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No Easy Grace

No Easy Grace



Some years ago I married my son and his wife at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University. There were roughly two hundred in attendance. A significant portion of them were Korean because the bride is Korean-American. For us it was a big deal. For the bride’s family it was an even bigger deal. Literally it was a merging of two families, of two cultures and two traditions. There was a showering of blessing and of beneficence. The guests attended because of social obligations, family obligations, friendship, political reasons and for religious reasons. After all, it was the sacrament of marriage. It was a joyous occasion. There was a feast the night before, on the day of the wedding and on the day after.

Some of us have had smaller, more intimate weddings. Faye and I were married in a tiny chapel at the base of Harkness Tower by Ken Coleman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale. There was a grand total of seven. My in-laws did not attend, because the Roman Catholic Church did not approve of inter-faith marriages. Whether one approves or not, a marriage, big or small, is a public and social event and it can be weakened by being too small.

To not go is a rejection of the event. There is a personal/public insult whether that is intended or not. For the bride or groom it can be humiliating, and it can be humiliating to those who are extending the hospitality and hosting the event.

I learned this the hard way when after graduation one of my college roommates got married. When George invited me to the wedding I said, “No thanks, George. Now don’t be insulted, but I really don’t care whether you get married or not. It is not just part of my concerns. Go ahead and get married, but be careful because I think Ruth is just like your mother. In fact, George, you really are marrying your mother.” Wrong thing to say! George doesn’t speak to me now. (But seriously, she is just like his mother.)

In describing the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Some of the invitees made fun of the wedding, some went to their farm or their business and some mistreated the messengers and killed them. The king was enraged. He had his troops burn the village and kill those who had rejected him. He then had his slaves invite those in the streets and everyone they could find, the good and the bad. One fellow didn’t wear a wedding robe. Insulted, the king had the man bound and thrown out. Jesus ends by commenting, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

“Good grief,” someone might say. “You mean there is a dress code in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Well, yes. Just as my son was not allowed into the Yale Club for dinner without a tie, so there is appropriate behavior for certain situations. It is insulting to the host, to those who are honored, to the other guests and to the event itself when you show up in old clothes at a state event, or in a bikini at the Metropolitan Opera.

When Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet, the immediate association for his hearers is of the banquet at the end of time, the Heavenly Banquet. There all will meet God and be with God and there will be great rejoicing, celebration and praise. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is breaking in now with His presence. There is a new covenant, a new relationship. God is offering unbelievable grace to those who will respond to His mercy and His call: to those who will repent. Undeserved grace and forgiveness is given to those who will respond. But there is a “dress code.” There are boundaries and a demand for respect and honor. When one approaches the Holy Other, it is the time for awe and respect, not sloughing off of dignity and patterns of responsibility.

The point of the parable is the transfer of grace. There is a new covenant, a new beginning, and the offer of salvation to all who will respond. There is a “however,” however. And that is the emphasis of the story. We are talking about GOD. So there are boundaries. Grace is given, but there is no such thing as “cheap grace.” The blessing carries a commitment. The indicative carries an imperative. The gift of the covenant and of the blessing of God carries the obligation of the sacrificing of one’s “self” and the obligation to honor and maintain the gift of God’s grace and blessing. There has to be a stewardship of the gift, for otherwise the gift of God’s grace is “cheapened,” and ceases to be God’s gift. That stewardship of the gift is the application aspect of the parable.

You and I come  to church Sunday after Sunday to worship. We come to a holy and sanctified place to praise and to give thanks, to confess and to receive absolution, to be fed spiritually. The Holy Eucharist of the bread and wine is a “feast” and our souls are fed. You and I are strengthened and renewed in a holy place by the worship, by the liturgy, by the sacrament and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tradition tells us that it is a wedding feast with the Church as the bride of Christ. The metaphor shifts a little on us, but nevertheless it is a glorious, awesome experience.

