“Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?”

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The newspaper equivalent of church buildings turned into condos. 

 “Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?”

The two institutions I love the most are: Church and Newspaper (Museums and Baseball are 3 & 4, respectively). I believe in their similar and quite different holy work to tell stories of Truth and Life, especially stories that are undervalued and unseen. I believe both have a critical role in cultivating a thriving civic ecology for all.

I’ve long noticed a similarity in the challenges and need for innovation of these two institutions whose place and authority were once presumed in our culture.

Boston Globe’s Editor Brian McGrory recently sent a memo to the newsroom. Media commentator Dan Kennedy posted it here. https://dankennedy.net/2016/04/07/globe-editor-mcgrory-its-time-to-rethink-everything-we-do/

I read the memo with great interest about the future of the Boston Globe. But, all I could hear were echoes of my own institution. Below is my creative writing exercise. My text is in red. Enjoy.

~ Laura

Hey all,

 It’s time to bring everyone up to date on a series of conversations I’ve initiated among senior editors bishops over the past couple of months, conversations intended to lay the groundwork for a no-sacred-cows analysis of our newsroom Church and what the Globe Church should look like in the future. It’s also time to get the room fully involved in the process.

You know it as I know it: The Globe, Church like every other major legacy news religious organization in Massachusetts, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. The revenue funds our journalism ministry. The declines have mandated significant cuts over the past dozen years.

 There’s far too much good that goes on at this organization on a moment-by-moment basis to allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong with the industry religious institutions. But we can’t ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I’ve asked senior editors bishops to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization Christian institution designed to take on The Boston Globe denominationalism, what would it look like?

 There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff clergy & lay leaders in the right way? Should we remain in the current print physical format that we have now, same size buildings, same sections geographic isolation? Do we have the right departments divisions of ordained and lay ministry? Is our beat structure seminary process outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week worship on Sunday mornings? Do print and digital in-person and online ministry relate in the right ways?

 The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.

Easy answers, as you well know, are elusive. The good news is that we’ve got an absurdly smart, dedicated collection of journalists ministers, many of the best in the nation, that has embraced profound and meaningful change over the years, always while maintaining our values. We’ve built two of the most successful websites  partnerships in the industry, first boston.com Addiction & Spirituality and now bostonglobe.com Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. The latter site partnership is not only thriving, but growing rapidly, up more than 15 percent in uniques and page views this year over last, with the first session of “Foundations of Christian Leadership” outside of North Carolina, starting in New England in April and leading the league in digital-only subscribers in FOCL participants—the most important metric. We successfully overhauled key parts of the site last year Massachusetts Council of Churches’ leadership structure. We’re about to launch a major sports membership redesign this spring  summer, all while we confidently spread our wings with a broader array of stories ministries and topics geared first to our web emerging multi-denominational audience.

 At the same time, we haven’t just maintained print worshipping communities, but enhanced it over the past few years, with a great new standalone business section through the week, a Sunday Arts section that showcases some of the best critics in the industry, Address, premium magazines, broadsheet feature sections. I’m missing things, I’m sure. We saw quite clearly in January last winter just how much the physical paper worshipping community means to an enormous swath of our readership constituency.

The journalism ministry, through it all, has been consistently exceptional. We drove the Olympics BostonWarm debate. We launched a national debate on concurrent surgery thriving Christian institutions & the nature of councils of churches. We’ve been one of the smartest, freshest voices on the national political intra-Christian & inter-religious scene. We’ve chronicled poverty in rural Maine and economic segregation in greater Boston in deeply memorable ways ecumenical pilgrimages to Armenian Christmas Eve, the 200th anniversary service for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Feast Day of St. Mark at a Coptic Church, and Holy Tuesday in the Anglican Tradition.  Day in, day out, we are one of the most thoughtful metropolitan news organizations hubs for innovative Christianity in the land.

All of which is to say: We’re very good at change. We’re committed to high standards. We are well-positioned to go even further.

So I’ll frame the discussion one more way: Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?

 It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether this reinvention initiative is an excuse for more cutting. The glib answer is that we don’t really need an excuse to cut. The revenue declines require it. The more involved answer is that even without declining revenue, we should still be exploring reinvention, given the massive advances in technology and massive changes in reader worship attendance habits. And even without a reinvention initiative, we’d still have to cut. So the honest answer is that a reinvention would naturally take into account the realities of declining revenues.

I’ve sought some outside counsel to help facilitate the process, people who have thought long and hard about these issues and are deeply knowledgeable about what’s been tried at other news Christian organizations and how it’s worked. Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman, Dave Odom the executive director and deputy director respectively of the American Press Institute Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, plan to be with the new Massachusetts Council of Churches Working Board this summer, and heads of church meeting in December. in the newsroom on Friday—tomorrow—to meet in small groups with some staff. They’ll be joined by Marty Kaiser, the highly respected former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked with Tom on these exact issues. After Tom, Jeff, and Marty get an initial sense of our newsroom, we’ll discuss a path forward and how they might help. The key is to create a process that involves as many people as possible, at all levels, tapping into the wealth of creativity that is this newsroom’s Massachusetts’ trademark. 

This is a significant and important undertaking. It’s also an exciting one. We’re in a moment in this industry religious era and at this organization that requires us to be bold (have I used that word enough yet?) and imaginative, always in our journalism ministry, but also in determining how we best fulfill our civic responsibilities. There’s not the tiniest bit of doubt that we’re up to the challenge. 

I’ll be reaching out to some of you about meeting with Tom, Jeff, and Marty tomorrow, and then I’ll report back soon in a series of Winship Room gatherings about the road ahead.   We’re committed to a process in which everyone can effectively share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. In the meantime, feel more than free to reach out to me directly.

Brian Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“An intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

All Saints, Brookline

Transfiguration Sunday, February 7, 2015

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Let us pray: May we see. Amen.

Sometimes, truth lurks in the footnotes.

There, beneath the Gospel text, in The Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Third Edition 2001, there, where the font gets small and squished, some unnamed, unknown editor wrote this:

“This account recalls an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

Strictly speaking, this statement is not Scripture. It is not part of the text handed down again and again in a Gospel we call Luke. But this footnote voices something that maybe the befuddled could have said, “This is an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain.”

