On July 4, 2015, the news was full of the fires in Montreal Lake and La Ronge Saskatchewan. It was full of the evacuations, the destruction, the heroic efforts of those who were combatting the fire, and those who remained in the communities, to protect the properties, and the homes that were continually under threat.
Following the sermon, below, preached the next day, during the time for announcements, one parishioner stood up and challenged the church community to meet the needs of those in Northern Saskatchewan who had lost homes, and that includes everything in their homes that weren’t able to be evacuated with the residents.
Now, as the priest in charge of my parish I’d love to claim responsibility for this, as it grew from there to inspire the communities, and regions that surround Christ Church – Anglican, The Pas, MB, but I was undergoing ankle surgery the next day and was required to be off work for the rest of the month of July.
By the time the end of July arrived, the deadline to gather donation items, about 1/2 of the parish hall was full, and it took 2 days to load the trailer. This trailer is expected to arrive in Prince Albert, given into the care of the Prince Albert Grand Council and the Anglican Church of Canada – Diocese of Saskatchewan on Thursday August 6, 2014. To see pictures of the items collected, and the loading of the truck, please see: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christ-Church-Anglican-Church-in-The-Pas/152834134812605.
Enjoy the sermon.
The Pas Proper 9 – Ordinary/Lectionary 14 – Pentecost + 6
5 July 2015
Psalm 123 pg 883
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
God of the prophets, in every age you send the word of truth, familiar yet new. Let us not be counted among those who lack faith, but give us vision to see Christ in our midst and to welcome your saving word. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent” (vs 12)
Throughout the difficulties, that we’ve seen recorded of Jesus’ ministry, from the Pharisees and scribes out of Jerusalem, who were already on edge because of John the Baptist’s ministry and his call to a baptism of repentance.
But, not just the Jerusalem crowds, today we see in the gospel, that arriving home hasn’t made Jesus’s job of spreading the gospel of Christ any easier. In fact, it may have been easier amongst those dissonant and harsh voices from Jerusalem.
Our gospel tells us: “On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!’ … and they took offence at him.” (vs 2-3)
Boy, is humanity, in general, a suspicious and stiff necked bunch! It seems to be no wonder that the work of the prophets alternated between keeping God from destroying humanity, and spreading the words of God, urging people to return to the God who really does love us and wants to be a part of our lives.
But it must’ve worked because were still here, were still able to learn about the love that God has for each one of us. We’re still able to open our lives and hearts to God’s love, teaching, redemption, and forgiveness.
In the meantime, we see how Jesus was received in his own hometown, surrounded by his disciples. It seems the people of the town mistrusted this ragtag group unable, or unwilling to pick up the trades in which they were reared because they are the disciples of one they recognize as one of their own.
“’Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” (VS 3)
They took offense, because they saw only the carpenter, not the Messiah. They saw only hangers on, and unemployed tradesmen, not disciples.
Even today, we claim that a tiger cannot change his stripes. Today we claim that people do not change, that once a bad apple, always a bad apple.
And it seems that our structures of society uphold this ideal, this belief that people cannot, or are incapable of change. In the 1950’s and 60’s people in the United States were investigated for supposed ‘communist sympathies,’ especially during the Cold War era. We’ve maintained lists, since 2001, of people who are unable to fly through international airspace, because of possible suspected connections with terror groups.
Even today, if someone has done something to earn a police record than that is weighed against what we wish to employ him or her to do. In addition, in the life of the church, insurance regulations require us to be asking for criminal records checks, and child abuse and vulnerable persons abuse registries.
Because of the possibility of past abuses and indiscretions, trust is something that seems to be lacking in today’s society.
But despite this setback for Jesus, of being seen as a mundane member of the community rather than the Messiah, the Son of God, he chooses to remain faithful to the work that God has put into his hands.
Our gospel tells us: “Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.… So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent” (VS 6B – 7, 12)
Throughout Jesus teaching, throughout his time amongst us the primary message is that forgiveness and healing lies in repentance.
After all, John the Baptists message, at the River Jordan, was to confess, and to receive the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (MK1: 4)
John urged the people to turn their lives around, to return to what Judaism knows as true worship of God, complete with the baptism of repentance intended to allow people a fresh start, a clean slate, a way to make a difference in their lives. After all once one has confessed, and received the baptism of repentance, that a new slate has been entered into; the old is forgotten, passed away only the new remains. What Luther would describe as the death of the Old Adam and the birth of the New Adam.
