Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wheat & Thistles, Good Seeds & Bad Seeds

Preached on July 20, 2014 at Btown Inclusive Mass

Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30
"He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ “The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’” (The Message)
In the Name of God: the One who allows the thistle to grow among the wheat knowing the day will come when evil is no more and peace covers the entirety of the earth. Amen.

Today our Scripture readings fill us with hope and expectation! They share with us the promise of God that a time is coming when peace will triumph, when evil will be radically destroyed with good and when love will rule the land in ever sense of the imagination. Each reading today was literally bursting with the expectation of the manifestation of a godly world. That is a world that isn’t ruled by greed, hatred, malice, strife, jealousy, fear or envy but rather one ruled by patience, goodness, gentleness and self control - in a spirit of harmony, a spirit of unity. This hopeful expectation has been a core belief of both our parent religion, Judaism, and of Christianity since the very start. You will remember our Paschal promise that “Christ is Risen,” a spiritual reality declaring that evil has already lost its foothold and death has been destroyed. As people of faith we are called to live in the present, seeking to bring God’s ways into their midst. We do this while also remaining hopeful for the future age when the promises of God will be radically realized and embraced by all people-kind. A time when the power of the resurrection will not only rule in our hearts but in every segment of society and life. The very misunderstood and poorly interpreted apocalyptic texts, such as Revelation, are all about this hope and promise. They are poetic and colorful symbols and images of the faith-filled confidence that one-day peace will replace war, life will replace death and abundance will replace hunger. St. Jerome, who lived in the late fourth century and early fifth century, conveyed this faithful hope quite well, when he said: “In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.”

Jesus referenced this hopeful age or time quite often in his parables throughout the Gospels, while still requiring the listener to be fully present in their daily lives. He did so today in our reading from Matthew. If you remember, last week we encountered the story of the sower of seeds or the farmer. We came to understand that the farmer represents God. And in her unending goodness we realized that God is not stingy with seeds of love but extravagantly sows them upon all the earth, in expectation that we all will arrive at his doorstep sooner or later and all will be forgiven. Today, we again encounter God as a farmer. As last week, an interpretation is given for this parable a few verses later but this interpretation is once again, most likely, not original to Jesus. Rather it is an attempt of the Matthean Community to make sense of the times and events in which they lived. So today let’s approach this parable with open hearts and open minds, seeing what God wishes to convey to us.

Monday, July 21, 2014

God the Sower

Originally preached on July 13, 2014 at Btown Eucharist

Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9

"At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, the weeds strangled it. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (The Message)

In the Name of God, the one who scatters seeds of love across the entirety of the world as gifts for all people-kind, we seek to learn and grow. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is likely familiar to many of you. You might have heard it multiple times in your childhood but there was likely an additional passage you always heard in combination with it. If you were to turn to this reading in Matthew and skip ahead a few verses you would hear an explanation of the parable Jesus gave. The Gospel of Matthew paints this as an explanation given by Jesus himself. However, many scholars now agree that this was added many years after Jesus no longer walked this earth. The passage attempts to describe this parable as a spiritual telling of those who accept the salvation message of Jesus (and the Church) and those who do not. A telling of those who receive the promise of God and therefore inherit eternal life and those who deny it, causing it to dry up, and therefore we can presume are no longer in God’s good graces. However, I believe, Jesus never gave that explanation. That was simply an attempt of the Matthean community trying to understand why some people accepted their message of the Christ and why others refused too. They had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that not everyone in the whole wide world would want to be a Christian like them. They also could not understand why some would convert only to later leave the faith. This parable of Jesus seemed to lend itself easily to their doctrinal and membership issues and so they made use of it.

I know it is traumatizing, week after week, I come up here and tell you a part of the Bible is based solely on a group of people wanting to enforce their ideals on others. But breathe deeply because we still have the authentic words of Jesus, which we heard just now in our Gospel passage. Jesus tells us a farmer planted seed…actually, the farmer scattered the seed. Some it fell on the road and birds ate it, some fell in gravel, some fell in weeds and it didn’t do to well. Finally, some fell on good earth and produced an incredible harvest! Jesus then says to us: “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Family Against Family and Doing Jesus' Work

A Reflection On Matthew 10:34-42, originally preached on June 29, 2014.

“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” (The Message)

In the name of God who calls us, redeems us and equips us to bring forth God’s self into our communities: open our hearts to receive the Gospel in truth and light. Amen.

