Saturday, September 24, 2011

Proper 21A September 24, 2011

          Hymn 661. They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown; such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down. 2. Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too. 3. Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died, Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified. 4. The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.

          That was written by a Mississippi lawyer, a graduate of South at Sewanee, foster-father of Southern writer Walker Percy. In a life filled with tragedy and family suicides he wrote this  hymn of faith in time of conflict.

          We’re coming to the end of the church year. Pentecost season ends November 20 with Christ the King Sunday. Our Old Testament readings will bring the Children of Israel through the desert into the Promised Land and into conflict with the people of the land and their neighbors. Epistle readings from Philippians and Thessalonians are St. Paul’s teachings about how to live a Jesus-centered life in a pagan society while we wait for the final coming of Christ in triumph. And the gospels include stories of Jesus’ final week of controversy with the leaders of the people that ended with his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

          People don’t like controversy and conflict in churches. Too easily it gets personal and divisive. But our scripture readings over the next 8 weeks help us deal with the inevitable conflicts that come in life. We learn to keep our eyes on Jesus and trust his grace in the guidance of his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of Truth leads into truth; the Holy Spirit of Power gives us the grace “to run to obtain God’s promises and partake of his heavenly treasure.”

          Our gospel readings are from St. Matthew chapters 21 through 25 – Jesus in Jerusalem after the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry – 4 days of controversy. The Triumphal Entry is followed by the account of the Fig Tree. The follows today’s Gospel, 23-32 where the leaders question Jesus’ authority and he responds by questioning their non-response to John the Baptist and the parable of the two sons.  Next week, October 2, is the parable of the Vineyard. The following week October 9 is the parable of the Wedding Banquet. Then October 16 is an  attempt to entrap Jesus about Tribute to Caesar. The lectionary skips a complicated question about Marriage & Resurrection and on October 23 we hear about the Great Commandment. October 30 is where Jesus endorses the leaders teaching but not their actions. The lectionary skips the Woes to the Pharisees and a lament over Jerusalem and all of Chapter 24 about the last days. On November 6 All Saints Day we will miss the parable of the 10 Virgins, and finally November 13 we will hear the parable of the Talents. Then Christ the King and Advent.  

          Controversy after controversy for the next two months. It gets tiresome. Controversy does get tiresome, in church and in life. But that’s what we’ve got, “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.”

          The first Holy Week controversy is about authority. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” When he entered the Temple Jesus drove out those who were selling and buying in the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers; he cured the lame and blind, and accepted the cheers of the children, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” recognizing Jesus as Messiah.

          That takes some explanation. The Temple priests had a racket going. The Temple included three areas: at the center was the building where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and the Chief Priest worshipped once a year. Surrounding it was an open area the court of the priests where animals were killed as sacrifices. Then came the court of Israel, an open area where Jews came to worship, and adjacent to it the court of the women or the court of Gentiles.

“For the convenience” of those who came to offer the sacrifices commanded by the Law, the priests had allowed authorized dealers of authorized and certified sacrificial animals to set up stalls in the court of the gentiles. And since money contributions could only be made in money coined during the 100 years of independence 100 years before worshippers had to change Roman money into Jewish money at authorized money changers, and the priests controlled the rate of exchange. Jesus had broken up the racket. And when he came back to the Temple on Monday he was asked, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered the question with a question about John the Baptist which the Jewish leaders for political reasons failed - or refused - to answer.

We’ve all had to deal with authority questions. The child who keeps asking, “Why” ends up with the answer, “Because that is the way it is” And all personal and social change comes from questioning “that is the way it is.”  At some point we each come to recognize and accept the authority of the loving God who made us and all creation, who has revealed himself and his will in Holy Scripture and uniquely in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus in the controversies of Holy Week kept his mind and will focused on the will of God the Father. In the controversies of our lives we can, by his grace given us in his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and of Power, focus our minds and wills on the will of the Father shown us in Jesus.

The correct answer to the question Jesus asked the Jewish leaders was “John the Baptist was of God, and we failed to believe him. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”

 We who acknowledge Jesus’ authority say the same, “We failed to believe. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”

And by the grace of God poured out on us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven, and given yet another opportunity “to run to obtain God’s promises and partake of his heavenly treasure.” Amen.

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