“Intense” is the modifier for all teen-age emotions. I was 14 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord & Savior. I remember what I was wearing: A homemade Bible costume made of bedsheets & Birkenstocks. I kneeled at the foot for a gigantic wooden cross that my youth groups had just paraded 3 miles through Suburbia. I think someone was playing Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith on a boom box. There, in the garden of the Community church of Mountain Lakes, I confessed my 14 year old sins and took Jesus into my heart. I’m less surprised that this all happened, at a United Church of Christ congregation no less, and more surprised that it stuck. It’s taken me years to be able to see and make sense of a God who shows up to tormented teenagers dressed in bible costumes. “This is an intense religious experience, the nature of which is uncertain.”

The disciples are utterly confused. Jesus brings Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray, but something far more cosmic occurs.

We don’t know how long has passed, then all of a sudden, Jesus’s appearance changes and then his clothes change too.

For many parts of the Western Church, it wasn’t just Jesus’s clothes that became white, but Jesus himself became white. For centuries, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness.

The appearance of Jesus’s face changed, as it did when Moses encountered the Lord. Jesus’s clothes became dazzling bright, radiant, reflective of the Glory of God: transfigured, or as the Greek reads, “metaphorphoses.”

We are in the midst of this profound moment where people with bodies previously considered ugly, unworthy, and expendable, are claiming their beauty, worth, and dignity. I think of a mantra that Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson has tweeted again and again: “I love my blackness. And yours.” The thing that the world despises? Dazzling. Transfigured.

Before this Transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples that his body will be taken by state-sponsored violence, rejected by the religious authorities, beaten, tortured, publicly humiliated, and killed. That which is despised? Dazzling. Transfiguration.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an entire denomination that would not exist were it not for the racism of white Christians who would not see the equal dignity of Black Christians.

The founding cleric of the African Methodist Episcopal church changed his name from “Negro Richard” to “Richard Allen,” when he bought his own freedom. Transfiguration.

A companion and colleague of Bishop Richard Allen’s, Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African-America ordained as an Episcopal priest, cast aside the name of his former Master and changed his name from Absalom Wynkoop to Absalom Jones, a name intentionally chosen for the sound of its American-ness. Transfiguration.

And even in Absalom Jones’s intention to found St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church of Philadelphia in 1794 you can here the aim of transfiguration: “to arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained us up in.” Transfiguration.

IMG_2249This week we woke up to the city transformed, blanketed in snow. Barren trees dazzled, trash on the sidewalk disappeared, every garbage pile became pure, and for a few hours, the whole world was glowed.

Transfiguration is more than just blanketing over. Transfiguration is an internal radiance that chances how we see Jesus Christ, the One who transfigures the suffering of the cross into glory, and the emptiness of the tomb into the fullness of life.

But true transfigurations are confusing. The mystics said that the Transfiguration both reveals and blinds. In a Transfiguration, we see the world as God sees, but that vision is utterly confusing. That Transfigured vision is so far from the world as it is, full of barren trees, trash piles, human division and brokenness all around.

In to that “an intense religious experience, the exact nature of which is uncertain,” Peter blurts out. Peter wouldn’t make a very good Quaker or contemplative. You get the sense that Peter is the guy who vestry meetings who couldn’t live with the tension or the silence, and just spoke to break the awkwardness. The radiant light is receding, Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave, and Peter interjects

“Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three dwellings…” (Luke 9:33).

Let us build 3 tabernacles here! If we just… If we just build three tabernacles!

If we just finish the building. If we just put in a new Sunday school classroom. … If we just had more contemporary music, if we just had more incense, If we just had more people, if we just could stay here. If we could just constrain where God decides to show up in ways that are more dependable and less uncertain. Peter turns to what is familiar, the Jewish festival of the Tabernacles, a harvest festival to commemorate God’s provision of the people while they were in exile. Let’s build something solid to escape our wandering.

The Church struggles mightily with this, to live with uncertainty. We are loath to acknowledge that for a pilgrim people, we’ve gotten mighty comfortable in our established buildings. Our churches become shelters from the storm rather than basecamps for the journey. When I am anxious, I share Peter’s impulse to sequester ourselves in our mystical experiences or our nice church buildings. Peter is our institutional id here, voicing our anxious impulse to fix solid what we cannot control, to settle in, and build a structure with clear boundaries that says here but not there.

But God won’t let Peter. The same Savior who cautions to take no extra pair of shoes, won’t let them stay put either. Jesus brought them up the mountain, and will lead them back down. Up and down, back and forth, toggling between worship of God and work in the World. Not just duty but delight, that they might be transfigured too.

The Massachusetts Council of Churches, on our best days, aims for this Transfiguration too, this back and forth of common worship and common work. To move our churches from our denominational silos, our safe tabernacles, to ministry in the world together. We are convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger that anything that divides us, and there’s plenty that still divides us.   And we are convinced that when Jesus prayed in John 17 that the Church might be one, so that the world might believe in the One who sent Christ- this was not a polite recommendation from Jesus, but a mandate. Our unity is essential to our ministry. How can we show the world a loving God who reconciles all things to God’s self when we cannot be reconciled to one another? This is our work at the Massachusetts Council of Churches, to see with transfigured eyes, to see the Church not in all its divisions but in glorious union of what could be. Maybe you’ve seen the Church on those good, transfigured days, when the dividing walls fall down, when you’re serving together, when you can receive at the same table. Those days when you stand on the side of the mountain with the radiant Christ above, and the broken world below.

We stand here, awkwardly perched in the in-between, in front of a religious experience we may not understand, our feet sliding on the gravel that rolls down the mountain. It good for us to be here. Not necessarily easy, but good. Like the disciples, It is hard to stay woke to the uncertainty. It is Good for us to be here in the uncertain. Christ is here.

Many other Christians today are reading this Transfiguration text on the last Sunday before Lent. In Lent, we wander between these two peaks- The Mount of the Transfiguration and Golgotha. The days in-between these two mountain top experiences are set aside to examine that which is within us and around us that keeps us from being transfigured.

I’m honored that you award me today with All Saints 2016 Spirituality & Justice Award. You know this in your bones, spirituality and justice go together, indivisible. You practice this in your parish, the deep commitment to see every child of God as fully human, as deserving of equal dignity, maybe even as radiant.

I believe this is our work for the Church in this era, when we are no longer propped up by cultural norms, when the protest songs chanted in the streets are not necessarily the hymns of our churches. I believe that our common Christian witness is not just for our own good, but for the sake of the world.

