On Wednesdays, my plucky Canterburians join with the Lutherans for a joint evening of discussion, fellowship, and food. This semester, we’re discussing ‘Modern Saints:” people who have applied their Christian faith in very tangible ways in the not-so distant past (Archbp. Oscar Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein, the Berrigans, Archbp. Desmond Tutu and the leaders of South Africa, etc.)
Tag Archives: canterbury
Two weeks ago, I got an email from our campus Roman Catholic ministry inviting me to their weekly speaker series. This week, they were hosting a speaker from San Diego, a woman who had started her own affiliate of the National Organization for Marriage. She would be speaking on “Re-defining Marriage: How Same-Sex Marriage threatens Religious Liberty for all of us.” *
This week, in the morning, I was back in Holbrook. They fed me chocolate cake and coffee, and told me stories about when their kids were younger, and lived in town, and went to church. Now, they’ve all moved to Phoenix. One is apparently dating a Cardinal!
In the afternoon, I did an “emergency animal blessing,” which is to say that I filled in at my friend’s church, since she had to fly back to the East Coast suddenly. I was glad to do it–Animal blessings are common around St. Francis Day, in liturgically-minded churches, and they are one of the perks of the priest-job. Stand around outside on a pretty autumn day and pet dogs, cats, etc in the name of their Creator? Yes, please. And as this particular church has a healthy sense of fun about it, they had also provided ‘doggie snacks’ and animal games, complete with ‘doggie musical chairs.’ (God likes and endorses party games, including bowling, clearly.) Fun was had by everyone.
Clearly, I have an awesome job.
As a side note: this parable from Matthew about drove me spare. I appreciate this run of RESPECT MY AUTHORITY!!! parables we’ve been having between Jesus and the authorities in the Temple in their broader context, but come on, now. Matthew’s supercessionist tendencies get old really quick, and short of taking a homiletic time out to disavow this, it’s difficult to deal with, week after week.
And here’s what I did end up saying.
October 9, 2011
In the days since the death of Steve Jobs, there’s been a revival of
heaven jokes, heaven cartoons. And among them my favorite: A man dies,
and he goes to heaven. St. Peter says to him, “Hooray! We’re thrilled
you’re here, welcome to heaven, your eternal abode, let me show you
around so you can choose where you’d like to live.”
They first come to an elaborate banquet hall, filled with delicious
smells, and fine china, as cheerful people chatted happily and ate their fill.
“What’s this?” asked the man. “oh these are the Episcopalians,” said St.
Peter, “mind your manners, but they throw a good dinner party.”
Next they came to a raucous dance party. Even from a distance, they
could hear the music and the sound of people dancing and clapping.
“What on earth?!” asked the man. “Oh, these are the Baptists. They’re
happy they get to dance now. Takes a while for the thrill to wear off.”
Finally, the man had seen everyone there was to see, all the
inhabitants of heaven, everyone you could think of– all joyful and
Then, off to one side, the man was surprised to notice a stone
house, all boarded up, with a wall around it, and a large sign that said
“Quiet! Keep Out! “. He wandered up to it. “Who lives here?” he asked.
“Shhhh!” said St. Peter. “that’s Jerry Falwell’s house. It’s been in there for
years. He thinks he’s the only one up here.”
It’s a funny story. Funnier, certainly, than the parable for today. This is the
third parable about the kingdom of heaven from Matthew that we’ve gotten
in as many weeks, each with some sort of twist, each preached by Jesus
as he’s in the Temple during the last eel of his life. Now, granted, parables
are supposed to be surprising. As one New Testament scholar put it, a
parable is a story that is drawn from normal, everyday events that shocks
you just enough to make you think.
Which is fine, but this one shocks you all over the place. First there’s
this king who wants to give a wedding banquet. But no one will come;
everyone blows him off for various reasons, so he gets so angry that he
invades the local town, kills the population and burns it to the ground.
A slight overreaction, perhaps.
