October 22, 2017

Pentecost 20 October 22, 2017  Psalm 67, Isaiah 58:6-12, 1 John 3:1-2,16-18, John 15:8-17          Be fruitful **************************************************** The first commandment ever given (to people) in the first chapter of the bible, is to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the fish. Most of you know – I’m ready to fish at a moment’s notice. But even I have to admit – probably fruitfulness is supposed to come first – then fishing. There’s an order of priority here. Fruitfulness comes first. And the fruitfulness God is talking about is not just biological reproduction. Remember, God has already commanded the fish and birds to be fruitful and multiply, before God even makes humans. And if humans are supposed to be closer to God than fish (which might be a big assumption, but if so – ) probably God has higher things in mind for people than just biological reproduction. Nothing wrong with that. We still need to reproduce physically for life on earth to continue. But as we read on in the bible, we learn God is mostly interested in spiritual fertility. Jesus speaks of bearing fruit that befits repentance. Changed lives are the evidence of faith… The fruit of the Spirit, Galatians tells us, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… and… The fruit Jesus is talking about today is spiritual fruit – all the results that come with following him – helping him in the sowing, watering, weeding, and nurturing of the seeds of faith he’s planting… Abiding in the true vine of Jesus, pruned, fertilized, watched over by God the Gardener…this is how we bear fruit that lasts. And we’re talking about fruitfulness today because… Today is the third and last Sunday in this year’s stewardship series. Stewardship means taking care of something. Christian stewardship is about the care we take with all God has entrusted us with – meaning every good thing we have in life. Two weeks ago we began by considering prayer as our basic foundation for all stewardship. We spent a little time together in small groups practicing praying for each other and our church and God’s world… Last week we heard from Gary Melville of the United Methodist Foundation of New England. Gary’s sermon used the metaphor of a river as a way of talking about stewardship – letting God’s love flow through us, like a river of grace – not dammed or bottled-up, but flowing through us, making us stewards of the life of God. Gary nailed it. I can’t think of much to add to what he said about  stewardship. So this week, let’s just take time to review the ministries of our parish – asking ourselves – Are we fruitful? Are we bearing good fruit for God? *** I’m going to be naming many of our ministries of our parish – as I name each, I’ll be asking all of us to be in prayer for each ministry. Then I’ll be calling on one or a few of you to speak briefly about each of these ministries… Not really to explain it all, or give a detailed report, but just to say a little about what makes this ministry important for you, for us, and for others. (I’m mindful that some of these ministries are...

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October 8, 2017

Pentecost 18   October 8, 2017   Psalm 143, Philippians 4:4-7, Psalm 130, Matthew 6:9-15,25-33, 7:7-11                    **************************************************** Author Annie Dillard has written about church, saying, (quote): “we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” Life with Jesus, in other words, is an adventure, a bit like a sailing around Cape Horn in a storm. An adventure in the overthrow of the world order as we know it. Which is really also what The Lord’s Prayer is all about. Every time we say this prayer we’re asking for God’s revolution to be accomplished… Every time we say “Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven…” we’re asking God to turn the world upside down. Most of us, I suspect, have probably said this prayer so many times that we have built up a little immunity to fully hearing everything we’re asking. But every time we pray Our Father in heaven… We’re calling on God to do the ultimate radical make-over of all the world. Consider– In the world we’re told, directly or indirectly – look out for number one – we ourselves, and those who think like us. But in the prayer Jesus gives us, we’re told to give all glory to the name of God. God alone is ultimate and above all. God’s name alone is to be kept holy. And every time we pray God’s kingdom come – God’s will be done – we’re also saying – not my will (or your will or our will) – but God’s will be done – not just in heaven, bye and bye – but here on earth as it is in heaven… And every time we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we’re actually also asking God to not give us everything we imagine we might like or want – but to give us really all we need to live on. This prayer isn’t about piling up surplus for a rainy day future. It’s about everyone having enough for today. Everyone, not just us. Because… We pray give us our daily bread. And forgive us our debts – our sins, transgressions, trespasses. And perhaps to remind ourselves – we don’t want to be asking good things for our ourselves that we’re not asking also for others, we pray – forgive us our debts, our sins, our trespasses, as we forgive all those indebted to us – all who sin or trespass against us… And lead us not into temptation. (I know how to get there all by myself.) But bring us through every testing – every time of trial. Deliver us from every evil, as only you, O Lord our God, can do. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are all yours, Lord, not ours… This prayer, from start to finish, is never about me, myself, and I. It’s always about our God (not my God), our daily bread (not my bread alone but ours), and our debts forgiven. This prayer is for all of us together – as we pray Our Father in heaven, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. *** The Lord’s Prayer is our basic...

