Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

Audio Christmas 2014

Last Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, we wondered what incarnation looks like. We told stories about how we see God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Jesus. We wondered how hope, and joy, and peace, and love, takes on flesh and blood. Because, that's what incarnation is, flesh and blood. We celebrate the birth of a baby. God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, breaks into human history, God shows up to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy. 

We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed. 

Life breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to rescue us from our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to rescue us from the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus, born to set us free.

Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first.

For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.

Love breaks in, Love bursts through. Love shows up. We are here, we waited, ever patiently, ever watchfully. And love is born. The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God breaks into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins. 

This birth calls us to change, to transformation. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time. This birth calls us to show up, to say yes with Mary, to the love that changes us.

And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love.

This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world more than 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty and cold and mistreated. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. 

This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.

And in the person of Jesus, God calls each of us to show up. Incarnation is showing up in a way that brings hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the messiness of our lives, so that we may show up and bring hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the lives of others. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

4 Advent Yr B Dec 21 2014

Audio 12.21.2014

So, this Advent I have been thinking a lot about incarnation, God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Jesus. And the question that has been rolling around for me is what does incarnation look like? In this time when we wish each other hope, and joy, and peace, how does that take on flesh and blood? That's what incarnation is, flesh and blood.  

And then my mother dies. Right in the middle of Advent. And I remember what incarnation looks like, it looks like they flesh and blood of her life, it looks like the flesh and blood of our lives. Incarnation is showing up for life, incarnation is showing up for the important things and the not so important things. 

Incarnation is showing up to feed people. My mom showed up to feed people. She was known as the donut lady at church. She coordinated the funeral luncheons for years. I heard stories from neighborhood kids that she gave them loaves of freshly baked bread. They would stop in for cookies whether or not we were home. 

Incarnation is showing up unconditionally. I heard from girls in her scout troops that my mom, by her words and actions, encouraged them them to be anything they could be. Girls camped who had never been in a tent, girls cooked who had never used a pot or a pan, all of us had equal opportunity. We had pancake breakfasts in the back yard, we provided Christmas for families who had none, we had picnics with girl scouts who were from the "inner city" as we called it then.
Incarnation is showing up whether you agree or disagree with the way people lived. Mom spent years going out to the Shakopee Women's prison, and spent time with the inmates there, they did craft projects together, but she really was bringing an unconditional presence to them. 

Incarnation is showing up in a way that brings hope, and peace, and love, and joy into the very ordinariness of our lives, and incarnation makes them extraordinary. Incarnation is saying yes, like Mary says yes.

What does incarnation look like? How have you seen incarnation this Advent? Where have you seen God-with-us, God-in-our-midst?
So now, I want you to turn to your neighbor, and help each other identify  incarnation.
  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

2 Advent Yr B Dec 7 2014

Audio 12.7.2014

Are you ready for Christmas? If that means do I have my Christmas tree up, my cookies baked, my presents purchased and wrapped, I do not. If that means dressing like John the baptizer in clothes made of camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey, again, I do not. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to show up for the nativity? Are you ready to be present for incarnation? Well, I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. I still have some time.

In the church we tell time differently than the world tells time. In the church, the beginning of the new year is the first Sunday of Advent. One of my favorite stories to tell with children is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way the calendar tells time. Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the morning with about ten children listening to the story and wondering about the church's way of telling time. The mystery of Incarnation is so broad, and wide, and deep, we need some time and some space to prepare for it. It's not something we can jump into right away.

When we tell time the church’s way and our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way helps us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully alive, fully engaged. 

In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, even the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is being rearranged for the day when we raise our voices and shout, Here is your God! And in second Peter,  we are presented with another experience of time, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.

Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the fulfillment of all things, as God promises. So our waiting and preparing and anticipating are for incarnation, for God with us, for Christmas, and all of that waiting and preparing and anticipating are also for all that God promises. And that, perhaps, is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our cries of fear and concern and doubt at our lowest points and responds. God hears our praises and thanksgivings and rejoices. 

And, my goodness, but the headlines seem full of low points. Whether about the spread of Ebola, unrest in the Middle East, delayed – or perhaps deferred – justice in Ferguson. And even closer to home. Yesterday at Breakfast club we listened to Pat Zant tell us about feeding and clothing people right here who are homeless, people who we see but do not see. And to these cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

What if God’s promises are not all something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the end of time promises of God by contributing to them in the present? What if part of how God keeps 
God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice? I believe that is true. I believe that is true because of what God does in Jesus Christ. I believe that is true because of this inconceivable incarnation, this mystery of faith.

I think John the baptizer knows something of these things. John's call to prepare the way for the Lord; to make his paths straight, is a call to us to recognize the impediments that are in the way to realizing God's promise, God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. It is a call for us to get on with the work that God calls us to do. 

I'm not sure what all of the impediments are that are in our way to God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. But I think they may be big huge things like racism and bigotry and lack of concern for the environment and this planet we live on. But I also think those impediments may be removed when we look into the eyes of the one who is across from us and acknowledge their humanity. 

