Monday, July 11, 2011

4th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10A

4th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10A
There once was a man who ran a large charity, and one day he noticed that the banker who lived in town had never given any money to the charity. He called up the banker and said, ‘According to our records, you make $500,000 a year. And yet you’ve never given one penny to our charity.’ The banker replied, ‘Do your records also show that I have a very sick mother with very expensive medical bills?’ The man replied: ‘Oh! Sorry! I didn’t know.’ The banker continued, ‘Or do they show that my brother is unemployed or that my sister’s husband died leaving her a widow with three small children?’ ‘I…I…I’ the charity representative stammered in embarrassment. The banker continued, ‘If I don’t give them any money, what makes you think I’ll give any to your charity?”
“And Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had not depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had not root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’”
Jesus’s parables are designed to challenge us and our understanding of reality. The challenge of today’s parable, even a bit of the shock of it, really, is found in its radical conclusion. There may be some times in our live when we need to focus on the different types of soil Jesus talks about in this parable, and we certainly know that we’ve all been all of those different types of soil when our souls our inhospitable to God’s word and to faith, we understand that there are times a areas of our lives in which God’s word, and faith do not, for whatever reasons, take root and yield; and it’s all too easy for us to judge ourselves and others according to the parable and the different types of soil and their harvest (or seeming lack thereof).
But the challenge of this parable today is the shocking, wasteful, indiscriminate character of God’s abundance. And this parable challenges us to believe in that, and to give our hearts to that abundance.
The actual parable ends with a miracle. Even after the sower sows seed so indiscriminately, the yield is not just sevenfold, which would be a really good year for a farmer. The harvest is not just tenfold, which would mean true abundance. It is not even just thirty-fold, which would feed an entire village for a whole year, but it is a harvest of a hundred-fold—which would allow the farmer to retire to a villa by the sea for the rest of his life. A hundredfold harvest is miraculous, radical abundance.
If the parable ended with the sevenfold harvest from good soil, then it would be sufficient and a good story of encouragement and hope. However, this parable is not simply cautiously optimistic; it is a promise of a radical kind of hope and the assurance of miraculous generosity, of true abundance.
In the book, Singing with the Comeback Choir, novelist Bebe Moore Campbell writes, “Some of us have that empty-barrel faith. Walking around expecting things to run out. Expecting that there isn’t enough air, enough water. Expecting that someone is going to do you wrong. The God I serve told me to expect the best, that there is enough for everybody.”
Do we live out of abundance, or do we live out scarcity?
Do we live our lives as if we have that empty-barrel faith, or do we live our lives as if we believe in God’s miraculous, radical, outrageous abundance?
Do we worship with a belief in abundance or a belief in scarcity. Do we give—our time, our attention, our money—according to a trust in God’s abundance or according to what the world teaches us about scarcity?
If we ask ourselves about stewardship in our lives—mindful that the definition of stewardship can be “all that you do with all that you have after you say ‘I believe,’ then we have to acknowledge that how we live (either out of scarcity or out of abundance) is directly related to how we believe (or as Ted Dawson says—what you give you heart to. Do you give your heart to this God of miraculous, reckless abundance or do you give your heart to empty barrel faith, that there will not be enough. Do you give your heart to abundance or to scarcity?
It is so easy to give our hearts to scarcity in this life, as the anxiety in our country steadily rises and the conflict and drama around our economic woes continues. It is easy to give our hearts to scarcity as here on the Coast, we cinch our belts up a little tighter every day.
The call of our Lord and our challenge this day, and every day, is to give our hearts, again and again, to abundance.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9A