  • The more I pray, the more I long for our earth as it is in heaven.
  • The more I read Scripture, the more I want to shout against false prophets and anemic Christianity.
  • The more I come to the table, the more I notice the people who are missing.
  • The more I come to the table, the louder the rumble in my belly for all to be fed.
  • And the more I do this work for justice, the more I turn to God in awe and uncertainty.

350 years ago in France, an eighteen-year-old man sat in a drafty farmhouse, gazing out onto the desolation of the world in winter. Only barren trees were before him. But slowly, he began to see things on the naked branches. First leaves would appear, followed by flowers and fruit. In the depth of winter, God showed Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection all the abundance, all the power, all the radiance of God’s provision. Brother Lawrence spent the rest of his life in this practice of the presence of God, looking upon the barren branches and seeing God’s provision, looking upon the cross and seeing God’s glory.

“An intense religious experience, the nature of which is uncertain. “

May we see with eyes of the Transfiguration.

May we be transfigured, too.

Why I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church

200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

New England Annual Conference Bicentennial Service

Sunday February 7, 2016

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain MA

Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches

Note: This Response was given at a Bicentennial Service commemorating the 200th anniversary of the AME Church. Throughout this year, you can join celebrations, including the release of the Bishop Richard Allen USPS Stamp & celebrations in Philadelphia.  More info at: http://www.firstdistrictame.org/index.html 

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Giving Glory to God, and honor to:

I bring you blessings and greetings on behalf of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a network of individuals, congregations and denominations, including the New England Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us. Let me say that again: convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that might divide us.

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Rev. Laura Everett, Mass Council of Churches & Presiding Elder Herbert Eddy, New England Annual Conference, First Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church

 

You know well all those things that might divide us. The necessity of establishing the African Methodist Church is our uniquely American contribution to the history of Church division, one of the rare divisions in the Church when the body of Christ was divided not by doctrine but by racism. 200 years ago, the AME came into being in part because of the racism of white Christians who could not, who would not see the equal dignity of Black Christians. We did not did not divide because of doctrine but because of the sin of racism. I grieve our inherited legacy of division.

In many parts of the Christian church we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration today, a day when we remember Jesus climbing up the mountain to pray, being reunited with the ancestors Moses and Elijah, and basking in the splendor of the Spirit, radiant with the light of God.

 

For many parts of the Church, it wasn’t just Jesus’s clothes that became white, but Jesus himself became white. For centuries, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness.

When White Christians pulled Richard Allen & Absalom Jones off their knees in prayer, the Church confused radiance with whiteness.

When even after black Christians were relegated to the back pews, the choir loft, the balconies, when even that was too much and a white Boston church would rather remove every pew in the sanctuary than to have accidentally sold a pew to a black family, even here in the progressive, genteel city of Boston, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.

When we save the hymns of the black church tradition for MLK Sunday and nowhere else in the year, the Church confuses radiance with whiteness.

And when, somewhere along the way, a young man who had been raised in a primarily white Protestant Church, gets it in his head to destroy black bodies, and brings a gun to a bible study, the Church has confused radiance with whiteness. And our nation confuses the second amendment with idolatry.

Even in that oppression, compression, depression and confusion, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has faithfully modeled the transforming love of God, lo these two hundred years.

For two hundred years, through every danger, toil, and snare, you have been faithful to Christ with a faith stronger than slavery, a faith stronger than a civil war, stronger than a national depression, a faith stronger than segregated schools, a faith stronger than the redlines that would divide us. In you, I see the Resurrection.

I want to tell you why I love the AME, and why the rest of the Church needs your particular witness to the way God continues to transfigure us. May I tell you why I love the AME?

I love the dignity of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Every time I enter an AME Church to worship, I see the dignity of entering God’s courts with praise. I see the presumption of Kings and Queens, royalty in the household of God. I see bodies beautiful and adoring of the Lord of Lords.

I love the unabashed African-ness of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I honor your deep history that is more than just the theologians of books, but the unnamed women and men who shaped and sustained and passed on the faith.

I love your Methodist-ness, your Wesleyan fire stored up in your bones.

I love your Episcopacy, your defiant, true conviction that you are heirs of our apostolic faith.

I love your Church, your widest part of the body of Christ- not just an American church, but a global Church.

I love your core conviction that the Gospel of Christ is in fact Good news, and even in snowy New England it might be ok to show some joy.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s sense that the Gospel still liberates, still releases from bondage, still heals up the broken-hearted. I love your conviction that the Gospel heals not just in some metaphoric sense but heals and liberates flesh and blood, real bodies, real brokenness.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s unwillingness to divided worship from work, Sunday from Monday.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ability to move with the Spirit, maybe even past where you are initially comfortable- the Spirit that moved you to ordain women, and then to consecrate women Bishops. I love that you are willing to let the Spirit move you still.

Finally, I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s conviction that the doors of the church are open, not just so that others might come in, but that we might go out. I love your conviction that if our churches aren’t changing neighborhoods for the good, then we are not fully embodying the transforming Gospel.

I love the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am grateful for you. In the same breath, I grieve the racism by white Christians that prompted our division, and give God thanks for your faithfulness over 200 years. You have been signs of the Resurrection. May God continue to use the African Methodist Episcopal Church to transfigure the whole Body of Christ and transform the world.

 

 

Holy Inheritance: A Sermon on Mark 10: 17-33

Holy Inheritance:Sermon on Mark 10:17-33

Sunday October 11, 2015 Bethlehem Covenant Church, Worcester MA

(Preacher’s note: This sermon was also an experiment in crowd-sourcing stories from friends and strangers on social media)

Every family has stories of inheritance.IMG_7648

Every family has stories of inheritance: some are beautiful tales of priceless gifts, some are tormented by inheritances that we wish we didn’t receive, inheritances that came because someone died too soon, inheritances that burden us. And some of us had families that couldn’t love us like they should. Instead of inheriting a watch or a chair, we inherited a a legacy of pain.

William inherited his grandmother Faye’s 1917 typewriter and a folio of unseen manuscripts, betraying a secret vocation as a writer that never saw the light of day.

Pete inherited his grandmother Mary’s cufflinks that she received the day she graduated from nursing school, a sign of her greatest accomplishment. To the young 16 year old inheriting these cufflinks, she gave Pete an expectation that he would accomplish great things, too.

Hannah inherited her grandfather Hans’ name, a man who died just before she was born. What would she have learned of her namesake if she had met him?

