Saturday, September 27, 2014

What Would Jesus ... have US do?

Proper 19-A; September 14, 2014; PICNIC!
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

“WWJD?” “What Would Jesus Do?” People have many different reactions to that little slogan. Some resonate with it, of course; perhaps they are VERY sure what Jesus would do in any situation and equally sure that they would do it, too. Others kind of cringe, recoiling from what they think smacks of fundamentalism and a simplistic reading of the Gospel.

Actually, I think it is a very good question, a proper and even an easy question to ask. It is, however, not such an easy question to answer, or to hear the answer Jesus might make.

Peter’s question to Jesus is a version of “WWJD.” Just how far should my forgiveness go when someone has really been bad to me? What would you do, Jesus?

As is the case with many of the parables in Matthew, Jesus tells a story to illustrate his position. The story comes from one world – the everyday world of economics, of right and wrong, of do’s and don’ts – but the meaning of the story lies in quite a different world, the world of unlimited, abundant, overflowing, embarrassing, foolish mercy and grace. The master is willing to forgive every last cent of debt owed him by the slave, but the slave does not learn this lesson well. This time, the master’s mercy turns to wrath. If Jesus is the master, we can then understand what Jesus would do when asked to forgive: he would forgive abundantly. It seems pretty clear that the one forgiven should also do as Jesus did: forgive the debts owed him. What does Jesus do then? I’m afraid it’s not a pretty picture.

There’s another slogan that’s popular in some Episcopal circles: “It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.” This came from the Episcopal student community at Washington University, in St. Louis, and was the product of some intense discussion or retreat they had on the gospel. It’s a version of “What would Jesus do?” When given a choice, they would say, Jesus would choose the relationships over the rules. Forgiveness is more important than the amount of debt owed. The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What would Jesus do? It’s a very good question. The answers, however, I think come not from rules but from relationships. The answers are best formulated in a community, in the push and pull of friendships and commitments, where what we think is the “right” answer is challenged by someone else’s opposite version of the “right” answer. 

What would Jesus do about global debt forgiveness? What would Jesus do about same sex marriage? What would Jesus do about racism? I might think I have the answer, but I just might learn more about what Jesus would do from the answer you have, or from the opinion you have formed from reading the gospel, or from the facts you bring to the table.

What a value, then, to a church as a diverse community, a place where the tough questions Jesus raises can be tossed around and debated from different points of view – to be a place where all of us can ask those questions and hear some answers, in the context of our conversations, our relationships, our listening to not only what Jesus would do but what Jesus would have us do.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What are the BEST things that have happened to you here?

Proper 18A     Sept. 7, 2014
Exodus 12:10-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Let’s look at this gospel as an ASPIRATIONAL mission statement for the church. It is a remarkable person, with enormous spiritual depth and maturity, who can actually live out what Jesus seems to be commanding all of us to do. Conflict between individuals, within families, among groups like congregations, at workplaces, or on the world stage – it happens all the time, and not to put too fine a point on it, but conflict is really hard to resolve. In all of those places, we have to ask, is trust really and truly present? Do the parties to those conflicts – between individuals, within families, among like-minded groups like congregations, at workplaces or on the world stage – do those people have enough trust in the other party to believe that he or she really will do what they promise, to resolve the conflict?

If we read Paul’s letter to the Romans, or listen to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, then we know the answer: love is all you need. Love, love, love. True. Love is the lubricant that makes all of this work. But love is a complicated thing. First and foremost, it is a gift from God, and so freely given and not something “earned.” But as any marriage counselor will tell you, love is also something that requires some work: intention, will, deep listening, a receptive heart, a desire to make it grow. And so we can also read what Paul writes as another “aspirational” mission statement: “The commandments … are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

What is the VISION of the church, of this church, of any church, of the whole world wide body of Christ? You could come up with any number of things, but this one – “Love your neighbor as yourself” – could be probably as comprehensive a one as there is. So let’s just take a few seconds and go there in our minds. Let us imagine what that would be, if we, as individuals, as members of families, as members of this congregation, of our wider community and of the world, loved our neighbors as ourselves. Think about it.

So how does that “loving your neighbor” you were just thinking about connect with this, the mission statement of St. David’s Church? What is the work behind the love?

