Sunday, July 20, 2008

dancing with weeds

Today's Gospel was another agricultural parable... (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) We had one last week too. Last week's was about the idiot sower who tossed his seeds every which way and only a portion landed in the field. The rest ended up in the rocks, on the gravel, in the bushes with the thorns. Our celebrant last week explained the agricultural inconsistencies with the concept that God will not fit into our preconceived tiny, safe, careful or frugal opinions... nor of our misguided beliefs that there is only so much grace and glory to go around, so we'd better place rules and restrictions on its distribution. God breaks all the rules we make for Him/Her in our efforts to understand.

Today the Gospel is about the sower who plants wheat (this time in the field) only to discover someone else has also planted tares (weeds) and now they're growing up together. "Should we weed the garden?" his laborers ask. " Nah... Just let them grow up together and when it's time for the harvest, sort them out."

I'll admit I know just enough about gardening to be dangerous, but in our little plot out back I'm weeding all the time. Doesn't seem to bother the flowers and herbs at all. So what's with waiting until the harvest?

I was blessed again today to go out for church and the preacher explained things a whole lot better by going back to the King James language: Tares. While most of us think weed of the common vetch variety, there was a specific plant called the bearded darnel which looked almost exactly like wheat throughout the growing stages, and produced seeds which were poisonous. That at least makes sense of the no-weeding-edict.

But he went on to elaborate, and came to many of the same conclusions that I heard last week. First of all, he set aside the entire second half of the Gospel... the part where Matthew has Jesus (supposedly) explain this parable for the disciples... that the angels will come and sort us all out at the end of time and the good folk will all get gathered into the barn and the bad folk will all go off to burn in hell. His take on the second half was that this interpretation was just one more of our own human projections... just another attempt to put God in the scarcity box... another way to keep score.

And Jesus was not one to keep score. At least not in this sermon. No, the focus was on enjoying the Kingdom of God which is at hand, the one Jesus spoke about as a reality now.

And who belongs in this Kingdom? Who gets to enjoy it? Who qualifies?
Anybody. Anybody who loves as they have been loved. Anybody who loves as they want to be loved.

As an aside, the music today was from Missa Luba, a Congolese Mass, arranged by Guido Haazen. As the opening strains of the Kyrie soared up into the dome above our heads, my body swayed with an inner urge to dance. Of course I didn't. I'm a nun and an Episcopalian... we don't normally dance in church.

As part of his sermon, our preacher talked about re-education as unlearning or discarding much of the stuff we learned in our childhoods. He also mentioned that the world could be made up of two kinds of people: those who are dancing and those who are complaining about the dance. I'd add a third... those who aren't dancing but wish they could.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

politics and religion

I'm finally getting around to posting about Sunday's Sermon. Yes, I realize it's Wednesday. As they used to say in my youth: "the hurrier I go, the behinder I get." That's not about to change any time soon. Life in the geriatric zoo muddles on and we muddle (and meddle) right along too.

But back to Sunday... we had no priest to celebrate over the holiday weekend. In fact we have a dearth of Sunday priests this month. Many are on vacation, and those who are not, are substituting for those who are. So at least two of us got Get-out-of-jail-passes last Sunday to visit an outside parish church. Of course I went to my home-away-from-home... the church I work for two days a week. In the summer the music ramps up as they continue to promote their "Summer Festival of Sacred Music". This past Sunday was Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, as well as an incredible piece from The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson. Harp and timpani added extra depth, as did the sweet clear voice of the treble soloist. Just the music alone is reason enough to attend St. Bartholomew's on Park and 50th Street, but the sermon was excellent too.

The preacher noted that any sermon preached on a national holiday has its special pitfalls. Any fool knows that mixing religion and politics could get you killed, (Jesus, the first example that comes to mind) but he launched right in anyway... with the observation that Jesus was not an early American patriot, he was a Palestinian Jew. He went on to suggest that if we are not aware of how our faith informs (or more likely does not inform) our politics, we will fall prey to the arrogant assumption that "God is on our side."

He also laid out a few major differences between the expectations of national patriotism and the expectations of Christianity, differences we are quite likely to forget when we pledge allegiance to the flag. (Or does anybody still do that?)
  • Patriotism calls us to protect ourselves; Christ calls us to lose ourselves.
  • Patriotism calls us to provide for our own... (our own families, cities, states, nation); Christ calls us to provide for the least of these... the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants.
  • Patriotism calls us to amass wealth, Christ calls us to give it away... all of it.
  • Patriotism calls us to retaliate when attacked; Christ calls us to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies.
In closing, he said, "Christ calls us to be more than good Americans." Reflecting on his list of differences, I wonder how we can be good Americans with the prevailing sense of what a good American is... I thought to myself, any people setting themselves up as a light to the nations are damned to failure.