Monday, November 27, 2017

What is Important to the King

Matt 25:31-46
November 26, 2017
Christ the King

King Midas is a story about a King who loves gold,
He was already rich beyond anyone else, but he wishes
that everything he touched would turn to gold.
He gets his wish, but he finds that this is not a good thing.
Everything he touched did turn to gold: flowers, furniture,
he couldn't sleep because his bed was gold,
he couldn't eat because his food turned to gold.
Then he touched his daughter and she turned into solid gold.
He got what he wanted, but he was miserable.

Salvator Mundi
Leonardo Da Vinci
Shakespeare’s Richard the Third
is the story about a King
who as a prince stopped at nothing to get to be King.
He puts his relatives in jail,
has some killed, and tells lies about others.
He finally becomes King,
but he is so frightened and suspicious because of
everything he did that he eventually
kills one of his brothers and his wife.
His kingdom rebels against him and
and on the night before a great battle,
the ghosts of everyone who
he has killed come to visit Richard.
They tell him that he will die.
And the next day, Richard is killed in a battle against his own brother.

King David was the great King of Israel,
the chosen one, the anointed one.
He has everything he wants,
wealth luxury, many wives,
many concubines, even the power of God behind him,
but one day he sees one of his subjects,
Bathsheba bathing on a roof top.
Even though she is married and he has eight wives of his own,
he decides that he wants her.  
She concedes, because you don’t refuse the king,
and she becomes pregnant with his child.
So David sends her husband into a dangerous battle and he is killed.
God is not pleased with David for this, and David’s relationships
with his children are cursed for the rest of his life.

These are just three stories about Kings
There are many more stories about Kings who have many things,
but choose to use their power for their own ends
to fill their own wants and egos.
And that story rings true even today.

The stories of sexual assault in the news
are stories of powerful and wealthy men who have
most everything they want,
but use their positions to intimidate and coerce
younger and less powerful people.

And it seems like many of our current world’s leaders
seem to want absolute loyalty from everyone
and will use intimidation and violence
against their own people to get it.

And our own leaders in this country spend their
and power and collateral just trying to make
corporations bigger, and ensure that banks have more money,
and making themselves more comfortable
at the expense of the average American.

And our own president’s main objective seems to be
to use his considerable power and air time
to just to build himself up and defend his ego.

The story seems to go that those who have the most power
want more of it and the only thing that satisfies them
is more than what they had the day before.

Today is Christ the King Sunday,
where we remember that Christ is our king,
our ultimate leader, and the real leader of the world.
And in the parable we hear, we see what Christ
uses his considerable power for.

So, today we hear Jesus last parable.
The final one before he is arrested and killed.
This is what he leaves his disciples with.

Jesus says that at the end, that the Son of Man
will come in glory, just as you would imagine
the king of the whole world coming:
On a throne with the angels surrounding him,
draped around in glory and splendor.

And at that moment, he judges all the nations of the world.
But what does he use his power for?
And what is the basis for his judgment?
It’s not how much money they provided for him,
or did they worship him or bow down to him
and make him feel good about himself
or did they honor him give him enough loyalty.

No, his question for them is
“How did you treat the least of those among you?”
This is what is important to the king.
This is what is important to Jesus. 

Did you give the hungry something to eat?
Did you give the thirsty something to drink?
Did you welcome the stranger? Clothe the naked?
Take care of the sick? Visit the prisoner?
This is the basis for the judgment of the world.
This is what is important to the king.
Not whether you bowed down before him
with the proper reverence and ceremonies,
not that you gave him what he wanted and made
his friends happy and rich.

What is most important is that you used your power to
take care of the  least powerful in your nation.
  
So the parable says at the time of this judgment
“All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”

They translate that word there as people, but people is “laos”
or “anthropos” but the greek word that’s there is “autos” 
which is just the pronoun “them”
which more likely refers to the “nations”.
“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them,
the nations, one from another.”
Most people who study this stuff believe
that the intent of the parable was that the nations
would be divided like sheep and goats.

This is not a parable about individuals, but about nations.
This is not a parable about our personal piety and mercy
This is parable about politics and empires.
That one little translation choice makes a big difference.
So how is the nation we live in doing?
What is important to our leaders?

Because in the end, we will not be judged on  stock market rates,
or the strength of our military,
the amount of fortune 500 companies we have,
or even our unemployment rates
all of which our leaders seem to be most interested in.

We will be judged on how we treated
the least powerful in our empire.
So have we fed the hungry?
17.4 million households in the US suffer from hunger.
And food stamps are being cut.
Have we given the thirsty something to drink?
After three years, the people of Flint, Michigan
still cannot drink their water and there is no movement to fix it.
Have we welcomed the stranger?
There is a rising fear and hatred of immigrants in our country.
And much of the country seems to be intent on
building a wall to separate us from our neighbors.
Are we taking care of the sick?
62 percent of bankruptcies in this country are due to
medical bills and healthcare for the poor is being cut.
Are we reaching out to the prisoner?
Because the US represents only 4.4 percent of the world’s population
but we have 22 percent of the world’s prison population.
This is just a short list.

