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Devotional November 15 2020

 

For the last few weeks I have spent time honouring the legacies that have been left to us. Whether it was in honour of Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday or Remembrance Day Sunday we have been spending time reflecting on what others have done for us and how that connects us one to another. Well, today that all comes to a head because in our denominational calendar this is called Legacy Sunday. Part of the purpose of this Sunday is to get us to think about the financial legacies we might leave behind but that’s not all. God is pleased when we share what we have- in all that we have. Portions of this morning’s sermon come from the resource for this Sunday as written by Jim MacDonald.  You may recall that Jim came and spent a weekend with us this past February.  While it was kind of a different world back then I have drawn on some of our conversations with Jim about legacies to build on our own current church experience.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story about a rich master about to  embark on a journey. Before leaving, the master entrusts three servants with some of his money. The first servant receives five talents, the second receives two, and the third receives only one talent. When the master returns, he discovers that his first two servants have invested his talents and doubled his returns. He welcomes them to share in his joy. The third servant, however, buried the talent in the ground and hands back to the master only what he was given. The master is angry and sends the servant away. This seems like a simple story about the management of a rich person’s assets. However, if we dig deeper, we discover that Jesus once again reveals something unexpected, something surprising about the kingdom of God.

In the ancient world of the New Testament, a talent was a measurement of weight and a single talent weighed several pounds. We don’t know exactly how much a talent was worth, but one talent could have represented 9-years of wages for a skilled labourer or as much as 15 years of a day-labourer’s wages. So, even the single talent was a huge responsibility. According to the parable, the master evaluated the servants before he gave them the money. He had faith in their abilities and all three should have been able to manage the money. In order to double their investments – an impressive return – the first two servants probably needed to take considerable risks. The listeners would have known that. They would have known that the first two servants could have lost the master’s money. They would have known that to earn those returns the investments might have been unethical or even illegal. The listeners might have been surprised that these two risk-takers were so celebrated by the master.

The servant who buried the talent actually acted in a law-abiding, commandment-following way. He didn’t go to lenders to try to earn interest. By burying the talent, he protected the master’s assets. He didn’t gain the master anything, but he didn’t lose anything either. The listeners might have wondered whether he deserved such harsh punishment. Why was the master so angry?

Jesus was revealing something about the kingdom of God. The people welcomed into the kingdom might not be clean or careful or safe or upright. They might be messy risk-takers. They might be the type who would risk everything for their master. The first two servants saw potential in their talents: an opportunity to increase the master’s assets. They recognized the trust the master had in them, had faith in the master and used their knowledge and experience to grow their gifts. They took risks with what they were given because they could see what they might gain. The third servant saw scarcity, not potential; letting uncertainty drive him. He expected loss, guarding what little he had at the expense of what he could have had. Even though he knew the master expected to reap what he had sown, he didn’t see the master’s faith in him. He did not invest in the hope of growth and overlooked the possibility of surprise. By burying the talent, he denied both the potential of the gift that he was entrusted with and his responsibility to the master.

The kingdom of God is about having faith. The kingdom of God is about seeing the possibilities God presents. The kingdom of God is not about playing it safe but using our gifts, risking them all, for a future of hope, the way Jesus eventually would. Shortly after sharing this parable, Jesus took the greatest risk of all. He left the safety of Galilee to go to Jerusalem, where the religious authorities regarded him as a threat to their own power and privilege and where the Romans would consider him a disturber of their peace. In being faithful, Jesus risked everything God gave him, including his very life. The return was immeasurable, everlasting, and a blessing to all creation.

We are the soil in which God’s gifts are planted. God has given us tools to do God’s mission. What will we do with what we’ve been given and what will it say about our faith? Over the last few months two people have come to my mind as people who left legacies for this church so that we could be prepared during this pandemic. When Pieter Riedijk was finding it more difficult to attend services on a regular basis he approached Mike and I and said, “why can’t we live stream the service?” And I resisted. I told him I didn’t want to be on YouTube, that it was too risky to be online every week. My self-esteem wasn’t prepared to go viral.  And Pieter looked at me and said, “This isn’t about you. This is about the congregation.” He helped fund some of the changes needed and pushed us to take the risk and go online. This meant that we had been live-streaming services for nearly two years before the pandemic and so, we had some experience with the technology. Quite a legacy for him to leave us.  But now that we have so many more viewers watching on line than in person further upgrades were required- we realized that the quality of the live stream had to be such that it felt like worship despite many of you sitting in your own homes. Doug Beattie had listed the church in his will and left a substantial amount from his estate to us. Some of those funds have helped us upgrade to new cameras, microphones, and a computer (and numerous other things that Mike has told me but I don’t remember). This will allow us to provide services into the future whether it is in person or online or some variation of the two.

Right now, we are living under the shadow of a pandemic. We have no idea what is coming up next. With the future so uncertain, it would be easy to respond like the third servant, with fear. We could protect the gifts we have been given, fail to recognize them or pretend that we never received them. We could bury our funds or heads in the ground. Or, we could be like the first two servants: living in faith, trusting God’s faith in us, stepping outside of our comfort zones to take risks and using our gifts to participate in God’s kingdom and share God’s message of hope.

The third servant’s legacy was fear. The first and second servants’ legacy was faithfulness. Pieter and Doug’s legacy was hope for the future. God confidently plants seeds of ability and faithfulness in each of us. We are given the freedom to choose how to use the treasures we’ve received. We can choose to hoard these gifts, or we can choose actions, great or small, to produce works of love and mercy. We can leave our comfort zones and take risks for God. I’m so thankful for the many people who have helped us live out a legacy of being Comox Valley Presbyterian Church even in unprecedented times. Amen

Remembrance Devotional Nov 8 2020

Remembrance Devotional:
Throughout the pandemic we have used language like, it is your duty to stay at
home, it is your obligation to others to wear a mask. I can remember early on that some
even stated, “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on the couch.
You can do this.” While I would never use the language of fighting against a pandemic in
comparison with those men and women who have served our country by choice, in various
ways I do feel like we are living in volatile times. In fact, because we are pre-taping this
service in October I don’t know the results from the US election but I am worried about the
divisive and volatile times that are unfolding south of us. The passage from Isaiah this
morning speaks to conflict, suffering, volatile times, and hope.

