Archive for March, 2010

March 21, 2010

In today’s Gospel, several people are specifically named, and we are going to look at each one of them in turn, and try to figure out why the author chose to do this. This is because, in the other Gospels which tell this story, only Jesus is named, and I think that the author must have had a reason for doing this. First of all, let’s take a short look at the differences and similarities among the different accounts. According to Matthew and Mark, this event takes place at the home of Simon the leper, while Luke says that it happened at the home of a Pharisee, also named Simon. It is only John’s Gospel which places it in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, in Bethany. None of the other Gospels tell us the name of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. Mark and Matthew’s account merely call her a woman, while in Luke’s Gospel, she is described as a woman who has led a sinful life. It is only John’s Gospel which claims that she is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Interestingly, it is because of this that many people think that it was Mary Magdalene who was willing to waste such expensive perfume. But, in actual fact, there is no record at all of her doing this. There is one other difference, which we will be discussing in some detail a bit later. Matthew and Mark comment that some of the people there objected to the cost involved in the anointing, claiming that the money involved in purchasing the perfume could have been used for helping the poor. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Simon the Pharisee objected, but not because of the cost. Rather, he was concerned that Jesus allowed this sinful woman to perform this act of anointing. It is only John’s Gospel which specifically names Judas as being the one who objected. There are people who look at these differences and see them as being a reason not to believe in the authenticity of the Gospels, but we need to remember a couple of things. First of all, the Gospels were actually written some years after Jesus lived, and they were likely not written by eyewitnesses. And, even if they had been written by eyewitnesses, we all know how easy it is for people to see the same thing and to report on it differently.
There is a fable from one of the eastern traditions which serves to illustrate this. Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant. “Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg. “Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail. “Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant. “It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant. “It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant. “It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant. They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.” “Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right. The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. As applied to our Gospel reading today, it can mean that each one of the Gospels has a part of the truth, and that the essential message is the same. No matter which version we use, we know that a woman, who may well have been Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, washed Jesus’ feet with a very expensive ointment, and was probably rebuked for it. The precise details are not important, as long as we understand the essentials. I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon that there were characters other than Jesus named in this Gospel, and I would like to take a look at them. First of all, there is Lazarus. In John’s Gospel, in the chapter right before this one, we read the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In fact, all of chapter 11 is concerned with Lazarus’ death and resurrection. We learned that Jesus had been deeply moved by the death of his friend, and that, even though he seemingly arrived too late to save Lazarus, he was able to raise him from the dead. However, it is at the end of this chapter, right after the miracle, that we realize that the Pharisees are determined to have Jesus killed, in one way or another.
The next character we will look at is Martha. I have had many discussions about Martha – Martha, the practical one; Martha, the one who doesn’t have time to sit at Jesus’ feet with her sister. We read: Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. And, of course, we know what Mary did. The other day, I had a brief conversation with someone about the whole Martha/Mary contrast. In another visit to this house, Jesus commented that Mary had chosen the better part, while Martha was bustling around, trying to do what needed to be done. This has caused problems for people ever since, as those of us who are Marthas feel guilty because we don’t sit at Jesus’ feet all day long. But if it were not for the Marthas of the world, no one would eat, because no food would be prepared; no one would have clean clothes, because no laundry would be done; and let’s not even talk about the condition our houses would be in if no one cleaned them. But that’s a subject for another sermon. For now, let’s just say that I, for one, am grateful that we have Marthas, those people – both men and women – who do the countless, often thankless tasks that need to be done.
Talking about doing thankless tasks, let’s look at Judas next. Judas was the treasurer of the band of disciples, and in John’s Gospel, at least, he was the one who appeared to be the most upset with Mary for what she did. And, you know, in the other Gospels, the reproof was not nearly as upsetting. Because it makes sense, doesn’t it? Why on earth would someone take a year’s wages and waste it on perfume? No matter what your salary is, I can’t think of one person in this church who would do something so wasteful, so extravagant. But we need to hear the setting for what Judas said. We read: But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put in it. Up until this point, we had not heard anything really negative about any of the disciples. Well, all right, every so often we think that they are really stupid, because they can’t seem to understand what Jesus is telling them, but we had no suggestion that one of them could be evil, that one of them could be still a sinner. We knew that Matthew used to be a tax collector, but he wasn’t any more. But all of a sudden, we see this not-very-pleasant side of Judas, the keeper of the money bag. We have talked several times about how people have special gifts, and we must assume from this reading that Judas’ special gift was to look after money – to pay the bills, and keep an accurate accounting of the money which came in and how it went out. To me, this is a prime example of how, unless we keep God first, last, and always in the forefront, our talents may become twisted, and we start to abuse the gift that was given to us. We see it in corrupt politicians, who use their talent to manipulate people to gain more power. We see it in some televangelists, who use their gift of public speaking to persuade people to part with money they don’t really have. And here we saw it in Judas, who seemingly saw nothing wrong in taking the money in the common purse for his own use. And he covered it up by blaming Mary for wasteful extravagance. I mentioned earlier that the other gospel accounts of this event did not name Judas specifically, and many people have wondered why John’s gospel did. Some commentators suggested that it was to show that Judas was evil, and that John did this to prepare us for the betrayal that was to follow. I don’t agree. I think that Judas was named specifically so that we could, guiltily, see ourselves in him. Judas was prepared to betray Jesus, and how many times each day do we do just that? Judas did not have faith in Jesus, which is why he betrayed him. Every day, we, also followers of Jesus, show a similar lack of faith, when we refuse to trust that God has great plans for us. We don’t have the faith that we need to invest ourselves – whether it be through time, money, or talents – into God’s care. In a few minutes, we will be having our annual congregational meeting, at which time some of you may be asked to give of yourselves. There is a reason why you are asked, and it is because someone sees a particular talent that you may have, one which can be used to the glory of God here in Québec City. But I am moving ahead of myself here. We haven’t finished discussing the characters yet.
