As far as I can recall, this is the only time Jesus speaks directly about actual judgment from God.
As a child, I was constantly told I was a sinner. Moreover, any joy I had in life would be the reason why I’d burn in hell for all eternity. This was my first introduction to God’s love. A lesson which taught to fear God, to be very afraid of God, especially come judgment day.
Decades later, while watching the Olympics, it dawned on me that judgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A competitive gymnast welcomes it. Same is true with someone who works hard to merit a promotion at work. As long as it’s fairly decided, most of us have no issue with judgement. It’s when it’s not fair, when the playing field isn’t level or the scales of justice aren’t equal that things go wrong.
Jesus pretty much tells us that we will all be judged equally and fairly, each according to the actions we take towards another human being. Which means, when it comes to judgment the onus is on you and me. It’s like God will judge us, but we get to decide the outcome by what we do now.
In this passage, it’s pretty clear that judgement has nothing to do with what team you’re own, anymore than it is saying the right prayers or reciting the correct creed. It’s simply about acting out of faith and trust to the way Jesus showed us.
That list of what to do isn’t that extensive. In fact, it’s pretty basic stuff. Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, welcome people, visit the sick and imprisoned. In other words, be the visible manifestation of God’s love in this space we call Anamesa. How you do that is up to you.
Imagine what this world would be like if every person who claimed to be a Christian actually did what Jesus asked. No human would ever again suffer from food insecurity. Everyone would enjoy the benefits of quality health care. No one would die alone.
I suspect wherever you are there is a way you can do what Jesus asks of you. I’m sure there are folks in your community who could benefit from your help. Because whatever we do towards those on fixed incomes, we do also to Jesus.
When I was in seminary, a man would come every Wednesday and serve the most delicious curry chicken lunch to the students - free of charge. He made it his ministry to fed those training to feed the world. I can’t say if he saw Christ in us, but it was hard to miss the Christ in him. In fact, this single act of love taught me more about God’s generosity than most of my professors had.
I took that lesson to a church I served in Michigan where I was reprimanded for being irresponsible by giving money to a notorious drunkard. I was told I needed to use better judgement. Never mind the fact Jesus said whatever judgment we give will be the measure by which we will be judged.
The man was thirsty, and Jesus told me to be compassionate. Whatever we do for a drunk, or an ex-con, or dead-beat dad, we do also to him.
Jesus gives us a choice. We can be a goat or we can be a sheep. Both have eternal consequences. And it all comes down to how we see someone in need and act to help.
As tempting as it is to focus on the judgement aspect of this passage, we don’t want to overlook or forget what Jesus is actually revealing here. That in him, God has ushered in a radical new social structure.
Every human being is worthy to enter into the presence of God where dignity and mercy are given to all. Any attitudes we have that lead either to apathy and neglect towards a person in need must be destroyed. They have no place in God’s kingdom.
In this final warning, Jesus seems to be telling us that the ways we live out the gospel will always reflect the true relationship we have with God. That should make us pause, to think long and hard about what we say or do to anyone from the least to the greatest…because we say and do those things to God.
If we want to see God’s glory, Jesus tells us to look no further than the face of your neighbor; in the eyes of the weak and vulnerable; in the laments of the ones crying out for help. This is where God is. And where God reveals to us and through us, God’s glory to the world.
You see, Anamesa is more than a church, or a space to worship God. It’s a way to live out the gospel in real time, and in real ways that makes God glory come alive in the world. It’s a way to take our faith and trust in God and put it to good use in this kingdom - meeting our neighbors with love, and facing our enemies with prayer.
It’s a way of living life in all its eternal glory by acting on our faith and trusting in God, who through Christ Jesus, came to be with us in the flesh, in all our messiness and ambiguity.
Just as Jesus was judged by the way he loved us with his faithful trust and deeds, we too will be judged on how and if we show loving compassion towards one another like Jesus commanded us to do.
Because here’s the hard truth about this passage: We can’t say we follow Christ and then completely ignore what he demands of us. We can’t say we have faith in God if we don’t trust God enough to act in such a way that reveals God’s glory in the world.
We can teach children to be afraid of God. Or we can teach them to love God so completely that they can’t help but love others the same way.
Throughout all of Matthew, Jesus has given us vivid descriptions of God’s kingdom. He has shown us how to throw open the doors of our hearts, our homes and churches to welcome everyone as if they were welcoming him.
This was the heart of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s ministry. She repeatedly preached, “Whenever I meet someone in need, it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise. It’s him I help.”
According to Jesus, if we can’t see him in the least of these then we are missing out on God’s presence among us in a crucial way.
And so we are called out into Anamesa where we are to love God, love others, and serve both. This will require a little bit of faith, trust and action.
If we take Christ into our hearts, then we must also take him into the world. He is the one God gave us so that we can enjoy the gift of a true, authentic life. Life where to live is to love. To quote St. Paul, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:7-8).
Love is the measure by which God saves us, redeems us, and at the end, will judge us. If we love, then we have no fear of judgement.
The Apostle John wrote, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).
Faith. Trust. Action. This is love at work, redeeming us, saving us, and welcoming us into God’s open heart forever.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Hansen, Rebecca D. Christus Rex. November 20, 2023 (accessed on 11-24-2023).
When Jesus told this story, he was in the middle of his own high-risk venture. He’s left Galilee for Jerusalem where in just a few days he will be executed on a Roman cross.
To help make sure his disciples don’t lose hope when that time comes, Jesus tells a series of eschatological parables; stories about what is to come.
Last week it was about Ten Bridesmaids. Today, it’s Three financial investors who are given a specific number of talents to invest.
When we hear the word talent, we often think of someone who has a skill or certain ability. But in Jesus’ day, talents were money. From what we know, one talent was roughly 15 year’s worth of wages for the average laborer.
For someone to give these men even one talent meant they were entrusting them with a good fortune.
As we’ve learned over the year, when Jesus tells a parable it’s often a metaphor for something else. Which tells us this parable isn’t about money or one’s ability.
So, what’s it about? I’m thinking it’s about trust.
Without giving them any instructions on what to do, the master trusts these three men with his investments.
The first guy takes it and invests in a high-risk venture. The second dumps it into the stock market. Both men do very well; doubling their master’s money. The third guy takes a very different approach. Instead of taking a risk he buried the money in the ground, a common security measure in ancient times.
Given the volatility of the market these days, and the uncertainties that are affecting the economy, it might seem like a wise investment plan. If only that were the reason.
Instead, he confessed he buried the money because he was afraid of the master. He had zero trust in the one who trusted him, so he took zero financial risk. And as a result, got nothing in return.
This parable isn’t about money or one’s ability to acquire wealth but about trusting God who first trusted us.
To be prepared for Christ to return, we need to trust God by doing God’s will. That’s what the first two do. They take a chance in their faith and as a result they both receive the same commendation: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant…enter into the joy of your master.”
I will go out on a limb and say, I think the master would have responded just the same had they risked it all and come back empty handed. After all, he doesn’t commend them for their profits, but their willingness to trust.
