By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Picture it:* Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then heads straight to the Temple to throw out buyers, sellers, and predatory lenders. Where the marketplace had once been, people in need of healing are then brought to Jesus, and children run around proclaiming him as the Messiah.
The chief priests and elders are floored by the unfolding disruption. They question Jesus, and after a brief exchange, Jesus left feeling fed up. He returns to the Temple in the morning, and begins to teach. Again, the chief priests and elders push him, demanding to know by whose authority Jesus acted. He responds by telling them three parables.
Today’s gospel lesson is the last of the three parables.* In the text, Jesus suggests that God’s kingdom is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. When the servants are sent to call the invited guests, they would not come. So the king sends another round of servants, urging his guests - come on, dinner is ready, it’s time to come in for the feast. The guests are indifferent, and shrug off the invitation. Some continue tending to their own business, while others with nothing better to do, mistreat and then kill the king's servants. The outraged king sent his soldiers to destroy the guests and their city. The king then instructs his servants to go to the busiest parts of town and invite anyone and everyone to the banquet, regardless of whether they can return favors or their social standing. As the king arrived he took in the crowd and noticed one person had not dressed appropriately. The king then raged at the speechless guest, before having his servants kick the man out. The parable closes by noting that many are invited, but only a few make it.
This is a challenging parable, especially if we insist on forcing an allegorical interpretation where the King is God, the son is Jesus, the servants are the prophets, so on and so forth. Commentator Yung Suk Kim observes that allegorical interpretation is unable to address the challenging questions this parable raises, such as:
Kim goes on to write,
“Allegorical interpretation is not wrong, but has limitations because it
tones down the deeper, radical, urgent message of the kingdom of God in
Kim suggests that when we interpret this parable, we do so by taking into account the literary context, where Jesus is addressing the chief priests and elders. Jesus is challenging their motivations. Are they in this work to serve God’s dream or have they gotten distracted by their own priorities? He reminds them that religious leaders may have been called by God into their work, but if they lose track of God’s priorities, God will simply find a new way to continue working alongside humanity to bring about God’s dream, calling forth new leaders as necessary. An important reminder for lay and ordained leaders across religious traditions.
This parable certainly gives us much to ponder. As I’ve sat with this text, I found myself reflecting on how the original guests responded to the king’s generosity. The king puts together an elaborate wedding banquet for his son, and is eager to celebrate with his guests. Yet his guests shun their invitation, shrugging it off, and in some instances they spat the king’s generosity back in his face by harming and then killing his servants.
How could they respond to generosity with such indifference or malice? Maybe their apathy stems from not being able to see beyond their own circumstances, too caught up with their own priorities to celebrate another’s joy. Maybe their malice stems from living with such agonizing pain and suffering, that they want others to experience the kind of pain they are living with. We don’t get to know why their response to generosity was what it was. But, we can let it encourage our own self-examination.
We can ask ourselves: In recent months, have we been operating from a posture of gratitude and generosity, or has it maybe been more like fear and scarcity?Please note - there is no wrong answer. We are where we are, and life brings what it brings. However, what is so tricky about fear and scarcity, is they seem to beget even more fear and scarcity. Right? Feeling afraid, feeling like there won’t be enough. Worrying and fretting - it never actually solves things or makes them better. It might give us an ulcer and some sleepless nights. It might strain our relationships or our ability to grow, learn, adapt, and change.
In a similar way, when we are full of gratitude and generosity, it seems to beget even more gratitude and generosity. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude reduces depression, lessens anxiety, supports heart health, relieves stress, and improves sleep.** When we express our sincere gratitude, it also improves our relationships and helps us to grow in faith. Likewise, studies have shown that when we practice generosity, our brain secretes ‘feel good’ chemicals such as serotonin, which regulates our mood; dopamine, which gives us a sense of pleasure; and oxytocin, which creates a sense of connection with others.***
We also know that people who volunteer tend to live longer than those who don’t.*** It is literally to our benefit when we practice gratitude and generosity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once wrote:
“I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math,
because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting
from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way…you gave and it then
seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you. And
there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East
receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out.
It receives beautiful water from the rivers and the water goes dank. I
mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and
does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive
and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming
more, more, and more joyful.” ****
Generosity is all around us.I see it in your actions each week. Generosity…
…is the donation of large paper bags for our outreach ministries; of granola bars for Sunday Soup & Sandwiches; of mayonnaise for the Survival Center.
…showing up at our feeding and outreach ministries with a desire to serve our neighbor by coming up alongside them, seeing them as beloved children of God, and listening to their stories.
