Sunday, October 9, 2011

Too Busy for the Banquet....Sermon for Year A Proper 23

This is the third parable.
The third parable we have heard in three weeks.
Jesus is not giving up on the chief priests and the Pharisees.
This is third parable he tells them
as they confront one another in the Temple.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to...

That’s how the parable begins.
The kingdom of heaven.
What does Jesus mean by that?
What do we mean by that?

Is the kingdom of heaven up in the sky somewhere?
Will we only understand it only after we die? Probably.
Yet why is Jesus always talking about it here on earth?

Personally, I struggle with “kingdom” language.
I don’t really have an innate sense of what that means
because I have never lived in a country or in a time-period
with a king.
(other than Elvis Presley, perhaps).

So when my ears hear “the kingdom of heaven”
i usually translate that into “the dream of God”.

I hear and perceive the kingdom of heaven
to be what God deeply dreams for our world.
Our world right now.
As in heaven, so on earth.

The dream of God for you right now on earth is like.....
a wedding banquet.

The ultimate joyful feast--a wedding banquet.
An occasion for celebration and hope and looking to the future
with great expectation.

God dreams for us joy and hope and celebration.
But what do we dream in return?

If we are like those who were the first round of invited guests,
we turn our backs on God’s dream for the world.
We make excuses.
We don’t have time for God or for holy dreams.
We have plans and dreams of our own--
and many, if not most of them, often don’t include God.

Like those guests who turn away,
the truth is,
we don’t take God all that seriously either.
The scripture says “they made light of it.”
We live in a culture that makes very light of God.

The scripture says they went away,
one to his farm, another to his business...

We too turn away from God,
from doing God’s work in the world
from celebrating with God in worship,
because our lives are very very busy.

We make light of God’s dream
because our jobs require long hours,
our families are demanding,
our lives are already way too jam packed and busy.
God, I might be able to fit your dream in between 6 and 8 pm on.., that’s not going to work.
I have a meeting that night....

Sorry, God,
I am RSVP-ing to your dream for the world
with my regrets.

So God looks out on this world
and realizes that those who were invited
to help make the dream come true,
those whom God hoped would join the celebration
are too busy, too distracted, too apathetic, too hostile.

So God moves to Plan B.
Okay, God says, forget my Google Close Contacts list--
open the doors wider.
Welcome everyone to come.
Yes, everyone.
The good and the bad.
I’m fine with that says God.
Go out and gather people to come and join this feast.

Ah! The doors open wider
and the banquet hall is filled with guests.
Ah! thinks God--
NOW we can work together and make the kingdom of heaven
happen on earth.

Now, upon my first reading and study of this parable,
I thought--I wish Jesus had stopped right here.
Wouldn’t that be a great ending--good and bad, ALL are welcome?
Come in. Come in.

But I didn’t write Matthew’s gospel
and the parable continues.
The king--AKA God--
the king notices that one guest is not wearing a wedding robe.

“Friend” the king says--
now one commentary I read this week said
think of the word “friend” here
as more like “Hey! Buster! How’d you get in here.”
Friend in this parable is probably not a term of endearment.

But whoa! God’s next words--oh my!
Bind him hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What?!!! Because he wasn’t dressed right?
Our immediate reaction is probably like that
of the ill-clothed wedding guests--

Okay, so maybe this guy
IS the equivalent of a first century wedding crasher--
he doesn’t care about the people there,
he’s just there for the buffet and the bubbly.
And he’s just been busted by the King.

But then we may think,
“Hold on a minute.
You open the doors wide.
You pull this guy off the street
and you expect him to have a tailored three piece suit
in his backpack?!!!”

But I think we miss the point of the parable if we go in that direction.

Think back to an earlier phrase--
“they made light of it.”

Jesus is calling our attention to the fact
that God’s dream for the world
and our role in that dream is not something to take lightly.

Our “wedding robe” is the way we our everyday lives.
The way we treat other people.
The manner in which we order our lives to put God first.
Or not.

Jesus is telling us in this parable
that God expects things from us.
Yes, God gives us grace--truly amazing amounts of grace--
BUT it’s not an entitlement--it’s a gift
and we who receive so much
are expected to give as well.

To give of ourselves.
To give of our lives.
God calls us to take our spiritual life as seriously
as we take our material life.

Think about it.
How many of us have ever spent a sleepless night
worrying about our spiritual life?
Yet most of us have spent more than one night
worrying about our material life.
How will we pay the bills?
Will I have enough money to retire?
How and I going to afford this or that?

Our material lives get so much attention.
Our spiritual lives and God too often have to wait in line.
Do we take the holy too lightly?

This is what this parable is asking.
Are you going to be part of God’s dream team
or not?

