Monday, September 29, 2014

Paperwork

This past Friday I worked a double-header.  I was the Referee for the JV game and the Back Judge for the Varsity game.

In both games the home team was over-matched and lost by a wide margin.

In the first game, however, we had some issues.  There was a certain player who I flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  You would think he would have gotten the message, but apparently that one flag wasn't enough for him.

Later in the game there was a scrum and he was beating his chest and beginning to taunt the other team.  I should have flagged him for his second unsportsmanlike foul (and, in fact, was reaching for my flag) when a team captain jumped in, grabbed him, started pushing him toward his sideline, and told me, "I'll take care of him."

Kudos to the JV captain for behaving like a captain, so I let that one go.

Then late in the third quarter there was a running play that ended by my Head Linesman.  When the play was over I saw his flag fly.  I ran over there and he was in the middle of telling two players they were gone.  So I calmed him down and asked what happened.  The home team player was twisting the ankle of the runner in an obvious attempt to cause, if not injury, serious pain.  Flag.  The visiting player, after player #1 had been pulled off, retaliated by kicking him in the head.  Flag.

Two ejections and I spent time on Saturday doing the necessary paperwork.

My supervisor called me this morning and wanted to debrief just to make sure that I wasn't changing my mind about the ejection after having the weekend to think about it.  That is SOP for our association.  I told him, "Nope . . . I'm positive he needed to be ejected."

The upsetting part of all this is that had I flagged him the second time, this incident never would have happened and the visiting player would not have been ejected.

I will remember that for next time.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sermon; Proper 21A; Matthew 21:23-32

If the only time you crack open a Bible is on Sunday morning when the Lectionary does it for you, you might get the idea that today's gospel passage directly follows last week's gospel passage.  It does seem like that would be the case.  Last week we heard the parable of the generous landowner.  If you have forgotten, or if you weren't here, this is the parable of the landowner who pays those who have worked all day and those who have worked only one hour the exact same wage.  Jesus closes the parable by saying, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Today we get yet another confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders.  After an argument about authority and where Jesus gets his, he tells a parable of two sons.  One son says he will not do what is asked, but eventually does; the other son says he will do what is asked, but never does.  Jesus uses this parable to proclaim that the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of the religious leaders.

It certainly seems like those episodes happen back-to-back.  But in reality, they are spaced out over several days.  Last week's gospel took place on the road to Jerusalem.  Today, Jesus is not only in Jerusalem, but he's a day or two into Holy Week.  Palm Sunday has happened and he's overturned the tables and run the money-changers out of the temple.  And today he's back in the temple again arguing with the religious leaders.

Today I want to focus on the parable of the two sons rather than on the issue of authority because it does fit so well with last week's gospel.  Last week we were introduced to God's economy.  In that economy, God is distributed and dispersed equally to his people so that all may enjoy the presence of God.  In God's economy, there is no “better than,” or “more deserving than.”  In God's economy there are only humans who were created in God's image.  In God's economy, there is equal love for all people should they choose to accept it.  Or, as the parable suggested, equal pay for all invited.

This idea of equal pay for all for all people simply because they are people is reflective of the love God has for all people simply because they are all people.  And this economy of God, this love of God, is played out in the parable Jesus tells today.

“A man had two sons.”  We know right from the start that Jesus is talking about God.  The sons, though, are another matter.  There are a few common interpretations for who they are: Jew and Gentile being one, and Pharisee and publican being another one.  I want to look at them as those whom we deem righteous and unrighteous, and those whom God deems righteous and unrighteous.

If you recall, I wrote a little about righteousness in last Wednesday's Word.  I said that righteousness was the act of doing what was right in God's eyes.  The price of righteousness is a piece of bread, a cloak of no value to us, a mite.  Doing right in God's eyes has always included caring for those on the margins of society, the vulnerable and the less-fortunate.

Righteousness, however, seems to have developed a new meaning; or rather, not new but different.  This different meaning of righteousness is something along the lines of fulfilling our religious duties and obligations.  If we do what the religious authorities and leaders tell us to do, generally without question, if we have perfect attendance, if we follow the party line without question, then we, and maybe others, see ourselves as righteous.

