Correction: “All In The Same Boat”

August 15, 2017 1 comment

In my sermon on Sunday, I said that, “Our place [as Christians, that is, particularly as privileged Christians] is beside those who are bearing the brunt of hatred and suffering injustice…because our lives are just as much at stake as theirs.” Upon reflection, I have realized that this is an untrue statement. Privileged (i.e. White) Christians’ lives are not at stake “just as much” as are the lives of our siblings in Christ who suffer from the evils of racism, poverty, homophobia or other such sins of our culture. The simple fact is that White* Christians do not lose their lives to these sins in the same way that our oppressed siblings do. We are safe, and we are often disconnected from the everyday reality of these sins and largely blind to the power they have in our lives. This is our “privilege” that comes from having white skin, being born into a middle-class family, being heterosexual and cis-gendered.

What I was hoping to convey is that though, as White Christians, our privilege means we seldom have to face these sins, we are also victims of them, though not in the same way as our oppressed siblings. These evils do violence to those of us with privilege, too. Perhaps the best way to say it is not that our lives are at stake, but that our souls are at stake; not in the sense that we are in danger of damnation for simply being privileged, but rather that the sins committed out in our name and for our benefit—with or without our knowledge—do damage to our relationships with others and with the world. These sins mar the Imago Dei we bear as God’s creation and children.

Racism, for example, puts people of color in emotional, physical, and psychological danger, while White people are seemingly unaffected. However, the very existence of racism causes distrust and tension among the children of God, which harms White people because we are deprived of the wholesome, loving relationship with our siblings of color that God intends for us to have. God’s good creation is marred, and we all suffer, though certainly not in the same way or to the same degree. The same is true for anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and any other division that keeps us from living in the harmony with one another that God has desired for all of us.

The work of God is liberation, and if we are to be people of God, we cannot but be involved in that work. As it says in 1 John 3:19, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their siblings are liars; for those who do not love a sibling whom they have seen cannot love a God whom they have not seen.” To love our siblings in Christ necessarily means to become like them in suffering for the same justice for which they suffer; we cannot truly love them unless and until we put our lives on the line for them: for, “no person has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) If our lives are not at stake with our siblings, then Christ invites us to put them at stake with our siblings. This is the gospel of the LORD.

 


*By “White” (capitalized), I am not referring to skin color, but rather to the concept of “Whiteness” which is independent of skin color. To be “White” means to be considered “normal” while others are identified by their contrast against you. To be White is to enjoy power and privilege within one’s society which others do not have because of characteristics of their personhood: skin color, sexual identification or orientation, gender, ethnicity, or religion. For further reading, see http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness

Categories: nota bene

All In The Same Boat

August 13, 2017 Leave a comment

10th Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 19, Year A
Texts: 1 Kgs 19.9-18; Rom 10.5-15; Matt 14.22-33

Here we are again. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say anything about what happened in Charlottesville yesterday because we should all know already that it was an abomination and a travesty. And yet, how can we not say something? It’s not enough to call it what it is, anybody can see what it is: racism, hatred, domestic terrorism. I can’t imagine there is a single person here who would defend the actions or even the intentions of the neo-Nazi protestors who gathered to save the statue of Robert E. Lee (but if there is, then we should talk). We are a safe, comfortable, privileged congregation situated across the country from what happened yesterday, but the fact remains that this is still our problem.

Racism is the Church’s problem. Photo source unknown; likely from 1920s Portland, OR

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A Good Start

August 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Audio Recording of “A Good Start” recorded in worship (11:38)
9th Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 18, Year A
Texts: Isa 55.1-5; Rom 9.1-5; Matt 14.1-21

John was dead. When Jesus heard the news his heart fell. He knew Herod had wanted to kill him, but there’s a big difference between wanting to kill a person and actually killing them. John had been a teacher, a mentor, a friend. The two men had been close; where John left off, Jesus had picked up. He’d gone off by himself for several days after John had been arrested. Now that John was dead… he needed to collect himself. He told the twelve that he was leaving, and without so much as a question, they picked up and followed him.

Auguste Rodin. The Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist, ca 1887. Photo by Marshall Astor [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Narrated Liturgy

July 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Today’s worship featured a “Narrated Liturgy” in place of a sermon. The “liturgy” is what we call the familiar structure to our worship. It consists of regular parts that, while they may change in content, remain consistent in form from week to week. This repetition in our worship can cause us to ignore the importance of what we are doing, and so every year, we  narrate the liturgy, providing a running commentary of why we do what we do. The liturgy is below, with the congregation’s parts (marked C) in bold type and the pastors’ (marked P) and Assisting Minister’s (marked A) parts in plain type, and the narration is included in red italics.

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Parables in a New Context

July 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Audio Recording of “Parables in a New Context” recorded in worship (14:45)
6th Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 15, Year A
Texts: Isa 55.10-13; Rom 8.1-11; Matt 13:1-9, 18-23

A parable is like a painting. It’s hard to look at a painting and say conclusively, “This is what this painting means.” Different people may look at the same picture and one will see joy, another beauty, another sorrow, another darkness. No one interpretation is any more or less correct than another, and they all arise from viewing the same piece of art. Parables are works of art, like paintings or poetry, intended to convey a truth; but how that truth strikes us may be very different depending on where we are coming from when we hear it.

Tissot, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902. “Sower,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

This parable is different. Both the parable and its explanation are included in all three synoptic gospels—Mark, Matthew and Luke—which suggests that unlike all other parables, this one has one and only one correct interpretation. What is so very interesting, however, is that even though the explanation is included with the parable, each gospel writer interprets both the parable and its meaning differently. In Mark’s gospel, for example, the parable is employed after Mark describes how popular Jesus’ ministry is, and how people keep coming and coming, in spite of the fact that some Pharisees and even Jesus’ own family try to restrain him. Jesus uses this parable as an illustration of how seed widely scattered and largely wasted can still bear incredible fruit: 30, 60, or even 100 fold! Mark shares this parable to show how, even in spite of resistance, Jesus’ message is impossible to contain.

Matthew’s take is very different. In the preceding chapter, Jesus is challenged by Pharisees when he heals a man on the Sabbath and again when he casts out demons. They ask him for a sign of his authority, but instead he criticizes them and calls them evil. Even Jesus’ own family try to restrain him, and he rejects them. Even though Matthew’s gospel uses many of the same stories that Mark’s does in setting up this parable, Matthew’s conclusion is far different.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses this parable and the others that come after it as parables of judgement. This parable becomes an interpretation of why Jesus and his message is rejected by the religious establishment and even his own family: their hearts are hard and will not receive the seed of his word. Even those who do receive his word are not perfect; some will bear fruit 100 fold, but some will only bear 60 fold, and still others only 30. Even though they relay the same parable and give the same explanation for it, Mark and Matthew use it for very different purposes.

When Jesus originally told this parable, he likely did so without giving any explanation because, as I said, parables are intended to be open-ended stories that convey the same truth in many different ways. However, over time, the community of believers that shared this parable with one another came to understand it in a certain way, and that understanding is the explanation that Mark included in his gospel, and which Matthew and Luke later copied into theirs. Even so, Matthew, when writing his gospel, was writing in a different context that Mark, and trying to address different issues. Reading chapters 12 and 13 of Matthew’s gospel, one gets the sense that Matthew is trying to address the concerns of his Jewish-Christian audience, especially the question of why they are being rejected by their synagogues and even their families. Matthew shares this parable with them to reassure them that they are in fact the good soil in which God’s word is bearing fruit. Those others who reject them now may bear fruit later, or they may not, but if they don’t, they will receive the judgement of God, and the faithful will be vindicated.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that kind of message makes me uneasy. We’ve grown a lot in our understanding of psychology and sociology since Matthew’s time, and it is very hard for me to proclaim or even believe that God will judge those who do not receive God’s work with open hearts, especially if, as the parable seems to insinuate, they can’t do anything to make themselves more receptive to that word. It’s easy enough to say, “Well, like it or not, there it is in black and white; the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” But, it’s not that simple. Even for a parable like this one, a parable that has the “answer” written right there with it, even the Bible itself does not speak with one voice about how this parable and its interpretation are implied.

