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Bishop Michael Rinehart

October 8, 2017 is Pentecost 18A, Proper 22A – Fruit (The Wicked Tenants)

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 – The Ten Commandments
OR
Isaiah 5:1-7 – My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

Psalm 19 – The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul… Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
OR
Psalm 80:7-15 – Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

Philippians 3:4b-14 – Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

Matthew 21:33-46 – The parable of the Wicked Tenants

Prayer of the Day
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Jesus says, I chose you and appointed you
to go and bear fruit | that will last. Alleluia. (John 15:16)

RCL gospel texts overview

  • September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)

day laborers

Fruits of the Kingdom

This week we hear another parable.

This is the third and final vineyard parable from this series in Matthew. The first was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, then the Parable of the Two Sons (in the vineyard) last week. This week we have the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Here’s the text:

“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.

But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 

A word about allegory. Augustine, and Luther after him, interpreted the Bible allegorically, especially the Hebrew Scriptures.

Augustine did not find Exodus 23:18, (“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,”) edifying, so, he interpreted it allegorically, and Christologically: “Christ should not himself perish in the slaughter of the innocents.”

Now this may seem a stretch (and it is), but this was the pattern: rereading the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the church’s faith in God’s revelation of Jesus as the messiah. This would not withstand the scrutiny of modern historical-critical exegesis, but understand this: Paul does the same thing with Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, law and gospel.

Luther, as a Late Medieval Augustinian theologian, understood the Bible had more than one level of meaning. There were many, but four were standard. This is called the quadriga:

  1. Literal – the first meaning, the plain sense of the text
  2. Allegorical – how the text speaks to faith in Christ
  3. Tropological – the moral meaning, how we are to act
  4. Anagogical – the spiritual meaning that points to eternal significance

Following Augustine, Luther interpreted the Old Testament Christologically, as can be seen in his commentary on the Psalms. It must be noted that this is not unique. It is typical of biblical hermeneutics of the era.

Forgive my excursus, but it seems clear that Matthew wants his readers to understand this story allegorically, and most likely Jesus did too.

Jesus speaks in riddles, parables, allegory, metaphor, simile and other figures of speech. At one point the disciples get so frustrated, they ask him to please speak “plainly.” Allegory is a common tool for mystics.

Even the characters in the text know this parable is an allegory. We see this in verse 45: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.” The Pharisees recognize that. This isn’t about some imaginary wicked tenants. It’s about them.

Even without Matthew explicitly telling us, if we follow his practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture, we are led to the inevitable conclusion that Jesus is telling a story about one thing, while clearly meaning another. The tenants are the chief priests and the Pharisees.

Following this through, God is the landowner who sent the slaves/prophets, who were beaten, stoned, and killed. The killing and stoning of the prophets is made clear again in Matthew 23:25, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning all those sent to you…” This is a running theme in Matthew (and Isaiah).

God sends the prophets to the people to call them to bear fruits of repentance – justice and mercy, the weightier matters of the law – but gets only violence. Over and over. This is the story of the world. God calls us to love. God calls us to create a society where people are fed. Instead there is violence. Jesus saw it in his day. There was the violence of the Roman Empire (torture and death by crucifixion, massacres, and so on) and violence by those who wanted to overthrow the Roman Empire (terrorists like the Sicarii and the Zealots).

Matthew’s Jesus is recalling Isaiah 5:1-7, our first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. This text highlights the people’s ingratitude and lack of fruitfulness, as well as Yahweh’s troubled relationship with Israel (David Garland, Reading Matthew: a Literary and Theological Commentary, p. 221).

According to Emerson Powery,

Culturally, the leasing of land to tenant farmers was a common experience in the first century. Landowners could expect tenants to turn over (a portion of) the crop (cf. 21:34). Those who failed to meet the landowner’s standards would be removed from the land and landowning elite could usually pay others to remove them forcefully if necessary.

Do we have the courage to prophetically denounce the same pattern in our society? Consider the amount of money we spend on “defense” compared to the amount we spend feeding a hungry world.

Finally the landowner sends his own son. They seize him, throw him out of the vineyard, and kill him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the son is (although we have plenty of them in Houston to ask, if necessary). Jesus’ crucifixion is the logical outcome of a society bent on violence. Jesus is an archetype for the suffering of this world, the falsely accused, the powerless, the victims of violence and hatred.

This is true of all who follow in his footsteps. How many gentle peacemakers have met a violent death? If you criticize or try to reform a system that is causing suffering, those benefiting from that system will be furious. You have threatened their sweet deal. As in this parable, the tenants will rise up and eliminate that threat.