The reason I say that this is a different meaning, but not new, is because Israel had this problem.  Amos prophesied against false pretenses when God said, “I hate your festivals and take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”  Jesus spoke against this when he called the Pharisees “white washed tombs.”  Christian history is full of leaders condemning others for not adhering to specific doctrines, or of not caring for the marginalized in favor of creating wealthy clergy.  And Islam has the same problem with any number of groups condemning non-Muslims and/or not-strict-enough-Muslims as unrighteous heretics.

To the first son (note – not the older son), the father says, “Go and work in the vineyard today.”  The son responds, “I will not,” but he eventually changes his mind and goes.  This son is representative of everyone who initially refuses God's invitation.  This could be an invitation from us or from some other mechanism, but these are the people who believe they don't need God or the people who believe God won't accept them.  These are also the people – sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes – who are seen as unrighteous because they are not part of the accepted religious community.  At some point, though, they answer God's call and begin living into his righteousness.

To the second son (also note – not the youngest), the father says, “Go and work in the vineyard today.”  The son responds, “I go, sir,” but he does not go.  This son is representative of everyone who believes they are doing God's will but really are not.  This is the person who is pious to the point of not wanting to get their hands dirty in ministry.  This is the person who is so focused on the church calendar that they don't see those in need gathered around their church.  This is the person who gets so wrapped up in defending and adhering to the right church doctrine that loving their neighbor becomes the gateway to damnation rather than the gateway to righteousness.

When asked which son did the will of the father, the religious leaders said, “The first.”  Tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners of all kinds will go into the kingdom of heaven ahead of the religiously pure and doctrinally focused.

We need to be careful of whom we deem righteous and those whom we deem unrighteous.  In God's economy, all people are invited into the kingdom to share God's love.  In God's economy, those whom we deem as less deserving are just as deserving simply because they are people.  In God's economy, how we treat those we deem as unrighteous and how we care for the marginalized is of more value than whether or not we defended the correct doctrine.

Do you want to see the face of God?  Then go, work in the vineyard and look into the eyes of those people for whom society's economy deems to be the last.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not doing that again

One of the local production companies in town did "Young Frankenstein."  The prop manager is a parishioner, and asked if they could borrow my thurible for a particular scene.

"Sure, no problem.  Just give the church a credit line in the program."

It came back this past Sunday in a mess.  The chains were all twisted and knotted up and one of them had come unhooked somehow and then re-linked in a makeshift manner.

Mrs. Ref and I spent some time Sunday after church getting it untangled and unknotted, and then I remembered to bring my needle-nose pliers and made the final repairs.

The days of thurible stardom are officially over.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sermon; Proper 20A; Matthew 20:1-16

Anybody who has had children, even those of us with only one child, has heard cries of, “That's not fair!”  Anyone who has ever worked with other people has heard, at one time or another, “That's not fair.”  We ourselves have probably uttered, “That's not fair,” more than a few times in our life.  And on more than one occasion I have responded, “It may not be fair, but that's the rule.”

It seems we want things to be fair even though we have been told multiple times, “Life isn't fair.”  But the more I look around and pay attention to things when this gets said, the more I am convinced that we don't want things to be fair for everybody, we just want them to be fair for us.

Here are some examples:  We say we want fairness, but it took this country 144 years before allowing women the right to vote.  We say we want fairness, but female employees are routinely paid less than their male counterparts.  We say we want fairness, but our country refuses to grant healthcare to all citizens.  We say we want fairness, but black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.  We say we want fairness, but crimes against whites are more harshly punished than crimes against other ethnicities.  We say we want fairness, but nobody seems to be outraged when LeVar Burton says that every time he is pulled over he rolls down his window and puts out his empty hands.  We say we want fairness, yet white politicians have recently complained about attempts to register black voters.

We say we want fairness, yet we complain when those whom we think are less deserving are treated exactly like us.  We want fairness, as long as it is on our terms and doesn't grant too much fairness and equality to those who are different.

I think the underlying reason for a disparity in fairness has to do with value.  That which we value, and those whom we value, are treated with a greater degree of fairness.

In the parable, the landowner pays those who worked only a few hours the same rate as those who worked many hours.  The landowner believed this to be fair.  Those who worked many hours didn't see it like that.  They didn't see it as fair because they saw themselves as more valuable than the others.  Their effort was more valuable.  Their time served was more valuable.  And because they believed themselves to be more valuable, they believed they should receive more pay.  After all, it was only fair.

