November 23 Vestry Agenda

Members: Bob Meyer, Warden (2021), Laura Hannett-Smith (2021), David Tyler (2021), Anne Wickes (2021), Linda Williams (2021), Tina Kopp, Warden (2022), Mike Kimber (2022), Carol Murphy (2023), Jim Shults (2023), Clerk: Sue Parry; Treasurer: Denise Mako

Priest-in-Charge:  The Rev. Dan Handschy

Agenda

  • Approval of St. David’s Court minutes
    • Conflict of interest forms?
  • Approval of October minutes
  • Report of priest-in-charge
  • Wardens’ reports
  • Treasurer’s report.
  • Other reports

Old business

  • Calling Dan as rector – I’ve received a card from the bishop, but wondering about official letter.
  • PPP loan forgiveness paperwork filed – Vanessa at Solvay says all is in order, waiting on SBA.
  • Stewardship; report of pledge drive so far.
    • 24 Pledges so far, for $72,674
    • 17 likely pledges outstanding for $45,350 (conservative – no increase)
    • Likely total:  41 pledges for a total of $118,024
    • Last year:  41 pledges for a total of $114,384

New Business

  • suspension of in-person worship

October 26 Vestry Minutes

Approved November 23, 2020

Due to COVID-19 the vestry meeting was conducted via ZOOM beginning at 7:00PM.

PRESENT:
Clergy:The Rev. Dan Handschy
Wardens:Tina Kopp and Bob Meyer
Vestry:Mike Kimber, Carol Murphy, Jim Shults, Dave Tyler, Ann Wickes and Linda Williams
Absent:Laura Hannett-Smith
Treasurer:Denise Mako
St. David’s Court:Cindy Byrd, David DeSilva and Douglas Riecher

ST. DAVID’S COURT:
Cindy B. asked if there were any corrections to the minutes from April. Carol M. made a motion to accept the minutes, seconded by Mike K. and approved.
David D. from Dermody Burke and Brown went over the audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. It was a very clean audit. St. David’s Court is a well run building. Tina K. made a motion to accept the audit, seconded by Mike K. and approved.
Cindy B. explained the Conflict of Interest form. Each vestry member must fill it out and return it to her.
Cindy B. went over the YTD budget and explained any variations. The site has a part-time manager and a full time live in superintendent. The superintendent position is currently vacant. The proposal for converting to solar electricity purchased from a solar farm was approved earlier in the year by the vestry vis e-mail.

At 7:46 the St. David’s Court portion of the meeting was closed and the regular vestry meeting began. The minutes for September were read online. Jim S. made a motion to approve the minutes, seconded by Dave T. and approved.

REPORT OF THE PRIEST-IN-CHARGE: Dan H.
Dan H. brought us up to date on his pastoral care visitations. He was quarantined for two weeks after his return form Colorado. He is the chair of the Nomination Committee for the Diocesan Convention.

WARDENS’ REPORT:
Tina K. will put the minutes on the website.
There was a question about our outreach for the Samaritan Center. Any contributions to the sandwich fund is put into the designated fund for outreach. There is currently around $4000.00 and we are spending $130.00 to $151.00 per week. They no longer need sandwich makings as they are back to serving hot meals. They can buy food more cheaply than we can so cash contributions are preferred. Our outreach to the Samaritan Center is reflected in the Parochial Report. Ann W. made a motion to donate $400.00 a month for the next six months to the Samaritan Center, seconded by Carol M. and approved.
Mike K. asked if we had an outreach plan in place. We currently do not. We should make a plan for long term.

TREASURER’S REPORT:Denise M.
In September we had a loss of $2032.00. 83% of pledges are paid. We might squeak through in October. Because some pay their pledges at the beginning of the year, we are closing the gap in our budget so we hope to make it though the end of the year on target. All bills are current and our assessment is up to date. The paperwork for forgiveness of the PPP loan is filled out and will be submitted soon. Brophy, the cleaning service, will be going up $20.00 per month. The service was resumed last week.
The money coming in for the outreach program for the Samaritan Center is astonishing.

CALLING DAN H. AS RECTOR:Dan H.
Denise M. has given Dan H. the four years of financial records which the Diocese requested. He will file these with Canon Carrie Schofield-Broadbent tomorrow. He will add kudos for the outpouring for outreach. Jim S. made a motion that Dan H. file the five year financial projection with Carrie S-B., seconded by Bob M. and approved. Lots of good stuff came out of the cottage meetings. Thanks to those who ran the meetings. It was asked that the minutes be posted on the website and Tina K. will do that. We will also have someone from the vestry give a short update during announcements on a regular basis.

NEW BUSINESS:Dan H.
The Stewardship letters went out today and pledge cards will go out next week. We will again have individuals write a short note for the weekly newsletter on how giving, not only to St. David’s, has helped their spiritual growth.
The music yesterday was fabulous. We purchased equipment using the $3000.00 grant from the diocese to enhance the music program for those listening online.
Coffee hour will be move to 12:00 rather than 1:00.
Reservations are still needed for in-person worship to permit for contact tracing if necessary.

