Saturday, September 23, 2017

Gospel for Sunday 24 September, 2017

2017 09 24 Matthew 20.1-16        Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Reflection    The kingdom of heaven includes participants with specific endowments and explicit needs, with vastly differing competencies and disparate resources; laborers and landowners, employed and unemployed. The fact of the matter is, we are not all equal. Life is not fair. Though we may have equal rights, we do not have equal opportunity. Some people are born with superior intellects, others with mental challenges. Some inherit strong bodies or extensive wealth, others are born addicted to drugs and a legacy of poverty. Depending on when and where and to whom we are born we may be undereducated or over privileged, we may be shunned or exalted. Life is not equal. Life is not fair.

Which is why the kingdom of heaven depends on us. The kingdom of heaven depends on us to emulate the landowner in Jesus’ teaching tale and, to look with eyes of compassion and act with generosity toward the full brush of humankind, the ones who show up and work for their living and the ones who can barely shuffle to the outpatient hospital for their meds. As Ken Wilbur succinctly states, “It takes more than simply saying, “We are all one! We make room for everybody! Everybody is welcome…” It takes the interior growth, evolution, and development of each and every person…” *

Most people reading this post can identify with the landowner, endowed with more blessings than we require to provide for ourselves and our family. This means we are free to generously give at least a living wage to those in need of material and physical support, and to urge others to do likewise. This is not purely selfless. As we extend generosity we are cultivating our interior growth, accumulating our spiritual wealth, being more caring, more loving, more generous even when it means breaking the rules and caring for people we don’t think have earned it, even when it means valuing people who do not think or feel or act like us. This is living from the depths of our being, being compassionate. This is spiritual wealth.

The question before each of us is, “Are we willing to grow and evolve to insure that the only lens through which we look and judge each other is compassion?” 

 *Wilbur, Ken Trump and a Post-Truth World.  (2017: Shambala Publications, Boulder, CO) p109.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Psalm text for Sunday 10 September, 2017

Psalm 119:33-40   The Message Version 

God, teach me lessons for living
    so I can stay the course.
Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—
    my whole life one long, obedient response.
Guide me down the road of your commandments;
    I love traveling this freeway!
Give me a bent for your words of wisdom,
    and not for piling up loot.
Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets,
    invigorate me on the pilgrim way.
Affirm your promises to me—
    promises made to all who fear you.
Deflect the harsh words of my critics—
    but what you say is always so good.
See how hungry I am for your counsel;
    preserve my life through your righteous ways!

Reflection       Who does not want to sustain a joyful and holy life? But this is easier said than done, which is why the eight verses in the fifth section of Psalm 119 are so important. Most theologians believe they are the words of King David, a prayer uttered by a man who succumbed to adultery and then murder for a cover-up. I believe these are the words of a man who has come face to face with his own weakness and vulnerability. These are the words of a man who has learned he must turn to something more than himself to sustain a joyful and holy life.

The psalm begins calling out to God because God alone can be our teacher. God alone awakens the Spirit of Wisdom in our hearts. Without listening to the Spirit of Wisdom in our hearts there is every chance we will depend on lesser teachers, misuse our intellect and reasonable faculties. When we fail to root our lives in the Spirit of Wisdom we will surely be distracted by “toys and trinkets, harsh words and critics." Once we turn in that direction we will find every reason to be afraid.

Better we should call to God and pray earnestly not only to know but also to apply God’s Wisdom in our lives, that we may “stay the course" and put our faith in God’s faithfulness. Insight or understanding are not enough. They must be fulfilled by our actions. And so we pray that we might also live every minute of every day doing what is good by the grace of God with us. Here again, we put our faith in God’s faithfulness rather than ourselves.  “Give me insight so I can do what you tell me, my whole life, one long, obedient response.” 

It does not end there. We must also pray to turn away from all those things that distract us from the Wisdom in our hearts; toys and trinkets and all that stuff we keep in the garage and storage sheds. Social, political, religious and economic conventions and rules about the rational course of action; all those things we store in our heads.  “Give me a bent for your words of wisdom…”

Still, this is not enough so we continue praying for the strength to be unmoved by “the harsh words of our critics.” Because we know the Wisdom of God is “always good,” we can depend on it, which is why we pause and pray and listen to the Wisdom in our hearts, no matter what the voices in our heads or the world around us are shouting.

The key to sustaining a joyful and holy life is to listen to the Wisdom of our hearts and to act with confidence in God’s faithfulness.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 3 September 2017

Matthew 16:21-28       Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Reflection        “God forbid it… this must never happen!” No one wants suffering. Not Peter. Not me, not you, not the countless people devastated by the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. Like Peter, we want God to forbid suffering. That would be so much easier than having to live in imitation of Jesus, so much easier than setting our personal comforts aside and caring for all those suffering people. “Jesus, do you not understand, when all hell breaks loose it could cost us our lives?”

Can you hear Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch. I want to crawl under a rock. My petty concerns, anxiety about my security, safety, esteem, power and control, my withholding love and care and generosity are stumbling blocks to God’s compassionate presence being revealed in the world.

