Archives for September 2014

Bulletin Insert: 18 Pentecost (A)

A Pastoral Message on Climate Change

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October 12, 2014

The following pastoral message from the heads of the Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada was released September 19. 

(Photo by Nicholas Cardot)

(Photo by Nicholas Cardot)

We are united as Christian leaders in our concern for the well-being of our neighbors and of God’s good creation that provides life and livelihood for all God’s creatures. Daily we see and hear the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. Glaciers are disappearing, the polar ice cap is melting, and sea levels are rising. Incidents of pollution created dead zones in seas and the ocean and toxic algae growth in water supplies are occurring with greater frequency. Most disturbingly, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising at an unprecedented rate. At the same time we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, has been defiled by pollutants and waste.

Many have reacted to these changes with grief and anger. In their outrage some have understandably focused on the neglect and carelessness, both in private industry and in government regulation, that have contributed to these changes. However, an honest accounting requires a recognition that we all participate both as consumers and investors in economies that make intensive and insistent demands for energy. In addition, as citizens we have chosen to support or acquiesce in policies that shift the burdens of climate change to communities that are most vulnerable to its effects. People who are already challenged by poverty and by dislocation resulting from civil war or famine have limited resources for adapting to climate change’s effects.

While an accounting of climate change that has credibility and integrity must include our own repentance, we find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to the creation and humankind and in the liberation that comes from God’s promise.

God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Daily the Spirit continues to renew the face of the earth. All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident that they are not pursuing a lost cause. We serve in concert with God’s own creative and renewing power.

Moreover, we need not surrender to political ideologies and other modern mythologies that would divide us into partisan factions — deserving and undeserving, powerless victims and godless oppressors. In Christ we have the promise of a life where God has reconciled the human community. In Christ God sets us free from the captivity of blaming and shaming. God liberates us for shared endeavors where we find each other at our best.

While the challenge may seem daunting, the Spirit’s abundant gifts for service empower us to find common cause with people who exercise countless insights and skills, embodied in hundreds of occupations and trades. We have good reason to hope in all the ways God’s grace is at work among us. We can commend ourselves to the work before us with confidence in God’s mercy.

Opportunities to act imaginatively and courageously abound in all our individual callings. The Holy Spirit’s work in us leads us as faithful consumers and investors in a global economy to make responsible choices to reduce energy use, carbon emissions, and the wasteful consumption of water and other natural resources. As citizens, we have voices to use in educating children about the climate and in shaping public and corporate policies that affect the environment. The Spirit has also given us our voices to contribute our witness to public discussion of just and responsible use of natural resources.

We also have the resources and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those most vulnerable to the effect of climate change in the spirit of the seventh Millennium Development Goal, “to ensure environmental stability”. World leaders will meet this month in New York for a Climate Summit, and in December in Lima, Peru, to discuss global cooperation on climate change. Working under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), participants in the UNFCCC’s negotiations hope for an agreement in 2015 that will move toward reduction of carbon emissions, development of low carbon technologies, and assistance to populations most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

We encourage you to take the initiative to engage decision-makers in this godly work in all arenas of public life — in government and business, in schools and civic organizations, in social media and also in our church life.

We are not powerless to act and we are not alone. “We have the power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Spirit of Christ to give us hope and courage” (“A Catechism of Creation,” The Episcopal Church, 2005, p.19)

The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz
Primate
Anglican Church of Canada

Bishop Susan Johnson
National Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 10/12/14
half page, double-sided 10/12/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 10/12/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 10/12/14

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

Render unto God what is God’s, 19 Pentecost, Proper 24 (A) – 2014

October 19, 2014

Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99 [or Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9 (10-13)]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” These words of Jesus have become a sort of proverb, and those who know little of scripture may still have heard “Render unto Caesar.” Yet, digging beneath the surface of this short encounter helps uncover some of the deeper currents in the exchange.

First, the combination of people approaching Jesus is intriguing. Matthew tells us that the Pharisees come together with the Herodians. The Pharisees did not want to give money to their pagan oppressors and so were opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod’s position of power came courtesy of the Romans, so even though the taxes were widely considered to be oppressive, the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Therefore, the Pharisees and the Herodians each reflected one of the horns of the dilemma.

Then came the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?” This reference is obviously to Jewish Law, also called the Law of Moses. Clearly, it was lawful to pay the tax by Rome’s standards; the question was whether it was proper for a Jew to do so.

It would seem that they have presented Jesus with no way out. He can’t speak against the tax, for that would anger the Herodians and lead to a charge of treason against Rome. He could not speak in favor of the tax without alienating most of the crowds that followed him.

Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax. This is Jesus’ own trap, for it proves at least one among the questioners to be a hypocrite. For the coin used for the tax was a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and on the reverse, the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace. The coins were against Jewish Law, which prohibited graven images.

You will recall the incident when Jesus chased moneychangers from the outer courts of the Temple. These moneychangers had a business because one was required to exchange pagan currency for Temple coins before going to do business in the Temple. Carrying the image of Caesar into the Temple was considered sinful. But note that when Jesus asks for a Denarius, one is quickly located and handed to Jesus.

Jesus then asks the question that everyone in Israel could have answered without a coin in hand. In our reading for this morning, we used the New Revised Standard Version, which said, “Whose head is this and whose title?” That translation misses the point of his argument. The word they translate as “head” is “icon,” a Greek word better translated as “image.” The word “title” is better translated as “likeness.” When they answer Jesus’ question, saying that the image and likeness are “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies that they are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Again, the translation covers something better revealed. It could also be translated as “give back” rather than “give” or “render.” Give Caesar back those things that are Caesar’s. It is his coin anyway, who cares if you give Caesar back his coin for the tax?

Then Jesus gives the most amazing line of the short encounter when he continues by saying that we are to “give back to God the things that are God’s.” It leaves everyone calculating what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back. And in case you were wondering, the clue was the word “icon” or “image” and the word “likeness.”

