Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Today is Tuesday at 11:00 AM.
I am sitting in a hospital room on the sixth floor of
Torrance Memorial Hospital. Hospitals are busy
places. As I was getting on the elevator this morning
bound for the sixth floor, one of the workers at the
hospital asked me about one of the rings I wear. The
ring has the Greek letters, alpha and omega on it.
He knew the term alpha and omega meant the
beginning and the end from his study of the book of
Revelation. Jesus said in that book: "I am the alpha
and the omega, the first and the last."
The gentleman said the first was about being born
and the last was about when we die. I said, "I guess
that happens here in the hospital everyday." He
smiled and nodded his head. "Yes, I imagine that is
true." The door opened for the third floor and our brief
This Sunday we will be celebrating All Saints Day. We
will remember in prayer those "whom we love, but see
no longer." During the Prayers of the People, we will give plenty of time for everyone present to name those loved ones who were the saints in their lives. I would suggest making a written list of these saints and placing that list in a special offering plate on Sunday morning to be placed on the altar during the Holy Eucharist.
This celebration is highlighted in the Apostles Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The Holy Spirit is the one who ties us altogether, both the living and the dead. Actually, the dead are not really a category in the creed. Once Jesus was raised from the dead, death ceased to be a necessary category or way of describing those whose journeys on earth have come to an end. The Holy Spirit creates the communion of saints as God’s way of describing us and relating to us. Notice that the communion of saints is named and then the way of creating and the foundation of this community is offered: the forgiveness of sins.
Our communion of saints is the church here on earth and in heaven and that community only exists as a place and community of forgiveness. The creed then names this forgiving community as the resurrection of the body. As Paul says: “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s possession.”
The church is a seamless community that spans all human definitions of life and death and gives us the ultimate meaning of the “life everlasting,” as our participation in the communion of saints where forgiveness is the cornerstone and the resurrection of Christ is the first of those who find their way into the Kingdom of Heaven.
My ring celebrates Jesus as the beginning and ending of all of our journeys. Whether we are just beginning, in the middle, or nearing the end of our journeys, God is with us. Death no longer needs to be the end of our membership in life, in the communion of saints. The life we are called to live does not include death as a threat or as an end of life.
Our Gospel for this day is the Beatitudes as contained in Matthew. In these words from Jesus, we are given a panoramic view of the communion of saints. Please spend some time reading this magnificent offering from Jesus. In it you will find that God is not about death, but about life.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Today is Monday at 2:30 PM.
This Wednesday I will going to Mount Calvary Retreat Center for a training program which I have been engaged in for over four years. I love my time in this very special community of Benedictine brothers. They welcome pilgrims to their daily cycle of prayers, their table fellowship, and their space.
Part of my Christian vocation given to me in baptism includes such times of retreat and prayer. Our vestry did a short retreat this past weekend and found it to be a refreshing time away. Sometimes God can touch us and speak to us when we are away from our usual routines. I hope that many of you will join me some time soon on such a retreat to Mount Calvary or the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino.
I would especially like to invite our junior high and high school folks to experience such a time together. I know it made a huge impact on me when I was young.
My offering for this week comes as a series of questions for your consideration. The questions will serve as preparation for this Sunday's collect and readings. My sermon will address each of these questions, so it would help if you got a sense of the readings in advance. Such preparation deepens the experience of worship.
Here is the Collect (prayer) for this Sunday.
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In our collect (prayer for the day), why do you think it says that "faith, hope, and charity are gifts from God?
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
The reading from Leviticus seems to add to what Jesus says are the "greatest commandments." How do these additional commandments fit with what Jesus said?
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, * nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the LORD, * and they meditate on his law day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; * everything they do shall prosper.
It is not so with the wicked; * they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, * nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, * but the way of the wicked is doomed.
Praise God the Father for the gift of his child, Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit who brings us together today. Amen.
According to Psalm 1, what does seems to separate a wicked person from a righteous person?
Second Reading1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
According to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, did he receive a royal welcome at Phillipi or Thessalonica when he offered the Gospel of God?
The Gospel Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "`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 your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
`The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet"'?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
* In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew mentions two groups who seem to be at odds with what Jesus was doing and teaching. What were the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees?
*In the Gospel for today, Jesus offers an answer to the question about the greatest commandments. Why do you think he said that these two commandments are like hangers on which all the law and the prophets hang?
