08 March 2011

Transfiguration 2011


Exodus 24: 12-18

Matthew 17: 1-9

Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination spoke these last public words:

I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I‘ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know [tonight] that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy [tonight], I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

His words speak of climbing the mountain and of seeing the vision of the promised land. Both today’s Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson speak about mountain top experiences. Moses enters the cloud which covers the holy mountain, but inside experiences the awesome brilliance of God’s presence. Much later in the book of Exodus, Moses returns from the mountain of the Lord and his presence and his own face shines so that the Israelites are afraid to approach him.

This story seems to be echoed in today’s Gospel story. Jesus brings Peter, James and John up the mountain with him. Jesus’ appearance changes before them and he shines with a holy light. A mysterious cloud descends upon them and they perceive Elijah and Moses.

Peter babbles on – probably not knowing what to think or say and they hear God’s voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” And the disciples hit the dirt in fear.”

This sounds like a reasonable response to me. As they descend the mountain Jesus tells his disciples not to speak of this until after he has been raised from the dead.

What a strange story. What are we to make of it all?

First of all, it is important to understand that an experience of the Holy cannot be explained in words. And the words of the Gospel here have all the classical marks of a religious experience. It is not something to be completely understood. They speak of an awesome experience which defies description. What exactly happened that day? Well, God happened! Can we comprehend it all? No, but we can experience it.

The disciples have a glimpse of the resurrection glory that Jesus will have. But first, they must descend the mountain and Jesus must move forward to the death of which he speaks. They have their mountain-top experience, but then they must descend back into the valley. People might seek those amazing mountain-top experiences, but it is in the valley that we actually live our lives.

Jesus descends with the disciples to return to the people where they live. Our God is a God who descends to be among us.

So how can we experience our own mountain-top experiences, and how can those experiences make a difference to how we live?

Well, the disciples come to their experience by following Jesus. That’s how we get to the mountain-top as well. That was how Martin Luther King Jr. came to his mountain-top, he walked faithfully with his lord, Jesus, following his example in his life.

It’s a bit of a trek. It’s not usually arrived at in a simple straight line. It’s a day by day journey going uphill and down, ascending bit by bit until you reach the top. Sometimes it feels like an arduous journey.

Martin Luther King Jr. got there by travelling a dangerous road of self-sacrifice and courage.

What must it be like at the top of the mountain? From it, Martin Luther King Jr. saw the promised land, even though he said he might not get there, he knew that his people would.

Would it not be tempting to try to stay on the mountain-top, and not return to the difficulties of the valley?

But you see, the mountain-top experiences cannot be wholly grasped and owned and kept. They provide us only with glimpses of glory. They give us but an inkling of a dream – a vision. They are fleeting, but they are real. And the difference they can make in our lives is that they can change the way we see the world. They can make us hope for more, and they can make us act with courage.

Sometimes when I read the story of the transfiguration, I wonder if it isn’t really about Jesus changing at all, but about the disciples changing. When Jesus touches them when they are flat on the ground in fear and lifts them up, it seems to be the same old Jesus. It was the same Jesus throughout this story, but they were given the gift of seeing a fuller reality.

This gift of seeing more can go with us back into the valley. I believe that the disciples would see more and more the glory of God even in their everyday lives.

When I think of mountain-top experiences I also think of a group of our parishioners who will travel to Honduras in the coming week. They will fly to the city of Tegucigalpa, way up in the mountains at an altitude of almost 1 km up. Their experience will be a combination of a mountain-top high as they see that their work will make a real difference to the kids they serve, as well as seeing the valley of extreme poverty.

Perhaps the real gift of the experience to them will be that they will see a deeper reality that many people don’t even notice. Perhaps, like the disciples who followed Jesus, it will be they who are changed. And perhaps they will see clearly the face of Jesus in the boys and girls and the people that they meet.

It was first in the shanty-town where I worked in Uruguay that the scales fell from my eyes and I really saw Jesus in a poor man working in the garbage to try to feed his family. It was after this experience that Jesus started to show up more and more often in the faces of others.

I believe that our faithful group from St. Luke’s will see this too. And they will experience the amazing paradox of the Kingdom as they see and feel great hope in the midst of poverty. They too will have a glimpse of the promised land as they too are changed. My prayer is that all of us will experience mountain-top experiences too, and will be changed by our glimpse of this promised land. Amen.

