Sunday, October 30, 2011

20 Pentecost Yr A

Many years ago, my husband Rick managed the Episcopal Ad Project, which produced some amazing ads for the Episcopal Church. It was at that time that we became Mac people. Rick worked on one of the very first Macintosh computers, it was a box that sat on his desk and it was a wonder to behold. He got to do all of his work on, and I even got to use it too. We’ve only bought Apples since then, although sometimes we have to use the other ones. In those days who would have thought that each of us would have a computer on our desk, and each of us would carry one in our pockets and in our purses. Who would have thought that I'd be standing here today with what I want to say on my ipad? Who would have thought? Steve Jobs thought, and all those who worked closely with him. As I have spent some time reflecting on Steve Jobs life and death, I think his example of innovative thinking, I would call it imaginative thinking, serves us well. What, besides Steve Jobs death, would cause me to begin this sermon with this story? I think what we have in our readings from Matthew lately is Jesus’ critique of peoples’ failure of imagination. Jesus kept at the Pharisees, whether they were in the gathered crowds, or lurking at the edges like in our reading today, encouraging them to think and act from their center, from their hearts, to listen to their intuition, and not to limit their imaginations, indeed, to follow their imaginations. What I think we can learn from Steve Jobs is about imagination. Not only did he think outside the box, he made a whole new box, and the cloud has a whole new meaning. Steve Jobs did not suffer from a failure of imagination. In the passage we have before us today, as in all the recent passages from Matthew, there were many, including the Pharisees, who were very happy and comfortable with the status quo, with the way things are. There is no judgement in that, but what Jesus was doing was calling them, and us as well, to a whole new way of being. Jesus calls us to act from our centers, from our hearts and from our guts, and to live lives of mercy and compassion, to create something new, something almost unimaginable, especially for those who lack imagination, and that is a compassionate reality. Jesus called the Pharisees and all who gathered to hear him, and Jesus calls us to an absolutely new paradigm, an unbelievable paradigm, maybe even unimaginable, all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Remember that the culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social values of honor and dishonor. Honor was seen as the first and foremost value. The system was not based on values of good and bad, but on behavior that is viewed as disgraceful, or behavior that is viewed as noble, and the honor or disgrace a particular behavior will bring to the group. As modern day Americans we have some trouble with this, because these values are held as group norms, and we live in an individualistic culture. But it is important for us to know these things as we read this New Testament text, so that we may grasp even a little of the paradigm shift, the great imagination that it takes to understand what Jesus is saying and doing in these texts. The Pharisees' desire for prestige and honor comes under fire with the accusation that they act solely in order to win praise from others. They wear showy prayer shawls with long fringes that will draw attention to themselves, and they always want to be in the most conspicuous places so that folks will see them, treat them with deference, and reward them with titles of honor. "Rabbi," "father," and "instructor" are specific titles to be shunned by Matthew's community. These are all titles that carry both status and authority in the value system of the Empire in which all of these people live. "Father" in particular was the term for the head of a household, whose total life-or-death authority mirrored the role of the emperor. To seek such roles and titles would be seen as desirable and in conformity to the hierarchical values of the Roman Empire, but those values should not prevail for Jesus' followers. For them the vision and practice of an egalitarian community, with God and the Messiah as the only authorities to be accorded honor and obedience, are hallmarks they share with the divine reign whose coming Jesus proclaimed. So it is into all this that Jesus says, "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." This is unimaginable for all but those who can think outside the box. Jesus is asking his followers to imagine a new world, a new kingdom, in which there is no honor garnered by what you do or to whom you belong, a new kingdom in which every person, tax collector, woman, child, jew or greek, has equal access to love and worth. Every person has access to a community that affords new life in a world that would trample them underfoot. This new world that Jesus is making possible and Jesus' followers were invited to imagine is a world in which those who have two coats give one to the one who has none, those who have much to eat give to those who have little to eat. It is a world in which worth is assigned by being a child of God, the delight of God's life. God inaugurates this new world in Jesus, that is how we understand the resurrection, God recreates reality as they knew it in their time. You and I are living in the same new creation, our lives are transformed by God so that we may also live as new creations, alive to the absolute and abundant love that is available to us. And we, members of this community of imagination, of new birth and new life, are called to be partners in living this compassionate reality. We are called to live generously and abundantly with all that we are and all that we have. We are called to speak for those who cannot speak, we are called to give for those who cannot give, we are called to love so those who cannot may learn to love themselves. We are called to imagine the world Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead for. We are called to live each and every day, each and every moment, in the truth that Love does indeed win.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

19 Pentecost Yr A

Which commandment in the law is the greatest? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the greatest and first commandment, and the second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, who were the experts of their day, is straight out of the Hebrew scripture. Jesus knows those scriptures well; he didn’t have them written in front of him, like we do, he had them on his heart, and in his soul. Those scriptures are part of the very fiber of his being. Those scriptures were what each Hebrew boy and girl heard every day of their lives. They new the story of creation, they knew the story of Noah, of Moses, of Exodus and Exile, of David, the Prophets, they knew the story about the angel passing over their homes when they put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts; they knew the stories of their ancestors. We need to know our story, knowing our story, knowing where we came from, knowing to whom we belong gives us value and worth. Our story teaches us, shows us, tells us that we are created in God's image. That story is ultimately important because being created in God’s image is where love is located. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind is about the truth of the story that constitutes us, that makes us who we are. So God’s love for us is not about how we feel on any given day or at any given time. God’s love for us is the in the pattern of action that is the story that tells us who we are. You have heard your story many times, I have told you this story many times. It is the story of creation, of blessing, of separation and independence from God, of repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this story, God who is the creator of the universe, comes to be one of us, Jesus, lives, loves suffers and dies, and is raised to absolutely new life. It is the story that shows us Love Wins. But we usually don’t see the arc of the whole story all the time. From our point of view it's hard to see the wholeness of the story. We sometimes find ourselves in one part of the story, or we catch glimpses of ourselves in the story. When we are engulfed in darkness it's very hard to trust that there is light. But it is when we come out of suffering and sadness with hope and joy that we really can experience the love and the light, and the new life that God has for us. And we remember, we remember God's love for us and for all of creation. Sometimes, when we listen carefully, we can actually hear God’s love for us in the voices of the people whom we encounter, especially at times of deepest sorrow or quiet joy. But how do you know about love and how can you see God's love if you don’t know where you come from and who created you? Or if you don't know that God's love is a love that gives, a love that looks for the best for the other. It is a love that is patient and kind, compassionate and merciful. God's love does not look much like the love that we witness in so many places in our culture. If the only love people know is like what they watch on TV and see in movies, their view of love is indeed distorted. That love is all about sexual attraction. That love is all about excitement. That love is about revenge and passion. That love is all about what you get out of it, it is about demanding a return. But love in the bible really has very little to do with how we feel. Love in the first-century Mediterranean world was not a vague warm feeling toward someone, but a pattern of action -- attachment to a person backed up with behavior. The two commandments Jesus gives demand nothing less than heart, soul, and mind -- in other words, every part of a person capable of valuing something – and that those capacities be devoted to God and to every neighbor. There is no one exempt from the category of neighbor, the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that. So what we read today is a continuation of what we read last week. Last week we heard that everything comes from and belongs to God. Everything. This continuation of that reading demands nothing less than everything, heart, soul and mind. Jesus' call will compel each one of his followers to take the fullest extent of God's love to the furthest reach of that love, to every person whom God made. As God has first loved us, we will love others. This is Jesus’ call to us to ministry. Everything comes from God and belongs to