Welcome to worship on this 5th Sunday after Pentecost, which lands on July 2, 2023.
The bulletin for this service can be found here. As always, the bulletin will include the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the page and hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. There will be a newish hymn out of the ACS book, but we have sung it before and the music (along with everything else you need to know) will be on your screen. And the sermon is also included on this page after the worship video.
If you’d like to enhance your online worship experience, you are welcome to have a lit candle in your space that can be extinguished with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you wish to participate in communion, you can do so by having something small to eat and drink prepared, which can be consumed at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given during the service.
May God’s unending grace and love be upon you this day and always!
Loving God, speak your Word to us this day and send your Spirit to equip and inspire us, that your grace-filled hospitality may be at the center of our lives, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
So it’s that time of year! School is out for the summer. I love this time of year, the weather, the longer days, the freedom that comes with not having to worry about schools, books, or teachers and their… well no offence to teachers.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate school or anything. I’m not even in school. It’s just that life is tougher when our kids have school. Like their sleep schedule is my sleep schedule. Their homework is my homework. Their stresses, worries, and at times, strong dislike for school have all become mine as well. So ok, yeah maybe there are times that I hate school, but just only when it’s in session. In the summer, school is fine. I don’t mind it at all. It’s just that when it’s actually on that I have a hard time with it.
And apparently, this coming September it’s going to be different for a lot of kids in BC. Many of us remember the letter grades that we got when we were in school, the A’s and B’s and C’s and so forth. They told us who was smart and who wasn’t so much, who understood the material and who didn’t, and who might make it far in the future and who probably should keep their options open. Well, as you’ve probably heard, the BC Ministry of Education has decided to get rid of those letter grades for all students grade 9 and under, and replacing them with categories in which the student falls under: emerging, developing, proficient, or extending. And my goodness the backlash that the Ministry received for this decision.
Now, I’m not an expert in education whatsoever, all I know is from my own experience from being in school for like 39 years or something like that. But what I noticed with the letter grades, which is what I think the Ministry is trying to battle against, is that the students would aim just for that grade, and not the actual learning and education and the improving of the self. Like they would go through the motions, temporarily memorize the facts, and complete just what they needed to do in order to meet whatever requirement is needed to get that A.
“Work hard,” they’d tell us. Read, study, interact in class. And if you can regurgitate what they teach you to the standard that they set, then you’ll be rewarded with an A. And I’ll admit, getting those A’s really were a bit intoxicating. Maybe it’s because I received so very few of them throughout my student career, but they really did make me feel special.
And I guess that is where the backlash came from. If we don’t recognise our kids for their achievements, are we teaching them that they don’t matter? If there is no prize for following the rules and meeting the standards, why should they even bother? If they aren’t rewarded for their hard work, why should they work hard?
So then is removing this grading system that tries to keep our kids hard working and disciplined, detrimental to their development? Is changing this system of checks and balances developing a generation of mediocrity? Is taking away the reward of early education effectively taking away the motivation to do well?
Looking at today’s gospel text, it would seem like Jesus wouldn’t be in favour of removing rewards. I mean, Jesus says the actual word for “reward” like three times in as many verses. So it would appear that rewarding the work of his followers is an important thing. And as it should be, right? Who doesn’t like to be rewarded? Who doesn’t enjoy being recognised? Who wouldn’t work harder knowing there is a prize at the finish line as opposed to there just being a general “proficient” classification?
Of course, being who we are, following who we follow, and believing what we believe, we would understand this reward to be eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We know this reward to be God’s gracious forgiveness from sin. We have faith that our reward is surely life in God’s kingdom, God’s community, in God’s arms of love forever.
So in these motivational and encouraging words that Jesus gives to his disciples as he’s sending them out, he seems to be reassuring them that they will be rewarded for all they do for him, they will be rewarded for their hard work, they will be rewarded for their discipline and faith. And good for them. Good for them for doing what is right. Good for them for being those pillars of the faith and examples for us all. Good for them for earning their reward, which as Paul tells us in today’s second reading, is “the free gift of God.”
Wait, what? Hang on a sec.
Paul says that this reward, as we understand it, is God’s free gift. A free gift? I know these days of super discounted shopping sites and apps like Wish and Temu, we know that the term “free” gift can be super convoluted and perhaps even misleading. With them, to get your “free” gift you need to spend a certain dollar amount, you need to invite a certain number of your uninterested friends, you need to give up a certain percentage of your personal information. By then, the gift isn’t really free anymore, is it? I mean, by definition any gift should be free, otherwise it ceases to be a gift. It becomes a purchase, a prize that we have to work for, a reward for fulfilling some sort of requirement, meeting some sort of standard, reaching some sort of goal.
Oh my this just got confusing.
So if salvation is God’s free gift, how can it be a reward? Well, in my opinion, it can’t be. Salvation is God’s free gift, we cannot earn it. Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve, so we cannot win it. Eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord is something that is given to us without requirement, stipulation, or condition.
But if that’s the case, if salvation isn’t our reward, why should we even bother listening to what Jesus has to say? Why do we ever need to follow God’s call? Why do we need to work hard in our welcoming of others?
Well that’s the thing, our salvation isn’t dependant on what we do, who we are, or how welcoming we may or may not be. Our salvation is a free gift, that is sure. But the reward that Jesus is talking about is still a reward, it just isn’t what many of us might automatically think it is. See, our reward for being welcoming is that we will be welcoming. Our reward for loving others is that we become loving people. Our reward in receiving and putting our faith in the promises of God is that we recognise God’s promises that give us hope, we are strengthened in our faith, and we can more fully and clearly see others as God sees them: as individuals in need of community, as people who need to be seen and heard, as sinners in need of forgiveness.
See we cannot be rewarded with a free gift, but we can be rewarded with right relationship that we work for, a strong community that we commit to, and recognition of our citizenship in God’s kingdom in which we find our belonging, our purpose, and our connection with all people, mutually loved and given value and worth through the grace shown to us by Jesus our Lord.
So under this light, I honestly don’t care if my kids get a letter grade or not, because that isn’t their reward for education. Their reward is learning and learning how to learn, not a piece of paper that may or may not get them a job. My work as a pastor isn’t motivated by whatever you might see as riches in heaven or anything like that, but it is the honour to help build community and help all of us to see who we are and whose we are as people of God. My being a person in this world isn’t about trying to be loved by God, but it’s figuring out how I can reflect God’s love that has been first given to me onto all those that I encounter.
Yes, we are saved, this is true but it isn’t our reward for faith, but it is the reason for it. We are loved, but not because of what we have done or can do, but it is our motivation to go and do. We are welcomed into God’s kingdom, but not because we have earned it by also being welcoming, but it is our strength and example for how we can be more welcoming by the grace of God, in the name of Christ, by the power of the Spirit.
So in this season after Pentecost, may we continue to reflect God’s love onto others, motivated not by gain or reward, but by the grace and love that God had first shown us, granting us peace and joy, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.