Agents of Christ’s Coming Kingdom

A Guest Sermon preached at Yellowknife Alliance Church.

It is a real privilege to be with you this morning.  My name is Alex Pryor, and I am a priest and pastor who works at the office of the Anglican diocese.  My job is to help oversee the mission, ministry, administration, and educational work for all 51 Anglican congregations across the NWT, Nunavut, and the Nunavik region of Quebec.  It’s great to be with you this morning to hear God speaking from his word together.

Our scripture passage this morning comes from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Colossians, the first chapter, verses 13-23.  If you’re following along in a paper bible, Colossians is one of those shorter books in the New Testament, it comes towards the end, after the letters to the Corinthians, but before you get to Hebrews.


Now, as I understand it, your in something of an in-between time.  Pastor Steve has been preaching through the primordial history of humanity, the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel, the calling of Abraham – that grand narrative of Creation and disobedience, of the first empires as people sought to enslave and lord over their brothers and sisters, all culminating in God making a covenant with Abraham: God’s promise and declaration that He will set things right, that it won’t depend on Abraham’s might or cleverness, but that God would call out a people, a nation, through whom all the warring nations of the world would be blessed.  This was God’s plan to finally and ultimately accomplish what He said back in Genesis chapter 3: the Son of Man, a descendant of Eve, would crush the serpent’s snarling head.

You’ve been walking through this history week by week, but now the time has come to switch gears.  Next Sunday, if you can believe it, is the 4th Sunday before Christmas.  Time is just flying isn’t it?!

In many, even most, Christian churches around the world, those four weeks mark the season of Advent.  So that means it’s time to switch the focus, right?  Time to fast-forward from this ancient pre-history, and prepare our hearts to welcome the baby born in that little town of Bethlehem long ago and far away, right?

Or is it?

Or is it.

My task this morning is to, God-willing, suggest that there’s no shifting of gears required here at all.  We are in an in-between time between seasons, but what if that actually echoes the “in-between-ness” that we’re living in here and now? 

Some have described the Christian life, the Christian reality as one of “already” and “not yet”. 

Christ is already on the throne, but that reality has not yet been revealed.

Christ has already won the victory over death, and the grave, and the powers of darkness, but the present battle of this rebellious world is not yet done.

Christ is already reconciling all things to Himself, and we have a sure and certain hope of our share in that new and resurrected life, but our faith has not yet been made sight.

God has, from the earliest days of humanity, already revealed his plan to undo the disobedience in the Garden, to crush the serpent, to topple empires, and to partner with faithful people to rescue and bless a fallen world, but that eternal purpose is not yet accomplished, at least from our human perspective.

So we live in this in-between time.  We live as people expecting the Advent.

…So, just a little aside here:

What is the season of Advent all about?

Going back centuries, it’s been marked as a season of preparation.  But… preparation for what?

This is where we, as modern, consumeristic, Western Christians, as Christians who have the Amazon app and the Bible app side-by-side on our phones, really need to be careful.

Many would say that Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas.

But let’s stop to think about that for even a second.  What does the word “advent” actually mean? 

…the word means “coming”. 

So, yes, of course, we know that Christ came into the world, that he was born to Mary and laid in a manger in Bethlehem over two millennia ago, that he lived and died as one of us – but without sin – and was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. 

So if Advent is a season of preparation, and the word itself means “coming”, what exactly are we preparing for?

How do you prepare – today – for last summer’s vacation? 

How do you prepare – in 2022 – for your high school graduation back in 2006 or 1996 or 1976?

You don’t! 

We don’t – we can’t – prepare for something that already happened.  Sure, we can reminisce about it, we can look back and evaluate and learn lessons, but let’s not fall into that modern, Western, consumeristic trap, and certainly not in our worship. 

Advent is not a season of preparation for Christmas.  It’s not a time of looking back.

Advent – which means “coming” – is a time of preparation, but it’s a time of looking forward

It’s a time of preparation because we know, it’s the Gospel truth, that the king is coming; that the Word through whom all things were made indeed became flesh and dwelt among us[1], but that the story didn’t end with the Resurrection, or his Ascension, nor even with the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the Church at Pentecost.  

No, Advent is a reminder that we are in this in-between time, that Christ is already on the throne, that the battle is already won, and, sure, it’s not yet revealed for all to see… but – and here’s the kicker – it will be.

Advent is a time of preparation for that coming, for that culmination of that great and awesome plan that God set into motion from the beginning of time, that although we sinned, in spite of human disobedience, God, through Christ, would show His preeminence, his supremacy over the world, the flesh, and the devil, by presenting a redeemed humanity, holy and blameless, without spot and free from accusation, by the blood of the Lamb who was slain; that Christ, the Son of Man who crushed the serpent’s head, who trampled down death by death, who – as death’s mighty jaws tried to swallow up God in the flesh, showed forth His glory and destroyed the power of the grave, would come again, yes, as a righteous judge, but as Paul writes to the Colossians, ‘to reconcile all things to himself’.  To set things right.  To bring back together that which was separated and divided by sin and pride and disobedience and empire. Amen?

But this is no new plan.  This, my friends, isn’t even a New Testament plan.  This is God’s eternal purpose, set in motion from before the foundation of the world.

All of scripture is united in this message: the rightful king is coming.

Think about it: God gives Adam and Eve a job to do, along with one pretty clear instruction.  Adam and Eve are to have dominion – they’re to rule – but they abdicate.  They hand their authority over to the serpent.  They’re supposed to rule over all creation, but, in their disobedience, they become enslaved.

