Hey, is that fair?

Let me be honest: every now and then, Jesus says something that rubs me the wrong way.  I can feel that resistance inside myself that says, I don’t want to hear that right now. Could we just talk about that some other time? 

This Sunday’s readings are one of those times. We hear the gospel parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). The property owner goes out early in the morning to find people to work in the vineyard.  Once the early birds are working, the owner goes out several times during the day to find still more workers standing around idle (read that: can’t find work), so he hires these other workers as well.

The Late-arriving Workers by JESUS MAFA*

At the end of the day, the early-bird workers are paid the full day’s wages.  But then a surprising thing happens:  the other workers are also paid a full day’s wages, despite the fact they worked fewer hours.

Naturally, the early-bird workers, who toiled long hours in the hot sun, are jealous of the Johnny-come-lately workers. They complain to the owner, who responds, in effect, Hey, what’s the big deal? Didn’t I give you the full day wages I promised you, for your full day of work? Can’t I be generous with my own money if I want, and help these other men feed their families tonight if I want to? 

The parable ends with Jesus saying these now-famous words:

the last will be first, and the first will be last…

The point of the parable is not about how much a person is paid per hour, but rather about the generous love of God. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s love and mercy are abundant and infinite.  In the kingdom of heaven, the newly converted Christian takes his or her place at the table along side those who followed Christ their whole lives. Those who are of “little account” in the world will have a great place at the heavenly table.

I think some of us are reluctant to dig deeper into this parable because it challenges our status quo.  We who are the “early-bird Christians” might secretly feel we are better than the newly converted Christian.  The people whose families have been in the United States for generations secretly (or not so secretly) despise the new Americans. Those who are heterosexual may have trouble accepting people who are in same-sex relationships. People working long hours may resent those who receive government assistance.

Jesus’ parable reminds us today that God’s love is far more abundant and far-reaching than we can imagine. We may be jealous of others, or secretly think we are better than others–and therefore more deserving of God’s attention and love–but to this Jesus says we are wrong.  God loves those “other people” just as much as God loves me or you. God’s generosity, mercy, and compassion are without end and for all people–much more than we can begin to fathom.

And if God is loving, merciful, and generous towards all people, doesn’t that mean those of us who claim to follow Christ should do the same?

 

*Artwork credit:
JESUS MAFA. The Late-arriving Workers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48296 [retrieved September 22, 2017].

 

Branching out–expanding your spiritual life

Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
          –Matthew 8: 26

Branching out--photo by Julie McCarty

As it was growing, how did this tree know when it was time for the trunk to become two major life lines to the rest of the branches?

I could answer, the DNA in the cells tell it how to grow–but then, how does the DNA know? 

Growth is a mysterious process, highly individualized. God calls us to keep growing in our spiritual lives, no matter what our chronological age.

Is there something in your life that God wants to expand? A new experiment with prayer? A different service to others? A fresh way of looking at life in general?

What stops you from “branching out” in this new way? Is it fear? Exhaustion? Laziness? Something else blocking your path?

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us to listen for your voice, leading us along the path of discipleship. Please give us the courage to put aside all fear and to bravely try whatever new things God may desire of us. Help us to grow strong in faith, like this tree that bravely stands through all kinds of weather. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Where’s the fruit? Guest post by Barbara Keffer

sacredgroundspirit

Fig TreeIn the past, I would read the parable of the fig tree that we hear this year on the third Sunday in Lent, and feel shame.

What have I accomplished with my life? When I measure with the values of our culture, not much.

As a child, I was told that I would accomplish big things in the world.  I could do or be anything I wanted.  I thought I would be a chemist and devote my life to science. I took in the high expectations people had for me, and excelled in school in high school and college. But then, as faith became more important to me, I found myself making choices that led more to experiences of vulnerability, and sometimes insecurity rather than accomplishment as I saw it.  Parenting, taking in foster teenagers, working as a spiritual director or therapist, took me to the edges of what I…

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Work to live or live to work?

Do you work to live or live to work?
A Guided Meditation 

Labor Day weekend is a great time to think about this question. Do you work a 9-5 day and set it all aside afterwards to pursue your heart’s desire?

Or, are you blessed with a career so meaningful that work is living at its best?

Whether you enjoy your job or not, how does work fit together with the other pieces of your life?  Do you experience quality time with family, friends, and God? Are you able to give back something to your community? Ever just stop to smell the roses?

To reflect on this question, you might want read about how people in places outside the U.S. view work in  Mariela Dabbah’s article “Work to Live or Live to Work?”     To read about the effects of overwork on one’s health, check out this article on netdoctor.com , or explore Are You a Workaholic?  on WebMD. If you are a business manager, you might want to read about how overworking can actually lower productivity in the workplace, and ways to overcome the problem on  Joe Robinson’s website .

In hard economic times, many people feel immense pressure to work longer hours or risk losing their jobs–and that makes it all the more complicated to discuss the question. There are no easy answers here–and I certainly find it challenging to juggle all the pieces of my own life (it feels like a moving target!).

Even so, it’s worth thinking about:  Is my entire self-worth wrapped up in the work that I do? Do people have value beyond what they accomplish in the business/career world? What is the place of Sabbath and prayer in my life? Where is God leading me, and how do I best respond?

O God,
 You created us with many abilities, gifts, and inward beauty. May we always use these gifts wisely and yet remember that your love for us is not based on mere productivity. Open our eyes to the beauty of your creation and give us the courage and time to “smell the roses.”

Amen.

Ode to Orange–A Poem

Earlier this summer I attended the Summer Institute in Spirituality and the Arts at United Seminary. This year’s workshops explored freeing your voice, creativity and spirituality, performance and spirituality, and experimenting with art as a springboard for writing poems.