The master made it clear to the third one that he would have accepted anything – even the measly interest the bank would offer - had the intent had been motivated by faith rather than fear.
This story reminds us that fear has no value. It only drives us away from God, and towards our downfall like it did to this man. Faith on the other hand is invaluable. And leads us into the joy of God.
In giving his fortune to these investors, the master reveals his faith and trustworthiness. He’s not terrible and appalling like the fearful man saw him to be. In fact, it seems he’s more interested in the well-being of his workers than making a profit for himself.
The first two men see this and take the risk without any promise of gaining anything in return. They have some faith and run with it. The third guy has none. And he loses out.
Today we are faced with the same dilemma. God has given us life, so how will we invest it?
What will we do with the love God has given us?
More importantly, do we trust God’s faithfulness enough to be faithful to God’s love?
If you focus on your fears, allowing your worry and anxieties to make your decisions then your fears will be realized. If you focus on God’s faithfulness in you, then by your own faith you can step out of your comfort zone, knowing and believing and trusting God is in control.
You might recall the story of the disciples in a boat, full of fear because of a storm. (Granted, it must have been a big storm to make professional fishermen worried.) In the midst of the chaos, Jesus walks out to them, and calls Peter to get out of the boat to come to him.
Without giving it a second thought, Peter did what Jesus asked. And by his faith defied the laws of nature. But when he began to focus on the storm fear set in, and he began to sink.
Despite the challenges, doubts, and uncertainties we will most assuredly face, Jesus calls us to step out into Anamesa with a bit of faith.
Trusting in God’s faithfulness is like stepping out onto the water knowing we don’t need the absence of storms to do amazing things, we just need the presence of faith the size of a mustard seed.
With the parable of the bridesmaids, Jesus said come prepared to wait and the way we remain prepared is by having enough faith to get us through the long, dark nights. In the same way, Jesus wants to know if his disciples can trust God enough to remain faithful when times get hard after he’s gone.
Will the Twelve invest in the kingdom of heaven by investing their hearts in the gospel? Will they risk it all to care deeply and profoundly for all of God’s children?
We each must ask ourselves: Am I willing to risk it all – trusting the one who first trusted us? Can I faithfully and fearlessly love God, love others, and serve both?
As Jesus will further explain in the next parable, we enter into the joy of God by loving and caring for the least of these our brothers and sisters.
You see, faithful living requires taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, and getting involved with your heart and hands. It means taking God’s love and investing it in relationships that will yield a positive return.
As we come closer to the end of the church calendar, we near the end of our theme for the year, pilgrimage. This has been time spent walking with Jesus through Anamesa. Our theme for next year is “unlocking the space between.” Here’s a hint of what to expect: Jesus is the key. You see, Anamesa isn’t just a space to worship Jesus in, it’s a way to live like him.
I’m hoping we will discover, like we did in this parable, that faith isn’t just believing ideas about Jesus, it’s about trusting God enough to actually follow the Way of Jesus, to live in such a way that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven so that we too will hear, “Well done, good and trustworthy child…enter the joy of God’s heart.”
The disciples will soon find out, the only way to really follow in the footsteps of Jesus faithfully is by trusting God so completely. In trusting God, the disciples go all in - faithfully and fearlessly - with the presence of Christ illuminating every dark space they find themselves in.
It’s a risky investment for sure. But one that has proven time and time again to pay out in abundance.
Each one of us must ask ourselves: How will I respond to the extravagant grace and generosity of God’s love that I have been given to live by?
Will I go out into the world with that love and live graciously and generously? "Or will I allow fear to dig a bottomless hole to throw in my talents, and crawl in after them?"
“Jesus gives you a choice,” argues Joseph Pagano. “You can choose to be like the fearful servant who gets exactly what fear has to offer: Nothing. Or you can choose to put your trust in God’s faithfulness and reap the rewards that come with being like God’s most faithful child.”
It’s a high-risk investment where the only ones who lose it all are the ones who dare to put nothing in.
Adapted from an original work, Trusting Fearlessly. November 15, 2020.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Hoffacker, Charles H. Trust, Not Fear. November 2014 (accessed on 11-12-2020).
Pagano, Joseph. Windfall. November 12, 2023 (accessed on 11-15-23).
To our modern minds, waiting feels like we’re losing productive time. And most of the time it is, unless of course we’re waiting for something worthwhile, like the reveal at the end of suspenseful movie or for the Advil to kick in so the pain will go away.
Sometimes waiting is the best thing we can do…especially when our anger or frustration flares up. More often than not, God makes us wait, and often for a good purpose.
I had to wait six months before God awoken my heart to plant a church. While I spent most of that time filled with stress and having doubts, God was busy assembling the right community to launch what is now Anamesa that space between every second of life.
Life is a game of waiting for the next thing to happen. As we will see from our reading today in Matthew 25:1-13, how we wait is equally as important as what we are waiting for.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” ut the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. - Matthew 25:1-13. -
The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is unique to Matthew’s gospel. It comes at the midway point of Jesus’ discourse about “End Times,” which will mean something different to everyone. Although Jesus makes it perfectly clear we have no ideas when that time will come, many people would argue it’s just around the corner. Whether or not that’s the case, Jesus tells us to “Keep awake.”
I take this to mean, be present, be mindful, be right here, right now, ready to go at a moments notice. Of all his parables, I actually share a similar story with this. It’s not so much about end times, unless of course that’s how you understand weddings.
As a minister, I know that even the best-planned wedding doesn’t always go as planned. The weather can turn on a dime. The cater can go to the wrong venue. Or the groom can be rushed off to the hosptal.
I also know from a personal experience that the organist can play “Here comes the bride” seven times before the bride actually comes...leaving the poor groom to wait nervously at the altar.
I don’t know why the bridegroom made these ten women wait so long. But I have my theory. You see, weddings were different back then. The groom and his family would gather at their house. The bride and her family at theirs. When the groom was ready to seal the deal, the bridesmaids would escort him to the bride’s home, carrying lamps or torches to light the way.
The groom would then go in and the two would consummate the marriage (without any vows or rings being exchanged). After they were done, the bridesmaids would escort the couple to the feast at the grooms house, again carrying their lamps to light the way. So you see, the bridesmaids had only one job: to bring the light.
Since it was impossible to know when the bride and groom would be done with their nuptials, the attendants must come prepared to wait. And wait they did. But only five were properly prepared.
When it was there time to shine, the other five asked to borrow some oil, but there was none to spare. While they run out to get more, the newlyweds are ready to be escorted to the party. Once there, the doors are locked shut and no one else is able to get in.
If you’re familiar with parables you might have noticed this one seems to contradict another where Jesus said, “the first will be last and the last will be first.” But in that one, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven that he already ushered in. The one that is here still.
In this parable, Jesus is talking about a kingdom to come at a later date. Since we do not know either the day or the hour when that will happen, we have to be prepared to wait, whether we want to or not.
