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Archive for March, 2015

Happy spring to you! Yes, it is the time of the Vernal Equinox, that ancient time when the world in the northern hemisphere feels so much more flooded with light even while our fellow travelers in the south are preparing for the deepening nights of Autumn and winter.

What is your season, in the midst of this seasonal change? Is this a time of growth for you? A time of loss? Is there great burden and difficulty in your life? Or are you being set free from some old confinement? Is this a season fear? Of love? Where are you heading toward? Where have you come from?

On this last question, Edward Hays, the Catholic poet, has a psalm entitled “The psalm of my whereness.” The psalm begins:

“The question ‘Where have I come from?’

rises up and haunts me;

lingering, it floats like a flower

in the backwaters of my mind.”

Hays explores this a bit with a number of affirmations from the voice of God. Some examples:

“You were the dream of my delight.”

“Before I shaped a single star, I nursed you for endless ages.”

“I laughed at the marvel of your being.”

Hays then ends with these lines:

“O my child, 

you in whom live all my hopes and loves,

you came from me.”

To some, this is wonderful; to others, it may seem a bit sentimental. I think it is an illumination of the affirmation that humans are created in the image of God. One of the most compelling insights of our Mennonite movement is that this “image of God” in each one is the root of a deep and thoroughgoing rejection of killing and of violence. The other, even our enemies, must be considered in this deep well of God’s own dreams for that person. Not in what they have done to us. Not in what our country or tribe says. We may consider those things. But the ultimate consideration is rooted in something deep in God’s creation – the image of God in each one.

May this affirmation and depth be with us, whatever our “whereness” in this spring season.

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Matthew 17:1-13
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Comment
I attended a community organizing event for religious leaders yesterday. A keynote speaker spoke about the power of overcoming middle-class respectability, white supremacy and empire, all the things that reward a social arrangement in which so many young people of color are being beaten, incarcerated, killed.  He said, like the voice of God in our reading says of Jesus: “Listen to him.” “Listen to them.” He said we need to see them, need to hear them. But privilege makes invisible and inaudible those who are hurt by the current arrangements.

“Listen to him.” This was the word of God about Jesus, about to be beaten, incarcerated, and killed. “This is my son, the Beloved.” Not everything the current arrangement calls wonderful is wonderful. Not everything the current arrangement calls unworthy is unworthy. Is the voice of God saying to me “listen to them?” “See them?” They may be Elijah himself! They may be the wondrous ones, the hoped for ones. God’s intention for no one is beating, incarceration, and death. “Listen to them.”

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I don’t believe prayer has magical power. I believe prayer has cosmic relational power.

Vern

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“It’s not fair”

Lent 2

March 1, 2015

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading

Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 

When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 

When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 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.’ 

Introduction

Our big topic for Lent: behaving

in the sense of practicing

What are key moves 

of our faith?

Last week,

forgiveness,

Snow day, but I did

post it on line.

Next week, 

the parable of the wedding feast

Which is a parable 

that’s sounds like 

More fun than it is.

the practice will be 

Surrendering hardness of heart.

This week,

the practice of invitation

And welcome.

First, grace

In the story of the vineyard,

The first act of grace is this:

All day long, going in to the marketplace

the story builds, the rhythm 

of encounter quickens

early in the morning

also nine o’clock

also noon, and three, and then five

So the little story gathers momentum.

Why seek workers all day

in the marketplace.

And when invited, they go.

They go and go and go.

This is the first act of grace.

It is always invitation.

It is always seeking.

Truth seeking humanity.

seeking people

seeking us

Truth seeking us!

Love seeking us!

God seeking us!

The second act of grace

has to do with

the little matter of pay.

Each set of workers,

going in to work

at their respective hours,

goes in promised “whatever is right.”

Only the early morning workers

are promised the customary wage.

It appears that the others

are going in assuming

they will be paid

only for the hours worked.

No one would think otherwise.

No one would go in at 

noon or three or five

expecting a full days wage.

They just want to work for a fair wage.

But that is only the first act

of grace – a fair wage.

You get to work, 

you get paid some.

At least you’re in the vineyard,

in the economy,

in the house.

But now comes the shock and surprise,

the overturning nature of

the kingdom of God

In the kingdom,

all the wages are the same.

No matter how long you labored

in the vineyard,

you will be paid the same.

Now grace becomes not only

a generosity, but a disruption.

Grace makes economies

not only distributed to all

but not even a matter

of simple trade.

Fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

That is wonderful.

But God knows that

calculus will not 

get us to the great community.

Because no calculus can.

Only when all adding and counting

and keeping fair

are overrun by the rush of generosity,

by the rush of grace,

can we establish the place

and practice

of abundance that God would have 

on earth.

Trummelbach Falls

Trummelbach Falls:

Somewhere between the Eiger

and the Jungfrau,

at the base of the Münsch

is an underground waterfall.

