A Royal Invitation

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Sermon for Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Readings:

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

I love it whenever we get a scripture that describes God’s kingdom as a banquet and this morning we are doubly blessed because we get two: both Isaiah and Matthew talk about God preparing a feast or compare the Kingdom of heaven to a banquet. As I am always thinking about my next meal, I find the idea of heaven as some sort of eternal buffet very gratifying.

 

It was a few Friendship Fairs ago that a couple of our industrious parishioners decided to edit and publish a new parish cookbook. Incidentally, we still have plenty of copies, so if you are new to our parish come and see me after mass and I would be glad to give you one as a gift. As a part of this project, one of our editors decided to send a request for recipes to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. Now of course, nobody here imagines that her majesty spends much time in the kitchen, but it seemed like a clever idea and who knows, maybe one of the palace chefs would take pity on us and send us a recipe. This was during the height of the Downton Abbey series, and Highclere Castle came through with a couple recipes, so you never know. Well Jane, who was responsible for this idea did get a response from one of the Queen’s secretaries very politely declining to submit any recipes. Now you must understand that in addition to being a foodie I am something of a rabid monarchist. Yes, I am an American citizen, but I happen to think that constitutional monarchy is a perfectly good form of government and I am a huge fan of the royal family and her majesty. I am the sort of person who would stand on the street corner for hours just to see her drive by (I Haven’t had the opportunity to do it but I would). So I was endlessly amused by the fact that we actually got a response from the palace. It didn’t matter that it was a stock response from a volunteer secretary, what mattered was that it came from the palace on official letterhead. If you turn to the front of the cookbook, you will find there a scan of said letter, forever memorialized in the pages of our book.

 

Now I just want to point out here the subtle craziness of this: this is a REJECTION LETTER. This is a rejection letter from the palace and I still found it so meaningful that I thought it needed to be bound and included in the book. This isn’t an invitation to tea. It isn’t a recipe for the Queen’s favorite scones. It’s a rejection letter from a secretary, a very sweet rejection letter, but a rejection letter nonetheless. Here it is though, right in the front of our cookbook, right where I think it belongs. That is how I respond to a rejection from the palace…can you imagine how I would respond to an invitation?

 

Let me tell you…it’s probably never going to happen (I’m not that crazy), but if it ever did, if for some reason the Queen decided that she needed a few more priests at her parties to balance out all the politicians and celebrities, and if I were to come home one day and discover a letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s office slipped into my letterbox inviting me to any event whatsoever at the palace, I can promise you…I’m gonna go.

 

There isn’t much in this world that would keep me from going. I don’t care if I have to take a redeye flight and turn around and come right back. I’m going to go. I’d probably even buy a new suit, just so that I looked my best. It wouldn’t matter if I was sick, tired, busy, whatever…I would find a way, because it would be important to me. What an honor it would be. What a privilege it would be. How many people get invited to be the guest at a royal banquet? What would make it especially meaningful is that there is no reason for me to be invited: I’m not a celebrity, I’m not a politician, I haven’t made a significant contribution to British culture, I’m not even a citizen. I’m just your average admirer from across the pond. And maybe you all think I’m a bit eccentric, and maybe I am, but if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to put money on the fact that if any of you received a similar invitation, you’d do the same thing.

 

I don’t care what your citizenship is, what your politics are, or what you think about monarchy, I’m willing to bet that if you got an invitation to the Queen’s house for dinner, you’d take it seriously. If there was any way you could go, you would go. Who wouldn’t? And I’m also willing to bet that you would take it so seriously that when you showed up for dinner you’d look pretty sharp. Maybe you wouldn’t buy a new suit, but you’d probably wear the best one you had, because this would be a special occasion. Someone really important was taking notice of you. You would take the invitation seriously. I think that’s pretty much human nature. I may be a monarchist, but I have a hard time imagining that anyone would refuse the Queen’s invitation.

 

That is what makes the parable in this morning’s gospel such a ridiculous story. A king gives a wedding banquet for his son. He sends out invitations, but the guests don’t come. He sends out messengers to the guests to invite them again, and this time they kill the messengers. Finally, he tells his servants to just invite anyone that will come, and even then someone has such little respect for the invitation that he can’t be bothered to change out of his street clothes. This is a ridiculous story. Jesus knows that it is a ridiculous story. His listeners understand that this is a ridiculous story, because for the most part, that’s not how people act toward kings and queens. If an invitation comes from a king or queen you take it seriously. You don’t ignore it, you certainly don’t kill the messenger, and when you show up you show the proper respect to your host by trying to be and look the best version of yourself that you can be. Jesus knows that the story is ridiculous and unbelievable and that I think is part of his point. We know that we wouldn’t treat an earthly king this way, but how do we treat the King of Heaven?

 

People get squirmy with this Gospel story because they don’t like the part about the guy getting thrown out in the end for wearing the wrong thing. But I don’t think the point of this story is the behavior of the king at all. Jesus isn’t trying to say that God is like this King; what he’s trying to say is that we are like those guests. His main point isn’t how God acts towards us; it’s how we act toward God. He tells this absurd story so that we will recognize the dramatic difference between how we treat God and how we treat the leaders of this world. We treat the heavenly King is ways that we would never dream of treating an earthly king. We ignore his invitation, we kill his messengers, and even if we openly accept his invitation, still we often prove ourselves unwilling to take it seriously, unwilling to change, literally or figuratively. We don’t take God and God’s invitation nearly as seriously as we would take the invitation from any earthly king or queen. That, I think, is Jesus’s main point.

 

In Jesus we know God to be a God of forgiveness and grace. We know God to be merciful. I don’t think that God is tossing people into the outer darkness for not being dressed appropriately. We know that the heavenly king is infinitely better, more just and more merciful than any earthly king. An earthly king or queen will reject you…here’s proof. Earthly rulers are fallible. They are human. They don’t share their recipes. Although I am a monarchist, I can understand why some people aren’t because if you look at history there have been plenty of inept and sometimes even wicked kings and queens. But we know that the King of Kings, the heavenly king is so much better. So if we are willing to take an invitation from an earthly king very seriously, shouldn’t we take an invitation from a heavenly king that much more seriously?

