Weekly Lessons and Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
no video of sermon today
In the Episcopal Church, and many other mainline denominations,
our Sunday readings come from a compilation called the Lectionary.
The lectionary runs on a three year cycle:
Which means that every three years, we hear the same stories,
And TWELVE years ago, when we heard this parable of the laborers in the
Was a day that I remember well.
I was in seminary,
And I was working at a small church in Connecticut—Emmanuel Episcopal
It was also known as “The Little Church in the Wilderness”
I was hired there to start a Sunday School program
And I was the sole Sunday school teacher.
In a one room school house style,
children from age 3 to age 12 sat with me on Sunday morning to hear the Gospel
After I told the children the Gospel story we read today—I asked them to draw or
write about the story--
This activity was something that we did every single week.
On that day—the kids said to me, “We need a very big piece of paper.”
When I asked why, they said,
“We’re going to draw one big picture all together--
Because we’re a community.”
They said it as if it were the most common thing in the world--
And looked at me as if I were a moron.
I was stunned.
And obviously couldn’t argue with that.
They spent the rest of the time,
Working together on a big picture of these laborers in the vineyard.
At the very top, they wrote:
“No Matter what, God loves everyone the same!”
That was a very proud day for this Sunday School teacher.
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
And here I am, twelve years later: telling you about it in a sermon.
Because it’s the DEEP TRUTH.
We are indeed a community--
A community who needs to do things together--
who needs to support one another.
This has been a consistent theme in the last few weeks.
We heard about resolving conflicts in our communities,
And we heard about the importance of forgiveness.
And today we hear that we’re also a community of equality--
Where God loves each of us the same.
And never abandons anyone--
Never gives up on anyone--
No matter what time they arrive--
No matter how long they’ve been working.
Jesus’ story tells us about a landowner,
who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
At 9’oclock he went out and found some more laborers,
He did the same at noon,
3’oclock, and 5’oclock.
And all of those laborers,
Get paid the same amount.
Is it an Injustice?
Or could it be justice?
It strikes me that the kids at the little church in the wilderness had no problem
with the seeming unfairness of this passage.
It made perfect sense to them.
But to our grown up modern ears--
This story seems unfair.
The workers—who have been working ALL day--
Get paid the exact same amount as the workers who worked for only one hour.
It seems unfair.
It seems unjust.
Especially because it’s about MONEY.
But we must remember that this is a parable--
Which means its a story that Jesus tells to illustrate what the Kingdom of heaven
And in this story, God is like the landowner,
And we are like the laborers.
Jesus isn’t talking about our understandings of THIS WORLD--
Where we are rewarded or paid by the hour.
Or where if you’re first in line, you are guaranteed the newest i-phone, or tickets
to the polar express train.
And if you’re too far back—you might not get one.
Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven--
Where our understandings get turned upside down.
Where there’s real equality.
Where God promises to love every person No. Matter. What.
Looking at it again,
This passage should not strike us as unfair.
After all: The laborers who worked all day AGREED to the wage ahead of time.
And they were given the wage that they agreed to.
The landowner did not trick them.
The landowner did not take anything away from them.
He just gave everyone else the same amount too.
This passage should instead strike us as a relief.
Not as unfairness:
But as the most GENERIOUS FAIRNESS possible.
It should give us great hope that God is a God of equality.
A great and generous God.
A God who never abandons.
A God who forever loves everyone.
But that’s also sometimes the hard part.
(Are you on to me yet? That I’m almost always going to bring us to the hardest
Because if God is a God of equality--
A God of generosity--
Then although God loves you DEEPLY, VIGOUROSLY, COMPLETELY,
No matter where you are in line, or when you showed up to work--
That also means that:
God also loves EVERY ONE else that way too.
That’s hard for us to grasp--
In a culture of winners and losers.
A culture where people “get what they deserve.”
A culture paranoid with being the best.
Having the most.
Climbing the ladder,
Grasping for the top.
It’s amazing to me that the children at the Church in the Wilderness deeply
That “God loves everyone the same.”
And I didn’t tell them that when I read them this story.
I literally just read them the story.
They figured it out all by themselves.
And they proceeded to live into it:
To participate in a common project--
All the same--
There was no way they could evaluate who drew the best picture--
Or who wrote the smartest thing.
Because they did it all together--
As a community--
Knowing that God loves them ALL the same.
And generously gives to everyone ALL the same--
Regardless of what anyone deserves:
God has set out to create a huge community of equality.
A community of unimaginable “Fairness”
But where Fairness becomes something quite different than our culture currently
In God’s kingdom,
Fairness and Justice is God loving all of us the same:
Loving EVERYONE ELSE The same too.
