10/2/11, Think On These Things

Think on These Things (Oct. 2 2011)  Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 21:33-43

The lectionary passages from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah and the gospel of Matthew this week are very similar, and they are not very happy scriptures!  Jesus was probably thinking of Isaiah’s poetic words about the vineyard and its tenants when he adapted the story to tell as a parable to the chief priest and the scribes in the temple.  They had once again confronted him questioning his authority to teach and to heal.  He once again answered them with parables that pointed to their failure as religious leaders.

As we have worked through the gospel of Matthew this year, it has been hard for us to miss Jesus’ pointed condemnation of religious leadership that seeks to sustain its own power and position while ignoring the needs of the people it should be serving.  Over and over Jesus warned them as he did in today’s scripture:  “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces fruit.”  As we have listened to these scriptures, we could not help but compare the leaders that Jesus critiqued to the hierarchical church leadership of today.  We have taken a hard look at the sad state of our own Church.  We grieve what we know is a vineyard in demise. It is in many ways a painful time in which to be living out a Catholic Christian spirituality.   What is to come, we know not.  We must simply trust that a new day is coming and we must offer ourselves in faith as God’s workers in whatever this new vineyard is going to look like.

However, instead of spending more time reflecting on what is discouraging, today I’d like to point us today to the encouraging words that are offered in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. The passage read to us deletes the bit of information which reveals that Paul is speaking to a situation of dissension between two prominent female leaders of the Christian community, so here’s a review of that total passage in a more contemporary translation:

2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3 And I ask you, my true partner (Syzgus), to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. 4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 
5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank God for everything.  7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:2-9 (NLT)
We can imagine that just as today, there were diverse opinions in this early community, people taking sides and debating who was right and who was wrong.   Paul recommended that all in Philippi should instead join with Euodia and Syntyche in prayer. By handing all their animosity over to God, the Philippians would be free to welcome the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Paul described this peace from God as a guard of one’s heart and mind. Rather than dwelling on the faults and wrongs that exist between individuals or communities,  Paul urges us to contemplate what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious. Think on these things of beauty and truth. If we focus on these, peace will replace the harsh thinking that often dominates our lives.  Such angry thoughts only serve to make us critical, cynical and unable to love freely and without judgment.   You know what I’m talking about…. It’s what my dad called stinkin’ thinkin’!

There is so much of beauty and grace in our world for which to be grateful. This past week I attended two funerals.  One was for a Catholic sister in Christ, the other for a Protestant brother.  They were both celebrations of lives well-lived, but represented very different kinds of liturgical celebrations. The celebration at the evangelical church was a free-flowing event incorporating praise music, scripture, poetry, a slideshow of the deceased’s life, eulogies and finally a brief reflection on scripture.  The Catholic Mass was a traditional funeral ritual in every way… one knew exactly what was coming next.  Each of these expressed Christian faith in the face of death.   But they brought me to reflection on what is beautiful about the Catholic liturgy and what I love deeply about this church’s worship tradition. I loved just sitting in the sanctuary of Holy Family Parish, quiet and filled with beautiful symbols of our faith journey… baptismal water and candlelight and incense and images of faithful saints all around.  I gave myself over to the rhythm of the Mass with its songs and prayers and scriptures and the common meal of thanksgiving.  It is this beauty of our church to which I want to draw your attention. As we gather in community week after week, the liturgy itself invites us to contemplate with our minds and our bodies and our spirits what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious.  This week, I will be posting online as part of this homily a reflection on “The Meaning of the Mass” so that in our future celebrations you might be a bit more aware of the beautiful story that we tell in so many ways.  As we continue to move towards the end of this church year, we’ll also take a more intentional look at some of the signs and symbols that our Catholic faith uses to point us to the beauty of our relationship with God.

“Liturgy” is simply the participation of the people of God in the work of God.  We do this work when we share in the Mass every week, but we also do the work of God throughout the week as we celebrate and participate in the stuff of everyday life.  As we conclude, immerse yourself with gratitude in an old hymnal expression of this beautiful gift of life we are given.  Contemplate what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious.  Then bring your offering of gratitude to our table of Eucharist, preparing you to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

By Sandi DeMaster