Jesus’ answer came from Genesis 1:26-27, which says, “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’” and goes on to state “God created humankind in his Image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

The principle is this: Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon on it, so it is Caesar’s, we were made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. Jesus affirmed the tax while making it all but irrelevant. Jesus implies that, though we do owe the state, there are limits to what we owe. Yet, Jesus places no limits regarding what we owe to God.

This text is often used to talk about stewardship in terms of what you give to the church. But this is no passage on the tithe. For if giving 10 percent of our income is all we do, we would fall well more than 90 percent shy of the mark. Jesus says that everything you have and everything you are is God’s already.

While this would certainly apply to the money you make, the formula is not that you give 100 percent of your income to God, for God knows you need the money for the necessities of life. The teaching is that once you have given God some of the money you earn, don’t feel that you have bought off an obligation. God wants to share in some of your time and energy, so the 100 percent formula relates to your calendar as well as your wallet.

What God wants is nothing less than to come and abide in your heart. The point is that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. God loves you. God keeps your picture in the divine wallet and on the heavenly refrigerator. Jesus did not care about the tax, for his real concern was that you live into the image and likeness of the God who lovingly created you.

You begin to live into the image and likeness of God by conforming your life to be more like Jesus’ life. Giving back to God through the church does matter, but merely giving money to the government, to this church or anywhere else is only part of the picture.

To live more fully into that image and likeness of God that is in you, give back your heart to God – for it is God’s anyway. When the time comes for communion in just a little while, I would encourage everyone, no matter what your denominational background, to come forward to receive the bread and wine of communion. And if you have not yet been baptized, then come forward for a blessing. For at this altar, we can meet Jesus anew every time we worship. For in answer to the question, “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer is, “You.”

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Bible Study: 19 Pentecost, Proper 24 (A)

October 19, 2014

Charlotte LaForestBerkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Matthew 22:20-21)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Exodus 33:12-23

For several weeks now, our Sunday readings from the Hebrew Scriptures have followed Moses through his time at Sinai. After the incident with the golden calf that we heard about in last week’s readings, the Lord sends the Israelites away from Sinai but says he will not accompany them because of his anger. So Moses goes to intercede for the people, and God, out of a pillar of cloud, speaks to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).

In today’s reading, Moses appeals to the closeness of his relationship with the Lord to request the Lord’s presence for the Israelites as they continue their journey. Moses prays boldly, reminding the Lord that he has acted faithfully and found favor in the Lord’s sight, and requests that the Lord, in return, accompany the Israelites. And the Lord agrees. There seems to be a relationship between the boldness with which Moses is able to pray and the intimacy of his relationship with the Lord. This is something we can understand because of our human relationships: We often feel most comfortable speaking openly to those we know best.

Are you able to pray with such boldness? What would it take for you to grow comfortable enough to do so?

The final section of this passage contains Moses’ demand to the Lord, “Show me your glory.” Again, this is a bold request. The Lord grants the request, but has specific requirements and does not allow Moses to see his face, only his back. This is a reminder that, despite the intimacy of Moses’ relationship with the Lord, there is still mystery and beauty that is beyond human capacity to comprehend. This glorious, mysterious God who will lead an entire nation is the same God whom we find and speak to in quiet places.

Which of these understandings of God do you find yourself drawn to? What is it like if you try engaging with God in a new way – as a friend, if his glory and mystery have been more comfortable in the past; and vice versa?

Psalm 99

This psalm is a song of praise to God, part of the group of royal psalms that celebrate different aspects of the sovereignty of God. The emphasis in Psalm 99 is on God’s justice and faithfulness throughout history. The psalm recites the Lord’s works throughout history, the Lord’s justice revealed to Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Samuel.

One surprising element in the psalm is a celebration of God’s punishment in verse 8. We may not normally think of punishment as something praiseworthy, yet when paired with forgiveness as it is in the psalm, it is a component of a properly working system of justice. However, as Christians, a discussion of punishment transitions very quickly to one of mercy and grace. We do not experience God’s punishment for our evil deeds, even when punishment would be a just response, because the punishment was already meted out when Christ died on the cross. Our obedience and faithfulness to God is no longer offered out of fear of punishment, but is a response in deep gratitude for God’s grace.

Are there times when you find yourself living in fear of God’s punishment instead of acting in response to God’s grace?

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

This passage is the beginning of the letter to the Thessalonians, bearing greetings from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, all of whom founded the church in this place. These verses praise the faith of the Thessalonian Christians and the example they have set for those around them. The Spirit is present and active among the church in Thessalonica despite the persecution they have endured. Paul writes, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you,” and this is not just a function of preaching, but due to the example they have set in their lives.

The form of Christian witness that the Thessalonians are embodying reminds me of the quote commonly attributed (though not actually traceable) to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always! When necessary, use words.” This quote and the text from Thessalonians speak to the message of the gospel as revealed in the lives of the faithful. This is not just about being well behaved, but embodying the hope, peace and joy of the truth of the resurrected Christ. People aren’t affected or persuaded just because they see someone who follows rules really well. But an encounter with someone who has been radically transformed by the saving love of Christ – that’s something people notice and want to know more about!

What will people notice about their faith when they meet you? Will they see the gospel in your life?

Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the Pharisees are plotting, hoping for an excuse to have him arrested. In this particular plot, they are hoping to trap him by asking him a question they think has only two answers: one that will upset religious leaders, and one that will upset the Roman political authority. Jesus uses the example of the coin to make his point to the Pharisees, showing that the coin bears the image of the Emperor and thus should be given up to the Emperor. He provides an unexpected answer that escapes the Pharisees machinations by failing to offend either party.

The fact that this reading has to do with money and appears in the lectionary in October (stewardship season for many parishes) means that it has frequently served as a quick segue into a discussion about financial giving to the church. But instead of looking to the timing of the lectionary, if we look to the timing of the story itself, it takes on an entirely different meaning. This exchange takes place during Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. With this in mind, Jesus’s point that the coin with the visible image of the Emperor should be offered back to the Emperor takes on additional meaning. If Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (cf. Colossians 1:15), then this passage also serves to foreshadow Jesus’ offering himself as a sacrifice to God, an event that would take place just a few days later.

