Proper 15-A

                                                                                                                                                          Matt 15: (10-20), 21-28

                                                                                                                                                          August 20, 2017

                                                                                                                                                          St. Columba’s


           In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


I. Gospel


           A. She was different – she was as different as she could be.


                      1. She was a Canaanite – to even be seen talking with her was scandalous.

                      2. The Canaanites were ancestral enemies of Israel; thus this woman represents all that is immoral, godless, and ritually unclean by Jewish standards.

                      3. So, Jesus ignores her.


                      4. And yet, she wouldn’t leave them alone – she kept after them, yammering away, begging Jesus to heal her daughter.


                      5. It got so bad, at one point, Jesus’ Disciples say, “Send her away, for she keeps bothering us.”


                      6. So when Jesus finally does address her it is in a rather condescending manner.


                      7. And yet, she calls him “Lord,” which in Matthew’s Gospel is a form of address only used by true believers.


                      8. Taken in the context of what precedes this story in the Gospel, Jesus has just been debating with the Pharisees – those who should recognize him.


                      9. And now here is this heretical Canaanite Woman with more faith than the leaders of Judaism.


                      10. And in the end, Jesus grants her request and heals her daughter, saying, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”


                      11. The Disciples must have been stunned – how could this nobody, this worse than a nobody, be an example of great faith?


                      12. But what we have here is Jesus living out what he has been teaching in the parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, and demonstrated in the Feeding of the 5,000 – that God’s abundant, extravagant LOVE extends to everyone.


           B. For this is a story about differences, and overcoming those differences.


                      1. But it’s not only a story about DIFFERENCES – but of fear of the OTHER.

                      2. And I think one of the reasons we are sometimes uncomfortable with how Jesus acts in this story, is that it holds up a mirror to our own behavior.

                 3. Who is it that is different from us – who is the OTHER in your life?


                      4. How do we react to them – how do we treat those WE consider OTHER?


II. Torn apart by fear


           A. In the passage that immediately precedes this story, Jesus debates with the Pharisees about what is clean and unclean.


                      1. Jesus says, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”


                      2. And when asked to explain this, Jesus says, “Whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer. But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (Matt 15:10-20)


                      3. Well, we’ve certainly seen a lot coming from people’s mouths this past week in light of the events in Charlottesville, that has shown what was on their hearts – and it was not good.


                      4. And what we see when we look around, is that we are torn apart by FEAR.





           B. Just look at what’s going on all around us – rather than bringing us together, our leaders want to push us further and further apart.


                      1. Our politicians want to disenfranchise minority groups, they want to roll back the voting rights act, and work for voter suppression instead of helping everyone to vote.

                          - And why? Because those people might not vote for them – but if you truly represented the voice of your constituents, they would vote for you.


                      2. Meanwhile, hate groups like what we saw on display in Charlottesville are on the rise.


                      3. The Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks these things on their website, says there are 917 active Hate Groups in the United States – 917 – and this number has grown exponentially in the last few years.


                      4. Hate Crimes by White Supressionists and other hate groups, emboldened by what they hear out of Washington and elsewhere, are on the rise.

                      5. And it’s not just race – mosques have been attacked and burned, and the number of anti-Muslim groups has grown over the last few years from 34 to 101.

                      6. Whether we like it or not – we live in a time of hatred and darkness – we live in a time of FEAR – fear of the OTHER.


           C. So I will ask you again, “Who are you afraid of? Who is the one who is DIFFERENT? Who is the OTHER?”


                      1. We live in a time in which very soon there will be no single majority in our country – we will become, much like California, a majority of minorities.


                      2. And as this happens we face a choice: we can become even more isolated into our own groups – or we can become the giant salad bowl we were created to be, each bringing our own distinct flavors to add to the mix.


                      3. But for some this is a difficult concept to face – and so they hold on to their old ways with both hands – resisting change whenever possible.


                      4. Sociologists say that we perpetuate this fear and mistrust by further and further isolating ourselves by surrounding ourselves with people who look like us, and talk like us, and think like us.


                      5. The Internet and Facebook and other tools for reaching out can also be used for this same isolation, as we only “LIKE” people who are like us, or go to websites we agree with and get our news from the places we like to hear.

