The Rev. Dr. William Heisley
Lessons: Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
I’ll call her Patsy. I visited her in a nursing home outside of Philadelphia a few years ago. I’d known Patsy for nearly 29 years. She was in her 90’s now. In fact, she served on the committee that recommended I be called to my first congregation. And she was secretary of the congregation for years, a powerful woman.
Her husband was the treasurer. I’ll call him Duane. They never had children. They just had money. Duane doted on Patsy. New precious gems every year, furs, travel, Cadillacs. They lived well. And they shared their lives. They became something like parents to me. Back in my first parish I needed parenting.
Duane died some years ago in the room they shared in that austere nursing home. Their money was gone. He had doted on her because she was his frail, precious flower. He died. She lived. I always thought she was stronger than the rest of us combined. She was. (more…)
“It feels like everything is imploding.” I forget which one of us said it, but the other quickly agreed. I was talking to a clergy colleague about…things…this morning, a gloomy day in Manhattan when the news seems to be continually, irreversibly bad.
Certainly we have been consumed with angst, worry, horror at the hideous drama that is Ferguson. People’s lives being tossed around as if they are nobodies. A sense of home challenged beyond all understanding. Terrible acts of humiliation. Lies, deceit, the evil goes on and on.
Speaking of which, do I need to write about ISIS? Or about Ebola, not only in Africa, but also in Texas? Enough said.
But the Church, isn’t the Church an island of peace and hope and joy? What a wonderful thing that would be. Sitting at 65th and Central Park West, let’s say, an oasis of otherness in the midst of the stormy world.
Church, however, is an expression of the Body of Christ. And the Body of Christ is people. Therein lies the rub. This has been drawn to the attention of the nation in the last few days following 8 of the 11 full-time faculty at the General Theological Seminary, the only official church wide seminary of the Episcopal Church, located in Chelsea between 20th and 21st Streets finding themselves without teaching positions. The conflict? All too human. The Dean and President, along with the Board of Trustees, in battle with the faculty. I know on whose side I stand, but that’s not the point of this essay. The point is that all is human, all is too, too human in our world.
I find myself looking at the stock market machinations today, a thing I do too often. At the moment down by 187.46. Ugh! The rich and certainly getting far richer than ever, but those of us in the middle class are finding it more and more difficult to meet our obligations, let alone be generous with our resources. We fear. And there is no comfort in the markets, at least not for me.
Of course, I preach and teach and write often about the amazing riches that have been given to us. I still hold to that. But those riches are not emotions. They are things. Right?
Jesus talks about these things in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Matthew 21:33-46. A landowner invested heavily yin a vineyard and it was successful. So successful, in fact, that his workers repeatedly killed those who tried to harvest the grapes for the landowner. They wanted that riches themselves. So after they have killed numerous people from the landowner’s cohort, including his son, the landowner had had enough. He had all of his workers murdered. It sounds like the classic story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. But look at it this way: all of life is imploding. No one wins. The workers are dead, their families starve, the landowner’s son is dead and he is left with a depleted staff and a harvest full of emptiness.
Thanks be to God, there is hope: After they have heard this ugly parable Jesus tells his listeners that those who have been rejected can look to the One who was rejected, Jesus himself.
It’s a difficult parable, but it’s one whose message is big and bold and bright: trust above anything, anyone else in God’s love for us in Christ Jesus and all will be well. And allow yourself to concentrate on producing the fruits of the kingdom of God. Mercy, justice, peace, happiness, wholeness of spirit even when our bodies are besieged, wholeness of community even when our beliefs are assailed, wholeness of the future, even when it looks least possible.
Produce the fruits of the kingdom by building relationships, respecting others, especially those who are difficult or different. And work for equality in every sense of the word. Listen. Listen actively by reflecting and learning and lowering defenses.
You can do it because God in Christ is present with you. The world will not implode, as it seems. “‘The stones that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the LORD’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes!’”