Whom do we choose to live by?

Sermon – October 5th 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

I don’t like today’s passage from Matthew!  It has such violent images.  Why am I using it?  I am using it because it has been used by too many Christians over the centuries to oppress our Jewish brothers and sisters.

First, I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus was an Israelite. Jesus never intended to start another religion he only wanted to reform his own.

The Gospel according to Matthew was written by a Jew in a time when there was a lot of pain between Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who didn’t.  It was a painful time—not unlike some of the conflicts we have faced in the United Church of Canada which divided congregations.  These conflicts divided many families, just like conflicts in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

The parable of the Vineyard was probably adapted from a Parable that Jesus actually said.  In Jesus’ time he was simply wanting to his encourage his followers to keep on going despite the anger by those in power both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment.  I need to be clear that the religious establishment did not represent all Jews.  There were many who were opposed to their intention to keep the power in the hands of a few people—not unlike the Papacy of today or sometime even our General Council of the United Church.

Sadly, this scripture has been used as justification to abuse and kill Jews throughout the centuries.  We must change this way of thinking throughout Christianity.  This is why the United Church of Canada has been working hard to build relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Through these relationships we can better understand each other and find ways to work and worship together.  This doesn’t mean we are always going to agree. No two Christians or Jews will agree on everything.  There is great diversity of views in both religions.

I love this re-telling of the Parable, told by William H. Willimon, which reflects on how Christians have treated Jews. He says:

The church in its dealings with the Jewish people has acted like the bad relations in this parable:
A family, who lived in a beautiful house beside a blue lake, was surprised to hear a knock at the door one morning. There stood at their front door a couple with two children. They were even more surprised when the couple told them, “We are your long-lost relatives from out west. We have come to visit you for just a couple of days. Can we come in?”
The family, though surprised by these relatives whom they had never heard of, graciously received them into their home, and began to graciously entertain them for the next couple of days. After two days had passed, the relatives said that they would like to stay a few days longer. The family graciously agreed.
But then, the family began to notice that their guests, their long-lost relatives, were beginning to behave less like guests and more like permanent residents. The relatives began to redecorate the room they had been given. In fact, they spilled out of the guest room and took over two additional rooms in the house, rearranging the furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting different pictures there that they had brought with them, and in general, acting as if they owned the place.
Still, the family tried graciously to welcome them and make them feel at home. The trouble was, the guests were beginning to feel a bit too much at home. Two weeks went by, and still the relatives, whom the family thought were only temporary guests, were with them.
One day there was a knock at the door and the family was surprised to see six or seven people standing at the door, holding their suitcases. They had never seen the people before and were startled when their relatives called out from the four rooms they were now occupying in the home, “Oh, those are some of our friends from out west. We told them what a nice house you live in, and invited them to come stay with us and visit. We knew you wouldn’t mind because you are so gracious.”
Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story, but you can probably figure out how it ended. After a couple of months, the family had been reduced to living in only one room of their own house, while their temporary “guests” had taken over the entire house for themselves. Eventually, in dismay, the family – feeling like strangers in their own home – moved away, driven out by those whom they had once received so graciously.
Take this as a parable, akin to the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.

 

Sadly, we Christian began to impose our particular ways on our Jewish brothers and sisters and tried to make them look inferior. We would go to great lengths to destroy their communities.  We must not let this happen again.

So what can we get out of today’s Scripture? I think we all fall short of following the way of Jesus and we need to reflect on ourselves.   It is against the ways of Jesus to put down his own people.

I believe the Spirit calls upon us in our families and communities to hold each other responsible for following the Great Commandment: love God with all your heart and soul, to love your neighbour as yourself and to honor and respect yourself as a man/woman of God.  We are the only ones who can change ourselves and we need to focus on ourselves rather than put others down to lift ourselves up.

Canada is becoming more and more a multi-faith country.  I hope we will seek to get to know people of other faiths and philosophies and recognize what we have in common. We can allow our differences to help each of us grow into being more understanding, compassionate and open minded.  May the Creator help us, of different faiths, to work together for a better world and let the Spirit lead us to a just, loving and sustainable world that will honor all of Creation.

 

Crest_2012

How Irritating can Jesus be!

 

Sermon – July 13th 2014

 

5th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Genesis 25:19-34

 

Romans 8:1-11

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus loved to tell stories called parables.  These were pithy little stories that always had a surprising ending.  They had a way of challenging people.  They had an uncanny way of helping people to see a true reflection of themselves whether they liked it or not.  Often, the stories revealed a truth that many people did not want to admit.  Instead of receiving the stories with thanksgiving they returned Jesus love with anger and hate.

