Sunday, October 30, 2011

20 Pentecost

October 30, 2011

Matthew 23.1-12


+ A few weeks ago, right here, in St. Stephen’s, one of our Moravian guests stopped me and said, very nicely: “You know, I will never call you Father.”

“Okay,” I said.

He then proceeded to quote our Gospel reading this morning.

“And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.”

I then proceeded to tell him what I tell everyone who has a problem with this issue: “It doesn’t matter to me what I am called.”

And it really doesn’t. I’ve never really insisted on anyone calling me “Father.” I use more out of convenience than anything any thing else. After all, I—and all of us as Episcopalians—do come from a tradition in which the male priest can be called Father—and, in more modern times, the female priest as “Mother”. Some people find either title uncomfortable, for various and very understandable reasons. And I hope that if they do find it uncomfortable, they don’t use it.

The sad fact is, there aren’t a whole lot of equally acceptable titles for clergy out there. “Pastor” just doesn’t cut it with me—at least not here where every Protestant clergy person is “Pastor.” Also, Pastor is not a traditionally Episcopal title.

And Reverend is grammatically wrong. We don’t call a priest “Reverend Jamie” anymore than we call a judge, “Honorable Janet.”.

Of course, those are, for the most part, my issues and I can’t control what people will call me or not call me. Nor do I even want to. And I will remind people who have issues with calling priests “Father” or Mother” that it is their issue as well.

Recently, I followed a long drawn-out discussion on this issue on the House of Bishop/House of Deputies listerserv. The discussion got almost “shrill” at some point, and I ended up just not reading any more posts. This doesn’t come as a surprise, I’m sure, to anyone here who knows me, but I have a problem when people “command” me that I should do something. One of the reasons I am actually quite frustrated over the issue is that I have known those clergy who have abandoned their titles and demand from people that they be called by their first name. What I have seen often in these cases is that those same people who reject what they see as signs of authority, defeat their own cause. They actually, by their rejection, attempt to exercise control over their congregation by essentially dictating how they should be perceived.

As my colleague, Fr. Jared Cramer, summarizes it:

"No, I'm not hierarchical! Stop seeing me that way, I command you!"

Of course, that’s not true of every clergyperson who uses their first name. But many of the clergy that I have known personally who essentially demand it certainly seem, in my experience, to have definite authority issues. Some clergy who demand that people call them by their first name do so as an exercise of power that is at least as bad as what they claim to oppose.

Yes, I understand, as I said, that some people perceive the title of Father as some kind of male hierarchical issue. But many of those of those same people have an even bigger issue calling a woman priest “Mother.” And don’t even get me started if the reasons for not using those titles are based on some kind of anti-Catholic bias. That definitely does not cut it with me.

And as I have said a million times, none of this is really much of an issue for me. Call me Jamie, call me “Father Jamie,” call me whatever makes you comfortable.

But, I get very tired and very impatient when we spin our wheels on things like this, when we could be using our energy on much more important things like loving God and loving others and doing the ministry each of us has been called to do.

Still, if someone, like that Moravian has an issue calling me “Father,” I understand. But I do have an issue when people use the scripture we heard in today’s gospel as their basis for not callings someone “Father.” Is Jesus really telling us we should call no one “Father” other than God? Of course not. He would not have a problem with us calling our own fathers “Father,” Nor would he have a problem with us calling our Jewish clergy “Rabbi.” Or any of us who are teachers, ‘teachers or instructors.

We should not approach what Jesus is saying from that literalist point of view. He is telling people not to call hypocrites like the Pharisees “Father,” nor should we call anyone by such a term we should be reserving for God. The Pharisees were fond of placing burdens on people that were intolerable. Jesus, on the other hand, offers something much easier. He offers the yoke that is easy and the burden which is light.

