The Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor!
How I wish I could share what we experienced there last January, thirteen month ago on our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Mt. Tabor was our first stop, it was our first Eucharist together outdoors as a group, so it made a great impression on me. I can say that the basilica, the church built on this mountain in the 1920s has shaped my thoughts about the Transfiguration and a theology of what it could be about.
First, I enjoy every year this Transfiguration text as it functions as a conclusion to our season of light, of the revelation of light: Epiphany. Transfiguration has its own feast day on August 6, so I have been corrected more than once, especially in seminary, of calling this Transfiguration Sunday. In truth, it is NOT that! We only read the transfiguration account on this Sunday. So why on earth would I make that mistake? As I was saying, it concludes the flexible season of Epiphany appropriately, a season when we are focused on the revealing of Jesus to the world and focusing again and again on the Light of Christ! So this passage in which Jesus garments glow brighter that any earthly bleach could make them glow makes sense. We conclude the season of brightness with a glimpse of the eternal brightness of Christ.
More than that, however, this passage is wisely put here to function as it does most clearly in Mark, as a midway point, a hinge in this Gospel. Notice we are on chapter 9 in a Gospel that is 16 chapters long; just past the mid point. Before this, Jesus has done most of his teaching, healing, preaching; traveling throughout Galilee. Here he takes Peter, James and John up to the mountain for some time away from this ministry and they have this transformative experience. After it happens, they then descend the mountain, destined for Jerusalem, for the death and then resurrection of Jesus and he clearly points this all out to them as they descend the mountain. He also invokes them to tell no one about their experience until after his death and resurrection. After that, the Transfiguration and all that has happened will make sense to them; and it does. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they move from broken followers of a Rabbi of Nazareth to a force of God’s Goodness and Grace throughout the known world. So this Transfiguration, this moment will inspire them, enlighten them and prepare them for the journey ahead, a journey leading to things they cannot know are coming, but we do! For us, they lead us to Lent and to events we will celebrate together known as Holy Week and Easter. I think of all the readings of this story in the life of the church, in the Liturgical Year, this one from Mark fits so perfectly because it functions in that same way in the Gospel itself!
Now about what we saw and the basilica there. It is on the top of the Mt. of Tabor, about 1900 ft. above sea level (so not that high a mountain, some would say a hill), but the only way up is a winding two lane road, so right away, we needed to abandon our touring bus for 12-14 passenger vans that shuttled us up. And the drivers of these vans do nothing but drive people up and down to the site all day, back and forth, so you can imagine the gusto and abandon they take on these turns, on the journey up and down! When we get there, a beautiful newer building is surrounded by the ancient walls of other churches and structures that have occupied this venerated site. So we wander through the old walls of the former building, with ancient oil presses and other things here and there, and we anticipate the new church waiting to receive us. Its design is not unique, but a deliberate one with three definite high points and inside, we find on entering, three different churches or chapels.
But these are not dedicated to the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but to the three people encountered on this mountain, Jesus, Moses and Elijah! Of course, the bigger, more elaborate center space is the main church, with wonderful mosaics and a large fresco above the main altar with the vision of Christ at the center and Moses and Elijah on his left and right, hovering in the sky. Peter and the two brothers, James and John, stand in awe and fear, firmly standing on the ground, viewing this extraordinary event. Along the way, in a narrow passage, we encounter a unique thing: four Mosaics that portray what are called the four, not one, transfigurations of Jesus in his life. But, open to more exploration to the north and south of the main church are two chapels, each dedicated to Moses and Elijah. To the north, the Moses chapel with a beautiful fresco depicting him, seated with the two tablets; in the background rushing water and the burning bush on either side. In the south chapel, for Elijah, who is also seated, there is a pillar of fire consuming the sacrifice to his left, the gifts he offered, while untouched lie the altar to right, offered by the followers of Baal. How remarkable in this building to have chapels devoted to these Prophets of the Old Testament, but also how appropriate. But, like others before us, we wonder why these two?
In this Transfiguration, all three, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have Jesus encounter the same two figures. What is happening here; why is it important? Many theories and ideas abound. Perhaps it was a pre-resurrection glimpse of the glory of Christ. Perhaps Moses and Elijah are chosen because they represent the two major parts of the Hebrew Scriptures; The Law and the Prophets, so perfectly. They are also figures whose deaths are recorded in unusual ways. Moses views the Promised Land, but dies on the other side of the Jordan, not going into it, instead staying behind as those he lead go forward, into this promise. Elijah is taken up after literally passing his mantle on to the next prophet, Elisha, as we heard in our First reading. They are figures whose deaths are not certain, but their union with God is.