How would our nation do?
Did the United States recognize Jesus in the least of these?
The richest most powerful nation in the world?
Would we be with the sheep or with the goats?

With 75 percent of Americans still identifying as Christian,
and with most of our leaders identifying as Christian,
we should be doing better, because this is what is important to Jesus.
This is what is important to God.
This is what is important to the king.

It’s not about saying “Merry Christmas”
it’s not about giving religious privileges to Christians.
It’s not about sexual morality or policing women’s healthcare
or whatever passes as Christian public policy these days.
What’s most important is how we treat the least of these.

Now this might seem like all bad news,
That we’ll all be cast into the eternal fire.
But we remember that this is a parable not an allegory. 
This parable is not here to make us feel guilty because
we personally didn’t do enough for one person.
This parable is here show us
what is the ultimate concern for our savior and ruler.
And to tell us that empires and nations who don’t care
for the least powerful, will not stand in the end.
So it might be bad news to those who love their wealth and power
and have no interest in sharing it.
But I assure you, this is good news for those of us
 who feel chewed up by the system, and unable
to sustain ourselves and keep our heads above water.
And this is good news to all of us who ache and hunger for justice.
And who see our brother and sister suffer and hurt for them.
Because they will not suffer in vein.

It might not look so good for us now,
It might look like we’ve failed the test
between the sheep and the goats.
But Christ is King and he wants to see all the  nations
care for all their people and if that’s what the king wants
that’s what the king will get.
It may look like we’re going in the wrong direction right now,
 but God is in process to create a world
where greed and apathy have no place.
Where violence and hatred are only memories.

We live in a world that God created
and in the end, the world will not sustain nations
who do not care for the least among them.
We will be changed, God’s way will be our way.

The good news of this parable is that we have a King who cares.
We have a savior who’s concern is for us all.
God doesn’t see people just as tools that the more
powerful can extract labor and resources from until we’re used up.
To Christ the king, we are not just subjects or peasants.

From the most powerful to the least,
we are all the King’s children.


Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Best to Let it Go

Matthew 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

This is not the easiest parable.
I mean it’s pretty easy to understand,
But I don’t like what I understand.
Jesus is comparing God to a master
Who wants more money from his slaves.
And then there’s that whole outer darkness
And crying and gnashing of teeth.

It’s always good to remember that these are
Parables and not allegories,
Meaning that just because the character in the
Lord of the Parables
Jorge Cocco Santangelo
Parable is sending people 
to the outer darkness,
Doesn’t mean that we 
will get sent to hell for
Making the wrong choices.

But I do think that when 
reading these parables,
It’s apparent that Jesus believes that God
Has specific desires for us and there
Are good choices and bad choices.

Now, I saw this parable used in a Christian Financing web site.
It was used to encourage people to invest money in the stock market.
It’s also used a lot in stewardship sermons.
The moral of the story was “make God happy by making more money”

And then some people think this parable is about our gifts our passions,
or what we’re talented at because the money used in the parable
conveniently translates to “talents.”

And actually I found, the English word for talent
is derived from an interpretation of this parable.
So my brain was hurting trying to figure out how to explain that.
  
But we gotta remember again that this is a parable.
So if Jesus told a parable about money,
Money was there to talk about something else.
The stock market wasn’t around in Jesus time.
And really, Jesus never seemed interested in making
Middle class people more wealthy.

And looking at what Jesus talked about otherwise
I don’t think this parable is about increasing your personal talents
And I don’t think this parable is about increasing your personal money.

But since the parable is talking about money,
we’ve got to talk about money.
But just as a metaphor.

As Americans in the 21st century, we have it drilled into our heads
that putting money in the bank to earn interest and investing
in the stock market is the wisest and most
prudent thing we can do with our money.
It’s seen as the best way to save and prepare for the future.

But in the first century there was no stock market,
there was no federally insured bank,
and loaning money for interest was forbidden by scripture.
So burying your money was actually
a more respected financial plan for the future.
There wasn’t any inflation to speak of, so if you buried a dollar
in a hole in the back yard and picked it up 10 years later
it was worth the same amount, it was a good retirement plan.

So, the wisest, most prudent thing the master could have done himself
was to bury his fortune so that when he came home
from his journey, it would be there.
But instead the master does something crazy,
he entrusts his cash to his servants.

And he has a lot. As usual, Jesus is talking in extremes here
One talent is fifteen years wages, so one would be about
a half a million dollars today, and two would be a million
and five would be just a whole lot.

So the first two slaves take the massive amount
of money they’re given and they don’t do the most
reasonable and logical thing you can do in the first century,
which would be to put it in a safe place for later.
No, they go out and trade it for other things.

And that, I think is what pleases the master so much.
It’s not the extra money that they earned.
It was that they acted with courage with
What the master had given them and they took a risk.

Now the third guy on the other hand, acted out of fear.
Fear of losing what he was given,
and fear of punishment from the master,
(who turned out to be pretty nasty.)
He held onto what he had.  He did the reasonable thing
But  this was obviously not the thing to do,
and the master was very disappointed.

