Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sermon: Jesus’ Unfinished Parable

Jesus’ Unfinished Parable

              I’ll say this every time, because I think it is so important… parables are stories told about one thing to make a point about another, 
they should never be easily digestible, but instead sit with you for a while, your subconscious working on it, working it into your life
… they are to be chewed on until they chew on you.
              Parables often seem simple, but grow and their meaning expands.
              Parables, especially the ones Jesus tells, often end with a zinger—a sharp barb to blow away the listeners… 
              But today, I would suggest that Jesus never gets to the zinger—the flow of the story is interrupted by the force of the Pharisee’s concerns… I would suggest, today’s parable is unfinished… Jesus’ unfinished parable.
Further, I would suggest Jesus’ unfinished parable 
1.       parallels Isaiah’s vineyard-song, 
2.       is stopped short by the self-condemnation of the religious leaders, 
3.       and is ultimately finished in Jesus’ own body.


Jesus’ unfinished parable parallels Isaiah’s vineyard-song.
              “Have you heard the one about the landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press, built up a watch-tower…”
              In my holy Imagination—I figure Peter probably stopped him short, saying, “Oh yes, Jesus, I have heard that one… it’s Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard that produced rotten grapes (or as the NRSV accurately but unhelpfully translates “wild grapes”)… 
              Then Peter would go on and remind the crowd about that story—how God so lovingly cultivated a relationship with His people--gave the Laws of Moses, acquiesced to anointing David and his line King, went along with his people through thick and thin, provided the prophets as things got worse
… and yet, somehow, for all the pleasant planting…
 justice was jilted and produced bloodshed, 
the seeds of righteousness yielded cries of horror. 
This is about our nation’s relationship with God! Peter would add.
              I’d imagine most nations could fit their own decline into a similar model—here in the US our laws and Bill of Rights were planted in order to bring forth the fruits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
—yet the first amendment has produced unexpected produce
Twitter wars and ugly ugly comments sections
—the second amendment has produced rotten fruit
58 dead and 489 wounded in about 10 minutes.
              Indeed, Isaiah speaks of good seed gone rotten.

Jesus’ unfinished parable is stopped short by the self-condemnation of the religious leaders
              After Peter’s aside, Jesus continues, 
“the land was leased and the landlord left, sent a servant to collect what was owed him… this servants were beat, and a second killed, and a third stoned—more and more servants arrived, and more and more often they were treated so badly—their bodied became compost and fertilizer for the tenants’ gardens…
              So then, the Landowner sent his son, who the tenants plotted against, and seized, and took from the vineyard, and killed!
              “What,” Jesus asked, “will the landowner do to these tenants?”

              And here’s where things get funny—I’d imagine when I read this today, you all heard the response as coming from Jesus—but in point of fact, the next words are those of the religious leaders, the Pharisees and temple officials, and such…
              Their response is: “kill ‘em and take their stuff!”
              “Respond to hate with hate!”

              My dear siblings in Christ—this is not the Kingdom of God that Jesus is preaching… 
an eye for an eye—not Jesus!
not turning the other cheek… not Jesus!
              In fact, it isn’t even the kind of thing a Pharisee should get behind….
              After all, there is the story of the foreigner who came to the Rabbis Shammai and Hillel and ask them to give a gloss of the law—asked for a summary of the Jewish faith during Jesus’ time—while hopping on one foot—so it had to be quick about it.
 (To get you a sense on these two religious leader’s perspectives—when asked about telling little white lies, Hillel said “a bride is always the prettiest woman in the world on her wedding day” Shammai responded, “you can’t lie even then, if she’s a pig she’s a pig, and you tell her that to her face.”)
              Shammai, true to form, told the foreigner to get out.
              Hillel, however hopped there on one leg and said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, the rest is commentary.”

              Yes, that golden rule that reigns across cultures and religions, is ignored by these religious leaders who respond to Jesus.
              And by their words, they condemn themselves…. Its like when the prophet Nathen tells King David a story about a vile sheep stealer, King David goes berserk and then is told, “you are that man.”
              As these religious leaders have sewn, so now they shall reap.
              That which they wished upon others, their words of judgment, are now the length by which they are measured.

              They lose their authority in that moment, and, at least in Matthew’s eyes, it is picked up by Jesus’ fishermen disciples.
              It’s like that dog carrying a bone, who walks to a pond, sees his reflection and thinks it another dog with a bone, is angry at it, and barks, dropping the bone into the water, from which it may not be retrieved.
              And Jesus all but drops the rest of his story—leaving the religious leaders with enough rope to hand themselves… the parable is left unfinished.

