Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Nov. 26, 2017. Sermon: Meeting the King

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Sunday November 26, 2017

Reign of Christ Sunday

Sermon: Meeting the King – Scripture: Matthew 25: 31 – 46

People love the idea of Royalty. Why do you suppose we give a royal person such admiration and adulation? The dictionary defines Royalty as: “The power, status, or authority of a monarch.” So, that means a royal person is someone with the power, status or authority of a royal person. That’s pretty straightforward. But why, other than that, would we treat a royal person with such adoration and special star appeal?

If the Queen of England came in the door of our church right now, what would we do? Would we simply hand her a bulletin and carry on as usual? Or would everything grind to a halt as we responded in shock? And then we would simply fawn over her every wish and desire! Queen Elizabeth did visit Washington USA during George Bush’s presidency, and while there, she visited a lady Alice Frazier in her home. Now protocol states that you mustn’t touch the Queen, but Alice wasn’t told, and she gave the Queen a hug! It made headlines around the world. Alice was so delighted that the Queen had come to visit her that she responded in the warmest most hospitable way she could.

Today is known as The Reign of Christ Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. This is a celebration which was first chosen by Pope Pius XI as a time to celebrate the end of the Church year. He felt that the world needed to remember that we live in the reign of Christ. Jesus is the King above all kings. So, back in 1925, the Catholic Church adopted this day to honour the Royalty of Jesus. Over the decades, many other churches, including the Anglicans, Lutherans, and our own United Church, have also added this Reign of Christ Sunday to the church year calendar. The beginning of our church year starts next Sunday with Advent, but today, we celebrate and honour Jesus in his rightful position as our true King.

What do you think would happen if this King came in here to our church today? Would we stand back in awe – or would we give him a hug? Of course, we believe that Jesus is here. He told us: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also.” He is here in spirit. But what if he made a physical appearance? Would we give him a warm response like Alice? Would we be delighted to receive him?

Jesus gives us the parable about separating the sheep and the goats. The parable isn’t saying that sheep are better than goats, or goats better than sheep, but that they are separated into two groups. Why? What is the discerning factor? The one group follows the teachings and examples of Jesus, and the other group does not. Jesus our King judges and separates – those who follow and those who do not.

Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and spirit,” says Jesus, and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus knows. He knows our actions and thoughts, our opinions and attitudes.

Have you ever made those judgments where you say: “That person isn’t worthy of help,” or “What will they do with the money I give them?” or “They deserve what they get!” If we are honest, we have to admit that we have all thought that way at times.

Mother Teresa wrote that she sought the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, she said, especially in “the distressing disguise of the poor.” What an interesting thought. To see the appearance of a poor person as a disguise. Not their true self, just a face they have to wear because of the way the world has treated them.


There is a story about Saint Francis of Assisi. Young Francis was wealthy and high-born and high-spirited. He lived the good life, but he was not happy. He felt that his life was incomplete. Then one day he was out riding and met a leper, loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of his disease. Something moved Francis to dismount and fling his arms around this wretched sufferer; and in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ.

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money; but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s cloak, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar man. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them; and Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Jesus, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was shivering and you gave me clothes. Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me,” says Jesus.

We are standing in the presence of royalty all the time as Christians. We are standing before Jesus our King. Jesus has a vision for us. He hopes that we will act in our everyday lives as if we were always in his presence. He hopes we will do the things that will make him feel proud of us. Let’s honour Jesus our King. And let’s be counted in the group serving Him. Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Nov. 19, 2017. Sermon: The Talents Given by God

parable of the talents
The Parable of the Talents
Scripture: Matthew 25: 14 – 30
Sermon: The Talents Given by God

Once there was a king who had three sons, each with a special
talent. The first had a talent for growing fruit. The second
for raising sheep. And the third for playing the violin.
The king had to go overseas on important business. Before
departing, he called his three sons together and told them he was
depending on them to keep the people contented in his absence.

