October 8, 2017

2017 Oct8

Proper 22- Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M. Delinger

 

The readings for the last 3 Sundays have all focused on turning back or coming late to the table and still be accepted by God. The Old Testament lessons have been strong rebukes against the people of Israel, both from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Today’s was the most frightening, I think. The Gospel lessons have Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for distorting the faith, and He welcomes the tax collectors and the prostitutes, illustrating that those whom society rejects are still Children of God.

 

The Gospel readings seem related to The Prodigal Son, which is only in the Gospel According to Luke. But these stories and parables in Matthew are both darker in tone and more inclusive gentiles and sinners. This has to do with the purposes behind the writings: Luke was writing a history to be shared with the Christians of the Greco-Roman world. Matthew was writing to a Jewish-Christian community that was still a part of the wider Jewish community. Matthew, as I mentioned a couple of months ago, was asserting to his audience that all people were God’s Children and can come into the Body of Christ.

 

Isaiah presents to us a dark state of affairs. At first, it sounds like a love poem: “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.” But it turns very dark. First, the vineyard yields wild grapes. The translation isn’t quite fair; these wild grapes are more like rotten grapes. Then the vineyard is destroyed. And finally, The Lord of Hosts arrives and finds the mess that Israel was in.

 

He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

 

Knowing the context of both Isaiah and Matthew may make one wonder if they are speaking directly to us in the 21C. And that is the purpose of Bible study – to understand how Scripture is speaking to us today. Have the violence and destruction in the country these past few months come from God. Perhaps we have strayed too far away from God and become a Godless country that needs punishment. That’s what many will hear today, I am sure of it:

 

Stephen Paddock’s heinous crime is because of our wayward country. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Katya, Maria - all because of the sins of the American people: gambling, abortion and the Gay Agenda.

 

That is what many will hear today, and have been hearing all summer.

 

It is true, and it is distressing what goes on in our country. Our social statistics get worse year-in-year. The churches on the left respond with calls to the government to do something about it; the churches on the right blame society and thank God for their prosperity. In the end, nothing gets done. During the Presidential Campaign, one candidate painted a dark picture of America; the other tried to focus on building on what is good as a way of fixing the bad.

 

The true Godlessness in this country is:

 

  • the rising income inequality,
  • the lack of access to lifesaving healthcare,
  • stagnant wages among the working poor,
  • the demise of quality public education,
  • the disregard for our role as stewards of God's Creation,
  • and our lack of concern for our neighbors.

 

And that is precisely what Isaiah and all the prophets were warning against, and was the reason for the Babylonian Exile. “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry” – the cry was of the impoverished and oppressed.

 

So, when we read today’s Old Testament Lesson and Gospel, it’s not hard to find ourselves in it, ourselves as a nation. But I don’t want to stand here and tell you that God is coming to destroy us, or that the hurricanes and the mass shootings are part of God’s plan to punish us for our sins, or that we better be prepared for the big earthquake that will split the coast off of California.

 

What makes 21C America different than the Israelites in 8C BC? I don’t know if we are. And that is sad to think about. But I don’t want to present a dramatic indictment of the American people and become self-proclaimed prophet who has all the answers and the vision of doom and destruction ahead. Instead, I want to share stories of hope.

 

  • Last month during the California Coastal Commission Clean-Up Day, ECOSLO organized 1,370 volunteers who collected 6,444 lbs of trash & recyclables at 30 cleanup sites throughout the County.
  • After the hurricanes, animals that had been abandoned have been shipped all over the country. Woods Animal Shelter out on Hwy 1 toward Morro Bay has taken in 77 animals and has been able to find homes for most of them, and treating several hurricane rescue for heartworm over the next several months.
  • The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County helps feed the 46,000 people in San Luis Obispo County who suffer from food poverty, including 16,000 kids.
  • Last week, the Community Foundation of SLO County awarded grants totaling $45k to organizations who will use the money to expand their programs to empower girls to reach their full potential and become the women God intended them to be.
  • People’s Kitchen, of which we are a part, served well over 1,500 hot meals to the homeless and hungry last week.
  • The Cal Poly Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers tutors assist English-learning students at Laguna Middle School in basic math and science concepts, increasing their understanding and motivation to do well in school.
  • The Noor Clinics here in SLO provide free healthcare, dental care, and vision care to people who are unable to afford insurance.
  • Showers of Hope and Shower the People have plans to and are bringing mobile showers to the homeless, the one thing on the priority list of the homeless that they say they want the most.