The good news is scripture is full of passages to encourage us through the waiting game. The author of Lamentations writes, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him” (Lam. 3:25). And in Isaiah we are told “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). The psalmist shouts, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently…” (Ps. 37:7). “Be strong and let your heart take courage as you wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
James tells us that those who patiently wait will see how “the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). And even Paul chimes in to remind us that we can wait, knowing “by the power at work within us,” God is always doing something; “accomplishing more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
We may not always like it, but “we may need to wait in order to become aware of what God is doing” in our life. (Richter)
Jesus said, “Keep awake.” Always be ready and prepared to bring your light into the dark world. Sometimes that means just sitting still trusting God is at work.
What I take from this parable is, one: We can’t sleep on the job. We have to always be ready to go. And two, we have to have enough “spiritual oil to keep us going, to recharge, to stay connected with God and God’s love.”
So, what are some of the ways that keep us connected to God?
Praying and meditating, cutting out the clutter and noise by sitting in silence to listen for God. Reading scripture every day is another way God speaks to our heart. Showing up for church and being in fellowship with others because sometimes God speaks to us through the person we least expect. Another way is to live out the gospel intentionally.
In loving and caring for others, we are meeting and loving Christ who fills our spiritual reserves.
Amy Richter writes, We know “our spiritual oil can run out if we aren’t mindful about refueling it. If you don’t have a conversation with your spouse that isn’t about paying the bills or scheduling car maintenance, your marriage is going to get pretty dry.”
Just the same, “If you don’t know some words of scripture so well that they become part of your bones, then someday you’re going to be sitting alone with nothing to draw on when your own words fail.” (Richter)
You can be the best prepared person and still find yourself in the dark. Yet God is still diligently at work. So, we need to have the faith to “keep awake.” And that’s what I think this parable is really about. Faith.
The emphasis of this story isn’t the newlyweds or the banquet. It’s on the oil, which I believe Jesus uses to describe our faith.
The wise come prepared with enough faith today to get them through the uncertainty. The foolish don’t. They want the faith of the wise, only to discover it can’t be shared. We all must have to have our own faith, our own light, to guide us through the darkness.
Since we don’t know what life will bring us next – be it joy or sorrow, ease or adversity – Jesus said, “Keep awake.” Cling to your faith and stay alert. If you’re asleep, or lack the light you need, there’s a good chance you will miss Christ coming.
As we enter the space we call Anamesa, we must take Jesus’ words to heart. We must “Keep awake” be present, be ready to see Christ in the flesh of the other.
In our wakeful state we bring the light of God’s glory to expose the darkness of the world. Jesus wants us to be present, mindful to all that is going on around us, because there is still work to be done.
God needs faithful and active disciples; one’s who will take up their cross and continue what Jesus began. The more we embrace and imitate his light, the more our well of faith increases.
With him, and through him, we will always have enough faith to get us to where God needs us to go.
It’s been said, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
Every moment we let pass is time ticking off the clock before the doors are shut.
Christ has already invited us to the wedding celebration. We don’t know when it will begin, but we better be ready when it’s time to go.
Let us pray:
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, Westminster John Knox) 2011.
Kelley, Shannon. Be Prepared. September 21, 2014 (accessed on Nov. 12, 2017)
Richter, Amy. Be Prepared to Wait. November 6, 2023 (accessed on Nov. 10, 2023).
There have been a few great saints throughout history. But today I want to look at the one who has influenced my ministry and inspired the very idea of Anamesa. That is St. Francis of Assisi – the saint who launched a million birdbaths and backyard statues.
Francis is a shining example for us to follow today, both as humans and as a gathered church. He taught that there is joy in life apart from material possession. And showed us how to treasure the natural world and humanity’s relationship to all of life.
Most importantly, Francis taught us to see Christ in all things. By looking at the world around us with an eye of finding the divine in our midst, Francis invites us to participate in God’s Kingdom in a radical new way.
In our reading today, we will see how the disciples doubt they have what it takes to accept such an invitation.
In addressing their concerns Jesus gives us this reminder in Luke 17:5-6
In his critique of Christianity, G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
Richard Rohr was less kind when he wrote, “After two thousand years of studying to be like Jesus Christ, we’ve managed to avoid everything that he taught to do.”
Both men, however, would agree that if anyone has ever come close to living up to that Christian ideal …of which so many of us try hard to avoid, it was St. Francis of Assisi.
The son of a wealthy textile merchant, Francis lived the good life. He wore the finest clothes. Drank the best wine. And had all the power and prestige that most people envy.
But then something changed in him. He began to have a series of divine interventions. This confused and and trouble the young, soon-to-be saint. So he took it to prayer. And pray he did.
One day while Francis was praying in an old dilapidated chapel, he heard God clearly say to him, “Repair my church.”
For most of us, we’d take that to mean start a capitol campaign to fix up the actual building; throw up a new roof, some fresh paint, cushions on the pews. But Francis would soon come to realize God meant something bigger.
You see, by the 13th century, the church was a far cry from what it was at Pentecost. The Pope’s were starting wars. Bishops were selling positions of power. And priests were giving special dispensations to the wealthy. All the while, the church was forgetting the poor completely.
Francis, who was not a theologian, soon realized his call was to lead a revolutionary new interpretation of the gospel; one based more on the works of Christ than the doctrines of man.
Taking Jesus at his word, Francis embodied a radically different lifestyle than that of the heads of church and state.
He shed his wealth for a vow of poverty. He ministered in the fringes instead of in cathedrals. Most importantly, he looked at all people the way God did - with a loving gaze. Then acted upon that love as if he was giving it directly to God.
Realizing even the lowliest of people carry God’s DNA, “Francis discovered that the glory of God is found in identification with the most vulnerable people, the poor, disabled, and leprous.” (Epperly)
This made it easier for Francis to care for those who were forgotten or pushed away by the church. I think this says something about who we are as a gathered people, and what we are called to do as Christ followers. Which takes us to our reading.
For whatever reason the Apostles ask Jesus to “increase their faith.” Jesus reply was simply you don’t need more, because there is no “more” or “less” faith. There is just faith. It only takes the tiniest amount to do the impossible.
Scripture is full of examples of what a speck of faith can produces through ordinary people like you and me.
Look at what it did for an ordinary nomad named Abraham. And lowly nobody named Mary.
The first church was established with uneducated fishermen, and a small group of folks like us who prayed and shared all things in common.
While no mulberry trees have been recorded as jumping into the sea, the faith of these ordinary people made extraordinary things happen.
Here’s why I think that is true. It’s not us. But God. It’s not our faith that God relies on. It’s God’s faith in us. It’s God’s faithfulness that does all the work, but does so using our hearts and hands. One needs to look no further than Mary’s baby to see how God can do a lot with little.
As so many saints before us would realize, it’s the faithfulness of God that redeems and transforms the world and all that is in it.
