Friday, December 01, 2017

Blessings in Woundedness

I can’t tell you how many times I ask the question “How are you?” and receive the reply, “I am blest.” Often it is a woman who answers that way. Sometimes the men do. I have heard it said as in thanksgiving, as a reminder that within all the worry and sorrow, there are blessings. But sometimes, it is offered more as a challenge, almost as a dare to dispute it. I hear within that dare a pronouncement of “I AM WORTHY AND YOU BEST KNOW IT NOW.”

That most recent statement was declared by a man. He said, “I am blest by the grace of God who makes me whole.” It came with a sideways glance to see how I took the statement. There was a look of something that could not be noted as love on his face. There he was, a black man, taking what he considered to be charity from me, a white woman. He seemed belligerent, not angry, but definitely tired of the abuse of power, tired of the foot on his neck. I saw all of this in a short few seconds. I held out my hand to him and I said the first thing that came out of my mouth, “Thanks be to God” and I smiled. He shook my hand and nodded his head, keeping eye contact with me for the full shake. His eyes softened. I knew that the Spirit had given me the right words to say. She always does that, if I let her.

Being a healer doesn’t mean that a person can make a physical or mental sickness be gone. Poverty and all the things that go with it are still there in the morning. Yet, in the words of Becca Stevens, “Answering the call to become a healer means you are willing to experience empathetic pain and feel others’ brokenness.”

I saw the phoenix within that man. He was broken. He was wounded and tired. Yet he stood up by calling on the grace of God. He knew he was worthy because God told him so and that gave him the power to stand tall. Just because we are broken does not mean that we cannot rise up.

I am reading Becca Steven’s newest book, Snake Oil. Her writing always has a powerful effect on me but this one is touching the core of my being. It helped me understand a lot of my feelings.

There are some days when I am so exhausted, my heart hurts. I want to curl up and cry. I am so tired that I don’t even have the energy to question why God led me into this place. Yet, I wake up in the morning and I head out into a new day, not always totally refreshed but enough so that I am able to move back into the midst of the people.

The thing is this – woundedness is not something held aside just for people living in the struggle of poverty. It is something that can happen to all of us. Woundedness often is a part of an unconscious condition, an unresolved trauma that we thought we shook off.

Many people think that money is the answer. If I get enough money, all my worries will go away. Money can sometimes glitz up the cracks of brokenness yet the pain seeps through those crevices no matter how well concealed. Arrogance, belligerence, hatefulness, bullying, violence, fear, intimidation, even greed – all these acts can be the effects of woundedness. In this world of provocative language and actions, it is difficult to look for the provocateur’s pain.

Yet if we were able, if it became imperative for each of us to see, hear, taste, feel the pain behind the dare, behind the power, behind the false bravado, would we view the arrogant or belligerent person differently? Rather than reacting in anger, would it be easier for us to speak peace in the face of challenge? Would we be able to hear the Spirit as she gave us the words to heal the woundedness? Would that person be able to hear or feel the peace?

I often wonder how long I can continue to stretch the limits of my physical self. Yet, there is no time nor even the desire to ask whether I should continue. That is never the question. The real questions are how could I not continue? How could I live a life outside of that brokenness?

My own self has healed or at least, is in the process of healing. I rise up, just like that phoenix, just like that man, because I know that this is what God has told me to do. This thing I do is the way I offer myself, my story, my own wounded heart. It is this offering that people recognize and respond. What difference does it make in the long run? I don’t know. I only know that I recognize the recognition when I see it.


I will never stop asking people, “How are you?” I hope they never stop answering, “I am blest.” It tells me so much about the person.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 24 October 22, 2017


Last week God was very angry with Aaron and the people for making the golden calf to worship while Moses was on the mountain with God. The people were impatient. Maybe Moses had forgotten them. Or maybe God had. We do have a tendency to think that sort of thing when our prayers are not immediately answered in the way we want.

But they did it this time. God was ready to consume them all. Although Moses talked God out of destroying them, God was obviously still very irritated. In the passages between last Sunday and this one, God tells Moses to tell the people that a safe passage will be made for them to pass into the promised land but God will not go up among them, “lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 

But Moses, always willing to talk with God, to argue with God, to even calm God’s anger continues in today’s passage. “If you won’t go with me, who will you send?” God tells him that God’s presence will go with him. But Moses persists: “If your presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For how will the people know that I and your people have found favor in your sight if you are not there?” Moses demands that God show him God’s glory. = not just the presence, but the glory – the visible radiance and majesty of the Godhead. 

God tells Moses that not only will the Radiance of the Divine Majesty be shown to Moses but God will proclaim the name “The LORD”.

“I Am Who I Am” was the name revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush when he asked “Who shall I tell them you are?” The actual name of God was so holy that it was not to be said. YHWH was too Holy; rather, the word Adonai (lord or master) or the words LORD or GOD was substituted.

Moses asked for a declaration of God’s presence and God responded not only by showing God’s glory but also proclaiming the name of God. To see God, even if only the back of God, to have the Holy Name proclaimed was an affirmation of Moses belonging to God, doing God’s will.

The Pharisees are a good example of a “stiff-necked people”. They were persistent in trying to entrap Jesus. Today, they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Jesus’ answer? Give to Caesar what is his. Give to God what is God’s.

But did that answer anything? We are today still asking the questions:
What belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God?

Do we live in a world where our spiritual and secular lives are divided? To many, that answer is yes, yes we do. We have our church life and then we have the rest of our life.

It reminds me of the Prosperity Theology. The idea is that financial blessing/physical well being are the will of God for some people. If we do good, we are given good. Sickness and poverty are caused by lack of faith.

Are you sick? Are you poor? Obviously, your faith is lacking. The result of this thinking is that it keeps people from feeling empathy or compassion for those they do not know who are sick or poor – especially those who live in poverty. Any support offered is for the benefit of the giver more than the one receiving.

Prosperity Theology is a good example of the division between our spiritual and secular lives. God and Scriptures are used to get what the person wants, not spiritually but materially. That idea is the exact opposite of all the teachings of the Gospel, the Epistles, and the Hebrew texts. Scripture points to the idea that God uses the believer, not the other way around.

We can see that the Pharisees question is a political one meant to separate rather than to unite. They were trying to trap Jesus by his own words. His answer would either violate Jewish law or Roman law.

The Roman tax was one imposed upon all the Jews in Jerusalem. But on the coin of Rome was the head of the Emperor of Rome. The denarius had Caesar’s image on it and it also had an inscription calling the emperor the son of god. For a good Jew to carry this coin would have been idolatrous. But the tax had to be paid.

For most of us, if we don’t pay taxes, we can wind up following Jesus from a prison cell. It’s just reality, at least for those of us who can’t afford the loopholes. The same was true then. It was the law of the land.

But is that the main idea of this passage? Give to Caesar’s what belongs to Caesar?

Perhaps Jesus was saying give back to Caesars what is his. The NIV uses the term “give back” rather than simply give. Return it. You don’t need it. Give it back. That is a difficult idea for us to contemplate. How would we exist in a consumer market if we gave back all our money to our government?

Or is the second part more important? What does belong to God?

As I was reading and preparing for this sermon, I ran across an article from 2004 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow from the Shalom Center and he wrote about this passage from a Jewish point of view.

He told this story from the teachings of rabbis who were in the same time frame:
“Our Rabbis taught: Adam, the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler Who is beyond all Rulers, the Blessed Holy One. For if a human ruler [like Caesar] makes many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same. But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was shaped in the Divine Image … "in the Image of God." And yet not one of them resembles another.
The very diversity of human faces shows forth the Unity and Infinity of God, whereas the uniformity of imperial coins makes clear the limitations on the power of an emperor.”

