Epiphany News

Rob Morpeth Homily 10/9/11

This is the homily The Revd Rob Morpeth delivered at Epiphany on October 9, 2011. His text was that day’s Gospel reading:

Matthew 22:1-14

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.”

Things are coming to a head between Jesus and the Sadducees and Pharisees, the two primary religious groups in Israel. In this section of the Gospel of Matthew they mount their most pointed attack on Jesus. They fire off question after question, hoping to trip him on some fine point of doctrine and belief. They hope to catch him in a theological error and pull a noose around him as tight as possible…ridding themselves of this perplexing and troublesome fellow who presumes to speak for God.

It is important for us to recall that it is within this context of attack and confrontation that Jesus says what he says. It is not a friendly Sunday school room with like minded people politely discussing the Sunday reading. Those who are asking these questions are openly hostile. In this tense context Jesus speaks pointedly…directly…even harshly.

In the parable of the wedding feast his message to the Pharisees and Sadducees was clear enough. In this parable there are those who had not the time to join the feast when the invitation went out. They were too preoccupied to attend. It may be that Jesus even hints of his own approaching death, mentioning in his parable that the invitees killed those who came to invite them to the feast. They lose their place at the great wedding banquet and in an image that would turn their world upside down, Jesus pictures the riff-raff of the city being welcomed to the feast. Significantly, good and bad are all welcomed.

There is little question that Matthew, the author of the Gospel, includes this story partly because it would have been important in helping the Gentiles in his congregation…now some 50 years after Jesus first told the parable …. it would be helpful to their understanding of their events that lead to their inclusion in the kingdom. They would have understood from this story that Gentiles were those invited in the second round of invitations. They would have understood that the Jews were those who had declined the original bidding of the host. The destruction of the city mentioned in this version of the parable would have reminded them of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans.

But those messages to the Sadducees and later to the Gentiles in Matthew’s congregation are not compelling for us. Those are no longer our questions. That is no longer our context. We are right to wonder if there might be something more in this story when placed within our own time.

There is certainly something to be said for those passages about gnashing of teeth and weeping. We can let our imaginations run wild conjuring up horrific images of hell and eternal suffering. We can imagine a God-forsaken time and place somewhere beyond…somewhere out there. And we can dangle the prospect of such endless suffering before us as a negative reinforcement to our moral journey. But such fantasies take it all too literally, I think. and more importantly, they leave us with some difficult questions about the nature of God.

Another approach, more consistent with that I believe about God, … another approach is to realize that, if we are still just long enough…and if we are attentive enough to our own souls we can find a place within … a place within that is God-forsaken. A place that has not been kissed by grace. A place within our own spirits and psyches where there is gnashing of teeth…a place deep within where our souls cry out.

A place of hurt…a place in which we feel bound by the past. Unable to loose ourselves from things done and left undone. A place where we fell vulnerable…clothed only in remorse, in regret. Our place of gnashing teeth and weeping eyes need not be on some distant shore beyond the grave. It may be as close as our own troubled spirit and darkened memory.

And it is here perhaps that we may now recognize ourselves in this story this morning. We may now see that we fit best in the role of the man who is cast out at the end of the story. He is cast out of the feast because he lacks the proper clothing. He is bound hand and foot and thrown into darkness. this hapless character may be our point of entry into this story from Jesus.

We are this man. We are if there is a place within that remains somehow off limits to God. We are this man if we have rejected the garment offered by the host at the wedding banquet. Perhaps because of ignorance…perhaps because of pride and stubbornness…perhaps because our wills remain as yet unbroken. Whatever the reason we are become a little like Adam and Eve who grasp at a fig leaf supposing they can hide from God. But this garment does not meet the dress code for the banquet. A garment of our own design held onto long after it has served any possible purpose. And thus in our refusal to accept the garment offered, we are left weeping and gnashing our teeth.

The answer, of course, is to accept the garment offered by the host. To cast aside pride and stubbornness in favor of grace and forgiveness. to grant the healing spirit of God entrance into our hearts and memories that the bindings might be loosed and the darkness illuminated. so that whatever is broken within us might be made whole.

