Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Mission

18th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 20:17-19. Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection a third time.

 Three weeks ago I ran the Charleston Distance Run, a 15 mile run along either side of the Kanawha in downtown Charleston. Weather was cool to hot. There were large hills from mile 3-7, then long flats. One picture of me taken along the route shows me fresh and energetic, victory in my eyes. A second picture shows me tired but still going. barely. somehow.
When do you think encouragement was needed most?
At beginning, when there’s a long way to go?
Near end, when only a little left? 
When do you think it was received?
• Today’s gospel reading in Matthew is the third time Jesus talks about going to Jerusalem to be killed, and I think in part he’s expressing need for encouragement.
In today’s reading we’re just a week from Palm Sunday.
He’s 13 miles in.
Jesus knows his purpose
(to do the will of his father (Jn 6:38),
to seek & save (Lk 19:10),
to call sinners to repent (Mk 2:17),
that they may have life (Jn 10:10))
Three chapters and many miles and stories earlier, (Matt 16, which we read in April) Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ.
Jesus celebrates he has a running partner! 
And then says his plan: This ultramarathon leads directly to death.
Says Pete nuh-uh. Rough way to begin a hard race,
but Jesus does it anyway.
• CDR had hills at the beginning and then a long flat.
What’s at tail end of Jesus’ race?
Handed over. To our religious leaders. Condemned to death.
Handed over. To THEM. For ridicule, torture, death by crucifixion.
Jesus faced this at the end of his race. Shame. Stripped of dignity to boot.
• Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel.
2 Samuel 6:22 I will become more undignified than this… I will celebrate the Lord.
• Discipleship may mean suffering. Don’t shirk. Represent.
• Be an encourager. Especially @end of race. Represent.
• And thank God. And Philippians 1:27 whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

• Hymn insert Jesus Paid It All

Matthew 20:17-19 (CEB) 09/27/15
17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve aside by themselves on the road. He told them, 18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and legal experts. They will condemn him to death. 19 They will hand him over to the Gentiles to be ridiculed, tortured, and crucified. But he will be raised on the third day.”               (here ends the reading)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The First Shall Be Last? What's Up With That?

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the vineyard workers

• A dozen years ago I found myself watching Home Shopping Network late at night (is there any other time?) and I became enamored by a particular sale – it was a bunch of proof sets, coin collector stuff, and it was a deal that couldn’t be beat, hurry before it’s too late, you don’t want to miss this deal, once they’re all sold the deal is gone!
You’ve heard that kind of sales pitch before, I’m sure.
Thankfully I was able to return the coins a week or two later.
Sometimes there’s deals that are too good to miss,
other times too good to be true, often with the same advertising:
hurry before it’s too late
One time I received a mailing that proclaimed This Opportunity Won’t Come Again! …and I got two in my mailbox that day.
Is it that way with the kingdom of heaven?
Is God’s grace an offer like the Home Shopping Network or whatever it was I got in the mail?

• I had a conversation with a friend about meaning of this parable of the vineyard workers; my friend was troubled by the economics, the unfairness. A filthy rich landowner taking advantage of hand-to-mouth workers who can’t afford to unionize. Selective generosity is an abusive act of power, like a drug dealer offering a bit of bonus drugs, to keep your loyalty.
• But suppose it’s a story of coming to faith late in life vs. early in life: there’s the assurance for the latecomer that God’s grace is available and sufficient, even late in life. Well the early comers ask what’s to prevent a person from a lifetime of debauchery followed by deathbed repentance? And I say tell me the kind of accident you’ll have and I’ll tell you what kind of helmet to wear).
There's something eternally satisfying about life in Christ, and that whether you choose it early or whether you choose it late, it is a worthy choice. And if you choose it late, it won't be held against you. And if you choose it early, it doesn't earn you special treatment.
• Maybe that story flies for folks in 21st century America, land of opportunity and relative safety, land where Christianity has been in our water for generations. But in Matthew’s community, the story is different. Consider Matthew's audience, a few decades after the death of Jesus. Paul is dead, and the Temple ransacked. There are some perhaps disturbing economics going on here, which may be an indicator that it's not about economics at all, rather the kingdom of heaven is not a you-better-hope-you-got-in-on-the-ground-floor-else-too-bad-so-sad kind of situation. 
Did we miss our chance to respond to God? This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity won’t come again? We didn’t see Jesus like the apostles did, and now the apostles are dead, too. What's going to happen to us?
God's kingdom is still available, and it's not in the "Last season's rejects" discount box, no, its rewards are as good as they were at the beginning.

• And there is a reflection on economics… GOD’S economics, in which what God gives is perfectly sufficient and in no ways lacking, and we don’t get it…
World economics ruins our perspective and says that if one hour of work is worth one coin, 12 hours of work is worth 12 coins. Never mind that God always gives enough. (recall the gathering of manna in the wilderness... Sufficient, and anything extra spoiled. God gave enough).
Also remember the “other” son in the story of the prodigal… he had it all, but he was upset because he felt he deserved special reward for not wasting his father’s resources.

• God is the vineyard owner, ever interested in a crop of righteousness.
Early in history God “hired” some workers…
also God also hired some workers late in the day.
The latecomers didn’t miss the chance.
God’s promise to each is the same:
work for me and I will give you what is right
• God looks for workers (not legacy – you don’t get “in” just because your ancestors did) and you can say “yes” today.