All these things are true, and I like them all, but as I studied this building and its chapels I thought of this idea: what if Moses and Elijah stand in the place of guides all of us need on our journey, to help bring us to the fullness that Jesus shows for us. Moses does represent the law, but more than that. Remember, Moses did deliver the Ten Commandments, but he did so much more. He first challenged the ‘powers that be’ of his time, to bring his people out of slavery into freedom; forward, out of a land they knew, to a new place. Moses had to first fight the system that enslaved his people, then be the leader of thousands as they journeyed away to a place they did not know. His life, his journey from favored, adopted son in Egyptian aristocracy is an epic tale, so it is no wonder that epic movies, even a recent one, have grappled to tell this story. It is one of inspiration, of the lowly working to overcome oppression and walk forth into a new day, a new dawn. Of course, for Moses, once they are free, the real work of leading, guiding and managing this group begins, and it is not easily. He must learn to delegate responsibility when he cannot do it all. He even tries to settle all disputes, all differences himself and his father-in-law, Jethro, comes along with the idea that he is wearing himself out! He won’t make it! So 70 elders are appointed and even they can’t get it right: only 68 come out to the tent of meeting to receive the spirit. The two forgetful or defiant ones get the spirit anyway, back at home base and scare people with their new found ‘power in the Spirit’. So I believe Moses represents more than just “the Law”, but also our need for guidance; both in written form, but in human form, as well, through his example. And from this guidance, we learn not just what the rules should or should not be, but the long journey of leadership, of enlightenment toward the completeness that Jesus represents. Moses is an example of persistent hope and leadership toward becoming like Christ.
Elijah, for most of us, is a less known figure. There are not many (if any) biblical blockbusters that come to mind to give us a glimpse of who Elijah did and what he endured. We have no thumb nail sketch at our command about him. However, there are so many episodes in his life that are inspiring, even events that mirror Jesus own ministry. Elijahs life and deeds are recorded in I and II Kings and happened in the divided North Kingdom of Israel, with him fighting against the corrupt leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Israel now divided, the north kingdom abandoned worshiping at the Temple, now in the south Kingdom of Judah, and instead turns to local shrines and worship to the local god, Baal for imagined protection. Elijah rails against the dishonorable leadership of his time (like John the Baptist and Jesus will), but he is on the losing side of this battle. Still, he is shown to have a close relationship with God, who shelters him and protects him, even when all seems lost. Elijah predicts a terrible drought will come on the land it and effects everyone, including himself. God guides him to a widow, preparing a last meal for herself and her son. Instead of a last meal, by taking in and feeding Elijah, she is provided an unending supply of oil and flour for herself, her son and the prophet. After this event of unending bread (much like loaves and fishes), we meet the widow next when her son has died, leaving her alone and with almost no future. Elijah raised the son of the Widow of Zarephath, just like Jesus would later raise a widow’s son, as a sign of mercy and love. Elijah leads no group of people, but instead is steadfast to the prophetic vision of calling God’s people back to worship and trust in his promise for them.
I like to envision that Moses and Elijah, perhaps for Jesus and for us, represent Guidance and Prophetic vision. We need guidance, written and in example, that helps us to know what boundaries are, what we can live within and move toward. At the same time, we need the kind of heroic, determined prophetic vision that Elijah lived, even when the way seems hopeless, against overwhelming forces. We can never know what these two said to Jesus or if they even said anything at all, but their presence, their encounter with him moved him forward, toward the most difficult part of his life. We can understand why Peter, on an impulse, wanted to build shrines to capture this moment and the impact of these Holy figures. On our pilgrimage, I encountered such a shrine, and it did inspire me. But rather than remain there, in inspiration, those of us on the pilgrimage moved outside, to share our first Eucharist, the meal together and journey on, down the mountain. And so shall we all in this place, as we gather around the table of bread and wine, to be sent into a world that needs guidance and vision, and into a season of Lent, that will focus and direct us toward death and resurrection and renewed hope. Amen.
“He taught them as one having authority” “A new teaching—with authority!”
Authority. Who gives it? Who has it?
A DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas , and talked with an old rancher.
He told the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”
The rancher said, “Okay , but don’t go in that field over there…..”, as he pointed out the location.
The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, ” Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me !”
Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher.
“See this badge?! This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish…. On anyland !!
No questions asked or answers given!! Have I made myself clear……do you understand ?!!”
The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores.
A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis bull……
With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified.
The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs…..