 

We all have been invited to the most amazing banquet. We have been invited to share not just in God’s table here, at this church, but we have been invited to partake of the heavenly banquet. I know that Holy Communion may not seem like a real meal. Just a small piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine, but consider for a minute what is truly happening here. The God and King of all creation has invited us poor sinners to a banquet. We don’t deserve to be here. There is no reason that God should welcome us here, but he does. We come together with other Christians, not just in this place, but across the world and across time. Those we have loved and see no longer, they are here. The saints of God throughout the ages, they are here. This is a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet that God, the King of Heaven, has invited us to, and the food that he offers us is his own life. No earthly king or queen could do that. The invitation to communion with God is the most important invitation we will ever receive. It is a royal invitation, so shouldn’t we treat it that way?

 

Let’s face it, even those of us who accept God’s invitation, often don’t do it with the true joy and enthusiasm that it deserves. Maybe we are willing to show up and eat, but do we care enough to change, to be better, not to be phony, but to be the best version of ourselves that we can be? Are we coming to this feast reluctantly on our way to someplace else or is this where we really want to be? Are we excited to accept this invitation? Are we really taking the King of Heaven’s invitation seriously?

 

The truth is, I’m probably never going to get an invitation to dinner with the Queen. She’s a very important and busy person, and it’s no surprise that I’m not at the top of her guest list. Don’t get me wrong I still wanna go and I’d be thrilled to get one. But it’s ok. I have to remember that I have already received a royal invitation. A far greater and more important king has taken notice of me and invited me to dine at his table. Can I take his invitation just as seriously?

 

 

The fruit we were meant to cultivate

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Sermon for October 8, 2017

Readings:

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom

 

He was known as the meanest, angriest man on his block. A nasty old cuss, he had a drinking problem, a sick wife, and he had made an enemy out of everyone in the neighborhood. He would chase the neighborhood kids out of his yard until one day he got so angry, he grabbed his shotgun, ran after the kid playing basketball across the street and fired right into his back. Then he got into his car and headed to Kmart and started shooting people in the parking lot randomly. Then he headed across the street to the Winn-Dixie, killed two rookie police officers, both in their 20s, then he went into the store. Those customers that couldn’t escape by the back door, or that didn’t hide in the freezer were held hostage. The siege lasted for 7 ½ hours, until under a fog of tear gas the police were able to creep into the store aisle by aisle until they captured him. He had killed 6 people and wounded 14 others. The man’s name was William Cruz and the town was Palm Bay, Florida, where I grew up. And although you may not know or remember his name or the incident, at the time it was international news. That was in 1987 when I was 8 years old. It is the first time I remember encountering that kind of random and senseless killing and violence. At the time we were shocked that that sort of thing could happen in our own town, and we couldn’t imagine something like that happening again. Who would have imagined that 30 years later, such acts would become almost common and the death toll rather minor?

 

I spent a fair amount of time being angry this week. I was angry on Monday morning when I heard the news of yet another act of senseless violence in our country. I was angry that this disgusting act was perpetrated not by some foreign power or terrorist cell, but by one of our own. Most of all I was angry that I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. Who wouldn’t be angry that such a thing keeps happening in our land with no solution in sight? A lot of people are angry. If you watch the news, read the paper or turn on your computers, you will find almost unlimited amounts of anger. The pro-gun lobby is angry at the anti-gun lobby. Democrats are angry at Republicans. It would be very easy for me to get caught up in one side of that anger. I could deploy facts and figures. I could march and protest and believe me, I have done it. Those things do serve a purpose. But what happens when anger becomes your go-to response for everything that challenges you? I was in a meeting this week with a very angry person. They weren’t angry with me, they weren’t angry about Las Vegas, the person was upset about something else entirely, but the anger in this person was palpable. The person just seemed angry at the world. I thought to myself: “gosh, it must be terrible to be that mad all the time. What must this person’s life be like if lurking around every corner is another opportunity to be outraged?”

 

I began to realize that maybe anger is the real problem here. Don’t get me wrong I think our country has some serious issues that we need to address. There are times when I think we should be outraged, but I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the emotional energy to be mad all the time at everything that is going on in the world that I don’t like. I am tired of society telling me that I need to be constantly offended and constantly mad all the time. I am not going to invest what little energy I have left at the end of the day into cultivating anger. I want us to be able to actually take some corrective action on some of the serious problems in our society, but we will never be able to address them or do anything constructive about them until we get over our obsession, our addiction to being angry and outraged all the time. This is the state of our country right now: we are addicted to being outraged. We will look for it. We will parse everything someone says to see if they might have possibly made a misstatement and then we will pounce on it, drag that person down, destroy them in any way that we can and then go on, proud of ourselves at doing a righteous deed. We are angry and we are proud of our anger because it makes us feel righteous. We don’t know how to find that righteous feeling anywhere else so we find it in anger. As long as we can keep feeling angry at someone or something, we can keep feeling righteous about ourselves and our way of life. We don’t have to really look at ourselves as long as we can stay focused on how wrong someone else is.

 

So you are either for me or against me. There is no room for compromise. And therefore we make no progress on creating a healthier and better society for all of us. There is just more division.  Everything is black and white; right or wrong. God forbid people with different viewpoints should actually talk to each other or listen to each other. God forbid we should actually move people by winning their hearts and minds rather than just overpowering them. No, we would rather encase ourselves in our anger. That feels more comfortable. That makes us feel righteous. The addiction has gotten worse in recent years, but don’t go looking for one person, or one party to blame, and it’s not the internet’s fault either. The anger in our country has been growing for decades and our response to the problem has just been to create more anger. If all our anger is producing is more anger, then maybe we might try sowing something else for a change. Now I’m not saying that it isn’t right to be angry sometimes, of course it is, but if that is all you ever are, then I think there is a serious problem there. Jesus felt anger too, but even in his most desperate hour he didn’t live in it. He didn’t feed it. Instead he showed us a better way.

