Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 5 Oct. 2014, Proper 22
Year A RCL: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
“The kingdom of God will be...given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
What are those fruits of God's kingdom? Love. Joy. Peace. Justice. Mercy. Unity. Wholeness. How do you see those fruits in the 10 commandments God gives in our reading from Exodus?
One God: unity; sabbath rest: peace; honor parents: love; no murder/adultery/stealing/lying: justice/mercy; no coveting: wholeness & joy.
When we focus on our relationship with God & have that relationship at the center of our lives, then our relationships with each other & God's creatures can be relationships of love, joy, peace, justice, mercy, unity & wholeness. Our unity, our wholeness, reflect the Unity of God the Holy Trinity, the perfect Wholeness.
The 10 Commandments are more accurately called the 10 statements or words, as the term Decalogue indicates1 & as the Jewish Study Bible notes. Look at the reading. What do you notice about punishment? There is NO mention of punishment!
Following the 10 statements produces right relationships. In his parable today, Jesus tells us about people who fail to follow the 10 statements in their relationship to the landowner. They make the agreement & they break it. They turn their agreement into a lie. They covet the landowner's share. They murder to steal his share.
Jesus tells this parable to teach us the essence of God's kingdom that we know in part through the 10 statements. That essence is deeper than just following rules. It is living the statements in all aspects of our lives. We have to keep our day-to-day living centered on God. Jesus tells this parable to teach people who think they have it made & are comfortable ignoring the needs of people around them that our relationship with God is part of all aspects of our lives.
Our relationship is to be honest, open, God-centered in all aspects of our lives & that includes our $. God calls us to be a people who produce the fruit of the kingdom. When I look at the list of ministries in which you are involved, I know we are a people centered on God, working to produce Love, Joy, Peace, Justice, Mercy, Unity, Wholeness.
We have spoken several times of why you do what you do. You have mined your experiences to discover the intrinsic, unchanging value that is the fruit of your labors. Remember the cooks among us share their gifts to enhance fellowship & joy. The knitters create caps for newborns, a visible expression of love & mercy that brings peace to a child & parents, who are usually unknown to the knitters.
There is another dimension to our life in God's kingdom here that is essential to producing its fruits. It is a dimension that we can learn about from The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic community in the Episcopal Church & the Anglican Church of Canada. As their website says, The Brothers give their whole selves to living the Gospel of Jesus2...They...are “critically engaged with contemporary culture. (They) seek to know & share an authentic experience of God's love & mercy.” They help people develop a deeper relationship with God.
We do that here week by week. You do that in your many ministries in the community. The Monday night Centering Prayer Group & the Daughters of the King work on this.
Although the Society of St. John the Evangelist exists for God's kingdom, it severely neglected a central responsibility for its life & work, as Jamie Coates shares in the September Vestry Papers Sharing Our Gifts.3 Here's the story: “For 85 years the Brothers...lived in their monastery on the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (One of those Brothers had been an Episcopal priest who served at our wedding.) The monastery is so beautiful that it has become a place of pilgrimage for many, where even before you meet a monk, you are reminded by the place that God sees beauty in you.”
During those 85 years the Brothers did nothing about money for maintenance. The physical monastery literally fell apart. Then came the financial crisis. Brother Curtis Almquist, the monastery's superior (its leader) had to ask the Society's friends for money. Meeting with them, he said: "As Superior I have a responsibility to ask for money. I also have no idea how much money any of you have. I ask one thing: please pray to God, & between you & God figure out what is right for you. Thank you."
Brother Curtis shows the difference between our living in the dollar-for-work-kingdom & our life in relationship in God's kingdom. Jesus uses that dollar-for-work imagery in today's parable.
Like the tenants in the parable & the Brothers in the monastery, we live in both kingdoms. In God's kingdom are Love, Joy, Peace, Justice, Mercy, Unity, Wholeness – these are gifts God gives us. We do not earn them like we do when we sell our time & skills in the workplace.
How do we – how do you – live in these 2 kingdoms? [The dollar-for-work kingdom & God's kingdom.]
Consider this question:4 What do you do?
How did you answer? Did you describe only work?
What you do is more than just how you earn money. Notice the list of ministries in the Epistle. Notice all that you do! There is much you do beyond making money. There are relationships that you value & nourish at home & in the larger community.
Earning a living is important. AND there is more to life than trading your time & skills for money. Notice several important perspectives5:
The fruits of God's kingdom help us know what is important. Jesus says: “You are important. You are worth dying for on that cross.” Jesus loves you – each one of us. The joy of knowing Jesus brings peace. Peace frees us from fear so that we can be generous in showing Mercy & working for Justice. Jesus shows us how to rely on each other so that we deepen our Unity. So that we live in Wholeness.
Living in Love, Joy Peace, Justice, Mercy, Unity & Wholeness yields a harvest of deep relationships among ourselves & between us & God – you & God.
Living in wholeness means I have to be like Brother Curtis & frankly ask you for money for this Body of Christ. I ask you for money at this traditional time for the annual giving campaign so that we can have a sound financial plan to live by in 2015.
This plan meets practical expenses for lights & water, & to support our Diocese. The work in the Diocese helps us serve Jesus beyond our red doors & the county line. Remember this fact: the Diocese supported us financially 105 years.
Here's another a fact: Our older buildings need repairs. The monks in Massachusettes started a building fund the year before they started asking friends for capital donations, & they continue to fund that building fund annually. (Their monastery was renovated in 2010.)6
We at St. John's have been more responsible than deferring maintenance for 85 years.
So I ask you to “name the price of your church.”7 What is this church – this Body of Christ – worth to you? What value do you put on your relationship here? Like Brother Curtis asked, I ask you: “Please pray to God, & between you & God figure out what is right for you. Thank you."
Coats, James. “God’s Economy.” http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/sharing-our-gifts/gods-economy/. Accessed: 2 Oct. 2014.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Howard, Ken. “An Experiment: Year Round Stewardship”. Accessed: 2 Oct. 2014.
http://www.forwardmovement.org/Products/CategoryCenter/FMSSJE/Society_of_Saint_John_the_Evangelis.aspx. Accessed: 4 Oct. 2014.
http://www.ssje.org/. Accessed: 4 Oct. 2014.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation.New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 27 Sept. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
1 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 148.
3 Coats, James. “God’s Economy.” http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/sharing-our-gifts/gods-economy/. Accessed: 2 Oct. 2014.
4 Ibid. Coates.
5 Note: Influenced by Coates' article.
6 Ibid. Coates.