Getting UnStuck

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives.  Their story really is our story.  We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God.  It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.

The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days.  On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck.  We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.

Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves.  Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves.  It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live.  They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God.  Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate.  They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place.  It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come.  As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people.  As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.

This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today.  In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night.  At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division.  We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders.  Well, Nicodemus was one of them.  He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night.  As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus.  It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking.  For them there had to be winners and losers.  For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about.  For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.

In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate.  Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way.  Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes.  Paul reminds us to mend our ways.  Reconcile with one another.  Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community.  Work towards peace.  Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today.  If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God.  There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically.  It impacts all of us and the way we relate.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate.  If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter.  Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God?  That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.

 

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A Greater Vineyard Envisioned

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Matthew 21: 33-43

So how about those Orioles? They’re looking pretty good these days. I remember when I had moved here back in 1999 and they were on that, well, you know, little slide of losing seasons and it seemed as if it would never turn around. Heck, I remember just a few years ago they were practically giving seats away at $1 and they still couldn’t sell them! After so many years, it seemed as if we had to just settle that this is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. We could complain, because we like to do that, but settle we had to do because that’s just the way it is. Then they hire a manager that wasn’t about to settle. There was something greater to strive for than losing season after season, and now, that seems all but forgotten when new life and winning seasons have become the way. There has been no more settling for less with this team even if we may continue to in our lives and world.

It seems all too often that we are willing to settle for less, often because that’s just the way it is. I wonder what it will take to turn things around. For most of us, it takes a jolt out of the way we’ve always done it and no longer settle for less. Quite frankly, we settle for malaise, for mediocrity, and death; yet, when jolted, we don’t know what to do. It takes death, sickness, cancer, loss of jobs, a test of our mortality before we often turn that corner in life.

We have to believe that Isaiah knows what’s to come. Both him and Jesus use the same story of the landowner and the vineyard. Everything is going along just fine for people Israel. Isaiah tells this beautiful story as it unfolds, but the whole time he’s building a case against their own settledness. Despite all the care, the nurturing, the protection that has been given to this vineyard, it’s still produces something otherwise. We, as a people, become stuck in just coasting by and thinking everything is fine. He goes onto say, “he looked for judgment and sees bloodshed; justice but hark, the outcry.” As many go about their business settling for what is rather than seeking a greater vineyard, the poor, the oppressed, those that are perceived on the bottom only suffer greater. There is bloodshed and outcry for the poor, and yet, often falls on deaf ears. We’re content with the status quo rather than stepping into the unknown. We’re content and satisfied with the settling for something less, as long as it doesn’t impact my life all must be well.

Jesus takes it a step further as he again speaks to the elders of the people and chief priests as he did last week. He speaks of all those coming on behalf of the landowner only to be killed. They don’t want change. Again, as long as it doesn’t impact their lives and change things on their status quo, the get bigger and bigger and the oppressed get pushed further down. The landowner takes drastic means in sending his son, of course, Jesus. We could ask, “Why would he do that? After all he has seen done to the others, why would he risk the life of his son and His Son?” But haven’t we as well? How many of our sons and daughters, how many of our brothers and sisters have been put in the same situation and have lost their lives just so things don’t have to change? When is enough, enough?!? When are we going to confront the real problems of our community and world and I’m sure even our parish that will push us to change and to become the vineyard that God demands of us? We settle for bloodshed. We settle for outcry. We settle for the poor being poor and the oppressed being oppressed. Yet, in the end, so are we if we allow it.

God wants more out of us. God demands more out of us. We don’t have to sit through years of losing seasons of life. We don’t have to wait until it somehow impacts me personally before I take action in recognizing the wild grapes and the weeds that have accumulated. We don’t have to settle for less because God didn’t settle for less in sending his Son into the vineyard to show us a different way. God wants to do it for and to us today, jar us out of our own malaise and often apathetic ways towards politics, towards this city, and often in our own lives. It’s not, “just the way it is” because of anyone else but ourselves. We become stuck, which is our own sin, that God wants to free us from today. To prune us and trim the weeds, and awaken us from our deep sleep that we become comfortable with in order to become that great vineyard that Isaiah and Jesus speak of in caring for our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters because that’s all of us and God wants the best vineyard for each of us, in our hearts, in our community, and in our world. Yes, it demands change, but that’s life. Yes, it demands a leap from the known to the unknown and a leap into trust, but we are guaranteed, by faith, that new life will flourish as we take these babysteps into the great vineyard of our Lord.