Monday, October 9, 2017

God's Vineyard: a Land of Immigrants

October 8, 2017 Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Cathedral Church of St. Paul Philippians 3:4b-14
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Matthew 21: 33-46

Columbus Day weekend seems to be a prequel for some of the holidays looming on our horizon, like our Thanksgiving holiday in November. These holidays raise some questions for me, like how did we all get here in the first place? And whose land is this anyway?
Our bishops recently came back from Alaska where they had gathered for their meeting of the House of Bishops. They had the opportunity to see not only the people of the diocese of Alaska, but also the land upon which they live. Only two of the thirty parishes in this diocese are reachable by roads, the rest of them by small planes only. The indigenous people of Alaska still live off of the land, hunting for moose and fishing for salmon; while businesses and the state live off the land economically, mining and selling many of their natural resources.
Which brings me back to this Columbus Day weekend here in Boston. Our indigenous people are the Native Americans who also lived off this land. Immigration began with people arriving from other parts of our world. Immigrants came from Africa, under the horrific conditions of forced slavery. In the Hebrew translation of “Thou shalt not steal” some interpret the word “steal”  to mean “Thou shalt not steal people, rather than things.” (Laurie Brock,
Immigrants also came from Ireland, as famine and politics forced starving families to seek new vineyards, and to find work, in order to survive. Indeed, today here in Boston, the largest immigrant population is from the Irish community.
Our Anglican immigrants came from England, when the Puritans sought religious freedom from English leaders, just as Jesus was seeking freedom from the Jewish leaders of his time. And, as we know from our history books, Italian born Christopher Columbus came from Spain, seeking an opportunity to get to India and Asia to exploit the riches of those lands -pearls, gold, silver, silks, and spices.
Russell Freedom in his book, Who was first? Discovering the Americas, wrote “As we dig deeper and deeper into the past, we find that the Americas have always been lands of immigrants, lands that have been "discovered" time and again by different peoples coming from different parts of the world over the course of countless generations—going far back to the prehistoric past, when a band of Stone Age hunters first set foot in what truly was an unexplored New World.”
Our land is growing increasingly inhabited, indeed overpopulated in many places. Our land is being depleted of its natural resources as we use and abuse them to fuel our modern needs and human greeds. Casually and carelessly at times, we waste our resources and pollute this fragile earth our island home. As more and more people seek to live in urban environments, we are confronted daily with the challenges of our human diversity. Some of us seek escape by going to those less populated and more natural areas of our lands, just as our bishops did recently, and as the Manna pilgrims are doing today.
As we have heard over these past few weeks in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues to speak to the people around him by using parables. And today’s parable raises those questions once again for me. Whose land is this anyway? And where did we come from? Preachers today are quick to point out that the vineyard belongs to God and that we are the tenants of this vineyard. These tenants have produced grapes and then pressed them into wine for the absentee landowner. But not only have they disrespected him, and refused to pay him his due, they have also killed his slaves and his own son who came to collect.
Our land is both privately owned and publicly shared. And often times these boundaries get blurred. Take for instance our Cathedral Church steps and porch, our sanctuary, and these 138 Tremont Street buildings. They are privately owned by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. And yet often times people assume that they are public spaces, and available to anyone and everyone for their use or abuse. Such misunderstandings can complicate our relationships especially when we claim to be a House of Prayer for all God’s people. It raises that question: Who owns this vineyard anyway? And how did we get here?
Willy MacMullen, headmaster of the Taft School in Connecticut, wrote his commencement remarks to the graduating seniors from a library near the New Haven Green. In an article called “Living on the Commons” he wrote, “Colonists arrived in New Haven in 1638 to try to somehow wrest a life out of thick woods and thin soil. That they survived is something of a miracle, but what is more astonishing is this: one of the first things they did was to plan the town Green. Barely able to eke out survival and with arable land scarce, the first thing they did was to commit to a space where they could gather - to trade, worship, discuss, remediate, resolve, and educate. Think about what that said about their conviction that a community of desperate and diverse voices could only endure if there was a commons.”
We live on the Boston Commons where our public and private lives do meet. We live in a world where desperate and diverse voices are raised with competing urgencies. We live in a world where we live at risk for violence to erupt on our steps, or on our commons, or as it did in Las Vegas last week. We live as tenants on a fragile earth where our natural resources are endangered because of human needs and greeds. And here we worship God as laborers in this private building, also part of God’s vineyard, on these Boston commons.
Headmaster McMullen reminds us that  “We all see a shrunken world, with economic interconnectedness, strains on basic resources, need for environmental cooperation, concerns about security and tribalism. We will need people who can collaborate across difference, who can together think critically and creatively, who can be part of diverse teams, who can debate and empathize with equal parts passion and compassion, who see both shared responsibility and opportunity.”
While living on the commons of Palestine, Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of Israel. You have been given this vineyard by God, he said. You are the tenants of God’s land, which is rich in resources, and you are entrusted with producing wine from the grapes. I have given you a fence to protect this crop from wild boars. I have built a tower for you to watch for thieves, and to serve as a place of lodging for the laborers.
According to William Barclay, “the actions of the owner of the vineyard were all quite normal. Palestine was very familiar with absentee landlords, who let out their estates and were interested only in collecting rental at the right time. (And) the actions of the cultivators was not uncommon either. The country was seething with economic unrest; the working people were discontented and rebellious; and the action of the cultivators (wanting to kill) the son was not by any means impossible.”
Whose land is this anyway? And how did we get here in the first place? Evolutionists will tell you one story; and theologians will tell you another. And I will say that the stories are not incompatible. God created our land, before time. And God created all living beings who began to inhabit that land. We have been given work to do, to be tenants, and laborers, co-creators with God. We have been given the authority and power to till the soil, to produce good fruit, and to protect the vineyard. Co-laborers with God and each other, we have all migrated from foreign lands, some of us living on these commons of our public squares. We have created civil and spiritual laws to protect ourselves and our things.
As Headmaster MacMullen wrote, “As the world has never been more complex and dynamic, the irony is that it has also never looked more like a colonial commons, never more in need of disparate citizens who can gather and converse to meet the pressing planetary challenges. Common spaces are about the bringing together of citizens, around religion, trade, civics, and education.”
I believe that our Cathedral Church, located on these Boston Commons, is uniquely positioned to have those conversations, if we can maintain our civility, our respect, and our desire for the common good. I believe that our landowner is not absent, however, but very much present through the Spirit. This land is our land. This land is God’s land. And while we have come from many and various places, we all came from God. So let’s press on, and be good stewards of this vineyard, while living on these Boston commons together. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I Love to Work

