Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sermon: October 5

What does God expect of you?

I think there are times we live in fear of God’s expectations, that we could never be the person God wants us to be, we assume that God wants us to be perfect. Too often we set the bar too high, never able to meet those expectations that are often our own and not God’s expectations.

The collect of the day that we prayed earlier reminds us that it is God who is always more ready to hear than we to pray. Our God who created us, gave us breath and life, is ready to hear our prayers, what’s on our minds and hearts. And God is ready to give more than we either desire or deserve. I am reminded of a poem I read recently by Claytia Doran (God sees us as we can be):

You sometimes feel so worthless and you feel so all alone.
but you don't have to feel that way, my friend.
i've got happiness to loan.
Here's the words i'll say to you,
to make your troubles seem far,
'god sees us as we can be. but, he loves us as we are.'

He sees you striving to be the best, in everything you try.
but, he's happy with you, now.
so my friend, don't you cry.
Be glad to be who you are.
you are special, near and far.
for, god sees you as you can be. but, he loves you as you are.

It is God who sees beyond us, knowing what we could be, but loving us as the imperfect beings we are. I hear that reflected in the second sentence from that collect where we ask God to pour upon us the abundance of mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask. And we pray in Jesus name. For it is our faith in Jesus that leads us to pray for God’s love and mercy.

We hear that echoed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, as he writes that he relies on his faith in Jesus to lead him to righteousness. That is our faith too, to rely on Jesus, the cornerstone of who we are, even as we don’t always get things right. God loves us as we are. But that is not to say there are no expectations from God for we hear in the reading from Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments which still guides us in how we ought to live our lives today. And we hear it, in the Gospel, in Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenets. Jesus tell us about…

A landowner leases his vineyard to some tenants. When he sends slaves to collect his produce at harvest, the tenants beat some, kill others and refuse to do what they had said they will do. When the son comes, they kill him thinking that it all will be theirs. What will the owner do? Jesus asks. They reply, the landowner will get rid of the tenants to a miserable death and give it to others who will indeed give the produce.

Jesus is telling his parable in the midst of those who do not believe in him, they do not understand Jesus as the cornerstone but they understand his parable that he is the son and they are the wicked tenants and they want to arrest him but fear the crowds…

And yet if we think about the parable, we are now the generations who are the tenants in God’s great vineyard called earth. How do we give of the harvest today? Do we give back to God a generous portion of the produce?

The warning of the last line, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” is a reminder that God has expectations that we produce fruit. Not unblemished, perfect fruit, but fruit of who we are, our time, our talent, our treasure. Our generosity of giving these away to others is an expectation of God even as we stumble in doing this, even as we hoard and forget to be generous in difficult times. God is not waiting for us to fail so God can scold and punish us. No, God is waiting for us to follow the way shown to us by Jesus, to live in faith so we can truly have joyous and generous lives, even when our world says it knows a better way, even when others say no…

I think of a story…

For 17 years, she had been a member of the custodial staff at an elementary school, cleaning classrooms, bathrooms, offices and the teachers’ lounge. Every student and teacher at the school knew and liked the generous and hard-working janitor. Every morning, before beginning work at 1 P.M., she took courses at a local college.

After seven long years of juggling her studies with the demands of her work and caring for her family, she completed her degree in education. She then applied for a teaching opening at the very school where she had mopped floors and cleaned toilets for so long. But the principal felt that since everyone knew her as a janitor, she could not be effective in the classroom in the role of teacher. So the would-be teacher reluctantly accepted another one-year contract for a custodial position.

But one principal’s reason for rejecting her was exactly what made the janitor the ideal candidate at another elementary school. The principal there had once been a teacher at her school and remembered the care and pride she demonstrated when cleaning the classrooms. “Our kids are one step out of the projects. We want them to know what they can achieve. [She] has it, and I’m hoping she can give it to our kids,” the second principal said.

The onetime custodian now teaches fifth grade where she is beloved and respected by her students. There is one link in to her past: At the end of the day, her room is always clean: “I try to help the custodians.” [The New York Times, September 22, 1993.]

That teacher who does not forget her former days as a custodian, is one in whom God’s expectations are realized who produces the fruit of the kingdom even if some could not see beyond her former duties. God likewise is calling us forth to produce such fruit, to live by faith, to see God’s expectations as not the “do this” / “don’t do that” like our world thinks it is, but God’s expectation of us living our lives as fully as we can, in faith and hope and love.

“I have been all things unholy.” St. Francis of Assisi once said. “If God can work through me, God can work through anyone.”

Indeed, God is working through you and me right now. May we live in faith in Jesus being generous in all things, and know that God sees us as we can be, but, God loves us as we are. Amen.

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