new posts probable soon -- with your help!
Please pardon a post here that's personal news combined with (gulp!) a commercial announcement (and one that I've all but duplicated on Grace Notes at that!).
I've been to a few gatherings with large numbers of clergy lately, and have been honored and deeply encouraged in the work I do as a "paradigm planter" and public theologian by the profoundly gracious things that many have took me aside to say. And it's very clear to me now that a lot of people would love me to start adding new material once more to the lectionary blog. If you're one of those people, I've got good news:
I'm planning to do just that -- starting, I think, with the start of the church year in Advent.
I'm just trying to find ways to make it work, but I'm hitting something of a stride, and I think -- with your help -- I can do it.
I'm starting to catch my breath after the initial rush of demands from starting a job. Yes, as some of you have seen on Facebook and Twitter, I'm now working full-time for Guitar Center. Work in retail is tiring in some ways, but it hits the spot for my extroverted side, and it also uses some of my skills in listening (people talk -- verbally and with non-verbal cues -- about what they like, want, and need, and I reflect it back to them in a way that helps them recognize that), teaching (helping people make INFORMED decisions), and communication.
And I really needed the job. The economy's woes have hit everywhere, including nonprofits, and I just wasn't getting the hours I needed with IMPACT Boston to make ends meet. For example, I had no hours at all assigned for November.
Furthermore, The Episcopal Church's General Convention is coming up in July. I need to be there, for reasons that will become clear soon, and I very much want to be there, offering the kind of take on convention that I offered via The Witness magazine when it was still being published, and also raising my voice when I can and it's appropriate around important pieces of legislation. But airfare and two weeks of staying in a hotel -- even the über-cheap one I've managed to find and reserve a room for, and even when one cooks a lot of meals in a toaster oven or microwave, as I plan to do -- isn't cheap, and after paying seminary tuition for two years, I know I'm going to have to scramble hard between now and June to get through convention without an insane credit card balance. So full-time work was needed at least until I could cover convention expenses.
I also needed a job where working harder and doing better immediately generated immediate rewards. We had problems with dampness in our basement that needed remediation, and that isn't cheap -- plus I needed to make up in a hurry for the months in which I had budgeted expecting work from IMPACT that, due to no fault of theirs, didn't materialize. At Guitar Center, if I can sell more gear, then the rewards are immediate.
But I didn't want a job that had nothing to do with anything I loved, and I did want a job where I felt I was helping people like the readers of this blog in their work and in balancing work with other things that bring joy. Working with Guitar Center to connect people with what they need to make music, have their sermons, soloists, and Christmas pageants heard, and achieve excellence in liturgical sound and light seems like a pretty good way to go.
So I'm hoping that you and I -- and others that you and/or I know -- can help each other out, and that you'll pardon an announcement here that's at least in part commercial. If you're in the U.S. and you need or want anything of the sort Guitar Center or Musician's Friend carries -- or even some musical or sound-related things they don't carry -- I'm authorized to make absolutely sure that you get THE lowest price available anywhere in the country on it (indeed, if you find a cheaper price anywhere else within 30 days after purchase, you get a refund of 110% of the difference!). So the websites are great places to browse, but give me a call before you buy, as I very well might be able to do even better by you.
Thinking about giving a musical instrument, an amplifier, equipment to record music or a podcast, or even a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band for Christmas? Please feel free to give me a shout.
Need anything related to light and/or sound for your congregation? Microphones? Affordable and professional-sounding ways to record sermons, podcasts, and services? A portable P.A. you can use in the parish hall or at the church picnic? Instruments, from tamborines and djembes to guitars and keyboards? Music software? Please feel free to give me a shout.
Is there a guitar, bass, keyboard, or other piece of musical gear you've had your eye on? Please talk to me.
Whatever you need, I'll be very glad to give you a no-hassle, no-pressure, no-sales-fib way to get any of it, and to get it more cheaply than you could anywhere else -- and one of the advantages of working for a behemoth like Guitar Center is that there's a good chance I can get ahold of what you need and a 100% chance that it will be the most affordable way to get it.