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Exodus 16: 2-15 Philippians 1: 21-20 Matthew 20: 1-16

I have a confession to make. I love to work. I always have, I do right now, and I imagine I will until the day I die. And I am well aware that many people are not like me. Some of you may also like to work but are ready for a break, re-direction, or a change of venue. Or maybe you’re looking for work, and are frustrated with the lack of opportunities available to you. Perhaps you hate work, and would prefer to be a couch potato, or a well-kept man at home. The bottom line, however, is that we are all working, all the time, whether we’re paid for it or not. In fact, we work every day just to stay alive.
Over the course of my lifetime, my work has taken on many faces and gone through various transitions. For starters, in elementary school, I worked hard to earn my mother’s love. I raked the leaves on our yard on my own without being asked; I worked hard in school, and I followed the rules. Later, in middle school, I became a candy-striper, volunteering my time in the hospital, offering reading materials and snacks to patients. I liked their appreciation, and I enjoyed wearing a uniform that identified who I was. Funny, today, I’m still wearing a uniform.
In high school, my work ethic continued despite changes in my location. Before my junior year, my family had moved from the deep south into the north, and I discovered a whole new culture. My work became very different. I was the campaign manager for the president of our student government. I lobbied for a smoking lounge in our high school. I put on a cheerleading uniform, field hockey, basketball, and softball jerseys; and I stopped working so hard in school. I took on unhealthy habits because I wanted to fit in with the “cool kids” and I was angry with my parents. Truth be told, the culture became more important to me than my faith or my family.
As a teenager, I also began to work for money; and because I love to work, I did. At first, I was a waitress in Lord and Taylor’s tea room, offering small bite-sized sandwiches to customers who wanted a break from their shopping. Later, I was one of the cooks at the Howard Johnson’s on I-95. Fish fry Friday’s were particularly busy at work, and so I loved them. While my best friend worked as the glamorous hostess who seated people, I liked being out of sight in the kitchen. I still had a uniform: a white apron, a hairnet, and fingers that were caked with batter.
Aside from work, I also love food, and so perhaps you have begun to see a pattern here. In college, I immediately got a job at Brigham’s Ice Cream, serving candy, because at that time, women weren’t allowed to scoop ice cream. I also had a work study job, which was working in the kitchen at breakfast in the dining hall. When my grades began to slip, I was encouraged to stop working for money and put more work into my studies; and so, sadly, I did.
Upon graduation I couldn’t wait to start working again: first, at a summer camp program, for inner city kids and then on to more permanent work here at Filene’s in Boston. I did a lot of grunt work, putting clothes on hangers, cleaning up after customers, and responding to their requests. When I switched to banking, thinking it would be kinder and gentler, I did a lot of the same work, exchanging the sale of clothing for the laundering of money.  And then I became a parent: two babies within two years time. Like I said, I continued my work of putting clothes on hangers, cleaning up after people, and responding to a lot of requests. In my opinion, however, there is no harder work than being a parent; and no greater joy.
Before seminary, I helped create affordable housing and spent a year working in a hospital as a chaplain, which was intense, challenging, and wonderful at the same time. After seminary, I couldn’t wait to get back to work. I thought work in the church might be different. You know, kinder and gentler. No complaints or grumbling. No hanging of clothes, lots of people helping to clean up, and although I knew there would be plenty of requests, I thought they wouldn’t come to me, but to God. And so upon graduation, I couldn’t wait to put on my new uniform, and start working in the vineyard of God.
Human life, despite our diversity, is often similar, no matter where we live, or work, or study, or have our being. God’s vineyard, despite our location in time or place, seems to have similar workers. The Israelites complained when they worked as slaves in Egypt, and then complained again when Moses led them to freedom. When they grumbled that bread wasn’t enough for their daily food, God gave them meat. Comparing themselves to other laborers in the vineyard, some workers grumbled against the landowner, despite their original covenant with him. With envy, they compared themselves to their fellow human laborers rather than being grateful for what they had. Did they not have enough? Or did they just want less for their neighbor? And more for themselves?
