Br Scott Wesley

Sermon for Thursday at Volmoed – Preached by Br Daniel

Readings for this sermon (Proper 24A)

Br Daniel preparing food

Many years ago, in another life, I had an older colleague who had an interesting way of interpreting Scripture. Even though he was a devout Christian, he had very clear ideas about paying taxes, but not tithing to the church. He paid taxes with lots of grumbling simply because he was legally required. Not because he didn’t believe in giving to Caesar what is his, but because of what Caesar is doing with the taxes. As far as tithing was concerned, he did contribute to the collection plate, but he emphatically did not give his tenth as required, because he said that much of what the church historically did, was now supposed to be done by the government. And he said that giving to God what is owed to God shouldn’t cost money, anyway. As such he was unstinting in his charity work.

With this as background, I think we all understand the intention of the Herodians and Pharisees in their questioning Jesus about the tax, and about Jesus’s clever response to them. Since Caesar’s image is on the coin, and we are citizens of his realm, we have to give to him what is due to him, Jesus says. And since we are made in the image of God and are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we need to give what is due to him.

Denarius

And this is a conundrum for us, this dual citizenship of both the earthly realm and the spiritual realm. What do those citizenships mean and what do they demand from us?

As citizens of both realms, it is not so much about paying taxes to Caesar, or the government, as much as it is about paying attention to what the government is doing and whether in good conscience we can support all its actions. We pay a myriad of taxes, from income tax down to so called “sin tax” on wine and cigarettes. We grumble, but we pay, nevertheless.

However, it is when we see governments doing things that go against our consciences that rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God takes on real meaning.

Should we as Christians remain silent when our governments engage in actions that seem legitimate on the surface, but that conflict with the principles of our faith? This has never been an easy place for us as Christians to be in, but we have never been excused from engaging in it.

And what does render unto God mean for us? What is the currency that we use to render unto God?

That currency is love.

Since we all are in the image of God and bear the image of God, we cannot ignore each other, and especially not during this time of the pandemic, and particularly in the light of how the Herodians and Pharisees frame their question to Jesus “Is it lawful to pay taxes…”

The question of what is truly “lawful” can be answered only by looking forward to Jesus’ teaching of the greatest of the commandments, which grounds his debates with the religious leaders: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The fulfilment of the law, including the question of whether or not to pay taxes, is that which grows out of complete devotion to God, expressed in love of one’s neighbour. *

Debie Thomas writes: “So yes, by all means, give the emperor what belongs to him. But remember that our first debt is to a power that will remain long after earthly empires rise and fall. Our first and highest debt is to love.”

Ah, love.

The thing with love is that it is not always a sun setting in rosy skies with romantic music rising. We all are and have been in relationships; be that as spouses, parents, lovers, or living in community. There are immense joys and there is immense heartbreak and everything in-between. Love can be difficult and painful, yet we cannot not love. Not when we believe that we are formed in God’s image and see Christ in each other.

And nowhere do we read a better definition of love than in 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said if Christ calls us, we follow and die. This may not necessarily be a physical death, although few people understood and lived this better than him and a multitude of other Christian martyrs.

The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

As Martin Luther King aptly said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that, ” and then was killed, nevertheless.

In our context, though, this dying is a calling to the death of the self and of a living into humility, making space for others in our lives and in this world. This is the call of love to love into love.

Allow me to end with a caveat before we all rush out to become doormats and martyrs. Remember the commandment: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Love your neighbour as yourself; this is written for a reason. So, go and ponder this commandment with seriousness, sincerity, curiosity, and love.

*Susan Grove Eastman; Feasting the Wor

Sermon for Sunday – the trouble with wedding guests…

Scripture readings for the day (Proper 23A)

Today’s Gospel tells us a wonderful parable – though with a fair amount of violence and other disturbing details. Like all parables, it is a bit murky in its meaning. Let’s review…

The King – from different story…

The King, standing in for God, throws a party – a wedding party to be specific. A wedding party puts us in mind of Jesus – the bridegroom.

And God invites the “A” list of guests. This will be a great party and all the right people will be there. Except there is a problem… The “A” list people decide God’s little party is not quite the social event of the season. In fact, they decide it’s completely miss-able.