                      6. And the result is we become further isolated – almost ghettoized – as we only seek the narrow way.


                      7. Where’s the growth in that? The only way we grow is by experiencing new and different things that challenge us and cause us to grow.


III. Our response


           A. So how are we going to live?  What is our response going to be?


                      1. Do we cower behind doors with ever stronger locks, with our heads in the sand hoping someone is going to do something?


                2. Or will we work to make our world the place that God calls it to be?


                      3. Writing this week on the events of Charlottesville and its aftermath, or Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry had this to say:


                      4. “I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe the teachings, the Spirit, the Person, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have shown us the way through chaos to true community as God intended from the beginning.

                      5. “Through the way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with the God and Creator of us all.


                      6. “Through his way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with each other as children of God, and as brothers and sisters.


                      7. “In so doing, Jesus has shown the way to become the Beloved Community of  God.

                                 - “St. Paul said it this way, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself’ and now he has entrusted us with ‘the message of reconciliation.’ (2 Corinthians 5:19)

                      8. Bishop Curry continues: “We who follow Jesus have made a choice to walk a different way: the way of disciplined, intentional, passionate, compassionate, mobilized, organized love intent on creating God’s Beloved Community on earth.


                      9. This Sunday and in the days and weeks to come, as we gather in community to worship God and then move about in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, social circles and more, we will be faced with a choice.


                      10. “I ask and invite us as congregations and individuals who are together the Episcopal Church of the Jesus Movement to intentionally, purposely, and liturgically rededicate ourselves to the way of Jesus, the work of racial reconciliation, the work of healing and dismantling everything that wounds and divides us, the work of becoming God’s Beloved Community.”


           B. Challenging words from our Presiding Bishop, but how do we live this out in our lives?

                      - How do we work to become “God’s Beloved Community” that the Presiding Bishop talks about?


                      1. The example we need to follow is right there for us in today’s Gospel, in Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite Woman.


                      2. Through her faith, racial bigotry, religious intolerance, and sexism are overcome as Jesus demonstrates once again that God’s amazing extravagant abundant love is offered to everyone.


                      3. And WE are called to share this love through our FAITH as well.


                      4. So, one more time, who is the OTHER in our life – who is the One who is DIFFERENT?

                                 - And how do you treat them?


                      5. How do you reach out to them with God’s extravagant abundant love – how do YOU make a difference for them?


                      6. How is YOUR FAITH lived out in the way you interact with the OTHER – with those who are different – with those who you might even be a little bit afraid of?


                      7. Answer these questions and you’ll know what it is to live a life of FAITH – following in the footsteps of Christ – it CAN be done – it MUST be done.

                      8. Remember, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”


                      9. Let us do SOMETHING – let us work to be God’s Beloved Community – and work to bring God’s extravagant abundant love to a world that so desperately needs it.


Let Us Pray


           O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.                                              (BCP p. 815)


Proper 10 – A

                                                                                                                                                                   Matt 13:1-9,18-23

                                                                                                                                                                        July 16, 2017

                                                                                                                                                                        St. Columba’s


           In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.



           In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the Parable of the Sower.


           This story shows us Jesus at his story-telling best, and we even get a glimpse of his Rabbinic Rhetoric.


           Jesus tells a straightforward story about a familiar scene in any agricultural community:

                      A farmer goes out to sow seeds

                      The seeds fall here and there

                      Some of them germinate, thrive and mature

                      Some don’t

                      End of Story.


I. Allegorical Interpretations


           A. But Jesus’ hearers would have heard clues as to the story’s meaning.


                      1. Images of planting, growth and harvest were deeply embedded in the Jewish religious imagination as symbols of the KINGDOM OF GOD.


                      2. Jesus can be certain that whenever He speaks about seed-sowing and harvest, barrenness and fruitfulness, His hearers will understand that he is talking about God’s Kingdom and God’s will.


                      3. Probably in its original form, this parable was one of contrast pointing to the miraculous YIELD of God’s Kingdom, despite the frustrations and lack of success of Jesus and his followers.


                      4. In this form, the SEED is the Word of God which is spread about to the crowds.

                      5. And even though some of the seed falls where it can do little or no good – the harvest WILL come and it WILL be abundant.


