what is fair

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Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 20:1-16, the gospel lesson for Proper 20a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

This parable sounds “unfair” to our ears, every bit as much as it sounded unfair to those who heard Jesus say these words 2,000 years ago.

But, they are only unfair if you’re looking out for yourself first.

I mean, what if, just for a moment, your main concern was for someone else to get ahead. I mean what if that was the only thing on your mind?

Then, this parable would be amazing. This parable would be exactly what you were looking for.

What would it take for us to cheer for those last workers who came as the bulk of the job was finished, and as everyone was cleaning up for the day? What would it take for us to whoop and hollar when their check was just as big as everyone else’s?

What would it take for us to be for those workers who came in the cool of the morning, and who worked through the heat of the day to get the same paycheck as everyone else?

It would take us having the mindset of God.

Here’s the thing, when it comes to God’s Kingdom, there’s only one prize: Being in God’s Presence now and forever. Here in this world and in the world to come. That’s it. There isn’t a consolation prize. No silver, no bronze.

And, anyone is allowed in, whether they signed on early, or whether they skidded in at the last minute. AND, God is excited that each and every one of us is in, no matter how long our commitment.

Because the first larborers are God’s Children. And the ones who came next; they are God’s Children. And the ones who came last…they are God’s Children.

So now, isn’t this parable amazing?

infographic: remembering grace

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I’ve started using Piktochart, which is an infographic creator. It’s not free, but there is a MAJOR discount for nonprofits. I sent them our church tax id, and they gave us the steep discount. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty quick to pick up once you get the hang of it. I like it mostly because I’m a visual thinker, and it REALLY helps me story-board my sermons. I’ve used it for several sermons now, but this is the first time I’m sharing one. This was the basic flow for my 9/14 sermon.

infographic19a

the weasel

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A reflection on Matthew 18: 21-35, the gospel lesson for Proper 19a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Oh, how I love this parable. If ever there were someone who got what they deserved, it’s this weasel!

He owed a debt of 10,000 talents. A talent was equivalent to a year’s wage.

In 2013 in America, the median yearly income was a little over $51,000. So, in 2013, 10,000 talents would be worth a little over 500 million dollars.

Imagine opening up a bill for that.

And then imagine that debt being forgiven. Wouldn’t you be a little relieved? Perhaps even a little overjoyed? Maybe you’d want to pass it on?

Not our little weasel, though. After being forgiven 500 million, another slave owed him about 18 thousand dollars. And he seized him, and had him thrown into jail.

When the Master, who had forgiven the half billion heard about this injustice he had him seized and tortured, until he could repay the debt, which was of course…never!

Isn’t it delicious! The weeping! The gnashing! O, the justice!!

But then these words of a Jesus haunt me…

Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’

Oh, crud…

The weasel is me. I’ve been shown so much mercy. SO much mercy. More mercy in fact than I’m comfortable going into on The Internets…

Who am I to judge another? Why can’t I have mercy on this huge weasel?

And, THAT’S what this passage is about. Mercy. Extravagant, ridiculous, over-the-top mercy. Not just on the undeserving, but ESPECIALLY on the undeserving. (Mercy wouldn’t be mercy if it were somehow earned…)

It’s so easy to want to climb on top of another. It’s so easy to want to claim the higher ground, and proclaim myself better than someone else.

But, that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus’ way is the way of mercy.

the harder way

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / Year A

A short reflection on Matthew 18:15-20, the gospel lesson for Proper 18a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

No matter how holy the person, or how pure their intentions, eventually they are going to hurt someone else. It’s inevitable.

When we are hurt, there are the two great temptations: 1) to strike back with vengeance and spite, and 2) to put on a fake smile and pretend that everything is just fine. Some people are naturally drawn to one of these. Sometimes we’re drawn to one or the other because of the situation or the person involved.

But, neither way brings peace.

Peace only comes from the hard, and sometimes painfully awkward, work of reconciliation.

Jesus, whose way is a way of love and peace naturally provides some instruction for what happens when, not if, someone hurts you. First you try and work it out yourself. Directly. Face to face. If that doesn’t work, then you bring in a trusted third party. And, if that also fails, then you being it to the whole assembly. If this third plea falls of deaf ears, you walk away, and let it go.

There’s great wisdom here, if we’re willing to listen. If we’re willing to do the more difficult thing. It’s easier to skip everything else and move right to step #4 and walk away. It’s easier to talk yourself out of step #1, and just forget the whole thing even happened. It’s easier to just shut down if step #1 doesn’t work.

Reconciliation is hard. But, homes and friends and communities and churches who do the hard work not only get through the bad times, but they are stronger for it. And, their love has a tensile quality to it, for it was hard fought.

cut in half

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Lectionary / Psalm / Year A

A short reflection on Psalm 133 , the psalm for Proper 15a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ihaven’t been able to get the crisis in Iraq out of my head. The ancient Christian community in Mosul (formerly known as the biblical city of Nineveh), which dates to the most ancient of times, is now empty. Children are beheaded and their heads rest on pikes. Women are raped. Hordes of people are walking to Syria – because there’s a place that just screams “all safe over here.”

But, I really think it was the article about the Anglican priest in Baghdad who was grieving over the child he had baptized who had been cut in half for the high crime of being a Christian.

He had held this child in his arms and poured sacred water over his head, welcoming him into the Body of Christ. He had anointed his little supple forehead with sacred oil. He had celebrated with the child’s parents. The parents had named the child after him.

And, in the name of a bastardized form of a religion – whose name literally means “peace” -this child was cut in half.

