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.