Emmaus

They walked the dusty road with him
not knowing who he was
with every word he spoke, a fire burned within
yet they didn’t recognize him

Are we not like Cleopas and his companion
when with us in the dark he walks
closed are the eyes of our hearts  
we cannot see the one who
sets our souls on fire

It was the breaking of bread
they recognized
the source of their desire,
their Lord

In the breaking of our bread
we recognize our Lord
we see our Lord, we hear our Lord, when . . .
we share our bread with outcasts
the disinherited
it is in the eyes of the hungry we see . . .

the face of Christ

~Ruth Jewell, ©April 22, 2019

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona,
by Ruth Jewell, 2005

2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger – Prayerful Tuesday

“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. – Matthew 25:35

DSCF3027 a

Louis Guido Maximilian Jewell (aka Louie) Adopted March 19, 2016
Louis Guido Maximilian Jewell (aka Louie)
Adopted March 19, 2016

I apologize for being late today, but, just returned from the Westar Institute Spring Meeting held in Santa Rosa CA.  I returned a day late because I adopted the cute little fellow above. I ended up staying an extra day to bond with my new little friend before we made the long drive home.

You may be wondering how adopting a dog from shelter is related to a theological meeting but it does fit in quite well actually. A major theme of the meeting was hospitality, the welcoming of the other into our midst.  That other may be someone from a different culture, race, faith tradition, age, or gender.  It also means welcoming the non-human other. God intends us to express our welcome to all creatures, mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and (here’s the hard part for me) insects.  God intended us to care for all nature, human, non-human, plant, and stone for all are children of God.

As I listened to the lectures and discussions I wondered when we lost the ability to care for others, human or non-human.  When did we forget to practice loving the other and caring for the sick, the homeless, and the incarcerated?  It doesn’t matter if the other in need is a man, woman, child, dog, cat, horse, or any other child of God, all deserve to live a good life and to be welcomed into our arms.

Ever since my beloved Suzie died in January from a stroke I have been considering adopting another Chihuahua and while I was in Santa Rosa I visited a Sonoma County Animal Shelter and was introduced to Louie.  I thought about what it means to care for someone other than myself and while a small dog wouldn’t be everyone’s choice it is mine. So we are welcoming into our small home and family a new member. Louie was abandoned on the streets of Santa Rosa; he is between 3 and 5 years and was discarded like trash. A shy little fellow who is way smarter than you’d think.  After all he has lived for some time on the streets, and survived. He is loving, gentle and wants only to be loved.  Just like anyone who has been discarded and forgotten.

So this week, for our spiritual practice, I am asking you to practice hospitality.  I’m not suggesting you go out and adopt a dog or any other animal, although I wouldn’t stop you.  Rather I am suggesting that you see the homeless on the street for the people of God that they are.  You might volunteer to spend a couple of hours helping out at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal shelter.  If you see a homeless person on the street, offer them a sandwich or granola bar.  When you offer your gift, shake their hand look them in the face and see the Holy Spirit looking back. Talk to Terri Stewart about volunteering at the King County Juvenile Center and learn to see children of the streets as angels in disguise.  If you are interested attend a service of a different faith tradition and listen with open heart and mind. At the end of the week reflect on what you have experienced and learned of the other.  Offer a prayer for all who are forgotten and pushed aside.

Loving, welcoming Spirit may we see your face in the eyes all we meet, human and non-human.  Help us to open our hearts to the stranger in our midst, and welcome them with open arms.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 22, 2016

I was blind but now I see – Prayerful Tuesday

23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:23-25

Walk in the fog by George Holden Publicdomain.net
Walk in the fog by George Holden
Publicdomain.net

In January I had Cataract surgery and I must admit I never knew how much I was missing or how dark my world had become.  One of the first things I noticed was that our light bulbs were a lot brighter and we didn’t need to change them after all.  I also noticed evergreen trees, grass and the leaf buds on our Lilacs were so much greener than they were.  The colors of the crocus and daffodils seemed to pop out like neon lights and I was amazed at how blue the sky was (that is when we had blue sky).  The funniest thing was my IPad mini.  I have a screen saver of stars and low and behold I just discovered there were also clouds in the picture.  I couldn’t see them before.

I thought about the scriptures where Jesus healed those who were blind, especially the one where it took two tries before the man could see clearly. In many ways we are all like that one man.  We see but we don’t really ‘see.’

My sudden clarity in sight has also made me think of all the things we miss because we don’t “see” them, really see them. We see the homeless man standing on the corner but we don’t really see him. We don’t see his pain, or his embarrassment, or his fear.  What we see is a figure, as the blind man said as a walking tree, but we don’t see the human, the child of God who is before us.  How many of you have taken the hand of a homeless person and looked into their eyes and saw the person for who they are, our brother or sister in God.

How many of you have gone to a jail and comforted the mother of a victim, or taken the hand of a felon and said you are loved by God, don’t be afraid.  How many of you have seen children arrested for stealing drugs at their parent’s request  or for stealing to provide for their family’s who are held in Juvenile Detention for a year or more because there parent or guardian can’t get clean from drugs or alcohol and there is no responsible adult to care for them.  How many of you have held someone suffering from mental illness or PTSD and said ‘I’m here, you aren’t alone.’

If you haven’t volunteered at a shelter or soup kitchen yet find the time to do so.  Volunteering there is a lesson in compassion and humility, of seeing people society throws away as our brothers, sisters, and friends who are in pain and afraid.

I am grateful that I am now able to see creation more clearly, the colors in sunrises and sunsets, and to rediscover the beauty of spring flowers.  I love it that I can now see the faces of my friends and family, each and every one of them, more clearly.  I love it that much that had been hidden by my own dark glass has been made clear.  But today there is so much darkness, so much fear, so much hatred that clarity of sight is difficult for us all. Jesus said “I Am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5b) and in the words of the Prophet Mohammad “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” (Quran 23.35a)  As people of faith we are to be the light that brings sight to the blind.  We are called to bring the light of love, compassion, justice, and peace to a wounded world.

My recommended Spiritual Practice for this week is to open your eyes and SEE the world around you. Take the time to gaze at the beauty of a flower, and marvel at the rebirth of delicate green leaves on a tree. Let the beauty of creation refresh your heart and cleanse your eyes.  Then take the time to see the people around you, offer a sandwich to the homeless man, woman, or teenager on the corner and take the time to look into their eyes and see your brother or sister, your son or daughter.  Let them know they are known for whom they are a child of God.

Gracious Lord, you gave us eyes to see you in the face of all who surround us, to see you in a smiling baby’s face, the wrinkled face of an elderly, in the broken lives of the homeless and the hungry.  In our rush of our daily living we become blind to all the love you have given us and we forget to pass on the love we are given to those in need.  Help us in our blindness Lord.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©March 8, 2016

Blessed are those – Prayerful Tuesday

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6

homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net
homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst” for righteousness? What Jesus was saying is better understood if we understand how the 1st century audience understood righteousness.  A person listening to this scripture in the 1st century would have heard righteousness as justice; so those who “hunger and thirst for justice “will find justice.   However, at least if you listen to the news media, it doesn’t seem as though justice is a priority today.

In this land of so much abundance there are too many who are hungry, homeless, and lost in a world of mental disability and addictions.  Last Tuesday I volunteered at Common Ground in Everett.  About 40 homeless and hungry people and one sweet dog showed up between 8 am and 12 noon, for coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks.  For 4 hours, 4 days a week people who live on the streets find a warm place to talk, play a few board games, drink coffee and eat snacks, or just sleep in a safe place.

