Sunday, October 25, 2020

21 Pentecost

 


October 25, 2020

 

Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22.34-46

 

+ Last week, in my sermon, I preached about the Shema.

 

The Shema is a profession of faith from the Deuteronmony 6.5-9 that goes like this:

 

Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 

 

The Shema is the prayer all Jewish men are required to pray twice each day, once in the morning and once at night.

 

Although I’m of course not Jewish, I also do that.

 

I also pray the Shema each morning upon waking up and each night before bed.

 

It’s a good spiritual practice.

 

But it’s more than that.

 

It’s the heart of what we believe as followers of Jesus and believers in the God of Jesus.

 

For me, as you all know, as you have heard me preach over and over again from this pulpit over the many years I’ve been with you here, this is what it’s all about.

 

This Gospel reading isn’t just a summary of the Law.

 

It is a summary of Christianity itself.

 

This is what we must do as Christians.

 

Plain.

 

And seemingly simply (but maybe not so simple).

 

Now, I once was scolded a bit—this was at another congregation, mind you—for preaching too much about love.

 

“You always preach about love,” this parishioner told me.

 

Yup.

 

I sure do.

 

And if it was meant as a criticism, I do not take it that way.

 

I wear it proudly as a badge of honor.

 

Because the fact remains that this is essentially all Jesus preached about as well.

 

And it it’s good enough for him, it’s sure good enough for me.

 

The gist of everything Jesus said or did was based solidly on what we hear him summarize in this morning’s Gospel.

 

In fact,

 

Every sermon and parable he preached, was based on what we heard today.

 

Every miracle, and even that final act on the cross, was based solidly on what we heard this morning.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear.

 

Which commandment is the greatest? he is asked.

 

And he replied: “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 you neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

He can’t get any clearer, as far as I’m concerned.

 

And it is these two commandments, both of which are solidly and unashamedly based in love, that he again and again professes.

 

Every day of his adult life, Jesus prayed this prayer.

 

 It was the basis of his entire spiritual life.

 

And this commandment, along with the commandment to love others, is the basis for his entire teaching.

 

When he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” we can also add the Gospel.

 

The Gospel, along with the Law and the prophets, is based on these commandments.

 

And so is our entire faith as Christians.

 

I don’t think I can get any clearer on this.

 

I hear so often from Christians—not a whole lot of Episcopalians, but other Christians—that their faith as a Christian is based solely on accepting Jesus Christ as their “personal” Lord and Savior.

 

I have no problem with that in actuality.

 

Our Baptismal promises in the Book of Common Prayer are based on accepting Jesus as our Savior as well.

 

In the Baptismal promises we are asked that all-important question:

 

“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”

 

And, of course, we do.

 

But, for Jesus, the real heart of the matter is not in such a professions of faith.

 

He never commands us to make such statements for salvation.

 

What he does command us to do again and again, to love.

 

To love God.

 

And to love one another.

 

And, as you’ve heard me say, Sunday after Sunday from this pulpit, when we fail to love, we fail to be Christians.

 

Any time we fail in these two commandments, we fail to be Christians.

 

We turn away from following Jesus and we turn away from all that it means to be a Christian. I think the organized Church sometimes misses this fact.

 

And we, as Christians, sometimes miss this fact as well.

 

We sometimes think: maybe this is too simple.

 

Love God, love others.

 

It’s just too simple.

 

Well, first of all: it is not.

 

It is not easy to love God.

 

It is not easy to love Someone who is, for the most part, invisible to us.

 

And, as we struggle with all the time in our lives, it is not easy to love others.

 

I don’t need to tell anyone here this morning that is sometimes very hard to love others.

 

So, it is not too simple.

 

But we still want something more occasionally.

 

We sometimes fall into the trap of depending on things like dogma, or the Law, or Canons (or Church Laws), or any of the other rules that define it all for us specifically.

 

Certainly, when we start doing so, we enter dangerous territory. 

 

The fact is, all of those things, confessional statements, dogmas, church laws or any of those complicated rules, are pointless if they are not based on these two laws of loving God and loving others.

 

If anyone wants to know what Christians believe and who we are, these two Laws are it.

 

They define us.

 

They guide and direct us.

 

And when we fail to do them, let me tell you, they convict us and they judge us.

 

So, yes, I know I am guilty of preaching the same thing all the time.

 

But I do unashamedly.

 

I do so proudly.

 

I do so without any sense of remorse.

 

Here I stand.

 

Because all I am doing when I preach about loving God and loving others, is what Jesus did.

 

I am following Jesus when I preach those laws.

 

But more importantly than preaching about them, I hope we can all strive to live those laws in our lives,

 

I try to in my own life as Christian and as a priest.

 

 

I try to help others to do that as well.

 

So, let us love unashamedly.

 

Let us love without limit.

 

Let us love radically.