              The parable is left unfinished…
But Jesus’ unfinished parable is ultimately finished in Jesus’ own body.

              Unfinished, at least, in so far as it is a spoken thing, a story pointing to a reality… 
but this story Jesus tells is another way
—he embodies it, lives the story in reality, that the story might be told to the whole world.
              Have you heard the one about the landowner, who deeply loved his vineyard, poured himself into it, leased it to tenants, sent servants to collect the fruits of his labor… Jeremiah was thrown down a well, Isaiah ridiculed, John beheaded—then God sent his son, Jesus.
              The Son was seized, taken outside the walls of Jerusalem—that vineyard, and killed.
              But he did not stay dead.
              He came and said
              “Be Not Afraid.”
              He intercedes with the Landowner.
              Takes on that miserable death, recommended by the religious leaders, and takes it out of play.
              Pays off the lease of that vineyard, with his precious blood.
              Bears our pain and our grief.
              The son, rejected, bears upon his back a new world.
              The son, renews every garden and every vineyard.
              The son, works tirelessly to collect sorrow and produces from it all good fruit.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sermon: The Ways of Worship

         Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi
         Rather loosely translated: “the way we worship, is the way we believe, is the way we live.”
         Our belief and our very way of being in the world, are shaped by what we do in worship. This may be why most conflicts in church involve the so called “worship wars.”
It is also why some of us are feeling a little tense here at St. Stephen. After 47 years of music done one way by one person, it is now being done a slightly different way, by a different person
—no matter how good it is, and let me tell you it is good
—it is different, and is shaping our life together differently. 
We’re in a re-calibration period
if you make this motion with your smartphone () you’ve just recalibrated where up, down, left, and right are for Googlemaps… 
so too here in worship we’re figuring out where up, down, left, and right are today—and that’s a big deal, it shapes our way of belief and way of life.
Let us pray,

         “the way we worship, is the way we believe, is the way we live.”
         I bring all of this up today—because we find in Paul’s letter to the Philippians one of the earliest Christian hymns. Paul is describing how the community at Philippi ought to live together (Lex Vivendi)—he’s describing the Christian life as loving, harmonious, Christ seeking—avoiding selfishness and embracing humility, looking out for the best interest of other people—having the mind of Christ!
         At which point, Paul has painted himself into a corner—He may have asked himself, “what does that look like in an emotional, experiential—clear, way?” 
… and then like a thunder bolt, he bellows forth this Hymn to Christ—a song he assumes everyone in the congregation he is writing to would know, because they’ve used it in worship…
         It would be like if I was writing a letter to a community that needs to know they are loved, and I just couldn’t give words to that reality—and I swept into that familiar song, “Jesus loves me this I know.”

         This song Paul quotes in verses 6-11, sings about Jesus being so deeply in love with the world that he would accept all humiliations, to re-unite God and the Cosmos, the Creator and the Creation.
He gave up his grip on Godhood, so he would have no advantage
Emptied himself of all except humanity, becoming mortal
Showed us true servanthood and humility
Died a death like ours, even execution with criminals.

And God lifted him up, and saw fit to offer him favor
Giving him the name at which all knees bow in honor
“Jesus is Lord” the confession on every tongue
With this worship all worlds—top to bottom and everything in between—give Glory to God!
         And today, as we worship, with critters and pictures of critters here and there, we do so:
Not because it is cute—though it is.
Not because it encourages visitors—though it does.

But because it is telling that story, that Jesus loves this world so deeply, 
not just those who avoid criminal execution, 
not just those of able body or mind who are living well,
not just those who are high and mighty—bold and brash
—no… heaven, earth, even those things below
—all of creation cared for, blessed
—Jesus Christ in the flesh here for ALL of us! 
For critters and people, habitation and habitat, 
the smallest quark and the largest galaxy, and even all potential universes. 
Christ comes to enfold them all, us all, in God’s loving arms.

         And as we live our lives, let us trust that:
God is among the humble—those unnoticed by the world.
God is there in the midst of death—I know I can’t get those images of grave devastation in Puerto Rico off my mind… God is there in that.
God is dying with the executed, and everyone else as well… Dying for all the world, that all the world might live in God!

And as you trust these thing to be true, may God enable you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure. A+A

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Concluding Romans Rewrite

Dear Siblings in Christ,
         This shall be the final letter I, Paul, write to you all.
         I blush, just thinking of how to sum it all up.
         I guess, if I had to sum it all up, it would be with the single word—reconciliation.

