in his new parable?

Jesus said that to supply the king’s feast with guests, he sends his messengers out saying: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” This parable speaks how the kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ invite all people in, not just the Jews, but Gentiles and sinners – all gathered in together. The invited guests who refuse to come represent the Jews, who when God’s son came into the world, were invited to accept him as their Messiah and follow him, but most contemptuously refused. The result was that the invitation of God went out direct to the highways and the byways of life, and all peoples, all good people, all bad people, all who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom, Jews, Gentiles, everyone – all are invited to the banquet of God prepared for his Son Jesus.

Why a wedding feast? Jesus refers to himself as a “bridegroom” in Mark 2: 19, and the church of believers in Jesus Christ is referenced as a bride in Ephesians 5: 25-27: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…to present her to himself as a radiant church.” It is this holy union of Jesus with his believers and the Spirit of Christ united with us to which Jesus is referring when he calls the feast a wedding banquet. He is the bridegroom and we are the church joined with him.

And when we come to the banquet prepared for God’s Son, we must bring a life fit for the love given to us by God in Jesus. We are changed when we love Jesus Christ. We are clothed in a new holiness and a new goodness. The door is open to the banquet but the door is not open for the sinner to come and remain a sinner, living a life not pleasing to God or Jesus. When we seek Jesus’ will in our life, we are changed, for he lives within us. We can’t help but live a life pleasing to him. When we accept the way of Christ, when we ask his Spirit to commune with us and direct us, we walk in love, in humility, and in sacrifice – we treat others the way Jesus would, even if it costs us our time, our efforts, our input, and our finances.

And we know that if we go to a friend’s house to visit, we don’t go in the clothes we wear digging in the garden or cleaning out the basement. We want to look clean and tidy. It is a matter of respect to go appropriately dressed because that is how we show our affection and our esteem for our friend. So it is with God’s house. This new parable from Jesus has nothing to do with the clothes we wear to church, but it has everything to do with the spirit in which we go to God’s house. When we come to this banquet, our church worship, are you prepared for the company of Jesus? To feast with Him? Are you ready to come for worship with God? Are you wearing, as theologian William Barclay expresses it: the garment of expectation, the garment of humble penitence, the garment of faith, the garment of reverence – are you prepared to worship after a little prayer, a little thought, a little self-examination?” God the King perceives our outward and inward appearance.

When we truly feast at God’s banquet freely given to all, when we worship with thankful hearts for all God’s goodness and blessings, and when we’re especially grateful for Jesus our Lord and Saviour, we are richly fed and prepared to go out into the world to work for them and bring everyone into the banquet hall prepared for all. Our hearts and minds and souls are nourished so that not only our lives are changed but also the lives of others, the life of the Church, and the affairs of the world.

May God bless us to do so!




Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 8, 2017. Sermon Topic: Planting a Seed


Thanksgiving Sunday October 8, 2017

Sermon: Planting a Seed

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we celebrate harvest, bounty and all the goodness we find in nature – our colourful, fall decorations and the feast we prepare for our Thanksgiving dinners: the pumpkins for our pies, the turkeys, turnips, squash, wheat, and all the foods from our gardens and fields harvested at this time of year. We celebrate God’s goodness and bounty found in nature!

We celebrate the miracle we find in our seeds! When we look at each individual seed, we see a miracle – metamorphosis in action! We are witnessing the transformation of material matter into something new. We plant seeds in the spring, and up comes a different plant, a different flower, a different bean pod, or vegetable, or tree. We don’t work this miracle – God does. Within each seed lies the potential for beautiful growth, a newness of life, a flourishing and blossoming and bringing forth of wonderful developments and possibilities which God has pre-set or pre-determined from the germination of that seed. God has blessed each seed with a holy blueprint, so to speak – the traits, characteristics, and make-up which are designed uniquely for each seed. It is a miracle!

Just as the seed planted in the ground must be good seed and carefully tended, so we as “seeds” must be good seed for God and Jesus. Our thoughts need be excellent and the best, for they are seed taking root, and our speech and actions are the fruit of their planting. We leave impressions on those with whom we come into contact, and we influence them for better or worse. Like a farmer or a gardener, we are planting and cultivating all the time, and we need to become good seeds for God and Jesus in their Kingdom on earth.

Here is a example of each of us represented by a sunflower seed. May God and the Spirit of Jesus richly work within each of us, and may we be blessed!

1. Holding the seed in the right palm of the hand.
This seed is special. It contains life waiting to break out. It is precious and valuable. It is a gift from God.
Like this seed, each of our lives is precious and special. God has given each of us a life that is beyond price.

Then God said, ‘Let the land produce seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit with seed in it according to their various kinds…and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1
Prayer: (Please repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life.

Help us not to take it for granted.

Help us to treat each other as a precious seed. Amen.

2. Holding the seed in the left palm of the hand.
This seed is patient. It doesn’t grow in an instant. It needs time and care and the right conditions. The future of the seed is only for those who can wait. It is the way of God.
Like this seed, God’s plans for us are long term and the best. He works that plan through the grace of friends, his words, and our worship together. But he won’t rush what is so important.
“Behold the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until the early and the late rain.” James 5
Prayer: (Please repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for your patience with us.

Forgive us when we want the quick and easy way.

Help us to treasure the people, and ways, you want to help us grow. Amen.

3. Holding the seed up between finger and thumb.
This seed is small. It seems too tiny to be anything important or significant. Yet it contains a surprise waiting to happen. It is a lesson from God.
Like this seed, God planned each of our lives to become something surprisingly more than we yet are, or appear to be.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… the smallest of seeds, but which, when it is grown, is the greatest of plants.” Matthew 13
Prayer: (Repeat this prayer)

Thank you, Lord, for surprising growth.