Marty inherited his grandfather’s wallet. In that slim wallet were his driver’s license, his Hertz, TWA and a hotel charge card, tokens of an ordinary life spent on the road before he died of a heart attack at 52.

Liddy inherited both her parents’ pension accounts, with a fair amount of money but a heap of grief- accounts full since both parents died way too young, before the could spend down their retirement savings, before they could meet their grandchildren, before they could even rest from their labors.

The only thing Fred ever inherited was a TV/VHS player, but he only inherited it because his friend Willis died of AIDS.

Sarah and Diane both inherited jewelry, nothing particularly special, no resale value, really. But passed down, again and again, with layers of stories coating the ceramic beads and glass crystals where one might hope that diamonds would be.

Marian and her siblings where disinherited as a predator got a hold of her father’s finances in his ailing final two years.

We all have these stories- ask one another at coffee hour. Wendy inherited her father’s unflinching honesty. Kevin wraps himself in his grandfather’s red wool flannel shirt. James inherited his Grandma Lucy’s gravy recipe on a single folded piece of yellow paper. Bruce puts on his mother’s jade cross. Liza inherited singing show-tunes at full volume. Karl inherited his great-uncle’s love of baseball. Abbi inherited iris bulbs from a neighbor, as his body struggled and he could no longer tend his garden.

And as for me? I’m waiting to inherit my grandmother’s recipe file. She is adamant, adamant that she will not share her recipes until she is dead.

We’ve heard the stories, maybe even lived the stories of greedy cousins, manipulating siblings, warring relatives, unscrupulous caregivers who trick the dying in order to inherit wealth. We’ve heard the stories, maybe even lived the stories of uneven inheritances, leading to generations of anger and resentment.

A friend recounted that when the grandmother died, she arranged for her resources to be divided between five adult children- some receiving 40%, others receiving 0%. As my pastor friend presided at the funeral, anger and jealously leaked over the pews and puddled onto the floor. Five years later, the adult children still aren’t talking to one another.

A young man kneels before Jesus and says, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Inheritance is a tricky thing. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What is behind that question? This young man, is he asking “How do I get eternal life without having to work for it? How do I get the good stuff for nothing? How do I get a free lunch?” Or is he asking as an outsider, as a stranger, how do I become part of this family, of this people, this?

In order to inherit, something must die.

In order to inherit, something must die.

And this is a man yet unwilling to let some things die.

Jesus presses him, pushes him- go and sell what you own, give the money to the poor, come and follow me.

This is a complicated passage of Scripture, a story that shows up in three of the Gospels. The church has argued about this for generations: Should we read this literally? Is Jesus actually saying that the wealthy cannot enter heaven? Or is it a metaphor?

However you read this passage, I am convinced our inheritance as children of God works like this: None of us are native born; all are adopted children into the family of Christ. None of us inherits more; all are equals as children of God. And there is enough for all.

And the first born of all Creation, Jesus, the Good Teacher, is doing some serious teaching here. Jesus sounds stern, harsh even. It’s tough love. Jesus is on the path, on the Way and inviting others to follow him. The rich young man wants to follow but is unwilling to leave behind what drags him down. He wants to be made well, but is unwilling to change. We want to be made well, just as long as we don’t have to change. We want a more just society in America, just as long as we personally have to give anything up. We want a more inclusive church, just as long as the new people act like us.

The key for me is in verse 21. Jesus looked on him, loved him, and invited him he had to change. Not pity, not anger, not resentment, but love. Jesus loved him. Jesus loved the rich young man so much that he invited him to change. Because it’s mighty hard to follow the way of Jesus when your feet are shackled with what holds you back.

Now maybe its not many possessions or overwhelming wealth that’s holding you back like the young man, holding you down. Maybe there’s something else in your life that needs to die. Is it concern about what other people think? Is it an inheritance of addiction? Is it a mythology of stories upon stories of how you’d never amount to anything that keeps you tied to the floor? Is it anxiety that you will fail? What is the thing you need to divest from that holds you back from life abundant, that thing you are so afraid to change?

This place, this church is an inherence. You have a great legacy of faithfulness in this place. But you didn’t build this church, the people before you did. You didn’t create this community, the saints before you did! You inherit this faith for a season. But even in this inheritance, there are some things that need to die in order to follow Christ. There are no more Swedish millworkers moving to Quinsigamond Village. How will you ensure that there is a faith, not a building, but a faith for the next generation to inherit? I don’t know what needs to be buried for you follow Jesus along the way, but maybe you do. Maybe you’ve inherited some things that no longer serve you.

As Americans, we inherit things that prevent us from the full freedom for all to live life abundant as equally dignified children of God. We inherit a history of systemic racism, discrimination against women, and just about every new immigrant group. We inherit a history and a legacy built on the taking of tribal lands and the uncompensated enslaved labor on which this new country grew up. This inheritance sticks to us, clings to us, not like an old chair you inherited from your great Aunt that you can just leave at Goodwill and be done with, but this inheritance has seeped into our soil. Our American inheritance sits in every living room, hangs in every closet, burrows into every heart, where some of us started this life having inherited 40%, and some of us began with nothing. This church sits here in Worcester on land owned and entrusted to the Nimpuc people nearly 350 years ago. And even as we looking into Columbus Day tomorrow, we remember that after the King Philip’s war of 1676 the same Nimpuc people, fellow humans, equally dignified children of God, were captured, rounded up, removed from their land right here in Worcester, and forced onto Deer Island in Boston Harbor, without sufficient provisions, food or clothes. All but 1,000 people died.

If we stand on this land, we inherit this legacy. We inherit this too. No ones hands are clean. And there are some things we must leave behind to follow Christ.

To follow Jesus, we are asked to give away the things that lead us to death in order to be healed- this is our holy inheritance.

The young rich man who comes before Jesus, drops to his knees along the side of the road before he asks his question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Each time someone falls to their knees before Jesus and asks to be made well in the Gospel of Mark, a healing occurs. What is if this is a story of healing?

This is the promise at the end of the passage beginning in verse 29: Jesus invites us to leave behind that which drags us towards fear and scarcity, and be liberated to join him on the Way. We are invited to be healed not just for some far off promise of eternal life, but right here, right now. This age AND the age to come.

Sometimes, the things we inherit heal us.