“Your badge, show him your BADGE…….. ! !”
(Need Your help)
Where does the authority come from? Jesus, the Holy One of God!
Where does it come from? How did Jesus claim it or not?
In our Gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark the word ‘authority’ comes up twice in these few verses. After calling disciples, who were fishermen, along Lake Galilee, Jesus now travels to Capernaum on the north shore of this lake. Both this passage from Mark and next weeks’ take place in this location, an important, newer city at the time. That Jesus did ministry there is mentioned in all four Gospels. Mark calls it ‘Jesus’ own City’. It was where he began his public ministry outside of Nazareth and some scholars consider this scripture, along with next weeks a snap shot of what Jesus did in a single day of ministry. Here he goes into the synagogue to preach and his teaching grabs their attention for he teaches ‘with authority’. I find it fascinating that here, instead of Jesus’ authority being questioned before he acts, in Mark he is judged to act with authority after they see him act. They respond to what they experience and the word that captures that preaching and teaching is authority. Part of this response is a man with an unclean spirit recognizing who Jesus is. He cries out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” At this point, (remember we are early in Mark, only chapter 1!) isn’t it amazing that not the disciples, but the one with the unclean spirit knows more about Jesus and who he is? And Jesus wants to keep it this way, a secret. Here we have for the very first time a theme of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, rather than claim this authority, does not want it out there who he is. Instead, Jesus says, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Then the man convulses and the spirit leaves him and all are amazed at this.
Where does the authority come from? Jesus, the Holy One of God!
Now, I don’t know if you noticed, but music directors usually do not get to preach that often. So I am blessed with this privilege, this opportunity today and glad to do it. But, there is something else here that has happened for this to come about. I am not just a music director, but I went to Seminary, took classes, studied theology, worship, trauma, Christian Education, and even preaching! And after all of that, I might have been ready to preach some place, now and then. But I really had no authority to do so. Just the good will of some people in Sacramento or Lodi who wanted to give me a chance to see if preaching could be a gift I could use and perhaps even improve, so their openness to letting me develop this gift gave me a chance to develop it. But still, I had no authority to insist I should preach anywhere. But something else happened and I was ordained a Transitional Deacon last June 28 and I was glad to see many of you there. Now I have a title and maybe a reason to preach. Well, not really. Deacons can preach, but many do not relish the idea. Instead, we are dependent on others to give us that opportunity to do it. It is by the authority of our Priest in Charge, Mother Elaine, that I am given the chance to do this, and for that I’m grateful. However, to take time, ponder scripture and think about what I am going to say, that comes from another place. It doesn’t happen easily and I hope as I prepare it happens devotionally. But it could fall flat, so as I pray and ponder the scripture and hope for inspiration and ideas…
Where does the authority come from? Jesus, the Holy One of God!
That is all well and good, but I have to tell you we do not believe in only the authority of Jesus long ago or the authority found in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. No, Jesus and followers like Paul make it clear to us that the ability to change the world, to make a difference, to push demons out, comes not only in the past, but comes now and in the future from the community who claims to follow in ‘the Way’ of Jesus. So when we pray for someone, as many of us did this week, for people we know in the hospital or when we pray for this troubled world, please know you are working with the same assurance, the same authority as Jesus showed in this passage. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And when we send people out with the Eucharist today, at the end of the service or spread the need to pray around to the whole congregation, not just to a few, we are tapping into that authority. Notice that the people sent are trained, but are everyday people sent from who we are, sent with a heart and a passion for serving others. And this is what drives the authority of those who go and serve in this way. I would certainly say these people are gifted to do this, have a love and passion for others, but if I asked you…
Where does the authority come from? Jesus, the Holy One of God!
For you see, Jesus did not just object to the being recognized because he was modest, although you might have heard that in Bible School. No, Jesus knew that someday, some where, his followers, not he, would be binding the wounds, praying, taking out the bread and wine for others. The love he inspires, the love that I like to call the Love of Christ or the Love of Jesus comes to us from reading the scripture and knowing him. But we know it first when it comes to us from others, from being in community. We are dependent on this fact, that love is from person to person and we are dependent on each other to make this place we call St. John’s a place of his love. That reaches out to others, to make it more than just a safe haven, more than to share that love in this space. For as it says in (2 Cor 5:18:) “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; ”
Yes, we read a passage from Mark like this Gospel today and wonder what does this mean for me? How can I be involved in this teaching and preaching, with authority, that seems to come from Jesus? If you have prayed for others, for their healing, you are involved. If you have visited others and prayed with them or for them, at home, in the hospital, away on a trip, you are involved. If you want to make a difference in this world through the healing of Christ, through this ministry of reconciliation, of healing, of love, find a way get involved in some ministry at St. John’s. Get involved in our upcoming backpack ministry. Sign up to on the ministry table to carry a backpack once they are put together or contact a committee member to see how you can help, once you have read the newsletter article that is coming out.
