Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas, Year B, December 28, 2008

First Sunday of Christmas
Year B
December 28, 2008
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Isaiah 61:10—62:3 Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7 St. Luke 2:22-40

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

Today our focus is on children. To me they represent a sign of innocence, beauty, and the presence of God among us. Today is the first Sunday after Christmas and so we remember particularly the Incarnation. And we celebrate again new life with the Baptism of another beautiful child of God. Today we welcome another child into the family of our faith in a formal way. It is always an exciting time for me.

But before we talk about new life with all of its potential before it, I want to talk about death. The other end of the spectrum of our lives. In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we have what is for me a very profound prayer in the service for the Burial of the Dead.

It goes like this: “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light. Amen.”

It is a prayer so powerful in its truth that is brings my emotions right to the surface. I can barely say the prayer at a funeral without tearing up. A sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock. It is an acknowledgement of our belonging to God.

A number of hears ago Joan Armstrong wrote a song entitled “What If God Was One Of Us”. Part of the lyrics went like this:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets (*)
Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
'cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

The song really appealed to me. If God had a face what would it look like? It is a great reminder as we celebrate the birth of a savior in a barn and the baptism of a child. God calls us to see God in each and every one of us. But that can sometimes be very hard. To see God, particularly in people in whom we can’t see ourselves.

A few years ago there was a show on TV called “Joan of Arcada”. Every week God would appear to Joan in the form of a person and give her some task which needed to be done. The person who was God changed regularly and it was a very cute show. One episode though God appeared as a young teen in Goth. You know a teen that wears all black clothing, often with pale makeup on the skin and dark features. Most definitely not what I see when I look in a mirror. I found myself very shocked at this. I was rather upset that God would be portrayed in this manner.

It took me quite some time to deal with all my thoughts after my initial reaction. I knew my reaction was wrong, but it was there. I had to do a lot of soul searching. In the end, that young Goth became my favorite character to portray God. I had learned the importance of seeing God in everyone I meet. I still fail at times to do so, but I think that in my life I’m now a lot more sensitive to it.

It seems to me that for most of us Christians it is very easy to see God in infants and children and it is usually easy to see God in people at their death. We seem to have the beginning and ending of life figured out pretty good. Where we so often fail is in that large stretch in the middle when people live life, make choices, make mistakes and generally try to make it though.

It is as this point that we are most unsuccessful at seeing God in others. We seem to love people when they are born and when they die but often it is easy to hate them or perhaps ignore them in the middle.

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
That is the questions we all must ask ourselves. You see God does have a face. God has many faces.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent

Year B

December 14, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126

I Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

One of my favorite Advent hymns is "On Jordan's Bank." It is found on page 63 of your LBW. The words go like this:

1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come, then, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings.

2. Then cleansed by every Christian breast
And furnished for so great a Guest.
Yea, let us each our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.

3. For Thou art our Salvation, Lord,
Our Refuge, and our great Reward.
Without Thy grace our souls must fade
And wither like a flower decayed.

4. Lay on the sick Thy healing hand
And make the fallen strong to stand;
Show us the glory of Thy face
Till beauty springs in every place.

5. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Who advent sets Thy people free,
Whom, with the Father, we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.

Today we hear the story of John the Baptist, a particularly appropriate lesson for Advent. The lesson starts out with the words "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." Being sent from God is not always a great thing by our standards. While John had some followers, those in power were really threatened by him. In fact, his words became so threatening that they eventually lead to his imprisonment and finally his death. He never gained worldly good or significant recognition in his life time. The life of a prophet is usually lonely.

Today I want you to pull out your insert and follow those two lines with me again. But I’m going to change a few words this time. "There was a person sent from God, whose name was Lucy. She came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through her." I figured I would use Lucy as an example since she is such a new addition to the church family and can’t really speak for herself yet.

This time I want you to read it with your name. Try it out. Go ahead.

