Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Ministering to the Suffering Servant Messiah before Meeting Christ the King as Our Judge

Last Sunday after  Pentecost: Christ the King Cycle A  proper 29 November 22, 2020
Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24     Ps.100   
Eph. 1:15-23      Matt. 25:31-46

A "Beatles Mass"

The word apocalypse means to uncover.  And when something needs to be uncovered, we might ask what is to be uncovered?

Apocalyptic Christianity consists of people who seem to be obsessed with the end of the world and the return of Jesus as a conquering King.  They can be so obsessed with this that they neglect a genuine care for the people and the environment of the earth right now.  Why take care of earth, if we hope, think and act as though the world is going to end tomorrow?

On this Last Sunday after Pentecost, also called the feast of Christ the King, the Gospel lesson, a parable, gives us some wisdom insights about what the current apocalypse means in our lives right now.

During the time of Jesus, Palestine was awash with speculation about the King who was called another Messiah.  The model for this further Messiah, often center upon someone who would be like King David, who as a military, warrior king was able to maintain the borders of Israel and keep it safe from invaders.

When the followers of Jesus, by virtue of the post-resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ, proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, other rabbinical school within Judaism could not embrace Jesus as appearing in this world to be a King like David, so Jesus could not be their Messiah.  They could not understand how a Messiah could ever be put on the Cross.

If you have ever seen a Christ the King cross, it includes the risen Christ with a crown who is still placed upon a cross.  And what does this mean?  St. Paul said that he gloried in the Cross of Christ.  The Gospel of John quote for Jesus is: "If I am lifted up with draw all people unto me."  One must indeed admit that Jesus is a rather ironic King.

The ironic king and messiah, Jesus, fulfilled the role of being the suffering servant Messiah.  And in the history of the church, when church and state united in triumphant Christendom, the fact remains that the current reign of Christ is still the reign of the suffering servant messiah.  And it would be safe to say that we who live in the results of Empire Christianity, often miss this reign of the suffering servant messiah.

The Gospel parable for today indicates to us that we still live in the reign of the suffering servant messiah.  Do you want to see the king and messiah?  Then you have to know where to look.  And we as communicants might rush to our definition of a sacrament: An outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.  Yes, Jesus, with faith I know a real presence in the bread and the wine, in unction, in baptism, in marriage, in confession and absolution, in ordination ministry.  Yes, I can see these outward and visible signs.

But what does Christ the king say?  Christ the King says, "I am incognito in the stranger, the prisoner, the poor and the hungry.  Uncover my presence there. "  If you want to be an apocalyptic Christian, uncovered the continuing suffering servant messiah who is found in the stranger, the poor, the prisoner and the hungry.  "But your majesty those are not on the official list of the seven sacraments where we prefer to know the real presence of Christ."

And Christ the King says, "You cannot exhaust my presence in the sacraments or in the Scriptures.  I have hid my continuing suffering servant self in the stranger, the poor, the prisoner and the hungry, because I want you to respond to the obvious meaning of loving your neighbor as your self; it means finding me in all persons."

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are invited to the Apocalypse, the uncovering of the suffering servant Messiah in the poor, the stranger, the prisoner and the hungry.  Why would we want to rush to face the judgment of God until we have ministered to all of the people in the world who need ministry to be able to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  Why would we want to face judgment, until we can say, we have dealt with the well-being of everyone in world?

This parable invites us as individuals to deal with finding Christ the king in the suffering people as we minister,  even though we as individuals it seems that we can only do small band aid work.  We also need to join with our social selves to do systemic care and justice on a grand scale so that all can have enough and have godly dignity.  We need to convert the corporate powers to do systemic care on a large scale.

My Gospel advice today is this:  Let's not be too quick to want Christ the King as a final judge.  As long as we have so many people who are without adequate care, why would we want to hasten judgment on our role in this failure.

The Gospel advice for us is to honor our baptismal vow: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself, especially in the stranger, the poor, the prisoner and the hungry?  And what do we answer?  I will with God's help.  Amen.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Illusion That Life Can Be Freeze-Framed

24 Pentecost A p. 28 November 15, 2020
Judges 4:1-7    Psalm 123      
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the 5, 2, and 1 talents arrives in our reading in the fall when it is  Every Member Canvass Time.  I wonder if that is just a sheer coincidence, or did the lectionary makers know the financial rhythms of parish life?  So, the preacher is all set up to deliver a stewardship sermon emphasizing, not equal giving but proportionate giving, and to remind us all about the cruel law of atrophy which applies even to our gifts in ministry; use it or lose it as the saying goes.  If one fails to develop one's baptismal ministry, then those who are diligent will take up the slack and do the ministry which the slacker was given to do.

These are good sermon ideas, I've worn them out many times but for today, I'd like to presents some insights that this parable provides for people who have no choice but to live in time, and what does time mean?  It means continuous change.  I would like for us to understand this parable as wisdom insights regarding the stewardship of time and change.

In life people are dealt different situations in life, and some of what we are dealt are gifts which can be invested and developed.  Some have five talent occasions, some two talent occasions and others one talent occasions.
The five talent guy took his five and not only retained his original five, he added five more.  The two talent guy, did the same.  He kept his two and added two.

But what about the one talent guy?  The parable says that he acted in fear and buried his talent in the ground so that he would not lose it.  No matter what happened, he thought he would always have the same.

Let us consider the one talent guy with this illustration.  We all know what freeze-frame is when it comes to videos; we can stop a video and have it frozen so we can cherish the moment.  We can turn a moment in the movie into a single photo.
We suddenly want to preserve the movie by stopping it permanently at a favorite moment.  This might be like what the one talent man did.

Burying what is a gift or trying to freeze-frame what we once enjoyed is the act of conserving, of being a conservative.   We think that we can freeze-frame conserve and we do this out of anxiety and fear of loss.  And what happens?  We can lose all because we fail to realize that the gift and blessing of this moment are not meant to be the end all of life; they are to be a gift for us to invest in the present and in the future for better outcomes.

