Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
It just seems like itís never going to stop, doesnít it? The violence and the destruction Ė the anger and the hatred around us Ė like a deranged energizer bunny, it keeps going and going and going.
I wish I didnít have to bring up what happened last Sunday night, but I donít think there are very many of us who havenít been shaken by the images we saw, when a gunman opened fire on people who had gathered for a concert in the park in Las Vegas. Automatic gunfire, terrified people running, hiding and yes, being shot Ė it is truly terrorizing. The violence Ė it just keeps going and going and going.
Terrorism, war and crime have filled our newspapers and our televisions and yes, I think our minds, with images that have horrified us, scared us and yes, angered us. I expect that all of us feel a little less safe today than we did a week ago. And I expect that most of us feel a little less compassionate and a little more angrier than we did a week ago, too.
The reactions to this tragedy have been predictable. Sadly, we have had enough of these kinds of events over the years, we have become predictable in our reactions to them. We have, quite rightly I believe, given honor to those who were killed and injured, giving special recognition and praise to those who ran towards the danger instead of away from it and those who made special efforts to save the lives of those around them.
And we have again begun asking again, what can be done to stop these kinds of shootings and political and social arguments have raged over how to deal with guns and gun violence. And we have, I think, almost every one of us, been listening hoping to hear the motives behind this evil, why did this man set out to kill so many people?
As of today, we have gotten no answer to that question. Leaving all of us feeling confused and frustrated, and even a bit more afraid. We donít know why, we donít know how to stop it from happening again.
It seems almost cruel that that lesson that comes the week following such horrendous events is the lesson we have before us, for it too is the story of terrible violence and ugliness. Jesus ends up asking what will the owner do to those tenants? And they say, he will put them to death, put new tenants in charge, and Jesus responds by telling them that he is the son, he is the cornerstone that the builders rejected, and that they will be put out of the vineyard when the time comes.
How depressing. Violence and more violence. The evil tenants try to steal the vineyard and kill the son and the land ownerís response? Slaughter them all. Or is it? Jesus didnít bring down fire and brimstone on the Jews who killed him. Jesus didnít banish them from the kingdom. Jesus instead sent his disciples out into the world to proclaim the good news of forgiveness, and of peace, and of love. Jesus didnít need violence with more violence. Instead, he met it with peace and kindness and forgiveness and love.
I hope that we can find a bit of hope in that good news. Because, indeed, it seems like violence in the world just goes on and on and on. But the gospel proclaims that violence doesnít have to beget more violence. Proclaims, indeed, that violence will not win.
Yes, that good news sets us about the hard work of figuring out how to lessen the violence around us. Set us to the hard work of being peacemakers in a violence and hateful world. The narrative of the Bible and the story of Jesusí life seems to be leading down this same path Ė a path where the evil and the powerful and the corrupt destroy and maim and kill and where the only recourse seems to be more violence, maybe the violence of God himself.
God sent his son and what did the tenants of the vineyard do? What did humanity do? We killed him. But what did the landowner do? Did he send soldiers to take back the vineyard? Did he send down fire and brimstone? Did he case the evildoers out of the Kingdom? No, he forgave them. And offered them love and peace and life.
He didnít send his disciples out to do battle. Instead, he sent them out to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and love to all the world. He forgave them. And the cycle of violence, the cycle of death and destruction ended there, at least that cycle did.
So here is my take away from this story Ö this week. God is not going to let violence win. Yes, he has every right and certainly the power to rain down death and destruction on us. He could indeed send the four horsemen of the apocalypse and a host of angels to bring a swift and terrible justice to the world.
But, God is not going to let violence win. God is not going to use it to win. Peace and kindness, forgiveness and love are going to win. Not terrorists. Not snipers. Not any of the host of people who have come to believe that violence is the only way.
God is not going to let violence win, and we can be a part of that, indeed, we are, I believe, being called and even begged to be a part of that. To be the peacemakers. To be the forgivers. To be the people who love the world like God loves the world.
We are probably the only ones who can because we are the only ones who know that God isnít going to let violence win. Amen.
The 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
There are some weeks when you look at the lessons and you say, what in the world am I going to say about this? Then there come weeks like this one when all four of the lessons, even the Psalm, observe a sermon of their own. I canít do all four this morning, but I thought Iíd better say something about that first lesson.
