Monday, October 16, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 22.1-14

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Proper 23, A; Pentecost+19
Matthew 22.1-14
October 15, 2017

The lectionary
            is not friendly to preachers.
Today we have a parable
            that Luke tells too.
But in today’s parable
            Matthew’s anger at the Jewish leaders
                        shines through even brighter than last week’s!

First, we need to set the stage
for this passage.
Like last week,
            we’re getting a snatch
                        of inside baseball.
The way the Jewish leaders
            ask Jesus very intense questions
                        was extremely culturally appropriate.
Rabbis arguing with one another
            is something we ourselves know.
Discernment happens in community,
            and sometimes the discernment sounds harsher
                        than it actually is.

In Matthew’s writing
            the Pharisees are already looking
                        for a way to have Jesus killed
                                    but they’re scared of the crowds.
As I pointed out a few weeks ago,
            these passages are from
late in Matthew’s Gospel.
The narrative is building
            to the Crucifixion
                        and then the Resurrection.
And we have Jesus
            telling stories.
Matthew — angry at the Jewish leaders —
            is recording those stories,
                        axes to grind and all.

This is a story that seems odd.
This is a story that seems full of hope.
This is a story that takes
a really weird turn at the end.

Jesus tells us about a king
            who is throwing a wedding banquet
                        but none of the invited guests want to come.
Some of the guests
            ignore the messengers
                        while others kill them.
(Matthew is pointing out
            the persecution early Jesus Jews faced
                        at the hands of some Jewish leaders.)

How does the king reply?
By sending an army
            to kill the guests
who refuse to come to the wedding
            and then burn their city down.
What kind of host does that?!
I think it’s safe to say
            that imagery of God
                        is a human projection,
                                    banked in imperial control and violence,
            more so than anything Jesus teaches
about himself or God’s reign.
After this king has killed the original guests,
            burned their cities
                        and probably salted the fields
so no one else can live there,
            he tells his slaves,
                        “Go round up anyone you can.
                        Those guys weren’t good enough anyway.”

Ultimate hospitality!
Anyone can come at all,
            good or bad.
Good or bad is even in the text,
            as long as there were people there
to celebrate the feast.
But wait!
There’s more!
The king who has
            killed all the original invitees,
            burned their city to the ground,
            and now invited anyone at all
He saw one person not dressed right.
The king asks the guy how he got in
            not in the right clothes,
                        and the guy is speechless.
What do you say to someone
            asking how you got in
                        when there was an open invitation?
No clothing strings attached?
In the guest’s speechlessness,
            the King has him bound
                        and thrown into the outer darkness,
“For many are called,
            but few are chosen.”

Y’all, this is a roller coaster!
And the Church over time
            decided and maintains
                        that it’s Good News!
In Luke’s version of this story,
            and Matthew and Luke
borrow a lot from one another,
            there’s no killing the invited folks.
There’s no burning their city
            or probably salting their fields.
There’s no throwing anyone out
            for not wearing the right clothes.
But we’re working with Matthew’s text.
One reading of
“Many are called, but few are chosen”
            is that no matter what we do,
                        God still handpicks people
                                    to see the ultimate banquet of Heaven.
That is not our tradition!
To find the Good News in this passage,
            I think we can look back to last week.
Last week Jesus said,
“The kingdom of God
will be taken away from you
and given to a people that
produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
Having Family Housing Network
with us for the last week —
                        even through community dinner
when our space was used completely! —
            is evidence of the fruits of the kingdom
            being produced among us.

How though
            are we answering Jesus’ call
                        to make disciples?
Not people who come to church,
            not people helped by our good deeds.
Disciples of Jesus Christ
            who confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection, and
share with us in his eternal priesthood.
Our Friday Fourth Day group
            and bible study afterward
                        are certainly part of that.
I’m looking forward to much sooner than later
            expanding our offerings
for adult Christian formation.

As Episcopalians we have our own Good News narrative.
I do! There are a host of reasons I’m Episcopalian,
            and I’ve been Southern Baptist
            and United Methodist!
I’m looking forward to inviting you
            to deepen our faith together
in weekly formation offerings
            and sharing the Good News of the Resurrected Christ
                        with those in your lives
                                    who need a friend,
                                    who need some Good News,
                                    who need a preview of heaven.
When that invitation is given,
            I hope you’ll answer it.
I hope you’ll not only answer it.
            but invite others to join you —
                        so that like in today’s parable,
our hall is full. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 21.33-46

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Proper 22, Pentecost+18
Matthew 21.33-46

Last week I mentioned that
            Matthew was angry
with the Jewish leaders
            and it comes through in his writing.
Whew boy, does it come through
in this week’s passage!
A flat reading of today’s Gospel text
            is what led to centuries of anti-Semitism —
                        which is alive and well
                                    as demonstrated in Charlottesville.
A flat reading of today’s Gospel text
            ignores the God made
                        eternal covenants
with Noah, Abraham, and Moses
            covenants still in place today
            with the Jewish people.