But what’s God’s message.  Serpent, you’re cursed. Man and woman, you did this: life is going to be hard, and childbirth isn’t going to be pretty.  … But that’s not the end of the story. 

What is God’s message?  Don’t worry.  Have faith.  The world is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.

Or Noah: The whole world is evil, gone to hell in a handbasket as my grandmother would say.  God makes it clear that He alone can save, as one righteous man and his family are called out and carried over the rushing waters of judgment in the ark of salvationGod makes His covenant with Noah, but, it’s so poetic: just to make it absolutely and perfectly clear that our hope is not in men, that our salvation is dependent on God’s grace alone, Noah gets off the ark and what’s the very first thing he does? 

He plants a vineyard. 

Seriously, man cannot live by bread alone… Noah is more interested in the grapes. 

He reaps his harvest, and, you can’t make this up, here we have the new patriarch of humanity, and what does he do?  He curses his own son.

And what’s God’s message in all of that?  Don’t worry.  Have faith.  Don’t put your hope in rulers or any mortal man.  The world is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.

Then what happens?  People start building empires, they start lording over one another, enslaving one another, building great monuments to themselves, a tower so they can reach up to God on their own terms.  Babel has set itself up as king.  And yes… the world is a mess.  But what’s God’s message?  The rightful king is coming.

And then God calls Abraham.  A man who walked by faith, and whose life is chock-full of proof that he didn’t earn his righteousness by his works.

And, as darkness had spread out over the face of the earth, as the dominion of darkness had spread out horizontally, like the serpent slithering across the ground, like the judgement of the waters of the flood spreading out to cover the land, as peoples and languages and nations vied for pre-eminence and supremacy over their brothers and sisters, God revealed his solution:

            “I will make you a great nation”. 

But you won’t be like any other nation.  You’re not building an empire.  You’re not to be enslaving your enemies, you’re not to be making a name for yourself.

No… “you will be a people to bless all nations”.

From this nation, from this family called out from within the dominion of darkness, comes the saviour of the world. 

But it’s not the solution we expect.  We see a horizontal problem: we see sin and darkness and despair and bondage spreading out like a thick fog over the face of the earth. 

We have a horizontal problem.  We’re mortal beings, we’re held down by gravity, we experience life from the perspective of five-and-a-half or six feet off the ground.  We expect a horizontal solution.

But here’s the thing: horizontal is predictable.

You roll a ball across a table, you know where it’s going to go.  You kick a soccer ball across the gym, it’s not going to take off, orbit the earth a few times, stop for a visit in Baghdad, and eventually make it’s way into the net.  No, horizontal is predictable: things roll forward in the direction we expect.

But God is not limited to that human, horizontal perspective. 

We have a horizontal problem – sin – spread out over the face of the earth… but God gives a vertical solution.

Remember: it’s throughout scripture, cover to cover.  The midst of the Garden isn’t a lawn or pasture, it’s a tree. 

When the poisonous snakes slither into the camp of the Israelites, the solution isn’t a horizontal one, to scatter.  It’s a vertical one: lift the snake up on a pole, and don’t run, don’t spread out, don’t scatter.  No, look up, and live.

When the Lamb of God is slain once and for all for the sins of the world, crushing the serpent’s head, taking the venomous sting out of death, that’s no horizontal movement.  No, “and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people unto me”, the solution to a world covered with sin and death isn’t something to be repeated in every city and place, no it’s a once-and-for-all vertical solution, concentrated in one place, operating on a different plane, as God gives a vertical solution to a horizontal problem.  Seriously, there’s only two horizontal parts of the Easter story: a rolling stone set in motion, and those first joyful witnesses running to spread the good news to those who need to hear it.

And, where did Christ go when the 40 days were over?  Did he wander off into the sunset in the west?  No, he was lifted up, and “if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back…”

What’s the message of God? Yes, the world around you is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.

My friends, there’s no question, the world is dark.  Even when it looks its’ best, it’s built on empires that lift some up by pushing others down.  Even today – inflation side-by-side with record profits: even if you’re doing alright, we know the whole world is broken.  And if it’s not money that enslaves us, it’s something else: despair, illness, addictions, a history of trauma, broken relationships, or even just the devil’s tool of busyness, keeping us too distracted to devote any time to the things of God. 

The world is dark.

But the message in Colossians is exactly what we need to hear.  The rightful king is coming.

It’s not that Christ will be the head of the body, it’s not that Christ will have dominion over all things, it’s not that he will one day hold all things together, it’s not that he will one day, maybe after we’re long gone be pre-eminent.    

No, Christ is.

We’re stuck on this horizontal plane, shrouded by this low-hanging fog of sin. 

But, don’t be fooled – Christ is already reigning, and, to God be the glory, that reign is breaking in from above, and it will be revealed.

You’ll remember that, in Abraham, God had concentrated his solution to humanity’s problem.  That’s a very vertical thing to do.  Not to dilute and spread out the solution, but to choose one family, one nation, one people, from whom would come forth the one saviour of the world.

But Pentecost is part of that same story.

The glory of Pentecost is that, just as the Spirit of God rested on a few prophets priests, and kings in the Old Testament, you and I, ordinary people making our way through the dark fog that shrouds our human, horizontal perspective, are now called, like them, to be agents of that coming kingdom.

Not by any right or merit or righteousness of our own, but only according to God’s good pleasure, God’s plan is for his solution to be concentrated in us.  God isn’t rolling in over the horizon, guns blazing.  That’s what the Israelites were expecting with the Messiah; that’s the horizontal solution we’d come up with. 

No, God’s vertical solution is to be present, really present, to take up residence by the Holy Spirit in his faithful people.  Not to blast away the present darkness with an all-consuming blinding light – “O Lord, who could stand?” – but, as we await that coming, for each of us to be Spirit-filled points of light, not drawing people in to ourselves… but pointing people up.

The world, the flesh, and the devil enslave us by weighing us down, keeping our eyes fixed on a dark world full of problems.

But God’s solution is amazing.  It’s subversive.  It’s straight-up sabotage. 

In a world filled with empires, in a world built on strength and pride, God’s solution is to choose the humble and meek, and to win the world, “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord”.

You and I are called to be agents of that coming kingdom.  We’re the agents of the rightful king, working behind the enemy’s lines, shrouded by the fog of war, but not losing hope, because in spite of whatever we see around us, we know the plan!  We might see gates of shame and addiction and despair and pain around us, but will they prevail?

No: gates are a horizontal problem.  Gates don’t stand a chance against a vertical solution!

You and I are agents of the coming kingdom, those who have pledged our faith to the rightful king, and although the land is dark, we know our citizenship in the coming Kingdom is secure.  That doesn’t make it easy.  No, as the Psalmist says, the earth reels and rocks, the mountains quake: but do we fear?  No… the rightful king is coming.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountain fall into the sea.  Why?  Because God is our refuge and our strength.  The Lord Almighty isn’t far off over the horizon, no, though the darkness is all around us, he’s with us.  He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, and the solution is entirely vertical: we don’t run and hide, we don’t scatter.  No, like the Israelites facing the snakes, we stand firm.  God’s solution is vertical: so be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, says the Lord, I will be exalted in the earth.

So, my friends, in this in-between time, let’s remember that God’s story, the story begun in Genesis, is still playing out.  We know the ending, but our preparation isn’t to look back at the baby in the manger, in spite of how much the empires of the world want to bog us down with a consumeristic Christmas.  Let us prepare for the Advent, the coming of Christ as the rightful king.

May God give us the grace to live as his agents in this world.

May God give us the faith to reflect that glorious light from above out into the darkness around us.

And may God, by His Spirit, strengthen us to live into that calling to bring this good news to a world that so desperately needs to hear it, that they, too, might stop running, be still, look up and live.

To God be the glory now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] John 1

Radical Generosity: I choose to see you as my equal.

James writes: “What good is it, my friends, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed or hungry, and you say “go in peace, be warm and filled”, without giving them what they need, what good is that?”

Today’s Lessons: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

We’ve all heard and know that faith without works is dead – it’s not enough to believe that Jesus is Lord, to believe that we’re all made in the Image of God and that we have a story of freedom and mercy to bring to all the world, if we’re not going to turn that into real action.

We all know that.

But have you ever thought about the fact that works aren’t just physical things we do: they’re not just deeds done – like feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, or offering a word of encouragement or a listening ear when someone is lost and lonely.  Works are more than that.  There’s a reason that, when we confess our sins, we’re taught to ask for forgiveness not just for things done or left undone, or for the words we’ve said: no, we ask forgiveness for thoughts, words, and deeds.

The big idea for today is that, as much as faith without works is dead, one of those necessary works is changing how we think about and see each other.

God’s Generous Perspective

We all know that God is good and God is generous.  He provides for all people – the good and the bad, the faithful and the self-righteous.  What does anyone of us have that doesn’t boil down to a gift from God?

But as we read in today’s lessons, one of the great gifts of God that we rarely think about is the gift of his generous perspective.  God’s gifts to us aren’t just stuff or talents or health and strength; one of the greatest gifts he gives us is the way he chooses to see us.

In Proverbs today, we’re reminded that, unlike the way the world works, God doesn’t see rich or poor. As James teaches, God doesn’t see well-dressed or shabby, and he doesn’t see worldly power or the many distinctions we make between people.  Jesus shows us today in the Gospel that he doesn’t respect the boundaries we set up about race or language or inequality.

No: the great gift of God’s perspective is that He looks past all of that.  He looks at us, in the moment, as men and women made in His Image, and looks only to see if we’re reflecting that Image back.  He looks past all the distinctions and divisions we make to see if we’ve unpacked – or at least opened – that gift of faith, and whether we’re allowing his love, mercy, joy, peace, and abundant life to shine, reflected back – to His Glory, and for all the world to see.

Reflecting God’s Glory

Now, we’ve spoken before about the fact that we are created to reflect the glory of God.

But it’s important for us to remember that isn’t just about the warm, fuzzy ideas of reflecting God’s love and light.  Faith without works is dead, but one of those works is choosing to look at others as God looks at us, the work of choosing to share God’s perspective both for ourselves and for those around us.  And let me say: that’s a far more difficult task than donating some time, talent, or treasure.  Learning to share God’s perspective is the life-long task of allowing your mind to be transformed, renewed by being an apprentice, a disciple, of Christ Jesus.

Radical Generosity?

It’s easy for us to limit generosity.  The world thinks only of charity, giving from what you have to someone who has less, whether it’s a millionaire generously building a wing on a hospital with their name written over the door, or someone making a donation to support the food bank or PWRDF.  But like so many other things, God’s definition goes deeper, and asks more of us.

Now don’t get me wrong – that charitable sort of generosity is great.  In fact, James says it’s essential.  You can’t get emptier words than looking at a hungry person and saying “oh, feel full!  Think happy thoughts!  Don’t be hungry any more” and walking away! 

But, at the same time, we all know giving great gifts doesn’t mean you have a generous spirit.

So as James says, yes, we’re to fill and clothe those in need, but reflecting God’s generosity means we’re also going to look at them from God’s perspective.