So what kind of waiting do you want to do? How can you spend your time, energy, wealth, and lives making a difference right now. Because we are all called to cry out and prepare the way. It’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively, if you will, by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words and actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities this very week to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.

Not that can bring ultimate healing or comfort or peace or justice. That’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises to the fullest in the fullness of time. But we don’t have to wait for that passively but are invited to throw ourselves into that venture both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now. This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites.

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

~ Howard Zinn

And why not get started now. There is no time like the present. Show the world that love indeed wins.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

1 Advent Yr B Nov 30 2014


The church year turns to another beginning, another new year, filled with hope, expectation, anticipation of better relationships between people, and even countries. Advent invites us to turn. There is a Caribou coffee tag line - life is short, stay awake! I feel that way about Advent, Advent is short, stay awake, stay alert, or you'll miss it.

Indeed, our culture has already missed it. Christmas carols, christmas trees, christmas decorations. Christmas is all around us, and today I encourage you, at least in this sacred space, to make room for Advent.

In the cacophony of Christmas, make room for quiet. In the race to Christmas, make room for waiting, preparing, anticipating. Advent really isn't that foreign to us, it is where we live most of our lives, in the tension of what has been and what is to be. Advent calls us to live that tension intentionally. Rather than be lulled to sleep by the shiny balls and blinking lights, stay awake, stay alert, listen.

Advent calls us to occupy the space between the inconceivability of incarnation and the mystery of resurrection, the messiness of birth and the hope of new life, the reality of brokenness and the joy of healing. Advent calls us to be fully present in each event and activity, and to be fully present with each person. Advent calls us not to walk through this time with indifference, but to shine the light of love and hope in all places and at all times. Advent calls us to sit with the other, to look into the eye of the other, and to listen, not to talk. Advent calls us to stand next to the one that you really cannot stand, the one you really disagree with, and look toward love and hope together.

This is the very darkest time of the year. We look for light, that's why we hang twinkly lights on everything, that's why we light candles. But here, in the church, we don't light them all, not yet, we light them one at a time, watching the light build, preparing for the light that is Jesus to be fully blazing.

And, on this first day of Advent this year, and next week as well, we have before us the gospel of Mark. This is a story of assurance. We know that God is love, and love drives out darkness and fear. And, some of these passages we read during Advent may be pretty scary reading. This chapter in Mark actually begins with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It continues with images of war, earthquake, and famine, of family members betraying one another, of great suffering. But Mark says very clearly and emphatically that these things are not predictions of doom in the distant future. The truly frightening stuff described in this chapter is not a prediction to frighten future generations, but for Marks readers they are words of comfort in a generation that used this vivid kind of language, the language of sky powers and sky beings mixed with literal retellings of the kinds of betrayal and threats facing members of Jesus' community, to describe what theyd already seen brothers and sisters in Christ going through. Jesus went around calling women and slaves and tax collectors to follow him, and leaving out any hint that they need to get someone elses permission to do so. His followers after the resurrection called him lord or master, and thats not the kind of thing you can say, let alone a way of life you can live without getting into trouble, and so Jesus' followers were dragged before local authorities and punished. That is what we hear in Mark.

And it is the Good News, the Incarnation, that is spoken into that fearful time, as it is the Good News and the Incarnation that is spoken into the fear of our time. It is god-in-our-midst that is hope and promise. It is into all of this that Mark cries stay awake! Stay awake!

So maybe that is what staying awake during Advent can be all about. Maybe in the midst of the cacophony of Christmas, in the quiet we can hear the voice of Good News.
When the herald of consumerism speaks more loudly than does the angel Gabriel we need to stay awake to hear the announcement that a child will be born and that the world is about to turn.
When the blast of trumpets announcing sale after sale drowns out the voice singing my soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait we need to be quiet to hear the music.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the beat of our own heart, and the beat of God's heart within us, the beat that says there is nothing you can do that will make me turn my love from you.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the love of Jesus moving in our blood, giving nourishment to our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the movement of the Spirit, enlivening us with new birth, connecting us to one another, connecting us to the ones who have not yet said yes to the Good News of Jesus, connecting us to all those who are broken and hurting on this most amazing day, at the beginning of this, most amazing season.

Today we light the first candle of Advent. We watch its quiet light flicker in the darkness, anticipating the light and the love and the hope of Jesus.
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to hear the word of Love?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to share the Light of Jesus?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to speak love and hope into fear and darkness?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent

to proclaim the love that wins?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

23 Pentecost Yr A Proper 28 Nov 16 2014

Audio 11.16.2014

The kingdom of God is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He handed everything over to his servants according to their ability, and then he left on his journey. After the man left, the servants did as they pleased with what they were given. When the man returned, each servant gave an accounting for what they had chosen to do with what they had been given. Kathy's translation/interpretation. In this parable a question that gets asked is, is the man, the landowner, God? I think that answer is up to you, I'd like us to look at it just a little bit differently before we get there.

