October 1, 2011

Draughting Theology is moving

After six years with blogger, I've decided it is time to move.  Please adjust your rss feeds to reflect my new site at http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/

Thanks for following! I appreciate each of you.

September 29, 2011

Have you never read the scriptures?

I'm pretty sure that Jesus could not have hurt the Pharisees any worse than by asking then, "have you never read the scriptures?"  That was their job. They were among the very few who were literate. They were the teachers, nee the perfecters, of the law. All they did, day in and day out, was read the scriptures and argue about their meaning in daily life.

When Jesus asks them, "have you never read the scriptures," he says openly what he's been veiling in parable all this time, "y'all don't have a clue."  It hurts to have your worldview challenged like that. Especially as it relates to one's religion, to be accused of being so ignorant of the basics as to have never even read the scriptures, that's about the worst challenge I can think of.

No wonder the Pharisees, realizing he's talking about them (clueless even here), want to arrest Jesus immediately.

As an Episcopal priest, I have two sacred texts: the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  It assumed, rightfully, that I've read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested both of them.  Despite some holes in the narrative of the Old Testament that I've failed, as yet, to inwardly digest, I can honestly say that I take those texts very seriously, and when it comes to the BCP, when I break a rule, I do so knowing the tradition in the rubric and the reasons for my changes.

What comes to mind this morning, is that challenge.  What could Jesus look at in my life and ask, "have you never read or heard or lived my message?"  That, I'm certain, would sting just as much as it did for the Pharisees.

September 28, 2011

the produce?

When Jesus asks the Pharisees what the father would do to the evil tenants in his parable, they highlight something that is easily glossed over in this story, especially as it gets used in many pulpits as the basis for the first sermon in stewardship season.  Their response is as succinct as it is hard to hear, "The father will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time."

Did you catch it?  Here's a hint, look at the title of this post.  Riiiight, the produce.

The story starts, after the allusion to Isaiah 5, with the landowner sending his slaves "to collect his produce."  They didn't go to take his cut of the profits.  They didn't go to get the first fruits.  They didn't go for any partial payments.  They went to get the produce.

All of the produce.

Or at least that's how I read it (disagreeing with my recent favorite translation the NLT in doing so).  We did stewardship during the Great 50 Days of Easter, so our worship services in October are safe from the fall stewardship campaign, but lots and lots of preachers will use this text as a reminder to give God his due.  Then they'll say something like, "and the biblical model of giving is the tithe, 10%."  Which is well and good, and if everybody gave 10% the Church would not be in need, ministries to the poor and sick would be overflowing with cash, and natural disasters wouldn't require a $10 donation by text message, BUT the biblical model of giving is not 10%.  The biblical model of giving is the Father sending his slaves to collect his produce.

None of it is ours. It is all a gift from God who created the land, built the seasons, waters the plants, and gives breath to the workers.  Lopping 10% off the top is going about it the wrong way round, God gives us back 90%, which is more than we could ever need.  The evil tenants in Jesus' parable don't get it.  They think they've done all the work. They think they can rebel and take ownership of the vineyard.  They forget where it all came from.  And often times, so do we.  Offer the Lord his produce, and you'll be amazed at the results.

September 27, 2011

but... and...

At lectionary group yesterday, I noticed something.  When M read the lesson appointed for Sunday, the NIV differed from the NRSV in its usual ways.  Except for one big difference, coming in verse 44.

NIV - He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
NRSV - The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.


These are very different words, and, at least as far as my Greek knowledge goes, both are acceptable translations.  There is the funny form in Greek that makes a statement contingent but doesn't define its contingency.  So verse 44 could read "but" or it could read "and."

Let me tell you why I prefer the "but" translation.  I think, what Jesus is asking for in this exchange with the Pharisees, elders, and chief priests, is that they lay themselves down upon the altar of the Lord - the altar finished by the capstone of Christ.  Sacrifice to self. Death to self. Repentance. Baptism.  This plays to the surrounding context in the story and is the call of discipleship right through time to today.  Die to self, live for Christ.

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces...