Whether rich or poor, regardless of any of those distinctions or lines we draw based on   race, or gender, or addictions, or whether they’re unemployed, or whether they live in housing, or struggling against a mental illness, or fighting the demons of childhood trauma and broken families, or whether we disagree with how they raise their kids, or even whether they smell and just don’t appear to take pride in what they’ve been given, or even if they’ve earned a reputation for taking advantage of the system – regardless of all of that, God’s perspective is to look at that person and say “yeah, I know what you’ve done, but I love you, and I want you to be my child; I’ll always give you another chance as long as you live – take it, don’t trust yourself, trust in me”.

That’s God’s radical generosity.  And that’s the sort of incredibly hard work, without which our faith is simply dead, little more than empty words saying “be well, be full, be happy”.

Are we willing to look past all those lines that we draw and reflect God’s generous perspective back to a world that divides and enslaves and weighs people down?

Faith in Practice

Faith without works is dead, but the matter of putting faith into action is always a hard one.  God’s not saying “go, be taken advantage of”; after all, it was Jesus who said we’re to be shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves!  And we all know Jesus was making a point when he told the rich young man to sell everything if he wanted to be a disciple: it wasn’t that his stuff kept him from the Kingdom of God, it was the fact that his heart was attached, weighed down by that stuff.

But the point is, when it comes to reflecting God’s generosity, putting faith into action it’s not a matter of just writing a cheque, buying a meal, or spending an hour chatting with one who is sick or lonely. 

God generously looks at each person and says “I love you as much as I love my own Son; I want you to be my child”, so we’re to look at each person – no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they did[1] – and change our thinking, to do that work of looking at that person and thinking “I want you to be my brother or sister”, of seeing that person, in whatever condition they might be, and honestly saying to yourself “I would love nothing better than if this person, right here, would come to church, put their faith in God, and be my brother or sister in Christ, so we can work together, learn to live together, and bear one-another’s burdens”.

That’s radical generosity.  Anyone – even the most selfish – can put in a few dollars for the Christmas food and toy drive.  But God’s generosity, the one we’re called to share, is to allow your mind to be transformed so that your honest desire is to welcome that hungry, or lonely, or annoying, or lazy, or sly, or mean person into your family of faith, trusting that God can do the same work of forgiving, healing, and changing their heart as he’s done for each of us.

What does the law of God require?

That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and that you love your neighbour as yourself.

– The Summary of the Law

Yes, that’s our faith.  But the trick is turning faith into action, adopting the perspective, allowing your mind to be trained to think “I don’t see rich or poor.  I don’t see you as powerful, or unemployed. I don’t see you as anything greater or less than my equal, and as God looks at me, I’m going to choose to love you as myself.”

It’s a tall order.  But that’s the kind of faith-in-action that changes lives, and changes communities, and changes the world.  That’s the kind of radical generosity that God is calling us to live.  My God give us his grace to say “ok, here I am, I’m willing, send me.” 

[1] Yes, I guess that is a Backstreet Boys reference.  It just happened… sorry, I grew up in the 90s!

We aren’t the dirt.

“A sower went out to sow”.

Anyone who has spent any time in the church at all will be familiar with the parable of the sower.  It’s a beloved parable, not least because it’s one of just a handful of parables where Jesus goes back and explains what he meant – a great gift that guides us in interpreting the other parables of scripture.  And, it helps because the farming image comes back again in the letters of Paul: one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth; only God can wrap the full potential and beauty of a strong, fruitful plant into such a small package.

The sower is a wonderful image because it’s so down-to-earth, so simple.  Seeds are planted, some are eaten by birds, some spring up before others but are scorched because their roots can’t reach water, some are choked out by weeds, some grow and produce a mighty harvest of grain.

They’re familiar words.

But sometimes, familiarity gets in the way.  Sometimes we become so familiar with what we think something says that we actually miss something important.  Just as a prophet isn’t welcome in their hometown, or the hardest thing we can do is try to speak the truth to our own families, familiarity can cloud the message.  So I invite you this morning to look at this parable with fresh eyes.

What’s up with that sower?

One of the obvious questions with this misunderstood parable is “what is that sower doing?”.  Seriously, what sort of a farmer wastes seed like that?  If we stop to think about it, most of those seeds never had a chance from the start. 

You know I’ve got a garden planted behind the Rectory.  When I bought my carrot seeds, I borrowed a roto-tiller and tilled a deep bed, mixing in some rich black dirt; I raked it out to make sure the water wouldn’t wash the seeds away; I planted those little carrot seeds in a neat row, and sure enough, almost every one of them sprang up and is now a leafy stalk with a little tasty orange root growing by the day in that soft, well-prepared soil.

But, come on – if I bought that carrot seed but just started wandering around throwing them here and there, no one would think I’m being generous.  You’d think I’m foolish, even wasteful.  If I threw carrot seed in the parking lot, you’d think I’ve lost my head; if I threw carrot seed on the grassy front lawn, you’d think I’m insane.  Those seeds never had a chance!

…And there’s the big misunderstanding so many of us bring, even without thinking about it, to this parable.

For many of us, yes, we understand that God is unceasingly generous and merciful, but at the end of the day, we see God as a bit of a foolish farmer, wasting seed.  After all, we say to ourselves, we’re just the dirt in this story: it’s not the dirt’s fault that no one tended it, or that it was full of rocks or thorns.  Perhaps, as we see people snatched away or scorched or choked by the cares of the world, we think “well, that’s just how it is; God scatters the seed, but sometimes he doesn’t give any growth.  He’s a generous farmer scattering seed, but sometimes the soil just isn’t ready.” 