One might think, "I love this gifted moment; I want to stay here.  I want time to stop because if I bury it and keep it same, I will not lose it and I am fearful about loss."


Let us apply this for a moment at many who hold literal biblical views.  We like the Bible as our holy book.  And we may want to be very literal about a biblical view, and so we try to freeze-frame the Bible to preserve or keep what we think is valuable.  And indeed we can find great value.  But look what we see in a biblical freeze-frame of the Bible.  We see slaves, we see subjugated women whose abilities are not developed or cherished, we a perceptual flat earth and many other cultural details which cannot be validly woven into our current lives.


What if we did the same as American Constitutional Originalists:  We freeze-frame the primitive American Constitution situation.  We see grand ideas of law and justice, but when we look closer we see Washington and Jefferson as slave-holders, we see that women and non-landowners unable to vote and many other practices that are out-dated with enlightened justice.  So why should we "freeze-frame, bury or completely conserve" a good time,  when it still is a time with much unfinished business?

The church can be selectively "Amish" in many of our practices who decided that it was god-like to stop the advance of technology 150 years ago.  A much different kind of life has gone on and developed outside of Amish cloistered life.  The attempt to freeze-frame may have the romance of the simple life; but is it realistic to time and change?

The good stewardship of time and change means that we conserve the good in dynamic engaging investment in the now and in the future, but what else do we do?  We expand our investment beyond the good that was which with a closer look may have been surrounded by too many bad actors who did not live up to the ideals of love and justice for all.

What if we were to freeze frame our church now; what do we see?  We see many young people uninterested in our liturgies and practices.  They seem to be like those who are not interested in taking up Amish buggies when it comes to some of our practices.  But if we look closer we will also see some wonderful good.  We are trying to open our doors of full participation to more people, in the way in which St. Paul saw the message of Jesus expand beyond the boundaries of Judaism to the Gentiles.  We see the inclusion women in the full ministry of the church, we seek the full sacramental participation of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the church, we seek to be both religious mystical poets and brute fact scientists.  And do it without contradictions as we find faith to be a force for graceful mediations of all of the facets of the ways in which we can be fully human.  And we do this on the quest to more a perfect embodiment of love and justice.

The parable of Jesus invites us to move from the sense of anxiety and fear of the good that we think we might lose, and move into the dynamic investment in the now and in the future.  Why?  Because the faith of Jesus Christ is the call to surpass ourselves in a future state.  The magnet of God's power bends us in an arc aimed at  more perfect love and justice.

Dear friends, we are invited to the dynamic investment of time today.  Let us not in fear, freeze-frame what we might revere as the "good 'ol days;" let us be investors in real time, continuous time.  By doing so we conserve the good of the past into the present and future, even as we continue to work on what is yet unfinished in reaching the wonderful love and justice of Jesus Christ for all.  Amen.


Saturday, November 7, 2020

Plan on Being Lucky for Christ's Arrivals

23 Pentecost, Cycle A proper 27, November 8, 2020
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Psalm 78
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Matthew 25:1-13

Lectionary Link

The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Be ready for it at all times.

You may have heard it said, that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. Also, the more I pray, the more luck I seem to have.

How can this "folk knowledge" be correct? Whether we're scouts or whether we do emergency planning, we often think of being prepared for things to go wrong.
I would like for us to look at the parable of the bridesmaids in a "glass half full" type of way. What do the bridesmaids get to do if they are prepared?  They get to fulfill their wedding role when the bridegroom arrives.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Be prepared for the in-breaking events.
God, for a long time, wanted to bring the people of Israel into their new home. But they weren't prepared. They are presented as those who were grumblers about the terrible conditions of the journey, and indeed the journey lasted forty years.

And when the successor of Moses, Joshua brought them to the door step of the Promised Land, he asked the people to renew their covenant with God, the one they often forgot during the journey.   Joshua asked them to be loyal to God as they entered the  homeland of their new kingdom.

Paul wrote to some worried people in Thessalonica who believed in the resurrection and they believed in a coming kingdom of the return of Jesus to this earth. But they were worried about their friends who had died before the return of the Lord. And Paul wrote as a comforting parent.  And he encouraged them to do their preparation of being faithful and he gave a comforting scenario of how he believed that God would unite the dead with the living in the future kingdom of heaven.

In our community, we try to presents some recommendations for a rule of life for people to adapt to their own life rhythms.  It involves a holistic program, prayer, Bible study, corporate worship occasion, take care of your physical body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and opportunity for mission and giving as we identify with those who are poor.  And why do we do it?  Because we need to pay the bills and maintain the institution?  No.  We want people to be prepared for the arising of the God-events in their lives.

You have the seeming experience of more events of grace and favor, if you actually have been preparing your life to see and process them when they happen.  

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven will be like this."  And the sad thing is that many people miss the experiences of the kingdom because they are not prepared.  They are like the sleeping bridesmaids who did not have enough oil for their lamps and when the bridegroom arrived, they did not have their lamps ready to be the needed luminarias for the honored guest.

The metaphor of a wedding bespeaks of union.  The kingdom of heaven is about union, union with God and each other.  And such unions offers many occasions of climactic events, if we are prepared and practiced to be able to recognize them.

Today, as we live in earthquake and wildfire country, we are encouraged to be prepared for threatening events.  But the life of faith is not just about being prepared for what can go wrong.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven will be like this...."  Like what?  An arrival of an event of union and joy.

The Gospel program of the church is a program of preparation for the arrival of the Christ-events each day in our lives.  And for these, I say, be prepared.  Amen

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Prepare to Be a Holy Haunter in the Cloud of Witnesses

All Saints’ Sunday, Cycle A Proper, All Saints, November 1, 2020
Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10
1 John 3:1-3    Matthew 5:1-12

 Lectionary Link

Today, we are in the second day of a three day observance of those who have entered the life to come.  All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day comprise this three day articulation of what the resurrection means for us as Christians as it pertains to the people who have left our lives through their deaths.