 

As our reading from Leviticus tells us, “let us be holy” because our God is holy.

 

Let the love that guides us and directs and, yes judges us and convicts us, be the one motivating factor in our lives.

 

Let it be the foundation and basis of each ministry we are called to do.

 

Let love—that radical, all-encompassing, all-accepting love—be what drives us.

 

And let us—each of us—be known to everyone by our love.

 

Let us pray.

Holy God, help us in our following of your Son Jesus that we me might embody and fully live out the Law of loving you fully and loving others with a true, all-encompassing, all-accepting love. We ask this in his name. Amen.

 

 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

20 Pentecost

 


October 17, 2020

 

Matthew 22.15-22

 

+ Last week, in our Gospel reading, I was blunt—and honest—with you.

 

I told you then that I did not like the parable we were told by Jesus.

 

It was a difficult story that, by today’s standards, would’ve been torn to  pieces by critics.

 

But if we’re patient in our faithful listening to these Gospels, we can almost be assured that for every one story we might not like—like last week’s story—there will be one that we really get.

 

Today, is one of those Gospel readings.

 

I like this Gospel reading.

 

In it we find Jesus being confronted by the Herodians and the Pharisees, both of whom are enemies of each other, but for this brief moment, they are ganging up on Jesus.

 

I love it when Jesus and the Pharisees go head-to-head.

 

Actually, I feel kind of sorry for the Pharisees.

 

They think they’re really smart and clever, but they’re really not.

 

They begin their argument with a compliment of course.

 

Yes, that’s the way to begin.

 

They know: a compliment will truly throw off the person you are about to trap.

 

But Jesus is too smart for them of course.

 

He turns their question back on them. Jesus asks about the coin.

 

He asks about a coin he, if you notice, does not carry.

 

Nor does he ever touch it.

 

As we know, Roman coins were ritually unclean in the Jewish culture.

The emperor Caesar was viewed as a god, and that made them unclean to good, pious Jews.

 

Using the coin as his reference, he lets them have it.

 

Give to God’s what is God’s, he says.

 

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

 

I can’t think of a better scripture for us during the election season, especially this particular one.

 

It seems he is making a clear distinction between the religious and the secular to some extent.

 

He seems to be making that distinction between God and government.

 

But…not really.

 

The real point he is making here can be found when we put it all in perspective.

 

Jesus and every good, loyal Jewish male there on that day—including the Pharisees— was required to pray a prayer every day.

 

Jesus no doubt prayed that prayer that morning, as did every devout Jewish male (and no doubt many Jewish females) that day.

 

The prayer is a simple prayer.

 

It’s called the Shema

 

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

 

The Shema is, of course, the summary of the Law.

 

It is a summary of all belief for a Jew. It essentially renders to God, what is God’s.

 

But if you listen closely to what the Shema says, you realize: Jesus’ statement really isn’t an either/or statement.

 

He’s simply saying that once what is God’s is rendered to God, there is nothing else.

 

There are no other options for those of us who belong to God.

 

For those who love God with all their heart, all their soul and all their might, there is nothing else.

 

Rendering anything to Caesar’s is simply not an option.

 

For us, it is a matter of realizing we don’t have the option of turning our Christianity on and off.

 

We are always followers of Jesus, we are always children of a loving God, in everything we do.

 

Everything we do and say begins and ends in following Jesus.

 

We don’t have the option of being a Christian when it suits us and being secular when it doesn’t.

 

We are a follower of Jesus all the time—in everything we do and every aspect of our lives.

 

And it is important to remind ourselves of this.

 

So what does it mean to live a life in which we give to God what is God’s?

 

It meant to do what we do best as Christians.

 

It means to love fully.

 

It means loving God fully.

 

It means loving others fully.

 

It means loving ourselves fully.

 

It means living that love out in our lives.

 

For this love that we have received from God is God’s love.

 

And we must render that love to God and to others.

 

I know.

 

It sounds so simple.

 

It sounds so basic.

 

We wonder why we ever thought it was hard or why others thought it was hard.

 

But it is a lot harder than it sounds.

 

Rendering the things that are God’s to God is not easy.

 

It is much, much easier to render the things to Caesar that are Caesar’s.

 

It is easy to let the establishment stay established.

 

It is easy to be chameleons to some extent, to change ourselves to suit whatever situation may arise so that we can quietly fade into the background, or so we can hold on, for a moment, to the control we have worked to maintain.

 

It is easy to be a Christian on Sundays but to be a regular person the rest of the week.

 

It is easy to say we’re Christians, but it’s not always east being a Christian.

 

But for us, who follow Jesus, being anything other than a follower of Jesus is a sell-out.

 

It truly is a turning away from Jesus and all he stands for.

 

It is, essentially, a way in which we turn our Christianity on and off like a switch to suit our own personal needs.