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October 1, 2017

Pentecost 17 October 1, 2017 (Psalm 25, Deuteronomy 6:1-7, Philippians 2:4-13) Matthew 21:12-17,23-32    One father, two children ********************************************************* Every morning at breakfast time our family has a prayer we sing together – “Help us to do the things we should – to be to others kind and good – in all we do at work and play, to grow more loving every day. Amen.” Help us to do the right thing, Lord. A simple little prayer. And… Jesus tells a parable that sounds almost as simple. “…A man has two sons. He says to one, “Son, go, work in the vineyard today.” The son says “I’m not going.” But later, changes his mind and goes. The second son says, “Yes dad, I’m on my way.” But doesn’t go. Which child does the will of the father?” For context, remember – Jesus has come into town on a donkey, acclaimed by crowds as Son of David. He’s entered the temple courts and chased merchants and money changers out and healed the blind and lame. Children sing his praises–again, naming him Son of David, Israel’s favorite king. Now religious authorities, scribes and chief priests – those who think they have power and authority in the temple – question Jesus: “Where do you get this authority? Who gave it to you?” (It sure wasn’t give by us…) If Jesus says ‘my authority comes from God’ he will be accused of blasphemy, and probably executed. Jesus will go there very soon. But he still has some teaching to do. So Jesus says “I will ask you a question – and if you answer – I will also tell you where my authority comes from. The baptism of John – where did it come from? From heaven? Or from people?” Religious leaders huddle together. “If we say ‘from heaven’ he’ll ask, ‘then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say‘from people,’ all the crowds who believe John was a prophet will turn on us…’ So they say, “We don’t know.” And Jesus says, “Neither will I tell you, then, where my authority comes from.” And he asks, “What do you think?” And tells a parable of two children and two responses to the one Father’s command. Which do you think did the will of the father? And even those who question Jesus have to say “the first one.” And Jesus concludes by naming the religious authorities as the second son, who says the right words, but doesn’t do what’s asked. While tax collectors and prostitutes who have repented at John the Baptist’s preaching are compared with the first child. ‘They,’ Jesus says, ‘will enter the kingdom of heaven before you leaders who have not repented – even when you see what repentance looks like.” *** In the exodus out from slavery, God tells Israel, I am making you a nation of priests (Exodus 19)… But twelve-hundred-some years later, like in George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm – some priests are now more priestly and privileged than others. By the time of Jesus, the power elite of Israel have formed an alliance with Rome, the new Egypt, the Empire of the day. Now its hard to tell ‘our’ priests apart from those who oppressed us in the land of slavery. Last week Jesus told a...

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September 24, 2017

Pentecost 16  September 24, 2017   (Ps 133, Exodus 16:4, 13-18,  Philippians 1:21-30)    Matthew 20:1-16   One wage *************************************************** What kind of employer is this landowner anyway? What kind of boss would insist on paying those hired last, who’ve worked just an hour – the same wage as those who’ve worked hard all day? Isn’t this very unfair? Whatever happened to more pay for more work, and less pay for less work? What about fairness for the workers who come on time and do a good job? And what’s with paying the last first, and making all those who showed up first wait in line to be paid? Isn’t that like rubbing salt in the wound of unfairness? Bet that landowner had a lot of workers show up late next day, hoping to be last hired and first paid. Probably other workers walked off the job ticked off at the injustice. (Maybe singing “take this job and shove it…”) *** Though now, I guess, I’m making big assumptions. Perhaps only a few of those hired first and paid last were grumbling. Perhaps most of the first hired, while not exactly happy about their employer’s strange hiring habits, still might think at the end of the day, “well, thank God, at least I’ve got a job, and my family can eat…” And… Perhaps those hired last were waiting to be hired early also but just didn’t get hired till later. Back when we were just out of high school, bumming around in California for a few months, my friend John and I would go to a day labor agency called  Manpower, and they’d send us off to a day job. Since we were young and looked like we could work all day, we were sent out right away. Someone who looked a bit more tired, a bit less able or enthusiastic might not get sent off so soon to a job site. We were put to work packing radios or stereos, and we could stay and work as many days as they needed or we wanted. We stayed a week as I recall, but could have stayed longer. Day labor was an adventure for us, but with minimum wage the norm, day labor is a very difficult way to make a living for anyone with a family. And nobody with a family can live on just a few hours worth of wages. So yes, this landowner is generous to those hired last… How we hear the story depends on where we see ourselves in the story. I grew up in the Boston suburbs in the sixties. Even for teenagers there was plenty of work to be had. But my parents grew up during the depression. They remembered people begging for work, they knew the song, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” They remembered Christmases when the only presents were socks and underwear,  an orange, maybe a couple pieces of candy in a stocking.          My parents never forgot the leaner times. As children we were taught the work ethic. We always had chores to do. By high school, I had after-school jobs, and by then working was something I usually wanted to do, even if mostly just to have money for gas, etc. I was fortunate to not have to work more hours...