Each and every one of the people served by this small shelter was hungry for justice.  Some are homeless due to alcohol abuse or chemical addictions. Some have mental illnesses, too many are veterans suffering from PTSD.  Some are young people thrown out of their homes by their parents and some are homeless through no real fault of their own.  Some have committed crimes that prevent them from getting a job, but that is a smaller percentage than most people think. Many are homeless because they lost their job and are unable to find another one.  It is one reason why some 50 something’s are on the street.  They were living paycheck to paycheck and when the paycheck was lost so was their housing and everything else.

Every single visitor to Common Ground only wanted enough to survive on, a clean place to live, enough food to eat, and clean clothes to wear.  Is that too much to ask? Each person wanted to be recognized for the person they are, with all the wounds and scars that living a life produces.  Is that such a hard thing to ask for?

Homelessness, hunger, illness aren’t sins or crimes, even though they are often treated that way.  Homelessness is the dirty little secret we want to hide away and tell ourselves it can’t happen to me, or those we love.  Well, the truth is losing your home, and/or your family, everything you hold dear can be lost in a moment. When it happens, you very well may end up on the street asking yourself what happened.

The spiritual practice for the week is to recognize the people on the streets as our brothers and sister, our aunts and uncles, our mothers and fathers.    You might carry with you an extra sandwich, or candy bar and when you meet someone offer it to them.  They may refuse, but most likely they will accept. Shake their hand and let them know you recognize them for who they are, a child of God, a child of humanity. If you are in the position to speak up for those on the street then find a way to do it.  If you are able to volunteer at a shelter the life lesson you receive will change how you view your own life of comfort and abundance.  Even if you believe you have very little it is still more than what those on the streets have.  They believe you are rich, and in meeting them face to face you will recognize how rich you are.  You probably are saying that’s not a spiritual practice but it is spirituality in action, practicing what we are taught in the Gospels.  It does no good to pray if the prayer is not followed up with meaningful action.

May each of you find the Divine in the face of a hungry man, woman, or child and may you be righteous offering justice for those in need.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2016

Imagination and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Working in a Food Bank
Working in a Food Bank

Sunset Yakima WA, 2013
Sunset Yakima WA, 2013

Students of Umpqua College  being led to safety, 2015
Students of Umpqua College
being led to safety, 2015

 

Many of us live in nice safe neighborhoods with few opportunities to interact with those who are disadvantaged except maybe on the street when we are approached by a homeless person.  And while disasters are all too common today I would guess that most of us are relatively unaffected by such actions as shooting incidents or natural disasters.  So today I would like you to put yourself, through your imagination and pictures, in places you might be uncomfortable with.  I have chosen three pictures only two are images that may disturb you or make you uncomfortable.  The third is a quiet scene and I would like you to ask compare your feelings of that scene with the others. This is not my usual spiritual practice but using our imagination to be in a place of comfort or discomfort is also a spiritual practice for it opens our hearts and minds to the possibilities of where we need to grow or what we fear. Finding God in uncomfortable places is just as important as finding God in places we are needed but don’t want to go.

Follow the directions for using the imagination combined with Visio Divina:

  • Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  • Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  • What feelings arise within you as you gaze at the images?  Do you feel fear; are you uncomfortable?  When you gaze at pictures 1 and 3 then contemplate picture 2 what changes in you as you look at this serene scene.  Do you see the sunset in a different way?
  • Respond to the images with prayer. Did the images remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  • Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in the quiet moment. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 2, 2016

The Work of Christmas Begins

A Poem by Howard Thurman

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.


Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies.  But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.

Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught.  Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year.  The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit.  A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home.  Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.

Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers.  Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world.  Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea!  If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.

To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?