Yes, there is both hope and tragedy in this passage. Hope and tragedy is a
combination I know well. I celebrate that there is a bond between my family and a family
in the Netherlands that goes back to when my Grandfather billeted with them in 1945. This
friendship goes back over 75 years and spans three generations but it was born out of
tragedy. We would not have this strong connection with the Van Scuppens had my
Grandfather had no reason to go there. The same goes for the Schulte family in Germany
where my in-laws were stationed, and where Mike was born during the cold war. These
incredible friendships- full of joy and blessings- were born out of tragedy and volatile
times. I remember well sitting with David Sakade and Jim Rae as they talked about their
various health issues when they hit their 90s. I heard them laugh and swap stories. Two
men, who in their 20s fought on opposite sides- brought together in hope talking about the
tragedy of ageing.

The passage in Isaiah begins by describing the experience of conflict and
destruction that takes place in war. We can certainly interpret that it is God who has
brought on this violence- that is certainly implied but what is also important to note is the
transformation that takes place. The fortified city that now lays in ruins symbolizes the
imperial power of the oppressor- the violence that has seen this city fall- was nothing
compared to the oppression that took place within its walls. And the hope is that as a city
of a great empire falls there is recognition that God’s power is far greater. The destruction
was not caused by God but overcome by God and now this place becomes a place of refuge for the poor, the needy in their distress, and a place of shelter. Hope that the ruthlessly powerful will not win out over those unable to defend themselves shines through here.

The passage then changes in verse 6 and begins to describe an incredible banquet
on Mount Zion. We have to realize that throughout the history of the Hebrew people,
meals have played an important role. Meals become opportunities for religious
transformation. If we think of the first passover to the last supper this remains true for us
too. This particular banquet in Isaiah is one of reconciliation. And, perhaps the description
of rich food and well-aged wines brings to mind our communion celebrations- another
meal in which reconciliation takes place.

 

I often hope that Remembrance Sunday is a time in which we can seek
reconciliation too. It is most certainly a time to honour those who sacrificed their lives or
youth to serve their country but it is also a time in which we can turn tragedy into hope. In
which we can think to a time when there will be no war- when, as Isaiah says in another
passage- our swords are turned into ploughshares. Remembering is also an opportunity for
renewal and reconciliation- this is what brings me hope even as we face our own volatile
times.
We remember today all the ordinary people ripped from their towns and villages,
torn from their families to serve their country in war. We remember today all the ordinary
people left behind to keep things going in factories, on farms, on the streets blitzed by war.
We remember today the ordinary people who lost their lives in war and those left behind
who never saw their loved ones again, who grew up without a parent, a sibling, a partner
or friend, those who never discovered love again and who grew old alone. We remember
today all the ordinary people on either side of the conflict whose lives were changed
forever, all those who paid the price of freedom and, in our remembering of the ordinary
people who died and served for us, we remember that the cost of war will always be too
high and paid for by ordinary people. This year, think of how hope is born out of tragedy,
how God is greater than volatile times, and how in remembering we can reconcile. Amen

 

November 1, 2020 Devotional

Today is a different kind of day, at the time that I was beginning to put this
service together I didn’t know we would have people here, but that’s not what makes it
different. Yes, most of us may feel a little bit of extra energy because we got an extra hour
of sleep- but that’s not what makes it different. Yes, it is the day after Halloween and so
maybe some of us are still on a bit of a sugar high having eaten the candy we had planned
to share with children. But, Halloween exists in some fashion because of today. This is a
day that is traditionally called All Saints Day. In the early church it was known as All
Hallow’s Day, hallow meaning a person who has been made holy or a saint. Part of the
original celebration included vespers on Oct. 31st and ended with All Soul’s day on Nov. 2nd which commemorated everyone who had died. Perhaps some of you are familiar with
the traditions associated with this season in Latin America often called Dia de los
Muertos- the Day of the Dead. For us in the Reformed tradition All Saints Day is not
something we are used to celebrating or honouring. Yet, in one of my commentaries it
said, “All Saints Sunday is one of the most important of the special days in the Sundays
after Pentecost, but it may also be the most misunderstood.” For so many reasons, from the
fact that Nov. 1st falls on a Sunday this year, to the reality that many of us have grieved the
loss of a loved one during the pandemic but it has all been in private, without the usual personal and public supports and commemorations, to the fact that this is the first in-
person worship we have had since March 8th. I felt we needed to give space to recognize that today is All Saints Day. In the Roman Catholic tradition this is a day that
commemorates those who have attained sainthood or been canonized. But for us, we
believe in the sainthood of all believers, meaning that anyone who calls themselves a
Christian is a saint. And so today is a chance for us to acknowledge that we are saints but
also that we have lost some wonderful saints this year. Today’s service may involve some
emotion- give yourself permission to grieve.

This day also acknowledges that we believe that there is a powerful, even
spiritual, bond between those who have died and those who are living. Today is about
understanding the doctrine of the communion of saints. This is the idea that we are bound
together in a kind of spiritual union with one another. Both those of us living today and
those who have died are united to and in Christ forever. This is meant to bring us comfort
in the idea that time is an imperfect construct and in God’s perfect presence we are
surrounded by all those saints- our loved ones, our husbands and wives, our parents and grandparents, our ancestors, our friends, our classmates, our colleagues, our congregation
members from years gone by. We are surrounded in this ever present communion, a
sharing in common, with those who have gone before us. And we remember that we are
bound together with those who will come after us.

Paul often referred to those who were receiving his letters as “saints”. As I
mentioned, essentially a saint is a Christian. There certainly have been many outstanding
Christians over the millennia and often they receive the title of Saint- but within the
reformed tradition we are all saints. That’s a bit of a daunting thought, isn’t it- that we are
saints. Nancy Cocks in her all-ages service for All Saint’s Sunday suggests passing out
mirrors and asking those gathered, “Where would you look for a saint?” and then directs
them to look in the mirror and says, “You are looking at a saint! Everyone who follows
Jesus can look in a mirror and see a saint!” I grew up with the TV show Romper Room
and at the end of each episode Miss Betty would pull out the magic mirror and start to say
the names of those who were watching. It was always a glorious moment when every once
in awhile you heard your own name. Strangely, that’s kind of how I feel about the word
saint, both nervous and excited.

