Friday, November 17, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 19 November 2017

Matthew 25:14-30      Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Reflection         I remember being about twelve years old, standing in the reception area of my ballet class dance studio and overhearing my dance teacher’s side of a telephone conversation. “Yes, we do have one student, maybe two. Tall, slender, possible candidates. That would be lovely. No, none of the others.” 

I, the tiny one; short and rather more solid than slender, felt gut punched. There is no way I am a “possible candidate” for whatever it is my teacher is talking about. By grace somehow I understood that in spite of my love of the ballet, I was not given sufficient talents to be the prima ballerina I imagined. Not long thereafter I decided I would focus on what I actually was good at, science and english, analyzing and writing. 

An early stage of human development demands we take honest stock of who we are, assess and acknowledge our talents and then decide how we will make the most of them. This I believe is the message Jesus intends for his disciples in the parable of the slaves entrusted with their masters talents. 

If the man of means going on a journey represents God, then the disciples and all of us are the slaves, each given different talents and set free to determine how we will use, misuse or fail to use them. And here is the thing. We are each given different talents and the opportunity to employ them. We are not intended to contend with one another over talents we do not have. We are not all intended to be and to do the same thing. Rather, we are intended to accept our God given gifts and make the most of them. 

For reasons I cannot fathom, but certainly appreciate, my twelve year old self did not decide to hang in there and compete with the tall, slender ballerina types for a role for which I was not suited. Instead somehow I accepted the fact that I was more of a bookworm, a nerd, so reset my sights on being what I was naturally good at. 

Long before I heard about ‘gifts of the Spirit’ somehow by grace I was inclined to cooperate with what was given to me. I believe this spared me years of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in what could have been my outer darkness, madly striving to be the long, lithe, prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet. 

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 12 November 2017

Matthew 25:1-13        Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Reflection       Jesus wants us to understand what the kingdom of heaven is like. Apparently his words are not crystal clear as for two thousand years theologians have never agreed regarding the definition of the kingdom of heaven; from the early church expectation that the kingdom would manifest any day to the purely eschatological or wait until the apocalyptic end of time theory, some have identified the kingdom with the visible church and others have insisted it is purely in the realm of grace. Some claim the kingdom is the ideal society characterized by freedom, justice and truth and, in the face of conflict, war and economic crisis others maintain the kingdom is on hold for a happily ever after death experience. 

I wonder if the kingdom of heaven is a state of consciousness paired with readiness to act? Jesus’ first reference to the kingdom of heaven is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat 3.2) Repent means turn around, change our mind and change the way we live to reveal the truth that the kingdom of heaven is actually here, right now, “at hand.” When we accept Jesus’ statement as true, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” we are awakened to see what we could not see before, the eyes of our hearts are opened and hopefully we are compelled to act accordingly. 

The kingdom of heaven has always been “at hand,” hiding in plain sight. It is not something outside ourselves that we can find, purchase or borrow from others. It is not delayed payment for a life of obedience. The kingdom of heaven is the light that shines from the center of each one of us.  As we turn around and direct our attention inward the light of our self awareness and our God awareness grows, each igniting the other. Which brings us to the issue of lamp oil.

Many of us really do not like the part of Jesus parable where “the foolish (bridesmaids) said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No!” We recoil, accuse Jesus of encouraging self-interest and greed. But what if Jesus is using lamp oil as a metaphor for human consciousness? 

Each one of us is responsible for turning around (repenting), looking inside and cultivating our own consciousness. We cannot borrow or draw upon someone else’s consciousness. Each of us must listen to Jesus’ teaching, choose to believe it, allow it to transform our minds and behavior, and in so doing the oil for our lamps, our consciousness, becomes a deep reservoir from which we draw light even in the midst of our darkest night.

The kingdom of heaven is fulfilled when each us remembers that we do not take a single breath but that God is drawing that breath through us, that we live every minute of every day as the revelation of God with us. When our oil lamps are full all people see God’s light glowing through us. They see it as we put our faith in God's generosity rather than our own. They see it in our calm assurance that all is well regardless of the fickle tides of time or circumstance.  They see it as we stretch to give away our blessings in thanksgiving to God from whom all blessings come. We are the kingdom of heaven, either bridesmaids in waiting or bridesmaids in fact. 

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 5 November 2017

Matthew 23.1-12
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection        Celebrating the differences of a particular group’s identity without simultaneously affirming an appreciation of our shared  humanity leads to the fracturing of families, communities and countries that is igniting dissent everywhere we turn today. In his book  The Disuniting of America  the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.   discusses identity politics and makes the argument that a liberal democracy depends upon affirming a common ground from which society and culture functions.  Schlesinger avers that politics based on group marginalization fractures society and ironically undermines efforts to end marginalization by accentuating polarization. He suggests "movements for civil rights should aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture, rather than… perpetuating that marginalization through affirmations of difference.” *  I believe this is where we find ourselves today and what Jesus recognized when he spoke to the crowds and disciples in Matthew’s gospel saying,

“The scribes and the Pharisees … tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.” In other words, the religious and political leaders elevate themselves and marginalize others, identity politics prevail.