United Seminary Chapel, Minnesota (click on to enlarge)–
photo by Julie McCarty–2012

Four days packed with the interplay of spirituality, art, and writing–three of my favorite things. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

One of the activities involved writing a poem focused on the wonder of a particular color. I love many colors and color combinations, but I decided to stretch myself by choosing orange, my least favorite color (no offence, orange-lovers!).

After playing with orange paint, I surprised myself by writing this poem:

Ode to Orange 

My least favorite color—
purple’s shadow side—
nonetheless captivates me
in autumn’s luminosity
of sparkling maple leaves,
pregnant pumpkins,
and shining haystacks
on an Amish farm.

Then, too, the heady smell
of a Phoenix February:
orange blossom perfume,
Mom’s orange cake, and Tang,
the inflatable drink of astronauts. . .

How unusual the first time
I traveled through
peach painted deserts,
rusty red-orange cliffs
or Santa Fe hills dressed
in piňon pine polka-dots
(sprinkled just so by Mother Nature)!

When angled sun shines
at the end of the day,
orange speaks to me–
pinkish adobe homes
turn yellow-orange,
set-aglow, illuminated:
God exhaling spirit
into our oh-so-earthy reality.

Santa Fe hills–photo by Aysha Griffin

                  

Spiritual Aerobics

Spiritual Aerobics

What is your least favorite color and why?  Try this: See if you can think of things you like that are that color. At the end, give thanks to God for all colors.

Elizabeth of Hungary: Patroness of “Juggling”

Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

St. Elizabeth–Spinning to make clothes for the poor–Marianne Stokes

In my Catholic upbringing, I got the impression that the only path to sainthood would be priesthood for men and religious life (becoming a nun) for women. I rarely heard about married women saints, and when I did, they were described to me as holy because of becoming nuns or founding convents after their husbands died.

Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the medieval wife and mother who didn’t merely “tolerate” marriage (after all, the marriage was arranged by one’s parents) but rather genuinely liked her husband.

In her short lifespan of 24 years, Elizabeth integrated many callings: queen, wife, mother, woman of prayer, personal service to the poor and sick, etc. Elizabeth’s example appeals to people of many walks of life for many reasons, but I like to think of her as the patroness of “juggling:”

When I feel overwhelmed with balancing the pieces of my life, I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the thirteenth-century queen who could be called “the patroness of juggling.” This young woman not only devoted herself to raising her children and spending time with her husband Ludwig (whom she adored), but she also attended church frequently, managed the castle while Ludwig was away on extended business, developed a rich prayer life, and personally ministered to the poor and sick of the kingdom (something the elite found rather revolting). 

Apparently Elizabeth couldn’t find enough prayer time to satisfy her, so she instructed her maid to sneak into the royal bedroom each night, reach under the bed covers, and pull on her toes to wake her. Elizabeth would slip away without disturbing Ludwig’s sleep to pray in secret. This clever plan worked well for a time, until one night, when the servant girl reached between the sheets, the king suddenly bolted upright in bed. Apparently she had found the wrong toes.

Jesus, too, often had to find ways of stealing away from his busy ministry to catch his breath. [In Mark 1:35-39], it appears that the disciples do not know where he has gone. When they find him, Peter sounds exasperated: “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” It’s as if he thinks Jesus is missing a photo-op and the chance to work the crowd. But Jesus knows his priorities: his work must be grounded in a healthy, personal relationship with his heavenly Father.  

from The Pearl of Great Price: Gospel Wisdom for Christian Marriage (by yours truly, Julie McCarty; published by Liturgical Press)


When we feel pulled in many directions, unsure which task to do next, whether to say yes or no to this or that, or how much time to devote to prayer, we can take heart that others before us (including Jesus!) certainly faced similar human challenges–yet ultimately found their true Christian fulfillment.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day is Nov. 17. For more about her read here  or view a slide show here .

Until next time, Amen! 

Building Bridges with Books

Since the last blog post, I’ve been thinking: What have I learned in the period since the tragic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001? Is there anything good in my life that was brought about by something that was otherwise an evil deed?

(I don’t believe God causes evil, but that sometimes, when you look back over a long period of time, you can find something good that God brought out of an otherwise bad/evil situation.)

In reflecting on this question, the thing that surprised me most is how much I’ve learned about Islam, that is, people called Muslims. It’s not that I even know that much about Islam, but before 9-11, I knew nothing about it. Absolutely nothing.  If it hadn’t been for 9-11, I doubt I would have ever wondered about this major world religion and its devout believers. 

Looking over the past decade, I discover that I’ve read a number of books I never would have thought to read otherwise–and a number by Muslim authors:

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Asar Nafisi;
  • The Kite-Runner, by Khaled Hosseini;
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, also by Khaled Hosseini;
  • The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji;
  • Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter, also by Asar Nafisi);
  • The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew –Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner;

These books do not represent all sides of the Muslim world–they just happen to be the ones I read. As I said, I didn’t exactly plan it that way. I just observe this when looking over the past decade.

These books gave me windows into other people’s worlds, realms that were completely unknown to me. Reading stories or the personal experiences of others was far more engaging than merely reading theological textbooks (although those have their place). My reactions to various parts of these books covered the full gamut of human emotions: sometimes I was laughing or crying, sometimes feeling shock, anger, outrage, or empathy–and always, always, I learned something.

This doesn’t take away the evil or tragic dimension of what happened on 9-11–and particularly not for those who lost loved ones–but for someone like me it shows that God can bless us in unexpected ways.

Until next time, Amen! 

Spiritual Aerobics

1. Can you think of a time in your life when God brought something good out of something that was in other ways a bad situation?

2. Is there something positive you can do today about a situation that is otherwise sad, trying, frightening, or painful for yourself or someone else?