But, right off the bat, something there should smell fishy: anytime our understanding of God’s merciful desire to adopt us as his sons and daughters takes us off the hook, we can be guaranteed that we’ve missed the point.

And the same is true here.

If we step back, if we peel back the years of comfortable sermons we’ve heard on the topic, if we look at the actual words of Christ, one thing should jump out at us: at no point does it say that God is the farmer; at no point does it say that God owns the soil, that it’s His fault the soil was left rocky, or shallow, or full of weeds.  God, in the parable, is just the sower – the hired hand scattering seed on the land allotted to the farmer.

If God isn’t the Farmer, who is?

Sowing seeds in Jesus’ day wasn’t like our backyard gardens or our commercial farmers today.  Planting seeds in neat rows is a modern invention, impossible without modern tools.  No, rather it was the farmer’s job to wait for that first heavy rain of the Middle Eastern spring, then, as quickly as possible while the moisture was still on that hard crusty, sun-baked top layer, hitch up the oxen to the plow, and plow up the soft soil underneath.  The seeds from last year’s harvest were stored in the large granaries owned by the king or the wealthy land-owners, and once the farmer had done the back-breaking work of overturning that hard soil, removing the rocks and weeds, then a sower would come behind with the bags of seed borrowed from the storehouse of the king.  Seed was broadcast – thrown evenly from one border of the farmer’s field to the other.  And then, the farmer was to plow the field again to bury the seed, dragging branches behind the plow as a rake to smooth out the ground.  For every bag of seed borrowed to the farmer, the farmer owed that much seed and a portion of the harvest back to the king’s storehouse at harvest.

Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, in this parable, God is the sower.  The sower’s job is to take the good seed from the king’s storehouse and scatter that seed evenly from one edge of the allotted field to the other.

And, in spite of how we might be used to hearing this parable, at no point does it say that we are the soil.  After all, soil is just, well, dirt… you can’t expect much from dirt… and certainly not a relationship or a lifetime of discipleship.

No, my friends.  We are the farmer, the one responsible for the dirt.  We’re the one to whom a field has been allotted, and which the king expects we will tend.  It’s our responsibility to have the ground plowed and the rocks removed, to have the thorns weeded out, and to have the soil of our own lives ready for when the sower comes with the good seed from the king’s storehouse.  The Sower – Christ – is doing as he was commanded: scattering the seed evenly from one corner of the field to the other.  It’s the farmer’s job – it’s our job – to have that thick, sun-baked crust broken and ready to receive the seed.  It’s our job to go back through our own fields and plough the seed under so that they’ll have deep roots.  It’s our job to make sure the field has been weeded so the sprouts aren’t choked by thorns. 

That’s the extent of God’s patience and mercy, and his desire in giving us free will to freely choose to become his sons and daughters: Christ will faithfully scatter the good seed, again and again, year after year, season after season, in the hopes that we will have chosen not to sit idle, or to let our field grow in with weeds, or to stumble around drunk with bellies filled on another’s harvest, but that we will have our field ready.  Because, when the time comes for harvest – and that time is coming – we will need to give an account for the seed that has been lent to us.  The time comes when we must pay it back, with a portion of the harvest, into the king’s storehouse.

All that to say, when we look at ourselves, when we look at the fields allotted to our family members who have gone astray, when we look at those around us whose fields are as dry and dense as a well-worn path, or overgrown with weeds, we’re not to shrug and say, “oh well, I guess God didn’t give the growth”.  No, the seeds from the king’s storehouse are always ready to sprout.  With God all things are possible… after all, haven’t you ever seen a little evergreen tree sprouting horizontally out of the side of a cliff?  Seriously, the good seed can take root in even the most unlikely of places.

But we’re never to take ourselves off the hook.  God invites us into relationship with him.  God offers us the opportunity, season after season, to let that seed take root.  But, as the farmers that we are, responsible to tend and keep and have dominion over the soil we’ve been given, it’s on us to cooperate.  It’s on us to have our soil ready to plant, to bury the seeds deep in the furrows of our hearts, and to tend the field, knowing full well that we are the ones responsible to repay, to make account for, to offer back a portion of the seeds we’ve been given.The Good News.

The bad news, as we read this parable with fresh eyes, is that we’re not off the hook.  We’re not the dirt.  As farmers, it’s up to us to prepare and tend our own field, for which we will give account.  That’s the reality: we can’t blame the lack of growth on anyone else; after all, the good seed can take root in even the most unlikely of places if it’s given a chance.

That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that, while God won’t force us, he does have a plan to help each farmer prepare that soil.  When you were baptized, when you were confirmed, when you renewed those vows, you accepted God’s call to be a labourer in his vineyard; that call to come alongside another, to step into their field, to help them prepare and tend the soil.  That’s what Paul means when he says one planted, another watered; it’s our task, as those sent forth by God’s Spirit, as those whose seeds are already sprouted and have taken root, to step into another’s field and help them clear the weeds, to help them break the boulders, to wake them from their slumber when that spring rain of the Holy Spirit is falling on their field and the time has come to prepare the soil for planting, to get down in the dirt in our mission field and work to prepare even space for one of the Lord’s good seeds to take root – even on the side of a cliff – to produce fruit, knowing that each stalk produces hundreds of seeds, as our rocky fields become fertile, fruitful land bearing much fruit for the king as we learn, year after year, to be better stewards, better farmers, better able to share our God-given knowledge and experience with those struggling around us.