When Jesus returned from his wilderness experience, he echoed John’s message. He preached that “’The time has come’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’” (MK 1:15)
And we may see this as an insurmountable obstacle that stands between us and the kingdom of God – to repent and believe the good news; the good news that we are forgiven, that we are loved that we are able to accept forgiveness and to love in return.
One of my favourite stories in Mark’s gospel happens early and gets to the heart of Jesus message to us and to the people of Israel.
In Mark chapter 2, we find the story of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus by four of his friends. But because they couldn’t get close to Jesus, they climbed up on the roof of the house, four friends and a paralytic on a mat. They opened the roof over Jesus head, large enough to lower their prostrate friend in order to bring him to Jesus to be healed. Four men have enough faith that their friend can be given a life of wholeness and productivity that they carry him, possibly for miles, circumvent the lines and the crowds, climb up onto a roof, move aside the roofing and lower their friend to in front of Jesus because they have faith that he can be healed.
But, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (MK 2:5)
So, naturally, this gets the immediate attention of the teachers of the law who are in the crowd, and around Jesus, who are thinking to themselves “Who can forgive sins but God alone.”
Jesus response gets the heart of the issue. On one hand, we have a paralysed man with his friends who believe, in their hearts, that Jesus can and will make a difference in the life of their friend. And, on the other hand, the teachers of the law are denying in their hearts that forgiveness is possible except from God alone.
Even today, we have trouble receiving forgiveness, whether from a brother or sister. It doesn’t seem to matter whether that forgiveness is from a stranger in the street, or from our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ and his father God the Creator of the universe.
After all, even in the liturgy of our services today, the priest declares the words of forgiveness, but it is God who forgives us, who pardons us, and who delivers each of us from the burden of our sins.
The problem is that we hang onto those sins like we hang onto our baby teeth when we grow older – a memento that we were once children. It’s not like we can use them, it’s not like they can be used again. We’ve outgrown them, left them behind and moved forward in our life and our adult teeth.
In the same way we have a tendency to hang on to our sins, or the memory of them because we seem to be afraid to let them go, to shed them. But what would happen to the reptile if it refuses to shed its skin as it grows bigger? The skin confines, it restricts, it holds the reptile in one position until it has no choice but to let go of that old skin, to let go of that old life, and move forward into the new complete with a new skin.
Jesus reply, in regards to the thoughts of the teachers of the law gets to the heart of today. He says “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins … He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.’” (MK 2: 1 – 12)
We have that same opportunity; every time we come to God, to Jesus with our sins, our burdens, our problems we have the opportunity to get up, leave behind the paralysis of our past errors and problems, and move forward in life, cleansed from our past, our problems, our sins.
Each time we come together and proclaim the words of the confession, each time we receive God’s forgiveness in and for our lives. After all, the hardest words to say are ‘I’m sorry.’ The hardest words to hear are ‘You’re forgiven.’
But this is the very interchange we hear, that we see, not just in the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus by his friends, but also in today’s gospel, and as a consistent message throughout the gospels for each of us, still, today.
In today’s gospel, we see that the disciples are sent into the world, away from the scepticism and the negativity of Jesus’s hometown. They are sent out two by two to proclaim that all should repent. There are sent out with authority over demons. “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (vs 13)
The burdens we carry with us, in life, are just as debilitating today as they were in Jesus day. At the same time, there are still those amongst us who don’t accept the words of forgiveness because they hear the words spoken with human voices or because they cannot put down their burdens of sins and problems.
But, having said that, we, each one of us, has the same opportunity. The message remains the same, “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. … [and] many were sick [and they] cured them” (MK 6:12)
We know that the kingdom of God is near. We know that the words “your sins are forgiven” are as strong, if not stronger than the words “you are healed, get up and walk.”
What we need to remember is that when Jesus words and God’s love penetrates our hearts it has the power to change our lives. Then like shedding a heavy winter coat on a hot summer’s day, we are able to leave our burdens of forgiven sin behind, and face the world with new eyes, new hearts.
And we can continue to proclaim the words of the disciples to all the world so that the kingdom of God can continue to come closer, one heart at a time.