In the portion from the First letter of John that we heard this morning we hear
words of encouragement to a community that has been challenged by a split. We don’t
know the details as to why a schism has taken place but the disagreement has caused some
people to leave the church. So, the primary aim of this letter is to persuade the remaining
community that they can not give up. They must hold fast to their faith and the glue that
will hold the church together is God’s love which has bound them together into one family
as children of God. The author will use the title children of God six more times in this
book. What God has in mind for these children is not completely known, but the author is
sure that we who have God’s love will in the end become more like Christ. As children of
God we are all saints and we are bound together with those witnesses, those saints, that
have come before us and will come after us.
This is another aspect of understanding the communion of saints. It reminds us
that we have a continued relationship, a continued connectedness, with those who have
died. Rev. Tom Gordon actually ties that into grief, stating that essentially one of the
reasons we feel a loss is because we are inextricably linked with those who have died. In
the loss and separation of a death we also feel a continued union and influence with those
who have died.
Every time I walk past her former house I think of Jean Stamm’s wit and
ingenuity. I think of the visits we had and how she told me she had fixed the bumper of her
car with a blow drier after looking up the solution on Youtube, not bad for a woman in her 90s. I have thought often of Des Hagarty’s laughter and grace. He would share insights
from his experience in the Moravian church and I often used liturgy in our services that he
had shared with me. David Friesen and I would often read the psalms together and he
shared how it was the psalms that helped him through some tough times. Week after week
I miss the thumbs up I would receive from Bob Taylor after every service as I processed
down the aisle. He was always generous in his words of encouragement. Every summer I
enjoyed a visit over homegrown and homemade blueberry scones with June McLeod. I
tried to make my own this year and they were a disaster. She had an incredible knack for
hospitality. And Bob Cunningham had a smile that would make anyone feel welcome. It
was amazing how he could minister to the care aids and nurses even when he could no
longer put a sentence together. And I know that many of us have lost other family
members and friends during this challenging year, some where expected and others just
shocked us- regardless we have not been able to honour them as we would like- we haven’t
even been able to hug one another for support. And yet, through the communion of saints
we are bound together. God’s love surpasses the restrictions of time and space.
I once read that the Book of Revelation is like an epic poem and like most poetry
it is not easy to interpret.

We heard one of the more accessible passages in Revelation as the sixth seal is opened and there is a great multitude of people- from every nation, tribe, and language and they are worshipping together. It is this incredible image of a heavenly community gathered around God and free to be who they are that helps me understand the communion of saints. But notice that it says that the multitude was so great that it could not be counted. This suggests that this gathering is incomplete, in that it is waiting for all the saints. Rev. Gordon says, “God’s grace and mercy is still calling God’s own to God.”

The story is not over yet- even in the Book of Revelation. This means again that we are
drawn into this connection with our friends and family that have gone before us.
It may feel like our grief is on hold. We hope that some day we can come together and
mark how the lives of those who died have touched our lives. But know that in this great
communion of saints we are interconnected, woven together in an unfinished tapestry,
because just as they have been saints in our lives, we are called to be saints in the lives of
those around us.

I want to close with a poem by Ruth Burgess entitled, ‘We Are Part of Each other,’

Those who have died live in their friends and families;
those who have died live in you;
those who have died live in me.
Living and dying we are part of each other,
touched by eternity,
circled in love.

Amen

October 25,2020

Devotional: Agape

At our Easter Sunday service I mentioned that I had been taking in the free Metropolitan Opera streams most evenings. The Met streams a different opera from their immense catalogue every 24hrs. I have not watched every day- but on average I have watched 2 a week since March. I have watched over 50 operas. The most pervasive theme in opera is love, and usually it involves a tragic love. Whether it is the complicated love triangle between Jose, Escamillo and Carmen or the dangerously passionate love between Mario and Tosca, or the gut wrenching heartbreak of Madame Butterfly, love is sung about in arias and stanzas throughout most operas. Often in operas this love happens in an instant, at first sight. In La Traviata the moment Alfredo sets eyes upon Violetta he is determined to make her his one and only love. In Die Zauberflotte, Tamino only looks at a photo of Pamina and determines that he is in love and will do anything to find and save her.  Characters are willing to give up their lives for the person they have just met because they are madly in love. I will admit that often I watch these characters and hear their songs of desire and desperation and I think to myself, “Oh, get a life! You’ve only just met him!” But that could be because,I have a slightly more cynical view of romantic love- or even just love in general. In fact, modern language does a disservice to understanding love and as I encountered these often recited lines in the Gospel this cynicism about love came up.

Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord Your God and love your neighbour as yourself.” As well known as this passage may be it is rather problematic to our contemporary understanding of love. We often think of loving God and loving neighbour as an emotion- as a passionate feeling of deep commitment that might inspire us to sing a great aria of how our lives are forever changed. It certainly does happen…that’s what a lot of our hymns are about. But the love that is described in this passage actually has very little to do with emotion. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

First, this passage is the last of the various debates and entrapments that the religious leaders, from the Herodians to the Sadduccees, the Pharisees to the Scribes, have had with Jesus while he is in Jerusalem. Within the arc of the overall narrative, Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a colt, cleansed the temple by turning tables, delivered some pretty damning parables and is now answering questions meant to trick him. This is likely the Tuesday of Holy Week, three days before the last supper. You might remember from last week that Jesus has managed to amaze the religious leaders with his wit and wisdom. But the Pharisees decided to take one last crack at him and ask, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus responds with, “ You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” It is a variation of the great Shema found in Deuteronomy- a passage that is placed on doorways within Judaism. And then Jesus builds upon it and says, “A second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” It likely comes from the ancient Rabbinic statement, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole law.”  But in order to understand what Jesus truly meant we need to know what kind of love Jesus was talking about.

I have turned to scholar Clayton Schmit to help me clarify. As I mentioned we often think of love as an emotion, and it can certainly be that in many of our interpersonal relationships. We also often think of love as passive, something that just happens to us. In opera, the female lead will just look at the man and his heart melts and he becomes fully invested even before they have shared a word. In the Old Testament, however, there are references to all kinds of love, most of which are active responses by people towards God or vice versa- God chooses to love Israel and therefore the people of Israel choose to respond to God with their heart, soul and mind. It is an active choice that both parties make- and it should be pointed out, within the Hebrew tradition emotions came from the gut, thought came from the heart, living came from the soul and devotion came from the mind. Which means to love God with all our heart, soul and mind has little to do with emotions and everything to do with study, breath and dedication.

Within the New Testament there are actually three main types of love. I’ve talked about this briefly before. There is Eros, where we get our word erotic from, which is the word for passion or desire. This is the love that is sung about by two people deeply enamoured with one another.  There is Philia which is a passionless love and is often translated as brotherly love or friendship. In scripture it is used to describe love between family. Interestingly enough the word in English usually comes as a suffix when describing obsessions, like a bibliophile is someone who loves books. Both Eros and Philia are sparingly referred to in the Bible. The third kind is Agape love and it is this kind of love that Jesus is describing in this law. Agape is a sacred and divine love but it is also often called loving-kindness. Which means that this is a very active kind of love or mercy. As Clayton Schmit states, “It is marked by patience and generosity…both acts generated by the one who loves. In short, [agape] love is a choice, not a feeling. Biblical love is not passive. It is not something that occurs to us without our control or will. Biblical agape love is something we do. It is loving-kindness, merciful action that is both generous and continuous.”