Pharisees longed for things like titles, and the respect and the honor that went with them. For them, these issues of titles were a BIG deal. They would have loved to have spun their wheels, and wasted their energies debating such issues. Titles, after all, were a way for them to manipulate people and to coerce them. And titles puffed them up with pride.

We have all known people outside the church who are attached to their titles. We have known people who define themselves by the letters behind their names, or the titles like “doctor” in front of their names. Jesus, by his very example, shows us what a true servant leader is. He shows the example of what teachers, rabbis, priests and ministers and fathers and mothers should be.

A literalist view of not calling anyone father or teacher or rabbi would be ridiculous. To say that Scripture prohibits the use of “father” or “teacher” is a very selective view of scripture. It’s a way to cut and paste scripture and to manipulate it for our own means. It is a way to be more concerned about the letter of the law, than the spirit of the law. And to do so would cause us to have to ignore all those other references in scripture in which the terms “Father” or “teacher” are used in a positive way.

Even Paul refers to himself as "father" in his first letter to the Corinthians. Jesus refers to Nicodemus as a teacher of the Jews in John 3. John 8:37-39 and Luke 16:24-25 both have Abraham referred to as father, and this use is not condemned by Jesus. In his letter to the Romans [4:16-18] Paul mentions Abraham as the spiritual father of us all.

So the term "father" is clearly not a problem for Jesus or for his closest followers. The problem, as I have said, is when "father" replaces God. ”Father” becomes an issue when we give the authority to that hypocritical religious leader we call “father” who claims the authority that belongs to only God. And here is where there is some validity to the condemnation Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. If a priest misuses a title like “Father” so they can act or think in a superior way, if they use such a title to manipulate their role (and let me tell you, I have known those priests as well), then I would say that, in such a case, they come under Jesus’ condemnation here.

If, however, the term is used for someone who is a caring and compassionate elder and father to the people in their care, I don't think that would have been an issue for Jesus.

The point of all of us this, is course, essentially, what we were talking about when Jesus was using the Roman coin for a illustration. Render to God, what is God’s. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But don’t mix the two up. Don’t call someone Father if by Father you are giving them the authority reserved only to God.

For us, the matter is essentially one that will not cause most of us to lose sleep. Most of us get this. We understand this. We understand that what is God’s is God’s. Few of us, I seriously doubt, would give to any human being the honor meant for God. And if any priest came along demanding to be called “Father” or “Mother” out of puffed up arrogance, let me tell you, they would be put down to size pretty quickly here at St. Stephen’s. We know all the distinction in all of this.

Our Gospel reading for today really is about equality. Those who think of themselves as better will be humbled. And those who think they are not worth anything, will be lifted up and cared for. This is how the God’s Kingdom works. And this is what we, who are following Jesus, are striving to make happen. We are striving for the equality. We are striving to put people on the same level.

So, let us do just that. Let us, in our following of Jesus, strive for that equal ground of the Kingdom in our day. Let us love each other, fully. And let us look at each other as equals, as ministers working together, side by side and shoulder to shoulder.

This is what it means to follow Jesus. And this is what it means to serve each other in Jesus’ name.

As for me, I am Jamie. To some I am Father Jamie. To some I am just Jamie. I am a priest. I am a Christian. And I am a minister, just like every single one of us here this morning, striving, sometimes failing, but always trying. None of us better. None of us less. All of us equal, serving each other and God in whatever God has called us.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

19 Pentecost

October 23, 2011


Matthew 22.34-46

+ Occasionally, we who preach realize that we are putting ourselves out there sometimes We are exposing ourselves for the whole world when we get up here to preach and share. And for those of us who preach regularly, we not only expose ourselves emotionally, but we also run the risk of repeating ourselves regularly. Or, maybe worse than all, we run the risk of the preaching the same thing over and over again, only in slightly different ways.

