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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 17, 2017  

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35          
1st Reading: Genesis 50:15-21
2nd Reading: Romans 14:1-12

                When I was 4 or 5 years old, my babysitter refused to play my favorite board game, Babar The Elephant, with me because I was a sore loser.  If I didn’t win, I would burst into tears.  She was probably 13 or 14 years old, so she didn’t know you were supposed to let the little kid win.  And I didn’t know that it wasn’t about winning.  It was about the playing of the game, the spinning of the spinner, the counting of the moves, and the conversation that happened in between that mattered.  I didn’t realize until I was an adult and lost in Chinese Checkers my mom, as she relished the victory, that I came by my competitiveness naturally, either by genetics or learning or both, from her. 

                In our house we don’t make that big a deal out of winning.  Maybe it is a flaw in our thinking that everyone can win.  But win or lose, we can always take something from the experience.  The problems is that so often we think winning is the point, when actually it is learning from the experience that is most important.

                For Joseph’s brothers, winning was most important.  They were bigger than him, so they should win.  He was getting too big for his britches, having dreams about them bowing to him, and that’s the reason they sold him to the Egyptians.  So then when they end up in Egypt during the famine, having to beg for food and assistance, they are surprised at how much Joseph has been winning and how he doesn’t punish them for what they did to him.  Now that their father has died, you’d think they’d be mourning and caring for each other in their grief.  But they still think the game is about winning and they are afraid Joseph will crush them—punish them for what they did, give them what they deserve. 

                Joseph knows that it isn’t about winning, it is all about relationships.  Maybe he knows this because he’s been at every point in life.  He’s been the favorite son.  He’s been at the bottom of a pit his brothers dug for him.  He’s been separated from his family.  He’s built a new family.  He’s been a slave.  He’s been a trusted advisor to the Pharaoh.  He’s had dreams that got him in trouble.  He’s had dreams that helped him.  And he’s had dreams that helped a nation prepare for famine.  Through everything, God brought good out of hardship.  Joseph knows his brothers wronged him on purpose.  They could never repay him for what they did—the time with his father that he missed out on, especially.  But Joseph knows that it would bring him no pleasure to ruin their lives.  So they weep together like the family they are, out of sadness for what was lost, out of relief for the mercy that Joseph shows, out of joy at having found each other, at the new life they will have together going forward.

                For the Romans, too, it was hard to believe life wasn’t about winning.  These are the folks that bring us the Olympic games, and the marathon.  They are competitive.  So now there are a whole bunch of them trying to live this new religion where they are all equal and they share things in common.  Some of them have different customs around eating.  For a community that centers itself around a table and eating, Holy Communion, this is difficult.  This isn’t really vegetarians verses meat-eaters, like it sounds.  In their day, some didn’t eat meat, because most of the meat when it was butchered, was offered to idols first.  So, unless you slaughtered it yourself, you couldn’t be sure it hadn’t been offered to idols.  And if someone saw you eating meat offered to idols, they might think you worshipped that idol.  It’s something that’s hard to relate to today, but it was a key problem in the early Christian community. 

So there are different customs around food, including the Jewish dietary rules.  There are different holidays celebrated.  One isn’t more right than the other.  You can’t win enough points by following laws to make God love you.  God already loves you.  Instead, whatever rituals you follow, do it in a way that honors God.  Remember to be faithful to God in whatever you do.  Don’t use it as a wedge to divide you and make winners and losers.  Instead may your rituals and holidays join you to God and each other in the body of Christ.

                Peter, too, was trying to figure out winning and losing in this Kingdom of God that was coming.  How many times should he forgive?  How should he keep score against someone in the community, a brother or sister in Christ?  How would he know he had won the forgiveness award? 

                So Jesus told a story about keeping score.  The first slave was losing big time.  He owed millions of dollars—more than he could have ever repaid.  His owner had every right to sell him and his family to recoup some of his expenses.  But he is merciful.  He lets this be a learning experience.  However, the slave doesn’t learn from it.  Someone else owes him ten bucks.  Instead of being merciful, he threw him into prison. He was home free, but when he threw the other slave in prison, he got himself thrown in prison.  It is almost as if the act of not forgiving holds us in a kind of prison.  We let it eat at us.  We can’t seem to let it go.