We have encountered this discussion about love in our recent Bible study. Augustine wrote, “When you see love, you see a Trinity.” In his understanding, there is the lover, the beloved and the love that they share. Now originally when I encountered this statement I was thinking about romantic love- but then as we studied the active trinity I began to think of this agape love. There is the lover- the one who acts with loving-kindness. There is the beloved- the one who receives this action of loving-kindness. Then there is the love itself- the transforms the situation. It is a transformation that takes place when true acts of loving-kindness happen.

This being Reformation Sunday it seemed appropriate to quote Martin Luther in his understanding of this Gospel passage. He wrote, ‘Thus you are to regulate your life and conduct. There are in our day many customs, many orders and ceremonies, by which we falsely think to merit heaven; and yet there is only this one principle, namely: the love to God and to our neighbour, that includes in it all good works.” Meaning, that our liturgy, our expression of worship, our doctrine, comes second to this commandment of love- not a gushy feeling but a discipline.

Quite honestly I am mixed with a bit of relief and concern. For example, I am relieved to know that loving neighbour doesn’t really involve the emotion of love because in my own cynicism about love I don’t think I can feel love for people I don’t know.  But then, honestly, I struggle with doing love for people I don’t know either. God chooses to love me and us. God chooses to forgive me and us (even when we fail to love in action). Therefore we are told to choose love of God which, as Jesus pointed out can not be separated, from loving people. Loving God and our neighbour is not something we feel it is something we do. And this is a key distinction because it means that we are meant to reach out in generosity and kindness, even when we don’t feel like it. Trust me, I fail at that often. However, God has chosen us- sometimes that notion is so wonderful it causes me to sing about it- so I will continue to work at choosing loving-kindness for it is through loving kindness that I can be reformed- made new, each day. Amen

October 18, 2020

Devotional: The Taxman

          Have you ever been to a comedy show and an audience member begins to heckle? I’m always amazed at the audacity, that someone feels they can just interrupt a performance and attempt to engage the person in conversation- one would never do that during an play or sermon! Well, at the risk of offending those of fine Scottish heritage, did you know that the first hecklers came from Dundee? To heckle actually means to tease or comb and it was used for dividing two types of fabric or flax for making yarn and the capital of the jute industry in the nineteenth century was in Dundee. It just so happens that the hecklers in Dundee then established quite a reputation for being trouble-makers, often due to arguments or debates. In fact, in a heckling factory, one heckler would read out the day’s news while the others worked, to the accompaniment of interruptions and furious debates. And thus, we get our modern word for heckler from the hecklers of Dundee.

Jesus, had to deal with his fair share of hecklers. And today, we have two groups, who often don’t get along with each other, finding some commonality in their desire to heckle Christ. This is the first of three attempts in the Gospel of Matthew on the part of religious leaders to entrap Jesus and discredit him in front of others. If that’s not heckling I don’t know what is. They want to engage in a debate with Jesus in such a way that it makes his followers find fault in him- but of course, just like with most hecklers, it doesn’t go their way.

It should be pointed out that the Pharisees and Herodians rarely paired up together. Politically speaking they have nothing in common. The Pharisees, which in Aramaic means, “set apart” were the leaders within the temple. It was they who established the laws, liturgy and rituals of rabbinic Judaism. Therefore they felt Jesus was a threat to the comfortable control they had over the Jews. Less is known about the Herodians. They may have been a group who supported the pro-Roman Herodian dynasty and therefore because their political party aligned closely with Herod the Great, would have been rivals to the Pharisees who saw Herod and the Romans as the oppressor. Or They could have been a sect of Hellenistic Jews, basically a mix of Judaism and Greek mythology which would have made them heretics in the eyes of the Pharisees. But here in this story the two parties put their differences aside and attempt to entrap Jesus with their question about paying taxes.

The tax in question was likely a “head tax” placed upon the Hebrew population in Israel by the Romans. Completely different from the tax that is mandated in the Old Testament in support of the Temple, which Jesus did indeed pay. The question of paying taxes to Rome was a contentious issue in Jesus’ day. If Jesus answered yes, then He could be seen as supporting the Roman occupation which would then result in the Pharisees and his followers turning against him. The entire understanding of the messiah at this point is, that he was to save the people from their oppressor, so to say yes, that they should pay taxes would have revealed to everyone that he was not the messiah they had hoped for. On the other hand, if Jesus were to answer no, He would be seen as plotting against Rome and would have surely been arrested on the spot.

Both parties smirk at their opportunity to give Jesus false flattery and set up this trap. However, he sees through their trickery and calls them on it. Jesus calls for a coin and asks them to identify whose head and title is on the coin. It is important to remember that the coin Jesus receives is a denarius. You might recall a few weeks ago I mentioned that a denarius was a full days wage for the common labourer. Which means that for someone to just have a denarius in their coin purse at this very moment, Jesus is not speaking to common labourers or the poor. Jesus’ audience at this stage are the wealthy- political and religious leaders whose job it is supposed to be to serve the common and poor.

The face and inscription on the coin is of course that of the emperor’s. It would have read, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” Which means that two great laws within the Hebrew tradition are being broken on that very coin. One, it is blasphemous to claim divinity by the Roman Emperor, and Two there was a prohibition against human images, on anything, coins, paintings, statues,  because it was seen as idolatry. So, in truth, a Jew who was obedient to the commandments would not be comfortable holding this coin at all. Which of course, begs the question, who had this coin on their person in the first place.

Jesus then responds with, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” At which point the Pharisees and Herodians are amazed. This actually happens more than once in Matthew. Think of the disciples in Matt 8:27 when Jesus calms the storm, “they were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?”” or when the crowd is amazed by Jesus’ healing in  Matt 15: 31, “So that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking and the blind seeing.” Jesus amazes his followers and the crowds through miracles and now the Pharisees and Herodians are amazed through his wit and wisdom. Basically Jesus’ answer was not only satisfactory but thoughtful and really hushed his hecklers.