05 March 2011

Celebration of New Ministry

Celebrating the ministry of our new Director of Youth and Family Ministry, Rev. Elliott Siteman
3 March 2011

Preached by the Rev. Dawn Leger

Thank you for the invitation to preach. What a wonderful time we had! You really do have a lovely parish.

Here is the sermon. I'm anxious to try podcasting, but I don't have garageband. BTW, sorry I didn't turn it off when I was finished!

Here you go. Hope to see you again soon,

Thank you for the invitation to preach and be a part of this wonderful celebration as my very dear friend and mentor, Elliott, joins the ministry of St. Luke's. I bring greetings from Trinity Aurora, our rector, Dawn Davis, an old friend of Elliott's, our wardens and our youth and children's ministry there.

I have known Elliott for about 10 years now. You see, Elliott is a bit of a legend back home. A Cape Breton boy, studied at the University of King's College, once our Anglican seminary. He has vests for every liturgical season! He is a diocese renowned thurifer-servers, you are in for a treat!-and became the one many students of Atlantic School of Theology turned to when we needed a straightforward teaching of Anglican liturgy. It is the rare cleric in our diocese ordained within the past 10 years who was not taught by Elliott or taught by one of his protégés...of which I am one. Although I still make some liturgical choices that make him cringe.

Mostly, I know Elliott from our days at AST. Elliott was in his last year at AST when I was in my first. After many processions as postulants in our plain white albs at our beloved Cathedral Church of All Saints, and then twice as many pints of Peculiar at Henry House, walks through Point Pleasant Park, shaking of heads over theological professors and evenings with Wendy-Faye and good friends waiting for phone calls from bishops, Elliott became the rector in Neil's Harbour, Cape Breton, which is 30 miles away from the end of the world. Meat Cove is actually the end of the world and was also in Elliott's parish. After 4 years there, I was thrilled when Elliott, Wendy-Faye, and Magdalene moved to the parish next to mine! I was THRILLED when Elliott was named my regional dean, mostly because it meant I was not named to be HIS regional dean.

There are two themes running through our celebration tonight, two values that were exemplified in the life and legend of David of Wales: outreach and service. David built a religious community in Menevia fiercely devoted to one another and to those who were hurting in the world around them. They were salt and light.

Let's think a bit about salt. I want you to imagine a steak, perfectly aged, fresh from the butcher, all ready to be seasoned for the grill. So, you take this steak, you pat it dry. Then you take a big mixing bowl of salt and you throw that beautiful steak into it. You shake that bowl, completely coating that steak with salt, a nice coating of salt, so much salt that it is white.

Yum? Not really.

That is not how you season a steak! That is not a recipe. Don't do it! To season a steak, you shake or grind a small amount of salt, in order to keep the juices inside that steak to flow out when you cut into it.

Now, imagine that steak is our kids and that salt is us, those of us who chart the course of our Church. Yes. It would be easier if the kids would just jump right in and saturate themselves in our ways. We have a great thing here, and why wouldn't the kids just want to jump right in?

But that's not really the point. It's not about what we expect of our kids. The point is who we are as church. If we are salt, then our saltiness is only of value when we are shaken out of that shaker in order to let the steak be its best, to let our kids be their best, using their gifts as God has called them to. Salt actually doesn't determine how the steak will taste. The spices and the steak do that. The salt simply helps the spices mingle together, with the steak, to bring about a new flavour. That's youth ministry. Our job is to recognize each young person as a complete Christian, as complete as any of us, and to see the hand of God working in their lives. Are you guys hearing this? You are God's chosen disciples. You are a full member of the Christian community and of St. Luke's today, with your energy, your insights and your gifts as leaders, musicians, prophets and teachers. As salt, we bring the resources together to enhance what youth and children offer us.

(Invite Elliott to the trancept)

It is a common practice at a celebration such as this to present symbols of this new ministry. Here's the thing. The symbols of youth and children's ministry are...well...less than dignified. For example; a common symbol would be bread and wine for the Eucharist. Well, in youth ministry, you will be challenged to explain the nature of Christ's presence...in pizza. (pizza box) Get to like this stuff. You will be eating a LOT of it, and enjoying the community that goes along with it.