           B. Scholars, however, debate about the second half of our reading, in which the parable is explained.


                      1. It’s not like Jesus to explain his parables, and thus turn them into ALLEGORIES;

                                 - so scholars tend to believe that this explanation is a later addition by Matthew or the Early Church.


                      2. Because in the allegory the focus of the story shifts from the ABUNDANCE of God’s Kingdom, to a warning about hearing the Word of God.

                      3. But whether it comes from Jesus or not, the interpretation that identifies the different kinds of soil with different kinds of hearers has always held a significant place in the church’s thought.


                            4. Traditionally, the way this parable is treated is that the seeds themselves represent the teachings of Jesus and the soil in which they land determine the different responses to what is sown.


                      5. But this time around, I would like us to look at the SEED itself and see what conclusions we might draw.


II. The Seed


           A. The story is told of two seeds that lay side by side in the fertile soil.


                      1. The first seed said, “I want to grow!

                                 - “I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me.


                      2. “I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring.

                      3. “I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!”


                      4. And so she grew.


                      5. The second seed said, “I am afraid.

                                 - “If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark.


                      6. “If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts.


                      7. “What if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them?

                                 - “And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child might pull me from the ground.


                      8. “No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.

                                 - And so she waited …


                      9. But, unfortunately, a yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.


                      10. It takes effort to be the Good Seed of the Kingdom of God.


           B. In the Gospel, Jesus says that the SEED is “the word of the kingdom.’


                      1. In other words, the seeds are the teachings of Jesus about the Good News of the Kingdom of God.


                      2. These are all those other parables and stories that make us pause and scratch our heads, because they don’t add up to our way of thinking.


                      3. You know, stories where a hated SAMARITAN is the good guy and treats a stranger as their neighbor,

                                 - or when a wastrel SON returns home and is welcomed by his loving Father,          

                                 - or other farming stories about hiring people throughout the day and then paying them the same WAGE – no matter how many hours they worked.

                      4. You know, those stories about the God’s extravagant, inclusive, unconditional love freely offered to all – whether we think they deserve it or not.


           C. And like seeds, Jesus’ teachings are NOT to be stored somewhere safe in a dark place where no one can disturb them.


                      1. On the contrary – they are to be taken out and scattered all over the place.

                      2. I mean look at the SOWER – once again we see the extravagance of God – this guy is shooting seeds everywhere: on the path, in the weeds, on the rocks, and on the fertile farm soil that is prepared for it – but the point is the seeds are shot EVERYWHERE.


                      3. God’s Word is offered to EVERYONE!!


                      4. But in order for this to happen – the only way the NEWS of God’s love can be spread – is if somebody does it;

                                 - and that SOMEBODY, my friends, means YOU and Me.


III. Being Sowers


           A. That’s right – the only way for God’s Word to be spread about is if WE do it.

                      1. And before you start backpedalling and saying, “No, that’s your job, you are the professional “Word Sower;”


                      2. It’s OK – there are lots of ways to sow the seeds of God’s Kingdom – the seeds of God’s Love.


                      3. Remember the Sower from the parable: he’s not responsible for what happens to the seed – God takes care of that – his job is to just get it out there any way he can;

                                 - and so is ours.


                      4. It’s as simple as telling people about God and about God’s love for them – that’s it – and we do it all the time.

                      5. We do it in the way we live our lives and the way we treat other people – in other words, the way WE show God’s love.


                      6. We do it every time we welcome a stranger into our midst, every time we pray The Welcoming Prayer – and really mean it, every time we reach out and get to know someone who is new to us.


                      7. We don’t have to be great theologians – we don’t have to be Defenders of the Faith – all we have to do and say is “This is what it means to me …”

                      - This is what it means to me to find meaning in the worship of the Episcopal Church

                      - This is what it means to me to be a part of the COMMUNITY  of St. Columba’s

                      - This is what I’ve found and I hope you find it too.


           It’s as simple as that.