The unforgiving slave used his power to hurt someone else.  He thought he made himself the winner.  But he was playing the wrong game.  He thought the point was to be more powerful, but instead the point of the game was to get along with others, to be kind, to treat others how he wanted to be treated, to build community.  The point of the game was to forgive.

                It is true, we owe everything to God.  If we were to try to pay God back all that we owe, we’d never repay the debt.  If we ever tried to make up for all the wrong we’ve done, we’d never pay the bill.  But Jesus is merciful and he says our debt is paid.  Now, how can we ever demand payment from anyone.  Because of the forgiveness we’ve received, it is our job to forgive.  In fact, this week I heard someone call church a “forgiveness factory.”  In this place we let people know they are forgiven, and we inspire one another to forgive, and we live in community where we must forgive one another from our hearts in order to be the body of Christ.

                There’s been a lot of talk about the boy who lit the gorge on fire.  People are sad about the damage to some of our sacred Oregon sites, places of beauty and peace, ruined for our lifetimes.  People are angry about what he did.  No matter how much he paid, he could never undo the damage he did.  There is no number of dollars that one can place on what has been lost.  There is no amount of community service or replanting he could do to make up for that mistake.

                Some have accused stupid teenagers.  Some have said, “He’s not one of us, he’s from Washington State.”  We have said, “In my day, kids didn’t run wild like that.”  We’ve said a lot to separate ourselves from him, to say he’s not like us.  But that boy is one of us.  He needs us and we need him.  He is part of our human community.  We’ve done stupid things in our lives.  We’ve done dangerous things.  And we’ve all contributed to the dry conditions in the gorge with all our burning of fossil fuels that are changing the climate.  He is a child of God.  We are children of God.  And we’ve all got the rest of our lives to learn from this.  God has already made it clear, we all owe God everything and our debt is paid.  We are forgiven by God.  So how do we forgive this boy?  How do we forgive ourselves?  And how do we learn from this experience?  How do we go on in a new way?  How does accountability and judgment fit into all this? 

                Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve often thought of God’s perspective.  I could keep score of every diaper change, every meal cooked, every nightmare where I got up to rock my child back to sleep, every time I said “Eat your dinner,” every item of laundry, every trip to the doctor, every dollar spent and so on.  But that’s not the game we’re playing.  We’re learning.  We’re growing.  We’re making memories.  We’re building each other up, because we belong to God who is loving.  Because God made us to be loving rather than winning.  When my son grows up, whether he lights a fire in the gorge or wins the semester achievement award or both, we can be forgiven and forgiving, part of the human family, part of the body of Christ.

                God has given us everything, every mountain and tree, every blue and smoky sky, every good or bad night’s rest, every memory with family, every meal, every moment.  We could waste it all trying to win.  Or we can enjoy each other.  We can and must forgive to set ourselves free.  God has set the example and done the most forgiving.  Now let us look at each other as brothers and sisters and find new life in a new way, the Kingdom way.


August 27, 2017    

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20    
1st Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6       
2nd Reading: Romans 12:1-8

