Who We Are and To Whom We Belong, Proper 22A
Proper 22A 2014
When I was a teenager I heard Eucharistic Prayer C for the first time. This particular Eucharistic Prayer includes the line “this fragile earth, our island home”. At the time, as a kid on the island of Maui, I found it amazing that the prayer book was referring to my home--Maui, where the tradewinds blew, the roosters crowed, the waves crashed and the ash from burning sugar cane drifted like some sort of bizarre tropical snow flake.
The metaphorical meaning didn’t occur to me at the time--all I knew was a small island and the prayers recited from the upper room where I gathered with the dozen or so people who comprised the worshipping community of St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission.
The Olverson family, Mary who drove all the way from the other side of the island to play the keyboard, Reverend Kate and the Nelsons...
If the Olverson family was late we would wait to process in...partially because we could see them driving towards the chapel and knew they’d be there in a minute, and partially because they were a fourth of the congregation. Everyone knew everyone, and we were a small community on a relatively small island--it was relatively easy to understand how we were connected whether it was a sixth cousin on my mother’s side or an old school classmate of my father or a friend of my grandfather, or, or...well you see
When I left Maui for college in 1996, I missed that interconnectedness...and the resulting clarity of knowing who I was and to whom I belonged that emerged from understanding my place in the network of lives with which my own life intertwined. And, thus, as an adult I have found myself drawn to exploration of how communities are formed and what makes a community a community.
As an undergrad I took a class called, “Primary Epic and Early National Legend” and I was struck by many of the cross cultural commonalities the texts held--most strikingly to me the commonality of “rules” or laws set down in the text. What became clear to me was the centrality of “law” to group identity. That laws shape our understanding of who we are and to whom we belong.
I would imagine that most of you have heard the phrase “in our family...” It’s pretty much the same thing, the rules we live by help us to understand which family we belong to.
The Ten Commandments demonstrate this aptly. The commandments begin with a clear statement of identity “I am the God that brought you out of Egypt” and move into explication of what God expects from God’s people--You shall have no other gods beside me...”. The identity of the community hinges on the centrality and singularity of their relationship with God.
Who we are, the people of God, to whom we belong, God. Sounds simple enough. But, we’re not going to stop there.
Because the commandments don’t stop there. The litany continues with directives of how we are to be in relationship with each other. Because, we no longer live for self alone...but for each other. Interconnectedness and accountability to one’s neighbor is foundational to our life of faith. Perhaps we must expand on our understanding of “to whom we belong” because, it becomes increasingly clear to me that we belong to each other. Or, as my friend Katy Piazza, a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut, succinctly put it “We belong to each other, WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT”.
The ground rules for right relationship with God move into the ground rules for right relationship with each other. There is no getting around it. I adamantly hold that how we engage with each other matters as much as how we engage with God. We belong to each other, whether we like it or not.
If the rules help us to understand who we are and to whom we belong...than it is clear that these rules, these Ten Commandments, point to a truth that we are children of God who belong to God and to each other.
Take a moment and look around...we belong to each other. NOT because we worship together here at St. Clement’s. Not because we participate in the liturgy of the Episcopal church. Not because we know the rules of deportment, or share a fondness for the reporting in the Huffington Post or the New York Times.
We belong to each other because we are human beings called to relationship, called to see in each other our brother Christ, called to act in the world to bring the mercy and love of God to all the broken places.
And, not only do we belong to each other, we belong to those we think of as “other” and they belong to us. If we can understand that the stranger is our neighbor, are we better able to treat them with the love which God makes clear is their due?
I began today with a reference to Eucharistic Prayer C’s phrase “this fragile earth, our island home” because the metaphor reminds us of how very close to each other we all must live--with shared resources, shared water, shared disease, shared suffering, shared rejoicing, shared devastation, shared hope, shared fear.
James Irwin, an astronaut on Apollo 15, wrote
“The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.” (quote drawn from the meditation resources on http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/ )
What a view from space this perspective of the “fragile earth”.
How are we to tend it? How will we tend each other?
This question brings me to the vineyard we hear of in the Gospel today.
What if the tenants and landowner in the parable we heard today understood their shared reliance on the vineyard? What if they had known that they belonged to each other? What if they’d adhered to the Commandments? Do not covet, do not murder, do not steal?
Would have been a much shorter parable...
But, this parable is told in a community that seems to have forgotten who they are and to whom they belong.
The original listeners of this story would have found themselves nodding along to the answer supplied by the Pharisees "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." That of course, was the answer that made sense. Of course the landowner would destroy those who destroyed his son. That’s how justice works--or is it?
Jesus turns the story on its head, by making it clear that this is not the answer given by God. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are the one’s who tell us that the landowner will “put those wretches to a miserable death”--NOT Jesus. Jesus holds out a different ending 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone...”
The cornerstone, that anchors the building; the cornerstone that orients the direction at which the building shall rise; the cornerstone that carries the weight...
They had forgotten who they were and to whom they belonged. Will we remember?
An Ohi'a tree on the Island of Maui, near where we scattered the ashes of both of my parents. Roots.