So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2016

Advent, Week Two, Peace – Prayerful Tuesday

Numbers 6:26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Psalms 29:11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Peace, 2nd Week of Advent; Photo by Ruth Jewell
Peace, 2nd Week of Advent;
Photo by Ruth Jewell

Peace certainly seems in short supply this year.  We are preparing for the birth of light yet darkness seems to rule in so many places. My heart is heavy with sorrow for those who have been torn from their homes and are finding their presence in other countries is unwanted.  I am ashamed of so many of my fellow American for buying into a fear that leaves people, many of them children, cold, hungry and without shelter. I am glad I live in a state willing to provide safe harbor for those fleeing violence in their homelands. While the transition will be difficult for the refugees I pray that they will find a place among us where they will enrich our lives in so many ways. I will welcome each and everyone one of them and offer my help in any way I can.

My heart also breaks for those who are victims of the growing violence within our own borders. Offering prayers for peace is such a little thing and often feels inadequate, yet, when those prayers motivate us into an action that prevents violence and provides a place of safety and peace then prayer is powerful indeed. And, we can be seeds of peace by offering gratitude for what we have, by saying we love ourselves and our neighbor, by opening our hands to help someone rather than lead off with a fist, by giving everyday to those who are not as fortunate as we are, and these are only a few of the things we can do to promote a peaceful place.  Prayer is only a first step it is the second step that tells others what we are made of.

Yes peace is in short supply and that is why it is so important for each of us to plant our own small seed and maybe by the New Year we will have a forest.

My prayer for you is peace. Peace of mind, peace of spirit, a peace that comes only from being peace and giving peace away.

Meditations for a Mindful Advent
Queen Anne Christian Church
Seattle WA
2015

Slow down . . .  seek hope
Buy less . . . create peace
Eat less . . . embrace joy
Worry less . . . give love
Prepare your heart for new birth.

An Advent Prayer
God who causes stars to burn and energy to flow,
may Your presence be made known to us in new ways.
When we wonder where You are, shine Your light in new ways.
When we wonder why bad things happen, help us to find all of Your goodness.
When we feel hopeless, help us to become Your hope in the world.
You have created us out of stardust, and breathed into us life.
In You, all things are possible, and all things are created new.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, as we await the birth of the light of Christ
may we come to know You in new ways on this journey of faith. Amen.

Peace – The Second Week of Advent

Light two candles
Pray the “Advent Prayer” above.

Meditations
We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives,
so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt,
that peace and abundance may manifest for all.
— Dorothy Day

An apology is the superglue of life.
It can repair just about anything.
— Lynn Johnston

Questions
Morning: In anticipation of the day, what seeds of peace could you sow?
Evening: Looking back on the day, where did you find peace?

Prayer 
Offer a prayer for those in need of peace; include yourself.

Ruth Jewell ©December 8, 2015, Advent Meditations by Laurie Rudel, Pastor Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA

You Are Invited . . .

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The above text is about how we are invited into God’s grace. However, what we do with that grace is entirely up to us.  We can ignore it, accept it but only on our terms, or completely live into the gift of grace.  What we do will be our choice and that choice will determine how we live our lives.  The following is the text of the sermon I preached on August 23, 2015, at my home church, Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA.

On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA.  I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was taking the bus from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA.  We would be married in September.  This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 15 years. I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married.  But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since.  As a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life.  Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.

The scripture from Matthew is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a wedding banquet given by a King, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. And, to deciding to live a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace.  It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into.  Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we have the strength to walk through them.

Matthew’s version of this story, which is also found in the Gospel of Luke, is actually two parables about invitations. It’s a story about a king, who wants to invite people to celebrate the wedding of his son with a banquet.  Matthew adds two additional details to the story; the first is when some of the king’s friends’ killed his slaves and he attacks and wipes out the kingdoms of those who committed those atrocities.[1] It is accepted by most interpreters that this part of the parable, Verses 6 and 7, are an interpretation of Matthew’s who is reading back into this parable the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Matthew adds it because within his community he has people who are struggling with the loss of their ancestral home.  It is not believed to be part of the original parable from the time of Jesus, the oldest version of which is found in the Sayings of Q. Actually these verses are much more characteristic of an interpretation of God from the Hebrew Text rather than the life and teachings of Jesus.[2],[3] Matthew’s second addition are the last 4 verses, verses 11-14,  of the story where Jesus tells one more story of the banquet[4] and this addition is very important in the way Matthew wants us to understand and respond to the divine invitation to a new life.  Together these two parables are stories about the life choices we make and what we do with those choices.