The landowner, however, has a different take on what is valuable and what is fair.  For the landowner, he valued the people who worked for him.  You could say that he valued people in that he made no distinction between the two groups.  He valued people enough to go in search of laborers for his field.  And he values those people enough to treat them fairly.

“But how can it be fair to pay those who have hardly worked the same as those who worked all day?” some may ask.  It's fair because the landowner pays everyone a living wage.  He pays them enough to buy food, clothing and shelter.  He pays them enough that they don't need to beg for help.  He pays them a wage that values their humanity.

Should every job have the same pay scale as every other job?  No, and I’m not trying to make that point.  Education, training, level of responsibility and other factors all should be taken into account.  But there's no reason a woman with the same level of education in the same job as a man should be paid less.  It comes down to what we value.  If landowners of today (businesses) see themselves as more valuable than another human, then wages will be set at the absolute minimum.  If, however, those same people value the people who work for them because they are people and children of God, then they should be following the example of the landowner in today's gospel and paying everyone a living wage.

The landowner in the gospel does care about the basic needs of the people in his area.  This is why he continually sought out people needing work.  It's why he paid everyone a living wage.  From out of his abundance he provided abundantly.

Rather than looking at the generosity of the landowner to others as a slight to us, maybe we could start viewing it with the same spirit of generosity that values those around us.

If we come to value others in the same way as the landowner, then maybe we can argue for women to receive equal pay.  Maybe we can work toward a health care system that is affordable to all.  Maybe we can work toward reducing the racial disparity of our prison system.  Maybe we can argue for living wages.

And whether or not that is fair depends, I think, very much on whether or not you value all people or only some people.

Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Swamping

When I was a teen I had a summer job as a swamper during the cherry harvest.  It was a regular summer job for me for maybe four years.

There were basically three jobs in the orchard -- picker, swamper and counter.  In some of the larger orchards you would also have a driver.  I worked in a small orchard, so I both drove and swamped.

My job was to arrive at the orchard at 6 a.m., hook up a trailer to a tractor, drive over to pick up a load of empty bins (four bins to a trailer), and then drive up and down the rows of cherry trees collecting boxes of cherries.  A counter rode with me to tally up how many boxes the pickers had.  After the count, I would empty the boxes into the bins.  When all four bins were full, I would drive the load to the pick-up site, unload the full bins, then drive over and load up with empties.  The cycle continued until at least 6 at night, and sometimes later.

Today I have proofed a Sunday bulletin, sort of began the process of looking at Sunday's gospel reading (equal pay for unequal work periods), fielded one phone call about our broken stained glass window, learned of four parishioners who were on a Level 1 evacuation notice due to a new fire, talked with one of those parishioners for about 45 minutes getting her calmed down enough to think straight, and met with one parishioner in person who is self-described as "burnt out on church."

I still have a meeting with my Senior Warden scheduled.

Some days I miss the swamping.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sermon; Proper 19A; Matthew 18:21-35

Today's gospel passage is a continuation from last week.  If you remember, last week Jesus laid out a three-step process for forgiveness.  If someone sins against you, go and tell that person.  If they listen to you, you have regained that one.  If they don't listen to you, invite two or three other people along and again try to regain that person.  If they still don't listen, involve the whole church.  And if they still won't listen, treat them as a Gentile and tax collector.

So today Peter presents Jesus with a quandary:  And just how many times should I forgive that person?  Seven?

Jesus answers, “No, not seven.  You should forgive them seventy-seven times.”  In other words, you should always be ready to forgive.

I think there are two common misinterpretations about forgiveness; or maybe one misinterpretation and one abuse.  I’ll start with the former.

One common misinterpretation is when we insist that the victim has to forgive the person who sinned against them “because the Bible says so.”  This is a misinterpretation because it changes the dynamic.  Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault.  If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”

In other words, if John sins against me, I need to go and point that out to him.  He, in turn, should apologize, repent, and ask for forgiveness.  At which point I am to forgive him.  But because we deal in real life, that is more complicated than that basic outline.

What seems to happen far too often is that the sinner puts the onus on the victim.

“I'm sorry you were offended.”
“I'm sorry you took it the wrong way.”
“I'm sorry you didn't get the joke.”

Oh, and by the way, because you were offended, you need to forgive me because Jesus said so.

That leaves no room for honest repentance.  That leaves no room for amendment of life.  That leaves no room for behavioral changes.  And that only serves to place the blame for the problem on the victim who was offended.

