Sunday, September 24, 2017
Matthew 20:10-12 (NLT): God’s Generosity and a Man with an Umbrella
When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
The rain came down in torrents as I crossed the parking lot. I was walking fast and holding a red umbrella, one I kept packed in my trunk. Along the way, a ragged homeless man flanked me.
“You found my umbrella,” he stated as a matter-of-fact. His hair and beard were long, gray, and matted. And his tattered clothes were soaked.
I was irritated and in a hurry to get to class, so I said, “It’s not your’s.” And I continued my power walk.
But something deep inside stopped me in my selfish tracks. An overwhelming impulse flooded me, so I turned around, jogged back, and handed him the red umbrella.
“Here is your umbrella, Sir,” I apologized. And the man skittered off, never to be seen again.
As I turned to run toward class, a fellow student stopped me. She gave me a hug and said, “I love what you just did.” Little did she know that my initial instinct was to take the umbrella, ignore the homeless man, and get to class. Little did I know that God reaches out to us in small ways that may only make sense to us years later.
I was 21-years-old and far from Christ at the time, with little or no faith. The homeless man moment was both a foreshadowing of God’s immeasurable generosity and a reminder of his omnipotent love. In that moment, God reached out to me. And there was a conflict that took place within me: My self-centeredness collided with the Holy Spirit’s prompt to put someone else first. Through God’s grace, I choose love. If I look carefully at the incident, my choice had nothing to do with my own work. I was set on passing by the needy man, for my instinct was to leave him cold and wet. It was grace that moved me to stop and give. It was grace that planted a seed of hope deep within me.
Why was my classmate in that parking lot? Why the immediate hug and recognition of love? God, in his generous love, uses us in our common contexts to be agents of his will.
In today’s Gospel, the laborers who toiled all day get miffed by the vineyard owners’ “unjust” wages. How dare the owner pay the latecomers the same wage? Jesus, moreover, narrates the long-standing laborers’ grievances: “‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us.” But God, like the vineyard owner, is patient and generous. It is not about the work we do but about his grace, unconditional love, generosity, and mercy -- the work he does through us, even when we may not be not mindful. God is equally generous to all who are in his vineyard.
It took me 18 more years before I entered the vineyard. God is so generous!
I pray that we all look for the moments that God both uses and reaches out to us in his endless generosity.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Matthew 18:33-35 (NRSV): True Forgiveness
“‘Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
As Christians, it is often easy to mouth the words, ”I forgive you.” After all, it is the Christ-like thing to do when we are wronged. The question, however, is this: Does true forgiveness stop at the words we speak, or does it go beyond that to something greater?
According to Frank Doyle SJ, forgiveness is something far more involved than the words we speak:
The problem is not just one of ‘forgiveness’ but also of ‘reconciliation’. And where there is no reconciliation, or at least hope of reconciliation, there cannot be forgiveness in the full sense. . . Ultimately, reconciliation is a personal decision on each side. Forgiving in the full Christian sense is a form of loving and caring.
True forgiveness, in the sense that God forgives us, is an act of love and reconciliation. God doesn’t just say it; he gives us new life, blesses us with his love, and showers us with his grace. God forgives in the most perfect way, by loving and caring for us. Jesus, therefore, teaches this complete forgiveness to Peter and the disciples, and he teaches it to us, too: True forgiveness is an act of the heart; it is not just an act of words.
What happens when the other’s offense is so deep and the wound so painful that we cannot bring ourselves to forgiveness, let alone loving reconciliation? We pray to God that he do the forgiving for us. We offer the pain to God and let go of it. When we offer up our pain and struggle in prayer, it no longer owns us. This act of prayer and surrender is our loving action; it is our attempt to reconcile with something that is irreconcilable. God does the work when we lack the strength. But we must surrender our pain, resentment, and ill-feelings.
God’s love for us is unconditional, and his mercy is without measure. But we are created as people of free will. And we are given a choice in the way we forgive others. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus teaches that God’s mercy is only limited by the mercy we show to others -- “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The “as we forgive those” part is the self-imposed condition of our own forgiveness. It is our choice. Do we choose forgiveness from our lips or forgiveness from our hearts? Do we choose to be owned by our past pain, or do we give it all to God as a loving act toward reconciliation?
Heavenly Father, we pray for the grace to forgive -- that we can forgive as you have forgiven us. And in those moments when we have been hurt beyond words, I pray that your loving spirit guide us to moments of surrender. Free us, Lord, from the burdens of resentment by working in us to truly forgive and reconcile with others. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Romans 13: 9-10 (NRSV): Put on the Love of Jesus
[All of] the commandments . . . are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Social media is a platform that fosters the ruthless treatment of others. We do not have to browse far to see political, religious, celebrity, and personal targeting. And when the targeting occurs, it is so easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation. The anonymity and distance of the internet can bring out the worst in people. But what if we reversed this trend? What if we limited our online engagement to ways that were positive, peaceful, and constructive? The world would be different.
As the body of Christ, we are called to be a loving, merciful, kind people. Why, then, am I tempted to add to a condemning comment or put a negative spin on a “typical” news story? In Romans 7:15, Paul addresses this same problem: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Our battle is to overcome this compulsion to hate by acting, instead, in love. For Paul states that “love does no wrong to a neighbor.”
Let us put on, as Paul says in Romans 13:14, the love of Jesus Christ. When we do this, we harness the grace to be kind and loving, to act mercifully and forgive. As a result, our world and our lives will be transformed.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Romans 12: 9-10, 21 (NRSV): We Will be Known by Our Love
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our world is in turmoil. Nuclear threats, hate speech, racism, misogyny, political unrest, and injustice alarm us through recent news feeds and Twitter trends. This context can create chaos and unrest in and among us. Panic, fear, and anxiety thrive when we focus on the heartbreak of the world. But as Christians, our focus is different.
In chapter 12 of Romans, Paul discusses the beauty of living a new life in Jesus Christ and the true marks of a Christian: We are people given the grace to love others beyond our human capacity. Humanity loves with conditions and a tendency toward self-interest. God, on the other hand, loves without condition; He loves with the outpouring of self for the sake of others. The best example is the cross: Jesus willingly took on the scourge, humiliation, torture, crucifixion, abandonment, ridicule, and, finally, agonizing death. This amazing love -- a love we cannot conceive without the Holy Spirit -- is the love of God.
Jesus’ love is genuine, rejects evil, holds fast to the good, loves all mutually, and defeats evil with good. We are all called to the same kind of love. The Greek word for this love is agápē: It is the highest form of love exemplified by Jesus on the cross. And as Jesus states in Matthew 16:24, being His disciple entails the cross: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But it is a cross of love in the midst of a troubling world. Through our witness to the love of Jesus Christ, we can overcome the hate, meanness, self-centeredness, and insensitivity of the present world. The Rev. Bishop Michael B. Curry gives a beautiful summary of this same point:
“This [is the] way of love that we as followers of Jesus . . . must never be ashamed of, must never be afraid of, must dare to be evangelists of. . . We need a brand of Christianity that is not hate filled, that is not mean, that is not insensitive, that is not self centered. We need a brand of Christianity that looks something like Jesus, that’s about love.” (Sermon to the 232nd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut)
As we begin our new journey this September, I pray that we keep Paul’s words close to our hearts. They remind us of what Jesus taught His first disciples on the night of Holy Thursday: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
Have a blessed week!