Monday, August 15, 2016

Day by Day

Day by Day

The Pilgrimage we take this summer and throughout the year; indeed every day of our lives is a pilgrimage with God as our companion. Along with our friends and family, our co-workers, and many many more, we journey along; the daily turn. Much like a vine that grows in the sun, we begin to bear fruit and the vinedresser tends to us. 

The biblical image of the vine and the vinedresser is a theme that is used time and again throughout scripture. God, we are told in today’s first lesson, in fact sings a love song for his beloved vine. The Psalmist describes the care the vinedresser exercises in tending to the vine. The vinedresser expects us to bear fruit, good fruit.

I love grapes. I love the summer when the good peaches are in. Last week we were in Maine, with friends and those blueberries always taste extra good to me, especially when put in a pie! There is also the lobster, the crab and the fresh corn on the cob. Oh, what a feast we had with our dear friends where we shared not just the good food, but good conversation, many stories, and of course, gales of laughter. There was work to do too at the local lodge where the crabmeat luncheon brought the village together along with a generous supply of tourists. That was fun too, to rub shoulders with the locals. 

My grandmother and her family lived in Rockland, Maine many years ago, and I spent a little time in the town to scout out the old neighborhood where they lived. I went to the local Episcopal Church to see if they had any record of my grandmother’s family. Apparently they were not Episcopalians then. 

All these good fruits and vegetables and the goodness that come to us from the sea, are a sign of God’s goodness to us. In return God expects us to bear good fruit for service to God and to one another. We are to love God, and love one another. We are to be known for our generosity in forgiving and our courage in reconciling one another in the midst of our controversies. 

Paul notes in one of my favorite passages in the Bible that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”

With our friends and our families being what they are we are blessed indeed, even if you end up with a family like I had. After all, on occasion my family could be a “mixed blessing”. 

Jesus takes note of what happens in family, political and cultural life. 
He says of us; 
“they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
More and more our politics are capable of dividing us. So much so, that when the conversation begins, it almost immediately ends when you find yourself in a place with one who disagrees. 
Race relationships divide us. “Black lives matter”. “Police lives matter”. “All lives matter.” 
Gun control. That one can generate more heat than wisdom.
The rich, the middle class and the poor.
And of course gender equality and marriage equality also can generate lots of controversy among family, friends, and certainly in the body politic of these United States of America. 
Theological differences are no longer confined to progressive and conservative, mainstream and evangelical, even Protestant, Catholic and Jew and Muslim.
Now we have to add into the mix those whose extremes will lead to violence in the name of God.

Jesus was aware of all this. Jesus said to us; “why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” The danger of all these divisions of course is that they lead inevitably to a collapse of cultures, and a realignment of power. 

Jesus in fact becomes very confrontative in today’s Gospel. So much so, it doesn’t sound like him to me. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” If that’s what Jesus is here to do, then by God Jesus seems to be very much in our midst of the present reality.

Many of you will know the Limerick about the two cats from Kilkenny. It speaks to the matter of the self destructive nature of an insistent and self willed divisiveness;
Many of you will know it;
“There once were two cats from Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they spat and they spit
‘Till instead of two cats there weren’t any.”

There are cracks in the very foundations of every aspect of our modern life. How then can God sing his love song for his beloved vine? And how to we reconcile a God who loves and tends to his vine and a savior who says; "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

The answer to that question is clear to me. Jesus seeks to divide those who tend to the “least of these”, those who feed the hungry, house the homeless, and tend to those in need from those who turn the other way. This is the division, the fire and the judgment Jesus is clear about. 

Jesus is looking for a vine that bears good fruit. He will look for a church to organize its life around the needs of the neighborhood and the community in which it is set. 

As you prepare for your new beginnings with your new priest you and he will have the grace to ask each other “What is God calling us to do?” “Who is God calling us to be for the sake of the world in which we find ourselves/“

The vine God loves, the vine for which God sings a love song is not just the membership of the church but for those who live outside our doors.

It was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II who famously said that the church is the only organization on earth that does not exist for itself but for those who live outside it”.

You will remember Jesus asking Peter;
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
A second time Jesus said; 
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
A third time Jesus said to Peter
“Peter, do you love me?”
This time a little hurt, Peter insisted
“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”
“Then feed my lambs.”

We cannot turn our heads away from the hurt, the injustice and the suffering all around us. God wants his beloved vine to bear fruit, good fruit, fruit that shall last. 

God wants to be in our hearts in our daily pilgrimage as we individually and as a church organize our lives around the needs of those around us.

Whether it is in the arts or the sciences, politics or social services, or just in rolling up our sleeves to feed the multitudes of physical and spiritual hunger, it is a matter that cries out from heaven itself that we live out our lives caring. 

I spent my teenage years at the Parish Church of St. Richard of Chichester in a western suburb of Toronto, Ontario (Etobicoke). Many of you will remember St Richard’s prayer, made famous by that enormously popular song from Godspell. As the collect for the day prays that we may follow in the blessed steps of Jesus holy life, so too St. Richard prays these lines; 
“Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
Day by Day.”

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

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