Sunday, September 15, 2013

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 19C

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19C September 15, 2013 A letter to Trace Cates upon the occasion of his baptism. Dear Trace, What a wonderful day for a baptism! As I shared with you previously, every Sunday is a feast day or celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, and we can have baptisms on any given Sunday. But this Sunday is especially poignant for your baptism because of the way that your particular story intersects with the gospel reading chosen for today. In our reading, the righteous people are complaining to Jesus about the shady people that he is choosing to hang out with. In response to their complaints, Jesus tells them three parables, two of which we heard today. Which of you, he says to them, if you lost one sheep wouldn’t leave the 99 to go find the lost one, and then when you find it, wouldn’t you throw a big party to celebrate—costing much more than the one sheep is probably worth? And which of you, he continues, if you lost a coin wouldn’t exhaust all your time and energy until you found it, and then, once you found it, would throw a party for all your neighbors and friends, spending much more money than you had originally lost to celebrate its finding? Actually, I don’t know about you, but that probably is NOT what I would do in either case. It doesn’t really make much sense. So what is Jesus doing here? And then there’s the third parable in this series, told in response to the complaining of the religious folk. Jesus goes straight into that parable from our readings today saying, “There was a man who had two sons…” And he proceeds to tell his listeners how the younger son asks for his share of the father’s inheritance, runs off and squanders it. Until one day, when living in abject poverty, the son “comes to himself” and decides to go home and throw himself on his father’s mercy, admit that he really messed up his life. When the younger son returns home, he finds that his father is so overjoyed to see him, that even though he has squandered half of his father’s money, his father is going to throw him a huge party to celebrate his return. But the older son is bitter and jealous; he confronts the father, and he reminds the father that he is the one who has always been there at his father’s side—steady, responsible, dependable—and never once, did the father throw him a party. The father gently reminds him that all of the father’s wealth and resources has been his all along; he could have had a party anytime he wanted; and the father invites the older son to lay aside his hardness of heart and to come join the party. Three parables. Three parties. Especially appropriate on this day of your baptism! Because in your baptism today, you are acknowledging that even though God has named and claimed you as God’s beloved since your creation, still you have been somewhat lost, searching, longing for a place to call home. And God has searched for you, pursued you, waited night after night on the front porch staring into the distance, anticipating the time when you would “come to yourself” and return home to God. And when we renew our own baptismal vows with you today, we remember this about ourselves as well. No matter how long we may have been here, we all at some point, have been lost. And God has pursued us, found us, restored us, and celebrated us. Trace, today you make your promises to God that you will live your life a certain way, that you will open your heart to God and to others, and that you will return to God when you fall away or fall short. We renew these promises with you because it is the way that we also return to God after we have fallen away or fallen short. And then we will promise you that we will be your companions on the way; we will walk with you in your life with God, and you will walk with us, because the Christian life is not a solitary one. And then—we the Church are entrusted with the joyful task of throwing God’s party! It is the purest mission and calling of the church, a group of sinners who gather together and throw parties to celebrate the grace and love and forgiveness of God that we have received, and to invite others to join us in this celebration; because God’s grace and love and forgiveness is offered to all. Call it a homecoming of sorts! For each of us has been lost, and each of us has been searched for, pursued, anticipated, and restored by God in and through Jesus Christ. And in our baptism and every day after, may we have the grace to say, “Yes! Thank you, God!” Happy baptism day, Trace! And welcome home! We are so very glad that you have come to join us in God’s party! Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, September 8, 2013