Authority is important, but through Christ, we have already been given the mandate and the clearance to go out and exercise the healing, loving power of Christ. Will we need some direction or training to do so? Of course, but the important thing is to begin. So when your leadership asks you to move out in love, to hear the call of Jesus, we ask you not to do it for us, but because that love, that healing can only come from him. And
Where does the authority come from? Jesus, the Holy One of God!
Merry Christmas! (Reply)
Yes, that’s right! We are now celebrating in the season of Christmas and we will continue until January 6. The timer on the 12 Days of Christmas began on Thursday, Christmas Day, and will continue on past New Years to that Tuesday, January 6, when we will celebrate Epiphany with a special service you can read more about in the bulletin. Today, for our Gospel reading we have the words that begin the Gospel of John, called the Prologue to this Gospel. It is both an introduction to this Gospel and a Hymn of Praise, a celebration of God coming in flesh to be among us. Now these words sound like a lofty, abstract treatise on God and Light and Truth, and they are! But more than that, they are also a description of the assertions we make of who Jesus is: the Son of God and the key to understanding so much of life in it’s fullness, its truth. It is a much header text than the familiar description of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem we hear on Christmas Eve, but this text from John is at the heart of so many of the claims we make about Jesus. And one of the strongest of the truths of the writer John, this school of John, was that Jesus became a living, breathing person, in the flesh, like us. These words also relate so much of what we are doing here today in Boden’s baptism; claiming in the midst of those assembled in Christ’s name, that he and we are, like Jesus, because of Jesus, are children of God. Let us walk through this Gospel text from John together:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
So hear, from the very beginning of this Gospel, the writer is claiming that this key to everything, called the Word, was with God and that everything that came into being did so with this Word of God, this Light present. But notice this Word, was more than light, but was also ‘life’. Jesus is not just an abstract idea, but a life, a person, even as things were being created, at the beginning. This life was special, and is also described as ‘light’; a light for all people. And Darkness is acknowledged as present, too; there is good and bad, light and darkness, but the darkness will not overcome this light.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Now we go from these big, abstract thoughts to naming someone very tangible, who the author of this Gospel assumed everyone knew about. We can fill in the blank’s here, because we are inside a church named for this John: John the Baptist or John the Baptizer. That’s right, when we talk about this John’s testimony, his witness to the light, we are talking about what he said, but also what he did: baptize people! That was a huge part of his pointing to the light and preparing people for the coming of that light: Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name we worship and assemble every Sunday and whose birth we just celebrated! Even though his name has not come up yet; (it will be made clear later in this Gospel we are talking about Jesus!). By baptizing people, John was preparing people for Jesus!
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Now we hear and understand through this Prologue that this story that is unfolding in this Gospel will not be an easy one. This Light at the beginning of all things, this Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, helped shape and mold our world, HIS world, but when he comes as one of us, as a child, as a person, he will not be accepted. This account about Jesus will have conflict, confusion, pain and even death. This light will come up against a strong darkness. But what was said earlier: “The darkness did not overcome it.”
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
So here we are pointed again to the work of the Baptizer. To the work of baptism in our midst and one of the reasons we are here today. “To all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” This is the very baptismal promise we are claiming for Boden today and for ourselves; that through this act of baptism, we are made children of God, just like the claim we put on Jesus as the Son of God. Other writers of scripture, like Paul, will articulate this even more clearly, but the claim is this: just as Jesus was baptized by John, so must we be; through his life, we become like him, children of God and heirs of all that this means. We claim the same life, death and promise of life with Jesus as children of God.