Now, luckily, being at a Total Ministry congregation like St. Stephen’s, I get a little pressure taken off me occasionally. With Sandy preaching once a month, I find that even if I am preaching the same thing, she comes in with a different voice and a different way of preaching and expounding. And although I think we believe pretty much the same things in regard to our Christian faith and how we share that as Christians, she has her own unique way of expressing that. And I am thankful for that fact. I know that we all here at St. Stephen’s.

Still, the fact remains. When I preach, I am not very complex. I have no fancy theological agenda behind any of my preaching. My message is very consistent—for better or for worse. And my message is this, in case you’ve been totally asleep during my sermons over the past three years and might have missed it: The theme of every sermon is: love. Again and again, it’s love.

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.

I paused, nodded and then simply replied, “Just like Our Lord.” Which, let me tell you, she didn’t appreciate hearing.

But the fact remains that this is essentially all Jesus preached about as well. The gist of everything Jesus said or did was based solidly in what we hear him summarize in this morning’s Gospel. 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 he 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 commands, both of which are solidly and unashamedly based in love, that he again and again professes.

Last week in my sermon, I mentioned the fact that Jesus, like all good, pious Jewish men, was required to the pray the Shema every day. The Shema is the prayer all Jewish men were required to pray each day on waking. The Shema is the first Commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

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 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 asked of a person about to be baptized (or their parents and godparents if they are too young) is 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 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 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 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 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. And when we do, we find ourselves making confessional statements, like putting a statement such as accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior as the be-all and end-all of our faith. By the way, it is not the be-all and end-all of our faith. And nowhere does he command us to accept him as our personal Lord and Savior, though I hope we all do strive personally to do so.

We also 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. 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, 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. 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 and I strive to live those laws in my life, as a priest, helping others to do that as well.

So, let us love unashamedly. Let us love without limit. Let us love radically. 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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thanksgiving for Episcopal-Moravian Full Communion

A Celebration of Holy Eucharist in Thanksgiving for Full Communion between the Moravian Church and the Episcopal Church
Thursday, October 20, 2011
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Fargo


John 17.6a,15-23

+ I feel real joy tonight, on our last evening of celebrating Full Communion between the Moravian Church and the Episcopal Church. These last five weeks have truly been joyful. I think all of us who have participated have found ourselves pondering the differences between our particular congregations and our denominations.

And there are differences. I think we’ve kind of joked among ourselves about those differences. I still remember with a bit humor the look on those Moravians’ faces the night of our Episcopal Class here at St. Stephen’s and how shocked all of you were by how outspoken us Episcopalians can be. That’s just who we are.

And I know that we Episcopalians were very impressed by the Love Feast last week, in which, right in the middle of the worship service, we paused to eat together.

But differences make us unique and the differences between us, I think, only show for us that diversity that we get to celebrate. What I have especially enjoyed is celebrating what we have in common. And what we have in common is a deep, almost driving longing to serve God and to serve others. Each of us do that in the worship we do, and in the service and the minsisrties we give to others. We do this as followers of Jesus.

And it is Jesus who really makes us one. In Jesus we find those differences between us blurred. And in Jesus we find those similarities between us highlighted.

In our Gospel reading for tonight, we hear Jesus pray,

“The glory you have given me I have given to them, so that they may be one…”

Tonight, and over these past few weeks, we are celebrating that glory that has been given to us. We are rejoicing in that oneness that comes to followers of Jesus who strive to love God and love others. In Christ, we are one. And that, ultimately, when all has been said and done, is all that matters.

Of course, the celebration doesn’t need to end here, tonight. This, hopefully, opens the door for future opportunities of shared ministry and shared celebration. My hope tonight is that we WILL be one, as Christ calls to be. We will be one in our service to others and in our service to God. And that we will be one in striving for those goals of making known to others that incredible love of God.