How do we imagine God? And how does how we imagine God shape our relationship with God and with others and with things? I wonder if we imagine God primarily as an enforcer of rules, do we get hung up by the legalism of religion? If we visualize God as stern and prone to punishment, do we come to believe that everything bad in our lives is punishment from God. If we see God as arbitrary and capricious, and that’s what we experience, do we experience a fickle and unsympathetic God who meets our expectations. Is it possible that this is how the third servant in our story today imagined the master? Since he imagined a hard and fearful man, his response to life was out of fear, so he hid what he was given, he grabbed it tightly, and the reality he lived in was weeping and grinding of teeth.   

On the other hand, when we view God primarily in terms of grace, we are surprised and uplifted by the numerous gifts and moments of grace we experience all around us. And when we imagine God to be a God of love, we find it far easier to experience God’s love in our own lives and to share it with others. What you see, all too often, is just what you get. And so perhaps this parable is inviting us to examine closely the pictures of God I believe we each carry around inside of us. 

What do you think of when you think of God? Is God gracious or stern, loving or judgmental, eager for peace or prone to violence. Does the picture you carry of God match the picture of the God we know in Jesus? What events have shaped your picture of God? Who has shaped your picture of God? All of this matters as we hear these parables told by Matthew. 

So what I wonder about this particular parable today is, how does the picture that each of these servants have of this master or any other master for that matter, shape their response to being given the masters' gold? Does that picture shape the way the third servant deals with the gold? I believe so.  

So let's go to the place today where we think that indeed in this parable the master is God who loves creation, who loves humanity. Let's go to the place where the master is God in our midst, God who loves creation so very much that God is willing and wanting and yearning to be in relationship with God's people. This God whose love is so deep and so wide and so broad, and walks through this life with us, each of us and all of us. In this kingdom God is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He handed everything over to his servants according to their ability, and then he left on his journey. It sounds to me like this is a relationship of trust and of grace. The man entrusts all he has to his servants. No instructions, no lists of what to do and what not to do, nothing. And yet this abundance doesn't belong to the servants. This abundance was not assigned to the servants based on who deserved what and how much. This abundance is not even dependent on my ability today, tomorrow, or any other day to do exactly the right thing with it. 

It seems to me that the kingdom of God is this way. God trusts us with the entirety of creation. At least this part of it that we can see and experience. God entrusts us with the sea and the sky, with the animals and the vegetables. God entrusts us with all that is valuable, and God entrusts us with one another. And God lets go of the outcome, God does not control what we do with any of it. We can do with it what we want. That is what is at the very center of this relationship. God creates us and all of what is seen and unseen, God declares it good, and God loves us. God trusts us, what are we to do? 

Imagine a God who loves us so very much that this God is willing to live and die as one of us to show us the way. Imagine a God who is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, and to whom each and every one of us matters. Imagine a God whose hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. Imagine a God to whom justice matters, the kind of justice that includes everyone having enough to eat, everyone staying warm when it is cold, everyone working to feed their families. 

We are to respond to this abundant and amazing grace with all of our heart and our soul and our strength. It's not about our trustworthiness, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our ability or inability to use the gift properly, it's about God's trust and love and grace. 
It's not about what we deserve or don't deserve, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our fearfulness, but it is about fearlessly being about God's business of love, and healing.

We can choose.
We can choose in small ways and in large ways how God's amazing gift is made available by our lives and by our love. Choose love. Choose to be a steward of all of God's gift. Choose not only to care for creation and all you have been given, but do something great with it. Don't bury it out of fear, but share it knowing that is was never yours in the first place. Choose to be a part of relationships that do what Jesus asks us to do, feed those who are hungry, love your neighbor. Share your hearts and your lives and your treasure, not because of what you will get, but because of what you have been given. Love. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

22 Pentecost Yr A Proper 27 Nov 9 2015

Audio 11.9.2014

Again, we have a difficult passage from Matthew. As I read these passages and reflect on what they mean for us, there are always two things I think about. First, what is it that was going on when the writer or teller of the story, Matthew, first told it. And secondly, what is it we, 21st century followers of Jesus, can hear from it. To the first. Matthew’s parables are exhortations to a community that has come through some significant duress to keep the faith, to confess Christ, and to wait expectantly for his return, even though that return has already been delayed beyond what first generation believers anticipated. Considering that the Thessalonians to whom Paul was writing around 51 AD or so are already anxious that they have missed out on Jesus’ return, we can imagine that it’s quite a bit harder to inspire Matthew’s community to vigilance thirty years later. Now, project that out another nearly 2000 years and there we are. We no longer live in a time where we anticipate Jesus' imminent return, we may be waiting, but maybe not so eagerly or anxiously. 