The problem is that Jesus’ answer has lead to centuries of debate on what he meant. Some scholars say this passage is proof that religion and politics should be kept separate. Others argue that this proves that Jesus taught that it is our duty as disciples to support the government and be involved in politics. It has even lead interpreters to state that we shouldn’t pay taxes because they are blasphemous and idolatrous.  For me, when Jesus asks about who appears on the coin he is pointing to a few things about our relationship with God and Country. The image of the emperor that is stamped on this coin-is stamped by human hands for a human purpose. When God created humankind God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” God has stamped us for God’s purposes.  Maybe this is a bit of an alarming statement- particularly for those of us who like to have some control on our lives- but in truth it is meant to bring comfort. God will not forsake us. God cares for us. God affirms who we are. When we belong to God we belong to the people of God, the body of Christ in this world.

Ultimately who we are, what we do, every ounce of our being, is wonderfully and fearfully made by God. To be perfectly honest, I heckle God fairly often, questioning God ALL THE TIME. And yet, God listens, maybe even laughs, definitely puts me in my place, stamps me with God’s image, makes me ready to give to God what belongs to God and amazes me every day. Amen

October 11, 2020

Devotional

          Every year, for the last six years, Mike and I and our friend Deb have spent the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend on an adventure we call Pumptacular day. We don our traditional hats,  visit numerous pumpkin patches, go on hay rides, watch pumpkins being tossed from a trebuchet, and pick the pumpkins we will later carve at the end of the month. This year- was a little different- as with all of our traditions this year. It hasn’t been easy, giving up well loved traditions, but I still enjoyed seeing the bright orange pumpkins in the middle of a muddy field. I’m sure you’ve heard this metaphor before but it bares repeating. We are like pumpkins in a patch. How God picks us up, washes us clean, scoops out all that inner junk we don’t need, puts a smile on our faces and carves out a space where our light can shine. I was thinking of all of that as I trudged through a scaled down version of pumptacular day yesterday- without the usual traditions and I remembered the importance of gratitude. Yes, things are different- very different- and sometimes very difficult. But in all our running around, in all our mourning that things are different and difficult, there are moments of pause when we can be grateful, particularly for all that God has done for us and of course, this can and does happen most Sundays, but there is no better day to mark that gratitude then on Thanksgiving Sunday.

Today we hear the typical Gospel lesson that accompanies Thanksgiving Sunday. So, we leave the vineyard passages of Matthew or the commandments in Exodus that we have been studying of late, and jump right into two important themes found throughout Luke. Luke likes to draw attention to Jesus’ care for the marginalized and outcast. Luke also likes to point out that the appropriate response to Jesus is of faith and gratitude. Like the passages in Matthew, this passage in Luke takes place while they are headed for Jerusalem. Luke reminds us of this fact in the opening line.

At this point it sounds like Jesus is walking between some kind of no-mans land between Samaria and Galilee, which tells us that Jesus isn’t taking the most direct route to Jerusalem- but if I were him, I wouldn’t want to rush to get to the city where I was to meet my death either. Jesus is entering a border town. Jesus often walks between the borders of our world. In this moment Jesus is on the border of two communities, Jesus is on the border between the outer limits of the village and it’s centre, Jesus is on the border of his earthly ministry and death on the cross. In fact, Jesus could be seen as the border between heaven and earth. Maybe this year feels like a bit of a no-mans land or border between what once was and what will become a new normal. Know, that Jesus is walking with us through this border time.

As Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach, keeping their distance, they call out. Finally, a scripture passage the refers to the importance of keeping one’s distance when faced with a highly contagious situation. When we are sick, we keep our distance. And without getting too close, Jesus doesn’t even have to physically touch them, he hears their cries for mercy and tells them to show themselves to the priests. I wonder- it doesn’t say as much- but I wonder if any of them doubted Jesus’ ability- he didn’t even touch them, how could they be healed? But en route to showing themselves to the priest they are made clean.

In case you thought that leprosy was just some disease of first century Palestine you should know that we on Vancouver Island even had our own history of quarantining people who had leprosy. However, it was also mixed with racism. From 1891-1924 (that’s over 30 years) D’arcy Island was a leper colony of Chinese immigrants. There were 49 residents.  Every three months a supply ship dropped off food and coffins. So, perhaps as we suffer from covid fatigue and become tired of our isolation and physical distancing we can be grateful for the privileges we do have. After all gratitude is the theme of the day.

The focus of the Gospel story narrows in on one of the lepers who is healed, a Samaritan. There was a lot of hostility between Samaritans and Jews due to various opinions including the location of the temple. What is interesting is that Luke refers to Samria and Samaritans more than any other Gospel writer. This is likely because it was important for Luke, both in his Gospel and the Book of Acts, to demonstrate the universality of Jesus’ mission and ministry. There is no better example than to demonstrate how two rival communities can be made whole through Christ. You might recall that Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan as part of a conversation on how one is to inherit eternal life by loving God and loving neighbour. The Good Samaritan in the parable demonstrates neighbourly love.

In our story this morning the Samaritan leper, upon seeing that he is healed, turns back, praising God with a loud voice and he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him. He demonstrates Godly love. This double outsider, a Samaritan leper, is the only one to give gratitude. It is then that Jesus says, “your faith has made you well.” Which is a bit confusing since Jesus healed all ten without any discussion about their faith. However, a more literal translation is, “your faith has saved you.” This Samaritan is healed far beyond his physical ailments.

Meda Stamper puts it this way, “The Samaritan’s thanksgiving and prostration at Jesus’ feet; his recognition that God is at work when Jesus notices and heals hurts and brokenness that are not noticed by others; his understanding that to thank Jesus is to glorify God: this is the manifestation of faith that makes well.” True gratitude can have a healing affect that goes beyond just stating thanks, it can change our perspective, it can make us well, it can save us. Gratitude at this time may be a little more challenging- this world has suffered much in the last 10 months, but it is this gratitude that will help us get through it. And note, that this gratitude is not just about having a thankful heart but prostrating one’s self at Jesus’ feet. It is a faithful response to God.

Today I am thankful that I am like a pumpkin. That God has picked me up, washed me clean, scooped out all that inner junk I don’t need, puts a smile on my face and carves out a space where light can shine. Give thanks to God, be made well, let your faith save you. Amen

October 4, 2020

Devotional

On late evenings at the campsite as the fire is at a comfortable level that doesn’t require us to feed it all the time, one of us will say to the other, “Wanna loose a game of crib?” In both of our households cribbage was a game played after supper when visitors came, or with family at the cottage or at Christmas gatherings and so, it is a game both of us are equally proficient at. If we were to play Scrabble it is inevitable that Mike would win, if we were to play dutch blitz it is inevitable that I would win but in a game of crib it is anybody’s game. Did you know that in England it is the only card game that is allowed to be played in bars or pubs without a special license.  Sir John Suckling invented the game in the 17th century. It is said that he frequently spent entire mornings in bed with a pack of cards studying their subtleties and what makes cribbage a special kind of card game is that it has relatively few rules but yields endless subtleties during play. Once you know the rules of the game it is easy to figure out strategy and move your peg along the board.