Notice this careful detail, however. Jesus, like us, was baptized by someone else, John the Baptist, into a community of others. Even though this life, this Word, Jesus, was at the beginning of all things, he could not bring about his own baptism! He had to have someone else bring him into this act of rebirth and claiming. We read in the other Gospels that when Jesus comes to John the Baptist, John objects, saying “You should be baptizing me, not I you.” But Jesus counters that he must have John do this for and to him to ‘fulfill scripture’ or ‘do what is required’, but you see, even for Jesus, this in not something he can do for himself. He must come to others to be washed in this water of claiming and rebirth! He did this as an example, a pattern for the rest of us, to follow in his footsteps, to do what he did, so that we can also claim to be children of the most high, as he is. An we must come to others, to a community like this, to claim this gift. It is not something we can just do for ourselves, but must come from outside of ourselves. That acceptance, that claiming, can only come from others; as we will see and do in just a few minutes.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
So now we have it spelled out for us finally, who we are talking about and what we are talking about: “grace and truth through Jesus Christ” And this is something new, not “The Law indeed given through Moses”, but something different. A new witness, a new way to God’s grace and truth. We hear from John the Baptist what I talked about earlier, that John is pointing not to himself, but to Jesus, who he knew was greater, to fulfill his mission on this earth. John was to prepare for Jesus to come, to preach a message of repentance and, yes, to baptize Jesus, as an example to us all.
Here the writer of the Gospel talks about grace and truth, come to us through Jesus. But here is something else that we all know about, that Boden will remind us all of today: being close to a Father or a Mother, to a parents heart. For you see, when we talk about Jesus as the Son of God, a Light at the beginning of all things, we are also talking about the relationship of parent to child and at the core of that is love. The love that creates such a child and that brings us to seek after the best we can want or offer for our children, our grandchildren or those we nourish and love, who are children to us. When we claim to be children of God, we are also talking about a special kind of selfless love that is best displayed in the healthy, giving relationship of parent and child. More than all the pageantry of the nativity scene, Christmas is also a concrete demonstration of God’s love for all of humanity — a concrete expression of his love for you and me. As much as the Gospel of John talks about Light in the Darkness, Grace and Truth, it is also the Gospel that talks so much about love and gives us this verse many have memorized: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Love abounds in the Gospel of John and we will hear about it over and over. From a loving mother named Mary who asks her son, Jesus, to save the joy of a wedding feast by changing water into wine to “I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you.” For you see, that is part of this claim from our text: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Children close to the Father’s heart, the mother’s heart, the parent’s heart. It is now and will be all be about love, giving it, claiming it; for ourselves, when given to us by God, our Father or claiming it for a young one like Boden, who we bring to this moment of love. Amen.
“The First shall be Last and the Last shall be First.” These words are important for this gospel and are found in many of the Gospels. This reversal, this idea, this spark, is in our outlook and thinking as Christians. In some cases, it may turn the world on its head, but it also opens more to explore here: Expectation, Envy and Generosity.
There are many views and understandings of this parable from Matthew; it important to know it is the continuation of the theme in the previous chapter, chapter 19, just before our Gospel text, which ends with this: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Today’s Gospel continues this theme and the careful arrangement of this switch, first/last and last/first creates the dilemma in this parable. If those hired first had received their pay first, and then gone home, there would be no problem, no misunderstanding; but also no parable to learn from and ponder. So this is a key in this parable and in the Gospels, but I would like to deal also with what it unlocks.
The first is expectation. Expectation is a part of life; everywhere we go, with everything we do, we act and react many times with expectation. Where we wake up in the morning, when we can stumble to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night without turning on the light: we deal with expectation. When we pull out of the drive way and then come to the signal lights on Lower Sacramento Road to get here; that we can go when the light is green and others stop (we hope) when they get a red light: expectation. Certainly we see expectation play a part in our first lesson, about the prophet Jonah. He calls on the great city of Ninevah to repent and they do, but they repent not up to Jonah’s expectations, but certainly to Gods, so they are spared. However, Jonah is not satisfied and it shows. He would rather go away and die than see things not live up to his expectations. So God sends him a bush to shade his final, hot days and he laments it’s early death more than he does the possible loss of thousands of people in Ninevah. His expectations are in the wrong pace and are dashed. Expectation, however are not bad or good, just a part of life we should see and know about; something we have to be aware of, how they mold and shape our lives and our behavior.
Expectation can lead us to delight, disappointment, surprise and even envy. In our parable, the A team, the early bird workers were ready in the right spot to be hired for a days work, a hard days work, for a normal days pay.
Of all the people gathered to hear this word of God, I can think of none better equipped than people living in Lodi in September to easily identify with the landowner who had to hire whom he could, to get in the harvest from the vineyard on time; to know how crucial this would be. You either know or understand the problem from living here. And from our friends and neighbors who work in the grape industry, we understand the pressure, the all out effort from everyone at harvest time. So to harvest everything that needed to be done, our owner returned to the hiring place again and again, to get more people to work in the fields. Now, to people who don’t live where they harvest grapes, this parable sounds like a set up, but to us, it makes perfect sense. If things look like they need to be harvested, soon, then the more hands in the fields, the better. First you hire the A team, then others who show up later, the B team, then on and on until late in the day, when you can’t harvest any more. It is then we see the problem paying the last hired people first. The owner decides to pay everyone the same, starting with the people who he just hired, but this creates a problem. Since the ones who worked just a little got a full days wage, those working longer hours expected they would be getting more, not the original sum they agreed to, but they do get the same thing, so now, they were displeased. Why? Envy.