Jesus was willing to offer everything to God, including his very life, for the benefit of others. Of the gifts God has given you, which are you willing to offer to God for the benefit of God’s people?

Bible Study: 18 Pentecost, Proper 23 (A)

October 12, 2014

Jordan Trumble, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 32:1-14Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Exodus 32:1-14

This week’s reading from Exodus takes place in the aftermath of one of the most recognizable Old Testament events: Moses receiving two tablets with the Ten Commandments from God. Yet, we often stop there and don’t consider what happens next. The reception of God’s commandments wasn’t just a triumphant moment when the Israelites finally knew what they were supposed to do and get on with their lives, living faithfully and blamelessly. As we read in this story, having clear divine direction for how to live doesn’t actually mean that we will be able to fully live into that which God calls us to do.

In this excerpt from Exodus, we hear of Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the Israelites who are waiting from Moses to come down from the mountain where he is communing with God. As they waited for Moses to return, the people grew impatient. To quell the crowd, Aaron took gold from the people and made a symbol, a golden calf, to represent God for the people. Yet, when God saw this, he was angry at the Israelites for worshipping a false god, filled with wrath.

This isn’t an emotion many of us enjoy using to describe God. It’s so much nicer to think of God as loving, gracious, kind and a variety of other things that do not include wrath. Yet, this passage offers us a chance to consider what it might mean for God to be wrathful. As God stormed and seethed over the Israelite’s behavior, Moses stood before God and testified to God’s power and might and God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in bringing them out of Egypt. And as Moses spoke, we read that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (v. 14).

We often speak about God being unchangeable, yet in this passage we hear a story about God’s mind being changed because of an interaction with Moses. What does it mean to you that God’s mind was changed? Is it possible that God can, at once, be both unchangeable but yet also changed?

At the beginning of this passage, the Israelites are caught up in their own impatience, which leads to their folly. Have you ever let impatience has led you to folly? Have you ever felt impatient with God? What sort of practices can help bring patience and active listening and waiting into your spiritual life?

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

This except from Psalm 106 picks up on the themes from the Exodus lesson, even going so far as to reference the “bull-calf” made at Mount Horeb (v. 19). This lesson moves from praise to petition and confession, showing the full range of human emotion and the complexities of being in relationship with God. The psalm begins with praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of God and a petition for God’s continuing faithfulness.

The second portion of the psalm, though, changes to a confessional tone. The psalmist addresses the shortcomings of the Israelites building a golden calf at Mount Horeb and for forgetting the faithfulness of God.

This psalm addresses the broad range of emotions and experiences that are part of the life of faith. When you think of your own faith life, how do you understand the relationship between praise, petition and confession? What spiritual practices do you have that help you balance these things?

Philippians 4:1-9

In this passage from Philippians, we read part of Paul’s letter urging members of the Philippian community to care for one another and to be of the same mind in the Lord (v. 2). He urges to the people of Philippi to stay strong and faithful even in the midst of hardship and to rejoice in the Lord always. He uses himself as a model and encourages the Philippians to remember him and his example of how to behave. We see in this passage that the work of the community is two-fold: Paul seeks to encourage the entire community in their lives of faith but also to promote the support of individuals who are struggling.

In times of hardship or in the midst of struggle, how do you practice spiritual self-care or encourage those around you?

Paul suggests to his readers that they should be of the same mind in Christ. What does it mean for you, personally, to be of the same mind in Christ, and how can you cultivate this practice in your own life?

Matthew 22:1-14

While the parables of Jesus can often be confusing or frustrating, the parable we hear in this week’s gospel lesson is a particularly difficult one. In this passage from Matthew, we hear the story of a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son. The king has invited a long list of guests, but even after being repeatedly sought out, none of those guests will come to the feast. The king then sends his slaves into the streets to find enough people to fill the seats at the wedding banquet. Yet, when the king sees that a man is not dressed appropriately for the event, the king throws him into the outer darkness.

This is, indeed, a difficult parable. So often, we look to the Bible and to the teachings of Christ for a word of hope or a word of grace, but it can sometimes be difficult to find that, especially in parables such as this one.

As you think about this passage, imagine yourself as one of the characters. Are you the king, throwing a lavish wedding banquet? Are you a wedding guest who has denied the generosity of the king? Or are you one of the people brought in from the streets, unprepared for the celebration at hand? When you consider this story from a different vantage point, how does it change how you hear this passage? Do you find a word of Good News in it?

Bulletin Insert: 17 Pentecost (A)

Civil Discourse in America

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October 5, 2014

Christ Church, Philadelphia, from “Transforming Churches,” http://library.episcopalchurch.org/video/transforming-churches-christ-church-philadelphia

Christ Church, Philadelphia, from “Transforming Churches,” http://library.episcopalchurch.org/video

On Wednesday, October 22, at 2 p.m. (EDT), the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania will host Civil Discourse in America: Finding Common Ground for the Greater Good, a forum for political, interfaith and educational leaders.

A 90-minute webcast will be streamed live from historic Christ Church, Philadelphia, and will be available to watch on demand.

Prior to and during the live webcast, questions may be emailed to publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will deliver the keynote address, and the forum will be moderated by well-known journalist and commentator Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, executive Religion editor for The Huffington Post.

Panel discussions will focus on the themes “Civil Discourse and Faith” and “Civil Discourse in Politics and Policy.” Panelists will include:

David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication, Temple University, Philadelphia

Dr. John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.

Hugh Forrest, director of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, which each year brings together more than 30,000 creative professionals from around the world to foster a global community of ideas and creativity

Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute on Civil Discourse and a leader in the field of deliberative democracy

Dr. Elizabeth McCloskey, president and CEO of the Faith & Politics Institute, a national organization devoted to advancing reflective leadership among members of Congress and congressional staff to bridge the divides that arise in a thriving democracy

Bishop Prince Singh of the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.