Now for a while things went well. But then came the winter, a
bitter and cruel winter it was. There was an acute shortage of
firewood. Thus the first son was faced with a very difficult
decision. Should he allow the people to cut down some of his
beloved fruit trees for firewood? When he saw the people
shivering with cold, he finally allowed them to do so.

The second son was also faced with a difficult decision. Food
became very scarce. Should he allow the people to kill some of
his beloved sheep for food? When he saw the children crying for
hunger, his heart went out to them and he allowed them to kill
some of the sheep.

Thus the people had firewood for their fires, and food for their
tables. Nevertheless the harsh winter continued to oppress them.
Their spirits began to sag, and there was no one to cheer them
up. They turned to the fiddler, but he refused to play for them.
In the end things got so bad that in desperation many of them
emigrated.

Then one day the king arrived back home. He was terribly sad to
find that many of his people had left his kingdom. He called in
his three sons to give an account of what had gone wrong. The
first said, “Father, I hope you won’t be mad at me, but the
winter was very cold and so I allowed the people to cut down some
of the fruit trees for firewood.” And the second son said,
“Father, I hope you won’t be mad with me because when food got
scarce I allowed the people to kill some of my sheep.”

On hearing this, far from being angry, the father embraced his
two sons, and told them that he was proud of them.

Then the third son came forward carrying his fiddle with him.
“Father”, he said, “I refused to play because you weren’t here to
enjoy the music.”

“Well then”, said the king, “play me a tune now because my heart
is full of sorrow.” The son raised the violin and bow, but found
that his fingers had gone stiff from lack of exercise. No matter
how hard he tried, he could not get them to move. Then the
father said, “You could have cheered up the people with your
music, but you refused. If the kingdom is half-empty, the fault
is yours. But now you can no longer play. That will be your
punishment.” (author unknown)
In our Matthew parable this morning, Jesus tells the story of servants entrusted with talents. What was a talent? A talent was the largest unit of measurement of weight usually of precious metals – gold or silver. A talent was equal to about 75 pounds or 35 kilograms. One talent of gold or silver was worth a tremendous amount of money. In Jesus’ parable, the man entrusts his property, his wealth, with his servants. And this man is very rich! Can you imagine what 75 lbs of gold would cost today? And multiply this by 8 (5 talents + 2 + 1)! But Jesus’ parable about the talents offers us other interpretations other than money. What were the messages Jesus wanted us to glean?
Our attention is drawn to the useless servant who does nothing with his talent. He buries it in the ground in order that he might hand it back to his master intact exactly as it was. Jesus may be equating the useless servant with the Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day whose whole aim was to keep the Law and their religious teachings and way of life exactly as it was. Any change, any development, any alteration, anything new was to them blasphemy. They were not open to any new Kingdom of God which Jesus preached. They opposed Jesus’ teachings and his actions, especially when he broke their laws on the Sabbath, and consequently, religious truths and Godly enlightenment and new learning fell on deaf ears. The Scribes and Pharisees paralyzed religious truth. Like the man with the one talent, they desired to keep things exactly as they were. 

 If we think of the talents as Godly-given abilities and potential, then what matters is how we use them. God gives us differing gifts or talents – in the parable, one man receives five talents, another two, and another one. It is not the number which matters – it is how each person uses his talent. God never demands from us abilities we haven’t got; but God does demand that we use to the full the abilities we possess. We are not all equal in talent – our gifts differ. But the parable says that we must put them to work, and whatever talents we have, little or great, we must lay them at the service of God. 

     The person who is punished in the parable is the servant who will not try. The man with the one talent did not lose his talent; he simply did nothing with it. Even if he had risked it and lost it, it would have been better than to do nothing at all. It is always a temptation for the one-talent person to say, “I have so small a talent, I can do so little with it, it is not worthwhile to even try, for what can I do?, what little contribution can I make?, it won’t make any difference at all.” But using your one talent, however small, will make a difference. The condemnation in the parable is for the person who will not try to use their talent, and risk using it!