Still desperate for this party, he then decides to do a sort of all out dragnet
operation, and sends his army to the streets of the capital and collects
everyone they can find– young, old, rich, poor, whoever, and force them to
come. Because come hell or high water, this king is having a party, gosh
This being accomplished, the poor king is then most distressed to
discover that one of his forced guests has shown up without a proper outfit
on. It’s like the guy doesn’t even realize he’s at a party. So frustrated by
this is the king that he throws him out.
Who, after all, shows up to a party and doesn’t realize they are at
And what sort of king is that desperate to throw a party?
Parables, like I said, are meant to shock. That’s how they work.
Frustratingly, they aren’t meant to answer questions– they are meant to
provoke them, which is probably why Jesus was so very fond of them.
And they aren’t literal. Which is to say that Jesus wasn’t recounting the tale
of an actual king with anger management and party-planning issues, or
giving advice on how to plan events, or rule an actual city-state.
He was trying to communicate something true about the nature of God, and
the nature of humans, and the nature of our relationship to God.
So, then, in this parable, what is striking is a king who really, really wants to
celebrate. To give good things to whoever he can, wherever he can find
them. He’ll drag them in off the street if necessary.
And a people who can’t seem to receive them.
Shhh. He thinks he’s the only one here.
What keeps us from receiving the grace of God? What keeps us from
showing up, ready for the party? What keeps us from realizing we’re at
Frequently, we blame it on stubbornness, pride, or arrogance. This mainly
happens when we are looking at other people, though. Other people are
the ones who should just get over themselves!
I have a hunch, though, that more often, what holds us back is not pride–
it’s guilt and confusion. It’s our conviction that we aren’t possibly good
enough to receive anything this gracious from God. Why should God be
kind to us? We are hopeless cases! We mess up, even when we know
right from wrong! This is so far from what we deserve– surely there’s a
catch. Surely there’s another shoe that will fall right on top of our heads.
Because that’s the way the world works.
So we end up like the man at the feast, confused and speechless before a
God who just wants to love us.
The good news for us is that God doesn’t give up. God chases after us,
time and time again, despite everything we do, and despite our persistent
denial of our own worth. Over and over again, God assures us that we are
loved beyond imagining, and there is not a thing we can do about it.
Whether we feel we are up to it or not, we are stuck in the unending love of
Its like that old children’s book called the Runaway Bunny. In it, a baby
rabbit tells his mother that he is tired of being a rabbit, so he’s going to run
away. He tells her he will become a fish in the stream, so she replies that
she will become a fisherman to catch him. Annoyed, he says he will
become a trapeze artist in the circus, and she returns that she will be a
tightrope walker, and catch him. On and on it goes– he’ll be a sailboat, and
she’ll be the wind to blow him home, etc. Finally he gives up. Well, I guess
I’ll just be your little bunny, then, he says. Ok, she says. Have a carrot.
God’s love and grace aren’t going anywhere, and eventually, they will win
even over our stubborn guilt and unworthiness. So let’s open our eyes,
open our doors, and enjoy the banquet prepared for us.
Oh yes. And even though I didn’t preach at the morning services, I did preach at the 5:30 Canterbury service.
And to my never-ending delight, I FINALLY got to use this story that I’ve wanted to use in a sermon since about 2001.
Here’s to you, Cliff Gardner. I can’t get you a Congressional Medal of Honor, but I can cite your brilliance in a sermon.
October 2, 2011
Proper 22, Ordinary Time Year A
Isaiah 5: 1-7
Philo Farnsworth invented the television in Provo, Utah in 1927. And
by that, I don’t mean that he was like Jonny Carson, and was the first really
entertaining person to appear on the TV back in ye olden days of very little
mass entertainment. I mean that he invented the cathode ray tube, and a
method to project moving images across a distance to a receiver.
But he’s not the important person in this story.
The important person in this story is Cliff Gardner.
Cliff Gardner was Philo’s brother in law, and one day, as Philo was tinkering
around in his workshop, Cliff saw the drawings that he was working from.
