GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Listen - 10/08/2017

For Sunday School this week, one of the projects our curriculum called for were these self portraits made on paper plates. I like to do these projects beforehand so I have a better idea of how to explain it to the kids and I have a finished version to show them so they get an idea of where the whole thing is going.

The instructions asked us to draw our features on paper plates … our eyes, nose, and mouth. I thought it was important to include my glasses since they are always a feature of my face. I tried to draw in something that looked like dimples and I would have included my gap teeth if I could have figured out how to do that without making it look like a picture of a nightmare or something.

For our hair we could use something like yarn, so I found the white yarn and used that on my self portrait, while I put out the brown, yellow and red yarns for the kids to use for their more youthful hair – we were to add all the details of our faces we wanted … except our ears.

Once we had the features we wanted, then we were to add the ears, which I had prepared ahead of time to be much bigger than what we each probably would have drawn. The idea of the project was that we were to create a self portrait with crazy-large ears so that each time we saw it, it would remind us to open our ears and listen to what Jesus teaches us. (Sunday: Show your work Paper Plate artists!)

I think the project is a fun and memorable way for our Sunday School kids learn more about how to find themselves and God's guiding voice in the Bible.

And so as I sat downstairs one evening this week, making my own self portrait, (show portrait) adding those crazy-large ears to a face that I think looks a little like mine, I realized this is a project suitable for any of us, no matter what color yarn we need for our hair – because maybe, us insiders …

... those of us who participate in the life of this or another faith community regularly;

… those of us who feel strong in our faith; who consider ourselves believers of this great conspiracy against sin and death that we find in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,

… those of us who pray, read scriptures and devotions regularly;

… those us us who worry sometimes about whether the offerings of the faithful will continue to support the ministry; fret over whether our example of living models righteousness in our love of God and neighbor.

… those of us who are insiders, perhaps we need to be reminded to keep our ears open to what Jesus teaches us too, no matter how many times we've heard the stories and parables and poetry before, no matter how many times we've heard and thought … ahhh yes, I understand, Lord. We need to get our crazy-large ears on and keep listening.

And I have to admit to you, that was something I needed to realize because as I sat there making my self portrait, I was also struggling with what to preach on with the Parable of yet another vineyard in the landscape of Matthew's gospel.

We had a really good bible study discussion on the texts led by Elaine on Wednesday. I jotted down a lot of ideas or little tidbits, just as I did when I read commentaries later in the week and listened to podcasts. There were good thoughts and ideas coming from all these places, but none that seemed to have any staying power, none that seemed to lead me to that place where the sermon starts to get some legs and take shape a little more clearly … none, I except … realized as I was pasteing the 2nd crazy-large ear to my paper plate … none except the very first word of our reading today: “Listen.”

Listen, listen to this ancient, well-known, comfortable as your favorite cotton t-shirt parable again.

Not everyone in Sunday School did the paper plate self portrait. Some of us sketched a picture of a vineyard with workers gathering the harvest and we included ourselves in the sketch. (Sunday: Show your work sketchers!) The purpose of this project was to show the kids that when we hear these parables from Jesus, we can often picture ourselves in them and then see what the parables teach us about God and Jesus and us from that point of view. So we wrote on them: (Show sketch) “People see themselves in Jesus' parables.”

It was in creating this (very remedial) sketch of a vineyard and writing those words that the rest of this sermon began to take shape.

“Listen!” – all with ears to hear – the parable calls to us like one of the prophets or the voice of Wisdom out of Proverbs.  It reminded me to insert myself into our reading and so I looked for the others who were listening to Jesus too.

It's important to remember where we are in this story right now, especially because it's perhaps not where we expect to be at this time of the church year, in the long green season after Pentecost … in our reading, it's Holy Week.

This Chapter 21 we read from today begins with Jesus being triumphantly escorted into Jerusalem by crowds of people. His disciples are close by his side as the crowds wave palms and cry out “Hosanna” or “Save us, Son of David!” (21.9). The chief priests and Pharisees look on and begin to grumble against Jesus and to the people. “Who is this? … by who's authority does he say and do these things?” (21:10,23)

Just after that Jesus loses his cool in the temple and throws out all those he finds there who are buying and selling God's love; people who are profiting from and purchasing God's covenantal promises and demands of the people. The grumbling really picks up after that and it is at this point the Jesus begins teaching again. So we can now imagine all the crazy-large ears open around Jesus as he tells this parable.

“Listen,” he says to the disciples, the crowds, the chief priests and the Pharisees. “...There was a landowner who planted a vineyard...” (21:33)

The disciples and the crowds are kind of like our Sunday School class – people who are just beginning to hear the stories of God and God's love for them and all of creation, or people who are hearing the scriptures opened up in new ways through the teachings of Jesus.

And the chief priests and Pharisees – well, this week, I find that they are a lot like many of us.

They are more familiar with the scriptures. They have spent time studying the them and talking about them with one another. They have devoted their lives to caring for the temple and obeying God's command. They worry about whether the offerings the faithful people bring will continue to support the Temple's ministry. They have diligently written down interpretations of the law as a guide for the people. They fret that they will fall short in how well they teach the law; or that fall short in modeling their “blameless” life of righteousness, according to God's law. (Philippians 3:6)

They are insiders, like us.

So I think this text can really convict us, my friends. We insiders need to be continually ready to check ourselves, and sometimes repent and let God correct us, when we see that our own drive to be righteous people of God and followers of Jesus has become a stumbling block for others.

That's what happened to the chief priests and Pharisees. They were not inherently bad people. They really thought they were doing what was best as models and teachers of faithfulness, protecting the religious tradition, helping people work through every fret and worry they could think of and still abide by law.

And over time, the worry and fret rose above love of God. It cast shadows on what it means to love the neighbor. Their interpretations of what it meant to be faithful and righteous became stumbling blocks for others, until eventually the insiders had turned the temple and the religion itself so far inward that no fruits of the Kingdom were being shared. The insiders became so overwhelmingly concerned with their own survival that they had closed their ears and eyes and all senses to the survival of the most vulnerable of their time – those who were still outside the vineyard, but seeking that safe and fertile place to grow in God's abundant love. Those are the insiders Jesus is addressing in our reading today.

And so it let it remind us insiders too. Let it remind us to put on our crazy-large ears and take a hard and honest look at our own efforts to abide by God's law. Are there places where we have fretted so much about the letter of the law that we end up discarding the spirit of the law?  Over time has our love of God taken a backseat to our worry over this building, a healthy bank account, an orderly life of worship. In our lifelong quests to be plentiful fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven have we, without really even realizing it, become a stumbling block to someone else, an obstacle between them and God?

This is hard work sometimes, being a follower of Jesus. It means being a different kind of voice and a different kind of presence in a world that often tends toward division and greed and idolatry. So let us end with a prayer to keep those crazy-large, Jesus-tuned ears open all our lives.

Let us pray,

God, you have created a beautiful vineyard in your people, we grow strong in its fertile soil, the fruits you harvest in us are a hundredfold. We are secure wrapped in the protection of your love, and under the awareness of your watch. We love your vineyard, Lord. Let it embolden us to listen for your word and be your voice and your feet in this world. And let us be brave and repentant when we invariably go off course and become a stumbling block to others for any reason. We pray this humbly and hopefully in the name of Jesus, our teacher and our Redeemer. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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