Jin Min inherited her mother’s strong will. Sarah’s hands now look like her mother’s and her grandmother’s. Bert took what little was left of his grandmother’s finances and bought Stanley Waterford cook stove made in Ireland, that each of his children remembers warming their home. Meredyth inherited her father’s bread-baking skills. Alan inherited his grandmother’s painting and the stories she told about each figure in the scene. Ellery inherited her grandmother’s silk scarves that didn’t seem to go with anything until she was much older. Michael inherited his mother’s Bible and the note on the inside said, “these are some things that money can’t buy…”

Some of us will never inherit any material thing. But there is an inheritance, a holy inheritance in Christ that money cannot buy, not amount of wealth or possessions can possess. We are offered, again and again by Jesus, the holy inheritance of being adopted as children of God. Amen.

“Spirit enough for the wilderness”: a sermon on memory and nostalgia

“SPIRIT ENOUGH FOR THE WILDERNESS” Sermon for the 100th anniversary of

ARMENIAN MEMORIAL CHURCH, WATERTOWN

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 24, 2015

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Every time we tell the story, the peaches get sweeter. Once upon a time, my Great-Aunt Josephine was flying back to the United States from her childhood home in Italy. And like any good auntie, she had stuffed her pockets full of good things to eat, enough to get her home and enough to share. But the security guards at the airport stopped her. “Can’t take those agricultural items out of the country, m’am.” No amount of arguing changed their minds. No offers to share her peaches would persuade the guards. Here she was, being sent away from her home on a ten-hour flight where all she’d have to sustain her were plastic airline Dixie cups of pale cut fruit drowning in a sickening sea of sugar water. My aunt shouted in Italian back to my cousins in the security line:

Manga! Eat! Eat quickly!FullSizeRender

And so they did. Faster and faster as the line moved forward, eating those perfect peaches before they were taken away!

We ask one another, do you remember? Do you remember how sweet those peaches were? Like ice cream, right? No, no, like honey! The flesh so ripe that it pulled away from the pit as soon as you bit in, juice running onto your hands and down your chin. And the color! Like a sunset, yellow fading to orange to deep red at the core. The sweetest peaches you’ve ever seen, as big as your head and perfectly formed. They’ll have those peaches in heaven. Or was it nectarines? Or apricots? It coulda been apricots…

“The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

“If only we had basturma! We remember the lamb we used to eat in Cilicia for nothing, the apricots, the pomegranates, the labneh, the khanum budu, the choereg, but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Memory will sustain us, but nostalgia will choke us.

We are in the wilderness, right now. The nature of the Church in North America is rapidly changing. Massachusetts is the fourth least religious state in the country. Less than 25 % of Massachusetts residents attend a religious service at least once a week. Denominations and traditions do not signify what they used to. 44% of Americans will change their religious identity at least once in their lifetime, and that number is on the rise. Increasingly, if people attend a church, they attend it 2, maybe 3 times a month, and they are slower to commit to membership, if at all. People are joining less churches, less social clubs, less civic organization, less cultural institutions, less bowling leagues, less Kiwanas, less Nights of Vartan chapters, less Ladies Aid Societies.

And maybe even more profound for the Church, more and more people in our broader culture feel like they have deep spiritual connections and commitments, but do not choose to affiliate with religious institutions. We look out, and all we see is scrub brush and desert.

We are in the wilderness. Moses hears the people weeping, longing for their homeland. They remember a time when the food was abundant, when the pews were filled, when there were so many children that we needed to build a new Sunday school wing. A few months ago, I visited a church in Pittsfield. Back when the church was full, they built on a big new 1960s Sunday School wing and it was filled! When I visited in 2015, they were raising money to tear down that 60’s addition because it no longer serves them. The addition took up too much money in the budget to heat, with a long staircase it wasn’t physically accessible to everyone, and without the classrooms full, they just didn’t need the space. The faithful thing for them to do was to tear it down. A parishioner at the church asked me “Why are we the only ones who have to change?” Where are the days of milk and honey and peaches the size of your head? So many churches are struggling to adapt to a changing culture. Our broader culture does not prop up church membership any more. The wilderness is wide and we’re all in it.

Wilderness is a place of testing. The Hebrew Bible scholar Frank Yamada writes “The wilderness, which becomes a metaphorical place of God’s testing in the Bible, is the locus for both human and divine difficulty. This harsh setting challenges both the Israelites and their God.” As Yamada says, the wilderness is a place that challenges both God and God’s people.

We are in the wilderness and in this time of testing. And in the wilderness, in the desert, we sometimes see mirages. Our vision gets distorted. You hear it with the Israelites. In the wilderness, they are remembering their former meals, big banquets and abundant feasts. Except that never happened. In the wilderness, they forget their former suffering and distort their memory for a sort of nostalgia of a time that didn’t exist. Memory will sustain us, but nostalgia will choke us.

Memory reminds us of hour God delivered us in the past. Nostalgia takes that memory and simplifies it, runs it through an Instagram filter to a hazy sepia picture where we miss the complexity, obscure the failures, forget the worm in the center of the peach. Nostalgia chokes us because it is not real and can never be attained again.

The Israelites are nostalgic for a banquet that never quite happened. The pit of that peach gets caught in our throats, and we can never quite taste such goodness again.

But memory, memory sustains us in the confusion of the present time, remembering how God delivered us out of Egypt. Memory sustains us when death lurks all around, remembering how Jesus Christ was raised from the tomb. Memory invites us to draw on the resources of the past, but not to be bound by them. You have done this. Your parish has done this. When it did not serve you anymore to lead services in Turkish, you changed. When your name did not reflect you anymore, you changed it. When you wanted to make sure you connected to your heritage, you added a little classical Armenian into your liturgy in the Lord’s Prayer. You have shown yourselves to be a faithful people who can change and adapt, trusting God to remain constant.

In the wilderness, we get small and anxious that we will not have enough. We remember, maybe mis-remember, former times of abundance and fear we will never see them again. The people are weeping, and Moses is stuck. Moses says to God “I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.” Maybe you’ve felt this burden too. Maybe you who have pastored, served on parish council, taught Sunday school, led the Ladies Aid Society, maybe you’ve felt the wilderness. Maybe you who have shown up to week after week to sing in the choir, to lead music ministry, to make sure there is coffee and something sweet, maybe you too have felt the scarcity of the wilderness. In the wilderness, we get anxious that there are not enough material resources and then we get anxious that there are not enough spiritual resources.