But he on whom it falls, the one who refuses to die to self, who seeks after selfish ambition, who ignore the pleas of the poor, who hoards the kingdom for himself, who defines who is in and who is out.  On that person the altar of the Lord will fall hard, and they will be crushed (and literally in the Greek scattered).

Jesus desires that we repent and live.  He desires that we choose to be broken into pieces and rebuilt in his image.  But when we refuse, he'll do that work for us.

So I choose "but."  I'm sure others will read this differently, like, say, the folks who translated the NRSV, but I'm OK with that.

September 26, 2011

Actions speak louder than words

Here's my sermon from yesterday.  You can listen here - or read below----
Posts are going to be behind this week - sorry.  I'm just behind already.

I heard a story this week about a guy, let's call him Jason, right here in town, who got a phone call at home one evening. On the other line was a person who lived next door to one of Jason's rental properties. Seems someone had broken into his vacant rental house a block or so from where he lived. He hung up, called the cops, grabbed his pistol, and met the would-be robber on the front porch. As the robber tried to continue on his way out, Jason suggested as kindly as one can with a loaded gun, that he should probably not move. The robber responded by saying, “Did I break into your house? I didn't mean to break into your house, I meant to break into another one.” Obviously neither Jason, nor the police took much solace in the man's story. Actions, it seems, always speak louder than words.

That's the theme of the story Jesus tells the elders and chief priests in this morning's gospel lesson. In case you missed it, which you most likely did since the lectionary skips the details of it all, as our long summer season of Pentecost comes to an end, we join Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus' life. In between the portion of chapter twenty we heard last week and today's lesson, Matthew's gospel tells the stories of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for choice spots at the dinner table for her sons. Chapter twenty-one begins with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday which brings Jesus into the Temple Court where he turns the tables of the moneychangers and heals the blind and the lame. Monday finds Jesus cursing the fig tree for not bearing fruit and promising his disciples that if they have faith they can tell the mountain to jump into the sea.

AND THEN, we get to our lesson for today. Jesus is back in the Temple after yesterday's tirade. If you look carefully, you can still see the glimmer of a piece of change or two, strewn across the Temple floor, as the men who make their living selling sacrificial animals try to put their businesses back together. The collective breath exits the room as Jesus walks through the door, and order to eliminate any further problems before they start, the elders and chief priests meet Jesus near the Temple gate.

“By whose authority do you do these things? By whose authority did you mess up our well established system? By whose authority are you causing a raucous? Who gave you such authority?” They know that the only valid answer is “from God.” They know that only the anointed one of God could justifiably act like Jesus acted. They also know that if he answers that way, they’ve got him, dead to rights, for blasphemy and treason.

Jesus knows that too. Jesus knows that the trap has been set; it’s been there a long, long time. He can see the writing on the wall, but the time isn’t right. It’s only Monday, there is still a lot to accomplish before it all comes crashing in on him. And so, as a good Rabbi, he answers their question with a question. The long running game of oneupsmanship continues as Jesus looks at the group standing before him and pulls something of a Willy Wonka, “I’ll tell you where my authority comes from... but first, answer me just one, simple question. Where did John the Baptist get his authority? Was if from heaven? Or was it merely of human origin?”

And with that, the hunted-one escapes to fight for at least another day. Matthew spells out for us the catch-twenty-two. If they say that John’s Baptism was from God, then they admit that they didn’t catch on to what God was doing at the time. If they say it was merely human, they risk a mob scene as the vast majority of Jerusalem had heard John, been baptized by him, and believed his message of repentance and the kingdom. Collectively, they look at their sandals, shuffle their feet, and answer in a mealy-mouthed chorus, “we don’t know.”

Jesus won’t be answering their question, at least not directly, but if answering a question with a question was Jesus' favorite activity on earth, then telling a parable must have been a close second. “Tell me what you think about this. A certain man had two sons. He went to the older boy and said, ‘Go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘Nope, not gonna do it,’ but later changed his mind and went to work. Knowing only his elder son’s rejection, the man went to his younger son, ‘Boy, you go and work in the vineyard.’ This son answered, ‘Yes, lord, I’ll go.’ But he didn’t go. Which one did the will of his Father?”