Just in case you are wondering, phylacteries are small leather boxes. Inside the box is a piece of parchment – hand-written on the parchment are the words of the Shema- the Jewish prayer that begins – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One…” This Torah prayer identifies the Jewish people as the monotheistic people – the people of the One God. 

An interesting thing is, the blue cords and fringe on the hem of a person’s garment were
so fundamentally associated with the wearers identity that when they wanted to seal a
legally binding agreement, they rolled out a slab of clay and pressed the hem of their
garment – like a signature – into the wet clay. The hem of a Jew’s garment is the mark of their identity. So when Jesus is instructing the crowds and the disciples and he denounces the Jewish officials behavior, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,” he not only challenges their excessive displays of piety, he also challenges their identity politics. 

This begs the question, what about the people who have no blue cord or fringe on the hems of their garments? How can they enter into contracts? Have access to property? Have a place in the community? From the perspective of identity politics being not affiliated with the “right” group, they are marginalized and oppressed. 

But Jesus comes to deliver the people from oppression and marginalization so in single sentence he wipes out social, political, and religious identity politics. “You are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” In one sweeping statement Jesus effectively erases the affirmation of differences that perpetuate marginalization.  

All  people, including the rabbis, the rebels and the ruffians, all people are equally students of the ONE teacher, the One father, the One Instructor. This is humanity’s common ground. It is in affirming our common ground rather than accentuating our differences that we transcend marginalization and begin to heal our fractured families, communities and culture. Our true identity is sisters and brothers of the One God. 

As faithful people of the One God I believe we need to ask ourselves “Where do we find our identity? Is it in our social, political or religious group affiliation? In the ways we feel marginalized or empowered? How will we be identified as people of God if not by the quality of all of our relationships ? It is time for us to “aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture,” transcending and including our distinctions as revelations of the extraordinary common ground of our humanity. 

*Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M., The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, Whittle Books, 1991. Revised/expanded edition W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Gospel text for All Saints and All Souls 29 October 2017

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Reflection       With his words of blessing Jesus is turning the world of the status quo upside down. It is not the people who are content, satisfied, cunning, fulfilled, ruthless, scheming or admired that are blessed.  These are the people who stay home, securing their power and privilege, uninterested in Jesus message. Socially and politically speaking they are the fortunate, prosperous, undefeated people. They seek nothing more because they believe they have it all.

Today Jesus is addressing  seekers.  Seekers are seeking something which by definition means they have a sense of something missing, something more they long for. It is this very longing for something more that is the seed of blessing. When people do not have the means to eat or care for their family, they long for food and shelter. They long for God’s blessing. When brokenhearted, people ache and cry in anguish for what is lost, they long for something more, they long for God’s blessing. When people have everything they need; power, privilege and esteem, yet still feel empty and unfulfilled, they too long for something more, they long for God’s blessing. 

Here is the thing. Blessing does not flow into fullness. Blessing flows into open empty receptivity. 

When we are poor in spirit, we are empty, we hunger for God. When we mourn, we are desolate, we weep for God.  When we are meek,  we are yielding, we submit to God. When we are righteous we are civil, we are obedient to God. When we are merciful we are humane, we allow God’s generosity to flow through us. When we are pure in heart, we are transparent, we act with integrity and reveal God’s goodness. When we are peacemakers we nurture relationships among people and with God . And when we do all of these things we are revealing the kingdom of heaven on earth. It is no wonder the forces of evil explode to persecute and annihilate us because the keepers of the status quo do not want the kingdom of heaven to prevail on earth. 

I believe this  is why Jesus concludes the first part of his famous mountaintop sermon proclaiming, “"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad…” The people who revile and persecute the disciples and us are the protectors of the status quo, the ones who are full of themselves. The something more that we seek cannot be bought, weighed and measured. The something more we seek cannot be kept in storehouses, off shore accounts or behind thick walls. The something more we seek is the kingdom of heaven right here, right now on earth, available to all people without exception.

As goodness rises, evil escalates and the spiraling chaos and false accusations are reasons to “rejoice and be glad” because it means the kingdom of heaven is prevailing. The old ways of self-satisfaction and adulation, pride and pretension,  disrespect and disobedience, cruelty and greed, deceit and dishonor, agitation and corruption are tripping over one another in  the Danse Macabre, the Dance of their Death.  The protectors of the old ways are confronted by  their own fragility and the specious nature of their superficial lives. 

Blessed are the poor, the mourners and the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart and the peacemakers because in their open, empty receptivity they receive and reveal the kingdom of heaven right here, right now in the midst of all kinds of evil. So, rejoice and be glad!

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 22 October 2017

Matthew 22:15-22
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Reflection      The  Pharisees and Herodians, the religious and political officials, see the world as either black or white. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Either you are with them or against them. They see no gray zone.  They expect Jesus to play into their hand… do you pay heed to the emperor or to God? 

This kind of thinking represents early stage development of human consciousness. When our children are young we firmly say “No, don’t touch” when they get near the kitchen stove. But as they grow beyond a pure black and white perspective we say, “Be careful when you are near the stove… then… we show them how to use the stove to cook safely.” This is how human consciousness evolves; from a simplistic, black or white, dualistic perspective to a more complex, integral way of thinking that recognizes there are ten thousand shades of grey between the absolutes of black or white.

Much of the political discourse today revolves around people who want to reduce complex issues that cross the spiritual, social and political realms to a decision between two falsely simple alternatives; liberty or common good, equality or privilege, limited government or government intervention, freedom or order, conservative or progressive. I believe we would do well to follow Jesus example and refuse to be entrapped between false alternatives. Jesus refuses to play the game of the standard bearers of his day. Instead, he leaps ahead of his time and expresses a more highly evolved level of human consciousness and refuses to be entrapped.

In his book “Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution” the attorney and acclaimed author Steve McIntosh writes, “The left-right conception of politics that dominates most political discourse in the developed world is woefully simplistic and generally inadequate as a model of the complex political dynamics of the 21st century. For example, we can see in history how the roles of liberal and conservative have actually reversed position several times (the Republicans were the progressives of the 19th century), and thus it is likely that some of those who now identify themselves as progressives may in the future find themselves defending the status quo…  within each worldview’s agenda can be found those who emphasize freedom and those who emphasize order. This often results in activists of decidedly different overall political persuasions finding themselves in temporary alliances with “strange bedfellows.””*

Which points to today’s gospel text and the alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians intending to entrap Jesus. “Strange bedfellows,” the political and religious keepers of the status quo strain against the growing pains of the evolution of human consciousness. They do not want to change, to give up the sacred cows of their historical religious or political privilege. So what do they do? They conspire to discredit, silence and ultimately eliminate the messenger.

We know the story. The messenger is killed but the message persists.  Traditionalistic world views strive to force dualistic choices upon complex issues; individual rights or interpersonal relationships, big government or small government, tradition or truth (did you know the antonym of tradition is truth?), right or wrong, Herod or God. 

When we, like Jesus, refuse to live between false dichotomies,  when we refuse to subscribe to the notice that things of God are in opposition to things of the world, suddenly we stretch to a higher level of integral consciousness. We begin to look at religion and politics through a finely nuanced lens that reveals ten-thousand shades of grey and changes how we live. 

Before long we hear people describing us saying, “We know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” Living in imitation of Jesus is a significant step in the evolution of our consciousness.  Let us not be silenced and not afraid.

* McIntosh, Steve. Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution: How the Integral Worldview is Transforming Politics, Culture and Spirituality. Paragon House, 2007.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 15 October 2017

Matthew 22:1-14        Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.


This, I believe, marks a pivotal moment in our religious tradition and the evolution of human consciousness. Until this moment only people identified as the descendants of Israel were invited to the wedding banquet, to be in intimate relationship with God. They were the in group, the chosen ones. Being a tribe, their primary concern was belonging. In order to belong  individuals conform their thinking, values and behavior to a group with whom they share kinship, racial, cultural, behavioral or religious traditions. Tribes nurture an “us versus  them” state of consciousness  that fosters tribal or ethnic identity. We experience tribal identity today when individuals define themselves in terms of distinctive social, political, religious, racial or sexual affiliations; the 1%, the 99, the left behind, racists, sexists, agists, republicans, democrats, conservatives, progressives, foreigners, patriots … any group identity.

But Jesus has the king invite everyone to the banquet without regard to tribe or ethnic affiliation. With the sword of his tongue Jesus slashes the historical norm of tribal or racial purity.  From this moment on all people are invited to participate in the kingdom of heaven on earth. 

Jesus is crystal clear. The evolution from tribal consciousness to an inclusive world centric perspective is not a move from law and order to anarchy, from absolute truth to the absence of truth. All that was right and good and true in the tribal traditions is carried forward in the evolution of human consciousness. This is why the king calls the guest friend when he asks, “‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  Everyone is a friend of the kingdom of heaven AND there is an expectation that they be prepared to live in committed relationship with God, to wear the wedding robe. 

