Sunday, October 19, 2014

Two Cheers for Civility: 29th Sunday OT

Many volumes have been written about this simple phrase of our Lord’s. It’s a critical moment of teaching for Christians when it comes to figuring out our relationship to the ruling authority — what we would call the government. We live in a system very different from that of Jesus and his disciples, at least in theory, but the question of what belongs to Caesar is still a live one.

In our country, it’s often been especially live for Catholics. The first European types to come here and settle were Catholics, but the dominant influence ended up being English and northern European Protestantism. Only one signer of the Declaration of Independence was a Catholic, and it’s a little surprising that there’s even one given

how much anti-Catholicism was around. It wasn’t just mindless prejudice, but rather a serious doubt that one could be both a good Catholic and a good American. Catholics, it was thought, have an allegiance to the Church and particularly to the Pope that makes it impossible for them to be true Americans. Public schools routinely taught anti-Catholicism along with basic reading and math, one of the reasons such a strong parochial school system developed here. Oregon actually outlawed Catholic schools in 1922, but was overturned by the Supreme Court. When Al Smith was the first Catholic to run for President, it was rumored that the Pope was planning to move to the USA if Smith won so he could keep closer tabs on his new property. As you know we did eventually get President Kennedy, the first and only Catholic President, and one important step to winning that election was consistently promising that no, he wouldn’t be taking orders from the Catholic hierarchy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Who Desires Entry? 28th Sunday OT

Just to keep everyone sane, lets start by admitting that this story is bonkers. If we try to explain away the madness of it, smooth over the rough edges, water down the intensity, we’ll probably go crazy and we’ll definitely miss the point. No, let’s give Jesus the benefit of the doubt and assume that he told a bonkers story because he wanted to. What is he teaching us? Why is he using this sledgehammer of a story to teach it?

Let’s actually begin with the first reading from Isaiah, which will give us a running start at Christ’s parable. Isaiah is writing about God’s holy mountain, where every tear is wiped away, where there is no more hurt or conflict, where a rich feast is set before us to enjoy in perfect bliss. Isaiah uses this very earthly imagery to help us imagine the fulfillment of our hearts truest desires, the kind of fulfillment that leaves behind no restlessness, no regret, no anxiety, nothing but happiness. How do you imagine that? Maybe it’s a little differently than Isaiah. One little guy told me he though Heaven was an endless field of mud and him on a dirt bike. I think that’s great. As long as we remember that all our images fall short.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Vineyard Trilogy: 27th Sunday OT

This makes three consecutive Sundays of Jesus telling parables about vineyards. Two weeks ago it was the owner who hired people throughout the day, and paid the latecomers the full wage just like the early risers. Last week it was the two sons he asked to work in his vineyard, the first of whom said “no” but changed his mind and went, and the second who said “yes” but didn’t come through. And now this, making it a trilogy of vineyard parables, all from Matthew 20 and 21.

Seems like something you should have noticed, doesn’t it? Don’t feel bad, it took me a while and I’m the one writing the darn sermons. Next time these come around the three-year cycle, I think I should plan on taking the whole month to do on-location research at Blue Sky and Russell Hill and Walker’s Bluff and Pomona Winery. Because good preaching is just that important.