Sunday, September 21, 2014
15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20A September 21, 2014 “It just isn’t fair!” How many times did I utter those words as a child? Often, it was when I was faced with something that one of my brothers got to do or have that I did not. And every time I would utter my complaint to my parents-- “It just isn’t fair!”--you know what my parents would respond? “Life isn’t fair.” Let me just tell you, there’s no more effective way to shut down that fairness conversation (I know, I’ve used it with my own kids before) because even as children we have witnessed and experienced the unfairness of life. We have two different stories today that give us similar glimpses of the nature of God and God’s kingdom and similar glimpses of the nature of our humanity. In both of these stories, the people complain to God (or the landowner), “It just isn’t fair!” and God’s response is even more shocking to us than the one that we parents usually employ. In the gospel parable for today and in the story from Exodus, we see the contrast between the generosity, the providence of God and the grumbling of God’s people in the face of that generosity. The Children of Israel have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and almost immediately, they begin complaining [say in an angry, whiny voice], “"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." “It’s not fair!” they complain. We could have just stayed in Egypt where we were miserable but at least we knew what to expect. But you know what? God doesn’t say to Moses, “Life isn’t fair; I saved them from slavery and now those whiners are on their own.” Instead God says to Moses, “OK, fine. I’ll give them two square meals a day, which is more than they were able to scrounge when they were slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks without even straw. And you tell them that they shall have their fill of bread—an abundance of food in the wilderness. And in and through my generosity, you will know my glory.” In the parable, Jesus starts out by saying “the kingdom of God is like a landowner…” He then proceeds to tell the story of a group of day laborers (a really tenuous position in which to be in that world) who are unemployed and who become employed for the day by the landowner. As those laborers work, the landowner keeps going back and hiring other unemployed people to work in his vineyard, until he even finds some near the end of the day and invites them to come work. At the end of the work day, the landowner goes to pay the workers, and he pays everyone the same amount, the amount that he agreed to pay those who worked the entire day. Those workers who labored the entire day complain: “It isn’t fair that those who came late received the same amount that we did!” The landowner answers them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus closes the parable by saying for the third time in Matthew’s gospel, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Both groups—the children of Israel and the day laborers in the parable—all have so much to be grateful for. The children of Israel are saved by God once again; the day laborers have had meaningful work all day for which they have been paid an honest wage. And yet, they all are stuck in this mentality of fairness and entitlement—because that’s really what we mean when we say, “That’s not fair,” right? We are saying that we think we are entitled to something that we think we aren’t getting… They are so envious of God’s goodness to others that they are unable to be grateful for God’s goodness to them. And most of us can relate to that. Someone once wrote, “This parable lays before each and all of us a choice that is as clear as can be. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes? Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition? The killer thing about this choice is that it really is a choice as unavoidable as it is simple—you just can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. So which is it going to be?” (David Lose workingpreacher.org2011) (Hand out index cards here) So here’s what we’re going to do today. We are going to make our choice for how we want to live this week. Do we choose to be grateful? Or do we choose to be envious or entitled? The ushers are going around, and I want each person to get two index cards. On the first index card, I want you to write something for which you are grateful, in your life or someone else’s. Now I want you to write on the second card some grudge or resentment that you hold in your heart, something that you believe that you lack, something of which you are envious, or something to which you feel that you are entitled that you have not received. Once you are finished, hold each card facedown in each hand. Notice how physically the two cards weigh the same, but spiritually one of the two cards is weighing you down, weighing your heart down with unhappiness and bitterness while the other fills your heart with joy and hope. Today you have a choice as to which of those two cards you will hold onto. We’re going to pass the collection plates now, as I finish the sermon, and you can choose which one of the two cards you keep to carry out of here with you for the rest of the week and which one you will let go of. The one you let go of, no one will see, but I encourage you to put the one you keep someplace so you can see it throughout the week. But you can’t keep both of them at the same time because you can’t really be envious or entitled and grateful at the same time. You have to choose how you’re going to be. Which will you choose to carry with you to God’s altar and out into the world with you today—envy and entitlement or gratitude?
Sunday, September 14, 2014
14th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19A September 14, 2014 Today’s gospel is the beginning of a long string of challenging parables that we will encounter through our lectionary over the next few weeks. Our parable today begins with Peter’s question to Jesus about how many times he should forgive someone in the church who has sinned against him. When Peter answers his own question by asking if 7 times is enough, 7 being a holy number, he is basically asking, “Must I practice perfect forgiveness?” And Jesus answers that his forgiveness must be beyond perfect, beyond counting. Those who read and preach on this parable find ourselves wrestling with many questions: is God’s forgiveness of us conditional upon our forgiveness of others? What does healthy, unconditional forgiveness look like in Christian community? What does this shocking parable say about the nature of God and about God’s grace? My dear ones, I do not have the answers to those questions. But I do have another parable I’d like to share with you this morning. This story is written by a woman named Naiomi Shihab Nye, who is a poet and storyteller. I encountered this story on Parker Palmer’s blog post titled Five Simple Things to Reweave Our Civic Community which he posted on the onbeing.org blog on September 11th. Gate 4-A from "Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose" “Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been detained four hours, I heard an announcement: "If anyone in the vicinity of Gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately." Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help," said the Flight Service Person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this." I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. "Shu dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, "You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him." We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her — Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag — and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands — had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped — seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” The important thing about Jesus’s parable for us today is that it is not addressed to individuals. It is set in the context of Matthew’s gospel, and in the way that Peter, himself, asks the question, in the context of the church—the community of faith. It is as if Jesus is creating a shocking, hyperbolic scenario to set us up. It is address to people who should know the source and reality of forgiveness, and it is almost as if Jesus is saying to Peter, to us, “How could you ask such a stupid question?” Because as Jesus continues to teach, as Nye’s parable shows us, it isn’t so much about forgiveness and about its role in Christian community (and in the community of the world at large). It is about grace. It isn’t about getting hung up on all the little details of our life together; it is about inviting each other (and others beyond our walls) into dwelling more fully into this mystery that is the Grace of God’s love as made present in Jesus Christ and given to us over and over again through the tickling breath of the Holy Spirit. Just a little something to remember—that is to look around at each other and find ourselves smiling and all covered in holy powdered sugar from the sacrament we receive here today; that forgiveness is the plant that keeps us rooted together in God’s grace. May the spirit of God empower us so that we may work together to create this community as one that makes manifest the Grace of God. May we go forth into the world and make it so.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
13th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18A September 7, 2014 Beginning today and for the next 40 days, you are invited to join with me and the Vestry in the ancient practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina is the reading of scripture in a spirit of prayer, and one modern monastic writes of it: “Lectio divina…is the art of making the transition from a biblical text to our life. Because it helps us make this transition, lectio divina is a precious tool that can help us bridge the gulf we often observe in our churches between faith and life, spirituality and daily existence. It… leads us, first, to turn our gaze toward Christ and search for him through the biblical page, and then to place our own existence in dialogue with the revealed presence of Christ and find our daily life illuminated, filled with new light.”i Your vestry and I spent 40 days this past Lent in a committed rhythm of lectio divina. We all found that it greatly enriched our spiritual lives and helped us to grow in the knowledge and love of God. It was their desire to help make this process available to you, so we have complied 40 days worth of scripture and meditations that the members of the vestry have written, and we invite you to join us in taking up this practice of lectio divina for the next 40 days. For the sermon today, I’m going to walk you through an exercise in lectio divina, so that you may know how to do it. First, open with some silence or a short prayer. One of my favorite prayers is a variation on the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world. Fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.” (I’ll give you a moment to do that.) Second, you read the designated piece of scripture aloud for the first time. Then spend a few moments in silence reflecting on the passage. Romans 13:8-14 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) What word or phrase strikes you? Hold that word or phrase in your mind as you spend a few moments in quiet reflection. Now read the Scripture passage aloud a second time, holding in mind the word or phrase that struck you when you first read it. What might God be saying to you through this word or phrase? Spend a few minutes in quiet reflection. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) Read the scripture passage aloud a third and final time. How might God be calling you to act through the word or phrase that first struck you? How might you respond to this call? “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) Sit with the Scripture passage for another moment in quiet reflection and thanksgiving. Then you may close with a final prayer. We invite you to join us in walking this way of lectio divina over these next 40 days. The Vestry meditations were emailed out on Friday; they be available on our website at www.stpetersbts.org (and there are a few hard copies in the back for those without internet); and a supplement to this process is found in the Called to Life participant’s guide from the Collegeville Institute that we will be using for small group discussions and support on Wednesdays and Sundays beginning this Wednesday and next Sunday. (There will be a link to that on our website which was also emailed out on Friday and there are also a few hard copies available in the back.) Let us close with a prayer. This is the collect for Proper 28 found in the Prayer Book on page 236. Let us pray. Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. i. Bianchi, Enzo. Echoes of the Word. Parclete: Brewster, 2013. p69