Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
In today’s gospel, Jesus is teaching a large crowd as they travel towards Jerusalem. Within the crowd were tax collectors, and individuals known to be sinners. When Jesus heard some Pharisees and scribes grumbling about the company he kept, Jesus offered them a series of three parables:
In the parable of the lost sheep, a shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to go and find the one that has strayed away. It’s no small risk. After all, while seeking out the lone sheep something could happen to those ninety-nine others that might endanger the lives of the sheep, and the livelihood of the shepherd.
James Rebank, a shepherd in England, describes shepherding in his book The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District, as well as, actively on Twitter. Rebank writes:
“My job is simple: get around the fields and feed and shepherd the different flocks of ewes--dealing with any issues that arise. First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you; it’s about the sheep and the land. Second rule: sometimes you can’t win. Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work” (p.201).
The shepherd in today’s parable, likely shared a similar outlook. Finding this sheep was simply part of the shepherd’s calling and responsibility. It’s not about the shepherd’s ego, or even the shepherd’s livelihood; it’s about the sheep and the land. Even if the shepherd’s search were to prove unsuccessful, the work of shepherding, of caring for the lost, and the found, is simply part of the job.
When the shepherd in the parable finds his lost sheep, he calls his friends and neighbors, and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6). Finding this lost sheep is a relief, and a joy worthy of celebration. Rebank describes this kind of joy when he writes, “As ever with a farming life, the little triumphs matter, because of the countless failures” (p.160).
This parable is a reminder to the crowd listening to Jesus, and to us, that no one is beyond redemption. Whether we have lost our way, or have been found for a long while, our lives have value and meaning to our God. Not for God’s ego, but because we are each beloved, beautiful, and broken children of God. Sometimes we are going to get lost. Sometimes we are going to muck up our lives and the lives of those around us. And even still, God will come searching after us. Because we are loved beyond measure, even when we lose our way.
In the parable of the lost coin, we see a woman who loses one of the ten silver coins she has in her home, as she lights a lamp and searches high and low until she finds it. This story is interpreted in a couple of ways. One interpretation is that the woman is poor, and finding this coin is essential to her livelihood. Of course she will sweep her home from top to bottom, using what precious and expensive oil might be in her lamp to find the coin. Then when she finds the coin, it is such good news that she calls her friends and neighbors to say, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost” (15:9).
Another interpretation to this story, and admittedly, the one I prefer, indicates this woman is actually not poor. Indeed, she owns a home, and these ten coins reflect the money she has on hand in her home at that particular moment. Upon the realization that she has lost the coin, she lights her lamp, and sweeps her home high and low until she finds the coin. Using this lens, the woman is not searching out of fear and scarcity, but rather out of our mutual calling to be good stewards of our resources. The woman is ensuring she is a responsible caretaker who wastes nothing.
Both of these stories serve as a reminder that each and every person is a beloved, beautiful, and broken child of God. Each and every one of us here today; each and every person out there; and even, each and every internet troll, criminal, or ‘bad guy’. The good news about the Good News is that it is for everyone.
Which is why at the invitation for Holy Eucharist, Molly and I say every week, “This is God’s table, and all are welcome here. No exceptions.”
We are each of value and worth, even losing our way does not take away this truth. None of us is beyond the reach of our God. When we lose our way, God will turn the light on, and sweep the house to find us. When we’ve lost all hope, God will bare the elements to find us in the wilderness. This is the message Jesus wants the crowd of tax collectors, sinners, families, elderly travelers, Pharisees, scribes, disciples, and all the rest of the travelers to hear.
Yet if we keep digging, these parables hold even more truth for us. The shepherd who puts his care of the sheep and land before himself. The woman who puts her care of her resources before herself. Just as humanity is never beyond redemption, nor is all of creation.
During this season of creation care, the Church is invited to wake up to the ways we have abused our power over the earth. In the beginning, we were called to be stewards of creation, and instead we have become a cancer to creation, draining the earth of its resources and leaving a wasteland in our midst. These parables are an invitation for us to be better caretakers of creation. We have become accustomed to convenience, and often are unwilling or unsure of how to change our customs and behaviors so that creation might begin to heal. Many of us know we need to do something, but are unsure of where to begin.
