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.....

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

14 Pentecost Proper 19 Yr A Sept 14 2014

Audio 9.14.2014

Today we have the second installment of Matthew's gospel on forgiveness. Last week I said to you that forgiveness is about the heart, and not forgiving will kill you from the inside out. Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness covers us with it's grace. Forgiveness can even rewrite the narrative of our lives. And, just as importantly, we are forgiven. In all of our impetuous imperfection, in all of our risky races, in all of our messy murkiness, we continue to be the delight of God's life, we continue to be loved perfectly, and forgiven abundantly. God continues to come to us in love, God comes to us in the unreasonable incarnation, God comes to us in Jesus, in the bread, in the wine, in each other, and God says to us, there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do that will separate me from you. God says, I forgive you now, and I will forgive you forever. 

How many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times? Jesus says, as many as seventy-seven times. Really? Seventy-seven times? Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Or truth? Forgiveness is to be given without limit—an abundance of forgiveness. The gospel writer Matthew uses the "perfect" number 7 in this story, which represents fullness and  spiritual perfection. So how many times is enough? 

Not enough or just enough or even good enough is not the measure here. Forgiveness is the attitude, the posture, that a follower of Jesus takes in all relationship. There are books written on forgiveness. There's "forgiveness Friday" on Facebook. Why does forgiveness remain so hard for us? We look at forgiveness as a transaction, if I forgive you you will change, you will show remorse, you stop doing that dastardly thing that you do. But the forgiveness that is shown to us in this passage is none of that. It is the kind of forgiveness that is not a transaction, it is not a single act, but a matter of constant practice. 

Sometimes, often in fact, forgiveness does not happen once and for all. That is one reason why forgiveness is so hard. Sometimes, the hurt and the pain are so big, and so deep, and maybe even so horrible, that forgiveness needs to happen daily, maybe even more often, it indeed becomes a constant practice. We see and hear when violence has been inflicted on someone, that the loved ones look for revenge, for retribution even. We ask how can there be forgiveness when the wrong is so horrible? We ask is there a time when forgiveness cannot or should not happen? But without forgiveness the heart hardens, the soul withers, and death occurs from the inside out. Forgiveness is a constant practice, and sometimes forgiveness takes a lifetime. 

Forgiveness wraps us in grace, and in love. Forgiveness does not take away hurt or anger, but forgiveness keeps the heart supple, so that it does not wither and die. We can forgive, because we have been forgiven. To be human is to miss the mark, to be human is to hurt and be hurt, to be human is to be broken, to fragment. We are created as these wonderful, beautiful, brutal, passionate beings. Our very beings long for joy, for meaning, for excitement, for wonder, for speed, and for peace and quiet. But life breaks us. We seek after so much that is good for us, and that which is harmful to us. In our seeking, we often hurt ourselves and others. 

But Jesus heals us. The pieces of our lives are put back together again, our lives will look and feel different, but we will be whole. That is forgiveness, forgiveness that brings healing, forgiveness that breaks our hearts. You see, when our hearts break, and then our hearts are healed, that leaves scars. And it is those scars that help us to forgive. It is those scars that give us the grace to see the beauty and the brutality in ourselves, in those we love, and those we cannot love, yet. It is those scars that create the space in our hearts and our lives and give us the capacity to forgive. 

That is what's in Matthew today. Forgiveness happened, forgiveness of a debt, a debt that kept this man a slave, a debt that held his life in peril. That debt was forgiven. That man was graced by forgiveness. And yet he did not let that forgiveness permeate his being, he did not let that forgiveness transform him, he did not pay that love and healing forward.

We have been forgiven, so we may also forgive. And this is the depth of what Matthew shows us in these passages. Forgiveness is to be our posture in the world. So sometimes we find it incredibly difficult to forgive, and sometimes we find it incredibly difficult to accept forgiveness. When you have done wrong, when you have hurt, when you have dealt harshly with the ones you love, and you are offered the grace of forgiveness, how do you accept that? Do you think to yourself, I am not worthy. Do you think to yourself, I don't deserve such grace. The effect is the same as not forgiving. When you can't or don't or won't accept forgiveness your heart hardens, there is no space for love. Accepting forgiveness, accepting you are forgiven, accepting grace, opens your heart and your life to the possibility of transformation, the reality of resurrection. Accepting forgiveness profoundly changes the way we are in relationship with one another. 

"I'm sorry" - "no problem." "I forgive you" - "oh nothing to forgive" are just words without meaning. "I'll never forgive you for what you did to me" or "I can never be forgiven for what I did to you" are words carried on weapons of destruction. As a culture we seem to either use the platitudes, or be at the other extreme where there is no forgiveness possible. But what if instead, we practice forgiveness constantly, what if we carry ourselves with a posture of forgiveness. Forgiveness that conveys grace, forgiveness that heals. God's forgiveness, puts us back together again, binds us and makes us whole and mends our scars. God's forgiveness gives us compassion. God's forgiveness offers us hope. 

