Jonah 3:10-4:11 † Psalm 145:1-8 † Philippians 1:21-30 † Matthew 20:1-16
You can find a video copy of this sermon in the context of worship here.
They are both right, aren’t they? This is no case of fake news. It’s just a problem with perception and location and what’s fair.
The laborers who were hired first thing in the morning, who went out and put in their twelve hours under the hot sun cannot abide that they are paid the same as those last to join the party, who work an hour at best—and get just as much. It is not fair. Or, to be more precise, it is not equitable. This is true.
And yet, the landowner has an equally valid point, doesn’t he? Did I not keep our agreement? We negotiated for the usual day’s wage at the beginning. This is what I’ve given you. How have I wronged you?
1 Kings 19:9-18 † Psalm 85:8-13 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
*A video form of this sermon can be found here or you can see the entire liturgy here.
In the Fishlake National Forest, on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau there is a colony of quaking Aspen that is an estimated 80,000 years old. Now, were you walking in the midst of it right now rather than listening to me, it would not be readily apparent. There is no tree in the grove that is anywhere near that age. Cut one down and you might count 80 rings, 80 seasons of growth. Maybe more. Maybe less.[i]
But underground, the eighty-year-old trunks are 80,000, a 100,000 years-old if they are a day. Some scientists think even this is a huge undercount, suggesting the forest has been around for the better part of a million years. Every tree here has sprouted from a rhizome mass too old to date even to the nearest hundred millennia, they say.
Isiah 55:1-5 † Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 † Romans 9:1-5 † Matthew 14:13-21
Eric Law, the episcopal priest tells the story of his childhood table. It was always full—family, friends, travelers. Twelve or more was not unusual. Dinners were stuffed with stories and laughter.
As you might imagine, as a kid, seeing this table, Law just assumed they were rich. As he grew older, he discovered this was not the case. His mother was very resourceful, a bargain shopper, to be sure, but even that did not explain the miracle of their table. Law recalls the particular way they dealt with leftovers as a window into the truth:
Jeremiah 20:7-13 † Psalm 69:7-18 † Romans 6:1-11 † Matthew 10:24-39
A video of this meditation can be found here.
The Jeremiah text caught me this week. I’m sure it’s the moment, the week, the flood of events that have turned our hearts and our attention toward realities that have been in plain sight for centuries and yet less noticed by me, a white male with layers of privilege that buffer my experience. Perhaps you too.
My mother never gave me “the talk.” There was no need.
I remember, in fact, a night in Marietta Georgia while I was a seminary student. Barb and I were out with some friends—a professor of mine, actually and his wife. I was driving. It’s a blur almost 30 years ago now. I took a right, I think. And then flashing blue lights. Then that feeling in the pit of my stomach. We pulled over, and looking back now, it’s almost as if I was possessed.
I was obstinate—I mean more than usual, if you can believe that! Rude even, to the officer. I don’t know why. I can’t even explain it. Even in the moment I had the feeling of floating outside of my body, watching myself, unable to control what I was saying. Perhaps I was embarrassed in front of these friends. There’s no excuse for it.
Here’s the thing, though. The officer was professional. He responded in measured tones. The encounter ended, and we were on our way. Had a few factors been different, who knows what might have happened? A black mother knows. Many black mothers know all too well.
I suspect, Jeremiah knows.
…whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!
Acts 9:36-43 † Psalm 23 † Revelation 7:9-17 † John 10:22-30
I might just have been in a bad mood, but there were a couple of things about this Acts text that, on first read, kind of bothered me.
Tabitha, a devoted woman, loved for making clothes for the poor, gets ill and dies. They find Peter, he prays and she comes back to them.
It just seemed well, too neat; too easy.
Too easy for this woman to be called back into her assigned role – at home helping.
Too easy for the rest of the community to avoid their responsibility for some of the work.
Too easy to look for a supernatural answer to their problems.
Too easy to get a result, a restoration, when so many others, so many of us, have to struggle through loss, and have no option but to get used to new heartbreakingly difficult realities.
Isaiah 62:1-5 † Psalm 36:5-10 † 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 † John 2:1-11
So what is going on here?
Is this a story about a wedding that hasn’t been planned very well, a potential social disaster, a mother and son bickering because they don’t want their friends to be embarrassed? It could be. “Woman”--mother, why are you asking me. It’s not my time. And yet, apparently it is. Jesus’ objection seems to drown in the flow of the story as water jars are quickly filled, as an oblivious steward is astounded, and as a wedding is saved with about 400 bottles of really good wine no one accounted for.