Your youth ministry will have a soundtrack. There will be metal, techno, Gaga, Bieber...? along with Merbecke and Beethoven. Start your musical education (earbuds and iPod).

There will be tears. Thankfully, you have big shoulders and you have the hug down to an art form (teddy bear). Like this guy, you might want absorbent shoulders, too. You will use them.

You will be doing sleepovers. You are too old to sleep on the floor my friend. You will need an air mattress. (air mattress and coffee cup). Oh, and sleepover is a misnomer, because you won't sleep, so you will need some coffee, too.

You are old, my friend. So am I. That doesn't mean we are irrelevant. Your mission is to build relationships. Period. (broadband cable) Do not underestimate the importance of technology, not to be cool, but to build relationship.

You minister to everyone in St. Luke's families. Always know where to find and have quick access to toys for toddlers, diapers for infants, and a deep breath of peace and encouragement for young parents. (diaper bag)

You will pray. Light a candle (candle) for prayer:
for the parents who have been downsized and making ends meet
for the kid whose best friend is trying to sell her a joint
for the little one living with an impossible disease
for the only child on his first day of school

Games are critical. You must cultivate your skills to come up with a game or activity to suit the abilities, ages and moods of everyone gathered on a moment's notice. You will have succeeded when you create a game out of (oreos and cheez whiz).

Before I leave you tonight, I will tell you a story about the priest you have called to minister in your midst. He probably won't want me to tell this story, but speaks something very important about his character and his vocation.

As I said, Elliott was in his last year at AST when I was in my first. Near the end of that year, it was a Thursday, to make a long story short, I learned that the financial support I needed to continue on to my next year would not be available. It had nothing to do with my abilities, but with the process. I had quit a career to continue my discernment and begin this degree, and it looked like I could not return. We were a small, caring community, and word got around AST over the weekend.

I went to chapel on Monday morning and was met with great concern from friends. Mostly quiet hugs, good, gentle pastoral care. Next thing I knew, Elliott was on one side of me, Tom was on the other, they grabbed me by the arms, took me into the vestry and shut the door, saying "What the...?".

So, I burst into tears and told them what happened. In my anger and hurt, I told them maybe it was time for me to give up

Elliott looked at me. He pointed his finger. When you get this look, pay attention! He pointed his finger and said, "You are NOT giving up! You are coming back to school. If I have to send you a portion of my stipend every month so you can stay in school, I will do it! You are coming back!"


Thankfully, after a few weeks, things worked out, my process continued, I was able to return to school, and Elliott put that money to good use when Magdalene came along. But that day was pivotal in my vocation. Elliott's generosity and faith gave me the strength to trust-to trust that God loves me, that God walked with me, that God called me and continues to call me to serve the Kingdom. Four years later, Tom and Elliott presented me to be ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

I tell you this story to tell you something critical about Elliott's ministry. Elliott will walk with you through the messiest stuff in your lives. He will give all that he can, all that he has. He will strengthen you by his faith in Christ, as he embodies God's love in the sacramental and community life of St. Luke's. He will stop at nothing to express God's love to your youth and families. You will be blessed beyond measure.

Remember. This kind of self-offering can, sometimes, carry a heavy cost. Remember the words of Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples, "I have washed your feet. You also ought to wash one another's feet."

Youth and family ministry is your ministry. And yours. And yours. In a moment you will all be commissioned to this ministry in various ways. When you go home this evening, and as you get to know Elliott more in the weeks to come, pray for this ministry, pray for Elliott, pray for Wendy-Faye and Magdalene and ask God how you are being called to minister in this new expression of ministry. How are you being shaken?

Oh. And the oreos, cheez whiz and crackers. Break the kids up into teams and instruct them to build a structure with the ingredients. Once the structures are built, tell them the first team to eat their structure wins the game.

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, GO!

Epiphany 8 A

Proper 8 A – Epiphany 8

By Stuart Pike

Isaiah 49: 8-162

Matthew 6: 24-34

St. Luke’s Church

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The problem which many people might have with today’s Gospel message, as Jesus says “Don’t worry”, is that it often seems that there is so much to worry about. Perhaps Jesus’ message will be heard differently depending on who is listening. Someone who has all they need, a warm place to live and money in the bank, might hear this differently than those who have just lost everything they own in an earthquake. How does Jesus’ message preach to the destitute? Doesn’t it all just sound like platitudes? Is Jesus for real

Worry seems to be an essential part of survival in the 21st century. And if we lack imagination, all we need to do is to switch on the radio, or the TV and we’ll be given a dozen new things to worry about within a minute.