Now, we come to Mary, Mary who is really the centre of this reading, even more than Jesus. Mary is the one who, in the last chapter, dared to take Jesus to task, crying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Today, Mary was back at Jesus’ feet, but there was a difference. Today, instead of just sitting quietly and listening, Mary started a controversy that has been going on ever since. She poured expensive perfume over Jesus feet, and dried it with her hair. But was that all that this was – an extravagant foot-washing ceremony? No, there was much more to it than that. After Judas said his piece, Jesus rebuked him, saying two things. The second one has been used ever since as a justification for not giving extravagantly, for not giving of our time, our talents, our treasure. “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” This sentence promotes a defeatist attitude, an attitude that says, “Well, there’s not much I can do anyhow, since there will always be poor people.” Well, yes, there will, but that is not the point. Mary gave extravagantly; Judas did not. Who was praised? Mary. Who was rebuked? Judas. And here, today, many of us do give extravagantly, but, like Judas, our extravagance goes in the wrong direction. Like Judas, we focus on the wrong things. We need to redirect our energy; we need to refocus. If, in an effort to work for this church, we focus on what OTHER people are doing – or not doing – to make things work, that will not fix any problems. If we focus on the problems that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has, that will not fix any problems. If we focus on the problems that we have as individuals, that won’t help either. What it will do is this. It will make us feel frustrated. It will cause us to resent things. It will make us anxious. So many times, people focus on problems, when what they need to focus on is solutions. As members of the church, we need to focus on God.
When I was in seminary, a group of us used to meet once a week for prayer. One of the members always began our meeting by asking, “What is the state of your soul?” I had thought it was original with him, until one day I discovered that John Wesley used this question with his congregation on a regular basis. But no matter where it came from, I think that it is a great question. “What is the state of your soul?” And it isn’t a question that we ask often, or, indeed, one that we feel too comfortable with. We are so busy in the church, planning meetings, going to meetings, worrying about money, that we lose focus of God, we forget about the state of our souls. Look back over the past few weeks. I would be willing to bet that most of us were concerned about who would win Olympic gold than about the direction in which our lives are taking us. We discuss buying a new car more often than we discuss seeking God’s will for us. We worry more about whether our children will do well in school or on their hockey team or in their dance class than whether or not they will grow up to be the kind of people who love the Lord and who show that love in their lives. And here, in St. Andrew’s, there are times when we seem to be more concerned about physical things than spiritual ones. We focus more on the problems than on the problem solver – God almighty. Granted, there are problems, and they need to be solved, but they need to be solved through a God-centred focus. And there are ways we can do this. First, we must recognize our individual and collective strengths and virtues. Not all of us have the same gifts, and we should all not expect to be able to do the same things. Second, we must recognize that we are going to struggle. Nobody ever said that things were going to be easy. A musician does not become great without hours of practice. A Christian must work at his or her relationship with God. Salvation is free, but a relationship with God requires work. For the past few days, and continuing into next week, the Proclamation is going on in this church. For some people, this is the first time they have read Scripture, other than on Sunday morning. And that brings me to the next aid we have – Scripture itself. Read it regularly, study it, apply it, and you cannot help but become stronger. Of course, we cannot forget prayer. Some people say that they are not good at praying extemporaneously, but that is not something that you have to be good at. Jesus gave us the perfect prayer, in the Lord’s prayer. It contains everything a prayer should have – praise, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication. Study that prayer, and you will know what to say when you pray yourself. And here is the really scary part of problem solving. Be prepared to change. I think of the difference between a river, whose water is constantly changing, and a stagnant pool which sits in the woods and rots. If people are not prepared to change, then they will become stagnant pools. If we are open to God, then we will be open to change. Now, nobody said that change would be easy, but it is necessary. I found it interesting that, right in the middle of the word “growth”, we have the letters “O-W”. This tells me that there could be some uncomfortable times ahead, but if we are focused on God, then we will come through them stronger and more vital than before. Jesus is now turned towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Let us turn with him, with a clear vision for us and for St. Andrew’s. Let us focus on the one whom we follow, in the sure and certain knowledge that he will be with us. Thanks be to Go

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March 14, 2010

First of all today, I want to draw your attention to the order of service as printed in the bulletin. You will notice that this fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday, and that is a word I want you to think about for a bit. The word means “rejoice”, and it is almost a forerunner of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Denominations other than the Presbyterian one take special notice of this day. For instance, I was speaking with Christian Schriener the other day – he is the minister at Holy Trinity Cathedral just down the road, and he told me that he would be wearing his pink stole this Sunday. During the rest of Lent, Anglicans wear purple stoles. Some churches forbid the use of flowers in the sanctuary during Lent, except for this one Sunday. Traditionally, during Lent, the organ was only played on this day. In churches which use an Introit rather than a Call to Worship, the one which is used is from Isaiah, and goes like this: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her, for you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts. You will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance. I think that this idea of Laetare Sunday is particularly appropriate when we combine it with today’s scripture, but more about that later.
Today’s Gospel reading contains one of the best-known parables – the story of the Prodigal Son. Most people who read it finish with a sense of relief, that the son has been returned to his father, and that everyone lives happily ever after. The father rejoices, because his son has come home; the son rejoices because he has been welcomed home, and everyone is happy. We tend to look on it and place ourselves in the place of the prodigal, with God being represented by the forgiving father. We know that, just as the father forgave his son and welcomed him home, so will God forgive us whatever we do and welcome us home. In this sense, then, we identify with the Prodigal, the one who came to his senses, and came home.