Francis didn’t set out to be a saint. He was just trying to figure out what God was calling him to do. Through his little bit of faith, he would come to discover, the closer he was to the one’s the church had tossed aside, the closer he was getting to Christ.
As a result, his faith grew stronger and stronger with every person he served. The stronger his faith grew, the closer he came to our Lord. I believe the same is true for us today.
Christ is calling us to be closer to him so we can be more like him. And it only takes having faith the size of a mustard seed. Imagine how our world, our country and our communities, our churches and our hearts might be transformed if we actually met and loved Jesus in the poor, the sick,…the marginalized and outcasts.
Instead of pushing people away because of who they voted for who choose to love, maybe we'd do better welcoming and embracing them as if we are welcoming and embracing Christ himself with love.
You see, it was his love for Christ, not fear or his desire for knowledge, that motivated Francis into action. And to borrow from Jesus, there is no “more” or “less” love…just love.
Love is faith in action. It’s the way God’s faithfulness is seen and felt by others.
God is calling people like us – beloved saints hidden inside beleaguered sinners – to live out the Gospel of Love even if we’re not very good at it. If we believe Jesus’ words are true, then it doesn’t take a lot for God to change the landscape of life. But it does take our willingness to open our hearts and hands to Christ.
You might be wondering what you can do with your small, barely adequate mustard seed.
The Apostles thought the same thing. They eventually took theirs out in the world and planted Christlike communities in homes across the Roman Empire.
St. Francis took his to revolutionize the gospel and show us a way to live in imitation of Christ. St. Brigid’s mustard seed inspired a global charity, helping impoverished people get the help they need. St. Christopher, St. Patrick, St. Catherine were all ordinary people through whom God did extraordinary things.
And now it’s our turn.
Your presence here today is proof that you have just the right amount of faith to feed the hungry, heal the sick, seek justice, care for the widow and orphan, and to love your neighbor as if you are loving Christ himself.
Like Chesterton concluded, “Religion needs to be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Frank Logue reminds us that “walking the life of faith then is not done in search of sainthood but is simply an act of love.” That was Francis to the letter; finding Christ in all living things and loving Christ through them.
In his most famous prayer, Francis cried, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
In Anamesa, we are called to sow love through our commitment to faithfully serve God’s will by loving God, loving others and serving both.
With this simple act of faith, you and I can join Francis and all the other saints as mere “servants doing what we were called to do knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.”
Let us make love our intention as we move along this pilgrim path, unlocking the space between where God comes to meet us and redeem us in our words and deeds.
Adapted from an original message, A Servant Saint, on October 6, 2019.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Epperly, Bruce G. Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2021).
Logue, Frank S. An Act of Love. October 1, 2016 (accessed on 11/3/2023).
This was a wholly moment for me to say the least. Wholly in the sense of entirely – as in my heart was now complete and full. But it was also a holy moment as in it felt like God had something to do with bringing us together. Kathleen is an answered prayer for sure.
When two people come together in love, it truly is a holy and sacred moment. If you ask me, that’s the whole point of life – to be both whole and holy in mind, heart, and soul; including with God and with each other. According to scripture, it’s the way we are to live into our truest self to be who God truly made us to be. And what did God make us to be?
Leviticus is the book in the Torah that is filled with life’s little do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts). It includes things like purity laws, types of sacrifices, and moral holiness. Which is why most people avoid this book like the plague, which Leviticus covers as well.
One of the central themes of the book (as it is throughout the entire bible) is holiness. It talks about holy priest, holy places, holy clothes, holy objects and holy utensils, holy holidays, and of course, holy laws. And it all can be summed up in one sentence: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Is it me, or does that feel like God is setting us up to failure? Perhaps the best way to think of this passage is to recognize that “God is holy. And this holy God is intent on making a holy people to live forever in a holy heaven.” (DeYoung)
We tend to think that holiness is something for the cloistered halls of a monastery. Something that’s impossible to obtain in a sinful and corrupt world. But I think that’s just an excuse not to try our best to be our best.
While the Hebrew word “Kodesh” does refer to moral purity, the basic meaning of holy or holiness is to be "set apart for a specific purpose.”
For example, in his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln declared the infamous battlefield as “hallowed ground.” In doing so, he set it aside and dedicated it to be place of special significance; consecrated to commemorate the lives of the soldiers sacrificed in the battle.
Having been made in God’s image means God’s holiness is a part of our DNA. We’ve been consecrated and set apart by God’s Spirit to bear the good fruit of God’s glory which “consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.”
What does God think? What does God will? Well, that too can be summed up in one sentence – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Which is exactly how Jesus set himself apart.
As I've pointed out before, Matthew 22 is filled with numerous challenges from all sorts of people trying to stop Jesus’ influence from spreading. Although today’s question doesn’t seem to be that challenging to him. They want him to pick the greatest commandment.
On a good day, most of us could recite the 10 great commandments. But I doubt any one of us knows all 613 found in the Torah, including the 365 laws that tell us what not to do, and the 248 laws that tell us what to faithfully do?
As Jesus has clearly demonstrated time and again, he’s pretty smart when it comes to this kind of stuff. He honors their question by reciting two passages from the law. The first being the “shema” found in Deuteronomy 6:5 which states:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The second one is from our passage today, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But then Jesus flexes his muscles a little by making the two verses one when he declares, “On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.”
If you’re a regular at Anamesa it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that our holiness comes down to this basic principle: love God, and love others.
Like Kathleen and I, these two actions are intertwined; one in the same. Love is the way to live a faithful and holy life in the eyes of God. And it’s expressed in the way we faithfully demonstrate that love to one another.
Of course, this is no ordinary love Jesus speaks of. It’s not puppy love like we have as teenagers. It’s not emotional affection, which we have with family and friends. And although there are plenty of passages in scripture that describe it as such, it’s not romantic love like that share between two people. However, it is the kind of love that makes me deliriously happy.
Matthew uses the Greek word “agape,” which is a self-giving, sacrificial love. The kind that is more concerned about the other person’s needs and wants than fulfilling one’s own. Agape is a love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself.
The Apostle John describes agape with this charge: “Love one another because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7-8)
Having been made in the image of God, means we are made with love, for the purpose of love…to be holy as God is holy. But here’s the thing, “agape” is a conscious decision one makes to see others as God sees them. And to intentionally love all things the way God loves them – wholly and infinitely.
It’s the holiness of love that enables us to be inclusive, forgiving, honest, charitable, and healing. It encourages us to tear down the barriers and walls of division, and frees us to love our neighbors without fear, jealousy, or anger.
For Jesus, this is simple math. The love of God equals the love of neighbor. The two are not mutually exclusive as if one could love God but hate another. Again, John declares, “Those who say they love God and hate a brother or sister is a liar. If you do not love a brother or sister whom you see, you cannot love God whom you do not see.” (1 John 4:20)
Wendy Farley writes, “Compassionate action reflects and mirrors the divine image. Love is not an emotion or obligation but is God present in the soul.” One thing we ought to be striving to do is to see others through the eyes of God the way Jesus did.