Worry drives our economy. It’s what puts up the gas prices, and makes us want to buy that next new item which falsely promises to take our worries away.

Whenever I hear this Gospel story I am reminded of the popular song by Bobby McFerrin: Don’t Worry, be Happy. It just seems to be such a happy go lucky song and today’s Gospel lesson seems to be heading in such a similar direction.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we are to eat, or what we are to wear. And he uses some beautiful imagery from nature as he speaks to his disciples. Look at the birds of the air, he says, look at the lilies of the field. One can imagine Walt Disney’s woodland creatures gathering about.

Jesus leads us along this path and it is so easy to follow him: Don’t worry, our heavenly father feeds the birds of the air. Doesn’t God care even more for you? And look at how God clothes the grass of the field. Aren’t you more important than this? Won’t God care more for you

Jesus eggs us on further. He says that instead of worrying, we are to strive first for the Kingdom of God, and then he says, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” It certainly sounds like a don’t worry be happy kind of message. That is, until the last verse of the lesson. Just when all the birds are happily chirping and the flowers are blooming in our imagination, the ogre shows up.

Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Bobby McFerrin’s happy music grinds to a halt and Jesus brings us back to reality.

Wait a sec, Jesus, Can’t we have the well-fed birds and the beautiful flowers back? What’s all this talk about today’s and tomorrow’s troubles? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

It seems that Jesus’ message isn’t so happy go lucky after all. And for me, this makes the message both real and meaningful.

Jesus is not speaking platitudes. His words are an invitation to seek and find God’s Kingdom in the world around, no matter what our circumstances are. Jesus doesn’t want us to deny the existence of trouble, but he gives us the secret of how to transcend it.

Note the way the Gospel story actually begins – not with Jesus’ words about worry, but with his admonition that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.

One of the strangest things which I have witnessed is how worry often seems to be so much more of a preoccupation in wealthy nations than in poorer nations. Could it be that this is so because our experience of material wealth makes it easier to serve wealth?

Jesus knows that it is all too easy for us to put our faith in wealth - to believe that money is our security for the future. But if we really believe in money that way, we have made an idol out of money and have started to worship it, instead of God.

God’s kingdom operates with completely different economic rules than the material world. The material world’s economy is an economy of scarcity and limits. In such a world, there is never enough. And if we live in that world, we worry. We become preoccupied with counting, saving, spending and hoarding.

The economy of God’s Kingdom is one of abundance: it is overflowing with God’s grace and love. In God’s kingdom, there is always enough because God’s love is infinite. Just like in our own families, love doesn’t have to be divvied up according to how big our family is. In families that have four children, those children don’t have ¼ the love of a child who is an only child. No, the love of those parents expands to shower all those children with love.

God loves us even more. As God says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t tell us that we’ll not have any trouble: rather it almost promises that there will be trouble. The great news of today’s Gospel is that we can choose to live in God’s kingdom, rather than simply the material world. Jesus asks us to strive first for God’s kingdom. If we do, everything else that we need will be given to us as well

In God’s economy, wealth becomes a tool, rather than an idol. It becomes a tool for us to use to further God’s kingdom, rather than something which enslaves us with worry.

A couple of weeks ago I said that God’s kingdom is not some place far away in space and time, but it can be experienced right here and right now. In fact, it can only be experienced in the present moment and it allows us to leave worry behind, even in the midst of troubles. Living in God’s kingdom now is what enables you to stop and really see the flower that graces the grass of the field. Or witness the bird that God feeds in his abundance. Or see the love which exists even in the desperate situation. No amount of money is worth the knowledge of God’s love in simple moments like these.

And this knowledge of God’s love is what will transform your life into one which is about building God’s kingdom and truly making a difference to the lives of others. Amen.

Epiphany 7 A

Sermon by Elliott Siteman

Will be posted soon.

13 February 2011

Charge to Vestry

By Canon H. Stuart Pike

St. Luke’s Church

Mark 1: 14-20

13 February 2011

As is our usual practice, this being our Vestry Sunday, instead of preaching a sermon today, I will now give you my charge to vestry and also invite all of you to attend our vestry meeting which follows this worship service in the Parish Hall.

