Monday, October 23, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 22.15-22

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
Pentecost+20; Proper 24, A
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
22 October 2017
Matthew 22.15-22

The story continues.
The drama keeps arching.
Matthew is more up front this week.
He doesn’t seem as angry,
            but the foreshadowing
                        isn’t even veiled.
The Pharisees are looking to trap Jesus in what he says
            so that they can find a way to have him killed.
There’s so much going on here,
            so much wrapped up in this text,
                        so much emotion and feeling.
There’s so much disappointment and despair
            as Matthew looks back and realizes his current context.
There’s so much hope and remembering
            how even in argumentation Jesus wins,
                        defeating not just death but those who plan his death.

The Pharisees, who are scared of the crowds,
            send their disciples
to try to entrap Jesus in a big question.
Understanding this question
is more complicated than it appears
on the surface.
Two weeks ago
            our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures
                        was the Ten Commandments, including:
                                    “You shall not make for yourself an idol,
whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
That matters.

The Pharisees send their followers
            to ask Jesus if the people of Jerusalem,
                        mostly Jews under the occupation of the Roman empire,
                                    should pay taxes
If Jesus simply say, “Yes”
            he loses the support of the crowds
                        many of whom think he’s come to deliver them
                        from Roman oppression.
Saying “No”
            means publicly and overtly
                        challenging the authority of Rome.
Treason, and death.
Real quick.
Jesus knows these aren’t people
            really looking for his enlightenment
                        so he traps them in their own trap.

If we were reading Matthew straight through,
            we'd know that Jesus is in the temple.
He calls his questioners hypocrites
            and asks them for the coin.
What’s on the coin?
An engraving of Caesar,
            who expects to be worshiped.
They’ve brought what is arguably an idol
            an engraving of someone who says they are a god
            into the temple.
This is supposed to be exchanged
            for faceless money
                        in the Court of the Gentiles,
                                    but that’s not really enforced.
Jesus has trapped them
            by exposing their own hypocrisy.

They have to back off.
That’s all they can do.
While they’re doing it
            Jesus throws one more barb at them:
                        “Caesar’s face is on the money,
                                    give it back to him.
Give God what belongs to God.”

Give God what belongs to God.
What belongs to God beloved?
While Jesus is talking about money
            in this exact instance —
                        which starts about money because of his detractors —
            Jesus is saying to give it to God.
All of it.
The Old Prayer Book emphasized this
            when gifts of bread, wine, and money were presented,
                        “All things come of thee O Lord,
                                    and of thine own have we given thee.”

Give God what belongs to God.
This passage,
            right now in October
                        as we are in the green season — still —
                                    perfectly lends itself to annual pledge preaching.
That’s all I’m going to say
about those topics today,         
            as important as they are
                        for our congregation to thrive.
Give God what belongs to God.
That’s everything.
Not just monies earned
            while living as baptized persons,
                        but everything.

For us at St. Joseph-St. John,
            it’s letting go of the fear for our survival.
It’s letting go of being afraid
            that we’ll never see something again
                        so we have to cling to it tightly.
It’s letting go of holding on to stuff
            in case we need it one day.
It’s looking at the example of Jesus
            who had no permanent home
                        and sent his disciples out
with a bag, a robe, and their sandals.
We’re having a fish fry next Saturday
            a fundraiser dreamed up this week
                        based on that good gifts God has given us.
We’re having it to make space
            for another piece
                        of yet another fundraiser.
Giving to God what belongs to God,
            giving God everything
                        is a remarkable exercise in releasing.

Wednesday night we celebrated 52 years since
            St. Joseph Church ­— of St. Joseph-St. John —
                        was founded.
I recounted the church’s ups and downs.
Giving to God what belongs to God,
            giving God everything
                        means releasing the idea of going back
to the highs and lows we’ve had before.
We remember them
            and use them for inspiration.
We mourn the losses
            of families and clergy and income.
But like Matthew writing about Jesus in this passage
            we look forward, knowing that death has been defeated
through the Resurrection of Jesus.

When I was growing up,
            we didn’t have Communion every week,
                        but we had an altar call every week.
Those who had not yet made a commitment to follow Jesus
            were invited to do just that.
Those who had made such a commitment
            were invited to come forward to pray —
                        for their needs and the needs of others
                                    often joined by others in the church who knew their burdens.
When that invitation was offered,
            our pastors always admonished people
                        to give God what belongs to God
                                    and not pick up what they’d taken to offer on the altar.
The churches of my childhood had a weekly altar call.
We do too,
            when I say “The gifts of God for the people of God”
                        and invite you to draw to this altar,
                                    leave your trials
                                                our fears
                                                            and our concerns
            while feeding on Jesus
                        who has defeated our trials
                                    your fears
                                                and our concerns.

Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you
            and feed on him in your hearts
                        by faith
                                    with thanksgiving
            that what we need is here

                        and what we give to God is already God’s.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 22.1-14

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Proper 23, A; Pentecost+19
Matthew 22.1-14
October 15, 2017

The lectionary
            is not friendly to preachers.
Today we have a parable
            that Luke tells too.
But in today’s parable
            Matthew’s anger at the Jewish leaders
                        shines through even brighter than last week’s!

First, we need to set the stage
for this passage.
Like last week,
            we’re getting a snatch
                        of inside baseball.
The way the Jewish leaders
            ask Jesus very intense questions
                        was extremely culturally appropriate.
Rabbis arguing with one another
            is something we ourselves know.
Discernment happens in community,
            and sometimes the discernment sounds harsher
                        than it actually is.

In Matthew’s writing
            the Pharisees are already looking
                        for a way to have Jesus killed
                                    but they’re scared of the crowds.
As I pointed out a few weeks ago,
            these passages are from
late in Matthew’s Gospel.
The narrative is building
            to the Crucifixion
                        and then the Resurrection.
And we have Jesus
            telling stories.
Matthew — angry at the Jewish leaders —
            is recording those stories,
                        axes to grind and all.

This is a story that seems odd.
This is a story that seems full of hope.
This is a story that takes
a really weird turn at the end.

Jesus tells us about a king
            who is throwing a wedding banquet
                        but none of the invited guests want to come.
Some of the guests
            ignore the messengers
                        while others kill them.
(Matthew is pointing out
            the persecution early Jesus Jews faced
                        at the hands of some Jewish leaders.)

How does the king reply?
By sending an army
            to kill the guests
who refuse to come to the wedding
            and then burn their city down.
What kind of host does that?!
I think it’s safe to say
            that imagery of God
                        is a human projection,
                                    banked in imperial control and violence,
            more so than anything Jesus teaches
about himself or God’s reign.
After this king has killed the original guests,
            burned their cities
                        and probably salted the fields
so no one else can live there,
            he tells his slaves,
                        “Go round up anyone you can.
                        Those guys weren’t good enough anyway.”

Ultimate hospitality!
Anyone can come at all,
            good or bad.
Good or bad is even in the text,
            as long as there were people there
to celebrate the feast.
But wait!
There’s more!
The king who has
            killed all the original invitees,
            burned their city to the ground,
            and now invited anyone at all
He saw one person not dressed right.
The king asks the guy how he got in
            not in the right clothes,
                        and the guy is speechless.
What do you say to someone
            asking how you got in
                        when there was an open invitation?
No clothing strings attached?
In the guest’s speechlessness,
            the King has him bound
                        and thrown into the outer darkness,
“For many are called,
            but few are chosen.”

Y’all, this is a roller coaster!
And the Church over time
            decided and maintains
                        that it’s Good News!
In Luke’s version of this story,
            and Matthew and Luke
borrow a lot from one another,
            there’s no killing the invited folks.
There’s no burning their city
            or probably salting their fields.
There’s no throwing anyone out
            for not wearing the right clothes.
But we’re working with Matthew’s text.
One reading of
“Many are called, but few are chosen”
            is that no matter what we do,
                        God still handpicks people
                                    to see the ultimate banquet of Heaven.
That is not our tradition!
To find the Good News in this passage,
            I think we can look back to last week.
Last week Jesus said,
“The kingdom of God
will be taken away from you
and given to a people that
produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
Having Family Housing Network
with us for the last week —
                        even through community dinner
when our space was used completely! —
            is evidence of the fruits of the kingdom
            being produced among us.

How though
            are we answering Jesus’ call
                        to make disciples?
Not people who come to church,
            not people helped by our good deeds.
Disciples of Jesus Christ
            who confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection, and
share with us in his eternal priesthood.
Our Friday Fourth Day group
            and bible study afterward
                        are certainly part of that.
I’m looking forward to much sooner than later
            expanding our offerings
for adult Christian formation.

As Episcopalians we have our own Good News narrative.
I do! There are a host of reasons I’m Episcopalian,
            and I’ve been Southern Baptist
            and United Methodist!
I’m looking forward to inviting you
            to deepen our faith together
in weekly formation offerings
            and sharing the Good News of the Resurrected Christ
                        with those in your lives
                                    who need a friend,
                                    who need some Good News,
                                    who need a preview of heaven.
When that invitation is given,
            I hope you’ll answer it.
I hope you’ll not only answer it.
            but invite others to join you —
                        so that like in today’s parable,
our hall is full.