Help us recognize the small beginnings of your work in us.

Help us believe in your surprising plans for our lives. Amen.

4. Holding the seed hidden in the closed fist of one hand.
This seed is hidden. It remains out of sight so it can grow in secret. The miracle of the seed can only happen as it dies in the depth of the earth. It is a sign from God.
Like this seed, God wants us to be with him in secret. He wants to work in depth in our lives. We can only grow as we trust in the miracle of His new life out of death.

Truly, truly I say to you, unless a seed of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  John 12
Prayer: (Repeat this prayer)

Help us, Lord, to spend more time with you.

Bring us new life out of death,

and put to death the things in our lives which stunt our growth. Amen.

5. Holding the seed in the cup of your hands.
(Optional: place the seed on a prayer book/hymn book or Bible)

We pause to consider what this seed will become one day. (pause)

We pause to consider the hidden mysteries held within this seed.

We pause to consider what this seed represents for us.

We have mysteries held within us.

We are already planted. We are growing.

What have we become as we’ve grown?

What will we become as we continue to grow?

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Matthew 7:16-18

Accept the word that God plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.” James 1

God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your sowing and increase the harvest of your kind deeds.”  2 Corinthians 9

Prayer: Gracious God, let me grow into the person you intend me to be! Amen.
(Hold up an example of what the seed will become: a sunflower!)

(Illustration from The Gathering, 2016)

Blessings to all, Rev. Mary

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 1, 2017. Sermon Topic: Feasting Together


Worldwide Communion Sunday: Feasting Together

Today we celebrate, with our fellow Christians around the world, the Sacrament of Communion. In some places it is called “The Eucharist” – in other services it is called “The Table of the Lord” or “The Lord’s Supper.” This meal may be called “The Table of Love,” meaning the great feast of love provided by God for all. The names for our sacrament are varied and so are the ways our brothers and sisters come to the table – as well as the understanding of what people and their pastors, priests, and ministers are doing.

Some will come forward to receive bread in the form of a wafer, either placed into the palms of their hands or placed directly on their tongue. Others will tear a piece of bread from a broken loaf and then dip it into a common cup, the practice known as intinction. Some worshippers may sip from a communal cup – which may be real wine – or grape juice – or even some other liquid if those traditional juices are not available. Other worshippers will be seated in their pews and have individual small glasses of juice and cubes of bread passed from person to person.

Some worshippers may be gathered around a table in a sanctuary, or kneeling at a bench in their pew, or at a rail in front of the altar. They may be in a church hall, or a home, or a school building, in a hut, a clearing, a forest, in a jungle, at a sandy beach, or on a rocky mountain top.

Some will regard the consecrated bread and the wine as being fully and actually changed into the body and blood of Jesus: the elements will look like bread and wine, but after they are blessed, they are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Jesus – this belief is called transubstantiation. Others will regard the sacrament as holy in the sense that Jesus IS spiritually present in the elements but not physically present in the bread and wine. And others see the communion meal as simply symbolic – communion is a memorial meal with the bread representing the body of Jesus and the wine representing his blood.

Some worshippers think that their way is the only proper way to take this meal. Some traditions only welcome people who have made a public profession of their Christian faith, while others will welcome everyone to join in, even young children. Some insist that each person must belong to a particular denomination and community where the sacrament is being observed – while others, like us, will have a table open to all who seek the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be in communion with him.

There is a tremendous variety of practices and understandings as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – but one thing stands out above all the differences, and that is that all of us think communion is important, so important that sometimes we allow ourselves to argue quite rigidly about its meaning, with great conviction, and we argue quite heatedly about our differences, with great determination.

But think of our own families for a minute – families of our own flesh and blood and how we function. Do we all agree about everything? Are there members who believe that the family should do this, while others believe that the family should do that, something entirely different? Even though we have these kinds of disputes, don’t we sit down together and eat together at special mealtimes? Especially special occasions? And think of a meal: some take more of a particular dish as their taste buds desire, and some refuse foods if they really dislike them, and don’t we graciously allow for these differences? We gather as a family and join together at the dinner table even if our diets are different and we don’t agree on everything. We bless one another and pray that each may prosper – we care about each other and help each other – without demanding that our loved ones do exactly what we do, or think exactly the way we think. We allow for differences.

Well, in the same way, the church of Jesus Christ around the world is a family. We are the family of God, the children of God, called together around this table. We strive to follow Christ faithfully and keep the special meal he asked us to keep in remembrance of him. “Remember me,” said Jesus. Eat the bread, my body broken for you, and drink the wine, my blood shed for you, says Jesus. “I am the Bread from heaven,” says Jesus. “I am the true Vine.” “Remember me!”Remember me!”

And so we do. Men, women and children all around the world today are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord in the bread and the wine. And yes – the Spirit of Christ is present. We eat and drink of Christ’s Spirit. “I will live in you, and you in me,” says Jesus. He tells us so. At the Last Supper, the meal before his crucifixion, when Jesus asks us to break the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him, at that very same meal as it is being served, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the future, knowing that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. In John chapters 13, 14, we are told: “It was the Passover Feast…the evening meal was being served Jesus knew that he had come from God and was returning to God…[He said:] ’My children, I will be with you only a little longer…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

We are connected to God and the Spirit of Jesus. It is a divine and inexplicable and amazing and wonderful mystery! It is the miraculous communion we celebrate today: God is with us, Christ is with us, the Holy Spirit is with us, and all our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are “with us.” Communally, we are all joined together with the Spirit of Christ as God’s people in our world. It’s an amazing, amazing realization! For the death, resurrection and the Spirit of Christ alive and with us, we say: thanks be to God! Amen.