Dave T. made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:15, seconded by Jim S. and approved. Our next meeting will be Monday, November 23 at 7:00PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan Parry, Clerk of the Vestry

September Vestry Minutes

Due to COVD-19 the vestry meeting was conducted via ZOOM beginning at 5:30PM.

PRESENT:

Clergy:The Rev. Dan Handschy

Wardens: Tina Kopp and Bob Meyer

Vestry: Laura Hannett-Smith, Mike Kimber, Carol Murphy, Jim Shults, Dave Tyler, Ann Wickes and Linda Williams

Tresurer:Denise Mako

The minutes from August were read on-line. Two corrections were noted: The meeting ended at 6:20PM and there was a double negative in the paragraph about our cleaning service. Dave T. made a motion to accept the corrected minutes, seconded by Bob M. and approved.

Dan H. discussed his electronic visitations.

Dan H. will be going back to Colorado to pack up his mom for her move to Bellingham, Washington. He will leave on September 28 and return on October 7.

This meeting will serve as our September vestry meeting so we will not meet on September 28.

Dick Fields has a plan for the music program. Dan H. will forward Dick F.’s e-mail to the vestry.

We need two delegates to the virtual Diocesan Convention being held November 20-21. There will be sessions for a few hours each day with breaks in between. Jim S. and Carol M. volunteered to attend. Bob M. moved to accept Jim S. and Carol M. as our delegates to the Diocesan Convention, seconded by Dave T. and approved.

PRIEST-IN-CHARGE REPORT:Dan H.

MOVING BACK INSIDE:Dan H.

Diocesan Step III states that we can return to inside worship at 33% of the building capacity. That would allow us 46 people at each service. We must file a covenant with the Diocese to move back indoors. This would require a deep cleaning (Brophy can do that), physical distancing, no singing, one way in and another way out, no common touch objects such as collection plates or books, no coffee hour and Communion with bread only. Reservations must be made for in person worship. Are we ready? Bob M. has spoken with Brophy and they will get back to us with a quote. Once we resume the cleaning service it would need to be on a regular basis as opposed to as needed. Linda W. asked if it could be scheduled every other week instead of weekly. Dan H. said that we could help with the deep cleaning so that Brophy would not have to do more than they did before we closed. Dave T. asked what would happen with Brophy if we have to close again. Bob M. will ask when they call back. There is a Diocesan grant for deep cleaning. The filing deadline is Friday so we will get that in by then. We can clean the pews, doorknobs and other shared surfaces ourselves at the end of the service.

Will we have one or both services? Bob M. said we could use the phone tree to get parishioner’s opinions whether if we should move back indoors.

It was decided to file a covenant to resume services indoors, beginning October 11, the first Sunday after Dan H returns. We will still stream the 10:00 service for those who are not comfortable coming into the building.

Some building use groups have returned. They must have less than 15 people attending and they must clean before and after the meeting. They must follow the same cleaning precautions we do for services.

What can we do about hanging up coats? Maybe we could hum hymns.

LETTER TO THE BISHOP:Tina K. and Bob M.

The wardens have met with Dan H. and Canon Carrie Schofield-Broadbent and drafted a letter to the Bishop calling Dan H. as Rector for St. David’s. There was discussion as to when we should send the letter. Carrie S-B. suggested that we hold virtual cottage meetings to let the parishioners know that the vestry decided to call Dan H. as Rector and to share the data from the vestry survey. It would also give the parishioners a chance to voice their opinion and ask questions. This will be the opportunity for folks to share their thoughts, find out where they think God is leading St. David’s and let the vestry know what else they would like to see in our future. Two vestry persons will host each session. Dan H. will set up the dates and the ZOOM meetings. There will be a session in the building for those who do not have electronic access after the Diocese has approved our covenant. Laura H-S. suggested that the survey results go out the the congregation before the cottage meetings are held. Jim S. stated that it would be simpler to mail the survey results out with a request to send it back with questions, suggestions and comments. Dan H. said that Carrie S-B. suggested in person meetings as it would help people connect with each other and the vestry. Surveys often are cold and impersonal. We will also offer the opportunity to speak with a vestry person one-on-one if some one is uncomfortable airing an opinion in a group setting. Jim S. made a motion to send the letter, as drafted by the wardens, to the Bishop requesting that Dan H. be called as Rector to St. David’s, seconded by Linda W. and approved. This letter will be sent shortly.

Jim S. made a motion to adjourn at 6:29PM, seconded by Dave T., and approved. Our next meeting will be Monday, October 26, at 7:00PM

Cottage meeting notes

Cottage meeting attendees:  Tina Kopp, Dave Tyler, Frank Decker, David Burgess, Wendy Flynn, Rob Hradsky.

In reviewing the survey results, there was some confusion because the results didn’t display the key (1= strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree). For most questions a “high score” was good, but for the couple of negative questions (i.e. “We have a communication problem”), a low score was good.

     Frank noted that the Vestry communicated well. He said that we were especially open about finances which is apparently not the case in many Episcopal churches.