Illustration from the Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=440837

The reason this particular notion of punishment and judgement are so hard for me to accept is that they seem so inconsistent with the Word of God that has been planted in my heart, the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. The Bible is a faithful witness to that Word, but the Bible is not Jesus. Jesus alone is the fullest revelation of God available to us, and so we look to the Jesus we see revealed in the Bible, yes, but also on the cross, in this meal of bread and wine, and even embodied in this community to see the fullness of God’s glory. As Paul records in Romans, God’s love is proven for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Would the same Christ who gave his life to save his enemies, who feed them with his own flesh and blood then turn and condemn them because they are unable to make this leap of faith?

Not only do I find it hard to believe this, I find it harmful to believe this. Whereas this message may have given solid hope and courage in the face of adversity to Matthew’s readers, today this message creates Christians who are prideful and intransigent. The idea that only those who believe the right things are saved and the rest are damned allows us to either write off the unbelievers as heathens consigned to their fate or else to waste away worrying for loved ones who don’t share our particular interpretation of scripture.

In our reading from Romans this morning, Paul reminds us that to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the past several weeks, we have heard Paul building the case that the law given by God on Sinai cannot save us, because it cannot make us righteous; only Christ can do that. For us to live our lives governed by that law is to make ourselves slaves to it. To live by the law, to make obedience to that list of rules our central, guiding focus in life, is worse than useless—it is death. Instead, we are invited to devote ourselves and our attention on listening to and following the Spirit of God; that, he says, is life and peace.

While Paul is talking specifically about the law of Moses contained in in the first few books of the Bible, the same can be said of the whole Bible; for if we take the stories of Jesus’ life from the gospels and Paul’s advice and exhortations from the epistles and make for ourselves a new law, we fall into the same old trap about which Paul wrote in Romans. Instead, Paul says, trust the Spirit rather than lists of rules. Rather than selling ourselves in slavery to this or that law, live the resurrection we share with Christ and trust in the Spirit of that resurrection that God has placed in our hearts.

This is absolutely not to say that God’s Word is relative or that we each get to make our own truth. As followers of Christ, we are guided by his example and by the words of Scripture, but those words do not bind us to a single, dead interpretation of Scripture.

And, so setting our minds on the Spirit of Resurrection, how might we reinterpret this parable of the sower? If the message of judgement that Matthew draws from this story is no longer helpful to us in our context, what new message might we hear Christ speaking to us in these words for our time and place?

One possible interpretation we may have is that, though it seems like there will always be plenty of places where the seed cannot bear fruit—the path, the rocks, the weeds—the fruit that is produced is bountiful—more than enough to provide seed for the next planting, food for the sower and his household, and grain to sell besides.

Another is that the ability of the seed to produce is limited by the conditions in which it finds itself. We should not worry, then, about seed that seems wasted, for the produce of the seeds that do sprout will still be sufficient for the sower’s purposes. It might also mean that as well as sowers, God may be calling us to be rock-pickers and weed-pullers, building relationships with people and preparing the ground to receive the seed through selfless service and genuine love.

Still another interpretation is that if we are sowers like Jesus in this parable, we are encouraged and empowered to sow the seed liberally, not worrying about whether or not it will sprout where it falls, but only trusting in God to do the work of growing the fruit, for as much as we know now about psychology and sociology, faith and its workings remain a mystery to us.