So, as we go from here, let us go with smiles on our faces. Let us go with joy in our hearts. And let us go with the knowledge that we, together, are doing what Jesus called us to do. As we heard Jesus say in our Gospel reading tonight, we pray that we may “become truly one, so that the world may know that [God] has sent Christ and that [God] loves us as [God] loves [Christ].”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

18 Pentecost

October 16, 2011


Matthew 22.15-22

+ I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself living a dual life. I guess it’s easy for me to do. On one hand, I have this life as a priest. People see me wearing my collar and they know, for good or bad, that I’m one of THEM. I am one of those PRIESTS. They might not even know fully what a priest is. But they know it’s someone…vaguely religious. And living like that can be exhausting sometimes. It’s sort of like living in a fishbowl. People watch you a little more closely when you’re a priest. These priests can be kind of mysterious to people. And some priests I know really like to perpetuate that image.

As I said, it can be a bit exhausting. Because there are certain expectations that come with such an image—expectations I am not always able to live up to. I think some people who see that the person wearing the collar is “religious” should also be “pious.” And I’m not always pious. I don’t need to tell anyone here.

But there are other times, when the collar comes off, that the “pressure” to be “religious” and pious are not there. It’s easy to fall into that dual life.

When the collar’s on, I’m the priest. When it’s off, I’m not. Gladly, it doesn’t really work that way. Yes, I know priests who really do live their lives like that. They turn their priesthood on and off like a switch.

But for me, I’m always a priest. With and without collar I am always a priest. Yes, even when I’m at Monte’s on HoDo or any other place.

And, more importantly, I am always a Christian. I never get to turn that on and off. But…there are sometimes moments when I wish could. There are moments—sometimes—when I wish I could just be a secular person who didn’t have to weigh everything I do by the standards of being a progressive inclusive Anglo-Catholic Episcopal priest.

Sometimes I envy those people who can do that, who can just live life without having to think about the spiritual and religious and moral consequences of their actions. Or to use the terms from our Gospel reading today, it’s refreshing sometimes to simply render the things that are God’s to God and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

In our Gospel reading we find Jesus being confronted by the Herodians and the Pharisees, both whom are enemies of each other, but for this brief moment, they are ganging up on Jesus. They begin 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, without ever directly addressing them. Jesus turns to the crowd and 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.

Simple enough.

It seems he is making a clear distinction between the religious and the secular to some extent. He seems to 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 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. But 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 are God’s. 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, 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.

There was a very wonderful article I read in this past Summer’s issue of Cowley magazine, put out by the brothers of the Episcopal religious Order of the Society of St. John the Evangelists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Reverend Whitney Zimmerman wrote in an article in that magazine entitled, “A rule for Eucharistic Living”:

“Eucharistic living involves all aspects of our work, hospitality, community and worship. It is the central act of our lives, beginning, of course, with the actual meal [of the Eucharist].”

I like that very much. Eucharistic living then, as laid out in the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, is, in a sense, living out the Eucharist we celebrate here on Sunday in everything we do. It means we carry this Eucharist with us long after we have walked away from this altar. It means that, in being fed, we too then go out and share and feed.

Or as Whitney Zimmerman summarizes in her article: “So that I may live the bread and the wine I drink.”

Being a follower of Jesus means that we live the Bread of Jesus and the wine of his blood.

Today, of course, we celebrate Jubilee Sunday. Jubilee Sunday is that Sunday in which we stand up and essentially say, “We are followers of Jesus, committed to Eucharistic living. We must stand up and say no to the forces of injustice and unfairness in the world. Because that it is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”

At this moment, there are many people who are standing up and essentially saying those same things, with the so-called Occupy protests going on.

This way of protests we are hearing about sweeping this country right now is one, maybe more secular way, of saying the same thing essentially. They are standing up and saying no the forces of injustice and unfairness in our country.

We as Christians do the same things, though for us, our motivating factor is that voice and Spirit of Jesus who stirs us, prompts us and convicts us to stand up against the forces of injustice.