The parable also tells us that the reward of work well done is still more work to do. The two servants who did well are not told to lean back and rest! They are given greater tasks and greater responsibilities. The Master trusts them with more. It doesn’t mean that the servants, or us, become over-burdened or over-worked – it means that God and the Spirit of Christ will work with our endeavours and our skills to bring about greater results. God will work with what we bring, and it grows with God’s power. God is able to do progressively more with our potential and endeavours.
The parable of Jesus tells us that to the person who has, who works, who is productive, more will be given, and the person who doesn’t try will lose even what he has. If we use the talents God has given us, God will progressively do more with them. The more we exercise our proficiency and our gifts, the more God blesses our talents and puts them to work! It is God’s Kingdom and the gospel of Jesus Christ which grows and prospers. Jesus, our Master, knows our potential, and he’s counting on us to work with Him to get the work done.
Amen.

Meditation Time:

Questions:

1. What are your abilities? What does God recognize in you that are your capabilities and skills?

2. Are you using them for God’s work?

3. What can you do to risk using your abilities in ways you haven’t tried before?

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, November 12, 2017. Sermon: We Re-Member

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Sunday November 12, 2017 Remembrance Day Sunday

Sermon: We Re-Member

Scriptures: Matthew 5: 1 – 10, John 15: 9 – 15, 17

On Remembrance Day Sunday we choose to remember all the people who have died or been injured while serving to bring freedom and peace to our world. We here in Canada specifically remember the people who died and served in our Canadian Armed Forces. Someone once asked, after watching a Remembrance Day parade, why do they remember the dead soldiers? Don’t they want to forget all the horrors of war? It’s a natural human reaction to try to forget the unpleasant things we have to endure in life. But to remember war and the sacrifices of so many men and women, we keep at the front of our minds the realization that war cannot be entered into easily. We value life over death. We value freedom over repression. We honour and respect the losses that so many people have lived through in order to protect our way of life.

If you break up the word “remember,” we get: “Re-member.” This means to become a member once again, to be rejoined to something of which we are or were once a part. A family reunion is just that – “re-union” – we are reunited with one another. An Alumni serves the same purpose – a former group of students or club members stay reunited with one another. When we Christians observe the holy sacrament of communion, we unite as believers and we “re-member” as collectively the Body of Christ. When the men and women of the Royal Canadian Legion gather together, they become part of their larger whole as they unite in spirit with the invisible faces of the many friends and companions who didn’t make it back from the war. The veterans who continue to serve, and were fortunate enough to return from war, are reunited with those who did not. They re-member. They are rejoined.

Christianity is a religion of peace, so what do our scriptures have to say about war? The Old Testament is full of war stories – nation against nation, tribe against tribe, religion against religion. Just last Sunday, we told the story of the Israelite nation crossing the Jordan River to take over the land of Canaan, land promised to them by God, they said, their Promised Land, and they are ready for battle with an army of 40,000 we’re told in Joshua 4: 13. The Israelites drove out the peoples and nations in their way to take over these lands. A great deal of war, battles and fighting can be found in our scriptures. Does it make it right? War seems to be part of the human condition. We have never known our world history without it.

And yet, when we turn to the gospels, when we read the stories of Jesus and the early Christians in the New Testament, we see that peace becomes the goal, not war. Pray for your enemies, says Jesus. Love your enemies, says Jesus. Pray for those who persecute you, says Jesus. That’s not the usual way of the world. But this is the teaching of Jesus Christ.

We have read this morning Jesus’ famous sermon on blessings for all, his Sermon on the Mount, as it is called, his Beatitudes as we know it. Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, the merciful, and Jesus blesses the peacemakers. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, he says. Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, says Jesus. “Father, forgive them,” says Jesus when he dies on the cross. Jesus followed the path of peace.

But sadly, two thousand years later since Christ walked our earth, we humans are still living in a world of conflict and war. There are times when there is really no alternative but to fight for what is right. We hope and pray for the day in our world when the sacrifices of men’s and women’s lives are no longer necessary. Our Canadian troops are hailed around the world as Peacekeepers, and what a wonderful way to describe what they are doing. When my husband Terry and I studied at the Atlantic School of Theology, we knew a fellow student who served as a chaplain to the Canadian Peacekeepers in Afghanistan. When asked what his most memorable incident was, he replied – the smiles of the schoolchildren as they received their new school desks donated by Canadians so that they could have a place to learn. Does that sound like war? It IS a war against ignorance and poverty. And that is a war that is right and good. When we fight or war against oppression, ignorance, poverty and those “poor in spirit,” we are bringing God’s kingdom and Christ’s peace to our neighbor and our world. Resisting evil and restoring goodness is the war we must fight.

This Remembrance Day Sunday, we honour and remember the many sacrifices made for the good of our countries and the welfare of our world. We gained the freedom to be our nation, to be who we are, our identity was kept intact, as well as our freedom of governance, speech and religion. We are grateful.

Let us remember Jesus Christ’s teachings to love one another and care for one another. May we always honour God in our lives, and be true and good citizens of God’s kingdom in our world. May we bring the peace Jesus wishes to bring: “Peace I leave with you,” he says, “my peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives,” John 14:27. The peace Jesus brings to the world is a holy peace, a divine peace, a way to truly live with one another and be “re-membered” or united with Him. It is his power at work. May his Spirit reign in our hearts and minds. And may we be God’s soldiers to bring God’s goodness and Christ’s peace and love to our world. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:

Gracious God,

This Remembrance Day Sunday,

We remember those who kept the faith

in defending and preserving our nation’s freedom.

For their devotion to duty, for their willingness to endure hardships,

and especially, O God, for those who made the supreme sacrifice of their lives,

we give you thanks.

May we this day resolve that our faith to you and our service to our country is not in vain.

May we, as citizens of a nation founded upon faith in you, stand firm and united

to keep the peace and freedom which others have fought and won.

Lord, help us to always keep your world free from evil and corruption.

Help us to bring love and forgiveness where it is so badly needed.

Help us to bring tolerance, mercy and understanding to our world.

Help us to remember, Jesus, that we are a part of your body on earth,

that we are your hands and feet.

Bless our efforts, Gracious God, as fellow humans in our world,

to live together in peace and harmony.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, November 5, 2017. Sermon: The Israelites Cross the Jordan River

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The Israelites Cross the Jordan River – Scripture: Joshua 3

Sermon: Crossing Over

In our Joshua scripture reading this morning, we find the Israelite nation gathered together on the banks of the Jordan River getting ready to enter the Promised Land – the territory which God had ordained for them. It is 40 years since they left Egypt, the great exodus when Moses had come to Pharaoh demanding that he let God’s people go. When the Israelites finally did escape Egypt, they wandered in the Sinai desert for forty years, trekking through unknown territory, unknown paths, unknown terrain, unknown circumstances and the myriad unknown challenges each day would bring. But they were on the move. To a promised land of milk and honey. God made a covenant with Moses and the Israelite nation to bring them to this land. “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob,” God told Moses, and the Israelite people trusted in this mighty, powerful and faithful God to lead them and show them the way.

Joshua chapter 3 is a momentous passage in our scriptures. Finally, after all these years, here they are. At the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over into their promised land, and we witness God’s providence at work to get them across. An entire nation – old and young, animals and provisions – the entire Israelite nation needs to get across that river. And, as usual, God works in the midst of what seems impossible to lead them. Two important things happen:

– first, God goes ahead of them as the Ark of the Covenant is carried into the river, the Ark signifying the Throne of God and God’s presence with them. God leads first.

– secondly, the priests enter the water in faith – they step into the flowing river in faith when God commands Joshua: “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river,’” Joshua 3: 8.

Faith in action. And when the priests’ feet enter the water, we’re told, the river stops flowing from upstream – the waters get banked up a distance away at a city called Adam, and the place where the Israelites are to cross becomes dry ground. The water in front of them rushes away downstream, no more water flows from upstream, and the riverbed before them becomes exposed. The riverbed becomes dry ground, as miraculously, the water coming from upstream is stopped.

Were the Israelites afraid as they crossed over? Did they worry if the waters would break and sweep them away? Were they filled with anxiety? Trepidation? But cross that riverbed they did, and what kept them going? Faith in action. God was in charge, God would lead, God would provide, and God would stay with them in the midst of chaos. The Ark of the Covenant stayed right in the middle of the river with the priests, while the nation crossed past them and over to safety on the other side. God stayed firmly in the middle of that riverbed, God didn’t leave them, and God stayed right in the midst of their worries and concerns. God was with them. They trusted in God’s covenant, they trusted in God’s relationship with them, and they focused on that Divine presence leading them and interacting with them.

We can get afraid of life’s challenges and the unknown, too, can’t we? We can feel like we’re trekking through a desert depending on what’s happening in our lives, perhaps within our own families, with our loved ones, our friends, within ourselves. We may think – where am I headed? Where is this path taking me? What is my future? Where is God in this? Is God there?

And metaphorically, we gather like the Israelites on the shore of the Jordan scared. Not knowing what lies ahead. Not knowing what step to take. The waters look like they’re going to drown us. Are we going to survive? Are we going to be swept away? What’s to become of us? Where are we going? But imagine, like the Israelites, that we are on the riverbank and we stop, standing still, listening for God’s direction, listening for God’s voice before we pick up and step into the unknown.

I’ll tell you where the promises of God are faithful and secure – we are a Covenant people just like the Israelites of old. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is with us, too. God loves us today as God’s people, God’s nation, and God made a covenant with us through Jesus Christ his Son. At the last supper, Jesus says: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you,” Luke 22: 20. This is the new covenant and new relationship I will have with you, says Jesus – my Spirit will be with you now and always. I am with you, says Jesus. And when you believe in Jesus’ words that God is in him and he in God, then God is with us, and the Spirit of Christ is with us. We are a covenant people, and God is going to operate in the midst of our worries and concerns, in the midst of chaos, and in the midst of what seems impossible, when that “Jordan River” looks too treacherous and too difficult to cross. God will work God’s miracles when it is needed, when the time is right, and we are to step forward in faith like the priests stepping into that river. Believe that God is already there, God goes ahead of us, God will provide, even when we can’t see, and we – in faith – are to follow.

And if you say to me this morning, listen Mary, I can read about God’s miracles from long ago, but I have my doubts – did they really happen? I don’t know if God works miracles, then or now. How could the water in the Jordan River completely stop? Well, in 1927, a blockage of the Jordan River took place in the same area as recorded in our Joshua scripture, at Adam, twenty miles upriver from the place where the Israelites crossed over. It was a landslide, and the blockage lasted over 20 hours – almost a day. In our Joshua story, God caused something to happen to block the flow of the Jordan River, and the Israelites crossed over in one day because they camped on the other side that same night. God synchronized things to happen at the right time, in the right place, in the right order – the river gets dammed up, the waters back up, the downstream water flows away as the Israelite priests step into the river, the Israelites cross over, and as soon as the Ark and the priests step onto the riverbank on the other side, the waters of the Jordan River “returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before,” Joshua 4: 18.

God will work God’s miracles even when we can’t see them. God may be working a miracle in your life right now, and you may not be aware of it. You may never know. Sometimes we get a glimpse. Sometimes we know that God has worked miraculously in our life on our behalf. We know that it couldn’t have come about any other way. Believe me when I say that God loves you more than you will ever know. Believe me when I say that Jesus is the best friend you will ever have in your life. They want the best for you. And they will stand in the middle of the river of your life and safely guard you in the midst of chaos or turmoil or worry or whatever crisis presents itself. Ask God to intervene for you. All things are possible with God. God is at work in the midst of us, we God’s people. God said to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous…Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” Joshua 1: 6, 7, 9.