In a book entitled Extraordinary Relationships, a New Way of Thinking about Human Relationships, Dr. Roberta Gilbert wrote, “Places of work, like families, also go through periods of unusual stress, which tend to cause relationship patterns and postures to be more in evidence than usual. Periods of unusual stress might include a transitional time around changing of leaders, a period of economic change, or a company reorganization. At these times, it is more difficult for each individual to stay on course in the organization; that is, it becomes harder to stay out of triangles or out of polarized positions with or against factions that develop. But a goal during (these times) is to retain competent (work), by working for emotional calm, and by staying in emotionally neutral contact with everyone in the system, regardless of their positions or factions.”
This was no less true for the Israelites fleeing Egypt, or for the people following Jesus, than it is today in our world, in our country, and here in our Church. We are all laborers, and yet we are often tempted to be pulled into critical factions, which grumble and complain, rather than becoming more generous and productive workers. Jesus is fond of telling parables to make certain points; and a friend of mine argues that this parable is a bad one. She claims that because we get so caught up in the unfairness of the landowner, we miss the generosity of God.
Jesus uses parables to subvert, to shatter, and to expand our world views, and to challenge the cultural and religious assumptions we have about life and about people. Jesus encourages us to change. Yes, life is unfair; and yet such inequity may be God’s invitation for us to get to work!
This parable isn’t just about us, however, it’s also about God. Distracted by our anger, we don’t see our God, who is the Good Shepherd and the Liberator, our God who is the generous landowner, our God who provides not only daily bread and meat, but also a Eucharistic feast of His own Body and Blood.
It’s not fair that Jesus died on the cross. It’s not fair that each and every one of us is forgiven our daily sins against God and our neighbor. It’s not fair that the drug-dealers on our steps make more money than our sextons, who routinely clean up after them, risk their own health and safety on our behalf. It’s not fair that pop stars and sports heroes make more money than health care workers and teachers.
Fortunately for us, God’s grace is free and unmerited. We didn’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. God’s grace is also unexpected. It comes like a thief in the night, or at the end of a parable. God’s grace is new every morning; and in the end, it doesn’t much matter how hard I’ve worked, or how much money I’ve made, or how much suffering I have endured. In the end, all that matters to me is that I have picked up my cross, and followed Jesus.
In today’s culture, we think being idle means hanging out on the streets, looking for excitement, or mischief, or just time to be a couch potato, resting from our day’s labor. In today’s gospel, however, those who were idle were actually looking for work. The market-place was their labour exchange, a place where vineyard owners would go when they were looking for people who wanted to work.
God chooses generosity. God loves us equally; and yet our human needs will vary. In the Caribbean, in Florida, Texas, and most recently in Mexico, the needs of God’s people are greater than other parts of God’s vineyard; and they are no more or less loved than we are. God calls us to work, to help others, to strive by side for the faith of the gospel, however we can, and wherever we can. Shall we stand idle while others suffer? Or will we work together for building up the kingdom of God, no matter the hour in which we are called, and no matter the wages that we are promised.
In the end, and every day until then, I believe that I have been saved by grace, and not by my works. In the end, I also believe that as common laborers in God’s vineyard, we’ll all be paid the same: that is our salvation and eternal life. For me, “living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor.” And if “I depart and be with Christ, that is far better.” For as we proclaim in our burial rite, “happy from now on are those who die in the Lord! So it is, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors”. Yes, life is unfair, but now and together, let’s celebrate the feast that God has provided for us, and then labour on, for the best is yet to come. Amen.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Becoming Better Evangelists

13 Pentecost, September 3, 2017 Exodus 3: 1-15
Cathedral Church of St. Paul Romans 12: 9-21
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Matthew 16: 21-28

Open my lips O Lord and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen.