One of my favourite hymns, one which was used at my father’s funeral, is Amazing Grace, which was written in 1779. The author of that hymn – John Newton – identified himself with the prodigal son. As a young man, he left home, and went to sea, where he lived a wild life, mocking Christians wherever he went. One of the ships on which he worked was a slave ship, and the tune of Amazing Grace is the tune of one of the songs that the slaves brought with them from Africa. This tune stuck in his head, and, years later, when he realized that he had not been living the kind of life he should have been, he was able to fit it to the words we know so well. “I once was lost, but now am found”, wrote Newton, and that is the point of today’s Gospel reading. The story of the prodigal son is only one of the three stories Jesus told at this time, and we will talk about the others on another Sunday. For now, we will focus on the Prodigal Son, and the joy surrounding his return.
Many of us are parents, and we can identify with the father in this story. No matter how angry our children make us, we still love them. I have often wondered why the father gave his son the inheritance. He was not obliged to do this. In fact, in Jewish law, he should not have done it. It was expected that the land in a family would stay in the family, that it would be passed from father to son. I would imagine that the father had to sell some of his land in order to give his younger son what he wanted. And, after the young man received his inheritance, what did he do? He left home, and was not seen again. At least, he was not seen until he needed something. As you know, my son right now is overseas. He called me the other night from Dubai, and it was wonderful to hear from him. He and I are very close, and when he is in Canada, we speak regularly. I know what he is doing, what is happening in his life. And when he leaves the country, we try to stay in touch as often as we can. But this father – he didn’t know. He must have gone to bed each night wondering and worrying. Is my son all right? Is he living a good life? Will I ever see him again? And then, all of a sudden, while the boy was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. He was filled with joy because his son – his youngest child – the one who had been lost – had finally come home.
But, you know, not everyone is happy in this story. I am not going to ask you who is unhappy because I made that mistake once when I was doing a children’s story. I asked them who was not happy to see the prodigal son return, and one little boy shouted, “The calf !” So, rather than ask you, I will tell you. The older son was pretty angry. We read: The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” And he is right. And I think that many of us can probably identify with the older brother, the one who did what he was supposed to do, the one who stayed home and helped his father. I think that many of us who are the oldest child in a family can especially identify with the older brother, and can understand his resentment.
Those of you who are the babies in your family have probably never thought about it, but I can tell you that us oldest siblings thought that you younger ones were pretty spoiled. We thought that you got away with doing a lot of things that we would never have done.
I can remember resenting the fact that my younger siblings were able to stay up as late as I was, and that they got certain privileges sooner than I did. I was not allowed to go to a movie at night until I was 14, and my sister was going to the evening show by the time she was 10. Where’s the fairness in that? And that’s what most of us are about – fairness. We think that, if we do what we should do, then we will be rewarded. And, like the older brother, we resent other people being rewarded when, as far as we are concerned, all they have done is make a mess of their lives.
A lot of us can really identify with the older brother. We get up every day, and go to work, and do the right thing, just like the older brother. The older brother was the responsible one. But we don’t know if he was responsible because he really wanted to be, or out of a sense that he had no choice in the matter. He was the only one left when the younger brother decided that he wanted to leave home, and, in his culture, it was expected that the oldest child would be responsible for the parents. So here he was, willing or not, but he was doing it. Then, the prodigal returned, and we know what happened.
Actually, I don’t think that the older brother was really upset when the younger one returned. What really irked him was the party. Fine, let him come home, but let him come home as a servant. Fred Craddock, in one of his sermons on the Prodigal Son, said, “It is that party which is so offensive. The older brother has a point: of course, let the penitent come home. Both Judaism and Christianity provide for the return of sinners, but to bread and water, not fatted calf; to sackcloth, not a new robe; to ashes, not jewelry; to kneeling, not dancing; to tears, not merriment” The prodigal, when he decided to come home, wasn’t expecting a party. He said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” If that had happened, if the father had “hired” his son, then the older brother, I think, would not have been angry. He would have accepted his brother, and, in time, would probably have welcomed him back into the family – after a suitable penance had been served.
The older brother seemed to have forgotten that he would inherit everything after this father’s death. He forgot that he had been living a good life, supported by his father while the younger brother had been squandering his inheritance. All he could see was the fact that the younger brother was being given a party, and he didn’t like it. How many of us are like that? We are happy with what we have, until we see what someone else has. It reminds me of a story about an Irishman. Of course, being this close to St. Patrick’s Day, we have to have a story about an Irishman, don’t we? Anyhow, it seems that this Irishman died, and when he got to heaven, St. Peter said, “Who are you?”
“My name is Pat,” he replied. “I am a proud Irishman. I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and I died on St. Patrick’s Day, marching in the parade.” “So you did,” said St. Peter. “Welcome to heaven, Pat. I am sure you’ll be very happy here. Here’s a little green cloud for you to drive around in, and a harp for you. Every time you push this button on the harp, you will hear it play When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
So Pat set off on his green cloud, quite pleased with himself. However, a few days later, as he is driving along the highway, he is overtaken by a large pink and white cloud, with tail fins. This cloud is being driven by a Jewish man, and in the back there is a huge organ, even bigger than David’s, and it is playing the Hallelujah chorus even better than we heard it at Christmas. Not only that, but at the push of a button, the organ can play just about any piece of music you could imagine. Well, Pat gets pretty upset, and off he trots to have a chat with St. Peter.
He says, “St. Peter, my name is Pat, I’m a proud Irishman. I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, died on St. Patrick’s Day, marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I come up here to heaven and I get this tiny, insignificant little green cloud and this little harp that plays only one song, ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.’ But, now I’ve just seen something that disturbs me. As I was driving down the highway, I saw a Jewish man. He’s got a big, beautiful pink and white two-tone cloud and a huge organ that plays all kinds of music and I, Pat the Irishman, want to know why!” St. Peter stands up from his desk. He leans over and motions Pat to come closer. Then he says: “Pat, shush! He’s the Boss’s Son!”
Of course, this is only a story, and not at all the way things will be. Because now, because Jesus Christ became man, we are all God’s sons and daughters. There will be no difference between us. There will be no distinctions, and no one will get upset because they perceive that someone has something better. This whole older brother thing won’t matter.