He said to read the Gospel story as it is written in Matthew. But then he retold the story adding one line and a simple gesture.

"Whose image is on this coin?" asks Jesus.
His questioner answers, "Caesar’s!"
Then Jesus puts his arm on the troublemaker’s shoulder and asks, "And Whose Image is on this coin?"
Perhaps the troublemaker mutters an answer; perhaps he does not need to. Not till after this exchange does Jesus say, "Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods."
Jesus purpose was not to divide the material and spiritual. He was simply saying look at the coin. Does it reflect the image of God?

What then, if we remember that the first human – adam – was made in the image of God and as a result, we all are made in that image of God?      How does that affect our understanding of “Give to God what is God’s?”

What if Jesus is calling us to be active in our understanding of our sacred diversity, of the many ways in which God’s image is offered to us? What if, as the Rabbi suggests, that we are being called to not only look at but affirm our differences even as Caesar “tries to reduce us to uniformity?”

“The very diversity of human faces shows forth the Unity and Infinity of God...”

Look at one another. Look around the room. See the diversity of our faces. Understand it is the divine diversity of the image of God. In that image, there is a Oneness, in spite of the diversity, simply because we all are in that image of God.

What if Jesus is calling us to a deeper understanding that we are called to a more profound commitment to follow God? A radical understanding of belonging to God? Like Moses. What about an even more radical understanding that we belong to one another simply because we love God, God loves us, therefore we love one another with all our differences? Not in spite of but because of those differences?

Giving to Caesar’s what is his suggests that we all act the same as Caesar, think the same, even in our religious practices. But, giving to God what is God’s is understanding that there are many differences with only one sameness – and that is, God.

When we expect all to conform to an idea, a belief, a practice we hold as our own, or a race we are, we open the room to division, not unity. Because that division makes it into Us and Them.

To be divided because of differences is more closely in line with following Caesar as if Caesar was truly the son of god. And that is a total subversion of Jesus’ intention.

To fear another because we do not recognize our own self within that other one is to fully profane the idea of God. It is not our own likeness that we should seek.

It is no wonder that God was so angry and put out with the people of Israel that the only thought was to consume them. How many times throughout history has God wanted to consume the human race, even as it is made in God’s own image? We are a stiff-necked people, prone to our projections of grandeur, our sense of self-righteousness, our pronouncements of superiority. We are stubborn and selfish, greedy and impatient. We are weak and yes, we are stupid. Too often we practice our religion as though we think that if we pray enough or give enough or give a little to the poor that we will be rewarded with wealth and good things.

There is a major faultline in that thinking. It threatens to destroy all for which we yearn. That Peace which passes all understanding does not come to us through material wealth. Peace as we desire it – that is, trouble leaving us – does not belong to those of us in this Christian faith. Wealth does not either, for that matter. Moses certainly had little peace or wealth. Neither did Jesus. We are not told to go and reap the harvest and save it for ourselves in case we need it later. We are told to give, then give more. We are told to love, and then love more. And then we are told to love even more.

Some might call it irresponsible to preach these words. What if someone gives all that they have to poor Joe standing by the highway and then that person has nothing left to live on?  Should we do that? I cannot say.

I obviously have not.

But I pray for those who have no home, or are underhoused. I pray for those who are hungry. I work towards righting those injustices that cause people to be without their basic needs being met. I try to remember that words and actions matter. I know we can’t just show up. We have to DO. So I do.

Most of all, I remember that today, I am living in the kingdom of God. Now. Right now. I belong to God, I yearn for God. All I am is for God. Therefore, all my actions have to reflect that. I don’t always succeed but I try. Is that enough? I hope so.

As we gather at this table, to be One in the body of Christ, we do so as individuals made in the image of God called into being with one another and with God. And then we will go out in the name of the Most High and Holy One into the world, as individuals made in the image of God to be with others made in that Divine Image to do the work of that Divine One.