No matter how many people enter our doors,
No matter how long we’ve been working,
No matter how long we’ve been members of the church.
No matter where we live,
No matter where we are in line,
No matter what.
God loves all of us the same.
As we make our way through Matthew’s Gospel,
Hearing snippets of the story every week,
We hear some things that might make us uncomfortable.
There was a story about dealing with conflict.
This week, about forgiveness,
And without spoiling it,
I’ll say that next week is going to be about money.
The parable that we hear from Jesus today is not a story of sweet comfort:
It actually challenges us in a very tender way:
Acknowledging the reality of the trouble we have with forgiveness.
The story has two scenes:
First, inside the throne room of a powerful king;
Second, just outside in a palace corridor.
But there’s not just two scenes.
This story also tells of two worlds:
The world as we know it,
And the world as God WANTS it.
The throne room changes in a moment.
From the world as we know it,
To the world as God wants it.
But the palace corridor:
The second scene:
Starts out as the world as we know it,
And fails to become the world as God wants it.
The first scene,
The throne room:
The world as we know it,
Shows us a boss.
Who is reviewing accounts.
Owes him big time.
REALLY big time.
No way can this guy pay back what he owes.
He’s in too deep.
He owes too much.
So the boss man orders him to be sold.
Along with his wife,
And all of his possessions.
And hearing his sentence, the slave drops to his knees.
He weeps, and wails, crying out for mercy.
He makes a promise he knows he can’t keep, begging his boss,
“Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”
And as so often happens with a story that Jesus tells,
Something unexpected happens.
Out of nowhere,
All of a sudden,
The King released the slave,
And forgave him the debt.
The world as we know it--
Becomes the world as God wants it.
Where debts are forgiven,
And mercy is extended.
And what happens next to this forgiven slave?
When we enter scene two,
In the palace corridor,
It’s pretty clear that he’s missed to point.
He can’t see the world as God wants it.
He’s not even outside the BUILDING:
He’s in the palace corridor,
When he runs into somebody who owes him something.
He grabs the guy by the collar,
And tries to shake the money out of him.
This second debtor does his own pleading for mercy.
Using almost the same words,
He makes a promise he knows he can’t keep, begging his fellow slave,
“Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”
You’d think it would be a no-brainer:
For the forgiven debtor to remember that just a few MOMENTS ago:
He was granted the same mercy and forgiveness.
You’d think that mercy received would result in mercy given.
But that doesn’t happen.
The forgiven man refuses to show mercy.
He refuses to forgive.
He boots his fellow slave into the nearest prison.
And the world remains the world as we know it,
With no move toward the world as God wants it.
It took the forgiven slave mere minutes,
To forget the blessing,
Of the world as God wants it.
And here we get to the crux of the matter.
Here we get to the heart of why forgiveness is hard.
Because we too forget.
In a matter of mere minutes:
That we are forgiven.
We forget. That we are Sinners: who are forgiven.
Debtors: Who are let off the hook.
Slaves: Who are freed in mercy.
And we have a choice.
The choice to remain in the world as we know it:
Or to strive for the world as God wants it.
This choice is the most beautiful part.
And it’s also the hardest part.
We get to choose.
We can be like the freed slave:
taking our forgiveness and blessing:
And then forget all about it.
Or we can be like the boss-king:
Taking our forgiveness and blessing:
And using it to continue to forgive and bless.
We get to choose.
And no matter which one we choose:
We’re STILL blessed and forgiven.
Whichever way we go:
Whether we are content in the world as we know it,
Or we strive for the world as God wants it.
God has already blessed and forgiven.
What you do with it,
Is up to you.
It’s the beauty,
But also the hard part of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not easy.
It’s not sweet and sentimental.
Forgiveness is hard work.
And even though we have a choice,
Jesus is pretty clear that if we’re going to follow him:
We must forgive.
Because if we’re going to follow Jesus,
We should strive for the world as God wants it.
At the end of the story, the boss king finds out that the slave took his mercy and
And forgot all about it.
Returning to the world as we know it.
The boss king handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
In a really uncomfortable moment says,
“so my heavenly father will also do to every one of you,
If you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The one who forgives,
Ushers in the world as God wants it.
The one who doesn’t forgive,
Lives in the world as we know it.
A world that we very well know can be filled with the torturous pain of
It’s easy to live in the world as we know it,
And to forget that we’re forgiven.
To forget to forgive.
And that’s why we gather here.
Where we confess our sins,
And hear that we are already forgiven.
We gather here in this throne room,
And present to God,
Our selves, our souls, and bodies.
And when we come to the table together,
We see a brief glimpse of that world as God wants it.
And then the time comes to leave this throne room,
And go out into the world as we know it.
Where we will certainly meet someone who needs our mercy.
And will we remember?
Will we remember the possibility,
And the blessing of the world as God wants it?
Here lies the beauty.
And here lies the challenge.
“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
These words are Peter’s impulsive response to the devastating news that Jesus –
his friend, healer and teacher, beloved:
his divine Lord and savior – would suffer.
MUST suffer, be killed and be raised.
Peter, like most of us, reacts to the fact of suffering with fear and denial.
Jesus famously replies: “Get behind me Satan!
You are a stumbling block to me,
for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
In his human concept of time,
Peter has reacted out of fear of suffering and loss in the short term.
He has focused on the fact that Jesus must suffer and be killed.
His focus on suffering--
ignoring the good news that follows is a stumbling block to Jesus’ work in the
Leaving Jesus to liken him to Satan--
As one who cannot see the good to come.
Jesus continues with a paradox:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for
my sake will find it.”
“It” refers to eternal life.
A great and glorious future--
Jesus is instructing Peter to focus on this glorious future:
To focus on divine things:
Not merely human sensibilities of time, suffering, and pain:
But the Divine promise that Jesus will be raised, and in the last day, we all shall be
And Peter already knows this.
Just prior to the conversation, we heard Peter answer the question:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Jesus complimented him on his great faith and offered him the keys to the
Kingdom of Heaven.
Yet here’s the Christian paradox:
One that Peter demonstrates quite well:
Of being a faithful yet human Christian.
We, like Peter, believe Jesus’ words that suffering will ultimately be eliminated.
At the same time, we live in the world:
A world where suffering exists.
And Jesus reminds us, over and over again--
To work toward alleviating this worldy suffering wherever we can:
feeding the hungry, healing the sick, blessing the dying, loving our neighbor.
It seems that we are to set our minds on both human and divine matters.
And Jesus too demonstrates this paradox:
As Jesus himself is the point where the reality of God,
enters the reality of this world.
Fully human, and fully God:
Where the human and divine purposes are fully united.
Our lesson from Jeremiah shows this suffering (and the paradox) in a real way.
Jeremiah laments in his pain unceasing, his wound incurable.
And also proclaims that God’s words became a joy and delight of his heart.
And in Jeremiah’s lament:
God still says: “I am with you to save you and deliver you. I will deliver you out of
the hand of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
It’s the constant paradox:
The pain, grief, and mess of life:
Right next to the joy and delight promised by God.
Theres another lesson appointed for today:
That we didn’t read. And it’s a well known one from the book of Exodus:
Where the Holy Mystery meets the reality of this world.
The paradox of God’s great power, amid human mess.
It’s the famous story about Moses and the burning bush.
Where Moses is going about his daily routine.
Tending the flocks, doing nothing out of the ordinary.
Yet in the burning bush, God says to Moses:
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is
We see that the first response of the human to the divine encounter must be of
But that is not all:
God is clear that reverence is to be followed by action.
The Divine meeting the human world.
Moses is given the task to lead the Israelites out of slavery.
A human task:
Given by God.
When Moses asks God’s name:
God says “I am who I am,”
Which is also translated: “I shall be who I shall be.”
God is now and God is eternal.
And so are we.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives instructions for living a faithful life today:
But he also talks about this paradox:
The tension between the now, and the eternal future.
Paul says: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Yet when Paul speaks of rejoicing in hope, he is speaking of the hope of the
resurrection: The Kingdom of God on Earth.
Be patient in suffering because suffering WILL cease.
Persevere in prayer because this is the reverent response to the divine.
Yet pray the prayer that always leads to action:
extending hospitality to strangers.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.
And do it now.
Jesus reminds us that we do not have much time.
“Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before
they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In the early Christian communities there was a strong sense that the Kingdom of
God was coming soon.
And Jesus portrays this urgency:
By telling his disciples to live with the paradox of faith.
As he embodies the greatest paradox of all:
Both fully human and fully divine:
MUST suffer and die before he is raised to eternal life.
JESUS: is the embodiment of both the reality of the world:
Which always includes suffering and death,
And the reality of the divine: Which is eternal life.
Jesus even instructs the disciples in the form of a paradox:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for
my sake will find it.”
We are to live the way of the great “I Am” and the glorious “I shall be.”
Because we ARE
We also SHALL BE.
We are to live a life of reverent prayer and a life of faithful action.
We are to live as if we have not much time and as if we have all the time in the
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in prison during World War II, faced
great suffering, alongside great faith.
“What remains for us is only the very narrow path, sometimes barely discernible,
of taking each day as if it were the last and yet living it faithfully and responsibly
as if there were yet to be a great future.”
This is the divine way.
It is also the human way.
This is the mystery and the paradox of faith.
“But who do you say that I am? You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
This is not just about who Jesus is.
This is also about who WE REALLY are.
Who we are as the united Church.
We hear today, about who Peter really is:
Peter: Who’s doubted, who’s misunderstood Jesus countless times.
But today: if even for a brief moment: Peter gets it.
Jesus tells Simon Peter who he is,
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
So often we think of Jesus as the one who is both human and divine.
We think of ourselves as merely humans.
But we are more than mere humans and so was Peter.
We’re certainly not God.
But we are the Church—which is no normal human thing.
I want to tell you about a young man who taught me about who WE are in the body of Christ—in the church.
I met Tommy in the hospital in the wee hours of a Sunday morning over a decade ago. I was a hospital chaplain in a level 1 trauma center hospital in Hartford CT.
I met Tommy on a day when he wasn’t himself.
After a terrible accident, this young man was on his deathbed from the moment he came through the doors.
I never heard his voice.
I never saw him breathe on his own.
There was nothing the doctors could do.
But Tommy: a high school student:
was kept alive for a few hours while his parents rushed to the hospital from a nearby small town.
The scene was brutal.
The kind of thing that nobody should ever have to witness.
The kind of thing that shouldn’t happen to anyone.
His mother holding his hand,
His father’s hand resting on his chest as it lifted and dropped for the last few times.
In these moments, there was nothing that my human sensibilities could actually do.
Nothing that I could ever say.
But God did a lot of work on that early morning.
Just as God always does.
It was no mere human thing.
On that night, I felt profoundly human—emotions of pain and grief running through me as I watched these loving parents say goodbye to their young son.
But that hospital room was not just human stuff.
God was in that room.
Not in a “God in the clouds” sort of way.
God was in each of us—and God—is ALWAYS in each of us.
Because of who we really are.
We are not merely human:
We are the church: holding the keys of the kingdom of heaven just like Peter.
Being “Church” is no normal human thing.
When Paul talks about “Church” he says:
“For as in one body we have many members”
“Individually we are members of another.”
In that hospital room, as Tommy lay dying, we were members of another:
with the holy spirit—moving, breathing, and beating within us.
The Living God—putting deep and intense love within us.
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy kind of love.
Because this kind of love—God’s love—is REAL.
REAL. PAINFUL. BRUTAL.
And we can’t pretend that it’s not.
God sent his only Son to literally Die—real death.
It’s brutal, Death:
The most painful thing that can happen to a human, because of awfully Divine love.
Completely, incomprehensible love.
On that early morning: I was overwhelmed by the REAL Divine love in Tommy’s parents.
Their human grief was profoundly Divine.
Human pain--from real love.
And we love: Because God first loved us.
Because God has made us into lovers.
It’s no normal human attribute--
This divine love placed deep within us—forming us into who we really are.
But do not misunderstand.
This does not, in any way discount the awful grief and pain that humans feel.
This does NOT take away from the intensity that Tommy’s parents (and unfortunately many others) will feel for their entire lives.
This does not make anything good or better.
There is Nothing that could ever make this pain good.
There is Nothing that ever makes it okay.
But our pain is not merely a human thing.
Because our Love is not merely a human thing.
The real brutality—the most painful part— of that morning was the desperate love of Tommy’s mother.
His mother, in the most intense grief I have ever experienced also loved him fiercely--
(I witnessed this, well before I was a mother myself)
Tommy waited to take his last breath:
AFTER his parents had arrived, and we said the Lord’s prayer together.
And his mother: through shouts of anguish:
Also told her Son how happy she was that he could join the heavenly host.
But don’t mistake me.
In this profuse love, Tommy’s mother felt unbearable pain.
Pain that I will always remember and pain that will never ever leave her.
And that’s how God is.
That’s how God made us to be.
To love profusely.
It is not who we are “called to be”
But who we really are at our deepest being.
So who do you say that I am?
Who do we say that WE are?
But to be a Christian means that we are more than mere humans.
We hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
To be “Church” means we must be lovers.
And it hurts. It’s painful. It’s brutal.
We can’t run from it.
We can’t hide from it.
Because it is deeply a part of who we are.
Because God Loved us first.
And Loved profusely.
We’ve all done it.
We’ve all had people that we just don’t get along with.
