Sunday, October 15, 2017

All shall be well John 1:1-5


Who here has some sort of magical movie or tv special that just is guaranteed to bring a smile of Joy to your face.  Whether it be for nostalgic purposes, because it brings memories of sweet times or because it is a total escape, either one is legitimate.  I personally get a chill any time I see that first Harry Potter movie and Hagrid looks at young harry at simply states …” you’re a wizard harry!”[1]
This week I feel we all could use a little magic.  Just one word that will make this easier.  One word that would make the air clean again, replace homes and charred forest in an instant, and allow families to return to their beloved communities.  Unfortunately, there isn’t.  For many people, for many of our friends and families and even some of us. It will be a while before things start to look normal again.
Even those of us who have lost nothing physically will still be affected by these fires for a while.  Lines at the gas stations, the smoke and ash particles in the air.  Maybe you need some dental work, like I did this week. Well the offices are short staffed and cannot do anything till who knows. Our beautiful country side will not look the same for a while and if you use the medical facilities in Santa Rosa the street will not look the same.
Some may have lost long time visiting sites.  Places we went to get away or beloved parts of communities we visit.  We all know someone who knows someone who has been affected.  It is weird bit when the catastrophe is far off, another state or another country our hearts break and we do what we can.  But sometimes when it is in our own back yard it becomes overwhelming. 
There were four shelters in this area alone one minute we see a newspaper article that states here are a list of things needed the next day that list is no good they have too much.  The red cross needs volunteers and yet their phones are backed up and messages are full. Our hearts are broken for our neighbors and yet, many of us feel powerless to do anything. So, for now, we can hold our communities in prayer.
But here in the midst of fire and devastation I do want to clearly state, God did not do this. God did not allow this to happen.  I just don’t believe Gods works that way. And if you should hear of anyone saying so …ignore them.
Christopher Spatz writes of an experience with lymphoma;
“I never believed that God had bestowed this disease on me, nor did I believe it would be taken away because I asked.  The prayers I offered were for courage, strength, tolerance, a fighting spirit, and confidence in making the best decisions. I refused to be fearful or despair. Rather, I made a choice to live one day at a time and expect to be part of the future. I was open to and cognizant of loving and being loved, and aware of the care and compassion extended to me from many sources. I was humbled by sincere expressions of support from coworkers, acquaintances on social media, and friends and family. I learned that I was placed on peoples’ prayers lists most of whom I didn’t know.”[2]
Offering words of courage, offering strength when someone feels they have none, just being that calming presence to a friend or a loved one can help. Prayers, prayers bring comfort, prayers offer encouragement and hope to many people.  As it was stated above just knowing he was on prayers lists brought comfort.
As the immediate, passionate response calms down there will be needs arising.  The immediate response was overwhelming and great but this is not a thing that gets fixed quickly or easily. Just as there are stages to grief, there are stages to recovery. But the first thing anyone needs is compassion and empathy. But we cannot offer that unless we ourselves are in a good place.
We need to be present.  Be present to yourself.  In the midst of all this, things are changing and that change is frustrating, scary, sad, makes us angry, and can leave us hurt. The stress of just wondering if the fires may move in our direction at any given moment, being constantly on edge because we can smell fire. Just the aroma of fire, in our minds consciously or not, means danger and puts us on edge.
So, check in with yourself. What is your emotional state?  How are you feeling?  Have you been finding it hard to sleep?  Are you more tense than usual?  Maybe you find yourself with a short temper.  This is all normal we are living in a very stress filled situation this week.
One thing we can all do is try to relieve some of that stress.  Now it may be hard.  It means taking time out to first acknowledge your emotional state.  We have to pause and just see how we are feeling. Right now, I would encourage you Four times a day find a quiet place. I do not care if this is on a bench on the sidewalk, in your office or if you have to lock yourself in a bathroom for a few minutes.  Find a quite space. 
“Tune into your body. Your body often sends physical cues about how you’re feeling. Perhaps your shoulders are tense, you’re walking quicker than normal, or your heart is racing. Perhaps you’re sitting more slumped than normal, you are talking less in a meeting, or your muscles are heavy and tired. Notice these physical cues, and let them serve as a reminder to check in with yourself.”
Our bodies are fantastic things and they give us signs on just how we are feeling.  When you pause just notice what you are physically feeling. Do not judge your body or its aspects, pay gentle loving attention. Do not dismiss anything as arbitrary.  This is time to say what is that pain, what is that tension, oh my I actually have a headache.
 “Take a deep breath. Take a slow and full breath, taking your time to notice your deep inhale and your deep exhale. This helps to slow down your mind, reduce distractions, and focus you in on your experience.”
This needs to be a moment just for a you and a deep breath helps to you pause and according to Harvard health “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.”[3] 