           B. And we’re doing it this weekend with our BOOTH at the Fiesta.

                      1. We have close to 25 people helping in various ways to get out the Good News about God’s Love and St. Columba’s.


                      2. In our booth are a collection of sayings with pictures illustrating how we strive to live them out.


                      3. Sayings such as:

                                 - We welcome all – the faithful, the seekers, the doubters

                                 - Faith is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God

                                 - We find our unity in shared worship not forced agreement

                                 - Being an intelligent, strong woman is not a drawback in the Episcopal Church

                                 - You are treated as an adult but the child in you is welcome

                                 - This is the only church as lovingly loony as your family


                      4. And these are just some of the ways that we live out God’s Kingdom in this place, and our lives, each and every day.



           For as we strive to live out God’s Kingdom in our lives – as a parish and as individuals – we are being SOWERS of God’s love.


           Remember, this is a parable about ABUNDANCE – the abundance of the Kingdom of God despite our ineptness and frustrations.


           So let us become SOWERS of the Good News of God’s Love for us, and fling our SEED with the same reckless abandon as the Sower – trusting that God will bless our efforts and cause them to flourish with abundance.


Let Us Pray

           O God of seed time and harvest, you have generously sown the Good Seed in our hearts:  Grant that what you have planted not only takes root, but flourishes, producing abundant fruits of faith and love in our lives, that we may in turn become sowers of the seeds of your kingdom.  This we pray in the Name of the Great Sower of your Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 

(Notebook p.243 – adapted)


Proper 9 – A

                                                                                                                                                          Matt 11:16-19, 23-30

                                                                                                                                                          July 9, 2017

                                                                                                                                                          St. Columba’s


              In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


I. Yoked for Service


           A. As Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, we hear that the people marveled at his teaching, healing and proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

                      - “Who is this guy?” they would ask one another; for he was unlike anyone else they had ever seen.


                      1. Yet, at the same time, Jesus and his teachings also met stiff opposition from those in positions of power and authority.

                                 - “Who does this guy think he is?” was the question they asked – as they experienced him as a threat to their position and authority.


                      2. In our passage today, Jesus talks about this opposition, comparing them to obstinate children who refuse to join in each other’s games.


                      3. He refers to John the Baptist and how the two of them seem to be caught in a “Catch 22”.


                      4. On the one hand, John was dismissed because of his ascetic lifestyle, as Jesus points out “he came neither eating nor drinking, and they say ‘He has a demon.’


                      5. While on the other hand, Jesus is accused of gluttony and drunkenness because he ate and drank with those considered to be outcasts and sinners.

                      6. He then goes on to thank God that God’s truths are hidden from those the world considers wise and important and instead are revealed them to those who the world thinks are unimportant.


           B. To these followers, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


                      1. This image Jesus is using is right from the farm and would have been very plain to the people of Jesus’ day.

                      2. All the people had to hear was yoke and they could envision two animals harnessed together, thus making the heaviest burdens possible to bear.


                      3. Several years ago, Nancy and I spent a vacation in Central New York and visited Cooperstown.


                      4. Of course we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but first we went to the Farmer’s Museum – which among other things includes a recreated village showing how the people of the area lived 200 years ago.


                      5. There as we walked around was a “farmer” getting ready to disc his field using oxen to pull his equipment.


                      6. To keep the oxen together and to use the full advantage of their combined strength the farmer yoked them together.

                                 - A wooden ox yoke went over their shoulders so that they could work TOGETHER.


           C. That’s the image that Jesus was pointing to for his followers – being yoked together, yoked together in service to spread his message of God’s love.


                      1. Think about those OXEN yoked together pulling a plow – they work together, in harmony, moving steadily onward – until they accomplish their task.

                      2. And the same could be said about the followers of Christ.


                      3. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


                      4. And what is Jesus’ yoke – this burden he calls us to carry – it can be summed up in one word – LOVE.


                      5. The yoke we are bound together with is LOVE.


                      6. We as Jesus’ followers are yoked together – all of us harnessed to work together on a common task – to make Jesus’ message of God’s love known.

                      7. We do this in so many ways, but if each of us went scurrying off in our own separate direction, our work would be too diffuse and diluted.


                8. Yet, by working together under Jesus’ yoke of love, we are able to combine our strengths and talents in accomplishing the things we are given to do.