Just drop me an email with your phone number, a couple of good times to call, and a bit of information about what you need (whatever you know about it -- I'll help you figure it out if you're getting a gift for someone else or aren't quite sure what gear will accomplish what you want), and we'll talk. You'd be doing me a huge favor, and I wouldn't be putting this out there if I didn't think I that I could help you out considerably in return.
And please tell your friends, colleagues, mail carriers ... I'd really like to do General Convention -- and to produce even more of the stuff you've found helpful from me -- without breaking the bank, and I think this sound/light equipment thing just might be the "tentmaking" trade that will make the other work I do sustainable.
And with that, I'll return for now to alternating catching my breath and doing some scrambling for sales this month so I can carve out extra time to start lectionary blogging again in Advent.
I do hope that you haven't found this post obnoxiously commercial, and please accept my apologies if you have. I'm just trying to figure out how to do the rather unconventional mix of things I do as a freelance theologian for God's reign, and to pay the bills at the same time. Sometimes, the territory feels strange to me, so if it is for you too, I'm grateful for your openness to potentially successful experiments and patience with the ones that go awry.
Blessings -- and thank you, as ever, for your support, encouragement, and reading on!
SarahLaughed.net readers in Tuscon?
This is a little odd, but what the hay ...
Are there any of y'all live in Tuscon, Arizona who might be inclined to do me a favor? A guitarist in Tuscon could be of particular help to me. If this describes you, please drop me an email.
Many thanks, and blessings!
A Personal Note of Thanks
I just stumbled across a number of sermons on the Internet where people have cited this blog, and I have to say that I got a little teary seeing some of the beautiful, powerful preaching that y'all who read SarahLaughed.net are doing. It's an amazing thing to be able to be a part of that, in however small a way I do it when I'm tapping away at my laptop in my living room or in the quad in front of the library (when the weather's good, I do like to catch a bit of sun -- I'll always be a California girl, I think). And I'm grateful to y'all for letting me be a part of that. Thank you for your ministries, for walking aside your congregations and proclaiming Good News, and thank you for inviting me to walk alongside you as well.
swag with a mission
I was musing today about a variety of things -- the Anglican Communion, ecumenism, interfaith possibilities -- and found myself thinking once more that the most promising route forward is often working together around a shared sense of mission. And I thought to myself, "I wish I could get a t-shirt with the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission":
- To proclaim the Good News of God's reign
- To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
And so I designed one. There are a variety of men's and women's t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags with this site's icon of the Trinity with Blues Brothers-style hats and sunglasses and "We're on a mission from God" on the front:
... and with the Five Marks of Mission on the back:
If you'd like clothing or a tote bag with this design, pop by the new SarahLaughed.net Café Press store. I have a number of other "I wish I had a t-shirt with this" ideas and don't want too bewildering an array of choices at the store, so I plan to rotate periodically which design is available. If you like this one, please do pounce on it! For each purchase, $2.00 goes to support SarahLaughed.net.
lectionary blog adopts the RCL
We've reached a blog milestone -- the biggest one thus far, I think! Dylan's Lectionary Blog started with Advent of 2003, so I have now blogged on every week of the lectionary cycle of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Thanks for making this journey with me. I've appreciated your support, feedback, and stories, which, along with the discipline of writing each week, have helped me to grow tremendously as a preacher, writer, and interpreter of scripture.
The Episcopal Church has this year reached a lectionary milestone as well; General Convention in 2006 directed the church to adopt the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) effective a year from now, in the First Sunday of Advent in 2007.
The lectionary blog is moving over to the RCL effective this week, however. If your parish is still using the BCP lectionary, you should still find the lectionary blog useful even when it differs markedly from the RCL by making use of archives of previous entries from the BCP lectionary. The "search this site" box just below site navigation in the left-hand sidebar should allow you to find the passage you want. Just type in the biblical book and chapter (e.g., "John 3") or the first verse of the gospel for the week in question (e.g., "Luke 22:14"), and do it within quotation marks, as they are in the parenthetical examples above, and that will bring up everywhere on SarahLaughed.net where that exact phrase appears. That should let you find a reflection for that week in the BCP lectionary, and will also show you where else I've used that text over the last three years. The "category" links in the right-hand sidebar might also be useful to you; they've got entries categorized by biblical book and also selected topics (e.g., apocalyptic, the Cross, women), liturgical season, and lectionary year.
Thank you again for your encouragement, your generosity with feedback, your stories, and for your financial support as well. Advent will always be for me a time of hopeful anticipation of the consummation of Jesus' redeeming work in this world, but December is also a time when I anticipate rather less eagerly the arrival of my bill for seminary tuition for the next semester. If you feel moved to offset some of that, please remember that you can do so not only directly via the 'Make a Donation' button in the right-hand sidebar, but also by doing some of your Christmas shopping through SarahLaughed.net. When you click on any Amazon.com link in a post or in the sidebar and purchase any product, whether it's one I've recommended or something else, I get a percentage (usually 4% - 6%) of the sale.
I look forward to journeying through the RCL with y'all -- may God bless you richly in your ministries along the way!
Just as I was publishing the lectionary blog entry for this week, I noticed that it's the 200th lectionary blog post. It's fun to see just how much I've written since starting this blog with Advent in 2003 -- and rather inspiring as I seek to file my Ph.D. dissertation this academic year. Heck, if a blog entry here is 1,500 - 2,000 words, a Ph.D. dissertation is pretty much a well-organized and well-documented series of about 50 blog entries, isn't it?
Thanks for reading, and for your encouragement.
where is the lectionary blog headed?
A lot of readers have been asking both what will happen with the lectionary blog in light of the Episcopal Church's move to the Revised Common Lectionary, and also in light of what's going on in my life. When I started the blog at the beginning of Advent 2003, I committed to blogging through the entire lectionary cycle, and at the beginning of Advent this year I will have fulfilled that commitment -- but I'm having far too much fun to stop. Writing each week on the readings and hearing your feedback has, I think, made me a better preacher, and hearing stories from people around the world about your congregations, ministries, and use of what you find here has encouraged and inspired me.
So I plan to keep blogging the lectionary. When I started this blog, I used the Episcopal Church's lectionary mostly because that's what was used in the parish where I worked, but I have no particular attachment to that lectionary otherwise, so while our last General Convention resolved to move fully to the RCL at the beginning of Advent 2007, I see no reason not to start blogging the RCL at the beginning of Advent 2006, and God willing and the people continuing to find it useful, I'll plan to blog all three years of the RCL.
Finally, I want to say thank you to all who have been supporting this site with donations, purchases from Amazon.com and Toddy Coffee. I'm particularly grateful for the boost these things give me now that I'm paying seminary tuition! I'm also grateful for and honored by the notes I get from readers -- your prayers and encouragement have buoyed me for the last three years, and I look forward to hearing from you whenever you feel moved to write.
Christ the King: Proper 29, Year A
First off, I want to offer a personal note encouraging y'all to read this fine reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for this coming Sunday. I commend it to you first on its own merits — its author knows American history far better than I do, and draws on a passage from the autobiography of 19th-century freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in a way that I think will be very helpful and informative for preachers. The reflection is this week's entry in a regular column commenting on the RCL readings in The Witness magazine, which is my new employer. I'm working part-time (i.e., if you've got a potential additional gig for me, please do give me a shout!) for them as the magazine's editor. I've long admired The Witness and its work as an Anglican voice for justice since 1917, and I'm particularly excited about working with them at this particular moment in history. And one other point about this week's RCL reflection at The Witness: its author is none other than my partner. Bravo, Karen!
Now, to my own reflections:
I had an interesting email exchange this week with a regular reader of the lectionary blog about an issue that a lot of us struggle with: the tension between the openness of Jesus' unconditional invitation on one hand and on the other hand, the language of judgment, of insiders and outsiders, in passages like this Sunday's gospel. I've wrestled with it a great deal myself, and while I doubt I'll solve every difficulty we've got with it, I think there's a point that's very important for us to understand as we continue to explore this tension.
Yes, Jesus invites absolutely anyone who will eat with him to come to his table. The invitation to the messianic banquet is open to all -- “the good and the bad,” in the words of Matthew 22:14. In that sense, all are invited to experience “salvation” without precondition.
But what is “salvation”? Both Jesus and Paul saw it not as merely a promise of a blessed afterlife: salvation is something that starts today, and it's about a certain kind of life — specifically, a life in community. And in both Jesus' view and Paul's, that's not just any community: it's a family. Jesus said that anyone who hears God's word and does it is his sister or brother or mother (Mark 3:35). And the metaphor Paul most often uses for what we are as the Church, for who we are in Christ, is that we are sisters and brothers (a point that the NRSV unfortunately obscures frequently by rendering adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” as “believers” or some other ungendered term). In other words, the invitation Jesus gives us is the invitation to relationship — with one another as much as with him and with the God who created us. Jesus' invitation to us, his ragtag band of disciples from all nations, is to join God's people.
Here's one way I often put it: the invitation to join the community is issued to anyone with any manner of life. But the quality of life in the community — the extent to our life together is an experience of members of one Body of Christ and a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven come to earth now — has a direct relationship to how we choose to live together once we accept Jesus' invitation to join.
Last Sunday, we read a passage of the gospels showing how we treat one another when we're at our worst as the human race. How you'll be treated under this system is a function of two things only: how powerful you are, and how useful you are to those more powerful than you. Are you a wealthy landowner? Then act like it. Call yourself “lord,” demand what you like of those in your power, and feel free to discard people once you've used them up. Behave as though the central question governing our relationships with one another were “what have you done for me lately?”
But the coming of God's kingdom is like this: people will be going about their business in precisely the way described above ... and then the final coming of the Son of Man will reveal to everyone's eyes just how empty that way of life is, just how much pain and how little reward comes of living that way.
And that coming will reveal something else as well: just how rewarding, just how abundant and joyful life is when you live in a different way, the way of those the Son of Man designates as “sheep” in this Sunday's gospel.
I've blogged before about a game I like to play to illustrate the dynamic we see in last Sunday's gospel and this Sunday's. To play it, you set the room up for a party — punchbowls, finger foods on trays for serving, and so on. Every person in the room gets a sign taped to his or her back, reading “monarch,” “courtier,” “servant,” or “beggar.” Once everyone has a sign on his or her back, you start the party. The game is to try to guess what sign is on your back, and try to help others guess what's on theirs by treating them as you think someone whose status was what you think your sign says would treat someone whose status matched what the sign on her/his back says. If your sign says “monarch,” the vast majority of guests are going to flatter you and offer you treats; if the sign on your back says “beggar,” you're going to be treated like trash — especially if you have the nerve to act as if you were equal to others with higher status. To debrief, I invite people to share how it felt to be treated as they were, and how they felt having to treat others according to the sign on their backs. And then I pose the question:
What would it be like to live in a community, in a world, in which everyone, especially those smarting from how they're treated by others, were treated as if the sign on their back said “monarch”? What would it be like to live amongst people who treated everyone as if the sign on their back, the “secret identity” of everyone they met, said “Christ the King,” and every Christian saw their life's calling as treating people in such a way that they could guess this?
That's the invitation issued to us this Sunday. That's the vision we're called to claim as ours until it is realized for the world. Could we really allow the Christ child, the boy born as king and the one appointed by God to judge the nations, to die of malaria in infancy in Africa, knowing who this child is and just how little it would take to see him grow up and realize all he was created to be? Could we let a young girl toil away her days fetching water rather than going to school, and her family suffer when that water carries disease, if we loved Jesus as much as we say we do, if we knew what we did and didn't do for this family was what we did and didn't do for the Christ? Or do we want to experience fellowship with Christ by serving and empowering the poor, outcast, and prisoners of our world?