      There was a discussion about how the vestry communicates with the parish. Should monthly minutes be available to everyone either on-line or in the newsletter? If so, personal or confidential information should be omitted. Rob suggested that a vestry member could give a brief update during a church service.

     There was strong consensus that Dan has been wonderful. He gives excellent sermons which is important. David Burgess said that he is a Godsend, welcoming and kind.

      Frank felt that talent and enthusiasm are what drives St. David’s.

      D. Burgess would like a picture of each congregant for a collage.

      There was a question as to whether a demographic profile of each member should be sent to the diocese.

       Wendy is interested in arranging with some local artists to show their work in the church on a rotating basis. The details will have to be worked out after the pandemic.

       I think it’s safe to say that everyone is more than happy with Dan and would be very pleased to have him as our Rector.

Meeting #2

Get on with it = (IMO) enough rigmarole; time to install Rev. Dan

Time restriction answer: Linda answered that he would be a permanent fixture. That seemed to satisfy the inquiry.

Meeting #3

– What effect does Dan moving from priest-in-charge to rector have on his compensation?

Remain the same? Form/parts change but total remains the same? Will it change?

– Relating to one or more of the survey questions;  “are these unresolved issues at St. Davids because of the past (Wally?)  or current”.

– Feeling of positive attitude at St. Davids in that people, including the Diocese, are looking forward and not being influenced by the past.

– Dan’s weekly Bible study is very worthwhile as well as interesting.  Too bad more people do not take advantage of it.


Learn from these things

Sermon; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 11 October 2020; Proper 23A (RCL); Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23′ Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14.

     Groan.  Matthew ruins a perfectly good parable.  Luke has a version of this same parable.  A man throws a feast, but when he sends his servants to tell those invited that the feast is ready, they beg off, one after the other.  When the servants return, the host tells them to go out into the streets and lanes of the city, and invite those they find.  When they have done that, there is still more room, so he sends them out again, to invite in more, including the lame and the blind.

     Rachel Held Evans used this story in one of her blog posts.  She said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”  It’s a great image.

     But Matthew needs to throw in some vindictiveness.  The King becomes enraged with those who bowed out, and sends his army to destroy their city.  Matthew turns this story into a story about Jewish unfaithfulness.  Because the Jews refused to come to the feast, God destroyed Jerusalem.  Of course, the story no longer makes narrative sense – by the time he has sent his army, the feast is no longer worth eating.  And then there’s the poor guy not wearing his wedding garment.  Scholars think that Matthew is talking about baptism here.  The way to get in to the kingdom feast is by baptism.  Matthew has to have weeping and gnashing of teeth in the story somewhere.

     The Exodus story also highlights God’s vindictiveness.  When Israel and Judah split after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam, the king of the northern kingdom worried that people would go up to Jerusalem for sacrifice, and the would lose the loyalty of the people of Israel.  So, he built two sanctuaries, on at Dan and one at Bethel, and placed at each of them a golden calf.  He then proclaimed, “Behold your Gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  The authors of Exodus wrote this event back into the story of the wilderness – it makes no sense for Aaron to say, “Behold your gods, O Israel,” when there is only one calf.  God threatens to destroy the people and start over with Moses.  Only Moses remind God that God is God changes the divine mind.  It seems Moses is better at mercy than God.

     I suppose it’s good that stories like these are in the Bible.  They remind us just how easy it is to think our version of God is the only correct version.  If our God is the right God, then vindictiveness makes sense.  Everyone else must think like us to be right.  But, then there’s a story like Luke’s version of this parable also in the Bible, reminding us that we have to use our own imaginations and sense of justice to come to understand God.  Dorothy Day once said, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.”  Ouch.

     So, Paul gives us a different perspective.  I think this is his last letter, written as he was on his way to his death.  Other early Christian martyrs imitated this letter in their final missives, so it seems like they understood it as his last letter.  Last week, we heard him say he desired to stay in the body, rather than go to Christ, so he could continue to teach the Philippians for their joy.  By these lines, it seems like he knows he won’t, in fact, be able to come to them.  So, he gives his final instruction.

     Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I’ll say it, rejoice.  And then my favorite verses in the Bible: “Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, set your mind on these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

     Our translation said “think about these things.”  The Greek really means something more like “learn from these things.”  Paul can’t teach them anymore, but he is convinced that they can learn what they need to on their own.  They can determine whatever is true and just and good.

     As you are probably aware, I’ve been in Colorado packing up my mom’s house for her move to Bellingham, Washington, to a two-bedroom cottage on my sister’s property.  My parents built that house in Arvada, and we moved in in early 1962.  My mom has been downsizing for years, and my sister and I were out there in early September getting rid of the last bits.  As you can imagine, it was hard for both my mom and me to empty out that house and pack it up.  Fifty-nine years is a lot of memories.

     My mom talked about being a forward-thinker.  Hard as it is to close a chapter, you have to do it to look forward.  We reminisced about all the memories we would carry with us from that house.  When we moved in, there was no development behind us.  We could go right out the back door into wide open fields, and we played in hose fields for years.  The freedom, the exploring, the adventures, were all a part of my growing up.

