Important Notice: If you have not had a chance to complete the COVID Response Team’s survey concerning in-person worship for October 2020, please take a moment to do so. The survey results will help shape our plans and protocols for an adapted return to worship in our building.
You can join this week’s worship serviceby visiting: https://youtu.be/rCJoYZ8FQ8A
Thank you to Grant Logan for reading scripture. Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 16: 21-28
Music: I Have Called You By Your Name, Sent Out In Jesus’ Name
A few years ago, I fell down the stairs at a friend’s house. I was in sock feet on a wooden staircase and, as I turned the landing, my foot slipped out from underneath me and I landed flat on my back.
The first thing I did was shout, “I’m OK!” even though I wasn’t really sure that I was. The wind was knocked out of me and I was sort of numb across the middle of my back. I stood up cautiously and felt around. I was hurt in a few places, but nothing was broken. The pain was manageable and was only constant for a couple of weeks. It hurt to cough or get out of bed, and I carried myself slightly differently as I walked…especially down the stairs.
When we are suddenly injured, our focus becomes immediately instinctual. We become detached diagnosticians, and all other considerations are dropped until the crisis passes. And then, in the days and weeks that follow, we begin to incorporate any lingering pain, walking with a slight limp, or using the other hand to open doors. Our wounds become part of our daily living, so that we hardly notice them.
What we think of less frequently, and talk about even less, is that the same thing happens to us when we endure emotional and spiritual wounds. Our focus immediately narrows to survival, to self-defence. We focus on the words that have hurt us, or the loss that has gutted us, and everything else becomes secondary. It often takes quite a while to heal from emotional wounds, and sometimes, a scar remains.
These experiences shape us, and can alter how we understand ourselves and our relationships with others. Betrayal can cause us to doubt our instincts; anger directed at us can shake our confidence; loss robs us of joy. And any one of these experiences can cause us to withdraw, to avoid taking the risk of vulnerability with others, and to hide how we feel.
Peter was not good at hiding how he felt, at least not the first time Jesus told them about how his mission would include his betrayal and death, and his resurrection on the third day. In his shock, Peter exclaims, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!” He’s clearly both sad and afraid. But Jesus doesn’t comfort him. Instead, he rebukes him for having lost his focus on the divine purpose of their mission, for allowing his sadness to overwhelm their purpose as a group. In one brief exchange, Peter goes from being the cornerstone of Jesus’ church to becoming a stumbling block to it.
It doesn’t sound like the gentle reassurance of a friend, nor does Jesus’ reaction reward Peter’s honesty. In fact, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” (a phrase I do not recommend you use when someone discloses their feelings to you). But there’s something else going on here. During his time in the desert, Jesus felt tempted to abandon his mission of self-giving love in favour of seizing worldly power – a temptation which was personified as Satan.
Jesus’ rebuke of Peter reveals his own anxiety and fear. It also reveals that he needs Peter and the other disciples to help him face Jerusalem. He needs them not just for support, but to remind him of who he is, what he has to do and, more importantly, why. He needs his friends to remind him where God is in the midst of his everything else.
Lately, it’s been all too easy to become focused on earthly things; easy to doubt the divine purpose that undergirds our lives and all life, easy to lose sight of love that is stronger than both hate and fear. It’s understandable, especially this week, as we hear of yet another senseless shooting of an innocent black man – Jacob Blake – in front of his children and wife. Anger, grief, despair – these are the natural emotions we feel, even we who are insulated from the violence of racism.
What I have heard from black leaders in responding to this and so many other incidents like it, is that anger and grief also have to fuel a response. These events have to give rise to action – they must inform our divine purpose, which is the work of justice and peace.
In the Hebrew scriptures, there is an amazing story of Jacob, after he has tricked his blind father, stolen his brother’s birthright, and run away. One night, he’s visited by an angel – which in the Bible means a messenger of God – who wrestles with him until dawn. Neither one will give in. Then, as morning approaches, the angel touches Jacob on the hip and injures him – it’s a pain he will carry always with a limp. But the angel also gives him a new name: Israel. His struggle now informs his purpose, which is to help lead God’s people.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that God inflicts wounds on us in order to spur us into action. Such a cruel and merciless God is not what Jesus reveals. I also want to be clear that our wounds can overwhelm us at times, and that trying to ignore them, or just move on, simply doesn’t work. In fact, what I want to suggest we can do is exactly the opposite of ignoring them and moving on. We have to pay attention to them, understand their role in our lives, and then we can help each other and ourselves be who we are meant to be, the people of love whom God created us to be.
The first thing we can do is to talk about what hurts. This time in isolation has been hard on everyone, and it’s even worse when we don’t talk about it. Talking gets things out, helps others understand how we are, and sometimes even gives us the chance to overhear ourselves say something we haven’t said before, or realized was important.
Which means that the second thing we can do is to listen. The only way I’ve been able to get through this time, or any difficult time, is by having good listeners in my life. Listening is a gift we give to others, both to their comfort and to their recuperation. To be attentively silent is sometimes all someone else needs from us – not a solution, not a suggestion, just care.
And then, as followers of Jesus, with honesty and attentiveness, we hear his call to set our minds on divine things, which are peace and justice.
I’m looking forward to trying worship in our building again. It will be very different than what we’re used to, but in a way, having to do this differently is an opportunity to reflect on why we do what we do. This is important because our worship is not an end in itself.
At its best, worship on Sunday informs our action throughout the rest of the week, our response to God’s world and people. At its best, worship moves us to listen to the joyful and painful stories of others. At its best, worship inspires us to discern what we can to reach out and work for the great cause of love, the divine power of all life.
We do not gather to worship our worship; we gather to worship God, who is alive, and who calls to us in the voices of the oppressed, the hungry and the forgotten. We will worship differently: COVID has touched our hip, literally changing how we walk and talk. But I know the people of this congregation, and I know we will also rediscover how to join in God’s purpose in this time and place. Amen.
Holy One, in Jesus you bring good news to your people. To those who live with doubt, you bring a word of hope. To those who live with fear, you bring peace borne of your abiding presence. You remind us that, in every moment, you are there: your Spirit whispering Love in our ear; your people gathering around us to help us in our need; your vision, calling us to reach out to our neighbour – the work of your church, the work of our hands. God of Hope, inspire us to live out your good news in our thoughts, words and actions.
Today, we hear Jesus and his friends struggle with the demands of living with a divine purpose. We hear the temptation to avoid what is hard, to be silent for fear of getting something wrong. We hear also, O God, your challenge to listen, to discern, and to act; and so we pray: give us the courage to speak with grace and to listen with humility, that we might bear witness to love in all that we do.
We pray that your light of love would shine in the dark corners of our lives and world. Where there is conflict, may there be peace. Where there is suffering, healing. Where there is grief, hope. We pray especially today for the black community of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and for all those who continue to suffer constant trauma at the hands of systemic racism. Speak your word of peace to all your people, O God, and join us in heart and mind against the destructive power of hate.
As members of this family of faith, we pray for all those who are ill in body and in spirit; all those who worry this day, or who are afraid; all those who struggle with addiction and the lingering effects of trauma; and all those who feel alone in their struggles… God of Healing and of Hope, breathe your Spirit into us again, that we might feel your presence and know that we are never alone.
We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…