This invitation is not for after we die — the chance to act is gone then. It's an invitation for this moment, this day, this generation. And it's not just about avoiding punishment. What we do, the extent to which we respond to Jesus' invitation not just to come into the House of God's chosen people, but to live as one of the family, in relationship with and caring for the rest of the family as for our own flesh and as for the Body of our Lord, is the extent to which we experience eternal life, God's just and peaceful kingdom, right here and now. In Paul's words, Christ's risen life is the “first fruits,” and we are called to enjoy the full harvest of that abundant life. In Ezekiel's words, the destiny of God's people since the founding of the world is to be fed with God's justice. Do you want a taste of that? It's there for you now, as abundant as are the opportunities to exercise compassion toward the least of Jesus' sisters and brothers.
Thanks be to God!
November 16, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Christ the King, Eschatology, Ezekiel, Inclusion, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Justice, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Personal Notes, Prophets, Year A | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Proper 10, Year A
Those of you who also read my sermons page may have noticed that, while I've preached in other congregations, I haven't preached in St. Martin's, the congregation where I work, since early April. When the rectors (senior pastors) left the parish on April 17, I was removed from the preaching and liturgical rotas to give the congregation to hear less familiar voices in the pulpit until the parish's interim rector arrived. That won't be happening until September, so it's clear that I won't be in St. Martin's pulpit again. St. Martin's has been so important to my developing my voice as a preacher, though, and I've so valued each chance to preach there as an opportunity with what's Good News for this particular community, that as a goodbye present, I wanted to offer one last sermon, though I won't be able to preach it outside of this corner of cyberspace. Since a cyberspace sermon doesn't make anyone's Sunday morning service longer, and since it's my last sermon for St. Martin's, I hope you'll indulge me in one that's longer than usual.
Thank you, St. Martin's, for letting me walk with you on this leg of your journey. I'll miss you!
God is a Foolish Farmer: A Farewell Sermon for St. Martin's
"Listen!" It's a word from this Sunday's gospel that stood out to me the moment I scanned the passage. It's a word meant to prick up your ears, a word meant to jolt us out of whatever else we're doing, whatever else we're thinking about or worrying about, and get us to pay attention.
Listen! In this parable, Jesus has a word for us today that feels particularly important, particularly urgent to get across. It's a word that's central to the gospel Jesus preached and lived out among us, and it's a word that I'm glad to leave as one last charge, one last encouragement, and one last blessing to you.
I'm glad that the text for this Sunday contains a parable, because Jesus' parables illustrate three things that I think are true about the Bible in general.
First, it's that the bible isn't always easy to interpret. Often, it's pretty hard. We're talking about texts written thousands of years ago by people who didn't speak our language and are from a completely different culture. Sometimes people say that Jesus' parables are simple truths put in simple language that anyone can easily understand, to which I say, have you read Jesus' parables lately, and closely? They say things like "therefore, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal tents" (Luke 16:9). I don't think that anyone's doing me a favor in telling me that this is easy to understand. If I believe them, when I come across something that I don't understand easily, I'm likely to feel like a particular dolt when it comes to the bible, and that's likely to make me want to avoid picking up the bible, like I want to avoid a gym when I feel like I'm the only person there who hasn't stepped right out of a fitness video.
So if you sometimes find the bible to interpret, take comfort: it IS hard to interpret sometimes. Often, actually.
Here’s a rule of thumb that I use for reading Jesus’ parables: if I interpret it in such a way that there is nothing surprising or even shocking about it, it’s time to go back and read it again. Jesus’ parables serve a purpose a little like that of a Zen koan – those ‘riddles’ like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”
The point of a koan isn't that there's a correct answer that springs instantly into mind. A koan isn't supposed to inform you; it isn't supposed to give you information that will increase your feeling of mastery. If anything, it's the opposite of that. It pulls our minds in to confound them, and that kind of dislocation from our usual ways of thinking helps us to open up and let go of our usual ways of thinking. A koan doesn't inform; it transforms you as you wrestle with it.