I’ve been to Texas twice in my life. The first time was when I was part of a mission trip to Galveston, Texas. Together, with the youth of our Episcopal church and the youth of the United Church of Christ, we traveled to a non-denominational church in Galveston. Their church provided us with a place to eat, sleep, and worship. They also connected us with local people who were still in need of help, after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, even three years later.
I’ve been on mission trips many times after a disaster: there was a trip to South Carolina; a trip to Ohio, a trip to Mississippi, to New York, and then once to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Having endured 8 days of lost power in Connecticut, once after a blizzard in the winter, and then another time after a tornado-like micro-burst in the summer, I remember being so very grateful for people’s help during those difficult and dangerous times. Our parish was less affected by these storms than some of us, and so we opened our Church for people to get water, to get warm, and check in with one another. Today, we pray throughout our country for those who have been affected by hurricane Harvey, and for those who have responded in many and various ways to their distress.
The second time that I traveled to Texas was this past November. As part of my continuing education, I decided to attend a conference in Dallas entitled Evangelism Matters, which was being held for Episcopalians from all over our country. To be among so many people
interested in evangelism was truly inspiring. Now in our baptismal covenant, we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; but if you are anything like me, I would much rather pick up a paint brush, hammer a nail, or serve a meal than talk about Jesus. Someone might just think I’m a Jesus-freak.

But, truth be told, I am! I love Jesus, except, unfortunately, I would prefer to keep Jesus in my closet. Or on my bumper sticker. Or around my neck, and then let others make some assumptions about me and my relationship to Jesus. Hopefully, they will think that I am like those Christians that St. Paul is describing in his letter to the Romans. Perhaps they’ll see me and think, isn’t she a good Christian because she’s doing all that good work. I suspect some might think that I’m on a fool’s errand or that my cross is just a meaningless symbol. I’ve learned that assumptions are never helpful, especially based upon outward appearances.

As baptized Christians, we promise to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in our words, and not just by our actions and symbols, as important as they are. Evangelism, in part, is about telling our faith stories because we want to share the life-giving, liberating love of God that we have experienced in our own lives, and we want others to hear that good news too. The Black Seed writers’ group is a case in point. I wanted to become a better evangelist, which is why I went to Texas.
The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for evangelism and reconciliation, and once a missionary and evangelist right here at our Cathedral, claims that evangelism has to be rooted in our congregations, regardless of our size or location, and not in individuals. Evangelism is everybody’s call from God, just as God called Moses in the burning bush. As Christians, we must be a community of people who are willing to share our faith stories of how we came to know God in the person of Jesus. And this Jesus can’t just be “the nicest guy ever”, or a political revolutionary, or a prophetic witness, or a great teacher, as much as he was all of those.

We proclaim that Jesus is our savior, and the savior of the world, which has nothing to do with our human efforts or beliefs, but rather about Jesus’s efforts and about God’s power. This Jesus is the one that Peter confessed to be the messiah, the one who reconciled us to God and to each other by giving up his own power and surrendering to the will of God. This is the Jesus who was raised from the dead, and people couldn’t stop talking about him afterwards. What happens when we think about Jesus like that?

Proclaiming the good news of God in Christ takes practice. It means getting over our fears of being rejected, looking tacky, being vulnerable, and getting hurt. It means giving up ourselves and losing our lives for God’s sake, no less than Jesus did. It means picking up the crosses which burden us and weigh us down, and then telling stories about how God’s amazing grace and unfailing companionship set us free. How God led us through every terrain and territory of our lives in all sorts of weather conditions. It means knowing that God is with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and will carry us home.

I came to understand the God of all creation through Jesus because he was human like me. Jesus taught me how to forgive. Jesus taught me how to love. Jesus healed me and gave me hope, and showed me that I have nothing to fear, not even death itself. With that blessed assurance, I no longer try to save myself, or prove myself, or even earn my own salvation. I just ask Jesus for help.

Stephanie taught us an easy way to share our faith stories with others. It’s called “Cardboard Testimonials.” On one side of a card, you write (in only a few words) about a struggle, or a challenge, or a valley that you have experienced in your own life. You need not bare your soul, or tell your deepest, darkest secret. Your words could be as simple as a time in your life when you were sick, or scared, or lonely, or just wrestling with a problem or a decision. Then on the other side of the card, in only a few words again, you write down how you believe God responded to you.  

For example, on my way to work this week, I was wrestling with a problem and asking God to give me a sign like the burning bush. Suddenly, a family that I had known from my parish in Connecticut appeared. After a brief conversation, I told them that they were my burning bush, that they were a sign to me that God was present. They didn’t solve my problem, nor did I solve theirs, but we assured each other that God shows up, not only in bushes but also in the people who show up in our lives. Now I’m not suggesting that God always responds to us so quickly or in such easily identifiable ways, but I am suggesting that we need to pay attention. We can call these appearances as nothing more than a coincidence, or we can share them with others as a God moment in our lives. That’s when we become evangelists.

Here are 3 examples from our conference in Texas. I was paralyzed by fear; I was freed by faith. Guilty as sin, I knew I was forgiven. I hated myself, I knew God loved me. And my cardboard testimonial from 4 years ago: I left parish ministry; God gave me a new call: to be a missionary and evangelist, without borders.