Rules are always important in establishing how to play a game- but they are also important in how we function as a society, how we elect officials, how we interact with one another and today we heard the most famous list of rules ever recorded. We also celebrate communion today- and embedded in our liturgy are “rules”, words and expressions, prayers and statements that are not only part of the pattern of communion but speak to our theology and understanding of what this sacrament is and therefore are important pieces to this action. It should be noted that the church has had divisions over the “rules” of this and other sacraments. Yet, today we are uniting with brothers and sisters in faith around the world to celebrate communion- because that’s part of the rules too.

But first, let’s look briefly at the Ten Commandments because in truth these are not simply a list of rules- that’s not really what the commandments are about. The most striking and important thing about the Exodus version of the commandments is the introduction. In Exodus 20:2 God identifies God’s self and refers to what God has done for the people of Israel. This means that the giving of the commandments provided the people with an identity and purpose and note that this is an identity and purpose that is completely different from their identity as slaves in Egypt or as a wandering community in the wilderness.

Hebrew scholar Amy Erickson looks to the Ten Commandments as a way in which the people found liberty and freedom. These “rules” provide more than a list of how to behave. “With the order of the commandments, God makes it possible for the people to view their new lives, even in the wilderness, not as chaotic or terrifying, but as meaningful and potentially fruitful. The commandments, as a whole, present an alternative vision to life in Egypt, a place where there was little interest in regeneration and rest and no freedom.” We often think that rules are things that restrict us- and we hear a bit of that in the Ten Commandments- they are seemingly filled with thou shalts or thou shalt nots. But what if we were to look at them in the positive we would see how liberating they truly are.

For example, the commandment “You shall have no other gods but me” means, “In all things put God first, put love, put grace, put compassion first. This is the first of the commandments because it is the first thing God does with us; puts us first”. Or how about the commandment “Do not take God’s name in vain,” this means “Respect the one who loves you. Speak lovingly of God so that the whole world knows that gift.” Or “Remember the Sabbath” becomes “Take time to pause and reflect on what is important in life, connect with that which is always calling out to you. Find space to celebrate the one who offers you life.” Or how about “do not covet another person’s property” means “celebrate what you have already. Great lives are not born by accumulation of things but are birthed in the giving away of love. This is why God is so great.” I thank the Church of Scotland resource for this Sunday for those insights and paraphrases.

Notice also that the first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God, while the remaining six speak to our relationship with one another. It is as if to say, that in order for our relationships to be right with other humans we have to have a relationship with God first. Certainly that is not part of our current societal rules.  But the commandments create a space where humanity can live meaningful lives before God and one another.  The freedom in the commandments is this, how one thinks about God affects how one thinks about their neighbour.  This is also the same rationale behind communion- it is an outward symbol of our inward commitment to live in community with Christ and Christians.

Did you know that World Communion Sunday first took place in a Presbyterian church in Pittsburg in 1933. The Rev. Dr. Kerr first conceived of the idea while he was serving as Moderator for the PCUSA in 1930. He hoped that it would bring churches together in a service of Christian unity- “in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.” It started off small at first but today it is celebrated around the world. This year it is being celebrated in some pretty creative ways…mostly online. It was in 2012 that our General Assembly created the rule that we could provide virtual communion- this was initially in response to the needs of remote congregations who were experiencing long vacancies. Little did we know how important that rule would become, for all churches, eight years later.

The purpose of the commandments and the purpose of celebrating communion on this particular Sunday is part of who we are- it’s in our rules. But like in a game of cribbage- these rules aren’t complicated rather the subtleties in how we worship God, how we serve one another, how we celebrate communion and live in community are endless this is not how we normally celebrate communion but it is simply the act that brings us together. There is no doubt that it will feel different but whether you are a part of our regular worshipping community or have just found us on YouTube, whether you have your elements prepared or not, whether this is your first foray into communion or old hat- you are welcome and you are invited to participate in this sacrament as you feel comfortable, not because I’m telling you its part of the rules for this Sunday but because it is an expression of how we find creativity in Christ and freedom in the commandments. Amen

September 27, 2020

Devotional: Presbyterians Sharing Sunday

          Within our denominational calendar this Sunday is known as Presbyterians Sharing Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to learn about Presbyterians Sharing, the national fund that supports the work of the denomination,  and to acknowledge that we are not alone. We are part of a body. We belong to this denomination of Presbyterians across the country that is connected by a common faith, governance, mission, history and shared ministry. Presbyterians Sharing is the fund in which much of that connection is made possible. In fact, I can say with certainty that I would not be here today had it not been for Presbyterians Sharing- for two reasons. One, this fund helped create and subsidize various youth programs that I was involved in. It is where I learned to develop and define my faith- without them I would not have heard a call to ministry. Also, this very congregation was funded by a campaign called “Live the Vision” which used funds collected through Presbyterians Sharing to start churches in the mid 1990s. This congregation would likely not exist without the support it received from Presbyterians Sharing. So, it is important to me that we take time to learn about this fund and how we can support it. This year the Moderator, The Rev. Amanda Currie, wrote a sermon for this particular Sunday in honour of Presbyterians Sharing and it is her sermon that is the foundation for my message this morning.

This morning Jesus continues to use the image of working in a vineyard to describe the Kingdom of God. I’m beginning to think that first century Palestine looked a lot like today’s Okanagan- vineyards everywhere! Clearly, Jesus’ original audience would have identified or at least understood that working in a vineyard is challenging work and requires a special touch. It takes special attention to know when the grapes are ready and when or how they should be harvested. In this particular parable a Father asks his first son to work in the vineyard and initially the son declines, perhaps because he had other things to do or perhaps because he didn’t feel he had the right knack for what it takes. Yet, this son changes his mind and goes and works in the vineyard. The Father asks his second son to work in the vineyard and this son initially says he will but then changes his mind and does not- perhaps because he got distracted or because he was simply paying lip service to his father.

