Here is a selection of recent sermons by our rector, the Rev. Derrick Muwina, Ph.D.
September 22, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable from our Gospel reading is a tough one. In fact, for a very long time this passage was never read on Sundays. It was deemed too difficult, and so they left it out. And we can see why. Jesus tells a parable about a manager who learns that he’s about to lose his job because he has mismanaged his master’s wealth. The manager knows that he’s too lazy to work with his hands and too self-important to beg; without this job life is going to be extremely difficult. So he comes up with an exit strategy: Make as many friends as possible by reducing their debts owed to his boss. By doing this he is going to have friends when he no longer has his job. So, with a stroke of a pen a hundred jugs of oil owed becomes fifty, a hundred containers of wheat becomes eighty. When his boss learns about his scheme, he commends him for his creativity! What’s going on here? Was Luke half asleep when he wrote this portion of the Gospel? The clue to what is going on here is found in the previous chapter.
In chapter 15 Jesus tells three parables that take up the entire chapter: (1) the parable of the lost sheep, (2) the oarable of the lost coin (which we read last week) and (3) the parable of the lost son, also known as the prodigal son. In these three parables you have predictable actions that are met with unusual if not outrageous reactions.
In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go look for the one that has wandered away. Sheep wandering away is not unusual. What’s unusual and outrageous is that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness, exposed to predators, to go after the one sheep. According to Shepherding 101, that is not good management, and any shepherded who does this sort of thing will quickly be out of sheep.
Then we have the parable of the woman who searched all night for a lost coin. Coins getting lost? Nothing unusual. You’ve probably misplaced valuable things before. What’s unusual and outrageous is that after finding the coin she calls her friends over to celebrate and probably ends up spending more money than what she recovered. According to Financial Management 101, that’s not prudent.
The parable of the prodigal son follows a similar pattern. Here you have a son who claims his inheritance while his father is still alive, and when he gets it, he goes and squanders it away with a wild lifestyle. He hired himself to take care of pigs, and so hungry was he that he ate some of the pigs’ food. When he comes back to his senses and returns home knowing full well the egregious nature of what he had done, his father who welcomes him home and even throws a party for him. Now is it unusual for a child to rebel against a parent and act irresponsibly? No. What’s unusual is a parent who gives in to a child’s demand knowing what a windfall like that would do to them. What’s unusual is a parent who welcomes a child back home with open arms after that child has just squandered their inheritance. When your children mess up big time like that, it’s not the time for a party but for serious talk, and sanctions, and rules. According to Parenting 101, that is bad parenting.
So you see the pattern here in the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
This same theme carries over to today’s parable of the dishonest manager. Again, it is not unusual for a manager to be dishonest with wealth that does not belong to him. We all know stories of managers who’ve mismanaged property and wealth entrusted to them; that’s not uncommon. And it is not uncommon either that someone whose job is on the line would try all sort of tricks to save themselves. What’s unusual is for the employer to commend a manager for his creativity in cooking the books. Especially when the owner of the property is going to suffer a financial loss. According to Management 101, commending a bad manager is bad management. The best course of action for an employer who finds out that a manager is mismanaging their property and is being creative in their accounting is to get rid of them before their bad management infects the rest of the staff. That is, fire the said manager and maybe even report to the authorities.
But just like the shepherd who goes in search for the lost sheep, the woman who throws a party to celebrate after finding her lost coin, the father who lovingly welcome his rebellious son, this employer’s actions are acts of outrageous grace. They make little sense. And no one acts more outrageously with grace as God does. But such is the nature of God’s grace.
The church teaches that grace is God’s love freely given to humanity. Even when we mess up, and we really do mess up, we still experience God’s forgiveness of sin. But grace is not a pass to do whatever we want to do. As Paul said in Romans 6:1-2, shall we continue to live in sin so that Grace might abound? No! So we don’t have clearance to do whatever we want, but if we do find ourselves doing whatever we want and falling short of the glory of God, failing those we love, injuring ourselves and other people, we have the Grace of God available for us.
Grace requires that we receive it. It is never forced on us. We simply receive it. That is why theologically speaking we receive the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which are signs of the inward and spiritual grace of God given to us. That is why when we come to receive, we put hold out our cupped hands as a sign of receiving. St. Cyril of Jerusalem said, “Receive communion by making a throne, one hand under the other, ready to receive our Great King.” We are not taking or snatching. We receive the grace of God through communion by being completely open to the gift of grace that God is offering us.
But there is a complication, I think. Our culture has trouble with this idea of grace. We are deeply suspicious if not secretly dismissive of it. We believe that everything has to be earned. Everything is for sale. After all, there’s no free lunch! I give you something, you give me something in return. It’s all transactional but grace-less. And our failure to receive grace reveals itself in a graceless attitude toward each other and even in our national policies. An economic system that preys on the most vulnerable is graceless. An economic system that puts young people in debt before they have even begun their lives is a graceless system. An economic system that puts profits over the health and well-being of our elderly and children is a graceless system. A justice system that is more punitive than corrective is a graceless system.