 

God has given us so much. Christ has promised us so much. We have so much to be thankful for. God has given us so much, and given it to us freely. We didn’t have to earn it. But, that does not mean that God doesn’t expect our lives to produce fruit. Just because we have the promise of forgiveness and eternal salvation in Jesus does not mean that God no longer cares what kind of fruit our lives produce. Quite the contrary, because we have been given so much in Jesus, we should care so much more about how our lives are a testimony to God’s love. That’s why Paul said that he regarded “everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

 

For Paul, to be in Christ means that he no longer has to be concerned about his own righteousness. He doesn’t have to feel righteous all the time. His righteousness comes from Christ. He doesn’t have to find his righteousness in anger; his righteousness comes from God. That doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t get angry; he did, but Paul also recognized that anger was a product of the flesh; something that when left unrestrained will lead you away from the true righteousness that comes from God. In the Letter to the Galatians, what one might call Paul’s angriest letter, he says to his readers:

 

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh…Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.

 

I know plenty of Christians that latch on to that word fornication and they get so excited that their minds must tune out and miss all those other works of the flesh, maybe they will tune back in for drunkenness and carousing, but they definitely miss anger.

 

Paul goes on to list the fruit of the Spirit. Now if you grew up Roman Catholic you might have been made to memorize the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Well Paul only lists nine. How y’all ended up with three extra is beyond me. Paul says:

 

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

That is the fruit of the kingdom. That is the fruit we are meant to cultivate. That is the fruit Our Lord is looking for. Those are the grapes he has sown in his vineyard, and those are the attributes that he expects to see in those that bear his name. If we are supposed to be working for the kingdom, then we need to be paying attention to the fruit our lives produce. Memorize those fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Do you see them when you look at your life, when you look in the mirror? Do other people see them in you? Are we seeking to cultivate those fruits in our children? Are we electing people that demonstrate those fruits in their lives? Can we use those powers to listen to people with whom we disagree and maybe find some common ground? Can we plant and nurture love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and make this vineyard we live in a little more like the one God planted with choice vines in Isaiah 5, and a little less like the one that we have created with our wild grapes?

 

There is a John Mayer song that I love called Belief. It begins with the line:

 

Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign?

Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?

 

I love those lines. And as I have watched our country descend into this constant state of anger and madness, I am aware that it’s natural to get angry when someone does something that hurts or offends you, or says something that you disagree with, but living in that anger doesn’t fix anything. We need to make our country a safer place for everyone, but we aren’t going to do it with anger. Anger is what has led to these horrendous acts of violence. There are moments when we should genuinely be outraged, but we can’t live in that space all the time. We can’t cultivate that wild grape.

 

One of the things that makes our parish so unique and strong is that we are mixed: different politics, different races, different sexual orientations. How is it that we are able to come together week after week in this community? It isn’t always easy. There are moments of anger I assure you, there are wild grapes, but we get past it. Love is so much stronger. If we Christians really want to make our country, our society and our world a better place we will do it by winning people’s hearts through love, not by shouting angry slogans. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t find anger in that list. I guess it must be a part of the problem. Maybe anger isn’t a fruit we were meant to cultivate.

Words of Christ in Red

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Sermon for October 1st, 2017

Readings:

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

As you can probably imagine, I have quite a few bibles in my collection. Different translations, different commentaries; some have been gifts, some have been ones that I have purchased. This one is actually one of my favorites: it is a King James Version that has a verse by verse commentary. I particularly love the fact that it has the little tabs that help you find the book in the bible you are looking for. This one also happens to be one of those bibles that prints the words of Christ in red. Are you familiar with those? They were pretty popular among Protestants, especially in the King James Version bibles. Any words that are directly spoken by Jesus are printed in red ink. I actually find it rather useful sometimes. It really drives home the importance of who is speaking, and the importance of those words in a very visual way. It’s like making you stand for the gospel reading in mass: you are aware that these words have special significance.

 

At my ordination I, like every priest in our church, had to affirm that I believe both the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God and to contain all things necessary for salvation. It’s an affirmation that I still maintain today. It’s all inspired. God can and does speak to you in even some of the most difficult books and passages. But I actually like having the words of Christ in red, because it is a recognition of the supreme authority with which he speaks. It’s not that Jesus sets out to negate other parts of the bible (he repeatedly claims that that is not his intention); it’s that he, through his life and teaching, gives us a lens through which we can properly view everything else. He clarifies; he interprets; he demonstrates. For Christians he is the supreme interpreter of the law.

 

I know that when many people think of Jesus they think of his teachings. They think of him as a teacher and they think of his primary contribution to faith as the words that he said, but if you actually flip through one of these red letter bibles and look through the New Testament what you will find is that there is a whole lot of black. His words may be printed in red, but his actions they are printed in black and they form the bulk of his ministry that we have recorded. The world thinks of Jesus as a man of profound words, but what you discover as you dig deeper is that actions mean so much more to Jesus than just words. Words are important, but actions are much more so. Words are cheap, but actions take real effort. That is, after all part of what he is getting at in the gospel this morning isn’t it? The son who actually worked in the vineyard, his actions meant more than the words of the son who said he would go and didn’t. The son who worked in the vineyard did the will of the father, not the one who just said he would. Words are important, but actions are much more so.

