Sunday, September 18, 2005

BCP - Proper 20 A - 18 Sep 2005

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother Randy Greve, n/OHC
BCP – Proper 20 A - Sunday 18 Septembere 2005

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-27
Matthew 20:1-16

"You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat."

Who is your "them"?

The Book of Revelation imagines heaven's heart as the great throne of Christ the Lamb. The faithful from all the ages encircle the throne and worship for all eternity. Any feeble attempt to imagine the unimaginable is dangerous, but in my mind's eye I see rows of saints rippling out from the throne at the center.

Is there order to anyone's place in the numberless masses, I wonder? Surely, I am prone to believe, the more pure, holy, and spiritual you were in this life, the closer you'd get to having a front row seat. After all, hadn't you earned it? In my seating chart the apostles would be closest. Next are the martyrs, then the great mystics, teachers, and doctors of theology. Behind them are the monks and nuns. Then the ordinary Christians - Americans first, of course, followed by the rest of the world's Christians - what there are of them. Way in the back are Bishop Spong and Karen Armstrong - they're in, but appropriately far behind me.

What would your seating chart look like? Who is your "them"? It may be interesting to reflect on who you would seat behind you and why. Of course I also enjoy naming those who I'd rather not be there at all. A friend defines Hell as the alternate choice for those who arrive at the gates of Heaven, look in, and say to St. Peter, "Thank you, but no. We're not in communion with them."

Placing myself within the world of this morning's Gospel parable, I realize that merely being called out into the vineyard is not enough for me. I'm not content just to pick grapes. I want to pick more and better grapes than anyone else. I want the other laborers - them - to see me picking more and better grapes. And I want the landowner to pay me what I'm worth - reward me for the indispensable worker that I am. I'll bear the burden and the heat of the day if I know there's a big payoff at the end. But for the average daily wage? I'm not so sure.

Being average and ordinary is my worst fear. Who was ever content with all "C's" on their report card? In what Frederick Borsch calls "blinding insecurity" I must be better than them. I yearn to know that the lazy, the sinful, the less enlightened and sophisticated, the "other" - is worse, deserves less, and cannot, will not have as much value to the landowner as me. Keeping the focus on the inferior latecomers and off myself allows me the smug comfort and arrogant detachment that my ego craves. I keep my "them" them.

Until I listen to the parable again and allow it to do its work. Then I can begin to see a new way of relating emerge - a way out of the "us" versus "them" trap. In the vineyard that is the world, we forget we're not the landowner. We don't define the terms. We don't sign the checks. We go into the fields and work. Work for the landowner. We gather the harvest before us as best we can, knowing that other workers will come and work in different parts of the field.

Some of the landowner's personnel decisions are mysterious to me, for sure. It's tempting to look around in the field and wonder, in the words of my favorite cocktail napkin, "Who invited all these tacky people?" Well, these tacky people have been called into the field just as I have and they are gathering in fruit as sweet as mine.

We are being shown how to move from us against them to a common vision of what our shared labor means to the landowner. Can I, can we welcome and value the worker who's different, who doesn't work like me, talk like me, look like me - those behind us in our heavenly seating chart?
If we hear this parable deeply and allow its truth to transform our definitions of in and out, for us and against us, us and them - we can celebrate our common labor in the one field. As we do that we get a glimpse, a hint, a taste of what will be when the kingdom has come.

In heaven, around the real throne, when we know even as we are known, we'll get our daily wage. And it will be sufficient, even good. We didn't have to be hired, but we were. We may have refused to work, but we didn't. We bore the burden and the scorching heat. Some bore more and others less. But in heaven we will finally be equal. We will accept the gift of being average and ordinary. We will not sit in ranks or rows. Grace has no seating chart. When our work is done. When we put down our baskets for the last time and enter into the day where there is no dawning, no sunset, no heat, no burden - will join the one circle - unbroken, undivided, around Christ the landowner. We will all have front row seats.

Br. Randy Greve, n/OHC

Sunday, July 17, 2005

BCP - Proper 11 A - 17 Jul 2005

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother Scott Wesley Borden, OHC
BCP – Proper 11 A - Sunday 17 July 2005

Proper 11A
Wisdom 12:13,16-19
Romans 8:18-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

At first glance, the parable in today's Gospel reading takes us to some old, familiar ground. God sows good seed, the devil sows bad seed. At some point we get separated, good from bad. Bad things happen to bad plants and the good plants live happily ever after. More or less.

Sometimes these parables are so familiar that we hear our memory more than the actual story. But when you spend some time with this parable, things begin to fall out of place.

In the parable, we have this great drama about weeds sprouting up among the wheat. Now I'm not much of a gardener - in fact I can only identify about one flowering plant. But I do know one important thing about weeds. You don't need to plant them - they take care of themselves.

So this tremendous surprise among the slaves that weeds have sprung up among the wheat is quite odd. Of course weeds sprang up. That is what weeds do. Weeds come up everywhere. Plants, especially weeds, are aggressive. In the driest, hottest, nastiest crack in the most forlorn sidewalk in the most paved over city on earth, there is a weed poking up its opportunistic head.

But rather than reminding the slaves that weeds are an ordinary part of life, the Master says "An enemy has planted them." For a very long time this answer seemed ordinary enough to me. But think about it. The Burpee seed catalogue doesn't exactly offer packets of weed seed. I am quite certain that if we head up the road to Mountain View Farms and ask for a bag of "unwanted plant" seed, all we'll get is strange looks.

I didn't do an exhaustive search, but Google, the index to the entire known universe, offers no advice on where to get seeds for weeds. In fact, if you google seeds for weeds, it assumes you're looking for methods to control weeds. Nobody could really be looking for weed seeds.

So where did this enemy get a big supply of weed seeds?

There were ancient laws regarding the spreading of weeds in someone else's field. So we can guess that there was some ancient form of bio-terrorism that involved spoiling your enemy's crops with weeds. But still, to do this took time, effort, and planning. You had to find a crop of weeds, harvest the seeds and then, next planting season, commit your crime. This was labor intensive, so you either had to have help or have a lot of spare time. Simply put, there were better, faster, easier, more effective, and much more common ways to louse up your enemy's crops.

So who has the time and energy to gather and spread weeds? Who can engage in this rather laborious, yet inefficient act of subterfuge. What happens if I let my imagination run free thinking about weeds - who has a ready supply of nettles and prickly stuff, a good source of poison ivy and irritating stuff, a big bag of nasty, old, angry crab grass?

The answer that comes to me, I have to admit, is me. I have a virtually unlimited supply of the seeds of old hurts and nettles, jealousies and briars, insecurities and burrs. I have my ready supply of weeds that I can scatter on the fertile soil of any relationship - relationships with other people and with God. Suddenly I find myself not just an innocent onlooker to this parable. I've got a starring role - unfortunately it's the villain...

Now this big self-revelation is not me going out on a great big limb all alone. I'm pretty certain that I have company. I'm not the only person in this room who has a bag of weed seed. In fact, if there is someone here without a bag of weed seed, you can toss the first stone...

We are not bad people - but we're human. Weeds are part of the condition of this world, part of our broken condition.

And that is one of the secret wonders of this parable - hidden in plain sight. Its not only concerned with our broken-ness, our destructive and self-destructive behaviors. That's just a starting point.

The slaves want to know if they should pull up the weeds. It's a silly question. Of course they should pull up the weeds. That's their job. They do it every year.

But the Master says - no, let the weeds and the wheat grow together. It will all get sorted out later by someone else.
The slaves are totally qualified to tell the wheat from the weed. But we're talking about more. We're talking about ourselves. And God reminds us again and again that we are not qualified to judge: Not others. Not our selves. We are not qualified to tell the good from the bad. We don't get to determine who is evil and who is godly.

Its not that it doesn't matter how we act. . Anybody with any sense of Jesus at all knows that how we act is terribly important. Jesus calls us to live in love. Jesus calls us to feed his sheep. How we act toward others is how we act toward God. It certainly does matter how we act, how we relate.

But God, not us, will do the weeding. God alone will judge. God alone, with the help of angels, will determine who is wheat and who is weed.

This message is stunning to me and extremely urgent in our lives today. I get it, and yet I forget it almost as quickly. We desperately want to live as though the parable had a very different ending. We would really like it if the Master said to the servants "Yes, by all means dig out every last one of those nasty weeds. Don't let one of them remain. Protect the good wheat." I want permission to say what is good and what is bad - because I'm quite confident that I can tell what is what and who is who.

This drive has been the basis of the worst horrors we have ever unleashed. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial segregation, Adolph Hitler's final solution... Yanking out the bad weeds so that the good can thrive.

The most frightening thing about Hitler, to me, is the realization that he was trying to make the world a better place. He was just trying to get rid of the weeds; the jews and the disabled, the homosexuals and the mentally deficient, among others... in order to make heaven on earth.

Some time when you are ready for some painful and frightening reflection, ask yourself who is on your list of weeds. Who do you, in your heart of hearts, truly believe the world would be better without? Who do we as a nation think the world needs to be rid of? Who have we labeled as unwanted? Who do I think is a weed?

If we could just get rid of the weeds in our cities, our schools, our churches, our monastery... we'd be that much closer to living in the Kingdom.

Except that we would have missed the Kingdom altogether. Because the Kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sows good seed while someone else sows weeds. We don't build the Kingdom by yanking out the weeds; by getting rid of the undesirable.

We've spent some time in the Associates group this weekend talking about wholeness as the direction in which Jesus calls us. Wholeness means we have to share our world and our lives with people we really don't like. And Jesus goes one step further - we don't just have to share our lives, we have to love those people we really want to hate.

Wholeness means that we have to let the wheat and the weeds grow together and trust in God's wisdom to sort it out.

When I think about this, after I get past the disconcerting ambiguity, it truly fills my heart with joy. Because I, in some ways and at some times, am a weed. Yet there is still a place for me in the field. Amen.