Proper 9A
July 3, 2011
There’s a portion of today’s gospel reading from Matthew that is a part of our DNA as Episcopalians and Anglicans. This scripture is actually printed somewhere in our Book of Common Prayer. Who knows where it is? “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”    Matthew 11:28 It’s in our Rite One Eucharist on page 332 in between the confession of sin and absolution and the peace. What do you think that might be saying about the Anglican/Episcopal understanding of who God is? We believe that God doesn’t want us to feel badly about ourselves or our relationship with God. We believe that after we confess our sins and receive the assurance of God’s pardon, then we are invited by God to lay down the burdens that we might be carrying and to greet one another in peace and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is offering an invitation about how to deepen our relationship with him and thus with God, and he is offering us a new way of being in the world, a new way of being his disciples. Jesus is offering us a way to be healthier, more whole, more fully who God has created us to be.
Let’s look at this image of the yoke; for most of us, it is an image out of the past to which we have little reason to relate. A yoke is a wooden beam that links two animals (oxen, mules, horses, water buffalo) together so that they may pull together on a load while working in pairs. It has connotations of subservience. In some ancient cultures, the defeated army was forced to walk under a yoke created by the spears and swords of the victor; so it can by a symbol of something oppressive or burdensome, or it can also be a symbol for people who are working together, like in a marriage or partnership. (Did any of you military folk walk under the arch of swords at your wedding? That’s actually a practice that combines both of these historical understandings of the yoke—the conquering army piece and the yoking through marriage.)
A yoke can be something that can potentially make a really heavy load bearable by sharing the weight and the work between two workers.
In today’s passage from Matthew, Jesus is inviting his followers (us) to willingly take his yoke upon us. If we do this, he promises us a contradiction. His yoke, he says, does not mean back-breaking labor. His yoke, he says is easy and the burden is light and by sharing it with him, he promises us that we will find rest for our souls. Doesn’t that sound just lovely?! So why on earth do we still feel so restless, so burdened, so anxious, so stressed, so very heart-broken?
There are two questions I’m going to ask you this morning, that I think will help us understand the gap between Jesus’s life-giving offer to us this morning and the way that we experience the world and our lives truly to be. The first question I ask you is “to what and to whom are you really and truly yoked?” To what and to whom are you really and truly yoked?
What are you attaching yourself to these days? We all know that we always bind ourselves, however subtly, to something: people, places, habits, possessions, beliefs, ways of being in the world, groups, resentments, old hurts, ideas, schedules, expectations…Some of these yokings can be healthy and life-giving for us, but some of them can be toxic, poisonous, burdens that are just too heavy for us to bear. As you sit there in your pew this morning, take a minute and ask yourself: “to whom and to what am I yoked right now? (significant pause)
“Have you sought these connections or do you allow them to be placed upon you by others? Do these connections deepen or deaden you? Do they draw you closer to Christ or farther away from him? Do they connect you with the power, freedom, and choice that God gives you, or do they diminish your power, freedom, and choice?” (Jan Richardson The Painted Prayerbook).
What am I attaching myself to these days? It’s a question worth revisiting again and again over the course of our lives.
Here’s my second question for you this morning. When you do accept Jesus’s invitation to take up his yoke and walk with him, what do you really think, believe, understand about the nature of your yoke-mate?
A former spiritual director of mine used to tell me all the time, “Pray to the God you long for, not the God you have received.” Think for a minute which one of these is the Jesus that you really find yourself yoked with?
Often times the God that we have received demands that each of us individuals be good enough, do more, be more loving to every person, be more righteous and working toward perfection. Often the God that we have received demands that we never rest (from anything, especially doing the work of Christ), that we live up to others expectations for us, that we be successful—whatever that means. And sometimes the God that we have received inhabits the primary position of judge.
I don’t know about you, but that is most certainly not the God that I long for in my deepest heart! The God that I long for tells me that I am already enough, no matter what I may do or become. The God I long for whispers to me that I don’t have to do anything more for God to love me more than I can ask or imagine. The God I long for loves me, forgives me, invites me to find my rest in gentle Jesus and offers to me (and all of God’s people) the gift of God’s peace. The God I long for is a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8).
Which one of these Gods do you pray to? The God you have received or the God you long for? Which one of these Gods do you find yourself yoked to? And how might that affect not only your relationship with God but also how you experience God’s creation—the world and the people in it?
This morning, we are all invited to come forward to God’s table, to lay down all of our burdens at the foot of the cross of the Resurrected Christ, and to be fed and loved by the God for whom each of us desperately longs. And then we will go out into the world to love and serve and walk with the Lord.