 

When we talk about the Word of God, we naturally think about the Bible and what God is saying, but the truth is much of our scripture is focused on what God is doing or on what God has done. The words of God are important, but the actions of God are much more so. As far as we have been able to track, the oldest parts of the New Testament, those that were written down first, were Paul’s letters. In Paul’s time there was plenty of preaching and telling the stories and teachings of Jesus, but Paul was writing before the gospels were completed, before there was a written record of everything Jesus said. And if you look in a red letter bible to Paul’s letters, one thing that you will quickly discover is that there isn’t much red. Paul wasn’t terribly concerned with sharing everything that Jesus said in his teaching, in his words. Paul is far more concerned that those hearing and reading his letters understand who Jesus was and what he did in the world. Who Christ was and what he accomplished in his death and resurrection and how we therefore ought to respond to Christ, that is Paul’s concern. He would leave it to others to record the teachings of Jesus. He wants us to know what the actions of Jesus reveal to us about the God that he is one with. In Paul’s letter to the Phillipians this morning we get a little passage that we think might have been an early Christian hymn. Just like I am sometimes fond of quoting hymns, Paul was probably quoting a hymn when he wrote:

 

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

It’s interesting to me that this ancient text doesn’t have any words of Jesus in it. There is no red ink here. This hymn is all about celebrating who Jesus is and what he did in the world. It doesn’t say anything about what he taught. It is his identity, his authority as one in the form of God and his actions, his willingness to suffer and die that were of greater importance to those early Christians and to Paul, than trying to remember everything he actually said and taught. Proclaiming his authority as the Son of God and proclaiming his actions in his death and resurrection, those came first; recording his teachings, that came later.

 

The world has known plenty of great teachers. There have been charismatic sages and prophets preaching and teaching since the beginning of time. What makes this one special? What authority does he have? It’s an important question. It’s a dangerous question. The temple priests were asking themselves that very same question when they saw Jesus teaching: who is this man, and where does he get his power from? They learned very quickly what a dangerous question that is. They asked him by what authority he was teaching and he agreed to answer only if they answered a question of his: by what authority did John the Baptist minister? Was it his own, or did it come from God?

 

As the priests tried to think of a response, they realized what a dangerous question they had been asking: to recognize John’s authority would be to recognize that they needed to respond to him. They weren’t ready to do that. They couldn’t come up with an answer that didn’t threaten to change their lives. So they couldn’t answer Jesus. “We don’t know” they said. So he doesn’t answer their question. The question doesn’t die though. I think it echoes throughout the ages. It gets asked again and again. Sooner or later it is a question we all have to answer: who is this man? By what authority does he speak? Ultimately I think we all face the same dilemma as those temple priests: to recognize a prophet’s authority, means that we have to be prepared to respond to what he says. Are we prepared to do that? I say it’s a dangerous question because answering it can dramatically change your life.

 

Two weeks ago I asked you all two important questions:

 

  1. Why Jesus? Why are you a Christian? What is it about Jesus or his story that makes you want to be a follower of his?
  2. Why Ascension? Why do you choose to be a follower of Jesus in this place? What is it about this community that draws you to worship Christ here week after week?

 

Some of you have already responded, and thank you. Some of you have commented to me on how easy the second question is to answer and how difficult the first one is. I’m not surprised. Of course the second question is easy! If someone has decided that going to church is important to them; if being a part of a Christian community is important to their life, who could blame them for wanting to do that here? We have a great choir, a great Sunday school, friendly people…we’ve got a lot to offer. It’s easy to see why someone would want to worship here and frankly I don’t think it is all that hard to convince people to choose this church. But I don’t think most people today are struggling with the question of should I go to this church or to that church. I think people want to know why they should go to church at all. That is a harder question to answer. That is why I asked you the first question. Why do you follow Jesus? What authority does he have in your life? Just be aware that it is a dangerous question…it always has been. Recognizing his authority means actually allowing his words to change you and call you to a different life.

 

Yes, what Jesus taught is critically important. His teachings have the power to change your life, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But his words mean so much more to be, because I understand who he is. It is what he does that reveals his true identity and the authority that lies behind his words. Here, I think, is the great irony of the red letter bible: you can’t just jump to the words in red; if you truly want to understand the power of those words in red, you need to first understand what the words in black have to say about the man who is speaking.

More Than We Deserve

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Sermon for September 24th, 2017

Readings:

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

The city of Ninevah did not get what it deserved. The bible doesn’t tell us how it was wicked, we don’t know if there was a particular sin they were all guilty of, or if it was just generally a sinful city. All we know is that they weren’t living the way God had called them to live.

 

It was Jonah’s job to point this out to them. Jonah had been hired or called by God to go to Ninevah and point out to them, not only the fact that they weren’t living right, but also the reality that this couldn’t go on much longer. God was coming and he was going to be judging the actions of the people of Ninevah. The end was nigh and it wasn’t looking too pretty.

 

Jonah was ready to see these wicked people get what they deserved. He had his viewing stand all picked out: just outside the city on a hill. A nice spot where he could sit and take pleasure in seeing God’s justice pour through Ninevah, cleansing it like a might river. But something happened.

 

As Jonah was preaching in the town, the people took what he said to heart. They believed him; they repented and fasted and begged God for mercy. They listened to what Jonah said and they changed their ways. My Lord, that is every preacher’s dream. They all got the message. That almost never happens. At least, Jonah certainly didn’t expect it to happen. And because they are able to acknowledge their sin and repent, God shows them mercy. He changes his mind and decides not to destroy the city after all.

 

Now you might think that Jonah would be proud of a job well done, but no. He is angry. He is angry at God. He’s mad because he wants to see people get what they deserve. He had just warned all those people that they were going to get what they deserved and now, they weren’t getting it. He felt like a fool. He felt cheated. Why should he have done all that work if God was just gonna forgive these people? He could have just stayed at home. He was hoping that he might get to see a few good explosions. Some action. Fire and brimstone. It was hard work, but at least he was gonna get to see some wicked people get what they deserved. And now…nothing. It is just burning Jonah up that God could treat him so unfairly. So he sits there, stewing. God has a bush grow up around Jonah and it gives him more shade and comfort, but inside he is burning up. Then the bush dies and now Jonah is burning on the inside and the outside. And he says to God: “why don’t you just kill me?” You aren’t going to give Ninevah what they deserve and I have a right to be angry because I’m not getting what I deserve as your servant. God says to Jonah: “You are upset about losing the bush, but you didn’t work for it.” In other words, you Jonah did not earn that grace, I gave it to you freely. You did not deserve to sit in the shade. You Jonah are mad because Ninevah is not getting what it deserved, but you are not getting what you deserved either. Stew about that for a while.

 

The scripture passage ends, but if I were Jonah I would probably go back and remember that I wasn’t always a willing laborer in God’s vineyard. Jonah tried to run away from what God was calling him to do. Jonah didn’t want to work for God. God said go to Ninevah, Jonah said nope, I think I’m gonna head in this direction. Eventually he got himself into some trouble. He tried to sail away, but when the seas got rough, he got thrown overboard. If that wasn’t bad enough he got swallowed by a big fish. He should be dead. He doesn’t deserve to be alive; he is only alive through the grace of God.

 

You can get mad at God for not giving people what they deserve, until you realize what a blessing that is.

 

Our gospel story today is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The landowner goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard. He finds one group first thing in the morning, then another group later in the day, then later on another group, and so on. At the end of the day, they all get paid the same. The first group, although they were given exactly what they were promised, are angry because the people hired at the end of the day, didn’t have to work as long and still got paid the same. It wasn’t fair. They had been working longer, they deserved more pay. I can identify with their frustration, but then I realized that that is the problem with interpreting this passage. I am trying to identify with the laborers who have been out in the field all day. What if, I’m not a part of that group? What if I’m one of the ones who came to the field later in the day? What if I am one of the ones getting more than I deserve? How does that landowner’s generosity look then?

 

The landowner is God and the vineyard is his kingdom. I think it is natural to want to identify with the workers who have been serving God all along, but it’s probably not true. No matter how much we have tried to serve God and his kingdom, I think most of us can identify times when we, like Jonah, have been running in the other direction. We want to remember the times when we are running through the streets of Ninevah, proclaiming God’s word, but we forget those times when we were anything but a servant of God. And yet, when we accept God’s invitation, those times when we were standing idly by or running away from him, they are covered by his grace. They are forgiven. And at the end of the day the reward that we receive isn’t what we deserve; it’s more than we deserve.

 

That is the God that we are here to proclaim: the God that gives us more than we deserve. The God that accepts repentance. The God that chases after us even when we are running in the opposite direction. That is the God we serve.

 

By accepting God’s invitation; by deciding to serve Christ and his kingdom in this world, you will not be given what you deserve and that is good news indeed. You will be given more than you deserve. Those times when you were standing idly by or serving other masters, that is forgiven and those times are covered by God’s generosity and grace. That sounds like good news to me.

 

The fact that God promises us eternal life, even though we haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. That is some good news. The fact that God can forgive me when I acknowledge my sin and repent ; that is some good news. Being able to enjoy something you didn’t work for, that’s like winning the lottery. What a gift God has given us. It’s more than we deserve.

 

I am not here to serve a God that gives people what they deserve. I am here to serve a God who gives people more than they deserve. I am here to serve a God who has given me, more than I deserve. I serve a generous God.

 

The Apostle Paul knew that in Christ he was getting far more than he deserved. He could have been content just to accept that grace and receive his reward, but no. He was getting so much more from God than he deserved, that he just couldn’t keep quiet about it. He wanted to keep working in the vineyard, not because he hoped to earn more, but because he had already been given more than he deserved.

 

That is, I think, why we come here to worship Christ and serve him day after day and week after week. Not because we hope to earn more than others, but because we know that he has already given us more than we deserve.

The Judgment Only God Can Make

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Sermon for Sunday, September 17th, 2017.

Readings:

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

 

The word Judgment seems to be getting an awful bad rap these days. What do you think of when you hear the word judgment or hear someone use the verb “to judge?”

 

I hear people accused of being judgmental. I hear people say things like: “well, I’m not one to judge” or “who am I to judge?” Even Paul says: “why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?” One could be excused for thinking that judgement in and of itself is a bad thing. But I’m not so sure.

 

I make hundreds of judgements every day. Making judgments, far from being just a bad thing, is sometimes an important part of staying alive. I have to judge when to start applying the brake when I drive my car. I have to judge when my piece of chicken is fully cooked. I have to judge how far away my foot is from the altar step. I have to judge how far I am swinging the incense from the chalice or someone’s face. In each case making a poor judgment can and has led to a rather unpleasant experience, for me or someone else. But then experience, either good or bad, can lead to wisdom, which hopefully results in better judgment in the future.

 

I’m not prepared to give up on the word judgment. I think we might need to revive it. Judgment is, after all, a part of how we make decisions. We judge between the benefits of doing one thing versus the benefits of doing another. You do it so many times a day you probably don’t even think about it most of the time. You need to be able to make judgments to survive. I think part of being a parent is about teaching your kids how to make good judgments. You weight the facts or the evidence in front of you and you make a judgment. You decide what the best course of action would be and that’s what you do. We want our kids to be able to make good judgments; we want our leaders to be able to make good judgments; we want to be able to make good judgments. So making a judgment, in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the kind of judgments we make and how we make them.

 

We want to make good judgments, and the key thing, I think, to making a good judgment is having all the facts. In order to make a good decision, you need good information to base that decision on. There is no way you can make a good judgment if you don’t have all the facts. Sometimes the facts are obvious; sometimes they are harder to come by.

 

When it comes to another person’s walk with God; when it comes to the state of their soul, we never have all the facts. We need to recognize that. You may think you know someone very well. They could be your child or your spouse or your best friend, but it doesn’t matter how well you know someone, you never have all the facts about their interior life. They may have struggles that you know nothing about. They may have hopes, or dreams or fears that you have never imagined. There may be pain that they never talk about. You never know. We don’t have all the facts. Only God does. We can’t always know what is driving them, or what facts they are basing their decisions on. Only God does.

 

It can be very frustrating when people don’t see things the way you do. I can read a passage of scripture over and over again. Look up words. Research history. Study. Pray and decide what I think it means, and then somebody else comes along and reads it and says no that means something else. Were they just reading the same passage I was? Why can’t they see that my reading is right and theirs is wrong? What’s wrong with them?