In our baptismal theology we believe that everyone becomes a "saint" through Holy Baptism; that is one is born of water and the Holy Spirit.  And the presence of the Holy Spirit within us makes us "saints" who are set apart to do the work and ministry of Christ.

We do not all live out our baptism vows in the exact same way.  We do not all have the same public impact with the witness of our lives.  Most of us remain very local and unknown beyond usual geography and social groups of our lives.  But there are others who become known through their manner of life to a greater audience.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are more widely known than we are.  And what does this mean?  It means that saints are global and regional and saints are locale and particular to our own settings in life.  And that's unavoidable.  Just like in Baseball, the Hall of Fame is unavoidable, in the life of the church,  that some Saints became widely known was and is inevitable.  It is the calling given to some to become well known saintly people as global and historic witnesses who lived out the recommended Christ-like values in special ways.   And we celebrate them in individual feast days and in a grand single day, like today, All Saints' Day.

Why do we do this?  Do we want to elevate and revere people above Jesus?  No, but we want to display a vast gallery of exemplars of what the risen Christ can do in the lives of many different people.  If the Risen Christ did wonderful in St. Mary and St. John and St. Francis, what can the Risen Christ do in us?  Saints do not take away glory and honor from Christ; they only demonstrate the Risen Christ in a variety of personalities so that the appeal of Christ can reach us in accessible ways.

In the Eucharistic preface for All Saints Day, we declare that God has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses in the lives of the saints.  If you believe in ghosts, I would call this a Holy haunting.  The cloud of witnesses is the atmospherics of the saints.  It's the values of how they lived which are ghostly haunting us to live our very best lives.  Let us live in this cloud with them as it is the atmosphere of the values available to us.  This cloud?   No, not that offsite internet storage place; live in the cloud of the witnesses who are the holy ones who have informed the highest values of our lives.  This is how we understand what we confess in the belief of the communion of saints; we live within the holy haunting  from cloud of witnesses of the ones who have been great in love and justice.

And this gives us a clue about how we should live our lives now; we should live in such a way that we will enter the cloud of witnesses at our deaths, so that we to can become holy haunters of the future generation towards the values of love and justice of Jesus Christ.

What is the Holy Haunting inspiring for us this All Saints' Day?  For one, get out and vote.  Live lives of doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before God.  If we do this  we might be worthy to join the Cloud of Witnesses someday as Holy Haunters of the people to whom we will leave on this earth.

We believe the saints are in heaven and we want to go there too.  But they are also still a present cloud of witnesses and they haunt us in gentle ways to walk in justice, love and mercy.

And who knows, if we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the best way that we can, we too may become Holy Haunters in the Cloud of Witnesses to inspire those who will continue to live after us.

With God's help today, let us all seek to be holy haunters in a future cloud of witnesses, but not yet, we're not done with the work of justice and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Want to Be a Legal Scholar? Learn the Meaning of Empathy

21 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 25, October 25, 2020
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Matthew 22:34-46

Today we've read the account of the death of the greatest law-giver of all, Moses.  Even being such a great law-giver, he still was not granted the privilege of entering the promised land.

In the development of the laws of the Torah, there came to be 613 rules to follow, and not just the Big 10.  And when we have so many rules, it enhances the roles of the religious legal authorities to enforce all of the rules.

And by the time of Jesus, the great laws had become less recognizable because of the enforcement of so many lesser rules which that tended to keep lots of people being non-observant Jews, and thus they were regarded as people who had lost their "status" with God.

Last week we read about Jesus being asked about the law of the Caesar regarding taxation.  This week the question about the status of the Mosaic laws.  "Jesus, there are 613 laws in the Torah; which of these laws is the greatest?"   We certainly in our time know this is a valid question.  Is the law about jay walking as important as the laws regarding theft, murder and perjury?  Definitely not,  and we recognize the difference by placing lesser penalties for the violation of less important laws.

Jesus does not disappoint in his answer.  He in fact repeats a summary from the Torah.  The greatest laws:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  In giving this answer, Jesus is teaching how to do legal thinking without have a perpetual lawyer on retainer.  The law or what are the best recommended behaviors has to do with one's relationship with God and with each other.  In short, the key to enlightened legal thinking is the law of Empathy.  Do we want to be law-abiding people?

Then practice empathy with God and with each other?  How do we have empathy with God?  By acknowledging the Greatest Being of all other beings.  By not treating other beings as the greatest.  By giving God time, not to get what we want, but to understand what God wants within the truly free conditions in the world that is honored by God.

As a parent do we want to be respected?  As a spouse?  Do we want our property respected?  Do we want our lives protected?  Do we want to be lied to? Do we want people to be motivated by wanting we we have?  This is how the laws of empathy work.  We do not wish to be personally violated in any way; so in turn we should not want to violate the just rights of anyone else either in thought or deed.

The law of empathy is the golden rule, of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  

In our complicated world of hundreds of rules and law, we can lose contact with this basic principle of empathy.  We forget that the empathy principle is behind a good portions of lots of our rules on safety, on workers rights, on clean environment, on wearing masks, on stopping at stop signs.  We should always look for the empathy principle operative in a law?  Do we want protection and justice?  What principle of protection and empathy is found in a given law, whether it seems trivial, like cleaning up after your pet, or whether it has to do drunk driving or speeding.

American individualists get frustrated with all of the rules.  American libertarian individualists want to have a rule-free society.  They often want complete deregulation; they do not want anyone to interfere with their individual rights to do what they want, particularly if they believe that on their own island they are not "hurting" anyone.  Empathy is a valid and central legal principle; but not everyone has empathy to the degree for public safety.  When the angelic natures of people are not sufficient for public safety, we need to do something which seems unnatural; we have to enforce laws of public empathy.

In our lives today, the great laws cited by Jesus invite us to review the state of our own empathy?  Can we appreciate that different people need different kinds of empathy.  Can we appreciate that even though all laws of empathy do not apply to everyone, it is still important to honor the practice of empathy?