My friends, as we look to the year ahead, a year where everything as we know it will look different, this is a call to action: once we know our seeds have sprouted, once we’ve tended our own field, watering it with the daily dew of prayer, and weeding it with daily study of God’s Word, we have work to do: God is scattering seed all around.  I’ve seen seeds taking root in the most unlikely of places.  Some are waiting to be planted, while the ravens pick away at them.  Others have found receptive soil because of this pandemic, but unless those seeds are lovingly plowed under to grow deep roots, the plants will shrivel. 

We’re the farmers.  We’re the labourers in Christ’s mission field.  The seeds have been scattered.  Let’s get to work, for harvest always comes sooner than we expect.


My exegesis follows that of Cyril of Alexandria (from Matthaus-Kommentare aus der griechischen Kirche, in ACCS, Manlio Simonetti, ed.), and John Chrysostom’s homilies on Matthew as found in Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.

What does He expect?

He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

As we continue through these Sundays after Epiphany, we ought to be reminded that one of our primary tasks as Christians is to be an epiphany for those around us – God not only invites us, but wants to use us to reveal Himself to our friends and neighbours.  And that revelation, our task of bringing the message of God in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, is something we’re all expected to do, both in word and in deed; really, one of the questions we should ask ourselves before, during, and after every interaction with another person is, “are my words, are my actions, revealing God’s truth right now?  Are they showing God’s mercy?”  That’s our task, whether we’re having small talk at the grocery store or whether we’re hearing a bit of juicy gossip; are my words revealing God’s truth and mercy, even when I’m arguing about garbage disposal fees over at town hall?

We are to be epiphanies to those around us.

And, as we heard a couple of weeks back, the work God is doing is to make us as polished arrows in his quiver; arrows made to follow the pattern of Jesus, arrows that are able to fly straight and true and hit the target set in front of them.

After all, sin, as we know, is “missing the mark”, falling short of the target.  And the work of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, is to pick us up when we repent and ask for another shot, as we’re slowly bent back into shape so that we can fly as we were intended.

So this morning, that brings us to the question of how.

We’re to be an epiphany, we’re to hit the target set by Christ, but how do we do that?  What does that look like?

The surprisingly simple response:

A beautifully simple answer comes to us this morning from the prophet Micah, chapter 6.  Micah is speaking to the people of God who, once again, have misunderstood their task.  The people came to worship, they sang the good old hymns, they recited the prayers, they brought the right offerings just as their parents and their teachers taught them, but in spite of doing all the right stuff, there was a problem.  Their religion wasn’t working.  The God-given religion intended to put things right between humankind and God, the God-given religion intended to be a light so that all the nations of the earth would be drawn in to experience God’s glory, wasn’t doing what it was intended to do.

In Micah chapter 6, the prophet lays out the case against the people.  The Lord God kept his side of the bargain, his end of the covenant: he freed his people from Egypt, he led them into the promised land, he protected them when their enemies plotted against them.  Yet, while his people kept the outward demands of the law, their obedience ended there; the law, the discipline which was supposed to shape their hearts and minds so that they could be polished arrows in God’s quiver wasn’t working because their obedience was limited to the outward physical actions, it wasn’t allowed to sink in.

Now, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap that many Christians have fallen into over the ages.  Some Christians, some great Christian minds, have looked back and said, “oh, the problem is that they were being outwardly obedient; God doesn’t care about the outside, he cares about the heart”.

And, I mean, I suppose that’s a nice thought; except that the whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, totally disagree.  Nowhere are we taught that we’re to toss away outward actions in favour of a purely mental or “spiritual” religion – quite the opposite, it’s our bodies, not our minds or hearts, that are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we don’t believe in the resurrection of the mind, but of the whole person, body included.  “Heaven”, the New Jerusalem where Christ is even now preparing us a home, is described as a city, with streets, and doors, and rivers, and trees, and tasty fruit on those trees. 

God made us, body and soul, and the whole point of the empty tomb at Easter is that our bodies, this physical world, matters.  After all, God made it and declared it good, and is restoring it so it will be made perfect.

The problem is not that God’s people were engaged in their God-given physical acts of worship; the problem is that they were stubbornly going through the motions without their outward obedience shaping their hearts and minds into the people God desired them to be, a people that revealed himself to the world, in thought, word, and deed.

It’s about alignment

True obedience means that both the outward and the inward are aligned.Like the arrow, being repaired and re-worked to hit its target, the whole thing needs to be aligned for the arrow to stay on course.  And when your trajectory, when your journey, is spread out in front of you, even the smallest change in that alignment is going to have a huge impact on where you land.

Let me tell you a little story.  The other night, Kristina and I went out to play a round of darts.  Now neither of us are darts champions by any stretch, and she’s much better than I am, but it’s all in good fun.  I gave her the little case of darts, hers have a French flag on the flight, mine have the good old Union Jack.  We went in to play, and somehow, two of mine fell out in the van on the way.  It was cold, and our coats were off, so instead of going out to get them, I borrowed some darts, and the first thing I noticed is that they were way lighter.  And, you know what?  It doesn’t take much to change your trajectory.  We started playing – I hit the wall, one ended up on the floor. 

It doesn’t take much, even a small change, can change how that arrow flies. 

Even a small change on our part can be used by God in incredible ways.

So how, exactly do we conform ourselves to that pattern set by Christ? 

In Micah we read, “he has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
What does the Lord require? 
to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Now let’s be clear – these aren’t three boxes to check: it’s not about doing some just actions, enjoying the thought of mercifulness, and staying humble and kind. 

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly are not actions, but the trajectory, the course, that we’re on.  Those describe our journey, our race to run, our flight toward the target.

And the problem and challenge is that, if we do one or two of those, without doing all three, we’ll miss the mark.

