my miscellany

Pentecost 20, 2017 — 22 Oct 17

Pentecost 20, 2017

RCL Year A Proper 24
Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-9, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Saint Matthew 22:15-22

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said.”[1] If Jesus says it is lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, he loses support from ardent nationalists who resented the presence of the Romans. If Jesus says it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, he loses support from the Herodians, whose power depended on the stability the Romans provided, the Pharisees, whose religion the Romans left alone, and the Romans themselves.

The question may be likened to a question from a reporter today—it is divisive and drives the ideas involved to the opposites and to polarization.

Jesus ducks the question by refusing to take sides. And I believe his answer suggests a lot about our life and how we live it today in the United States. It is perfectly possible to render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s while rendering unto God the things that are God’s. Most all of us do it already. We pay our taxes, and we worship and believe in God.

So, what is there in this attempted entrapment for us? The characteristic of the Pharisees’ question, the pushing toward division and polarization, characterizes most conversations today about elections, financial markets, current events, and sports. The conversations ask for a declaration of one allegiance or an opposite allegiance, and the example of Jesus is to keep both options on the table, to refuse to be pushed into one polarized position or another.

I am not talking about waffling or changing positions in accord with the prevailing winds or latest polls. I am talking about being what Jesus was in part, a full self who thoughtfully knows that both sides have their pros and their cons. Both sides have strengths and weaknesses. Choosing one over the other without reservation is just foolish, just as foolish as it was for Jesus to have declared that paying Cæsar’s tax was lawful or unlawful.

For life is not a coin flip. Heads or tails cannot fully describe us or what it means to be made in the image of God. For we are believers and sinners at the same time. We have good days and bad days. We have our strong points and our weaknesses, but every part of each of us has been redeemed in Jesus Christ. In Christ and in Christ’s body, with our weal and our woe, as Isaiah prophesies,[2] we are “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” as we sing in the great hymn.[3] And, as another hymn puts it, “In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”[4]

[1] Saint Matthew 22:15.

[2] Isaiah 45:7.

[3] The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 410, Stanza 1.

[4] Hymn 529, Stanza 1.

Pentecost 19, 2017 — 15 Oct 17

Pentecost 19, 2017

RCL Year A Proper 23
Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Saint Matthew 22:1-14

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”[1] And thus Jesus begins another parable about the kingdom. This time, he compares the kingdom to a wedding banquet, and that comparison is the major meaning of the parable. Heaven is like a wedding banquet—people enjoying themselves, eating, drinking, talking with one another, and their needs being met. Heaven is like that Jesus says.

But within that major meaning, I believe, we have a narrow meaning, a meaning drawn from the emphasis upon the invitations and the responses to them.

The responses fall into three categories. The first group refuses to attend. One goes to his farm, and another goes to his business. Still others seize the slaves bearing the invitation, and mistreat, and kill them. The early church understood that the slaves thus killed were a figure for Jesus who himself was mistreated and killed through the combined efforts of Israel’s leaders and Israel’s Roman occupation. The king in the parable is enraged at the death of his slaves and burns the city. In a similar way, the early church understood the burning of the city to be a figure for the destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple, by the Roman army in 70 ad. So, the first group of responses are those who refuse the invitation to the wedding banquet which is heaven itself.

The second group of responses are to the second round of invitations. The invitations go to everyone, good and bad, and the wedding hall is filled with guests.

And among them is the third group of responses, a group of one man, a man not wearing a wedding robe. For this he is bound hand and foot, and thrown into the outer darkness.

What does this parable have to do with you and with me? First of all, we are not among those who went to our business or our farm. And we have not killed the messenger. Group one is out for us.

We are in group two, those who answered the invitation. But do we have any resemblance to the man not wearing the wedding robe? The nub of the parable is just this question. We are to put on Christ, like a garment, in Baptism, and we are to work out our salvation, week by week, and year by year. We are here to do just that.

Sometimes in the Choir Room before the Eucharist, I tell the choir and the servers that what we are about to do is just a rehearsal, a rehearsal for heaven. And it is. It is up to us to be ready, to participate in the Eucharist so we are ready for the heavenly banquet.

[1] Saint Matthew 22:2.

Pentecost 18, 2017 — 8 Oct 17

Pentecost 18, 2017

RCL Year A Proper 22
Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Saint Matthew 21:33-46

The readings today give us two vineyards in two parables. “The vineyard,” Isaiah tells us, in his parable, “of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”[1] And the vineyard, in Jesus’ parable, the one that the landowner takes from one group of tenants and gives to another group of tenants has a slightly different significance.

The chief priests and the Pharisees realize that Jesus is talking about them. The first group of tenants in the parable represents them. They are the ones whose leadership is about to be given to someone else, to another group, perhaps, some might say, to Jesus’ followers.

So, we do not have a neat doubling of the same meaning as we have, say, in Pharaoh’s dream, where seven cows, fat and sleek, come up out of the Nile to be followed by seven cows, poor and ugly, who eat them; and seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered and thin, sprouting after them.

One parable today concerns the whole house of Israel, and the other parable concerns the chief priests and the Pharisees. But though the parables’ meanings are not a neat reflection of each other, we see that both have to do with many common things. And I want to address three of them as quickly as I can.

First, neither the whole house of Israel nor the religious leaders are the landowner. By the same token, we are not God. But we have a relationship with God just as Israel and the leaders have a relationship with the landowner.

Second, that relationship is a relationship that includes service. Israel is to produce grapes, not wild grapes. And the leaders are to produce a fair portion of the produce to pay for their tenancy. In our relationship with God, we are to produce the fruit of good works, the doing of God’s will, doing right rather than wrong and helping those who need it.

Third, the house of Israel and the religious leaders stand to lose their responsibility to serve if they do not serve. Israel’s vineyard will be torn apart, and the religious leaders’ vineyard will be given to other tenants who fulfill their responsibility. And our opportunity to produce the fruit of good works hangs in the balance. That opportunity is not an inviolable inheritance. It is more like a brain or a muscle; that opportunity has to be developed and exercised to remain functional.

One beautiful thing about reading and telling God’s story over and over again endures to be that the story is remarkably consistent. We learn over and over again that God has given us most everything that we need and that our response to God is decisive and determinative for our health and our happiness.

[1] Isaiah 5:7.

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