 

It is hard to be a Christian in every aspect of our lives.

 

It hard to love God in all things.

 

It is hard to love our neighbors in all things.

 

It is hard, very often to love even ourselves in all things.

 

But that is what it means to render to God the things that are God’s.

 

It means giving to God all that is God’s.

 

And we belong to God.

 

We are the conduits of that all-loving, all-accepting God.

 

We are the bearers of that radical, all-powerful love of God.

 

So let us truly render to God what is God’s.

 

Let us live out our lives in the love we have received from God.  

 

Let us live fully in this holy and all-consuming love, sharing what we are nourished on here with everyone.

 

And with God’s love within us in this way, let us be that radical Presence of love and acceptance to all those we encounter.

 

Let us pray.

Holy and loving God, help us in what we render to you, that it will be fruitful and will further the Kingdom you have established here among us; we ask this in the name of Jesus your Son. Amen.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

19 Pentecost

 


October 11, 2020

Isaiah 25.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14

+ I believe I’ve shared this with you before, but in case you haven’t heard it, I’ll tell it again.

 

When I was finishing up my Master of Fine Arts some twenty+ years ago, I did my critical thesis on my view that there were two types of writers.

 

There were those writers who were on the inside looking out.

 

And there were those who were on the outside looking in.

 

If you think about it, it’s actually quite true.

 

Think about your favorite writer or poet or playwright or novelist or filmmaker or theologian.

 

Think of about their perspective on life or the world.

 

And you can guess about where your favorite poet-priest is on that spectrum (it’s not hard to guess)

 

If you examine them closely you will see that they are either on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in.

 

And since the writer’s perspective is all-important to literature, these perspectives are vital.

 

Essentially then there are the “insiders” and the “outsiders.”

 

It was fun for me to explore these two perspectives in literature for that thesis.

 

But, later, as a priest, I have discovered that these perspectives—literature itself—truly does reflect reality.

 

As you look at your own life, you no doubt think you have a pretty clear understanding of where you stand on that spectrum.

 

You probably think either that you are the outsider or the insider.

 

But, I always caution people on this.

 

Don’t be quick to claim one or the other, because this perspective might change in your life.

 

Circumstances might often put you in the opposite perspective.

 

Or sometimes, your own choices put you in that perspective

 

I’ve seen it happen again and again.

 

And I see it very clearly in our Gospel reading for today—a reading that caused a great amount of personal struggle this past week.

 

And “struggle” is definitely the right word for this reading.

It’s a weird story, to say the least.

It’s just such a pointless story isn’t it?

I know, I shouldn’t be saying that about a parable.

But, to be honest, I just don’t like it.

The structure is so off.

There’s almost nothing, at face value, worth redeeming.

I just don’t like the story.

But…let’s not throw it out yet.

Let’s not completely abandon this story just because we find it unpleasant.

If we did that every time we read the scriptures…well…I’ll just leave it there.

First of all, it definitely seems that Matthew has an agenda in this story.

Obviously Matthew is directing this to his fellow Jewish believers.  

And when we see it from that perspective, it kind of starts making a bit of sense.

So, let’s reframe the story a bit:

The first guests, as we discover, are Israel.

The first slaves represent the prophets, who were also beaten up and killed for trying to tell them what God wanted.

The second slaves are the apostles.

And, if you notice, the second group of people are very different than the first group.

That’s because they’re the Church.

At this point, “everyone” has been invited.

“Everyone” is a very important clue to this story.

“Everyone” means everyone.

So, what Matthew is trying to have Jesus tell us is that Israel ignored God’s message, and as a result, the Kingdom was given to others.

Last week, I preached about how sobering that thought is—the fact that the Kingdom of God can be given to others.

So, we have these slaves going out and inviting.

The apostles were called by Jesus to do just that.

They were called to invite everyone—not just the elite.

Not just the best guests.

Not the fancy wedding guests.

Everyone.

To echo my original thought: for Jesus, everyone is invited to be an “insider” in the Kingdom of God.

You don’t have be on the outside looking in to this Kingdom.

That’s great. That’s wonderful.

But, what happens next in the story is the real pivot here.

The second coming happens.

This is the “final judgment.”

The King arrives!

Now, that sounds great.

We’re all looking forward to the Second Coming.

We’re all looking forward to the King—Jesus—arriving.

But wait….

It’s not all pleasant and beautiful.

Why?

Because someone gets thrown out.

This poor guy who isn’t wearing a wedding robe gets thrown out.

What?

Wait!

Didn’t Father Jamie just say that Jesus invites everyone to be an “insider” in the Kingdom?

So, what’s this now?

If everyone gets invited, who cares if someone is wearing a robe or not?

Now it sounds terrible to us.

But, but, but…

Let’s keep it in the context of its time.

At that time, not wearing the wedding robe that was provided to the guests was an insult.