Now, I have to tell you that we all have a part of the older brother in us, even those of us who are younger siblings in a family, or those of use who are only children. We all tend to think that people get what they deserve – that people who work hard get rewarded, and people who don’t work hard get nothing. We think that this is fair, and we are all about being fair. Fortunately, God isn’t. Fortunately, God will keep forgiving us and taking us back, every time we slip. And God doesn’t keep accounts. He doesn’t have a book in which he tallies the good we do and the bad we do, so that he can make sure that everything balances out. That is not the kind of God we have, and I am grateful. I am sure that there are times when I am more like the older brother, just as there are also times when I am more like the prodigal, when I just have to come crawling back to my heavenly Father. And he is always there to welcome me, and to welcome you. The fatted calf is ready, the guests are invited, and the party can begin.
It is because of this that I think it to be particularly appropriate to read this Scripture passage on Laetare Sunday, on a Lenten Sunday of rejoicing. This is the day when we are beginning to look beyond Lent, beyond the cross, to the joy of Easter. We are to rejoice, as the father rejoiced when his son returned. Just as the younger son was redeemed when he returned home, we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ , and this is surely an occasion for rejoicing. The whole idea of redemption, the whole idea of renewal – these are the things which are highlighted today. God constantly renews his covenant with us. He did it with Noah, after the flood; he did it with Moses, as the Israelites trekked from Egypt to the Promised Land; in our reading today from Isaiah, we heard God renew the covenant once again. Throughout Scripture, we hear stories of redemption, renewal, and restoration, and we heard one again today in the story of the Prodigal Son, the one who once was lost, the one who was saved by his father’s love. On Laetare Sunday, let us rejoice. Rejoice over those who, like the Prodigal Son, come to their senses and return home. But rejoice in your own salvation as well. Just as the son was given a party, so too are we given a party, and our party is life eternal. It is given by God to all of his children, in this life and the next. Thanks be to God.

Annual Congregational Meeting

The Annual Congregational Meeting will take place on March 21st immediately after worship. Please bring your copy of the Annual Report with you. This will be a pot luck lunch.

World Day of Prayer Reflection

The theme of this World Day of Prayer is “Let everything that has breath praise God”, and it was reflected in the Scripture readings which we heard and the hymns which we sang this evening. We started with a paraphrase of Psalm 150, which I will now read in its entirety. Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre; praise him with tambourine and dancing; praise him with the strings and flute; praise him with the clash of cymbals; praise him with resounding cymbals; let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Well, that’s pretty clear. The psalmist is telling us to praise God in as many ways as we possibly can.
In the Presbyterian Church, we believe that Scripture is our primary standard, and that everything we do should be Scripture based. Throughout Scripture, we are exhorted to praise God, and so that is what we do. However, in addition to Scripture, we also have what we refer to as secondary standards, and in Canada, one of these is a booklet entitled “Living Faith”. Section 7.3.1 of Living Faith states: The church lives to praise God. We have no higher calling than to offer the worship that belongs to God day by day, Sunday by Sunday. That also is pretty clear. And, in doing research for this reflection, I found that every denomination insists on this praise, insists on this worship. All reformed denominations believe that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
A few years ago, the 98th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada appointed a committee to produce a songbook aimed specifically at making songs of praise available to congregations. Wilfred Moncrieff, who was my father’s minister when I was growing up, was the convener of this committee, and they named the final result Praise Ways. In this little book you will find traditional tunes like Amazing Grace, which has been a part of the Christian tradition since before the Civil War in the United States. You will find songs which are used in Sunday School – songs like Give Me Oil In My Lamp. These are songs of praise which resound through the ages, and which lead to the development of the whole praise song tradition, popular in many churches now.
So we know that we are to praise God, we are to glorify God, with every breath we take.
But, according to our theme, and according to the Psalmist, it is not only people who are to praise God. Just listen to these words from Psalm 148: Praise him, all his angels. Praise the Lord, great sea creatures, wild animals and cattle, small creatures and flying birds.
But why are we to praise God? In our human way of looking at things, there are two types of people who require great amounts of praise. We must praise those who are insecure, so that they may gain confidence. And we must praise those who are arrogant, because, if we don’t, they can turn on us. But somehow, neither of these types can even come close to describing God. And yet, “Praise the Lord” is the most frequently repeated command in all of Scripture, even more than the commandment to love one another. I don’t know how many of you have been to a Pentecostal service, but preaching there is frequently interrupted by some member of the congregation crying out, “Praise the Lord”, or “Praise Jesus”, or something similar. Somehow, I can’t picture this happening in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Québec City. I think that most of us would be rather taken aback if it did happen. When I read from Psalm 148, I wonder how many of you questioned the psalmist’s sanity when he urged the sea creatures and other animals to praise the Lord? Well, it gets even stranger when he tells the sun, moon, and stars, and even lightning and hail, snow and winds to praise the Lord.
So let’s try to figure this out. We will start with us. What do we praise? Well, think about things you enjoy. Let’s say that you move to a new city, as I recently did. People are constantly asking me what I think about Québec, and I tell them that I love it. I have no trouble saying that, and will say it over and over. Recently, I started reading Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes, and if you asked me about it, I would have no problem telling you how much I am enjoying it. Think about being a new parent, or visiting someone with a new baby. The joy of this new life overflows, just as the cup in Psalm 23 overflows. So we praise, first of all, what we enjoy, what gives us pleasure.
There are other things we praise, because we respect them, because we believe that it is appropriate to praise them. We will praise Shakespeare’s plays and Tchaikovsky’s music because they have withstood the test of time, and because other people praise them.