But first, I wonder about this wedding. Weddings then were not what we think of weddings now. Today, one person asks the other to marry, an answer is given, a date set, preparations made, guests invited. There is much planning, and anticipation, and expectation. At the appointed time on the appointed day, everyone shows up, the vows are made, and the party begins. Not so much at a wedding such as we have before us. A marriage was a transaction between two property holders, one property holder, the father of the woman, selling said property to the family of a man. The man and the woman, or the bridegroom and the bride, may never have even met prior to the wedding. The deal has to be struck, and the negotiations may be quick, or may be drawn out, with no way to determine the time for the wedding to take place, people came, milled about, and waited until the deed was done. So in our story today, everyone fell asleep while waiting, and as they awoke, some discovered that they had no more oil in their lamps, and went off to get more. In the meantime, the door to the wedding banquet was opened, and those who were there were let in, those who went away to gather more oil, missed out, hearing the admonition, keep awake. 
What are we to gather from this? What does it mean to keep awake? What does it mean to be ready? What does Jesus ask of us? Those are the questions I think are at the center of what we hear today. And, since I believe that Love wins, and I don't believe Jesus ever closes a door forever and always on anyone, what can this mean? 

There's been a lot of chatter recently about the "bucket list." Travel, and adventure, that list of things to do and accomplish by the time you kick the bucket. Now, granted all that is a lot of fun, but even if this passage from Matthew is about being ready for the end, I don't think checking items off our list is what Jesus asks of us, or calls us to do, to be ready. 

Getting ready is something I'm really good at. I make lists, I accomplish tasks, I think of more things to do so I make more lists. I plan ahead, my calendar for 2015 is already getting filled in. I do research so I know what to expect. I already have my winter emergency stuff in the car, my sleeping bag, an extra hat, extra mittens and scarves, if I get caught in a storm, I'm ready. If I were one of those bridesmaids, I'd have enough oil and then some more, just in case. I know that preparation is the key to success.

But, being ready is different than getting ready, getting ready implies accomplishing things, being ready is much more about staying awake, paying attention, letting go of distraction. And that is what I wonder if this passage is really about. I wonder if this passage is about being fully present to each other, being fully present to creation. I wonder if this passage is about not just waiting for the door to open when the party is beginning, but living completely in the fullness of our humanity, in all of it's joy and all of it's pain. 

I wonder if this passage may be about bringing your authentic self to Jesus? Maybe staying awake is not being perfect or full, but it is about bringing your most authentic, vulnerable, true self to the door. Jesus wants us to bring all of who we are, warts and vulnerability, hurts and joys, our perfect masks removed, our thick wall of protection torn down, the entrails of our addictions that we think fill us, laid aside. Maybe Jesus wants to open the door wide to who we really are, not who we pretend to be, and not even who we strive to be. Maybe Jesus wants to open the door wide to who we really are, not who we present for inspection. I think sometimes we spend so much time running around filling up our lamps, filling up our time, making our lists and checking them off, we completely miss the really important things of staying awake, like being loved and being healed; like being forgiven; like being marked as Christ's own forever. 

It is that primal person, that naked heart, that vulnerable and authentic self whom Jesus loves, that's who Jesus yearns to throw his arms around and welcome to the party. Your self, ready and waiting, bathed in the love of your creator, just as you are. You, no need for primping or planning, no questions of not being good enough, or not having accomplished enough. Just you, absolutely and abundantly loved. 

And what a party it will be. Just like at this table, room enough an food enough for everyone. Only better. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints Yr A Nov 2 2014

Audio 11.2.2014

Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears, the entire cloud of witnesses, stand here beside us. On this day of all saints, we call upon all of those who have taken this journey before us, to stand here with us as we are witnesses today to the love of our creator God, to the life and love and work of Jesus, and the enlivening presence of the Spirit. Stand here beside us, as we struggle to follow Jesus. Stand here beside us, as we grieve for our mothers and fathers and our loved ones who have died. Stand here beside us, as we endeavor to find our identity as the ones who are marked as God's own forever. Stand here beside us, as we continue to hope and find encouragement in the face of loss and discouragement. Stand here beside us, as we courageously invite those we love into a relationship with one another and with Jesus. Stand here beside us, as we strive to be a blessing in the lives of all we encounter. Stand here beside us, as we wonder about what blessing is even all about. Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears, stand here beside us, we remember your fidelity, your strength, your courage, as we ask our creator God for the same.

On this day of all saints, we will reaffirm our baptismal promises. We remember who and whose we are, we recall our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. We vow to live our lives from that center, from that identity. On this day of all saints, we remember, we reaffirm, and we renew our courage and bravery to be witnesses to God's amazing and abundant love.

We remember our grief and our losses, whatever they may be. We remember the people we love and see no more; and we remember the leave-takings, those who have left us and those we have left, through departing for a new jobs and new homes and leave behind beloved friends and colleagues. Or the grief and loss of slowly losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Or in the loss of employment or dignity. Or the struggles with illness both of body and mind or aging. Or the exhaustion of caring for a special needs child and the occasional recognition of all the things given up in order to offer that care. Or the disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed. Loss comes at us from so many sources.

