Monday, September 29, 2014

Control, Priorities, and Grace


God of the vineyard, naming us to help create fine wine, you honor us, along with prostitutes and tax collectors, in your kingdom. When we are confused about our role, our part, guide us to your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen

I have two brothers. I almost have the exact two brothers Jesus is talking about, one who tells you he will do something and does not and the other tells you he won't but then does. My brothers are not always consistent in this pattern, but it is their tendency. My youngest brother will accept when my Mom asks him to do the dishes and 45 min later, you'll find him sitting in the kitchen, dirty dishes still stacked all over and him listening to music "preparing" to do the dishes. He still swears he will do them... Just, when he is ready. The other has an adamant "NO." But he does occasionally do what he has said no to. Early this summer, I moved all my stuff from my seminary apartment back into my parent's house. My brother adamantly protested against doing any box lifting or helping at all. It's not his stuff, he doesn't want me living there, he isn't going to help me move back in. Yet five minutes after we started, he was out there in the warm May sun helping to unload the U-Haul. I've always thought it was about control. Control and priorities. 

Matthew is rather pointed in his parables. The Scribes and Elders are obviously called out today as the son who says he will do the father's will, but never actually does. He is more concerned about the appearance of doing his father's will and not actually complying with it. His priority is not in line with his father's, but he can claim that it is because he says he will do what the father asked. Yet, he controls his own fate through his actions. On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes who change their minds and hearts and follow through on believing, like the second son, are better examples of following the father's will. Their priority is the father, God. They have given up control. Instead, they put their lives in the hands of someone else. 

It's a difficult idea, giving up control, putting your life into the care of someone else. We struggle with it on a very basic level as we advance in years. It takes practice. And we always want to be sure we are putting our lives into the care of someone who is worthy of them, someone who knows what they are doing, has the necessary background and knowledge, skills and patience. Hiring a caregiver is tough work, regardless if it's for ourselves, our parents in their advancing age, or our little children when we must leave them. The Scribes and Elders' question is so understandable. What authority do you have, Jesus? Why should I trust in you? 

Even if Jesus does not answer the Scribes and Elders, we know the answer. God has given Jesus the authority. God backs Jesus' words with actions. God heals the sick, the lepers, the tormented. God loves both sons, both groups of people, the ones who do his will and the ones who say they will do his will. God works on all our hearts, hoping that we will change our minds and our actions. Wanting us all to be like the prostitutes who change their ways. All it takes is a change in priorities, letting go of control. 

Wait, all it takes is changing our priorities?? Letting go of control?? 

That's hard. Consider the Magdalene and Thistle Farms project in North Carolina. Women who were prostitutes, drug addicts, abused by traffickers, in jail, spend two years going through the program to change their lives, their priorities, and what has control in their lives. Two years to begin a journey, to learn what it means to commit, learn what it means to trust, learn a basic trade, soap, candle and tea making. A journey that will last their entire lives to heal and change their lives from the streets to God's garden. Yes, that is the power of God's love and grace. 

Our priorities point to our treasure. 
The Israelites in the desert prioritize water.
Makes sense. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs 
Shows that we do not worry about certain things
Unless our physical needs are taken care of first.
The Scribes and Elders prioritize authority, who, what, where, why, and how.
Does Jesus have authority? Yes, but how, from whom?
What legitimacy is there without authority?
And while it's a logical fallacy, arguing by authority
Everyday it is pounded into us
By parents, commercials, religious and government institutions
We say it is so, so it is so. You WANT this, you NEED this
How can I say otherwise, my knowledge is so limited
Yet, God says, "You do not need that."
God says, "I have given you EVERYTHING you need already,
Grace and love are free 
I love you while you are a work in progress
I love you while you change your heart
I love you while you make mistakes
Learning, growing, changing
The greatest masterpiece one could ever have
A child, born of love, who grows to love you too."

I am devastated. I can do nothing, nothing!
My works, my acts, my striving, is all for nought.
God loves me anyway. 
Darn, darn, darn. What am I striving for? 
What do I seek to earn? My own love, my own dignity?
God has already given me love and dignity 
What more could I need? I almost want to be mad.
I was doing something for myself! 
I could reject the gift, say no thanks, no way, I want to earn it for myself
But I have tried for years and years and I have not been perfect,
I am exhausted by my trying and failing
What control do I really even have? I try so hard and it comes to nothing anyway.
Not worthy of having earned, not worthy of the gift at all
Still it's here, shiny, bright, beautiful, overwhelming,
Like Mary Poppin's bag, it never ends!

My priorities are realigned. 
My treasure is love and grace.
My treasure is with God. 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I can honestly say, I do not know.

I am a Millennial. There are no two ways about it. I was born in the late eighties. I grew up with home computers. There are many other things that point to my Millennial-hood, but those two things are enough to establish identity. But one thing I do not identify with as a Millennial is not going to church. I get asked often why people my age do not go to church and I am going to honestly answer for myself: I have no idea why Millennials do not go to church.

On an intellectual level, I can point to many reasons and problems why someone would not want to go to church at this age of life. Church is on a day off, church is confusing, church is hard and requires talking to new people. Religion can be oppressive and close minded and becomes an institution which does not allow new ideas or growth. Millennials are not in leadership positions, people do not offer activities and classes geared for the age group... the list goes on and on. However, on a gut level, I do not understand.

And I think that points to how I have experienced the Church in my life. I have been growing up being part of a church my entire life. I was baptized into the Episcopal church and I am now an ordained member of its leadership. Granted, my life transition from baptized baby to ordained leader was not the easiest or the most direct. I did once think about leaving the church. For anyone who knows my atheist brother, it would not come as a surprise that it was during a conversation with him that I thought about leaving the church. However, I realized during that conversation that while I wasn't always happy with the church governance or behavior, that there was no way for me to help change it if I left. That day I became an inside revolutionary. As all good revolutionaries are, I have to work from inside because otherwise I have no grounds for being trusted. Its a slow revolution, but its one that I believe very strongly in. I want to make the church more authentic, more open, better able to stand for love in this world. It comes from a vision of the kingdom of God where everything is accepted and loved for what God created us to be. It comes out of growing up in a community which cared about the world and all the people in it, is worried about the doubt and questions that plague us on our journeys, and looks forward to a time when peace and freedom rule. I may be an idealist, but I know none of this is easy. The church isn't perfect, institutional religion has lots of problems, but those are not the most important parts of the community of God. The most important parts are the relationships, between God and each of us, between each other, and the community with God. For any Millennial trying to find a place in the world wide web of moving people, the church offers a place to learn how to have healthy relationships. Sadly, not all churches embody or even care to embody healthy relationships, healthy relationships are a struggle. Yoda says, Do or do not, there is no try. I agree, as long as we are not afraid to fail. There is no way to learn from mistakes if we are afraid to make mistakes.

I am a Millenial. I go to church. Heck, I occasionally lead church services. I have no idea why people my age do not go to church and I do not think it is fair for me to comment on that. I have no experience of it. If you want to know, ask a Millennial that does not go to Church. And then bring it back to the leadership, just so we know.

Thank you!