 

Worship is another area where people just insist on doing things differently. I admit that I am someone who very often believes that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. When it comes to worship I make a lot of judgments about how I think things should be done, but no matter how many times you try to tell some people that they’re wrong, they just keep on doing what seems right to them. Next month will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg outlining all the ways in which he thought the Catholic Church was wrong and of course lighting the spark of what would become the Protestant Reformation. We have had 500 years of Christians trying to convince each other that the other side is wrong and where has it gotten us? More than 500 years really: Western Catholics split from Eastern Catholics about 500 years before that, and if you read Paul the way I do, it seems like there has always been this tendency for Christians to separate themselves from one another, sometimes over seemingly trivial matters, and where has it gotten us?

 

Anglicans (Episcopalians) are a weird hybrid. We inherited many of the protestant ideas or reforms that Luther called for, but we didn’t participate in the split in quite the same way. Not that our history is always admirable, far from it. But since the Anglican Church split from Rome not long after the Lutherans, there has been this tendency to define ourselves by not being those people (those people usually meaning Roman Catholics, but sometimes other protestants). The Anglo-Catholic reformers of the mid-nineteenth century received terrible ostracism and resistance because the things they wanted to do seemed too “Roman” and after all, we weren’t supposed to be like those people. Still to this day, I often hear Episcopalians trying to define ourselves in opposition to other types of Christians. We aren’t like this or we aren’t like that. We aren’t these people or we aren’t those people. I know I’ve done it, but I have to wonder if defining ourselves by what we are not, isn’t rather like the Pharisee thanking God that he is not like the tax collector. Maybe as we are judging or making decisions about how we wish to worship and follow Christ, we should be careful about how we view others who have made different decisions or who judge differently. Maybe we don’t have all the facts.

 

I was born in a Southern Baptist family, was baptized in a Congregational Church and was confirmed and later ordained as an Episcopalian. I went to seminary with people from a broad range of denominations and have worshiped with the most charismatic evangelicals and the most traditionalist catholics. All along that journey I have known faithful and thoughtful and believing and loving Christians. Just because we have discerned (or judged) that worshiping this way is what is best for us and for our faith, does not mean that there is necessarily something wrong with those that have discerned differently. You can make a judgment about what is right for you, without making a judgment about the person who disagrees with you. That I think is what Paul is getting at in his letter this morning: if something helps you to worship God, great. Do it. If it doesn’t don’t, but don’t go passing judgement on those that need it. If a certain type of prayer or a certain type of music speaks to you and helps you to glorify God, great, but you can’t expect everybody to see things the way you do. You can judge what is right for you, but you might not be able to judge what is right for someone else. You don’t have all the facts. As long as it is being done to the honor and glory of God, then accept that we may not always be of one mind about every detail. Being different doesn’t necessarily make you better or worse.

 

This is the conclusion I came to this week, after reading Paul’s letter over and over: I am not called to be a better Christian than you. I’m not. I am called to be the best Christian that I can be. You are not called to be a better Christian than the person sitting next to you in the pew. You are called to be the best Christian that you can be. We don’t have to judge ourselves in opposition to each other; we need to be judging ourselves against the person we used to be and the person that God is calling us to be. God is going to judge us each individually. I don’t think that God is grading us on a curve. I don’t think he looks at us and says: “well, at least he is better than her, so I’ll take him.” The same goes for us as a parish, as a church, as a denomination: we don’t have to define ourselves by constantly saying that: “at least we’re not like them.” We can make positive decisions about what is right for us as a church without tearing down others who see things differently. I really wish that Christians around the world would stop tearing each other apart. We have enough real enemies, there is enough evil to fight in the world without creating more by quarrelling over opinions. We may make different judgements or decisions about worship, practice and we may even differ on some doctrines, but could we maybe, possibly give each other the benefit of the doubt? Can you imagine what the world might be like today if Catholics and Protestants (all Christians) had decided to fight Satan for the past 500 years rather than each other? Maybe if we stopped demonizing each other we might actually get around to fighting the real Devil.

 

So here is a little admission of mine: every morning when I get up I listen to two podcasts online: the first, is morning prayer according to our Book of Common Prayer. The second is Joyce Meyer. She’s a very popular televangelist if you don’t know her. I know that may come as a surprise to some people, particularly my fellow priests, and I am sure that they are already judging me but I don’t care. I like her. That doesn’t mean I always agree with her, certainly not. We come from different traditions and often have a different perspective, but maybe that is why I like her. She challenges me to think differently sometimes. People say all sorts of things about her and I know that plenty have criticized her, but I have listened to her long enough now that I feel that even though we may have some big differences of opinion, we are worshipping the same Jesus. She has to judge what seems right to her and I have to judge what seems right to me. We all have to make those sort of judgments. But we don’t have to judge which one of us is better than the other, or which one of us is closer to God. That is a judgment that only he can make.

Forgiveness Comes First

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Sermon for September 10th, 2017

Readings:

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

If you are visiting us this morning, welcome; and if you are coming back after having been away for all or part of the summer, welcome back. The summer is a wonderful time of diversion and refreshment and travel, but I always feel it is nice to get back into the regular routine once it is over. Besides the autumn is my favorite season, so it is something I always look forward to.

 

If you are visiting or if you’ve been away, then you might not know that I have been away from the pulpit myself for the largest part of the summer. I had a very invasive jaw surgery this summer, that left me with my mouth more or less banded shut for six weeks. It will take some time before I am completely back to normal, so please bear with me if my pronunciation seems more off than usual.

 

I wrote on my blog a few weeks ago about how much I love the Andy Griffith show. Watching reruns of Andy and sucking milkshakes from a plastic bottle were my two primary sources of comfort during recovery, and while I promise I won’t keep referencing Mayberry in every sermon, I just can’t help sharing one of my favorite episodes with you this morning.