From Revelation today we hear words of encouragement, hope, and comfort to followers of Jesus who were struggling with enormous loss of identity and the threat of losing their independence and even their lives. Saints are not only those who are robed in white or gathered into the church triumphant but also each of us, as we too have come, or perhaps are still coming, through ordeals great and small. To all of us who are struggling to find hope or healing, Christ’s promise to “wipe away every tear” is hopeful to hear at any time, we hear it often at funerals, but this promise is to us at all times and in all places. We can hope for a future, not defined by our past.

We reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. God continually claims us as children and Jesus speaks of blessings. Jesus blesses all kinds of people, but especially the kinds of people who aren’t normally blessed – the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, and so on. The world typically gives these folk little regard, just as few notice many of our silent losses and grief, and yet Jesus calls them blessed. Jesus doesn’t say, “one day you will be blessed,” but  “blessed are…,” even now, even here. Why? Because blessing isn’t like the flu shot. Blessing doesn’t immunize you from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life unscathed. Rather, it’s a sense of fullness, of contentment, of joy that is like, but also transcends, ordinary happiness. It is not something you have and others are lacking. And like love and hope and so many other things, it can’t simply be mustered into existence but rather is responsive, springing forth in response to the love and promises of another, of God. 

And we renew and are renewed. As we reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, we are renewed for the journey. This community of faithful saints, along with the cloud of witnesses, the saints who have gone before us, we are renewed by hope and blessing for the journey we take together. We call upon each other and God to stand here beside us as we follow Jesus into the world to do the work that we are called to do, and that work is to be agents of God's healing and reconciliation. We are already, bearers of Jesus' light and love, Jesus' blessing. And it is our own pain and loss, our own grief and sadness, our own joy and blessing, our own forgiveness and healing that enables and equips us for this work.  You have been broken by loss and life, you have been filled by bread and wine, body and blood, you have been loved by God and by this community of faith. You are renewed for this brave and courageous work of being God's beloved. You are renewed for this radical endeavor of following Jesus into the world to feed, and clothe, and love. 

I invite you to stand, with the saints who have gone before us, and the saints who are here with us, and the saints who will carry on after us, and renew your baptismal vows. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

19 Pentecost Yr A Proper 24 Oct 19 2014

Audio 10.19.2014

Money, politics, and religion, the only missing ingredient for impolite conversation is sex. So why is it we're not supposed to talk about these things? Maybe because these things are felt to be too personal to discuss in public, and too divisive. People feel very strongly about these things and don't want to be told what to think. Unless, of course, you are in some churches, that tell you exactly what to think about just about everything. I'm not going to tell you what to think about any of these things, but, our faith definitely informs us on these things, and today's reading from Matthew is all about these things, therefore, well, there you are.

Money, give to the emperor what is the emperors's.
Politics, everyone has to pay taxes.
Religion, give to God the things that are God's.

But as we well know, it's never easy, or clear, or straightforward. So what's really going on here? What is the kingdom of God like? 

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. We live in this world as God's beloved, we are God's image, we do not live in the image that the world will make us.
So what Jesus may be doing here is showing that wealth is not ours. 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 our share. But all we have still comes from God. 

So maybe what Jesus might be doing is inviting us to declare our allegiance. Perhaps the key question to preaching this passage isn’t, after all, whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us. We indeed are made in God's image and marked as God's own forever. And that’s what always seems to get lost in conversations about money and politics. For while we may feel strongly about our political loyalties, before we are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we are God's beloved. And while we may be confident that how we spend our money is our business an no one else’s, yet if we forget in whose image we have been made we may succumb to the temptation to believe that we are no more than the some total of our possessions and that our bank accounts tell a true story about our worth and value.

So, there are no easy answers here. There are elements of our lives that are, indeed, part of the world order and should be “rendered to Caesar.” But, our deepest self belongs to God, and if we remember that, all of life takes on greater focus and meaning. And our identity as God's beloved, will, in turn, shape our behavior, urging and aiding us to be the persons we have been called to be.

So today, I'm inviting you to a way of reminding yourself of your identity, as God's beloved, take
out one of your credit cards, (and if you don't have a credit card, use one of the cards in the pew) and mark it with the sign of the cross. Every time you use it, or see your card in your purse or wallet, you may think about how your faith, your belovedness, impacts your decision about spending. 

And I hope this is not a burden, but rather an empowering reminder of your identity as a child of God, something no amount of spending or saving could change. Maybe it will help to actively reflect on how your faith shapes your daily life and particularly your economic life. God wants more from us, in the end, than polite conversation. God wants for us abundant life. Because while Benjamin Franklin may have once said that death and taxes are the only two certainties of this life, each week we have the opportunity to declare that the one who was raised from death shows us that God’s love is more certain than anything else.