People that it’s difficult for us to like.
For whatever reason.
It’s a harsh truth of human history--
Of feuds between families:
Like the Hatfields and McCoys,
Like Romeo and Juliet’s Montague’s and Capulets.
And in this Gospel story: The Israelites and the Canaanites.
This feud is big—and the prejudices and dislike runs deep--
As deep and old as the first six books of the Bible.
The pagan Canaanites--
who lived in the Promised Land were nearly killed off by the Israelites.
Yet some Canaanites survived—like this woman that Jesus meets.
But it is not initially a happy meeting.
When the woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter--
Jesus IGNORES her.
The disciples’ prejudices against the Canaanites come out when they urge Jesus to
“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
JESUS—appears to agree when he says to the woman:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Everyone knew what Jesus meant:
“It isn’t fair to take the blessing meant for the Israelites and give it to Gentiles.
ESPECIALLY TO CANAANITES”
But this woman doesn’t give up.
She screams: “Lord, help me!”
JESUS—likens the woman to a dog.
A worthless, dirty, despicable DOG, saying:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
The years of prejudice and dislike are clear
As the Israelites are likened to children,
And the Canaanites dogs.
It’s hard for us to hear.
It’s hard for us to believe.
That Jesus would be so dismissive:
First ignoring a woman in need,
And then calling her a dog.
But once again: This is not the end of the story.
Just when it seems that Jesus is only going to “take care of his own—the
All of the expectations are overturned.
Rather than walking away, Jesus waits:
He waits for her to show her faith to the disciples.
He waits for her to acknowledge her worth--
Her worth through Christ himself.
Jesus waits for her to expose his true identity--
An identity that’s beyond all prejudice--
That’s based in love instead of hate--
Jesus’ identity that in turn exposes her identity--
Not as a dirty Canaanite--
But as one worthy of Jesus’ healing touch.
And she does.
Because this woman knows--
That Jesus has enough--
Enough to give even to her.
She says to him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their
Meaning: “Lord, I know your blessings are for the entire world.
I know your blessing is so great that I’ll gladly take the leftovers and still be
I know that it is you.
And this is what Jesus has been waiting for.
For her to know--
And to show the disciples--
That God is bigger than anything we can imagine.
That with God there is enough for everyone--
EVEN Enough for the Canaanites.
And to believe and show that who God is--
Changes who WE are--
No longer a dirty, worthless dog of a Canaanite--
But one who is loved, and valued.
One who is worth transforming--
One who is worth the healing touch of God.
Jesus—for a brief moment plays along with the status quo--
Plays into the disciples’ prejudices and pre-conceived notions against the
To expose them--
Expose both the disciples’ prejudices, and also their lack of faith.
In fact: We saw it last week.
(I wasn’t here) but you read the famous story of Jesus walking on Water.
Peter’s fear and lack of faith causes him to sink.
And Jesus proves the disciples wrong.
And today the Canaanite woman proves them wrong.
In a shocking turn of events:
The most unlikely person ever--
Who is of a race despised by the Israelites:
Is the one that Jesus proclaims “GREAT is your FAITH!”
This woman is the ONLY person in the entire Gospel of Matthew that Jesus said
had “great faith.”
The one considered to be a DOG had the greatest faith--
Had the greatest hope--
That Jesus really IS who he says he Is.
Not a magician,
But truly the Son of God--
God’s Chosen One--
Who has enough blessings for everyone:
Every nation. Every Race.
Every perfection, and every sin.
Here: Jesus proved what he said in Matthew 7:
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be
opened for you.
And the disciples saw this kind of faith lived out--
From one nobody would ever expect.
Because of Jesus--
And his promises to all:
This woman is no longer a worthless dog.
Because of Jesus--
She is no longer a dirty Canaanite.
Because of Jesus--
She—like us—takes part in his identity--
As one who is worth it.
Worth it all.
Worth God’s blessing.
Loved and valued through Christ.
This is who she is.
This is who we are.
One of my favorite lines in the Eucharistic prayer says:
“In Him [as in Jesus] you have delivered us from evil, and made us WORTHY to
stand before you.”
(Listen for it in the prayer today.)
Christ has made us worthy.
Has made even this Canaanite WORTHY.
A free gift--
Given to everyone--
Given to YOU--
Worth and Value.
At no price.
At no cost.
To stand before God.
And be transformed into a people who are forever loved and valued.
Happy Birthday to Edwin, Lee and Jason Marks!
Follow along in your prayer book or click on the button below
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Then click Daily Morning Prayer Rite Two
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Today is kind of a funny day in the church calendar.