Jesus’ parables work kind of like that; each one ends in a shocking reversal of his listeners’ expectations. With that reversal, the story pulls us out of entrenched patterns of relationship and ways of being in the world; it dislocates us from what’s comfortable to free us to establish new kinds of relationship, new ways of being. If the first thing I want you to remember about the bible is that it's often not easy to interpret, then the second thing I want you to take away about it is that the hard work of wrestling with scripture is more than worthwhile. It's not a product of our culture, so I find there's nothing like it to challenge our cultural assumptions about who God is, what God wants, and what things like love and success and freedom really are. Anne Lamott likes to say that if what you get out of the bible is that God hates all the same people you do, you're in trouble. I'd put it more positively, in saying this: God calls each and every one of us to conversion, to amendment of life so that our life looks more like the wholeness of the life God offers. If I come away from the bible feeling that the problem with the world is that there aren't enough people like me in it, this is a good cue to keep reading, and to keep asking how God is calling me to conversion. And no, saying that God wants me to stand up more loudly and firmly against everybody else's sin doesn't count.
I am NOT saying that the point of reading the bible is so that you can feel bad. If your previous exposure to the bible and to how people use the bible makes you think of it as a book that's boring at best and oppressive at worst, then believe me -- I know exactly what you mean. I've seen people try to use the bible as a weapon more times than I can count, as I think many of you can imagine. I hope that knowing that lends even more power to what I have to say when I say that the bible is Good News for God's people -- news of justice, peace, of true freedom and abundant, joyful life. When I say that each one of us is called to conversion, what I'm saying is Good News: there is room in your life and in my life for God to work more deeply. There is room in your heart and in mine for more compassion, more peace, more freedom than we'd thought. I get that Good News in large part from all of the time and energy I put into studying, praying with, and reflecting on scripture, and I hope that in the midst of all my flaws and flubs, some of that Good News has come across. The Good News we experience as we wrestle with scripture in community is well worth the hard work we put into it. That's the second thing I want you to take away from this sermon about the bible.
And if you'll indulge me, I want to say a little about why. Wrestling with scripture intently, prayerfully, and together regularly throughout our lives is worthwhile because, while scripture isn't the only medium through which we find the transformation to which God calls us, I will say that it's one of the most important. When I read scripture, and especially when I come to the bible again and again alongside other people who want to read it carefully and prayerfully, I find myself called to decision. God calls to each one of us, and each one of us makes a decision about whether to respond and how. The choice that Jesus prescribes for us, the choice that Jesus promises will bring true freedom, real love, real peace, lasting justice, is a decision to follow Jesus, to make Jesus' version of "family" -- God as our father, and the only one who gets that title, and God's children as our sisters and brothers -- the source of our identity and our only permanent loyalty. Some people call that choice being "born again," and I want to take the liberty in this last sermon for St. Martin's to go on record as saying I'm entirely in favor of it. You and I need to be born again -- not once, but for every time that someone tries to tell us with words or actions that we're not God's child, for every time that we're tempted to substitute our culture's vision of respectability for God's dream of the mighty being brought low and the lowly raised up, for every time we forget that God's blessings, love, and justice are for ALL of God's children.
In other words, we need to be born again, and again, and again. In my case, several times a day. Maybe you're quicker on the uptake than I am. But for as many years I've spent intently studying the scriptures, and for as many times as God has, in communities like this and in my travels around the world, given me a glimpse of God's kingdom, I find all of the time that the richness of God's dreams for the world and for each one of us in it is so great and so profound that every further glimpse of it takes my breath away as it takes me by surprise.
A case in point: this Sunday's parable of a farmer who goes out to sow seed. What's so surprising about that? Farmers sow seed all the time. And anyone who knows anything at all about what a plant needs to grow won’t be surprised to hear that seed cast in the middle of a road, or on the rocks, or among thorns doesn’t grow. But this parable contains not one, but two surprises to jolt us into openness to the work of God’s Spirit among us and in our world.