            Ok, pop-quiz everyone, Jesus announces, “Who do people say that I am?”  The Disciples who were nervous, sigh with relief when they realize they will only have to regurgitate what other people have been saying.  Yay, it’s an open-book test! Peter, the teacher’s pet, who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut, raises his hand.  “Pick me! Pick me!”  He carefully leaves out the most offensive of what people are saying and picks the ones he think might please Jesus a little.  He goes with the safe responses.  “John the Baptist.  Elijah. Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”      Then Jesus asks a follow up question, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter’s face falls.  His blood drains from his head.  His head beats loudly in his chest.  He swallows with a cartoonish, “Gulp!”  I can just see him hesitate, flip through all the possibilities in his mind, and the words leaving his mouth.  Did he even know what he was about to say?  It is like the spelling bee when the kid spells the word like it’s a question and by their lack of confidence you know they are going to spell it wrong, and they get it right.  Peter says it.  Does he say it like this, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”  Or like this, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God?”  Is he asking or telling.  Unfortunately, we can’t hear it, but St. Peter is supposed to be the first one we meet at the pearly gates, so I think I’ll ask him when I get the chance.
             Knowing who Jesus is, means knowing who we are.  Partly because it means knowing who our relatives are.  The reading from Isaiah is about a people who are forgetting who they are.  They are listening to all sorts of messages.  They are anxious and afraid as they have returned from captivity, and it was their parents or grandparents who were the ones who were carried off.  They don’t know this land.  They don’t know this religion.  They don’t know how to relate to the people who never left.  They don’t know who God is.  So Isaiah is telling them the first thing to do is listen.  Shut up and listen.  Don’t ask questions.  Don’t worry.  Don’t argue.  Just listen.  Listen to stories of your ancestors Abraham and Sarah.  Listen to stories of where you come from and why God made you.  Listen to stories about your proper place in God’s Creation.  Listen to God’s plans for you.  You’re not alone. You matter to God. There is reason to hope and that is that many things in this life are temporary, like gnats which is good, and people which may or may not be good, depending on your point of view.  Even heaven and earth are temporary.  However there are some things that last and the main one is God’s salvation, in other words, healing, and God’s deliverance.  Knowing Jesus means knowing that we are blessed and that God made us to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, as God explained to Abraham.
            Knowing who Jesus is means knowing who we are.  We are part of the body of Christ.  If we are the body, then it would be good to know who the head is and where Jesus is directing us.  Because we are the body of Christ, we depend on each other, we work together, we have the same values, we aren’t jealous of each other, we are part of something good, our gifts are to be shared.  To be part of the body of Christ, we are fully involved in what Jesus is involved in.
            I wonder what we would say if we were called upon in a pop-quiz to answer who Jesus is to us.  And I wonder what our actions say about who Jesus is.  Because our actions reveal what we really think, what our true priorities are.  They speak volumes about who Jesus is.  If we believe that Jesus is our great Physician, we focus on healing on many levels.  If we believe that Jesus welcomes us all to the table, we make sure that food is distributed to all in need so that all may experience Jesus.  If we believe that Jesus is the living God, we let him live and love and move in our lives, transforming us, making us see what we didn’t see before, helping us to live in new ways, generous ways. 
            Peter’s declaration of faith, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God, “ becomes an example to us who are trying to put our faith into words and express it in our actions.  Jesus then says, “On this rock I will build my church.”  Some have said that rock is Peter himself, whose name means rock and this and the keys to the kingdom stuff somehow means a pope.  But Jesus is more likely saying the rock he is building his church, or gathering on, is this confession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God."  How can we make this confession with our both our lips and our lives?
            Whether we pass or fail Jesus’ pop-quiz, whether we are teacher’s pet or in detention, Jesus passes the test.  He knows who he is, first of all, that he isn’t here to do things the way we do things, to treat rich people better than poor or to follow rules that benefit and few and hurt many.  He remains who he is through the misunderstandings of all his disciples, betrayals and challenges, even on the cross.  And he passes the test of really knowing who we are.  The world may tell us we aren’t enough.  “Who do people say that I am?” the message is the world says we are not young enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, important enough.  But Jesus sees the true value in us.  When we ask Jesus what he sees in us, he says, “You are my beloved child and nothing can ever separate you from my love.”  And not only the singular you, but also the lot of you.  As a whole we belong to Jesus our Savior, and he makes us into his body, and he is bringing in the Kingdom of God through us.
            Knowing who Jesus is gives us hope.  It gives us hope that God will comfort us and all who are anxious. It gives us hope that God will transform the places in our lives that are desolate.  It gives us hope that justice and light will go out to all people.  It gives us hope that we will claim what is healthy and life giving and loose what is hurtful.  It gives us hope that God’s Kingdom will one day be fully realized