You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/oI39jMEoAEM
Thank you to Joan Freeborn for sharing the gift of music with us this week
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and prayers for this week. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 13: 1-8
More Voices #79, Spirit, Open My Heart: Duck/Clyde, 1994 Recording of St. Paul’s Choir
Soloist: Joan Freeborn, It All Begins with a Dream: Besig/Price 1989
Today’s reading is known as the Parable of the Sower but as a couple of other preachers have pointed out there is nothing wrong with the seed, the problem is with the soil that it fell on. With this in mind, someone suggested we need to rebrand the story, change the name and shift the focus, he suggested we call it the Parable of the Soil.
I’m not overly worried about what the story is called or where the emphasis is placed. Stories can be made to work in a variety of different ways. But I do like the idea of rebranding. Rebranding is a marketing term. It is when you take something familiar and give it a new focus; sometimes the packaging is changed and it is given a new look, sometimes the massaging is shifted to give a different emphasis.
Sometimes, businesses do this to react to an issue they are facing. For example, we are hearing a lot about changing the names of some sports team because of cultural shifts. Sometimes, it is done as a way to reach new people.
To me, rebranding for us means focusing our efforts on letting people know what it means for us to be the church – the church in Riverview and church in the broader world.
The brand that all churches have been tainted with these days is not a good reflection of who we are. For example, I just finished reading an article in the NY Times focused on how the Corona virus has been spreading through churches that have reopening in the US. Many of those interviewed are far more concerned with their personal rights rather than the overall health and well-being of the community of faith.
Unfortunately, these days most people get their idea of what church is like from American dominated media who keep focusing on far right evangelical Christians who are donald trump’s key supporters. (Please note, I have stopped spelling his name using capitals. I still use his name because our sacred scriptures tell us there is power in naming something.) I have many evangelical friends who are faithful believers and who I truly respect. But, some of the evangelicals who show up on TV are way out there.
These are people who hold beliefs that are the antithesis of what Jesus taught. For example, I’ve heard some claim that Jesus, the “Prince of Peace”, would carry a gun. I’m not sure how these people deal with Jesus having told us to turn the other cheek. I suspect they either ignore it or maybe they call if fake news.
For some, the Bible has been reduced to merely a prop in a photo op. Jesus’ words and what he stood for have been twisted to mean everything, anything and ultimately nothing. Some of his teachings are being used to stand for exactly the opposite of what he intended.
Some of you might remember that my sermon on whether trump would be welcome at St. Paul’s last year gathered a lot of media attention. As I’ve thought about it lately I suspect the interest was in large part because it bumped up against many people’s misconception of the church. Many are shocked to learn that we see spiritual as meaning; doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.
We believe because of our faith that all people should be made to feel welcome. We support Black Lives Matter, First Nations and LGBTQ rights not because it is politically correct but because we believe that we are all loved by our Creator. Most are surprised to learn that we believe that God calls us to care for the creation rather than to subdue it.
We try to live out what Cornel West has said, “Love is what justice looks like in public.”
There is a different kind of virus that is infecting the land – it is called the culture wars. I may not be able to do much about COVID other than listen to the advice of people who are far smarter than I am. I need to wash my hands frequently because of COVID. But this other virus, the culture wars, those who twist the words of Jesus, calls us as people of faith to get our hands dirty with the hard work that God puts before us; standing up for the poor and marginalized, raising our voices to echo the calls of those whose lives are threatened because of racism and working to create a culture of peace with justice. We are called to pray that the scales may fall from people’s eyes and that all may have ears to hear and voices to proclaim God’s love and concern.
Jesus tells us a story of a Sower spreading seeds. Some fall on lousy ground where they will never produce. The seeds that land on fertile soil produce a magnificent harvest.
In these days, I believe that what rebranding looks like is speaking out to let others know that it is our faith that calls us to listen and respond to those in need. To offer support in whatever way they ask us to help because they know more of what they need than we do.
We are called to be sowers of seeds these days, seeds of God’s love, compassion and justice.
We are called to sow those seeds wherever we have the chance. Some will undoubtedly fall on lousy soil and deliver no harvest but some, maybe even many will fall on fertile ground and grow and blossom because the word of God is a powerful thing. It is powerful enough to help those who are blind to see and those who are deaf to hear. It is powerful enough that it can soften even the hardest of hearts. And once God’s love comes into blossom, it is the most powerful thing in all of the world.
It is more important than ever to let people know what we believe and why we believe so strongly in God’s love that can reshape us and the world.
As we gather on this Sabbath we offer you our thanks O God!
We thank you for the beauty of the creation that comes forth in summer.
For the warmth of the sun and the longer days,
For the beauty that surrounds us,
For the flowers that bloom in the wild and those that live in manicured gardens,
For the trees that provide shade and comfort from the heat of the day,
We even give thanks for lawns – yes even though they must be mowed and cared for, they provide comfort and beauty to.
For beaches and the cool of the water and the warmth of the sand,
For our coastline where your winds blow cool and refreshing.
Oh yes, we give you thanks for golf courses.
We thank You for time to be with my friends and family in the Atlantic provinces. May all be able to reunite in safety and in joy in the days to come.
Sabbath gives us time to reflect and renew. To contemplate all that is good in life and also all that gives us trouble and anxiety and to find perspective. Be with all who feel powerless and afraid of what lies ahead. Help calm them so they may see a path forward even though they may be afraid.
We thank you for the differences we experience in the diversity of all people who we encounter and how they help us to see the world from a different perspective when we genuinely engage with them. Give us the strength to stand beside all of those who are persecuted because of their differences. Help us become a community that actively sows seeds of peace with justice and equality for all in this community and world.
We continue to pray for those who are working to solve the long term problems we face; whether they be scientific, medical or those working to create a more caring, compassionate and egalitarian society.
Be with all of us this week, especially with whom we are close. We pray for those who are sick in body or spirit, may they find wholeness and healing.
We pray for those who are grieving, especially for Gwen Downey’s family, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, her brother Bob Dunham and sister Betty Ayer. Grant them strength and comfort for today and the days to come.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus, our brother who teaches us to pray, Our Father, …. Amen.