I love how Jesus ends his Parables with questions that force the listener to painfully acknowledge the point. “Who do you think was the neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” “The Samaritan, I suppose.” And in this text: “What do you think the landowner will do about it?” The high priests have to grapple with the answer. This is a parable of judgment. “He will put those wretches to death,” – and here the chief priests and Pharisees start to squirm a bit – “and lease the vineyard to someone else, someone who will bear fruit.” “They condemn themselves with their own mouths.” (Garland) This is a tough text for those who believe in judgment “lite.”

As usual, Jesus punctuates his point: “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.” This is almost as bad as last week’s punch in the gut: “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Jesus does not mince words. He is clearly critical of the corrupt, arrogant religious establishment that is not bearing fruit, and he is on the side of those who have been ostracized by the self-righteous.

What is the fruit of the kingdom? Read on in Matthew: Feeding the hungry, providing water for those who need it, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Or read back in Matthew to the things Jesus refers to as “the weightier matters of the law,” the Micah 6:8 stuff: justice, compassion, humility. These are fruits of the kingdom Jesus finds wanting in the scribes and Pharisees.

One can imagine the workers in the vineyard to be the chief priests and Pharisees, or perhaps they are us. What does this story mean for us today? Stories are meant to have living implications for those who hear them. How do you hear this?

I am mindful of people like Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, who spoke out against corruption and violence in El Salvador. For this he was imprisoned and beaten. People like Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero (who, by the way, confirmed Bp. Gomez), who spoke up for justice, and was executed by the death squads (wicked tenants)? Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew the ways of peace.

Are you speaking out against injustice? There is plenty to go around. Are you speaking up for the voiceless and powerless? If not, why not? Are you bearing witness against the violence both of the state and of those who wish to overthrow the state? Have you been thrown in prison for your prophetic voice? If not, why is that? Have you been willing to risk mild criticism on behalf of the poor, the widow, the orphan or the stranger?

This Jesus who is the cornerstone, is also a stumbling block for some.

Okay, an edgy text. So what’s the good news here? This is a parable of judgment. Sounds like bad news to me. We never take a text, however, outside of the greater context of the entire narrative of Matthew in which it resides. The good news is the vineyard owner cares. The vineyard owner is going to do something that involves his son and a releasing of the vineyard.

The good news is that God is calling all people to be part of the work in the vineyard, no matter what hour it is. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. The good news is that God will bring about the kingdom, in time. It will be built upon a cornerstone that the builders rejected. That which appeared to have no value, is inherently of ultimate value.

October 1, 2017 is Pentecost 17A, Proper 21A – Humility (Two Sons)

Exodus 17:1-7 – The people quarrel with Moses: Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Moses strikes the rock for water.
OR
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 – You will no longer say, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Cast away all your transgressions, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Turn, then, and live.

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – God divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light. He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
OR
Psalm 25:1-9 – Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Philippians 2:1-13 – Paul’s Christ Hymn: 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.

Matthew 21:23-32 – Jesus’ authority questioned and the Parable of the Two Sons (not Prodigal Son, but the one who says he’ll work but doesn’t, and one who says he won’t, but does)

Prayer of the Day
God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. My sheep hear my voice, | says the Lord; I know them and they | follow me. Alleluia. (John 10:27)

St. Michael and All Angels – September 29

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3 – Michael, one of the chief princes, helps Daniel. Michael arises and many who sleep in the dust of the earth awake.

Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22 – Bless the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding.

Revelation 12:7-12 – Michael and his angels fight against the dragon as war breaks out in heaven.

Luke 10:17-20 – The seventy return. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”

Here’s an overview of our RCL gospel texts:

  • September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)

Humility
This Sunday is October 1, 2017.

The epistle text is the second of four from Philippians:

  • September 24: Philippians 1:21-30
  • October 1: Philippians 2:1-13
  • October 8: Philippians 3:4b-14
  • October 15: Philippians 4:1-9

Philippians 2 is the Christ Hymn. It is worthy of many sermons. I have treated this vitally important text on self-emptying and the theology of the cross extensively HERECommentary on Philippians begins about half way down the post.

If the theme September 10 was about conflict, September 17 about forgiveness, and September 24 about grace, then September 28 is about humility.

For the rest of our year in Matthew, Jesus is in constant controversy with the scribes and the Pharisees. They are critical of him for hanging out with sinners and even eating with them. They criticize him for healing on the Sabbath, and because his disciples don’t fast and follow other laws and traditions.

Jesus, in turn, is critical of the scribes and Pharisees for their legalism. They “strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.” They follow the letter of the law, giving ten percent, even of their herbs (mint, dill and cumin), but they neglect “the weightier matters of the law:” justice, kindness, humility.