This forum will be appropriate for Sunday school, discussions groups and community gatherings to view during the live webcast or on demand. Resources such as bibliography, materials for community and individual review, discussion questions and lesson plans will be available at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/civil-discourse-event.

 
Download bulletin insert as PDF:
full page, one-sided 10/5/14
half page, double-sided 10/5/14

black and white, full page, one-sided 10/5/14
black and white, half page, double-sided 10/5/14

Spanish bulletin inserts are available on the Sermones que Iluminan website.

Dress codes or radical welcome?, 18 Pentecost, Proper 23 (A) – 2014

October 12, 2014

Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (or Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23); Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Today’s gospel passage probably requires a bit of translation. There’s a big difference between the cultural expectations of first-century Palestine and 21st-century America. Not only about marriage, of course – but marriage is what today’s gospel highlights.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a marriage feast given by a slave-owning king. Now, slave-owning kings were quite common back then. Fortunately, neither human bondage nor absolute monarchy is part of our day-to-day experience now. This isn’t to say we have wiped out oppression or tyranny on the face of the earth – far from it. But at least in this nation, we call it a crime when one person claims to own another, and we do not permit anyone to have absolute power. They weren’t quite ready for “checks and balances” in Jesus’ time.

So – in and of itself – the progress of 2,000 years will require us to make a kind of adjustment in order to hear and understanding this parable.

So, too, will the whole idea of marriage. There are those who insist that our modern-day, state-sanctioned unions are a sacred institution, implying that this phenomenon is of ancient provenance. One president even called marriage “one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization.” Of course, that is not the case.

Now, marriage is a fine thing. But what do we really know about the history of marriage? What are the facts?

Scholar Kenneth Stevenson, who was Bishop of Portsmouth, in England, summarized marriage in the patriarchal tradition of ancient Judaism in his book “To Join Together”: first, negotiation of contract, then betrothal, followed by consummation.

What may be hard for us to imagine is that the contract negotiated was no Philadelphia lawyer’s prenup agreement; it was a financial contract between two men, the bride’s father and the groom. In the time of Jesus, women were exchanged like plots of land and herds of cattle – just so much property. The men owned them.

The period of betrothal, then, was not so much a time in which two persons got to know each other better and grew closer in love – but a kind of “grace period” in which the groom could cancel the contract – for some justifiable cause, but without penalty.

Remember that Joseph, when betrothed to Mary, chose not to exercise his option to wiggle out of his marriage contract. He could have, because she was pregnant, but he didn’t. And it’s a good thing, too. Had he done so, none of us Christians would exist.

And in the first century, before anything so technological as birth control, women were like human childbirth machines. They would marry at age 11 or 12 or 13, and immediately begin to have children. Typically, a child every year or so for maybe 10 years. Lots of these children died in infancy. And most of these women died by the age of 30.

So the men would remarry – another teenage bride – again and again. It was not at all uncommon for a man of 40 or 50 or even 60 to marry again: each time a child bride, bought from her father.

This, of course, is not a fundamental, enduring institution of our civilization, is it? It’s more of an oppressive mess and a muddle, out of which we humans have managed to climb. And thanks be to God for that!

Now, what of the actual church liturgy for marriage? Although there is mention of marriage celebrations here and there in ancient texts, the formal, standard, official liturgy of the church dates only to about the 12th century.

What appears to have happened is that the tradition of holding a marriage feast was appropriated into the church’s liturgy. The cultural observance became, over time, a religious one.

To say that more clearly: there is no evidence of an official religious rite for marriage in Jesus’ time. Marriage was entirely a domestic and civil affair. If you were very wealthy, you might invite a rabbi or Pharisee or even High Priest of the Temple to attend, maybe even lead some prayers – but this was unusual, not the standard. This is why there are accounts of Jesus performing miracles at wedding feasts, but no record of him preaching a wedding homily. There was no such thing.

So, a man works out a deal with a woman’s father, and she is ordered to go and live with that man – someone she may not even have met. After a period of a year or more, the man decides that this is working out, and he and his contractual partner (not his bride, her father) lays on a feast.

Remember, this was long before clocks and calendars were common household items. You didn’t send out engraved invitations in the mail, or an e-vite to your fellow bloggers. You sent out messengers – slaves, if you were fortunate to own them – to invite everyone to the marriage feast. Come to the feast; it’s happening right now, today.

And pretty much everyone would come. In those days, ordinary people owned two changes of clothing: your regular, everyday work clothes; and a festive garment, a wedding robe – something usually white, that you kept clean and unwrinkled. And most people did not own much more. When the messengers came to invite you to a marriage, or you heard that bell ring – you would just pen up your sheep, drop your weaving, whatever; run home and put on your wedding garment; and go to the party.

And what feasts these were! Not the luxurious, self-indulgent and obscenely expensive extravaganzas we know today, but festive gatherings nonetheless, frequently lasting for days on end.

Same kind of thing, for instance, as when the Prodigal Son returned: roasted fatted calf, music and merriment, giving of gifts, and lots of wine. No evidence of cake, or throwing garters or rice, or making toasts, or even an exchange of vows. And no mortgaging of the homestead to borrow money; the party simply lasted until you slaughtered your last calf and drank the last of the wine.

Much has changed in the sacred institution of marriage, and thanks be to God for that! And much will continue to change. Thanks be to God for that, too.

So, what relevance does this gospel passage hold for us, if marriage is so radically different in our culture and in our church?

This, too, may be hard for us to grasp, as we no longer live in a culture with a lot of clear implicit expectations.

This may have been true in the United States of the 1950s, and it certainly was true in the Palestine of Jesus’ time: Everybody just sort of understood what the standards were – at least with regard to the wedding garment.

If you live in Galilee or Bethlehem, you knew that to come to a wedding feast was to wear a wedding garment.