These are all stories of God’s
People helping God’s People.

 

These stories are replicated all over the country. Are they enough? No. We have a long way to go to fully take care of all God’s Children, which will require both the elbow grease of volunteers and non-profits and the measured and realistic compassion of local, state and federal governments. These small actions are an indication that people, regular everyday people, care about the state of America. They, like The Lord of Hosts, hear the cry of the impoverished and oppressed and take action.

 

These are not just feel-good stories. They represent a reality of people’s lives and livelihood. Good people across the country and across the world dedicate their lives and their spare time to working against the very dangers that Isaiah and Jesus are warning us about. Each of you here have been and are involved in that sort of work.

 

In America today, with all that seems bad about it, many of us are trying hard to be the nation that the Founding Fathers and Mothers were hoping it would be. The way they structured this nation unfortunately disadvantages people.

 

As Bishop Mary explained to us,
we have structural bias and
structural privilege in this country.

 

Part of it is built into the way the nation was structured in the 18C; some of it is what we have built up since then. But we can work within the interstices of the structural bias and structural privilege in order to give others a glimpse of the land of the free and the home of the brave, so
that they, too, can be endowed with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

Speaking of the foundation of the United States, the first part of the sentence I just quoted from the Declaration of Independence reads “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator...” As Christians, we know that the true equality comes from being One in Christ Jesus. And the Eucharist is our reminder and our engagement in Christ that brings us together as One.

 

Christ Jesus has made us His own, so we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. The work that we do to prevent the doom that Isaiah and Jesus warn us against is what makes us different than 8BCE Israel and the Chief Priests of the Temple and the Elders of the People. We must press on toward the goal.

 

I have one more story to help us know that we can and are the People that the Lord God of Hosts wants us to be. You may remember our former Organist Katya Gotsdiner-McMahan. She moved to Beaumont, TX, which suffered Hurricane Harvey passing right through the town. She and her husband David were fortunate, with no flooding. But the majority of the town was not.

 

Katya told me of the good that was done in Beaumont. When Beaumont water pumps were flooded due to rising waters of a local river, a local family who owns several wells on their private property offered the City of Beaumont to use their wells. Working together, they were able to get several pumps powerful enough to provide water to the whole town for several days, until the City’s water pumps started working again.

 

The list of achievements in helping our neighbors is not to boast, as Paul does: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more.” It is to remind us that there is little difference between us now and 8BC Israel; but the little difference is that there are many who are trying to turn us back toward God, to do God’s work among God’s Children, and to know and believe that each and every person is a Child of God, so that they and we know Christ and the power of his resurrection. We are no better than those we help; we are only materially more fortunate. We are all subject to be the slaves and the son of the Vineyard Owners who were seized and killed…the ones rejected.

 

Jesus is speaking of Himself as the rejected stone. But in this long rebuke of Jesus in these chapters of Matthew, He mentions many of those rejected in society, the tax collectors and the prostitutes.

 

We cannot turn our backs on
God’s Children; we must always
remember that we as Christians
are to know that rejection for
ourselves, and we are to turn our
faces to God and to be the hands
and feet of Jesus Christ for those
who are also rejected.

 

Whether it’s a hurricane, a shooting, the homeless, the hungry or anyone who is afflicted by the many sorts and conditions of humanity, we are to find ways to be one in Christ Jesus.

 

When we know true humility and true rejection, we call upon the Lord God of Hosts:

 

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted.

 

Amen.

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