By the time we get to this point in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 21) the tension has reached a boiling point. My eye naturally rests on the most poignant, edgy thing Jesus has to say in this gospel text:

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Mt. 21:31)

Imagine starting your sermon like this. It would make a great attention getter. Let it hang. Then, if you’re really ready for a new call, change prostitutes to a bawdier synonym and tax collectors to some other group to whom your audience considers themselves morally superior. Don’t mention that this idea came from me.

Perhaps we should all memorize this passage. The next time someone uses the word “pastoral” as a synonym for “polite” or “Christian” as a synonym for “nice,” quietly remember the passage in your head. Jesus is calling a spade a spade before the religious purveyors of holiness. This is, of course, not an encouragement to be impolite or unkind. That would be no virtue. It is, however, a reminder that a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is (Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation), that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality (Max DePree, Leadership Jazz), and that systems stay stuck until someone names the truth of the situation (Ed Friedman, A Failure of Nerve).

It’s hard to imagine anything more antagonistic for Jesus to say to these religious leaders, who pride themselves in their righteousness – keeping the law to the nth degree. But it is precisely that pride of their own righteousness that is the problem. The Son of God comes to earth dressed in the garb of our humanity, and is surprised to find prostitutes and tax collectors who have more faith than the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus also finds faith in a Syro-Phoenician woman and a Roman soldier. Jesus finds faith in unexpected places, and a surprising lack of faith in places where one would most expect to find it. To suggest that a Tax Collector has more faith than a Pharisee? Heresy.

To make his point, Jesus once told a story of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector going to the temple to pray (Luke 18). The Pharisee prayed, “I’m so glad I’m not like others: thieves, evildoers, fornicators, or like this tax collector. I fast. I tithe.” The tax collector’s prayer was a bit different. He stood at a distance and would not even look into heaven. “God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”

What a different prayer! These two have completely different prayer lives. One is a prayer of pride, and the other a prayer of humility. Jesus follows up this story with a few words on humility. God tends to bring down the haughty, and lift up the lowly. God fills those who are empty, and empties those who are full of only themselves.

Let it not be lost on the reader that the authorship of this gospel is attributed to Matthew, who was… a tax collector. The author has a personal stake in this narrative. For Jesus, the most dangerous sin is self-righteousness.

Of whom is Jesus most critical in the gospels, and why? The Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day, because of their self-righteousness. Humble people know they are broken. The humble of heart are not deluded that their own self-righteousness can save them from the power of sin. They understand that the most powerful forces for true righteousness are love and forgiveness. Telling a child she is a horrible person will not inspire or empower them. Telling them they are loved with an everlasting love, in spite of their failings, will free them to live anew, in spite of past and present failings.

Today we have the parable of the Two Sons. The first son says he will not work in the field, but then does. He likely represents tax collectors and other sinners, who are initially disobedient, but who care about God’s justice. The second son says he’ll go work, but doesn’t. He likely represents the scribes and Pharisees, who talk a good line and are showy in their faith. However, when the chips are down, they are more interested in status, and the letter of the law, than in the bigger issues of justice, compassion and humility.

This story of these two sons is the counterpart to Luke’s story of two sons (The Prodigal Son, Luke 15). In both stories, one son represents scribes and Pharisees, while the other son represents prostitutes, tax collectors and other “sinners.” One appears to be the better son, but isn’t. The other appears to be disinherited, but isn’t. The Father loves both.

There’s nothing wrong with the law. We need it to show us our need of God. But the law cannot save. It has no transformational power. Like the erstwhile song:

Do this and live, the law commands
But gives me neither feet nor hands
A better way, thy grace doth bring
It bids me fly, and gives me wings
 

If this is so, then a defining mark of the follower of Christ is humility, not arrogance or judgment. For this reason Philippians 2 is a good choice for the second lesson. Have the mind of Christ who humbled himself, emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Given Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees, one might even say self-righteousness is anti-Christian. Sadly, too many consider “Christian” to be synonymous with “judgmental.”

An exercise. Go to bing.com and type in “Why are Christians so” and see what pops up in the auto-complete. This will allow you to take an honest, unvarnished look at how the world views Christians. How might we shift this view? Wouldn’t it be nice if the auto complete said, generous, humble, kind…

bing why are christians so

Richard Rohr writes:

Christianity worldwide has come to have an often negative public image. The Christian religion no longer naturally connotes people who serve the world, people who care about others, other nations or religions, poverty and injustice, or even people who are very happy. In fact, our common image is often exactly the opposite. How did we get to this impossible place, after placing ourselves in the following of Jesus who described himself as “gentle and humble of heart…”

How far we have come from “by this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” They’ll know we are Christians by our love, not our angry, moral ethics or superior ability to appear appropriate by societal definitions of what is proper, status quo and upstanding.