After telling this story Jesus asks those who were listening, “Which of the two sons did what the father wanted?” Despite the fact that he changed his mind, clearly the first son did what the father had asked. How often have we looked at the work that needs to be done, in God’s vineyard, and decided that we really didn’t have what it takes? Then, praying about it or thinking about it a bit more, we decide that the task is not as great as initially thought- and with careful attention we see where God is asking us to harvest. How often have we said, sure I can do that, and then realized that the task was a bit more than we can handle? I have certainly been both the second and first sons in this story at one time or another.

The parable reminds us, however, that faith must be more than just words. The son who promises to work in the vineyard and then fails to do so is of no help to his father. In contrast, the one who hesitates to work, but then decides to take up the task, likely pleases his father with his unexpected generosity.  Amanda Currie writes, “I think about this Scripture today, as we reflect on the call to participate in our denomination’s shared ministry and mission. Through our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing, we participate in God’s mission. Together, we equip congregations, ministries, and presbyteries with skills and tools for evangelism, discipleship, stewardship and Christian Education. Together we create and support new faith communities and participate in national and international mission. We engage in healing and reconciliation and support Indigenous ministries. We prepare and support leaders and live out God’s call to justice. We empower, encourage, and support youth. And we do so much more to participate in God’s mission.

Did you know that the General Assembly has agreed to encourage congregations to give a tithe, that’s 10% of what we raise- to our common ministry, to Presbyterians Sharing. It’s basically our way of showing up to do some work in the vineyard. Showing up to work in the vineyard is not always easy, we discussed that last week. This year, 2020, has been a difficult year for all of us in some way or another. The COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world and through our communities- disrupting our plans, testing our capacity to adapt, and challenging us to be the church outside our buildings and without our usual gatherings for worship or fellowship. Thinking about how much things changed for us during this pandemic makes me realize we don’t know what was going on with the two sons in the parable.

When the second son said he would go to work in the vineyard, he might have had every intention of doing so. Maybe he became ill or injured or had to give priority to a more urgent task at that moment. And the other son who decided he could help…was that because he saw his brother was suddenly unavailable? Did he realize he had more time and energy than he expected? Or was it because he loved his Father and he suddenly saw how desperately his dad needed his help?

Although we don’t know why the second son didn’t show up, we do know that showing up is important, and we can imagine how delighted the father was when the first son was able to be there. But, while Jesus’ parable calls us to follow through on the promises and commitments we make, there is room for grace. We are called to give according to our ability, and while some congregations might not reach their goal, others are surprised when the generosity of their members allows them to surpass it.”

We as CVPC celebrated our 25th anniversary this past January, the session had decided to make stewardship part of that celebration- little did we know what was coming our way. But I think about how over 25 years ago- news went out across this country that a congregation was starting in a place most people had not heard of called the Comox Valley, and Presbyterians from PEI to BC helped fund this congregation for its first few years. This is why it is important for us to realize the impact that Presbyterians Sharing can have. There are a variety of ways that we are invited to share our gifts of money, time, and talents for the work of God’s reign on earth, and in difficult times we can pull together to support those who are struggling more. The important thing is that we all participate in the mission that God is calling us to do. Supporting Presbyterians Sharing is an important way for us, for all Presbyterians across Canada, to give of ourselves for the needs of others, to share together in making God’s presence seen and felt in the midst of difficult times, and to be faithful to God’s call to work in the vineyard for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. Amen

September 20, 2020

Devotional: Justice Generosity is not “Fair”

When my father-in-law immigrated to this country he was originally sponsored by a Baptist church in rural Manitoba. While he had apprenticed as a cabinet maker in Germany most of his life experience was rather urban, having grown up in Ulm and Berlin. He knew very little about being a farmhand. So, when he showed up in Manitoba and was placed on a farm he timidly tried his best. However,  after a few incidents including when he accidentally drove the tractor through the barn, it became clear to both his billets and himself that farming was not for him. When Herb would tell these stories about his months on the farm he would be so animated and laugh at how his life had had so many twists and turns. He also commented on how calm the farmer remained through it all, likely stemming from his good baptist roots. In fact on that fateful day when the tractor drove through the barn walls the farmer replied, calmly, something like, “you should probably be a bit more careful”. I’ve talked before about how my own idyllic ideas about farming are often squashed the moment I spend a bit of time on a farm. It’s hard work and not all of us are cut out for it. So, this morning, as we look at this parable about labourers in the vineyard  I can have sympathy for the labourers who worked in the scorching sun all day and received the same pay as those who had only worked an hour.

I wonder if this parable makes you as uncomfortable as it makes me, that seems to be the name of the game these last few Sundays. But perhaps that’s part of the point of the parable, to rest in this uncomfortable place and examine why it makes us uncomfortable. I bet the disciples felt the same when they first heard it. A couple chapters earlier the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” So we already know that the disciples are struggling to understand who belongs in heaven.  Jesus’ reply is to say that one must become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The thing is, in my limited experience, children tend to have a real understanding of what is fair and they focus on what is fair often to a fault and this parable is not fair. And thank heavens God isn’t fair at least not in our usual understanding of justice and fairness.

I want to point out that there is no question that God cares about justice. Throughout the prophets, particularly Amos, God constantly reminds the people to care for the poor, hungry, oppressed, orphaned, widowed and immigrant. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he spent time with the outcast and marginalized. This is perhaps one of the reasons why this parable makes us uncomfortable because it seems contrary to more familiar Biblical teachings. However, the point is that God’s justice does not function according to our understanding of fairness. I suspect this is another reason why we find this parable uncomfortable-most of us see ourselves as the labourers who have worked all day- and so we understand their grumbling, their offence, their outrage at being treated as equals to those who only worked an hour. But this parable isn’t really about fairness but about justice generosity.

In one commentary about this parable the author points out that clearly there is a labour oversupply or possibly recession going on because every time the the landowner goes out he finds more labourers hoping to get hired for the day. If there are that many people looking for work then there is seriously something wrong with the economy and so already things are not fair in this parable. He first goes out at 6am- which is when most landowners would have gone out, their one and only time. What makes this landowner unique and generous is that he keeps going to the market throughout the day, at 9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm. Either this landowner has a huge harvest and constantly needs more workers or he cannot bear to see so many people unemployed, or perhaps its both. Remember, Jesus has used this image of a plentiful harvest before, back in Matthew 9, when he states, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” Notice how all of the workers, whether they started at 6am or at 5pm are dependent upon the landowner. All of them went to the market unemployed- which means they owe everything to the landowner.