Since religious leader tried to stump Jesus with hard questions, he posed a question for them about the Messiah.  Remember the Messiah is not referred to in the Torah, since it did not become a relevant notion until the kings of Israel were made so by being anointed.  Being anointed is what Messiah means.  And if the messiah is a son of David, why does David write in Psalm, the Lord said to my Lord, indicating a conversation within the Godhead.

And what Jesus was showing them was that the Scriptures should not be used to play legal games.  The Scripture and the law is about the primary rule of Empathy and Jesus is the messiah, the king of empathy.

Jesus came to say that the purpose of the Torah, the Scriptures and the Messiah is to get with the program of empathy, empathy with a loving God and empathy in our relationships with each other.

And the end results is also being about to "love oneself," because one has learned the law of empathy.

If our faith and religion is not about empathy, then it is not biblical faith and it is not the faith of the Messiah.  May God help us to keep progressing in our practice of the law of empathy today.  Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Charismatic Jesus and Numismatic Jesus

20 Pentecost, Cycle A, Proper 24, October 18, 2020 
Exodus 33:12-23 Psalm 99 1
Thessalonians 1:1-10 Matthew 22:15-22 

 It is obvious from the Jesus-effect in Palestine that Jesus was a charismatic teacher and preacher; what we also find out from the Gospel for this day is that Jesus is numismatic wisdom expert.

Jesus immediately read the motives of his opponents and then he pulled a coin trick.

What were the motives of his opponents?  They wanted Jesus to get political and speak against paying taxes to the Caesar.

So Jesus said, "Let me see a coin.  Whose image, whose icon is on this coin?"  A very rhetorical question.  The Caesar stamp his image on each coin as a sign of his power and right to collect taxes.  The coin with his image on it was a way to make sure that a good portion of the wealth of empire would come back to him.

But then comes the wisdom pun of Jesus.  "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God the things of God."  The interlocutors of Jesus knew the creation story of Genesis.  They knew that God created men and women in the image of God.  And was Caesar a man?  Whose image did Caesar bear?  God's.  So who did Caesar belong to?  God.

This is an absolute brilliant wisdom interchange and it provides a instructive metaphor for us that we can expand on.

The Greek word for image is icon.  In biblical spiritual psychology, people are made in the image of God.  God in the full divine Plenitude cannot be seen because no one has the capacity to take in such Plenitude all at once.  That is why Moses could only see the "back side" of God.  The best way for God to be known and seen is by the shared image of God within the created world.

Using the coin metaphor, we might say that we are God's coinage.  God has put us into circulation.  And because we bear the divine image, we belong to God.  And so, the biblical plan is this: Render unto God the things which are God's.  And how do we do this?  How do we honor the image of God that is upon our lives?

By loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  This is how we render unto God what belongs to God, namely our own lives.

The Gospel questions for you and me concern this issue of bearing the image of God.  The Caesar was human and as a human he bore the image of God.  But how did he bear the image of God.  He wanted to replace God; he was regarded to be a replacement deity for God.  He violated the truth of his humanity.

You and I in our baptismal life are asked to discover and bear gladly the image of God upon our lives, especially since his Son Jesus, showed us how to do this best.  By following Jesus, we can learn how to love God and our neighbors best.

Today, let us imagine ourselves as a coin in God's currency.  And the question to Jesus is this?
Should people pay taxes and tribute to God?   And Jesus would say?  Whose image is upon the the life of you the baptized?  And we would say the Christ of God.

And Jesus would say to us: "Then render your lives unto God, your owner."  Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

What Does Being Chosen Mean?

19 Pentecost, Cycle A  Proper 23, October 11, 2020
Exodus 32:1-14  Psalm 106
Philippians 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14

The presentation of God in the Bible is often frightening.  Like when the people of Israel constructed a golden calf on Moses' extended visit on Mt. Sinai.  So God said Moses, "This is a worthless, faithless people; let me kill them all off and start a new people with you."  And Moses intercedes to placate the wrath of God and reminds God of the divine promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  So, God threatened to wipe out the very people chosen by divine promise.

The biblical presentations of God, often seem to make God like a person with feelings, jealousy, anger, love and kindness.

We believe in God because we take the profound conditions in life personally.  We project divine personal motivation on the things that happen to us.  We project bad and evil on malevalent personal forces.  As persons we cannot help but project personality upon everything that happens to us.  When people did not understand causation like scientists do today, the mystery of causation was easiest to explain in terms of the cosmic being of God and fallen angels.

And as much as science has helped us to achieve, science cannot give complete precise answers to causation, particularly in how events feel to us when they happen.  And because science does not eliminate feeling, we resort to art, spiritual art, inner meaning art to deal with what happens to us.  We are not just machine bodies obeying the laws of physics; we are inner spiritual beings with souls thoroughly endowed with language.  And in using language we cannot avoid being seekers of meaning of everything that happens to us.

The favor of God in biblical language is often expressed as being chosen.  And sometimes we might regard this to be like the winning of the lottery.  But it is not like God drew Israel name out of the big hopper and they won the lottery; to be chosen is to experience being in relationship.  To experience a relationship and then violate the vows of the relationship is what characterizes sin.  The golden calf event was a rejection of a relationship because of unfaithfulness.

In the Gospel parable of Jesus, God is presented as a unrequited party giver, because the A, B, C list of invitees decide not to come to the wedding feast.

In wedding planning with brides and groom, I often find them very over optimistic about how many people will be present at their weddings.  And it can be quite a blow when the schedules or the interest of the invited do not get them to the church.  And bridal families can feel quite unrequited to experience a smaller than expected crowd.