     We talked about the amazing gift the house had given us, and how we will carry that gift with us as we go forward.  I think that is what Paul is telling his Philippian congregation.  Grief is always hard, but Paul wants them to hold on to the true and beautiful in the world.

     Perhaps we need this in this polarized times.  Matthew wants his God to be right, and in consequence, everyone else to be wrong.  Then God can punish all the others.  Paul, on the other hand, calls our attention to whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, and just, and excellent.  He is confident that he has taught us enough that we can find those things and then learn from them.      As we get closer to this election, I hope we can focus on those excellences and virtues we can all agree on.  I will always treasure the gifts I take from family and from a fortunate growing-up.  I hope to learn from those things, and learn how to share them with others.  That is a much more expansive vision of who God is than Matthew’s vindictiveness.  I think Rachel Held Evans is right:  then kingdom is just a bunch of misfits at the table because they were invited.  My growing-up was just plain lucky, a gift given for no good reason.  When we are given much, I hope we build a longer table, rather than erecting a fence.

Juicy justice

Sermon; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 4 October 2020; Proper 22A (RCL); Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46.

     Oh, dear – another parable about vineyards, and this one has a pretty ugly point to make.  I’ve referred to Isaiah 5, and the song of the vineyard.  This parable makes explicit reference to that song.  In Isaiah 5, the prophet talks about God building a watch tower in the vineyard and digging a wine press.  Matthew includes those details so we can’t miss the connection.

     In Isaiah 5, God looked for justice but found bloodshed, and for righteousness, but heard a cry.  So, the prophet says, God is going to tear down the wall around the vineyard, remove its hedge, and let the beasts of the field devour it.  The vineyard is the people of Jerusalem, who were supposed to work for righteousness, but didn’t.

     So, Matthew has Jesus use this same image, only this time against the religious authorities.  And throughout history, this parable has been used to justify what is called supersessionism; that is, the idea that Christianity has replaced Judaism as God’s favored religion.  The idea of supersessionism has been used throughout history to persecute Jews, and this parable has often been used to justify that persecution.  It’s just what Jesus said should happen.

     We are forced to ask then, just what are the fruits of the kingdom, and who produces them.  Isaiah tells us that the fruits of the vineyard are justice and righteousness – both really slippery words.

     Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, speaks about a righteousness that comes from Christ, so maybe we can start there, and see if we can figure out what these fruits are.  He starts out by saying, “If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more,” and then lists off his credentials: circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

     Righteousness, then, has something to do with credentials, and the community status they grant.  We might list off our credentials for being an American just like Paul does his for trust in the flesh:  Patriot, served in the military (not me, but others), native-born, and so on.  We could even list off our credentials for being a member of St. David’s:  pledger, regular attender, volunteer for many years for Celebration of the Arts, and whatever other things earn points.

     Earn points.  Righteousness has something to do with our call on community, the favors we can call in.  I suppose we can see justice in the same way.  Think of the cases we’ve seen of black people killed by police.  Who gets justice?  Who has enough pull in community to be defended in the courts.  Black Lives Matter has called our attention to the inequities of the justice system.

     But Paul says he counts all of this as rubbish compared to the righteousness that comes from Christ.  The word he uses for rubbish is a lot more colorful than that, but translators are a prudish bunch.  Translated literally, it is, “that which is thrown from the dog.”  You can fill it in.  I’ve certainly picked up my fair share of it.

     A righteousness that comes from the faithfulness of Christ.  A community belonging that comes from Christ’s faithfulness; credentials not mine but Christ’s.  That is what Paul aims for. 

God intended the law to establish a just community, but we used it to make distinctions between inside and outside.

     I suppose when we look at it like that, any of us could be the keepers of the vineyard, who do not produce the fruit of the kingdom.  In the system we have, some have a call on the community, and some do not.  We base that call on wealth, on status, on any number of things that Paul would identify with the flesh.  What if, instead, a person’s status in community was given by Christ’s faithfulness?

     I think that is what Paul means when he talks about us dying with Christ in baptism.  We die to any other self-definition we may have besides the self-definition given in Christ.  Thank goodness even Paul says that he has not yet attained this, but presses on to make it his own, or better for Christ to make him his own.  We can take comfort from Paul when we see that we certainly have not arrived yet.  But the prize is clear before us.

     So, I don’t want to use this parable to justify supersessionism – we’re better tenants of the vineyard than the people who came before us.  But I do want to use the image of the vineyard as a metaphor for God hopes for us.  One summer, before I was married, I took a vacation to visit a friend who lived in Washington State.  He had to work some of the days I was there, so I sat in his backyard, and ate the Concord grapes growing on his back fence while I read my book.

     Juicy, sweet, and free for the taking.  I think I made myself sick on those grapes, but I remember them to this day.  As a metaphor for community belonging, could there be anything better?  What if our city was like a vineyard, with plenty of grapes for everyone?  We tend to think of justice is dry terms – equal protection under the law.  What if we thought of it in juicy terms?  Grapes make wine, and wine gladdens our hearts.  What if justice looked like glad hearts for everyone?