 

Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife were cleaning out the case files in the Mayberry courthouse one afternoon, when Barney stumbled upon a 19 year old case involving Floyd the barber and Mr. Foley the greengrocer. They had both been arrested for assault involving some altercation, but much to Barney’s dismay, no resolution was mentioned anywhere in the file. No guilt was assigned, no restitution or punishment proscribed. Nothing. Barney can’t believe it. Barney wants everything to be neat and orderly and he insists that everything be done according to the proper procedure. Andy tells him that it can’t be too important, just file it or throw it away. Floyd and Mr. Foley are two of the nicest and gentlest men in town and they have been friends for over 20 years so obviously whatever it was, was past. Let it go.

 

Well Barney won’t have any of that. He is determined to settle this case properly. He starts by interviewing Floyd, who doesn’t remember much. Then he interviews Mr. Foley, who thinks the dispute was over getting charged for a shave that he didn’t ask for. Then he tries to interview Goober who was five years old at the time and had been sitting in the corner reading a comic book and didn’t see anything. Well Barney tries to bring all the parties together to try and reenact the whole incident, and pretty soon their conflicting memories get in the way, then Mr. Foley calls Floyd a crook, Floyd punches Mr Foley, who then tries to get Goober to take his side, and Goober once again was reading a comic book and claims he didn’t see anything.

 

Then the whole town gets in on the battle: Mr. Foley punches Goober, Otis punches Floyd, and on and on until pretty soon half of Mayberry has a broken nose. Even Opie gets into a fight at school. Andy can’t take it anymore and he pulls Floyd and Mr. Foley into the courthouse. He sends Barney away and says to the two of them that we need to try to settle this like friends.

He says: “you two have been friends for more than 20 years, more than that you have been neighbors; you have been there for each other. You aren’t kids neither one of you and you both know the value of old friends and the first law of friendship is to be ready to forgive.”

 

The first law of friendship is to be ready to forgive. Forgiveness comes first. That isn’t what we think of when we think of Justice. When it comes to Justice we think that facts should be examined, guilt should be declared, restitution should be made, and then and only then maybe forgiveness can happen. That’s the way our legal system is setup to work. That is certainly the way Barney expects things to happen. But Andy sees things differently. Andy thinks that forgiveness comes first, and then reconciliation can happen. I wonder where he got such a crazy idea…

 

If Barney Fife represents Justice, then Andy Taylor represents Mercy. They are both fighting on the same side of the law, but you get awful nervous when Justice is left on its own. Mercy always needs to take the lead. Forgiveness needs to come first.

 

The first few times I read this morning’s Gospel passage, it seemed to me like Jesus was outlining a procedure for how to deal with conflicts in the Church. But as I dug deeper into this passage, I discovered that Jesus wasn’t creating new rules and procedures, he was amending old ones. In Deuteronomy, in the Law of Moses, it says that in order to prosecute someone for an offence or a sin, you need at least two or three witnesses. It’s a good law, because it is there to prevent someone from being unjustly accused, but Jesus thinks we can do even better. Before you go out and try and find other witnesses, before you involve anyone else, go to that person alone and try to reconcile. And even if you do have to involve two or three others, or even the entire community, your goal should always be reconciliation, not prosecution, not condemnation. But how does Jesus see reconciliation happening? Through forgiveness.

 

It becomes clearer if you keep reading beyond this morning’s Gospel passage and look ahead to what we will be reading next week:

Then Peter came to him and said: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”

Jesus saith unto him: “I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.”

 

Well I’m not good at math, but I can tell that that is a pretty big number. I think Jesus is trying to say that we always need to be ready to forgive, no matter how many times we have been sinned against. Of course, that’s an easy thing to say, much harder to do. Jesus knows that, so he goes on to tell a parable, and I won’t retell the parable now, you will hear it next week, but I think the gist of the parable is this: forgiveness will get a lot easier when you realize how much you have been forgiven. If you know, truly know and appreciate how much you yourself stand in need of forgiveness how can you stand in condemnation of another? It is so much easier to forgive and be reconciled and to love your neighbor when you realize that we are all transgressors of the law; that we are a community of broken, sinful people, that despite our sins are still beloved of God.

 

If you come to church here regularly you will hear the word sin a lot. We are what is known as a “Rite One” parish; we use the traditional language liturgy, and despite what some people think, the difference is about more than just thees and thous. You get a lot more talk about sin and sinfulness in Rite One. It is still there in Rite Two, but not nearly as strong. I often joke that if Jesus didn’t wash away our sins the 1979 Prayerbook certainly tried. I get that such talk about sin can make people feel a bit squirmy and uncomfortable. Everybody wants to be built up and told how wonderful they are, nobody wants to hear that they might not be as lovely as they imagine. But I think it just might be something that we need to hear. Understanding and appreciating how much we have been forgiven, just might help us when it comes time for us to forgive others.

 

Our faith proclaims that while we were still sinners, Christ was willing to die for us. God was ready and willing to forgive before we were ready to ask for it. Forgiveness comes first.

 

I used to think that Barney Fife was just a bumbling fool and that Andy Taylor was wise and had it all together, but since I have reviewed the series with older eyes, I realize now that Sheriff Andy was a mess too; he made mistakes all the time. It is just easier to forget Andy’s mistakes, because his character always puts love and mercy first. He believes in the law, but he also believes that love is the fulfilling of the law, so love and forgiveness always come first. Where did he get such a crazy idea?

 

At the beginning of the episode I mentioned, before the old case of the punch in the nose is found, Andy and Barney are singing a hymn as they go about their work. Andy says the title is “Lose all their guilty stains” but you probably know it as “There is a Fountain.”

 

There is a fountain filled with blood,

drawn from Emannuel’s veins

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

 

The dying thief rejoiced to see

that fountain in his day;

and there have I, though vile as he,

washed all my sins away

 

E’er since by faith I saw the stream

thy flowing wounds supply,

redeeming love has been my theme,

and shall be till I die.

 

Redeeming love has been my theme…maybe that’s not such a crazy idea after all. Maybe it is something worth sharing.

You can have your own values, wherever you go.

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Sermon for August 27th, 2017, the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.