Humility

Paul plays this theme big in the epistle lesson, Philippians 2.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 

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… 

He humbled himself and became obedient… even death on a cross.

To follow Christ’s way is to walk in the way of humility. This does not mean becoming a doormat, but rather a joyful servant of Christ in the world. This does not mean we do what anyone tells us, for we are servants of the Servant. Rather, we act in selfless love for the world that God loves. With love for all and malice toward none, we recognize we have our own sin to deal with, so we have little time to point the finger. We are under no illusions that self-righteousness is salvific. We are not perfect, only forgiven. Loved in spite of ourselves, we are free to announce God’s grace for all, leaving the sword to God and Caesar.

The word of grace here is that God loves every child, the rebellious and the obedient. The word of challenge here is that we are called to be witnesses to God’s love by reflecting the humility of Christ, by having this mind not to exploit power, but instead to empty ourselves of all that is not of God.

September 24, 2017 is Pentecost 16A, Proper 20A – The Workers in the Vineyard

Exodus 16:2-15 – The Israelites complain against Moses. They receive manna and quail.
OR
Jonah 3:10 – 4:11 – Nineveh repents and YHWH changes his mind. Jonah gets angry.

Psalm 105:106, 37-45 – A song celebrating delivery from Egypt and quails in the wilderness.
OR
Psalm 145:1-8 – God’s providence. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Philippians 1:21-30 – For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace: Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual loving kindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Open our | hearts, O Lord, to give heed to what is said | by your Son, Alleluia.

Overview

Believe it or not, there are only 10 weeks left in our year of walking through Matthew’s gospel, Year A: Four Sundays in November, five in October, and this coming Sunday, September 24, 2017. We will cover major portions of the last of five major sections that make up Matthew’s gospel. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, so Matthew’s Gospel is organized into five sections just like the Books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy).

In the early 20th century a guy named B. W. Bacon noticed that Matthew used the phrase, “When Jesus finished saying these things…” five times, at the end of five long discourses, or sermons (Mt. 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1). He pointed out the five-fold narrative/discourse structure. One could organize Matthew’s gospel as follows:

Introduction: Matthew 1

  • Section 1
    • Narrative: Matthew 2-4.
    • Discourse: Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)
  • Section 2
    • Narrative: Matthew 8-9.
    • Discourse: Matthew 10 (Missionary Discourse)
  • Section 3
    • Narrative: Matthew 11-12.
    • Discourse: Matthew 13 (Parables of the Kingdom)
  • Section 4
    • Narrative: Matthew 14-17.
    • Discourse: Matthew 18 (Living in Community)
  • Section 5
    • Narrative: Matthew 19-22.
    • Discourse: Matthew 23-25 (Olivet Discourse)

Conclusion: 26-28 (Death and Resurrection)

In September and October, our gospel texts in the Revised Common Lectionary come from Matthew 18-22. These are teachings and parables that are instructive to the church. Life in Christian community.

Here’s an overview of our RCL gospel texts:

  • September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)

day laborers

Grace

I have discovered that people don’t like this parable very much. It offends their sense of justice. Why should everyone be paid the same, regardless of how long they worked? This is a story of uncompromising grace. People really have trouble with grace.

Prior to this week’s gospel from Matthew 20, the Scribes and Pharisees gave Jesus a hard time for eating with sinners and not keeping the letter of the law. He responded with stories about lost sheep and an unforgiving slave. The message seems to be that God forgives, and cares about those who are lost, much more than keeping score. Now, Matthew 20 begins with The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which might also be called The Parable of the Day Laborers.

This is a great story, but it drives people nuts, if they really grasp its message. The justice of God does not seem just.

At dawn, a landowner goes looking for workers to help with the harvest.

6:00 a.m. – The landowner finds some people to work and negotiates with them a fair day’s wage. They agree and begin working.

9:00 a.m. – The landowner, still in need of more help, finds people standing idle in the marketplace. He hires them on and puts them to work. He agrees to pay them “whatever is right.”

12:00 noon – More workers.

3:00 p.m. – More workers.

5:00 p.m. – The landowner goes out and finds people standing around. When asked why, they say no one has hired them, so he puts them to work as well.

6:00 p.m. – Quittin’ time. Stop working and collect your wages, the last first.

