Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sermon from Sept 25, 2011; Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 21:23-32
“Changing Minds, Changing Futures”
Sept 25, 2011

(This is a sermon done in character)

The wind blows today; through the house, in the trees, across the beach, carrying with it the sands of time, the sands of the mind.

It’s the kind of wind the signals change, that something good is about to happen. It reminds me of the wind that swept across the waters of creation. The wind that swept through the waters of Red Sea.

The wind that was present that day, the day he entered Jerusalem. Not everyone remembers what the weather was like that day, but I do. Or… at least I think I do.

The wind that swept across the city, up the steps of the Temple, into the sanctuary. The kind of wind that says “Stop, take a deep breath, the future is amongst you.”

Yet some of us chose to ignore the wind, thought we could bury our head in the sand until, until the wind went away.

Who am I? Once upon a time you may have called me a dreamer, a lover, an old fool.

Who am I? A man who liked things in place; correct. It was part of my upbringing.

I was born into a proper household; once 13 I went to a proper school for proper boys. Placed before me were all the proper opportunities for proper career: banker, businessman, rabbi.

It wasn’t hard for me to choose. I loved the Lord and all my gifts pointed toward ministry.

I loved the stories, both those found in the sacred scriptures and those found in the Midrash; I followed the Law and embraced the security of the rituals.

My favorite story was the Crossing of the Red Sea, not just how God parted the waters, but the events of that transpired next: how the people set eyes upon the wilderness cried out to God and were invited to look forward, and to see the glory of the Lord.

I did everything right. I went to school, I studied, and I embraced my ministry. I was young, imaginative; popular. People said I had a way about me that was healing.

Then, I entered my middle ages, became comfortable. Got married, had children. The popularity of my youth eased into the likeability of someone more mature.

Then, as it so happens, I grew older. Funny how that works. People stopped coming up to me for a healing prayer; I found that my teachings were beginning to be questioned, often by the younger rabbis behind me.

Like anyone who feels their authority being challenged, I dug in, held firm, became more conservative on my views.

Why? Mostly because of the need for security. Had a house to care for, a wife to protect, children to watch over, and grandchildren to love.

Hard to do that when you begin to question the status quo…

…A new wind had entered in, a wind that demanded attention; a wind which brought with it the new rabbi in town, a young guy of about 30 named Jesus.

We had heard stories about him, but not anything worth a response. Whenever a young hot shot entered the scene there was always talk until either they burned out, got caught in a scandal or grew older and became like us.

But this wind was different. This Jesus guy was blustery. He put on a show by riding into town on a donkey. He drove merchants out of the temple.

My colleagues and I watched as the blind and lame came to him and not only were they healed, but they were cured. Cured, as in able to see and walk.

Then, we listened. There was the sound of singing, erupting, from the children; children are supposed to be quiet in worship, not heard.

Worse yet, they had joy in their voices; joy that was not present when we taught them.

We became angry; and jealous. As popular as I may have been, I never had children sing, I never caused a blind man to see or a lame woman to walk.

So when he left the temple that night, we transpired a way to challenge him, to show him for the fraud he must have been.

We composed a question; a question challenging his authority, a question so richly devised there was no way his popularity could sustain it.

But when we asked him our question the next day, he met our challenge head on and questioned us back, a question so wisely worded that we were at a loss.

And I knew that if I answered it the wrong way I’d lose my authority as a leader, I could lose my popularity with the public, which could mean I could lose my job, my future.

So instead of saying anything, we said “We do not know.” It was as if we buried our heads in the sand.

Then Jesus told a story, about two sons. The first who says no to his father, but later changes his mind, and a second son who says yes, but does nothing; a lie.

Was this story an attack, a joke, a trap?

To add insult to injury, Jesus likened the first son to prostitutes and tax collectors, varmints who will enter the Kingdom of God before my colleagues and I.

What disrespect, what nerve. Women who let others violate their bodies; men who are traitors to their own country; more worthy of a place in God’s kingdom before I?

This blasphemous notion of a God who’s love is inclusive even of the dregs of society.

That day he stirred up a new kind of wind: anger, contempt…fear.

And men like me, when we feel threatened, when our source of livelihood is challenged by another, we respond.

Respond we did, and the wind grew ugly. Perhaps you heard about the way people conspired to betray him, to silence him for good.

Pilate, the crowds, the soldiers, they all played their roles until he was heard crying out to God and died upon the cross.

We, I, breathed a sigh or relief. We assumed the wind that had come with him had left; things would go back to as they were; our futures secure in the Temple’s employ.

Odd thing is that it wasn’t long after, that we began to catch bits and pieces of stories about how people were having experiences of Jesus, claiming he had been resurrected.

It came from these seemingly silly women who claimed the tomb was empty, to travelers on a road, to people sitting at the table, to proclamations that “He has risen” to mumbled words of assurance that there was no need to be afraid.

At first it was easy to dismiss these stories; simple mass hysteria from people trying to make sense of his death.

But after this continued for years and seemed to spread and grow, I began to question my questioning of them.

And I begin to notice the way these folks were greeting each other, with smiles and hugs, calling each other “sister,” “brother,” the ways in which they reached out to the community to feed and clothe.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, they were looking up to a changing future and the glory of the Lord.

I have to tell you, it made me reevaluate my own part in Jesus’ death.

What was I so threatened by anyway? That he was the new kid in town? That he would take away my job?

That he had enough love in him to welcome people like prostitutes and tax collectors?

And what are those people anyway? Aren’t many of them just slaves to circumstance, shackled by their own situations?

Had I too been trapped, chained to my own understanding of scripture and Law, ritual and the way it’s always been done?

Was Jesus actually trying to lead us all through a new kind of Red Sea where God’s glory was again being revealed?

I began to ask myself “Would I have lost my authority as a Temple leader if I had allowed Jesus to change my mind and open my eyes?”

Would I have lost my gifts for the Lord or would my gifts have changed, evolved, grew?

And then…I revisited the story that Jesus told, of the son who originally said no, but later changed his mind.

The story never says how much later was later; was it five minutes, was it five hours, five days, five lifetimes?...

…And, like the first son, I changed my mind, and found myself saying “Yes!”

Yes, not so much to the letter of the Law, but yes to the Spirit of the Law.

Yes, not to a deity who loves selectively, but to a God who loves inclusively.

Yes to the Lord who heard the cry of my ancestors and set them free, who now also hears the cries of tax collectors and prostitutes and sets them free as well.

I have discovered it’s never too late to say “Yes!” when it comes to the love of the Lord.

And now, though my body is much, much older, I feel more like my original, imaginative self.

Yes, a familiar wind blows today; through the house, in the trees, across the beach, carrying with it the sands of time, the sands of the mind.

It’s the kind of wind the signals change, that something good is about to happen.

Now instead of worrying about my authority, I instead lift up my eyes before me and know that through Christ I will see the glory of the Lord in a way that is forever new, forever unexpected and a way that will forever change minds and change futures.

For that I say “Hallelujah” and I say “Amen!”

No comments: