What does it mean to be called “for such a time as this?” These words spoken to Queen Esther (Esther 4:14) urged her to risk everything to advocate for her people who were under threat of deadly violence. We are currently living in a moment in which people are vulnerable in so many ways. The pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism have broken not just human bodies but the body politic. Illness and injustice continue to take a toll. This crucible time has revealed how important Foundry is in any moment but certainly in such a time as this. It is clear this is not a time to retreat or to shrink our commitments and vision. The world and the church are changed and changing and Foundry will continue to adapt, lead, serve, and meet the new challenges of our time with faith, hope, love, and strategic thinking. Throughout October, we will explore the biblical texts through this lens: What does this scripture teach us about our call for such a time as this?
If Not Now…When?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, October 4, 2020, “Fearless Generosity: For Such A Time As This” series.
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Things are messy and confusing and disappointing and sad and violent and don’t seem to make much sense… That goes for the current state of our nation as well as for the parable in today’s Gospel. I won’t elaborate on the increasingly weird, horrifying, and unsettling moment we’re living right now. But let me give some context for our scripture passage.
Jesus has taken his donkey ride into Jerusalem with palms and shouts, has made a scene in the temple over an unjust economic system infecting the holy places, has brought healing to those who came to him in need and, as he settles in to teach in the temple, is challenged by some of the power brokers of the day—in particular the temple leadership—who are charged to care for the community. Jesus’s response to their challenge was pretty pointed as recorded through the lens of the author of Matthew, inviting centuries of interpretation that’s missed the deeper wisdom in the text and made Jews the villains. I’ll pause just long enough to remind us all that Jesus was a brown-skinned middle eastern Jew himself. So let’s just be clear that the critique is not directed toward a particular group, religion, race, or culture.
Jesus’s critique in this allegorical parable is directed at those who are given stewardship of what God has created and have failed. Instead of being faithful and generous stewards, they have instead taken what is not theirs, done violence to God’s servants and prophets, and sought to rob God’s child (or children) not only of their inheritance but of their lives.
Whether we imagine that the “vineyard” is the world, a nation, or a particular community, what God has created is meant to produce good fruit—the fruit of the Kin-dom. Things like love, peace, patience, joy, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, self-control (Gal 5:22-23)…justice, hospitality, kinship. The vision for Israel and later for the followers of the Way of Jesus is a vision of communion with God and one another that produces these things, a way of life that can be practiced, modeled, and shared as a witness for others for how life can be. It is a way of life that doesn’t hoard the good gifts of creation or of Spirit, but rather labors to assure that all have what they need, that doesn’t do harm or kill one another, but rather receives each person as a unique, beloved child of God of inherent dignity and worth, that strives for peace with justice in society and intentional communities of love, friendship, and service.
In many ways, we are all given stewardship of God’s vision. What kind of stewardship is it when hatred and violence is done in the name of Jesus? What kind of stewardship of God’s vision of communion is it when whole communities in a society are disenfranchised, ignored, suppressed, and counted as expendable? When beloved children of God are unwelcome in churches because of whom they love or how they dress or what they have or how they act? What kind of stewardship of God’s vision is it when people who call themselves followers of God or of Jesus are unwilling to name racism as sin, or to experience even an ounce of inconvenience—like wearing a mask—when others’ lives are at risk? What about If we say we are people of faith, or followers of Jesus, then our words and actions, priorities and stances make a difference.
All of us, individually and as a community, need to receive the teaching from our text today with both humility and hope. With humility because we know how easy it is to always see ourselves as the “good character” in the parable. But, Lord have mercy, if we’re honest we know that we both have and will again miss the mark on everything but hypocrisy. We can receive the teaching with hope because at the heart of it all is Jesus who—even when his closest followers messed up—was gracious and merciful, extending the chance to try again. I urge you to notice that it is not Jesus who suggests “putting those wretches to a miserable death” but rather those to whom Jesus was speaking. In a time when it may seem that those bent on propping up white supremacy, cultivating greed, and sowing division are winning the day—take heart that the creator of all things chooses the stone rejected by the status quo as the cornerstone for a new world unfolding. Jesus is our cornerstone, the Way of Jesus our foundation, our plumbline, our leveler. At least that is what we are striving for.
And as we consider the larger world and the ways that leaders abuse their position as stewards and caretakers of community, we have hope that God will continue to raise up new generations of stewards to do the work of Kin-dom cultivation when we or others fail. Our text today—messy and confusing as it is—has something to say to all of us.
As we kick off this new series and step into our Fearless Generosity: For Such a Time As This campaign, the message clearly resonates: Foundry, we are called to be good stewards of God’s Kin-dom vision in a time of mess, injustice, violence, and confusion—in our denomination, nation, and world. We are called to receive and heed the words of the servants and prophets of God—in scripture and in science and in synagogue and sanctuary and scholarship and the voices of those crying out for help and for justice and in all the places that God’s wisdom and way are revealed to us. We are called to be humble enough to recognize the extraordinary privilege and gift it is to be part of this congregation and to continue to be a prophetic witness, to practice sacred resistance, to welcome all people in the beauty and wholeness of who they are, and to do the hard work of putting our words and faith into concrete action for racial equity and justice, and for a vision for DC that provides support for all its residents.
Over the past seven months, it has been clear as ever how important our presence, mission, and witness are—for people both near and far. As you saw in the video we shared earlier, Foundry has been a beacon of hope, a source of spiritual strength and moral guidance, an anchor providing stability, and a conduit for concrete action to support vulnerable and hurting neighbors. There was a moment a couple of months ago when it became very clear to me and to Foundry’s leadership that this is not a moment when Foundry needs to retreat, hunker down, shrink our vision or our work. In this moment when there is so much uncertainty and so much injustice and suffering, God needs us to “Foundry” more than ever—to be more of who we are called to be, not less, to do more of what we do, not less, to reach more people with the radical hospitality and saving love of God, not fewer, and to put more on the line for the sake of justice and peace, not less. Look at where we are as a people. In this crucible moment there is at least a sliver of a possibility that there could be a shift in our land that might bring some of God’s Kin-dom vision to fruition on earth as in heaven. If this is not the time for us to be bold and courageous and sacrificial, then…when?
It will be a new kind of faith community we eventually move into next year—both an in-person community and a robust digital experience and community, a more concretely anti-racist community, with deepened understanding and practice of full inclusion, and new and creative ways to manage the burgeoning hunger for small group connection, rigorous study, meaningful connection with our sister congregations, and so much more. And all of that will prepare and strengthen us to march into whatever comes next. When the world is on a razor’s edge of destructive chaos or new creation—that is the time to rise up, come together as a people, and participate in the new thing, the Kin-dom thing, that is possible. If not now…when? Foundry, we are called for such a time as this.