And that is another way to look at praise. We praise what other people praise, and this also works in reverse. If we like something, if we think that it is worthy of praise, then we expect others to react in the same way. For instance, after I saw the newest Star Trek movie, I urged friends who are also fans to see it. I would not say to them, “I just saw the greatest movie, but I think that you will hate it.” And this is what the psalmist does. He finds God to be praiseworthy, and then urges us to do the same thing. In Psalm 34, we can read, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Here, the psalmist is telling us that he has already done this, and that he expects us to do it, too. He is so filled with the joy of God that he must share it with others, and that is what our praise of God will do. By praising God, we are sharing him with others, especially when we do it in community with those who share this earth with us, as we are doing on this World Day of Prayer.
On this day, people in every country are praising God, using the same booklet you are holding. They may have chosen slightly different hymns than we did, but you can be sure that they are all praising God.
Now, let’s look back at some of the things we praise. If we praise a book, some might say that we are attuned to the written word, which is not really important to many people. If we praise a Joannie Rochette or a Sydney Crosby, some might say that we are fans of athletic endeavours, also not really important to many people. But, if we praise God almighty, then we are attuned to the creator of the universe, and what could be more important than that?
A long time ago, in another life, I was a free-lance journalist, and my editor told me that my articles should answer specific questions – who, what, when, where, why, and how. We have dealt with these questions somewhat in our Litany of praise, but I would now like to apply these to our theme, and to the Psalm from which it came.
Who? This is really a two-part question, as it asks, first of all, who should be praised, and secondly, who should do the praising. Well, our theme answers both questions, as it says, “Let everything that has breath praise God.”
What? What are we to do? We are to praise God. That is quite simple. That is what we are commanded to do, and that is what we take delight in doing.
When? How many of us think that the only time we praise God is during community worship? I tell you, every day of your life is a song of praise to the one who made you. When you open your eyes in the morning, and look at the beauty surrounding you, you praise God. When you eat the food that he provided, you praise God. When you go to sleep, thanking God for another day, you praise God.
Where? Let’s go back to Psalm 150, where we can read: Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Well, we are in the sanctuary right now. We have praised God already, and we will praise him again. Here, we are urged to praise God in public, with a community of faith. But more than that, we are urged to praise God in him mighty heaven. To me, this means that we are part of a great community of believers, and not only the ones who sit in the pews beside us each week. We are connected with the Christians who worshipped in the catacombs, during the early days of the church. We are connected with Martin Luther, with John Calvin, with Thomas Aquinas, with Mother Theresa. We are connected with Chinese peasants who are now able to read the Word of God in their own language. You and me, and all believers, present and past, we praise God here, in the sanctuary, and in his mighty heavens. That pretty much covers everywhere, I think.
Why? We worship God because we can. We worship God because we must. We worship God because we are commanded to do so. Our psalm reads: Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. That is why we praise God. We know what he has done; we are familiar with his acts of power – from creation to redemption – God never ceases acting. And because we know his acts, because we know what he has done, because we know that we are included in his acts, we praise him for his greatness.
How? What methods are we to use to praise God? Again, let’s look back at Psalm 150. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre; praise him with tambourine and dancing; praise him with the strings and flute; praise him with the clash of cymbals; praise him with resounding cymbals. Of course, there are other instruments used to praise God. We have heard the organ used today, and we will hear it again. But let’s just take a quick look at some of the instruments that were mentioned specifically in the psalm.
The trumpet is often associated with war. As God’s people, we must be ready for conflict with this secular society in which we live, and we must be ready to follow the trumpet. One of my grandmother’s favourite hymns – which seems to have fallen into disrepute among some people today – was Onward Christian Soldiers. One of these days, I am going to use that hymn, and even preach a sermon on it.
Some translations of Psalm 150 use the word “lute” rather than “lyre”. The lute provided bass notes, as a kind of accompaniment to the music. Compare this to the neat of your heart, which accompanies all of your praises.
The harp is associated with King David, and is known as an instrument which soothes. If you remember the children’s TV show The Friendly Giant, you will remember that Rusty frequently played a kind of lullaby on a small harp.
The tambourine is still used as a rhythm instrument, and was often used to accompany dancing. Think of gypsy dancers, who accompanied themselves with tambourines. Dancing means celebration, and the tambourine is therefore associated with celebratory praise.
The flute was often used at funerals, which are meant to be a celebration of a person’s life. We probably need to praise God even more during times of mourning than in other times. It is easy to praise God when all is going well; it is harder and therefore more meaningful to praise him when we are sorrowing.
Cymbals, in ancient Israel, were used to express ecstasy. And when I think about the great mystics of the church, people like Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, or Thomas Merton, I can see the relevance of this instrument being used to praise God.
And for those who are not musical, well, we can praise God in other ways. We can praise him with our voices – in song and in prayer. We can praise him with our bodies, by caring for them as he would want us to. We can praise him through our concern for other people, and with our concern for the earth. It is so easy to praise God, and he is so deserving of all our praise that it is no wonder that our sisters in Cameroon chose as the theme Let everything that has breath praise God.

March 7, 2010

Most schools have a motto of some sort, and the motto – at least when I was in school – is usually written in Latin. I suppose that people think that this adds a touch of class to the coat of arms, to have a Latin tag running across the bottom of it. The high school I went to has as its motto “Scientia et Veritas”, which translates as “Knowledge and Truth”. An OK, motto, but nothing really inspiring or exciting. My cousins, on the other hand, now their school had a great motto! “Carpe Diem”, which translates as “Seize the Day.” It became really popular a few years later, when Robin Williams used it in the movie Dead Poets’ Society. But I wonder if many people really know what it means? In the movie, Williams’ character meant to inspire the boys he was teaching; he wanted them to do the things they wanted to do, before it was too late. Most people translate this into enjoying life, into doing things that will make them happy. And that’s not entirely wrong. Nor is it entirely a bad thing. However, in today’s Gospel reading, we see another interpretation of it. No surprise there, as Jesus was known to look at things from a slightly different angle than the rest of us!