God as the one throwing a big wedding party is excited to invite those who would seem to be in an obvious relationship with God.  But alas, the RSVP regrets from the A list, B list and C list of guests indicate the obvious people who were supposed to be friends of God, turn out not to be interested in the big event.  They have lost their relationship with God to the point of not being able to value what is important to God, namely celebrating relationship, friendship, love and union.  When the seeming preferred lists of guests sent their regrets, then agents are sent to extend a invitation to those people who seemed to be unchosen.

What is the insight of this riddle parable?  It turns out those who were regarded to be the preferred and chosen, didn't really know what it meant to be in right relationship to God.   And those who regarded to be unchosen, were those who were flattered to know that the invitation from God was offered to them too.

And when we're all excited that the wedding feast has these new guest, we're shocked to find out a guest is condemned to outer darkness because he is dressed inappropriately.  And we wonder, why so severe punishment for a minor dress code offense?  Doesn't God honor California casual?

And of course, we cannot take a parable literal; we have to crack the riddle code.  God indeed, has a generous invitation to the great feast, but attending the feast still has the vows of relationship.  And what is our vow of relationship?  We don't have to be perfect.  And we are provided with the garments of graceful righteousness by God.  But we still have to put on these graceful clothes.  As great as God grace it, it does not mean that we can "do" our own thing.  It means we have to embrace the path of repentance, or a Paul writes, a path of intentional excellence.  St. Paul warned about not misunderstanding God's grace.  "Where sin abound, there did grace much more abound....shall we continue to sin so that grace may abound?"  Whoopee, since I've got a "get out of jail card" for everything, I'll just keep doing whatever I want.

The grace of an invitation to the feast is offered to all, and the Host for purposes of social leveling provides graceful clothing as a gift to everyone, a uniform as it were.  Accept the gift; and don't do your own thing.  Don't be like a single solder or band member who decides to wear pink spats to "stick out" among the battalion or band.

What is the Gospel for you and me today?  God wants to be in relationship with us.  We're all invited to the feast.  To make the vow of relationship is to enter the experience of being chosen.  So we don't try to do our own thing; we accept the vows of our relationship with God.  We don the garments of righteousness provided for us by the great host of the feasts.

And we avoid the false sense of being chosen.  How can we be chosen if the invitation to the great feast is not important to us?  Lots of people can live in this sense of "false choseness" and not regard the invitation to the feast of God as important to respond to.  Let us not miss the invitation.  Let us not use God as a rubber stamp to "do our own thing."  The feast of God is a feast of communion and fellowship where love and justice is the profound experience.

Do not send your RSVP regrets to God today.  Attend the feast and accept the lovely protocols of grace.  Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Basics of Stewardship

18 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 22, October 4, 2020
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14 Matthew 21:33-46

A main biblical message is about convincing humanity that we are stewards for the gift of life that we did nothing to receive.  And everyone has received something different in the conditions of their births, their natural gifts and the opportunities afforded each person by their nurturing or challenging and even unjust environments.

Jesus, specified the stewardship role by adding, "to whom much is given, much is required."  This counters the usurping practices of the strong and wealthy, who often live as though, "if I have much, then I have the right to take more, and in fact, as much as I can."

How can we be convinced about our stewardship roles?  First by being humble enough to recognize that we have only temporal duration in life.  We came into this life within the pre-conditions of Vast Plenitude.  We will leave this life from the conditions of Vast Plenitude, and in contrast our lives are pretty small and short-lived.  Yet we have come to believe that the Vast Plenitude of God is one who wants a friendly and persuasive relationship with us such that this Friendly God allowed for a series of versions of "ownership manuals" for best human practices.

These "ownership manuals" for best human practices come in the form of a covenantal contractual relationship with God.  The most famous "ownership manual" for human living came to us in what we call the 10 Commandments.

The 10 Commandments as an "ownership manual" for human living sets forth some principles for best practices.

The first four best practices concern our relationship with God.  Worship God as the one and only truly worshipful Being.  Worship is the way in which we acknowledge God's ownership of our lives.  This acknowledgement is the beginning of everything else we do.  How do we worship God?  By ridding ourselves of any competing gods and idols.  Nothing else in life is bigger or better than God, so don't try to disprove that.  How do we worship God? By giving God Sabbath time.  A Sabbath would be one seventh of our time.  God has made prayer so portable to our lives that we can easily give one seventh of our time as intentional prayerful connection.  And there is also a warning about authentic worship.  Don't use God's name in vain; that is, do not presume to speak for God when one's life does not agree with the divine values of love and justice.  Not taking the Lord's name in vain, has less to do with cussing and swearing; it has more to do with avoiding hypocrisy.

If we get our covenantal practice with God correct,  then the aspects of loving our neighbors follow.  Take care of one's parents, the previous generation.  Honor one's own family vows.  Respect the physical lives of others; do no harm.  Tell the truth and respect property rights.  But then there is that last one which is difficult.  Don't covet.  Learn to tame and surf one's life desire in ways that honors our respect for God and each other.

Desire is sometimes hard to tame.  Even when we don't act out on it, we still have it within ourselves as a conflicting force.  So even when we appear to clean up our exterior presentation, we have to deal with the interior force that manifests itself in all kinds of hassling ways: jealousy, lust, pride, wishing ill for our enemies, anger, rage, accusation, depression and more.

Taming desire is perhaps the most profound tasks which calls for us to know and recognize God as the Holy Spirit force to help us reorganize our inner energies.

The parable of Jesus relates the devastating results of failure at stewardship.  Because we cannot see the God as the Owner of the universe and our lives, we can fall into that famous legal fallacy, "Possession is nine-tenth of the law."  Because I can't see the owner of the world, and because the owner seems to be an absentee-landlord, I can begin to pretend that I own my life and everything in it.  When I am in such alienation, I will of course, ignore or kill any agent of the owner who might come to try to reestablish the recognition of the true owner of life.

The story of Jesus is the story of God's loving agent who came to coax people to the true nature of the Divine ownership of life and the human stewardship role.

One can say that the majority of willful problems in our world today comes because too many people are alienated from the covenant of life, "loving God with all our lives and loving our neighbors as ourselves."

