All posts for the month July, 2014

1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12 + Psalm 119 + Romans 8, 28-30 + Matthew 13, 44-52

Treasure stories abound in every culture, and those who make a study of such things have many examples all of which are shaped around a common theme: a treasure found leads to tragedy. One of the great treasure stories in our culture was put into a wonderful novel by John Steinbeck, The Pearl. It would make great summer reading and put you in touch with these parables in a very unique way.

Matthew is being clever by pairing these two stories so that we do not get distracted by unimportant details. There are a lot of features that are dissimilar, so we need not look to them for some meaning. One person is just lucky and stumbles on the treasure, the other person has been looking for it for a long time. The lucky one seems to be a hired hand working someone else’s field. The other, we are told is a “merchant”. In both cases, the treasure has been hidden, something they did not see at first; but one is looking and the other is not.

What is similar in these two parables holds something for us to reflect upon: the joy in finding, the value of the find, and the cost involved. In both stories, what is found both by looking and by luck is beyond anything they ever expected, hoped for, or could have imagined. The value of the find is more than anything else they have, had, or could ever want. That value is determined by what they are willing pay for it. The cost is everything they have, so the value is greater than everything they have had until then. It is not a break-even deal. What is unmistakable here and confirms the value worth the cost is the consequent Joy. That Joy affirms and confirms that they have discovered and found all they will ever need. It makes them joyful.  For the first one, the Joy is explicit. Matthew tells us that he rejoiced at his find. For the second, the Joy is implicit, but it’s there because there is no one who would put up for sale everything without some anticipating and exciting Joy. He did it gladly or he would not have done it at all.

Matthew directs these stories with their examples of total commitment to his mixed community consisting of many who were lax and inconsistent in discipleship as well as the more dedicated. What is described in these stories is not exactly giving away everything but using everything we have to possess what is considered to be of even greater worth. You and I sit here today open to God’s Word coming through Matthew much the same as the community for which he wrote a long time ago. The dedicated are here always, some of the inconsistent are here again, and to all of us the Word speaks about using everything God has given us to possess the “Reign of God” to live completely in an unending and unbreakable relationship with each other in the presence of God. In other words, The Word of God reminds us that everything we have is given to us to use for the sake of a greatest good, the Reign of God. What we have is not an end in itself.

The Word speaks to us today about the consequence of this discovery, the treasure and the cost. It is Joy. I believe Matthew is suggesting that there is a way of knowing when we have discovered the treasure and done all we can to possess it. Joy. That Joy will be unmistakable and could never go without notice. It brings peace of mind, and a security that knows no threat or fear. It is a Joy that will attract others who may either be surprised at what they find or finally discover what they have been looking for all their lives. Either way, if we have come to possess and live in the Reign of God, and have used all we have to hold on to it, people will be attracted to us as a church and to our way of life by our joy, not our rules, regulations or grim sacrifices. For us, giving everything is joyful, sacrifice is a delight and service is an act of love.

It is time to look around in here at one another’s faces. Grim, sour, cynical, defeated, and marginalized people have not yet possessed the Reign of God perhaps because they have not done what it takes to discover what is hidden in here. This church would be packed wall to wall every Sunday and every day of the week if the people who come in and out of those doors really understood, grasped, and celebrated what can be discovered here and possessed if you’re will to pay the price. Where are the smiles that reflect Joy? The cares and hurts, needs and struggles that we all live through every day are nothing compared to what is here. It ought to make us smile and reflect the Joy we read about in the lives someone working in another’s field, or a merchant who finally gets what he has worked and looked for all his life.

Jesus asks his disciples a question toward the end of this reading: “Have you understood this?” Do you remember the response he got? What was it? He asks you again today, “Have you understood this?” What’s your answer? Where’s your Joy? Not just in here, but in your life!

Let me leave you with this thought…… These stories never tell what the finders did with the treasure. That is not the point of the story. The point is what happens to them because of the treasure they have found. We should probably be looking at what has happened to us having found the treasure of faith in this Church of Jesus Christ.

