Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, October 2, 2011:

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Psalm: Psalm 80:7-14 (Psalm 80:7-15 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 19

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

Today's Gospel contains a parable that clearly tells the story of Christ, in the vineyard owner's son, who is killed by the tenants. I suspect that when modern readers, many of whom own property, read this lesson, they identify with the vineyard owner far more than they do with the tenants. But what would happen if we thought about ourselves as the tenants?

Notice how the tenants are so stuck in their self-destructive ways that they can't change. Now, as we settle into the season of autumn, as we race towards the end of the liturgical year, it might be useful to do some self-evaluation. What are our habits that get in the way of us living as the people of God? By now, you might despair to realize that these are the same patterns you've wrestled with before. But take heart. As you continue to attempt to make changes and go astray, each time you try to get back to a more wholesome way of living, it should take less time to make the necessary adjustments.

The Gospels that we've been reading give us reassurance that we can go astray, and God will still welcome us back. Now all this talk of going astray may not be the most useful image for us. Many of us have grown up in churches that berated us with talk of sin and tried to make us change by making us feel ashamed. We live in a toxic culture that tells us that we're not doing enough, not earning enough, not buying the right stuff. Many of us spend our days with voices in our head telling us those same messages. Who wants to come to church to hear the same thing? We've tried, we've failed, we know, we get it.

The danger is that we might quit trying to live the life that God envisions for us. God doesn't want us to live the way we've been living. Many of us might agree--we don't want to be living these lives.

So take a different approach. What would a healthier life look like? What would a God-centered life look like? How would it feel?

We'll probably each have different answers to those questions. For some of us, a God-centered life would mean that we could let go of our anger; we could quit judging everyone and accept them with love. For some of us, a God-centered life would mean we could quit trying to fill the holes in our hearts with other substitutes that don't quite work: food, alcohol, sex, drugs, approval, exercise, work. For some of us, a God-centered life means that we don't order our lives around the quest for money, but instead we work for justice.

But again, as we focus on the end result we'd like to achieve, we must be careful not to get overwhelmed. It's a bit like starting a diet, when you know you have 50 pounds to lose. But if you make changes and stay with them consistently, and you keep orienting your choices towards that thinner person you'd like to be, in a year or two, you'll be amazed at the transformation.

So, start small. Take time to pray. Take time to read things that make you feel hopeful, instead of despairing. Take time to really listen to people, instead of trying to get done with that commitment so that you can rush on to the next one. Breathe deeply. Say thank you.

When you go astray, or when you feel your gifts have been trampled, take heart. Read the lessons again and think about the natural order of horticulture. The land must be cleared occasionally so that new growth can take place. God continues to call to us to work for the vision of the redeemed creation that God gives us.

Remember that God promises that no matter how far away you are from that vision, God will meet you more than half-way. If you're feeling like a rejected stone, remember that God has great plans for you. You can become the cornerstone that supports a building that you weren't even able to envision at an earlier point in your life.

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