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September 17, 2017

Jesus teaches us to pray, saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In that same teaching (back in chapter six of Matthew’s gospel) Jesus also says we’ll be forgiven as we forgive. We know the prayer. Most of us say it every day. (Some more than once a day.) Perhaps we also remember, how, at the end of that prayer Jesus adds a postlude, saying “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Now, further along on the gospel journey, the topic of forgiveness comes up again. The apostle Peter, who often acts as spokesperson for all disciples (then and now), asks for some guidelines on the limits of forgiveness. “If another member of the church sins against me, Lord, how often should I forgive? As much as seven times?” Jesus says, “Not seven, but seventy-seven times.” Some translations say seventy-times-seven or 490 times. Either way symbolizing unlimited forgiveness… Since what Jesus goes on to say makes it clear – he isn’t talking about numerical limits on how often or how much we should forgive. And… I appreciate what Peter’s trying to do. I, too, would much prefer to have Jesus set some reasonable limits on forgiveness. But that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus has in mind… As he tells a parable of a King who forgives a servant an enormously large debt. Ten thousand talents – hard to measure in today’s dollars, as the value of the talent, like the value of a dollar, depends on the time period– guesstimates range from a low or half a million to a high of several billion dollars. But scholars mostly agree it would take fifteen years for an average worker to earn one talent. This guy owes ten thousand talents – or one-hundred-fifty-thousand years worth of wages. No explanation’s given as to how this slave could have run up so large a debt. That’s not the main point of the parable. But if we like to imagine plausible scenarios, perhaps the slave was in charge of one of the king’s larger corporations – a wheeler-dealer who got too bold with the boss’s money just before the market crashed. He guessed bull the market went bear. He gambled now he can’t pay. This was long before the era of golden parachutes for CEOs who wreck a company and move on with a bonus in their pockets. In those days some kings employed torturers to extract repayment of debts. (Like if you owe the mob and can’t pay – they may cut off one of your fingers as a sign – better go find the money quick.) But just as the king is about to sell the man and all he has to the highest bidder – not expecting much cash value – but to set an example for others who might be thinking of abusing the king’s generosity – just before the sentence takes effect – the man falls on his knees and plead and begs. And –  lo and behold – out of pity, the king forgives the whole debt. O happy day! For this forgiven debtor… But perhaps the pleading was all an act – since if...

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September 10, 2017

Pentecost 14        September 10, 2017   (Psalm 148, Leviticus 19:11-18, Romans 13:8-14) Matthew 18:15-20 Two or three, together ********************************************************* I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on this theme of two or three together, as I was home alone for a week while Reah and Rohi were off in Seattle at a sibling reunion. After just a day or two of their absence… I caught myself talking to myself aloud… more than usual. (When I was single and living alone in Vermont 25 years ago, I’ve been remembering, a friend once gave me a volume of poetry by Vermont poet Galway Kinnell, titled When one has lived a long time alone…My friend John Gilroy’s discrete way of letting me know… I just might be fishing and talking to myself too much…and not spending enough time with other humans…) Of course I wasn’t really alone all last week. There were the usual mix of meetings and visits. And even while out fishing and walking I fell into some very good  spontaneous chats. And – I had two nights full of conversation – at our high school class’ 50th reunion. (Baby boomers have been called the generation most in denial about our aging. So for the record, the class of ‘67 was dancing not only to oldies from our high school years, but also more recent sounds…Like Sly and the Family Stone from 1970.) I wasn’t alone long… But being alone much of the week did have me pondering the significance – of Jesus giving such a large amount of power and authority to us, as he says – whenever two or three of us agree and ask God, it will be done for us. Whatever we forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven. Whatever we permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. Which sounds like more power than we humans know what to do with. Is there maybe some kind of a catch to what Jesus says? Well – Jesus does also say – at least two or three of us need to agree on what we’re asking. And maybe you’ve heard the ancient proverb – where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there will be four or five opinions. And where more than two or three are gathered, the history channel tells us… there’s likely to soon be several new denominations. Which I’ve also been thinking about – this being the 500th anniversary of the split into Catholic and Protestant wings of the church. The church media has been reminding us all year that we all look to the same gospels but hear some of the words differently. Catholics hear Jesus say to Peter in chapter 16 of Matthew, “You are Peter (the name means rock) and on this rock I’ll build my church. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Popes are considered to be direct descendants of the apostle Peter, who was given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus and has passed them on, pope to pope. Protestants also look to Matthew, but tend to hear the accents falling on different syllables – as we hear the same authority to bind and loose given first to Peter, given now to all...

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