The good news for us today is that Jesus gives us a way and the power to be restored into a right relationship with the Owner of life, and from that right relationship, we can go forth to make the loving of our neighbors the blessing of this world.  Amen.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Authority of Charismatic Kindness

17 Pentecost, a p 21, September 27, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32

Do you know what can often make us jealous, if we are insecure?  The charisma of someone else, especially if they are in our own field of "expertise."  We might have the degrees and the positions of authority, but then someone comes along who just is so charismatic that they get through to people and get such a response, that it makes us a bit jealous.  A real sign of emotional and spiritual maturity is when one can rejoice in the gifts and charisma of other people, especially if it is being used to help people and made them better.

Today, appointed Gospel is an argument motivated by jealousy.  Religious leaders were jealous of the appeal and the effectiveness of the ministry of Jesus.  They were jealous because they saw the response of people to his ministry of teaching and healing, and his ministry inclusion which included the declaration of sins forgiven.

"Jesus, where do you get the authority to practice your ministry, your teaching, your healing?  Show us your Seminary Diploma.  Did you graduate from the Shammai or Hillel rabbinical tradition?  We know that you didn't, so what gives you permission to teach without being licensed by us?"

Now the answer in John's Gospel to this was: "I do the work that my Father gave me to do."  But in this Matthew account, he did not want to play their game.  He only exposed their jealousy.  

"You want to know about my authority?  Well, what about John the Baptist?  In his authority, he required everyone to get baptized, even you observant Jews.  Was his authority to require baptism from God or was it just his own charismatic whim?"

Jesus stumped them because they only thought politically.  "If we say John's baptism is not from God, we have to worry about his popularity among the people.  And if we say John's baptism is from God, then we would have to accept the charismatic authority of Jesus to teach, preach, heal and declare the forgiveness of sins."

Then Jesus told a parable to contrast the end results of religious authority.  One type of religious authority resulted in hypocrisy.  The other type of authority resulted in a person repenting and changing his life.

Jesus was implying that some religious authority was a public proclamation of doing God's will, but in the practice of love and justice, God's will was not obeyed.  So, one could be religiously and ritually observant seeming to be say, "yes" to God, but then in one's actual behaviors one could be a complete hypocrite.

The charismatic authority of Jesus was appealing to the people who were publicly saying "no" to God, but in their actions they were converted to repentance and doing the right thing.

What is the conclusion?  Do we have the grace of charismatic authority to appeal to people's lives to change their lives?  Changed from being avowed deniers of God into being repentant people engaged in do acts of obedience to the Good News of God in Christ?

Jesus was saying, "authority is the charisma to help people change their no words, into yes actions."    And that is the kind of charismatic authority which we seek.  Charismatic means grace filled; we are charismatic when we can live the love and kindness of God before others in such a way that they want to become better people.

How does this happen?  The Christological hymn of St. Paul about Jesus gives us some insights.  Jesus is God emptied in human life; God reduced for humans to perceive and understand that God wants us to live up to the divine image on our lives.  God, in Jesus, is the invitation to find our Good News and change our negative words and experience the power of doing positive deeds.

You and I need to find through identity with Christ this emptying method; it is when we can empty our egos by making them fluid and encompassing in a way to let other people in so that they can be won by kindness, acceptance and love.

God has won us in Jesus by emptying the divine life into human form.  We too, are called to empty ourselves so that we can live our lives with winsome appeals to others so that they can know that they want to be better.

Today, you and I are invited to find the authority of the charisma of love and kindness in our lives.  It is an authority that cannot show up on a diploma or certificate.  It is the authority of winsome kindness, which cannot be faked.  Let us empty ourselves today so that the authority of charismatic kindness can be winsome in the lives of others today.  Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

God is Generous to Equalize; We Should Do the Same

14 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 20, September 20, 2020
Jonah 3:10-4:11 Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30 Matthew 20:1-16

In the parables of Jesus, Jesus often liked to speak in riddles. Such cryptic speech was a method of training which required people to enter a new state of wisdom to be able to understand the message which is being taught by Jesus. 

The riddle from today's Gospel parable is this: "The last shall be last and the first shall be first."  Now this is certainly counter logic to our competitive natures.  Can you imagine after an election, that it be declared, "The candidate with the fewest votes will be first and the candidate with the most votes will be last?"  Can you imagine in sports, an end of season declaration: "Folks the teams with the worst record will be declared the first place winners and the first place team will be declared in last place?"

The parable of Jesus illustrates the riddle.  Vineyard workers were hired for a single wage at different times of the day because the crop had to be picked.  And when the workers got paid the same amount for those who worked all day and those who worked only a few hours, those who worked all day cried, Unfair."  But the owner said, "no, the contract was honored with everyone."

The parable and riddle illustrate an important principle of justice: equality in difference.  We understand this concept when it seems that there are "acceptable" differences.  We think that children should not be required to do the same amount of work as adults.  We think that elderly, disabled and others should not be held to the same standards of production as abled-body adults.  And so even though people have different physical, mental, educational, age conditions, they need to be treated with the integrity of equality when it comes to justice.

Sometimes the wealthy, the powerful, the privileged, the healthy are not true peers with people in society.  Our society is based upon equal justice under the law, but we know that does not always get affirmed in actual practice.  We know the the wealthy, powerful and the privileged have more opportunities to the goods and services and the legal services of our society.  When the differences are so stark, what kind of corrections and reparation can be implemented to even up so that true peer relationships can be practiced in justice?  This is why the Black Lives Matter Movement matters.  This is why we had the feminist's movement because it had to be declared that Women's lives matter.  This is why we had to to have LGBTQ lives matter.  This is why we had to have the American Disability Act, because lives of Disabled people matter.  When equality in difference does not function, those who are neglected have to be lifted up from last place to first place, because their lives are equally precious to God and they should be equally precious to us.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first is the recommended correction to society that Jesus brought.  Societies are dominated by the powerful and the wealthy in every age and that is why programs of distributive justice have to be instituted to promote the true dignity of every person.  This is not socialism; this is the Gospel of Jesus, the practice of equality in difference.

