Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the 21st Chapter
 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’ 

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ 
 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 
Jesus told this parable, and the two we've heard in the last two weeks, in the last week of his life.  First he told of the Divine winemaker who wanted grapes at any cost.  Next he told of a father who sent his sons into the vineyard to work.  One did.  The other didn’t.  And now, once again Jesus tells the story of the Divine winemaker who is looking for grapes!  No excuses.  No “right” words.  No tricks.  Just, “SHOW ME THE FRUIT!”  This isn’t a new theme.  This is THE theme!  The theme of Matthew’s whole Gospel!  Way back in Chapter 3, John the Baptist appeared with a camel’s hair coat, leather belt and eating bugs with honey to help them go down!  John started this fruit talk saying, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance!”  The Gospel began with, “SHOW ME THE FRUIT!”  

Monday was 275th day of 2017.  Monday was the 273rd mass shooting of 2017.  The litany began right away.  “Bad people will always be able to get guns, so there’s nothing we can do but offer our thoughts and prayers.”  Interesting.  Two weeks ago, the Divine Winemaker didn’t just think and pray about his harvest problem.  He went out at 6, 9, noon, 3 and even 5 and grabbed anyone he could find, tried a crazy new pay scheme and by hook or by crook, got the grapes to the crusher.  So isn’t there a new idea we might try for this problem, a crazy scheme to test out?  “No, none of that will stop every gun, so all we can do is offer thoughts and prayers.”  Interesting.  

This week the mayor of San Juan waded through water laced with raw sewage begging for help for her people.  “Well, you live on an island.  In the middle of the ocean.  Hurricanes happen.  There’s nothing we can do to stop hurricanes but we’re sending our thoughts and prayers.”  Interesting.  Last week a father asked his two sons to go to work in the vineyard.  One said he would, but didn’t.  The other said he wouldn’t go, but did.  The father in that story preferred the son who in the end tried, rather than the son who lied.  So, don't you think we ought to at least try something?  “No, nothing we would try would stop hurricanes, all we can offer is our thoughts and prayers.”  Interesting.   

But just like the landowner in this week’s parable the world has caught on!  They hear about sending “thoughts and prayers” and how do they react?  “We don’t want your “thoughts and prayers!” We need food, water, and electricity!  We don’t want your “thoughts and prayers” we want our husbands, wives, friends and children to not be shot in our homes, schools, theaters and streets.  We don’t want your “thoughts and prayers!”  We want you to SHOW US THE FRUIT!     

The caption on a picture looking into the back of an empty semi trailer reads, “The first shipment of your thoughts and prayers has arrived!”  Yesterday’s parable has become today's internet meme.  Both parable and meme shouting the EXACT same message.  The message we’ve been hearing from the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, all the way to the twenty first!  And the message is:  Do Something!  SHOW US SOME FRUIT!  

I relate to the anger.  I'm tempted too to throw “thoughts and prayers” away as useless garbage too.  But that’s not what John the Baptist preached and that’s not what Jesus taught.  Because here’s the thing.  Everything we do, begins with a thought.  Getting out of bed requires a thought.  Seeing someone in pain requires a thought.  Thoughts are the beginning.  Thoughts arn't garbage.  They allow us to do more than simply react to the world like a lizard.  Thoughts are part of what makes us human.

Prayers too are far from garbage.  It is in prayer that we calm our anxious, reactive, minds so that we can access the big, creative, compassionate human brains God put between our ears.  In prayer we find clarity and creativity to do more than just "eat it or run from it".  In prayer with others we discover our collective resolve, remind one another that we are not alone, remember that God works unexpected wonders and remember that God has promised there are more of those wonders yet to come!  Thoughts and prayers are not trash.  Thoughts and prayers wind the spring, charge the batteries and draw the bow.  

What John the Baptist began with… what Jesus continued with and what we, as Christians insist upon today, is NOT that “thoughts and prayers” are useless, but that “thoughts and prayers” must only be the beginning!  Thoughts and prayers, after all, are what led the people of Israel to leave Egypt, but it was the walking that got them to the Promised Land!  Thoughts and prayers gathered the civil rights movement together, built courage, commitment and resolve, but it was walking into diners to sit at lunch counters, refusing to move to the back of the bus, walking across the Edmund Pettis bridge and even becoming martyrs, that still marches us toward a dream.  

In this parable.  In the last two parables.  In the entire Gospel of Matthew… the message is not that words don’t matter or we should throw out our thoughts and give up on prayer.  Rather, the message is WE MUSTN’T STOP WITH ONLY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS!  We MUST have thoughts!  Thoughts of empathy, compassion, generosity and love.  We MUST have prayers!  Prayers for clarity, focus, peace, inspiration and a non-anxious spirit.  But we can’t stop there!  Notice the cries of the world around you with your thoughts.  Gather yourself in body, mind, spirit and community in prayer.  BUT THEN GO!  Go into the vineyard, pick some grapes, and make some wine!  None of us will ever harvest every grape.  That's never been our task!  Our task is to pick one grape and put it in the bucket and pick one more and then another and then another.  You and I may not finish the harvest oursleves, but as the Talmud says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

May we offer the world our thoughts… thoughts of the vision of our world working like the Kingdom of God.  May we together offer the world our prayers… prayers for a non-anxious presence, peace, clarity, generosity and creativity.  And then, may we together, take one step and then another toward making the vision of our thoughts and the peace of our prayers a little more real and a little more amazing in the world’s eyes each and every day.  Amen.  

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