How did it feel? I want to take a short moment now and let you just think about what it would mean if that verse was speaking about you. Did you believe it in your heart when you read it? I hope so because it is absolutely true. There is a person sent by God and guess what? That person is you. And you. And you. And little Lucy. And me.

To me it can be pretty overwhelming. You are that person sent by God. I am that person sent by God. You are that person called as a witness to testify to the light. It can be pretty overwhelming. We think of our personal failures and wonder how in the world we can be a witness to the light of God.

I have to wonder if John felt exactly that same way I suspect he might have been a reluctant witness for God. How much better to live your comfortable life without these annoying interruptions from God.

How are you and I going to respond? Some of us may be tempted to argue with God. Something along the lines of “Lord can’t I just go to church and support the church? Isn’t that enough God?” Perhaps our response will be that of Moses or Jonah. Basically a "not me Lord! Are you crazy God?" No one will listen to me Lord. Moses thought he didn’t speak well enough. Any excuse. How many excuses do we have for God?

Our initial desire to say no to the call of God in our life needs to be changed to a yes. We need to decide to respond like Samuel, saying "speak lord, for your servant is listening", then what?

How do we fulfill our commission to be a witness to testifying about Jesus? I think many peoples greatest fear is that we will have to go door to door to strangers like the Mormon's or the Jehovah Witnesses. Or do we have to pay an annual Temple assessment as in the Jewish tradition? Or do we try and keep it a secret like the Episcopal tradition?

Well we don't have to do it any particular way. One approach will not fit every circumstance and every need. Fortunately we don't even have to dress up in uncomfortable clothing and eat grass hoppers like John. But we do need to overcome our fears and anxiety to say yes to God. Sometimes not even really knowing what that yes to God will mean. We need to realize that God chooses us and that God will be with us. In our weakness God’s power is made even more manifest. Paul believed that he could do all things through the power of the strength of God in his life. Do we really believe that?

But one thing we absolutely do have to do is be a witness for God. There is no getting around that call of God in our lives. Each in our own unique way. Each of us as God has called is. It will not be the same. But that way God reaches out to so many other people.

It is our job to announce to others that the Lord is near. Advent can be a challenging and risky time for us. It calls us to evangelism like no other season in the Church year. So let each of us commit to the work of evangelist in our own lives as we respond to the call of God.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent

Year B

November 30, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

I Corinthians 1:3-9 St. Mark 13:24-37

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

Today is the day of a new beginning. This is the First Sunday of Advent. Today is the ecclesiastical equivalent of New Year’s Day. In the recent history of the church, Advent has taken a rather penitential feeling, very much like Lent. This is most likely due to the use of purple as the color for both seasons.

In an attempt to combat this, many churches have moved from purple to shades of blue.

“The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.”[1]

This Advent I want to encourage you to expected the unexpected. One thing that has always interested me is that fact that the first Advent of Jesus came about in a most unexpected way. No one imagined the messiah as the simple son of a carpenter. In spite of all that was found in the Scriptures and in spite of the eager anticipation of the Jewish nation of a messiah who would come in great power and set things right, it just didn’t happen that way. Nope. God came in God’s own way and to serve God’s own purposes.

It must have been quite shocking for people to learn that their centuries held beliefs were to be turned upside down. That is if they were able to accept it at all. You see, many could not. They were unable to change their preconceived ideas to embrace Jesus as God revealed to them.

I think that it often seems that God never comes the way we plan on God coming in our own lives as well. That is why we need to expected the unexpected in our own lives. God will come to us in ways we perhaps never imagined. But if we insist on holding on to our own ideas and expectations we can miss God in our lives when God is right in front of us. We will allow ourselves to fall into the same trap that so many in the time of Jesus did. Those who recognized Jesus were rarely those of a religious bent. They were too obsessed in their own views of how God should act and as a result not only missed Jesus, but often actively plotted against Jesus.

The lessons in Advent will often focus on the next coming of Jesus. And I have an idea that the next coming of Jesus will probably also be unexpected. Those who are convinced that they understand from the Scriptures and the teaching of the church just how the next Advent will occur I believe are destined for disappointment.