This deep breath also centers you and establishes that this moment in time is just for you. 
“Ask the question. Use the simple question, “How am I feeling?” Make it even more specific by tagging what you are doing at the moment to the end of question. For example, “How am I feeling as I’m walking down the hall?” “How am I feeling as I’m driving to work? “How am I feeling as I climb into bed?” Adding the action, you’re currently doing will help focus your brain on this moment.” 
The key question is How.  How am I feeling is a non-judgmental practice.  You are not taking this time to pass judgement on yourself.  This isn’t why am I feeling this way?  Or I don’t have time for this emotion right now.  This is about being honest with ourselves. How am I felling while I am in the midst of this day at this time and place?
You then answer 
“Use descriptive words to capture how you feel in the moment. … the concept of using specific, tailored, and detailed words to describe your experience is incredibly important when doing emotional check-in.”[4]
 I am sure we all know descriptive words here are a few that we often may not think of:
Abandoned, Afraid, Agitated, Alarmed- fear is a natural response to the unknown but we can see that expressive words may help us discover better descriptors of our emotional state that we have not considered before.
Baffled, Betrayed, Bewildered, Blissful -confusion is a normal response to stressful situations but at this moment, when you pause, perhaps you have had some good news or fun and you are blissful.  There can be joyous moments in the worst of times and acknowledging that and allow yourself to experience joy. Joy is perfectly Good.
“Repeat daily. Then twice daily, then three times daily. The more you practice, the easier this process will be, eventually becoming a habit. 
Remember, the more we know what we’re feeling in a given moment, the more we can do something about it.   Emotional awareness of what’s happening in the current moment provides an opportunity that we can do something to feel very different in the next moment.”[5]
This simple practice is empowering.  It allows you to not only be aware of your emotions but it is a way to make sure that your emotions are not controlling you in negative ways. This helps you to ease into where you are spiritually at any given moment.
Wait I thought we were talking about emotions but now you just said spiritually. 
Like most everything healthy, emotional check ins take some time and effort at first. It may not feel natural or easy, and that’s ok. Pick an activity you do daily and connect your check in to that activity, keeping yourself accountable. You may want to set an alert on your phone or keep a sticky note nearby to serve as a reminder. Continue to practice. You will start to notice a difference, an increased level of awareness. A powerful opportunity to do something different.
Now you may be thinking why is our pastor giving us this touchy-feely tool.  This practice some of you may be aware of as called mindfulness. “Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing gentle, accepting attention to present moment thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. While the immediate goal is not to change or improve what’s happening, the practice of bringing friendly awareness to our internal experience can decrease stress and improve coping with challenges.”[6]  And I would add connect us to God.
As we acknowledge our emotions and check in with ourselves, no matter what state we are in, we can always consciously acknowledge that God is here or even ask ourselves where is God in this and wait for an answer to come…or not, because sometime the answer is silence. Sometimes the answer doesn’t come. Sometimes the silence is the answer.
I want to leave you with a long quote from a great mystic whom I am fond of. Her most famous quote is on the cover of the bulletin. Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) was an English anchoress and an important Christian mystic and theologian. Her Revelations of Divine Love, written around 1395, is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. Julian was also known as a spiritual authority within her community, where she also served as a counsellor and advisor. I have always found great comfort in her words;
Thus, in our true Mother, Jesus, our life is grounded,
In his own foreseeing Wisdom from without beginning,
With the high Power of the Father
And the high supreme Goodness of the holy Spirit.

