Pentecost XV

James Christensen

James Christensen – The Parables of Jesus

MATTHEW 20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers* for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

These workers are the best in town. Given a level playing field they come in first every time – often with a bonus! He goes and hires more at 9, noon, 3 and just an hour before quiting time.
8 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.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought [HERE COMES THAT BONUS!] they would receive more;  So here it comes – but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it,

Rembrandt - Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

Rembrandt – Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

 • they grumbled [murmured] against the landowner: Where have we heard that before, it began with Cain, Lot & family, don’t forget the poster children – the children of Israel in the desert for forty years, driving Moses crazy. No wonder he kept asking God to kill him, “Just kill me” – You know that original sin is the only doctrine that is so obvious that no one contradicts us. You have a perfectly lovely baby – Dorothy Biedenharn – only yesterday, handing out with Dad at SOULWorks – just glad to be there – but give it 18 months or so and it’s Katy bar the door. You hear it before you see it, the metal piercing whine that grates on the ear and enrages the heart.

They complained, not just about it amount of money… 12 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.’

13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend” or in Southern, “Bless your heart, Bubba , I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

Is your eye evil because I am good?”Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Envy, the green eyed monster, is always accompanied by its buddies: the sneaky, shifty, sly, Slander and Murder, shadowy, tall and terrible, violence – who is known as much reputation as by presence: whether it be a flash mob at Kroger or ISIS. But the ring leader is Envy – the very vermin that Lucifer the beautiful loosed into the world out of malice and spite.

Here we see the two economies:

•  Economy of scarcity, lack and fear
• Economy of the Kingdom of Heaven, in contrast is abundant, pressed down & overflowing and bullish on the future.

Them There & Then – Us Here & Now

A story from the Chapel of the Cross years is instructive. Robert Farrar Capon, of blessed memory, lectured at the Chapel of the Cross back in the 1990’s.  He was teaching that salvation is Grace plus nothing!  No hedging your bets just straightfoward grace. Robert was ruthless about grace!   I’m telling you, I have learned more about grace from Robert than anybody.

So Robert reinterates, “It’s Grace plus NOTHING.  A lawyer raised his hand and asked, “Why be good?” That’s a fair question of course. Why be good?  With a twinkle in his eye, Fr. Capon replied, “BECAUSE IT’S MORE FUN!”   So, you’re saying, it doesn’t matter how you live, said the lawyer his voice revealing his tension and barely restrained outrage. “I never said that,” Robert said, “Of course it matters how you live! – But it doesn’t earn you anything”

Well that did it! Robert just ripped the bloom off their bush. The Room divided right down the center.  One half of the room were righteously offended, while the other half aroused up in hope. Do I need to say that they righteous didn’t show up the next night?

Well the other half did return and here they cam dragging their friends – the halt and the lame – blind – none physically but of spirit – those abused by the Church of their understanding! So the room was full.  I realized that I had just witnessed what happened when Jesus taught.

You see we are called to a life spontaneous, creative and playful . Jesus promised us that we would be absolutely free, fully joyful and always in trouble. Ready at a moment’s notice speak a good word for Jesus, Therefore as Hunter Thompson put it:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside/sideways in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow Jesus ! What a Ride!” HUNTER S. THOMPSON.

September 21, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee

JWS

Epiphany VII

 “The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”                          — Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul, 1992)

[Hang on to that! I’ll be back to it in a bit.]

Let’s hold hands and jump right into the briar patch!   Just what is it that Jesus is trying to do to us this time?  Let’s do inventory of our common life: Where are the Ancient Practices?

  • Many among us are engaging scripture like never before.
  • Many are meeting in Bible Studies in offices, shops and homes.
  • Many are moving outside the safety of the familiar and meeting, working with and loving children who live within a mile of here.
  • Many are praying, praying expecting something to happen! Some of you attended the public service of healing here last Wednesday night for Debbie Philips as many did a year ago for Patrick Crump.
  • People are aligning their checkbook with the goal of their soul moving toward a tithe as the standard of giving.
  • Soon we will take up the Lenten fast. 

Have you ever considered why we would take up these ancient practices? Or why did ancient people take up these practices?  Let me let you in on one of the obvious secrets – what I am about to tell you is the very seed-bed of the Good News in Christ.

Christian-Principles-Sermon-on-the-Mt

MATTHEW 5:38   You have head it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say to you…

How many of you have heard of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s?  We actually have a descendent of the McCoys of Kentucky in this parish.  Fortunately, we have no Hatfields from West Virginia on the roll so all is well (for now).

Please understand that an eye for an eye was a huge improvement over the practice of killing everybody in the family and having a “blood feud” that kills everyone in the neighborhood. Our justice system is a eye/eye –let the punishment fit the crime. Now Jesus begins where we are and says, You have heard it said… But I say to you!

Turn the Other Cheek - Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Why the right cheek?  You can only strike someone’s right cheek with the back of your hand, which to my way of thinking is more demeaning; as in “I will show you the back of my hand.

If anyone wants to sue and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

Here’s what we need to know about this.  Turn in the Bible to Deuteronomy 24:10-13  [page 148 in the pew Bible]

 When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11 You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12 If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13 You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the LORD your God.

 A cloak could not be taken from a poor man. It was like a kilt – long piece of tartan cloth – pleat it on the floor over your belt, lie down on it, belt it around you for the day – it was all they had.  It was called a PLAID = plaid. What Jesus is telling us, “So they take your suit and underwear, but rather than taking comfort that they at least can’t take your cloak — give it also!

the_second_mile_2pe

  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

If you had the bad luck to be on the road when the Roman Legion was on the march the soldiers were allowed (who was stopping them) to enlist you to carry their pack one mile.  You choose to go on the second mile.

 Give to everyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 

You don’t even run a credit check? You know the commercial that says, “We don’t care about your credit, we care about you!”  Who are they kidding?  This is foolish. This is good business.  As you know when someone says to you, “It’s not about the money…”  It’s always about the money.

Do an experiment.  In front a 18 month old or a 2 year child set a $20.00 bill on fire.  It’s just a piece of paper.  Set the same bill on fire in front of a four year old; there is a look of horror and a scream goes up, “He’s burning money!”

 These four situations are very different; what do they have in common?  What they have in common is that what Jesus tells us to do is UN-NATURAL.  It is not our first unthinking reaction!  Remember what Thomas Moore wrote?

“The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”

  •  Our mind thinks – be afraid; protect yourself; get yours before someone else does.  It’s only natural
  • Our body prepares – kick, shove, back-hand right cheeks and even kill… It’s only natural
  • It is only imagination that can see a different way.

“You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”  – Mark Twain

Our imaginations must be converted!  That is why we are taking up the ancient practices!!!!  Because we must learn to do what does not come naturally and only the Triune God can do that! Love your enemies – Why, because praying for those who harm us – is the only way we have to convince people that the Holy Trinity is at work in the world.

Hernando deSoto Bridge - Memphis, Tennessee

Hernando DeSoto  Bridge – Memphis, Tennessee

That is, therefore, why we are not in the judgment business!  Robert Farrar Capon was right on target when he said that people don’t need to be told how awful it will be when they go to hell.   They know that already; they are already in hell.If a man is standing on the Hernando DeSoto bridge over the Mississippi about to jump, telling him that he will reach the water at 125 miles per hour and the impact is the same as falling on concrete and he will die!  That man already knows that.

What that man needs to know is why he shouldn’t jump!

If we do not have a standard of caring greater than the jerk down the street and our ner-do-well brother-in-law; if our salt is not salty how beloved will anybody know Jesus loves them.  If the Church is persecuted in the United States it will not because we are Christians, NO. it will because we are not Christian ENOUGH!  We have to live our lives in such a way that the only way our community makes sense, is because God is real and transforming the souls  of human beings.

