Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being the Eikon of God

AND we’re still in the questioning period – it’s been a few days since our last Gospel, but this is still the Pharisees and other religious officials trying to get Jesus to make a mis-step. They either want him to lode the people’s respect or to get into trouble with Rome. In the few days since last week’s gospel, they have gone away and tried to devise the VERY BEST question, the one that will discredit Jesus one way or another so that they can be rid of him once and for all.

They start with flattery – which is all true of course – and then they ask yes or no question. If Jesus answers Yes, the people will not like him much because they hated the tax of the Emperor.  In fact, in 70 AD the people would refuse to pay that tax and then their rebellion would be squashed by the Romans who would also destroy the very Temple Jesus is teaching in. If Jesus answers No, he’s in big trouble with the Roman government and those same religious officials would be quick to rat him out.

SO that was then, and this is now. We may grump a bit about having to pay our taxes, but not many of us believe it is unchristian to pay them.  We understand that in order to live in a civil society with all the protections and advantages we enjoy, we have to obey the laws of the land and pay our share of the taxes that maintain roads, provide clean water, and all the other stuff we take for granted on a day-to-day basis. So this might seem to be a blow-off sort of a week – what Jesus is saying is not really applicable to us today.

But not so fast – some people would use this Gospel to emphasize the separation of church and state. I have heard this preached this way, but I tend to push back against that idea. I usually always prefer a both…and approach instead of an either…or.  So here’s my take: I believe the Emperor’s realm is only a very small part of God’s realm. In fact, there are many Emperor’s realms that you move through every day right? You have the rules of the federal govt, the state govt, the city govt, your homeowner’s assn, your workplace, etc, etc, etc. All of these usually work together, sometimes they don’t, but you are a rational adult who can navigate that.

All of those things are of the Emperor – they bear that image. YOU however, are the image-bearer of God – you are the eikon of God. Let that sink in for just a minute. You are stamped and imprinted with God’s image. HOW you move and live within these realms has everything to do with remembering that you are God’s image-bearer. It matters.

Now imagine every person on this planet – all of those Imperial realms out there – every different government and society. Then think of all of God’s image-bearers living within those systems. It excites me to think about what could be possible if we all remembered this all the time.

We have an obligation to the State, but we have a larger obligation to God.  We must allow all the choices we make within the system to be driven by our belief, by what we believe God holds dear. We try to protect the least, the lost and the last because Jesus said. We love our neighbors as ourselves – the greatest commandment. Speaking of neighbors – look around. Look at someone around you – they are also the image of God.  When you go out from here today, go out and act as though you are God’s image-bearer and treat others as though they are too.  Then you will be giving to God what belongs to God. Amen.

There is audio that will go up over next weekend. It will be on the PodBean Player.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Showing Up, Suiting Up and Stewardship

Really? Do we really have to say “Glory to you, Lord Christ” after that reading?  This is a terrible week to be preaching the lectionary! Some weeks are great – some not so much. This is a Gospel lesson I have been wrestling with all week. I offered to let Owanah preach on it when we met on Wednesday, but she turned me down. She’s a smart on who had been reading ahead!

Let me remind you of where we are in the bigger story. These are the 3rd and probably 4th parables in a string Jesus is telling to the chief priests and elders who asked him where he got his authority.  The first one parable was about the disobedient brothers, the second was about the wicked tenants. Then we get the Wedding Banquet and the Underdressed Guest. We have to remember that Matthew is writing this Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in 70AD.  Over and over again in Matthew’s Gospel, we see those who look religious but whose lives have not been changed, being held to account. Matthew has no problem naming Gentiles in Jesus’ lineage, telling us about the Magi, and quoting the Great Commission from Jesus as “Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.” Matthew seems impatient with those who would get mired down in the status quo – those who would be able to quote Scripture from heart, but who would never take it to heart. Matthew is concerned for those who will not clothe themselves in Jesus and be changed.

If we look at the bigger picture – at what Jesus may have been trying to teach us over these last few weeks, I have broken this down in my mind that this is all about Jesus teaching us about disciplines: how to be faithful, how to show or prove our faith in God. Two weeks ago, neither brother was completely obedient, but one did what he was asked after all. Last week, all the Owner of the vineyard wanted was his share of the fruit – his share of the profits – as was owed to him. It seems to me that Jesus was teaching us about the importance of obedience two weeks ago. Then last week, Jesus was teaching us about sharing the first fruits of the profit. This week, Jesus seems to be teaching us the importance of showing up and suiting up.

