Restore us O God; Advent 1 December 3, 2017

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.’

In those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”

 We hear these words and the first emotion that rises up is fear. We cannot imagine not having light. We put nightlights in our house and on our streets. We surround ourselves with light and with even the best curtains, it seems even the digital clocks will still pierce the darkest room as we try to sleep. We are so surrounded by light that we don’t even realize how little we can see the dark until we are in a rare place without light polution.

People spend the day sun worshipping and the evenings dancing.

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite preachers and wrote the book, “Learning to walk in the dark.” Until I read that book, I have to admit that there were more than a few times the dark scared me. Like Taylor, as young woman I was not afraid of the dark, enjoying my fair share of sneaking out for midnight walks in the crisp and clear night air of Julian- not too far from here, but far enough not to have light pollution. To me, it was never really that dark I always had the stars to light by way- it always seemed my dirty white tennis shoes were a beacon to getting caught as they appeared to glow supernaturally in the star and moonlight.

As I grew older, I began to fear the dark and nearly succumbed to the modern tendency to put a nightlight in my children’s rooms. When I would walk to Los Angeles County hospital in the wee hours of night, alone on my way to an emergency chaplain’s page, I recall feeling safe in the belly of old General Hospital even though it was vacant but once outside, the night seemed ominous and scary. I had become afraid of the dark.   Then I read Barbara’s book and began to remember my joy and comfort in the dark of my youth. With some pondering, I the truth of her words: dark itself is nothing to be afraid of, rather, it is the dark inside us that we fear the most. When we hear the idea of the end times being in the dark, I wonder, are we more afraid of what is in the dark or what we will face when we are alone with ourselves?

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

This is the first Sunday of Advent- four weeks where we recall and practice what our ancestors’ did- a waiting for the Christ child- for salvation and hope. For four hundred years the Israelites waited for a prophet- a time of silence and spiritual darkness- a time to sit, wait, and reflect upon their own lives and God’s promises. It was hard, but it was not bad. Like that 400 year wait, Advent is the living between times. Only now we await second coming of Christ and still no different from Israelites, our time of waiting in the dark hours is a time to stay awake and alert to our own spiritual health and wellness.

For the Corinthian church that Paul writes to in today’s missive, it was a hard time as well. Christ had died and they were trying to figure out which way to go, how to live out this calling and following of Christ. They were not doing a great job either. They struggled and bickered, deeply divided and each side convinced they were right. Paul understood they were afraid and struggling and he writes in a positive assumptive position of comfort, reminding them that they can make it through this hard time, and they have been enriched by God in every way.   Paul reminds the church of Corinth that they will be strengthened and God is ever faithful and present through Christ and the Holy Spirit. And while not every word Paul wrote is appropriate for our time and application, this remains steadfast and true.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

God began with the darkness, in the darkness. In fact, light wasn’t even the first thing God created. God revelled in the dark and was not afraid- finding the desire to grow and create and nurture within it. We too, should not be afraid of the dark. Darkness has its role. In it we are forced to remain still or to move carefully and slowly if we try to walk in it. In the dark, we find rest. Our bodies are reminded to be still, to allow God and the nature of the universe to heal us, to rejuvenate and restore us. In the dark, we can see things we never notice in the day- the shape and color and even reflections that are missing in the brilliance of the sun. The dark and the light dance for us but all too often today, we are so accustomed to constant light that we have become afraid of the dark.

Because we cannot see ahead while we wait, we can examine our own self, our own sin and our departure from what God desires for us. Our world is scary. Broader communication leaves us more aware of how broken the world is around us and how hard living is. We are more aware that life is one difficult circumstance after another and it is obvious that God does not guarantee us a life free of pain and sorrow. It is enough to make us cry out and we can. Isaiah shows us what it looks like to yell at God and to hold God accountable to God’s own promises in our lives.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

As I waited for first call and time continued as it does, I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt those around me who told me that I was a solid candidate. I wondered aloud to a friend if I was so solid, why am I still not pastoring yet? His words? Maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe it is about God and God’s promises? He reminded me that I needed to get over myself and remember that this is God’s call and promise and that it was fair to call God out. But it seemed presumptuous to me to call out God. Over the next 3 weeks 2 more friends would echo the sentiment, unbidden. One even shared that when he was in similar circumstance he packed a bag and set it by the door then he got down on his knees and he prayed. He reminded God that he was ready to go and it was all up to God to tell him when and where. A short time later he received his call.