That’s the beauty of parables: even when there’s only one way to interpret them, there’s never only one way to interpret them. We trust the words of Scripture because they live and evolve along with us, always changing to guide us the same old truth in new and different ways. But more than the living words of Scripture, we trust the living Word of God who dwells among us in water, wine and wheat. To set the mind on the things of the flesh—even Holy Scripture itself—is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ is life and peace.

Graffiti on Israeli separation wall around Shu’afat refugee camp by the Palestinian rap group, G-town, who live in the camp. Photo by Flickr user Ted Swedenburg. (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Freed for Slavery

July 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Audio Recording of “Freed for Slavery” recorded in worship (18:00)
4th Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 13, Year A
Texts: Rom 6.12-23

Does anyone else find it ironic that on the weekend before Independence Day, we are reading about being slaves to righteousness? It’s not an image that resonates with us. We are a people who value freedom and equality; to be told that we are slaves—that we should be slaves—to anything gets our hackles up. At first blush, Paul’s argument doesn’t make a lot of sense: if we have been freed from the law, then aren’t we then free, rather than enslaved?

Paul’s metaphor begins with the assumption that all human life is lived in slavery to something. I think his point still holds true, though we wouldn’t call it “slavery;” instead, we would say that each of us devotes ourselves to something, that we each have guiding principles. For example, this week we will celebrate one of the guiding principles of our country: freedom. Our identity as Americans is founded on the idea that each of us ought to be free to live our lives how we choose without interference from outside parties, including our own government.

By John Archibald Woodside [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, I think Paul would argue that even freedom is a kind of slavery: only, rather than slavery to a government or another person, it is slavery to ourselves; or as Paul might say, slavery to the “passions of our mortal bodies.” I would generally agree: we are all living our lives in service to someone or something, and freedom is really just the ability to choose your own master, whether that be a political party or economic theory, a job, company or cause, or even a person like a spouse or children. To put it another way, you could say that we all have priorities around which we order our lives, and we live our lives in service to those priorities.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was specifically writing about one set of priorities over which Jewish and Gentile Christians were arguing: the law of Moses. Jewish Christians thought that, as God’s chosen people, they were already righteous (meaning right with God), because of their obedience to God’s law, whereas the Gentiles had all sorts of disgusting, evil practices that they needed to abandon before God could accept them. You can imagine how the Gentiles felt about this. So, the core question Paul is trying to answer in this part of his letter is: whose priorities are God’s priorities? Whose side is God on?

Paul’s answer is neither. Or both. The law of Moses, he says, can’t make a person righteous. What makes us righteous is that God chooses to make us righteous; or in Paul’s terms, God justifies us—God chooses to make us right with God rather than expecting us to behave a certain way first. Just as in a word processor when you “justify” a paragraph the text is stretched and squished to fit to the margins; God “justifies” us by molding us to fit God’s margins. The proof of this is that Christ died for us while we were all—Jews and Gentiles, both—still sinners. Jews and Gentiles both—keepers of the law or not—are all equally loved and claimed by God not because of what we have done for God, but because of what God has done for us. That is grace.

So the question today is: if we don’t have to follow the law, does that mean can get away with anything? “By no means!” Paul exclaims, because we are all slaves to something, and if you allow yourself to give into sin, then you are a slave to sin. So he says this: “before baptism, you were obedient to the law—whether the law of Moses for Jews, or some other philosophical or moral code if for Gentiles—and you took pride in that because you thought your obedience made you righteous. You were slaves to those laws, but they got you nothing but death. So, instead, turn your devotion from those death-dealing laws to the life-giving grace of God: be as obedient to God as you were to those old laws.”

That is what he means by being a “slave to righteousness.” These two slaveries—to sin or to righteousness—are not equal opposites; it’s not simply a matter of one master or another. The sin to which we would devote ourselves—though it often seems easier and more agreeable—is harmful: “the wages of sin is death.” By contrast, “slavery to righteousness” is life-giving. Righteous can mean “right with God,” but it can also mean “being who we were created to be,” or “fulfilling one’s purpose.” For example, a pear tree that grows pears is righteous; a pear tree that bears no fruit at all, is not. A pear tree that bears apples is definitely not righteous—it’s not being a pear tree! Being “slaves to righteousness,” then, is actually not slavery at all, but freedom: the freedom to be who God created us to be.

