Friday, November 4, 2011

Mutual Love and Friendship: Proper 21 Year A

Last weekend, our vestry held a four hour working retreat. We were led by a colleague and friend, The Reverend Ron Pogue, Interim Rector of Good Shepherd in Lexington. We choose to have this retreat for one reason: we are still in transition. 

Our current vestry has been frozen for two years. In other words, there’s been no election of new vestry members during the search for a Rector. This means that some of our vestry members have served for four years. Their leadership was especially vital to the life of Trinity during the interim: ensuring the most basic aspects of our life together continued. Now, as they transition off the vestry, we do not want to lose their input. Now is the time to capture their knowledge, wisdom and discernment for the future of Trinity.

We began with the usual “getting to know you” games and then Ron asked us an interesting question: If Trinity’s doors were permanently locked, closed permanently, what would the community miss? Of course, we know what we would miss. The twist of the question is what the community would miss. Said another way: how does our community, Danville/Boyle County, know us? 

It’s an interesting question. For me, it evokes more questions. How do we, Trinity Church, want to be known? Who are we as a community? What inspires us to open our Red Doors, not only on Sundays? Who does God call us, Trinity Church, to be? 

My guess is that right now, today, if we passed out slips of paper to answer these questions, there would be many answers. And each one would be sufficient, satisfactory, accurate.  As the vestry sought to answer this question, we sought to be faithful: faithful to our Church and faithful to God.

I don’t usually preach on all three readings. It’s an intimidating task: drawing a connection between three readings written over a period of thousands of years. Yet, as I studied this week’s readings, I found at least one consistency. Together, our readings paint a portrait of God and call us deeper into Discipleship.

Let’s begin with Exodus. 

Over the last few weeks, the Book of Exodus has described Israel’s slavery and escape from Egypt. We witnessed Moses and the burning bush, the feast of the Passover and the parting of the Red Sea. 
Now, we hear the complaining of Israel. Last week, they were desperate for food. This week they want water. We may laugh or chuckle at their whining, but we can’t really blame them. How many times do we find ourselves in the same position? The irony is that God always provides exactly what the Israelites,
what weneed. God’s provisions may be unexpected: a light, flaky frostlike substance for food and water from a rock.  Nonetheless, the readings remind us: God is reliable; we can trust God for all our needs

Then there’s Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Like most, if not all, of Paul’s letter, the letter to the Philippians is a letter of support. Paul’s basic aim is to unite the belief and practices of each community he serves. 

For the people of Philippi, Paul focuses on the value of friendship.  This friendship is the bond we have with Christ. Our experience of Christ’s love, God’s grace, binds us to one another. This is not a new theme for Paul or for us. In his letter to the Philippians, thoughfriendship is where spreading the Gospel begins. This kind of friendship requires two things: love of Christ and love for one another. This love urges them to grow and be transformed by Christ. It also makes them a bold proclamation of the Gospel. The community, then, must have two core values: following Christ’s humility and living in mutual love. 
These core values are centered in the person of Christ. The hymn found in the middle of today’s passage is an ancient hymn, a song of the early church. It emphasizes Christ’s humility and obedience. The root words for the Greek word obedience mean to listen; it’s opposite is to be deaf.  Obedience, then, requires us to listen, to hear and follow God’s call.  The hymn makes it clear that Jesus is a humble leader.  He sets aside his desires and listens for God. He earnestly seeks to remove all the barriers, including humanity’s deafness, to follow God. Paul makes it clear that we must do the same. We must set our selves aside, our desires, setting aside every barrier in order to hear and follow God. This includes putting the needs of others before our own, living in service to one another. This is Discipleship: living in mutual love and friendship for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. 

We do this by the sharing of the Spirit and following Christ’s humble leadership. 

This brings me to the Gospel. Today we have another parable, another story of God’s kingdom.  It is the story of one son who says Yes and does nothing. The other says No, then changes his mind and goes. 

The parable is told in the context of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and the Scribes. (This portion is excluded in our reading today.) They, of course, are trying to entrap Him. And, He, in turn, entraps them. 

The Pharisees and Scribes question Jesus’ authority; He turns to the authority of John.  The Pharisees and Scribes, protecting their authority and power, will not answer Jesus.  And Jesus tells this parable.

The parable is rather easy to interpret. God calls each of us to participate in the work of God’s kingdom.  There are some who claim to participate; yet, they are deaf to God’s activity in the world. And there are others who, initially balk at the call, then something happens. They become witnesses to God in their midst and full participants in God’s work in the world. Jesus makes it clear: by their refusal to participate in His life, the Pharisees and scribes are aliens of God’s kingdom. Those who follow Christ, who are transformed by Discipleshipare bearers of God’s kingdom. 

Together, then, these three readings are guides for our community. Like the people of Israel, we must trust GodGod has already given us all we need and this will not stop.  As we grow and are transformed, God will continue to give us all we need. 

Meanwhile, we must root ourselves in the humility and love of Christ. Our humility is a reflection of God’s grace known to us in the love of Christ. This love will transform us as we seek to serve others and make us bold as we proclaim the Gospel. Finally, the parable reminds us that even our “No” can be transformed. As we witness God’s work, our faith will grow and we will hear God’s call in our lives.     

The Vestry will be working over the next few months to make space for us to listen. They will work to ensure that our parish runs smoothly: consistent worship, budget and ministry. It is our hope that this consistency will remind us to rely on God and draw us closer to one another. From there, we hope that we will do more than hear the call into the vineyard. It is our hope that this work will call us deeper into God’s purpose and align us closer to God’s way. And we hope that you will join the Vestry in this work. I know some of you already have.  Maybe you’re called to serve in worship, serve on a committee or lead a fellowship event. There are many ways to share your faith and proclaim the Gospel.  And God calls us each to be full participants and witnesses to Christ’s love in our midst. 

Finally, it is Christ’s love that will care for us, bind us to one another and transform us.  It is Christ’s love that will guide us into the future.

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