Moses, who has led the people into the desert, worries he cannot lead the people out. The weight is too heavy, as if the well being of each of the pilgrims rests on his shoulders alone. But it is not weight alone to bear. We are reminded that it is God, not Moses, who created each of these people. We are reminded that it is God, not Moses, who directs their path through the wilderness. In a place of scarcity, Moses pleads with the God of Abundance.

And what does God do? God redistributes the spiritual wealth. God tells Moses, “Go, gather the elders and the leaders of the people and bring them to the tent of meetings.”

Now, maybe I’m just reading this like a Protestant, but it sounds to me like God is calling a congregational meeting. Go and gather the people.

And when they gather, what happened? The Spirit is poured out on all of them. Verse 25: Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied .

In the anxiety of the wilderness, God takes the resources present, the elders and leaders already with them, and blesses them for shared service. You longtime members of this church, this is your legacy which only will live on if you share it. You new members, you who join event today, this is your adopted heritage, remembering that in the Body of Christ, none of us is native born, all are adopted. Members and guests and friends of Armenian Memorial Church and the whole body of Christ, we are the all the people blessed by the Spirit in the wilderness .

There is so much Spirit, that it falls onto the people outside the gathered. There is so much Spirit, that it blesses and empowers not just those who are authorized, but on people back at the camp, who no one expected.

There is Spirit enough for the wilderness. Not just for one person, but for all the gathered. When we serve the God of Abundance, there is enough.

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to pray for you. I am no Moses, but as your sister in Christ, I want to bless these gathered people on behalf of the Church:

Gracious and loving God, you have shown your faithfulness in the generations of Armenian Memorial Church. A people who could have been dead, have risen. A church that might not existed, has stood firm. We praise you for the names known to us and the names known to You alone. Number each name and write them in the book of life.

This day, we ask for your blessing upon this congregation. As you did with Moses and the Israelites, take Your Spirit and spread it wide. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit on them!”

We claim you again this day, a God of Abundance. When we see scarcity, remind us of your generosity. When we get stuck in the desert, remind us of your provision. When we get small and fearful, assure us of your generosity. When nostalgia of ‘what used to be,’ clouds our vision, clear our eyes for the path you have ahead of us. When we are stuck in the tomb of Holy Saturday, take our hands and guide us to Sunday.

You guided our ancestors out of Egypt, you led our foremothers and forefathers to this place, you endured the suffering of the cross to rise on the third day, Holy One , send the Spirit of the living God to dwell among us. Bless us. Anoint us. Pour your spirit out upon us that we might all be prophets. In the name of Christ, I bless you. Amen. 

Amen.

“We All Mix:” A Gullah Sermon on Pentecost

“We All Mix:” A Gullah Sermon on Pentecost

Christ Church United & Lao United Church of Christ, Lowell MA (Special thanks to Host pastors Ted Rasakham and Peter Lovett. During the multi-cultural, multi-generational service, we sang two Gullah songs “Kum Ba Yah” and the amazing “Open the Window” arranged by Elise Witt.)

Sunday May 31, 2015

Let us pray…

Ebry poson beena say wa de Holy Sperit wahn um fa say.

This is not an easy story of our faith. I fear we have domesticated the story of Pentecost. We’ve made this story understandable, easily-consumed. We call it the birthday of the Church, with sweet pink birthday candles flickering atop the heads of the disciples. We’ve removed the chaos, the fear, the confusion, the unmistakable scent of singed hair. But make no mistake, Church, the day of Pentecost was chaos.

The disciples, left alone after the ascension of Jesus, have gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Shavuot. The town is full of visitors, tourists for the holiday. There’s no room at any inn. And as the disciples huddle together, the Spirit swoops in. No knocking, no polite entry. Forcefully, violently, without invitation or warning, the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness, enters without asking. It must have been chaos. Were there chairs knocked over? Did glasses shatter as they hit the stone floor?

We tend to envision the Holy Spirit like a gentle dove, but this scene seems more to me like a wild turkey let lose in your living room.

And then, as if a wind that breaks into your home, envelops the room, hits you in the middle of the chest and knocks you down isn’t confusing enough, then fire appears? Fire appears. Fire appears, splitting, cleaving into tongues of fire, alighting atop of each head? We sing “Breathe on me, breath of God…” without being prepared for the Spirit we are inviting.

Perhaps we’ve made Pentecost become so familiar, so safe, so far from that pent-up wild bird Spirit because we think it is too darn hard to follow the Spirit and learn a new language.

“Ebry poson beena say wa de Holy Sperit wahn um fa say.”  Or , in the New Revised Standard Version, “4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

It took 26 years, but the Spirit gave them the ability. Vernetta Canteed was on the bible translation team for 26 whole years before the American Bible Society published De Nyew Testament, printed in the Gullah language. It took 26 years and generation upon generation- because Gullah was discredited for a very long time. People said it wasn’t a real language. People said, it was just broken English. People didn’t recognize the rich mix of West African and indigenous languages coming together through the enslaved Africans sent to work the rice farms of the South Carolina lowcountry and Georgia Sea Islands. It took generations and generations and 26 years to publish the New Testament in Gullah. And when that Bible was finally published in 2005, Vernetta Canteed said, “That’s the first time I heard God talk the way I talk.”

On that day of Pentecost, God talked the way Vernetta talked.

How many of you are bilingual, or multi-lingual? You are our tutors. You are our guides. We will need you to teach the rest of us. You know how to translate. You know how to stand, maybe uneasily, with your feet in two different worlds.

You know the thrill of hearing you own first language in an unexpected place, in line at the grocery store. You know the struggle of having the exact right word in your mother tongue, but not knowing how to say it in English. You know the attentive skill you develop to listen carefully, to pick up cues and hints beyond the words themselves. You know the comfort of being lost in a strange place and hearing a stranger ask, “Necesitas ayuda?” Do you need help?

You who speak Lao, and French, and Cambodian, and Spanish. You who speak Arabic, and Swahili, and American Sign Language, and Gullah. We need you. The Spirit needs you. The Church needs you, because we are all going to have to learn new languages if the Church is to be embodied in this emerging culture. You all have a major university just down the street, with students from around the world. There are now whole generations of youth and young adults who do not know the Church’s language. They do not know the language of our denominations- and do not care about the difference between a Congregationalist and an Episcopalian. They do not know what the chancel is or where the narthex is or even what the doxology is. They have not been formed by the language of the Church.

I think, our job isn’t primarily to teach them our language, but to learn theirs, so that we can help them hear God speaking in their own language. How will this community learn the language of your neighbors?

When the parish of St John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton listened carefully to their neighbors at Smith College, they heard the students say that they were hungry and they were anxious, especially during finals. So now, twice a year at the end of the fall and spring semesters, St John’s Church cooks up thousands of pancakes, hundreds of pounds of bacon, serves gallons of coffee to weary, nervous students at their Midnight Breakfast during Finals Week. My message isn’t that you should put on a midnight breakfast too, or set up a “Rent-a-grandparent” but that these churches went and listened carefully to how the students in their neighborhood named their deepest needs and sense of the holy- they went an learned another language.

In the Gullah translation of Acts 2, we get the long list of places where people came from before arriving in Jerusalem: Galilee, Mede, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete and Arabia.

And then, the Gullah translation has this glorious, short sentence. “We All Mix.” We all Mix, say it with me, Church. We all mix. Acts 2:12-13 “De people all been stonish an all mix op, so dey beena aks one noda say, ‘Wa dis mean?’ Bot some oda people been mek fun ob dem dat bleebe pon Jedus, say ‘Dem people don drink tommuch wine!”

That mix makes people nervous, confused. You know it. When this great glorious, unimaginable diverse unity happens, the crowds think that the believers in Jesus are drunk.

The day of Pentecost was chaos for the participants and confusion for the crowds. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not always good at living with chaos and confusion. I want to pin it down, smooth it out, make order, make sense. The Pentecost story resists our efforts to make it plain- There is fire burning and wind blowing, but the wind doesn’t blow the fire out. There are people speaking in languages from tribes of people that have extinct for 500 years! There are all sorts of people learning how to live together, listen to God together.

Maybe God is bilingual. As Christians, we pattern our lives on the life of Jesus Christ, the one who was both fully human.

Maybe God is multi-lingual, speaking throughout time and Creation as the Creator, the Child, the Spirit.

Maybe God is beyond our language, and the best we can do is make like the writer of Acts and humbly say God is like the wind, God is like the fire.

For this is the truth of Pentecost, it is scary and chaotic to follow the Spirit. It’s dangerous and unpredictable. Following the Spirit asks of us than we can ask or understand.

I do not know how to make sense of what happened on the Pentecost day, but I do know this: God is at work in the chaos. God is invested in a diversity of people and languages, not privileging one over the other, but listening to each. God so loved the world, and so desired unity for the Church that when the day of Pentecost arrived “We all mix.” Amen.

Digging Holes: A Sermon on the Parable of the Talents

Digging Holes: A Sermon on the Parable of the Talents

Sunday November 16, 2014, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Grafton MA

Matthew 25:14-30 

gala and bone

{before digging}

       This the parable of Gala the anxious puppy dog: In a town far away known as Boston, a girl and her dog moved into a home with the girl’s older sister. The dog named Gala was an anxious pet, but the owner didn’t know why or what came before. She was adopted from a shelter. When people saw her on the street, they’d ask “what is she?” but none of us really knew. Maybe a little terrier? A mutt, a sweet, anxious mutt. She ate her food too fast, as if afraid that other dogs would steal it from her. She wore her self out chasing the trains, as if she’d never get another chance to be outside. Most of all, she buried her bones. Any time someone would give her a bone, she hid it somewhere in the house.  I found a bone in the recycling bin. My sister found one in the bathtub hidden under a bath towel. We found bones in the garden under my blueberry bush and bones in the house wedged between the cushions of the couch.  When you gave Gala a bone, she would happily chew it for about 2 minutes, then something changed, like a light went off and she remembered that someone, somewhere, sometime soon might take it. And off she would go to dig a hole in anything she could find to bury her bone. Let us pray…


      This Parable is not an easy text. Your pastor is very wise to invite a guest preacher today! Wailing and gnashing of teeth is not a good sign. Whether this story is Good News depends a bit, I think, on how you approach the parable and who you think is playing what role.  This parable goes by many names. It depends on whom you ask. For generations it’s been known as “The Parable of the Talents.” Some more modern scholars have thought of this as “The Parable of the Righteous Slave.” 
     In this parable though, Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey with the intention of returning. Matthew 25:14 reads, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.” We know the property ultimately belongs to the master. The slave entrusted with 5 talents, traded and made 5 more. The slave entrusted with 2 talents, made 2 more. But the third slave, in verse 19 “But the one who received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” The first two are rewarded, the 3rd slave is berated by the master and cast into the darkness. 
      There’s a way in which this parable feels to me as much descriptive of 1st century Palestine as our current American economics where the rich get rich and the poor stay poor and the gap between increases exponentially. Income inequality in the US is at the widest gap between rich and poor since 1928. The standup comedian Louis C.K. tells this joke, which I’d play for you if not for few choice words that aren’t appropriate for Sunday morning sermons…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0rSXjVuJVg

He says:

“You ever get so broke that the bank charges you money for not having enough money? I’m broke, man. Bank calls me up and says “ Hi. We’re calling to tell you you don’t have enough money.” I know. She said, “Sir, you have insufficient funds.” Whoa, that’s a good way to put it too, I agree with that! I find my funds to be grossly insufficient. Thanks for calling. Why are you mad at me? How is it something that’s hurting you? She said, “Sir you only have $20. You can’t just have $20.” They charged me $15, that’s how much it costs to have $20. 
 Louis CK goes on… 
“I was telling the joke in Orange County California before a rich audience all looking at me with their boat tans and their golf shirts and their penny loafers, They’re all looking at me like “Well, yeah. You were financially irresponsible, you have to pay the price.  Frankly, don’t see why you’re angry about it. The bank has the right to accrue a fee, clearly.”  That’s how different it is to be rich, than it is to be poor, because when you are rich the bank pays you for being rich. If you have a lot of money they give you money because you have a lot of money. You have so much money that we should give you some. Here! Take more money! Take the $15 bucks this broke guy used to have.”
 