         In Rome, the divisions between Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian came out most fully at mealtime.
The Traditionalist Jewish Christians—I will call them the Weak—refused to eat Meat, because it had been sacrificed to Idols.
The Liberated Gentile Christians—I will call them the Strong—went ahead and ate this meat, assured that if there is only one God, then the Idols are nothing.
         These divisions may sound silly to you today—but I assure you these were issues that could make or break the Christian community in Rome—or anywhere else. Issues of Traditionalism and Liberty at tension in community—that’s nothing new, nor I would add, something old.
         The revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed of God
-turns everything upside down,
-it shakes the whole world and reshapes the universe.
         Every division is fractured, every signal of separation is split!
…But then what?
How do we all live together after this earthquake-level shift?
This spiritual flood that transforms the landscape of life, forever?

         You Traditionalist, you Weak Ones!
Everything you held dear, every way of measuring things—just doesn’t work any more. You lack the vision to value this new world in which you live!
Your ongoing judgment is an attempt to take away God’s job—is it not written, “Judgment is mine says the LORD”?
         You need to go back to the font of faith—recommit to trusting God… that even in the strange new world we find ourselves, God continues to act
yes—even here—God is faithful…trust God, even when it feels like up is down and left is right.
Even in the chaos of the world as it now is, trust that God has not abandoned you—in fact, God goes ahead of you, crossing every boundary you’ve decided is the mark in the sand; decided it is the place you will not cross.
If Christ can cross the boundary of death—I assure you he can cross any barrier you try to put up to uphold your understanding of morality and mortality.
         Those things that your fellow Christians are doing that seem out of bounds—look at them carefully, try, really try, to see how they are honoring and giving thanks to God in a new way.
Accept that they are honoring God differently, and how they are living is a matter between them and God.

         Now… you better wipe that smile off your face, you so called Liberated Ones—you “Strong” Ones!
Sure, you’ve figured out how to ride the chaos of this time period, of all these changes.
In fact, you got it right! You are living faithfully in this new world—you’ve read the Spirit’s calling more faithfully than the Traditionalists, you trust God in the midst of all these things…
         You’ve got it right… so don’t make fools of yourself!
Don’t despise the Traditionalists!
Don’t live in this new way in such a way that their consciences can’t handle it.
Make sure you do things with a good intention, and don’t leave room for people to mimic you in a way that makes a mockery out of your new and faithful way of being Christian.
         You need to know, when I discovered Christian Liberty it was the best thing I’d ever known, if you make it Libertine you debase the most excellent of things!
         Do you hear me? Being right in such a way that you ruin someone else’s ability to trust God is always wrong!
         If your liberation means you no longer love your fellow Christian—then it isn’t really liberation!
         To you both, both weak and strong alike—I say by way of prayer: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another as Christ Jesus would wish it, so with one voice you might Glorify God!”

         Glorify God; be an offering to God!
         Be an offering to God, by the way you share with one another and with those in need.
         Be an offering to God, by living your whole life as little Christs.
         Be an offering to God, by being reconciled to one another, and in so doing break open the whole world, that it might be knit together again—that the discordant chords sung about the earth might hear your sweet song and become the mightiest melody to ever exist!

         I sing out to God on your behalf, “bring them pardon and peace. Reconcile them all, O’ Lord.”
         The Church, the Body of Christ
-when its divisions end…
-when Christians come together in love…
-when you say “The Peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.” And mean it…
         That reminds the world of what God has done in Jesus… that is, the ultimate victory of Christ over the power of Sin, Death, and the Devil—its there, in your midst!
         It is what makes Jesus known as Christ!
         Reconciliation within Christian community, reveals that Jesus is the Anointed One!

         Cling always to Christ Jesus revealed to us by God the All-wise, to whom be the glory forever, through that same Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Some Thoughts on the #NashvilleStatement