I’m truly guilty of being an uncaring American who hears yet another report of yet another country over there where yet another insane human atrocity is committed…uttering something about how horrible it all is, and then going right back to pinning some impressionist landscape on Pinterest. I’m totally guilty of zoning out when the news turns to the Middle East, and images of desert vistas with men wearing scarves point guns and bazookas at the the enemy. I go back to my video game. Or my book. I change the channel to something which actually interests me.

Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of all the bombing and killings in Gaza, the girls who were abducted in Africa, and now the direct persecution of Christians (and Christian children) in Iraq that has raised the carnage to a level that has reached saturation in my highly distracted mind and heart.

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard.

I suppose those words are true. I mean I guess they are.

Though perhaps it would be more truthful to say that they might be true, if these words were ever practiced.

I get glimpses of it every now and again. When I reconcile with someone I have wronged, or someone who has wronged me… Gosh that feels good.

But, it’s a fleeting feeling, because then I turn on the news again, and someone else is beheaded, or blown up, or raped, and the good feelings dissolve like dandelion fur in the hand of a child.

We so desperately need to find a way to be brethren, and quite frankly we don’t have any time to waste. We need to find a way to not be adherents of this religion or that, members of this kabal or that administration, watchers of MSNBC or FOX… We need to be first brothers. First, sisters.

And a great deal of the responsibility of that rests on the people holding the guns and drawing up the battle plans. But, a solid portion of the responsibility rests on me and you to regard the innocents and the enemies as our brothers and sisters. People who are worthy of caring about, worthy of our love, worthy of our attention, worthy of our outrage.

It might be easy to shoot them, or change the channel when they are shooting at them again. But, it’s harder to shoot a brother, to care less about a sister.

What can we do? Won’t they just always be shooting themselves and blowing each other up over there?

Maybe. But, if we started caring over here it just might make a difference. And fine oil might just run down the beard for the first time.

all wet

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A short reflection on Matthew 14:22-33 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 14a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Water.

Biblically, the “waters” are the physical incarnation of “chaos,” and as such they so often serve as a medium over which God shows His power.

In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, just before God called forth the light out of the darkness. Then the waters from above were separated from the waters below. And, of course, the waters were separated from the dry land – whereby God commanded the waters that they were not to come any further past the boundary which He established.

When humanity truly fell apart into depravity, God called on the waters, and they came. He It rained, of course, but the waters from under the earth also burst forth like geysers, covering the earth and making one great sea.

Much later, the waters of the Red Sea are divided, so that the children of Israel could walk through on dry land, beginning their sojourn to freedom and the Promised Land. The waters were piled up, on either side side in great walls of water till they came tumbling down again on Pharaoh’s army.

We can’t control water when it rages. Hurricanes, typhoons, floods, tsunamis – they wipe away everything in their path. There is no holding them back. When the ship is tossed to and fro on frothy seas, there’s nothing much to do but hold on, or call in a Coast Guard helicopter.

We can’t control water. But…God can. It’s one of the ways that we see in the Bible that God is the King of All Creation. Large-and-in-charge. We can’t stem the tide of chaos, but God does.

Jesus’ walking on the water is a vestige of this. Like the “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John which harken back to the story of Exodus where God gave His Name to Moses at the burning bush, the walking on water is a demonstration that Jesus’ story is intrinsically bound together with the story of the God of the Hebrew Bible. By calming the roiling sea, and strolling out to the disciples atop the lilting waters, Jesus is showing Who He Is.

He’s harkening back to the story of Creation. He’s harkening back to the story of Noah, and the first covenant with all living creatures. He’s harkening back to the story of the Exodus.

He’s saying “Here I Am! I’m the New Creation. I’m the New Exodus. I’m here to set you free and make a New Covenant with you!”

And…he’s saying that the storms that rage in us, and around us…the chaos which swamp us and bring us down so low that the seaweed begins to wrap around our feet and not let go…well that chaos can be tamed. That storm can be calmed.

And Jesus is just the one to do it.

hurting

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year A

A short reflection on Matthew 14:13-21 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 13a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Jesus had just received word that John the Baptist was dead. Beheaded.

Their families were close. Their mothers had gotten together when they were pregnant with each of them. They were both servants of God, sent to preach the Good News.

John had baptized him.

And now he was gone. Murdered.

Jesus’ reaction is the same reaction that many of us might have when we hear such news: we retreat. We need some time alone to process it. To weep. To pray. To remember times gone by—better times.

But, the draw of Jesus was so magnetic, he couldn’t really get away. Someone had seen where he had gone, which tipped the crowd off. And the crowd followed.

Perhaps the crowd didn’t know what had happened. Maybe they hadn’t gotten the news yet. Maybe they didn’t know that the news had effected Jesus so deeply, or that such news would even phase such a wise teacher like Jesus.

Maybe they just didn’t care. All they could see were their own needs. All they could feel was their own pain.

Matthew doesn’t give us all the details here, but I suspect that the latter option is the right one.

I suspect that because when I’m in despair it’s hard for me to see the despair of another too. All I can do is see the hurt that’s inside of me.

But, that’s not how Jesus operates.

He could have sent them away. He could have told them all what had happened to John. He could have just cried and yelled and screamed. He could have gotten into the boat, conjured up a good storm and been done with them all.

But, he was moved with compassion. He always is. He was able to see beyond his own pain, and feel the pain they were bringing.

And so he healed them. And when he was done healing them, he fed them.

This passage shows so beautifully the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Mourning and grieving, and yet offering healing and life at the same time.

Like manna from heaven, day by day, he is always enough.