People of Israel were whining. Now thatís not to talk bad about them. We human beings like to whine, but they were suffering. They were suffering and going around and saying, weíre not at fault here, itís our parentsí fault. Indeed, they remember that line from the end of the Ten Commandments, you remember. I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of their children. Of course, it goes on that God is going to bless thousands of generations of those who obey him, but nevertheless, they were saying we donít deserve all of this suffering, itís our parentsí fault, Godís not fair.
And through Ezekiel, God in no uncertain terms makes it clear that he is the one who is fair, it is not him, but it is the people of Israel who are suffering for their own sins. Hope that makes the first lesson make a little more sense.
Now on to the gospel. The gospel lesson is another one of those wonderful and terrifying little parables. It is just a little parable, I donít know if it has a name. Lots of the parables have names Ė the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sower.
What would we call this one? The Parable of the Two Sons Who Canít Make Up Their Minds?
But it is, at least at first glance, rather straightforward, isnít it? A man comes to his two sons and asks them, even commands them, to go out and work in the vineyard. The first one says, I ainít going, but then changes his mind and he goes and works in the vineyard. The second son says, Dad, I am right on my way, and he doesnít go. And Jesus asks, which one did the will of his father? Well, the one who worked in the vineyard, of course, the first one.
It seems rather straightforward, doesnít it? God is calling us not to talk about what weíre going to do, but to go and do it, to be doers of Godís will, not people who just talk about it. Itís a pretty good message, isnít it? Who amongst us hasnít said, Oh, I am going to go do this or going to go and do that and later that day or the next week or the next month, nah, not so much.
Who did the will of his father? Why, of course, it was the one who went and worked in the vineyard. It is rather terrifying at that because all of us can see ourselves in that second son, yeah, God, Iím going to do it or maybe even more commonly, amongst our friends and neighbors, yeah, I do all of these great things. And then on deeper reflection realize not so much.
Of course, that is the cool thing about Jesusí parables is that they are rarely as straightforward as they first seem. Todayís lesson comes in this context. The priests and the scribes comes to Jesus and they ask him, Jesus, by whose authority are you doing all of this stuff? In particular, I am guessing, by whose authority are you getting into our pocket. Of course, being priests and scribes in those days was a rather lucrative business and the kind of faith Jesus was preaching was not beneficial to their financial well-being. Jesus, by whose authority are you doing all of these things?
And as Jesus so often likes to do he answered their question with a question of his own, what about old John? Was his baptism from God, or was it something he just made up? Thatís a trick question, of course, because if they said well, itís of human origin, John was a trickster down there at the Jordan River. The people who thought he was a great prophet would automatically reject the priests and the scribes. But if they said it was of human origin, not only would Jesus say, why didnít you believe him, but he would also say, thatís where my authority comes from, too. And they werenít about to allow that.
And so, they donít answer. And in response to their not answering Jesus then tells this parable. This parable about two sons, one who says, I wonít, but does; and the other who says, oh, yes, I am going to, and doesnít.
Now here I think is where the parable gets interesting. For in many ways, certainly the scribes and priests are that second son. They go around telling everybody in the world how righteous and wonderful they are, and yet they donít quite live up to all of their declarations of their righteousness and holiness. Indeed, tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners have seemed to receive the word of John and Jesus much more readily than they did.
But what have these people done? They are the ones who said, I am not going. I am not going to believe in you, Jesus. I am not going to believe in John. And Jesus leaves them then with that option. Are we going to be like the first son who said weíre not going to believe in you? Who said, weíre not going into the vineyard to work or are we going to be the ones who actually do the will of God?
Hereís our Reformation 500 moment. Martin Luther when asked about what is the reason God gave us the law - if God saves us by grace, if God forgives our sins, what is the point in giving us the law at all? And Luther said there are two uses and only two.
Yes, Phillip Melanchthon (scholar and friend of Martin Lutherís) says there are three. (Weíre Lutherans today, weíre not Melanchthonites.)
There are two uses of the law, according to Martin Luther. The first use of the law is to protect us from ourselves and others. God gives us the law because God intends that law to have an effect on our lives, to have an effect in the world. When God tells us donít steal, God indeed intends to protect us and all of those around us from losing our stuff to theft.
But the second use, the second reason that God gave us the law and the much more important one, is that the law drives us to faith in Christ. That every time we cannot keep the law, every time we steal or every time we say, yea, Iím going to go and do Godís will and then we donít, the law reminds us that we cannot do it ourselves, that we must rely on the grace and love of God.