It is impossible to give what you don’t have. If we don’t have God’s grace then we cannot extend it to other people. And even more so impossible when our loyalties are divided between God and the pursuit of wealth and profit. Jesus is not saying that you can’t be wealthy and be his disciples, but rather that you cannot make your life goal the pursuit of wealth and be his disciples. Our loyalty, our allegiance, is to God alone. And the thing is, God doesn’t want just a piece of your life. God wants your entire life, every aspect of your life. As C. S Lewis says, “Give God an inch and he will take an ell.”
September 15, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the past couple of weeks we have heard from Luke’s Gospel about how large crowds were drawn to Jesus. And among those who came to him were tax collectors and sinners. These were people that no respectable Jew, especially a teacher like Jesus, would have anything to do with.
Tax collectors were viewed as unpatriotic, dishonest, and greedy men. Their job was to collect taxes on behalf of the Romans, the occupying government. The system of which they were a part was rife with abuse. Instead of charging the official rate, they routinely overcharged and pocketed the difference. And together with tax collectors came sinners. These were people who had dubious occupations. But Jesus welcomed them and sat down to eat with them.
And the Pharisees and Scribes began to grumble, saying “This man eats with tax collectors and sinners!” Eating is a biological need but also a social activity; it brings people together. So Jesus’ actions are clearly so offensive and morally incorrect that the Pharisees and Scribes don’t even have to explain their disapproval. All they have to do is to comment on what everyone is seeing, and guilt is established on the part of Jesus. If this man sits down to eat with sinners then perhaps he too is a sinner, and if not then he’s on the verge of becoming one.
So he told them this parable: Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
Which one of you wouldn’t do these things? No one! No one in their right mind would ever do such a foolish thing. You cannot leave 99% of your holdings at risk to go in search of the 1% that has wandered away. If you lose 1% of your holdings, the most logical, the most practical and prudent thing to do is to cut your losses and move on. And no you don’t throw a party to celebrate the recovery of your lost assets only to spend more than you just recovered. Nobody ever does these things; no one in their right mind will ever do this.
Except Jesus! He leaves the ninety-nine to go find the one. He sweeps all the corners of the house, and when he has found the lost soul rejoices extravagantly. Even heaven rejoices! From our point of view it might be foolishness, but in God’s sight it makes perfect sense. For such is the nature of God: that God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ so that through him we might be reconciled to God and to one another.
By welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is openly challenging the religious and social norms of this time. Were tax collectors sinners? Yes. Did they cheat by overcharging their neighbors? Yes! Jesus is fully aware of all of that. But that is precisely why he welcomes them and sits down to eat with them. And notice how Jesus does not defend himself against the accusations from the religious leaders. He doesn’t disavow the tax collectors and sinners to save his reputation. “I was misled! I really didn’t know these were sinners.” No. When accused of mixing with sinners Jesus says, “You’re right, that is exactly what I am doing.”
The real problem here is the Pharisees and Scribes who disapprove of what Jesus is doing. Now to be fair the Pharisees and Scribes often get a bad rap. They are seen as hypocrites, holier-than-thou types of people. But some of them admired Jesus. Most of them deeply cared for their faith and were just trying to live according to the law of God and preserve their faith. They offered guidance to the community as elders. But for all their righteousness and devotion, their vision of God was terribly limited. They could not envision God welcoming people who were not as devoted and righteous as they were. For all their discipline and faith, they could not see that God was breaking into the world and transforming people’s lives, including and especially those who desperately needed to be transformed. Unlike the Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus didn’t require people to change before coming to him. He sought them out, met them where they were, and extended grace to them in their circumstances.
Jesus refused to let cultural norms dictate His relationships with people. He sought people as they were, without discrimination. He dined with sinners, walked with lepers, talked to women, and kept company with Samaritans. Jesus refused to let social status dictate who came to him. He refused to value those with wealth and power more than those without. Our culture teaches us to do exactly that. We uplift wealth and power while silencing the voices of people who don’t have wealth and power. Low-income people, immigrants, sick people, homeless people—their demands for justice are ignored, they’re set aside and silenced. We tell them to be grateful for the crumbs thrown their way!
But as disciples of Jesus, and yes that is our primary call to be disciples of Jesus, we are called to be like him: to welcome all people as he did, to extend mercy and grace as he did. The first Christian church was a diverse church in a way that went against the ethnic and class divisions of the ancient world. Jews, Gentiles, the wealthy, the poor, women, and even slaves mingled alongside each other imperfectly, but alongside each other they lived. But that was then.
I read a report by two sociologists, Christopher P. Scheitle of the Pennsylvania State University and Kevin D. Dougherty of Baylor University, who estimate that nearly half of all U.S. congregations do not have a single member of another racial group. And a survey done in the mid-nineties found that people were less likely to have a conversation with a person of another race in church than they were to have one while shopping, at work, at entertainment events, or doing activities with their children. That’s shocking.