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 is what we call stewardship. Give to God the things that are God’s, and everything is God’s.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

18 Pentecost Yr A Proper 23 Oct 12 2014

Audio 10.12.2014

In the gospel of Matthew, we have been reading the stories of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem, and Jesus working incredibly hard to teach the disciples every thing that he thinks is essential for them to know when he is gone. Jesus seems to be tired and impatient as he finishes this task of imparting knowledge in the form of parables. The parable we hear today is unfortunately difficult. The preacher is faced with a choice, tackle the difficult parable, or preach on something else. So, first, I'll tell you about the context in which this story is first told. 

David Lose, of The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, is helping me here. In this parable, as with the one we preached last week, we are catching a glimpse of the low point in an intense family feud. I want to emphasize the word “family” here because Matthew and his community are caught up in a struggle with their Israelite kin about how to be faithful to the God of Abraham and Sarah and, in particular, whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah Israel’s prophets had promised. This is not a Jewish-Christian dispute – though in the centuries that follow Christians will use this passage to further their anti-Semitism (which is one of the things that makes this passage dangerous) – but rather represents the pain of a community sundered from its family and trying to justify itself. 

So, maybe this parable really asks the question, what happens when people we love, our brothers and sisters, our friends and family, believe differently than we do, or do not believe at all? What does the kingdom of God look like in this case? Matthew, because of his context, answers this intra-family dispute with a king who resolves this difficult matter in a very dark and violent way. We have seen in our own culture, and in the diverse cultures and religions of the 21st century, the dispute answered similarly. If you believe differently than we do, we have every right to capture you and kill you, which is the extreme, a bit less extreme but as violent, is that we have the right to condemn you and hate you.

Our answer is not that. Our answer is that the kingdom of God is like a God who can love all of the characters in this play.

Weddings these days are fascinating. In the last few years I have attended weddings as a family member, as mother of the groom, and I have been the presider at a few.  Weddings are varied, they can be in the church, at the lake or like my niece, in a church where the church itself did not matter. 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.   
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. 

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. The wedding garment was provided for them, and 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. In this case, 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. But that was the sticking point for the gospel writer Matthew when Matthew first heard this story and then interpreted it in his own way.  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. 

So 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. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

17 Pentecost Yr A Proper 22 Yr A Oct 5 2014

Audio 10.5.2014

Listen to another parable. The Kingdom of God is like a... actually, in this one it is easier to say what the kingdom of God is not like. The Kingdom of God is not like those who extract a profit at all costs...the Kingdom of God is not like the kinship of honor and privilege of possession. Jesus said to them, "What? Haven't you read the scriptures? Haven't you paid attention? The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." 

Remember, in the gospel of Matthew we are reading this series of stories and parables, and at the beginning of the 21st chapter, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the very last time, and goes to the temple, and Jesus drove out all who were selling and buying. Now, the reason they were selling and buying in the temple is that there was a temple tax. But Roman coins had the image of Caesar on them, and those could not be used at the temple because there was a Jewish law against images. So, people had to bring their coins, trade them for the currency that could be used, which was doves. So what Jesus was angry at was those taking advantage of the trade, extortion as it were. It seems to me, that in these days in which these stories are taking place, Jesus is trying desperately to impart to his followers everything he wanted them to learn. Jesus sounds tired and angry, and beyond patient with his followers. And he says to them, "Haven't you paid attention to anything I've said?" 

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever want people, your children, your spouse, your government, just to listen to you? Jesus is in that place in this part of the gospel of Matthew. Just listen to me. The Kingdom of God is available to all, not just the chief priests, or the Pharisees, not just the landowners, not just those who follow the law even. The Kingdom of God is available to tax collectors and sinners, the Kingdom of God is available even to those nasty tenants, the Kingdom of God is available to you and to me. And this is so important, Jesus says in these parables, he's even willing to risk raising the ire of those in power to show and tell the people the truth of God's love for God's people.

We know this because in this story, everyone gets it wrong. The Landowner and the tenants operate as if everything belongs to them. And the tenants are willing to kill to keep their valuable crop for themselves. And the people listening to this story get it wrong. When asked what they think the landowner will do to the tenants, they think he will put those wretches to a miserable death. But instead we hear the Kingdom of God will be given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. We hear that the Kingdom of God cannot be owned or possessed, we hear that the Kingdom of God cannot be guaranteed by might or by right, we hear that the Kingdom of God cannot be defended by violence.

This is not the story of a vengeful God, this is the story of a God whose love is so deep and so broad and so wide, that all of God's creation is included in it. Just imagine the world in which Matthew was writing. It was a world in which your power and importance and your worth was based on the household and the householder you were attached to. There was nothing you could do to increase or decrease your position. If you were the householder, the one at the top, or if you were a Pharisee, an important person in the temple, you had everything you could ever want or desire, just because that was your position in life. If you had the misfortune to be born a servant, or and artisan, or a tradesperson, your life was beholden to the person whose household you belonged to. 