The obvious answer, of course, is the first son because actions speak louder than words. And that’s the answer the religious leaders give, and Jesus seems to tell them they’re right when he responds, “Truly I tell you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” But honestly, this has bothered me all week. Maybe I expect too much from people, but it seems to me that neither son did the will of his father. One son disrespected his father in saying “no,” but felt guilty enough or sorry enough or whatever enough to put down his xbox controller and go to work. The other son heaped politeness upon his dad, calling him “kyrie” (sir or lord), but then goes right back to staring at the new facebook layout trying figure out if he likes it or not, never giving a second thought to his dad’s request for him to work. Both boys ruined their credibility by disrespecting their father. Both boys fell short of the ideal Jesus sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything else,” Jesus says, “is of the devil.” The one who did the will of his Father is the one who says yes, follows through, and does it.

John the Baptist said yes to God and followed through.

Jesus said yes to God and followed through.

These men had the authority that comes from authentically living into the will of the Father. It brought them both to early ends, but that seems to be what happens in this world when your “yes” is yes and your “no” is no and your goal in life is to seek after the Kingdom.

Going to work in the vineyard is hard. It’s hot, dirty, back-breaking work. And it is the ultimate privilege to be called. This conversation that Matthew lets us overhear is between Jesus and the religious leadership of his time, but the call to work in the vineyard is not exclusively the purview of guys and gals who wear collars and get paychecks from churches. By virtue of your baptism, you too are employees of the Kingdom pursuant to all rights, privileges, and obligations thereof.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

The answer, in case you’ve forgotten, is “I will, with God’s help.” Roughly translated, that means “Yes Lord, I’ll work with you.” Many of us have answered “yes” to these questions more times than we can remember. Most of us are actively doing that work on an ongoing basis. All of us, from time to time, fall short, get distracted, or otherwise shirk our duties. But the LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness, and despite our shortcomings, he allows prostitutes, tax collectors, priests, sinner, saints, and all the rest into his Kingdom. Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. But when you fall short, remember that actions speak louder than words. Repent, return to the Lord, and get back to work. The vineyard, and the Father are waiting. Amen.

September 22, 2011

Jesus' actions speak louder than my words

There are four possible outcomes in the story of a dad asking his sons to work in the vineyard.  Two of them, the two that sit in the gray areas of life, are mentioned by Jesus in Sunday's Gospel.

1) Son says "yes" but doesn't work.
2) Son says "no" but does work.
3) Son says "yes" and does work.
4) Son says "no" and doesn't work.

Ideally, as we discussed yesterday, the son says "yes" and then goes and does the work, and I think I'm leaning towards this as THE only scenario in which the will of the Father is actually fulfilled.  But, it seems clear from the interaction between Jesus and the elders and priests that one can, at the very least, partially fulfill the will of the father by going out into the vineyard.

Actions speak louder than words.

Saying yes and doing no sucks.  It is a lie.
Saying no and doing yes is pretty crummy, but at least you DID something.

It is the work of the vineyard (a topic of conversation last week, this week, AND next week) that is important. In Jesus' setting, Israel was the vineyard.  God asked the priests to tend his vineyard, to help the people grow in faith, to live the will of the Father.  The priests, in taking on the mantle of their office, said "yes," but failed miserably at the task at hand. The prostitutes, tax collectors, and Joe the Plumbers or Israel, the vineyard, were left to figure it out on their own.  Weeds were growing unabated, irrigation ditches were clogged with debris, grapes were going unharvested.  And so the Father went to his only Son and said, "go to work."

Jesus said yes, went to work, and died because of it.
Jesus fulfilled the will of his Father.
Jesus made the vineyard ready for harvest.

As much as I want this story to be a moral tale that we should "get to work," I'm realizing this morning that the work has already been done. In many ways, I'm just a grape. My job is to soak up the sun, the drink in the water, to receive the gifts of grace from the Father, and to await the harvest.

September 21, 2011

Use your words

We'll deal with actions tomorrow.

