Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 25.31-46

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
November 26, 2017
Last Pentecost, A, Proper 29
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Matthew 25.31-46
We’ve reached the end of Matthew 25,
            the end of Jesus preparing those hearing him
                        for the end of the world
                                    when God judges all things and all people.
After these verses,
            the plot to kill Jesus gets underway
                        and we heard that during Lent and Holy Week.
After this Sunday,
            we won’t gather again on a Sunday in this liturgical year.
We start a new year and new book
            next Sunday when we start Advent.

The last two weeks we were warned:
            Keep your lamps trimmed and burning
for you don’t know when Jesus will return;
            Be good stewards of what you have
                        because God owns it all and expects a good return.
Today Jesus tells us in far more words:
            Love all you encounter,
                        for in encountering them,
you encounter me.
The image of God separating the sheep and the goats
            is on that is popular and persistent.
It’s easy to imagine and grasp:
            sheep go to the right and to heaven,
                        goats go to the left and to hell.
Angry Matthew is back at it
            with lakes of fire and eternal darkness
                        as Jesus condemns those who fail to love their neighbor.
Because this image
of sheep and goats is co clear, so visceral,
            we may miss the roles we play in this story.
We may want to interpose ourselves
            into the role of shepherd
                        rather than that of sheep
                                    or if we’re not careful, goat.

When I first dove into Jesus’ talking about
            the Son of Man coming in his glory
                        sorting the sheep who fed him without knowing it
                                    from the goats who sent him away in the same ignorance
                                                I wanted to use it as a litmus test.
I was rejecting aspects of my upbringing,
            aspects that led one of Billy Graham’s grandsons to say in 2008,
                        “We’re not supposed to be building houses or having food drives.
                        We’re supposed to be saving souls.”
My sponsoring priest flatly said,
            “That is Gnosticism, and it is heresy.”
That idea of what Christianity means
            rejects in full Jesus’ directions in today’s Gospel passage.
Even as I was rejecting that notion of Christianity,
            I was all the while making myself the judge,
                        making myself the shepherd.

Jesus doesn’t say,
            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
                        those who think of themselves as sheep will sit on the throne.”
Jesus says,
            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
                        he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
Jesus’ charge isn’t to decide who is being cast into outer darkness
            but to pay attention to what he teaches
                        and then follow it, to do it.
Following Jesus isn’t for the weak or for the lazy.
Following Jesus is exhausting y’all.
I’m learning that here as your vicar
            because our community’s habits are so built
                        around seeing Jesus in everyone around.

If we asked, “Jesus,
when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?”
He’d say,
            “Every Wednesday at 6.
The Second and Fourth Wednesdays.
Whenever you give someone in need a bag of dried food.”
If we asked, “Jesus,
            when was it that we saw you thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
He’d say,
            “Most mornings at 9 a.m. and sometimes 1 p.m.
                        when those blessed wanderers of Lakewood
ask for a bottle of water.”
If we asked, “Jesus,
            when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?”
He’d say,
            “On Sundays when visitors come.
            When you open the doors of the church to Family Housing Network.”

To be so small,
            we do so much!
It’s exhausting, too,
            especially when there’s a skeleton crew
                        making up so much of the work.
But we do it,
            and we don’t do it alone,
                        because we can’t do it alone.
Today’s collect says,
            “Almighty and everlasting God,
whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son,
the King of kings and Lord of lords:
Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth,
divided and enslaved by sin,
may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.”
Throughout the Gospels,
            Jesus says, “The Reign of God is at hand!”
Because God’s Reign is here, now,
            God is working through us as Christ’s body
                        to restore all things.

Community dinners,
            Family Housing Network,
                        bottles of water,
                                    these are all part of that restoration.
All that work of restoration is tiring,
            and we can’t and don’t do it alone.
The Reign of Christ
            is here, is now,
                        is already-not yet.
We get a glimpse of it
            when we show up here
regardless of how we feel
            when we break bread
                        and remember Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
The Son of Man will come in his glory
            and look for how we have treated
the least of those among us.
Jesus will come in his glory,
            but his reign is already among us.
Before the glory,
            we're not the shepherd.
We’re the workers who’re given
            tasks of love that are
physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychically taxing.
We glimpse Jesus’ glory
            at this altar
                        as we hold Jesus,
                                    who comes in both humility and glory as Bread
                                                who feeds us to keep our strength up.
When we leave this place,
            they'll know we’re Christians by our love
                        as we trust and hope we’ll hear,
                                    “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.” 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 25.14-30

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
November 19, 2017
Pentecost + 24, Proper 28, A
Matthew 25.14-30

Today’s parable from Matthew
            isn't exactly a deep cut.
Even before seminary,
            before college Bible studies,
                        I knew the parable of the talents pretty well.
Jesus tells a story where a
 master goes on a long journey,
                        and distributes funds to three of his slaves.
He gives five to one,
            two to another,
                        and one to another.
The first two take what he’s given them
            trade with it
                        and double what they have.
The third one,
            saying he’s scared of the master,
                        hides it in the dirt.
At least he doesn’t lose any money, right?