To understand it might be helpful here to recall another parable of forgiveness and feasting. The prodigal son would know well what we mean if we speak of an inner place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. In that story the son runs off to make a life for himself. Turning his back on his father…even wishing his father dead by asking for his inheritance early – the son sets out on his own prideful…determined…even lustful course. But he does not succeed for long. he is soon out of money, out of pride and out of his mind in regret.

And it is just at that moment that the story of the prodigal son parallels the parable today. the judgement visited upon the son as he weeps amongst the pigs is a judgement of mercy. A judgement that seeks not condemnation and death but rather transformation. It seeks to make new that which is judged. The son is seized by the memory of his father and turns…turns back toward him. And the father who exclaims his joy upon seeing that the boy has turned back to him offers him a new garment …. the father runs to his son and clothes him in the finest robes and welcomes him to a feast.

The theme is repeated in the writing of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah portrays God as the one who clothes us upon our turning to him. He writes, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for God has clothed me with garments of salvation. God has covered me with the robe of righteousness.

George Herbert understands it rightly in his poetry. That great parish priest writing in the 17th century knew what it was to be delivered from places of grinding teeth and weeping. Listen as he casts the truth of this parable in poetry…he writes …

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, if i lacked anything.
A guest, I answered worthy to be here,
Love said, you shall be he.
I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear i cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand and smiling did reply.
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them
Let my shame go where it doth deserve.
And you know not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

The poet priest models for us the heart that is properly turned that it might be clothed and attend the feast.

The invitation is now … in this moment … to all who would put aside their preoccupations and come … to those willing to lay aside vainful pride and to confess a need. Let the host provide your garment. Be loosed from that which binds and blocks loves abiding in your life. The King of Love calls. Come and join the banquet.

Arnold Bush Homily 10/2/11

This is the homily entitled “Not Mine But Thine” that The Revd Arnold Bush delivered at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on October 2, 2011. He based it on that day’s Gospel lesson.

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Theme: Like the tenants, we also behave like the tenants acting as if all is “ours”. Plus, we too reject Jesus by our indifference, but His divine spark of initiative is constant and can change us.

I Context and Themes of the Parable

Context: If this parable is treated as a allegory then there are many themes: Owner? Who?…Vineyard? …Fence/hedge?…Whom?…. Tenants/sharecroppers? Whom?…Slaves? Whom?…Son? Rejection “the stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone/cornerstone’”
v.43 “Taken away from you and given to a people that produce fruits of the kingdom.”

II Dramatizes the Rejection of Christ

In the parable the owner time and time again sends his servants then his son. God keeps coming to us. This is the GOOD NEWS. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved. (BOCP, 858)

The parable is not just about poor economics, but about showing God is willing to go at lengths sending reserves to reach us in forgiveness. Jesus is addressing the religious establishment surrounding the practices of the Jerusalem Temple.

EG: (A) John 1:11 “He comes to his own and his own received him not.”
(B) The Cross and Resurrection, “God coming into the middle of our lives.” After the resurrection, Jesus comes to the disciples who returned to their profession of fishing.
(C) Jesus’ prayer outside the Jerusalem walls, ”Jerusalem (2X) how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.”

Any initial hearing of this parable, we would say to ourselves:” Why those tenants were so evil. They are so blunt. They are so criminal in their rejection of the Owner coming to receive his just due. Their rejection is extreme, but I suggest our rejection of God is more subtle, less violent, and less aggressive.