Each time the landowner looks for people who are standing idle to work in the vineyard. At the end of the day there are five groups of workers:

  • The 6 a.m. folks have worked 12 hours.
  • The 9 a.m. folks have worked 9 hours.
  • The 12 noon folks have worked 6 hours.
  • The 3 p.m. folks have worked 3 hours.
  • The 5 p.m. folks have worked one hour

Let’s say the daily wage is $15/hour, for a 12-hour day. That’s $180 for the day. We can assume a 12-hour day because at the end of the parable, the folks that arrived at 6 a.m. complain that the folks who arrived at 5 p.m. “only worked one hour.” So, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. $180. The 6 a.m. folks heard this, agreed and shook hands on it at first light.

Now it comes time to collect their pay at the end of the day. The 5 p.m. folks are paid first. Lo and behold, the 5 p.m. workers get paid $180. The 6 a.m. folks at the end of the line are watching carefully. The 6 a.m. folks think, “Holy smokes! The boss just paid those folks $180 for one hour of work. That’s $180 per hour!”

The Parables of GraceRobert Farrar Capon has an excellent treatment of this story in his book Parables of Grace. He says we’re all inveterate accountants/score-keepers.

The 6 a.m. folks immediately begin calculating. (C’mon, we’ve all done it.) 12 hours, at $180/hour is, well, let’s see, over $2,000! We’re having prime rib tonight!

The 3 p.m. people step up. $180. The noon folks: $180. 9 a.m. folks: $180. When the 6 a.m. folks step up, they stare down at their paycheck: Only $180. “That’s not fair!”

Before we get to the landowner’s response, let’s stop for a moment and ask: Why is Jesus telling this story? How might the Scribes and Pharisees be hearing this story? Why would Matthew choose to retell this story? (This parable is peculiar to Matthew. Mark and Luke only have some version of this phrase: “The last will be first and the first last.”) Could they all be measuring their status before God? Their righteousness? Their place in heaven? Are the Scribes imagining themselves as 6 a.m. folks, and the Gentiles, tax collectors and sinners as 5 p.m. Johnny-come-latelies! Who is more righteous? Who will God reward the most? Who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

Consider this. The cutting edge of this story, which only appears in Matthew, is not much different than the cutting edge of The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which only appears in Luke. The older brother in Luke’s parable followed all the rules, and was working hard while the younger son was goofing off. When the lost son returns home, the older, hard-working son discovers that the father loves both of his sons the same, regardless. In today’s story, the landowner seems to pay all the workers the same, regardless. Though our work is sacred, perhaps God’s love is not contingent on how much we work.

Parables of Subversive SpeechWhen the early birds get upset, the landowner’s response is classic. He says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.” Capon suggests that this word for friend (Ἑταῖρε, hetaire) is edgier than the usual (φίλοs, philos). Herzog (Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed) agrees that this is a condescending form of the word “friend.”

If he’s right, the sense is more like, “Listen pal…” or perhaps “Look buddy… This is my vineyard. You agreed to work for $180, right? (Marlin Brando voice.) I’m sorry. Do you believe I have I been unfair with you? Perhaps you wish to lodge a complaint? Shall we alter the terms of the agreement? Do you really want to mess with me, pal? I paid you what we agreed upon at the beginning of the day. Take your paycheck and skedaddle. Am I not free to throw my wealth around as I please? Or are you envious because I choose to be generous?”

I remember a small group at my home congregation discussing this passage. The group discussed how difficult it was to find reliable, hard workers. One businesswoman said she didn’t pay all her workers the same amount. Some jobs are harder than others. Some people work harder than others. But she’s the boss. It’s her business. They can take it or leave it. She pays what she agreed to pay. Period.

This story is similar, but different. In this story everyone is paid the same, even though they didn’t work the same amount. Not even close. Some worked 12 hours throughout the heat of the day. That’s a pretty tough sell here in triple-digit Texas. Some worked only one hour. This story makes no sense to the bean-counters of religious purity. It only makes sense in light of a gracious God.

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” the landowner says, “Or are you envious because I’m generous?” Perhaps those on the score-keeping plan, who are “winning” (in their own eyes), don’t really want a gracious God. It’s like the frontrunner of the marathon being told everyone is a winner. Wait. What?! But I won!

The Evil Eye

The phrase that is translated “Are you envious because I am generous,” literally says, “Is your eye evil, because I myself am good?” (ἢ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰμι;). This “evil eye” phrase is loaded. The evil eye has a long history. Translators don’t render it literally, because most modern readers won’t recognize the image. There is more here than can be dealt with in this short reflection. Look it up: (especially evil eye in Judaism).

One with an evil eye is so envious, so covetous that they are distressed when others prosper, and wish to do them harm. When your neighbor gets a raise and prospers in any way, does it upset you, or do you celebrate over their advantage?