Yes, I would say that envy is the next part of this parable. As much as the expectations of the first hires, the A team, changed, seeing what others were paid, they were suddenly disappointed and envious of what had just happened. We hear it in this quote ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’etc. They were suddenly envious of those who worked less and received the same as they. They were suddenly feeling taken advantage of, cheated. Things weren’t right. But these feelings are not only built by expectation, but by envy. By looking over the fence and seeing what your neighbor has, what they received, suddenly expectation is moved to envy. And we should realize we live in a world full of envy.
Much of the advertising we see everyday is built around first expectation and then envy. Have you heard these words in an ad? “You deserve it.” “Why settle for second best?” “Move up to the next level.” Envy sells. We are always just this close to envy of what others seem to have that we don’t. It works. But I think we have to know how this works and how much it is all around us. It is built into the human condition; it is built into who we are. But I also believe we have moved into a time when we are so surrounded by envy, not just A is better than B, but “Don’t you deserve the new and improved A?” It is in front of us in so many ways everyday. We need to guard against the subtle way we are moved from expectation to envy. We will see it even with our last element: Generosity.
How can you argue with generosity? It is what ends this parable and when I think about it, unlike expectation or envy, there is little to argue against generosity. It is a very good thing, something to be encouraged. We need to be careful; perhaps being generous beyond our means could be a down side. But how thankful have we all been when someone is generous to us! How blessed a gift has it been when, by the grace of God, some extra money, an extension on a debt or a due date has been given to us? How thankful we are for generous people! And yet, and yet, if I had think of something that bothered me about generosity it would be: “They were generous with this person, but not with me; that’s not right!” Hmm; that sound like….Envy. There it is again! I compare myself with others, even when someone has been generous, and it is envy that shows up. So there is this dark side of generosity; especially when it doesn’t involve us! Beyond that, I think we can see how generosity is a very good virtue. But be careful; it is also too easy to rush to the idea that this parable is only about the grace of God, who we see as the landowner. If we just treat everyone equally, like the land owner in the parable, how generous we would be. But some of the generosity we have experienced in life, that we have felt ourselves or seen, is not just about wages or money. It is the careful giving of help when we needed it; of a kind word that moved us to tears, when we least expected it. It is being generous with our love for others, being generous with how we are and how God directs our lives to others. Perhaps this is the most difficult generosity to come to experience and to know, that comes as grace, because it can not be measured. One commentary I found said:
“Grace is always amazing grace. Grace that can be calculated and ‘expected’ (v.10) is no longer grace.” (cf.22:11-14)
So this reversal of first/last and last/first serves a great purpose in the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, to help expose to us how we can see expectation and not be moved to envy, to know the power offered in Generosity, both as only God can offer it and as we can as well. It is a power we can know from our own experiences, something we need to remember to offer to others; to reach outside ourselves and our busy lives to come to that spirit of generosity. And it is much more than just a financial guide. It can include so much more. It can be experienced is so many other parts of life and our relationships with others.
It can also sometimes be described as a great banquet, offered by God to all. It is a meal of generosity, of acceptance, of grace, that we experience and we will offer here soon around this table. It is Gods promise of generosity, of acceptance, offered in the midst of community. John Chrysostom, fourth century bishop, whose name Chrysotom means “golden-mouthed”, that is, eloquent, expressed the example of God’s generosity found in this parable this way:
“Let those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and he receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to those who come on the eleventh hour as well as to those who have toiled since the first: yes, he has pity on the last and he serves the first; he rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort.”
“Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one; let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of God’s goodness.” Amen.
Lucky to be teaching a class on Chris Yaw’s book “Jesus Was An Episcopalian (and you can be one too!).
The next two combined chapters are Thank and Shape. Both are about worship & liturgy. This book is fun, up to date intro to the Episcopal Church, but with a lot of depth and heart: about the church and where it is now and where it is going.
The Thank chapter does a great job of comparing our liturgical life to Thanksgiving; full of the best and home traditions around the meal that speak of something special, important and given with love. Worship should be about our best and should reflect that.
Shape is about how things, including liturgy, shapes us (think: Praying Shapes Believing). It includes more than liturgy; also money, culture, society. They all do their share.
Nice titles for short, insightful chapters that open things up.
Let’s hope they do for class tomorrow!
Palm/Passion Sunday has been the attention of much planning and innovation in the past forty years of liturgical renewal. Yet this Sunday before the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ still needs two titles in most planning resources and calendars to convince us what its primary emphasis should be. The Sunday preceding Easter, also known as Palm Sunday, has recently also acquired the title, Sunday of the Passion, or in shorter parlance, Passion Sunday. Yet this clarification is still not enough, since the Fifth Sunday of Lent also had this name is some older liturgical traditions. Therefore, the two titles are put together in many unique ways to attempting to keep the identity of this day as a hinge that both ends Lent and begins Great Week (Holy Week). For many, it is a day when we recreate in our local communities the procession of Christ into Jerusalem in his final week, and yet incorporate into this day a reading or presentation of the Passion of Jesus from one of the synoptic Gospels. It is a day with two themes and the only Sunday with two appointed gospel readings. It is a day not devoid of themes or ideas, but literally bursting with too much to do; no wonder it requires a dual name.
Ancient History of Palm/Passion Sunday
The designation of the Sunday before Easter as Palm Sunday is something we might assume has been a part of Christian worship since the time of Apostles. In fact, the earliest recorded account of observance of this day comes from the fourth century when in Jerusalem, a procession “with palms is in the diary of the pilgrim Egeria”. Egeria came from Gaul, near Spain, and the recording of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem from 381-384 is a now a treasured recollection of some of the worship practices of the early church. (An easily accessible version of the Diary of her Pilgrimage, as well as the worship life lead by Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, at this same time, is in Walking Where Jesus Walked, reviewed in CrossAccent, Vol. 19, #2; 2011, pg. 30) As a pilgrim, Egeria records much of what she experiences while in Jerusalem during Great Week or Holy Week and this record becomes a pattern for Christians hoping to duplicate worship as observed in the Holy Land. For modern liturgical reform and study, it is also one of our earliest records of Christian worship. She calls this day “the Lord’s Day, which begins the Paschal Week” A source of some puzzlement to us looking back on her detailed account of this palm procession into the city and the liturgy following is why it happens in the late afternoon and then into the evening instead of in the morning. Some would account for this by the logistics of allowing pilgrims to worship in the morning in throughout the city and then, en masse, participate in this one event, the procession, together. Others wonder if this event was one that was not part of the normal worship life of Jerusalem, but created for the very pilgrims that participated. In any event, the idea of a palm procession on this day spreads throughout Christendom in the following centuries
We see that possibly through Egeria, the custom of the Palm Procession flourishes in Spain by the sixth century and is mentioned in the mid-eighth century Gallican Bobbio Missal. It was observed in many parts of Europe following that, but was not accepted in Rome until the twelfth century. In the Anglican world, there is little evidence of Holy Week observances, including Palm Sunday, before the tenth century. During the time of Bede (d. 735), the reading for the day was the Passion according to Matthew, but no indication of a Palm Sunday procession exists. However, we have records of palms being purchased and used in the parish church of St. Andrew, East Cheap, London, (1511-12) “payd for palmes and yew, palme sindaye, ivd …pyd for wyne, Cakes and foures vjd.” Although an observation like this, with Palm Procession and Passion reading, honors the written gospels and the life of Jesus, it has a checkered past among the Reformers. The blessing of the palms preceding the procession, before the service began “came to be so elaborate that it resembled the structure of the mass, and it may be largely for this reason that the Lutheran and Anglican reformers did not retain the blessing.”
In the Lutheran Church, Protestant leanings had kept many observances of Palm Sunday joyful and triumphant, with the procession setting the tone for the whole morning. The emphasis on this day was on the pageantry of the procession; Christ’s triumphal entry. However, Lutheran worship history also has an especially strong emphasis upon the Passion of Christ, as evidenced by the two famous musical works by J. S. Bach, The St. Mathew Passion and St. John Passion. There are also numerous settings of the Passion narratives by Lutheran composers like Heinrich Schulz, Carl Heinrich Graun, George Philipp Telemann, and recent composers like Pepping, John Ferguson and John Leavitt. Yet these were all written for Good Friday or some other midweek or evening worship event, not a Sunday Morning. So there was no lack of observance of the Passion narrative, but it was not assigned to this Sunday.