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

But for us, who follow Jesus, doing so 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 eucharistically. Let us live fully the Bread we eat at this altar, sharing what we are nourished on here with everyone. Let us fully share this wine we drink here at this altar, quenching the thirst of all those we encounter in our lives. And with Christ dwelling within us in this way, let us be that radical Presence of love and acceptance to all those we encounter.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fr. Jamie a guest at tonight's Theology Pub at Usher's in Moorhead

Monday, October 10 · 7:30pm - 9:00pm


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Location Usher's House
700 1st Ave N
Moorhead, MN
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Created By the Project F-M
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More Info Hope you can join us tonight for our first conversation of our Guru series. Our conversationalist will be Father Jamie, Priest at St Stephen's Episcopal Church. He'll speak for a few minutes on "Why I go to church? (or maybe, "Why not go to church?"). We'll throw the conversation open to all, of course, and see where it goes from there.

Come hungry, if you like, and order off of Usher's pub fare menu provided exclusively for Theology Pub. Free appetizers also provided.

Enjoy drinks and conversation?
Spiritual but not religious?
Open to questions of being, belief, and belonging?

Then you'll probably LOVE...Theology Pub!

+ + +

The Project F-M and friends gather bi-weekly at Usher’s House (downstairs @ the Hunt Club) for scintillating conversation and delicious beverages.

http://theprojectfm.org/

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thank you from Fr. Jamie

Thank you to everyone who participated in the wonderful surprise celebration of the anniversary of my third year as priest at St. Stephen’s. I was especially moved by many well-wishes I received. It was a wonderful day yesterday.


These past three years have been an incredible time in my life. I am grateful every day to God for being at St. Stephen’s and for being in ministry with people who are so open to God’s calling and direction.

Thank you again for three wonderful years. My hope is that there will be many more productive years ahead.

- peace,
Fr. Jamie+

Sunday, October 2, 2011

16 Pentecost

October 2, 2011


Matthew 21.33-46

+ This past Thursday, we hosted the Moravians here as part of our four-part celebration of Full Communion between the Moravian Church and the Episcopal Church. It was a fun night. Certainly it was no different than any other such evening we have had here at St. Stephen’s.

But it was certainly an eye-opening evening for me personally, as well. We had some very interesting “conversation” and many interchanges going on as part of the so-called “class” following our meal.

What was most interesting to me, however, was the reaction from the Moravians. Sometimes when one stands up here, one can sense reactions. In this case, I actually saw reactions on people’s faces. And some of those poor Moravians were definitely shocked by the fact that we Episcopalians definitely are not shy in sharing our opinions.

It’s sometimes very interesting to see ourselves through other’s eyes. And, in our case, it’s very helpful in our efforts at evangelism. It’s helpful for us to ask ourselves hard questions about ourselves and to take good hard look at what people see and hear when they visit us for the first time.

As I talked with several of the Moravians after the service and later had drinks with others, I made a comment several times.

I said, “Well, let’s just say that we Episcopalians are certainly very zealous in our opinions on occasion.”

Now to be fair, being zealous, of course, is not a bad thing by any means. It’s good to be challenged occasionally (respectfully, of course). It keeps us on our toes. And it humbles us (as long as it humiliate us).

Well, this morning we definitely have one of those parables that challenges us, that keeps us on our toes. It may even make us a bit angry and that definitely forces us to look more closely at ourselves. Let’s face it, it’s a violent story we hear Jesus tells us today. These bad tenants are so devious they are willing to kill to get what they want. And in the end, their violence is turned back upon them. It’s not a warm, fuzzy story that we can take with us and hold close to our hearts. The Church over the years has certainly struggled with this parable because it can be so challenging.

At face value, the story can probably be pretty easily interpreted in this way: The Vineyard owner of course symbolic of God. The Vineyard owner’s son of Jesus. The Vineyard is symbolic of the Kingdom. And the workers in the vineyard who kill the son are symbolic of the religious leaders who will kill Jesus. From this view, we can see the story as a prediction of Jesus’ murder. But there is another interpretation of this story that isn’t so neat and clean and finely put-together. It is in fact an uncomfortable interpretation of this parable. As we hear it, we do find ourselves shaken a bit. It isn’t a story that we want to emulate. I HOPE none of us want to emulate it.