It is this misinterpretation that can lead to abuse.  It has led to abused and neglected children being forced to forgive those who hurt them without calling the abuser to accountability.  It has led to women being told to not press charges for domestic violence because Jesus told us to forgive and move on.  And it has led to victim blaming where domestic violence or rape is defended because “she asked for it.”

This isn't how forgiveness works.  If I offended you, it's not my job to say, “I'm sorry you were offended, but you really need to forgive me.”

Instead, it's my job to say, “Wow, I'm sorry I hurt you.  How can I make this better?  Will you/can you forgive me?  I ask/beg/plead your forgiveness.”

If we are confronted as a sinner, we need to admit that we have sinned.  We need to own up to our error and work to ensure it never happens again.  Our job is not to place the blame for our actions on those whom we have harmed.

On the other side, forgiveness is not necessarily for the sinner, but for the person who was sinned against.  Forgiveness isn't a way to poo-poo the event – “It wasn't a big deal . . . it doesn't matter . . . I guess I’m just overreacting.”  It was a big deal, it did matter, and we aren't overreacting.

Forgiveness is a way for us to say, “I won't be ruled by hatred.  I won't look to get even.  I won't use this as a reason to escalate hostilities.”  Forgiveness allows us to move on.  Forgiveness gives us the ability to live in peace.  Because, quite honestly, it's hard work being angry all the time.

Forgiveness ultimately means we don't hold grudges.  We recognize we have also been forgiven, and that we, in turn, forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven.

To illustrate this point, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant.  He uses the example of a servant owing 1000 talents, being forgiven that debt, but then turning around and not forgiving someone who owes him 100 denarii.

Let me put a modern spin on that.  You may remember several years ago when Michael Vick was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for running a dog fighting ring and horribly abusing dogs.  There was no doubt that he had committed this crime and he did, in fact, serve the time.  After his release there was a lot of discussion as to whether or not he would get picked up by another team.  As it turned out, Andy Reed signed him to a spot with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ever since that event, Mike has supposedly turned his life around.  He works with the H.S.U.S. to speak out against dog fighting and animal cruelty.  There are people on both sides of this particular issue – some who see no sign of repentance and some who do.  I’ll let you to make your own determination.  But he has worked at it and he has done some good stuff and, in some circles, he has been forgiven for that heinous crime of animal cruelty.

Let's suppose, though, that after his release a Humane Society employee forgot to feed a particular animal one evening.  And then let's imagine that Michael Vick was the person who discovered the error and got the person fired on the spot.  Vick would then become the person in the parable who had been forgiven of a great amount and yet was unwilling to forgive another person of a small amount.

Forgiveness is not a tool with which we control others.  Nor is forgiveness a one-time event.  The path of forgiveness is a lifetime journey.  The goal of forgiveness is to grant us peace.  The grace of forgiveness allows us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

As a victim of sin, may we strive to see the sinner as God sees us.  As a sinner, we need to remember that forgiveness lies in the hands of those whom we have harmed, and it is only through the hard work of confession and repentance that trust is regained and grace is bestowed.

Finally, as a person, we need to remember that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness.  May God have mercy on our souls.

Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Non-football Football Injury

Yesterday I worked a double header at the local high school.  I was the Referee for the JV game and the Back Judge for the varsity game.  I asked the crew to be on site around 2:30 so we could do a short pre-game.  Due to work schedules, this isn't always possible, and the guys wandered in one at a time, all arriving by 3.

The temperature at kickoff was in the neighborhood of 100 degrees.  Ish.

Between games we went into the storage area where we had met before hand to grab our gear and move to our regular locker room.

The storage area contains all sorts of things you'd expect -- chains, yard markers, down box, blocking dummies, etc. etc.  One of the things in there was a large, two-wheeled thing they use to brush the field.  It has a long neck on it with a bolt that is obviously used to connect to a four-wheeler or golf cart, and was tilted at a 45 degree angle and about four feet off the ground. 

I must have been tired and not paying attention very well, because when I bent down to get my bag I slammed my head into that bolt.  I immediately dropped to the floor and sat their with my hands on my head.  Yeah . . . .that's gonna leave a mark.

The good news is that I didn't bleed all that much and the cute trainer came in and took care of me.  What little bleeding there was stopped quickly, and I don't appear to have any permanent damage.  I apparently do much better on the field than off it.