Our wedding garments are our Christian lives. When I preach, I talk about Christian “presence,” “sacrifice,” “generosity,” “forgiveness” and living in a “covenantal relationship.” Hopefully I have helped parishioners develop some skill in handling those aspects of their lives. Today’s sermon is about the incredible banquet of grace that God offers us and the fact that that carries an obligation. The best term for that obligation is “stewardship.” You and I have an obligation to live lives that are full of love and compassion faith and praise. But they are also lives of due diligence in regard to our worship and our responsibilities. You and I are keepers of the “sacred vessels” of our Christian lives. One of those sacred vessels is our bodies, which need attention. Another “sacred vessel” is our church, itself, where the sacraments are celebrated and we come to find and be found by God. Obviously the church requires lots of money for renovation and upkeep. But respect and honor of a holy place can also be shown by its being well organized, well staffed, neat, clean and tidy. God’s temple should not be shabby. It is not “materialistic” to clean out and clean up. It is not unfriendly to be attentive and quiet during the postlude. Are your committees fully staffed? Is the Outreach Committee staffed and formed in order to handle hurricane relief and other pressing needs? How is Adult education doing? Do you have an advertizing and promotion committee? Is your stewardship committee robust? Little things. Picky things. Individually not important, but collectively they say something about your individual lives and your corporate life.

How you and I live our personal lives outside of the parish is also a reflection upon our Christian commitment and the covenant and vows that we have made. You and I are called to live lives, which witness to the incredible grace and blessing that we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to bring others to the great banquet of His love and blessing, to The Great Thanksgiving that you and I offer in liturgy, prayer, music and fellowship. You and I are incredibly blessed. In our individual and collective faith journeys we do not travel alone, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and led by the Holy Spirit. You and I are fed by the great feast of the Eucharist, which is an anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Come to the table of the Eucharist. Come and receive the blessing of God’s bountiful grace. Come with gladness and joy. But remember, there is no such thing as easy grace. Now onto God be all honor and glory. -Amen. - Fr. Gage






         Along the roads that parallel Lake Seneca in Upstate New York, there are miles and miles of vineyards. It wasn't always so. In the late fifties and sixties farmers raised corn, oats, some hay, Concord grapes and apples. Most of the farms failed. The area around Penn Yan and Geneva was as poor as any part of the Northeast. Failure was written on the sagging barns and closed store fronts. Montgomery Ward pulled its catalogue store out. Eisenhower College over in Seneca Falls closed. A pall set over the region. Over the next twenty years there were various attempts to make a go of agriculture. The acreage around our friends' house became a Christmas tree farm. That didn't work either. Then a little while ago, some new families began to plant vineyards. Not like the vineyards that once upon a time grew bulk grapes for Welch’s Grape Juice and Taylor Wines. Rather here and there were planted more select vines. They were tended and pruned and cultivated. This August my wife and I had dinner along the lake at a restaurant that featured wines from the local specialty wineries. Our host told us that some of the wines were quite good. He may have been right, for the New York Times this week ran a special feature on the wines of Upstate New York. I hope the wineries succeed, and that this is not just another boom and bust cycle. Too often failure has been the fruit of the soil, the area, and the lives of its inhabitants.

        Vineyards, the vine, the growing of grapes are common agricultural images in the Bible. Frequently they are used to describe the life and faith of the its people. In today's Old Testament lesson Isaiah uses the image of the vine to say that Israel has become a wild vine, yielding the fruits of bloodshed and injustice. Like the old vines along Lake Seneca, Isaiah's wild vines will be torn out and cast away. Israel has failed to live up to its covenants and will be punished.

        Jesus was familiar with the farmers' hazard of growing grapes and with the image of the vine in Israel's prophetic heritage. In His parable in Matthew 21:33-43, Jesus creates a midrash on Isaiah 5:1-7. That is to say, he takes a known passages and interprets it with a new twist. Jesus tells us that a landowner planted a vineyard and invested heavily in it. He leased the vineyard to tenant farmers, who were to pay the landowner part of the cash crop. The tenants refused to honor the covenant and assaulted the landowner's representatives, who came by to collect the rent. This was a family business, so the landlord sent his son. Tenants by this time were totally rebellious, killed the son, and figured they would lay claim to the vineyards through squatters' rights. Jesus asks what would one expect to be the reaction of the owner. The owner would exercise the death penalty for the tenants and lease the vineyards to new tenants, who would honor their contract. Out of the failure of the original contract, and out of the death of his son, a new relationship and a new structure would arise. Quoting from scripture, Jesus says, that the stone which the builders rejected will become the cornerstone of a new building.