In the taking of our human nature He restores life to us, and His
 blessed dying on the cross, he birthed us into endless life.

And from that time, and now, and until Doomsday,
He feeds us and helps us
Just as high matchless nature of motherhood wills
And as the natural need of childhood requires.

Fair and sweet is our heavenly Mother in the eyes of our soul;
Precious and loving are His grace-filled children in the eyes of our
Heavenly Mother,
With gentleness and humility and all fair virtues that are proper
To children in nature.

By nature the child does not despair the mother’s love;
By nature the child does not take responsibility upon itself;
By nature the child loves the mother
And each one the other.

These are the fair virtues (with all others that are like them) with
Which our heavenly Mother is Honored and pleased.

I recognize no state in this life
Greater in weakness,
And in lack of power and intelligence than our childhood,
Until the time that our grace-filled Mother has brought us up to our Father’s bliss.

And then truly be made known to us His meaning in these sweet
Words where Christ says:
“All shall be well;
And thou shalt see for they self that all manner of things
shall be well.”[7]

In this quote from her long reflection she reassures us as children of our Heavenly Mother Jesus, we are in love. As Christians this reassurance even when we cannot comprehend all that is happening around us, even when there is despair, chaos confusion.  In our hour of need to do something when it seems all is out of our hands.  We have the Mother Jesus reassurance that we are loved and held in his loving grace..

“But Jesus (who in this vision informed me of all that I needed)
Answered by this word and said:
“…But all shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.”[8]

Jesus doesn’t promise us all will be perfect.  Jesus doesn’t promise us all will be the same, Jesus doesn’t even offer us a quick fix.  But Jesus offers us compassion, Jesus offers us rest, Jesus offers us grace and Jesus offers us reassurance that All shall be well. So when things are overwhelming and you do not have a moment to take inventory or paused and find a quiet space.  I have always found comfort in her words and I often repeat them as a prayer…even out loud sometimes all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen!

[1] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (New York: Scholastic, 2013), 50.
[2] Christopher Spatz, “The Exhilirations of Lymphoma: A Year Int He Life,” Oneing an alternative Orthdoxy 5, no. 1: 79.
[3] Harvard Health, “Taske deep Breath,” Harvard university, May, 2009, accessed October 12, 2017,
[4] Allison Niebes Davis, “The Power of Emotional Check Ins and 5 Steps to Help You Get Started,” Dr. Allison, 2017, accessed October 12, 2017,
[5] Ibid.
[6] Northeastern University, Mindfulness and Spiritual Practices, 2012, accessed October 12, 2017,
[7] Father John Julian, A Lesson of Love (New York: Walker and Company, 1998), 166.
[8] Ibid., 61.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Wicked Tenants; A Complicated Parable Matthew 21:33-36

This week we are examining what many consider to be a very complicated parable: the parable of the wicked tenants. This is a parable about Israel. It goes along with similar themes to the parable of the two sons and the parables of the wedding banquet and feast.

A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room.

As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?"

The little boy replied, "She knows now."

The parable of the landowner and the wicked tenants continues the theme of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man. “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16) this is a notion that challenged the general religious economy of Jesus’ era and continues to challenge that of our own time. The parable points a finger at the religious elite of Jerusalem. As the story unfolds, the Pharisees know that Jesus is speaking about the unfaithful history of Israel, Israel who refused the witness of prophets, Israel who killed God’s messengers, and now Israel who denies the witness of Jesus, whom some have called the Messiah. Now do not get me wrong this is not Israel the nation, so much as Israel influenced by a corrupt religious leadership.