I forgive you - you are forgiven is the reality in which God's relationship with us abides, and our relationship with others must live. Forgive them, they do not know what they do, are the words we hear from the cross. Forgive them, forgive us, forgive me, Jesus, fill us with your grace so that love overflows. Amen.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

13 Pentecost Proper 18 Yr A Sept 7 2014

Audio 9.7.2014

In one of the classes I took this summer at the Vancouver School of Theology we spent some time telling food stories. The people in the class were First Nations people from Canada, Alaska, and the United States, and anglos from the same places, and one fellow from Africa. Our professor had us tell food stories because they reveal so much about culture and relationships with one another, with one another, and with the land. The class was about food, water, and sustainability. A Navajo woman told us about the corn and the corn pollen. Corn is one of the main staples of the Navajo people. It's an important food item, and every spring, many Navajo families plant large fields of corn. But its use goes far beyond just nutrition--it's also an important part of Navajo prayer. The pollen of the corn is dusted off the tassels and used in ceremonies as a blessing, and is offered in prayer. Corn is used to make many traditional dishes, including kneel-down bread, blue corn mush, dried steamed corn and roasted corn. The corn is also used during a ceremony when a Navajo girl comes of age--a large corn cake is cooked underground in a circular pit lined with corn husks.

Well, that's her story. And I had an opportunity to tell my story. About Lefse, of course. I told them that my mother, who is Irish by the way, stood next my great aunt Minnie, who was Norwegian, as she mixed the Lefse dough, the potatoes and the cream and the flour, until the consistency was just right. Just right could only be felt, not measured. My mom stood by aunt Minnie while she rolled the dough out flat on the lefse rolling board, with the lefse rolling pin, until it was just right. There was no way to measure that, you just had to feel it. My mom stood by aunt Minnie while she pealed the lefse off of the lefse rolling board and set it flat on the griddle over the wood fire of the kitchen stove. I stood by my mother's side, feeling the lefse dough to see that it was just right, rolling the dough until it was thin enough, placing it on the electric lefse griddle as it turned just a little bit brown. My daughter in law stands by my side, mixing the potatoes and the flour until the dough is just right, rolling it out just thin enough, placing it on Audrey's lefse griddle until it is just a little bit brown. 

The story is as much about the corn pollen, or the lefse, or the tortillas, or the bread, as it is about the relationship, the connection to those who came before, and those who come after. It is about who we are and to whom we are related. It is about how our culture forms us as a people, and how our story sustains us. The story we hear today from Exodus is a story like that. It is a story that forms Israel as a people, and it is a story that remembers who they are. Today's portion of the story almost reads like a recipe, it is that and it is a call to remembrance and to reconciliation and forgiveness. It says this is who we are and what we do together, this is what we eat, why we eat it, when we eat it, and who we worship. It calls Israel to remember. This story says to the people, and to us as well, this is hard, being a people is hard, and you can do hard things. This is a story of survival, of tragedy, of heartache, and of hope. It says, if we can hang together, we can make it. It is a family story. 

We, right here, have a story centered in a loaf of broken bread, made real by Jesus' love for us, and when we tell the story, and eat the broken bread, Jesus' brokeness makes us whole, our fragmented parts are put back together again. We are healed, we are whole, we are forgiven, we are set free. 

And in the gospel of Matthew our family story tells us about how followers of Jesus are in right relationship with one another, even when the relationships are troublesome. Churches are full of troublesome people, imperfect people, sinful people. And some of these people are us. Church though, in this part of Matthew is a future reality, it is not present in the mind of the author as we know it today. So this passage is not necessarily about church as we experience it today, but it is most certainly about family, about community, and about connections, it is most certainly about how we interact with one another, and I believe it is most certainly about how we approach one another with forgiveness. We don't forgive to help the other person, and we don't forgive for others, we forgive for ourselves. We forgive, because not forgiving kills us from the inside out. Forgiveness is never about the one forgiven, it is always about the one doing the forgiving. Jesus knows this, of course. Forgiveness is about right relationship.

Being in relationship can be at times wonderful, at times fulfilling, and at times very very painful. Such is the nature of trying to love one another in a fallen world. We witness bad behavior and anger all around us in response to being hurt. Anger seems to be a more socially acceptable response to hurt, instead of forgiveness. I think this is so because so many people think forgiveness is about the other person. Like it is a transaction of some sort. You can only forgive if the other person is sorry, or if the other person changes their behavior, or if the other person does what you want them to do. But forgiveness is not a transaction. Forgiveness is about a transformed heart. Anger really gets us nowhere. Anger only kills us from the inside out. Anger only hardens our hearts and cuts short our lives. 

Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness covers us with it's grace. Forgiveness can even rewrite the narrative of our lives. And, just as importantly, we are forgiven. In all of our impetuous imperfection, in all of our risky races, in all of our messy murkiness, we continue to be the delight of God's life, we continue to be loved perfectly, and forgiven abundantly. God continues to come to us in love, God comes to us in the unreasonable incarnation, God comes to us in Jesus, in the bread, in the wine, in each other, and God says to us, there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do that will separate me from you. God says, I forgive you now, and I will forgive you forever. 
Amen.