A Funeral Homily for Millie Heiser

1 Chronicles 15, 3-4, 15, 16; 16, 1-2 + Psalm 23 + 1 Corinthians 15, 54-57 + Luke 11, 27-28

We have come to this place made holy by the prayers and sacrifices of countless people who share the hope we have in the Resurrection of Christ and its promise for us. Millie prayed in the place and sacrificed to bring it raise it up. This place in every way is the “Ark” of the Lord that we hear about in the first reading being so joyfully and triumphantly brought in the tent King David provided. Like those Israelites we offer up a holocaust and peace offering with music rejoicing. Our Joy is not only about this place and what happens, but also about Millie who was in every way an “Ark” of the Lord. She carried in her joyful life the very presence of God, and those of us who lived and prayed with her always knew the presence of God when she was around. To many of us she brought Joy with her humor and with what I often of as a delightfully quirky way of looking at things and recognizing what mattered and what did not.

Her faith taught her about trust. Her faith taught her about respect. Her faith gave her a humble and simple joy that carried her through this life with its surprises and disappointments, its twists and turns, ups and downs. The Lord was her shepherd and her first and lasting love. The church was her home in which she celebrated the great feasts of life and death.

We have come to this place because God has given her the victory for which she waited so long. Her corruptible frame has taken on incorruptibility, and her mortality has taken on immortality. Death may swallow her body, but never her spirit. While away from us for a while, she is still with us in Communion, in memory, in laughter, and in the bond that we share by Baptism with Christ her Lord. The woman in the Gospel today called out in praise of Christ as Millie often did in her own prayer. Our hope today is that now Christ looks upon her and says: Blessed are you who heard the Word of God and kept it.”

Genesis 2, 18-24 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 13, 1-4, 5-6 + Mark 10, 6-9

John and Emily, you are giving to us a powerful witness of faith today with your journey down the aisle of this church. You have walked this aisle before. I have seen you here. You have walked down the aisles of many church from Kentucky to Ohio and other places as well. You walked it for your First Communion and for your Confirmation. There may well have been times when you went the other direction on the arm of a parent when you couldn’t sit still and make it to the end of Mass. Before that you came in the arms of a parent for your Baptism and the beginning of the mystery we celebrate today. When you came that day, something in you changed. Claimed by Christ our savior by the sign of the cross, anointed with the Chrism of Salvation, your life was headed toward Christ Jesus.

When you came down an aisle for your First Communion, something in you changed again, and the presence of that savior became more intimate and more real. When it was time for Confirmation and you stepped toward an altar, that savior’s presence was confirmed, affirmed, and claimed by the Church as the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was acknowledged and celebrated. You were different then, and the witness to your faith was unmistakable. Now you come again, a little closer and little further down the aisle, on the path of pilgrims who seek the Lord, renewing the covenant he has made with us in his flesh and blood, and walking deeper into the mystery of his presence among us again for you to be changed and reborn.

A few years ago I dropped into the First Grade class at the parish school where I was always certain I would learn something from those delightful children of God. Often God as a way of being revealed through children, and the simplicity of children often makes God presence and God’s Word unmistakable. All of the children in the room were drawing pictures of something they saw in the room. There was a fish, the window, a plant, a desk, all very recognizable. Then I noticed Sara very intent on something I could not quite recognize. I said: “Sara what are you drawing today?” Sara said: “I’m drawing a picture of God.” With all sorts of adult ignorance I said: “But Sara, nobody knows what God looks like.” She glanced up for just a second before returning intently to her masterpiece and said: “They will when I get finished.”

It occurs to me today that this is what the two of you now must set out to do with your lives: finish the picture. Show us what God looks like. Show us the face of mercy and the joy of forgiveness. Show us the hospitality of God’s reign. Show us the power of Love to make all things new and bring life into this creation. Show us what lies ahead for all of us who walk down this aisle and make the pilgrimage of life. Finish not just Sara’s picture, but finish what God has begun in you. This is what lies at the end of this aisle, the unmistakable and breakable covenant of God with God’s people.

While you are working on the picture, and while you continue to walk down this aisle again and again, keep saying with confidence what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews taught you to say which you have shared with us in tonight’s second reading: “The Lord is my helper, and will not be afraid.”

