First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Reflections on Readings for Sunday, November 2, 2014

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Readings : Revelations 7: 9-17, Psalm 34 : 1-10, 1John 3: 1-3, Mathew 5: 1- 12 

Hi everyone,

My apologies for not sending out first thoughts the past two weeks. Last Saturday and Sunday I was working in Bancroft.   I was preaching In The Parish of North Hastings and as I was  helping them  with Natural Church Development I looked at the readings with the perspective of NCD and I was reminded again how valuable it is to look at parish life in relation to the very important principles of Loving Relationships , Passionate Spirituality, Holistic Small Groups and the other quality characteristics.

Doing these  first thoughts originated from our NCD survey and I think this and any other way we can help each other ponder the Scriptures will enrich our parish life. So I will try again to get back on track and be faithful to this ministry.

Hope these thoughts are helpful for you as we worship God this Sunday.

This Sunday we are marking All Saints: Readings : Revelations 7: 9-17, Psalm 34 : 1-10, 1John 3: 1-3, Mathew 5: 1- 12

I hope this does not sound to morbid but for some strange reason I framed my thoughts on these readings based on readings I would like to have at my funeral.  I was thinking that the reading from Revelation would be a great reading for such an occasion. ( don’t worry I have no reason to be planning it now). Revelation can be a very hard book to understand and this is a vast oversimplification but for me St. John was blessed with the vision to be able to give hope to  persecuted churches and followers of Christ. The vision says  that God in Christ is victorious and herein lies our hope for today and in the future. It is why we use white at funerals to celebrate the victory and purity of Christ’s loving victory  for us and why this and other readings from Revelation are often used at funerals.

I would love this reading  at my funeral because it would encourage people to be filled with praise for God. I love John’s description of utter and total praise of God.  A vast multitude which no one could count crying in a loud voice, waving Palm branches praising God, “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and praise be to our God forever and ever” At our combined service in Waupoos the church was packed and Danny told me he tried counting people on one side and then would lose count so he just went with 72 . Well the counter in John’s vision had the same problem and just like in our service the singing was joyous and full of praise. It was wonderful and  when we join the heavenly chorus it will be  spectacular and a good sermon could focus on how worship is the heart of a Christian community’s life.  There is something absolutely central to the worship of God . It is such a wonderful way to say thank you to God. It is such a wonderful way to grow in our love for God. It is kind of like when someone tells their spouse how beautiful they are or how special they are to them. It is a wonderful way to put our trust in God. It is also a wonderful way to mystically join with those who have gone before us in the praise of God a good thought for All Saints Day.

 I would love to have this reading  because it puts the focus on Jesus.  Our reading points us to the reality that salvation belongs to Christ.  This is also a good thing to note on All Saints Day because we are not saints based on how good we are ( thank goodness for this in my case) but because Christ has made us all saints. To make this point there are some ironic uses of metaphors , the use of opposite metaphors which really highlight the wonder of our salvation. Our white robes are washed in the blood of the lamb ( Jesus) It is His gift and in particular this  gift is described as offered to us by the blood of the lamb ( Jesus). But then the one who is described as a lamb becomes our shepherd and under the shepherd’s care there will be no more hunger , thirst, our tears will be wiped away and we will be guided to springs of living water. Wonderful images to ponder.What have been some of your most wonderful experiences of worship?  Our three verse epistle reading would be wonderful to have at my funeral. Again it focuses our attention on the wonderful love of God. But it also invites us to imagine the amazing truth that we will see Jesus face to face and that we will be like Him. Absolutely amazing to think that we will be like Him. A great sermon would ponder what this means. Of course the reading tells us that it means something for the here and now. It means that we are called to not wait for the future but to begin now as best as we can to shape ourselves into Christ like people by seeking purity. An analogy that I got from N.T. Wright was that if we were going to meet a new boss we might want to learn about the business and if we are going to meet Christ well it might be good to consider what it means to be pure.A reason we might have this epistle for Sunday is because it speaks about how God’s love has made us all brothers and sisters another way of describing the fact that we are all saints.

The epistle reading is a very good segue into our Gospel reading because it is our Lord’s beatitudes which are descriptions of how we are to live today and two of them directly reference purity and all of them describe purity of heart in one manner or another.

As we heard at the Bonheoffer sessions the Sermon on the Mount guided Bonheoffer and he sought to live them out in his life. I do not know but I would imagine at his memorial service it was read. As an aside he was living the life of persecution that St. John’s audience was living when he wrote Revelation. We learned that when Bonheoffer  was executed he was at peace and full of joy. I wonder if he  was looking forward to seeing Christ face to face?  He certainly in very difficult circumstances strived to be pure of heart.

As a teen it was the Beatitudes that really captured my attention. As a teen it was the words of Christ that made me realize He was special. I was captivated and inspired if not also confused at times by what Jesus was saying. His teachings captivated  me. They are very idealistic and perhaps an idealistic teen would be more easily amazed and enamored .  But as an older person I have truly  brings happiness.

One  cannot do justice to the Beatitudes in a few words. So just a couple of thoughts to get us thinking.

Some people think that the Sermon on the Mount is meant to make us realize that there is no way we can live it out on our own so it drives us to recognize that we need God’s strength and mercy, worth thinking about especially today when the church remembers Martin Luther and the Reformation. Luther was driven to live a perfect life and he realized he could never accomplish this goal. Apparently his confessor was kept very busy and was frustrated with how often Luther would come to confession. And then while studying Paul’s Letter to the Romans he realized the role of faith  ,”for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last , just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith” He stopped trying to earn God’s favour and simply received it as a freely given gift and the Church and the world has never been the same.

You know I am increasingly thinking that I  live in two worlds, the world that consists of a wide variety of media where we hear over and over again of violence,  greed ect and the world I actually physically encounter day by day where I experience  love , kindness, generosity and goodness. Perhaps I live in a bubble and I know that many Canadians especially woman and children but men as well live with violence and poverty every day but I wonder if you know what I mean. I think my daily experience is closer to the beatitudes than my experience of the world through media.

So I think it  would be a wonderful spiritual discipline to ponder our Lord’s teaching after every news broadcast, after every disturbing movie where wealth and power are glamorized. Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers. Because if we do not I fear that our daily lives will begin to reflect more and more the world of the media. Our standards for success will reflect this culture and not Christ’s vision. One commentator asked similar questions and used Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken,  as a guide in her  thinking. She compared the beatitudes and our culture as two paths we could choose and concludes( she says a lot of other insightful things) “ The path that Jesus offers may not initially look as appealing , but the farther down the road of faith one travels, the more truth one finds. We discover that humility, unlike power, needs no defense. We realize righteousness – doing the right thing- is its own reward. We find that a pure heart is much easier to live with than one filled with jealousy , resentment, or cynicism. Step by step , we learn that following Jesus – even if we are persecuted for it- leads to a joy that nothing can take away.” Feasting on The Gospel’s Vol. 1 pg 79, Christine Chakoian