Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The stone the builders rejected is the cornerstone



In this parable (Matthew 21:33-46) the Pharisees were indignant at the thought that they might not be as good as they thought they were.  As with the Pharisees, entitlement runs rampant in our culture.  Don’t we as citizens of this great country sometimes take our blessings for granted and live as though we are entitled and have somehow earned these blessings?  Don’t we do the same in our churches?  We act at times as though the church is something we own and possess for ourselves.  Like the tenants who leased the land, we have often been so busy tending to our own agendas and goals that we forget that the landowner is going to hold us accountable for what we have done with his land.  Rather than serving as stewards of God’s vineyard in the world we have sometimes behaved as though the church is our private club. 

The kingdom of God does not work like a marketplace.  What we do in His kingdom does not exist to serve our own agendas.  But rather it exists to serve something much greater than ourselves.  Tending to His vineyard has nothing to do with yield.  We have no idea what that yield is or will be. 

Jesus describes the violent way the tenant farmers treated the servants and the landowner’s own son.  He then asks them how they think the landowner will treat the tenant farmer.  Thoroughly entrenched in their world’s ideology of violence and retribution, the Pharisees say that the landowner will bring those retches to a miserable end.  Jesus knows that this is not quite the whole story and tells them, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”  In other words, God is not about to give up.  No matter what violent acts are perpetuated against Jesus, the Father will see that the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone. 

The kingdom is not ours.  The kingdom belongs to God.  We who live in the kingdom must enter on God’s terms and not ours.  We are just stewards.  This good news is worth sharing!



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By what authority do I do these things?

In Matthew’s deceptively simple parable (Matthew 21:23-32), Jesus invites his adversaries to look at the future, as one not dominated by the arguments and opposition of the past, but one that is open to the movement of God’s spirit to heal, revive, restore, and make all things new.

The chief priests and elders do not accept this invitation. They have too much invested in the past…their identity has been defined by their own man-made rules that they have assumed the “authority” to enforce. They have become dependent on their established identity and they refuse to trade that past for an unknown future. But look at those who are “down and out,” the dregs of society, the tax collectors and prostitutes, who discover that any identity created by their past does not have to define or follow them into the future; they eagerly grab hold of Jesus’ promise with both hands.

Throughout our readings of Matthew these past weeks, Jesus makes this same promise to us. We are forgiven solely because there is a forgiver. We are loved unconditionally; we cannot earn or lose God’s love. No matter what we have done, no matter what may have been done to us, the future is still open. Whatever hurt we may have experienced or done in the past is, ultimately…in the past. We do not have to allow the past to define our future or our identity. We do not have to drag our past around with us and take it out whenever we feel the need to linger in its memory. We are more than the sum total of all that has happened to us. The future is open. It may be difficult and seem almost impossible to let go of the past and walk into the future. After all, the past is a known entity; it’s familiar to us, whereas the future is so open…it can be scary. But when we meditate on and invoke the prayer of Thomas Merton, we know that we are not alone: l will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me alone. No, you will never leave me alone. (Partner in Preaching, David Lose, 9/22/14)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“…The last will be first, and the first will be last."

The story from our Gospel this week (Matthew 20:1-16) is one that asks us to put on the mind of the poet and think in metaphor. On the surface it defies logic and the world of “fairness” in which we live. But man’s sense of fairness and God’s “justice” are not the same. Can we blame some of the gardeners for feeling that they were duped: “what’s going on here; we worked from dusk to dawn, and these guys arrive just before closing time and they get the same pay?  That’s not fair!” Who could argue with their logic? Think of it—if you tried to run a business on the basis of paying everyone the same rate, regardless of how well and long they worked, your business wouldn’t last very long and you’d have some very disgruntled employees.

Just as God’s forgiveness requires that we turn logic on its head and suspend our belief system of “quid pro quo,” likewise God’s realm of justice and peace defies our sense of fairness. God’s love has nothing to do with logic or fairness. These are all part of a human convention and a world based on rules, laws and logic.  There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or his kingdom. In this kingdom, everyone receives the generosity of God’s grace, God’s unconditional love and God’s unfailing mercy.

David Steindel-Rast writes that “salvation” is homecoming. When love not power reigns supreme, alienation from ourselves, from all others, and from God is healed. The moment we realize we can never fall out of God’s love, we come to “ourselves” like the wayward son in the parable—to our true self at home in the God Household as a uniquely loved member of the family. And now we become catalysts for salvation of the whole world, its transformation from power and domination to service and love. Salvation—and this needs to be stressed—is not a private matter. (Deeper Than Words, Living the Apostle’s Creed, p56.)