III Our non-aggressive or subtle rejection

Looking at the psychology of rejection we know feelings do surface when we feel rejected: As a child not being selected to a sports team; as an adult when friends neglect to invite to lunch or notice us. Most are civil enough do not say, “You are not welcome to come with us to this party or trip.” We do not wake up and say to God I am having nothing to do with you, I am rejecting you this week.”
Yes, you and I have subtle and less aggressive ways we reject Jesus as he comes to us in everyday activities. EG.
A. Lack of praying, talking to him, acknowledging him (Professor Margaret Gaughter’s, Practice of Prayer reminds us of our neglect in prayer).
B. Hoarding or keeping the love we have experienced to ourselves. In the Prayer of St. Francis, BOCP 833:“instruments of his love” “blockers of his love.”
C. Participation at Eucharist: We can find all kinds of ways why not to come. The competition to Church of the Epiphany is not the Baptist, Presbyterian, UMC, in Alabama. Here is the competition to Sunday Worship: the trips, TV, sporting events on Saturday night, Sunday paper, house guests, going to see relatives, sporting events on Sunday AM.
D. I suggest to open your hands and an outward expression of welcoming Christ into your life
Here is the applications questions: How do you welcome Jesus in to your life of a daily basis? Are there any actions in your life that may make Jesus unwelcome in your life?

IV “Not Mine But Thine”

V33 :”He leased the vineyard to tenants and went to another country.” They were entrusted to grow and protect the produce, but they practiced massive embezzling and drawing off funds which belonged to the owner. They were saying: The owner had made a big investment in the vineyard, a hedge/fence, a wine press, a watch tower. They said these are MINE. They claimed the grapes, the watch tower, the hedge, the wine press are MINE. Our possessions, our work environment, our responsibilities are the vineyards God has placed us in. As we survey our possessions and skills we often say THIS IS MINE.
We also claim our possessions! My automobile, my house and yard, my flat screen TV, my computer, my appliances, my skills. Our name may be on the titles. However, GOD HAS ENTURSTED US TO MANAGE THEM. GOD IS THE OWNER. The owner had entrusted the tenants to manage the vineyard. He trusted them to make sure the vineyard produced fruit.
EG: Here are some practices found in Crown Financial Ministry or Financial Peace University. In western thought, we tend to emphasize our accomplishments by human efforts and human ingenuity. These achievements enable us to have these possessions. But often we forget everything comes to us as a GIFT FROM GOD. We may say to someone “you are gifted”! But do we mean Sally is GIFTED BY GOD. Stewardship is based on God as the owner and we are the managers of our abilities, jobs, and possessions.
Note this Warning found in Deuteronomy 8: 7-18,:“Do not say to yourself: “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” Here is a helpful exercise I suggest you do three times this October. Do the first one this week. Walk through your home and yard, looking at the furniture in each room. books, pictures, awards, etc. As you walk say, “thank you Jesus for loaning me these things.”
The writer of Genesis 1:11 states God has given us dominion over our environments. We are to manage these areas. In the parable the owner gives the vineyard to others. We are to use those things with which God has gifted us. Ever heard “USE IT OR LOSE IT”? Yes, we have been given “gifts to manage.” If we do not use them appropriately we will lose them.

V God is the owner and he has given each of us a vineyard to manage.

The tenants acted as if these vines, this vineyard with a wine press, tower, and hedge are MINE. If deep down in our hearts, we know all our possessions, family, relationships, talents and abilities are THINE. What attitudes and behaviors may change?
For me, when I have those moments knowing God is the Owner, I am aware of my desire to honor and please him.
I am less possessive, if something breaks, thank you Lord for letting me use this thus far, I see what I can do to repair it or have it fixed. Wednesday, our mechanic replaced our brakes. Thank you Lord for letting us use this Toyota Highlander.

When I say these things within and around the house are THINE, I am more grateful, more appreciative, for His letting me use them. Are you appreciative of your computer, word processor, printer, social networking. He has loaned us many things to use.

VI Practice Hospitality Skills

The primary thrust of this parable is how God never gives up in coming to us. Grace is defined as God coming toward us. The incarnation is God coming to us in human flesh, in the material and visible world. Christ always quietly knocking on the door of our consciousness. Sometimes when Zoe and I are checking into a hotel, or entering a restaurant we feel welcomed by the small things they do. EG: “Welcome to Moes!” Come right in>
In your daily routines during the day, do you take a few moments to welcome Christ into your life? Is he the unseen guest at your meals? Is not the act of praying one way of opening yourself to Christ’s presence? Do you prayer for the Holy Spirit to make himself known to everyone as we worship in this sacred place?

VII Keeping focused on letting into our lives.

A real story from Barcelona, Spain, Olympic Stadium, about Derek Redmond and his father Jim Redmond from England.
In the Epistle Philippians 3:13-14 “ but this is one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly (upward) call of God in Christ.”
The Message, by Eugene Peterson, “but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. Let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us.”

Assorted News

First Thursday. We’re moving First Wednesday! Effective this month, it’ll be First Thursday. Plan to bring a covered dish and be with us Thursday, October 6 at 6:30 pm in the Little House. We should be finished by 8:00 pm.

Yard Sale. The church will hold a yard sale November 5 from 7:00-11:00 am. Bring your contributions of books, household goods, cookware, tools, furniture, and clothes by October 30 and leave them in the Little House.

United Thank Offering. As we did last year, Epiphany will participate in the United Thank Offering. The purpose of UTO is for each of us to give in thankfulness for the everyday blessings of life to provide blessings for others. Pick up one of the Little Blue Boxes in the narthex, then offer prayers of thanksgiving and drop coins in it and return it to the church on or before November 6.

Arnold Bush Homily 9/25/11

Here’s the outline for the homily The Revd Arnold Bush delivered at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Sunday, September 25, 2011. His text is Matthew 21:23-32.

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, `From heaven,’ he will say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, `Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, `I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

“In the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus is
Asking us am I attempting to do the Will of God ?.”

Text and Theme: MT 21: 23-32: The chief priests and elders asked Jesus regarding his authority. Jesus answers the religious leaders with a question and a parable of a father with two sons. The parable is a challenge to us to see which “son are we”… who seeks the father’s will.

I Introduction

For any parents who have or had teenage children in the household, this Parable of the two sons surface memories of asking children to complete chore around the yard and house.EG Arnold’s children…
In the parable one the father asks: He went to the first and said, “Son go and work in the vineyard today.” The son answered, “I will not.” But later he changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The father went to the second son, and said, “Go work in the vineyard today”. The son said, “ I go, sir.” But a time later, he changed(repented) his mind and did not work in the vineyard. The key sentence in the parable is this: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” The question forces the listener to choose: which son am I like?
In the context of the story, the chief priest and elders in the Temple, said they would do what God asked them to do, they are the obedient followers of Yahweh. They change their minds and do not do as the God asked them obey. The Tax collectors and prostitutes were the ones who said, I will not do what Yahweh asked me to do, but they changed their minds, for they will enter the Kingdome of God ahead of you. You religious leaders did not believe the teachings of John the Baptist and the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe John the Baptist.

II Attitudes of the TWO sons

(First Son)
Son says YES, but did not GO
All show & No GO
Promises with NO ACTION
Lip Service & No Action
Changes mind to a NO
Promise & No Performance
(Second Son)
Son said NO, but he did GO
All Go & No Show
All Action w/no Lip service
Action without lip service
Changes mind to a YES
No Promise but Performance

II Biblical Contrast of Groups

Religious Establishment
Sadducees, Pharisees (Jerusalem)
Chief Priests (Benefited from animal sacrifice)
Prayers in the Temple
Scribes/Pharisees (Interpreted the laws)
Hygiene rules, food, sanitation, fasting
Promise & No Performance
Tax Collectors
Hired by Romans, traitors
Prostitutes (in nearby temples)
OUTCASTS/NO TEMPLE WORSHIP for following…
Samaritans, Phoenician woman
Shepherds, children

This is one of 10 parables showing God’s mercy to sinners: 2 debtors,Lk7:41-43;Guests at Tables 22:1-10;Prodigal son 15:11-22;Lost sheep 18:12-14; Pharisee & publican 18:8-14; lost coin 15:8-14

III Question on authority

The parable is presented by Jesus in the context of the chief priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of Jewish worship. Lots of external regulations and rules to follow….Yes, I will do what is expected in the laws. Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin? They would not answer this. Next Jesus’s transition statement is “What do you think?” 2 sons….
If the key phase in the parable is “which is doing the will of the Father?” then could not Jesus be saying authority is given to the one who is PERFORMING NOT PROMISING. Thus we as followers of Christ are given authority as we perform the Will of God.

