Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 After a pause for six weeks of meetings, we can now go back to our “Difficult Passages in Scripture” theme.  Does this passage from Matthew 20 surprise you? I want to bring several sources to bear on this Scripture.  The first, of course, is the scripture itself, and its commentary in The New Interpreters Study Bible.  The second is this poem called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, a poetess born in Maple Heights, OH (now lives in Provincetown, Mass.) and winner of both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that many modern spiritual writers are quoting these days: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. The third is this passage from Rev. Cam Miller, in his “Subversive Preacher” blog of this past Wednesday 2-19-14: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1445266a8557d6e1 The fourth is this poignant blog of 2-20-14 by Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical: “I asked my friends to share their Sacred Scared here because I wanted to prove to you that folks who are showing up BIG TIME and doing REALLY hard things are just like us. Everybody is the same. No one has it all figured out and No one ever will. We just gotta show up for our dreams and each other before we’re ready. We can be scared and still show up. We can be completely UNHEALED and still show up. We must just show up in all our beautiful, messy glory. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready. – See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.vPj5HdH8.dpuf “Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you...

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Are You Chosen? Am I?

Are You Chosen?  Am I? The difficult line in John 13, in Jesus’ words after he has washed his disciples’ feet is: “What I say is not said of all, for I know the kind of men I chose.”  Right after that, he hands a morsel dipped in wine to Judas and tells him to be quick in what he is about to do. This idea of being “chosen” by God has deep roots and many examples in Scripture. Isaiah has God fondly refer to “Israel, whom I have chosen” (44:1).  Peter calls his early Christian readers  “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, …a people [God] claims for his own” (1 Peter 2:9).  There are detailed, exciting and deeply emotional stories of people being chosen to carry out God’s plan of salvation.   Think of the people chosen for the covenant relationship with God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  Sometimes they had their names changed: Abram to Abraham; Jacob to Israel.  If you were chosen, your status would be passed on to your children.  There are careful records of genealogies to show who this favored status included. Think of the choice of Moses to lead the most portentous deliverance in history; or how about the choice of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam?  Think about the call to Samuel and the Judges, and Samuel’s anointing of that great King, David, son of Jesse.  Women figured into the plan as well: Sarah and Rachel and Ruth and Deborah just to name a few. Then there were the prophets, with some pretty dramatic choices in Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  How about the choice of Job to be tested by the Accuser to the depths of his being?   In the New Testament, we have Zachary’s story and Elizabeth’s and Mary’s and Joseph’s, John the Baptist’s and Jesus himself.  In his time, Jesus chooses his disciples and apostles.  After his death, they chose Stephen and the deacons, and Saul—sprawling on the ground, unable to see, the voice of Jesus ringing in his ears–got chosen in spite of his venomous actions toward Jesus’s followers. Are WE chosen?  By whom and for what?  Do we want to ‘be among their number, when the saints go marching in’ to eternal life and happiness?  In his “priestly prayer,” was Jesus talking about US when he said: “For these I pray—not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours” (John 17:9)? Don’t we imagine that we are chosen for some special purpose, some special mission?  Isn’t Paul implying that the Corinthians are chosen because they have different gifts, each one a benefit for the community (1 Cor. 12)?   Don’t we imagine...

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Of Immense Significance–First Floor Men’s Room

Of Immense Significance–First Floor Men’s Room

  Seeing where the holes In a bathroom floor were plugged– The nubs in the ceramic tile Where the anchors to the private stall had set– Before the room itself became secure And now is locked when only one inhabitant Rushes in to this most intimate of space– Reminded me that I remembered Where the Robin built its nest this year, And how the lines around your eyes Gather up to frame your sparkling face… So that I nearly stumbled when these proofs Collided to convince me Of my oneness with all things.   Joe LaGuardia,...