What if, while working in our vineyards of life, we didn’t worry too much about how hard those next to us were working? What if, while working on becoming righteous people, we didn’t spend so much time worrying about how righteous or unrighteous others are? What if we left judging to God, and focused more on the log in our own eyes? (Matthew 7)

Clearly, those who come last are on equal pay as those who came in first in this story. The first are last and the last first. Those who think they should enter the kingdom first, because of their righteousness, moral superiority or religious heritage are in for a surprise. The righteousness contest is bankrupt. This is a shot across the bow to the religious leaders of his day, and perhaps ours too. It’s a truly distressing parable for score-keepers, and all who think Christianity is about personal moral purity.

To make matters worse, in case they missed the point, in next week’s gospel Jesus will really pour gas on the fire by saying to the chief priests and elders: “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

I like this story. I really like it. It shows a loving God who is like hopeless parents that love all their children, underachievers and overachievers, those who score and those who struggle. This is a fun story to read with groups. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Here’s an idea: invite some actual day laborers to join the conversation. Pay them (quite fairly – a day’s wage, perhaps) to be with you for the morning of study and worship. I am being totally serious about this. You might hear a different story. They will tell stories of being underpaid, not being paid at all, verbally abused, and treated as trash. We might gain a fuller understanding of the text if we listened to reflections of those who are most likely to appreciate the reality of the story.

Some have suggested this story subtly illustrates Jesus’ solidarity with the poor, and his awareness of the vulnerability of the poorest day laborers in the barter economy of his day. Today we see the same problems. The laborer really has little choice in the matter of payment. The subsistence-level laborer is utterly dependent on the generosity of the exploitative urban elite. Jesus becomes the model of the broker between the rich and poor. He symbolizes the coming of a new economy, an economy of the kingdom, where all are equal in the eyes of God. Jesus truly embodies the prophetic vision of “good news for the poor.”

Jesus ends the parable with his enigmatic statement, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” “This saying should be taken as a word of warning to disciples who are the spiritual firsts.” (David Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary)

day laborers 2

Gander on 9/11

Looking in the midst of tragedy? Watch the helpers. 


Many years ago, on 9/11, a group of people illustrated heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. t’s a true story; you can look it up. The details vary from source to source, but this is an experience that changed lives. 

On September 11, 2001 Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately. The stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

Norman Mineta, then U.S. transportation secretary, recalled:

“After I closed U.S. airspace, I realized that we’ve got these planes coming in from Europe and Asia and I then called David [Collenette, Canadian Transport Minister] and I said ‘Hey David, we need your help,'” Mineta said, asking Collenete if Canada could take the incoming planes.

“He put me on hold and within a minute or so he said, ‘We’ll take them all,'” Mineta told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. 200 flights were diverted to Canada. 

The nearest airport for Delta 15 turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. The crew simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 18 more on the way. 

The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts. At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning. 

About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane. The stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing 7,000-8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in American history, the “plane people” as they came to be known were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers.
Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 said that in the small town of Gambo, outside of Gander, where they stayed, the two small stores simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take what you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.
218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to US and Europe were available for every one once a day.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. Later, in news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers told these stories.

17 dogs and cats from the flights were also housed. Two great apes were cared for. 

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When they left, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…

Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson, got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.
When we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. 
By the way, the Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. As of 2017, the fund has grown to over $2 million.

Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.



St. John’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Texas

St. John’s celebrated their 150th anniversary today, September 10, 2017. Pastor Glenn Hohlt and I presided. 


This congregation still has the old tradition of ushering people out by pew at the end of the service.




St. John’s was founded by Pastor John Conrad Roehm (1822-1902), who was one of the six pastors sent by the St. Chrischona School in Basel Switzerland. Roehm was born in Metzingen, Wuerttemberg, Germany. 


Landing in Galveston in 1851, he did missionary service along Llano river serving Leiningen, Castell, Schoenburg and Mason in Texas. He served Trinity Lutheran Church in Frelsburg, Texas, Ross Prairie (Ellinger), Fayetteville, New Bremen, Pagel Settlement, Rockhouse, Hallettsville, Content, Weimar, Schulenburg, High Hill, East Navidad, Black Jack Springs, La Grange, Bluff, New Ulm, San Bernardo, Biegel Settlement, Cat Spring, Columbus, Alleyton and First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Galveston, Texas. 

For more history check out https://bishopmike.com/about/texas-lutherans/. 

September 17, 2017 is Pentecost 15A, Proper 19A

Exodus 14:19-31 – The Israelites are delivered from the Egyptians, through the Red Sea.
OR
Genesis 50:15-21 – Joseph forgives his brothers. “Even though you intended it for evil,, God intended it for good…”

Psalm 114 – When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
OR
Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 – Moses’ song. “I will sing unto The Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea…”
OR
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 – The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.