Normally, we should be observing the 9 th Sunday after Pentecost today.
But today is also the Feast of the Transfiguration:
Which always falls on August 6 th .
August 6 th , just happens to be on a Sunday this year:
And this Feast outranks Pentecost 9.
There are only a few feast days that are so important that they take precedence
over a Sunday:
And all of them are feasts related to Jesus himself.
Today, we commemorate how Jesus was transfigured before his closest disciples:
Peter, John, and James--
How his glory was revealed in dazzling white light,
And how God’s voice proclaimed:
“This is my Son, my chosen: listen to him!”
We know this story.
We read it every single year:
Only we don’t usually read it in August:
On the actual feast day of the Transfiguration.
Every year, we celebrate the transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany:
Which is the Sunday before Lent begins.
We aren’t used to celebrating the transfiguration in August:
Even though that’s it’s date for observance!
And we also aren’t used to the word “transfigure”
Outside of this story that we read once a year.
It’s not a word that we generally use in conversation nowadays.
We might use the words “transform,” “alter,” or even “change” instead.
And we really should ask ourselves:
Who is it that’s really being changed in this story?
Jesus certainly appears to be changed.
Luke tells us outright: “The appearance of his face changed,
And his clothes became dazzling white.”
But the truth is:
Jesus really only looks different to his disciples.
It’s Peter, John, and James who are really transfigured.
Their eyes are now open to see Jesus as he really is:
Clothed in light and revealed as the Son of God.
And the disciples’ lives are changed too:
After this experience of God’s presence.
Before, they thought they were following a remarkable teacher.
After, they know that their lives are being woven into God’s plan for the
transfiguration of the entire world.
And that leads us to ask an important question:
“What experiences frame the way that we see and understand the world?”
Much of the way we experience the world is fixed by circumstances beyond our
Who our parents are,
Where we are from,
The language we speak.
But sometimes we have moments,
That allow us to see the world in a new light.
These are the moments when it seems we can see beyond ourselves,
Beyond our limitations,
And into the heart of reality.
When you have this kind of experience:
You can be fairly certain it’s because you have been in the presence of God.
The transfiguration is this kind of experience:
The experience of God’s presence:
That changes us,
Changes the way that we see Jesus and the world.
Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain, hoping to find God there.
They were on a quest:
Actively seeking God’s presence.
Jesus leads his disciples up there because he knows God can be found there.
Like Moses in the reading from Exodus--
God is found on the mountaintop:
Where your vision is clear, and all the noise of everyday life subsides.
But even though it is easier to find God on the mountaintop:
That’s not the only place God can be found.
All of us came to church this morning:
Hoping to find something of God here:
In one way or another.
And God feels especially close in the beauty of the natural world:
Stars shining in the sky,
Waves falling on the ocean shore.
Throughout the ages, people have known this.
Often, when people feel lost or lonely, wondering what’s next,
They find a church to pray in:
A mountain to climb,
A forest to walk in,
A river to sit near.
People remember those places where they have felt God’s presence before:
And they go and seek God there again.
And there’s always that temptation:
To stay put on the mountain:
To use that sacred space as a place to hide from the problems of the world.
Peter gives into this temptation,
When he asks Jesus if they can build dwellings on top of the mountain and just
bask in God’s glorious presence forever:
Content, but removed from all the trouble brewing down on the ground below.
And the answer is no.
God needs us to go down from the mountain:
To leave changed.
To go out into the world:
Taking some of God’s transformative love with us to share.
And if we’re honest:
We know that it isn’t only in those beautiful and set-apart places that we can find
The whole world is filled with the glory of God:
If we only have eyes to see.
Just like our reading last week:
The kingdom of God can appear to us in millions of different ways:
In a mustard seed:
In a pearl.
In some wheat.
In tiny little things.
Because there is no place on earth that God’s love does not go.
If we open our hearts to God’s spirit and go looking for God:
We will begin to see God’s presence all around us.
Our transfiguration comes as our eyes are opened and our hearts are changed.
When we see others as who they really are:
Made in God’s image:
Just as we are.
Open your eyes and see the world as it is--
Beloved by God.
Let your own heart be transfigured by God’s love.
Take that love down from this mountain,
And use it to bring more love into the world.
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Sermon for today
Jesus said: “Have you understood all this?”
They answered, “Yes.”
This is hilarious.
Really? They really understood all that? Because I sure didn’t!
Once again: We find Jesus saying some pretty weird stuff.
Some stuff that initially makes no sense to us.
And I doubt that it made much sense to the disciples either.
But who would want to look like a moron in front of Jesus?