It’s not at all surprising that most of the seed didn’t grow. What’s surprising is that the farmer chose to sow it there. This isn’t a rich man we’re talking about here: this is a poor farmer, a tenant farmer who can only eke out a living for himself and his family if he not only makes wise choices about where to sow, but also is blessed with good weather and a great deal of luck. Good seed is hard to come by; the wise farmer makes sure to entrust the precious grain he has to the best of soil. But this one tosses seed about while standing in the closest thing he can find to the parking lot at Wal-Mart, where the pigeons will eat it if thousands of feet and truck tires don’t grind it into the pavement first. In short, this farmer behaves as though that which were most precious was available in unlimited supply. What on earth is he thinking?
But here’s the real corker: God blesses a farmer like this beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Normally, the farmer who reaps a twofold harvest would be considered fortunate. A fivefold harvest would be a cause for celebration throughout the village, a bounty attributable only to God’s particular and rich blessing. But this foolish farmer who, in a world of scarcity, casts his seed on soil everyone knows is worthless is blessed by God in shocking abundance: a harvest of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what he sowed.
There's been a lot of talk at St. Martin's about scarcity, about guarding closely what's precious because it seems to be rare. Money is tight; time is hard to spare. Even when we're looking at less tangible and measurable qualities we value, like love and blessing, there's sometimes a sense that the good things God has for us are in such limited supply that the only kind of good and responsible stewardship is to guard it very carefully, give it only to those we're sure are worthy, protect it like the last egg of the rarest endangered bird. Predictions of peril and doom provoke a great deal of anxiety, and living on a knife edge like that not only causes constant unrest, but also tends to shut down the kind of creative and life-giving vision that energizes us to live more deeply into God's dreams for us as individuals, in community, and for the world. That's not the Good News God has for us:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
-- Romans 8:15-17
Listen! What does this morning's gospel say to us, in a story that suggests that God is like a farmer who tosses seed into parking lots for the pigeons to eat, and in the surprising harvest that grows? It says that Isaiah's prophetic word is coming true:
Ho [in other words, Listen!], everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy? ...
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace ...
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
-- Isaiah 55:1-2, 10-13
The kingdom of God has come among us. God has blessed us richly, and God’s people have been entrusted with that which is most precious in the world. But ironically, these priceless commodities only gain value – the seed of God’s word only bears fruit – when God’s people scatter it absolutely heedless of who is worthy to receive it.
Listen! We are called to treat God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s blessing, precious as these are, as if they were absolutely limitless in supply for one simple reason:
They are. They really are. I believe that with all my heart, and I want to leave you with that as something to hold on to. Thank you for listening.
And thanks be to God!
Proper 8, Year A (RCL)
[Update June 22, 2005, 4:47 p.m. -- I've had trouble with my Internet connection for the last few hours, and now have to rush off to a meeting. I apologize for the resulting delay in posting the BCP reflection, but a link to the RCL reflection is below.]
[Update June 22, 2005, 11:23 a.m. -- you can find the RCL reflection from me -- which touches on the themes listed in the footer of this post -- here, but all of The Witness is a thought-provoking read, well worth checking out!]
This week is a "twofer" for me -- I'm preaching this Sunday at the 10:30 service at Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, which uses the lectionary from the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer (BCP), and I'm publishing a reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings (which don't overlap much this week with the BCP lectionary) in The Witness. I'll post a link to the RCL reflection once I see that it's been posted at The Witness' site (which will hopefully happen any minute now!), and the BCP reflection will be up tomorrow (since I've suddenly got an elsewhere I need to be for the rest of the day and evening today). I've got Live 8 (it's time to Make Poverty History, and for the U.S., to act as ONE!) on the brain today, and with the two sets of sermon material, I feel a little like Phil Collins with his sets in London and Philadelphia for the original Live Aid concerts.