But again, Jesus DOES twist this story around for us. The ones we no doubt find ourselves relating to are not the Vineyard owner or the Vineyard owner’s son, but, in fact, the vineyard workers. We relate to them not because we have murderous intentions in our heart. Not because we inherently bad. But because we sometimes can be just as resolute. We can sometimes be just that zealous. We sometimes will stop at nothing to get what we want. We are sometimes so full of zeal for something that we might occasionally ride roughshod over others. And when we do so, we find that we are not bringing the Kingdom of God about in our midst.

Zeal can be a good thing. We should be full of zeal for God and God’s Kingdom. We too should stop at nothing to gain the Kingdom of God. But zeal taken too far undoes the good we hoped to bring about.

The most frightening aspect of our Gospel story is the fact that Jesus tells us that the kingdom can be taken away from us. It can be given to others. Our zeal for the kingdom has a lot to do with what we gain and what we lose. Our zeal to make this kingdom a reality in our world is what makes the changes in this world.

At the same time, zeal can be a very slippery slope. It can also make us zealots. It can make us fanatics. And this world is too full of fanatics. This world is too full of people who have taken their religion so seriously that they have actually lost touch with it.

This story we hear Jesus today tell us teaches us a lesson about taking our zeal too far. If we become violent in our zeal, we need to expect violence in return. And certainly this is probably the most difficult part of this parable for most of us. For those of us who consider ourselves peace-loving, nonviolent Christians, we cringe when we hear stories of violence in the scriptures. But violence like the kind we hear in today’s parable, or anywhere else in scriptures should not just be thrown out because we find it uncomfortable. It should not be discarded as useless just because we are made uncomfortable by it.

As I have said, again and again, it is not just about any ONE of us, as individuals. It is about us as a whole.

If we look at the kind of violence we find in the Scriptures and use it metaphorically, it could actually be quite useful for us. If we take some of those stories metaphorically, they actually speak to us on a deeper level. If we take the parable of the vineyard workers and apply it honestly to ourselves, we find it does speak to us in a very hard way.

Our zeal for the kingdom of God should drive us. It should move and motivate us. We should be empowered to bring the Kingdom into our midst. But it should not make us into the bad vineyard workers. It should not make into the chief priests and Pharisees who knew, full well, that they were the bad vineyard workers.

A story like this helps us to keep our zeal centered perfectly on God, and not on all the little nitpicky, peripheral stuff. A story like this prevents us. hopefully, from becoming mindless zealots. What does it allow and commend is passion. What it does tell us is that we should be excited for the Kingdom.

True zeal makes us uncomfortable, yes. It makes us restless, It frustrates us. True zeal also energizes us and makes us want to work until we catch a glimpse of that Kingdom in our midst. This is what Jesus is telling us again and again. He is telling us in these parables that make us uncomfortable that the Kingdom of God isn’t just some sweet, cloud-filled place in the next world. He is telling is, very clearly, that is it not just about any ONE of us. It is not about our own personal agendas.

The Kingdom of God is right here, in our midst. And the foundation of that kingdom, the gateway of that Kingdom, the conduit of that Kingdom is always love. Love of God, love of neighbor, healthy love of self. This is what Jesus preached. That is the path Jesus is leading us on. This is the path we walk as we follow after him. And it is a path on which we should be overjoyed to be walking.

So, let us follow this path of Jesus with true and holy zeal. Let us set out to do the work we have to do as workers in the vineyard with love in our heart and love in our actions. And as we do, we will echo the words we heard in today’s Gospel:

“This is what the Lord’s doing; it is amazing in our eyes.”