Let’s try a different metaphor. Consider a plant growing in a sidewalk. It sprouts in the crack and it can only go one way: up. But, as a plant, that’s what it “wants” to do, anyway. That’s what plants do: they grow up. So, even though it is constrained by the concrete, it is free to do what it is trying to do. That’s what Paul describes as “slavery to righteousness.” Slavery to sin, on the other hand, is like a plant sprouting under the concrete and being forced to grow sideways looking for a crack. The plant can survive this for a while and may even eventually find a hole, but it is not life-giving for the plant. If it doesn’t find a way out to get the sunlight, it will eventually die.

By Mark Dixon (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Going back to Paul’s question: “Can we sin because we are not under the law?” This is foolishness. Why would you want to sin? Why would you want to grow sideways in the darkness when there is a crack in the sidewalk right above you? Why would you want to be slaves of sin even though you’ve been freed? Because when we give into those sinful passions, we present ourselves as obedient slaves to them; they become our masters. Paul’s encouragement is that instead of giving in to sin, we ought to “give in” to God’s grace, instead, since that righteousness—that state of doing what we were created for—is our master now.

So with that background on Paul’s metaphor and his meaning, what are we to take from this today? We are no longer a Church of Jewish and Gentile Christians, trying to decide whether we must follow the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but we are still a Church full of people with divided loyalties. One of the points that Paul doesn’t make but assumes is that these loyalties inform our identities. Jews are defined by their adherence to the law of Moses just as Americans are defined by our devotion to freedom. These can be good things, as Paul will explain in the next chapter, but they cannot bring us life, only death.

We have seen in the last 16 years how the American enthusiasm for spreading freedom to the world was the reason given for nearly two decades of uninterrupted warfare. We have seen how American desire for freedom from government interference has been used to justify efforts to repeal laws that ensure health care for everyone. Freedom itself is a good thing, but our desire to serve freedom and the acts we take to do so lead to death.

The good news is that in baptism all the other loyalties that laid claim to us and all the other identities we have were washed away; they were nailed to the cross with Christ and put to death. When you came up out of the water you were a new person, a person with one identity: Beloved Child of God.

One message we can take from Paul’s letter is to be intentional about who we serve, for if we are not serving God, we are serving something else; and even if that something else is God’s very own law handed down from Sinai, making that something else our master will only lead to death. If we ever place loyalty to political party, to country, to ethical principle, even to family above God, we are presenting ourselves as slaves to those things—we are shunning the life-giving sunlight to burrow once more beneath the sidewalk.

We are free to offer our selves in service to lots of things greater than us. We are free to give our lives in service to our country, to offer our devotion and love to spouses and children, to give our time and our money to organizations and institutions that promote the values we would like to promote in the world; but we are not slaves to those things, bound to blind obedience to them because through the cross of Christ we have been freed to serve God above all else.

It sounds strange, but presenting ourselves as obedient slaves to God really is freedom, because all life is lived in service to something, but only service to God allows us to be what God created us to be. Because the “slavery” metaphor is harmful and harsh, perhaps it’s better to understand it this way: In the death of Christ, God has punched a hole in the sidewalk above us so that we may grow straight up into the sunlight, just as God created us to do.

The final question, then, is how we can be obedient to God without the law; to put it another way, how do we know what God wants us to do? The Jews had the law, the Gentiles had their philosophers, but what guide do we have to guide us into the way of God? Paul writes, “you… have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted…” The “form” of that teaching is not a list of rules or a moral code to which we must adhere; rather the “form” of the teaching to which we have been entrusted is a person, one who gave his life freely for his friends—and even for his enemies—trusting that whether he lived or died, he was in God’s hands. We trust that at this table, the name and the life of that person is written on our hearts; that gathered around this table, this community becomes the body of Christ; and so we trust Christ and the community that bears his name to teach us obedience to God not from a set of rules, but from the living Jesus himself.