What does it mean to wear the wedding robe?  I believe it means to commit our lives to the Greatest Commandment as proclaimed by Jesus just two paragraphs following todays gospel text. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22.37-39)

Love is the common ground, the great equalizer that transcends and includes every tribe, people and nation. Love moves us from tribal to world centric consciousness, and leaves no one behind. When we accept the invitation to the wedding banquet we must be prepared to be married to all people, to love as God loves, across the social, political, religious, racial and sexual boundaries. When we accept God’s invitation to the kingdom of heaven on earth we must be ready to wear the wedding robe of love for all.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 8 October 2017

Matthew 21:33-46        Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Reflection        The vineyard is a metaphor for the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God on earth. The landowner, think - stand in for God, plants the vineyard, secures it with a fence and watchtower and provides all that is needed to produce wine. All that remains to be done by the tenants is harvest the grapes and make the wine.  But when it is time for the landowner to collect his share of the harvest the tenants are greedy. Clearly they forget their original agreement with the landowner; they will work the vineyard and return a portion of the harvest to the landowner. They forget that if it was not for the original blessing of the landowner there would not even be a vineyard, no opportunity to do good work. It never occurs to them to wonder how it was that they were fortunate enough to be among those who could work at the vineyard. Why were they not left unemployed or disabled and begging on the streets like so many others? 

As people of God we are blessed with this kingdom, this beautiful earth, in which to live and work and flourish. In the First Book of Chronicles we meet the Israelites bringing their gold, silver and precious stones to be used to build the temple. Receiving these gifts King David prays to God, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.(1 Chron. 29:14, 16) King David 

Like the Israelites who did not create their offerings of gold, silver and precious stones, like the tenants who did not plant and prepare the vineyard to make wine, we did not create our lives nor our opportunities to live and work and thrive.  All that we are and all that we have is pure gift and the appropriate response is gratitude and generosity perfectly expressed by King David, “All things come of you, O God, and of your own have we given you.” 

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday 1 October 2017

Exodus 17:1-7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Reflection        A bit of wisdom that appears to be lost on many of us is, “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages.” To be clear, the literal interpretation of “the wilderness of Sin" refers to a geographic area near Mt. Sinai, not to a person or persons’ sinfulness/behavior. The wilderness of Sin is the place where the Israelites wander, trying to find their way, struggling to grow into right relationship with themselves, each other and God.

When I imagine this scene I see images of women, men and children on their journey with God, stumbling along through times of celebration for their freedom from slavery as well as times complaining of lack of water or food, experiencing blessing and loss, triumph and defeat, hope and despair, faith and fear. I see them loving their leaders and hating their leaders.  I see them looking back at the way life used to be and looking ahead to how life could be. I see life as described in the Hebrew Testament as well as in our local and national news today. Little seems to change.

We are a people who “journey by stages” even though we tend to forget that point. We do not leap into a happily ever after life. We do not all walk at the same pace nor do we all start with an equal hand. Nonetheless, we, the “whole congregation” are all on this journey through the wilderness that we call life. And like it or not, we are on this journey together. The turmoil of our current social political religious environment has divided families, communities and our nation. Like our quarreling ancestors we regress to our lesser, self-interested, selfish selves (narcissistic, nihilistic, individualistic) rather than grow in our understanding that we are not all equal, we are not all the same, every single one of us deserves dignity and a decent life (wholisitic) and there is no happily ever after life ( a hold-over ideal from our fantastical childhood).

Response to the election of Donald Trump has evoked foment among supporters as well as opposers.  Across the board people are suffering as they cling to their particular position of what is right and foster their need to win. The fact of the matter is, for as long as we wage a win or lose culture war, eventually everyone loses. 

And here we return to the wisdom of the Hebrew Testament, “we journey by stages.” As the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilbur* explicates and I summarize, much as a child first learns to make a sound, then a word, then a sentence, and much as each developmental stage “transcends and includes the former stage” (e.g. the capacity to make a sentence includes the ability to make sounds) so too proceeds the social, emotional and spiritual development of each person. As we proceed on our developmental journeys in the “wilderness of Sin” a fatal flaw festers when we deny, degrade or denigrate people expressing attitudes and beliefs of a former stage of development. In other words, vying to win and prove ourselves right inevitably discounts others and is less than helpful.  

Wilbur argues, people in the leading edge must seek, “out the most appropriate, most complex, most inclusive, and most conscious forms that are possible at that particular time and point of evolution, pointing to new, novel, creative, and adaptive areas for the future to unfold into.” 

The narrow win or lose perspective pits one side against the other. A more expansive view is humble, acknowledging we are all in this wilderness together. The question is not who is right or who will win, the question is, “How do we include everyone in the conversation while seeking the common good?”  or “How best can we stumble by stages through this wilderness of life?” Or perhaps we ought to borrow Moses’ humble cries, “What shall we do, O Lord?” and then deeply listen.

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

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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