Give to God what is God’s. Remember that we are to love God above all other things, first and foremost and lastly. Remember that we are to love one another as God loves us. And just as importantly, remember that you are loved by the One in whose image you are created.

Give to God what is God’s.


Amen.


God & Caesar: The Image on the Coin, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 10/6/2004
https://theshalomcenter.org/content/god-caesar-image-coin                                       

Saturday, October 07, 2017

If I Were Preaching Tomorrow...

Year A
Proper 22
RCL

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Psalm 19 Philippians 3:4b-14 Matthew 21:33-46

If I were preaching tomorrow then I would have to say that last Sunday, the Ten Commandments were violently violated.

We have taken the 2nd Amendment which states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

   and made it into a god. It has become more important than the lives that are destroyed by one who has been given the right “to keep and bear arms.” That right is more important than people gathered in a movie theatre, than children in a high school, than children in an elementary school, than people gathered in a church for bible study, than people at a night club, than people at a concert…that right for a few has become more important than the lives of innocent people doing nothing but studying, praying, singing, dancing, enjoying life. That right shall not be infringed by the rights of others to live, love, and pursue happiness.

These weapons have become idols, false idols that have directed attention away from God alone.

In my wrath, I have used God’s name to curse those who hold the power to do something yet do nothing to save us from this violent onslaught. I am sure I am not alone.

This most recent tragedy happened on a day we set aside as a day of worship. Yes, I know that many of us are no longer thinking of church or God by the time of day that this happened, nonetheless, it was Sunday. Regardless, this was an unholy act. God created all the days. Each one is holy.

Mothers and fathers were not honored. They were slaughtered. Their children were cut down.

Murder was committed. Mass murder. 

Perhaps there was no adultery committed. But if we think in terms of cheating, unfaithfulness, there were those things committed.

Lives were drained. The future was stolen. Health was robbed. Innocence was stripped away. The illusion of peace was shattered.

Lies have been told about the necessity for weapons. Falsehoods have been propagated to make people think they have a right to carry a semi-automatic weapon. False witness has been borne against all the victims of violent weapons allowing too many to think they are safe in a culture that worships rapid-fire weapons capable of mutilating almost 600 people in under ten minutes.

Lives were coveted so much so that one person took 58 of them, 59 when we remember he took his own. Many of those lives were lived in love. Perhaps it was the love he coveted.
Is God testing us, attempting to stop our idolatry by scaring the sin out of us?

If I were preaching tomorrow, I would have to wonder about the Gospel of Matthew. Not about tenants necessarily but about the idea that once again we have rejected the stone that should be our cornerstone.

It is easy to say that this is not about ME. I am not for irresponsible gun ownership. I am not for all who wish to have an assault rifle. I am not rejecting the cornerstone!

But I wonder…am I producing fruit of the kingdom? Am I likely to fall on this stone and be broken into pieces? Will I be crushed by it or cause another to be so? What can I do to change the culture? How can I, little old me, do anything that will change this culture of violence that we worship as if it has known us since before we were born; while we were in our mother’s womb, as if it knew the number of hairs on our heads, as if it loved us as only God can?


I think I am glad I am not preaching tomorrow. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sermon offered at St. Paul's Carondelet, Proper 15, Year A

Can you begin to imagine being despised so much that your own brothers would throw you into a pit with the thought of killing you? Or that you could be sold into slavery because of that fear, jealousy, hatred?

Joseph was obviously a very special person because throughout his ordeal, he kept his faith, his belief that all things would be well, eventually. Regardless of how dire the immediate moment appeared, there remained a faith that God was always with him. And he, of course, was right. Joseph’s dreams had shown him the bigger picture. Anger or retaliation against his brothers had no place in the end. His brothers were simply a vehicle to get him started on his journey. He had a job to do and those things he went through were simply a part of it.

Matthew’s gospel reading has the Pharisees and scribes criticizing the disciples because they did not wash their hands before they ate. This was not because they were concerned about germs; it was about the purity laws.