Mosaic of the calling of Peter and Andrew. Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy ca 500-520 CE. Photo by Flickr user Edith OSB [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)]

Laborers for Justice

June 18, 2017 1 comment

Audio Recording of “Laborers for Justice” recorded in worship (12:07)
2nd Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 11, Year A
Texts: Ex 19.2-8; Rom 5.1-8; Matt 9.35-10.23

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep with out a shepherd.” As I read this, I think of Jesus looking upon the crowds of people walking the streets of Minneapolis Friday night and blocking traffic on I-94 yesterday, crowds filled with anger and sorrow after the police officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted. I think of the crowds of people who are still in mourning on the second anniversary of the Mother Emanuel shooting, crowds who fear that no place—not even a house of worship—is safe. I think of the crowds of people in this country and across the globe who have been told time and again in no uncertain terms that their lives do not matter.

Photo by Anthony Souffle, AP

In Matthew’s gospel after the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spends two chapters going around healing, curing disease and casting out demons. Today we hear that as he goes about this work he comes to a realization: there is too much pain, too much brokenness, too much sorrow for him to fix on his own. There is too much work for him to do alone. As he looks on those crowds, he is moved with compassion. In Greek, the word compassion comes from the word for ‘guts’ or ‘bowels,’ as that was believed to be where emotions originated. Consequently, Jesus isn’t just moved with pity, he doesn’t just feel sorry for these people; he is moved from his deepest, inmost self by the gut-wrenching plight of these people, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. His guts are churning with love and compassion, and he is overwhelmed at the task ahead.

I would venture to guess that he is not alone in feeling this way as he looks out at these crowds of fed-up, forsaken people. Many of us are troubled at the effects of racism in our society, but we feel powerless to do anything about it. Let’s face it: for most of us, racism is something that other people deal with. Most of us have not ever been made to feel inferior or ignored because of our ethnicity. However, that does not mean that we are guiltless. Even if we ourselves are not racist, we benefit from the machinations of racism in our society, enjoying power and privilege due to our Whiteness that others do not.

Our complicity in a sinful system harms us. It not only denies the dignity of the oppressed, it also diminishes the humanity of the oppressor by marring the image of God within all of us, separating us from our sisters and brothers with a wall of suspicion, fear and even hate. No one gets to be neutral; there are only those who are oppressed, and those who benefit. Systemic sin like this keeps us all from living as God intends, and so it does violence to all of us.

We need to be saved from this sinful reality of racism, even those of us who don’t consider ourselves racist. The problem is not just racist people. It’s not that Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Philando Castile, is a racist. It’s not that the 12 jurors who tried his case are racists. The problem is a racist system that teaches us (among other things) to presuppose that Black men are dangerous—so dangerous that even when they are doing everything they are “supposed” to do, even when they are complying with the authorities, officers like Yanez are afraid for their lives. So dangerous, in fact, that 9 people gathered for bible study in a church are a problem that must be eliminated by any and all means. The system that radicalized Dylann Roof is the same system that terrified and then acquitted Jeronimo Yanez. If you have ever been pulled over by a police officer without being worried for your safety, you have benefitted from the sin of racism.

It isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything to make it that way, but it is the world in which we live, the original sin we inherit from those who came before us.  Until we can name that and recognize our need for God to step in and release us from our slavery to this violent cycle of death and destruction, nothing can change. We are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves; and so with Jesus we pray for more laborers to do the work of God’s kingdom in exorcising this demon in our midst.

