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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Difficult Passages: Conflict Old and New

Difficult Passages: Conflict Old and New

As last week’s lectionary passage from Luke resonates in our memories, I cannot resist citing a link to Rev. Cam Miller’s sermon for last Sunday [http://subversivepreacher.com/2013/10/20/the-physics-of-pain-or-gallstones-of-the-soul/. ] His sermon calls us to look into conflicts that we avoid above all costs —even people that we avoid—as the judge does in the story of the widow seeking justice in Luke 18.  His sermon also challenges us to struggle with God, just like Jacob did on the night his name was changed to Israel (in Genesis 32).  Dealing with and discussing these issues may also help us resolve that very difficult passage that is only one chapter away from the Jacob wrestling match—the story of the rape of Dinah in Chapter 34.  Dinah’s rape and the terrible revenge for it that Jacob’s sons took forces us to consider the position of women in that age and in ours. It is so difficult to imagine ourselves in another culture, in an age when women were protected by their husbands, brothers, fathers but no one else, and could be traded for money, land, and power.   In the Genesis story, we moderns get the distinct impression that the rape was avenged not so much for Dinah’s honor as for the tribe of Israel’s honor.  The Israelites were offered assimilation by the Canaanites—what’s ours is yours, even our own wives and daughters—and they were having none of it. Trust was surely an issue, of course, when it comes to cultures merging in such a way, and the narrator of this chapter in Genesis reveals in the story that something devious was happening as the Canaanites made their ‘generous’ offer to the Israelites: “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?  Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us” (Gen. 34:23). And so the issues of living together were never put on the table and seen for what they were.  The list would have been long: who is your God?  Monotheism.  Laws.  Promises from God.  Who did the land belong to?   Would negotiating these issues  have helped?  Or would this discussion have prevented both sides from ever agreeing to joint living arrangements in that land?   What do you think? In marital engagements, before the couple say the powerful three words (I love you!), shouldn’t they have a few fights first?  Shouldn’t they test whether they can approach and resolve conflict or will soon develop the habit of avoiding it?   Like a man in the ad saying: “Here I am in this bathtub, watching the sun set, and you are in the bathtub next to me, and we are supposedly waiting for the ‘time to be right;’ but as...

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