Author Ellie Wiesel writes in The Trial Of God about how three Jewish rabbi’s called God to trial over failed promises to Gods own people during the holocaust. It was written based on his real life experience. It was the most faithful response imaginable- to trust that God made promises and that we can look at God and recall the promises of God, too. Isaiah 64 does just that. Well my husband wanted a good book to read and I recommended the book to him even as I realized the significance of yet another reminder of holding God accountable. I had a lot of unfinished things in my life- unfinished art, unfinished projects around the house, even things we needed to do to prepare the rental to be returned. I finally got the message and after some prayer, I realized I was not ready. I spent the next month finishing things so that I could be ready to go, too. And daily I would hold God accountable and say, “See God? I am getting ready to go. Are you preparing my call? “ Within the week, I was in conversations with the call committee of Hope and the moment I read the congregational profile, I knew this was it. I had called God out and God had responded because while I am not always faithful and ready, God is.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

Advent’s texts give us a voice for our brokenness and failure to be faithful as we wait. They also give us the promise of a savior. We are headed into a new year of texts now and Mark will be the Gospel we walk with. His words are full of apocalyptic visions just like Matthew, but the difference is that there is a strong mix of encouragement and hope among Mark’s words. Yes, he shares that the end times will be scary. But he also reminds us that we will see evidence of Christ and his promise all around us if we sit still and pay attention. He promises us that Christ is coming.   Layered with Pauls’ promises that we will be equipped and Isaiah’s reminder that God is faithful, we can know without a doubt that as we wait in the dark, God comes to us and remains with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we sit through Advent we are reminded that God is our light and is present not outside of us and our lives, but inside of us. Do not be afraid of the dark. It is a holy place. In the dark we are able to clearly see the light of Christ present with us. Salvation is at hand.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

 

 

 

 

 

How Can I cry out if I can’t Breathe;Advent 2 (December 10, 2017)

I cannot cry out if I cannot breathe.A voice will cry in the wilderness, prepare the way.

 

Of Course, Mark is describing John the Baptist. Have you ever wondered though, why he was crying out in the wilderness? Why wasn’t he preaching and teaching in the temple and cities? Wasn’t it counter-productive to do so from the wilds? Who would hear him crying out in the wilderness anyway?

 

Thanks to the other Gospels, we know more about John. I think today we hear that he wore camelhair and ate locusts and honey and just think that people did weird things back then. But even for his own time, John was, well, weird. He was a nonconformist- a subversive- an activist. Not too unlike his cousin who would come after him.

 

So it is no wonder that he was in the wilderness. We have a way of looking at the people who do not look, act, eat, or speak like us and making them feel unwelcome. If they are connected to issues that cause problems and upset the status quo, we quickly blame them for their own circumstance and distance ourselves, so that we will not be pulled into their mess. We push them off to the sides, to the places where we will not have to notice them, to the other side of the street, the tracks, the border and if necessary, to prison so we don’t have to face their differences and the issues they bring up that make us uncomfortable. We send them to the wilderness and we silence their voice among us.

 

The fires have left me breathless this past week. Many of you also have a cough, a tickle, a little stuff in your throat. For me, it has activated my asthma. And when I was asked if I could do a one day response for the Red Cross, I had to decline. In the end, deciding I could not risk my breathe. Because if I cannot breathe, how can I speak? If I cannot speak, how can I share the truth of God’s love.

 

And that got me thinking about our Gospel today and why we only ever seem to hear the truth cried out from the wilderness, from the outer edges and un-centered places? Why don’t we hear these voices of truth everyday among us? And I realized that the voices of truth are already among us, but we have silenced them. They are breathless and cannot cry out.

 

They are the women silenced and scared by the actions of men and power brokers who left them with no recourse but to put up and shut up. Who kept their silence and were blamed and manipulated by shame. If only the women like Bathsheba and Dinah had a #metoo movement to encourage them.

 

They are the babes left on beaches, drowned as they attempt to escape certain death while powerful men make decisions on who can live where. Men who will wipe out an entire generation of male children for their own political purposes and control. I wonder if the mothers of Syria think of the mothers who buried their babes because of King Herod?

 

They are the ones who don’t fit our laws of what right looks like, men in women’s clothes and bodies, dark-skinned or dreadlock wearing, upright citizens who just want to live and let live, who are precious children of God and are ignored when beaten, and left to die under the baton or on the road to Damascus. I wonder if the gay, brown skinned, or Hindi speaking person attacked for just living take their last breathes wonder where their good Samaritan is.