IV Application of the Parable in our daily lives:

1. We ask which son are we? More promise than performance, more lip service than action. How are we performing in mirroring the compassion of Jesus in our daily lives? Maybe the Nike advertising is very good. JUST DO IT!…JUST DO THAT ACT OF LOVE EACH DAY.

2. In Matthew 7:21 in the Sermon on the Mount he is speaking of bearing much fruit. This verse seems to captures the essence of the Parable. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only him who does the will of the Father who is in heaven.” We can go around reciting the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, I love the Lord….but he who DOES THE WILL OF THE FATHER. EG, civil religion; responding to 19% of AL population below the poverty level ($11,000 annually for an individual; $18,000 annually for a family of four)

3. “Changed our minds” The Greek word is metanoia, where we translate to TURN AROUND, CHANGE DIRECTIONS. If south to an exit on I- 85, turn east going to Auburn and but want to go to Montgomery,then I must turn around (metanoia) . We change our minds. There are many in the church who grew up with a bad taste of church life… but some how God touched them and they changed their minds to return. In studying and doing training in marriage counseling…. One phase often here is “never say never”. I have had spouses say, “I’ll never forgive him/her!” I’ll never shop at that store again in my life time…. But drive out of the way 50 miles”. Persons who have had a painful experience in a congregation may say: “I’ll never go back to one of those churches!”. In St. John’s, Pensacola, one Lent we studied a book, by Denis Maynard, “Forgive and Get Your Life Back” (also published Episcopols”) I recall several members saying, this book removed some of my bitterness and I was able to forgive those in who hurt me several years ago. A relative or parent… change your mind.

4. According to Richard Foster, we have too much superficiality in our Christian practice. We need a deep faith, mind, body, and spirit seeking the will of Jesus in our lives. As you come up for communion or as you sit quietly at home, invite the Spirit of Jesus into your personality. This morning as you allow the Spirit of Christ to invade you heart and soul, then he will be flowing out into the needs of others.

Conclusion: In the parable Jesus forces us to ask which son are we like: Say yes, to do no action? Or say No. But change our mind and take up an action? Maybe a third Son or Daughter: Say Yes, Lord Jesus, and then allow the power of Christ to energize and empower your loving acts throughout the day and week.

My take away applications in my Christian Life this week….

Rob Morpeth Homily 9/18/11

Here’s the text of the homily The Revd Rob Morpeth delivered at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Sunday, September 18, 2011. In it he refers to three of the lectionary scriptures for that day:

Exodus 16:2-5

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him– what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, `Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, `You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, `Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Like the early Israelites in our story this morning, I have traveled across the Sinai … across the wilderness. I made my journey several years ago during a lull in the fighting that seems never ending in that region …However, I traveled from east to west …from the promised land to Egypt rather than in the opposite direction as the recently freed Israelites did in the story this morning as they fled from captivity in Egypt.

Oh, and also I did it in a day on charter bus with an Egyptian driver named Monty … I was the bus leader so I guess I was the Moses of our small band of pilgrims.

Even in our air conditioned, espresso equipped coach some of us grumbled as the day wore on … the terrain … stark and barren …. is interesting for only so long…then the trip becomes just tedious… at first you remind yourself of how this extraordinary place shaped the people of God, but after a time you just want the trip to end…you long for the lights of Cairo.

So forgive me if I go a little easy on the Israelites who grumble as they cross the Sinai on foot … seeing the same terrain, minute by minute, hour by hour, day after day … feeling the rocks and sand underfoot and the hot breeze on their dry skin … at this point they know very little about this god who has sent Moses and called them out of slavery … indeed they left behind everything they knew … even the certainty of food and water and a place to sleep…at this point in their story the encounter at the mountain still lies ahead … at this point there are no commandments … no stone tablets … there have been a couple of times when extraordinary things have happened … there was the bitter water at Marabah …water that turned sweet when Moses threw a tree into the water … was that God or did the tree just absorb the bitterness? … and indeed there was that lucky break back at the Reed Sea when the winds blew all night pushing the water to the south so they were able to walk threw the waters while the heavy Egyptian chariots sank into the mud … there was some debate even about that … was it a lucky break or was it the hand of this mysterious God who has so recently reentered their lives claiming to have been the god of their ancestors? All this they turn over and over in their minds as they walk on and on. The one thing it seems that they now have in abundance is time and the luxury of worry.