All of these are very important lessons as we start into Stewardship Season. This week, probably on Tuesday, you are going to get a letter from me in the mail. It will contain information about our Stewardship campaign. It also contains a pledge card that I hope you will pray over for the next five weeks. Every week, there will be a special bulleting insert that has discussion questions to ponder as you pray about what God is calling you to in Stewardship. On November 9th, at the Offertory, I am going to ask you al to turn in your pledge cards completed. We will pray over them and thank God for your obedience. We will thank God for your sharing of your labor. We will thank God that you have been suiting up and showing up – and that you are a valuable, beloved member of this community.  This is a brand new community that needs your obedience, your stewardship, and you – we need everyone suiting up and showing up with all of their God-given talents. Amen.

The audio may be found on the right sidebar PodBean Player.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

I once heard one of favorite priests refer to Jesus as a “Wily Fox” – that image didn’t quite mesh with my image of Jesus: a loving, mild-mannered man with warm brown eyes – always ready to heal those hurt, tell an intriguing story, or reprimand someone gently as he traveled about doing his ministry.  “Wily Fox” – that one took some getting used to.  Over the time since then, I’ve discovered that I like that reference to Jesus:  it is very accurate in the parables when the Temple authorities are trying to trap Jesus into saying something incriminating that they could use against him.  Today’s story is no exception!  The Gospel today falls right in the middle of three parables Jesus is telling: last week we had the Two Disobedient Sons, and next week we will visit a wedding banquet.
The image of the vineyard was one that everyone sitting and learning from Jesus would understand readily – the vineyard represents Israel.  Israel thought of itself as the vineyard of God and there are several Biblical references to confirm that, especially in Isaiah.  This vineyard/Israel connection was so inherent that the Temple where Jesus was telling this story had a beautiful, golden, richly carved grapevine sculpted around the door that led in from the porch.  Herod had commissioned the golden vine & wealthy Jews had embellished it with jeweled grapes, golden leaves and other precious materials. 
Being that wily fox, Jesus had everyone’s attention as he began his parable.  He began the story with the same words used in the beginning of the story in Isaiah.  BUT the story in Isaiah speaks of the failure of the grapes & God’s sadness.  Jesus’ story instead focuses on the failure of the farmers of the vineyard.  This is one of the easiest of the parables to follow because Jesus so thinly disguised the connections:  The man, the owner is God.  The vineyard of course is Israel.  The tenants are the leaders of Israel.  The servants are the prophets, and the Son, as we all know & believe in our hearts, is Jesus.  It is an allegory.
Jesus sets the stage by telling us that the leaders (the chief priests and the Pharisees here) had begun to think of Israel as “theirs” – they felt ownership of the vineyard and it had festered to the point of leading to violence.  The people listening then & we listening now can easily remember some of the prophets who had been “beaten & tossed out”: Stephen, Zechariah, and most recent to Jesus’ time, John the Baptist.  These prophets had been so threatening to the status quo, to their sense of ownership, that the leaders had disposed of them. 
Finally, the violence comes to a head – the owner asks “What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”  Jesus, that wily fox, certainly knew that his followers knew him to be the Beloved Son – God had said so at his Baptism.  He is prophesying that the leaders are so entrenched in their ideas of leadership that they will kill him also.  He also sets up the hierarchy of the situation: the prophets were servants, but he is the son.  The leaders were tenants, but he is the heir – the joint owner with the Father.  Their ultimate crime would be murder – homicide - deicide. 
This entire story is under girded with God’s love for us – he sent prophet after prophet, then his own son, God Incarnate, to bring us into relationship with him.  Jesus then asks: “what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”  The killing of tenants and the giving of the vineyard to others could be interpreted as the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple only 40 years later. 
So do you think the Leaders got the message?  The end of the Gospel states that the scribes & chief priests realized the Jesus had told this story against them and that they wanted to lay hands on him right then.  They knew that Jesus was threatening their ownership of the vineyard!  They got it – but obviously they didn’t believe it.  They stood in the temple with the great golden vine gleaming in the sunlight, the Lord of the temple right in front of them, and the vineyard-clad slopes of Israel surrounding the temple and they rejected him. 
As we continue to march through Ordinary Time – our own time of growth and harvest, let us examine the fruits of our lives. What are we to harvest and tithe back to the owner of the vineyard? Individually, we can look back to our Hebrew Testament reading today to see the Commandments spelled out there. We can also think about the Fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians. I love that passage so much, I have the bracelet to remind me. How about as the tenants of the vineyard of Wichita Falls? Showing our fruits here might be as simple and as tough as teaching the Story – teaching God’s Word to the least, the lost and the last, by visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry and offering a cool drink to those who thirst. Everytime we are led to reach out, we are showing our faithfulness.
I am not the Owner of this vineyard – I was never meant to be - & neither are you.  By being the tenants, we can be grateful for the vineyard we’re allowed to lease – more land certainly than we could afford on our own.  We can be grateful for a generous owner who only asks for fruits – and asks us to respect his beloved son whom he has sent to us.  We are but guests in the vineyard.  Although we can see the end of the growing season, the harvest is not in yet – what fruits will we have to give over to Jesus?