Here are some thoughts on the Nashville Statement

              I wonder, in this moment in time, with so many things going on—white nationalism on the rise in this country threatening people of color, increasingly severe storms causing havoc both at home and across the globe (most noticed in Houston), nations threatening nuclear war… in the midst of all these things… I wonder why the Nashville Statement was released?
              You attack individual autonomy when it comes to issues of sex, gender, and orientation. I wonder if a similarly strong attack will be made regarding how individual autonomy shapes economic, ecological, and political life in this country? I shall not hold my breath.
              You declare gay and trans lives to be shortsighted, ruinous, and dishonorable. Then you pat yourself on the back as an unashamed courageous and clearly counter-cultural force in this country. I wonder how such counter-cultural people have gained a seat at the table of the President of the United States, and I wonder still more why this document was released to coincide with his administration’s roll out of anti-trans and anti-gay agenda items?
              I marvel at how you have sold yourself for pottage. You claim our “true identity” is as male and female—but scripture declares that our true identity is the one we have been given in baptism—we are Children of God.
In fact, you double down on this point and link a person’s gender, being male and female, to a person’s salvation. “Design” and salvation are tied together for you. There was a time when my denomination’s namesake, Martin Luther, stood against what he believed to be salvation by works. I think you go one step worse—salvation by right self-conception. As a Lutheran I must deny this—our actions, or thoughts, or anything this is ours, will not save us. We are saved only because God is gracious.

Article 1
              I have noticed you have dishonored every marriage that does not produce children and any remarriage after divorce. You also ignore the reality that when clergy perform marriages we do so partially as officials of the state. There is literally a human contract involved in what we do.
Article 2
              How often do you wed two virgins in your church? How many of you were virgins on your wedding night? I worry that these types of statements, that ignore the facts on the ground, often serve to make the church look foolish, out of touch, and easily dismissed. I remember being told not to lust by a pastor, that if I looked at a girl with lust I truly ought to pluck out my eye. I was a teenage boy going through puberty, this scared the hell out of me. When I finally went to a lay adult with my genuine struggle to be perfect, his response was, “just don’t listen to the pastor, no one ever actually does anything like that.”
Article 3
              In what ways are male and female distinct? Which differences are the ones that matter, which are the “divinely ordained differences”? I would venture to guess that decision will be made by mainly men, at least judging by the average signer of this statement.
              I wonder, if sexual difference does not render inequality of dignity or worth, does that mean you will work to close the gender pay gap? That you will fight for the Equal Rights Amendment? That you will ordain women…
Article 4
              It seems to me that discerning what aspects of our present life are part of “the fall” and which are “divinely ordained” is not an easy thing to discern. After all, when God showed up on earth the religious leaders of his day crucified him, and the Apostle Paul, no slouch when it comes to biblical interpretation, attacked the early church on account of his reading of Deuteronomy—he who dies upon a tree is cursed. If you think God’s will is clear, you will likely crucify Christ and persecute his church.
Article 5
              Taking this affirmation seriously for a moment, this would mean part of a man’s self-conception ought to be non-monogamy, as our “reproductive structures” contain enough sperm to knock-up the whole planet a hundred times over. Natural Law arguments only work if you ignore nature.
Article 6
              You seem to mean well.
Article 7
              Again, you’ve tied self-conception to redemption, you lean toward salvation by self-conception. How does God save me based on my manliness?
I wonder as well, how this and article 5 play out. One looks to natural law, the other to scripture. For that matter, what all does the bible say about sexuality, gender, and orientation?
Article 8
              I wonder how many married gay people you’ve talked to? By and large their marriages and relationships with their partners have made their lives richer and more fruitful. I’ve seen the fruits of the Spirit blossom on account of homosexual relationships.
              I also wonder how this article squares with your natural law arguments. If homosexual sex is found in most every animal in nature, how then is it unnatural?
Article 9
              Again, if article 5 means anything you have to take seriously sexual desire as natural.
Article 10
              If supporting homosexual marriage and transgender people is a sin, then I’ll sin boldly.
              By the same token, there are ways in which fellow Christians can disagree, respect for the bound conscience of the neighbor. But if you aren’t practicing it in your statement, I shall not do so in my response.
Article 11
              This is a strange article. I hope it is not saying we ought to purposefully misgender people. Maybe its call for truth about one another as male and female calls us to fight toxic masculinity and sexism?
Article 12
              You all are pietists!
              You seem to believe people might be holy before the general resurrection. Yet we are both justified and sinner—claiming otherwise leads people to hide their sins and foster hypocrisy. We’re only as sick as our secrets. Don’t make people sick with false promises.
Article 13
              Your ongoing assumption that you know God’s revealed will reeks of self-aggrandizement. At the same time you don’t know if you are affirming “natural law” or “scripture” and seem not to have actually thought through any of it beyond that you require gender, sex, and orientation to align for everyone in the way that it does for the majority of people.
              Also, have you talked to transgender-folk about their struggles to “forsake transgender self-conceptions”? Have you talk to them about the liberation they have experienced when they’ve become who they believe God has called them to be?
Article 14
I like The Denver Statement’s response to this:
“WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person; this is a supreme treasure.

WE DENY that God is a boy and has actual arms.