And in this they are not much different from most of us…though their circumstances are different and though 27 centuries separate us … the core question they face is the same as ours … shall our lives and the choices we make be grounded in and responsive to our relationship with God … or is that relationship merely a mirage leaving us to fend for ourselves making the most of whatever lot fate has dealt us?

For them this question was articulated in the choice between continuing on their journey through the Sinai or in returning to the security of Egypt. For us the question seems to take many forms but is essentially the same. The dollar bill proclaims that it is in God that we trust but the recent history of that dollar and its investment suggests that at least some of us are more like those Israelites who wanted to reject the trust implicit in a relationship with God and instead fend for themselves back in Egypt. Jonathan Edwards said during the great enlightenment that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry geod. I think it’s pretty scary choosing to fall into the hands of God no matter what the divine temper. That’s why it remains such a struggle for us. The choice that is… that’s why stories such as this still speak with such power.

We learn also in this reading of their embarrassing scramble to gather more manna than would be required for one day. The implication of their gathering was clear enough … this god could not really be trusted so you had better gather all you can while it is available … there is really no miracle in this manna, of course … to this day God feeds us each day …we eat manna from heaven everyday … for not one of us can make food from thin air … we use what God has given us … there is not enough for everyone because not all of us have learned the lesson of Exodus, to gather only what we need … instead we hoard, creating shortages … and so some starve while others throw away food that, like the manna in the story, has gone bad. At the heart of it all lies this same question about trust … about the fundamental orientation of our lives. … whether it is toward the promised land or whether we continue to look back to Egypt. Whether we dare allow ourselves to fall into the hands of God or continually snatch ourselves back from God’s embrace.

The apostle Paul is powerful because he has answered that question once and for all … his life is focused in a way that will elude us so long as we hold back and grumble …his path less traveled has brought him to a place of confidence that is worthy of envy. His confidence exudes in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. For to me, he proclaims, living is Christ and dying is gain. It is incredible when we remember that he writes some 30 years after the crucifixion and nearly that long after his own conversion … he writes from a jail cell but his spirit soars so that you cannot detect his incarceration in his writing unless he mentions it.

This is a man whose life is not dependent upon the peaks and valleys of the Dow Jones … or for that matter on any other worldly measure of success. But neither is he the fierce individualist so often exalted in the American mystique … he is utterly dependent…dependent upon God … he has fallen hook, line and sinker into the hands of God and has stayed put. Though his time at the hand of the plow has been long he asks only his daily wages for he knows that his employer is able to provide…and more important …he knows who his true employer is.

And so it is that we travel on in our journey having left the confines of our personal Egypts – some more recently than others…. We now find ourselves in varying degrees struggling to permit our tumble into the hands of God … to take up the trust that is both the way and the goal … struggling to learn to gather only manna enough but knowing that gather and labor we must … struggling to stay turned toward the land of promise when Egypt beckons safe and secure. We yearn to know how much is enough and when too much becomes just another Egypt. Can we set our hands upon the plow without looking back? Do we mind too much that others may seem to make the journey with greater ease than we?. Can we trust enough to know that all may at last arrive?

We prayed just a few moments ago that we not lose our way as we pass through things that are themselves passing away. Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence argues that we are living in such a time … a time when more than the usual number of things are passing a way … a time, she observes, that seems to come around about every 500 years … a time when it is especially important to have your bearings …. A time to know what is really worth holding onto and what must be left on the side of the road. … . A time for traveling lightly.

A good time to remember our spiritual ancestors who once traversed the Sinai leaving what they had known along the way and finding that the real journey was within …a journey in which they learned to trust in more than themselves …a journey whose destination was not really a place but rather a way of living no matter the place … a journey whose end is also its way. An English king and Christian 500 years ago expressed it this way:

“To see thee is the end and the beginning, thou carriest me and thou goest before, thou art the journey and the journey’s end.”