        Now this parable is about many things. It certainly anticipates the death of Jesus and the founding of a new community which will supersede the nation, Israel. But if we ask on a very broad scale what this story is about, one thing is clear. It is about failure. The landlord failed to hire the right tenants. He failed to correctly assess their reactions. He failed his slaves. The slaves failed to protect themselves and to strategize. The tenants failed to live up to their covenant. They failed to follow appropriate standards of ethics, religion and business. By hijacking the farm, they failed their own families. They miscalculated the consequences. They failed to control their own rebellion and let things get out of hand. The landlord failed his son. By giving the son the responsibility of collecting the rent, the landlord didn't "make a man out of him." Rather he sent his son to his death.

        In regard to the issue of failure, this story hits us right where we live. Like so many of the parables, allegories, metaphors, and images in the New Testament, it has the incredible ring of veracity. I once had a tenant in a house I owned, who would not leave. He in effect hijacked the house. I had to bribe him to get him to leave. Back in the 60's I worked in an organization where the seminarians revolted against the superintendent. "The inmates took over the asylum," as the saying goes. Fortunately I had enough sense to refuse to join the rebellion, which turned nasty.

        You and I experience failure in its various disguises. I suspect a sense of failure is on the heart of most of us in the pews. While there is the obvious failure in sports (someone has to lose), that is not the kind of failure with which I am concerned. Rather, there is failure in a marriage, failure in a business, a career, the rearing of a child, the keeping of a covenantal relationship between child and parent (even in one's old age). You and I have to deal with the failure of our hopes and dreams, of our expectations and abilities, of our assumptions, understanding and health. Even the young can have a nagging sense of failure, as can groups, communities, and nations.

        In my fifty years of going to church, I have heard clergy talk about sin and evil, confession, redemption, and even success. Never have I heard anything said about failure. (Of course maybe I failed to listen, or the preacher failed to be articulate.) There is a stigma to failure. It often seems to carry a disgrace or leave one open to ridicule. Sometimes pain is associated with failure, for the response to failure can be punishment, either by someone else or by yourself. Failure can carry an enormous emotional burden and cloud one's memory or vision. It can destroy relationships and one's physical and spiritual health.

        From the perspective of today's parable, I want to say six things about the Biblical and the Christian attitude towards failure.

        First of all, failure is part of life. It is a given. Shepherds lose sheep to wolves and disease. Crops fail. What is unusual about the vineyard in both Isaiah and Matthew's parable is that it flourished!

        Secondly, there is purpose and meaning to life. The landowner builds a vineyard. The stone which the builder rejected becomes a corner of another structure. History is not cyclical nor random. It moves ahead.

        Thirdly, there is a moral and value dimension to life. Contracts and covenants are made. They are to be kept. When they are not kept the relationship between the parties becomes strained. When they are kept there is a balance or wholeness to life.

        Fourthly, Mankind has choice and responsibility. The nations of Judah and Israel were allowed to fail. The tenants were able to take over the farm. The landowner was allowed to choose to send his son and thereby to make a dreadful mistake. This fallibility, as well as the tendency to disobey, is accounted for in the story of the garden of Eden.

        Fifthly, there are always consequences for one's actions. When the vines are cultivated and pruned they flourish. Because there is direction and meaning to life, because there are moral and value dimensions to life, we can expect consequences of judgment and punishment sometimes. But punishment for the failure to keep moral values is meaningful and not capricious

        Lastly, at the very base of failure, there is a creative and positive redemptive power. Failure fails. It is as though within the rhizome of the vine there is a creative surge that is part of the mind of God. Out of old Abraham and Sarah came Jacob. Out of the betrayal of brothers came Joseph the provider. Out of slavery in Egypt came the Exodus. Out of left field came David. Out of the Babylonian Captivity came Ezra and Nehemiah. Out of old Elizabeth came John the Baptist. These are not phoenix-like manifestations. They are not simply the fecund force of nature. Rather throughout the Old Testament, and culminating in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus, there is the assurance that even in the blackest depth of failure there is the intentional power of a creator-redeemer God.

        You and I fail, and fail, and fail again. That is life. That is the way the vineyard is. But there is a basic purpose and meaning to life. Nihilism and negative existentialism are simply wrong. Within our lives there are values in which we can believe and by which we can take our bearings. We are given choice and responsibility to live with these values and to live our own lives. We are not doomed to repeat our failures over and over and over. As there are consequences for our good actions, so are there consequences for our mistakes. Sometimes we are sinful and rightfully feel guilty. (That's why we have confession in the Church.) But in the last analysis God's creative and redemptive positive life-affirming power triumphs in life and in our lives. We can learn from our failures, and sometimes we are strong because of them. But often it is hard to see any education or any tempering of our souls. We have, however, deep down at the base of our failure the beating pulse of God's creative and redemptive power. This is revealed most clearly in His Son, Jesus, who came out of the crucible of mistake after mistake after mistake. Out of His crucifixion came the resurrection, revealing to you and me that God does not fail, we do. And our failure in the last analysis fails. At the very core of existence God's powerful, creative redemptive spirit triumphs not only against the powers of darkness and despair, but against the systems and structures of life to such an extent that it becomes personal in the form of a human being. The incarnation of God in Christ Jesus brings the ultimate success out of our failure because it reveals God's very personal, very specific love for each of us.

        At the altar today you and I receive not only the bread but also the wine. It is the wine from grapes, grown in vineyards, which prevailed over against the mistakes of man and the calamities of nature. Along with the bread which like the body of Christ sustains us, the wine, like the blood of Christ assuages our thirst for meaning and success not our own. At the altar you and I offer up and release our mistakes. With the body and blood of Christ you and I become part of God's Son, "He in us and we in Him." Failure fails as we receive new beginnings. For in the last analysis we are given the power of forgiveness and love.  Amen



Turn Around Today


Turn Around Today

Matt: 21:28-32


Jesus is in Jerusalem preparing for His Passion. He is talking to the priests and elders who question Jesus’ authority. Jesus answers that the authority of John the Baptist came from God and that John was a “prophet” who preached righteousness and repentance and pointed to Jesus. It is important to the priests and elders to deal with these matters because if one is to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then one must live a godly life. Jesus, always skeptical of hypocrisy and self-satisfaction, presents this parable. The owner of a vineyard had two sons. He told the elder to go work in the vineyard. The elder son at first refused but later “changed his mind” and went and did as he was told. The owner asked his second son to go work in the vineyard and the son replied, “I go, sir;” but did not go. “Which son did the will of the father?” Jesus asked. Obviously the first son. Jesus replies that although the first son initially refused, he responded to the will of his father. Jesus then comments that the prostitutes and tax collectors, the outcasts, have done the same thing by responding both to John the Baptist and to Jesus. He points out that the elders have failed to change their minds.

Some say that the vineyard represents Israel and the first son represents the Jews who responded to Jesus (the Church in Jerusalem). Jesus is pointing out that those who are chosen, the Jews, are not automatically going into the kingdom of God simply on the divine right of covenant. They have to respond to God’s calling for obedience.

Now “obedience” here means keeping the Ten Commandments. It means loving God and loving neighbor. Hence the issue of justice or righteousness is stated. Economic, social and religious injustice is rampant among the Jews. The leaders are corrupt, take bribes and are seriously in danger of losing their identity through assimilation and inter-marriage with non-Jews. Apostasy, the absorption of Hellenistic religions and concepts, is secularizing and undermining Judaism. Immorality is blatant in high places. (Herod divorced and married his brother’s wife. Hence John the Baptist lost his head.) So the issue for Jesus is that the leaders are so blinded by their own behavior that they miss God’s call to shape up and fail to recognize the work of God in Jesus.

This passage seemed flat to me, so I got out my Greek New Testament and read it. Several things jumped out at me. First of all the word translated “go work” is the root word for our term “proselytize.” Next, the word translated as “changed his mind” is the same word for “repent.” Finally, the word translated, “sir” is kurie, or Lord (note our Prayer Book phrase “kurie eleison” or “Lord have mercy.” So the NRSV has stripped away a lot of the religious connotations of the words and “secularized” the language. Some commentators think this is appropriate, but this is religious writings of a religious conflict between religious people. To “repent” is a lot different from “changing one’s mind.” To call someone “Lord” has overtones both of Jesus as Lord and God as Lord. So these are some of the things that bothered me about the text.

Now some preachers would use this text to entreat you to repent today and to give your life to the Lord. Some would point out that the end is near and those of us who are smug and professionally religious are not going to get into heaven as early as  those who are not. Or the preacher might tell us that we all are reprehensible, prostituting our values and faith to a secular society and being duplicitous and greedy like the tax collectors of yore.

My concern is the relevance of this passage for you and me today. We accept Jesus, we are Christians and you and I are gathered right here in church worshipping. Where is the imperative for us? I think it lies in this: you and I need to be constantly open to the grace of God in order that we can do those things that we know we ought to do, the things I have been talking about the last seven weeks. We need the grace of God in order to live the Christian life, and that is to have a ministry of presence, to find God in the margins, to be responsible in our faith, to sacrifice, to seek reconciliation, to practice forgiveness and to be generous. We need the grace of God to “repent” as we do in our prayers of confession and to “turn around” from time to time in our daily lives.

To give an example of what I am talking about, here is an incident that happened twenty-plus years ago. I was working in another church and my job was to do the Sunday five o’clock service. I had finished the service and was putting away the communion vessels when I noticed a woman praying in the last pew in the sanctuary. I figured she could let herself out. So I put on my coat and walked out to my car. As I was getting in, I stopped and thought, “What I really ought to do is to go back to that woman and ask if she is all right. That is what I am called to do, “minister to the sick, the friendless and the needy.” So I went back in and approached the woman. “Are you all right? Can I help you?” The woman looked up with tears in her eyes. “I have a terrible problem,” she said. “Oh? Would you like to tell me?” “I want my baby baptized?” “Why is that a problem?” My baby is six weeks old and needs to have a serious operation, and I want my baby baptized before the operation. I am a lapsed Congregationalist and my husband is a lapsed Roman Catholic. When we married religion was not important to us, so we have never joined a church or decided on a denomination.” “Look,” I said. “ For baptism to be valid all you need is for it to be done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with water, and with intention. Anyone can do it in extreme circumstances, even a Jewish nurse in a hospital. The Roman Catholic Church will recognize it. They won’t like it, but they have to. The same is true with the Episcopal Church and most denominations. Don’t worry about what church or denomination you are going to join. What is important is the welfare of the baby. Worry about that. I will have the rector call you and try to help you.”  She left and I went home. Monday I told the rector the situation and to call her. Thursday the baby was baptized with the sister of the mother in attendance and ten Roman Catholics flown in from Ohio to support the husband. The incident was nice and I forgot about it.

Five years latter I was attending a sexual harassment seminar at a church. Ninety of us clergy had to sit through sixteen hours of being scolded and admonished. It was awful. I was the first one out the door. Leander was on my right and Bob was on my left. The bishop and the other eighty-seven clergy were right behind me. At the end of the hallway a young woman appeared. She let out a scream, “Father Gage!”  ran down the hall and threw her arms around me. The bishop gaped, Leander fell down laughing and Bob was convulsed. My arms were pinned to my sides. “Do I know you?” I asked. “You arranged for my baby to be baptized before the operation.” “I did? Oh, right. How are things?” “The baby is fine and I had another one.” “Wonderful. Everything okay?” “Absolutely. Guess what. We joined the church!” “Great!” I said and ran to my car. The bishop took notes.

Again five years later. I read that she was beginning her second term on the church’s vestry and the whole family was greatly involved in the parish. “Thank God.” I said. Now days I can’t remember her name.

         The point of the story is this. In our busy daily lives you and I want to follow the Lord and do those things which we know we out to do. Some times we need to stop and turn around. In short, we need to stop and let the grace of God enter our lives and not only direct us, but also redirect us. To serve God and to turn around is not something that only occurs as a big emotional event or at the end of time. To love God and to love our neighbor takes place in the every day world. When you and I stop, let the grace of God do its work, and turn around and do what we know we ought to do, some times babies are baptized, mothers find hope, new members join the body of Christ and souls are saved. God grant us the grace as individuals, as a society and as a nation to make adjustments in our lives, to make changes and sometimes even repent and turn around so that you and I will do His will in the tasks that are right before us.          - Amen- Fr. 


More Than You Ever Thought


Matt. 20:1-16


In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells the story of the landowner who paid the day laborers that worked for one hour the same amount as those who worked the whole day. Those who worked the whole day complained that it wasn’t fair. Indeed, this is the kind of story that totally enrages persons like my wife, Faye, who have a deep sense of fairness. She assumes that things should be balanced and fair. Some argue that children have an innate sense of fairness. I am not sure that is true, for I seem to have missed that particular DNA trait. I tend to feel not that I have earned things or deserve things, but that I am fortunate to be given the gift of what I have. It is a good thing that my wife thinks in terms of accomplishments, fairness, rewards and profits, for it keeps me more or less solvent.

Now I want to tell you three stories. They are seemingly unrelated, but hopefully there is a point to them. My wife, Faye, and I used to go up to Booth Bay Harbor every August and stay at The Wharf Inn, which is built on a pier that extends into the bay. Our room looked right out on the water. Boats dock at the town landing throughout the day. There is a park at the top of the landing, and a long pier, which parallels our pier and also juts out into the harbor. Above the town landing is a park. Faye and I sat on our balcony and watch the comings and goings of the boats, which tied up at the town pier. A couple of years ago, Faye and I were having coffee on our balcony at about ten in the morning. There were some young twenty-somethings gathered in the park. All of a sudden a young man broke from the group and road his bike lickety split down from the park, out onto the pier and soared out into the water. Faye and I were dumb struck. The boy bobbed up and climbed back up onto the pier. Everyone cheered. It turned out that he had taken a $20 bet regarding riding off the pier. The problem now was how to retrieve the bike. So he took 50 feet of rope and an anchor and swung the anchor out like a grappling hook to troll for his bike. Soon he pulled up a bike. Everyone cheered again. But no. That was his old bike. The new one was still in the water. With some help from the town drunk, he finally pulled up his new bike. By this time the town had gathered and they sent up a huge hurrah. Faye and I looked at each other, shook our heads and marveled at the unexpected exuberance of youth.

Later on we had lunch and went for a ride in the country. After a while we came upon your typical American roadside. There were a fast food place, a gas station, a car wash, a laundry, etc. As we passed by the car wash, which was whirling away, there was a guy on a John Deere tractor (without a cab) driving into the car wash! “Faye,” I shouted, “That guy is riding a tractor through the car wash!” “Maybe he hasn’t had his weekly shower,” she replied.

Now my purpose in telling these two stories is to illustrate that we bring to our daily life sets of assumptions, expectations and patterns of thinking. We expect reality to be thus and so. We follow learned patterns of behavior and expectations that generally work. Things should balance out, and they often do. There should be fairness, and that is a good thing. It is the way we expect and want things to work. We cast the world in our own image.

Here is my third story. A number of years ago, I was in business and had an administrative assistant who was a linear sequential and conceptually challenged. One day I was allocating our resources and she objected, “That’s not fair! I think John and Marsha should be given more.” I explained to her that I had given serious thought to the matter and the matter was closed. “But that’s not fair!” she continued. “How can you do that?” Rather than explain how I had taken into account evaluations, performance goals, etc., I said, “I can do that because I own the joint.” She looked at me and said, “Oh.” My employee had reconstructed my business according to her own ways of thinking. She had forgotten some of the basic assumptions of the business – ownership being one of them.

When you look at the Bible, particularly the history of Israel, you see that this was a recurring problem. Over and over the Hebrews sought to recreate God in their own image. What was the first thing that they did when God delivered them from Egypt? They made a golden calf and wanted to worship it. The Deuteronomic history recounts Israel’s straying from the commandments of God and wanting to follow their own bright ideas. The prophets constantly called the nation to task for failing to fathom the ethical precepts of God. Over and over God out of His generosity forgave and redeemed His people. Following the Babylonian captivity there arose a labyrinth and hierarchy of laws that on the one hand sought to enable the people to live out their religion in a practical way, and on the other hand ensnared them in a web of minutiae. Unconsciously the Pharisees and Sadducees were recreating God in heir own image.

Jesus scandalized the religious establishment. Over and over He turned their assumptions, expectations and patterns of thought upside down. The prodigal son is given a place of honor. The good shepherd leaves the flock to restore the lost sheep. The widow with her mite exhibits greater piety than the rich man. Ultimately Jesus witnesses to the profundity of God’s generosity through His crucifixion – the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God –because of mankind’s self-centeredness and sin.

When Jesus tells the parable of the landlord and the workers in the vineyard, He is not telling a story of the necessity of getting a harvest in before the rains come. Nor is he telling a story of the generosity of God towards His chosen people, with whom there is a contract. Neither is Jesus pointing towards the eventual Gentile mission in which Jew and Gentile become equal in heritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, I think, Jesus is pointing out that God’s generosity is profoundly beyond our best estimates, our best assumptions and our best concepts. God’s generosity is more than you ever thought. It is super abundant.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and the apostles is truly the Holy Other. He is the Mysterium Tremendum, to quote Rudolf Otto. God is terrifyingly just and profoundly gracious at the same time. And yet in spite of His omnipotence, the creator and ruler of the world and of history is not inaccessible. You and I are called to know Him through Christ Jesus. We are called to meet the presence of God in the body of Christ and in the sacraments. We are given the presence of the Holy Spirit through baptism and the life of the Church. You and I are asked to bare our souls to Him in prayer through confession, petition and thanksgiving. In so doing we are challenged to lead lives of gracious generosity both towards our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the outcast. Just as God’s generosity is more than we ever thought, so is His demand upon us for generosity more than we ever thought. For you and for me compassion and stewardship are not obligations but privileges, not constraints but new freedoms.

Here at the Eucharist today you and I give thanks to our God who is graciously accessible through the sacraments and through the hearing of the Word. At the Eucharist you and I kneel with others to receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us are long time worshipers. Others are more recent. Some of us have come early. Others have come late. Some of us are convinced. Others of us have doubts. Even so we are given the body and blood of Christ and brought into His life in the world. Fairness has nothing to do with that.

God is not being “fair” with us. He is being more than “fair.” In regard to God, we are all “conceptually challenged.” We see through a glass darkly, to paraphrase St. Paul. Our expectations and values are small reflections of His nature and His being. He has from eternity been profoundly and graciously generous. After all, if you will pardon the expression, HE OWNS THE JOINT. Amen. – Fr. Gage-





Matt. 18:21-35


In last week’s Gospel lesson the disciples asked Jesus how they should deal with someone who sins against them. Jesus urges reconciliation and which led to my metaphor “that sometimes you can break the dolly” and things can’t be fixed. In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is asked how many times one should forgive another. Jesus answers, “seventy times seven,” or infinitely. He then goes on to tell the parable of a king who had a chief servant who owed the king one million dollars. The king was going to seize the man’s wife and children, sell them and throw the chief servant into prison. The chief servant begs for mercy and the king forgives the enormous debt.

Rather than emulating the generosity and forgiveness of the king, the chief servant pressures all his underlings, who owe him money, to pay him immediately. Some own five bucks and some ten. When the underlings are not able to pay, the chief servant throws them in jail. Horrified as this behavior, the other underlings go directly and complain to the king about the chief servant’s lack of generosity. Outraged, the king drags the chief servant in, lambastes him and throws him into debtor’s prison.

For those of us who have been severely wronged, this is a hard story. Revenge and vengeance lurk in the back of our minds. As John F. Kennedy is reported to have said, “Don’t get mad. Get even.” It is tempting to think in those terms. But the point of the story is that Jesus is not only the arbitrator of forgiveness, He also is the embodiment of forgiveness. By His passion and death, Jesus shows us God’s forgiveness of our sins and sinful ways. In the Eucharist we receive God’s forgiveness, and the Eucharist nourishes us to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.

We have been preaching a series of homilies on Christian Living Skills, or Living the Christian Life. We have spoken about the ministry of presence—just being there for someone else and for the power and work of the Holy spirit. We have talked about finding God in the margins or broken areas of our lives, and about the Christian life being one of being responsible about our faith. We saw that this often involves sacrifice, and last week we talked about the importance of reconciliation. All of these things: presence, finding God in the margins, being responsible, sacrificing and reconciliation—all of these things enable us to be forgiving. They are some of the things that we do, which enable us to be part of the body of Christ and enable Him to live in us and we in Him.

Last Monday we remembered the tragedy of 911. It is hard to be forgiving, to want to strive for reconciliation. We want to “get even.” But there are boundaries and limits to our behavior. One of the ironies is that when we dwell on revenge, vengeance and getting even, then our hearts harden and we become closed off from the presence of God’s grace and love and creative healing and redeeming work. We become part of that which is destructive rather than that which is creative; we become part of that which is negative rather than positive; we become part of that which despairs rather than hopes.

In our lives we all suffer rejection and hurts and injuries (just think about family dynamics.) To seek to protect others and ourselves is laudable; but to seek to get even, to live lives without forgiveness, is corrosive and counter to the love and grace of God that we receive in Jesus Christ.

If we are to live in Him and He in us, then we need to allow ourselves to let God settle things and to work within our lives responsibility, sacrifice, reconciliation and forgiveness. It is those attributes that are redemptive and also that make life worth living and society positive and fruitful.

May God forgive us our trespasses, or debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us – our debtors.


Fr. Gage