Message for Sunday, Oct 8, 2017

Following is the script of the message that I shared on Sunday. The scriptures were: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:1b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46 and the title was, “Love inside the Hatred.” I did go into story telling mode for most of it, but there were some parts that I gave word for word. The script you see is the intent of the message. We also celebrated World Communion Sunday since I was gone last week when we were supposed to celebrate it. Somehow the lectionary that went with communion seemed to fit this message perfectly. I always know God’s hand is in the day when that happens. So here is the message…

On Monday morning when I turned on the television before getting up for school, I sat in the bed and wondered when can we quit having to pray for victims of violence? Yes, I am talking about the unfathomable destruction of the man who decided to do whatever needed to be done to allow him to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. When I got to school that morning, there was a short all-staff meeting. The superintendent was visibly shaken and he wanted to tell us why and how to address the concerns of some of the students.

His wife’s sister and husband had been at the concert and though they were fine physically, they were upset about what they had been through. They had to crawl out of the concert over some of the victims and when they finally got to their rooms they realized that they were covered in blood from those shot around them. We also learned that there were members of the community including one set of parents in Las Vegas, though no one was sure if they had attended the concert, and we knew some of the students would have questions.

Seriously, I can understand—I am not saying it is right—but I can understand when someone is angry at another person, and they seek revenge on that person or others like that person, or on society as a whole because they were wronged, or at least they think they are wronged. I get that. I am able to—in my mind find an acceptance for that sort of violence. I also get it when someone is so warped that they find pleasure in killing whether it is human or animal. I understand that some people are just evil. I am not trying to be funny here, but we need to realize that God gives everyone an opportunity to turn away from sin and sinful choices, but there are some who are not going to make that choice no matter what. We need to understand that it isn’t God giving up or creating evil, or even choosing that person for evil. It is the person, the human who has made the choice to follow the way that is not from God.

In terms of the events last Sunday, what we may never know is why. And except for maybe being able to help someone else in the future to make a different choice, I am not so sure it matters that we know why. What I know is that somehow inside this horror that comes sandwiched in between these natural disasters of one hurricane piled on top of another, we might want to stop and try to figure out where we fit and how it is that we can make some sort of difference in our world. And I think I have some ideas.

This gospel lesson that we are given today seems more like it was written by some 16th century British author than one of the writers of the Bible. John Bunyan and Pilgrims’ Progress comes to mind. One commentary that I read even suggested that it should not be discussed as it is written in Matthew in-depth because of its anti-Semitic implications and instead the focus should be more on the poor tenant farmers and their abuse by the rich land owners. Let me just say that as a land owner myself, I take a bit of an offense to that version. I don’t particularly agree with either sort of stereotype. What if instead we look at this story as it is presented and then look at the meaning that Matthew suggests?

We have a landowner who rents his fields to some tenants. He is obviously rich or living away or both since he sends his servant, not once but several times, to collect the rent money. The tenants, though, don’t really want to pay and instead they beat up or kill the servants when they come. The owner decides that the tenants need a stronger voice and so he sends his son, his heir, but instead of heeding him, they kill him thinking that if there is no heir, they will be able to keep the land for themselves. Personally I don’t think these tenants are very bright. Not only will they lose their ability to rent this land, but they won’t be renting any land because the evidence against them is so strong they will surely pay for their crimes. To me they sound like the proverbial dumb crooks.

So the allegory part is where some theologians get nervous. If we go through this and identify the tenants as the people of Israel, they see it as making it ok for all Christians to ostracize and condemn and even do hateful things to the Jewish people. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t see the disciples as intending that in their writing. Let’s look at this allegory in a historical way. It seems the tenants are the people of Israel and the servants are the prophets like maybe Elijah who was sent to the wilderness, or Isaiah who was sawed in half, why didn’t I know that before? Or even John the Baptist, ok I knew he was beheaded by King Herod, and the son is Jesus who was crucified, and the land owner is God. Somehow I get the feeling that the tenants are more like the Jewish leaders than the common Israelites. What happens to the tenants in the end is that the land is taken from them. What happens to the Israelites is that the promise of being the children of God is no longer just for them, but is now given to the Gentiles too.

We could perhaps side track and talk about some of the current political issues happening in the Middle East at the dictates of the leaders of Israel. One of the resolutions brought to General Synod this summer was in regard to the way the nation of Israel through its police force and its military targets the Palestinian children taking them from their homes and families for whatever reason just because they can. The truth of the matter is that people of all faiths, or all races, or all ages and genders can be cruel. We all have the ability to get caught up in the frenzy of the world around us. We are all able to get angry with those who seem to do us wrong, or those who want to do things in ways that we don’t think is right or the way we like, and any one of us can get fed up with the far away land owner who is constantly nagging at us about the “rent” about what is due to them from us. And maybe we don’t get so upset that we kill the one who come to collect, or maybe we don’t get so out of control that we hole up in a hotel room and open fire on a concert full of people, but maybe sometimes we shoot out our anger or frustration in other ways. I know I have a time or two.

It seems to me that the real lesson in this parable is the love that God has for his creation, for all people the Israelites and the Gentiles. Perhaps that parable was spoken as a warning to the Jewish leaders at the time, but those words are for all of us. As creatures of God’s world, we are all expected to be good tenants in the way that we treat others, in the way that we show Christ’s love to the world. At the very least what the tenants did to those who came to collect the rent was bad hospitality. At the worst it was against the teaching of Christ who said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

One of the things that I have come to realize over the past few weeks of this long-term substituting stint is that everyone, and that means fellow teachers as well as each student, has their own story, their own problems, their own heartaches, and what they need most of all is to feel that someone cares. The position I have been covering is in the K-12 resource room, the special education room, and thankfully there are two very good para-professionals there who know all of the ins and outs, or I would be lost. What I have come to realize with the students is that everyone just needs someone to care, to listen, and maybe even to help them out every now and then. Sometimes they need a little more help and sometimes a little less.

This week the UCC website had more information on the 3 Great Loves initiative. It also has information on how and where to send information on what we as a church are doing to participate in that initiative. I actually looked at it in terms of “well what do we talk about first?” We might want to count what we send off here soon for the hurricane relief, maybe we write-up something about the quilts we have nearly finished, or perhaps we wait and include what we do at Mission Fest, and then what about the school supplies we dropped off in August. All those things are good, but what we probably don’t mention, is what we do every day with everyone we meet or work with. Every time we treat someone with respect and courtesy and with God’s love those are the times that we are really and truly fulfilling the expectations that God has for us as someone he wants to call his children. Let’s be that family this week and every week. Amen!

I would love to hear from you, so go ahead, comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: