Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost • September 20, 2020

“It’s not fair!”

Typically, the cry from a child faced with the consequences of her actions or when running headlong into firm boundaries. “Dad, how come Eric gets to stay up late? It’s not fair!” “Why am I being punished? Sue’s dad didn’t punish her!”

The only reasonable, if not the most oft repeated parental response to this cry is, “Life isn’t fair” or “Where is it written that life is supposed to be fair?”

This complaint, when looked at closely, may not be a cry for a world of fairness-for-all. Rather, it seems a cry from someone who isn’t getting what he thinks he deserves. He has put himself as the arbiter of fairness, the decider of justice in his world. From a child, this protest is naturally from a perspective that is entirely self-centered: children haven’t begun to think in wider terms, in larger constructs of true fairness and justice and the complications of existence.

I find this grievance troublesome, though, when I hear it from adults. Not always using the same words, “It’s not fair!” this grumbling can take the form of, “I demand justice,” or, “I want what’s coming to me.” Upon hearing these kinds of statements from adults, I admit to being confounded by what I should say in response. The only faithful response I can come up with (internal though it remains) is, “If life were fair, we would get all those things we truly deserve! Nobody wants that.”

An element I sometimes notice coming from the heart of one who has been injured or who has lost a close companion due to violence or circumstance is the cry, “I want justice.” What is often in their voice, in their pain, is a cry for retribution or retaliation. I’ve meet with folks like this who, sadly, after many years finally come to the conclusion that there is no retribution to satisfy the grieving soul.

Different in tone, but similar in intent, is a refrain spoken by adults in many churches these days. It goes like this: “I just want things in the church to be the way they used to be.” Considered on its face, it’s a simple prayer that seeks a return to a time and place that once offered comfort and solace for the speaker. It’s got to be a longing for a closeness to God and to a spirit of peace once felt and now lost. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but also catch the whisper of pain that underlies these words. I wish the world could respond to these cries with comfort and make the true return to the golden days of yesteryear.

Alas, I think the response from God at this desire for the old days is probably, “Find me here. Find me in the now. I am in the past no longer, but in the unknown and in the unsettling nature of the present. I am in the scary and in the challenging: not so much in the comfortable and familiar. I will be here and will wait for you – as reckless and hopeful as the Prodigal Father – calling and loving you.”

As Jesus preaches, teaches and heals, he always brings news like this to his audience. It is the Way of Love; a Way that upends our expectations. Tomorrow’s Gospel is such an example. When he tells the parable of the hired servants, all of whom are paid a full days’ wages for greater or lesser hours of work, Jesus is telling us his truth of how God is in the unexpected, that justice isn’t what we think it is, and that fairness can be seen only when we take ourselves out of the seat of judgment. Not only does the parable stick in the craw of what we think is fair, it reorders fairness – it tells us that in the Way of Love, “things aren’t the way they used to be, and they never will be again.”

I think these thoughts while we all wait patiently [mostly] for the passing of this pandemic. I want the time for mask-wearing and outdoor-church-only and no live music to be over. I’m hankering for the days when Rev. Karen and I could stand around the altar with the children at our hips – all with their noses at altar-level, and to pray with you and to hear the choir and organ, and to place a piece of bread in your hand and to recognize God as our hands touch. I want the things to be the way they were, yes. It would be foolish, however, to pursue those thoughts – now or in the future, for things will never be that way again. Things are changing and will continue to change. AND – this is the good news – GOD will be present in the new ways; not in the same ways God was present, but in new and unforeseen ways.

I invite your patience; I encourage your sense of exploration and wonder as we move forward. I also invite you to let loose of any grasp you have on the past that is too tight and not able to make room for new ways that God will come to us as our world is redefined and balance is restored. Continue to pray for each other. If you see someone tumbling back and forth with dizzying confusion, reach out to them and love them. For this, too, is the way of Love: we are not to struggle alone; we are a gathering of faithful followers who find and offer strength in the hands and voices of those we love and who love us.

We gathered in person tonight, Saturday, at St. John’s in the courtyard at 5:30 p.m. for Eucharist. Please make your reservations for next week, Saturday, September 26, on our home webpage beginning Monday morning.

St. John’s continues to pray as a community on:
• Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Morning Prayer at 9 a.m. Here’s the worship bulletin for Sunday, September 20.
• Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, nighttime prayer at 8 p.m.
• Bible Fellowship (open to all) continues on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m.

To ensure participants’ online security during worship and study we don’t publish the ZOOM links; if you did not receive the church-wide email from me with the links, and would like to attend services and study, please email me and I’ll add you to the e-blast, and send you the links.

The Adult Formation program is picking up next Sunday, September 27 with an informational meeting. Then, beginning October 4, we are embarking on a journey to discuss and inwardly digest the book, I’m Still Here; Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. Reading this book is essential in order to join coherently in the discussions.

As always, I have my office hours online on Tuesday mornings at 10 am.

This is meant for general communication for any who come by. If you need to speak to me on a private basis, email me and we can find some common time.

The Rev. Karen has her office hours on Thursday morning at 10 am.

Peace be with you. I love you.