The heart of the parable is the wicked and violent way that stewards of the law and the temple have failed through the centuries to acknowledge God’s clear message of justice and righteousness. Now the Son has come to give a clear message, and the attitude is still the same. These men of power will not stand much longer for this kind of teaching.

As with many parables, Jesus uses symbols in his stories that give a deeper meaning. This is where we need to be careful because not all things have deeper meanings. Sometimes a field is really just a field. But here we can deduce some likely meanings. I say likely here because sometimes these things are debated.

Symbolic Indicators

• The vineyard is Jerusalem

Here some say that the vineyard is all of Israel. I do not believe that this represents all of Israel because it is a narrative that is indicative of Jerusalem. Jesus paints the picture of a wall, a watch tower and a winepress. This combination most likely would have pointed to Jerusalem. The wall around Jerusalem, the watch tower would be the temple that is supposed to keep watch over the spiritual life of the people. The winepress would also point to the Temple but specifically the Temple authorities who were supposed to take care of the people, especially the financial responsibility of the poor, but Jesus is indicating that they had misappropriated the finances. No wonder the religious rulers were so upset.

Besides, the placement of this parable, the timing, in relation to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and arrival at the temple makes it very clear who Jesus is accusing.

• The servants are the prophets

These are the Old Testament prophets many of whom were beaten and killed as God’s messengers. God sent them to all of Israel and to Jerusalem many, many times.

• The son is Jesus

In the parable the son is taken outside the vineyard then killed. Jesus would be very shortly taken outside the city walls and crucified. He was taken outside so that the city and the Temple would not be ritually defiled.

• The tenants are Israel’s leaders

Not just one generation but in general all of the Israelite leaders over the course of its history. I know that it can be especially tempting to continue allegorizing everything in this parable. However, other than these items, there is no clear indication that Jesus intended for his hearers to do so.

The inheritance is a deeper relationship with God the creator. The fruit is the abundance of a growing community here on earth...  Then there are more generalized interpretations as in the message of the kindom and the productive living that follows. Specifics are not given by Jesus here about what entails productive living nor does Jesus give details on what the judgment looks like other than the wicked tenants will meet their deserved end.

So what message is Jesus trying to give us through this parable? It is really very simple for those who have ears to hear. The parable is a proclamation concerning the world to come, and Israel’s part in this present, but not yet realized world to come.

There is a Proclamation within this parable which is that

*The stewardship of this heavenly kindom will be taken away from one people and given to many people; taken away from the hypocritical judicial leaders of Israel’s history and given to the chosen people and those who lay beyond this concept of the chosen few.

God’s intention all along is that God has a people who are God’s own. But the boundaries that creates this people will not be based on birth or race or religious standing or economic standing or even social standing.

The rules for this new people is twofold.

• This new people are all those who respond to the fullness of God’s message for them and then bear fruit.

Both parts are essential: Responding to the message of the all loving God by bearing fruit through productive living. This living is based on the ways of God and the teachings received, for the Christian this is the teachings of Jesus. Productive living may not necessarily mean being a good citizen, being a good citizen is just enough but God and Christ have called us to more than that. It probably doesn’t mean being affluent economically. In fact, it probably means you will not be affluent.

• Blessings and gifts are not permanent possessions they come and go. So, as Christians, we should never feel comfortable, we should never feel we have done enough.

It is so easy to get caught up in false sense of security. The only security is through the continuing love relationship with Jesus, walking humbly as is taught through the Gospels. Degrees, promotions, bible studies, number of worship services, number of prayers and prayer meetings, number of meals served to the homeless are all great things and often beneficial to our own spiritual growth. However, they do not provide security. The security lies in striving to be what I am called to be. All actions should flow out of where we are at in our journey, what we are capable of doing but also, perhaps what we are challenged to do. Our actions need to flow out of a sense of calling and spiritual walk with God which may seem to call us beyond what we are capable of.