I find in todayís parable the great amount of grace. For Jesus presents those priests and those scribes with the opportunity to go and do Godís will, to believe in John, and to believe in Jesus, even though they have been saying, no, no, no we wonít. And in this lesson, I find this great grace for us. For each and every day, no matter what we did yesterday, or what weíve said ten minutes ago, the opportunity is always there to go and do Godís will, to believe in Jesus, love God, love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
There has been a number of studies over the last couple of years that have shown that people who use social media are affected by it and not necessarily in good ways. Indeed, the studies have shown that the more time people spend on social media, the less happy they are likely to be. You know social media Ö Facebook and Twitter and all of those things Ö Bill Belichick would call it ďSnap faceĒ Ö
Now these days we might think the reason people who are on social media are unhappy because of all of the politics thatís on there, but this began long before politics was taking over Facebook, Twitter and all of those things. Apparently when we people look at Facebook or read peopleís tweets we canít help compare ourselves to the lives that we see other people living. And what do we see? Happy, smiling people going to all kinds of wonderful places with perfect children and all kinds of toys that they are playing with. And we look at what seems to be perfect lives, and we see our lives arenít quite so perfect, and we find that we are somehow less than all of these friends and neighbors and even strangers out there in social media world.
Of course, those of us who donít use all of that stuff arenít immune to this. It seems to be something genetic with us human beings. We look at the people around us and we compare ourselves to them. Am I as popular as they are? Am I as good looking as they are? Am I as successful? Do I have his ton of toys? It seems to be a part of what it is to be human to look at the world around us and compare ourselves.
We know how it is, right? Youíve got a car that you are absolutely happy with, it gets you from here to there, it doesnít take too much gas and then your neighbor buys a new car. And all of a sudden, that car that was good enough, is a rust bucket and you are just hoping that somebody will wreck you so the insurance will give you a new car. There is something about us human beings that makes us look at the people around us and judge how it is that we compare to them.
Of course, it is not always that we judge ourselves to not be as good as someone else, because there is always someone out there whose car is junkier than ours, someone whose behavior is worse, someone whose life is a bigger mess, but even, but maybe especially when we point that out, it really doesnít make us feel any better, does it? Instead it usually makes me feel like of yucky.
There is something about us human beings that make us compare ourselves to others and almost always those comparisons steal our joy from life. That car that seemed good enough before all of a sudden, itís not really much fun to ride in that thing anymore, and every time you get in it, once you realize that it is not the car of your dreams, it annoys you. No matter how good or how successful you are, you donít revel or arenít thrilled by that success if youíre thinking about how much more successful someone else is.
Jesus was going all over Palestine telling people how great Godís grace was, how big it was. That Godís grace was so big that it would encompass everyone, that those who believed in him, those who repented would be forgiven of their sins and given eternal life.
Including tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners and so those folks who had been so proud of how well they had lived their lives, how righteous they were, compared themselves to those people that Jesus was saying were also going to be forgiven. And their joy was stolen.
They were no longer thrilled that God was going to forgive them, all they could see was Jesus was passing out this grace to people who didnít deserve it.
And so, Jesus tells them this parable about this crazy land owner who goes out and hires people first thing in the morning, at noon, and in the middle of the afternoon, and in an hour before quitting time and pays them all the same wage. God in Jesus says to them, canít God do with what is His with His grace and His mercy and His love, whatever it is He wants to? For indeed, shouldnít we be overjoyed that God has forgiven us and blessed us with so many things? Shouldnít we be overjoyed that God has forgiven even those people who never thought that He could possibly forgive them? Shouldnít we be ticked that Joe down the road has such a neat new car?
It seems to be almost genetic, almost all of us in one way or in one time look at other people and feel that they are better, that theyíve got it better, that their stuff is better. So, what do we do? A couple of suggestions. You know that song, it seems kind of trite, but counting your blessings is really a good idea, isnít it?
You know God has filled our lives with great and wonderful things and if we are spending our time and our effort thinking of what it is that God has given us, itís kind of hard to be worried too much about what God has given or done for someone else. It is kind of a shame that we have Thanksgiving only once-a-year. Maybe we ought to have Thanksgiving every Sunday afternoon?
Itís also probably worth the effort to intentionally and consciously celebrate other peopleís blessings and successes. There is nothing that I think that is more attractive than someone who is happy when someone else does well. Who makes a point of congratulating them, of telling others about them, if we can be happy, if we can be thrilled for one anotherís blessings, that may indeed help us to be thrilled about our own.