To be holy as God is holy begins by looking through that divine lens, and choosing to love what you see in the same way as God loves you.
It’s through acts of self-giving charity, kindness and generosity that God’s holiness becomes visible and tangible in us and through us, just as it was in and through Christ Jesus.
You see being holy isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being like Christ - God’s perfect love made manifest in human form. It’s about mirroring your life with Jesus, reflecting his way of being one with God and one with creation.
It’s about putting flesh on God’s presence like Jesus did. And making love the first and only priority until the world is deliriously happy.
It’s about letting go of yourself and “thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills”…loving as God loves.
Instead of trying to convince yourself that this impossible…simply ask yourself “What can I do with what I have right now in front of me to make God’s love come alive in me?”
John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest who lived in a neighborhood rampant with alcohol abuse. Compelled by love, John would go out into the streets where “he’d lift the hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms and say to them, ‘This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.’” (Smith)
Mother Theresa did something similar with those where were left to die on the streets of Calcutta. She took them into her home, not to heal them or prolong their suffering, but to simply be the visible presence of God’s love and compassion as they pass on.
Fr. Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, used agape to transform the lives of thousands of violent gang members in Los Angeles. It’s not impossible at all.
There are so many ways you can make love grow in Anamesa…in that space between our God and our neighbor. There are Food Pantries who need volunteers to pack and handout meals for people who are suffering from food insecurity.
There are men and women living on our streets who need basic items like clean socks and fresh water.
There are teenagers in foster care who could use a mentor.
Elderly neighbors who could use some companionship. Co-workers who need a compassionate friend to trust.
Simple acts like these make love whole and holy. It can make us deliriously happy. And like Jesus said, it’s these type of things that will set us apart in the kingdom of heaven. “For what you do to the least of these, you do also to me.”
Kathy Walker reminds us that “God is challenging us to see the face of God in our neighbors and then love them as we love ourselves. We should focus our energy and attention on the things that we must do every day…as a recognition that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our being, with all our mind.”
It’s only when we truly understand what God’s love means to us that we are truly able to understand who we are. God’s very own beloved children.
From love we were made, and for love we are sent out into the world to be holy like God is holy.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishing, 2012).
Farley, Wendy. The Thirst of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2015).
Smith, James. The Good And Beautiful God. (Dower Grove, IL: IVP, 2009)
Walker, Kathy. Stumped. October 23, 2023 (accessed on October 27, 2023).
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. - Matthew 22:15-22 -
In 1773, the phrase “taxation without representation is tyranny” was first coined. Three years later America became an independent nation. And guess what we’re still arguing over? Taxes!
It’s an issue as old as time. Matthew gives us a taste of what it was like in first century Palestine, one of many territories who were required to pay taxes to the Roman Empire.
Just as America had loyalists to the English crown, the Emperor had the Herodians, a secular group of Jewish supporters of the puppet king Herod Antipas, who most-likely skimmed from the revenue meant for Rome.
The Herodians colluded with the uber religious Pharisees who weren’t keen on paying Caesar anything. The Pharisees saw how the suffocating tax rate smothered their people and enslaved them in revolving debt. It kept them under the thumb and at the mercy of their conqueror.
Still this very strange alliance wasn’t put together to debate tax-reform. They came together to stymie Jesus’ growing influence and power. You got to hand it to them. It was a very clever trap, a political conundrum designed to be that “gotcha!” moment to get Jesus in trouble. But leave it up to Jesus to find a loophole.
Before he answers their question, he asks to see the coin used to pay the tax. It is a denarius, a familiar silver coin that equaled a day’s wage for the average laborer. It wasn’t a Jewish coin. It was Roman. Which meant it had an image of Tiberius Caesar, the reigning emperor, stamped on it. The coins also had the words ‘Long live the Son of God,’…a title reserved only for Caesars.
To a good and faithful Jew, the Roman coins broke a number of commandments - no graven images comes to mind. (Notice who didn’t have one in his purse.)
When they show Jesus the coin, he asks a basic, simple question that he knew they couldn’t get wrong. “Whose image is on this coin?” When they answer correctly, Jesus tells them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” It's like he just leaves it up to them to decide who gets what.
Writing in the 3rd Century, Tertullian translated Jesus’ response to say, “Give to Caesar… Caesar’s image, which is on the coin and to God … God’s image, which is on mankind.” His translation was based on the idea from Genesis 1, that everything created by God bears the image of God.
The one definitive, universal characteristic of every human being is that we all have God’s divine inscription etched within us. Worth more than silver or gold, this inscription gives us our worth and purpose.
Like Phil Hooper wrote, “God is not interested in your coins but in your conscience, in your compassion and your complicity with the empires of this world.”
We belong to God. And yet, we continue to chase after that which is Caesar’s. We strive to make gods out of coins, but struggle to allow God to be made fully manifest in us.
Jesus knew that a royal coin, crown, or robe that bear Caesar’s image are merely material things; objects that thieves can steal, rust can destroy, and moths can eat. You and I do not belong to Caesar. We belong to God whose dwells within each one of us.
To quote Thomas Merton, “There is that in you that no one can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God.”
Jesus knew Caesar is finite and life taking. But God is infinite and life giving. Same is true of God’s Son.
Rulers don’t want us to be like them. They want us to be in fear of them so we will serve them. God actually wants us to be the living manifestation of God’s image, like Jesus was, so others can discover the divine indwelling of love within themselves.
Jesus wants us to receive and enjoy the love he offers. Love that was given to him by God, he gives to us - not because we earned it, but because he chose to love us independently of any effort on our part. (Nouwen)
That God-given love we receive from him, should be the same love that flows through us to each other. “Jesus was one human person among many, just as the Church is one organization among many. But Jesus is the Christ; he is Emmanuel, “God with us,” revealing God's love to us.”
Just as Jesus came to us, he sends us to go to others. Our job as his sacred body is to go out into Anamesa, that space between everything, to continue what he started: ushering in the kingdom of heaven by being and sharing God’s love in the world. This is a kingdom that runs on God’s economy, not Caesar’s.
Again…Caesar wants to take from us. God wants to give, give, give to us. There is no limit to God’s generosity. “What God wants is nothing less than to come and abide in your heart Jesus did not care about the tax. His real concern was that you live in the image and likeness of God, who lovingly created you.” (Lague)
The way we begin to live into the image and likeness of God is to shape and form your life to be more like Jesus, and less like Caesar. We were very intentional when we set our mission for the church. To follow Christ Jesus, which means to love God, love others, and serve both.
The Herodians and Pharisees couldn’t have been any more different, same could be said about Jesus and Caesar, or you and me.
Yet, we have all been minted and stamped with God’s imprint. We are all sons and daughters of God. And thus we were all made to love all…even if it means sacrificing ourselves to do so.
So here’s what I hope you remember from today. Do not let Caesar’s world define you. Instead allow God’s universal love to come alive in you. Let the peace of God shape you, and allow God’s joy to embrace you and lead you to be who you were made to be: One with God. One with Christ. One with Spirit.