In the last nine months, the church’s new Green Team has worked to help us navigate ways to help be better stewards of creation. They’ve hosted 100 mile meals, asked us to take creation care pledges, maintain a blog, and on November 10, the Green Team will be leading a discussion of the book 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste. Our Green Team is here to help us, as we seek to live more intentionally as caretakers of creation. And there are countless other resources in the Pioneer Valley to help us live more intentionally.
We do not have to be overwhelmed into inaction. To do so, would be a choice to remain lost in the wilderness. God has invited us to realize something bigger. We are never too lost for God. Nor is God’s creation too lost to be healed. Not if we work together. Amen.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is dining in the home of a prominent Pharisee. All the other guests are pretty curious about Jesus. They’ve heard he has a reputation for eating with prostitutes and tax collectors. Even before they sat down to eat, Jesus healed a man with dropsy, in spite of it being the Sabbath.Jesus was captivating, compelling, and yet, he routinely ignored social norms. No one really knew what to make of him.
While most of the guests were vying for seats near the host, Jesus hung back and watched. He then began to address his fellow guests with a parable. When you attend a reception, it’s wise to take the least prominent seat in the room. The seat that is furthest from the host and other guests. If you take the prominent seat, you risk embarrassing yourself and your host, should they need to ask you to move for a more honored guest. Whereas if you take the lowliest seat, your host may honor you by asking you to come and sit with them.
Jesus’ parable about humility is poignant and timeless. Sometimes we become so captivated by a compelling person, suddenly in our midst, that we forget ourselves. Have you ever hung back at a dinner party only to notice a crowd gathered around a prominent person, seemingly hanging on the individual’s every word? We get caught up in the prestige or power the person represents. Some small part of ourselves wants to be glorified, and in that instant we lose sight of building genuine relationships. Instead it becomes about what we stand to gain.
Jesus is suggesting we do something counterintuitive. It’s a matter of asking ourselves when we arrive in those social situations--what would be best for my host? By putting their needs before our desires, we are both practicing humility and loving our host.
Jesus goes a step further by offering his host some feedback. When you invite people to dinner, don’t invite your friends, family, or prominent guests, as they might return your hospitality. Instead, embrace those guests who can never repay you. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. In doing so, the host will be blessed by building genuine relationships with those they might never have gotten to know otherwise.
Jesus provided his host, and fellow guests, with a good deal of uncomfortable things to consider. What if we welcome this lesson as an opportunity to explore our own discomfort?
Do you remember November 2016? In the two weeks between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, I heard the same angst repeated on public radio, in editorials, in the news, and overwhelmingly on social media. How were we to break bread with our family on Thanksgiving Day? The perception, whether it be real or perceived, was that our nation was more divided than ever over the recent election of now President Trump. How would Trump supporters and Clinton supporters ever find anything to talk about, besides the cranberry sauce? For many people, sharing this one meal felt insurmountable and painful. People came up with excuses to change their Thanksgiving plans, so they didn’t have to sit through an uncomfortable meal with their family.
Yet the true damage of that season, was not our anxiety about how to deal with uncomfortable dinner conversation with the family we vehemently disagree with. Rather, it was inviting the darkness in our world to takeover our meal, to drive us away from genuine relationships and the light and blessing that is born there. Because our God is a God of abundant love, and our God values being in genuine relationships above all else. Even with those who we believe voted for the wrong person, whoever that may be for you. This division has pervaded our culture in the years since, and if we buy into it, darkness will continue to grow and further fracture our relationships.
Or, we can choose to sit with the uncomfortable truth that Christ offers us in today’s lesson. We can spend some time reflecting.
If you were to host a meal and invite guests beyond your comfort zone, who would you invite?
Jesus is calling us to turn away from fulfilling our own desires, from spending all our time with people who might improve our social standing or who might repay us. Instead, we are being called to turn our attention towards the needs of creation and our neighbors. The first step we have to take is practicing some humility. We all have gotten caught up with a prominent guest, hanging on there every word. We have all done some networking, hoping the favor might be returned. It’s human, it may even be part of what has made our species evolve so successfully. And, it also works against the dream God has for us.
God calls us to be in genuine relationship with one another and creation. This includes spending time with people we would rather not hang out with, and taking care of our earth by doing things we’d rather not be inconvenienced by, like composting and limiting the meat we eat. The thing we least want to do, the person we least want to break bread with--that is probably where God is calling us to go.
I wonder, what if instead of just imagining such a meal with those who make us uncomfortable, we actually each hosted one? What blessing might come from building genuine relationships?