It was essentially a way of saying that, Yes, I’m here at the wedding, yes I’m going to eat and drink, but I’m not really going to participate.

I’m going to get what I need out of this, but once I do, I’m gone.

I’m not really going to make a commitment to this feast.

I’m going to be a bad guest.

And this is the real gist of this story.

Now, we’ve all known bad guests.

We’ve seen them at weddings.

We’ve had them at parties.

We’ve seen them here in church.

They’re people who come and take and take and take, and expect the host (or hosts) to do everything for them, but then don’t participate.

They stand off to the side, and complain, and backbite and fold their arms when something doesn’t go THEIR way.

They nitpick and complain over and over again about every little detail.

They refuse the wedding garment—they refuse the gifts that have been given to them.

Now, the good thing about this is that, it’s all about choice.

We all have a choice.

We choose to go to “the wedding.”

We choose to be a good guest or a bad guest.

God did not make us into mindless robots.

But there are ramifications to what we choose.

My motto for life, as you have heard me say a million times, (especially recently)  is this:

the chickens always come home to roost.

The fact is, by not wearing the robe, we’re not really present.

We’re saying “no” to the King.

For us, it’s kind of the same.

We can be here.

We can sit here in our pews or watch at home.

But we don’t have to be a part of it all.

We can be obstinate.

We can cross our arms and critique everything about the sermon or the liturgy or the music or the way the altar is set up, etc.

We can close our minds and hearts and be bitter and complain.

We can nitpick or backbite or stomp our heels because we don’t like it.

We can “choose” to be the outsider.

We’ve all known those kind of people in the church.

You know what, sometimes I am that person in church.

I, the priest, am often that way in regard to the larger Church at times.

Sometimes I am obstinate, and I complain about things.

I’ll confess: I pride myself on being the “outsider.”

After all, I’ve been an outsider for a long time.

It’s a choice I made.

And there are consequences to that choice.

I can be continue to stand aloof, my arms crossed and frown at everything.

 Or I can be a part of it all.

And not just here, in church on Sunday.

As we know, it’s a lot more than just church on Sunday that makes us Christians—that makes us good or bad Christians.

Ultimately, it is about what we do out there.

If we are jerks to people, if we are close-minded, if we judgmental, if we’re sexist and homophobic and mean-spirited, or if we support fascists and Nazis,  then we’re not really doing a good job as Christians.

If we refuse to love, we’re refusing the wedding robe.

The fact is, everyone is invited to the banquet.

I say it again and again.

We’re all invited.

And, here’s the rub:

it really isn’t hard to get in.

At all.

But sometimes it is really hard to be a good guest at the banquet.

Sometimes, we really just don’t want to participate.

Sometimes, you know what, I just don’t want to be a part of it.

Sometimes it’s just easier to cross my arms and pout in the corner.

Sometimes it’s just easier to critique and complain and find fault.

Sometimes it’s easier to not love and respect others.

Because, we’ve so often not been loved and not respected by others.

Sometimes, we’re just used to being on the outside looking in.

And sometimes it’s just hard to make the transition to being an “insider” after being outside for so long.

And that’s our choice to react like that.

But it’s not what is expected of us.

We’ve been invited to the banquet!

We have an easy “in” to the banquet!

We are invited, finally, to be an “insider.”

We should be glad!

We should be excited.

We should don that wedding robe and do whatever else needs to be done to be a good guest.

Because, here’s the other stark reality of it all:

It’s not fun being the outsider.

I can tell you that by first-hand experience.

It is not fun being all by one’s self on the outside of the party, looking in at everyone who’s there.

But, that’s sometimes where we put ourselves.

That’s where we often go to pout and feel bad about ourselves.

Luckily Jesus, who truly does love us, who truly does want us at the banquet, never lets us stay out there—outside the party—for long.

Jesus does not let us stay the “outsider” for very long.

The invitation from Jesus keeps coming.

“Come in,” he says to us. “Come in from the cold. Come in from the dark. Come in and join my party.”

Because, it IS a party.

And all he have to do accept the invitation.

All we have to do is put on the wedding garment.

That’s all the bad guests had to do to rejoin the party.

So, let’s do just that.

Let’s put on the wedding robe.

Let us not cast ourselves off into the exterior.

Let us not alienate ourselves with our bitterness and anger.

But let us join the banquet in love.

Let us heed the invitation.

Let us celebrate, and be joyful and be glad.

That’s what our Host wants from us.

And when we do, we can truly echo those words we hear today from Isaiah:

“This is our God, the one for whom we have waited…

Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.”

Let us pray.

Holy God, gracious God, as we await anxiously the coming of your Kingdom, help us to make welcome all those who seek this Kingdom especially to those who are on the outside looking in. Only then, when we are all gathered together with you, will w actually be your Kingdom; we ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.