God, and that demands a pattern of action, love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor; remembering that love is not how we feel, but a decision we make, a pattern of action. Love is a pattern of action. The pattern of action that God shows forth is, creation, blessing, dependence on God, forgiveness, and new life. This is how we are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, the outcasts and the sinners, you and me. So what does that look like? Our Old Testament passages of late have given us some parameters. Those stories show us that there are no other Gods, and no idols, and after that comes keep Sabbath. Keeping Sabbath means that every seven days, every seven hours, every seven minutes maybe, we should stop what we are doing and rest, maybe even pray, “thank you lord for your abundant love and blessings, thank you for this moment to give you glory and praise.” We are to respect the people to whom we are related, and we are all related, we are not to murder, we are not to be promiscuous, we are not to steal, we are not to lie about our neighbor, and we are not to be greedy. These are the actions of love. The results of all these actions of love are right relationships, and an attitude of abundance and thanksgiving. When we act in love we adopt a posture of mercy and compassion. The original question the Pharisees ask Jesus is which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answers not with law, but with the pattern of action that is love. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does indeed win.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

18 Pentecost Yr A

The Pharisees ask Jesus two questions of great importance, or so they think. One of those questions we will hear next week in Matthew's gospel, which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus’ answer to that question is: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. The other question of great importance is really a group of questions all around the acquisition and use of wealth. The rich young man asks Jesus who can be saved, Jesus answers, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. There is the story of the widow who gives all that she has, the story of the talents, and on it goes. And of course the question the Pharisees ask of Jesus in Matthew's gospel today. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?   But what we have is actually one of the oldest tricks in the book. Entrapment. That’s what the Pharisees are about in this story, pure and simple. They know very well the Jewish law against creating images. We read all about that last week in Exodus. The Israelites took all the gold from their ears, their sons’ ears, and their daughters ears, melted it down and made an idol out of it. Not making and worshiping idols is the commandment second only to loving God. The Pharisees know what they ask of Jesus creates what we today call cognitive dissonance. You can’t act one way without compromising your morals; it’s the slippery slope. We go about rationalizing these things all the time. I do it on a smaller practical scale all the time, should I eat that doughnut, or should I eat that apple? I want the doughnut because I believe it will make me feel good, because I like it, because I deserve it, because it’s fun… But I eat the apple because I believe it’s good for me, because it tastes good, because I need the vitamins, because it will help me in the long run. What we do has to do with the priorities we choose for our lives. If you’re a list maker, you’d list the pros in one column, the cons in another, and make your choice.   The Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus, if Jesus says we don’t pay taxes to the emperor he’s guilty of sedition, but if Jesus says we use these coins with an image on them to pay taxes to the emperor, he’s guilty of breaking the commandment. Caesar or God? This is not just a slippery slope, it is a no win situation.   But Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question, as is his answer each time they ask him questions about wealth is really simple. It’s all God’s. It’s all God’s. There is no hierarchy, there is no priority list, and there are no top ten things that belong to God. The question is pointless. It is all God’s. You see, there is nothing that is the emperor’s. All wealth comes from God. And wealth includes so much more than money.   There are some ramifications of this for us today. All wealth comes from God, we live in a land in which order is kept by a mutual agreement that everyone shares in the responsibility of government and infrastructure and protection. Therefore we pay your share. But all we have still comes from God. The story that informs us and transforms us is that we are created by God in God’s image, and we are related to all of creation. God’s abundance in creation is already bestowed upon us. Our job is to hold it in trust, and to care for it. This then becomes what we call stewardship. God’s abundance, give to God the things that are God’s, and everything is God’s.   But here in America many continue to live by the narrative of frontier individualism. Every man is more or less for himself, a good neighbor is one who needs no help. But this narrative runs counter to the primary virtues of Jesus Christ, which are compassion and community.     