So here we have a story of a King, who traditionally is identified with God, and throws a wedding party for his son, Jesus. Those are the traditional interpretations of Matthew’s King and Son.  But I want to you think about a what if.  What if we look at this story from a different perspective? What if we turn it upside down? What if instead of the King being God the King is Jesus who’s throwing a wedding banquet for the Children of God who he invites to live a new life?  How will that perspective change the way we hear and see these parables?

Now even though the Matthew’s setting of the parable is Jesus defending himself before the religious authorities Matthew wasn’t referring to “the Jewish authorities” as the ones who refused to attend, or that the ones who came were only “Gentiles.” Rather, most interpreters now believe Matthew was addressing his own conflicted community who he wanted to live a transformed life.[5]  The Jewish Jesus followers of Matthew’s community were struggling with the loss of the temple and his Gentile Jesus followers were struggling with whether they should or should not become Jewish. All this would have made for many conflicts between the different factions and Matthew is trying to bridge the gap between them.  I too am not suggesting that there are specific groups being discussed in these parables. So depending on which version you like the best, think of the players in the 1st century as Matthew’s neighbors or in our very own community as our neighbors right now in the 21st century.

So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them.  Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation.  An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.  So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event.  But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living.  So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting?  Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets and to the city gates to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy.  With the diligence of his disciples the hall is soon filled to overflowing.

Who were the people from the streets? Well if we think of who are the people of the streets in the 21st century you might first of all think of the homeless tent encampments, or the people living under a bridge, or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job.” And think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of any town. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big party given by the most important person in town. Can you imagine how they felt?  Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the man said come as I am, how cool is that.”  Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who would be attending.  It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, or a prosperous business person. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited.  They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table.  They wanted to have new lives.  Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning.

As the guests enter the hall they see the banquet tables set up with every food imaginable, roast lamb, poached fish, pastries, bowls of fruit, cool drinks, and wine, good wine, not the cheap stuff.  In the corner an orchestra was playing, with real instruments not a wash tub and jug band. Everyone was celebrating, drinking, eating, and dancing to the wonderful music. That is, everyone except this one guy who had piled his plate up with everything it would hold and was eating it in the corner telling anyone who would listen, “well it’s about time this Jesus dude recognized just who makes this town what it is.”  “I deserved this invitation, but don’t expect me to go overboard for him; this is what we should have had all along. In fact I think I will just take everything I can. And I’m going to let this Jesus person know that I’m not going to do anything unless I really want to just because he invited me to this party.”

When Jesus comes in to join his guests he sees this guy in the corner and he says “Ah, excuse me, why aren’t you celebrating. This is a joyous occasion, you come expecting to be fed but you won’t celebrate your new life.  You come in and can’t see the joy of living a life of peace, and justice.  You blame me for your suffering but you did nothing to help those who suffered as well. I was there to help but you wouldn’t come out, is that my fault? You accepted my invitation to grace but only on your terms? It doesn’t sound to me like you understand what it means to come to one of my banquets; I don’t think you belong here, yet.  Show this guy out until he understands what it means to come celebrate a transformed life.”

Jesus knew people had options in their lives. The trouble was those options weren’t working for the majority of the people. True the religious authorities and the Roman authorities were doing ok, but if you look at the number of people who were killed in order for someone else to advance socially or politically their options weren’t working for them either.  So along comes Jesus with an alternative way of living a life that didn’t involve beating up, or tearing down someone else. But Jesus wasn’t offering a new idea.  For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  Every Prophet since Moses, including Jesus, has said the very same thing and the people listened and accepted life, for little while, then the ‘easier’ way of greed and self-centeredness takes precedence and the original message of grace goes by the way side.