• Reception of new members (in bulletin)

Matthew 20:1-16               (CEB)                                                  09/13/15
20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion -- a day’s wage for a laborer, he sent them into his vineyard.
“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.
“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion.  11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”              (here ends the reading)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What's In Your Wallet?

• Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
On Matthew 19:1-15. Jesus schools some Pharisees about divorce.

(Title a knock off of the Capital One commercial, “What’s in your wallet?”… if you have their credit card, you’re best equipped to handle life’s situations.)
After a month or two off we return to Matthew. A reminder that Matthew was written maybe 40 or 50 years after the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the Jewish-Christian community at the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. Jesus has not returned, and the first generation of disciples and eyewitnesses is dying off, Paul is dead and his letters circulating, and the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed.
In the previous chapters, Matthew has shown Jesus talking to the crowds about living in community, how Christian community, discipleship, The Kingdom of Heaven is in contrast to the selfish and hedonistic ways of the world. In chapter 19, Jesus narrows his focus to the disciples as he takes the final steps before the crux of his mission: the Passion, the salvation of humankind.
In fact, the previous section on discipleship ends with the first verses of today’s reading, that Jesus left Galilee and headed toward Jerusalem; large crowds followed him, and he healed them.
What was in Jesus’ heart? The healing of people, the salvation of people, particularly the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the powerless. (recall Jesus and Isaiah 61 in Luke 4)
• Side note: when folks interact with the communities of Jesus today, they should find that same desire for healing and salvation, that same advocacy for the disenfranchised and oppressed and powerless…
what’s in Jesus' heart should be what’s in our hearts.
• So Jesus heads towards Jerusalem, and crowds follow him, and he heals them, and he has drawn the attention of the Pharisees, the ruling class of the Jews, who are threatened by his popularity, his authority and his challenge to their authority. & we read in verse 3 that some Pharisees came to “test” him. What’s in their hearts? It’s not the healing or salvation of people, particularly the powerless… and actually the word “test” is the same as the word used in chapter 4 when Satan leads Jesus into the wilderness to tempt him. They want to trip him, to shame him, to discredit him.
• The Pharisees ask whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife just because. (it was, btw).
Jesus rightly sees it not as a question of interpretation of law, but once again as a conflict between the kingdom of people and the kingdom of heaven. Like last week’s reading from Ephesians 6, there are spiritual forces at work here, not just questions of law.
& Jesus points to the establishment of marriage as God’s ideal for people from the beginning: we’re designed to be in partnership, it’s a gift of God to be in human relationship, and those who love God naturally want to honor the gift and the giver in their marriage.
“Divorce just because” is selfish and dishonoring both gift and giver, PLUS it disenfranchises women, and Jesus is NOT about that.
What is in Jesus’ heart? Honoring God, healing and saving people, and lifting up the powerless.
The same should be in the hearts of disciples.
• Now. Two current events on my mind.
What’s in the hearts of people, and what’s in our hearts.
• Ashley Madison hack a few weeks ago, personal information about 37 million accounts released: AM acct. holders are about 85% men, about half in US, so say 10million men in the US taking steps to have affair. (it’s legal). I read that there were 3 zipcodes in US that did not have associated accounts. That means there are Bville men registered.
There is a battle between kingdom of people and kingdom of heaven here, there are 10 million men hoping to get away with dishonoring the gift from God. 
What’s in their hearts?
Right now, fear. There have been suicides.
What should be in our hearts? To be a place for healing for broken marriages. To be a place for healing for wounded women. AND be a place for healing for broken men.
• Kentucky Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses. Seems to me to be an abuse of power and hypocrisy to boot. She was elected to serve the public -- Christian, atheist, Muslim, straight, Jewish, divorced, everybody -- not just people she approves of.
My hope is to live in society as a representative of Jesus
who lifts up the oppressed & disenfranchised,
who brings hope and healing

• Jesus goes on with a mysterious statement about eunuchs in verse 12. I don’t fully know what to make of it, and I’ll leave it up to you to consider possibilities about the different kinds of eunuchs ("born that way," made that way by others, chose that way) but will ask what is in Jesus’ heart in v. 12? Lifting up the disenfranchised & bringing dignity and wholeness of life.
• I think you can see what I see is at the crux of today’s reading, it’s that Jesus’ heart is for the oppressed, Jesus’ hope for marriage is that the gift of God would be honored and treasured, and Jesus’ hope for the disciples is that they (we) would be witnesses and bearers of the saving love and grace of God, whatever the situation may be.
• What’s in your heart?

• Hymn 2149 Living For Jesus

Matthew 19:1-15                 (CEB)                         08/30/15
19 When Jesus finished saying these things, he left Galilee and came to the area of Judea on the east side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them. Some Pharisees came to him. In order to test him, they said, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female?[Gen 1;27] And God said, ‘Because of this a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’[Gen 2:24] So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
The Pharisees said to him, “Then why did Moses command us to give a divorce certificate and divorce her?[Deut 24:1]
Jesus replied, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are unyielding. But it wasn’t that way from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to him, “If that’s the way things are between a man and his wife, then it’s better not to marry.”
11 He replied, “Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been eunuchs from birth. And there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by other people. And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. Those who can accept it should accept it.”

13 Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. 14 “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”
15 Then he blessed the children and went away from there.