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Comments on the Psalms

Comments on the Psalms

It is fitting that after Lent and Easter, we allow ourselves to attend the concert of songs which are the Psalms. We read the story of the Passion of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel this year, and echoes of Psalm 22 rang in our ears when the soldiers divided his garments and especially when Jesus began to pray the first verse of this psalm in his agony: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This verse has come to be known as the “Fourth Word” from the Cross, although for Mark and Matthew it is the ONLY word. John has references to Psalms 69 and 34 in his account of the Passion, both referring to thirst. These references confirm Dr. Beal’s point that “The Psalms give voice to the tremendous depth and breadth of human experience… “( p. 144). The Alleluias of Easter are there, too, and great hope, confidence and joy. If we were to “sing to the Lord a new song” every day, some people would use the psalms, picking one that matches their life situation, their need, their fear, or their heart’s being full of thanksgiving and joy. The psalms have not lost their popularity. Although some books of the bible are read and preached about infrequently, something of the Psalms usually finds its way into worship every Sunday. When the Cleveland Ecumenical Institute scheduled a four week course on the Psalms taught by Rabbi Roger Klein, forty people signed up, and we had to close the enrollment because of lack of space! A priest came to hear the Jewish interpretation of the Psalms. Rabbi Klein brought with him the original Hebrew text, intending to use the original language at times to enlighten the understanding of the translation. Dr. Beal chooses just 6 psalms to include in his book on Biblical Literacy. They are good choices. What mood do they evoke? In 1926, Archibald MacLeish wrote a poem about the nature of poetry, and concluded it with a line that used to be famous: “A poem should not mean, but be!” It was a modernist statement, wanting poems to be like little gems which we could hold up to the light and see the intricacy and ingenuity of their structures as if we were seeing all the colors of the rainbow, dazzling us with their beauty. That MacLeish quote, however, doesn’t seem to apply to the Psalms at all, and never has.As Dr. Beal points out, they do have intriguing parallel structures, and contain lots of imagery, symbols and analogies. But they are not read for their beauty. Many people might comment on the beauty of a Psalm 23, perhaps the most popular among the 150 songs, but people who know that psalm have held on to its verses...

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Comments on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes

These two books offer many temptations: for example, to discuss the pros and cons of spanking as a form of discipline; or to expound on the dangers of taking every word of Scripture literally as if it were addressed to us in 2012 directly by God; or to take Proverbs at least as a rule book, as if we were a CPA and got the tax book dumped in our laps with the injunction: “Learn this and you won’t be penalized.” Some cultures have a lot of proverbs. German is certainly one of them. I still remember a few, such as “Arbeit macht das Leben suess” (“Work makes life sweet”) which comes perilously close to the saying over Auschwitz in Poland and other concentration camps: “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes one free”). Surely the placing of this proverb is an example of how a positive sounding sentence can be converted into something ideologically and morally perverse. Can you live your life by proverbs? What can you do with a proverb such as “The early bird catches the worm?” It surely states a truth that can be used to educate, say, a young person who insists on sleeping in every morning and coming late to school? The structure of the book of Proverbs seems to indicate that their purpose WAS education, either as passages of instruction or as one or two-line statements. A father is addressing a child; an elder a young initiate. The book fits right in with Rev. Richard Rohr’s contemporary writings on the first half and the second half of life. In the first half of life, we all need rules and discipline. Without training and structure, the rest of our life is a mess. We have no foundation to stand on, to jump from. In the second half of life, we have less need of rules. Hopefully, we can come to some of the wisdom we read about in these two books of the Bible. One question educators ask is whether wisdom is transferable. Information can be passed on; facts learned; skills acquired. But wisdom? Can quoting a proverb to someone have a positive effect? Or do we have to have the experience to lead us to say when we hear a proverb: Yes! That’s right! I know that to be true. But surely there’s no harm in trying one out—to try getting up early to see if the old proverb is true for us, or whether another hour of sleep makes us much more efficient. Generations and generations have believed in passing along wisdom and virtue to the young. The old McGuffey Readers were full of stories with a moral. The morality plays were the same, and when novels were first written, people were scandalized when the good guys didn’t win. Some of us would like...

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