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18C

16th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18C September 8, 2013 Sacrifice—it almost has become a dirty word in our culture. Even the definition from Miriam-Webster is kind of scary: “an act or offering to a deity of something precious; especially the killing of a victim on an altar.” Yikes! Our lectionary crafters and the gospel writer of Luke seem to be unrelenting in confronting us with a Jesus who’s words are extreme, uncomfortable—words about hating those whom we hold dearest, words about counting the cost, taking up crosses, and yes, that unpopular notion of sacrifice. Even in the church, where we talk about Jesus’s sacrifice every single week, sacrifice has become almost taboo. Feminist and liberation theologians remind us that for a long time the concept of sacrifice was used to subjugate people—especially women and poor people and people of color, and the people who weren’t in power. We were told that it was our Christian duty to sacrifice, and for many, many years the church wielded that notion over people. Now, the church is afraid to talk about sacrifice because 1. It’s not popular, and 2. People have so much competing for their time and attention and resources, and we fear that such an unpopular notion will drive them away, back out into a world that eagerly touts the joys of easy convenience and instant gratification. But you know what? I’m not afraid of talking about sacrifice with you or with others because I see you, and you are already sacrificing. I see you parents who give up almost every weekend you have in order for your children to enjoy the benefits of competitive sports. I see you who work grueling hours at jobs that do not feed your soul so that you may have the money and the resources to do what you need to do. I see you older folks who live on fixed incomes and sometimes have to choose between food and medicines at the end of some months, or those of you who must choose what you are able to do and accomplish within the growing limits of your physical capabilities. I see you who wake up at ungodly early hours of the day to exercise; I see you who are attentive to what you put into your bodies in an effort to lose weight or to be healthy. And of course, being a part of a community such as the church often means choosing between our own ideologies and the needs of others. Yes, you all know much of sacrifice already. And why is it that you are making these difficult choices? It is because certain things, people, relationships are important to you. We sacrifice for what is most important or most valuable to us. Over and over again in the gospels, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is here now, that eternal life begins now. This means that being a Christian—a follower or disciple of Jesus on the way isn’t about what we think or “believe.” It is about how we live and love and order our priorities, and it is about what we allow to possess us. “You sacrifice according to your priorities. And in today’s [gospel] passage Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God he proclaims and the kingdom life he exemplifies should be a priority, actually be the priority. So maybe we should contemporize Jesus’s parable and ask, ‘What parent wouldn’t count the cost before signing up for the traveling soccer team, and what new employee wouldn’t consider whether she is willing to work every weekend her first year?’ You are already making sacrifices in your lives, and Jesus tells us that Christian discipleship or the Christian life calls for the same.”i I’ve told you before that I had a rich experience a few months ago when I heard Bishop Greg Rickel speak about stewardship at Gray Center back in May. I was completely confronted when he talked about the incredible importance of telling the truth in our churches. He said to us, “How often do we say, “We didn’t have enough money, time, resources, energy to do_________(whatever, you fill in the blank). But the truth is really that we didn’t choose to spend our money, time, resources, energy to do that. And I was caught short, confronted by this important difference because I know this is so very true for my own life. How many times do I say in one week, “I didn’t have enough time to do that.” When really the truth is that I didn’t choose to spend my time that way. So the question that Jesus is inviting all of us to examine this week, with his challenging demanding words is “How do I choose to spend my life?” And the reality of God is that God takes whatever small portion of our lives that we offer to God and God multiplies it one thousand-fold. God accepts our scarcity and transforms it into abundance because abundance and fecundity is God’s nature. But deep down we still know that we have chosen to offer God only this tiny bit, when we have so much more that we are choosing to spend elsewhere. And we are ashamed, and that becomes even more of an impediment that we put between us and God. Jesus calls us beyond that. He calls us to examine our lives, the use of our time, those priorities and people we hold most dear. He invites us to say honestly—not I didn’t have enough…but rather this is what I chose. But he also invites us to sacrifice more for our relationship with God—because no matter how important these other people and priorities might seem to us now, when all pieces of this life are stripped away, it is only this—your uniquely created self and God. That is the most important thing there is. That is the essence of eternal life. So this day and this week, may we all be unafraid to speak the truth about our lives. To count the cost. To look at our lives, our calendars, our commitments, our titles, our relationships, our material goods, our checkbooks and to really and truly examine how we are spending our lives. And then let us prayerfully consider what God is inviting us to sacrifice in order to grow more deeply and more fully in the knowledge and love of God and in living a life of following Jesus. i. David Lose from his blog