 

We hear their stories and turn away- they make us uncomfortable and we focus our anger on the person who takes the picture of the dead child rather than on the person responsible for circumstance that led to his running for his life. We hear of the women who speak truth of the Matt Lauer’s and Garrison Keilors of the world and our responses tend to be wondering if it is the truth why did they wait so long or upset that our favorite voices and faces are gone because someone had to make a “fuss”. Anger at our our discomfort rather than the fact a woman was violated and felt she had no recourse until now when a groundswell of others are gaining courage because they now know they do not stand alone.

 

We take their breathe and value when we tell a black man that if he just follows the law and the directions of the officer he will be fine. Because the truth is and video after video reveal in stunning proof, that it won’t be fine.

We steal the breath of every victim who tries to cry out every time we question them and doubt them in order to make ourselves more comfortable that we loved or lived among a place where a perpetrator also lived.

 

It is no wonder that John called the religious folks a brood of vipers. We are dangerous to be among.

 

The voices are among us- with truth to be told, with the message of Christ in their stories, in their faces, in their very breath. And until we give them space to be heard, protection to speak, support to share the difficult parts and love to heal the gaping wounds from which they cry, they will be breathless and thus, speechless. We will not hear their cry and we will not prepare the way.

 

Christ came and put himself in a place of speechless breathe- he began his life gasping for air so that he too might cry out in our world. And he did- he cried out in the temples and he cried out in the desert. He cried out above the wind and waves and he cried out over death. He used his very breathe to fight the centered set, the ones who would tell him he was a problem maker and that he just needed to tone it down a little or maybe tell his story in a way people could hear instead of causing so much turmoil. And when he would not play by the rules, when he continued to speak the truth and use his privilege and breath to cry out for the least of these, to cry out and share the Gospel of God’s love for every human being and a promise of salvation for the small cost of faith alone, they nailed him to a cross where the death is one of suffocation- where the very breathe is taken even as he yet lived. And in his last breathe, he cried out one last time to beg God in heaven to forgive us for failing to hear.

 

Advent is our time to wait and ponder, to prepare the way beginning with our own hearts. I wonder, are we willing to ponder our role in taking the very breath from the voices of truth among us? Can we commit to protecting the breathe of our savior and his message among us? Will we stand side by side to protect an innocent who simply wants to live and breathe? Will we put on the itchy camel hair coat and let our hearts and spirits live in the discomfort of honesty and truth so that we too might hear the voice crying out and prepare the way for the Lord?

 

It will be uncomfortable. It isn’t easy to hear and walk with the voices of truth,. It isn’t comfortable to speak the truth. It isn’t popular to be different and stand for what right looks like. But it is what our Savior did for us and what in our loving response, we should do in return. Christ did not come to a young girl in an illegitimate way to make us uncomfortable. He came in poverty and humility to remind us of our own.

 

The voice in the wilderness does not just break the silence- it shatters it. It cries out from broken hearts, broken bodies and broken spirits.

 

Will you be humbled and give breath to the voice that needs to cry out here and now, among us? Will you call the one in from the wilderness and give them shelter, comfort, and love? Will you hear their story and love them as Christ did for you? Will you prepare the way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reconciling the Hero and the Harmer

“Pastor, how are we to respond?  Yet another of our heros has fallen to sexual misconduct or abuse!”

   “We are trying to reconcile the man we knew him to be

with his unacceptable behavior we now have become aware of.”

(Today Show, November 29, 2017).