And then for those of you who have succumb to the affliction of the modern era, it probably is a good idea for us to take a break, maybe a Sabbath from social media, every once in a while, to get away from all of the political rant, but also to break that habit of looking at one another in measuring ourselves. Of course, the truth is everyone edits that stuff, no one puts the picture up when their kids are misbehaving or when they first get out of bed and look like a wreck. They donít post a picture of their old beater car.
God has indeed blessed us with so many things, friends and family, a world filled with so many wonderful things to enjoy. Beyond all of that, God has blessed us with his love and his grace. The fact that God has blessed others should thrill us. And as we celebrate what God has done for us, we can then celebrate what God is doing for the whole world. Iíd like to see that on Face book sometimes. Amen.
The 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
My friend, Eli and I were running an errand for church one day, I think we were out getting supplies for a big fish fry during Lent. But as we were driving, Eli told me, Pastor, I canít forgive Del. Now Eli and Del had been friends for many years and Eli had indeed over the years forgiven Del of much.
But their last encounter had been a bad one. Del had lied to Eli, had betrayed him and had made him feel like a fool. The damage to their relationship was significant, friendship ending, maybe even life changing. It was bad.
Now, Iím not quite sure what Eli was expecting me to say. He probably, I think, thought that I would tell him he had to forgive Del. That is what we Christians often tell one another because of course, forgiveness is kind of at the heart of what it is that we are all about.
Iíve been told many times Ö I canít forgive this person or that person. Sometimes it is said still in the heat of anger, but other times it is said with a great deal of sadness and even despair. Pastor, I canít forgive my abuser. I canít forgive the drunk driver who killed my loved one. I canít forgive the people who have done all of this evil in the world. I canít forgive that person who hurt me so deeply, that I am still wounded.
They are said, even despairing, because they fear that if they canít forgive, then they wonít be forgiven. They are sad, even despairing, because they know that our forgiveness is somehow related to our own forgiving.
Jesus came to set the world free. To set the world free from sin and death and the power of the devil. Jesus came to set the world free, to change the world, to transform the world, to recreate the world. Jesus came to forgive the world and through that forgiveness to change everything Ė to change our world, our communities, our families, through that forgiveness Jesus came to change us.
Last week we heard how much Jesus cares about relationships. He cares so much about them that he commands us not to give up on one another too easily, but to do all that we can, to forgive one another and to reconcile with one another, and in response to that command, to not cast one another aside too easily.
Peter responds, So, Jesus, how many times do I have to forgive my brother who sins against me? 7 times? Peter thought he was being generous and magnanimous. 7 times is a lot, after all, the rules of the day would say 2 or maybe 3 times Ö 7 Ö why thatís almost ridiculous, even foolish. But Jesus ups the ante, not 7 times, but 77 times or maybe the correct translation is 7 times 70 times Ö but the effect is the same.
How many times must we forgive? An infinite number of times, as many times as it takes. As many times, as it takes to what? you might ask. As many times, as it takes to change them. As many times, as it takes to make the world better Ė a different place.
Then Jesus tells a parable. The point is clearly that God has forgiven us so much, so we should and we must forgive one another. That perspective helps sometimes, doesnít it? Sometimes we can see how much God has done for us, and the things that other people have done to us seem small and trivial. But not always. Sometimes the things people have done to us are too big, bigger than anything we have done, sometimes they have hurt us too badly, broken us and broken our relationship so severely that even from that perspective it seems like forgiveness is impossible.
Pastor, I canít forgive Del.
But hereís the thing Ö if forgiveness is real, if Jesus really can forgive every bad and terrible thing that you and I have done, but more than that, if Jesus can really forgive all of the terrible things that humanity has done and if through that forgiveness Jesus is indeed transforming this world, making it righteous and making it holy, if Jesus really is reconciling this world to God, then, we can forgive, too.
Oh, maybe not today and maybe not even tomorrow. But if God is transforming this world, then he is transforming us as well. Transforming us into His likeness. Transforming us into people who forgive.
I canít forgive Del, Eli told me.
If I was talking to Eli today I would tell him. You know, one day I think you will, not because he deserves it, and not because you have to, but one day I think you will forgive him because thatís who you are, you are a forgiver, you are a child of God.
How many times must I forgive? 77 times. Nah, when God is done with us we wonít even recognize that question, we will just forgive, and we will just love, because that is what we do. Amen.