Which is good news for us – since we’re, more or less, the “B” list. And we don’t need to be asked twice! Off we go to the party and we have a blast. Except for that looser guy who gets bounced. But we’ll come back to him…

A happy wedding couple – from a different story…

The obvious interpretation is that the “A” list is Israel, and the “B” list is the gentiles – including but not limited to Christians. God’s chosen people refused the party, ignored the prophets and executed Jesus. We embraced Jesus and came to the party. Story over – we can all go home… our eternal home in Heaven, that is. Salvation is ours. End of story.

But – not so fast. There are really two distinct cautionary tales in this Gospel, and we need to hear them both.

First – it might have been helpful 2000 years ago to think of this as a story about Jews and Christians. But over the years we have, at least subliminally – and at times very explicitly – begun to think of ourselves as God’s chosen people, the new Israel, the new “A” list.

So, we need to pay attention to the cautionary tale of the “A” list people.

Busy shops in Jerusalem

Most of them blew off God’s party for understandable reasons. They had businesses to run, enemies to defend against, crops to harvest, children to raise, important matters to sort out.

Any parallels for us? We have economies to tend, businesses to run, families and households to maintain.

We would love to live in peace and unity with all of God’s children, but Capitalism, the dominant economic system in our world, only truly works when you can win it all. And for someone to win it all, someone else must lose it all. The “have nots” are just as important in our economic equation as the “haves.” Economic injustice is, as they say, is a feature, not a bug. And it keeps us away from God’s party.

So… sorry God – we’d like to come to your party… We’re sure the Kingdom is a really great. We’ll get there eventually. But not right now. We want to build a newer and bigger home, get a better car; We’ve got COVID 19 to worry about and the ever-flailing Eskom. Our economy is in trouble. We’re sure it’s a very lovely party, though… Please, God, accept our regrets.

Moreover, it is very tempting and remarkably easy to start to understand our will as God’s will. If we could examine the hearts of the “A” list guests in today’s parable, we’d probably find that most them weren’t bad people trying to do bad things – though, to be sure, a few of them were. We’d probably find that they were mostly good, decent, hard-working people who thought they were doing God’s will by tending to their own concerns.

This is the first cautionary tale, and it is one that those of us who live in privilege need to hear again and again.

I promised you two cautionary tales and there is one more detail that I said we’d come back to…Remember that guy who got kicked out? What’s up with him?

Ill-dressed wedding guest getting the boot…

This is a detail of the parable that has always bothered me. This poor guy gets dragged off the street with no warning to come to a party. And then he gets yelled at because he isn’t dressed properly. It seems really unfair, very “old testament.” And the punishment, being sent more or less to hell, is way out of proportion to his crime… breaking the dress code.

Well I don’t think a fashion faux pas is really the issue. I bet if we could peer into his heart, we’d find that he only came to the party for the food… or the wine… or because he was curious and just wanted to watch… or he was bored. Or he didn’t have anywhere else to be so why not follow the crowd…

I think he is the inverse of the “A” list crowd. They stayed away for poor reasons. He came for poor reasons. He might have been physically at the party, but I suspect he wasn’t fully present at the party – just going through the motions.

And so here is the second cautionary tale: When we do decide to come to God’s party are we really completely going to the party? Are we truly being present? Are we all in? Or are we going through the motions?

I know somebody, a salesman by trade, who goes to Eucharist pretty much every Sunday because, as he says, “it can’t hurt, and it just might help.” Selling things is his whole life. He lives to “ink” contracts. He believes that its just possible that going to Eucharist might improve the odds of another contract being inked. When he comes to the God’s Eucharistic banquet it isn’t as a form of surrender. He’s dressed for success rather than for a wedding banquet.

And while I’m wondering about him, guess what? I’m not present at the party either. If I’ve really lost myself at this party, I’m no longer really interested in judging the other guy. And when I am judging the other person, my ego is still firmly in control. I’m not wearing a wedding robe, but rather my own garment of self-righteousness.

Now I don’t think coming to God’s party means being stupid or ignorant. I don’t think it means just letting go and accepting that whatever will be will be. It’s pretty safe to say that at God’s party we won’t just get drunk and eat ourselves sick.

God has given us some rules of etiquette. Through prayer, scripture, community life, and our own God-given intellect, we can begin to know and live in God’s way.