Whatever God has planned for us, whatever is in store for us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, ask God to lead, and just as God spoke those words to Joshua, God speaks them to us, too. “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Let’s step forward with trust and believe it! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, October 29, 2017. Sermon: God our Potter (Jeremiah 18: 1– 6)

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UCW Service

Sermon: God our Potter Jeremiah 18: 1 – 6

Our United Church women have been studying Joyce Rupp’s book The Cup of Our Life over this past year, an analogy of our life and spiritual journey as represented by a cup. At their meetings, members were invited to bring a favourite cup or mug to remind themselves to fill their lives and spiritual life with God’s presence and God’s Spirit. God has many blessings to fill us up with, and Jesus refers to his Spirit as Living Water, so we get an image of our “cups” being filled with an ever-constant and never-ceasing source of Godly Living Water which keeps filling us up, even to overflowing.

And thinking about these various cups the women had chosen to bring to their meetings, I found myself thinking about how they were made. I thought about pottery and a potter’s wheel. In Jeremiah 18: 1 – 6, God our Maker refers to God’s Self as our potter. We read: “The Word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: `Go down to the potter`s house, and there I will give you my message.` So I went down to the potter`s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the Word of the Lord came to me: ‘…can I not do with you as this potter does…like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

So imagine yourself at God the Potter’s wheel. God is going to mold you into a vessel, a cup of blessing. What do you look like? What design are you? What pattern, colour, size, shape, glaze, or finish are you? We can imagine in our mind’s eye what we think is beautiful, or ideal.

Here’s a story about a teacup:
A couple one day walked into a beautiful antique store – they both liked pottery, especially teacups.  Spotting an exceptional one, they asked the owner: “May we see that?  We’ve never seen a cup quite so beautiful.”

As they handled it, suddenly the teacup spoke:

“You don’t understand. I have not always been a teacup. There was a time when I was just a lump of clay. My master took me and rolled me, pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, “Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Leave me alone,” but he only smiled, and gently said, “Not yet!”

Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. “Stop it! I’m getting so dizzy! I’m going to be sick!,” I screamed. But the master only nodded and said quietly.  “Not yet.”
He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. “Help! Get me out of here!” I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, “Not yet.”

When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! “Ah, this is much better,” I thought. But after I cooled, he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. “Oh, please, stop it, stop,” I cried. He only shook his head and said. “Not yet!”


Then suddenly he put me back into the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened, and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf where I cooled, and waited, and waited, wondering “What’s he going to do to me next?”

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said “Look at yourself.” And I did. I said, “That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!!!”
Quietly he spoke: “I want you to remember, then,” he said, “I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any colour in your life. If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

God knows what God is doing for each of us. God is the potter, and we are His clay. God will mold us and make us and expose us to just enough pressures of just the right kinds that we may be made into a flawless piece of work to fulfill God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.

So when life seems hard, and you are being pounded and patted and pushed almost beyond endurance, when your world seems to be spinning out of control, when you feel like you are in a fiery furnace of trials, when life seems to “stink,” try this:
Brew a cup of your favourite tea in your prettiest teacup, sit down and think on this story and then, have a little talk with the Potter.

And remember that Jesus our Living Water, will fill us to the brim, to over-flowing, living within us and blessing us, and his Living Water will flow into the lives of others. May the cup of our life be a blessing, blessed by God and Jesus, that we may be a blessing to others.

Amen.

(The Tea Cup story – author unknown) 

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

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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.

Amen.

(“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

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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!

Amen.

 

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

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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

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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.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Sept. 24, 2017. Sermon Topic: Working the Vineyard

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SERMON: WORKING THE VINEYARD

The Parable of the Vineyard: Matthew 20: 1 – 16

When we read this parable about the vineyard and the kingdom of heaven, it is the kingdom of God, God’s realm, the mighty, vast, universal, eternal existence and habitation of God. Jesus, of course, is a part of this kingdom. Jesus, God’s Son, is with God and “in” God, as he tells us: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words I say to you are not just my own…it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work,” John 14: 9, 10. Jesus is one with God. So think of the vineyard in our parable as God’s kingdom with Jesus and God co-owning and co-working their vineyard. And they need helpers.