In recent Lutheran history, this accent on the joyous, triumphant part of this Sunday can be seen the instruction in the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal (1958). In this volume, the fifth Sunday of Lent of the calendar is called Judica and also Passion Sunday. The following Sunday designated as a sixth Sunday of Lent is called Palmarum or Palm Sunday. The lectionary that day allows congregation and Pastors to choose between the entrance Gospel of Matthew 21:1-9 or the Passion reading of Matthew 26:1-27:66, not both.
In the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), the day is called Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday). With this book, the Lutheran Churches of North America adopted the three-year lectionary that had come out of Vatican II, so Synoptic Passion readings are assigned in a three-year cycle (A-Mathew, B-Mark, and C-Luke) with both longer and shorter versions available. However, the Psalm and Second lesson are identical across the cycle, regardless of the gospel being read. The Blessing of the Palms is not mentioned in the actual congregational version of the LBW, but is an option for Pastors to consider inserting into the rite as they saw fit. Like the service for the Vigil of Easter, the Blessing of Palms was only present in the Ministers Desk Edition of the LBW.
The most recent Lutheran Hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), designates this Sunday in the same way, Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday). In a special two-page section set aside in this hymnal for this day, a simple outline for the processional gathering is presented, including a Processional Gospel, Blessing of the Palms and the words to the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”. The two pages serve not only as an outline for the service, but also a simple resource for those who have brought hymnals to the procession or as a congregational handout to be copied and given out.
In the Episcopal Church there are only two service books to consider in the past century preceding our own time: The Book of Common Prayer from 1928 and that presently used, adopted in 1979. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Fifth Sunday of Lent is labeled as such and also “commonly called Passion Sunday” . The top notes of the pages of the book are also labeled as Passion Sunday. The following Sunday is designated, “The Sunday next before Easter, commonly called Palm Sunday” It is significant that there is only one Gospel assigned to this day and that it is the Passion reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 26:1-27:66; a second gospel before the procession, if there was one, is not designated.
The Book of Common Prayer (1979) that is in current use by The Episcopal Church follows the three-year lectionary that many churches adopted from Roman Catholic use and Vatican II. It designates this Sunday now as The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday and includes a four-page section outlining the elements to begin worship that day, designated The Liturgy for Palms. It includes a matching synoptic processional gospel, to correspond to the Passion reading to follow (Mathew, Mark or Luke) and includes the prayer for Blessing the Palms. Following this resource then, the day would have two gospel readings, with a longer or shorter option for the Passion reading.
So for Lutheran and Episcopal churches, although coming from different histories, the Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) practices have merged to be nearly identical. Presently, after the Procession, all begin Holy Communion with the Prayer of the Day. Gathering away from the main place of worship is encouraged, with a physical procession by all to the church encouraged. The Blessing of the Palms, once rejected by the Reformed Traditions until the mid-twentieth century, is now included in their official worship books. The official rites of each church encourage some presentation of the Passion of Christ, longer or shorter; read, sung, chanted in parts, or enacted. Working out a title for the day is nearly complete, as the memory of the use of Passion Sunday earlier in Lent fades into the distance. For the immediate future at least, the Sunday just before the Resurrection of Our Lord, will be characterized by both a palm procession and a presentation of the Passion narrative. By insisting and encouraging all who gather to worship on this day to process, all are encouraged to participate in this simple act of going from a gathering point to their sanctuary or nave; “Only for a serious reason should the church ignore the stational character of Passion Sunday”. Both processing and the reading of a Passion Narrative have found a place and a home on this day as has the assignment of two Gospel Readings. We can only hope that this ecumenical consensus, working through each of these three groups, has arrived at a liturgical form that celebrates this event with joy and dignity, participation and contemplation. “Palm Sunday is the Door to the great Holy Week celebrations. We look, as it were, from the threshold, through the dark shadows of the suffering of Good Friday, to the shining glory of Easter-day. The door will not lead to a dark passage-way, but will lead to the Light.”
Connell, Martin. Eternity Today, On the Liturgical Year, (Volume 2). New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2006
Crichton, J. D. The Liturgy of Holy Week. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1965.
Davies, J. Gordon. Holy Week: A Short History. Ecumenical Studies in Worship No. 11. Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1963.
Pfatteicher, Philip H. Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1990.
Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Second Emended Edition). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.
Tierney, Mark. Holy Week: A Commentary. Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1958.
Wainwright, Geoffrey, editor. The Oxford History of Christian Worship. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Welcome to this new blog, devoted to observations about life and worship. I am especially drawn to worship as expressed in the liturgical churches of The Episcopal Church in the USA and Lutheran Churches in the same county. I hope this journey through time, through scripture, through life itself will prove fruitful with insights, moments if devotion and even laughter!