Our Savior Episcopal Church, Mill Valley
I am really grateful to be joining you this morning in your beautiful sanctuary in a town that to me has always exuded the magnificent charm of Northern California. A few weeks ago, my husband Matt and I stopped in at your local market to pack our bags for a hike around Mt. Tam for the birthday of a dear friend, and during my three years and a few months as program director of California interfaith power & light I have easily taken for granted the climate mindfulness, commitment and awareness of congregations like yours. In many ways your congregation, and many other CIPL member congregations in Marin county are like those early laborers in the vineyard: you've installed Solar, I assume based on those who represent you, that you vote by and large for climate conscious legislators. But the truth is there's so much more for you, for each of us to do, to recognize the way in which this issue really does exacerbate every other concern and that despite our state and your region in particular being far ahead of many others around this nation, we can't put this too high on our priority list. The devastation of this year’s record hurricanes just being one front page reminder. Right now, people are suffering the consequences of our imbalanced relationship with God's good creation and there really isn't too much attention we can pay to trying to correct that.
In today's readings from Exodus and the Gospel, I strongly identify with the grumblers. Since moving to the diocese of California from Virginia, mainly because back in 2006 a gay priest like myself really couldn't be out and in a relationship and serve a parish. I've grumbled that the status and size of the Episcopal Church just isn't like it was in the Old Dominion. Like other east coasters who have come out this way, I ran into some last week at clergy conference, I have grumbled at how few full-time jobs there are available in the church and the fact that the ones that do exist always feel a bit tenuous. How easily, like the Israelites and like those early laborers, I neglected gratitude. While the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is no Egypt, not then and certainly not now, and California is not the promised land not for me and certainly not for many others ---- would I really want to turn back?
The parable Jesus tells this morning is a challenging one. We don’t live in a world where we find employers willing to pay a full day’s pay for less than half a day’s work. But Jesus starts this out by saying, “For the kingdom of God is like…”. And with few other words at the very end we have perhaps found the keys to the door, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill Levine wrote:
“It was once said, "religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable."
Jesus' parables -- short stories with moral lessons -- were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable. These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners -- first century Jews in Galilee and Judea -- heard much more challenging messages.” She says of this particular parable:
“Jesus' first listeners heard not a parable about salvation in the afterlife but about economics in present. They heard a lesson about how the employed must speak on behalf of those who lack a daily wage.
They also discovered a prompt for people with resources: Attend to those who do not have jobs, and make sure everyone has what is needed.
Jesus does not invent this idea of advocating for the unemployed and sharing resources. The same concerns occur in Jewish tradition from King David onward.”
How might this parable seen through this approach be speaking to us today? For many of us the Kingdom of God isn’t solely concerned with the sweet by and by but with how we live in the here and now, for as Jesus said elsewhere, the kingdom of God is within and among you. What would it mean for us to take to heart the words, “the last will be first and the first will be last? “
The lessons from Exodus and the Gospel perhaps are inviting us to see things from a different perspective, to live with a deeper sense of connectivity and gratitude with a God who liberates captives and with each other, each one of us equally valuable whether we got here for worship at 8 a.m. or at 10 a.m.
Connectivity and gratitude, with a liberating God, with one another, each equally valuable in God’s eye. I know that Our Savior is a strong parish that is connected and that is grateful. But might there be ways that these ancient sacred stories are prompting you to, as Professor Levine suggests, “ attend to those who do not have jobs and make sure everyone has what is needed”?
Perhaps my visiting today is a reminder to you of your parish’s connection to California Interfaith Power & Light, and an invitation to consider getting more deeply connected with the work we do with congregations all over the Golden State? Yesterday I visited a Catholic church in the Central Valley, a region that is feeling the consequences of our warming planet in very different ways than those of us on the coast. Just spending a few hours there in Stanislaus County reminded me of how valuable having a Central Valley organizer would be to work with our member congregations in the region. Increased support from congregations like yours in Marin County could make a difference in our efforts to reach out and engage more people of faith in districts whose political leaders are not as climate-minded as those here.
Or perhaps these texts and this visit is a reminder of how blessed we are to be in a Diocese that is at the forefront of essential movements for social change from LGBT equality to environmentalism. While we as Episcopalians may not be large in numbers, and our Diocese may only represent a portion of the Bay Area, I can assure you that our leadership as individuals, parishes and together as a region have and continue to make a huge difference. Sometimes our size can work in our favor, especially on something like climate change, imagine if every one of our Diocesan churches were to strive for carbon neutrality or even took out more carbon from the atmosphere than we release? Imagine if each of our churches was powered by 100 percent renewable energy, was committed to zero waste and people either, walked, took transit, or commuted to services in zero emission vehicles? Imagine if we did all that and at the same time created a fund to help congregations in other parts of our state and the world do the same things? What if our beautiful Diocesan conference centers not only strove to be models of sustainability but worked to help every Episcopal conference center in the U.S. become leaders in their dioceses for zero waste, carbon neutrality and sustainability? At the end of the day hopefully we won’t mind that we all get paid the same wage which in this case might simply be a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.
In closing I’d like to share with you the powerful words of the late great Verna Dozier, an Episcopal lay woman. She wrote:"We have lost the capacity to dream great dreams. We reduce God to the personal, private, ’spiritual’ sphere of our lives, and ministry to personal, private, ’spiritual’ acts - a good deed here, a good deed there, a cup of cold water here, a loaf of freshly baked bread there, a prison visit here, a hospital call there, a night in a shelter here, a time with a troubled friend there. We see no need to challenge the systems that make these ‘ministries’ necessary.
The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is commitment to the dream of God."