It’s roar is the roar of

the freight-train of the gods,

a mighty bone-shaking sounding

of water piling through stone.

One’s body hums in sympathetic

vibration with the roar.

To draw near to that place

is to feel the trembling

and the greatness.

And so, the spiritual imagination

may also say this:

It is also this roar:

it is the roar of the love 

of God pouring into the 

human present

from God’s good future.

It is a roar that sets up vibrations

and sounds that fill our bodies,

and hearts and minds,

a roar we can scarcely understand.

It looks like the joyful

but also fearsome and disruptive

grace of workers hired all

day long to work

in the vineyard.

All day long 

every hour of the day

people are invited in

to the place of work and provision,

the place of belonging in society.

All day long they come.

We all want community,

we all need community.

All day long we come,

when we have been waiting

in the marketplace

idle in our alienation and hurt,

idle in the trauma we carry,

idle in our grief and longing.

No one will understand,

it is to embarrassing,

it is just too painful.

So we stay out in the marketplace

We stay out,

idle in our misconnections

and misunderstandings

idle in our loneliness.

No one would want me

if they knew me.

Or the economic and national

arrangements make 

it hard, if not impossible,

to go to school,

to find work,

to be normal.

Idle when immigration status

has left us out;

when social formulations of race

have left us out;

when sex, or ability, or orientation,

or religion – our sense of how

to approach the divine –

has left us out.

However we are left out in the marketplace

we are offered work in the vineyard.

And then the strange pay comes

and it demonstrates to us

that no matter when we 

were invited in,

no matter when we arrived

we are fully human,

fully worthy

and all the history of the day

is washed away in the great

roar of God’s love and grace

so that at the end of the day,

we are left standing

on new ground

and tomorrow we will be

starting side by side

among all peoples.

This is not merely a place of counting

it up. This is a place

of joyful, radical availability

“And let this be to all people”

as the angel says to the shepherds.

As long as counting is the main thing

then privilege will always go

to the counters.

Dismantling privilege

Privilege, I think, is the hard part

of the parable.

For privilege is being challenged.

The privilege of those

who came first,

who consider themselves to have

done all the work so far,

who have set all this up,

who built in the hot sun

all day long, and

now someone wants to

come in and just be part of this?

Privilege of those whom

history has preferred and blessed.

Privilege of those for whom

tradition is on their side.

The freedom of God to forgive & reward

Found throughout the Bible:

Yahweh at the burning bush 

I will be who I will be

The Tetragrammaton:

 יהוה, YHWH

(The tetragrammaton in:

-Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), 

-old Aramaic (10th century BCE to 4th century CE) 

-square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.)

Or poor Jonah – 

supposed to forgive Ninevah!? 

after all the’ve done?

Or the older brother 

of the prodigal son.

Really…!

He gets the calf?

In the strange Kingdom

of God, the first will be last.

Not just for the sake of reversal,

but because we all

need to be splashed

and roared into community.

Otherwise, we stay stuck in

the market-place,

stuck in our privilege,

alienated.

(Extra source:

The Upside-down Kingdom

by Donald Kraybill)

Infinite pain; infinite grace

Here is why:

The pain of trauma or exclusion,

whatever it is that has 

heart people’s hearts

hurt our hearts

goes all the way down

to the floor of our being,

of our psyche

and sense of the world

The hurt and trauma  

of seeking opportunity

through dislocation and migration

The hurt of being excluded 

or merely tolerated 

in your sense of your

own body and sexuality

“Will we welcome you into”

our country

into our church

is too often the framing.

When in fact the vineyard,

the place of belonging,

and resource, 

the place of all the 

social goods

Is always God’s, not ours.

the vineyard is God’s, my friends,

And God is in the marketplace

looking to give people good work,

all day long

Looking to grant the chance for full status

all day long,

no matter what your timing is,

no matter why you’re not yet

in the vineyard

The hurt is infinite

and so – here’s a deep teaching

from the parable

The hurt is infinite

and so the cure must be infinite

So the grace of the parable

is overwhelming, 

an outpouring, 

a grand washing

Like the mighty waters

of Trummelbach falls.

May God’s grace come,

and wash over us,

and bring us together.

**********

Additional note,

that can function as a summary:

Hi Rachel,

I’m talking about how God will invite you into the vineyard no matter how long you’ve been standing out in the marketplace waiting to work. Any hour of the day, if God finds you.

And then, God treats you as equal to others.

It is a story of radical inclusion and equalization. 

All God’s children got a place in the vineyard, so to speak.

It overturns our sense of counting and fairness. Grace just overwhelms our need to have priority, to make everything line up.

It helps us realize that it’s God’s vineyard, not our vineyard, and that can look really different.

So – really welcoming, even of some people who might not have received a welcome. Generosity and grace and how it can change relationships that may be stuck (stuck in the marketplace of the parable, so to speak)

That sort of thing

How’s that sound?

Vern

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