So this parable, which seems harsh – after all, someone is thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for wearing the wrong clothes. But perhaps this parable is about participation, or the lack of doing it fully.

There is the first group, who simply decline the invitation. And then there is the guy without the wedding robe, who refused to participate completely.

If you were you the king, you would feel snubbed and insulted by these people, right? If you had the power, you might send those folks who offended you to the outer darkness, right? Or at least, you’d be tempted to. Come on, admit it. When someone offends you, you are tempted to retaliate. We all are.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. This is a parable, remember. An analogy of the Kingdom of Heaven, a story of the way God acts in the world.

God has invited us to be partners in the building up of that kingdom, on earth as in heaven. We are invited to the greatest feast ever imagined. And how many of us fully participate all of the time? Precious few.

And this omnipotent God, who could reign down fire from heaven and smite us where we sit – this God does not act like the king in today’s story, although he could. God does not enforce the dress code or punish us for not participating fully.

Instead, our God invites us again and again, over and over. We are called to that feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. The feast at which the disgrace of the people will be taken away from the earth, when God will wipe away the tears from all faces.

You, me and every person on this planet are welcome at this table.

When God is the host, everyone is invited. Sadly, as in today’s parable, not everyone comes – but everyone is invited.

When God is the host, the food is rich beyond our imagination or understanding. Sometimes it appears to be quite simple – like bread and wine – yet we can be profoundly moved and transformed by this feast. When God is the host, we are nourished not just for the morning, but for the journey. For most of us, this sustenance lasts as long as week, for others it lasts a lifetime. And when God is the host, everyone gets the same gift: the amazingly abundant, undeserved, and inexhaustible gift of love.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Barrie Bates is serving in interim ministry in the metropolitan New York area and as editor of church reviews for the journal Anglican and Episcopal History.

‘Dear Friends’

Letters of St. Paul to Christians in America

"Dear Friends: The Letters of St. Paul to Christians in America." Christopher L. Webber. New York: Yucca Publishing, 2014. 160 pp.

“Dear Friends: The Letters of St. Paul to Christians in America.” Christopher L. Webber. New York: Yucca Publishing, 2014. 160 pp.

Christopher L. Webber’s “Dear Friends: The Letters of St. Paul to Christians in America” (Yucca, 2014) is not simply a new translation of Paul’s letters, but rather a completely new set of letters addressed to various cities and states in America. Instead of writing to Rome, for example, Paul now writes to Washington, D.C., the new world capitol, and instead of writing to Corinth, that center of cultural change, Paul writes to Californians. The new letters do follow the pattern of Paul’s letters but deal with modern issues instead of those Paul dealt with.

Webber, an Episcopal priest who has served in urban, suburban, overseas and rural churches, concedes that, although no one knows exactly which New Testament epistles Paul actually wrote himself, it is generally agreed that some, at least, were written in his name by followers who thought they were speaking as Paul would have spoken. In that same way, these letters are written to bring Paul’s point of view to bear on contemporary issues. Instead of writing about Jewish-Christian relationships, for example, Paul writes about relationships between Christians and Muslims. Same-sex marriage, climate change, the death penalty, immigration, and wealth and poverty are among the issues addressed in these letters.

As Paul wrote passionately about divisions among Christians in his first letter to Corinth, so Paul addresses that same issue in his letter to California. St. Paul wrote passionately about the Resurrection in his letter to the Romans, so he writes eloquently about it to Washington. The difference is that these new letters are couched in very contemporary English and with an eye to the particular way these issues confront Christians today.

The basic issue in all Bible study is “What does this say to us?” “Dear Friends” is an attempt to answer that question in clear and challenging terms.

“Dear Friends” can be ordered here.

“The idea is inspired. … Both imaginative and faithful. … This is a book that warrants careful study and discussion. It is undoubtedly a brilliant book.” — The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Chris Webber is one of the most incisive – and faithful – voices among contemporary Christian clergy-authors. [A] devoted and bold effort to apply Paul’s thought about the world as he knew it, to the world we live in now.” — The Rev. Edward F. Duffy, Presbyterian pastor and Hartford Seminary professor

“Compellingly captures Paul’s voice and expression in this series of new letters on contemporary themes.” — The Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, dean of Faculty, Claremont School of Theology

“What a relief to engage women in the study of Paul without having to excuse him or explain away his apparent sexism. Webber knows Paul’s heart and mind well enough to honor his wisdom and discard his prejudices.” — The Rev. Denis O’Pray, rector, Nativity Episcopal Church, Burnsville, Minn.

“Webber’s imaginative and faithful retelling of ten of Saint Paul’s letters in the language and circumstances of contemporary life in the United States is a wonderful example of the translatability of the Good News.” — The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

“A creatively conceived, unique book – rich in its grasp of Paul, sensitive in its articulation of contemporary issues for Christians. It will … open [readers’] eyes to the implication of those writings for Christian living today.” — The Very Rev. Harvey Guthrie, dean emeritus, Episcopal Divinity School

‘Jesus: The God App’

Conversations Along the Way

“Jesus, The God App: Conversations Along the Way.” Peter D. Snow. Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris, 2014. 457 pp.

“Jesus, The God App: Conversations Along the Way.” Peter D. Snow. Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris, 2014. 457 pp.

Peter D. Snow’s “Jesus: The God App: Conversations Along the Way” (Xlibris, 2014) is the distillate of 50 years preaching and teaching within the Episcopal Church. Aimed at open-minded, well-informed and thoughtful people inside and outside the church, this book provides readers with a coherent concept of Jesus’ ministry, both of his teaching and his interaction with those around him. Snow, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Olympia, carefully searches out clues and connects the dots from all four gospels for anyone who has listened to the inevitably disconnected readings experienced in the liturgy. For those who find the diverse accounts within the gospels to be stumbling blocks, Snow provides a plausible, coherent approach to the evolvement of Jesus’ ministry.