The only assurance that God is with us is by intentionally setting our hearts on God. God’s favor and blessings are permanent but, Jesus is giving Israel and us a warning that fulfilling religious responsibilities is not enough. He warns us that we may get to the end and find that we are spiritually bankrupt because we have been denouncing, ridiculing, degrading, and ignoring the very messengers that God has been sending us. Jesus is warning us also not to just simply go through the motions but to develop a spiritual life and a life that is rich and full.

There is no guarantee except what comes through the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit. That is your security deposit. And that is not something that you give but receive and continue to be filled with and in turn are required to nurture, grow and seek out your spiritual edges… in return

• God does the unexpected.

Probably of all the things that God may be saying to us today through this parable is that God does the unexpected, the unexpected grace and love that is shown by those that love God and God’s ways. The unexpected provision that God gives sometimes before we realized we even had a need, the unexpected lesson that Jesus teaches us when we are wrapped up in ourselves.

Jesus gives us a proverb or saying at the end of this parable. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. When we fall in complete and utter abandonment to Jesus who is the cornerstone, we may be broken but we are never crushed. Through the spirit and growing in Christ we often are broken and broken again for the love of Christ that can dwell in the heart will often cause it to break, break for the violence, break for the pain and suffering that exists in this world, break every time there is another storm. Our hearts break at another mass shooting and we feel helpless in its wake.

The amazing thing is that when we are broken before God, Jesus takes the broken pieces of our lives our mistakes those times when we missed the mark, our helpless ness, or our justified anger and unexpectedly transforms them. God takes people that many in the world might cast out as trash and creates a thing of beauty that allows the light of the spirit to shine through. Let me say that again; Jesus takes the broken pieces of our lives and unexpectedly transforms what many in the world might cast out as trash, as emotionalism, as foolishness and creates a thing of beauty that allows the light of the spirit to shine through.

The message is plain but not easy. Are you certain of your walk with God? Are sure that you are walking with Jesus? Do you love God and God’s ways more than anything else? Have you responded by living a life of abundant fruit? There are no barriers here today. The only barrier is the one inside of ourselves. Is the spirit of God calling us to go further, to be bolder, to act up or speak out?

Now I am not saying we need to be saints for God knows we are human. We are called to do our best to respond to the messenger, to follow Jesus, and live this abundant life that has been given us. We should guard against our pride less we convince ourselves that we are doing enough. We can always do more, spend a few more minutes in prayer or contemplation, spend an extra 15 minutes visiting a friend in need, volunteer a few more minutes somewhere.

This means seeking opportunity to enrich your spiritual life as well. Seeking out what feeds you spiritually to keep that constant connection.  The connection that goes up and down, God to me, me to God, is what makes it possible for me to make connections laterally. There are so many ways to feed the up and down; Journaling as prayer, walking meditation, the Jesus prayer, which is Lord Jesus Christ; have mercy on me repeated over and over till it is constant on your heart, the daily offices or book of Christian prayer. Arts and crafts can become prayer as perhaps you work in silence you offer a simple prayer per stich. I also strongly encourage you seek out a spiritual companion, a spiritual director.

Spiritual Directors international reminds us that throughout human history, individuals have been inspired to accompany others seeking the Mystery that many name God. Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to cultural and spiritual traditions throughout history. Stillpoint California a training program for spiritual directors states A Spiritual Director is a privileged witness in the spiritual unfolding of another person. The focus is on the relationship between the "directee" and God, much more than on the relationship between the director and “directee.” I always say that the Spiritual director is a companion on your spiritual path to help you notice things along the way you may not have noticed, rarely does a spiritual director direct more often than not they just pause and inquire.  Their purpose is help one grow in their spiritual journey.

The whole concept is you need to find what feeds you, what will keep your heart open to the beauty and the wonder that is God’s spiritual invitation to walk the path daily and as we grow spiritually the invitation is always to act upon it. Seek out the ways in which we can serve our congregation and our community around us.