Examples of this are easy to find.  Even in the Church today, there are those who work tirelessly for justice in our society and strive to show mercy to those on the margins, but if that’s done without humility, if that’s done without the recognition that we’re all sinners in need of that mercy, then it misses the mark.

If you’re humbly preaching the message of God’s mercy, but you leave out the justice that God requires – if you leave out right and wrong, and repentance – then it misses the mark.

If you’re the humblest person in the world, and like the people to whom Micah wrote, you do all the right and just actions, but in your heart you refuse to show mercy, to really, truly forgive as you’ve been forgiven, then in spite of everything looking right on the outside, it misses the mark.

As we recited together this morning in the Psalm, who can actually stand in the heavenly city, who can actually stand in the dwelling place of God?

The one who leads a blameless life and does what is right; who speaks the truth and means it; the one who loves his neighbour, yet rejects those who are wicked and honours those who fear the Lord; those who give their money regardless of if they’ll get something in return; one who keeps his promises.  One who is on a trajectory, on a path, on a journey through life that is defined by just actions, a love of mercy, and humble obedience to God.

The vision:

And, what would happen if we managed to do this?  What would happen if God’s people to whom Micah wrote were, by God’s grace, able to live as God required?

Well, in short, they would live as God intended – not for their own sake, but as a revelation, an epiphany to the world: they would be a light to enlighten the nations, drawing the world to God.

If we lived as God intended – act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God – then, in short, we would look different.  We would look different from the world around us.  We would be a people, a church, that stood out, that attracted attention, like a city on a hill, or a lamp in a dark room.

If we lived this way, not as boxes to check, not saying “two out of three ain’t bad”, but combining justice, mercy, and humility, then we would be a Church, a community, that reflected the Beatitudes, we would be a community where those whom the world despises – the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those hungering for righteousness, the pure, those striving for peace, those who are persecuted – are not despised, but are known to be blessed, not just because they have favour with God, but because the Church, the Body of Christ, is gathered around them, blessing them, carrying their burdens.

What does the Lord require?

He wants you to be an epiphany.  He’s shaping and re-shaping you to hit the mark.  And he wants us to fly the course marked by justice, mercy, and humble obedience.

And… like those darts.  It might take some practice, but even the smallest change you make today can totally change where your arrow ends up. 

To God be the Glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Accepting God’s Healing

2 Kings 5:1-14
Galatians 6:7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and you will be healed”.

“Go out into all the world, cure the sick and say “the Kingdom of God has come near”.

“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.”

“Go in peace, your faith has made you well”.

Healing is a major theme in the scriptures and in our lessons today.  From the earliest writings of the Old Testament, we see that God is the source of health and wellness.  The prophets, as we heard today in the story of Naaman who was healed of his leprosy, were ministers of God’s healing power under the Old Covenant.

In sending Jesus Christ, the power of God became all the more evident as a full three-quarters of the Gospel record is various accounts of Our Lord’s healing power over body and soul: he heals by touch, he heals by speaking a word of power – “get up and walk”, and he even heals the hemorrhaging woman who merely touches the hem of his cloak as he passes by. 

Healing is a major theme in the scriptures, and, a topic with a great diversity of opinion in the Church today.

On the one extreme, we’ve all seen those enormously wealthy TV pastors who want us to believe that God instantly and miraculously heals the body of every person that they touch.  (Though, I must say, I’m not sure how our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel fit with all of that – you know, his strict instruction to go and heal the sick, but carry no purse or bag or fancy shoes or private jet, and not making a big fuss or meeting people in the town square to make a name for yourself).

On the other extreme, for the more reserved among us, we may find ourselves thinking of God as a last resort, a last ditch effort only after everything else has failed.  We try to help ourselves, we enlist the help of doctors and travel to find the best care available, at some point we’ll ask the Church to pray, and only after we’ve exhausted all available options, perhaps you’ll hear people say “well, it’s in God’s hands now” (as though it wasn’t in his hands all along!).

Healing is a difficult subject, not least because it is a personal subject.  All of us, at some point, have known someone sick and in need of a miracle, perhaps for whom that miracle never came. 

And in light of that, it’s important for us to think about healing.

The first claim that we make as Christians is that God is the source of all healing, not just the miracles that break the mold.

Healing, of course, comes in three forms.  Natural healing – our body’s wonderful ability to fix itself when we get a cut, or to use white blood cells to fight off a cold – is itself a gift from God.  Everything “natural” is because, as we proclaim, it is God who created heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible.

Medical healing, the healing that comes through the sciences, is also a gift from God. The wisdom and the ability to study the laws of nature and produce effective cures and treatments is itself part of God’s plan in making us share in his creative image; while the world in which we live is fallen, corrupted by sin, and subject to death and decay, it was God’s will from the beginning that we would study and subdue the earth, that we could reap the benefits of medicine, hopefully leaving the earth better than we found it for each generation that comes after.

And then God is the source of that third kind of healing, miraculous healing, those healings that, by definition, defy the laws of the natural world, and for which science and medicine have no answer: the fast-growing tumor that turns on itself and shrinks; the stroke victim who awakes from a coma with no detectable damage.  These miracles, this form of healing, is the rarest of the ways that God heals, and, we believe and scripture tells us that, when these miracles happen, it’s rarely – if ever – for the direct benefit of the person who was healed; rather, as Jesus says in multiple places, these things have been done that the world might see and believe; miracles are done for the glory of God.

The Source of Healing

As we think about healing, it’s absolutely essential that we remember that God is the source of all healing powers, and even your body’s ability to heal a cut or fight off the sniffles is God’s gift as we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

And there’s a big lesson in that for all of us.  If God is the source of all healing, that means that we are not.