Wisdom 12, 13, 16-19 + Psalm 86 + Romans 8, 26-27 + Matthew 13, 24-43

It is a parable. It is not a lesson on gardening. As I was driving out of the OU Medical Center after a visit to someone this week, there was an employee sitting on a curb pulling what I call “nut grass” and other non-blooming plants out of a patch of flowers in the median. I thought to myself: “What a hopeless job. With the rain we’re having they will all be back before she gets to the end of the block.” But then, if the weeds were not pulled we would never see those “lantana” blossoms that look so grand especially when the sun is shining; and with that, I drove off thinking about this parable.

It is a parable about the end of time, the great gathering or “harvest” as Jesus often refers to it. That topic was an important one for Matthew in his Gospel probably because he and the church to which he was writing were expecting it to occur very soon. Perhaps for that reason this parable is only found in Matthew’s Gospel. I suspect that Matthew is thinking that with the end coming soon, there is no need to be concerned about sorting weeds from wheat. By the time Luke prepares his Gospel using much of Matthew and Mark, the end is clearly not coming soon and may have already begun, so the parable is of less interest in Luke’s Gospel. None the less, here we are long after the transition from Matthew to Luke holding this parable up for reflection and open to the Living Word’s revelation.

It is still about God, as parables always are. The seed comes from God who sows everywhere. For Matthew, the field is the church. If so, the Church is full of wheat and weed. Not much has changed. There are still some who produce fruit, feed, and nurture, and there are still some who just take up space using up precious moisture and sunlight; taking and never giving. It’s none of our business which one is which except to ask ourselves which we have become. We don’t do the sorting. We produce the fruit. This has long been the heart of the parable’s message which can lead to asking whether this parable is about weeds or people.

Perhaps we could go a little further with it, a little deeper, and let it become a little more personal. It is said by scholars that Matthew is writing about the early Church, a mixed assembly of good believers and not-so good believers. Not much has changed on that idea. Perhaps however, the parable might lead us to look at ourselves and recognize the truth that within us there is something very good, and something not so good. The Word of God today might well be asking us to stop looking around at others making our judgments about who is wheat and who is weeds. It might be better to simply look within and clean up the garden or the field of our own lives that are always such a mixture of success and failure, good and bad, because we’re all sinners and saints full of goodness and light one day and doom and gloom the next.

The field of this parable is the world, and the good seed has been sown everywhere. Think of the image of the sower Matthew spoke of last week. Going on with the second parable about a mustard seed, we are reminded that it does not take a lot of seed nor big seed to produce something good. All it takes is a little yeast to make the bread says the third parable.

For me this parable is today a reminder that there is a little good in everyone and when they are ready to pull their weeds, what good there is will grow even better. I am also reminded that when all I can see is the weeds in my life, there is still a mustard seed or a grain of yeast in all of us that will, once the weeds are addressed, grow more abundantly. Of course that assumes that we recognize our imperfections and, shall we say, “weediness”. This is then a parable of hope and encouragement more than one of threat and doom that can define these days as preparation for the harvest.

The Matthew of the past was all worried about apostasy in the early church with advice about how to be prepared for the harvest. So concerned about the future, it was difficult to live in the present. This “reign of God” he speaks of has already begun. It is not some future cataclysmic event. It began with the Birth of Jesus Christ. This reign of God is only obscured by the weeds which have to go before we can shine like the sun. The angels are among us like grace itself providing the courage and the wisdom, to lift up our hearts, our minds, and our lives for we are living now in the harvest time.

Isaiah 55, 10-11 + Psalm 65 + Romans 8, 18-23 + Matthew 13, 1-23

Sometimes I think we get too picky and far too analytical about the details of Gospel parables like this one and we fail to get the bigger picture. All caught up in thinking about rocks and thorns, hungry birds and dry soil, we miss the message entirely. Trying to make every little word of this parable correspond to something in life, we get all intrigued by how it works, all caught up on the agrarian images, and forget that this parable is addressed to us today. We forget that the Word of God is living, and in that forgetfulness, we are satisfied to figure out what Jesus was saying to his disciples a long time ago. Stuck in that mentality, we never get around to what Jesus is saying to us now.

That’s all very fine for a classroom or a course on Matthew’s Gospel, but it does not get us into this day when the Word of God speaks to you and to me. Two things happen in this parable: sowing and harvesting. Two things are described: the sowing is extravagant and generous, the harvest is equally huge. A hundred, or sixty, or thirty fold, is a very unusual unimaginable increase. In between the extravagant sowing and the huge harvest, there are ups and down, bad times and good, losses and successes. Everything is not perfect; but in spite of that fact, there is a huge harvest. This is a simple lesson on life. Be generous enough, and not matter what happens, there will be harvest, and it will be bigger and better than you thought. That is the simple wisdom behind the parable that gets lost when all we can hear is the interpretation of the parable by Matthew.

The church at the time this Gospel is coming together is very concerned about why and how it is that the Word of God has not taken root and produced greater numbers of believers. Unexpected persecutions have started, and trusted members of the apostolic community have stumbled and turned away lured by money and prestige. The Matthew’s community has personified the conditions set forth in the parable: the path becomes a man who hears without understanding. The evil one gets the blame. The rock becomes the man who falters in the face of a challenge. The briars become the man who is lured away by money. Interesting as all this is, and true as it might be, it unfortunately leaves us set in one role, the role of the listener, and in terms of the seeds God sows, we are the recipient. We end up the center of the parable, and we get placed in the position of getting something. I do not think that Jesus saw it this way.

Parables are always about God first of all. This parable is no exception. It tells us about God and how God works, just like this farmer who is extravagant with the seeds that go everywhere. There is nothing stingy or careful, nothing picky or fussy about where the seed goes. It just goes everywhere. Then the parable also tells us that there will be a harvest, and it will be a good one.

Since this is the living Word of God that can be interpreted in this day and age for us as truthfully as it was for Matthew’s day, we might and we should ask what it means for us. Perhaps in this time it might be better if we moved beyond the role of the one who receives the Word and wonder what it might be like if we either saw ourselves as the seed or if we could began to imitate the one who sows. After all, we have been given the Word, we have been given faith. What are we to do with it, and what are we to become because of it? These are the questions we ought to be asking. The disciples who heard the parable from the lips of Jesus had their questions reflected in these verses. We have our questions, and this might be the time to get the answers.

Knowing that there is going to be big harvest, we might get interested in being part of it or in being the cause of it. Either way, if we begin to think of ourselves with our faith and its rich traditions as the seed God has sown all over this earth, we need to be ready to die as seeds do when planted in the earth. We need to be life giving, productive, and not worry about where we are, the ups and down, successes and failures. Notice that in the parable, every seed does come to life and give life even if it is bird food. No seed scattered by that farmer does nothing. God is sowing you and me into this world. It does not matter how hard it is, how disappointing, or what obstacles come along. There will be a harvest.

On the other hand, we might begin to remember that having been made in the image and likeness of God, we might begin to behave a bit more like this extravagant farmer who saves no seed and is not the least bit picky about where the seeds are sown. It is for us an example of divine generosity that suggests to us that such extravagance might be the right response or the right style of life for people to whom much has been given. If we used what we have been given the way God sows seeds, there is certainly going to be a great harvest.

Instead of trying to think about which of the “men” we are in Matthew’s interpretation making sure we are not without understanding, not faltering or set back by persecution, or not distracted by worldly anxiety and money as Matthew puts it, we might stop thinking it’s all about us, and look more closely at God and see ourselves in relationship or contrast to God who still and always will depend on us to sow the seed in such a way that there will be a great harvest in spite of whatever obstacles may come along. With that thought and that hope, we can hear this message and take it in. We can actually be this message itself which in the end is true discipleship. To see a disciple of Jesus is to see Jesus just as seeing Jesus is to see the Father.


Zechariah 9, 9-10 + Psalm 1145 + Romans 8, 9, 11-13 + Matthew 11, 25-30

These verses of Matthew’s Gospel are a cry from the heart of Jesus. He has come to an awareness that the works he does and the wisdom he lives is falling on deaf ears. He has awakened to the fact that those in power, those with authority, the leaders of the people, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees who held the wealth in the Temple are rigidly bound to the law, deaf by arrogance, blind by pride, stuck in their superstitions and their own ideologies. Talking about the reign of God with them has become impossible. They are unwilling to learn anything. Independent, confident of their opinions, they use their superiority to burden others, judge and accuse, exclude and blame. Convinced that they know everything there is to know about the Law, the Prophets, and God, they look upon something new with suspicion and distrust. They listen to Jesus and think him a heretic. They see the signs and wonders he works and decide that those works come from the devil, because of course, they know everything about God, how God is supposed to act, what God thinks, and what God wants.

In Matthew’s Gospel, this is a turning point for Jesus and for his message. Now the things of God will be hidden from the learned and the clever. Instead they will be revealed to the little ones, the unself-conscious people who are not afraid to wonder and to love. Those who are dependent, receptive, innocent, free and trusting are the ones who will know God and experience the wonder and wisdom of Jesus. He is not threat to them, and they have nothing to fear from him. He sees their ability to wonder as a readiness and openness to the divine presence. He sees their dependence not as a weakness, but as a readiness for God to be their strength. He sees in them a kind of freedom that makes them ready to grow and change, discover and delight in something new.

These “little ones” do not rely on their prestige, their wealth, power, or feigned authority. They can rely only upon God, and it is to them that Jesus now begins to reveal in himself, through his own weakness, a God of mercy and love. To them his powerlessness in his passion and death is no stumbling block. They know what it is like to be persecuted, to suffer, and be helpless. To them the resurrection news comes as hope and a vindication that God will see and hear, raise up and glorify those who seek God’s will and God’s reign before their own.

“Learn from me.” he says. Gentleness and humility is what he teaches to those who will learn. But to the self-reliant who know everything, there is nothing to learn, and gentleness and humility are lessons far from them, and so is God. The prophet describes the one who comes in the name of the Lord as being “meek” and riding on a colt the foal of an ass. No horse like the powerful, like the Romans in those days; but on a colt. This is a difficult and hard lesson for those who are independent, who rely on themselves, their connections, and their privilege.

It has been said that noble and wise people are often heard to say: “I didn’t know that.” No matter how much they have studied, read, and accomplished, there is for them always more to learn that springs from a kind of wisdom that always seeks the truth never believing that they possess the truth. That kind of wisdom and nobility never trusts and never relies on power or wealth, but uses power and wealth to empower and enrich others. To nations and cultures the message of Jesus speaks in every age and place. Armies and Weapons, Money and Influence can make no peace or lead to goodness and righteousness. Being independent is no path to goodness and God. It just makes one lonely and empty. Knowledge without Wisdom is foolish and useless if it does not leave us receptive to wonder, beauty, and love.

Jesus completes this lesson using an image out of the farming methods of his day. Usually, beasts of burden were paired in a double yoke so they could combine their efforts at plowing. With that image of a shared yoke and shared burden, he assures us that we are not alone facing the future as disciples. He is our yokemate. With an assurance of rest and his presence, he never promised a life free from sorrow or struggle. He simply assures us that if we keep close to him, we will find relief from crushing burdens, crippling anxiety, a sense of frustration and futility, and the misery of a conscience burdened by sin. For those of us who have to learn about yokes and paired oxen, there is a more easily appreciated image that can carry the same promise: the image of a Christian marriage and the Church. As spouses bear one another’s burdens, work together side by side forgiving and encouraging. The very thought and image that the Church, the Christian community, is the bride of Christ lifts us all with hope and courage because we are not now and never will be alone.

Our presence here, this pause in the routine of a summer week, is the rest he promises. Take a deep breath when you come in here. Put down your worries and concerns, fears and doubts. Our communion together and with Christ feeds us and binds us together to bear the burdens of the past and the future. Being here will make whatever comes this week easier because we are assured of help. This is the Spirit Paul speaks of to the Romans, and it is reason to rejoice with the joy the prophet Zechariah has proclaimed.