Jesus summed up those rules in about two sentences: We are to love God fully, completely, totally, and without reservations. And we are to love other people and ourselves. Love is an active, not a passive. So really going to God’s party involves loving God and God’s creation and acting on that love; nothing more, nothing less…

Acting on our love of God, ourselves and other people can take infinite forms. Being really present at God’s party means acting on behalf of justice and mercy. It means treating ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and all of God’s creation with respect.

Ultimately, being at God’s party means not protecting our own interests but giving away our very lives.

So, when and where is God’s party. It is not next weekend, or next month, or next season… God’s party is here and now and always and at all times. Going to God’s party is a process – we do it one day at a time.

Happy Arch Birthday

Today is the celebration of the 89th birthday of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. St Benedict’s Priory joins with folks across the globe in wishing him great blessings on this day. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Stilted Anglican terminology applies the preface “The Most Reverend” to Archbishops. It’s hard to imagine someone who more embodies this description. The importance of Desmond Tutu to the Anglican Church of South Africa, the Worldwide Anglican Communion, and indeed the wider world cannot be overstated. God speaks to mortals through prophets. Anyone who thinks God is silent these days has simply not heard Desmond Tutu.  

Archbishop Tutu is patron to Volmoed and is the one who invited the Order of the Holy Cross to come to South Africa in the late 1990’s. With St Benedict’s Priory now located at Volmoed, we think Archbishop Tutu’s plan for us may be coming to fulfilment.  

Archbishop Emeritus with President (emeritus) Obama

The rich complexity of Tutu’s life is hard to comprehend. He was born in Klerksdorp in the North West Province of South Africa. He grew up in a poor family but managed to gain a fine education both in South Africa and in the UK. He lived through the horror of Apartheid and chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has done so much to heal the wounds of Apartheid – though there is still work to do. He has been a champion and important voice for oppressed people across the globe. He has been a theological leader across the globe. But most of all he has been a powerful and infectious advocate for God’s love and joy, championing a warm and loving faith that embraces everyone he meets. 

The past few months have not been easy for Desmond and Leah Tutu. Their home here in Hermanus was destroyed by fire. While no one was injured, thank God, it has been a traumatic loss and disruption on top of the stress of lock down measures for Covid.  

Tutus with Royals – Arch and Archie

Desmond Tutu’s 89 years of life have been a great gift for all. Certainly, his life and ministry have made this world a better place, a place closer to God’s Kingdom. Please join us in wishing him all the rich blessings of God’s love. 

Sermon for Sunday – October 4

How do we move in faith and let go of fear?

Scripture readings for the sermon

Part of the genius of the Gospel is that it teaches in parables – so the teachings are as relevant now as two thousand years ago. But the price of that relevance is that the meaning is not necessarily plain or obvious… Take for example the parable in this morning’s Gospel. It is a familiar story but what it might mean…

We have a vineyard with its winepress and watch tower, an absentee landowner, a group of difficult tenants, a set of abused servants, and some obligatory priests and Pharisees. It’s not a big leap to see the vineyard as a symbol of our world. The absentee landowner seems pretty clearly to symbolize God. The priests and Pharisees are the religious leaders of the time. And then we have difficult tenants and the abused servants – two groups in which I think I might locate myself. But which one?

Turning one…

During lockdown big celebrations are not in order. But we couldn’t turn one without something. So today at Eucharist we had a nice, small outdoor coffee time with some beautiful edible treats. Just about everyone from Volmoed was with us – so it was not a big group, but it is the people who have been part of our lives at Volmoed for the year.

It has been a fascinating year to say the least. We arrived on the last day of August, 2019, and began our worship life here the next day. There was a time of settling in. Then a time of reaching out to folks in the region. Then there should have been a time of ripening and growing in ministry, but COVID-19 had a different plan. Lockdown has now extended for about half our life at Volmoed.

Covid time

“Common good is a non-competitive notion of good … Good doesn’t have the drama of “fantastic”, or the exclusivity of “best”. It is a big enough concept to hold us all – we can all be good.”

Scott Wesley

It’s tempting to think that we are nearly at the end of the Covid-19 odyssey. But that would be beyond optimistic. We might be toward the middle… or we may still be at the beginning. The truth is we can’t really know.