I would like to make some small comment on our Gospel lesson today. This simple story of Jesus calling the first disciples is filled with spiritual power. Firstly, what kind of compelling presence did Jesus have that, his simple words “follow me” resulted in the Disciples literally dropping what they were doing and following Jesus?

What kind of compelling words does Jesus have for us? And how are we to discern what he is calling us to do? Jesus said to Andrew and Simon Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

What does it mean to fish for people? How can that be done effectively? And what do we do with them once we’ve “caught” them?

But perhaps the most meaningful thing to me in what Jesus says to us today are his words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Jesus preached that God’s Kingdom wasn’t just some pie in the sky place, far removed from our reality, or far, far into the future, or something that might happen only after our death. Jesus preached that the God’s Kingdom is in the here and the now. And when we realize that God’s Kingdom is also in the midst of us, that can really change how we make our goals and live our lives.

As followers of Jesus, then - as Church – our goals, our vision and our plans will look very different from other types of organizations. Our inspiration is very different. Its source is the one who can call us to drop everything to follow him and the one who can keep us looking for God’s kingdom and being builders of it right here and right now.

This is what Jesus calls us to do today, even as we meet as a vestry to plan our way forward into this new year.

I have seen many signs of God’s kingdom amongst us this past year, and I have seen how the people of this parish have been engaged in proclaiming or building God’s kingdom in the present day.

It is impossible for me adequately to express how grateful I am to be here in this parish, ministering alongside of you in this place. I often pause to reflect on the sheer quantity of parishioners who are engaged in the many ministries of St. Luke’s.

You understand that the ministry of a parish is shared with all the members of the parish. My role is as Spiritual leader, and supporter of your ministry. Together we can and do make a great difference. But it is not the quantity of volunteers here that makes the difference, it’s definitely the quality!

Our ministry together includes: providing for children in need; providing for ministry in Canada’s far north and overseas; directly providing food for the hungry right in our community and nearby as well as overseas; knitting, sewing and quilting to provide physical warmth and spiritual solace; reaching out to the bereaved, the sick and the lonely; advocating for social justice and for affordable housing; learning together about our faith and experiencing God in new ways through worship and spiritual practices; advocating for refugees; providing a caring and nurturing place for children and helping them to learn and to teach about God; bringing new people to faith; keeping our Church building open so people can find a spiritual oasis in a busy world; extending a welcome to everyone; celebration in so many ways; providing a social and caring place for seniors; supporting orphanages in Madagascar and Honduras; preparation for baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage; youth events; adult’s and children’s libraries; a prayer circle; Advent and Lenten Studies and other book studies; communion for people in their homes, or in nursing homes and senior’s residences; spiritual guidance and counseling; stewardship of our resources, our time and our abilities; parish dinners; special events; entertainment; Christmas Market; music; creating a space and time where people experience holy awe.

You might be getting the general idea of where I’m going here. And I’m only scratching the surface with this list. There are plenty of times that I find it hard to keep up with you. This is an exciting place to be because of the ministry which happens here and we are all blessed to have each other. Some of you work in the forefront and have your share of the limelight in this place. Many of you work away in the background, some of your work is almost invisible and known perhaps only by God. All of you are valued and I want to thank you.

Because all of you are so valuable, and because there are so many of you, you need to let me and the other staff know when you or your family need pastoral care or any other support. It is impossible for me to always know what is going on with everyone. I consciously try to make myself as available as possible. Please communicate with me and help me to do the best job I can to support you.

Last year we had some dreams and goals for the future. Some of those goals were about our finances. We wanted to be able to keep up to date with our diocesan commitments. I am so pleased to say that we were able to do so for the whole of the year, thanks to the excellent leadership of our treasurer and our division of resources and, of course, your stewardship. We were able to just squeak through December 31st in the black, though it was with the very slimmest of margins. A goal I would like us to have for this year is to end up ahead of budget so that we will be able to clear some more of our historic accumulated deficit from previous years.

Although we started last year owing somewhat less than $80 K on the new parish hall, now we have less than $20 K owing. This is a remarkable accomplishment and I hope that this gives us the impetus to completely pay off this debt and to celebrate it in true St. Luke’s fashion sometime in June.

