state of South Carolina, we have a long history of not wanting anybody to tell
us what to do with our land, our possessions, or our money. This has created a
sense of fierce independence, as history bears out.
I live in a part of the country where the five-letter word taxes
is often used as a four-letter word. Folks around here are highly
skeptical of government even as they say we have the best government in
and teachers are really missing those summer days when we got to preach on
wonderful parables about mustard seeds and loaves of yeast bread. Now it's
judgment-parable season, and many of us wish we were on vacation.
If you wrestle with this Matthean parable through the night, it'll leave
you limping by morning. Martin Luther didn't like preaching on it, and
worshipers in early October won't be in the mood for its judgment.
Like long-distance swimmers, those of us who count our Sundays by the rhythm of the lectionary need to occasionally pop our heads out of the water and get our bearings. We know the month, the day and the liturgical date. We may also know where we are in our congregational programming, especially with regard to the season of harvest and stewardship. But where are we textually?
This parable in Matthew is a sister to the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5. In both cases, God is the farmer who has provided generously so that the vineyard will be very fruitful. In Isaiah, the distress is over a lack of good fruit despite fine care of the vineyards. In Jesus’ story, the fruit is good, but the trusted stewards are corrupt and self-serving.
I wonder and worry that people perceive Christ’s rule to be similar to the queen of England’s rule. Do we view Christ as one surrounded with the art and beauty of a tradition that is more antique than active? Do we see this figure of salvation as hopelessly outdated and practically mute in these postmodern times?
The widow tossed the only shred of independence she had into the offering plate, but she kept intact her complete dependence on God and neighbor. She is our spiritual mentor standing there on the margins of all we hold dear. Her way is a life of faith grounded in the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit. It’s a life lived in the conviction that we are stewards of all we have in our hands and our lives, not the owners of these things.
Jesus calls us to live with the intensity of last days while living our regular lives. He reminds us that we are not ultimately invested in this world, and he liberates us to work with courage, with hope. End times call for tall towers of hope. They call for a lightning-speed reordering of priorities. End times call for alertness, sharpness. They tingle with expectation.
One of these All Saints Days our names will be read. We are the potential saints for future generations. We are the shoulders on which others will stand. Will we be ancestors who sat on their hands or ancestors who raised their hands? Sometimes we forget that we aren’t just living our busy lives. We’re also laying a foundation, molding a future and establishing a legacy. How is it going?
We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that’s a benign analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. We still need the miracle of restored sight.
We humans know our language cannot communicate the greatness of the divine, but we try anyway. We love to use the prefix omni, which takes a common adjective and expands it to the size of the universe: omnifarious, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omni-loving, omni-merciful, omni-cool. The omni words are reserved for God and God alone.
Where I grew up, everybody was pretty much just like me. It was a small, southern community, with a long history, deep roots and consistent Christian morality. The only visible difference was our whiteness or our blackness. Ethically speaking, that’s how we saw everything too: white or black, good or bad.
I remember the day I received my call—follow me and I will make you fish for people. In my case it was a call to ordained ministry. Although my call was more like a slow culmination of events and experiences, there was one dramatic moment in my senior year in high school. It was 1973, just three years after my denomination officially allowed the ordination of women.
After the hectic and holy Christmas season, after the unusual turning of a new century and, wonderfully, a new millennium, the church and the culture will settle back into familiar rhythms. For the church and its calendar, this means the season of Epiphany with its festivals of Magi, miracles, baptism and transfiguration.
Southern women are great Marthas and proud of it. Having been raised in this culture, I know that supper in a southern kitchen is a wonder to behold. Those who have traditional southern hospitality refined to an art never sit. They hover. Plates are never allowed to go empty. Guests are continually asked if they need anything.
The family is a funny institution. We make much of being related to each other, of sharing common ancestors, common history, common DNA. We speak of fierce loyalties with phrases like “Blood is thicker than water.” As parents and children, brothers and sisters, we have bonds that go beyond words. We love each other even if we don’t particularly like each other.
He was buried alive, this man of the Gerasenes. He was alive, but he lived in a graveyard among the tombs. Modern interpreters tell us that the people possessed by demons in the Gospels probably suffered from forms of mental illness.