Rev. Heather Blais
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus offers us an important lesson about distractions. In the story we witness Jesus and his disciples arriving in a village as they make their way toward Jerusalem. Since this story is in all four of the canonical gospels, we know that this village is actually Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. These other versions of the story tell us that Mary and Martha are actually Lazarus’ sisters, and that these women are not strangers to Jesus. In fact, they are female disciples that Jesus loves like family.
It’s clear that Martha has a gift for hospitality. She welcomes Jesus and his motley crew into her home. She is doing what any good host does when you welcome guests--you ensure there is a nice spot to take your sandals off and relax, that there is plenty of food and drink to serve, and space for good conversation. She is doing the invisible and thankless work that goes with keeping house, being a good host, and being a caretaker.
Martha is acutely aware that her sister has gone off to sit with the company and she’s been left alone to handle the work. When Martha brings her guests refreshments, she doesn’t give Mary a sisterly look, make passive aggressive comments, or even directly ask her for help. Instead, she puts her guest, who granted is like a brother, on the spot and asks, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me" (Luke 10:40).
Jesus answers her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…” (Luke 10:41). Some believe that “Martha, Martha” is a criticism of her behavior. I tend to see it as something else. A wake up call, an invitation. I imagine Jesus is talking to Martha as a parent might speak to their child with attention deficit disorder, with abundant love and a touch of exasperation.
The child is in their cloud focused on their agenda, and completely oblivious to you speaking to them. “Martha, Martha” is Jesus trying to get Martha’s attention. The way a parent would repeat their child's name when they want their child to focus on their voice for a moment, to actually hear what the parent has to say. The parent ensures there is eye contact, and sometimes this might mean holding the child’s cheeks gently with their hands to ensure they are looking face to face. The parent might be trying to get their child to simply brush their teeth in the morning, yet Jesus is offering all of us a lesson on our own distractions.
Jesus might as well be saying, "Heather, Heather; David, David; Sharon, Sharon; Rich, Rich; you are worried and distracted by many things… (Luke 10:41). Add your own name in, as Jesus is talking to each of us. Because in truth we are all easily distracted by many things.
We are distracted by emails, text messages, video games, silly apps, bills, phone calls, newspapers, housework, to do lists, meetings, lawn work, our jobs, our volunteer work, and by the onslaught of constant news and advertisements telling us how awful the world is and what we can buy to make ourselves feel better.
Some of our nations’ elected officials distract us on twitter, fox, and cnn with their arguments, fear mongering, and hate speech that is used to attack anyone that is different, but particularly people who are brown and black, people who have come to this county to make a better life--by legal and non legal means. Their banter and freedom to use such hateful rhetoric not only gives permission for any and everyone to do the same, including our children, but distracts us from their real goal of white nationalism. I imagine four hundred years ago when white European settlers came to America, they too were distracted, by the freedom of this new opportunity, by the beauty of this new world, by the harsh requirements it took to start a new life. They were too distracted to notice they had actually taken this land from those who were here long before them.
The examples of distraction within our individual lives, communities, and our history are endless. Which is why the second part of what Jesus says to Martha matters so much.
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42)
I am quite positive Mary also was distracted from time to time, because we all are easily distracted. It’s part of being human. Yet in this particular moment, in this particular story, she sat at Jesus feet and listened. She showed up and had an open heart and mind. She practiced being present. She chose being in relationship over her long to do list. We are invited to do the same.
And notice what Jesus says, when we practice being present in our relationships, that peace, joy, and a sense of constancy will not be taken away from us. It will give us the strength to face the truth underneath our distractions. Maybe we scroll endlessly through our facebook newsfeed because we are lonely. Maybe we use apps and video games because we are bored and unsure of how our gifts could possibly be used to make this world better. Maybe we turn off the news because we can’t take it anymore.
Yet we are here today, in this absurd heat not because we thought it would be fun to sweat it out in uncomfortable pews. We are here today, together because we know being in relationship matters. That we need one another and our God to keep us from getting too distracted. That we need to be in relationship with one another, to trust in the knowledge that when we stand together with the love of our God this world can be made a better place. It’s not just idealism.
When we choose love, we are fighting against the distractions in our lives and in this world, which harm us and harm our neighbors. As we head back into the agonizing heat today, I invite you to ponder with me:
-What is distracting you?
-What is distracting our community?
-What is distracting our world?
-How might you practice being present today?
-Who in your life really needs you to be more present?
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