On Wednesdays, because of five15 and Draughting Theology on Ice, my work day begins at noon.  It is my attempt at keeping some semblance of a family life in this 24/7/365 world.  This morning was a bit of a rough one as FBC decided to sleep past 6:30 for the first time in months.

Trouble is, the school bus stops right outside her window at 6:55am.  The squeaking breaks woke her up, of course, and she was a grouchy, sleepy two-year-old until nap time blessedly arrived at 11:55.  When she is tired like that, her favorite activity is the point and cry game.

She points at what she wants and cries until she gets it.

This is not my favorite game.

All morning SHW and I took turns saying, "use your words. Tell me what you want. I don't know what uhhh-ahhh means."

What, you know this game?  Great, then you're up to speed.

Anyway, for whatever reason I thought of the annoying brothers featured in Sunday's Gospel lesson.  They both use words, but neither uses them positively.  The first says, "heck no, I'm busy," but puts down his Edward Forty-hands and goes out to work. The second says, "sure dad, I'll do it," and then goes back to playing Halo Reach on XBox Live.

Earlier in Matthew (5:37 to be exact), Jesus is teaching about all sorts of serious life issues like divorce, revenge, and vow taking.  Here, he rather famously states, "let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Anything else comes from the evil one.  I take this to say that neither son did his Father's will, despite what the Priests and elders suggest in 21.31, and another lesson in the ongoing saga that is "use your words."

Use them honestly.  When you say yes, honor it.  When you say no, mean it.  When your word is suspect, what else is left?

DT on Ice #1 - air puffers and rubber gloves

Draughting Theology (on Ice) the real-life, face-to-face, get together restarts tonight at Gelato Joe's and the Tropic Ice Deck Bar @ 6:11pm.  We're loosely basing on conversations on the Rob Bell & Don Golden book, Jesus wants to save Christians.  Here's tonight's handout for those who can't make it but want to be involved.

Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
But first... The introduction to the introduction

1. Courtesy and respect will be shown at all times.
2. Commitment will be made to listen to the perspectives of others.
3. All statements that are not explicit facts must include the attitude of “it seems to me.”
4. All participants will work hard to increase their understanding of the issues between meetings.

“In the Scriptures, ultimate truths about the universe are revealed through the stories of a particular people living in particular place. As [we] explore, the nation of Egypt and the Jewish people feature prominently in the biblical narrative. When we [talk] of Egypt then, we are not [talking] about Egypt today. When we mention the Jews then, we are not speaking of our Jewish friends and neighbors today. We realize that some of these words, such as Egypt and the Jews, have power to evoke feelings and thoughts and attitudes about the very pain and division in our world that [Jesus wants to save Christians and this group] will address. We join in this tension, believing that the story is ultimately about healing, hope,and reconciliation.” (p. 008)

Theology – from the Greek theo meaning “God” and logos meaning “word” - Theology is a word about God.
Draughting – the British variation of draft – here we use it two ways.
  1. Draught – verb – to make a blueprint of – our vision of God is never fully formed, the box we use is always too small, here in this group we strive to hold loosely to what we already have, while always seeking to redraw our theology of God. 
  2. Draught – noun – beer from a keg, you are welcome to have some, but always in moderation. 
OK, now to our topic at hand –
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden
Introduction - Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
Biblical Text – Genesis 4:1-16 (Cain and Abel)
Now Adam slept with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When the time came, she gave birth to Cain, and she said, "With the LORD's help, I have brought forth a man!" Later she gave birth to a second son and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer. At harvesttime Cain brought to the LORD a gift of his farm produce, while Abel brought several choice lambs from the best of his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his offering, but he did not accept Cain and his offering. This made Cain very angry and dejected. "Why are you so angry?" the LORD asked him. "Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it." Later Cain suggested to his brother, Abel, "Let's go out into the fields." And while they were there, Cain attacked and killed his brother. Afterward the LORD asked Cain, "Where is your brother? Where is Abel?" "I don't know!" Cain retorted. "Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?" But the LORD said, "What have you done? Listen-- your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground! You are hereby banished from the ground you have defiled with your brother's blood. No longer will it yield abundant crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless fugitive on the earth, constantly wandering from place to place." Cain replied to the LORD, "My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from my land and from your presence; you have made me a wandering fugitive. All who see me will try to kill me!" The LORD replied, "They will not kill you, for I will give seven times your punishment to anyone who does." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. So Cain left the LORD's presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NLT)

Getting our frustrations out first, why is it that the first family, the very first people, who were supposed to be closest to God – physically and spiritually – was already dysfunctional? Why did God create in us the ability to rebel?