In the Old Testament lesson today, we had Naaman, the commander of the army, who was in need of healing for a serious skin condition.

To anyone on the outside, Naaman was someone with everything he could ever need.  He lived in a great house, with great pasture lands and huge flocks, he had servants to do his bidding, and a great army at his command.  By all accounts, he was a powerful man, someone who could get what he wanted.

But, in spite of all this earthly power and wealth, in spite of all the people and lands that he controlled, his own health was the thing that remained outside of his control. 

He went to see the prophet, and what did he bring?

Did he go, humbly seeing the assistance of the Lord’s servant?  No, he went with 1100 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold coins, together with 10 new suits of clothes to buy his healing.

He set out, believing that these great worldly gifts would buy the Lord’s favor.  And what happens?

Well, the prophet doesn’t even come out to greet this great celebrity of a man.  He doesn’t accept his gifts.  He simply sends a young servant who says, go wash in the river seven times and you’ll be healed.

The point, in all of that, is that we are not the source of our own healing.  We don’t buy it.  We can’t earn it.

No matter how great we are, no matter how respected we are, no matter how powerful or wealthy, none of that earthly power can add even one day to our lives apart from the grace of God.

And, while I’d suggest that we aren’t as proud as Naaman, we’re guilty of the same sort of over-reaching self-reliance when we forget God in our own sickness. 

When we put our trust in medicine and doctors, but leave God as our last resort, we’re really doing the same thing as Naaman, who trusted in silver and gold.  We’re saying, well, I live in a great country with access to medical care and a pharmacy down the road, I’ll trust in that to make me better.

When really, we’re called to acknowledge that God is the source of all healing.  That God made the body, God made the immune system, God made the laws of science and nature, and it’s God who numbers our days and who is lord of the living and the dead.  We can trust our doctors because God is the source of all healing.

When we don’t get what we seek

And then, sometimes, we pray for healing, and it doesn’t come.

Perhaps we pray fervently, we gather the church around in prayer, trusting only in God, but the illness doesn’t go away.

This is difficult, it’s heartbreaking; it causes some people to question what they believe.

And, in times like these, it’s important for us to remember the deep truth that we are not just souls wrapped up in a fleshly tent.  Our body, our mind, our spirit are not separate entities, but God created each of us as a body, with a mind, animated by our spirit, all perfectly united to make up a person.

And healing, true healing, is a matter not just of the body, but for the whole person.

Modern medicine has come to this realization, a realization that the Church has preached since time immemorial: that it’s not enough just to treat the body.

If we patch up someone’s body, but don’t heal the illness of their mind and the sickness of the soul, sure we might extend their life, but we haven’t improved the quality of their life.

By the same token, doctors now realize that some illnesses aren’t caused by bacteria or viruses, but are physical illnesses caused by depression, anxiety, or stress.

When the Church asks God for healing, we have to realize that there is always more to this life than meets the eye.  We see the physical.  But, St. Paul tells us, we see and know only in part, only a dim reflection of reality. 

God sees us as we really are – body, mind, spirit, united – and, God sees us as we shall be, eternally.

For all of us, the guarantee is that this body, at some point, will breathe its last; and then, by faith we believe, at the last day those who are in Christ will receive renewed bodies, bodies in which the scars of this corrupted world are removed, in which want, and hunger, and pain are no more. 

And, while we can’t yet see on the other side of the thin veil between life and death, we firmly trust that God, who sees the end game and knows the heart, does what is truly best for us.

And, as scripture tells us, sometimes that means that the regular course of the rules of nature, cells growing and dying, bodies wearing out, are opportunities for the mind and spirit to grow into the image of God.  Or, as the Bible says, “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope that will not put us to shame.”

Trust: not a last resort

Jesus didn’t say “follow me and your life will be easy”.  Jesus didn’t say “call on me when you’ve exhausted the other options, and I’ll swoop in to save you”.

Jesus didn’t say “follow me and the rules of nature will on longer apply.”

He says “take up your cross and follow me”.  He says, “unless you give up your life, you will lose it”.

And, He says “I am the light of the world”.  Believing in him doesn’t pluck you out of the world with its sickness and death, but he does say “you’ll never walk in darkness”.  The Lord says “Fear not, for I am with you.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my hand”.  He will never leave you nor forsake you, he is with you always, even to the end of the age, healing not just the body, but healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds.

Our Lord is the source of all healing, healing that we cannot buy or earn, but which is a gift to God’s glory and our benefit.  He is the one who numbered the hairs of your head, who knows your heart and sees you not just as you really are, but as you shall be, and he says “I’m preparing a place for you.”

And, if he’s preparing a place for us, then, as he works through the changes and chances of this life, as he takes the realities of this natural life and the consequences of our actions and the actions of others and works all things together for good for those who serve him, then that means he’s also working through our illness, preparing us for that place.

Our job is to trust in God first, for he is the source of all good gifts.  Our job is to trust that Jesus is Lord, and that he will direct our path, and that he is preparing us to live with him in glory.  And our job is to trust that with him all things are possible, not just the healing of this mortal body, but the things that matter eternally – even the forgiveness of sins and our eternal life.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Farewell Recital & Hymn Festival

I had the rare privilege of planning my own going-away party for the Nashotah House community on Tuesday night (…if you know me at all, you know that was a great gift in and of itself!).

I’m so thankful for these 8 years and the many kind words this week, but the secret I didn’t tell anyone was that their gift to me were these incredible recordings of the church joyfully shouting the world’s best hymns with me at the organ and a great brass quartet at my side. Have a listen. What a gift!