…is filling the gaps in parish life. Recently I was so moved by how quickly ministry team leaders volunteered to cover facility maintenance tasks in October while our Sexton Steve is out on medical leave. You are vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, locking up the building, calling contractors, washing floors, eliminating glitter, handling our recycling, dusting, and so much more.
Generosity is also…
…praying for this community, our leaders, and our small part in helping
to bring about God’s dream for this world.
…being understanding and flexible amidst staffing transitions.
…sending a note, dropping off flowers or a meal when someone is going
through a tough time.
…serving on a leadership team and offering your wisdom and
…offering our gifts. Maybe that is playing your instrument at a special
worship service, singing in the choir, making large batches of soup,
managing inventories, organizing volunteers, or cheering people on.
…sharing our wealth. Our parish’s operating budget is largely funded
through your generosity. Maybe you’ve never made a financial pledge before, and you are ready to make that commitment this year. Maybe you are in a position to give a little bit more this year. We each give as we are able.
By now, many of you will have read our annual fall giving campaign letter in the Newsletter or you will soon receive a hard copy if you are on our mailing list. The clergy and vestry are asking each of us to prayerfully consider how we might share our wealth, wisdom, and works in 2024. We are excited to see what new things God is up to here at James and Andrew in the coming year, and we hope you will consider supporting our community in whatever ways you discern you are able to. We invite you to return your pledge form by October 29, when we will offer a blessing and prayer of thanksgiving over the pledge forms. If you are in need of a pledge form, we have hard copies available in the Narthex, where you enter the church, and it is also available on our website.
As we head back out into the world today, I would invite each of us to do some reflecting:
* This draws up Matthew Matthew 21- 22:1-14 NRSV and The Message translations.
****The Book of Joy, pg 264
***** Readings: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp23_RCL.html
By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Today is our final Sunday in the Season of Creation. This season is relatively new, originating in 2017. Yet the seeds for it were planted in 1989, when the head of the Orthodox Church proclaimed September 1 as a day of prayer for creation.* The World Council of Churches was instrumental in helping this day of prayer shift into an entire season, which now runs from September 1 to October 4.*
The Season of Creation was embraced by Pope Francis and other church leaders, and is now celebrated across the many branches of the Jesus Movement.*
Throughout this season, we renew our relationship with our Creator, and recommit to prayer and action, as we care for, “this fragile earth, our island home.” **
It is incredibly comforting and empowering to know that we are not doing this work in isolation. Far from it. We are laboring alongside 2.2 billion Christians and even more of our Interfaith siblings; and we will bear far more fruit working together.* Which is a way of saying, change is possible. Addressing the climate emergency is something that we can actually do, together.
During my sabbatical, you gave me the gift of time to pray, go on retreat, walk, read, listen, tend to my relationships with my loved ones, to be quiet with our Creator God and simply listen. What I gathered in the quiet, and in the witnessing of the world around me, was that the climate crisis is the moral issue of our time. Our Creator is yearning for us to see and understand that climate justice is social justice, as climate change perpetuates and magnifies structural inequalities and injustices. The climate crisis exacerbates and intensifies every issue we pray and care about, every concern which our outreach ministries seek to address. Climate chaos and climate denial are significantly impeding our work as the Church to bring about God’s dream for this world. As the Church labors for God’s dream, we find roadblock after roadblock, due to flooded out roads, with no place to redirect the floodwaters.
This summer I joined Julie Carew and two of our parish youth, Hendrick Carew and Logan Blais, at the Episcopal Church’s It's All About Love Festival in Baltimore. We gathered for daily worship, featuring incredible speakers that addressed the festival themes of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Each day we choose from dozens of workshops geared around these themes. At some point, I hope Julie, Hendrick, and Logan will share their experiences. For now, I want to share two things I learned about the climate crisis from our time in Baltimore.
First, I gained a new appreciation and perspective on what the climate crisis actually looks like on the ground in other parts of our world. I joined our parish youth at an Episcopal Public Policy Network workshop. We were asked to share our name, where we were from, and an issue our community was facing as a result of climate change. Logan, Hendrick, and I reflected on the ways the climate crisis is harming our local farms and disrupting the local food economy; the consequences of this summer's intense flooding; and the challenges of caring for the Connecticut River watershed.