Jesus changed that. The last will be first, Jesus said. Tax collectors and prostitutes are welcome at the table, Jesus said. Jesus' life and death and resurrection shows us a different way. Jesus' life and death and resurrection shows us that the God who creates us and loves us, calls every one of us, no matter what we have or don't have, to be agents of this new creation. Every one of us has the capacity to love one another. Every one of us has the ability to create mercy and compassion in our wake. Every one of us has been given all that we need to be builders of this Kingdom of God and to produce the fruits of the Kingdom. 

God has already blessed us with all that we need, that is our inheritance. That is what the Kingdom of God is like. Our work is to get on board with God in that blessing. Our work is to use all that we have and all that we are to produce the fruits of the kingdom. Our work is to spread those fruits, those blessings, into all of the places we go, to share with the people in our lives the love, and mercy, and compassion, and healing, and forgiveness, that comes with being God's beloved. 

I think sometimes we think that this is hard, carrying this Good News of God's love out into the world, but you can do hard things. We are called to do hard things. Last Thursday, a group of us gathered in my office to watch a webcast from the National Cathedral in Washington DC, to include the whole Episcopal church in the conversation about making substantial change to our structure. That webcast is now online at reimaginetec.org, and I wanted to watch The Right Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, again, well, because he's great fun to watch and listen to. And what he said has everything to do with us, right here and right know. Michael Curry reminded us that Jesus came to start a movement, not a church, not a religion. And Jesus said to Matthew, and James, and John, and Andrew and Simon, and the tax collectors and the sinners, and us, come, follow me, and I will show you a life of mercy, compassion, justice, forgiveness, healing, and dignity. We are Jesus' followers, and it is up to us to show forth a world that is transformed by God's love in Jesus Christ, that, is what the Kingdom of God looks like. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

16 Pentecost Yr A Proper 21 Sept 28 2014

Audio 9.28.2014

"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them. "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." The Pharisees are astounded at this. They are the authorities in Jesus' world. They hold the power. Who is this Jesus who says that his authority comes from someone or something other than them? Who is this Jesus who eats with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, these people who are the scum of the earth? Who is this Jesus? 

We have been hearing about forgiveness and reconciliation in the gospel of Matthew, as well as in the Old Testament Exodus stories for quite a few weeks now. Today’s story from Matthew turns a bit however. What we hear today follows the movement in Matthew of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, and he asks the disciples to get him a donkey. He rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, not a stallion, and Jerusalem is in turmoil. The question being asked is who is this? And they were saying this is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Jesus then entered the temple, he tossed out all who were selling and buying and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. He healed the lame and the blind, and the chief priests and scribes became angry, they said to him “Do you hear what these people are saying?” and Jesus replied yes, he knew what they were saying. Then Jesus went out to be by himself, but he came back to the temple, and there were the chief priests and elders again. Then comes the question, this all-important question. By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? The chief priests and elders end up arguing with each other, nobody can answer the question, and nothing really gets solved right here.

By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority? Even the tax collectors and the prostitutes know something about this authority. Following this question, comes a series of parables, parables, we know, are about describing the inbreaking kingdom of God; they are about showing people what the kingdom of God looks like. We don’t know much, but what we do know is that it looks nothing like what anyone is used to. It is something absolutely new, something no one has any experience with, that’s why there are parables, they make us and the original hearers think in ways not before imagined. This new kingdom is nothing like what had come before.

The chief priests and elders were concerned, understandably so, because if they went along with Jesus, who is doing something – they’re not quite sure what - with an authority they can’t identify, the chief priests and elders also may be brought up on charges of sedition. They too may be tried for misaligned loyalty. They could be held liable for the damage Jesus has done in the temple throwing things around and turning the tables over.

By whose authority? By God’s authority, but this authority is new, it is not the same old story, it’s a new story, a new thing that God is doing in the life of God’s people. It is formed and shaped by the Exodus, by wandering in the wilderness, by the freedom that grows from wandering, but it is still a new thing, nothing anyone has seen, heard, smelled, previously. This new thing is the inbreaking kingdom, and we get a description of it in the gospels, we get a glimpse of it in our community of faith, and we are nourished by it in communion. We are made new ourselves by it in baptism. We have been baptized and forgiven.

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom before you, because they get it. They understand this kingdom, they understand it to be something they had never experienced, because they were never included at the table previously, and now they are, they are brought from the margins into community. Something entirely new is happening.

The story of the man who had two sons shows us what the kingdom of God looks like. In Jesus' time, a father had ultimate authority. He could decide the fate of his children in a moment. He could decide that one son deserves his love more than another son. This father has asked his sons to go out into the vineyard to work. The first son says no, but eventually goes, the other son says yes, but in the end doesn't go to work. What does the kingdom look like? It looks like a father who loves his sons no matter what, it looks like a father whose love is a gift, it looks forgiveness.  

So what we have in front of us today is the truth of the story that God comes into our world to live and love, to suffer and die as one of us. The truth is in the story of creation, of blessing, of sin, of our creator God loving us so much that God is willing to live this life as one of us, of forgiveness and reconciliation. The truth is found in the story of death and resurrection, your story of death and resurrection. We know this story is true, because each and every one of us attests to it; each and every one of us lives death and resurrection all the time. The truth is found in the story that reminds us that we are God’s beloved, the delight of God’s life.