Purity symbolizes holiness. The Jews believed that God was holy and pure and people were not naturally so. The purpose for the laws was to give them a starting point, a way to learn how to be pure for God, a rule book, if you will. It was to guide them, to get them started on their journey towards God.

Jesus said that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean.
Jesus told the critics that they were hypocrites, honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far away. Their actions and their words did not match. Jesus was trying to tell them that they were too focused on human rules. Human rules/laws are often tools used for exclusion.

Jesus said what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. The words we use are important. These tell others what kind of a person we are – through and through. As people speak, they give hints into their inner most thoughts.

We know the big things that make us unclean – murder, violence, and all crimes against other humans. We know the rules. Break these rules and we can go to prison – some of us far easier than others. However, just because we don’t kill or maim others does not mean that our hearts are pure.

It is not what we eat or unwashed hands that makes us unclean. Our words…our actions defile us. Words of hate, actions of violence…these things make us unclean.

There has been an urgency in the gospel parables over the past few weeks. Jesus is on a mission, trying to help the Jews and the disciples understand that life as they know it is about to change dramatically.

His message is about Transformation. The way of life as they know it being turned upside down and all around. Sowing seeds of the kingdom so that it grows and flourishes. Hiding yeast in the midst of life so that there is disruption of all that is known.

Human rules trap us into thinking that change is not a good thing. And that causes fear. Fear causes us to hold on tight to those things we know. Love is sacrificed for the sake of remaining the same.

There is an urgency in our lives today as well. I believe that is what happened this past week in Charlottesville. The White Supremists do not understand that God’s love is big enough for all of us, that the Word is for all of us, regardless of how we worship, the color of our skin, our gender identity, our marriages. God’s love is bigger than our human imaginations.

Jesus is the change.

Jesus is the remedy to the ills that inflict humans. His death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit deals with the wickedness that taints humans. Purity laws are unnecessary.

Jesus as the remedy has to be applied to the dis-ease deep inside us so that we can understand the idea of being pure in God – through and through.

There is an ugly stain that runs throughout the history of humans. 
Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.
Native Americans. Slavery of Africans. 
Turkish massacre of Armenians. 
Nazis and Jews. Japanese Americans. 
South Africa and apartheid. 
Rwanda. Bosnia and Croatia.
Mexicans/South Americans, Muslims, the Sudan.

Ethnic Cleansing -- a term that is relatively new although the practice is old. The definition is this: an attempt by one ethnic group to get rid of members of an unwanted ethnic group by deportation, displacement or mass killing. What is going on now in the US is Ethnic Cleansing. Do not be fooled. The deportation of those considered unworthy of being in the US. Families being split apart. Children brought to the US as babies yet deported to Mexico as young adults. I know people who have generations of family born in the US but carry their passports with them to prove their citizenship out of fear of being stopped and deported. The new rule is deport first, ask question later.

The White Nationalists hatred of Jews, Blacks, LGBT people – mainly, anyone different than how they perceive themselves to be. They see no humanity in those who are different from themselves – mainly white males. All others are just that – “Other”. Less than. Not worthy. Unwanted. Unnecessary. Violence is one answer to the elimination of these.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls it the “stain of bigotry.”

Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund writes:
There are not two sides to Nazism. There are not two sides to White supremacism, bigotry, and racial and religious hatred and intolerance. Heather Heyer – a nonviolent protester against racial intolerance – is not as much at fault as the man who violently and deliberately hit and killed her with his car on a Charlottesville street.

The Jews considered Canaanites unclean. They did not observe the same rites. And here was this unclean woman chasing after Jesus, calling out to him, demanding that he do something for her. The disciples knew the rules. They wanted Jesus to tell her to go away.