Yes, I better get behind Jesus but I want to cling to my way of life, to my thoughts, my beliefs, my comforts, my church, my money, my way. Then Jesus asks, “For what will it profit (you) if (you) gain the whole world but forfeit (your) life?” What life is Jesus talking about?

I believe Jesus is talking about our “with God life.” Jesus finds his life in and of and with God. He does not cling to things of this world demanding that they never change. He is willing to challenge the status quo; to let old ideas, thought forms, beliefs and conventional strategies for security, safety, esteem, power and control die even though it costs him dearly. This is what he means by being willing to lose our life to follow him. We must be willing to lose our lives as we have known them in order to live our “with God” life.

Tens of thousands of people are suffering In the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Calling out to God on their behalf is simply not enough, in fact, Jesus would call this being stumbling blocks. When all hell breaks loose it is up to us to live in imitation of Jesus, setting our minds on divine things, caring for all the suffering people without withholding, without judgment. 

Here are three ways you may help the animals and the people suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. 

Animals to help the Rejoice Horse Ranch in Texas rescue and care for pets and livestock that are literally pouring onto their ranch.

People to help the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund provide assistance to people recovering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Ready to Serve If you want to volunteer as part of the long term recovery from Hurricane Harvey you can register at this website.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 27 August 2018

Romans 12:1-8        I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Reflection       Who does not want what is “good and acceptable and perfect?” The question is, “Good and acceptable and perfect according to whom?” I believe this is the lynchpin question. In preparation for his visit to the Christian Church in Rome Paul hits the proverbial nail on the head when he counsels, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What is good and acceptable and perfect is not determined by me or you or Republicans or Democrats or presidents or protesters or any one’s personal preferences or predilections. That would be conforming to the world. What is good and acceptable and perfect is synonymous with the will of God. How then are we to discern the will of God?

The Episcopal tradition finds authority in the confluence of Scripture, Tradition and Reason rooted in Experience. In Scripture the Word of God is revealed in the person of Jesus whose mission and ministry in the world instruct; love God, love yourself, love your neighbor, love your enemy.  The bottom line is compassion. Tradition suggests we find the sacred in ordinary things; bread, wine, sharing meals, offering comfort, touching the suffering, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor and walking together. The bottom line is the holiness of all things.  Reason tells us we are all of one substance, star dust, and therefore are interconnected and interdependent. Everything we say and do has consequences not only for us but for all people and creation which means life is not all about me. It is all about we. We must take responsibility for the common good. The bottom line is, by caring for others we are caring for ourselves. 

Of course this requires a new kind of consciousness, a “renewing of our minds.”  As Paul counsels, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The level of consciousness out of which most of us act most of the time is dualistic, it is conformed to the vagaries of the world. It is all about winners and losers, personal gain and victory regardless of the cost to others. But this is not the mind that “discerns the will of God.”

The mind that discerns the will of God is non-dualistic. It holds the tension of opposites and seeks win-win solutions by carving out the middle way and remembering, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” 

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 20 August 2017

Matthew 15. 10-28        Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and  understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Reflection     Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland writes, “Racism, anti-Semitism and violence rear their ugly head once again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia… and another example of the collective failure of our nation to expend the moral and political capital needed to stop our spiral into racial and violent madness.”

“Now more than ever, we need people of good will to speak out clearly and courageously against the disturbing tide of white supremacist rhetoric that wants to divide and prevent us from coming together.”

And there it is. An invitation to people of good will - hopefully that is us - to speak out because, words are powerful. Words are windows into our hearts. And those of us with hearts tempered by compassion must open our mouths and speak out. I believe Jesus might well have said, “What goes into our mouths does not make us holy, but what comes out of our mouths makes us holy.”  

If you are, as I am, appalled by the degrading, debasing, dishonoring words you hear echoing across our nation please take seriously your covenant with God and remember the ageless wisdom that underlies the Holiness Code in Leviticus, “For I am the LORD your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves…” (Lev 11.44)

To consecrate ourselves, to make ourselves holy, we must dedicate ourselves to  divine purpose. One way to do that is to consider and measure our words as they betray the state of our hearts.  When our words (or texts or twitters) are drenched in enmity, antagonism and disgust they are like flaming swords inciting hostility and hatred. This will do nothing more than continue and exacerbate the tragic violence and hostility that besieged Charlottesville. 

Returning to Bishop Sutton’s reflection, “Too often in our nation’s history people of goodwill have chosen to remain silent in the face of bigotry, refusing to risk having unpleasant conversations that might disturb colleagues, friends and the ones we love.” It is time for us to initiate those difficult conversations. Remember, even Jesus had his mind changed by the persistent Caananite woman who broke every social, political and religious boundary to plead for mercy for her daughter. Had the woman remained silent the demons would have continued to torment her daughter.