What sort of indicators do you experience in your day-to-day life that we are living East of Eden?

Is it your sense that we are moving further east, or have you found ways in which (individually or corporately) movement is headed back westward?

We are east of Eden. Something is not right.

Ursprache – German word and thought for the primal, original language of the human family. It's the language of paradise that still echoes in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, telling us that things are out of whack deep in our bones, deep in the soul of humanity. Something about how we relate to one another has been lost. Something is not right in the word. (p017)

Am I my brother's keeper? Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?

How does the way in which we relate to one another tell us things are out of whack?

In what ways do you see us harming ourselves?

Do you hear/feel/experience that Ursprache deep within your bones?

What does it say? How does it call?

Is there a way to turn this eastbound train around?
Next Time – 10/5 @6:11pm – the cry of the oppressed – exodus 1:1-2:11, 23-25

September 20, 2011


I enjoy going back and forth on issues of churchmanship with friends who are of a higher ilk than me.  We rag on each other about vestments, manual actions, and all the minutia of life as a parish priest.  It is usually good natured, sometimes funny, and never to be taken too seriously,

Putting all that stuff aside, since most everyday disciples don't care much about it anyway, the real question of the warring factions in our church, be it the high church, low church battles of the 19th century or the progressive, evangelical arguments of today, surround the question of authority.

By what authority do you do these things?

My anglo-catholic friends would say that we operate under the authority passed down from Christ to St. Peter and through the laying on of hands in the Episcopate.  This is not a bad argument, though I feel like it gives too much power to people.  Instead, my argument is that we operate under the authority of Christ as He is continually revealed through the Holy Spirit.  I like the authority buck to stop at someplace higher than some human being's desk.

Either way, the authority we carry as lay and ordained ministers of the gospel, is given to us, primarily through our being made in the image of God.  We are his children, inheritors of his kingdom, and our work, be it through the Church or through the Spirit or both, is done under the umbrella of the authority of the King.

Questions of authority plague the Church.  They have been the motivating factor behind the vast majority of schisms throughout history.  They have been the impetus for war.  They continue to muddle the message of the kingdom to this day.

No matter where we think our authority comes from: Bible, Bishop, Bag-o-tricks - we must not forget that their authority only matters because it has been given them of the Father.  May God guide us in his will, for his honor and glory.

September 19, 2011

ahead of you, not instead of

Rob Bell's latest book Love Wins happened because of an event at a community art show held at Mars Hill church, where Bell is a pastor. Here's Time Magazine's take on the event.

As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.

 A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck.

Really? he recalls thinking.
Gandhi's in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?
Read more 

There have been numerous discussions like this one that have come up in my life in the Church. Is Gandhi in hell? What about those with special needs? What about those who live on a deserted island? What about... Heck, is Rob Bell going to heaven? My answer is always, "I don't know." I can't. I'm on the wrong side of the River Styx to have definitive answers. I know that I believe Jesus when he says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." But I kind of think that confining one's ability to live in grace to the years they spend on earth is selling God short.

Anyway, this all came to mind today as I read the Gospel appointed for Sunday. Jesus is embroiled in a debate with the religious powers that be. After he tells a parable (more on that later in the week) he tells them, point blank, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." For the first time, I was struck by that one, simple phrase, "ahead of you."

So much of our time is wasted trying to change what Jesus says here from "ahead of you" to "instead of you." We want, for whatever reasons, for some people to be outside of the Kingdom. We want to know, for certain, that there are boundaries, walls, even pearly gates, that will keep riff-raff, wrong believing, nasty types out. And while Jesus does, very clearly, tell us there will be some outside the Kingdom, most of the time, the people he describes as in are those nasty types.