For many are called, but few are chosen.

God has wide arms. The invitation is broad.
Good and bad.
God is an equal opportunity inviter. God calls and calls and calls.

But to be more than called,
to be chosen,
means that we must choose God over the many other
competing factors in our lives.

We are called to be doers of the word,
not just hearers of the word.

We are called to take our Baptismal covenant seriously,
to not make light of things holy,

To be chosen means to put on our wedding robe.
every single morning,
and to do our very best to intentionally live
those promises we made to God--
our baptismal covenant--
to strive for peace and justice,
to respect the dignity of every human being,
to keep praying and showing up to break bread together,
to resist evil in every form and shape it takes.
to help make God’s dream for the world come true.

Jesus tells this parable
with the hope
that those hearing the story might change.

The doors are wide open.
The call has been issued.
The choices now are ours.

Sermon for the Blessing of the Animals

Today we gather to bless the animals and to share communion.
There is one thing I know for certain about animals:
They don’t care for long sermons.

We bless animals on this day to honor creation
and to remember one of the saints of God--
Francis of Assisi.

Much has been written by many,
including Francis himself, about his life.

When Francis was a young man, he loved to party.
But even in that party time of his life,
he was not unaware of the world around him.
One night he left a party and looked up at the stars above Assisi.
He stood there just looking at the stars for a long long time.
He was truly in awe of what he saw.
He said, “If these are the creatures,
what must the Creator be like?”

I say that to you today--
if these are the creatures--this amazing assortment of animals--
what must the Creator be like?

I’d say the Creator is creative--imaginative--visionary--
and has a pretty great sense of humor.
I’d also say the Creator has an enormous heart
capable of immense love.

We don’t just love the creatures that look like us--
our hearts can also fill with love
at the sight of certain faces with whiskers
or at the wag of a tail.

St. Francis always felt that nature--the created world that surrounds us all--
was his first Bible.
That is an interesting concept.
Especially since,
according to an article I read by Richard Rohr this week,
the created world has about a 14.5 billion year head start
on the Bible.

God is a creative imaginative God
who uses anything and everything to get our attention.

But St. Francis was much more than a warm and fuzzy guy who loved animals.
He had a steadfast faith and a heart that overflowed with love.
To everyone. Truly to everyone.

At times in his ministry he was beaten, put in chains and suffered greatly.
He still tried to respect the dignity of every human being he met.
He lived in a time of religious extremists--
his goal was to be an extremist for love, for grace. To all.

He had a great love for the created world--for all things and all people.
We honor St. Francis not just today with the Blessing of the Animals,
but have made him a part of our Episcopal tradition,
by including a prayer attributed to Francis
in our Book of Common Prayer.

You can find it on page 833 if you want to look for it some time.
Here is the prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us show love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord,faith:
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

East Meets West: Centering Prayer and Yoga

Tomorrow I am doing a presentation, along with awesome yoga instructor Nicole Kintz, at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community in Asheville. My friend Judy Domer invited me to do this and I try to always say YES to friends. I am no expert on centering prayer but it is a spiritual practice that I value deeply. So I present tomorrow and developed this list of resources as a handout. I thought that these resources might be a useful post here on my blog for others as well. This list just touches the surface but is a good place to begin exploring.

Centering Prayer Resources

Recommended Books
The Cloud of Unknowing (author unknown)
14th century book on which the theology of centering prayer is based
You can read this on line, download to a kindle or nook or read it in book form.

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault

Open Heart, Open Mind: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, by Father Thomas Keating

The Diversity of Centering Prayer, edited by Gustave Reininge

Center for Spiritual Resources,
Director: Robbin Whittington, The Center is co-sponsored by the Episcopal DIocese of Western North Carolina and the Cathedral of All Souls. Their website is a great resource for programs going on throughout our diocese.

Contemplative Outreach,
Link to a set of three CDs for purchase with Father Thomas Keating teaching about centering prayer:
Local chapter contact: Becky Hannah,

The Contemplative Society,

Spirituality and Practice,
Link to an on-line course on Centering Prayer with Cynthia Bourgeault that starts November 7th:

Centering Prayer Retreats
St.Mary’s, Sewanee, TN :

Valle Crucis Conference Center, Valle Crucis, NC:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome to the Vineyard--Year A Proper 22

Today was our annual Parish Picnic. St. John's has a tradition of having the picnic at Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain. This year, however, we had to move it back to St. John's and have it in the Parish Hall. Our weather the past few days has been unusually cold--like 48 degrees and windy! Even indoors we had a wonderful day. We worshipped in the parish hall and the acoustics made us sound like a choir of thousands when we sang. Today was also the first day of our Creation Season using a beautiful new liturgy and music, much of it from the Iona Community. A simple plastic folding table was transformed with a white cloth, votive candles, pottery vessels and fall flowers into our altar. After the worship, we moved in tables and chairs and enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and portobello mushrooms right off the grill, as well as a diversity of dishes and desserts that people baked and brought from home. The entire day was a powerful reminder of the abundance we enjoy and the abundance from which we are called to share.


