October 8, 2017
Matthew 21:33-46, Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
“I Dare You!”
I hear many people say that they just can’t watch the news these days. It is too hard. It feels like blow after blow after blow as we watch devastation caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, horrific gun violence, and racist demonstrations. If you find yourself thinking that way, you may wonder how coming to church is any better than watching the news after hearing the gospel lesson this morning. As we read it together on Wednesday in text study, I wondered aloud if the tenants in the reading from Matthew had broken nearly all of the ten commandments that we had just read in Exodus. This is not an uplifting text. It really seems to show humanity at its worst. We could say the same as we watched the news from Las Vegas this week.
Both of the texts today show us the relationship between God and human beings. It could be that we would function well with just one commandment. God comes first. Period. That is so much harder than it sounds.
The gospel lesson is an allegory. God is the landowner. The downfall of the people in the story was their own greed, their own failure to give to God rather than take for themselves. I have wondered if this text is about the gift humans were given in the beginning – a beautiful earth to call home, to tend and care for as if it belonged to us, but never forgetting that it in fact belongs to God. The problem comes with our memory. We begin to believe that it is ours to do as we wish and forget the first commandment.
When we stand back and take the long view, it seems strange that we should need to be reminded that God is first and the earth we inhabit belongs to God. There are reminders all around us. We hear of species disappearing – possibly as many as 690 per week. (http://www.businessinsider.com/species-are-disappearing-from-earth-2014-12)
Our greed causes us to give up protected lands for mining, logging, and other development. I heard Kevin Fedarko speak at the Kimo a few weeks ago about hiking the entire Grand Canyon (more than 700 miles). He was inspiring. He was funny. He reminded us what a treasure this park is not only to those of us who peer over the edges, but to the Native people who have been there for generations. He told us about developers who want to build a tram at the confluence of rivers that our Native brothers and sisters call sacred. One could make the case that even more people would value this amazing land if they were allowed easy access. Yet he showed us some of the impact of hundreds of helicopters flying into the canyon each day and the uranium mining that may be contaminating the waters the Grand Canyon. Fedarko says, “Since it entered the American consciousness, the Grand Canyon has provoked two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it.” (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/09/grand-canyon-development-hiking-national-parks/)
I felt sick as I watched the developer’s plans and wondered “haven’t we taken enough from the Native Americans? Where do we get the idea that it is all for us? Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust said, “Human beings are tiny in relation to the forces that have shaped this planet…we are not the center of the world.”
I think that maybe God is trying to remind us that we are not the center of the world. In fact, we are God’s trusted caretakers.
Every week in text study we talk about what the “takeaway” might be from the texts that day. Here is mine from this week: reflecting on the story from Matthew, one person wondered if God is saying to us, “I dare you to do the right thing.”
That line has stuck with me all week. I immediately reflected on my childhood. The words “I dare you” in those days were accompanied with bad things – “I dare you to steal from that convenience store. I dare you to throw eggs on that person’s house. I dare you to race while driving down Main Street. I dare you to skip school.” I dare you meant “I dare you to do this thing that can risk getting you in big trouble.” Oh the pressure!! Did I take some of those dares? You bet I did. Did you?
What about a God who creates us with the capacity to do so much good and so much harm, and then dares us to do as much good as we can? After many blunders and bad choices, God tried something else. It seemed that human beings just didn’t get it so God sent Jesus to show us how to take great risks by daring to do good. Then God says to us, “follow him. Do it that way. I dare you!”
In this story, Jesus shows the capacity people have to do harm. They beat, kill, and stone others. But he is daring us to do it differently.
It is easy to think “I have never beaten, stoned, or killed someone so what would Jesus be saying to me?” Instead of waiting for the next story of gun violence or racism or greed, what if we dare each other to be leaders in the story of healing, of hope, of generosity?
Once upon a time at a church meeting a wealthy member of the church rose to tell the rest of those present about his Christian faith.
"I'm a millionaire," he said, "and I attribute my wealth to the blessings of God in my life." He went on to recall the turning point in his relationship with God. As a young man, he had just earned his first dollar and he went to a church meeting that night. The speaker at that meeting was a missionary who told about his work in the mission field. Before the offering plate was passed around, the preacher told everyone that everything that was collected that night would be given to this missionary to help fund his work on behalf of the church. The wealthy man wanted to give to support mission work, but he knew he couldn't make change from the offering plate. He knew he either had to give all he had or nothing at all. At that moment, he decided to give all that he had to God. Looking back, he said he knew that God had blessed that decision and had made him wealthy.
When he finished, there was silence in the room. As he returned to the pew and sat down, an elderly lady seated behind him leaned forward and said, "I dare you to do it again."
Part of my commitment to a faith community is the way it dares me to do something that matters. I find that dare possible because I am doing it with all of you. Every time I walk into this sanctuary, I feel the possibilities before us when we take God up on the dare to do something good. One of the organizations I am proud we support is Crossroads for Women. The women they serve have blown it and served time for their mistakes. The women they serve are taking the dare to do something good with their lives. They inspire me with their courage and their commitment to transform their lives. They work hard. They support one another and while they haven’t told me this, I bet that every day they dare one another to do some good. Our partnership with them inspires me to take God’s dare to do something good, to be generous, and to trust God’s guidance.
Our lives are a gift from God. We can use them in so many beautiful ways. Let us use them so that we reflect God’s love and generosity. I dare you!