You may have heard me say in the past that the Christian faith, and specifically the liturgical cycle of feasts and fasts is one of the few ways that connects many of us to the world around or rather, under us. In the past few decades wide open spaces have turned into strip malls. Soil has become a toxic waste, and our feet rarely touch the ground. It is not because we have finally discovered how to fly. Rather it is because out cities have become concrete canyons. In places like Toronto and Montreal there exist a labyrinthine system of tunnels and underground shops, office buildings and walkways which connect most of the downtown to the subway system. There you never have to go outside to swelter on a hot and humid July afternoon, or freeze on a frigid February morning. We have become observers to the world outside us, sheltered from the elements by air conditioning and central heating. Electricity extends the day, far beyond nightfall and what we can do and when we can do it is no longer limited by our need to cooperate with nature, but rather by our ability to harness it. Continue reading
Earlier this year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee. I remember seeing her on the television, her tiny figure standing at the front of a boat as it made its way down the Thames, with thousands of people waving and cheering. I lived in England for the first 44 years of my life, and every day of my life I must have seen her face, on the coins, the bills, the stamps. Her presence was everywhere. It was ‘her majesty’s government’,’ her majesty’s prisons’, her majesty’s army, navy, air force ‘and even, every April, the dreaded envelope would land on the mat, bearing the words, ‘from her majesty’s inspector of taxes’!
But Jesus is not just concerned with how these attitudes affect other people; Jesus is concerned with how these attitudes affect us. When we are judgmental, turn our backs on someone, or refuse to forgive, it is not the person toward whom we feel these things that suffers; but we suffer, because we must live with these negative emotions day-by-day. Similarly, when we forgive and are giving, we’ve no doubt all experienced the joy and freedom it brings. In either case, the measure we give is the measure we get back.
The other day when I was thinking about what I might preach on today, I kept getting distracted by memories from grade school when we learned about the first Thanksgiving. We would study the story about how the Indians showed the pilgrims how to plant corn and how the pilgrims when they had such a successful crop the following year, invited the Indians to a feast which became known as the first Thanksgiving. This study was usually accompanied by arts and crafts where we made Native American head dresses and pilgrims’ hats and put on a pageant about Thanksgiving for our families, complete with musical numbers and of course an occasional wave to grandma in the audience.
The New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini had an article over the weekend about his encounter as a twelve year old with the Ballades of Chopin—actually, the first one in G Minor, and, especially, a certain three-note turn of phrase toward the beginning. He goes on to write about those musical moments that are so powerful that, in an instant, indelible impressions are made and lives are changed. Even children are susceptible to these occasions of transcendent beauty. Perhaps especially children.
The Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula was intent to install his bust in the Temple in Jerusalem. And why not? The Emperor was the emperor, after all, and one of his many titles, Divi Filius (Son of God), was inscribed on every coin used by Romans and Jews alike. In Jesus’ lifetime, the Roman Emperor was called “Divine,” and was titled “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” So why not install his own bust in the Temple in Jerusalem? There was huge resistance to this threat of desecration among the Jewish community, as might be imagined. A revolt was predicted… which is why we read in the Gospel appointed for today about wars and rumors of wars: the Jews versus Rome, nation against nation. And to compound the tension and despair, our Gospel lesson speaks of a severe, multi-year drought that affected the lands east of the Mediterranean. The good news we hear on Jesus’ lips is that the end is not yet. This may seem like the end, but it’s not yet… which is a word of hope. Our knowing that historic information will make a difference how we make meaning of this Gospel lesson appointed for today: the historical context in which Jesus spoke.
One of the catch phrases of the recent political landscape has been “It’s the economy, stupid.” It sounds like something Jesus might have said in one of his crankier moments. Jesus was very concerned with money and had a lot to say about it.
About this time of year parishes all over the country are having “Stewardship Sunday”. (Perhaps that’s why some of you are here!) Vestries are preparing annual budgets and figuring out ways to economize. Some preachers are reminding people of the Biblical standard of the tithe. People are wondering if that means 10% before taxes or after.
In our first reading we find these words, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of … hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:4-7)
Today we commemorate Leo, one of the great Bishops of Rome in the middle of the 5th Century, an important period for the Church.
Today’s gospel lesson is a rather odd parable that Jesus tells his disciples. For the most part the manager in this story is embezzling his boss’s money and he gets found out. And so his employer fires him and the man then worries about what people will think of him and where he will find a job in the future with this on his record. So far the actions of the employer and the subsequent anxiety of the former manager are no surprise to us. What happens next is probably even LESS surprising: the man, before the news of his unemployment is made known attempts a manipulative cover-up which, if all goes according to his plan, will cast him in a favorable light to those who owe his former employer money, and perhaps secure him a new job. Again….no surprise, it’s as if we could see this story on the front page of the Boston Globe.
You might wonder how, without exploiting his divinity, Jesus was able to be so forthright with such a group of lawyers and Pharisees.
We should remember that Jesus had been doing ministry for two or three years. He had shown courage in dealing with questions of healing on the Sabbath. Continue reading