But he didn’t. He stopped to listen. She came to him, begging him, calling him the Son of David, and saying, “my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 

Jesus knew his mission. To help the Jews understand that God was in the midst of fulfilling a promise. The Kingdom of Heaven was beginning and they needed to understand quickly that Jesus was that kingdom. It was important that the Jews hear this message first. So, Jesus tells the woman, “I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The people of Israel were supposed to be the ones sharing the message…after they understood it. But she continued, believing so strongly that she knelt in front of him and said, “Lord, help me.” Jesus told her that it would not be fair to take the food from the children and give it to the dogs. Nevertheless, she persisted. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

She understood so much more than the disciples or the people of Israel. She knew that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of David, the one that was promised was here. She already understood the Easter message and it had not even happened yet. This unclean woman knew. And Jesus recognized that. Great is your faith! He said. And her daughter was healed. He could have walked away. But he didn’t. Not only did he listen but he realized that she was right.

We get so caught up in rules – it is difficult for us to realize that the Kingdom of heaven has only two rules. Love God. Love one another.

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I was like this woman. I was at my wit’s end. I had nowhere to turn. In my office at work, I could not concentrate. I could not work. I could not even pray, at least not in the way I thought of prayer. In reality, my mind was desperately ranting at God, begging for help. My daughter was in trouble and I had no way of helping her. I did not even realize the extent of the problems that had hold of her. I knew only that she was in trouble. I picked up a little green Gideon’s Bible – I had no idea where it had come from but it was there. I randomly opened the little bible and it fell on this passage. Actually it could have been the Mark version, I don’t remember. Regardless, I realized as I read this random passage that I was being offered a vision into the future. A glimpse into the kingdom of heaven. I had no idea of what was to come or when it was coming but I knew that something had shifted just a little bit and I realized that there was change coming. And I also knew that it was good. Where there had been a hopelessness, a ray of hope had been illuminated.

I would like to tell of a miracle that happened that day and all manner of things were made well immediately but that, of course, reminds us that our time is not God’s time. It is a long journey from woundedness to healing and the scars run deep. But on that day, I saw something more than I had seen before. And I held on tightly to that vision. And the good news today is that my daughter is healing. And I am so proud of her.

I wonder if the Pharisees and disciples perceived a slight twist – a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven, a vision of things to come when Jesus talked about rules? or when the woman was talking? It was made more real in the Caananite woman’s life because she believed so strongly in that kingdom regardless of whether she had heard the message or not. She knew it in her heart and it came out in her words.

The theologian NT Wright writes:
“Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer to do, now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future.” We cannot be content to wait.

We must continue to pray for a stop to the injustices of the world, the bigotry, the hatred because of “Otherness” - the color of skin or ethnicity or gender or religion, the wars, the violence. We pray that those who are afraid will be made well in their affliction. We pray that we will understand that Jesus came to change things, to disrupt our understanding of the here and now and to lead us into the kingdom of heaven. We pray that we will claim God’s promises today with a faith that will not be put off.

What little shift or twist do we feel in our lives that lead us to a new understanding that the Kingdom is here, now, today.  We have a role to play today in the midst of this unrest and dis-ease. The time for standing on the sidelines as spectators – if there was ever a time – is past. We are players in this kingdom of heaven. We are the hands and feet of Christ and there is a message to be delivered and love to share. We are being made new every day. We have all that we need to move forward.

I read a post on Facebook yesterday. It is actually a dismissal prayer; however, I think it fits as a beginning for this new day.

May God bless us with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our heart.

May God bless us with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless us with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

As we gather at that table, ponder this: what new thing is God making for us and through us…and how will we respond?


Amen

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sermon Offered at Christ Church Cathedral, July 30, 2017

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 Proper 12
Year A


Open my lips, O Lord, *
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen.

Good Morning. Wow. I look out into this group of people and I see so many faces that I love. I am about to cry.  

I remember the first time I walked through those red doors. The first thing I saw was a man sitting in a chair, asleep leaning against the wall. The second thing was the banner that stated Our Church Has AIDS. Each of these things struck me as profound.

It was on a hot day in August, 2007 when my family and I walked through those doors, two moms and a boy, on a journey from Texas to find where God was calling us. As we walked into to this space, we knew surely the Holy Spirit was here with us.  
It is good to be back within these walls. Who knew I would be here this many years? Ten years!! Or that I would one day be standing in this place, in this pulpit?

But I am not here to talk about me. I am here today to talk about new things. Yet it is out of the old news that new things have come.

I am here today to talk about Jubilee Ministries. May 2016 Bishop Smith named me the Diocesan Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Missouri. I learned about Jubilee Ministries because as manager of Trinity Food Ministry at Trinity Church CWE, the Pantry had been a Jubilee Center for a long time.

The idea of Jubilee comes from passages in Leviticus declaring every fiftieth year a year of release for the captives – release from whatever holds them captive. 
Moreover, God reminds the people that no one owns anything, that all belongs to God. We all are aliens and sojourners with God.

In Deuteronomy 15, a plan is laid out to make certain that no one lives in poverty and that we all love God and take care of one another. That’s the idea of Jubilee.

Jubilee Ministries was created by an act of General Convention in 1983 as a way to encourage Dioceses and parishes into ministry of joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people, wherever they are found, to meet basic human needs and to build a just society.

St. Louis City has its share of poor and oppressed people and those whose basic needs are not being met. Some would say that it is a very unjust society.

I read an article by Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Society – he made a heavy pronouncement: The war on poverty has become a war on the poor.

And I see the truth in that statement every day.

Healthcare, housing, education, hunger – all basic needs. All as so far below adequate for too many people. We are not taking care of one another.

What we have here is a basic conflict of Kingdoms.

Jesus came to redefine the understanding of Kingdom. The world was split in two – those who understood Jesus to be the new king and those labeled “this generation” who were in opposition to all that kingdom meant. They were fine with the old. It was good and safe and known. And more than that, they thought it was enough.  

But Jesus was telling them that everything was changing. His death and his resurrection would turn the world upside down. His message was– pay attention! the Kingdom of heaven was NOW.

The kingdom of heaven is here. We cannot spread it. We didn’t build it or establish it. It has already spread. It is already built. It is already established. Jesus did that. He is trying to tell that in these parables.

masal (MAW-SHAL) is the Hebrew word for parable but it can be translated many ways. A figurative saying, a proverb, a riddle. But it is not the meaning of the word parable with which we must concern ourselves. Rather, it is how the parable works in the Gospels.

Allegories can have many points; a parable just one. Parables are not moralistic, but tell us to be ready, to UNDERSTAND something.

Last Sunday, the Gospel parable was about the weeds growing up in the midst of the wheat. The bad is growing right in the midst of the good but it is not ours to separate, because we can’t always tell which is the weed and which is the wheat. So, we leave that part of it alone. Let it be.

The parables for today begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…”
Anyone who has ever gardened or worked with mustard plant know that it may grow large with a lot of pruning, but it does not grow into a tree. If it is not properly pruned, it is scraggly and produces few leaves. It becomes more like a weed than a food source, much less a place for birds to makes nests.
But what a contrast! This lowly plant used as an image for the kingdom of heaven! This image that Jesus builds is beyond our own understanding of our known reality.

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Three measures of flour equal approximately a bushel. That is a lot of bread! Who needs that much bread? But the kingdom of heaven is abundant, more than we can imagine needing.

Yeast is most often used as a symbol of corruption in the scriptures – the leaven of Herod, the leaven of the Sadducees. Here it is used in a positive way.

This NRSV reading of the gospel does not use the word “hid” but the RSV does. The woman “hid” the yeast in the flour and it worked silently to grow and expand. Yeast is disruptive. It changes things. The kingdom of heaven is disruptive to what we perceive to be normal.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, and, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; and these treasures being found.

The man in the field and the merchant each sell all that they have to pursue this one treasure, pure and fine. Each of these parables note one thing – the pearl/the treasure is worth more than anything else. It is the ONLY thing that matters.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when they pulled it in, they put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.