Originally published under the title, “Jesus: Man Not Myth” (Amazon Digital Services, 2012) this book is as much a devotional work as theological text. To facilitate individual and group study, a list of references to biblical texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and other contemporary sources, as well as lesson plans and discussion guides can be found at http://www.jesusthegodapp.com.

“Jesus: The God App” can be ordered here.

Read the Kirkus review of “Jesus: The God App.”

Read the Blue Ink review of “Jesus: The God App.”

Read the Clarion review of “Jesus: The God App.”

“One of the struggles in the modern, and now post-modern world, is to make the story of Jesus come alive. Peter Snow has made a great stride in that effort with his book ‘Jesus: The God App.’ Here we have a narrative, which obviously does contain some interpretation, but more than anything tries to bring the story into the realm of the everyday. Certainly Jesus lived and moved within the ‘everyday’ of life in his time, and this effort by Snow attempts to move the story from ‘report’ to true narrative, to bring us all into conversation with the life of Jesus so that we might more completely enter into his life and times. I recommend this book because I know it will provoke conversation, and struggle with the Gospel, something, which in the end, can only be good for the faith. I recommend this book because I know the heart of the man who wrote it, and I know his intent in bringing it to reality, that being that more people might come to see and know the saving power of Jesus Christ.” — The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Diocese of Olympia

“Father Peter Snow has written a very engaging and inspired book that blends the imagination with practical and concrete explanations for the events and the characters who witnessed the life of Jesus up front. ‘Jesus: The God App’ is simply written as a real human story, avoiding the flowery abstractions which usually plague such literature. At no point does Peter Snow allow the centrality of Jesus Christ to become obscured, nor does he allow the reader to forget that our life and ministry flows from an honest and contemporary encounter with the person of Jesus. I found that this book is like none other. The author has connected the dots, complete with a lively exploration of the time, events and the responses of real men and women who gathered around Jesus and those who sought to destroy him. It is a devotional study, but it also gives creative and satisfying answers to many questions we hesitate to ask. I felt a deep ‘yes’ in response. This is an invaluable and surprising tool for any curious seeker or Jesus scholar.” — Sister Dorothy-Anne Kiest, Mother Guardian, the Little Sisters of St. Clare (LSSC)

Bible Study: 17 Pentecost, Proper 22 (A)

October 5, 2014

Debra GoebelGeneral Theological Seminary

“Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matthew 21:43)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

The Decalogue begins with one of the most powerful statements in Scripture: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (verse 2).

Who was this mysterious voice, this unquenchable flame, this pillar of cloud? What force parted the vast sea, defeated the mighty Pharaoh and caused manna to fall from the sky like snow? It was not unusual weather phenomena or magic or any human endeavor that rescued the Israelites from a life that was more like death. It was the Lord, the creator and ruler of all the world who reveals herself to humankind through acts of power and grace. It was by these words that God gave to Moses on the mountaintop that she revealed to her people who she was and what she was all about.

What follows is traditionally viewed as a list of commandments, which the Israelites must obey in order to live fully into God’s covenant that she was establishing with her chosen people. This is certainly what is implied in the narrative. However, there may be another way to look at these “writings.”

Perhaps we can approach them from another angle. If God opens her proclamation with a description of who she is, why not read the commandments that follow as a description of who the Israelites were and who we are as their spiritual descendants?

We are the people who believe that it is God who rules the universe, not human beings nor anything we have created with our own hands. Not our institutions, not our technology, not the culture or opinions that we have constructed, but God rules over all.

We are the people who believe that God is sovereign; therefore, we do not use her name in an attempt to manipulate her to do our will. God is not magic, God cannot be coerced and God’s ultimate desire for her creation cannot be subverted.

We are the people who believe it is God’s desire that all her children have a time of rest from their labors, during which they may give thanks for her blessings and the goodness of her creation.

We are the people who honor those who made sacrifices for us in our youth, who have acted as parents and mentors, healers and guardians, equipping us to faithfully serve God.

We are the people who do not murder our neighbors. We believe that violence solves nothing.

We are the people who are faithful to those with whom we share vows of commitment for mutual love and support.

We are the people who do not take what belongs to our neighbor, whether it be possessions, relationships, freedom or hope.

We are the people who do not accuse our neighbors falsely for personal gain of any kind.

We are the people who are content with enough and do not look to our neighbor with jealousy or resentment.

The Israelites, wandering in the desert, surely experienced an identity crisis. They were no longer subjects of the Egyptian Pharaoh. They were no longer slaves. They were no longer city dwellers. Who were they? We all experience times like this in our lives. Social or economic upheaval leave us questioning our place in society, our world is turned upside down by natural disaster. We become spouses or partners or parents. We find ourselves suddenly thrust into positions of authority, or perhaps our intellectual or physical capacities become diminished. All these events can leave us questioning who we are.

Even desired events, such as the Israelites’ release from captivity or our advancement from college student to career seeker can leave us questioning our identity. Perhaps we can look at these Ten Commandments not so much as rules to obey, but our God-given identity into which we strive to live.

The final paragraph in our reading describes the people’s fear as the mountain on which God spoke to Moses was surrounded in thunder and lightning and smoke. They were afraid that God would speak to them and they would die. The people agreed to listen to whatever God said, if only she would not speak directly to them. Moses reassures them that God has no intention of bringing about their death, but only wishes to make them fully understand the importance of living fully into their new identity.

Reflect on the thoughts that come to your mind or the feelings that are triggered when you consider the phrases “rules to be obeyed” and “identity to be claimed.”

God encourages us to claim many identities. We are musicians, sons, accountants, mothers and teachers. By what do you define yourself? By your talents? Your career? Your relationships? What would happen if you could no longer be defined by these things? How would your definition of yourself change?

Experiment with rewriting the Ten Commandments in your own words, interpreting them in the context of your own life.

Psalm 19

This psalm opens with the heavens pouring forth a never-ending proclamation that all the world is the result of God’s creative activity. It echoes our reading in Exodus in which God declares that she, not idols made by human hands, is the architect of the universe. This message is broadcast from heaven not by words, but is plainly evident in creation itself.