We gather together to experience the awesomeness of this God in the bread and the wine, the mystery that makes us whole. We gather together to experience the awesomeness of this God in the midst of our humanity; in the forgiveness of the hurt we’ve caused ourselves and others.

By whose authority? By the author’s authority. The one whose love calls us into being and blesses us. The one whose Word lives among us, in us, and through us. The one whose love forgives us when we are greedy and full of ourselves. The one into whose life we are baptized, the one whose love wins.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

15 Pentecost Proper 20 Yr A Sept 21 2014

Deacon Marty Garwood


September 21, 2014

Exodus 16:2-5; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

 

 

 

The kingdom of God is like.....

 

That is what parables do - they help us to visualize what the kingdom of God is like.

 

In today's reading from Matthew we are given a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is like.  It is a time ... it is a place ....... where there are no winners or losers.  Whether you work all day, half a day, or just a few hours, you are paid the same wage.

 

Well that hardly seems fair does it?  

 

But I suppose that my idea of fairness and perhaps your idea of fairness could be shaped in this instance by whether we worked all day in the sun or whether we were one of the later hires.  It is all a matter of perspective.  I am certainly more apt to feel it is fair if I am paid the same wage for my two hours of labor as you were for your eight hours of work.

 

Let me  give you another example,

 

The kingdom of God is like an Episcopal Church.  The founding members of the parish have cushions on their pews and they take communion first so they get the freshest piece of communion bread.  Those members of the congregation that have only been coming for 15 or 20 years sit in pews but aren't given cushions and they wait for their rightful place at the communion table.  The newcomers, those that have been here 10 years or less - they have rickety folding chairs placed along the outside edges of the sanctuary,  At communion, they receive whatever crumbs might still be left-over.  

 

Well that hardly seems fair does it?

 

We didn't like the first parable because it seemed unfair to give the same reward for different service.  And yet, we don't like the second example because it seems unfair that the reward is not the same for different length of service.

 

My goodness, we are hard to please aren't we?

 

The kingdom of God is like .........

 

We talk about the kingdom of God as something far off and perhaps unobtainable.  But we also talk about the kingdom of God as the here and now.  We are indeed living our lives - every day - in the kingdom of God.  How can we not be when we believe that all of creation, all of what was and all of what is comes from God.  But there is yet a fullness to the kingdom of God that has not been realized.  A fullness that we have the  potential to work towards - a potential to be God's partners.

 

With one set of lenses, we can see clearly what we are taught from early childhood on.  Life is often not fair.  We live that out daily.  We are humans.  We are not God.  Part of the humanity in which we find ourselves is that there is something in us that harbors jealousy, envy, lust, and the list goes on.  We want what we want and it isn't fair if we don't get it.

 

The Hebrew people were as human as we are.  God, you led us out of Egypt.  You freed us from slavery.  Couldn't you at least include decent food in the package?  We left our homes and are journeying to a unknown land.  We asked for food and you gave us quail at night and manna from heaven in the morning.  But we will get tired of quail and manna and will soon be complaining again.  

 

We tend to hear the story of the exodus and get a little smile on our faces and smugly think that the Hebrews were just a bunch of whiners.  "It isn't fair." they complained.  "It isn't fair." we complain.

 

With our new corrective lenses, we will see that when the fullness of God's kingdom is reached, we will realize beyond any doubt that it never was an issue of fairness.  It is, has always been, and will continue to be an issue of unlimited generosity.  

 

Who we are and whatever we have is a gift from God.  God has created us to become more than what we are.  God has created in us the opportunity to be transformed.  As we grow and mature in our spiritual lives, we too will offer to others the amazing gift of generosity, of love, of acceptance, of affirmation.  

 

We are created to love and to serve God.  And we are created to love and serve God in others.  When we let go of that idea of fairness, we will realize that we can love lavishly and freely.  We don't do it alone.  We do it with God's help.  Specifically we do it with God's example in our own lives.  We also do it with the support of a faith community.  I am a better person, a better child of God, because of each of you.  We see in one another the vastness of God's gracious ways.  

 

When we come to that point - and we will -  when we come to the point when we willing go to work in God's vineyard with happy  hearts and willing bodies, and minds set on God - that is when we will have finally accepted our God-given worth and value.  We will no longer feel that we must compare ourselves to others.  We will know that God's love is always beyond our finite view of fairness.

 

In his book "God Has a Dream"Archbishop Desmund Tutu described the vision of God.  Archbishop Tutu put it this way:

 

"Dear Child of God, before we can become God's partners, we must know what God wants for us.  "I have a dream," God says, "Please help Me to realize it.  It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing.  I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God's family.  My family."

 

Bishop Tutu  continues:

 

"In God's family there will be no outsiders.  All are insiders.  Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian ----all belong."

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom of God is like.....