During the silence that follows my sermon, I invite you to create your own cardboard testimonial. If you want, you can share it during our coffee hour, or put it in the offering plate, or take it home with you as a reminder. Today we are all practicing how we can become better evangelists.

Shawnthea Monroe, a UCC minister, once wrote, “The worst haircut I ever received was a $7 special at a local salon. I was in my thirties and my hair was thick and curly, the kind of hair that could hide a multitude of styling sins - but not after the $7 special. It was short in back and uneven in front, with tufts sticking out in random places. I looked like I had mange.”

“No one at church said a word until Linda, a dear woman in the choir, came up to me after worship. Lifting a misshapen curl from my face, she said kindly, “You need to see Nan.” When Linda saw my disastrous haircut, she didn’t tell me about the benefits of finding the right stylist or hand me a leaflet featuring haircuts; she sent me to Nan. While it may be easier to spot someone who’s having a bad hair day than someone whose soul is in turmoil, there are people all around us who are hungering for a word they can take to heart. We must be ready and willing to speak the word: “You need to see Jesus.” Amen.
(Christian Century, July 26, 2011, p. 23)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sowers, Seeds, and Soil

July 16, 2017 Cathedral Church of St. Paul The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Let us pray: O God help us to grow! Amen.

Today I want to talk about three very simple things: sowers, seeds, and soil. As was his custom, Jesus often looked around him and used whatever was in front of him to make his point, not only to his disciples, but also to the crowds who followed him. Pushing out into the sea of Galilee, using a boat as his pulpit, Jesus pointed to the people, the landscape in front of him, and to the farmer who was sowing some seeds. It would be like me today, pointing to you and to this Cathedral community, and then telling you a story.

In a book entitled Reclaiming the Great Commission, the bishop of Texas describes the characteristics of a parish, or a diocese, which is only maintaining itself, contrasted with ones that are on God’s mission. While God may love us just as we are, God also wants us to grow, even after our death.

People and parishes who don’t want to grow will not take risks. They will focus only on themselves rather than on God, on others, and what possibilities may lay before them. People on God’s mission will not discourage honest doubt, hard questions, and challenging conversations.They will not get hung up on the drama of a situation but will remain focussed on the situation itself. Change is recognized as a constant way of life. While issues can divide us; mission minded people can unite us. We recognize that sowing God’s seeds in good soil is hard work, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to it.

People and parishes that are on God’s mission want to grow in a variety of ways. They are God-centered, recognizing that God is the Creator of our Garden, that Jesus is the Master Gardener, and that the Spirit is the holy One who sows seeds of love every day. When we’re people on God’s mission, we want to offer good soil for God to plant those seeds into our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Willing to try new and different things, we know that we will make mistakes; and yet we are still willing to “try and try” again.
Paul and I lived in a farming town in Connecticut. The previous owners of our house were two professionals: a pediatrician and an elementary school music teacher. They were environmentalists who loved to create gardens and take care of them. Now, unlike them, Paul and I have a history of killing anything that grows around our house and even inside of it. When we lived in Maryland, we tried to kill the weeds on our patio and killed the azalea bushes at the same time. In Atlanta, we didn’t water the new grass seed enough and so it was scorched by the summer sun. Despite our history, when we moved into this house in Connecticut, Paul was excited to sustain the vegetable and flower gardens that had surrounded our home. I was not.

Initially, I didn’t want to become involved. I was starting a new job as the rector of a parish and had no interest in gardening, and I knew our history. When Paul asked me why I wouldn’t want to be engaged with God’s creation, I responded arrogantly, “I care for life in God’s garden all day long, and I’m too tired when I get home.” And yet, Paul responded to me gently, “But so do I,” he said.
And so, I agreed to help, albeit somewhat reluctantly, certainly not whole heartedly. Where the previous vegetable garden had once been, Paul began tilling the soil and preparing the ground. He chose young tomato, green pepper, and squash plants to start. The garden was enclosed by wire fencing, which was one of the products that Paul’s company manufactures. The young plants were supported by some of the garden products that his company makes as well. Paul was proud of his garden, the fencing, and the tomato towers that supported his vegetable plants.

I decided to start my own garden on a much smaller scale and closer to the house. I wanted the boundaries, the responsibilities, and the ownership of our gardens to be clear. I had no fence, but put my vegetables in a raised bed, on the sunny side of the house, and nearer to the water hose and the side door. I planted only green beans. Clearly, Paul and I had very different gardens.

We both made mistakes. The busyness of our jobs became the hard path on which our good seeds fell; and so nothing grew in certain spots in our gardens. While I was closer to my garden, and therefore thought I would be more attentive to watering it, I didn’t. The sun scorched my green beans. Paul found that too much shade prevented growth, and over-watering drowned the seeds.