Now for just last bit of business and I’m done.  Verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  That translation has been source of a lot of mischief; people in despair because they know they can’t ever be perfect and the others who, God help us, have convinced themselves that they are perfect.

Give it up.  The better translation is, “Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.” Not, no mistakes or errors but wholeness, compassion, affection, kindness,  generosity, joy, turning the other cheek,  being naked for God’s sake, carrying the burdens of others, willingly, thus fulfilling the law of Christ, generous to those in need; investing in the Kingdom of God, where the economy is based, not on scarcity, but on superabundance.

I’m done.  Amen.

JWS

 

 

 

Scripture Speaks to Scripture

Saint Maximus of Turin

One of the fun parts of research is that you happen upon really good stuff.  I am digging through the Church Fathers (at least in English) looking in particular at how they handled Scripture and the whole economy of following Jesus. Today I came across this passage from a sermon by Maximus of Turin on the Marriage Feast at Cana story recorded in John 2:1-11.

“Addressing the expectant servants, he said, “Fill the jars with water.” The servants promptly obeyed, and suddenly in a marvelous way the water began to acquire potency, take on color, emit fragrance and gain flavor – all at once it changed its nature completely! Now this transformation of the water from its own substance into another testified to the powerful presence of the Creator.

Icon of the Marriage Feast at Cana – John 2:1-3

Only he who had made it out of nothing could change water into something whose use was quite different. Dearly beloved, have no doubt that he who changed water into wine is the same as he was from the beginning has thickened it into snow and hardened it into ice. It is he who changed it into blood for the Egyptians and bade it flow from the dry rock for the thirsty Hebrews – the rock that, newly transformed into a spring was like a mother’s breast refreshing with its gentle flow a countless multitude of people.”

Sermon 23 Maximus of Turin

Bible Repair and Other Services as Required

The Bible Repairman

Tim Powers tells a good (though dark) tale in his collection of short stories, The Bible Repairman. I was, of course, intrigued by the title and began ruminating over how and what one would repair. I learned that “repairing” Bibles is actually a side line for Torrez, though I will leave it to you to read Mr. Power’s short story and find out his primary occupation.

  “He [Torrez] had a couple of Bibles in need of customized repair, and those were a easy fifty dollars apiece – just brace a page against a  piece of plywood in a frame and scorch out the verses the customers found intolerable, with a wood-burning stylus; a plain old razor wouldn’t have the authority that hot iron did. And then of course drench the defaced book in holy water to validate the edited text. Matthew 19:5-6 and Mark 10:7-12 were bits he was often asked to burn out, since they condemned re-marriage after divorce, but he also got a lot of requests to lose Matthew 25:41 through 46, with Jesus’ promise of Hell to stingy people. And he offered a special deal to eradicate all thirty or so mentions of adultery. Some of the customized Bibles ended with little weight besides the binding.”

In a peculiar sort of way, one must accept the authority of Scripture to even want to find a way around the verses that trouble our consciences.  Having established a twisted respect for the power of Holy Writ the only way to manage its demands is to stoop to the use of magic.  And so, people pay Torrez fifty bucks a pop to neuter the offensive passages.

Mark Twain once said it was not the passages that he didn’t understand that bothered him as it was the passages he understood clearly.  What would happen to me and you if we simply began to do the things we already know to do?  People of faith recognized long ago the sacramental nature of confession.  In fact even in this post-Christian/Modern period the State of Tennessee recognizes the power and authority of private confession by statute and actually Tennessee goes even further and criminalized the betrayal of such confidences!

What if rather this week we do a moral inventory and throw out those things that trouble us, deal the people we hurt or who hurt us. If after that, for any heavy lifting call a discreet priest and let him/her take out that particular garbage for you.  Really, call me,  it comes with your baptism, really, it’s on the house!  I promise.