First of all, a bit of background information is needed. Unfortunately, there are no records of Pilate’s soldiers killing worshippers in Galilee as they were about to make their sacrifices, but that kind of thing was not uncommon then. Jews were persecuted by Rome, and the soldiers may not have even bothered to report it. But the people heard about it, and came to Jesus to tell him. They could not believe that people who were about to honour God had been killed in such a manner, so that their own blood mingled with the blood of the sacrifices. Jesus’ reply probably shocked them, as he said, “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than the other Galileans because they suffered that way?” Then he answered his own question with a vehement “I tell you, no!”
Next he went on to talk briefly about 18 people who had been killed in Siloam when a tower fell on them. He asked the crowd, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Again, he answered his own question in the same way. “I tell you, no!”
Now the crowd listening to Jesus assumed that, because the Galileans had been killed, they must have been sinners, or God would have prevented it from happening. And the people in Siloam, on whom the tower fell – well, as far as most people were concerned, this could only have happened if they deserved it – if they had done something bad, something worthy of punishment. We have seen this many times in Scripture – people assuming that misfortune was the result of sin. Remember the blind man whom Jesus cured? The one about whom the crown asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And by now, the reply shouldn’t surprise any of us. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus.
Now, I could take this text and preach on the whole idea of bad things happening to good people, but I don’t think that this is the point of it. I think, instead, that we need to look at Jesus’ next statement. He says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” As I said, the world view of Jesus’ listeners that day was that sudden death was a punishment for sin, and that, since they were not sinners, they were safe from retribution. Things were going well in their lives, they had no need to repent. After all, they followed the law, for the most part; they made the ritual sacrifices; they did what they were supposed to do. So they figured that they would live to a ripe old age. But Jesus wanted them to realize that sudden death was NOT punishment – that it could happen to anyone at any time, and they should be prepared. And this brings me back to the motto Carpe Diem – seize the day. This was the point that Jesus was making. We do not know the hour or the day, so we must always be ready.
But then, after advising the crowd that they must always be ready, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree, the tree which was being given one more chance. The landowner was upset because the tree had been growing for three years, but had produced no fruit, so he ordered it to be torn down – probably to make room for a tree that would do what it was supposed to. Now, the landowner wasn’t asking the impossible of the fig tree. He wasn’t asking it to produce olives. He had planted a fig tree, and he expected to get figs from it. In the same way, God has given us gifts, and he expects us to use them, to develop them. He does not expect us to be something we are not, but rather what he intended us to be. We have spoken in the past about our gifts, about how every person has some gift or other. But we haven’t really spoken about the responsibilities that come with the gifts. Some people who are here today have nice singing voices. Some have the ability to paint beautiful pictures. Some of us are better at dealing with people. The point is that we all have some natural ability, just as the fig tree should have had the ability to bear figs. The secret is to find out what our natural abilities are, and to develop them. And the people who develop their natural abilities are recognized by others. The person who develops his mathematical ability is called a genius. The person who develops her musical ability can become a star. To become a genius, to become a star, you must first figure out your natural ability, and then put the maximum effort into developing it. And that’s what the landowner expected of the fig tree. Tonight, at the Oscar ceremonies, we will see people being recognized for developing their particular gifts. But the fig tree – well, the fig tree had not done what it was expected to do. It had not produced figs, and the owner had decided that it was time to cut his losses.
The servant, however, persuaded the landowner to wait one more year. He promised to take special care of the tree, to fertilize it. Now, the Greek word that was used was kropia, and this – to the people listening – was a truly disgusting word. It is often translated as dung, which is more polite than the word itself was, and it was not something which was talked about in polite society. So here was Jesus, first of all challenging their world view, and then, when he seemed to be easing off a bit, to be telling them that they had a chance for redemption, he tosses this word at them. We tend to gloss over it, and say that the servant was going to fertilize the tree, but people who are gardeners know that, especially in those days, there was one thing that was used for fertilizer, and that it wasn’t very pleasant to work with. Nor is putting in a maximum effort to develop your natural ability. Practicing six hours a day can make a great pianist. Training six hours a day can make a champion figure skater.
As Christians, we have the natural ability to worship God, and to live as he wants us to. But do we? How often, if God were to come looking, would he find us not living the life he expects us to live? How often would he find us like the fig tree, not producing fruit?
Carpe Diem is a good motto for all of us. A friend of mine decided this year to take the trip of a lifetime, and she and her husband went to Chile. Of course, you know what happened. There was an earthquake, which happened right at the end of their vacation. They are still in Chile, and hope to be able to fly out on the 12th, almost two weeks later than they had originally planned. But there were many other people in that country who won’t be going anywhere because they were killed – their lives were cut short by the force of nature. None of these people had any warning that they were about to die. Unlike the fig tree, they were not given time. The tree was given time – a window of opportunity, if you like – in which it could change. But people rarely are. In the case of sudden, unexpected death, the window slams shut. I wonder, if we actually knew the hour and the day, what would we do? How would we seize the day?
Our lives are filled with these endings, some expected, and some not. I have often heard parents wishing that their babies would grow up, so that they could stop washing diapers. Then they wish that their toddlers would grow up, so that they wouldn’t need baby sitters any more. The parents are too busy making a living, and trying to have their own lives, to spend much time with the children. But then, all of a sudden, the babies are grown up, and gone off to school, or to start a new life in another city. And the parents look back, realizing how short was the time they had together. There is a Harry Chapin song which talks about this. In this song, Cat’s in the Cradle, the child is constantly asking for the father to spend time with him, but the father is too busy. Then, when the child becomes a man, the father asks him to come and visit, but now the tables are turned, and he doesn’t have any time to spend with his father. I have often heard people say, “I wish I had spent more time with my parents.” Or, “I wish I had spent more time playing with my kids.”