And we need to begin in religion and in the church.  The book of Jonah is a satire about equality in different.  The Ninevites were aliens and foreigners to Israel; why should they have access to the Torah and the gift of God's favor?   Jonah was like most Israelites in thinking that Israel is first in God's eye and God's favor belongs only to Israel.  So God with a sense of humor says to Jonah, "Go to Ninevah and preach Torah repentance."  Jonah essentially said, "God I can't go; I disagree with you giving the same opportunity of repentance to our foes."  And after spending time in the belly of a whale, Jonah obeyed and sure enough these Ninevites who were last in the eyes of Jonah, became first in God's favor and they embraced God's message.  And Jonah was ticked.   He pouted and said, "See, I told you."  He was angry that God was to be shared with all.

And this was the Gospel situation.  Jesus found lots of people who were last.  And what did he say?  "I came to make those who feel like they are last in the eyes of the people of power and privilege, first and equal in God's grace and favor."

And this is the story of Gentile Christianity.  We who have been last in favor have been made first in favor.

Remember the Gospel presentation of the nature of God.  When too many people are made to be last in their social situation, Jesus came to inspire corrective programs to lift those people into first place.  If you and I are not on board with this distributive mercy of God in our time and place, then we are not true practitioners of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Period.

Let us join the Gospel program of Jesus Christ to help lift those who are last through no fault of their own, into first place of equal dignity and favor in God's love and care.  Remember when you and I, feel last and seek dignity.  And let us go forth to offer the program of Jesus to make the last understand and know how they can experience being first in knowing God's love.  Amen 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Two or Three Plus Christ, Makes a Quorum

14 Pentecost, A p18, September 6, 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-11 Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20
Lectionary Link

Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them."  This saying of Jesus is often quoted.  It is used as a consolation statement when just a few people show up for Mass and the priest opines, "Oh well, at least Jesus is here, because he said where two or three are gather, I am there too."

There are also comic version of this like, "where two or three Episcopalians are gathered in my name, there you have two or three different opinions."

There is also the cynical version of this, "where two of three are gathered in my name, you can be sure there's politics involved."

I often have heard this quoted in a romanticized way to refer to proverbial campfire Christianity with everyone in love, singing Kum by Yah my Lord.

I have to admit that the cynical version of this is closer to the actual context of this saying.  The context is that members have sinned against each others and there is disagreement within the community.  The community is threatened by this matter of community discipline and so the community needs wisdom to know how to proceed.

So why is this saying significant?  For several reasons.

This saying represents the transfer of the identity of the physical presence of Jesus of Nazareth onto the spiritual presence of the Risen Christ within the lives of the gathered followers of Jesus.

This is in keeping with St. Paul's Body of Christ theology.  We are members of the body of Christ; Christ is our Head presiding over the different gifted members of the Body of Christ.

Members of the Body of Christ can come into competition and disagreement and so the overall health and effectiveness of that body can be threatened.

The same thing happens in my body.  My stomach can be upset and threaten my overall effectiveness.  I need to resort to my head, my reasoning mechanism, to resolve body disagreement to move forward.

When members of the Body of Christ disagree or hurt each other, they still need to gather in the name of Christ and let the presence of Christ as Head of the Body provide the group, communal and even democratic wisdom to resolve differences and go forward in the mission of the Gospel.

Can you see in this saying the basis for a Christ-democracy to achieve consensus, collaboration, collegiality and communion within the church?  This saying is the basis for what became known as Conciliar Christianity.

Why is this saying not easy and not always so obvious?

It is one thing to have a very small group of people, 12 disciples or a small Jesus Movement, but what about when the Jesus Movement burgeons to take over the Roman Empire?  A dispute can have significant political ramification.  The Emperor Constantine noticed the success of Christianity even while he noticed that there was great disagreement among them.  So he convened the council of Nicaea to require a Christ-democracy of bishops to agree on and standardize the teachings of the church to prevent open fighting among the members.  Thus the two or three gathering, grew to larger gatherings of bishops to realize the presence of Christ to resolve the challenge to live together in love, agreement and communion.

How can you and appropriate this Gospel saying of Jesus in our time?  In our time, we have hundreds of different Christian groups who believe and practice the Gospel in different ways.  We have some large Christian bodies with strong centralized structures and the leaders of these body issue statements of doctrine and practice for large number of members.  We also have some independent congregational gatherings that issue their own practices and teachings.

For you and I, in our parish, in our diocese, in our Communion, in our Ecumenical relationships with other Christians, and in our relationship with people of all faith who seek love and justice, we can still apply this saying of Jesus as relevant to us.

First we need to gather in the Name of Jesus.  What does this mean?  It means that we live as a family member of Christ.  It means that we have taken a mystical identity with the death and resurrection of Christ and come to check our ego so that Christ can be in and through us.  And when we gather and everyone is deferring to Christ in and through us, we can come to the wisdom of consensus, collaboration, communion, collegiality and together execute the mission of the Gospel for us in our time and place.

Each of us in our prayer is asking, "what would Jesus do here and now in our time?"  Jesus would do love,  justice, and mercy.

And if churches have so many rules and laws, how do we know what do do?  St. Paul said, "Love."  Love fulfills the Laws, it fulfills all rules. 

And if one is ever uncertain about what Jesus would do, then we should ask, "What does love mean in this situation?"  And that is how both individually and as a group of people we can know what Jesus would do.  Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Caesar Messiah or a Suffering Servant Messiah?

13 Pentecost,  A p17,  August 30, 2020

Jeremiah 15:15-21 Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21  Matthew 16:21-28

Lectionary Link

The issues which are found in the Gospel are not limited to the first century; they still are relevant today.

What was a big issue in the first century religious communities of Palestine and beyond?  Was this mythological figure known as the Messiah to be a Caesar Messiah or a Suffering Servant Messiah?