But what does it mean to choose life?  Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life  . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living.[6] That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.

That is what happened to our disgruntled guest.  He may have accepted the Divine invitation of free grace to attend the banquet, but his acceptance had no depth to it, it never went beyond saying I’m here, thanks for the food, see you later. He was glad to accept the invitation to grace but on his terms only. He never truly transformed his whole life.  He never saw that living in the presence of Jesus meant he had to let the inner life make its way to the outer side of who he was.  It meant he had to share the love, peace and abundance of grace with everyone he met, not hoard it. He came to the banquet not because he wanted to live a life transformed but because he wanted what he could get and then live as he always had.  That’s not change, it is not celebration and it’s not joy, and it is not committing to living a transformed life. It’s keeping the old life and saying it was good enough in the past it will be good enough now.

No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options.  Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that.  I don’t know where I would have been 15 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here.  But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship.  One, I could continue to behave as I have always behaved.  Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed.  Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have benefited.  These two options were not the ones I chose.  Instead I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are.  We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house.  When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.

Jesus invites us to a banquet of grace, he welcomes every single one of us to His table, and He doesn’t ask questions about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, He wants us to come and join Him. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games.  To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. Jesus asks us to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that don’t see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political.

We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo.  We can change the world by refusing to accept that war is the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life.  We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.

The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . .  Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the wedding of our spirits with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves.  Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”[7]

Moses said: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Ruth Jewell, ©August 28, 2015

[1] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[2] Miller, Robert J; Editor, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California, 1992, pg 98
[3] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[4] Allen, Ronald J. & Clark M. Williamson; Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2004, pg.76-78
[5] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1993, pg 251-253
[6] Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
[7] Proverbs 9:1-6

Stand up and say NO MORE – Prayerful Tuesday

We are all Homo Sapiens sapiens but we will never be Human Beings until we stop just surviving and begin to live in harmony with each other and all creation.  

NO MORE
NO MORE

I have been trying to comprehend the shootings in South Carolina at the First Emanuel AME Church.  Just as the acts in other mass shootings I simply can’t get my mind around a hatred that produces such evil.  I have listened to the prayers for comfort and supplication.  I have listened, unwillingly, to the NRA and other public speakers who blame the church pastor and members, or minimize the acts of the shooter.  I can’t, or won’t, believe that 9 innocent people were the cause nor can I believe the shooter acted without encouragement.

You see, I believe we, you and I,  are to blame for what happened in South Carolina.  You and I, and everyone else regardless of skin color, privilege, ethnicity, or any other cultural classification are equally responsible for pulling the trigger and this is why I believe this.

We refuse to stand against acts of injustice, violence, discrimination, or the use of degrading speech.  We listen politely and shake our heads and tell ourselves that offering a prayer that people will change is enough.  We are afraid of what others might say about us if we stop someone in mid speech and tell them NO, I will not listen to this.  We look the other way when someone abuses another.  We tolerate public servants who degrade people of color, are poor, elderly, or have a religion they don’t follow.  We have tolerated public servants who have spoken as if they are the only ones who matter, who have verbally abused our President and anyone else they disagree with or disagree with them.

We have created this atmosphere of hate and violence found in country today.  Yes, I admit I am right there along with the rest of us.  Have I stood up and defended someone being abused, sometimes yes but not always.  I do it when it is convenient for me and that is not what we are called to do.  We, you and I, are called by the Divine to be better than that.

This week I am recommending a spiritual practice of standing up and defending the voiceless.  I am asking each of you to speak up when you hear someone abusing or degrading someone else.  I am pleading with each of you to stand and be counted when you see injustice happening.  As you go through this week remember this:

8 But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 The Message (MSG)

Ruth Jewell, ©June 23, 2015