Prostitutes and Tax-Collectors?

And those wrong believing types, the Pharisee, Saducees, Scribes, and other powers that be? Well even they are still in, just at a later seating. There is a lot of power in Jesus' declaration of "ahead of." I'm just beginning to wrap my head around it.

September 15, 2011

anxious about earthly things

The prayer appointed for this Sunday is one of my least favorite. Not because it isn't eloquent, it is. Not because it isn't theologically compelling, it is. Not even because it is hard to understand, it isn't. I dislike the Collect for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A because it hits too close to home. As I preached and written about before, I am an expert worrier, and to pray that God might grant that I might not be anxious about earthly things means that I'll have to find another use for a lot of brain power I otherwise waste worrying. I worry about how I might spend that time I now spend worrying. I might be alone in this. Perhaps you don't worry. Perhaps you've got it all together. Perhaps the Spirit is active in your life that you don't have time to worry. To be honest, I'm kind of anxious that I'm the only one who does worry. How great would it be, in the midst of things that are passing away, to hold fast to those things that will endure? How great would it be to be free from worry? Not by my own merits. Not by my own hard work. Not because I've some how convinced myself that I've got it all together. Not because some big toothed "pastor" told me to think of every day as Friday. But because I trusted in God enough to say, "it isn't about me and what I can or can't do, but it is about God and the amazing, mighty, miraculous things he does." How great would that be?

September 14, 2011

Angry? Yep... angry enough to die!

The end of the Jonah story is tragic. You can watch the VeggieTales interpretation, one I've seen too many times to count, on youtube. The story closes with a question mark, and not just because it ends with a question from God. It ends with a giant question mark because we never hear Jonah's response. We never hear Jonah's response, I think, because he's too angry to speak. God asks him, after the Unpredictable Plant dies and Jonah gets miffed about it, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah's response is emphatic, "Yes! Angry enough to die!" Sometimes, God's grace is like that. The story is usually about the serial rapist/murderer/child abuser sitting on death row who is converted by the prison chaplain, and as they come to the end of their days, they are at peace because they know they will be with Jesus and the thief who repented in paradise. It offends us. It makes us uncomfortable. It just doesn't sit right. For some people, it makes them angry enough to die. Or at least angry enough to leave the church. As it is with the story of the generous landowner, God's grace is offensive to those of us who keep worldly score. The undeserving always get God's grace. Of course, we forget that we too are undeserving. It is just that our sins are paltry compared to that other guy. Our failings don't hurt anybody... right? For some people, the extravagance of God's grace is just too much to bear, too offensive to be plausible, too big to be accepted, and that is a real shame. As soon as I narrow down God's grace, I'm afraid the first one falling outside of it is me. I'll end today's post in the same way Jonah ends, with a question mark. Should God not be concerned with those who still need his grace?

September 13, 2011

What time did you show up?

I think I've written on this topic before, but I can't seem to search it in a way that blogger/google can find my old posts, so I'll write this as if it is a new idea. Caution! The story Jesus tells about the landowner and his day laborers is a trap! I'm guessing you fell into it. I know I did. The trap lies in this question - what time did you show up? In the scene that follows this parable, Jesus predicts his death for the third time. Immediately following that, the mother of James and John brings them to the feet of Jesus, kneels down and says, "Grant that one of these my sons will sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom." Or, to put it in the context of the parable, "Jesus, my two sons, James and John, have been in the field since before sun up. They were there yesterday, and they'll be back tomorrow. Promise me you'll pay them better than everyone else." The assumption made by Mama Zebedee is wrong in two ways. 1) How does she know what time her sons showed up? 2) She forgets that the last will be first and the first will be last. I've been in church since I was three. I went to Sunday school. I attended 3 different youth groups. I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at 17. I answered the call to ordained ministry at 22. I plan on (and hope to) serve the Lord in full-time ministry for the rest of my days. I'd like to think that I'm the worker who showed up first thing in the morning. And if I am, I'd like to think I'll be happy with my full days wage, no matter what everybody else gets. I'd like to think these things, but I know myself better than that. I know that most days, I don't really show up until at least noon. I know that most days, I'm relying on me rather than God. I know that most days, I'll be grumbling when we all get paid the same. See the trap? We all like to put ourselves in the starring role in Jesus' parables, but more often than not, I'm showing up late, grumbling, weeds sown on rocky soil. But God loves me anyway. And for that, I'm eternally grateful.