Now that probably explains why I’m not a fan at all of the “Left Behind” series and the entire cottage industry of end times books, tapes, and teachings. They miss the fundamental point that humans don’t seem to do a very good job of guessing how God will choose to act in the world.

There is something very positive in this focus during Advent on the past and the present. Advent becomes a time of looking head and a time of looking behind and that can be a powerful symbol of our own faith journey, and even more it can be a powerful symbol of a congregations faith journey. Particularly in this place and time. As you examine the past and look towards your future in the call of a new pastor.

Last time I was here the lesson focused on our responsibilities to God in the time between the appearances of Jesus on earth. Last time I focused on individual responsibilities within the concept of supporting the church financially. Today I would encourage you to think about your life as a congregation. As I know from my own experience it is very easy for a congregation to assume that the pastor will be doing everything. Visiting the sick, evangelizing, cleaning, maintaining, inspiring, cajoling, you name it, it is the pastor’s job.

It is true that many of these things are indeed the pastor’s job. But please do not forget that in this time between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus each and every one of us has our own responsibilities. Those responsibilities include everything I listed for the pastor to do. You see the “great commission” was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was for each and every one of us. The lesson of Matthew 25 was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was a call for each and every one of us to feed the sick, visit those in prison and minister to the needs of those less fortunate than us. The summary of the law by Jesus to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was for each and every one of us.

“… as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."[2]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon for the 27th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, November 16, 2008

Twenty Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 28

Year A

November 16, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Isaiah 45:1-7 Psalm 96:1-13

I Thessalonians 1:1-10 St. Matthew 22:15-22

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

The parable that Jesus tells in the Gospel for today can be understood in different ways. And I have sworn to myself to not use the word eschatology in today’s homily even though the lectionary and the commentary are begging us to understand it in terms of the end times. I'm not sure I agree with that. While it is one possible understanding, I think that parables are open to multiple interpretations. There is no one "right way" to get at any of them. And in fact, I think this parable much more a parable on Christian living for us today than anything else.

One thing I do believe is clear however is that in this parable Jesus is giving guidance to his follows, that is you and I, concerning what we are to do while Jesus is not with us.

I’m also aware that I have a singularly unique opportunity while helping out at Resurrection Lutheran. I have the opportunity of not being the pastor during the time of year when most churches are working on their budget and in the middle of the stewardship campaign, or whatever other name they choose to call it.

This gives me the chance to talk about church finances and individual responsibilities without the usual baggage of feeling like I’m pleading for my salary or a pet program I happen to like.

Let’s face it though. It is sometimes hard to talk about money in church. It is hard enough when we are talking about it generically, but it is even more of a challenge when we are talking about it with respect to the annual stewardship campaign. We all reach for our pocket book to protect it!

And I sort of have a split personality about the entire issue of giving to the church. Not that I have any issues about doing it, I’m a firm believer in it. I was raised in the Baptist tradition where it was just assumed that everyone automatically gave ten percent of their income to the church. I never though Christians did otherwise. That is until I joined the Episcopal Church. We are an organization which, while officially proclaiming the tithe as the minimum standard of giving is nevertheless rather timid about it. I remember well the most shocking revelation when I discovered that Episcopalians in general considered all their charitable giving when determining they were giving ten percent or not. So if they gave generously to say the Boy Scouts, a local non-profit and the church as long as it added up to ten percent that was fine.

I have to confess that as a former Baptist that really raised the hair on the back of my neck. While I never said it, to me it sounded like stealing from God.

It is even hard to talk about what each of us might be doing personally. I know when I applied for the position of Rector at one parish I noticed that at least for the previous Rector, his title was an income line item in the budget. I had never seen that before. But one thing it made the congregation know for certain. Their leader tithed.

I can tell you all that I give at least the tithe to the church. I don’t share this with you out of pride, but because I want you to know that I’m not asking you to do something I’m not willing to do myself. I have always given at least ten percent, in those times when I was a young man in the military, oh so long ago, I know. Those were days when I often didn’t really believe that I would have enough to make it to the next pay check and it was sometimes very tempting to not put that money in the offering plate.

But somehow, God always managed to provide. Whether it was from a decision not to buy something that I really didn’t need at that moment, or offers of dinners from wonderful friends, or just sitting home rather than going out. Somehow I always made it. It wasn’t always easy or comfortable, but I always made it. Now I do not believe that God we can manipulate God to reward us by paying God off. But at the same time I know from my own experience and from the words of Scripture that God does look out for those who are faithful to God.

In the lesson today we have three slaves who were trusted with responsibilities from the master. The last slave, the one that Robert Farrar Capon in his book “The Parables of Judgment”[1] likes to refer to as the prudent slave ends up in hot water. This slave did not want to take risks. What would happen if he lost what he was given by the master? How in the world would he explain that! And so he takes the path of prudence and protects what was given him by his master. I can see him checking on it regularly to make sure he has not lost it, so it will be ready to be given back to the master upon his return.

That is the option we are really faced when we consider our giving to God as well. Do we take risks or do we play it safe, do we act out the part of the prudent slave. I want to encourage you to take risks with God.

I told you I had a split personality when it comes to financial responsibility to the church. And here it is. Forgive me Council President and the rest of the Council. But in spite of my upbringing I believe you absolutely do not have to tithe. I believe that gifts given out of compulsion are not what God if looking for at all.

But at the same time I believe that it is vitally important to your own spiritual health that you do at least tithe. And so I encourage you to prayerfully consider that as a goal in your life.

I’m aware of the financial implications of all of this during an economic downturn. I know many clergy are worrying about how to approach stewardship when the economy seems to be tanking. Do they ask people to continue to step out in faith when times are bad? I say not only yes, but that it is even more important to do it when times are financially difficult. You see it is easy to give when things are flush. The challenge is when things are tight. The challenge is when we are more like the widow with her mite than those with riches giving out of their excess.

But I do want to encourage you to step out in faith with regard to your support of your church and in trusting God. I want to challenge you to challenge yourself. God may never respond to your stepping out in faith by depositing $100,000 dollars in your bank account. At least it never worked that way for me. But, God will respond and your spiritual life will be deepened in ways you can not even imagine.

[1] “The Parables of Judgment”, Robert Farrar Capon, p. 83.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, October 19, 2008

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24
Year A
October 19, 2008
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Isaiah 45:1-7 Psalm 96:1-13I Thessalonians 1:1-10 St. Matthew 22:15-22

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

The Gospel today is not about the separation of Church and State. Those questioning Jesus had no interest in these kinds of issues. In fact, such a thing never would have occurred to anyone in first century Israel. What the Gospel is about is hypocrisy. And it is about idolatry.

Have you ever thought about having to pay the very person who oppresses you? Talk about taxation without representation. That is what was happening in Jesus time to the people of Israel. The oppressed were forced to pay the oppressors. And people were divided about how to respond to this great injustice. They were faced with the question of do you support the government no matter how much you might disagree or do you refuse to pay taxes. Different faiths groups in the United States and around the world have chosen different responses to this quandary. It is never an easy answer. And people of good Christian will have disagreed in our nation about these kinds of problems many times.

What is right to do and what is wrong to do in the world as a Christian. That is always a difficult decision. It is not as black and white as some would want to believe. People have struggled with this same question for centuries in different forms. Do you serve a country an in unjust war? Is a war unjust? Do the ends justify the means? Christians come to different conclusions.

But Jesus’ protagonists today didn’t really care about that at all. In today’s story people are just trying to set a trap for Jesus. But as always Jesus avoids the trap laid for him. This is the hypocrisy in the story. Those questioning Jesus don’t really want an answer or even care what it might be. They want to make Jesus look bad and put him down in front of the crowd. They think that his choices boil down to one of two possible options. He will either have to say no, they do not have to pay, and side with the rebels against the authorities. Or he will have to say yes, they need to pay, and side with the appeasers. Either way, it is a no win situation. The Pharisees think they really have him now.