******* TRIGGER WARNING*********
(Sexual misconduct+children)
 
My grandfather (paternal) was a kind man to me. He was gentle, sang, and played the organ, he snuck me hard candies and spoke Norwegian to me.  He taught me to love music, woodwork, and cars. He lived a Christian life and spoke of God with regularity.  He was like this with all of his grandchildren. 
My grandfather (same one) also molested me as a child. He molested other family members, too. Many in the family knew but my brother did not until he was nearly an adult. As he and my father flew home to my grandfather’s funeral, my dad told him my story so that he would not be caught off guard. I also think Dad still held anger that his own father had done that to his little girl and was struggling with going to a funeral to hear all nice things about someone who had broken an innocent child.  
The hardest part for my brother was reconciling the grandfather he had experienced with the one I experienced. I remind him regularly that our grandfather’s actions with me that were unacceptable do not undo the good he did. Each act stands alone. His good behavior did not excuse his bad behavior- but neither should his bad behavior erase the good. I remind him that it is ok to remember our grandfather with love and fondness because that is the authentic memory he has. He need not bear my anger, pain, or brokenness, even though I welcome him comforting me and holding me in it as I continue to grow and heal from it.  
I am not excusing my grandfather.   I am not justifying, supporting, or protecting him. I am a woman who has gone through deep healing and I now see clearly through waters that seemed impossible to move through once. In that clarity I see a broken man who broke others. I also see a man who tried to live right and sometimes failed. I pray that he found forgiveness before death- I pray that he reconciled himself. I myself, have reconciled that I can remember him with love and smiles of the good things that he did for ALL the grandchildren.
There is no sacred place from this kind of trauma.  Our news now fills our living rooms with story after story of sexual misconduct and abuse.  The more stories we hear, the harder it gets to make sense of the person we thought we knew through media or even personal experience with one who could do such things.  
But there is this- when we are ready, when we have caught our breathe- we can turn this over to God.  God heals and judges.  God comforts and chastens.  God is with us- and with them.  And God cares and loves until we can once more.  I for one, am grateful that in the years of anger and distress that followed when I was unable to forgive or heal, God was with my grandfather just as God was with me.   And I thank God for that because it is a difficult struggle to reconcile the harmer and the hero.

 

Parts and Pieces in Context- Nov 25, 2017

Jesus demands social justice for the least of these.

We just moved- most of you know that.. I am not new to this- I have done it many times and I have learned more than a few tricks to make it easier. And still it happens- someone takes apart an item in our house, doesn’t write down the steps or take pictures, doesn’t put the parts in a bag or doesn’t label the bag and then, of course, the bag may not even be taped to the item- getting dumped either in the garbage or into a pile of chaos that we have to sort out on the other end.

Inevitably, I find myself with parts and no idea how they function or what they even go to. My mind ends up with all kinds of possibilities as I set it aside until we end up needing the missing piece when voila- it suddenly makes sense. The intent becomes clear with the need to understand and the right context. I spoke last week about the importance of context- well Matthew sure drives this lesson home for us once again.

This year I have felt pretty beaten up by the Matthew gospel. I don’t know if it is me, current events application or just that Matthew really likes to use the threat of punishment as motivation.  Regardless, as we stand here on this final Sunday of the Church year, imagining what it will be like with Christ as King, I am really just hoping Matthew got it all wrong- because I don’t want a King who threatens me to make me behave. I keep hoping, like with my furniture, that a little context and instruction might help me with how this scripture reveals God.

Yet it seems, for too long of a time, Christianity has taught and relied upon that angry God- one very different than the one Jesus speaks of. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but the Angry God smites them. Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies seventy time seven, but the Angry God smashes them. Jesus speaks of a loving father, but the Angry God throws people into a burning pit for eternity for failing to care for one homeless person.

This angry God seems to have become the one most of us were exposed to and raised to believe in; To our own spiritual detriment. It isn’t anything new of course, Martin Luther was taught the Angry God mythology, too and yet even after the Reformation, the myth remains, larger than life- in fact, seeming to rule our lives. We hear of the new generations of “nones” those who fill in the religion blank with the response, “none.” and wonder what happened- but we seem unwilling to recognize that this may be a huge culprit. It is unthinkable to imagine wanting to spend eternity with a big mean jerk who is vindictive and cruel. Why would you want to spend even an hour in silence, solitude, or intimacy with such a god, let alone eternity?

We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust and faith and toxicity are bad dance partners. Faith is a mystical unexplainable dance and the mystical, transformative journey cannot take place until that image of an angry God is dismantled.

It is easy to see how this passage from Matthew immediately feels like a bludgeon wielded by this angry God. The historical idea and use places a higher value on Christian performance over attitude or faith. And this passage becomes the goad once again to keep us in line. But what good is a Reformation anniversary if it doesn’t cause us to examine our roots?   As Lutherans this angry God doesn’t fit when we read this and there is no room for faith in the passage. Since we rarely question scripture and whether it is missing something important, it leaves us questioning ourselves. Well folks, if we just read this passage, then yes, something is missing something. The rest of the book has to be read in context with this passage. The parable discourse of Matthew closes out the book of Matthew and scholars argue the parables of Matthew are Jesus’ verbal punishment of Israel for their rejection. He tried to share the truth gently and they ignored him. It feels harsh and it is. But it does not represent Christ or God alone anymore than a mother’s scolding an errant child in the grocery store is representative of how she always interacts with her child.

