Worship Service for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on June 25, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin of course will have the order and words of worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. As always, the words that you need to know will be on your screen and the sermon is included on this page after the video.

To enhance your online worship experience, you are invited to have a lit candle in your space for most of the service and extinguish it after the sending hymn as the altar candles are extinguished. And if you wish to participate in communion, you are welcome to do so by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time during the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s love and grace pierce your soul with the peace that surpasses all understanding!

O Lord, send your Spirit into our midst and entice us and enable us with the power of your Word, that we might be strengthened to hear your call and live according to your ways of righteousness and grace, through Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Undoubtedly you all have heard about the submersible vessel that went missing last Sunday morning while taking a group of tourists down to see the sunken remains of the Titanic.  And if you have heard of that, you probably also heard that they found the wreckage of said submersible about 4 days later, with the best guess being that the vessel imploded under the immense water pressure at that depth and perhaps poor safety standards.  At least in my circles, this story caught the internet by storm.  People talking about this and that and picking apart the whole story.

But what really happened?  Some rich people died after paying $250,000 each for a ticket to see the legendary Titanic.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sad story and I feel for the loved ones that these people have left behind.  But did you hear about another water-related incident where a boat carrying some 750 refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Greece?  This happened just 5 days before the Titanic submersible story, and yet it didn’t get nearly as much media attention, at least, not in my circles.

In fact, the only reason I heard about it was when someone in the comments of an article about the Titanic thing actually said something like, “5 rich people go missing and everyone is talking about it, yet a boat full of poor refugees flips over and no one cares.”

And while it might be likely that many of you have actually heard and were following both stories, I can’t help but to think of how much truth that comment carries.  We have tragedies happen in our world every day but it seems like the only ones that are interesting to the masses are the ones that involve celebrities, the rich, or maybe the people we might relate to or perhaps want to be more.

Because to be honest, even though by North American standards I don’t have much, I do relate more to the rich than I do to the poor. Even as a racialized person I see myself more as privileged than marginalized.  And even though I’ll never be able to afford it, I can see myself going down to see the Titanic more than desperately escaping my country in search of safety. 

We see what we see, we read what we read, and we subconsciously interpret things the way we interpret them.  This isn’t a right or wrong thing whatsoever, but it’s just something that I believe is ingrained in us and what we just naturally do, unless we are very intentional in changing the lens through which we see the world.

Now you might be thinking, what on earth does this have to do with the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, which just happens to be one of my favourite Sundays after Pentecost?  Well, when I read the texts for today, I felt a bit conflicted with the gospel texts.  I mean, if you know, you know.  But this just doesn’t sound like Jesus to you, does it?  It’s hard for us to relate.

The Jesus we know is about love, compassion, and forgiveness.  But this whole, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” business is so out of character that it’s almost uncomfortable.  I would think that it doesn’t sit well with most of us and is something we find hard to understand.  Yet, I personally know people that take this text literally and to heart.  They say that this is the proof that we shouldn’t be so accepting, we don’t need to be gracious, we can’t live in community with those who see it differently.  Instead, we should stand up for what we believe in, lift up a militant and works-based God, and shun those who don’t agree with us.

Like, these folk that I know truly believe this.

And so I’m torn.  I look at this text and I can’t make heads or tails out of it.  Have I been wrong about Jesus this whole time?  Have I misunderstood his whole mission?  Have I wasted my life believing in and following an ideal that actually isn’t what I thought it was from the start? 

But then I take a step back, think about what I know of Jesus, how I understand the effect that he’s had on my life, what principles that he taught that influenced my faith, and I have to come to the conclusion that these words of Jesus actually aren’t saying what they sound like they’re saying.  As with many interpretations of scripture, of modern day events, of life in general, context is very important.  It wouldn’t be right to just cherry pick a small portion and take it exactly at face value without considering the surrounding story and the driving themes and principles. 

And so I look at the whole passage that we get for today.  I consider the other texts that were chosen to accompany this text for this 4th Sunday after Pentecost Year A.  I think about the whole gospel of Matthew and what his purpose of writing has always been.  Then I put it in the context of all of scripture to figure out what is actually going on here.

And even then?  Different people can get wildly different conclusions.  This is the scary part, yes, but it’s also a very liberating and telling part.  What I mean is that scripture, our bibles, this living and breathing Word of God, is so very full, rich, and so useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.  Paul told Timothy that, and I believe it.

Scripture teaches us to be a better us, not how to reprimand others to be more like us.  It’s good for reproof, revealing to us where we are lacking, not acting as a measuring rod in which we can judge where others are lacking.  Our bibles are useful for correction, to show us what we can focus on and how we can change, not for giving us permission to point our fingers at others and tell them how they need to shape up.  This living and breathing Word of God is meant to train us in righteousness, not to make us feel good, pat ourselves on our backs as righteous, and shame those who aren’t on our level.

See as it’s been said time and again, scripture comforts the agitated, and agitates the comfortable.

And so how we read this passage is very telling of what is in our hearts.  It reminds us of what we are like deep down in our lives.  And it reveals to us what types of doctrines we put our faith in. 

Earlier this week there was this meme that has been floating around social media, and it simply says this:

Now, if this isn’t bringing a sword into our hearts and minds, I don’t know what is.  I see Jesus saying that he isn’t bringing peace into the current world systems, to accept the inequality of our hierarchies and power structures, to think that the marginalizing and shaming of others is ok.  Instead, he brings a sword to the injustices, to the oppression, to the sin of the world, to agitate all those who are comfortable with their own privilege and insiderness, and to comfort all those who are disadvantaged in their outsiderness.

So while we cannot help but to see things how we see them, we can recognise what it is that we see and put it up against the rest of scripture and the themes of love, grace, and peace, and ask what do our interpretations and understandings tell us about us.  We can look in our hearts and discern what kinds of hurt or anger or even hate we might be holding on to, and allow the sword of Christ to surgically remove it, that we might feel the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness and embrace this wide, diverse, and communal body of Christ that welcomes us all and gives us a value and worth that graciously washes away our shame and guilt.

See, we might relate more to the powerful, we might identify more with the rich, we might even see ourselves more worthy to bear the sword to cut others out of our lives, but we are called to live in community, we are led to show compassion, and we are empowered to love just as we first were loved.

So in this season after Pentecost, may we continually look at ourselves, allowing scripture to comfort and agitate, that we might more fully live in community with each other and holding onto the peace that surpasses all understanding, graciously given to us and all people through the life and ministry of Jesus our Lord.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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