We have in our gospel reading today another parable.
Jesus wants to be certain
that the chief priests and the scribes
understand the point he is making.
Jesus is not trying to be mean or trick them.
He simply wants them to open their eyes to the truth--
specifically, the truth about themselves
and their behavior.

This is difficult for any and all of us to hear at times.
The truth about ourselves.

So Jesus tells a parable.

The landowner plants a vineyard.
He does it with care.
He puts a fence around it to keep it safe, enclosed, hugged.
He puts a winepress there to provide revenue.
He builds a watchtower so they might ever be on guard
for those who would come to destroy
what they have planted and nourished.

Only the destruction comes from within, not from without.
The tenants get it wrong.
The tenants think this marvelous, abundant vineyard
is all their doing.
Yes, they have worked hard.
But the tenants forget that they are just renting.
They don’t own the vineyard.
They didn’t create the vineyard.
You get it.
God is the landowner.
We are the tenants.

We forget that we are not the ones in control.
We forget that we are not the center of the universe.

We forget that our lease here in this world is very short.
None of us know the terms of that lease.
None of us.

God is willing to give us everything we need--
but we get greedy.
We want it all--
even if that means taking from other tenants,
even if that means turning our backs on God.

Even when the priests and the Pharisees
understand that the parable is about them--
they still think the solution is violence--
we will just get rid of Jesus and everything will be hunky-dory.

They are so filled with fear.
Afraid they are going to lose their power.
Afraid they are going to lose their possessions.
Afraid of the truth.
They do not trust God.

So year after year,
generation after generation,
God keeps looking around.

Looking around for those who will care for his kingdom.
Looking around for those who will love all the children of the kingdom.
Who is willing to care for this vineyard--
who is willing to tend and to nourish
for the purpose of sharing the abundance with others,
not keeping the abundance all for themselves.

God hopes it will be you.
God hopes it will be me.
God hopes we can work together as a community
to care for the kingdom of God--this great and beautiful vineyard--
on earth as it is in heaven.

God gives each one of us gifts.
God creates each one of us to be completely unique.
No one--NO ONE--is just like any one of us.
That in itself is pretty amazing.

When you got here to the picnic
I asked you to write down one thing about yourself that is special,
that other people might not know.
I gave you some suggestions--
for example... could be that you make the best brownies in the world.
(that would not be me,
but it certainly could be my husband Tom--
he really does make the best brownies in the world) could be that you served in the Peace Corps
...or that you ran a marathon last year..
...or you have a cat named Ginger
that is the smartest cat that ever ever lived.

These might seem like frivolous things
but they aren’t.
They are little pieces of our stories.
Little bits of blessing
that make us all part of the body of Christ.

So now
I want you to take one of these slips of paper
(if you get your own slip,
you have to put it back in the bowl and draw another)
and then go on a search
for the person who wrote it.

Yes, you’re going to have to get up and talk to people.
Ask them a question...
you know, like "So, Mary do you like to hike?"
If Mary says no and your slip of paper says "I hiked Mt. Everest"
move on to another person and keep asking until you find the match.

When you find your person, go and sit down.

(During this time everyone is chaotically searching for the person who matches their slip of paper--it's a good chaos though, a joyful chaos!)

Let's come back together.
Now I’d like to ask that you introduce your person.
Say their name (you see this is a great way to learn names).
And then tell the group what you learned about this person today.
That little bit of their story that was on that slip of paper.

(Everyone introduces their person with a little bit of their story)

We are a diverse group of people with many different gifts and stories.

We are all in the vineyard together.
We all have short term leases here.
We are all loved by God.
We are repeatedly called to love one another.
To really, really love one another.
Not just in words but in how we act, in how we treat one another.
We are all called to be good and generous stewards.

We are asked to fear not.
Don’t be afraid of generosity
or compassion or mercy or
forgiveness or love.
Be fearless!
YES! Be fearless!!
Live as Jesus calls us to live.
Love as Jesus calls us to love.
Be as God created us to be.

Don’t wait.
Please. Don't wait.
The lease is so so short.

Don't waste or hoard or destroy.

Open your ears to the truth.
Open your eyes to all the beauty and goodness and abundance
God has given us.

Right now. Right here.
In this very vineyard we call the Church.
In this little corner of that vineyard
that we call St. John's.