Because you possess that sacred, indwelling divine image, you are worth what God is worth. You are precious as Christ is precious. And as powerful as the Spirit is powerful.
So give Caesar his damn coins. And give God everything else. Your flesh and blood has a value that cannot be calculated by human means.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox) 2011. pp. 188-193.
Claiborne, Shane. Jesus for President. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2008. pp.116-17.
Hoffacker, Charles. The Coin That God Wants. October 16, 2005. (Accessed on October 20, 2023).
Hooper, Phil. Games. October 22, 2023 (Accessed on October 20, 2023).
Logue, Frank S. Render Unto God What Is God’s. October 19, 2014. (Accessed on October 20, 2023)
Thomas Merton quote is from a devotional by Richard Rohr, October 2017.
Until there is peace in the world, I will continue to preach it; even if it means sounding like a broken record. This is hard to do especially when I myself feel the weight of hopelessness upon my heart.
In those times I think of Jesus standing in a synagogue filled with people whose knew a thing or two about oppression and the hopeless it brings. In that sacred space, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah reminding all who were listening that hope comes from the One God sent “to bring good news to the poor, deliver the captives, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed” (Luke 4:17-21).
As war and violence continue to plague our world, the prophetic words of Isaiah still echo throughout all time and space witnessing to God’s hope and salvation for all.
Read: Isaiah 25:1-9
Isaiah knows this, and writes: "Lord, you are our God; we will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago." (Isaiah 25:1).
Isaiah, who has witnessed the carnage of God’s people firsthand, chooses not to stand in fear but to lift up his heart in praise, exalting God. Isaiah knew what God had done. And he knows what God can do. (In the present situation, Isaiah looks at the past to see the future. It’s all interconnected because all life is interconnected to God.)
When the overwhelming sense of hopelessness weighs on our heart, Isaiah reminds us that this is not the end. Evil and injustice does not have the final word. God does.
So let us remember that our first inclination must be to see and exalt God’s glory in all things, because God has always been faithful to a fault. God was, is, and always will be the hope we can rely on, anytime and every time.
I have a dear friend who lives outside of Tel Aviv. She, like so many others, has found herself in the space between bullets and bombs. She is restless, sleepless, and with each passing day of war has become a little more hopeless.
A long time ago an ancient poet stood on the same bloodstain soil, and wrote: “I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).
Despite how bleak a situation might seem, what God has set in motion, continues to remain in motion. We always have hope because God always remains faithful - not just to Israel but to all of God’s creation. And what does that hope look like?
The prophet describes it like this, “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines." (Isaiah 25:6)
Scripturally, a great feast is most often used as a metaphor to describe God’s promise. And the table is symbol of reconciliation and unity among all peoples.
The promise of hope that is given to Israel is paradoxically the same hope given to the Palestinians, and to all who call upon the name of the Lord.
The revelation Isaiah gives us makes it very clear that God’s vision for creation isn’t war and bloodshed, but one of abundance and unity.
While giving a message on hope and inclusion, Archbishop Desmond Tutu turned to Isaiah and envisioned a dream God had for the world. He wrote, “I have a dream,” God says. “Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.”
Standing in the shadows of apartheid, Tutu reminds the world that “In God’s family, there are no outsiders.”
This is what our salvation looks like. It’s both personal and communal. For what God put in motion remains in motion.
The banquet table of Zion extends from the past through the present, and into the promised future. Which tells me hope is not something we have to wait for, it’s right here, in that space between what was and what will be.
Just as God has always been involved in human history, Richard Rohr reminds us that “The one who can see the presence of God in each moment is never hopeless.”
Today’s passage ends with a simple affirmation of trust and salvation. “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).
So, here’s the thing. Whatever situation you find yourself in be it terror attacks or personal attacks on your character God is there to meet you always ready to welcome and love you. I believe that wherever God’s love is present, so too is hope, peace, and salvation.
And so, let love be the hope we cling to. Let love be the energy that binds us together. For Love is the power of God that redeems us back to God making all things new again. “Without love,” wrote Paul, “I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
We are called to love God, love others, and serve both. Which means we must welcome God’s love into our heart. And spread God’s love all around in all that we do - bearing the fruit of hope and peace and unity until there is war no more.
This was the way of Jesus, the Christ, the manifestation of God’s love in the flesh. Out of great love for us, Jesus gave himself for us, making himself a sacrifice with his own body and blood to bring good news to the poor and oppressed, to open the eyes of the blind and to free the captives.
If you want to see what God’s love looks like, you need to look no further than Christ who is in you and in all things.
Believing this to be true, the Apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”
(1 John 4:7-12).
In the face of the Israel-Hamas war, and every war from Gaza to Ukraine to your own inner turmoil, let us always hold on to the hope found in God's deep and abiding love.
If we are true to this love, I believe we can become agents of change in this war-weary world, carrying the good news, and being the good news, of God’s eternal and glorious salvation throughout Anamesa.
For what God has set in motion, remains in motion, in us and through us, now and forever.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
If any brought charges against me in a court of law, I’m sure you’d hear a quite of few of these statements being entered into the records:
“He was very giving, especially with the things he wanted.”
“He was faithful, but only to himself.”
“He was caring to a fault, but his fault was always being at fault.”
I bring this up because today we’re going to look at two very similar passages from the Old and New Testaments. One reads like a letter written to an unfaithful lover. And the other is like a mirror that reveals the results of infidelity to the one caught cheating.
There aren’t many passages in Scripture as heartbreaking as these two which expose God’s wounded heart.
In Isaiah, God laments over creation wondering “What more could I have done.” And in Matthew God bemoans, “Surely, they will respect my son.”
The takeaway in both passages seems simple: the Kingdom of God will be given only to those who bear God’s good fruit.
But as we know, that’s not always as simple as it sounds. For what are the grapes Isaiah speaks of? What is the harvest the son comes to collect? Justice and righteousness. This is what God expects. How we define that is left up to us. That’s when it gets messy.
You may have noticed both passages begin with a sense of hopefulness and promise. But they quickly turn into having charges brought against people for not producing these fruits.
If we’re being honest, this indictment could be handed down to any one of us. I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty good at producing wild grapes. We might look good and delicious on the outside. But inside, we are sour, bitter, and good for nothing. God has expectations for creation, especially for those put in charge of its care.
I just read a story about a woman who rented a guesthouse through Airbnb back in 2021. She’s been there now for nearly 550 days…and hasn’t paid a single penny of rent. I don’t know her story. Or what her intentions were when she moved in. What I do know is when we enter an agreement like renting an apartment, or ordering a meal at a restaurant, there are certain expectations put in place. Payment is usually one of them.
Although God is not demanding rent, the life we have receive from God comes with certain expectations. Like Isaiah pointed out, God has cultivated a perfect garden to grow amazing and faithful fruit.