This was one of the crucial issue which led to the separation of the Jesus Movement and the synagogue.

In some ways, the issue has arisen again in the history of the church, based upon the identity which the church has taken with monarchs and other political leaders.

We've been reading the Gospel dialogue between Peter and Jesus.  "Jesus, you are the Messiah, son of the living God."  Well, Peter flesh and blood has not revealed that to you, and on you and this confession the Jesus Movement will be built.  But Peter, let me tell you about the Messiah.  The way in which I will be the Messiah is to suffer, die, and be raised on the third day."  Peter could not accept this; he like many others wanted a Caesar Messiah, not a suffering servant Messiah.  "Jesus, the Messiah does not suffer and die; the Messiah will be great enough to defeat the Caesar, so Jesus, you have to be a Caesar Messiah."  How ironic is this?  Peter telling the Messiah that he does not know the true qualities of the Messiah.   And Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan who inspires this misunderstanding of Peter.  You are thinking in very human ways but not in the ways of God."

Historically, the Jesus Movement blossomed and took off.  But the Jesus Movement was not an army of people over-throwing the Caesar and the Roman Empire.  Jesus did not have armies to remove the Romans from Palestine.  Jesus was not a Caesar Messiah and the self-understanding of the Jesus Movement was that Jesus represented the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah who spoke about a suffering servant hero Messiah.  The triumph of Jesus, the Messiah,  was an inside job within the hearts of people.  When you control the insides of people, the success eventually becomes a social and external success.

And what happened?  The Jesus Movement eventually became the preferred religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine.

You and I live in this situation of contradiction.  We believe and confess a suffering servant Messiah even while we have lived as heirs of Empire Christianity.

The Holy Roman Empire and Christendom were essentially expression of Empire Christianity.  When the Church of England separated from the Papal Western Church, it was an Empire Church with the monarch being the head of the church.

The Episcopal Church had to separate itself temporarily from the Empire Church of England during and after the American Revolution.  And even though we supposedly have separation of church and state, all American Christians still live as heir of Empire Christianity.  We have lived as the majority religious group and so the government has functioned more on our behalf than on behalf of people in religious minority groups.

When Empire Christian became colonial Christianity around the world, how ironic that the suffering servant Messiah converted the indigenous people and the natives who were made to be slaves.  What is the result of converting people to the suffering servant Messiah?  Well, the love of God in Christ the Messiah is the offer of equal dignity.  So how can slavery and subjugation be justified in practices of Empire Christianity?  They can't be justified.  Jesus was the suffering servant Messiah so that those who knew his love could walk in wonderful human dignity.

But the power groups of Empire Christianity have not been able to make the adjustment to the true outcome of the suffering servant Messiah.

Today, we live in the aftermath of being Empire Christianity.  We can unwittingly live as though Jesus were a Caesar Messiah.   We assume that we've been on the winning side of history and so it allows a triumphalism which does not really represent the suffering servant Messiah,  Jesus.  

Can you see how the Risen Christ might be repeatedly saying to Empire Christianity, "Get behind me Satan, you are setting your minds on human things, not divine things."

Can you see how we still have before us the issue of the Caesar Messiah and the Suffering Servant Messiah?  In Latin and South American, when priests and nuns were working with the poor, they noted that the official church was actually working on the side of oppressive dictators, keeping people poor.  These priests and nuns read the Gospel and observed that the majority of the Gospel sayings of Jesus were on behalf of the poor, and so they generated what has been called liberation theology. 

In the Manifest Destiny views of the American Colonies, the invaders were Old Testament in their invasion.  They believe America was the new Promised Land.  This is why so many places in America have biblical names.  To achieve Manifest Destiny, indigenous people had to be run off their lands.  To build the colonies, slavery became the main engine of economy and work to help spread their forms of Empire Christianity.  But if you offer slaves and indigenous people the dignity of conversion to Jesus Christ, you have to really mean it to be true to Jesus, the suffering servant.

And for so long, we really did not mean it.  The conquerors tended to believe in a Caesar Messiah, while they were asking the slaves and the native peoples to believe and live the lives of the suffering servant Messiah.  Thus we have been plagued by two classes of Christians, those who inherited the positions of a Caesar Messiah and those who were forced to take the position of the suffering servant Messiah.

And we still live with the consequences of these two types of Christianities in our country today.

But let us be clear:  The true Gospel Jesus Messiah is the suffering servant Messiah.  And this does not mean that we are supposed to just accept servile oppression.  No, Jesus suffered and died in a adequate for us so that we might embrace and offer abundant life to all.   And the abundant life of Christ is the full dignity of the lives of everyone.

The Caesar Messiah and the Suffering Servant Messiah issue is about what is true about freedom.  It is a false hope to wish that some great intervener could end the conditions of freedom and force everyone to become robots of goodness.  And this is why we need to be true to the Messiah as a suffering servant.  We need to be able to live with all the conditions of freedom.  We need to know how to integrate suffering and death into a life of faith of living with the conditions of freedom.

And so what does the suffering servant Jesus the Messiah teach us today?    The power of the suffering and death of Jesus is the mystical power within us to die to ourselves.   And what that mean?  It means that we know that suffering will not go away in the free conditions of life which includes death.  The Suffering Servant Messiah teaches us that God suffers with us.  What else do we learn?  We learn that Christ suffering with us means we do not cause suffering to anyone else.  It is better to suffer that to cause the suffering of others.  And finally how can the suffering servant Messiah be triumphant?  When we use the power of the Spirit to alleviate suffering, when we heal the sick, release the prisoners, feed the hungry, and give the good news of equal worth to every single person.

May the suffering servant Messiah win our hearts today and help us bring healing triumphant power to lives of people who are suffering the most in our world today.  Amen.

Quiz of the Day, November 2020

Quiz of the Day, November 27, 2020 The exclamatory cry "Hosanna" is associated with what event in the life of Jesus? a. the Transf...