*Why did Jesus asked the Pharisees and Sadducees: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
*Why do you think Jesus questioned the answer these two groups offered? (“The Son of David)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The only certainties in life are death and taxes.
As the political race for the presidency of our nation continues we hear much about taxation. Like those who sought to entrap Jesus, the issue of how we tax and who we tax and how much we tax continues to be a source of conflict and division and political defeat. Both candidates seem to want to give us tax cuts, but each seems to say that some of us will get more than others of us. For many of us without technical knowledge of this complex issue or much inclination to delve into those murky waters we simply rely on trusting who we think is on “our side.”
The Gospel for this week includes this oft quoted line from Jesus: “Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, but unto God the things that belong to God.” The question for Jesus was about whether it was right for a Jew to pay Caesar’s taxes. The option would be to rebel against the oppressive Roman occupation and refuse to pay tribute to Caesar.
This question continues the discussion about authority that the Gospel of Matthew started to explore through Jesus encounters with the religious establishment of his day. Jesus basically refused to give an answer about where he got the authority to heal, exorcize demons, and teach about a loving and forgiving God by responding with a question about John the Baptist’s authority. Since those who questioned him would not offer whether John’s authority came from God or from human institutions, Jesus would not tell them the source of his authority.
Think about what a hot button issue our economy is today. Think about all of the claims and counter claims offered by the two parties about whether we should cut or not cut taxes. As volatile as these issues are for us, this issue of taxation to which Jesus was being asked to respond only allowed two answers.
If Jesus said it was right to pay Caesar taxes, he would be labeled a Roman collaborator and his poll numbers among his own people would not drop and might have even resulted in his death at the hands of angry Jewish zealots.
If Jesus said it was wrong for a good Jew to support the Roman Empire that oppressed his people, he would have been labeled a rebel and gained the support of his people of those who might have taken him to be a zealot intent on using violence to rid Israel of the unwanted Roman overlords.
Jesus’ response is more that a simple answer that would take him down those two troubled roads. He simply places the responsibility for deciding on those who ask such questions. What does belong to Caesar? What does belong to God? The answer to these questions requires that we look at the whole issue of ownership. It demands that look for the image of God as well as the image of Caesar in our world and surrender those things which belong to each to their respective owners.
This is not an abstract bit of questioning because we all have already made our choices of surrendering. In whose image are we made? To whom do we belong? Who is at the center of our lives that serves as our model for who we are and what we do? By what authority did Jesus do the things that he did? By what authority does Caesar, by whatever name or title he or she takes, do the things done by them? Whom shall we serve?
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Last Sunday we read the parable of certain tenants who refused to give to the rightful owner of the land they worked, what most people would say belonged to the land owner. Did you form an opinion about what the landowner should do to those who killed his slaves and even his son? Some of Jesus’ listeners sure did. They knew what they would do (Give those scoundrels the boot), but is what they would do the same as what God would do?
So let’s look at this week’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel that follows last week’s lesson. Yes, it is another opportunity for clarity and judgment. There are interesting historical issues that are tied up in this reading surrounding King Herod’s capture of Jerusalem, but I would like us to focus on the various characters in this parable.
There is the King, his son who is getting married and who we don’t really know much about, the King’s slaves, the invited guests to the wedding who were contacted by the King’s slaves twice, and a large group of folks both good and bad whom the King’s slaves brought to the party. There is also a final, rather mysterious chap, who comes in with the rabble of previously uninvited guests. The first time they just did not come and the second time they either made a joke about not going, made business or farming excuses, while a third group seized, mistreated and killed the King’s slaves.
Now read the Gospel for this Sunday posted below and see where the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus speaks about is present in this story.
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION
Who are the “few” that are chosen and what are they chosen to do? Let me suggest a reading of this parable that may just set you off on a rant or a meditation. What if the man without the wedding robe represents Christ?
What if the whole episode that Jesus tells us is really just a description of the world into which the kingdom is coming? What if the Kingdom, as Jesus says in Matthew, suffers violence and this suffering is depicted in the way this lone guest is treated?
Will the Kingdom of God always be subjected to ejection?
Is the weeping and gnashing of teeth that Jesus describes simply the state of those who have also been thrown out of the wedding of feast? Could John the Baptist be among those who are believed to be in the outer darkness by Herod and others? Do you remember how Jesus reacted at his trial—was he not speechless?
Join me on Sunday as we consider these questions and meditate upon our baptism into the Body of Christ which is the church.