John, our substitute pianist while Jeremy is on tour in Europe, is in the sanctuary going over the morning’s music. Deacon James is getting things set up. A well dressed man comes up to me and asks if I remember him. I know what his is a prelude to. It’s a well developed strategy to ask to speak to the pastor 15 minutes before the service. You know he doesn’t have much time to get into a detailed discussion. He tells me he’s got a job. Just needs money for his transportation until his first pay check. There’s no way I can do that, tell him, but I do wind up emptying my pockets and giving him everything I have.
I go back to see John, to review some music, anxious about the time, not checking to see if I’ve locked the door. A young man enters the sanctuary. Clean. Well dressed. With a large bag.Tells me he’s from the coffees hop across the street (the Bean) and has some food they want to get rid of well before the expiration date. Can we help get it to the poor? I’m pressed for time, just say Yes. Turn back to the pianist.
And then go back to my office only to discover our laptop is gone. I can’t believe it. But yes, it’s gone. We check the bag the young man dropped. It’s not from the Bean, It’s from the CVS garbage pile. It’s all CVS food. I’ve been played. Sort of sets me off bad for the Sunday. Which is too bad because Rachel has brought her niece Sandy and Anna has brought a whole family. People anxious to hear the Good News. And I’ve just been robbed. And it’s half my fault for not checking the door.
Theft or not, we got to have church. Our theme today is a Strong community knows who’s in charge. And our scripture is MATTHEW 21:23-32.Where when Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?.
Jesus then says to them, I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, If we say,‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, Why then did you not believe him? 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, We do not know. And he said to them, Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
And as is his custom, he follows that up with a parable:
28What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, Son, go and work in the vineyard today. 29He answered, I will not; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, I go, sir; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
I talk about how we in seminary get trained in the institutions of the church, but no the culture of the church. In every community there sit hag person or persons who’s approval is necessary before any major decision can be made. It’s classic community organizing training: Find out who the authorities are. So I ask everyone to pair up with someone they don’t know so well. And I ask the question, Who are the authorities in your life? This is CO 101 one on ones…
The answers are not necessarily what I expect. I expect to hear a spiritual answer. What I hear is this : A lot of people hear the voice of their mother, or father. Or an old teacher. For me it’s my father. For him it was the Rotary 4 way test:
1.Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
As opposed to other Rotarians I knew, my father took this seriously. Truly applied it to most every decision he made. Stephen knows this. And Marsha, who was a Rotarian girl, knows it too.
And also, Ray Swartzbach, my campus minister. I hear his voice. And my mentors Philip Newell and Rodney Martin. I feel I owe them. And ultimately, Jesus. That cliche question, WWJD, what would Jesus do? That’s the bottom line.
When I look at the scriptures, here’s what I see:
* Jesus, who’s being gamed by the authorities, flips the game back. The answer to your question is in what you see. If you can see what I’m doing, you know by whose authority.
* The parable also makes it clear that what we do matters more than what we say….and finally,
* We might find some surprising allies along the way.
Which for me means that everything we do as a community must have the same clear message. If you see what we’re doing, you know who we are.
And inspired by my friend Kristen Leigh, it's Jesus that makes it radical. That is, the community I want to create is rooted in Jesus. Not defined by any particular theology or beliefs. I really could care. But by what we do. A path we follow. This is our bottom line commitment: to follow Jesus as best we can, helping each other along the way.
We finish by singing Pete’s Where have all the flowers gone? Which in light of the Climate march, has added meaning…
Much of the post worship conversation has to do with the robbery. Thanks to Stephen W our data is backed up. And thanks to Danielle, we’ve got our serial number info. The police report will be that much easier.
And then the session agrees to put forth Anna as a new member next week…
Straightening this all out tomorrow will be a drag…to say the least…