Neither of us, in our haste, had prepared the soil well. There was too little soil in mine, and it was too old in his. Weeds, and pests, and thorny roots, not to mention New England rocks, often crowded out and strangled his new young plants. Unprotected by a fence, my green beans became a feast for rabbits and other creatures, while deer routinely crashed over Paul’s lightweight fence and destroyed his plants. I discovered that fences are important for many reasons. They not only make good neighbors, they also protect things that are precious.

Paul had tried to prepare his garden much more faithfully than I. For weed control, he had covered the soil with black plastic. He watered his plants religiously when he was home, visited the garden faithfully, and true to form over-medicated it with fertilizer. The tomatoes were abundant, but not particularly tasty. He grew a only a few squash, and almost no green peppers. After talking with more experienced gardeners, he learned that you shouldn’t fertilize pepper plants at all.

In passive aggressive resistance, I did nothing with my own garden. Sure I planted the seeds; but I didn’t water them, weed them, or protect them. I hoped to eat the fruits of Paul’s good labors, and even the fruits of my own, but I was unwilling to put in the hard work, or the daily care that it required. Truth be told, my heart wasn’t really in it, and so my actions betrayed my words.

A good garden is not created overnight. Indeed, one summer does not a garden grow. Our Cathedral, with all its diversity and variety, has many paths, and many places, upon which God’s seeds are constantly being planted. Yes, we have some hard ground, weeds, thorns, rocks, busy paths, scorching heat, flooding basements, and all sorts of challenges that threaten the life of the seeds that grow both inside as well as outside our Cathedral. And, as co-laborers in God’s garden, we are called to provide good soil, protect the fruit of our labors, and tend this garden on a daily basis.

All creatures great and small can destroy the seeds that God has planted. Fences are important to protect our property, our fruits, our vegetables, and our flowers, to protect our building, our bodies, ourselves, and our souls. Clear boundaries are important to a healthy garden and for good relationships.

We tend our gardens daily by listening to God and to each other. Together, as a community, we offer a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. We know that we have various levels of enthusiasm, energy, and commitment; and yet we know that we each have a part to play. Individually and together, as a Cathedral Church, with God’s help, we can yield more fruit - in one case a hundredfold, in another 60, and in another 30.

We are busy, rocky, thorny, and shallow people; and so God’s seeds don’t always land on the best of our soils. At various times, we’re all tired, hurting, struggling, and less than enthusiastic about our relationships with God and our neighbors.

And so, daily, we must look to the Sower of all good seeds, to the Creator of all creation, to the Master Gardener, and to the Spirit who make things grow miraculously. When life gets too hard, the sun gets too hot, the rain seems relentless, the creatures seem dangerous, and the weeds are overpowering, it’s time for us to turn back to God. Every day is a new beginning; and no matter what path we’re on, or in which small garden we live, God will always plant new seeds of faith, hope, and love to sustain us. And for that good news, we give God thanks and praise.

Genesis 24: 19-34
Psalm 119: 105-112
Romans 8: 1-11
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Generation

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

“But to what will I compare this generation?” Jesus asked. Good question, I thought. So I looked at the many places in the New Testament in which the words “this generation” appeared and discovered that Jesus often describes it as a faithless and corrupt one. “To what will I compare this generation today?” I wondered. Would Jesus call us a faithless and corrupt one as well?

Jesus was talking to the religious leaders of his time, which included the Pharisees, a group of Jews who kept strict adherence to the laws of God, to the Torah - the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and to the ten commandments.These leaders also included the scribes, who were the men who interpreted the laws, sometimes with great precision and detail.

Now, Jesus was claiming that they were a faithless and corrupt generation. He claimed that they did not obey God’s commandments, nor did they listen to the wisdom of the Torah or their prophets. Jesus called these leaders hypocrites, pointing to the inconsistencies in their words and actions. Relying upon the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, they laid heavy burdens upon their own people, who were already feeling burdened by the Roman government. In one exasperated response, Jesus said, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

My Dad, God bless him and may he continue to rest in peace, was an imperfect and yet faithful man. Sometimes I would hear him complain about a relationship, saying “I can’t win for losing.”

This is what Jesus was saying in today’s gospel. You people are like “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” John the Baptist called people to repent, and yet the religious leaders called him a demon. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, eating and drinking with others, and yet, they called him a glutton and a drunkard. As my father would say, neither John the Baptist, nor Jesus, could win for losing.

William Barclay states that “Jesus was saddened by the sheer perversity of human nature. To him (adults) were like children playing in the village square. One group said to the other; ‘Come on and let’s play at weddings,’ and others said, ‘We don’t feel like being happy today.’ Then the first group said, ‘All right; come on and let’s play at funerals,’ and the others said, ‘We don’t feel like being sad today.’ They were what the Scots called contrary.’ No matter what was suggested, they did not want to do it; and no matter what was offered, they found a fault in it.”