This year, the Diocese of Niagara is partnering with the National Church to form the Annual Appeal which will share the funds raised one third to the National Church, one third to the Diocese and one third to the parish. This will be an opportunity for us to support justice and outreach programs at each level of our Church.

We had a dream about reaching out better to our children, our youth and families. A key strategy in this goal was to find someone who could be the Director of Youth and Family ministry here. This goal has taken a lot of time on my part and the part of a search committee which finally led to our hiring Elliott Siteman last month. Many of you have already seen or experienced how he is reaching out in this critical new ministry.

It is so important for all of us to understand that his presence alone is not the solution to fulfilling our goals, but that we all need to support this ministry by giving our time and abilities to it. He will provide the much needed leadership and support, but we must all be engaged in this ministry. He will remind us continually that our children are not only the future Church, but that they are an essential part of our present. We value our kids not only for whom they will become, but for who they are right now.

I have been very impressed with a relatively new direction which we have taken under the stellar leadership of Sharyn Hall. While we have continued all our charitable work, we have also been learning about advocacy and justice work, which not only responds to great need, but asks the tough questions of what are the root causes of the problem and tries to address those. I cannot say enough to adequately praise the work of the Advocacy Information Group and the breakfasts which they have hosted.

I have been deeply grateful for the ministry of two wardens who have been a great support to me over the last two years. Janice Skafel is the first Rector’s warden whom I chose myself. She and Terry Raybould, together have shown great faithfulness and leadership in a busy time in the parish. I have always been able to count on them for support. I consider them both to be friends. Although they are leaving their wardens’ positions today, I am grateful that they will continue on in other ministries in the years ahead.

And this brings me to my next point. This is the year that we welcome Elliott and his family, but it is also the year when we say goodbye to our Vicar, Sharyn Hall. Her ministry, wisdom and guidance has been invaluable to me in my first two years of ministry among you. I am so grateful to Sharyn for helping me find my feet in this place, because it has been a steep learning curve. Sharyn, you will be greatly missed by this parish and by me. Although it will be impossible to replace Sharyn, she and I will be reminding you that this Parish is big enough to need three Clergy on staff, along with our volunteer clergy. The wardens and I will initiate a process to find an additional clergy staff member. But, Sharyn, I must say that I don’t know how it is going to be around here without you. Without a doubt, though, God has more dreams for you and for us to live into.

In our vestry meeting which follows you will see a budget which will enable our plan to move forward in faith and to respond to Jesus’ call to us to follow him and to fish for people. Essential to this will be our need to be open to new people and new ways. Let us always remember that we exist primarily not for ourselves, but for others, and to share the message of God’s great love for all people, and shown to us through Jesus. May God bless this year to us that we might be builders of his kingdom. Amen.

Epiphany 5 A

Sermon for Sunday, 6 February 2011
by Sharyn Hall

Will be posted soon

31 January 2011

Epiphany 4 A

The Reverend Elliott Siteman Readings: Micah 6:8

St. Luke’s, Burlington Matthew 5:1-12

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

30 January 2011

(With the children)

What do you think of rules? Where do you have rules that you need to follow? What rules do you have at home, at school, with your friends?

What rules do you always follow? What rules do you wish you didn’t have to follow?

Why do you think rules are important?

Today we heard about some rules that God wants us to follow, and keep in our hearts.

Jesus had been teaching and healing a lot of people and he was getting tired. He decided to go away from the crowd by climbing a mountain. After a time his friends came to see how he was doing and they told him that the people have been wondering about the rules they should know if they were to follow him.

Jesus looked out and a whole bunch of people were sitting there, waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. What are the rules? What should we do? Jesus thought about it and started to talk to his friends. Jesus told his friends to be good to each other. Jesus said being good to each other would make people blessed – which is another word for happy.

Jesus gathered some friends around him and started to tell them what God wanted them to do; they wanted to know the rules. What are they supposed to do? Jesus helped them understand what God wants them to be doing.

So tell me what things we you do when we are friends. What happens when two of us want to play with the same thing? What do we do when one of us is really sad? When we have a job to do, like, for instance, putting all the toys back in their box, how can we make it easier for all of us?