We heard from Episcopalians living in Honolulu, who were still dealing with the aftermath of an event in May 2021, when the Navy spilt 19,000 gallons of jet fuel into Pearl Harbor. The fuel was not cleaned up properly, which resulted in contaminated water ending up in the naval base’s drinking water, impacting 93,000 military families and civilians. This was on top of a simmering frustration that the state of Hawaii gave up recycling in 2019, due to a changing global market around recycling and waste output. The most eye opening reflection came from an El Salvadorian elder out of the Diocese of Central America. She said,
“I hate to say this, but the biggest climate crisis we are facing [in El
Salvador] is the people of the North. I’m sorry to say it, but they say
advocating for environmental change is urgent, but they are not acting
like it is urgent.”
The room fell quiet for a moment, as we let this uncomfortable truth sink in. It was a humbling reminder that however challenged we may feel by the climate crisis here in the Global North, we reside in the part of the world where the vast majority of the world’s wealth is found.*** Even when things are bad, we have access to more resources. Whereas, the largest populations of the world’s poor reside in the Global South.*** As difficult as it may be for us to accept, the reality is, the world’s poor did not cause climate change, but they face its worst consequences and have the least to say about it, making it more challenging to escape poverty and increasing the scarcity of resources.****
At another workshop, the Bishop of Central America spoke with great joy about the wonderful work happening in the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. He playfully acknowledged that the Anglican Communion has spent the better part of the last few decades disagreeing about human sexuality; and that of late, leaders are realizing we are far more effective when we remember all we have in common. Every Anglican and Episocopalian shares in God’s call to care for creation. If you are interested in gaining a different perspective on the climate crisis, I would encourage you to follow the Anglican Communion Environmental Network on social media or subscribe to their newsletter.
I also left Baltimore with a new appreciation for the incredible toll the climate crisis is taking on our young people, as well as, the incredible wisdom they have to offer us. At one workshop on creation care liturgy, teenagers from Episcopal dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke of the climate related worries that plague them. In other workshops, young adults routinely acknowledged the ecological anxiety, grief, and despair that at times overwhelms them. It quickly became clear that young people across the globe are facing the stress and burden of the climate crisis like no other generation before them. There are times when this stress can be compounded by well intentioned adults, who often, without meaning to, place unfair pressure on young people to resolve the climate emergency, as previous generations were unable or unwilling to.
While there are many ways we can respond productively, there are two particular ways that I would like for us to consider.
First, let’s do what our Creator God has equipped us to do best: pray. Pray as individuals and as a community. Let us pray for every form of life within God’s beloved creation. Let us pray for the wellbeing of our young people. Let us pray for the wellbeing of the world’s poor as they face the worst consequences of the climate crisis. Let us pray that those in a position to act and advocate will do so.
The second thing we can do is listen to the wisdom of our young people. In one workshop, a young adult encouraged creation care advocates to lean on spiritual practices that help us connect with nature, recognizing that we cannot afford to get burned out. God’s creation needs us. So we need to take care of ourselves, because this is a long haul endeavor.
At a panel workshop on Renewable Energy, Hendrick and Logan went primed with questions about our church’s campus, including how might we shift away from natural gas and our eight boilers? And, how might we go about putting solar panels on our slate or metal roofs? The panelists, based in California, were unsure how to advise them, as they were less familiar with the challenges of old New England churches which spend a good portion of the year in cold temperatures. However, if the adults on that panel listened to them, just maybe, their questions will inspire the renewable energy panelists to do some more learning and digging about how other corners of the Episcopal Church might approach renewable energy.
Lastly, one young adult shared an incredible tool for discerning what we can each specifically do to help with climate solutions. She introduced Climate Action Venn Diagrams, created by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Each of the three circles invites you to reflect.
First, what are you good at? What skills, resources, and networks do you have to share? Who and what do you have access to? What can you bring to the table?
Second, what is the work that needs doing? Are there particular climate and justice solutions that interest you?
Third, what brings you joy and satisfaction? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What enlivens and energizes you?
Then in the center, where the three circles overlap, is a climate action that you may be particularly prepared to take on. While this tool is geared at individuals, I imagine it could be used by families, ministry teams, or even an entire faith community.
While the Season of Creation may conclude today, our work for another year has just begun. This is why today’s liturgy ends with a special dismissal, where we are all invited to dedicate ourselves to care for the Earth as we head back out into the world. In this coming year, I hope you will join me in…
…observing how the climate crisis is unfolding in other corners of creation far beyond us.
…praying for God’s creation every day, and all those impacted by the climate crisis, particularly our young people and the world’s poor.
…listen to the wisdom of our young people, and join them in taking action.
** Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer D
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