The psalmist describes how God has placed a sun in the heavens, from where, like the glowing bridegroom, its light and warmth shine out to every corner of the earth.

The law, or fabric by which God sustains his creation and orders human interaction, lacks nothing. He has decreed his law to humans in order to make even the simple wise so that all have equal opportunity to live fully into their identity. God’s law is just and true and eternal. Obedience to it will bring enlightenment, clarity of vision and happiness. Because only God’s law can bring such happiness, it is to be considered more desirable and more valuable than anything else in his creation.

The law also serves as a reminder to the psalmist that God has promised good things to those who live by it. He restates that there are no errors in God’s law, though the insolent may attempt to convince him that there are loopholes. Finally, the psalmist expresses his hope that he is on the same page as God because God law is the foundation for his life.

It can be difficult sometimes to think of the multitude of laws we encounter every day as better than gold and more desirable than the most delicious food. Yet the psalmist understood the value of God’s law and rejoiced in it. Reflect on laws that have had a positive impact on your life and trace them back to their foundation in the Ten Commandments.

How does nature proclaim God’s law without words?

The psalmist wishes to be blameless. Do you believe this something we should pray for or hope to achieve? If not, what do you believe our prayer should be? What goal do you believe God has set for us?

Philippians 3:4-14

Paul and the Philippian church shared a great deal of affection for one another. It must have been a tremendous comfort to Paul to reflect on their friendship as he wrote this letter during his imprisonment. It appears the Philippian church was also experiencing their own challenges, although at this time it seems to have been internal rather than any kind of persecution.

Paul warns the Philippians, mostly if not all gentile, to beware of those who insist that gentile followers of Jesus must be circumcised. He insists that circumcision will not provide them with any benefit, or “confidence in the flesh.” He reminds them that if anyone has cause to believe there is some benefit to circumcision it would be him! After all, he was born into a pious Hebrew family with an illustrious lineage. He had been circumcised as prescribed by the law, was well educated in the faith and in fact became a Pharisee. Paul describes himself as having been “righteous and blameless” with regard to Jewish law. He was so zealous for the Law that he persecuted his fellow Jews who had embraced the teachings of Jesus, who was, of course, a Jew himself. If anyone might attest to the importance of circumcision and insist on adherence to this practice, it would be Paul.

And yet, he claims that if there had been any advantage in it when it had been performed on him as an infant, those advantages have since become a loss, a wasted endeavor. Why? Because for Paul, the knowing Christ Jesus has made his circumcision obsolete. Not wrong, but unnecessary, particularly for gentiles.

Paul believes that it is through his faith in Christ that God will resurrect him, not by any symbolic action regarding the law. These actions cannot achieve resurrection. Paul believes that only in proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord will we be resurrected. It is perhaps like parachuting out of a plane and landing in the ocean. Hanging on to your swimming certificate, a symbol of your knowledge, will not save you! And knowing how to tread water or how to avoid sharks may keep you alive for a while, but you simply can’t rescue yourself. In this case it isn’t what you know that will save you, but who. You need to the captain of the rescue ship, who has a handle on your location and can throw you a floatation device. Paul claims that knowing Christ and sharing in his suffering offers the hope of resurrection; circumcision for gentiles is not a necessary stop on this path.

Paul believes that he had not yet achieved his goal. This statement is somewhat confusing, unless there was some question in the mind of the Philippians that his prison term had ended in execution and the letter was being written by the resurrected Paul! He tells the Philippians that Christ has enabled him to forge ahead, forgetting all that had come before (perhaps his persecution of the church) to answer the “call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul tells the Philippians that the symbolic ceremony of circumcision is unnecessary for their resurrection. In a world where degrees and resumes and certificates of achievement are essential for our advancement, can you identify with these gentiles who desire “evidence” of their faith? In the Episcopal Church we cannot be confirmed without evidence, in the form of a certificate, of our baptism. Reflect on the many kinds of “spiritual evidence” we possess, or desire to possess, regarding the “status” of our faith.

Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in death.” How might we become like Christ in death without actually becoming martyrs?

Paul gives us good advice when he says he will forget what he has done in the past and focus on path God has put before him. Think of the times you have been discouraged with your progress as you work to respond to God’s call. Reflecting on our missteps is helpful and necessary, but dwelling on our shortcomings can build a wall between us and God’s will for us. The next time you feel overwhelmed by your mistakes, imagine them written on the bricks of a wall, and simply imagine tearing that wall down!

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus enters Jerusalem. He is very aware that this is the beginning of the end of his life on earth. He could count the hours he has left in which to teach the disciples, to admonish the Pharisees, to proclaim the coming of his Kingdom. The gospel writer recounts a parable that Jesus no doubt hoped would convince the Pharisees to give to God what was properly his.

Jesus tells the story of a landowner (a metaphor for God), who invests much effort into planting a vineyard (a metaphor for the Temple in Jerusalem, which was a visible representation of the Law). He has done everything possible to ensure that this endeavor will be successful. Upon completion, the landowner hires tenants to live on the land and harvest the vineyard. The arrangement (or covenant) would have been that the tenants give the landowner the profits (a metaphor for obedience) due him.

We learn, however, that the tenants are greedy and refuse to give the owner his due. They kill every messenger (prophet) that the landowner sends to collect his due. In time, the landowner sends his own son to come to terms with these tenants, but they murder him as well to prevent him from claiming his inheritance. Of course, the son is a metaphor for Jesus, who is foretelling his own death. Jesus then asks the Pharisees what justice might await these disobedient tenants. They reply the wicked tenants deserve a “miserable death” and that the vineyard should be given to those who will uphold the agreement made with the landowner.

Jesus tells the Pharisees and chief priests that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to others who will obey the covenant or “bear fruit.” The Temple Law was the proving ground, and the Pharisees were tripped up in it. Some suggest that the destruction of the Temple is alluded to in the phrase “and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” We cannot know for sure, however, we are told that at this point the Pharisees realize they are the “wicked tenants” in Jesus story. The Pharisees wanted to have Jesus arrested, but thought better of it when they realized how popular Jesus had become.