The understanding of wealth in the bible has nothing to do with frontier individualism or individual portfolios. It is not about acquisition, and it is anathema to greed. No wonder we have so much trouble talking about money, we hardly know the words to use. The understanding of wealth in the bible has everything to do with God’s abundance, with compassion, community, and relationship.   So if wealth has everything to do with God’s abundance, with compassion, community and relationship and with all of creation, what does that mean for us?   Events in the world around us have been making many nervous lately. The stock market, the housing market, the price of gas. I don’t know what it all means, but I’m sure many of you are feeling much anxiety. So a passage like this, telling us in no uncertain terms, that none of our wealth belongs to us anyway, that we are to be compassionate, and that God’s abundance is clear, may make you more nervous, or it may give you the freedom you need. You see, the real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money.   Consider Richard Semmler:   Semmler, a 59-year-old mathematician, teaches calculus and algebra at Northern Virginia Community College. He can explain how to find the derivative of a polynomial and all sorts of complicated equations. But in his private life, Semmler has reduced his existence to the simplest equation. In the last 35 years, by working part-time jobs and forgoing such everyday comforts as a home telephone and vacations, by living in an efficiency apartment and driving an old car, Semmler has donated as much as half of his annual income or more to charity. His goal: $1 million before he retires.   Semmler said ‘If I didn't do all of the things I was doing, I would probably have a new car every two years and I would have a huge house with a huge pool,’ Semmler donated $100,000 to build a Habitat for Humanity house, which he also worked on himself to build.   Percentage-wise, Semmler's generosity is exceedingly rare among the middle-class -- or the rich, for that matter, say those who study philanthropy. Each year, U.S. households give away an average of 2 percent of their income to nonprofit and religious organizations, according to Giving USA, which tracks donation trends. A household with Semmler's annual income, $100,000, donates an average of $2,000 annually to charity. Last year, Semmler gave away $60,000. Semmler believes life isn't always about multiplying what you get, sometimes it's about subtraction.*   What could we accomplish if we decided not to give just 2%, or even 10%, but if we would live with the attitude that it's all God's anyway, and by keeping any of it we're stealing from God. Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It’s all God’s.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

17 Pentecost Yr A

The Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes​17 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr A Oct 9 2011 Exodus 32:1-14​Psalm 106 Philippians 4:1-9​Matthew 22:1-14 ​Page of 1 We are at a time in the live of our family where there are many weddings to attend. It started three years ago with my nephew’s wedding. That wedding was north of Duluth MN, north of Two Harbors for those of you who may be familiar with Lake Superior’s north shore, just before you get to Gooseberry Falls. Two more nephews have been married since then, and two nieces. The weddings have varied, three of them were outside on the shore of lakes and two of them were very traditional church weddings. And, we've witnessed amazingly varied wedding wear on the diverse people that have been gathered for these weddings. The most interesting wedding wear was at the wedding of my nephew the actor who lives in New York, there were many New Yorkers there, young like him, 30ish, very well tattooed and pierced. The wedding attire ran the gamut from amazingly dressy to jeans and t-shirts, there didn’t seem to be any expectation of appropriate dress.   That wedding was also the first time I’d received a postcard, about 9 months previously, advising me to save the date, that seems to be the norm now as well. I appreciated that little notice, because it really helped me to make plans to be there, about 4 weeks before the wedding we received the actual wedding invitation. People came from far and wide to be at this wedding celebration.   In my life, the invitation to a party is an exciting thing. Part of the fun of a party is the expectation, the anticipation. Part of the fun of a party is being included, belonging. The “save the date” postcard I received for my nephew’s wedding went on my refrigerator door; the date went on my calendar. As soon as I received the actual invitation, I replaced the postcard, I looked at it often, imagining the fun, imagining the family gathered, imagining the celebration we would have at the very first wedding of any of my mother’s grandchildren.   It’s a bit unlike the response of the people in our story from Matthew today, they made light of the invitation, and even killed the messengers who delivered the invitation. The king may have shrugged and said, well then, if the chosen are not interested in the wedding celebration, then go and invite any one you want, they went to the outer reaches of the kingdom, they went to the margins, and those who came to the celebration were honored to be there.   