Audio will be found in the PodBean Player on the right sidebar, usually by Sunday evening.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#RallyRevGals Blog Contest

For those seeking a sermon here, keep scrolling. You will find them below this post with audio on the right sidebar.
I am a member of the RevGalBlogPal blog ring, and I have been for about 8 years now. I had an anonymous blog before this one that sustained me through seminary. It has been deleted, after being printed and archived.  This post is a challenge and contest from RevGals!
Here is the set-up: Have a case of the Augusts? Not ready for the program year to start? Thinking about how you can’t save the world, or even your little corner of it? RevGals can’t fix it all either, but we can give you a reason to post to your blog!
The #RallyRevGals Blog Contest will run from Tuesday, August 18, to Sunday, August 31.
To be eligible:
  1. be a member of our webring,* check!
  2. write a blog post about a woman who has been a positive influence on your ministry (whether or not she is/was a pastor), see the rest of this post!
  3. use the tag/hashtag #RallyRevGals in your subject line as well as categories or tags on your blog,
  4. share the link in the comments on the blog post on RGBP, in the comments on the accompanying Facebook group post, or on Twitter (be sure to use the hashtag so we can find your blog post). I hope to do all three - I'm feeling ambitious!
Everyone who participates will be entered in a random drawing for three prizes from our Cafe Press store. *fingers crossed* 
So here is my entry:
I have been thinking about women who have been a positive influence on my ministry and I cannot name just one. I am blessed to be able to name several. In fact there have been so many, that I have been reluctant to post because I am afraid I will forget someone.  I will give it a shot though - the coffee mugs are so enticing!
In my early life, my mother and grandmother were important to the development of my spiritual life that eventually led to my sensing and then later following my call to ministry. I had a female Sunday School teacher in high school that I remember well because she was honest and frank with our "girl's only" class about what it meant to grow up as a Christian female. We had her and each other because it was not allowed for her to teach young men over the age of 12 in that church.  I don't agree with that polity at all as an adult, but I loved our class of all young women. 
Later, once I became an Episcopalian, I felt the call to ministry that I had dismissed earlier in life in that denomination. I entered the ordination process and seminary. God gave me a woman to pray for me, hold me dear, and give me advice throughout those years (and even through today). Beryl is now a RevGal who travels on the Big Events. She was my minister when I needed someone with spiritual maturity to help me sort though a situation. One of my biggest thrills was being able to bless her marriage to a lovely man the day after I was ordained a priest. They gifted me with a white set of vestments. Every time I don that set, I feel wrapped in love and prayers. I once had a particularly difficult meeting that she was holding in prayer and I will never forget her advice to me: "When you enter the room, choose your chair wisely. Look for the one Christ is already occupying. Sit with confidence. When you speak, allow his words to whisper in your ear first. Know that he is there with you, speaking to you and holding you gently." That advice still holds true for tough meetings and tough days. 
My ordination process was rough - and I have now learned that so was everyone else's.  The RevGalBlogPal ring became a group of women and men who understood the soul-piercing disappointment to be told, "We do not discern that you have a call to ordained ministry." They listened to the heartbreak and anger. They told me their stories, in the comments on my blog and in flesh on the Big Events. I found a group of people who had been in my shoes and made it through. Mary Beth was the person who introduced me to his incredible group, and I am ever thankful for her (and for many reasons beyond that). Martha is the RGBP fearless leader and a pastor to me.
There have been several priests who are women who have been formational to me in everyday life: Martha, Kai, Gail, Natalie, Virginia, & Mo. They have helped me sort out the politics and the day-to-day busy-ness of being a woman/wife/mom in ministry. They are each wonderful and instructive as they embody their own ministries. 
Last but never least, are the women I now serve alongside. These are the women with which I occasionally have lunch, or long conversations over the phone, or check-in intentionally over Facebook: ClayOla, Mary, Genevieve, Katie, Monna, Heather, Amy, & June. These are the women who I hope to see when I go to conferences or continuing education events or whose churches I spend the night at when traveling on mission trips. 
I know there are other women who have been positive influences on my ministry. Elaine is one - a seminary professor. These others are not named but are certainly a blessing to me. 