And yet: We all sometimes do.
Like the disciples: We often don’t get it—but we pretend like we do.
We often miss the point.
We rarely fully understand what Jesus is trying to say—and what Jesus is trying to
Our own understanding of the Kingdom of heaven sometimes gets in the way.
We look for—hope for—amazing fantastical things.
We expect Incredible—mind blowing results.
And sometimes: these expectations cause us to miss the small glimpses of the
Kingdom right in front of our eyes.
While amazing, fantastical, incredible things are indeed good--
And indeed a part of God’s work--
We must not lose sight of the small humble realities that are also a part of the
Kingdom of God.
Those things which begin quite small.
Like Jesus—The Son of God--
Born in a humble stable.
The Savior of the world--
Born quite poor.
Jesus reminds us of these small, humble beginnings of the Kingdom--
Which may take many years to grow.
Some of you have heard be talk about a monastic community in France called
I’ve been there a number of times,
And it’s a place where the humble vision f the Kingdom of God is deeply present.
The founder of the community: Brother Roger--
Understood this vision of the Kingdom--
As he gave his life in small ways—which grew to unbelievable results--
But he did not expect these results--
And he did not see many of them before his death.
Taize began quite small.
In a tiny village in France—Brother Roger at age 25 set out to form a community
Who would live together in a life of prayer.
In the wake of World War II—He provided a place of safety--
For wandering travelers, for seekers, for those who may catch a small glimpse of
Seven Brothers made their first life commitment to the Taize Community.
Quite humble, small beginnings.
Now: there are over 100 brothers in the monastic community:
And these brothers welcome hundreads (to sometimes THOUSANDS) of young
people (from all across the world) to their monastery every week.
The monastery has become a pilgrimage sight for young people:
To enter into the brothers prayerful and rhythmic life.
What began with seven young men on Easter Sunday in 1949--
grew into unimaginable numbers today.
But it is not just about the numbers--
Brother Roger understood that a small seed—a pinch of yeast—is all that you
And the story of Taize became proof that small beginnings can produce
That a small lump of yeast can influence the whole dough.
And yet: Brother Roger did not need immediate results.
He did not lose heart when his hopes or visions were not quickly fulfilled.
Or when the realities of the Kingdom of God appeared quite different than those
In fact: Brother Roger did not originally intend for Taize to be a place of pilgrimage
for young people.
He never intended to welcome thousands from across the world every week.
But when his small pinch of yeast mixed with the dough to create such a reality--
He let go of his own original expectations.
Brother Roger often said: Let us keep moving forward--
Trusting that God will bear fruits of the Kingdom.
And God does.
And It’s stunning to me--
That thousands of young people from all across the globe--
Would travel to a monastery.
Thousands—Every week. Praying.
And this success is due to a humble beginning.
Brother Roger—and the brothers to this day--
Let go of their own expectations.
And place their confidence in God.
They do not claim to have all the answers.
They do not claim to be the only way.
They do not claim to have understood everything.
Instead—they welcome everyone. Of Every kind.
Americans, South Africans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Argentinians, Germans.
They welcome Christians, Agnostics, Seekers, and Questioners.
Because they truly believe: As Paul says in his letter to the Romans--
That Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And that’s not just about you and me.
Nothing can separate ANYONE from the love of God.
“For I am convinced” Says Paul:
“That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things
to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, or anything else in all creation, will
be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
No matter who we are.
No matter where we’ve been.
Brother Roger lived this Kingdom reality.
He knew that his life was not merely about himself.
That his community was not about his own expectations.
But about the most simple, humble reality--
Simply sharing God’s love with others.
And he has taught us that a small humble beginning is enough.
A tiny seed is enough.
A pinch of yeast is enough.
And with patience, and Joy--
We can let go of our own expectations.
Let go of our own understanding of what the Kingdom of God would or should
Let go of our own understanding of what our Church should look like.
And trust with Confidence in God’s love--
God’s love which no one—can ever be separated from.
“His disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of
After Jesus gave his response to this question:
Did you fully understand the parable?
I had some help with for today’s sermon on this parable.
There’s a famous Episcopal Preacher,
Named Barbara Brown Taylor.
And she’s largely responsible for what I’m about to say today.
As I sat down to do my sermon research this week,
It was clear that her understanding of the parable was way more helpful than
anything I could’ve come up with on my own!
So let’s review:
“Jesus said: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed
good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and
sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”
There’s a lot of grief and anxiety in today’s world.
Open up any newspaper and you’ll see how awful things are.
Many of us: right now in this very church:
Are struggling with deep grief,
Loss, anxiety, health.