 

 

 

We might wonder how a story like the Parable of the Sower, could unleash such anger.   It seems like such an innocent story.   It suggests that we Christians are the seeds that have been planted in the good soil.    This is certainly the interpretation that some scribe added to the Parable, but Jesus unlikely intended it to be watered down that much.  Thus what we read today has a lot more details filled in than Jesus would have likely shared.  The first listeners to Jesus Parable did not likely hear it the same way.  Many would have left partly confused and partly angry.

 

 

 

To get an idea of what it was like to hear the Parable for the first time.  Here this Parable :

 

A man once came to Buddha with an offering of flowers in his hands.  Buddha looked up at him and said, “Drop it!”

 

 

 

The man couldn’t believe he was being asked to drop the flowers.  Then it occurred to him that perhaps Buddha was asking him to drop the flowers that he had in his left hand, since to offer something with one’s left hand was considered inauspicious and impolite.  So he dropped the flowers that his left hand held.

 

 

 

And Buddha said to him, “Drop it!”

 

 

 

This time, the man was so unnerved by Buddha’s request that he simply dropped all the flowers and stood before Buddha empty handed.

 

 

 

And Buddha smiled and said to him, “Drop it!”

 

 

 

Perplexed, the man asked, “Buddha, what is it that I am supposed to drop?

 

 

 

“Not the flowers, my son,” said Buddha, ‘but the one who brought them.”

 

Keeping the Faith in Babylon A Pastoral Resource for Christians in Exile by Barry J. Robinson Ordinary 15 Year A

 

 

 

 

 

If you got the point of the story you might have understood Jesus story way back.   This story of Buddha probably gets more at the point of the Parable we heard today more than the interpretation we heard today right in the passage that was read.

 

 

 

So today’s Parable of Jesus, for me, calls upon us to drop that which is holding us back from living faithfully.  It is a call to forgive those who have offended and hurt us so that we can move ahead.  However, this is not a call to pretend that destructive events in our life never happened but it is call to learn and move on.  As Paul said in today’s epistle this is call to serve God in newness of life.

 

 

 

There are so many memories that can get in the way of our living life abundantly whether that is for individuals or for organizations such as churches.  You may have met people like the person in the story that I am about to tell as told by William Willimon.  I suspect that most of us have done this some time in our lives. Here is the story:

 

Remembrance can be a sure way to ensure that a congregation fails to achieve vitality.

 

I once served a church where there was a man who had been a member of that church for over 30 years.  He didn’t hold any prominent office in the church, but some of the people ‘jokingly referred to him as our “unofficial historian.” History is fine, and it is good to have someone in the congregation who can remember the congregational story and its past, but only up to a point.

 

His remembrance functioned negatively within the life of the congregation.  Just let someone come up with a new idea, and he would always be there to say, “No.  We tried that back in 1969 and it didn’t work.” Case closed, and the end of the possibility of the newness of life.

 

One time, when somebody suggested that we try a new initiative in evangelism, he chimed in, “I remember well, a previous pastor suggesting that we try that.  We did it, but it was a big flop.  That was about 1964.”

 

“1964!” I shouted. Do you know where I was in 1964? I was renting my tux for the high school prom.  That is ancient history.  Why should we care what happened in 1964?    I wasn’t even a pastor then.  It is a whole new world today.”

 

I was only partially right.  It is never a “whole new world” unless we have the ability to lay aside the past that enslaves us.

 

Pulpit Resource by William Willimon  Vol. 33, No. 3 Year A July, August, September 2005   Published by Logos Productions Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 12-13

 

 

 

I have learned myself of the importance to let go of past anger, grudges and disappointments.  I was married once before and I did not happy relationship.  I knew once that relationship was over I needed to forgive my ex-wife and myself.   I needed to let go if I was to experience the abundant life that Jesus promised. As well,  I knew that if I was ever to enter  a new relationship I would need to let go if I was going to have any hope of choosing a compatible and loving partner to be with.  Doing this work through counseling and spiritual direction was not easy but oh so worthwhile.  As you see, I am now in a healthy relationship with Jen.  This would not have happened if I had not done my work.

 

 

 

Remember, as I said earlier, to let go does not require us to completely forget.  To let go does not require us to call some dastardly or unkind act as okay.  To let go and forgive does require us to put these memories enough in the back our minds so that we are not continually having those memories inflame us over and over again.  Rather our goal is to learn from our mistakes and move on into even more abundant life.

 

 

 

So what do you need to let go of?  What do you need to keep at the back of your memory?  Who do you need to forgive?  As you acknowledge the answers to these questions over your life, find the courage to do the work and you will discover even more joyfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canola Fields near Strathclair Manitoba July 2012 (4)