Romans 14:1-12 – Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions… Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?… Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Matthew 18:21-35 – Peter: How many times must I forgive? The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave.

Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. We have an advocate, Jesus | Christ the righteous; your sins are forgiven on account | of his name. Alleluia. (1 John 2:1, 12)

How Can We Help

In the wake of the flooding in Houston last week, August 25-31, 2017, this is the question I’ve been asked a lot. Thank you for asking. Here’s my stock response.

Pray. Give. Serve.

PRAY for the families of those who lost their lives, and for those who lost their homes. Pray for all who were displaced and all who serve them. Pray for congregations struggling to get back on their feet so they can serve, especially at Faith in Dickinson, Salem in Houston, Messiah in Cypress, and Christ the King in Houston.

GIVE to the Gulf Coast Synod Disaster Fund, which helps congregations and their leaders recover and serve. Or pick a congregation and partner up. https://gulfcoastsynod.org/hurricane-harvey/ Or give to LDR (Lutheran Disaster Response), which does case management among the most needy homes.

SERVING now means mucking out houses and buildings. The water has subsided in most places, but will take weeks in others. Mold grows immediately. Now is the time that unskilled volunteers can serve; carrying out soaked belongings, cutting and hauling dry wall, prying up carpet and other flooring. The trick is getting here and finding a place to stay. Because so many hotels are full, many volunteers tend to be local. If you come from out of town, right now there are some options for you, and these options will grow:

  1. Our Galveston retreat center has space. It’s near Dickinson flooding.
  2. Our camp in LaGrange has space. LaGrange had flooding.
  3. Tree of Life Conroe is set up to house workers at the church. They’re north of Houston.

Overview

September and October our gospel texts are from Matthew 18-22. These are teachings and parables that are instructive to the church. Life in Christian community.

Here’s an overview of our upcoming RCL gospel texts:

  • September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is clearly the theme that weaves most prominently through our readings for this Sunday. That may or may not be what your congregation needs to hear if you have been through the flood. That’s a pastoral decision. There are other possibilities. But forgiveness is an absolute necessity for any relationship or community to work, so it is always en vogue.

The first option for the Hebrew Bible reading (Exodus 14) stumbles across a different, but poignant theme: the Israelites deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea. The Psalm picks up this theme, either by using the Song of Moses in Exodus 15. The theme is God’s deliverance from oppression. This is not a story of revolution – people rising up and overthrowing an evil empire by their own might. It is a story of escape. God delivers them and they walk away.

For those of us who have come through the raging waters, this reading might strike a chord. The Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 psalm does as well:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. 2The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. 4“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. 6Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power— your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. 7In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble8At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. 9The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ 10You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. 11“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? 

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

But take care here. Celebrating deliverance from the raging waters will fall flat for those who lost friends or loved ones, and for those who lost house and home. For many, this does not seem like a victory. It is good to celebrate that we are here, but consider how we celebrate. Our good fortune should spur us on to serve those who were most affected.

The other option for the Hebrew Bible reading might be a better choice if you are going to use the theme of forgiveness from the Gospel reading. Joseph forgives his brothers. Then Psalm 113 emphasizes this forgiveness: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.”

This coming Sunday’s epistle brings to an end our marching through portions of Romans. Though Romans has 16 chapters, we end this run in chapter 14. A portion of chapter 15 appears in Advent 2A, when Paul quotes Isaiah saying a root of Jesse will come. A portion of chapter 16 (the last three verses of Romans) appears in Advent 4B: Paul says the mystery hidden for the ages is now disclosed, and made known to all the Gentiles through the prophets. Next week we begin four weeks in Philippians:

  • September 24, 2017: Philippians 1:21-30
  • October 1, 2017: Philippians 2:1-13
  • October 8, 2017: Philippians 3:4b-14
  • October 15, 2017: Philippians 4:1-9

Since rejoicing is a major theme of Philippians, this may be a good time to give thanks for the gifts of life, love and faith.

Romans 14 is one of Paul’s treatises on bound conscience. It gives us insight into his thinking, ethics and ecclesiology. “Welcome the weak, but not just to quarrel.” Some eat only meat, while others are vegetarians. The vegetarians believe it inappropriate to eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Since this comprises most of the meat in the Roman markets, some believe it is more appropriate and faithful (kosher?) to abstain from meat altogether. Paul’s take is that idols are nonexistent anyway, so eat up. He also clearly believes human religious traditions to be ineffective for justification. They can, in fact, work against one’s salvation by puffing one up. Nevertheless, the vegetarians and the carnivores should respect one another and stay together in community.

Clearly Paul considers those who abstain from eating meat to be weaker in faith, and the omnivorous stronger. He is not without an opinion on the matter. And yet, his admonishment to them is to accept one another’s differences. “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” Shades of Matthew 7:1-5, Sermon on the Mount.