           The 1st slave with 5 talents gains 5 more, and also gains the one talent from the 3rd slave. The rich get rich and the broke get broker. If this is the message of the parable, then the Master stands in for an exacting God who will judge us for what we have done with the talents entrusted to us. The parable is a reminder that what we have is not ultimately ours, but like each slave, we will have to account for the ways we spent or expanded the talents God entrusted to us. 
            Maybe you remember the 1984 David Mamet play or the 1992 film version Glengarry Glen Ross, a cutthroat parable of four real estate agents over two days trying to outsell each other. In the film, Alec Baldwin played Blake, brought in by the office owners to motivate the four real estate agents. In the film version, and again with fair amount of choice words that I won’t quote this morning, Blake tells the real estate agents how the economy of the office works
“… ’cause the good news is – you’re fired. The bad news is – you’ve got, all of you’ve got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Oh? Have I got your attention now? Good. “Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now?“
I would also like to declare at coffee hour after church that "coffee is for closers" and prevent anyone who didn't turn in their pledge card from having a cup. // (this is a joke)

I would also like to declare at coffee hour after church that “coffee is for closers” and prevent anyone who didn’t turn in their pledge card from having a cup. // (this is a joke) 

     We read the Matthew parable as Americans who are deeply immersed in a particular economic system. It’s hard to get outside of that. There are winners who get the Cadillac, and losers who get fired. There are servants who are welcomed into the joy of their master and slaves who get cast into outer darkness. There are investors who double their investment with credit default swaps and short sales and bundled assets, and there are those who hide their meager savings under their mattresses and fall further and further behind. Our distorted economy is so pervasive, our current economy has so clouded our eyes that it’s hard to read the Matthew parable in any other way than as confirmation of solid investment strategies and a systems where in order for there to be winners, there must be losers. 

        And yet, this is not the economy of Jesus who came to bring good news to the poor and set captives free. The economy of Jesus is a continuation and expansion of the Sabbath economics of the Hebrew prophets, continuing the prophetic declaration of the Jubilee year when debts are forgiven and the enslaved are set free. The economy of Jesus is one where all are fed, and clothed, and welcomed to the banquet table. 
       We need not have just one interpretation. Parables are designed to be expansive; they invite more interpretation, more meanings, more good news. The Collect from the Book of Common Prayer we prayed at the beginning of the service invites us “to hear [Scripture], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” This one takes some digestion. Perhaps another way to read this parable is to see the context of abundance and focus on the third slave. 
            It’s not immediately clear from the text alone how much money we are talking about here. What’s a talent anyway? For the ancients, a talent was first a unit of measure for commercial weights. In the Bible, a talent becomes a unit of value, and it’s this parable that gives us the English word “talent,” meaning gift or skill. But for the 1st century economy, a talent was an enormous amount. New Testament professor Carla Works writes, “A talent is equal to about 6,000 denarii. Since one denarius is a common laborer’s daily wage, a talent would be roughly equivalent to 20 years wages for the average worker. Five talents, the largest amount entrusted to any of the servants, is comparable to one hundred years worth of labor, an astronomical amount of money.” Even the slave who only receives one talent is entrusted with the equivalent of 20 years wages. The context of this story is abundance, not scarcity. To read this parable with the conviction of God’s abundance and Jesus’ then allows us, as author Ched Myers writes, to “read [the parable] as a cautionary tale of realism about the mercenary selfishness of the debt system.” 
            And therein lies the massive leap of faith for us: to live and work and rest and gather as if we live in the context of abundance and reject the “mercenary selfishness of the debt system.” Each of the servants has more than enough, way more than enough. With this parable, Jesus subverts the economics of self-preservation, of selfish gain, because there is enough, more than enough for all. In the context of abundance and Jesus’ subversion, the third slave becomes “the servant who refused to play the greedy master’s money-market games, (and) the hero who pays a high price for speaking truth to power (Matthew 25:24-30)—just as Jesus himself did.” 
      But we dig holes; we bury that which has been entrusted to us to share and enjoy. We get small and selfish, and put fences around our stuff and shout like toddlers “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.” Our eyes are so clouded by our economic system that tells us there is not enough for everyone. But our faith and our tradition offer another way. There is enough if we share. There is enough if we do not compete with one another where some win Cadillacs and others lose their job. There is enough because God promises there is enough.  Your church knows that there is enough. You completed a capital campaign! There is more than enough. 
      But we still need to read cautionary tales of distorted economies and people digging holes to caution us from doing the same.  This is the parable of the anxious church in a town far, far away. They buried their congregation in a hole in the ground.  They took that mythical, hazy congregation from 1965 when all the Sunday school classrooms were full, the choir was bursting with each section full.  Back when the pastor was tall, straight, white, and male and 35 years old with 40 years of pastoral experience with a wife who wanted to lead the women’s luncheons and two children who adored Sunday School, and they buried it in the ground. They dug a hole so wide you could fit in the entire bell choir, the organ, the good silver and all those beloved hymnals that that other pastor tried to get rid of. They dug a hole so deep that you could fit all the pews that that other pastor tried to get rid of. They crammed all of what they remember of being the highpoints of 1965 into that hole. They buried their ideal church in a hole in the ground, forgetting that even at the peak of mainline Protestant membership in 1965, the kingdom of God was not quite at hand, not everyone was thriving. Civil rights protesters were being beaten in Selma, anti-war protests are drawing tens of thousands, the Vietnam war rages, Watts riots, people are dying along the India/Pakistan boarder, Hurricane Betsy kills 76 in New Orleans, women and people of color not fully human in the eyes of many.  But somehow, this distorted vision of the good old days that never really were, got thrown in the hole for safe-keeping. What will Jesus think of such perfectly preserved church that only people from 1965 want to attend, if he returned now? This treasure is not ours friends, none of it is ours. 
"Uh, no? I didn't go digging in your garden again. Why do you ask?"

“Uh, no? I didn’t go digging in your garden again. Why do you ask?”

We all dig holes. Our dog would rather hide the bone and forego enjoying it or sharing it, than risk the possibility that someone, somewhere, sometime might take it. She is so scared that she digs holes to bury her treasure. Shelter-dog syndrome, they called it. She was inadvertently trained to believe there’s never enough. It’s a condition of scarcity, but we serve a God who vows abundances. But it is hard! It is hard to believe that there is enough when you can’t pay off your car. It’s hard to believe there is enough when your hours are cut again, when you can’t afford the sports and activities fees for your kid at school, when you are worried you’ll never get out of debt, never own a home, never be able to retire. But there is enough for all.  Ched Myers wrote “Discipleship thus means forsaking the seductions and false securities of the debt system for a recommunitized economy of enough for everyone.” Everyone. Even you and me and other anxious people who dig holes and bury that which has been entrusted to us. There is enough. Amen.