After a long time
            the master comes back
                        and wants his money back.
He’s been gone along time,
            and Matthew says that the first two slaves
                        only doubled what they had.
But they doubled it immediately.
They’ve done a little work
            and made the master richer
                        so he welcomes them into his household.
“Well done, good and faithful servant”
            may be the translation you have written in your heart.

The third slave, though,
            he didn’t make the master any extra money.
He says, “I knew that you were a harsh man,
reaping where you did not sow,
and gathering where you did not scatter seed.”
Basically, “I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”
The master wants to hear none of that.
He says that if anything,
            the slave should have put the money in a bank
                        to earn interest.
If he knows the master is so harsh,
            he should have prepared for that
                        and made a little more.
Making nothing isn’t okay.
If we look at the text,
            it's possible that the first two slaves
                        could have made a lot more.
They immediately go do their trading,
            double their trusted funds,
                        and take a break.
The master is gone for a long time,
            but they stop at doubling.
The master doesn’t care —
            they tried, and succeeded.

He cares, though,
            that the person he gave the smallest amount to
                        doesn’t try to do anything with it.
He cares that that slave
            lets his fear keep him from
                        doing the work he’s been given to do.
He doesn’t accept, “I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”

While this passage has Matthew’s anger in it —
            throwing servant to the outer darkness
with wailing and gnashing of teeth,
            it’s also one that doesn’t need a lot of inspection to interpret.
It’s hard to find context
            or Jesus’ audience
                        because he’s on a multi-chapter
                                    rant about people being prepared for his return.
He’s denounced the scribes and Pharisees,
            and he’s talking to them
                        and to his disciples.
Jesus, talking in some code about his return,
            is talking to us.
The message is abundantly clear:
            don't let fear of failing paralyze you
                        and use the gifts God has given you
                                    to build God’s reign around you.
We have to use the gifts God has given us
            to build God’s reign around us.

If you’re visiting us today,
Don’t let what I’m about to say
            keep you from coming back.
I’ve been here right at three months
            and I know you to be a generous people.
From coordinating and attending the gala,
            giving generously at the auction
                        right after I got here
            to helping to pay for major expenses
                        as they’ve come up
                                    you give of your time, talent, and treasure.
Thank you for your faithfulness and care
            in the gifts you have been given.
This was a hard week for our finances,
            [and there may be an announcement
after the sermon about that.]
No one seems to be in panic mode
            so I’m not either!

            with the parable of the talents appointed for today
                        after a week of squeaking through
                                    a vicar would be remiss to not mention that pledge cards are out
                                    and are due on December 17.
Our pledge in gathering will be December 17 because that is Rose Sunday,
            a break from Advent penitence
                        a day to celebrate joy —
                                    and God’s gifts to us.
Just because they’re not due for a month         
            doesn't mean you should wait a month to get them turned in.
I’ll leave the threats
            of outer darkness to Matthew’s Jesus
                        but I do want to invite you to prayerfully consider
                                    what and how you can give and can plan to give.
I particularly want you to think about
            proportional giving.
Whether that’s half-a-percent
            or an historic ten-percent tithe
                        dedicating a fixed amount related to your means to God.

Jesus has been gone a long time now.
Last week we heard to keep our lamps trimmed and burning
            and soon we’ll hear to stay awake
                        for the know not the day nor the hour.
I personally don’t know Jesus
            to harsh,
                        reaping where he doesn’t sow or
gathering where he did not scatter seed.
I know Jesus
            who actually scatters everywhere
            and hopes to reap from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Jesus in today’s parables
            is calling his disciples
                        to be faithful stewards of what’s been entrusted to their care.
When I was ordained
Bishop Andrus handed me a Bible and said,
            “Receive this Bible as a sign of the authority given you
to preach the Word of God and
to administer his holy Sacraments.
Do not forget the trust committed to you
as a priest of the Church of God.”
I know you love this community,
            and I know you love this church.
I pray that you’ll join me
            empowered by Christ’s Body and Blood
                        in rejecting the fear of,
“I was scared of screwing up,
            so I didn’t even try.”
Please prayerfully consider proportional gifts
            so that we can keep building the Kingdom of God around us.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 5.1-12

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
All Saints Day, Year A
Matthew 5.1-12
November 5, 2017

Listen. Close your eyes if you need to,
            and listen.
It’s 1906.
A Black couple gets pregnant before they’re married,
            and the mother, Sarah, runs away.
The father, Coalhouse Walker, a brilliant jazz musician,
 buys a car, stops taking tour work,
            and goes to visit her every week.
He wants to get back together,
            and he wants to get married.
She refuses to see him for months.
Finally they are reunited
            and share their dreams for their baby —
                        dreams of a world
where the poor in spirit
receive the kingdom of heaven
                                    and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
are filled.
Coalhouse dreams of a world
where people of color get justice.
On the way home from this dream-filled picnic
            the Irish fire department destroys Coalhouse’s car
                        because they can.
Coalhouse seeks redress in the courts,
            but there’s no justice.
He complains to the city of New Rochelle,
            but there’s no justice.
He calls off the wedding.
He wants justice.

Sarah thinks that she can appeal
to President Teddy Roosevelt,
                        who is running touring the United States.
She goes to see him,
            shouts her hopes, and says
                        “I’ve got a son!”
The police shoot first
            and ask questions later
                        certain they’ve either seen a gun
                                    or heard her say she’s a got a gun.
So quickly Coalhouse and Sarah
            have gone from dreaming about the Model-T
                        taking them safely around the United States
                                    to a destroyed car
                                                and a mother,
dead at the hands of the police.

Act I of the musical Ragtime
            ends with Sarah’s funeral.
At the Fifth Avenue Theater,
            a cast of about fifteen
                        looks like forty
                                    in procession to Sarah’s grave.
They are dressed in black,
            and lights give their silhouettes a life of their own.
These people, and shadows of people, move to the grave,
            mourning Sarah’s death,
                        moaning in grief.

Here is Sarah,
            a poor black woman
                        who just wants her child’s father’s car restored
                                    so she can get married.
Here lies Sarah,
            a meek woman,
                        who is dead without a trial
                                    and not ruling the earth.
Here lies Sarah,
            pure in heart.
Has she seen God?
In her death,
            Coalhouse loses his mind in anger
                        and seeks his own form of justice.
Her friends though,
            know the dreams that Sarah had
                        and that those dreams don’t die with Sarah.

This is what Jesus is teaching his disciples and the crowds on the mountain today.
These are a people under oppression,
controlled by violent rule
with unchecked military action as policing.
They know the reality of seeking help 
and winding up dead.
They know the reality of feeling like strangers in their home land,
            never having been in power
                        yet despised for merely existing.

Then Jesus speaks blessing into existence.
Like at creation, Jesus’ saying it makes it real and true:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
"Blessed are those who mourn,
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
"Blessed are the merciful,
"Blessed are the pure in heart,
"Blessed are the peacemakers,
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
May I live to see,
When our hearts are happy
And our souls are free.
Let the new day dawn,
Oh, Lord, I pray.
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.”
A day of peace.
A day of pride.
A day of justice
We have been denied.
Let the new day dawn,
Oh, Lord, I pray...
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.

for they will be comforted. 
"Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth. 
for they will be filled. 
for they will receive mercy. 
for they will see God. 
for they will be called children of God.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Jesus is talking to a crowd of people
            who are already poor in spirit,
already wearied by the changes and chances of this life.
These are a people who mourn daily,
who have been forced into meekness,
who long for righteousness to flow like an endless stream
            and justice to roll down like waters.
They are trying to have mercy on their family members
            who sell out and become tax collectors
                        or sell their bodies to make ends meet.
The crowds following Jesus
            are pure in heart
                        because maybe this one,
                                    maybe this Messiah,
                                                will be the one who frees them from Roman rule.
In Matthew’s writing,
            these are people who will be disowned not just by family,
                        but whole communities —
persecuted by culture and empire —
            for following Jesus.

Jesus tells them that they are all blessed,
not they will be blessed.
Jesus says they are blessed,
            and for many of them
the Kingdom of Heaven is already theirs.
These people follow this wandering rabbi.
Then he dies.
Some people remember when he told them
            they were blessed,
                        and some of them hide figuring their lives are over too.
Jesus rises from the dead.
He’s already made it clear
            that unlike Coalhouse
                        he won’t be leading armed revolt.
But his resurrection demonstrates
            that not even death wins.
The meek have inherited the earth.
The merciful have received mercy.
The peacemakers are children of God.

These beatitudes, these blessings,
            aren’t directions for how to live
                        so you’re rewarded extra.
These beatitudes are promises of hope.
They are promises of resurrection.
They are prayers that life won’t always be like this.
Even remembering Jesus’ death,
            and writing about Jesus’ life,
                        Matthew is dropping gems of hope for
Jesus’ followers in the future and in every present.

As the mourners make their way to Sarah’s grave
            one of her friends refuses to accept the terrible reality
in which she finds herself, in which she has always lived.
Even as her friend lays dead, her friend sings,
“There's a day of hope
May I live to see,
When our hearts are happy
And our souls are free.
Let the new day dawn,
Oh, Lord, I pray.
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.”

We’ll never get to heaven till we reach that day.
Even at the grave, she makes a song not unlike,
            Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
As Sarah’s friends who are mourning her
            call for hope in the midst of their strife,
                        Coalhouse makes a prediction:
People of color being beaten and killed by the police
            will happen again.
And again.
And again.
He’s shot with his hands up,
            trusting the human promises of a fair trial.
At Sarah’s funeral Coalhouse essentially predicts his own death.
He predicts the deaths of
Mike Brown and
Philando Castille and
Sandra Bland and
Charleena Lyles
Even in his anger, fear, and desperation, Coalhouse is able to say
Give the people
 A day of peace.
A day of pride.
A day of justice
We have been denied.
Let the new day dawn,
Oh, Lord, I pray...
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.

With all the canonized saints we celebrate today,
             and with those from among our friends and families,
                        and Sarah’s mourning friends who somehow have hope,
we remember Jesus’ words of blessing.
We remember Jesus’ promise
            that the world isn’t as it seems

                        and that the Kingdom of God is at hand.