Now, many people read Jesus’ words today as a threat. If you don’t produce, out you go! But I don’t see it that way. I see it as a wake-up call. Life is short. In the overall scheme of things, it is amazingly short. And in this parable, Jesus is telling us to make the most of every moment. He is telling us to use every opportunity we can to show our love for each other, to lessen the suffering of others.
In the book of Micah, we read in chapter 6, verse 8: What does the Lord require of you? And the answer which follows is very simple: To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. If we do this, then we will produce the fruit that God expects us to. Like the fig tree, we are living – particularly here, in this place, at this time – in ideal conditions. Even though we are in an incredibly secular society, there is no reason for us not to live as God requires. We are free to worship as we want, we are nourished each week by our faith community; we can be God’s faithful followers. But I wonder how often God looks at us, and sees that we are like the fig tree. Even under our ideal conditions, we often produce no fruit. And what do we do? Well, under the circumstances, I think that we do two things. First of all, we rely on God’s grace. We count on being given the window of opportunity which will give us time to change. And, having been given this second chance, then we act.
In our reading from Isaiah this morning, an invitation was extended to us. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” And, if we do this, Isaiah goes on to say, “The Lord will have mercy on him and God will freely pardon.” Both readings urge us to action, and both assure us that the rewards will be worth it. And the first action is internal. We need to admit that we were wrong, because this is the first step to forgiveness. We can rattle off the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, saying “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, but this is often done carelessly, with our minds elsewhere. I think that the fig tree parable should be taken as a wake-up call, as a gentle nudge that time is running out. Jesus was not trying to frighten his listeners – or us – into repentance. He knew, as do we, that fear doesn’t work.
Think about a child being caught doing something he shouldn’t – eating cookies, for instance. Dad notices that the cookie jar has been moved, and is, in fact, almost empty. He says, “Did you take the cookies? You know that I warned you what would happen if you did that again!” That isn’t going to encourage the child to admit his guilt. Most children would deny the deed completely, or, at most, admit to eating “just one cookie”.
And as adults, we do the same thing. Well, yes, I say, I may not be perfect, but at least I am not as bad as – and we fill in names of some perfectly dreadful people. It is better just to admit our faults, and then to do something about them, knowing that God is there, waiting – not to punish us, but to forgive us.
In fact, we have already been forgiven. And through God’s love we are able to seize the day. We are able to make the changes that have to be made. On this third Sunday of Lent, halfway to the cross, let us commit to making the changes we need to make. Let us commit to being the people God expects us to be. Thanks be to God.

February 28, 2010

The first thing I want to say is that I am not going to talk about the Olympics. I figure that the people who want to hear about the games have been watching television non-stop for the past two weeks, and the rest of you have been forced into it by default. So, this is an Olympic-free zone. There are two things I hope to cover in today’s sermon. You heard a little bit about one of them in the children’s story, and I will come back to that in a few minutes, but for now, let’s take a look at the first part of the Gospel reading, the part where the Pharisees came to warn Jesus about Herod.
The usual reaction of people to this is disbelief. The Pharisees? These people who have all along been trying to trap Jesus? These people who have been all along hoping to trick Jesus into committing blasphemy or treachery? They were warning Jesus? But let’s remember that not all the Pharisees were against Jesus. There were those like Nicodemus, who came to visit Jesus under cover of darkness, and Joseph of Arimathea, who would later give his own tomb so that Jesus could be buried. And these are only whose names we know. Surely, there must have been others. Anyway, some of these sympathetic Pharisees came to warn Jesus, saying, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” This was not the same Herod who ordered that the baby boys born in Bethlehem be slaughtered, but his son, Herod Antipas. Many of the Pharisees were closely involved with Herod, as the civil ruler of Jerusalem, and they would have heard about Herod’s plans. They knew that Herod and his court were starting to be nervous about this wandering prophet. Remember that this was the man who ordered the execution of John the Baptist after John accused him of immorality. And just think for a minute about the things Herod must have heard about Jesus. There were many wandering prophets at this time, but not all of them were able to perform the miracles Jesus did. And which of them claimed to have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? Which of them claimed to be the Messiah? Only Jesus. Did this mean that he would be rallying the people to rebel against Rome? Because, if it did, this would bring the wrath of Rome down upon Jerusalem, and the Jews would be slaughtered. So, as far as many of the Pharisees were concerned, the best thing would be to get rid of Jesus right now, before anything happened. The sympathetic Pharisees did not want this, and came to warn Jesus, as we have heard.
Now, Jesus’ reaction to this was surprising, to say the least! He replied, “ Go and tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’” He called Herod a fox! To us, this is not a really horrible thing to call someone, but to the people on Jesus’ time, it would have been a huge insult. Foxes were regarded as sneaky creatures, ones who would creep about in the night, stealing from others, living by wits rather than by strength. Here, Jesus was pointing out Herod’s weakness. Here he was saying that Herod was not a strong ruler, but one who toadied to Rome, one who did what Rome wanted him to do. And, as we already know, Herod was a bully. But we really don’t expect Jesus to react like that. Fine, let Herod know that he was not going to just disappear. Fine, let Herod know that he was not going to give in. But to call Herod a fox! Now, that was just asking for trouble, and we know that, most of the time Jesus didn’t do that. But sometimes he did. Sometimes he reacted in an all-too-human manner. Think about the money changers in the Temple, and how Jesus made a knotted cord – or whip – and drove them out. Think about the times he was upset with his disciples because they just didn’t get it. And this is one of the times when we see the human side of Jesus, when we see him treating Herod with contempt.
As Christians, we are told to love others, to forgive others, but there are times when it is necessary to be blunt, when it is necessary to call a spade a spade. A person who embezzles money must be called a thief. An unfaithful spouse is an adulterer. Even today, evil must be named and confronted, for this is the only way it can be defeated. Making excuses for bad behaviour is not what we are supposed to do. It certainly isn’t what Jesus did. You didn’t hear him – or John the Baptist – excusing Herod for adultery by saying something like, “He couldn’t help himself. He just fell in love.” No, John said that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, because she was his brother’s wife. And Jesus called him a fox. No matter the cost, there are times when evil must be named. There are times when a Herod must be called a fox. And Jesus did it, knowing what it would cost him, knowing that it could lead to his death.