Or maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe the party wasn’t about to collapse. Maybe this wasn’t about poor planning. It could have been even worse: a story about a poor, struggling family doing their best to pull off a celebration demanded by social customs that they could not afford. Suddenly this gift not only saves the day, but delivers them from shame.
Or, it could be that this was a celebration that was simply winding down: “When the wine had run out,” the story goes, as if this was the expectation, as if there was an understanding that all good celebrations have a closing time.
If we read it that way, this becomes gratuitous. A story about abundance for the sake of abundance—unnecessary, saving nothing, a sign, as John tells us, the “first of his signs” of a story and a savior that is so full of life that nothing will be able to hold it back—not powers or principalities, armies or political leaders. Gratuitousness, generosity, an onslaught of extravagance. There are many ways we could read this. The story does not seem to tip its hand.
This is a sign—the first of his signs, says the text. But a sign of what? What do the disciples see that makes them believe in him and sets this greater story in motion?
Isaiah 60:1-6 • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 • Ephesians 3:1-12 • Matthew 2:1-12
I’m currently reading two books side-by-side. I don’t say that to impress you. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I planned it. Mostly, I fell into it. If I were more honest, I’d tell you that I can’t bear to read the one alone, so it is, as much as anything, a matter of survival.
The one—the hard one, the devastating one—is a book by Chris Hedges called America: The Farewell Tour. Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, formerly a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. I’ve talked about him before and about at least two of his numerous previous books. One is called War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The self-evident title reflected on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another, Losing Moses on the Freeway, was an examination of the ten commandments as they relate to American culture. I recommend them both.
In addition to his years in the Balkans, the Americas and the Middle East, Hedges’ writing is informed by his religious education as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School—thus the reflection he did on the commandments.
Hedges is a devastating writer. He writes in excruciating detail about the state of things, creating a provocative and difficult-to-deny indictment on where we are currently—the decay of American democracy, and perhaps even civilization itself as the common good has been sacrificed at the altar of greed. “We cannot battle racism, bigotry, and hate crimes, often stoked by the ruling elites,” he contends, “without first battling for economic justice.”[I]
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 † Psalm 93 † Revelation 1:4b-8 † John 18:33-37
Last week, we met Jesus in Mark, looking with his disciples at the great temple of Solomon. “Do you see these stones?” he asked. Not one will be left on another. He was warning them not to trust in what seems to be powerful, but instead to see and to heed the signs that speak to what is true, what is really going on, to a clear-eyed assessment that refuses to turn away from what we would rather not notice, whether hidden behind great walls or institutional privilege or fake news.
As a way of trying to illustrate this, with some fear and trembling, I showed you some pictures from the news that might serve as signs of this very thing, of a reality that should and has snapped us to attention as a society, that should impress on us the significance of the challenges we are facing so that we can more clearly look for the hope that is ours when, like a thing with feathers, it alights in our midst.
There was a strong and mixed response to these images last Sunday and early in the week. To all of you who engaged in one way or another, I am grateful. To those of you who were troubled, let me first of all offer my apology to you. This thing we do from Sunday to Sunday is a strange and wild beast, and the power and authority that you give to those of us who speak to what is essentially a captive audience—especially one of all ages and experiences—is a fearsome thing.
1 Kings 17:8-16 † Psalm 146 † Hebrews 9:24-28 † Mark 12:38-44
Beware the comma! It can change everything.
It can be a matter of life or death.
It can be the difference between “Let’s eat, grandma,” and “Let’s eat grandma.” Or consider another sign I saw not too long ago:
“Hunters, please use caution when hunting pedestrians on the trails” …which could have benefitted from a comma so that it would suggest that one should be aware of the presence of others while hunting.
Now when it comes to our ancient biblical texts, there is an added problem. As you may know, the original texts of both the old and new testaments didn’t have commas, or really, any punctuation at all!
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 † Psalm 15 † James 1:17-27 †
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
It is probably not new to most of you that the 16th century reformer Martin Luther was not a fan of the book of James. In fact, he wanted to remove it from the New Testament canon. He didn’t think it belonged in the Bible. He didn’t think it should carry the force and authority of scripture.
Now, it may be news to more of you as to why he actually wanted to see it removed. It wasn’t because James was too focused on good works as a standard for true faith or true religion. It wasn’t because he saw it as being untrue to the arc of the Old Testament scriptures, including this text we have from Deuteronomy which is commentary on what it means to attend to the heart of the law—the commandments given to Moses on Sinai that were the heartbeat of Hebrew faith and the center of Jesus’ bible.
It wasn’t because he disagreed with James’ powerful summary that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God... is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”
St. Andrew Sermons