Priests and Teachers Through 11/20/11

Senior Warden Jimmy Weldon says we’ve lined up priests and Sunday School teachers now through November 20. Here’s what’s on tap:

Date Priest Sunday School
9/11/11 The Revd Charles Womelsdorf Lee and Amanda Borden
9/18/11 The Revd Rob Morpeth Lee and Amanda Borden
9/25/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/2/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/9/11 The Revd Rob Morpeth Lee and Amanda Borden
10/16/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/23/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
10/30/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/6/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/13/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush
11/20/11 The Revd Arnold Bush The Revd Arnold Bush

Rob Morpeth Homily 9/4/11

When I heard The Revd Rob Morpeth deliver this homily in our nave Sunday I was moved. Now that he has been kind enough to share the text with me, I appreciate it even more, and I am proud to share it with you. He based it on Sunday’s Epistle lesson:

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

They say good advice never goes out of style. Writing in the middle of the 1st century…probably about 20 years after the death of Jesus…Paul gives the Romans some advice that sounds oddly contemporary. Having never been to Rome…having never met them he tells them to owe no one anything. Debt, of course, has been a big problem lately, especially too much of it or the wrong kind of it. Funny, I haven’t heard this passage being cited in the recent debates in Congress. What an odd thing to contemplate. What if our government owed no one anything…except, as Paul says, love? Sounds like something right out of the 60s doesn’t it? Owe no one anything except to love one another.

With that Paul must be understood as turning our focus very much to the here and now of living. His goal for Christians is that we arrange our affairs and direct our desires with an eye toward freeing ourselves enough to respond to those around us, not out of greed or need but in love. Love here understood not as the stuff of emotions that comes and goes. We so often confuse other feelings with love. We get it wrong all the time. We confuse lust with love. We confuse infatuation with love. We confuse liking someone with love. And sometimes we’re so dang desperate we confuse our need to be loved with love. Paul would have a hard time recognizing any of these as what he had in mind.

Paul tends to go back to the cross as the central compelling concept of life and in the fidelity of Jesus first to God and through God to humanity. Paul sees the kind of love he has in mind when he suggests it be the only thing we owe one another. As he says…if we can but love…the commandments all take care of themselves.

Much later St Augustine in the 4th century….the fellow in whose writing much of our understanding of ourselves as Christians is grounded … in the 4th century Augustine advised the faithful to love God and sin boldly. He is clever: you cannot even approach the first and still do the later. You can make no claim to love God while sinning boldly.

Like Paul’s observation of the fulfilling of the commandments…it is all taken care of in love. The kind of love that wills good for the other… the kind of love that survives the ebb and flow of emotions … the kind of love evident in the fidelity of Jesus as he refuses to turn away from his mission and in the fidelity of God as God offers the radical hope of resurrection to the very people who had turned their backs on Jesus. Paul leaves little doubt about the importance of the here and now…the give and take of human relationships. We cannot just hunker down in our well stocked basements and await the end while all hell breaks loose round about us. We have a job to do and that job is love.

Yet you may say, but Preacher, doesn’t Paul go on in this passage to speak of an end time? And I would be obliged to say yes, yes he does. The truth is that Christianity does not see the world as just cycling on and on. Time does not circle but spirals … there is an end … a reckoning … things will be different.

It turns out that science seems to see things the same way although they do not assign the same meaning to certain events as we do. We know that our own sun will go the way of other stars eventually. It will exhaust its energy and engulf the earth. We know also that our own galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. Although no one can say for sure how that will go down, it doesn’t sound good. All kinds of bad of things happen when galaxies collide; well, bad for the likes of you and me. And if that doesn’t get us, we’re pretty sure the whole cosmos will either run out of steam or itself collapse in what is loosely referred to as the “big crunch.”