Readings:

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

 

I know that y’all are expecting a short sermon this morning, as this is my first time preaching after having double jaw surgery this summer, but I have to warn you, you may be disappointed.

 

In the first place I have had a long time to think about all that I want to say this morning, and in the second, I have to talk a bit more slowly with this new mouth of mine. So you may want to get comfortable and bear with me.

 

It was twenty years ago, as a matter of fact I think it was twenty years ago this very weekend, that I was heading South on I-95 in my VW beetle to start my first year of college. I say that I was headed South, but if you know anything about Florida, then you know that the further South you go, the more Northern it gets. Even though I was born and raised in Florida, my family is very southern, and we lived in a part of Florida that still had some strong elements of Southern culture (lets just say it was closer to the swamp than it was to the beach). I was very much supported by my immediate family in my adventure, but I am sure that more than a few eyebrows were raised among some of my extended family members when they learned that I was moving to Miami.

 

Why on earth would anyone want to move to Miami? Its crowded, its dirty, the people talk funny and they have all sorts of foreign ways and ideas. It’s a suburb of Sodom. I know that some people just didn’t understand why I wanted to go there, and frankly I’m not sure I understood it either, but that’s where I felt called to go and that’s where I went.

 

We stopped off on the way at my Aunt Faye’s house in West Palm Beach. Now my Aunt Faye is a devout Baptist and frankly as good a Christian woman as you are ever gonna find anywhere. I remember Aunt Faye being excited for me on my new adventure and the idea that I was moving to the big bad city didn’t seem to phase or concern her in the least. Well I must have seemed surprised that she wasn’t concerned, because she said to me very matter of factly before I left: “You can have your own values wherever you go.”

 

You can have your own values wherever you go. Where you are, and who you are, are not the same thing. Sage advice I think, although not always easy to follow. Sometimes it’s easier just to go along with the crowd. Maintaining your own identity and holding on to your own values can be tricky when everyone around you seems to be pulling you in a different direction.

 

Be not conformed, but be transformed.

 

That’s what the Apostle Paul says to the church in Rome in his letter that we heard read this morning.

 

Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

 

I wonder what Paul was thinking when he wrote that letter to the church in Rome. I have to wonder if Paul, looking at his audience to which he was writing, really understood just how difficult that little piece of advice would be. He knows plenty of people in the church in Rome, he has ministered with some of them elsewhere, some of these people were very close to him, like family almost. There are others that Paul knows by reputation, but he hasn’t actually been to the church in Rome yet. He just knows it, and its host city by what he has heard.

 

This was after all, the church in Rome, he wasn’t writing to some Christians living in some backwater district of the empire, this was the capital city; the heart of the known world. They had everything there: people from every corner of the world. Every kind of food you can imagine; every kind of diversion or entertainment you could want, from chariot races and gladiator battles, to other things that I won’t even mention. There was no reason to be bored in ancient Rome. And the Romans they had some pretty good ideas too: good roads, running water, sewers, a strong army….they even had a state religion. Now, you may have to declare that an insane emperor is a God, but in exchange you get toilets that flush so maybe its not such a bad deal.

 

How do you not be conformed to the world when you have millions of people around you that are more than willing to go along with whatever seems most popular at the moment without questioning it much? When you are just one person in the midst of millions…what difference could you possibly make? I could easily see how Paul’s advice might be taken to be a bit impractical, unreasonable. Don’t be conformed. Yeah right…that advice might work in the sticks, but not here in the center of all the action.

 

But what Paul knows is that so far, this church in Rome has been able to do just that: their faith is known to him. Paul has heard that this small group in the heart of the empire has been able to resist the pressure to conform to the world and they are being transformed and growing in the faith; spreading the faith even. These are people who live with every worldly pleasure at their doorstep, and yet they are able to faithfully proclaim that life is more than just worldly pleasures. These are people of Jewish ancestry and people of gentile ancestry coming together. This is a community where the strong are helping the weak, not just pushing them aside or trampling on them. Paul is proud of this church and wants to encourage them.

 

He says to them that they can be good citizens: responsible, tax-paying and law abiding, and still be witnesses to a power that is greater than the state. He goes on to say to them:

 

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

 

Paul doesn’t want the church in Rome to confuse resisting conformation with obstinacy…they aren’t necessarily the same thing. He doesn’t want them to be merely isolated and resisting all change. He wants them to grow, but he wants them to grow in Godliness, not in worldliness. He wants them to resist being conformed to the world, but he wants them to seek transformation in Christ. He wants them to discern, to test in their minds what is in accord with the values that Christ has taught, not to mindlessly go along with whatever the world wants them to be.

 

Paul believes that God is calling each and every member of that church to be something. Paul wants them to be who God is calling them to be, both in their lives out in the world and in their lives inside the church. The message is much the same: you don’t have to be like everyone else. Be who God is calling you to be. If he has given you a grace, a gift, or a talent, it’s because the church needs it. It’s because God needs it.

 

It isn’t easy advice Paul is giving here. It isn’t easy to resist conforming to the world. It isn’t easy to have your own values when they conflict with the values of so many people around you, but you can do it. You can follow where God is calling you, you just have to listen carefully. The world likes to shout at you. More often than not, God speaks through the still, small voice that the prophet Elijah heard. I love the hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is calling” because I really do believe that most of the time that is how Jesus calls us: softly and quietly. He doesn’t force us to follow his ways or to recognize who he is. He doesn’t force us to choose him over the world; he softly calls us.

 

In the Gospel this morning Christ asks his disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In other words: “who do people say that I am?”

 

They give him a bunch of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. You can kind of see the logic in those answers; Jesus does have plenty in common with those guys, but they’re all wrong answers. Just because a bunch of people are saying something doesn’t make it right or true. Jesus goes on to ask the far more important question: “but who do you say that I am?”

 

You can decide who Jesus is, or you can just go along with what other people are saying. You can be conformed to this world, or you can be transformed by the knowledge of God. You can have your own values, wherever you go.