Now Cliff was like pretty much everyone else in Provo– he had no idea
what Philo was on about much of the time. Electricity was brand new and
But there was one thing in those plans he recognized as familiar– one thing
he could get a handle on– glass tubes.
So Cliff moved into Philo’s backyard and set up a glassblowing shop,
because he reckoned that this weird project was going to require an untold
amount of glass tubes.
And that was something that even he could do.
He could make glass tubes.
And while he had no idea about how electricity worked, or how to send tv
signals through the air, doggone it, he could make glass tubes.
Not fancy, not showy, not memorable, but it was what he had to offer, and
so offer it he did.
There’s something heroic about that: this impulse to offer what one has,
even though we are convinced that it isn’t much, or we aren’t sure it will be
valued, or we aren’t in perfect control of the entire project.
There is something heroic about that, mainly because the alternative is so
We have two vineyards in the readings tonight. And though it’s vaguely
possible that among a lesser congregation, eyes might have glazed over,
and brains might have fogged with all the talk of grapes and tenants and
landlords, I know yours didn’t, so it’s not necessary for me to tell you that
they are described sort of similarly for a reason.
And it’s probable that Jesus, being up on his Law and his Prophets, knew
this Song of the Vineyard from Isaiah backwards and forwards, and that
what he’s recorded as doing in Matthew is retelling and reshaping the
passage to suit his own purposes. He’s proof-texting the Pharisees, in
other words. (Again, the writer of Matthew is in a bitter fight with fellow
members of the Jewish community, and it comes out here. Think of church
fights about music, about moving the altar away from the east wall. It’s like that).
And in both vineyards, some of the same things are happening. There is a
landowner. He loves the vineyard. He loves it enough to build it on good
soil, to weed it properly, to install a well, and a guard tower (dangerous
grape thieves about, evidently), and to lease it to some tenants.
and here’s where we run into some trouble.
Because the tenants promptly forget, in both cases, that the vineyard isn’t
And in the Matthean retelling, they even resort to a whole lot of
violence. Pretty presumptuous for some squatters.
They get so invested in tilling the soil, planting stuff, harvesting the grapes,
stomping out some wine, that when the landlord comes and asks for his
harvest, they are outraged. “How dare you presume to take our grapes!
We worked hard for this harvest!”
Which they did. Hard working tenant farmers.
But their problem is that they entirely forgot the point of their labor. The
vineyard was never theirs to begin with. It was given to them to care for
and to shepherd, not to hoard. They didn’t build the protection wall, they
didn’t dig the well, they didn’t even send the rain or fertilize the soil. Here
was this wonderful garden, given as a gift. The question then becomes,
what will those who are given this gift do with it? Will they be good
stewards, or will they forget, and keep all the bounty for themselves?
It’s a fairly easy trap to fall into, this sort of amnesia, and it doesn’t really
matter what the ‘vineyard’ is. We start thinking that all the good things we
have are OURS! And OURS ALONE, through the virtue of our hard work
But really, nothing is ever that simple.
For example, my father is a rather good basketball player. Played college
ball, won the ACC tournament, went to the NIT, played pro in Europe,
drafted by the Celtics. And I could make the argument that he did all that
because he practiced free throws in the driveway as a kid, and worked
hard, and never gave up and was his own never-ending Disney movie.
Which would be true to some extent, but it would be overlooking the fact
that he had incredibly supportive parents, who could afford to send him to
college, the sort of college that wins stuff, a high school coach who took an interest in him, and most of all,
the fact that he grew up in a family of small giants, all of whom are over 6 ft
None of us live in a vacuum. We are products of communities, and
products of history, and products of context, every one of us. In a sense,
we are all landlords to each other.
But most of all, we are tenants to God. Every step, every breath of air on
this fragile goldilocks planet is done at the whim of the God who gave it life.
Our very being is the slimmest chance in a universe full of long shots, and
when we lose sight of that, we start to forget that we are tenants at all.
So for all of us tenant farmers down here, my question to you is this: look around you. What is your harvest going to be? And who will you give it to?