And just like needing a label for the random parts of my household, we need clarity at times from Christ. He has spent several years sharing stories of God and trying to let people see the truth gently but so many ignore him or only take him in as a spectacle. Finally, fed up, Jesus is making his points absolutely clear in the parables- stories that will illustrate how serious this is.  He breaks it down and labels it all using the language of the people and streets in stories that they can relate to. It is very harsh, but if he didn’t make it absolutely clear, someone would inevitably come along argue that he wasn’t clear about the rules of the game and would avoid the reality. He is really bringing home the whole point of his life and death for them before he goes. Jesus is making powerful contrasting statements when he describes the separation of sheep and goats, but he does explain them with compassion when he reminds them “whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.”

Christ in Matthew’s gospel is showing how Love is the answer and sometimes love means confrontation. In this harsh parable, Jesus is demanding social justice in the most traditional of ways, steeped in Jewish law of economic justice that favors the poor and needy. He is reminding us that God’s preference is and always has been for the needy and poor. We need that confrontation- that reminder that the love of God happens beyond our reach and even beyond our labels and it is more expansive than we can ever imagine, including the ones we often even fail to see. We need reminded that we do not have favor and a free pass just because we know Christ, rather, we are instead called to more because of it. When you come to my home as a guest, you are welcomed and I have few expectations of you. But when you are part of the family, close friends who are chosen family of the heart, there are additional expectations- as part of the family you help clear the table and wash dishes, you may even take out the trash or vacuum up. We are the children of God through Christ now. We are no longer the guests, instead we are the family and we are called to the deep love of Christ our King here and now- to participate relationally with God’s creation, as children of that King- heirs of the throne and thus responsible for the care and nurture of the kingdom alongside our Savior.

He is reminding us there is no wealth or religious preference. We all participate and we all stand equal at the judgment . And we also stand equally loved. That can be easy to miss. Love can get buried in fear if we let it. The good news is that Matthew’s reading isn’t actually about fear and punishment, it clearly points back to a loving Christ who is saying as plainly as possible that the pain of being judged and separated like goats is not necessary- that Love can heal; and love can provide; and love can save. Only Love matters- and faith exists because of that love- Christ’s great love. Matthew is declaring for us that Love is never anonymous- it is always wrapped up in the participation of Christ’s love for the world- whether we call it that or not. Every time a hungry mouth is fed, every time a shivering or sunburnt body is covered, we are participating in Christ’s love and in turn, his kingdom.

Our God could be that angry God. Yes. But I don’t think so. This parable is not one of fear- but of desperate, deep, and abiding love. Christ has come and given us the instruction manual and reminded us that our God is a God of love- who desperately wants us and wants to be in deep and intimate relationship with us- risking everything to achieve that. Only in desperation will there be the end with separation- and Christ has clearly shown us that this is not necessary. It is hard to care for the other- the unknown is always hard. But our faith that is fed in relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit gives us strength and even the desire to do the things that seem scary and against the pull of the world. And we do not do it alone. Christ remains with us, prodding and loving, a good king, a kind king, a forgiving king, already involved in the kingdom to come by already coming to us here and now.

 

 

We forget ourselves… Thanks-Giving

In the beginning of our history for this country the Pilgrims came to worship God freely. They sought a place safe from tyranny and persecution. They weren’t asking for much, just their lives and freedom to worship God.

So they fled , the hunted seeking shelter and a new home. They came to these shores, the strangers in a new land, unequipped and unprepared. It took the welcome of the people who were here first to help them survive. They needed that welcome and they received it gratefully.

It seems though that they were only grateful for so long. Once they learned how to do for themselves they declared this nation their own gift, theirs to own and conquer and they forgot themselves, their hosts, and their thankfulness. Not unlike the Israelites in the desert creating their own golden calf to worship. They pushed out the very ones who helped them, who welcomed them, who fought for their lives with them. The hunted became the hunters. They forgot themselves and the gifts given and they turned God into their bully as they waged wars in belief that this land was theirs to pillage and rape.