Paul also hints at a disagreement about the loosening of the Sabbath laws, what day to take the Sabbath, or have worship. “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord…” This may also be an argument about which days should be fasting days. For many Christians this became Wednesday, and Friday, in honor of the crucifixion.

Paul then says, whatever you do, wherever you fall on this issue, make up your mind and be confident, while respectful of others. The point he emphasizes toward the end of this passage is that we’re all going to stand before God on judgment day. People are accountable to God, not to you, so don’t worry about it. Let God be God. Jesus would add, work on the log in your own eye. You’ve got more than you can handle dealing with your own stuff.

Mark Reasoner tells an amusing story to make the point:

A story about Ruth Graham, wife of the famous evangelist, illustrates how differences can threaten our unity. Mrs. Graham, dressed and made up as would seem fitting for any American woman in the 1970’s, attended a luncheon with wives of conservative pastors in Germany.

These German Christians had more conservative ideas regarding how women should look. They did not believe that married Christian women should wear makeup or clothing that made them look too much like the world. As a result, a German pastor’s wife, sitting across from Ruth Graham, became very upset. She thought it was shameful that the wife of this famous evangelist looked so worldly. Why, Ruth Graham was even wearing mascara! The German pastor’s wife became so angry that she started crying right into her beer. Meanwhile Ruth Graham couldn’t understand why the woman was crying, although it bothered her that a self-respecting pastor’s wife was drinking beer at a meeting to prepare for an evangelistic crusade where Christians come together as the unified body of Christ.

Matthew 18:21-35 is a classic text on forgiveness. Jesus has just taught about how to resolve conflict to maintain cohesiveness in the community. Now he will talk about forgiveness.

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Then, to illustrate his point, Jesus tells a story about a king who forgave an enormous sum owed by a slave. The slave then goes out, and fails to forgive a fellow slave a much smaller sum, throwing him in prison. When the king finds out, he scolds the slave for not “paying it forward,” and orders him to be tortured, ironically, for lack of mercy. Then Jesus hits them with a punch in the gut: “So my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Jesus’ shocking hyperbole drives the point home with power. Jesus makes it clear: We are to forgive. Especially when preaching close to 9/11, we should be very clear about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

A parishioner once told me this passage made her stay in an abusive marriage too long. Another said his childhood abuser wanted to “friend” him on Facebook. Forgiveness does not mean we allow destructive things to happen or continue. It does not mean discarding healthy boundaries. Forgiveness does not mean we are going to be best friends. Forgiving an abusive ex doesn’t mean you have to marry him or her again. Forgiving an abusive person does not mean you keep putting yourself in the dysfunctional arena in which the abuse takes place.

Stanley Hauerwas, in Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, says, p. 166,

As the parable makes clear, the forgiveness that makes peace possible is not without judgment. The question is not whether we are to hold one another accountable, but what is the basis for doing so and how is that to be done.

Forgiveness does not mean restoration to a position of trust. An example: your treasurer embezzles $50,000. Do you forgive him? Yes. Do you make him treasurer again? No. Restoration to a position of trust would be unkind to the community, and to former treasurer, who clearly has a weakness. The preacher needs to take care not to proclaim too shallow a vision of forgiveness.

If forgiveness doesn’t mean these things, what does it mean? I believe this kind of forgiveness means I choose not to hold hatred in my heart. I may be so wounded I have trouble letting go, but I will not work relentlessly and harboring anger. Forgiveness means I am not going to let the wrong or abuse define me. I am not going to let it keep me from living into a hopeful and joy-filled future. I choose not to carry around the heavy anchors of anger, bitterness, resentment or hate. I choose to live into the future, in spite of the scars of the past. I forgive because Christ has forgiven me. Ephesians 4:32.

Lewis Smedes says forgiveness is relinquishing my right to get even. It is not eliminating all the consequences of the evil that has been committed. It is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. Frederick Buechner reminds us that forgiveness is an act of radical self-interest. We punish ourselves by carrying around our grief and anger when we do not forgive others.

Forgiveness is not easy, but is something the Bible talks about a lot. Jesus says we are even to love our enemies, those who have hurt us, or seek to hurt us most. Paul says if your enemy is hungry, give them food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Learning to love the enemy is a lifelong pursuit.

The preacher must be able to tell a concrete, true story of forgiveness that makes a difference, either from the saints or from his or her personal life, to connect with the congregation. Without this, we risk spouting shallow, pious platitudes.

Mere ChristianityI will close with some thoughts from C.S. Lewis:

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’ 

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do – I can do precious little – I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 7

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