Think of Jesus as the landowner. Out he goes at different times in the day to seek workers. Early in the morning, he finds hired help, but then later, every time he goes out to get workers, they’re “doing nothing.” Verse 3: “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing,” Verses 5, 6: “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour…the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’” These two words “doing nothing” caught my attention when reading this parable, which I’ve read many, many times. As you know, Jesus’ parables can offer us several viewpoints and perceptions of meaning, and interpretations of the vineyard parable mainly focus on the payment of the denarius and the message: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” We usually interpret the equal payment of the denarius as meaning that ALL have entry to the kingdom of God and Christ’s salvation despite our earliness or lateness when we come to it. And we usually interpret the message that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” as meaning that there is no favouritism or inequality in God’s Kingdom. We are all equal in God’s sight.

But the two words “doing nothing” seemed to literally jump off the page as I read this parable again. I hadn’t really noticed these words before. And I found myself thinking about the marketplace in the story and picturing this scene – the men are standing around all day long, doing nothing? Nothing? What are they doing? Just standing there? They aren’t doing anything? No other jobs? While they’re waiting?

Now imagine if I asked you to go down to our main city square in Stratford and just stand there for several hours or even all day, and you are to do nothing – you are not to do anything. Can you picture yourself in this scenario? You go to the square, stand there, and do nothing. Nothing. What would you be doing? I imagine you would look around, you would observe others, the buildings, the weather, and the traffic, and perhaps you would interact with people who would pass you by – they may chat with you – but then they’d be on their way and you are left standing there – doing nothing. How do you feel? Besides being tired, no doubt you’re bored? Impatient? Listless? Angry? You feel useless? Unmotivated? Immobile?

The men in our parable are standing around in the marketplace all day long doing nothing. We can picture a group of listless people, inactive, immobile, directionless, loafing around. Their “work” is stagnant – they are accomplishing nothing. Isn’t it a remarkable image! And when the landowner asks them – why? Why are you standing around here all day long doing nothing? – they reply: no-one has given us a job, or a task, no-one has told us what to do, or given us any direction. We haven’t been called. We haven’t been hired.

Does this remind you of something? Think of Christ’s church as the vineyard – the Church of Jesus Christ our risen Lord of which he is the cornerstone, the cap, the Head of our faith. Think of the day in our parable representing two thousand years and the hours represent centuries of time between them. Who were the early workers in our early Christian church? Certainly the disciples, apostles and believers in Jesus who, despite persecution and martyrdom, were faithful to their Christian beliefs. Jesus commanded: “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matthew 28: 19, 20. The early believers in Jesus Christ did just that – they spread the word and preached the gospel and helped to establish our early Christian church. Then, as time went on and as centuries passed, other workers came into the vineyard, Christ’s church, and they worked hard, too – they did their bit by strengthening the church and helping others to come to know Jesus and believe in him. Continuing throughout the ages, other workers came on board – they got “hired” by the landowner Jesus to come work in his vineyard, his church, and they worked hard and long and many years to keep His church going strong.

Where are we today? What are we doing to help Christ’s church, the vineyard? Are we standing in the marketplace, the sidelines of life, doing nothing? Are we immobile? Listless? Standing around? Do we want to work, or are we happy to just loaf around? What does Jesus want us to do? What are we doing for Jesus and his church, his gospel? There are many tasks. We can individually feel called to respond in certain ways, and we can be attentive to call other helpers into the vineyard – give them a task. Give them the chance to use their capabilities and skills. Ephesians 2: 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has a job for you! And remember that Jesus’ Spirit is with us always, speaking to us, directing us, calling us and prodding us on.

Let’s willingly work in God’s vineyard, His Kingdom, and let’s work for Jesus, for his gospel and salvation freely given to all. Let’s make Jesus proud! Amen.