The mustard seed did not remain a seed. It was changed- broken open and gave up its life, as it was, to become something new. Our history of Thanksgiving and the ugliness that followed is uncomfortable and seems to be all around us these days- as though we cannot deny it any longer. I believe just like the mustard seed, our nation has an opportunity in this new era of awareness to give up our life to become something new. We have an opportunity to return to right thankfulness, a thanks giving that recognizes that what we have is not ours, but is God’s and that we are simply stewards of it. We have a chance to offer apology by choosing to honor the hard stewardship lessons our native brothers and sisters can teach us even today. We can begin to care for the land we are on, not as ours personally but ours shared for these generations as well as those to come. We have a chance to be different from other nations and instead of putting up walls, we can tear them down. Instead of keeping refugees who seek a safe place to live and sleep out of this land, we can learn from the welcome our ancestors received and we can give life by letting them in, too. We can deny the ugly heritage but only when we refuse to live into the story anymore will the true change be wrought.

Native American people believed that there was plenty for all- they did not live in fear of us, we taught them that fear. But beloved, our God is not a god of scarcity. Our God is a god of bounty and plenty. Our God is a god of fields of flowing grain and rivers of crystal waters, our God is THE God of plenty where there is always enough and more to share.

This year, I urge us to remember ourselves. Remember our God. Remember that we can be broken open to become something new and offer life to others in doing so, just as our Savior did on the cross. Remember that we do not need to hoard what is around us, but open it up to share. So, open your homes, open your wallets, open your cupboards, open your hearts, and open your lives. Do not be afraid, be instead be thankful, truly offering up all we have and are to our God. Be the mustard seed and let God break you open this Thanksgiving.   Let us become new, for in Christ, we are always being made new. Amen.

 

Flipping the Parable

Read Matthew 25:14-30 FIRST.

For years women have been denied their place where I stand now. For years they have been forced to bury their gifts and calling. The passage from Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 has been used to keep women silent in public and became like a plague throughout European Colonized areas, strongest during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In that era, a virtuous woman was chaste, silent, and obedient. Can you imagine a world without the voices of women? Can you imagine half a choir silenced? Half your speakers in your car working? Half of God’s very intentional creation muted by misunderstood and misplaced law?   And yet that is exactly what happened. After centuries of being forced into the role of the 3rd slave in our readings, they revolted. Even women had a reformation. And they took this parable and flipped it.   Finding ways to subvert the system completely, they refused to participate in the system of oppression anymore. They wrote and learned and shared and grew and passed it on to new generations secretly until women could find the time to stand against the system and refuse to participate in the patriarchy anymore. And they paid for it with their lives. Burned at the stake as witches, divorced and left to prostitution and poverty, beheaded for their opinions and faith.

 

Sally Jennings knew what it was to enter into the joy of her master. She lived a life that increased the wealth of her owner. She bore his children, giving him more slaves to own, slaves who would work for free and increase his wealth. She loved those children. They were hers, too. So yes, she entered into the joy of her master. But she never got the chance to enter into her own joy. The joy of her creator. For centuries, people with brown skin have entered into the joy of their white masters- even after slavery ended. In fact, they are still forced into the role of the 3rd slave, to bury their given role to keep it intact rather than risk losing what little they have. But there is a rising change happening and they too are beginning to refuse to participate in the system of oppression our nation was built on. And they are paying with their lives.

 

This parable has historically been understood as one about burying our gifts from God- that we should not do it and that if we want to please God we will do as the first two slaves and multiply what God has given us. Except that doesn’t work. We simply cannot rely on the history of ideas. We have to explore the social and cultural context of our texts.

 

In this Matthew text, the historical idea has the master as God and the talents or gold as our blessings. It is used for stewardship and a goad for good works. But it really feels like a threat and I have to say in my experience, if something feels like a threat, it generally is in some way. But this parable is only good news for the wealthy, the white, the man, the owner. For the poor, the woman, the brown skinned, the slave, it is threat, extortion, expulsion and death. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor or worse, have what little they have taken away. Worse, for the Christian, it assumes that Christ, eternal salvation, God’s pleasure, and God’s blessing are something we can earn or increase. But the historical idea never once implies freedom. It never once implies personal joy. It never once implies love and value of each human created in God’s image.

When we open up the proper social and cultural context though, this parable becomes a can of worms to a stewardship sermon. Historically speaking, this parable is spoken in ancient Palestine and the people understood the wealth of the world to be limited and already distributed. They believed in a finite economy. That meant that if one person became more wealthy, someone else become poor.   For them, the Master was a thief- not unlike the owners of the payday loan shops of today. This master exploits the system and worse, he acknowledges that he does. When he hands his money to the slaves and the first two increase it, they not only participated in a system of corruption, but they helped their master become even more wealthy and encouraged that system to thrive. But they never actually gained by it personally. Hmm… Sally Jennings, anyone?
Further, the master labels the slave who refuses to participate in a corrupt system as wicked. Why? Because he dared to challenge the system and thwart the greed of his master. Now you ask, but wasn’t the master fair in saying the money at least could have been in the banks? Well again, proper context teaches us that no, that also was a sin. The interest earned was from usary-the practice of unfair lending- that was a second hand thievery. Not unlike the folks who manage today’s payday loan stores or run them as a franchise.

When placed correctly, suddenly the 3rd slave is the righteous one. He is the one the rabbi’s honored. The one the people understood. He was the one who refused to participate in a system of oppression and corruption. He was a lone voice of non-violent protest and he paid for it with his life.

So let me ask you this. If we keep the historical idea of this parable, and God is no better than this master, we no better than these slaves, who needs God and doesn’t Jesus just become God’s hit-man? This is not the Jesus I know and certainly not the God I know. Jesus sided with non-elites and challenged the oppressive economic and social status quo everywhere he went. He was reviled by the elite for this. God is not the kind of Master who limits us and holds us captive to increase God’s own kingdom. In fact, God sets us free, again and again and again- in fact, to God’s own devastation through the Son dying for our freedom.

This Parable is not prescriptive of how to live- how to use our blessings as much as it is descriptive of a deeply flawed world and system, and of the cost to refusing to play along. In fact, the more we examine it, the 3rd slave could very well be Jesus. The one who refused to play along with the corruption of the time and called out the system, paying for it with his life. There are some that argue this was Christ using prophesy once more for us. In fact, in an interesting literary lens, we find that the end of Matthew 24 points right back to the beginning where it says, “then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.”

Here is the point. Christ is not an economy. Faith and blessings are not an economy. We don’t exchange and gain. We don’t exchange and lose. There is no exchange except for the one Christ made for us- his death for our sin. But we offer nothing up in exchange, in fact, we have nothing to bring and unlike the third slave what little we have will not be taken from us- we will not be shunned by God for being poor of spirit or talent or gift. We will be welcomed and loved, forgiven and set free. Christ is not an economy. Christ is pure gift.

Then what are we to do with this parable now that we have flipped it? Well, our Thessalonians text reminds us today, there are many Kairos moments (thin places) of decision in our daily living. Will you participate in the system of oppression? Or will you take a risk and subvert the system here and now, participating in God’s kingdom come to us in every moment of our lives? Even at the cost of death? Because let me share this last thought with you- that 3rd slave did not die. That 3rd slave came into eternal life. That slave was freed from oppression, the system of corruption and the limitations of slavery and human sin. That slave was freed into the promise of Christ and the kingdom of God where we are valued, precious, created, and chosen people. A system of love, worth, redemption, and joy. We have choices to make. As Mary Oliver once pondered, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

*credits:  mark davis @ politicaltheologytoday.com, bruce epperly @ processandfaith.org, the social justice lectionary, and carol thysell at journal of feminist studies in religion for your thought provoking papers and blogs that stood out among many as I sought to understand why this parable HURT so much as a historical idea.

 

 

Why the dirty sole?

I love to be barefoot.  If you come to my home, you will find me barefoot.  My feet are eternally dirty from walking around without shoes.  I feel connected to the earth and just a little more steady in a world that is always putting me off balance.

So my first week as Pastor at Hope, I was putting my office together but had dressed up a bit with it being my first week and all.  The thing is, if I have to wear shoes, they better be AWESOME.  So, these 4″ stilettos did not work when I climbed chairs to hang pictures and put books on tall shelves.  I left the shoes on the floor and wandered barefooted- all around campus.  And got caught.

I joked I am the eternally dirty soled and realized it made a great blog post for a pastor- I know I am dirty souled on my own- but in Christ, I am eternally washed clean.  This is the story of my journey, living as a washed and redeemed child of God, leading a people with dirty-souls washed clean, too.

This blog will be about my life with Hope, and will include my weekly sermons for those who cannot be with us to worship in person.

Kick off your shoes- own your dirty soul and soles and join us as we walk and celebrate being made new in Christ.