A reminder of the importance of what we are doing now – prior to the time of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Because there will be a sorting of the good and bad eventually.

Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

We have a responsibility to be a part of that Kingdom.

So, to recap: the kingdom of heaven is beyond our understanding of reality; it is disruptive, timely (now), precious, selective, and we have responsibilities. Like the weeds of earlier or the good or bad fish, it is not ours to separate the evil from the righteous. This is not about “fishing for people”. The separating and the sorting will happen eventually but what are we doing in the meanwhile. It is a choice that must be made immediately – to choose the treasure now or to continue to hold on to the old understandings. NT Wright calls the choice “real, stark, and sharp.”

We continue to be faced with this choice. Do we understand now any better than the disciples did? Do we see that the old is that scripture, traditions, past glories, these are our old treasure? Do we see that the new treasure is Jesus and the understanding that his gospel is our truth as followers of Christ? That the new shines light on the old treasure allowing us to see it in a new way? We don’t need to discard it. We just need to look at it differently.

Are we stuck in lamenting the passing of the old or are we rejoicing in the possibility of new vision?

Wright also wrote that these parables are a challenge to us in two ways: understanding and action.
“Understanding without action is sterile; action without understanding is exhausting and useless.”

I think that many of us can relate to that quote. How many times have we understood but done nothing? How many times have we followed our leaders but did not fully understand? Or we got so caught up in the action that forgot the reason why we were involved. That is what burn out is all about. Burned out and used up.

What does it mean for us today to be scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven? I tell you, we are scribes being trained for the kingdom of heaven. What other reason do we have for being here?

Jubilee Ministry is a training ground for just that. Jubilee is about living out our baptismal vows – to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love one another as we are loved, to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. It’s all about understanding and action. It is a ministry of joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people, wherever they are found, to meet basic human needs and to build a just society.

Christ Church Cathedral has a rich history of social activism and past heroes. The AIDS epidemic is one thing that comes quickly to mind. And with that Michael Allen who proclaimed:
“At this table we do not accept nor do we condone the ways of this world, the way we separate people from each other, separating rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, black and white, and all the other ways we use to demean and belittle the people around us.”

These ideas are the rich words of the old treasure.

But there is more. From racial justice & gay rights to issues of homelessness & poverty– Christ Church Cathedral has a rich history of working to defend the dignity of every human being.

And the work continues:
 – Ms. Carol’s Breakfast is still meeting the basic human need of food on Saturday mornings. Work is ongoing to build a just society with the housing initiative. Acting as a temporary shelter on frigid winter nights. Offering a safe space for those who need to get out of the heat during the summer days.

Yet…what new thing is God creating for us and through us right here in this Cathedral today?

A new vision of what is good and just for the Cathedral of the Diocese might be a Jubilee Center, working in that ministry of Joint discipleship in Christ WITH poor and oppressed people, meeting basic human needs and building a just society…right here, in this space, downtown St. Louis City.

What more can be done than is already being done?   We are limited only by our human imaginations.

The kingdom of heaven is beyond our understanding of reality, it is disruptive, It is Now, it is oh so precious, it is selective and we have responsibilities. What are we going to do about it?

Are we able to understand this?

I have to get Paul into this sermon somewhere. So here he is to help us understand this kingdom of heaven:
Thank God for the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness, knowing that we don’t pray or act as we should yet the Spirit knows our hearts and comes in with sighs too deep for words. And God, searching our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit acts only according to the will of God.  

All these things work together for good for those who love God, and who are called according to God’s purpose. We have a purpose here. For those who are called are justified and those who are justified are glorified. If God is for us, who is against us? Who can separate from the love of Christ? Will Hardship? Distress? Persecution? Famine? Peril? separate us from that love?

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor opioid epidemics, nor homelessness, nor gun violence, nor hunger, nor environmental disasters, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are in the midst of the Kingdom of heaven. We are scribes being trained for this kingdom of heaven.

Amen.