September 12, 2011

bad for business

For good or for ill, my brain thinks in management terms. Cost/benefit analysis, while not always the perfect model in parish administration, is my go to decision making tool. Thus, it always grieves me to read the parable of Jesus assigned for Sunday. I guess it is well and good that the Kingdom of Heaven can be related as a generous land owner, but it is just bad business. Imagine the scene the next day. The landowner hits the Home Depot, ready to pick up another mess of day laborers, and, low and behold, nobody is there. He returns at nine; nobody. Noon; nobody. Three; maybe a few brave souls. By five o'clock, with the day nearly spent and nothing accomplished, he returns to find 100 guys ready to work for a full days wage. What about the poor slobs who own other pieces of land? Are they supposed to suffer at the hand of this landowners generosity (i.e. foolishness)? When Jesus told parables, people got mad. That rarely happens when we read the parables of Jesus these days, mostly because our cultural vocabulary is so different. But this parable makes me angry. As one who holds a BS degree in business administration, this makes me angry. And, if I'm honest, as a disciple who like to think of himself as one who was in the field no later than 9am, this makes me angry. Am I the only one?

September 11, 2011

The Lord is full of compassion... and we are not.

Here is the unedited text of today's sermon. The audio will be up tomorrow. The text is Matthew 18:21-35 and my life experience in the 10 years since 9/11. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... So began our reading of a selected portion of Psalm 103. Truth be told, the Lectionary allows the option to read all of Psalm 103 on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, but it seems to me, that on this day, we should echo the prayer of David by giving particular attention to this ancient creedal statement, The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness. And we should probably rightly finish it by adding, “and we are not.” The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. Which is, for many of us, why gathering for worship on this particular day, this 11th of September, 2011 is so very different than just about every Sunday we have experienced. We join with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, and whatever else, united not by creed or color, but by universal memory, we all mark this day as a somber anniversary when two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven men, women and children senselessly lost their lives and more than six-thousand others were injured. If you are anything like me, you come today with a myriad of mixed emotions, which is why, I believe, our mantra for today should be, “The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not.” September 11th, 2001 fell on a Tuesday, and by the weekend, for most of us, life had at least found its way back to some semblance of routine. On Friday night, as was my custom, I joined my work buddies in the basement of the Travelodge to drink some beer while terrible karaoke singers ruined good songs. We were all a bit dazed, still in many ways in shock at the events of the week, but as is the case after tragedies, life, though changed forever, goes on. I remember this evening more vividly than most, not because the singing was any better or any worse than usual, but because of an impromptu speech given by the Karaoke Jockey. With words unfit for the pulpit, he turned his emotions into a very graphic description of what he would do to Osama Bin Laden should he ever run across him on the streets of Lancaster or the caves of Aghanistan. I remember feeling icky, to use a technical term, profoundly icky. I want to think I felt that way because, even thought I was a 21 year-old who spent too much time at the bar and not enough time in church, I could recognize the dignity of every human being, and the thought of one human being feeling such hatred and anger toward another made me uncomfortable to the point of feeling icky, but I'm afraid I felt icky because, in a lot of ways, I understood what the guy on stage was feeling, and I didn't like those emotions in me. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness... and we are not. On the 26th of May, 2009, Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, very much a child of this parish, died with two others, from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated as their Humvee traveled the well worn road outside of Bagram Airfiled in Eastern Afghanistan. Mark was serving as the commander of a Provincial Reconstruction Team helping to rebuild the war torn region, and was, in many ways serving to ensure and protect the freedom of the Afghani people more so than his own country. To think that people tasked to build a school that would help bring children up from the depths of poverty would be the target of such an attack is hard to stomach. This community gathered, filling this nave beyond capacity to remember and give thanks for Mark's service. Today as we mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we also remember the five-thousand-seven-hundred-ninety-six American lives that have been cut short and forty-one-thosuand-two-hundred-twenty-one others forever altered by injury in the ongoing war on terror. No matter our political affiliation, we all grieve these numbers, especially the multitudes who, like Mark, were killed not on the field of war, but in the honest attempt to offer a better life to those who had nothing to do with the geo-political machinations that lead to 9/11 and the war on terror. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. On the 2nd of May 2011, mastermind of 9/11 and leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was killed in an well orchestrated strike on his family compound by a skilled team of Navy Seals and CIA operatives. As news spread, massive celebrations spontaneously erupted around the country. As the pictures of those celebrations filled our 24 hour news cycle, many looked arrogantly and begrudgingly down their noses at the joy, and I was, once again, feeling profoundly icky. On one hand, I gave thanks that a seed of hatred and violence had been eradicated from the earth. On the other hand, I grieved that another one of God's created children, broken and sinful as he was, had found a violent end. One one hand I felt like celebration was the wrong response, and on the other, I thought smug self-righteousness wasn't any better. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. BUT... But God calls us to strive after compassion, mercy, and kindness no matter how hard it may be to attain them. Perhaps by chance, but more likely by Providence, the universal theme running through today's lessons is the one topic we really don't want to talk about today: forgiveness. After Jesus taught his disciples the art of reconciliation that we heard last week, Peter, probably acting as spokesman again, walked up to Jesus, stretched the very limits of his imagination and asked, “If a brother or sister sins against me, how many times should I forgive them? As many many as... seven times?” Peter is beginning to figure out that Jesus works on a much larger scale than the rest of the world. Earlier in their time together, Peter would have said something like, “Should I forgive someone two or three times?” Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I might forgive you. Fool me three times, and forgiveness is just a crazy pipe dream. But by now, Peter has expanded his thinking, how about seven times? Jesus, however, is thinking even bigger than that. Even if you get burned seventy-seven times or seventy times seven times – forgive, forgive, forgive. “Forgive beyond your ability to keep track,1” and then forgive some more. Conceptually, this sounds fine and good, but with a nod to C.S. Lewis, “everybody agrees in principle that forgiveness is a mostly lovely idea and this agreement continues right up until that moment when you have an actual person in front of you whom you must forgive—then suddenly caveats, nuances, and provisos start to fill the air.”2 Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is a life changing endeavor. To hold onto a grudge is to yoke yourself to another person. To forgive them not only frees them from that bondage, but it removes the weight from your own shoulders as well, and most of us don't know what it feels like to stand up straight, free from the bonds of animosity. Be it a husband, or a wife, a child, or a parent, the Republicans, or the Democrats, Al Qaeda, or Timothy McVeigh, the inability to forgive another, whether they deserve it or not, whether they ask for it or not, is detrimental to your health: spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.3 Jesus never tells Peter that forgiving someone four-hundred-ninety times is going to be easy. Seven times is hard enough. The reality that we all know, is that forgiveness is difficult and messy and awkward and sometimes sad, but it is always a requirement. On the 2nd of October, 2006 a man named Charles Roberts backed his pick-up truck up to the entrance of a one-room Amish school house in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Based on the elaborate materials found at the scene, his plans were grotesquely sinister. His sloppiness allowed the police to respond quickly, but in then end, five young girls were dead and five more critically wounded before he turned his gun on himself. As early as that afternoon, a grandfather of one of the dead little girls was quoted by CNN warning others against hating Roberts, saying, “we must not think evil of this man.” Another man reiterated the point, “I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”4 And reach out they did, as community leaders met with his family, attended his funeral, and one Amish leader even held Robert's sobbing father in his arms for an hour. As one unnamed Amish man told CNN, “The acid of hate destroys the container that holds it.” Our culture is not rooted in forgiveness the way it is for the Amish. They have their own areas of brokenness, just like us, but I add the story of the Amish 9/11 to our own corporate memory to prove my point, “The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not... but with God's help we can be.” May we always remember. May we strive to forgive. May we seek to be set free. All for the glory of him though whom all thing are being brought to their perfection, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.