Something else that is rather interesting in this parable is that it offers no judgment on those who are looking for work. It does not imply that those who were hired later in the day might be lazier than the others. It does not imply that the reason they weren’t hired by other people is because they had a disability or didn’t have what it takes to work hard labour. It simply states that people have not yet been hired even by the end of day- which continues to imply that there is a surplus of unemployed people. And thus, the landowner is very generous when he pays everyone the same amount. God is generous- not only to those who have worked hard all their lives but with those whom we might deem as undeserving.

When a labourer grumbles the landowner responds by calling him friend. This is key because most landowners would not see labourers as their equal and certainly not their friends. But he says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” Then he goes on to ask, “are you envious because I am generous?” Here I find another reason why this parable makes me uncomfortable- particularly in today’s climate, there seems to be a great sense of entitlement. I’m entitled to the rewards given to me because I have worked hard for them over the years. I’m a tax payer. I deserve this recognition. But this parable blows apart our understanding of “deserving”. Justice generosity is about the lavish grace and mercy that God has given to all of us even though none of us deserves it.

God absolutely cares about social injustice and wants us to work for justice so that all can receive their daily bread, a livelihood that is liveable, but God’s justice generosity goes even further than that. It is not something we have to earn rather it is something that God spends freely. We owe everything to God- our very purpose and breath. Jesus is telling this parable as the disciples approach Jerusalem where he will be crucified, certainly he did not deserve to die. Yet, God’s justice generosity is poured out upon us- whether we’ve been at it a long time or are just starting out-farming isn’t for everyone- but we are all labourers in this field and it’s not fair and thank God for that. Amen

September 13, 2020

Devotional: Forgiveness is Messy

Growing up, throughout grade school and high school I did not experience nor witness much bullying. There was the odd, sometimes dangerous times but overall I flew under the radar.  That was until my second year of University when my very own roommates- who believed very differently then I did- began to terrorize myself and the other Christian in our house. It came to an absolute crashing climax when we returned from Easter break to discover anti-Christian vandalism all over our doors. Before moving out of that house one of the bullying roommates said, “Why are you running away? I thought you people were supposed to be forgiving” and I couldn’t believe that he had turned a truth about my faith into a vile accusation. If you thought last week’s passage was awkward, today’s passage is messy and challenging. I didn’t know how I was going to start the message but as I read and re-read this passage that comment kept coming up, “I thought you people were supposed to be forgiving.”

The passage today completes what we read and studied last week and includes not only instruction but a parable. Jesus has spent a lot of time talking about how the Christian community should act. Earlier in this discourse Jesus stressed the that the family of God is the most important thing in the world and that we should do everything in our power to nourish and strengthen the bonds of our love for one another. So, as Peter, and likely the other disciples, listens to Jesus’ words Peter needs to clarify what exactly is required of him.  There’s a part of me that thinks Peter thought he was being remarkable in his willingness to forgive someone seven times, that is a lot. Yet, Jesus then responds that one should be forgiven not seven but seventy-seven times. For all the verbal abuse, for all the stress and manipulation, for all the pettiness and passive aggressive actions that my roommates did, forgiveness seemed to elude me and for a long time I struggled with it. Trust me, forgiveness still seems to elude me when I’m hurt or upset. I think must of us struggle with forgiveness because it is messy. If I am burned once- ok, it could have been an honest mistake. If I am burned twice, then I begin to keep a mental record- Jesus says nothing about keeping track of misdeeds. However, Jesus does help redefine a common misconception about forgiveness as he follows up his answer with a parable that can perhaps help us understand what forgiveness means or rather how it is manifested. Forgiveness is a two way street.

Jesus definitely implies that our forgiveness should be limitless, there is no denying that. This is clear when the parable states that the servant owes his king ten thousand talents. To put that in perspective one talent was worth about 6,000 denarii and a labourer was paid one denarius a day so, by my limited calculations that means that the labourer owed 60,000,000 days or 193,000 years worth of work in order to pay off this debt. The point is that this labourer owes so much that the debt would be on his family for generations. Yet, out of pity the master not only changes his mind about selling the family into slavery but forgives the debt.  That is until he realizes that the servant is unwilling to live forgiveness with regards to his own debtors.

The parable takes a turn when the forgiven labourer does not respond in kind to the master’s compassion. When the labourer asks for a hundred denarii that is owed him, a small amount compared to the debt he owed the king, and the slave is unable to repay- instead of forgiving the debt he throws the slave in jail. The forgiven labourer proves to be unforgiving and this is where Jesus helps us understand forgiveness. The point of the parable is, that those who have genuinely received forgiveness also genuinely forgive others. While it seems like the labourers entreaty to his king was genuine it turns out to be a ruse. He understood nothing about mercy. To be forgiving we must also truly understand what it is to be forgiven.

I returned to David Turner’s commentary on Matthew, you might remember last week when he essentially gave us a talking to about using the line, “when 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” Well Dr. Turner helped me  understand the meaning in this parable. He writes, “The incompatibility of the two situations [between the forgiving master and the unforgiving servant] could not be clearer, the resulting teaching is that those who have been forgiven by God can and must forgive their fellow humans. To be forgiven is to be empowered to forgive. No matter how offensively one has been treated by a fellow human, there is no comparison to the heinous rebellion of wicked humans against a holy and loving God. Anyone who has truly experienced the compassion of the heavenly Father should have little problem showing genuine compassion to a fellow human.” Dr. Turner really has a way of making me squirm with uncomfortable truths when it comes to understanding the Gospel of Matthew. But maybe that’s why we struggle with forgiveness- we still don’t feel like we genuinely deserve the forgiveness that God has freely given us through Christ on the cross.

Sometimes in our assurance of pardons or declarations of forgiveness you will notice that I include the words “forgive yourself”. Now, this was not something I heard growing up in the church nor is it something that I said in previous ministries. However, it was while listening to a friend preach and say those words that I realized that forgiveness is not just between two parties but can often include one’s own being. I had never been given permission to acknowledge that I needed to forgive myself and if forgiveness of self is hard it can only be just as hard to forgive others. And then we must remember that God’s forgiveness is pure unadulterated grace.

Our inter-personal relationships are hard and there are definitely times when we need to walk away or move out for our own well being- but that has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness can still take place. Last week I touched upon how in this dialogue Jesus is spending a lot of time defining what the relationships amongst the Christian community should look like.  The difference between the master in the parable and God is that God has already forgiven us. There is no earning of forgiveness or grovelling at God’s feet asking for patience. Just think of this for a moment- we have already been forgiven by the one to whom we owe our very life and breath because that someone wants to remain in relationship with us- always. And then think of this, if God commands us to forgive each other seventy-seven times, just think how much more God will forgive us- over and over. Amen