Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
July 15 (Westfield and Long Reach) and July 22 (Bayswater-Summerville)
Today is the annual Flower Service in the middle of July, so what better time to talk about one of my favourite Christmas movies! The one that I’m thinking of is The Muppet Christmas Carol. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend it – you could wait until December, or you could watch it now in the middle of the summer. But even if you haven’t seen this particular adaptation of Charles Dickens’ book, there’s a good chance that you are familiar with the story.
It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, and as the story unfolds we see how a lonely little boy ends up growing up and living a life that is focused on only one thing – making more money. He studies hard so that he can get a good job; when he has a good job, he works harder to earn more money; but as he earns more money it is never enough and he always craves more and more. His single-mindedness ends up pushing away any sort of love or companionship. He pushes away the other students who try to be friendly with him at school. He meets and falls in love with a young woman named Belle, but his quest for money ends up pushing her away too. His nephew Fred tries to draw him in to the family circle, but again Ebenezer’s quest for money pushes his family away. His employee, Bob Cratchit (played by Kermit the Frog in this version) tries to act with love towards Ebenezer despite his miserable working conditions, but he gets pushed away too.
And so here you have Ebenezer, rich in money (which he could use to buy himself nice clothes or good food though he chooses not to spend it); but he very poor in love and very lonely. The story of Ebenezer’s life to this point is a heart-breaking tragedy.
And that is where I see the connection to this morning’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus asks, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
This passage is found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew’s gospel – and all through this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is presenting an alternative world-view to his listeners. In the passage that we read today, Jesus contrasts the Scrooge world-view – the constant worry about acquiring more and more; more food, more drink, more clothing – with God’s world-view of trust and love.
Jesus uses images that fit well with this time of year in New Brunswick – birds of the air and flowers of the field. These are parts of creation that can’t live by the Scrooge world-view. They live in partnership with God, not worrying about the future.
But this analogy breaks down at a certain point. The flowers out in the field, no matter how mild the winter, won’t survive past a single season. These beautiful flowers that were cut for our flower service, even if we take exquisite care of the bouquet, won’t last beyond a week or so. The flowers live a vibrant life, but it is short and then it is over.
But we aren’t flowers; and this is where I turn to our reading from Romans. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul reminds us that we have an eternal source of hope – a source of hope with no limits; a source of hope with no ending; a source of hope that is greater than we could ever imagine. Jesus Christ is our eternal source of hope.
Baptism is one of God’s gifts to us – a gift that is freely given. And, as Paul writes, in our baptism we are united with Christ. We are welcomed in to the family of the church which is the Body of Christ. We are invited to join with the life and work of that body – to be Christ’s hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart in the world. Paul goes on to write though, that we are also united with Christ in his death. But the good news is that even when Jesus died on the cross and it seemed as though the world had won, the story didn’t end there. Jesus’ death includes his resurrection; and so when we join with the Body of Christ in death, we also are invited to join the Body of Christ in resurrection. And this is our eternal, endless source of hope.
We can see hints of God’s resurrection message throughout all of creation. The flower of the field may die, but they leave behind seeds that will grow into flowers next summer. The birds of the air lay eggs that will hatch and grow into the next generation. Even in the middle of winter when the ground seems dead and frozen, there is life in the leafless trees that will spring forth to new life in only a few months.
We even see hints of God’s resurrection message in The Muppet Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer realizes that he is living a much more limited life than he could be; and he is resurrected from the graveyard of Christmas Yet to Come into a new life of love and generosity.
At this flower service, we gather each year to remember our loved ones who have died. We remember those whom we love who are buried outside in this cemetery; but we also remember those whom we love who are buried far away from here. We remember our family members; we remember our friends; we remember those who are known to the world; we remember those whose names we carry close to our hearts. We remember parents and siblings and children and spouses; we remember aunts and uncles and cousins; we remember babies who died at or before birth, and we remember people who lived for more than 100 years; we remember members of our church family and members of the wider community. It’s amazing to think of how many memories we are carrying together in this room.
We remember our loved ones with these flowers, whose beauty represents the vibrancy of the lives that were lived, no matter how long or how short; but we also remember God’s promise of resurrection so that even in death we can be confident in new life. Just as the flowers growing in a field hold the seeds to new life; our lives hold the seeds to our new life through Jesus Christ. As we live, the seeds that were planted in us by a God who knew us before we were born, are tended and nurtured by the Holy Spirit as we move ever forwards to this new life in Christ.
And so today, we remember our loved ones who came before us; we celebrate the new life that they and we receive in Christ; and we look forward to a day when the whole earth is made new.
Thanks be to God!
(The Bouquet of Memories we built at Bayswater-Summerville United Church.
Somewhere in the middle of this bouquet is a poppy in memory of Mum.)