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. 

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