Whether the topic is the nation, the church, the economy, or the environment:
Consensus is that things are getting worse, not better.
The whole creation is groaning:
And the weeds seem to be crowding out the wheat.
Those of us who believe in God have a hard time explaining—to our selves or to
anyone else—why things are the way they are: wrestling with a world that is
messier than we would like it to be.
The details may have changed since the Bible was written,
But the dilemma remains the same:
What should we do about this mess?
What CAN we do, and why is it this way in the first place?
If God really is in charge,
Then why isn’t the world a beautiful sea of waving grain?
Or at least the church--
Couldn’t the church, at least, be a neat field of superior wheat?
According to Jesus:
Not even the kingdom of heaven is pure.
It may have started out that way,
But sometime during the night,
While everyone else was sleeping:
An enemy sneaked in and sowed weeds among the wheat.
A weed known as darnel:
Which was a nasty wheat look-alike with poisonous seeds and roots like a nylon
If it’s not separated from the wheat at some point or another,
Those seeds can get ground into the flour and make a loaf of bread that will give
you a real bellyache.
Now we all know from our own gardens and flower beds, that weeds do not
require someone to physically plant them:
They grow all by themselves.
And most of us have got them:
In our yards, and also in our lives:
Those thorny people who were not part of the plan,
Who are not welcome:
Sucking up sunlight and water that were meant for good plants, not weeds.
Some of them are just irritating,
Like poison ivy:
But some of them are as deadly as nightshade,
And the question is: what do we do about them?
In Jesus’ parable, the slaves ask their master:
“do you want us to go and gather the weeds?”
That is, after all, the common sense solution.
Pull them up, cast them out, cleanse the field.
But the boss said “no.”
“No” he said, “For in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with
them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will
tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned,
but gather the wheat into my barn.”
This is a stunning statement.
Not least of all because it seems to advocate passivity in the face of evil.
It also seems to suggest that we can do more harm when we think we are doing
good, than when we are doing nothing at all.
But there might be a few reasons that the boss says no to those who want to
neaten up the field.
The first reason is that they are not skillful enough to separate the good from the
They cannot always tell the difference. They exterminate something that looks
like a weed, but when they bend over to pick up the limp stalk, grains of wheat
Did you know:
That in one of the first crusades knights from western Europe blew through an
Arab town on their way to the Holy Land and killed everyone in sight?
It was not until later, when they turned the bodies over, that they found crosses
around most of their victims’ necks. It never occurred to them that Christians
might be living in the Arab town.
Another difficulty with separated the good from the bad is that often their lives
That is one of the ways darnel survives:
By wrapping its roots around the roots of the wheat so that you cannot yank up
one without yanking up the other.
There is no plant surgeon alive who can extract the poisonous seed without killing
some innocent bystanders,
And according to the Boss: it’s just not worth it.
Better to let them all grow together until it is time to harvest.
A second reason to let the weeds grow is that they may turn out to be useful in
In Jesus’ time:
Lumber and coal were hard to come by.
The best bet for heating and cooking fuel was dried weeds or manure.
By letting the weeds and the wheat grow together,
Farmers had almost everything they needed to make bread: the wheat for the
flour, and the weeds for the fire.
The only other thing they ended was a little patience:
A little tolerance of the temporary mess, until everything was put to good use at
For those of us living in the time before the harvest,
That patience can be hard to come by,
But the weeds may still be. Useful in ways that surpass our understanding.
Sometimes the weeds wake the wheat up and remind them who they are.
Sometimes, when the field gets very, very messy, the search for the Sower
becomes a necessity, not a luxury,
And good seeds that once toasted in the sun taking everything for granted
remember that surviving as wheat is going to take some effort.
The point of all of this is that God allows a mixed field.
Whether we like it, approve of it, or understand it or not:
God asks us to tolerate a mixed field too--
Both in the church and in the world.
And this is NOT being passive.
It is, instead, a call to strenuous activity (as any of us who have tried to love our
enemies already know.)
It is not easy being wheat:
Especially with so many weeds competing for the soil:
But what the Boss seems to know is that the best and only real solution to evil is
to bear good fruit.
Our job, in a mixed field, is not to give ourselves to the enemy by devoting all our
energy to the destruction of the weeds,
But to mind our own business, so to speak--
Our business being the reconciliation of the world to God through the practice of
If we will give ourselves to that, God will take care of the rest--
The harvest, the reapers, the fire—all of it.
Our job is to be wheat:
Even in a messy field--
To stay true to our “roots”
And to go on bearing witness to the one who planted us.
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