     Think of the kinds of things that earn us points in community.  In reference to St. David’s, things like pledging, working for the Celebration of the Arts.  Think of how much richer those things make your life, how much deeper they make your connection to St. David’s.  But, they can also be used to exclude, and make us cliquey.  That’s the distinction.  Can we find ways to extend that righteousness to all?  That makes life sweet and juicy.

     Every city, every nation, every community, does some things well, and some things not so well.  Rather than saying the tenants must be replaced, what if we used this parable to ask what fruit we could produce better?  Clearly the tenants in the parable used the vineyard to exclude some people, and even to kill others.  This is the bloodshed God decries in Isaiah 5 – this is the opposite of justice and righteousness.      No matter how we screw up, God is faithful to God’s promises – that is the righteousness from the faithfulness of Christ.  God gathers us all in to enjoy the sweet, juicy, and slightly intoxicating fruits of the kingdom.  As stewards of that vineyard, we want to make sure they grow well, so there is enough to go around.  That’s what the wine on the altar stands for – God’s superabundance of the good things of life, meant for all.

Who gets in?

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; 27 September 2020; Proper 21A (RCL); Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32.

     Last week we had the parable of the owner of the vineyard paying all the workers, regardless of when they were hired, the same daily wage.  This week we have the parable of the two sons, one who says he won’t work in the vineyard, and then does, and one who says he will and then doesn’t.  What’s going on here?

     There are lots of parables in the Gospels about vineyards and vines.  I suppose we could just assume that vineyards formed part of the common cultural background of Jesus’ hearers and the readers of the Gospels, so it made an easy illustration – just like sheep and shepherds.

     But, I think there is something more going on here – especially in this context.  The chief priests and elders ask Jesus by what authority he is doing “these things.”  I don’t know why the designers of the lectionary chose to chop things up the way they did, but we skipped over the “things” Jesus is doing.  We’ve skipped over the triumphal entry, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s colt, with the crowds acclaiming him as the David’s son, who comes in the name of the Lord.

     That’s already shocking enough.  No one would have missed the implications.  Jesus is riding into Jerusalem as a king victorious over his enemies.  It’s not called the triumphal entry for nothing.  He is not coming as a conqueror, but as the rightful king of Jerusalem victorious over God’s enemies.

     And then, once he gets into Jerusalem, he enters the Temple and overturns the tables of the money changers, and drives the animals out of the Temple.  We call this act the cleansing of the Temple, and we tend to think of it as ridding the Temple of activities that should not be happening there.

     But really, everything happening is perfectly fine.  It was illegal to carry Roman currency in the Temple, only the Temple shekel.  So, if you came from Galilee or anywhere else, you would have to change your coins.  And, it was unlikely that you would drive a lamb on the three-day journey from Galilee to Jerusalem; instead you’d sell your lamb back home and buy another at the Temple.

     The problem was the graft.  The money changers took their cut; the animal sellers took their cut; and the Temple authorities took their cut.  It was how they could afford to keep the whole affair going, and dress themselves in the best robes.  The revolutionary feeling in the air was directed at the Temple authorities as much as at Rome.  So, understandably the Temple authorities and Rome would be pretty distressed with Jesus.

     So, they ask him on what authority he does “these things” – riding into Jerusalem, creating chaos in the Temple courts.  So, Jesus responds with his own question:  John’s baptism – from heaven or humans?  They’re trapped and refuse to answer, so Jesus refuses to answer their question, and then tells this parable, and connects it to the tax collectors and prostitutes.

     In the Old Testament, the vineyard was a metaphor for God’s people, and the justice they were supposed to live.  In Isaiah 5, the prophet sings a song of God’s vineyard.  God cultivates the vineyard, and it repays him by yielding wild grapes.  The poem ends with God saying, “I expected justice, and instead found bloodshed; I expected righteousness, but instead heard a cry.”  Jerusalem is the vineyard, and the poem is the prophet’s indictment of their failure to live up to God’s purposes.

     So, in last week’s parable the vineyard owner paid the workers a just wage.  We all say, “But it’s not fair.”  Fairness wasn’t what he was going for, but making sure everyone in the village had enough to eat.  And in this week’s parable, one son says he won’t work in the vineyard, and then does; the other says he will and then doesn’t.  The implication is clear.  The religious authorities appear to be the ones working in the vineyard, but aren’t.  The tax collectors and prostitutes appear to be the people breaking the rules, but as a result of John’s preaching and baptism, are in fact working in the vineyard – that is working for justice.

     This stands things on their head.  The tax collectors, at least the little guys, were probably people who had been taxed off their land, and were collecting taxes on their neighbors as a way of working off their own debt.  They had no choice; their families would go hungry otherwise.  Prostitutes were probably women who had been divorced and had no other option to feed themselves and their children.  These are people shattered by the systems of oppression at work around them, doing their best to scrape by.

     And, according to the parable, when they hear John’s preaching, they enter the kingdom of heaven.  That is, they start taking care of one another, helping each other get by.  In the Old Testament there are laws about not harvesting all the grapes in your vineyard, so there would be some left for the widow and orphan, so they wouldn’t end up tax collectors and prostitutes.