The parable Jesus tells
            is a great illustration
            of how Jesus uses storytelling
                        to get his point across.
Just talking about leasing property
            makes my blood pressure go up
                        as I remember trying to find an apartment
in San Francisco.
That was four years ago
            and it makes me anxious.
I can’t imagine
            finding somewhere to live,
            agreeing to some terms —
                        like harvesting the land —
                                    and going back on the agreement.
I definitely can’t fathom
            killing the property management company
                        so I didn’t have to pay up!
Then killing the land owner’s children
            thinking somehow
that you’ll get their inheritance?
This is a story with a point,
not real life.

This parable’s point
            is that those who’ve had
religious power and influence —
            who are charged
with helping keep the covenants
            with Noah, Abraham, and Moses —
have failed to do their job.

Jesus is neither here
nor anywhere in the Gospels
rejecting Judaism.
Throwing stones
            at other religions
who worship the creator
is not Jesus’ call.
What Jesus does throw stones at
            is respectability,
                        doing what you’re supposed to do
                        to not ruffle feathers
                        or make a fuss.
The Good News isn’t about being nice.
It’s about the Kingdom of God
            being at hand.
Jesus begins his public ministry
            by calling the Pharisees
a brood of vipers.
Here he says,
“The kingdom of God
will be taken away from you
and given to a people
that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
I think that may be a warning
            for Mainline Protestantism
                        or all of American Christianity.
In his book Our Great Big American God
            Matthew Paul Turner notes,
                        “The introduction of the American Christian T-shirt
most definitely evolved
out of an evangelical culture
that Billy Graham™ first cultivated,
a culture where ministry, capitalism, and media
merged into a holy American ménage à trois.
That threesome created an environment
that not only helped to sell God
and a host of God-branded products
in America and around the world,
but also created GOD ®,
the brand above all brands…
                        “GOD ® has become so infused
into every aspect of America’s culture —
from church and ministry to nonprofits and politics
to social justice and social media
to self-help concepts and point-of-purchase trinkets —
that most people have become so accustomed to GOD®
that we’re incapable of differentiating
God’s presence from GOD ®’ s presents,
or God’s peace
from one of GOD ®’ s piece-of-crap products
made in Indonesia….
Perhaps the most powerful function of GOD ®
is its ability to be everything that God
cannot be or has chosen not to be.” [1]

Whether Mainline Protestant
            or Evangelical
                        are American Christians producing fruit?
Have different groups of Christians
enjoyed power and privilege
            for so long that they — we —
            forgot how to demonstrate and proclaim
                        “The Kingdom of God is at hand”?
I see fruit being produced here
            when plums and pineapples
are given away from the food bank.
I see fruit being produced here
            when we gather at this Table on Sunday
                        and around those tables on Wednesday night
            “As Christ breaks bread and bids us share,
            each proud division ends.
            That love that made us makes us on
            and strangers now are friends.”
I see fruit being produced here
            when people notice a need
                        and volunteer to help fund its being met.
We are working the vineyards
            and producing fruit
            and sending it back to the Creator
                        for whom we are tenants and stewards.

Even as we work the vineyards,
            I pray we don’t become complacent.
On Tuesday Lynay rang the bell
            to honor those killed
in Las Vegas last Sunday night.
In the future,
            I plan that such symbolic acts
                        will be followed up with actions for change.
Part of our work in the vineyards is praying.
It’s also listening to God calling us
            to proclaim
                        “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
            then work to see it and show it around us.
“The kingdom of God
will be taken away from you
and given to a people
that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
We’re producing fruit,
            don't worry,
                        but let’s wonder together
                        what other fruit need tending.

[1] Turner, Matthew Paul. Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity (p. 212). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 21.23-32

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
1 October 2017
Proper 21, Pentecost+17
Matthew 21.23-32

In today’s gospel text
            we have two blurbs
about Jesus interacting with
            Matthew’s favorite foil: the Pharisees.
Whenever Jesus
talks to and about the Pharisees
                        it’s important to take it
with a little grain of salt.
Matthew was pretty angry.
It shows in his writing,
            particularly when Jesus
condemns the pharisees. 