So Jesus asks them to cough up a coin. They produce one, and like all of the roman coins it has a graven image on it. If you remember your Hebrew Scriptures you will recall that the Jewish people are forbidden to have idols and yet Jesus indirectly points out that merely by conforming to the societal need to carry money, they end up carrying idols around in their pockets. Whether they caught on to that fine distinction of Jesus or not I do not know.

After asking them to identify the image on the coin, Jesus gives a pretty simple answer. But hidden in this simple answer is a powerful challenge to all of us as Christians. Giving to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to God what is God may seem like a very simple and easy thing to do. But I do not believe that this is the case.

I fear that we have made money our idol in a very real way. And sadly in a way that is, on the one hand, less obvious and therefore, on the other hand, is more dangerous. This is because like the Pharisees we do not perceive money as a potential idol.

Instead, we see money in very practical terms. It is not our idol we think, it is our servant. It is what makes the economy run well and provides a medium of exchange. We think it saves us from having to haul halibut and salmon around to trade with other people. And all of that is true. But the question we are faced with is how do we live. How do we treat our money. And there is the first catch. Calling it our money. You see, as Christians, we believe that it is not our money. It is God’s money. One of the simplest offertory prayers I know goes like this: “All things come of you Oh, Lord, and of your own have we given you.”

The concept of giving to God what is God's all along really calls us to remember that everything does indeed belong to God. This is not just talking about our tithe. It is talking about our all. It is easy enough for us to acknowledge it with our lips, but it is sometimes much harder to acknowledge it as we live. At least this is what I have discovered in my own life. The earth and all that is in it belongs to God. That includes the air we breath, the food we eat, the home we live in, the time on our calendar, and the money in our bank account. So this simple response of Jesus is not so simple after all. This Gospel calls us to evaluate how we respond to this truth.

In this simple answer Jesus calls us to look at all of our lives in a much different light. We can no longer live with our easy assumptions about what is means to follow Christ. Throughout history the call to follow Christ has meant to be willing to be challenged in our comfortable lives. We are called on to be willing to lay it all down if need be, like Francis of Assisi. That is a hard call that few have been able to follow.

But my concern is that in our present day the cares and concerns of the world all too easily crowd out our responsibilities to God. I think it rather unlikely that any of us here today will be called on to respond as St. Francis did. But we will be challenged to live out in our own lives the fullness of believing that all which we possess is truly God’s possessions.

The question each of us needs to answer for ourselves is: “are we ready?”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sermon for the Twenth-Third Sunday after Pentecost, October 12, 2008, Proper 23

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 23

Year A

October 12, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Isaiah 25:1-9 Psalm 23:1-6

Philippians 4:1-9 St. Matthew 22:1-14

You hear it said that clothes make the person. That is what clothing lines try to convince us to believe. And to some degree I think they have succeeded. How often have you or I sized up someone based on their outward appearance? Deep down we know that this is not true. We know that the measure of a person is what is on the inside and not what is on the outside. But it is a terribly hard habit to break. So how do we make any sense of the parable in today's Gospel?

And yet at some level clothing does matter. If you show up to a formal wedding in worn out jeans, a ratty t shirt and flip-flops nit would seem to most people to be rather inappropriate. And although as a priest I tend to dress rather formal for Alaska standards for most Episcopal priests, I know that if I wore some things, people would rightly by unhappy with me and my choices.

But all of us are comfortable with our own person style of dress. The invitation from the King required formal dress however. I mean lets face us, most of us have seen royal weddings on TV. We all know what the expectation is as far as dress is concerned. And so even those brought in from the street must have had an understanding of what would be expected at this great feast.

But the idea of comparing this to the kingdom of heaven can be a troubling lesson for people like me who want to see God in an always generous, kind, giving, loving and forgiving sort of way.

The first part of our Gospel story starts out well enough. Those on the "A" list get invited to a fabulous wedding.

Unfortunately the response to the slaves sent out to get the RSVP's was mixed to say the least. I'm mean, whatever happened to "don't shoot the messenger"? I guess that saying was not invented yet. But the bottom line is that for whatever reason, none of the "A" listers came to the wedding. Imagine having a huge wedding celebration and no guests show up. That sort of throws a wet blanket on the entire event for the bride and groom and families. But this king is a take charge sort of guy. So he rounds up a crowd of people, probably from all walks of life to fill up this wedding banquet. People who never in a million years imagined they would be invited suddenly find themselves in the in crowd!

That really describes who each and everyone of us are as Christians. We are part of the out crowd who suddenly finds themselves invited into the in crowd by God. In spite of our failures, our shortcomings and our sins, God invited us in to the wedding banquet. We relive that invitation every time we come together at the Lord’s Table. All who know God are asked to join in a feast which God has prepared fur us. There is not “A” list and other. All are freely on the invitation. This is not church potluck supper where everyone brings something along to contribute to the whole. No at this heavenly feast God has provided everything. And just as Jesus invited everyone be with him and experience the presence of God in their lives, so it is today. God invites everyone.

But as Christians each and every one of us also knows that the response to the invitation of God requires us to comply with God’s dress code, so to speak. Now I know I’m treading in dangerous waters here in Luther’s territory and I am by no means advocating a works based faith. But a reading of the Bible makes it clear that as Christians, there are certain expectations about us. We are supposed to be, with God’s help, working on things like loving your neighbor and striving for justice and peace.

Our course, for me the hardest part of this parable is the person who arrived improperly dressed and then gets kicked out. After all, what in the world did this person really do wrong?

I have read many different commentaries trying to explain the significance of this particular part of the story. I mean you can't really ignore it as much as you, or at least as much as I, might want to. Most commentaries I have read, rightly I think, interpret this person to represent one who does not have faith. It is sort of the same thing as the saying I have heard that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car.”

Some commentaries include a helpful explanation it in terms of traditions back in that time where the host would have provided the appropriate clothing and this particular person choose to refuse to accept it. Basically the same point explained in a cultural context to say that, one way or another, the clothing represents our place in Christ where in this case the clothing makes all the difference.

We are invited guests to this banquet as a result of our new life in Christ represented by the wedding garments.

The Christian Scriptures are filled with metaphors of the Christian relationship explained in terms of marriage and weddings.

If there is a place in the Gospel today where I think we should, each one of us, find ourselves, it is in the place of the slaves. The second set of slaves fortunately. Those were the ones sent to go call in those who never expected an invitation. They had the wonderful opportunity of sharing a once in a life time opportunity with people from all walks of life.

This is exactly what God is calling each and everyone of us to do as well. It is not our job to worry about if they will arrive wearing the right clothing so to speak. It is not our job to filter out those who we believe should be invited and those who we believe are not worth, in as sense creating our own personal “A” and “B” listers. God wants us to go out and share this Good News with everyone. It is an invitation we dare not keep to ourselves. In essence the slaves were doing the work of an evangelist and each one of us is called to be an evangelist as well. I know some are sort of intimidated by that job description, thinking it requires special training or particular skills or thinking perhaps that this is what we pay a pastor to do.

Being an evangelist is as simply as asking your friend to join you at church. That is how real and lasting church growth takes place. If you want Resurrection Lutheran Church to grow, it is every member’s responsibility to take this call to evangelism seriously. Study after study shows that people check out churches most often when invited by a friend. So I’m not telling you that you need to knock on doors and make cold calls. Nope, just invite a friend!

As our Celebrate insert so clearly reminds us today, no matter what may be going on in our life, “we rejoice in the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. With great joy we feast at the table of the Lord, and we go forth to share the wonderful invitation with others hungering and thirsting for the abundant life of God.”

NOTE: I am indebted to the mediation for this day in Forward Day By Day. Unfortunately those mediations are anonymous so I cannot give appropriate credit.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year A , September 21, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 20

Year A

September 21, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Jonah 3:10—4:11 Psalm 145:1-8

Philippians 1:21-30 St. Matthew 20:1-16

Life can seem so unfair at times. Injustice seems to so often abound in the world. And even worse it seems that there is nothing we can do about it. It can leave one with a sense of helplessness at times.

We have some very firm ideas about fairness and justice in our world. Jonah also had some very specific ideas about fairness and thought that God was being rather unfair with him. After his objections God still sent him on a mission of doom and destruction. Once sent on this mission Jonah felt it was his right to see that doom and destruction he predicted come to fruition. Instead God disappoints Jonah and shows compassion to the great city of Nineveh.

It is way too easy to judge Jonah in the story and never see ourselves in the story. How do we feel when we don't think people are getting their just desserts from God? We miss the point of this story completely if we cannot see ourselves in it.

Now I suspect that most of us find it much easier to see ourselves in today's Gospel. It is all too easy to join in the chorus about the unfairness to some of the workers. What about a fair days pay for a fair days work? Where is the justice for the people who worked all day if those who only worked an hour got the same amount of pay? To us this seems manifestly unfair. Sure it is nice that the landowner is so generous but why not be generous to everyone and give those who labored hard all day, those who contributed most to his business a bit of an extra bonus as well?

I lived in Southern California for a few years in the Coast Guard and can remember passing by many of the gathering places for day laborers. They would hang out around coffee shops in particular locations and farmers and construction bosses would drive up and pick some out to work for the day for cash. It was a sad system. Most of the laborers were illegal immigrants and so had no other options. They worked under the table for whatever was agreed upon that day and received no other benefits. They were trapped in an unfair system.

And so when I read this lesson I can put a modern face on it. The landowner also goes to pick up a few day laborers and ends up making several runs throughout the course of the day. But still as Jesus tells the story the situation seems ever more unfair to me and I’m sure to the workers as well. At the end of the day, when those who work only an hour get paid the same as those who worked all day it seems so obviously unfair to anyone. And yes, Jesus is right that I should not be begrudging the generosity of a person, but why not be generous to everyone?

But I think that these lessons call us to struggle with this unfairness. What we see as unfair, Jesus taught as the truth of the kingdom of heaven.

I think part of the problem is that we live in an age of entitlement. And while that has produced many great results it can sometimes be spiritually harmful.

Justice is an important issue for Christians to advocate for. Christians throughout history have answered the call of God to this important ministry. And in to our ears this story sounds rather unjust. But we are called to struggle with the fact. Unfortunately in our minds, the kingdom of heaven is described in terms that seem rather unjust to us.

For me part of the struggle was realizing that while I’m called to work on the kingdom of heaven down here as best I can, it is not the kingdom of heaven. So when I hear parables explaining the kingdom of heaven I automatically apply them to this earthly realm and end up with the very struggle I’m faced with today. But the truth of the matter is I have to learn to be grateful for the injustice and unfairness of the kingdom of heaven. It is that very injustice and unfairness that provides the means for me to become a member of the kingdom of heaven. It is the same injustice that saved Nineveh. Our loving God, portrayed as the landowner, gives each and everyone of us, not what we deserve thanks be to God. Instead, we get what we don’t deserve. We get the gift of eternal life and adoption as children of a loving God.

It is a gift we could never earn, not by working a full day or by working an hour. We have to accept this as a gift freely offered by God. That is the difference between this earth and the kingdom of heaven. Here on earth we end up getting what we deserve. Called by many names, our just desserts, reaping what we sow, or karma. But no matter what you call it, it is not what we get in the kingdom of heaven.

So as I think about it I’m very grateful for, what in my opinion, seems to be the injustice of the kingdom of heaven. It is what assures me of my place there.