In a very real sense, we are all “eleventh hour workers.”


Tuesday, September 9, 2014


When you're awake, the things you think
Come from the dreams you dream
Thought has wings, and lots of things
Are seldom what they seem
Sometimes you think you've lived before
All that you live today
Things you do come back to you
As though they knew the way  
Robert Capon Farrar tells us that God does not forgive our transgressions because we have made ourselves forgivable. There is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness. We are forgiven solely because there is a Divine forgiver who loves us unconditionally. There is nothing we can do to earn it or lose his love.(Matthew 18:21-35)

Love is at the core of Jesus’ teachings and forgiveness is why he died and was resurrected. Why is it then that we have such a hard time forgiving? Is it because it’s so closely tied to memory and the human inability to forget? These two human behaviors are really mutually exclusive, yet we blithely say as if it’s even possible, “let’s forgive and forget.” No wonder we have a difficult time looking at personal hurt as Jesus did. He did not tell us to forget about it; he told us to see God in those who have hurt us and just let it go.  

We now approach another anniversary of September 11, 2001, an infamous day in our history, which for those of us living here in the Northeast, carries with it even stronger hurts and remembrances of those loved ones who lost their lives. We will remember them but can we “forgive and forget?” I don’t think so. Perhaps if we dwell on the memory of those loved ones we lost on that fateful Tuesday, we can begin or at least continue the process of forgiving. However, it’s easier said than done. To that end, I find the words of Anthony Padovano particularly comforting as we reflect on the importance of remembering: 

When we remember, we leave the present for the past. To say it better, we bring the past into the present and give it life alongside the tangible realities we are compelled to consider. In our memory of a loved one we choose to relate to him/her even though, since he is not present, we need not relate to him. Not physical presence but love leads us to live with this remembered person even in her absence. When the love is strong, the memory of this absent person may be dearer and more real than the reality of those who are present. Memory is sometimes the difference between life and death, between hope and despair, between strength for another day and the collapse of all meaning. Our memory of another confers the present upon him, gives him further life in our life, and keeps a moment of the past from drifting away or fading into death. We are fed and nourished by communion of life in which two lives intersect in memory and merge into common experience. No lover forgets. No beloved is forgotten. The memory of love is life; the memory of another becomes our selves. So when the communion of believers remembers Jesus, when the bride is alive with the thought of her Spouse, Christ is present. Jesus is brought into the present with his grace by the force of memory in the power of the Spirit…The gift of the Sprit is fidelity to the memory of life’s mystery and confidence in the mystery of its future.  (Anthony Padovano, Dawn without Darkness)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014




Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his Life Together that the harmony we often envision and seek in the Christian community is not all that likely or perhaps even possible.  In fact, he says, you and I have no right or reason to be disillusioned when such harmony doesn't meet our expectations.  For it is somehow in this very experience of our community not meeting our own hopes and dreams that we actually finally discover our 'life together' … not because we necessarily like one another or agree with one another…but because of the ways in which our struggles enable us to see more clearly and to be all the more grateful for what Christ has done for us.  Christ died for forgiveness.  With all our hurts and sometimes our hurting one another, this is where God put us and this is who God put us with to learn from and to grow with.  And it is in our differences and in our struggles that Jesus speaks of forgiveness and helps to make our Gospel reading more relevant at this time, for me at least. Matthew 18:21-35

True forgiveness is best experienced when we can examine our own faults and recognize our need for God... which is what our struggles also do.  Bonhoeffer's points out: “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves.” (pp. 26-27)

 Bonhoeffer is saying that it is in our differences, our struggles and our hurts that we encounter and receive God's grace and gift most completely.  It is then that we are able to see Christ in our neighbors.  It is then that we are able to be loved in spite of ourselves. It is then when we know most deeply our own need for God. 

Now it is possible that in Bonhoeffer's time and place, church conflict was more virulent than it is today.  Although there were times when all I wanted to do was to slide into a pew near the back and be soothed by the familiar strains of the liturgy, all the while hoping that no one would notice me or ask more from me. Still, most of the time it has been important to me to look for and experience that sense of connection to others. And yet when I have done so, when I have allowed myself to go more deeply in relationship with those God has put me with, I found these words of Bonhoeffer particularly relevant: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes the destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (p. 27) 

What an important reminder it is to me to know that just because I am hurt or disappointed does not mean that this group of God's people is not of God's design.  And when I have had the patience to live through the struggle, I have learned over and over again that over time and hard earned shared experience the connections do go deeper than anything I would have put together on my own, with my all too human tendency to surround myself with people who think and do as I think and do.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Life Together, The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)