The first half of our text
            is a challenge
to Jesus’ authority:
“By what authority are you doing these things,
and who gave you this authority?”
The way the lectionary is set up
            we’ve missed some pretty crucial information.
What are the things that Jesus is doing? 
Why are the Pharisees upset?
This excerpt from Matthew’s gospel
            happens at the peak of the narrative drama.
Jesus has returned to Jerusalem
            and is on his way to the cross.
Just before today’s text,
            Jesus has
entered Jerusalem with a parade
            mocking the empire with whom the Pharisees are colluding;
turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple;
healed the blind and lame in the temple;
and said that the Pharisees are the blind leading the blind.
Now he’s rolled up in to the temple
            and started teaching.

I can understand
            why the Pharisees would say
                        “Who said you can do this!?” or
                        “Just who do you think you are?!”
And Jesus?
            Doesn’t indulge them.
Jesus asks a question himself,
            “When all those people
were following John the Baptizer
to the desert
                        was that from God or humanity made?
            When a voice came from heaven
                        saying I was the voice’s son
                                    with whom the voice was well pleased,
                                    to listen to me
                        was that from God or humanity made?”

The Pharisees are stuck.
In their positions of power and authority,
            like most leadership positions,
                        they have to have a pulse
on they vision
and those they lead’s expectations and hopes.
The voice said to listen to Jesus.
If they say it’s from God,
            why aren’t they listening to Jesus?
If they say it’s a deluded cult
            the crowd that makes up that deluded cult
            will completely ignore the Pharisees
                        for guru Jesus.
They take the calculated way out,
            the way that too many leaders forget is an option
                        and a better option than faking it all the time.
They say,
            “We don’t know.”

Jesus helps them out,
            and not very politely.
He says,
            “Clearly this is from God
                        and if you make it
into the kingdom of heaven
                                    expect the people
you consider the worst sinners
            ahead of you in line.
            They heard John,
                        and returned to being faithful.
            You heard John
                        and didn’t believe.
            Even when you saw
                        people coming back to the faith
                        you still didn’t believe.”

That’s a lot packed into nine verses!
From a challenge
            to a secret conference
            to a story about children
who do and don’t work
as their father asks
            to Jesus saying that the Pharisees
                        aren’t helping anyone.
As followers of Jesus,
            what are we supposed
to do with this text?
What’s the Good News?
How does it apply to us?
How are our lives changed?
Right now
            I think our lives are changed
            by answering the Pharisees’ question,
                        “By what authority
are you doing these things,
and who gave you this authority?”

To answer those questions
            we have to figure out “these things.”
Last week I talked about
            discerning and sharing
            how we’re tending the vineyard.
In my notes to many of you
            I mentioned
looking forward to learning
the way’s we’re serving Jesus together.
The things, the works, we’re called to be doing
            are rooted in our baptismal promises:
                        continuing in the apostle’s teachings,
in the prayers,
and in the breaking of the bread;
                        persevering in resisting evil, and,
                                    whenever we fall into sin,
                                    repenting and returning to the Lord;
                        proclaiming by word and example
                                    the Good News of God in Christ;
                        seeking and serving Christ in all persons,
                                    loving our neighbors as ourselves;
                        striving for justice and peace,
                                    and respecting the dignity of every human being.
The actions that these promises lead to
            change the world.
They bring people to Jesus
            and his love for all people.
The break down systems of racism
            and other ongoing powers of oppression.
They are a hope
            for seeing Jesus’ return.

By what authority do we do these things?
By what authority do we change the world,
            starting with St. Joseph-St. John
            then on in to Lakewood?
That’s rooted in our baptisms too:
            We have the authority
of Jesus the Resurrected Christ
to whom we were joined in our baptisms.
            We have the authority of the Church,
                        who when we were baptized said,
                                    “We receive you into the household of God.
Confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share with us
in his eternal priesthood.”

We have a busy time in the coming months,
            with lots of ways to share in Christ’s eternal priesthood.
All Saints Sunday is a month away,
            at which we’ll recommit to those baptismal vows —
                        I invite you to meditate on them in the coming days.
They’re on page 305 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Our pledge ingathering is in December,
            and I trust you’re already considering
                        how your financial gift to St. Joseph-St. John
                                    does help to change the world.
Our annual meeting and elections will be in January,
            and invite you to continue in the prayers
                        for this church,
for the people who will be elected,
and of discernment about whether you should run.

Confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share in his eternal priesthood.
Change the world
            with the authority of Christ.