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

Preached at St Alban's in the Theatre, Arlington

Take up your cross and follow me. We are still in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew is still trying to convince the Jewish people that the man, Jesus, was the Messiah they were hoping for. And today that man says "Take you your cross and follow me." But how?

In an amazing twist of the lectionary, Paul addresses just that. I have a friend who says that this writing by Paul reminds her of a mom on the first day of school, "Did you remember your permission slip?  Your lunch money is in the account. Here's the paperwork for picture. Make good choices!" It does sort of have that same feel for us in this transitional season. Listen to another translation of this:
            Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.
            Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to what is good.
            Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
            Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
            Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
            Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
            Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
            Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.
            Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy; share tears when they are down.
            Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up.
            Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
            Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everybody.
            Don’t insist in getting even; that’s not for you to do.
            “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
            Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he is     thirsty, get him a drink.  Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.
            Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

That translation is from The Message by Eugene Peterson. I have been drawn to it for other Bible study lately and it has really been speaking to me. There’s something about the language that feels more challenging to me:
            Love from the center of who you are.
            Practice playing second fiddle.
            Keep yourself fueled and aflame.
            Be inventive in your hospitality.
            Bless your enemies – no cursing under your breath.
            Go buy your enemy lunch – bring your enemy a drink.

These are nourishing words for us in this weekend of transitions. These are the words we will remember as we set up new routines and complete new tasks. This is the very best reminder we could have to get us ready for the newness and yet the familiar in this next cycle of life.  Labor Day means no more summer, right? No more 100-degree days? Fall – Autumn – is coming, right?!

This weekend always seems like a bridge in my life: the official end of summer vacation, if not the weather, and school starting up. It’s a new season every year in our house, especially with kids. Now that my youngest is in high school and the oldest in college, I am even beginning to see the end of that season as well.  There are many different life stages here, but none of us can escape the change of season – school zones affect our routines and habits – as they should – and traffic patterns change. Those of you who live here in Arlington will see less daily traffic around Six Flags, but more around Cowboy Stadium – none of us escapes the seasonal differences. This weekend there are a lot of people spending the three-day holiday out and about, but next weekend they will be back here – settled in for Fall. I like these cycles. I like the rhythms of life, even though sometimes they feel scary or melancholy, I always know another season will come along.

You all are in a cycle of transition here. Soon you will call an Interim and then a Priest-in-Charge. There will be some scary moments, some melancholy moments and< I sincerely pray, some hopeful moments. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Look to Paul and Christ as you faithfully enter this season in the life of this community. 

“Take up your cross and follow me." I know you all have a Daughters of the King chapter here. Those of us who are Daughters have taken a vow that is written on the crosses we wear all the time: take up your cross and follow me. Part of taking up that cross includes time spent every day in reading Scripture, following a daily devotion, looking for ways to serve others. This is our Gospel lesson as Daughters.

May we all be blessed as we settle into this new season. May we remember these teaching from Paul and this command from Christ. May we always get the best of evil by doing good. Amen.

Audio for the sermon will be on the right sidebar Podbean Player.