The God of abundance has made a great offer, come to the feast. The God of abundance has set the table, has prepared a wonderful banquet. The thing about an invitation is that we can choose to come, or not. The thing about this relationship with God is that we can choose to be in it or not, we are never compelled.   As all these people arrived, people from all over the kingdom, people who were honored to be there; the ones who were tattooed and pierced, the ones who were curious and doubtful, the ones who were questionable and the ones who were upstanding, the ones who loved and hated, but all people who respected the king and the occasion for which they gathered, these people received a wedding garment, a robe. The people gathered for this wedding banquet mostly were the people gathered from the margins, they were the people who responded yes to the great offer made to them. They put on the wedding garment with honor and respect to the King.   Except the one in our story. He won’t put on the wedding garment. Not putting on the wedding garment is the very same thing as not saying yes to this relationship into which he was being invited. The outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is of his own choosing.   Putting on the wedding garment, putting on the robe, reveals a willingness to respond to the abundant banquet that is available to us now, and available to us at the fulfillment of time. When I reread this story, I was reminded of the garment each of us puts on at baptism, figuratively and literally. The baptismal garment re-presents to us that new creation we become when Jesus calls us over the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea, day by day his clear voice sounds, saying “Christian, follow me.” We are dressed as one ready, ready to follow, ready to be a voice in the cacophony, ready to dive into the relationship that is offered to us by the one who prepares the banquet of abundance, the one whose heart's desire is to be in relationship with us.   When we put on the wedding garment, or the baptismal garment, it does not signify that we are finished, that we have arrived, or that we are perfected or done, because we are only beginning. We are saying yes to the abundant and amazing love that waits for us. We are saying yes to the journey of life and yes to the knowledge that the journey is not by ourselves, but with the one who creates us, the one who reconciles us, the one who revives us. Life is not a journey that should be taken by oneself; it is a hard and treacherous journey, as well as a joyful and exciting journey. It is a journey of love and forgiveness; it is a journey of grace and mercy. And it is a journey that our creator God desperately wants to accompany us on. So much so, that God came into this time and space, to be just like you, just like me, with all the joys and hopes, all the pain and the suffering, that human life has to offer. And so much love, that Jesus was willing to put himself in our place, to offer himself to suffering and death, so that you and I are not condemned to pain and sadness and tragedy for ever.   This abundant banquet is there for the taking. Nothing is held over our heads, no strings attached. The love that provides the banquet flows in and through and among us, and we have the opportunity to respond. We have the opportunity to pay that love forward. We have the opportunity to show forth the love that has been offered to us, and to be people of love and forgiveness ourselves. The response to this abundance that God offers to us through God’s son Jesus, is to offer that same love and forgiveness to others. It is not to hoard, it is not to keep to ourselves. It is to offer ourselves, as Jesus offers his life to us, we offer this love to others. The hard part is that Jesus offers this love to everyone, sinners included. Thank God for that, because that means you and I have a place in this amazing kingdom too.   And equally exciting is the abundant banquet that is in store for us at the fulfillment of time. We get a foretaste of that banquet in the bread and the wine that we share together each Sunday we gather. We get glimpses of grace, and those glimpses are powerful. One of those glimpses of grace is that everyone is included. You and I are included, the liar and the cheat are included, the tax collector and the sinner are included.   I think what is hard for us is that we come to believe that the abundance is the reward for right behavior, so that those whose behavior is not up to a particular standard can’t be part of the banquet. But that’s not the way it works. It’s the invitation that changes us. It’s the abundance that transforms us. It’s the anticipation and the expectation of seeing our friends and our loved ones that causes us great joy. Once we put on that wedding garment, or baptismal garment, we are not the same. We are made new, God’s love, God’s power, God’s abundance changes us. We can love others, we can forgive others. We no longer live for ourselves, or for greed, or for power. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live in relationship, and in relationship we find joy and peace.   Thanks be to God.