When we do these things then we are beginning to follow the rules that Jesus told us through his friends. And when we do these things then we become blessings to others.

Thanks, now I have to have a word with the older folk…



We all have them, we all follow them, and we all hate some of them – judging by the way some people drive in this part of the world, some people really hate some rules – yet, in the end, we all need them…

Rules, keep our lives orderly and civilized.

Today we hear about the rules we are to follow in this life if we are to be blessed. First a bit of a piece of translation: the word we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel we translate as “blessed” in the original Greek - μακάριοι (mak-ar'-ee-oi) - has more of a feeling of contentment with ones life, a sort of happiness that surpasses giggles and enters the realm of being at peace with yourself.

So, “contentedly happy are the poor in spirit; contentedly happy are they that mourn; contentedly happy are the peacemakers; contentedly happy are those who are reviled and persecuted.”

And in contemporary Greek this word goes even further, as currently this word means “blissful”.

Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself here…

As I said, Jesus had just spent a lot of time and energy teaching and healing a huge crowd of people. They were all reaching out to him in their need and he gave of himself until he could give no more. So he escaped from them.

I know that the normal reading of this passage is to think that Jesus got up on a hill and preached to the crowd but when you read this passage a little more closely that is just not the case. Jesus went up a mountain to be refreshed and renewed.

The people he has just been with are hungry to be fed spiritual food. They are in need, with illness, poverty and full of fear. They are also hungry to know how they should live if they are to be rewarded by God.

They know the words of the prophet Micah who tells them “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” but they want to know HOW to do this… what RULES should govern them as they attempt this.

The crowds are probably becoming quite curious and start asking the disciples to tell them these rules. The disciples have no answers for them so they go up to Jesus, they seek him out.

Jesus gathers them together and then teaches them some very radical things.

The very people that they have been ministering to are the ones who are to be content, and who will be rewarded. The lowest of the low, the saddest of the sad, the outcast, the sick, the people who are so often overlooked – they are content, happy, blessed… blissful.

You can just see in your mind’s eye the reaction of the disciples as they hear these words for the first time. Their mouths would have hung open, their eyes would have bulged out of their sockets, and they would have been left speechless.

Jesus is saying to them that when you are at your lowest point in life it is then that you are blessed, you are content, you are happy, you are – dare I say it – blissful and through that you will receive great rewards.

Jesus says “blessed ARE the poor in spirit; blessed ARE those who mourn; blessed ARE the meek.” He does not say “blessed will be…” No! Jesus is saying something much more astonishing here. He is saying that for those of us who consider ourselves blessed by power, wealth, position, or what have you, we are the ones who need to take a long hard look at what it really means to “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.

For what we also miss many times in this Gospel reading is that Jesus only tells these rules to the disciples, this “sermon on the mount” is a sermon for 12. After he tells them he would then mandate them to go and teach the crowds of people who have gathered seeking the rules they should follow.

So what does all this have to do with us? What do we do with all this here at St. Luke’s, Burlington? How do we integrate this into our lives?

So many times in my ministry as a priest I have encountered people who are in great pain – physical, spiritual, emotional – and they often wonder what it all means. What does all the pain of this life mean? Why are we forced to endure such pain?

We have all had pain in our lives: the pain of loss, the pain of betrayal, the pain of confusion, the pain of conflict. What Jesus wants us to know about that pain is that within it is the source of our strength; within that pain is the source of our ultimate joy. For when we let go of all that holds us back from living as Jesus asks it is then that we will know the true power and presence of God. When we are in the greatest pain this world has to offer it is then that we are vulnerable enough to let God into our lives and feel the bliss that is being in relationship with him.

Today, in our hearing, Jesus turns life on its head! Jesus tells us today that the transient THINGS of this life are not truly blessings. Yet the true blessings of this life are found in how we build good, loving, honest relationships with each other. The true blessings in this life are found when we are open to the Grace and Mercy that flows from our God into our painful wounds.

So take this opportunity to look at what it means to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted for righteousness sake, to be reviled because you dare to turn the world upside-down and proclaim that blessing, happiness and bliss cannot be purchased or earned. Blessing, happiness and bliss can only be experienced though the pain of our lives.

Go from this place renewed in how you see the world! Go from this place renewed in how you feel blessed by being blessings to every person you meet. And then, THEN, you will be doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God.”