But unlike Paul…science gives us plenty of time to prepare for or ignore these threatening events. Billions of years separate us from any of this. Paul’s sense of time may have been off a bit – after all, it has been almost 2000 years since he wrote to the Christians in Rome – but what Paul has exactly correct is his sense of urgency. In one sense now is always the time of God. Now is always a moment of reckoning, and potentially a moment of reconciliation and of resurrection. In our arrogance we sometimes think ourselves immortal, but the things we use to convince ourselves that we are masters of our own fate are tricky. For example, we have added years to our lives but we may have inadvertently shortened the time of humans on earth.

Most of us have probably heard the idea that a collision millions of years ago between earth and an asteroid created conditions on earth that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. But millions of years before that there was another extinction that intrigues me. Cyanobacteria breathed CO2 – carbon dioxide – and exhaled oxygen. This was fine back then because the earth’s atmosphere had far more CO2 than oxygen. The bacteria were wildly successful – you might say they ruled the day – but over time all that breathing resulted in an accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere. The success of the CO2 breathing bacteria became their downfall as the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere dropped and oxygen increased.

I think what Paul commends whether the end takes the form of cosmological collapse, an atmosphere that favors other life forms, or it turns out that the Mayans were right after all – what Paul commends is not the hubris and arrogance we humans have always favored when left to ourselves. What he commends is a profound humility, a humility that is itself grounded in a Christian understanding of who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. We have here of late been far too quick to roll Jesus out as our newest weapon in some battle of our choosing rather than – in humility – recognizing that we are his instruments in a battle of his choosing … the outcome of which includes our ability to do the thing both Paul and Augustine see as central: love.

The prospect of an end need not send us frantically running to and fro in desperation attempting to arrange our own salvation, the basic human problem since Eve and Adam sought to get one leg up on God by eating an apple. The prospect of an end should evoke in Christians the same activity as Paul commends in our daily relationships. So we live each day as though it were the last but live it in a way that witnesses to our conviction that our very existence is in God’s hands always.

Someone great once said he who holds the future need not fear the present. We must recall as Christians that in Jesus we hold the future. And we therefore need not act in the present out of fear. We can choose – because of the bounty of his love for us – we can choose to act toward others – no matter the time – as though we owe them only love.

First Wednesday

Many of us enjoy the relaxed and informal time for fellowship that we have enjoyed during First Wednesday, so we’re committed to continuing our monthly gathering, even though we will NOT gather this Wednesday, September 7.

The question is whether the first Wednesday of each month is the right time for us to get together. We know of one active church member, for example, whose work commitments interfere with any gathering on a Wednesday night. And we know of two other active church members who would never be able to come on a Tuesday night. How about you? Do you enjoy our monthly fellowship time? Would you like to see it continue, and if so, on what night of the week? Let Jimmy Weldon or one of the other Vestry members know your thoughts and preferences.

Weekly Responsibilities

Beginning this week, you should begin seeing on the main page of the site a list of people responsible for each task required for our worship and smooth operation. Personally, I would love to see us decide to use VolunteerSpot.com to manage our task responsibilities, but until we do, at least we will have a place where we can all check to see what each of us is supposed to be doing this week. Right now I’m just copying the names each week from the service roster. If something on the list is wrong, please let me know and I will change it.

Lee

Supply Priests for September Through November

Good news. Jimmy Weldon, our Senior Warden, says we’ve lined up supply priests for most of the Sundays in September, October, and November. Here’s what we know so far:

  • September 4 – The Revd Rob Morpeth. We don’t yet have a bio on him. He’s the Director of Finance for the Alabama Diocese. If you’re interested, here’s the text of an evening talk he delivered during the Lenten series at St. John’s in Montgomery.
  • September 11 – Open – still working on this one
  • September 18 – Rob Morpeth
  • September 25 – The Revd Arnold Bush. We’re gathering information on The Revd Bush now. We already know he’s a consultant in congregational development, retired as an active priest. When we know more about him, I’ll post something here.
  • October 2 – Arnold Bush
  • October 9 – The Revd Charles Womelsdorf
  • October 16 – Arnold Bush
  • October 23 – Arnold Bush
  • October 30 – Arnold Bush
  • November 6 – Arnold Bush
  • November 13 – Arnold Bush
  • November 20 – Arnold Bush