     The religious authorities, on the other hand, are benefiting from the systems of oppression.  Jesus’ challenge to them is to see the tax collectors and prostitutes as the son who at first refuses to work in the vineyard, but who then go, and ourselves as the other son.

     To the extent that we benefit from systems of oppression, we are those authorities.  Think of the coca farmers in South and Central America.  They are doing what they have to do to get by.  The international trade agreements limit what those countries can export (mostly oil), so there isn’t much else they can do.  Most of the coffee grown in Central America comes directly to us, and the conglomerates have pushed people off their subsistence farms in order to grow coffee.  The little guys can’t grow beans on that land anymore, so they’re left to grow coca.      The combination of these two parables asks us to rethink justice and our position in the kingdom of heaven.  Maybe those people we find easiest to despise know something we don’t.

Profligate justice

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 20 September 2020; Proper 20A (RCL); Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

     As I read this passage from Matthew, I can just hear you saying, “But, wait!  That’s not fair!”  I had a teacher in high school who would reply every time someone said that, “Who promised you life would be fair?”  But this is a parable of Jesus.  Surely we would expect fairness here.

     Of course, the guys in this story who worked the whole day grumble that the landowner is not fair; so even Jesus understands our expectation that life is fair.  I think Jesus tells the story precisely to challenge our understanding of what is fair.  And even more importantly, I think Jesus tells the story to force us to think about the appropriate use of wealth.

     There is a meme that goes around Facebook every so often.  In the first panel, it shows three kids trying to look over the outfield fence to watch a baseball game.  The kid on the left is tall enough to see over the fence.  The middle kid can almost see over the fence, and the kid on the right is shorter still, and is staring right at the fence.

     In the next panel, each of the kids is standing on a peach box.  The tall kid is now really tall.  The middle kid can see over the fence, and the short kid is still too short to see the game.  This panel is labeled “equity.”  All the kids have the same resources.  The third panel shows the tall kid standing on the ground – he can see over the fence.  The middle kid is standing on one peach box, and he can see over the fence.  The short kid is standing on two peach boxes; now he can watch the game!  That panel is labeled justice.  The resources (peach boxes) aren’t distributed equally, but everyone has access to the game.

     Think about this parable.  I’ve never been in the position of looking for day labor, but there were corners in Denver where you could see guys standing out early in the day, hoping to get hired by a landscaping company or for some other manual labor.  A contractor’s truck would pull up, and the contractor would signal two or three of them to get in the truck, and off they’d go.  Of course, there were some days when there would still be guys standing there after the last contractor had hired everyone needed.  You can be sure it would be a hard night for those guys.

     Notice in the story, when the landowner asks the men why they’re still standing there at five o’clock, they don’t say, “We got here late.”  They say, “No one has hired us.”  It’s going to be hard night at home for those guys.  A denarius was not only the average wage for a day laborer:  it was also about what you needed to put food on the table for a day.  There will be hungry families in the village.

     So, the landowner pays the guys he hired at five o’clock a denarius.  Their families will eat.  Think of the good will he buys in the village.  Those guys are going to want to work for him again, even if he hires them at five o’clock in the morning!  And if they ever have a little extra and can afford to buy wine, you can be sure, they’ll buy his wine.  Fair or not, he keeps the village in good shape.  So, what’s fair and what’s just are not necessarily the same thing.

     But even deeper is how the story challenges us to think about the use of wealth.  Last week, when Peter asked how many times he should forgive a brother or sister, Jesus told the parable of the ten thousand talents.  The slave who was forgiven ten years of Herod’s income throttled his fellow slave for 100 denarii, the usual daily wage.  Clearly Matthew wants us to connect one story to the other.

     The parable of the ten thousand talents comes at the end of chapter 18, and this parable comes at the beginning of chapter 20.  We skip over chapter 19.  Chapter 19 contains three basic units.  The Pharisees ask about divorce, saying the law allows a man to divorce his wife with a certificate.  Some of the rabbis after Jesus’ time allowed a man to divorce his wife for burning the stew.  Jesus absolutely forbids divorce except for infidelity.  Then, some people bring some children to be blessed and the crowds try to keep them away.  Jesus blesses the children and says whoever doesn’t accept the kingdom like a child cannot enter it.

     And then, the rich young man comes to Jesus and asks, “What good deed must I do to inherit the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, and he says he has done so since his youth.  Jesus looks at him and loves him, and says, “You lack one thing.  Go and sell everything you have, and give it to the poor.  Then come follow me.”  The man leaves crestfallen, for he had many possessions.

     When a man divorced his wife, she was in deep trouble.  If her father would not take her back, she was thrown on her own resources, which usually weren’t much.  Often, she ended up in prostitution.  So, Jesus forbids treating women this way.  He also treats children, who were equally vulnerable, as if they are worthy of blessing.  And then he sends the rich man away.

     And then tells this parable.  How does anyone amass many possessions?  And note, the word is possessions.  One can amass much only by hoarding what really belongs in circulation.  Origen, an early interpreter of scripture, said about this parable, that the rich only hold their wealth in trust for the poor, and when the poor demand it, the rich must give it back.  The owner of the vineyard understands that he holds his wealth to make the community work – the wages belong to the worker, so they can eat.