II. Sylvia


           A. We said, “Goodbye” to a great example of this last Thursday – Sylvia Aplin.

                      1. For Sylvia was a true servant of God, who knew the power of Jesus’ yoke.


                      2. If you could say anything about Sylvia, it was that she KNEW God.

                      3. A week or so before she died, I was talking with Sylvia via her son’s cell phone – and she said to me, “Fr Greg, when I die will I go to heaven.

                                 - And I said, “Sylvia, if you don’t – there’s no hope for the rest of us.”

                      4. Sylvia had a deep and abiding relationship with God – that you could just know – you could just feel – when you were with her.


                      5. Of course, she wasn’t afraid to tell you about her relationship with God either.


                      6. It’s just part of who she was – the life she led – and part of the legacy she leaves for the rest of us as well.


           B. Sylvia was a member of the Daughters of the King, an organization whose vows and ministry she took deeply to heart.


                      1. The Daughters of the King is an order found around the world in the Anglican Communion whose mission is: the “extension of Christ’s Kingdom though, Prayer, Service and Evangelism.”


                      2. Hmm, Prayer, Service and Evangelism – that sums up Sylvia pretty well – I guess you could say, in a very real way she was the poster child for the Daughters of the King.


                      3. For Prayer, Service and Evangelism were the way that she lived her life.


           C. I told this story the other day at Sylvia’s funeral, but I think it bears re-telling, for it is a wonderful example of how she lived this out.


                      1. Before they came to Camarillo, Sylvia and Dennis lived in Santa Monica.

                      2. And living next door to them was this nice couple of women whose company they would enjoy.


                      3. It seems Dennis would especially enjoy engaging them in conversation whenever they were in their hot tub in the back yard.


                      4. When he heard them in the hot tub, his head would pop over the fence and he would have a chat.


                      5. Of course, they didn’t bother to wear bathing suits when they were in the hot tub – so sometimes it could be a long chat.


                      6. As they did later when they moved here, Sylvia and Dennis had a HOUSE CHURCH that met weekly in their home for prayer and study.


                      7. Sylvia would lead Evening Prayer and there would be a Bible Study or Book Discussion.


                      8. Well, one day, one of these neighbor ladies asked Sylvia, “What is it that you have going on at your house every week?”


                      9. And Sylvia simply said, “Come and see.” 

                                 - “Come and see,” that’s all she said.


                      10. So, the neighbor lady did.

                                 - She came to check out this group – and stayed.


                      11. She became part of the House Church – and then became part of the main church, at St. Augustine’s – and eventually was ordained as a Priest in the Episcopal Church.

                                 - All because Sylvia said, “Come and See”


                      12. And THAT is just one way Sylvia led her life of Prayer, Service and Evangelism – that was how she was yoked to serve.


III. How are we yoked to serve


           A. So, how are WE yoked to serve?


                      1. Let’s think about this for a minute.


                2. If we are yoked that presumes a PAIR – so who are we yoked with?                                  - And quite simply, I think the answer is Jesus.

                      3. Think about that, WE are yoked together WITH Jesus, in Jesus’ yoke of love, to carry out Jesus’ mission of sharing God’s love.


                      4. Just like those OXEN in the field, we are to work slow and steady TOGETHER – not on our own – to accomplish the tasks that are placed before us.


           B. Donald S. Armentrout paraphrases Jesus’ invitation this way:


                      1. “‘Come to me…’

                                 - “You do not have to eat and drink in some particular way to be worthy.

                                 - “You do not have to acquire special wisdom.

                                 - “Come as you are.


                      2. “Find me among those who gather in my name.

                                 - Find me in the church where sisters and brothers bear one another’s burdens, praying for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.


                      3. “‘Come, and find rest for your souls.’”


           C. Are you willing to be yoked to serve?


                      1. Will you put on Jesus’ yoke of love to carry out your ministry in the world?

                      2. Will you be yoked to Jesus – working in tandem with him to bring God’s love to those who need it.


              3. Will YOU be a person of PRAYER, SERVICE and EVANGELISM?


                      4. Will you, like Sylvia be willing to say, “Come and See?”


Let Us Pray


           O God you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.                                              (BCP p. 230)