Benediction Online

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Blind Spots

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80: 7-14

Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

It’s a fascinating fact that all of us have a blind spot in our eyes; a place where the optic nerve passes through the retina so there are no cells which can perceive light. Our brains fill in the blank for us with information from around the blind spot and information from the other eye so we are totally unaware of it.

The religious people of Jesus’ time seem to have had some significant blind spots in their thinking. And Jesus brings this up again and again. He challenges their sense of entitlement. Apparently they had become so caught up in the politics, intrigue and theological correctness of their religious practice that they had lost sight of the central fact – that it was all about God and not about them.

The vineyard workers in the parable probably did a great job; introduced new varietals, scoped out new markets, designed new labels, put in a tasting room with a great view and really got that winery on the map. But they started to think that it was their vineyard. They felt that they had done all the work, they had made all the changes and got a great profit rolling in, so they should keep it all. They thought it was all about them.

When this happens in a faith community, it leads to ego battles and territorial behavior – the altar guild gets upset because the priest doesn’t fold the corporal properly; the tellers complain that the ushers are not filling in their paperwork just right; the ladies of the kitchen practically bar the door in case someone leaves crumbs on the counter. Before you know it there are negative emails flying around and general unpleasantness and talking behind people’s backs. We’ve all been there. These things happen when we forget that it’s about God and start thinking that it’s about our comfort; when we forget that the purpose of a faith community is to love, worship and serve God.

The other stumbling block in a faith community is that we get caught up in what’s right. Someone has a deep experience of one aspect of God or the gospel and becomes a champion for that particular theme. Someone else feels that the language of the Creed is so outdated we should never use it. Another one objects to the words of the Confession. Soon we have battles of the holy. We get caught up in matters of holiness or matters of doctrine, and we forget that these are all human issues. As the Buddhists might say, they are not the moon, just the finger pointing to the moon.

Theology and doctrine have their place, just as order in the church community has its place, but they are not what is ultimately important. Ultimately what is important is loving, worshipping and serving God.

The fruits we are called to grow are justice and compassion. Justice and compassion grow when we are focused on living in co-creation with God, in alignment with divine will. Working for justice and compassion take us out of our own comfort zones. We get to work at three different levels:

First we work on ourselves to cultivate within us forgiveness and compassion. Some of us are currently using the teaching of the Buddhist writer, Pema Chodron to help with this. Then we serve others with compassion through the way we live our lives and specific activities like the Abundance Shop, People’s Kitchen, and the Hunger Walk. And thirdly we use the community and political processes available to us to work for a more just and compassionate world through actively supporting organizations like Central Coast Clergy and Laity for Justice and Bread for the World, and by taking the initiative to write letters and got to meetings about issues that concern us.

We humans have been given the awesome task of being stewards of this world. We haven’t done the best job of it. We’re like vineyard workers who didn’t know how to run a vineyard, and let the grapes grow wild and sour. But it is up to us to do all that we can do now so that our children and grandchildren will have as good a life as possible.

Looking at the beauty here it is difficult to imagine that the planet is facing environmental catastrophe. But it is. Justice and compassion demand that we take immediate action to radically reduce the carbon fuels that we use every day, and to do everything we can to persuade our leaders, locally and nationally, to start taking the strong action that is necessary. Environmental action is not a nice add-on after you’ve done everything else you want to do, it is the immediate imperative.

To be busy making our own vineyard beautiful and productive without ever looking over the wall to see that because of climate change, our neighbors are dying of starvation in Africa and dying of flooding in Asia, is to think that it’s all about us and to forget that it is all about God.

In the middle of talking about vineyards, Jesus suddenly says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. I have been pondering this quotation over the last few days. The builders rejected a stone because they did not see the beauty in it, nor its usefulness. But God did. God made it the cornerstone – the block on which all else rested. We can assume that Jesus is speaking of himself here.

But it is typical of the reign of God, that it is based on something which humans reject. It’s easy to see that the Pharisees rejected Jesus and his teaching, not realizing that he was the cornerstone of the new heavens and the new earth. But who do we reject?

I can qickly see the error of other people’s ways. In December 2008 the Pope made clear that he rejects transgender people when he said that saving rainforests was certainly important but so was saving humanity from the blurring of the genders. I know that people who blur gender lines are a vital and celebrated part of God’s reign. Similarly gay and lesbian people have an important place in God’s reign, yet there are still too many churches, certainly the majority in this town, where gay people have to change to be accepted.

I can easily see these things. But I too have a blind spot. Who are the people that I don’t see? Who are the people that we don’t see? California has 172,000 people literally out of sight in prisons, 268,000 suffering from schizophrenia and 480,000 people living quietly with Alzheimer’s… What if the reign of God is not being built on the churches with their busy programs and services but on prisoners, schizophrenics and the victims of Alzheimers?

I wonder whether the cornerstone of the reign of God is actually our ability to accept those whom we reject? I wonder whether every time we make the inner transformation to see, forgive, embrace and celebrate someone whom we previously couldn’t see, whom we rejected or hated, we are building the reign of God, on the cornerstone of forgiveness, justice and compassion.

I wonder…


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