Imagine how Charlottesville might have looked if a group of us people of good will approached those protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee stature and respectfully asked, “Would you join us for a meal? Tell us about your concern? How does this stature affirm who you are? How would removing it harm you? Does your claim to white supremacy stem from your experience of seeing how minorities have historically been mistreated? If so, it is no wonder you feel vulnerable and want to protect yourselves. What can we do together to insure this will never happen to you or anyone else?” And there is every chance we would have to keep asking, and asking and asking, persistent as the Canaanite woman.

This is hard, in fact, we cannot accomplish it by sheer will. Like the Canaanite woman we must depend on our relationship with God. We must ask to be fed with the spiritual food of compassion to enable us to live in holiness of life.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 13 August 2017

Matthew 14:22-33       Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Reflection The earliest Sunday School memory I have is sitting cross-legged on the floor amidst a bevy of four year olds  watching our buttoned-up Sunday School teacher bounce Jesus’ cut-out felt figure across pointy pretend waves toward a small brown boat. Though I harbor no recall of what she spoke to our unsullied minds, I can almost feel my tiny pudgy arm waving before I was called upon and protested, “Jesus cannot walk on water. I know because we go swimming in the ocean.” 

What a great teaching moment, but alas, it was lost on the intransigence of my stone-minded Sunday School teacher. Rather than help me wrestle with the Gospel story or remind me that sometimes we love stories that are real in a different way than a table or the felt board or our shoes are real, this supposed purveyor of the Good News passed on the bad news to my parents that I was no longer welcome in her Sunday School class. Post haste I was moved to a class full of big kids and that was the last time I spoke in school.  

Why do we tell stories? We tell stories to make sense of our world and to pass on wisdom from generation to generation. We tell stories because they engage our listeners’ whole selves, body, mind and spirit, and are easier to remember than an exhausting speal of information. 

According to a 2015 Huffington Post article by Mitch Ditkoff, “neuroscientists, psychologists, theologians, sociologists, advertisers, linguists, and marketers (concur)… Storytelling is the most effective, time-tested way to transmit meaning from one human being to another. It’s been going on since the beginning of time when our first ancestors stood around the tribal fire. It’s how civilizations pass on their wisdom to the next generation. It’s how religions pass on the sacred teachings of their faith. And it’s how parents, via the telling of fairy tales, transmit the values they want to impart to their children.”

Rather than consider the story of Jesus walking on water as a supernatural feat reserved for the only chosen one, my stymied Sunday School teacher might have invited me to to remember a time that I was really, really scared. Once she saw the lightbulb go off in my face then ask me how it would feel if I knew that Jesus was with me even when I was really scared? I have every reason to believe if that had been the case, a smile would have lighted my eyes, turned my frown to a smile, and I would have been content to keep on listening to her story. This is the Good News. 

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 6 August 2017

Luke 9.28-36        Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection      For many years  I read  Luke’s gospel text with my eyes glued to Jesus and his glowing religious experience. The image of Jesus’ changed face and dazzling clothes blinded me to Peter, James and John’s phenomenal mountain top experience. I was swept away by Jesus’ special status, the chosen one with access to the wisdom of the prophets and divine favor.  Like Peter, I wanted to build a church around Jesus, proclaim a glow in the dark theology and make Jesus separate, sovereign and detached. I struggled to capture him with words and creeds, doctrine and denominational politics. But the cloud of unknowing finally descended and opened my eyes to recognize Peter, James and John’s indubitable religious experience and finally to hear the voice from the cloud… “Listen to him.”

Listening to Jesus is not easy. So rather than listening to him, many of us find it far less challenging to argue about him. “How did his face actually change? If there was a video camera on top of the mountain would we see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah? Does this glowing moment mean Jesus is more than merely human? What is the true nature of Jesus anyway? What is his relationship with God? Is he of the same substance of God, or us, or something else? How shall we preserve and ritualize this moment? What type of organization shall we establish to insure that everyone says and believes the correct things about Jesus? Who  determines what the correct things are? Talking and arguing about Jesus and institutionalizing rituals, creeds and ideas to insure conformity is the stuff of theology and ecclesiology. And, I believe it may have little to do with listening to him.

I wonder if Peter, James and John fall silent because they did listen to Jesus when he preached to them and what he said was very hard to hear? “I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matt 6.13, 27-28, 31) That is what Jesus says to the disciples and us in his sermon on the plain. Are we listening?

Or do we prefer to postulate that Peter, James and John must have eaten some poison mushrooms before climbing that mountain with Jesus? Or maybe we could spend years deciphering ancient manuscripts looking for clues that whoever is telling the story of the transfiguration has some kind of neurological or psychological condition that accounts for the religious experience?  Are we listening?

Or are we more concerned with the institutional aspects of religion and preserving our buildings? Are we listening?

Or are we so caught up systematizing our thoughts about religious experience that we fail to recognize the unseen order revealed in religious experiences? Are we listening?

Or are we determined to defend denominational walls at the expense of trusting religious experience and adjusting our lives to live harmoniously for the common good?

Out of the cloud of unknowing that descends upon the mountain comes a kind of deep and irrefutable knowing that is not made of the stuff of this world. And the disciples hear, “This is my Son, the chosen. Listen to him.” Are we listening?

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