Are we like this in our own generation? Do you know people, regardless of their political affiliation or national status, who behave in the same way? Think about the on-going arguments we’re having around our world, and the various tensions we have in our own relationships. Barclay claims that “The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening to it. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticisms; they will criticize the same person, and the same institution, from quite opposite grounds.”

“Or, if people are determined to make no response they will remain stubbornly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made. Grown men and women can be like spoiled children who refuse to play no matter what the game is.” Contrary people don’t want to play; they just want to push their own agendas, or exert their own power.

Jesus upheld God’s commandments, and still challenged the people in his own generation. He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others...and to have people call them rabbi.” (Matt 23:1-8)

We lay burdens upon ourselves and upon others with regularity. Perhaps it’s a new or old law that unfairly restricts our freedom or prevents us from getting the help that we need, or the joy that we could share. Recently the governor of New Jersey was criticized for closing the state’s beaches to the public because lawmakers were unable to agree upon a budget, and then the governor was seen vacationing with his family and friends, on the beach, at a summer beach house, owned by the government.

Perhaps there is an on-going battle in your personal relationships; you just can’t seem to see “eye to eye” or understand the perspective of another person. Or maybe you’re having a battle within yourself. One voice will say to you, “Do this” while the other voice says, “Don’t you dare.”

St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome about these inconsistencies, saying that he is often guilty of doing things that he does not want, and even hates. We don’t always understand what we or others do or say. We are inconsistent  human beings. We are contrary people, faithless at times, even corrupt, and perverse. And while laws are good for us, for they help us to control our behaviors, they will not save us. Who will rescue us then from our very own selves? St. Paul responded, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Being faithful is both difficult and joyous; it means that there is room in our lives for both weeping and dancing, for obedience and challenge. It means that we must repeatedly repent of those things that we have done and left undone, knowing that in Christ we are forgiven and set free. It means that true personal freedom comes to us from God, no matter our circumstances or the power of others.

Jesus offered an invitation to the generation of his time as well as to ours. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Come to me,” Jesus said, “when your very own contrary selves start to get the best of you."

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. A yoke was “a rabbinic metaphor for the difficult but joyous task of obedience to the Torah. When Jesus claims that his yoke is “easy” he is referring to the Greek word which means “well-fitting.” According to Barclay, “In Palestine, the yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and not gall the neck of the patient beast. The yoke was tailor-made to fit the ox.” Are not our burdens tailor made for us? And can we not find a yoke that fits us well?

“There is a legend that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee, and that people from all over the country people came to him to buy them; (perhaps) the sign above the door of (Jesus) may have been ‘My yokes fit well.’”

Love makes even the heaviest burden light; and so Jesus gave us a new commandment, “to love ourselves and others as he loved us.” Barclay tells the story of how a man came upon a little boy, who was lame, and then carried him upon his back. ‘That’s a heavy burden for you to carry,’ said another man. ‘That’s no’ a burden,’ came the answer. ‘That’s my wee brother.’”