The good news we hear today is that even in the pit of despair, God hears our prayers and answers them. Just as God heard the cries of the Israelites and delivered them from Egypt, God hears our cries and delivers us. We cry out for laborers for justice, and God responds: look around you! When Jesus tells his disciples to pray, the prayers are scarcely out of their mouths before he drafts them into the work for which they have just prayed. The disciples become the answers to their own prayers! Matthew tells us this story because he wants us to see ourselves in the disciples. Their work is our work. As Jesus looks out in compassion on these crowds of disaffected, dejected people, he invites us to be the agents of God’s salvation for all people.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Byzantine Gospel of 11th century, BnF, Cod. gr. 74

In baptism, we are called to the work of Jesus, just like the 12 apostles. And just like them, in our baptism we are also given everything we need to fulfill that calling. The Holy Spirit of God gives us the authority and the power of Christ to cast out the demons of systemic sin, to cure every illness and disease of our culture, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to all who despair.

Today we hear about the Israelites leaving a place called Rephidim. Before they left Rephidim, the Israelites saw and learned to trust in the goodness of God. God got them across the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army, God provided manna and water in the wilderness, God even saved them from an attack by the Amalekites. Like Israel, we too have seen God’s goodness at work: each and every one of us is here because we have in some way experienced the grace of God in our own lives. We are here because while we were still sinners—undeserving and unrepentant—Christ died for us; and having been joined to him in death, he now lives for us, sharing abundant, vibrant life with us.

We know that we have been given all that we need to continue the work of Christ as his Church because he has already given us so much more than we could ever earn, deserve, imagine or comprehend. We know that we have been given all we need because those who came before us—ordinary men and women—had all been gifted with the same Holy Spirit in the baptism we share with them to help them achieve what they did.

Even though the world is still broken, it is better than it was thanks to the people that Christ has called through the ages to work for God’s just and peaceable kingdom. The people of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit have already worked to end slavery, to secure the right to vote, to demand civil rights. The work is not finished, but thanks to God and the people whom God has called into service, we are headed in the right direction and, with God’s help, the goal is within sight.

The cries of the oppressed should unsettle us, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Each and every one of us ought to be mad as hell that a Black man can be murdered on camera and the person who pulled the trigger can still get acquitted. But more importantly, each and every one of us ought to be praying to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest, laborers to work for justice and for lasting peace; and when we pray we ought to be fully aware that we may very well be the ones that Jesus calls to go out and stop traffic or call congresspersons or run for office or do whatever it takes to cast these demons out, because that is precisely why we were baptized.

Baptized into Christ’s death and sharing in his resurrection, we trust that God will continue to bring new life for all. We are utterly free to sit on the sidelines and wait for God to do this without us. We are free to make excuses about how our gifts lie in different areas. We are free to rest in the comfort of God’s promise for a better tomorrow while others cry for help today, but if we do I have to wonder: are we really free? Or are we simply enslaved to a sinful system, kept complacent and complicit by a few table scraps while our humanity is slowly drained away?

Martin Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” Christ looks out on the crowds, harassed and helpless, bewildered and dejected, and has compassion on them. He looks out on these crowds now as they rage and protest, as they shout to be heard and silently weep, and he says to us, “Pray for more laborers.” Like the disciples, we will find that we, the baptized, are the answers to our prayers by the help of God; and like the disciples, we will find that if we step out in faith to serve those to whom Jesus calls us, we will experience God’s salvation in our own lives, because there is so much more waiting for us than a few table scraps.

When we gather around this table, we share a foretaste of the feast to come: a feast at which everyone—not just those with power or privilege—has a seat. We gather at this table to whet our appetite for that great feast which has no end, and to be strengthened to bring that reality to light. At this table, we are filled with the hope of God’s abundant life for all creation, a hope which does not disappoint.

Philando Castile, killed during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, MN

Clockwise from top left: Susie Jackson; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; DePayne Doctor; Ethel Lance; Daniel Simmons Sr.; Clementa Pinckney; Cynthia Hurd; Tywanza Sanders. Killed during bible study in Charleston, SC