And then he changed. He moved from anger to lamentation, in one of the few scenes in the New Testament where we saw his profound sorrow. Jesus looked down at Jerusalem, and he wept. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” So today’s Gospel is all about animals, from foxes to hens. But of course, we know that it goes much deeper than that!
The story I told the children today about the hippopotamus in the zoo in Memphis is quite true. Everybody wanted to name the baby hippopotami, but nobody was willing to risk the wrath of their mother to determine the gender of the babies. And I don’t blame them! From what I have been able to find out, an adult hippo can do some serious damage to a human. I would have been quite content to leave the babies until they got older, and were wandering away from mama to determine their gender. Or I would have given them non-gender specific names. In any case, I would not have been upsetting two tons of motherhood just to name creatures who don’t even respond to names in the first place!
The baby hippos were quite happy to stay close to their mother, and the frustrated officials finally named the babies Splish and Splash. Incidentally, according to the zoo’s website, Splish still lives at the Memphis Zoo with her mother, Julie.
These baby hippos were no different from any other baby animals. I remember a book I used to read to my children when they were small, called Are You My Mother? In this book, a baby bird fell out of the nest, and spent a large part of the day wandering around, searching for his mother. Of course, it all ends happily, but the point is that this baby bird knew that he needed his mother. New-born puppies who are taken from their mother too early may develop odd behaviours, such as inappropriate biting. Some animals who are taken from their mother too soon will even die. They just don’t know how to live without their mother taking care of them. Even bottle-fed lambs often die, simply because they miss their biological mothers.
It is really interesting to watch a mother hen at the end of the day. All day long, her chicks may have been scratching in the dirt, feeding themselves on grain tossed in by the farmer. But as evening draws in, each mother will call her chicks to her, and the chicks will go to the right mother. Now, I don’t know about you, but, to me, most hens look pretty much the same, and chickens even more. But somehow, these birds who are too stupid to come in out of the rain, know who their mothers are. The hens know who their chicks are, and they will fuss until all the chicks are safely tucked under their wings. The hens look considerably fatter than they actually are, but the chicks are protected.
In Labrador, we have birds called ptarmigan, who are really quite stupid. They don’t run from hunters, but sit there quietly, so they are easy to capture and kill. However, when there are baby ptarmigan involved, the mother – the ptarmigan hen – will lure predators away from her nest by pretending to be unable to fly. This is her way of protecting her young – she will give up her own life rather than allow the predator to get the babies.
And animal babies know where they are safe. They know that their mothers will protect them. No one has to tell them – this is all done by instinct. If, for some reason, a baby is separated from its mother, it will cry pitifully, so that the mother will recognize the little voice.
Why, then, don’t people know where they are safe? Jesus said, “You were not willing.” He said to Jerusalem, “You kill prophets and stone those sent to you.” Chicks come running to their mother when she calls, or when they sense danger. Puppies and kittens snuggle close to their mothers. Even baby hippopotami like Splish and Splash don’t wander far from the safety of their mother’s bulk. But people – people are not willing. They kill prophets and stone those sent to them. And God, Jesus, will not force them. He says, “You were not willing.” From our vantage point of the 21st century, we can see that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were being foolish, that they could not see who Jesus was. But we know! We would never turn our backs on Jesus, would we? Or would we?
We are called every day, and how do we answer? God calls us when we are troubled, when our lives seem to be falling apart. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And we don’t do it. We think that we have to carry the burden by ourselves. To me, that is one of the great joys of being a believer, that we don’t have to carry the burden by ourselves – that Jesus will help us, if we are willing.
We are called every day, and how do we answer? God calls us in our prosperity. John the Baptist said, “The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” It is because of God that we prosper, and through our tithes and offerings each week, we return some of what God has given us, if we are willing.
We are called every day, and how do we answer? We are called to rejoice, to praise God, to acknowledge his part in the goodness and beauty that is creation, that is our lives. That is the purpose for which we were created, if we are willing. We are called to come to God when we have turned our backs on him. Every week, in the assurance of pardon, we are told that God forgives us, no matter what. God will take us back under the shelter of his wings, if we are willing.
God called us for the first time at our baptism, when we became part of Christ’s family. Every week, this call is renewed when you show that you are part of the community of faith. Animals protect their young while they need it, but eventually, this protection stops. Mother birds drive their babies out of the nests. Other animals push their babies to independence. Even humans do it. There is an expression that defines a good parent as one who raises a child so that the child no longer needs the parent. Well, this might work – although I don’t completely agree with it. I still get calls from my children, which I think means that they need me, and I still miss my parents, which means that I still need them. But the point is that, at some point, we expect our children to be independent, and to live in their own places. A friend of mine once said that he was looking forward to the time when his kids would no longer be on the family payroll. Well, God doesn’t do that; God doesn’t put limits on the time he protects us.
Animals – including humans – care for and nurture their young for a limited time. God does it for eternity. In doing this, God does not say that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Rather, he says that, when it does happen, he will be there. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” To me, this means that, no matter what problems we face, no matter what fear affects us, no matter what temptation may appeal to us, we will never be alone, as orphans often are. We are protected, just as chicks are protected by their mother’s wings. We are comforted by God’s forgiveness, saved by Jesus’ death on the cross, and strengthened by the community in which we live.
Again today, we are called. Again today, Jesus wants to gather us to him as a mother hen gathers her chicks. The mother hen stretches out her wings to embrace her brood, just as Jesus stretched out his arms to be crucified, to protect a whole world of sinners. And all we have to do is to be willing, to take the shelter he offers.