     The Old Testament lesson is the story of the manna in the wilderness.  In the next few verses, God will get extremely angry with the people, because they want to gather more than one day’s worth of manna.  Of course, it rots overnight, except on the Sabbath.  Pharaoh hoarded all the grain in Egypt and bought everyone into slavery.  God’s people are not to hoard even a day’s worth of manna, so they don’t become Pharaoh.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our daily bread.

     The king forgave his slave ten thousand talents, so basically everything he owned, even his life and his household, was pure gift from his king.  When he demanded a hundred denarii from his fellow slave, he was trying to hoard what wasn’t his.      When the laborer grumbles in this story, the vineyard owner asks, “Can’t I do what I want with what is mine?  Or is your eye evil because I am generous?”  The evil eye was much more damaging than jealousy.  The evil eye damages community.  The appropriate use of wealth is build community.  What is ours, and what belongs to God and we only hold in trust?  This is not a stewardship sermon, but that is the question of our whole life.  It’s all gift.  And we should be profligate with it.

It’s all gift

13 September 2020; Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (RCL); Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

     On my trip to Colorado, I was being especially careful to avoid contact with people, not wanting to put my mom at any risk.  I took a cooler with food to eat, rather than going into any fast food restaurant along the way.  On the way back, though, I was tired of making and eating ham sandwiches, so one day for lunch, I decided to go through a Dairy Queen drive through window.

     I ordered my lunch, and the woman behind the speaker told me the bill would be ten dollars and change.  I got out a $20 bill, and the appropriate change, since there is a coin shortage going on.  But when I got to the window, she told me that the car in front of me had paid my bill.  I was completely flustered.  I almost drove off with a word of thanks, but then I remembered that this is not how the game is played.

     I asked her how much the order behind me was.  She said $7 and something.  I handed her the twenty, and told her to pay the bill behind me.  And then, I just drove off.  Remember, I was flustered.  I didn’t wait for any change from the twenty.  I hope she used it for other cars behind the one behind me.

     As I got back on the highway, I laughed at myself for being so nonplused by the whole thing.  For half a second, I thought about the change from the twenty that I had just left behind, but then I was grateful that people could be so kind.  Even if the girl at Dairy Queen kept the change for herself, it was a good day for someone, and certainly a good day for me.

     In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus gave the church the only community rule we find on his lips.  If your brother or sister has sinned against you, go work it out in private, and they listen, you have regained your brother or sister.  If they don’t listen, take one or two others with you, and if they won’t listen to them, then and only then take the matter to the whole church.  And if they won’t listen to the church, then and only then, write them off.

     So, Peter, good old Peter, wants to pin Jesus down.  How many times should be willing to do that with my brother or sister?  Seven times?  No, Jesus says, seven times seventy times.  And then he tells a parable.

     A king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  One slave owed him ten thousand talents.  Talent is not a currency we use, so the number doesn’t mean much to us.  Herod the Great’s annual income had been about 1,000 talents a year.  So this slave owed his king ten years’ worth of a king’s income.  Unimaginable!  How does a slave get that far in debt?  We might very well fill in ten billion dollars.  So the king decides to sell him and his family into slavery and all their possessions.  The amount of the sale won’t come close to recouping the debt – maybe a single talent.

     The slave falls on his knees and begs his king for patience.  He promises to repay.  The king of course knows that’s never going to happen, but for a single talent, what’s the point of selling him?  So, he cuts his losses and forgives the debt.  But this same slave immediately meets a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii.  A denarius was the usual daily wage for a day laborer.  So he owes his fellow slave about four months’ worth of minimum wage.

     Our main character throttles his fellow slave and demands repayment, and when he can’t repay, he orders him thrown in prison – for 100 denarii!  Matthew then adds the tag line that God will throw us in prison if we don’t forgive each other.  But I think the point of the story is much deeper than that – and parables invite a lot of interpretations.

     We can live in one of two ways:  either grateful for the incredible gifts we have been given, or suspicious always trying to figure out what the world owes us.  We are so used to thinking of the world in terms of debt, that it completely flusters us (me, at any rate) when someone out of the blue gives us a gift, or pays what we owe.

     When Jesus begins his ministry, he announces the kingdom of God by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived.”  That word, “repent,” means literally in Greek, “change your mind,” or better yet, “go back to school.”  It requires training, homework, and a complete shift in mindset.  What if we approached every human interaction asking “What gift am I receiving,” instead of asking, “What can I get out of this?”  How would that change our view of the world.

     As we were cleaning out the house, my mom and I talked about the incredible gift the house had given us.  It provided a place of refuge, of learning, of discovery, of safety, and of love.  We decided that the best way we could move on as we lose this house was to hope that whoever buys the house will receive as much from it as we did, and then find ways to pay that gift forward wherever we find ourselves.  That made the grief bearable, and opens up new vistas for living life to the full.

     Last week I said that I am always troubled in the Old Testament that God’s favor for Israel always comes at someone else’s expense.  This week, we have Pharaoh’s army thrown up on the seashore, so Israel could go free.  But I think the same lesson is buried in this story as in the parable of the 10,000 talents.  Pharaoh could only see Israel as free labor, rather than as a gift.  Remember, Pharaoh (with Joseph’s help) had hoarded all the grain in Egypt, and then bought everyone into slavery by parceling out that grain.

     When Israel gets into the wilderness, they complain that there is no food.  “Oh, that we might return to Egypt, and sit by the fleshpots, with onions and cucumbers in abundance,” they complain.  So, God gives them manna.  They can collect just enough for one day.  If they gather more, it rots overnight.  There will be no hoarding food in the wilderness.  God is going to teach them the hard way that life is a gift.  If you can only collect food for one day, there is no way you’re going to get 10,000 in debt to anyone.

     Paul gives us the same warning.  Don’t look down on anyone.  Money is the way we rank ourselves and our worth.  It allows us to look down on others, or to think we ourselves are not worth as much when we compare what we have and make to what others have and make.  But the parable tells us that there is no difference between 10,000 talents and 100 denarii, but only in the way we look at the world.      Is life a gift, or does it owe us?  That’s the difference.  Even when it’s just ten dollars and change at Dairy Queen, life is a gift beyond imagining.

Reconciliation

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 6 September 2020; Proper 18A (RCL); Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

I said last week that we often find ourselves in Peter’s shoes; we want someone to come and make everything right.  Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus said that on the rock of that faith, he would build his Church.  Note that this one of only three times the word “Church” appears in the Gospels, on Jesus’ lips.

Then, when Jesus begins to tell his disciples how he must die, Peter scolds him, saying that must never happen to him.  Jesus lays into Peter, calling him Satan, and telling him he is setting his mind on human things, not divine things.  I said we are in Peter’s shoes because we too hope for and expect God to set things right.

I think Psalm 149 is another example of this same kind of thinking, only even worse.  The psalm not only expects God to set things right, but expects that we, God’s people, will be God’s chosen instrument to do that work:  Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two-edged sword in their hands; to wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.

I would like to think this is not a very attractive image, but I’m afraid it is far more attractive than we would like to admit.  At least in the realm of our civic theology, our national ideology, this is the way we think.  We are God’s chosen instrument to bring the American way of life to the world.  Even the narrative of the Passover has an element of this way of thinking:  God executes judgment by killing the first-born of others.

But, last week, Jesus told Peter that he was setting his mind on human things, not divine things.  We have confused our way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.  And we can see the consequences all around us.  All of the anger in our political process comes from knowing we are right, and wanting to impose our way of doing things on others, or it comes from feeling like others have imposed their idea of justice on us, and hoping for a savior to set them right.

But, in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us what a divine way of thinking looks like.  For the early Christians, the cross was the sign of God’s justice, and it was exactly the opposite of our expectation – not the sword at all.  God accepted into the divine self all the consequences of human sin.

And so, Jesus shows us how to live that divine way of life.  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the problem in private.  If your brother or sister doesn’t listen to you, take two or three others with you, and if your brother or sister won’t listen to them, take the matter to the whole church.  Only then can you write that person off.

The idea is reconciliation.  If your brother or sister listens to you, you have regained a brother or sister.  The restoration of the world works from the bottom up, not the top down, and the responsibility falls squarely on us.

This is one of only three places where the word “Church” occurs on Jesus’ lips.  It is an anachronism – the church didn’t exist when Jesus was with his disciples.  This is the only community rule we have on Jesus’ lips, the only rule of the community that Matthew felt important enough to write back into Jesus’ life.

This is the Church that is founded upon the Rock of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.  This is the divine way of thinking that we have such a hard time wrapping our heads around.  If the world is going to be set to rights, it will be done by reconciliation.

We tend to think of law and justice in the abstract.  When we hear talk of “Law and Order,” that is something that exists outside of us.  It gets imposed from the top.  Paul is saying much the same thing as Jesus is saying.  All of those laws that we think of as abstract rules – you shall not murder, you shall not covet, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal – are not so much abstract rules as ways of living in community.  Love sums them up.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self, and that we have received the ministry of reconciliation.  Reconciliation requires a cost – we have to admit the hurt done, rather than turning it into anger and exacting retribution.  South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good example.  It is sometimes called restorative justice.  It’s not about punishment, but about mending relationship.

The Church built on the rock of the confession of Jesus as the Messiah is the place where reconciliation happens.  It sounds like hard work, but it is the only way to set things right.  Imagine if you were a member of one of the nations against which Israel imagined they were called to wreak vengeance.  The cycle of violence would only continue.

The cross shows us that God has done the hard work of reconciliation, accepting into the divine self all the damage of human sin.  In the confession of Jesus as the Messiah, we are invited to join that reconciliation, and restore the world from the bottom up.  God has already done it from the top down, and it didn’t look like we expected.  The work from the bottom up doesn’t look like we expected either, but it so much deeper a restoration than anything imposed from above would be.

That’s what Jesus means when he invites us to set our mind on divine things, not human things.  We get to join in that divine work.