What God expects from us isn’t mere faith but a bountiful harvest of faithfulness. If we’re not growing God’s righteousness and justice in us, then we’re not living into God’s expectations for this world.
When we live by our own set of rules instead of God’s, we’re no longer living in sync with God’s power. And as a result, we are no longer a part of God’s providence.
“Justice and righteousness are not things we practice for extra credit,” writes James Burns, “they are the main point. God is not content until the blessings we receive are shared fairly with all. If this fruit is not produced, the consequences may be that God allows us to have our own way and leaves us to our own devices.”
This is what Paul describes as the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). That is, God gives you up to your sin. You don’t have to be a religious scholar to know receiving God’s wrath is never a good thing.
As we can see from his parable, Jesus knows what humans are capable of doing when God is absent from our lives. Although Jesus doesn’t issue judgment in this story, he does execute justice.
When he asked his listeners about what the vineyard owner should do with those vicious tenants who killed the Son, the Pharisees answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to someone who will give him what is due.”
If Jesus were to give you an opportunity to rule on your own behalf, how would you judge yourself? Would your first thought be with violence and vengeance? Or would it be righteousness and justice?
Here’s the thing. What we want from God, and dare I say, what we expect from God…is exactly what God wants and expects from us. When we ask God for forgiveness, mercy and grace, God expects us to be forgiving, merciful, and gracious too.
When given the chance, the chief priest and the Pharisees indict themselves. Realizing what Jesus did, they runaway in fear, plotting to kill him as a means to shut Jesus up. Again, we should not be so quick to judge their actions. We may not have killed Jesus, but we are guilty of rejecting him in many ways.
How many times have we ignored the plea of someone in need, looking at their situation with harsh judgement, or worse with apathy and indifference? We hear the cries and see the bloodshed but do nothing to remedy and redeem the situation. We see this at our borders. We see this in our inner cities and schools. We see it in our churches.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been negligent at heeding God’s voice just as we have neglected to care for the ones whose faith or social status or skin color isn’t like ours. We’ve all been guilty of breaking God’s heart every time we ignore the heart of one another.
The worst part about all this isn’t that we’re hurting God’s feelings or condemning ourselves, but instead we’re stopping God’s love from growing in us. We’re allowing it, along with our faith, to wither and die on the vine.
Now we can look at today’s passages and feel ashamed of what we have done. Or we can look at them as inspiration to awaken our hearts; an invitation to reclaim our faith and redeem ourselves with God.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…” He then tells his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:4-5, 8-10).
When we abide in Christ, we abide in God. And with God abiding love in us we are able to cultivate, nurture and grow the fruit of God’s love within us.
The prophet Micah reminds us of what the Lord expects from us “but to do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously” (Micah 6:8 MSG).
The Apostle James sums it up by encouraging us to, “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:19-22).
Paul was a little more profound when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
According to Jesus the metrics by which our faithfulness to God is measured are found in our everyday acts of tending to the needs of the least of these our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:31-46).
I say all this, so that you will go out in the world, as sons and daughters of God; planting, and nurturing and growing God’s righteous and just love throughout Anamesa.
In the space between yourself and everything else, God has prepared an amazing vineyard called life. God has chosen for you a very fertile hill. The soil has been tilled, the rocks removed, and the very best vines have been planted.
God performed all this careful attention with one hope, that you and I will tend to this land and produce the most excellent grapes.
God gives us the freedom to cultivate and nurture this greatness.
But if we ignore what God expects, replacing God’s vines with violence, then we will only produce more violence. The same is true when we plant racism, ignorance, and division.
When we cultivate God’s love, we grow and reap more of the same. Righteousness begets more righteousness. Justice begets justice.
And so, if we plant Christ within us, then what will grow in us but the very fruits of God’s glory.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
For only having three letters, it is a really big word. It’s the one emotion that drives us to work harder, encourages us to love better, and motivates us to look beyond ourselves.
Because there are just as many ways to find joy as there are ways to lose it, how we understand it and embrace it is critical to our spiritual growth and transformation.
No one knew this better than Paul, in whose letter to the church in Philippi we get this perspective from Philippians 2:1-11
It's a bit ironic that of all the books of the Bible, the most joyful among are the “prison epistles.” Most of them are letters written by Paul while imprisoned in Rome - including this one written to the Philippians.
Now, I have watched enough episodes of Orange Is the New Black to know how difficult it is to find joy behind bars. Yet, while facing death, Paul is able to rejoice because he knows he is connected and united with God and the good people of Philippi.
Philippi is a wealthy and influential Roman territory. The folks there are considered Roman citizens, and they enjoy all that comes with this privilege. For example, they don’t pay taxes! And for some reason, they are lacking in joy which causes Paul to send them a letter of encouragement.
He writes, if you have learned anything by following Christ, if his love has made a difference in your life then change your mindset, and live accordingly to his way and you will have a reason to rejoice.
Everything with Paul hinges on his interconnectedness with Christ.
I think the vast majority of Christ followers hold to this truth that through our faith we are united to Jesus. Because of that connection, we also believe we are united with his love, his hope, his salvation, and Spirit. If that is true, then would not the same notion apply to his joy?
Whatever prison cell of despair we find ourselves in, be it real or metaphorical, we have a reason to rejoice like Paul.
We have a reason to rejoice always because we have the fullness of Christ dwelling within us. Yet, knowing this…I still felt completely joyless after dropping my daughter off at college. I spent roughly 800 miles trying to figure out why.
Part of this void was merely the sadness of letting go of someone I loved. The emptiness of the passenger seat was my constant reminder of that. But as I drove on, I remembered sadness is not the opposite of joy. It is the opposite of happiness.
I think we often confuse joy with happiness.
According to Charles Schultz, the beloved creator of Peanuts, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” In all the different translations of this passage, Paul never describes joy as something that chews up your favorite pair of shoes. Or digs holes in your backyard.
Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind. But joy is deep within our soul, in the very essence of our being.
It always makes me happy to hear my kids laughing together … or whenever I get to enjoy a delicious curry. But eventually the meal comes to an end. And my kids find something to argue over. Joy isn’t rooted in fleeting happiness. It’s rooted in Christ Jesus. God’s greatest joy made manifest for us.
If Easter taught us anything it’s that nothing can kill God’s joy. It is eternal. And the resurrected Christ is our proof.
Our external circumstances come and go, so Paul encourages us to look within ourselves where we are eternally united to Christ.
By this faithful unity to him, we are also united with each other through him. If our faith is tied to God, then we must have faith in one another as well.
Joy is not only personal, it’s also relational.
The Spirit of Christ’s joy empowers us to love one another like he loves us, to forgive each other like he forgave showing the same humility, compassion, and sympathy for others like he did. In other letter’s Paul calls this being in imitation of Christ. Allowing the divine manifestation of God’s glory move through us towards others.
I like how Eugene Peterson translated Paul’s words in The Message. He wrote, “Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself” (Phil. 2:4-5 MSG).
In the gospel according to John, Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and remain in his love. I tell you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).