So if this parable is not about investing money,
or about using our talents, what is it about?
Remember, Matthew is always talking to a community,
not about individuals, he is talking about how to be the church.
how a community should  live their lives following Christ.
How to be the people of God.

So I think this parable is about everything we have together:
A little about our money and our abilities,
and about our buildings, the furniture, and the carpets, yes.
But especially those non-tangable things we’ve been given”
like love, forgiveness, new life, and salvation.
All that God has given us,
and the parable is saying that everything is
best kept when they are released.

As people, when we get something that is precious
our first instinct is to protect it.
To go like that third guy and bury it in the yard
so to speak, and not let anyone touch it.
And I think many people in the history of
Christendom have tried to do just that.

From the beginning: The church spent time protecting the gospel
roving marauders of heretics who were seen as threatening to it.
People were excommunicated and put in jail
and actually burned at the stake
for having different ideas and convictions.
Lutherans spent the first half of the 20th century trying to protect the
communion table from anyone who was from another denomination
and the un-baptized and anyone else who just
wanted a little crumb from the table of the church.

The Christian church has lived in fear of offending God,
and of losing the precious things that we’ve been given.
And making an enemy out of anyone who thinks differently.
Churches throughout the ages has opted
for safety and a sure thing over risk.

Safety feels  like a logical idea, stuffing the treasures of our
churches into our metaphorical mattresses seems prudent.
But in the end, it doesn’t pay off.

My internship congregation in Milwaukee was in the middle
of a very bad inner-city neighborhood.
Even when I got there, the neighborhood
was riddled with drugs and crime and shootings.

The pastor that was there had come
About a decade before I had gotten there.
He told me that when he had arrived,
there were about 30 faithful people worshipping.
They were living on borrowed time off of an endowment.
All the members of the church had all moved
out of the neighborhood long ago.
But they still came faithfully to Reformation church to worship.

The church was closed all week long
and the doors actually chained
with a heavy lock holding it shut.
The members would all drive in on
Sunday morning wait in the parking lot
until the council president got there with the key.
Then he would unlock the chain and open the door, they would run in.

When the last person they knew was coming,
they locked the front door.
They had worship and coffee
and then they ran back to their cars again and go home.
This could have easily gone on until their endowment ran out.
Many churches have taken that path.
The path of comfort and safety.

But then my supervisor got there.
He was a pastor who didn’t just want to lock the church up.
He made them open the church on Sunday and every day in the week.
He invited the people of the neighborhood in.
He taught the older members that they shouldn’t live in fear,
but in joy and hope and trust.

And slowly, people did come in.  Not just the “right” kind of people
but all sorts of people: drug addicts and prostitutes and mentally ill people
the rest of the people from the neighborhood too.
People who needed all of that care and love and forgiveness and salvation
that the congregation had been keeping all those years.
Now some of those original members ended up leaving,
But many stayed.
By the time I got there, the worship didn’t seem very Lutheran.
And there was a certain sense of chaos going on every day.
But it was a vibrant ministry full of activity and partners
and lots of different people and love.

When the church had the courage to open their hands
and unlock the doors the gifts came back to them again and again.
Not in money, or security,
but in other ways that can’t always be counted.

The only wrong move was the logical one:
to lock the doors and hide the church.
To protect their Lutheran
The right move was to let it out of their hands and
trust that it will come back somehow.

The Kingdom of God is like this. Safety is not honored.
Hoarding the love we get from God for a later date is not the sure route.
The gospel can’t be buried and kept.
The stuff that God gives us is meant to be shared.

God can’t be protected from the outside world.
It has to be let go of and released and sent back into the world.
This parable is about taking risks.

Now, I was thinking that Jesus could have helped me
out here in making my point about risk
here by having that two talent slave risk what he had, lost it,
come back with one million and still been
given the joy of his master in the end.
That would have shown that the risk was the important thing,
not the return.

But I think Jesus point is that when you risk things
in the name of God, when you go out and you share
God’s love, forgiveness and mercy with outsiders,
it does come back. It actually is guaranteed. It’s a sure thing.

In the upside-down Kingdom of God the risky way is the sure thing
and the safe way is not the safe way at all.

So the parable of the Talents is about talent, it’s about money
it’s about every way shape and form that we can use to share the
Love of God with those outside ourselves.
It’s about the church being ready for its master to return at any time,
and trusting God by taking risks with the things that are God’s
not by taking the safe road and doing what’s comfortable
it’s about not reacting out of fear of repercussions and suspicion
or doing what makes the members most safe and secure and happy.

Now Gethsemane is a vibrant church .
We’re not running into church and locking the door.
So now is the best time to ask,
how can we practice the parable of the talents?
How can we be ready when God comes to us?
What can we release out of our control?
What can we give away foolishly?
How can we open our doors and our hearts and our hands further?
How can we give away what God has given us?
What should we risk?

The story of Jesus, is the story of a man
who could have had anything he wanted if he just played it safe.
But instead, he opened his heart, his life and his dinner table
to prostitutes and tax collectors and thieves.
He opened his mouth and told the truth to powerful people.
And for those things he was killed.
He opened his arms to us on the cross.
He risked it all.
And return the world got it back everything.