This week the vestry will use this mission statement as a focus for our reflection and planning. The program year is beginning, with a stewardship campaign coming up soon, an array of concerts, service opportunities, times we can enjoy each other’s company, all in the works. So this is the time to reflect on our vision – what is God calling us to be? – and our mission – what is God calling us to do in this place?

Let’s spend some time thinking about this connection between vision – loving our neighbors – and mission – what we do in this place. Take a few minutes now to jot down your thoughts. These notes won’t be published – names aren’t needed – but they will be shared at the vestry retreat. This is not a survey; it’s an opportunity to tell a little story. Also, we will not have tons of time to do this – we’re doing it right now, and write what you want, how much you want – it’s not an exam – and not a take-home! But I hope you keep with you, in your head and heart, your thoughts about this connection between loving our neighbors and what we do here, as the body of Christ.

  • Best Experience: Reflect on your entire experience with St. David’s. Recall a time when you felt most alive, most involved, spiritually touched, or most excited about your involvement here. Describe in some detail this one memorable experience. What made it an exciting experience? Who was involved? Describe how you felt. Describe what you did as a result of the experience.

  • How has Jesus statement of the great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, become real here at St. David’s? Again, describe one experience, if possible, in each of these mission areas:
  • supportive of each other
  • music and the arts
  • spiritual growth
  • community service

Burning Bushes and Carried Crosses

Proper 17 A     August 31, 2014
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Matthew 16:21-28

Labor Day weekend. With the end of the summer upon us, no one wants to think too hard. The State Fair, family gatherings, school starting, just sitting in one’s one back yard, strolling along the lake front, taking a drive in the country, can be enough of a blessing, enough of a way to praise God for the beauties of the world we inhabit. “Take up your cross?” That is pretty far away from where we want to be just now.

Two articles on life in retirement caught my eye in the newspaper this weekend. Maybe because it is Labor Day weekend the editors surmise we are all thinking about what we might do when we stop laboring. The two articles profiled the opposite of the post-laboring life. One group of people sold their homes and all of their possessions to live nomadic lives: some as full-time volunteers in places of need – building houses, disaster relief, environmental conservation; others just travel, tenting (can you imagine retirement-age tenting?) or renting a home in some faraway place for months at a time. In the other article, the author talked about a simpler, and just as happy retirement. For a certain kind of person, the ultimate luxury is the ability to spend the day in a library. As the reporter – a financial reporter! – wrote:

My work brings me joy. But as I looked around at the older patrons especially, I was overcome by a single emotion: jealousy. It had been too long since I’d sampled the simple but profound pleasure of losing myself in the stacks. I wanted to feel it again.[i]

To talk about retirement as the simple life is not just about sour grapes, meaning these people who spend their days in public libraries are just too poor to do anything else. If they’d really been smart they’d have enough resources to spend months hiking the Great Wall of China. That is not the point. Different things – interests, challenges, abilities – come to us at different times in our lives. We may hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross,” but that cross may be a different one today, than it was when we were 20.

When we are young, we have a lot going on in ourselves. Adventure suits us. It is part of the process of figuring out who we are and what God is calling us to be. Look at Moses. He is in the prime of young adulthood. Like a lot of young men, he was caught up in some bad activity and chose to run away rather than face the consequences. Remember the baby in the bulrushes from last week? He grew up to be a privileged son of Pharoah’s household. But when he recognized himself among the Hebrew slaves being beaten, he killed an Egyptian and ran away, hoping, no doubt, for the safer and simpler life of a shepherd. But God had other plans for this young man, even if it took setting a bush on fire to get his attention.

Later in life, however, that challenge from God takes a different form. Even Moses slowed down. By the time he got to the Promised Land, he was only able to look across and see it. But maybe for Moses that seeing, that contemplating, that simpler way of engaging with God’s promise was enough. Even though he “only” saw the Promised Land, he was nonetheless fully there.
God keeps coming after us. We hear that challenge from Jesus to follow him, to lose our lives, to take up our crosses all the time. Sometimes, God calls us to move whole nations, burning bushes in our faces all the time. At other times, God challenges us just to sit still: to browse, to think, maybe even to pray. Even in the simple life we have crosses to bear. Even in the simple life, God urges us to draw closer to glory in the kingdom of God.

[i] Ron Lieber