As followers of Christ, we must remain both faithful and obedient to our call to love God, love others, and serve both. This was Jesus’ mission. And it is ours as well.
So we can rejoice always – in good times as well as bad times – knowing that whenever we seek justice, promote peace, walk humbly with God and others, God rejoices with us and through us.
By living in the likeness of Christ, we become something greater than the problems we are facing. We become the face of hope, the heart of love, and the hands of generosity.
We become the true Spirit of God’s grace bringing tenderness, compassion, and sympathy to others in the world.
By being like Christ, God’s greatest joy, we too can become the physical manifestation of God’s glory in every space we enter.
Therefore, let us enter Anamesa rejoicing, knowing we are all one body - sharing one heart and one mind with Christ and with each other.
Driscoll, Mark. Preach it, Teach it. Nov. 4, 2007. (accessed April 6, 2016).
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
As we will see from today’s reading, Jesus doesn’t care much about fairness or unfairness in the way we tend to think about it. Instead, he wants us to look at our own spiritual journey and our own relationship with God…and not to worry or to compare ourselves to others.
So he gives us this parable to ponder. (read the full version of Matthew 20:1-16 here)
...But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” - Matthew 20:1-16 -
It’s probably safe to say, Jesus isn’t that concerned about the ethics of business or labor management relations. He doesn’t seem to care who did what or who got to what place first. In fact, “the boss’s actions in this parable contradicts everything we know about employee motivation and fair compensation.” (Yancey)
But if you’ve been paying attention the last couple of weeks, you might recall me saying God’s economy doesn’t run like ours. For that we all should be grateful. This story makes it very clear that God isn’t fair. At least not like we define fairness.
Here we have the owner of a vineyard that needs to have its fruit harvested. So, he goes out and gathers the workers to do the job. Some clock in at sunrise. Others after the morning coffee break. And some come after lunch. It’s still not enough, so he goes out and hires more workers in the afternoon. And then a few more who start near quitting time.
Everyone seems happy and content to have been hired. No one grumbles about the work they’ve been employed to do. That is until payroll. Those who were first hired, the one’s who put in a full day’s work in the hot blazing sun, naturally complain when they learn their paycheck is the same as those who barely had time to break a sweat.
It’s easy for us to sympathize with their complaints, isn’t it? More than just basic mathematics, or incompetent bookkeeping, something in our gut says this is wrong. It’s not fair. We know in our heart that some things ought to be fair - like education and civil rights. But when it comes to money, or something we believe we’ve earned, well…that’s when things get a little more personal.
I have been told all my life if you want something you got to work for it. And that the harder you work, the greater the reward will be at the end. At the last ad agency, I was at, I worked three months straight to help keep the company afloat during a recession. I really believed that the sacrifices I made to my family for that job, would be well compensated if we succeeded. Which we did.
At the end of the year, we managed to keep the doors open. And with my help we even eked out a profit. That year I got an unexpected bonus. A $25 gift card to Best Buy. The same as everyone else; except for the few at the top whose jobs we had saved.
Yeah, it’s not fair. But sometimes that’s a good thing. That crappy bonus was a tipping point for me. First, it helped me realize that life is too short to burnout at work. No longer did I “live to work” but instead “worked to live.” I put my family first again, instead of someone’s profit margin.
Second, that crappy bonus led me into the vineyard where I found a new job…and a new salary. It didn’t take long for me to see that this heavenly kingdom doesn’t run on our economic standards of fair pay for fair work. It runs on God’s economy. And God’s definition of fairness.
God affirms our worth. And God alone guarantees our value. It has nothing to do with who we are or what we have done or can do. It’s based solely on who God is, and what God has done for us through Christ Jesus.
Through him, God became one like us so we could see, and feel, and experience God’s unconditional love in the flesh. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection remind us that God’s generosity is beyond our human capacity and logic.
It might not seem fair that each worker gets the same paycheck. But from God’s point of view, it’s not a matter of fairness or unfairness. It’s not even a matter of deserving or undeserving. It’s about God and what God chooses to do for us - despite all that we have done or left undone.
As Ken Kesselus puts it, “Jesus wants us to know that in the face of our limited, worldly understanding of what is fair and what is unfair, God works with a different reality, in a different direction, and by different standards.”
In this parable the boss isn’t breaking his agreement with his employees. He’s actually upholding it honestly and fairly. By paying everyone a full day’s wage we realize that God isn’t concerned about what we deserve; God gives us simply what we need.
In his great book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey reminds us that at the end of the day, “God dispenses gifts, not wages.”
Whether you’ve been faithful to God your whole life, or you’re new to the party, God loves you and welcomes you just the same. There are some Christians who might be thinking that’s not fair. You spent your time loving God, loving others, and serving both while other people were being sinful. Yeah, It’s not fair. That’s the point of this parable.
Imagine how those last workers felt when someone finally hired them. Imagine standing around all day not knowing if you will make any money for rent muchless food. I suspect they are paid first, because they are able to receive their wages with joy and gratitude – not with envy or pettiness.
When you’re the one on the receiving end of God’s generosity and goodness it’s easy to feel grateful. But shouldn’t we also feel the same when someone else finally comes joins us in the vineyard?
All that we have, all that we’ve been given in this space we call Anamesa, is a gift from God. And whatever God wants to give us will l always be more than we deserve. So yeah, it’s not fair. And thank God for that. Because we are recipients of that generosity too.
God is a lousy bookkeeper. Handing out envelopes stuffed full of infinite grace. Infinite love. Infinite forgiveness. Infinite life. It doesn’t matter who is first or who is last. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what language you speak, who you love or the color of your skin. Christ died for all. Which is our proof that God is faithful and generous to all, if only because there’s still more work to be done.
Five times the vineyard owner goes out to gather people. I imagine if he went out a sixth or a seventh time, the end of the story wouldn't change. But here’s the thing to remember: God leaves it up to us to come in and get our hands dirty.
This parable makes it abundantly clear that it’s not about who is worthy but who is willing.
Who’s willing to be the face of Christ for others to see their worth in God’s eyes?
Who is willing to be the hands of Christ so others can feel God’s mercy in the flesh?
Who is willing to be the heart of Christ, to love and forgive those who society says don’t deserve it?
Who is willing to go and do the work of this heavenly kingdom - planting and growing and harvesting the fruits of God’s glory until Christ comes again to give us our final paycheck?
We can’t calcolate God’s love on a timesheet. That gift isn’t a bonus reward based on merit, or the quality or quantity of one’s labor. It’s just it’s just something God gives freely to everyone who chooses to go into the vineyard. So, who here is willing to join me?
Adapted from original sermon Work To Be Done on September 1, 2019 (accessed on 09-21-2023).
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 92-97.
Gonzalez, Justo. Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes. (Nashville: Abington, 1996) pp. 62-63.
Yancy, Phillip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) pp. 61-63.
Kesselus, Ken. An Undeserved Gift. September 21, 2014 (accessed on 09-21-2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”