God had entrusted the Pharisees with interpreting the Law justly and with compassion and with the goal of building up God’s people. Instead, they used it to increase their own power. The responsibility of interpreting law is a very powerful thing. Law can be interpreted in such a way that it frees people from fear, from poverty, from ignorance. However even laws meant to help people can be interpreted in ways that enslave them, making the world a dangerous place for many, preventing them from prospering and keeping them in ignorance. Those who interpret law wield great power over others. Jesus tells the Pharisees that because they misused the power given to them by God, it would be taken from them and given to others who would use it justly. As powerful as the Pharisees and chief priests had made themselves, God was still sovereign and his Kingdom greater than any sphere of influence they might have carved out for themselves.

Have you ever been in a situation where others misused their power? Reflect on how this situation affected relationships and the ability to accomplish the job at hand.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God would be taken away from the chief priests and Pharisees and given to his followers. How can we, his followers today, prepare ourselves for the responsibility of cultivating God’s Kingdom? How can we guard against using this power to further our own ends?

Think about how you might retell this parable in a modern context, perhaps using a manager of a restaurant or a teacher at a university.

Tenants in God’s Kingdom, 17 Pentecost, Proper 22 (A) – 2014

October 5, 2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 and Psalm 19 (or Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80: 7-14); Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Any halfway decent real-estate agent or commercial property manager could probably explain today’s gospel parable from Matthew in two seconds flat. It is all about landlords and tenants after all. And there is an entire body of business law devoted to them and their all-too-numerous disputes.

In Jesus’ telling, a vineyard owner contracts with tenants for the use of his land – and then promptly leaves town for another country. At harvest time, the same landowner sends his slaves or agents back to the vineyard to collect the rent – his share of the harvest in this case – from the tenants. But the tenants decide to take matters into their own hands. Apparently hoping to secure the property for themselves, they beat the first slave, kill a second and stone the third. Then they do it all over again, finally even killing off the landowner’s son in the hope of somehow gaining his inheritance.

What are we to make of this graphic tale of greed and mayhem, violence and murder?

At the very least, the landowner in question, we might be tempted to think, ought to have done a more thorough background check before renting out his vineyard – the very source of his livelihood – to those scoundrels who end up murdering his slaves and son. Surely even in the ancient world people knew who was trustworthy or not. Word got around, after all, even before the Internet.

And then the obvious question arises. Why did they do it? The tenants had to have been fairly bright guys. Or they would not have gone into agribusiness in the first place – then as now not an easy way to make a living. Did they really think they could get away with it – get away with murder? Well, apparently they did. Their greed got in the way of their common sense and reason. No doubt not the first time such a thing has ever happened – and not likely to be the last either.

The point of the story seems so obvious to Jesus’ hearers that they leap to it without a moment’s hesitation. The landowner, they declare in moral outrage, “will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants.” The story must have also resonated with the early church community, for it is one of only a very few of Jesus’ parables recounted in all three of the so-called Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Alas, the news these days is sadly still full of just such parables of greed and corruption. We know them too well. We are even now just exiting one of the worse financial crises in our history – by fairly common consensus the result in large measure of rampant materialism and greed. And millions of people have suffered the consequences. So, yes, some people clearly do still think they can get away with it. And some indeed do. The world has not changed all that much in the time since Jesus told his parable.

We might conclude that it simply does not pay to be an absentee landlord. Better to stay home, lock the back door and mind the store. After all, there is no place like home. Surely, that is where one can feel safe and secure. Maybe so, but try telling that to someone whose mortgage is still upside-down or under water and is likely to remain so for some time to come. Let’s face it. Even security at home is sometimes an illusion.

The parable, of course, is about us as much as it is about thieves – about us as much as it is about the “chief priests and the Pharisees” who come to recognize themselves in Jesus’ words. The priests and Pharisees at least deserve begrudging credit, if not for their actions then for their insight into their own motivations. They want to arrest Jesus for his words and be rid of him. They knowingly seek to neutralize his potent message of God’s righteousness and Kingdom. What they do not know – and what we sometimes forget – is that it cannot be done.

No matter where we live or what we have, we are all no more than tenants in God’s Kingdom. Nothing ever truly belongs to us. In the final analysis, everything we have has been lent to us. Everything is borrowed for a time. As the old saying has it, we are living on borrowed time – quite literally. Like the priests and Pharisees of this narrative, we too might wish the world were different, that tenants were owners and servants, masters. But it is not so.

“They will respect my son,” the landowner erroneously concludes as he decides to send his child as emissary after his slaves are beaten and killed. To paraphrase Doctor Phil, television’s favorite pop psychologist, “What was he thinking?” If only the landowner had gone to his parish priest, he might have been set right. “Do not send your son,” he would have been told in no uncertain terms. “Call the police and report the incident. Begin eviction proceedings. Get back home.”

All good advice to be sure, but it is doubtful the landowner would have followed even his beloved pastor’s counsel. For the landowner’s economy is not that of this world. And perhaps it is just as well. He knows something we tend to overlook, that in the end it is not a matter of land, property rights, wealth, possessions or ownership. For a follower of Christ, it is ultimately not even a question of life and death. It is only the Kingdom that matters, a kingdom most decidedly not of this world.

“The Kingdom of God,” Jesus says in explanation of the story, “will be … given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom.” And the fruits of the kingdom of which Jesus speaks have nothing to do with grain or grapes, much less dollars and cents. If we miss that, we miss the point of Jesus’ parable entirely. We miss the Kingdom at work in our lives. For, the Kingdom is, in fact, ours – but only to the extent that we give in turn to others of all that has been so generously given to us. In God’s Kingdom, finally, that is the only way tenants become landlords.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain and area dean at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary – a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page. Isten hozott!