This generation was then, is now, and will be forever, in part a faithless, perverse, and corrupt generation. And yet we are also a faithful generation, a group of contrary people, who believe in the power of God to make all things right. “Come to me,”Jesus says. “Take my yoke.” For through Him, we shall find rest for our souls, and our burdens light. Dance then, wherever you may be, for he is the Lord of the dance, said He. And whether we are laughing or crying, playing at funerals or weddings, our hope for salvation continues to rest in the hands and the heart of God.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Today I want to talk about stewardship. It’s a big word; and it’s a word in the Church that is often associated with money. Now money is a great resource because it enables us to do many things. It’s a source of power. It’s a resource that funds our mission and our ministries. It’s a means by which we can provide for our basic human needs. And yet, today I want to talk about the stewardship of time.
Are you a good steward of the time that God has given to you? How do you use your time? And for what purpose? In the disciplined Christian life, we are invited to spend our time divided between worship, study, and action. This morning you have chosen to spend some of your time in worship, giving thanks to God, who created you, Jesus who saves you, and the Holy Spirit, who sustains you with God’s life-giving Spirit.
None of us knows how much time we have been given to inhabit this world. In reality, all that we have is today. All that we have, in fact, is this hour, or this minute, or even this breath.
Today’s lesson from Genesis states that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  Before I jump into how God created us, and whether this happened miraculously in only seven days, or no less miraculously over a long period of time, I want to focus on this very first sentence in this first chapter of Genesis.
Perhaps you are aware that there are two different stories about how God created the world. They are often conflated into one story with parts of each of them being told as one.
Now the second story, in the 2nd Chapter of the book of Genesis, is the well known story about Adam and Eve. This second story is a “bottom-up” story, if you will, of Adam being formed from the dust, receiving God’s Spirit through his nostrils, and then being planted in the garden of Eden for work. Eve was created much later out of Adam’s rib to help him with this work.
Today’s story is a “top down” view of creation, whereas God is transcendent and powerful, making everything come into existence from nothing, purely by speaking and saying “Let there be this or let there be that.” Humankind, male and female, were created at the end of this story, rather than at the beginning, as they were in Chapter two. And, humankind, male and female, were created together and at the same time.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is the beginning of our time, unlike God’s time, which is eternal and everlasting. This is the beginning of our world, which has a beginning and therefore presumably an ending. And this is the story of God’s creating something out of nothing. In the beginning, there was no “there there.”
Creation is set up against chaos. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Put things in order.” So God puts order into the primordial chaos that existed in this formless void. God brought light in general, and lights in particular, into the darkness that was covering the deep. There was a wind, presumably God’s Spirit, that swept over these waters, governing the forces below.
This particular creation story serves as (quote) “a preface not just to Genesis but to the entire Hebrew Bible, showing God masterfully orchestrating the events of creation” (end quote).God separates, differentiates, forms, and orders the chaos. Evil forces love chaos; and the people who lived at the time of Genesis and Jesus believed that evil forces lurked under the water. In this story of creation, unlike the second one, there is way too much water. And so God orders it. God creates good things to balance it, like the earth, and sky, and animals, and us.
According to the HarperCollins Study Bible, “The purpose of creation is for the good and for the benefit of all. (And) this goodness means that we are acceptable and viable as well as intrinsically good.” (end quote) That is to say, that in the face of the chaos and nothingness, God creates us to be living human beings. We are acceptable to God and to each other, and we are intrinsically good from the very beginning of our lives. Everything and everyone is good because we are created from God’s own goodness.
“So God created humankind in the image of God; male and female God created them.” This is the sixth day in the seven days of God’s creation. Now often we remember the second story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve was created from Adam’s rib.Today I want to focus only on this first story in Genesis.
We are created in God’s image. This divine image is one that is relational and personal and powerful and creative. It is an image that transcends genders and boundaries and definition. God spoke, and good things happened. We too have been given the power of speech, and we can use that power for good or for ill. We too are given the ability to create order out of chaos, and to create life out of formless voids. We too are moral human beings, who can reason with others for the common good. In the image of God we also have our work to do in how we use our time.
According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sexuality is not attributed to God in the Hebrew Bible. Like our understanding of the Trinity, we are invited to participate in the great dance of love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. We are created into a loving relationship with God and all of creation - relationships that are intended to be life-giving, loving, and liberating.
The word “Adam” in this first creation story is generic. It does not mean a specific proper name for one man only, named Adam, with Eve being his female partner. In this first story, the word Adam represents all of humankind. “So God created humankind in God’s divine image; male and female God created them.” God’s image is beyond gender, or it includes both genders in a non-binary spectrum of diversity. In creation, God created the beautiful diversity of our humanity; and in that diversity, we take pride!
For those who say that women are subordinated to men, this first creation story says otherwise. For those who say that women’s work is created for certain purposes, this story says otherwise. Rather, all humankind is created in the image of God, which was blessed by God.
Now as much as we like to think that the high point of God’s creation is us, it is not. As much as we like to think that we are the center of the universe, we are not. For on the seventh day, God created the Sabbath, and God rested. The Sabbath day then, and not us, is the climax to this creation story. It is the crowning jewel of God’s creative work, the cherry that sits on top of that ice cream sundae.
To be good stewards of our time, we need to honor the Sabbath time; and yet, we often don’t fully understand what that time means. Yes, we all need to rest from our labors, from the six days that we’ve spent in creative work. We all need to inhale as well as exhale or else we shall die. We all need to pause for the rest note in the songs that we sing.
However, the seventh day wasn’t a day upon which our Creator stumbled, and then dropped to the floor exhausted, shouting “I can’t do this anymore!” Nor was it a time when God threw up God’s hands into the air and said, “Enough already!” Nor is Sabbath time when we fling ourselves into bed at night, after very long days, only to find our time is spent in sleepless nights, or medicated slumber. If God’s Spirit is so inexhaustible, and ever-present, then why are we so exhausted?
Rather God rested and reflected on the Sabbath day to breathe the air that God had created, to breathe in the Spirit that moved over those waters, and renews the face of the earth and us, That same Spirit keeps us viable because it lives and moves and sustains our beings, keeping the evil forces at bay. On this seventh day of creation, God reflected on the amazing six days of work that God had just completed. Perhaps patting God’s self on God’s back, God joyfully proclaimed “I sure do good work! Look at all this goodness!”
Into this Sabbath time God invites us. Take joy in the goodness of all creation. Take joy in the beauty and splendor of our world. Take joy in the gifts of time, talents, and treasure that God has given to you, and reflect upon them with wonder. Consider how you have used your gifts of time, talents, and treasure; and then bless God’s holy name on this Sabbath day.
Here is our Trinitarian God, well-ordered, well-balanced, moving, creative, and dynamic. So, “put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you,” wrote St. Paul.  “And remember,” Jesus said, “ I am with you always to the end of age.” Amen.

Genesis 1: 1-2, 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-20