Last week in the Holy Liturgy we commemorated the gift of the Eucharist: the celebration of God making divine love tangible in our midst in simple gifts of bread and wine. This week we celebrate the opportunity to be sent by God into the world to continue the work Jesus began some 2,000 years ago. Today in the Gospel we are called to become messengers of God, allowing ourselves to walk in the compassionate ways as revealed to us by Jesus. I encourage you to notice once again the rhythm the Church establishes for us: we must first be fed with love from heaven before we can be sent forth to give that love away. In order to give away God’s love you must allow yourself to receive God’s love. But rest assured it is an easy gift to receive; all you must do is ask! As Jesus once promised us, “Ask and you will receive!” One way people of faith have traditionally found the means to receive God’s love is in the worship experience, in the gifts of the altar and in fellowship with one another. This is why we gather each week. It isn’t to please a God that demands either sacrifice or our praise but rather to enter into communion with a God who desires to give of God’s self to us.

Once we receive the love of God it constrains us to find another to give it away too. This compelling need to share love is what Jesus is speaking of in our Gospel reading. Sadly, many who will hear Jesus’ words today will walk away with an interpretation that is not only incorrect but also destructive and dangerous. Some of us might have heard a faulty interpretation of Matthew buzzing around in our heads just a few moments ago. Coming from conservative fundamentalist backgrounds some of us can’t help but to read this passage through a lens that is focused only on literal interpretation and doctrinal absolutes. As you heard the words of Jesus you might have begun to think of your beliefs and the beliefs other family members have. Some of you might have started to wonder if your broken relationship with your family is due to you taking a different path in life then they did. Maybe you asked yourself, “Have I disappointed God with my beliefs, have my parents cut me off for good, or even godly, reasons?” Some of you might have prided yourself, a nice biblical pat on the back, for ending a relationship because you felt another had wandered too far from the truths of God. Maybe you found yourself saying, “That’s right – I told my daughter she wasn’t welcome in my home until she came back to God properly!” Another one of you might be thinking, “I just couldn’t spend time with my mother-in-law any longer, after all she doesn’t share our beliefs and I had to put God first!” The possibilities go on and on but the foundation is the same for each of them. A relationship has been destroyed or severed and done so on the justified grounds that God wanted it to be so.

You might be sitting there in misery questioning if you have been left out in the cold because Jesus required you to be. Or maybe you are praising yourself for severing relationships with another because they weren’t “God-like” enough. Both of these possible reflections are heartbreaking and go against the foundation of Jesus’s message. A message that was summed up beautifully when he told us, “Love God, love your neighbors as yourself.” Jesus isn’t talking about doctrine in the Gospel passage, even though many of us approach it convinced he is. Jesus isn’t talking about beliefs. Jesus is talking about action! In order to really put the first two verses into context we must jump to the end of the passage. There we are told, “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.” Please note, nowhere in this does Jesus say, “Defending doctrine and forcing family members to do the same is a large task.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to forsake our children if they believe something different than us nor to quit talking to our father-in-law because we have different interpretations of the Old Testament. Jesus tells us the task (the action) we are called to is as simple as giving a glass of water to someone who is thirsty!

You might be relieved that doctrine isn’t the focus of this passage but you are probably asking yourself,  “Why all that talk of children and parents being against one another then?” The sad reality is that everyone does not always cherish love and there are some who cannot fathom the idea of certain “others” being shown love, mercy and grace. The simplest act of giving a glass of water can literally turn people’s stomachs causing them to sever a relationship. I am reminded of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, who helped to distribute glasses of water to marchers in a gay pride parade event. People were literally up in arms and furious that he would engage and participate in such an event and help these people by sharing fresh water. Because of his Christ-like actions, in his ministry, many relationships were broken, people despised him and others wrote him off. Yes, loving Jesus, and loving others like Jesus did, will turn family and friends against one another but never do we seek to do so. Never do we end relationships purposefully on the basis that God allows us to do so. The only time familial relationships should sever is when they do so naturally because of our dedication to the Good News. Only when our dedication to the mercy and grace and inclusivity of God disgusts another and causes them to turn away from us, does God permit brokenness. And in the love of God we pray and hope that those relationships will one day be healed. As a people of faith, we never revel in these severed relationships but hope for a day of resurrection when all is restored.

Our calling is to become the apprentice of Jesus, to love as he loved. We do so one step at a time, one action at a time. In this process people might become disgusted with us or we might tragically discover that cherished relationships come to an end. We can never allow our desire for the affection of another to stop us from doing what is right and good. In these moments we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Sometimes persecution comes from our own family members who feel we have lost our minds and our way; Jesus’ own family once felt that way about him. Breathe deep and know you are in good company. It is a great task we are called to: to show forth in action the inclusive love of God! Not everyone will love you for it but others will survive only because you have made yourself a willing and open vessel. A life lived fully and honestly isn’t always cozy but it has the possibility of changing the world. May you change the world beginning today with an act as simple as offering a cup of water!