Last Monday I was walking here for the CommonCare advisory meeting and I saw that there was a gathering at city hall. So I went over there, and there was a woman there giving out stickers and buttons. When I asked her what the gathering was all about, she said something about access to broadband internet in Cambridge. I asked her her name and introduced myself, then pointed out that I am the priest here at Saint Peter’s. And she said, “Oh yes, Saint Peter’s, I have heard about the church and I might know one or two people who go there.” And then she said, “But I don’t go to church anymore. I grew up in another denomination and went to church every Sunday as a young person. But now I feel as though I cannot relate to people in the church. Because I am low income.”
That broke my heart. To think that even one person out there feels unwelcome to be part of the Church of Jesus because of their economic status is heart-breaking. I hope no one in this church feels that way. That others don’t belong because of their economic status, the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or what they believe or do not believe. I want you to know this: You are a child of God, loved by God, and as the Psalmist said, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. For all are God’s children. All are welcome in God’s house!
September 8, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So good to see you all this morning and glad we are back to our normal schedule. When I told people that I was coming to St. Peter’s, a lot of people asked me, “How large is the congregation?” They wanted to know how many members we have. We are obsessed with numbers. We get excited when we see large crowds on Easter and Christmas Eve, and we wish every Sunday was like that. I know I do. The success of a church is often measured by how many people walk through its doors. The larger the crowd the better!
But in our Gospel reading, we hear that a large crowd is following Jesus and instead of dispatching his disciples to collect phone numbers, emails, and home addresses like a good church manger would do, Jesus speaks some hard truths to the crowd. He doesn’t dazzle the crowd with a well-crafted sermon and miracles of healing to keep them coming, he tells them about the true cost of discipleship even at the risk of losing them. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” His focus is on making disciples.
Now in the business world this is bad strategy. You don’t supply information that has the potential to discourage customer from buying your product in large print. You use fine print! The information is there but not there. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He puts all the unpleasant details in large print for all to see and hear so that if they follow him as his disciples, they know what it is they are signing up for.
Now I don’t think Jesus is teaching us to hate our family in terms of hate as the absence of love—he’s not giving us license to hate. He calls us to love all people, and his is the way of love. What he’s teaching us is are the consequences, contradictions, and challenges that arise when we choose to follows God as Jesus does. Later in this Gospel in chapter 16, verse 13, he will say that one cannot serve two masters at the same time. For he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. So “If you would be my follower then be ready to be separated from the most precious things in your life, including your family. That’s a tough call.
As disciples of Jesus, we live by his values as revealed to us in the Gospels: faith, service, caring, concern, empathy, courage, fortitude, restraint, discipline, patience, temperance, justice, forgiveness, humility, and Love, including love of the enemy. And so if these cause us to be in conflict with our society, our friends, and our families, then we might have to make a choice and choose Jesus above everything else. Being a disciple of Jesus is not something we do when it’s convenient. It’s not something we do on the side. The work of being a disciples is full time and it’s a lifelong training.
And it comes with a cost. Jesus says carry your cross and follow me. And what does this mean? When we talk about carrying the cross, we usually tend to think about the cross on which Jesus was crucified and so we associate it with suffering and sacrifice. As so, it might seem as though Jesus is calling us to be ready for suffering and sacrifice. After all if you are carrying a cross you’re not headed to the mall or to the beach for a fun day, you’re headed to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, the place of suffering and death. Even in secular use carrying the cross has come to mean being ready to deal with our burdens and problems. You know the popular phrase, “That’s your cross to bear.” Meaning that it’s a burden or trial you must endure, unwillingly.
So yes the cross does signify suffering and sacrifice but also much more.
The author Dr. Karolina Lewis says that “to carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment, a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now.” Jesus was committed to bringing about the kingdom of God in the present and for that he was crucified. When we decide to become disciples of Jesus, we make a commitment to live a particular way of life that not only brings life to us but extends that life to those around us even when it might lead to our own oppression.
And you see we don’t have to believe everything in scripture, we don’t have to agree with everything the church teaches. In fact, sometimes disagreeing with the church can be a healthy thing. What we are called to do is to make that commitment to follow even when we have questions, even when we doubt. Many years ago a man said to me after a sermon, “Reverend, with all due respect”—and you know when someone says with all due respect little respect is coming your way!—“Reverend, I think the Bible is full of B.S.” And I said to him, “All are welcome in the church!” Even those who are not sure, especially those who are searching for truth.
Scripture says Jesus came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The way of Jesus is the best way to live our lives as human beings. There are many books out there that sell one method or another of living the good life. But the best the way for us is the way Jesus offers us as his disciples.
Now this is nothing new. But sometimes this message gets lost because of all the things we place on top of it that have little or nothing to do with Jesus calling us to become his disciples. Think about this. Most church quarrels have little to do with what it means to be disciples of Jesus. How many churches have split because the members were so engaged in being disciples of Jesus? We argue over, money, we argue about power, we argue about doctrines. Now I know we don’t have conflicts here at St. Peter’s. Right? I hope so.
What does following Jesus look like for you? What does carrying the cross look like for you? How does it affect your daily life? Jesus calls us to become his disciples, is simply calling us to become his disciples. That’s the starting point, everything else follows after that. Amen.