October 08, 2017
One of my favorite little books is Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. I have underlines on almost every page. Some of those underlined sections also have handwritten notes in the margins—some with question marks, some with exclamation points. Some of those pages also have a little sticky tab to mark its special place. Some of those sticky tabs have an asterisk penciled on its visible edge to highlight its importance even more. And in the front of the book, I have in my own handwriting, paraphrased a couple of insights from its pages that I want to remember: First, we are led to truth by our weaknesses as well as our strengths.[i] And second, self-care is good stewardship of the gift you were put on earth to offer to others.[ii]
The gift we were put on earth to offer others. Every single one of us has a special gift, sometimes hidden like a buried treasure, that requires digging out. Palmer says that being good stewards of that gift means a life-long journey of listening to our true self--that person God created us to be, the image of God at the center of our being--and to be willing to give it the care it requires, not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. Sometimes, that might mean turning around when we find ourselves out of sync with it. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to turn. We must ask ourselves tough questions like: Who am I, the really, real me? And where am I in relation to God, to myself, and to others?
Palmer would say that this is all done in community. Allowing ourselves to be led to truth, intentionally being good stewards of our God-given selves, and purposefully living out our lives in the company of God and others—touching others, allowing others to touch us—that is how we build a community with a shared future, and leadership is a shared responsibility.
We do leadership when we care enough about something to want to make a difference. We do leadership when we have a passion for a particular future. We do leadership when we feel compelled to change a situation for the better. Leadership is not just for some of us, it is our common destiny.
What I mean by destiny comes from another book. I have it underlined, tabbed and asterisked--you can tell a lot about who I am by borrowing my books. It is Rule #29 from Shams of Tabriz’s 40 Rules of Love. Perhaps you haven’t heard of Shams. He mentored Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi poet who is loved by many faith traditions.
[i] Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, page 22.
[ii] Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, page 30.
“Destiny,” Shams says, “doesn’t mean that your life has been . . . predetermined . . . The music of the universe is all-pervading . . . Your destiny is the level where you will play your tune. You might not change your instrument, but how well to play is entirely in your hands.” [i]
Jesus said, “listen to another parable.” That’s Jesus Speak, by the way, for: warning. . .heads up. . . more challenge ahead. . . prepare yourself to dive deeper.
So here we have it: The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. We often read this parable as an allegory: the vineyard as the nation of Israel, the owner as God, the tenants as the religious leaders, the messengers as the prophets, and the son that the tenants killed, as Jesus. That is okay, as long as we also understand that Scripture shows us something about ourselves. We also tend to want to put parables in categories. Is this a parable about the Kingdom of God? Is this a parable about God’s judgment? Is this a parable about grace? Yes. My answer is, yes, it is about God’s kingdom, it is about God’s judgment, it is about grace.
Notice this: the landowner has already prepared the vineyard. The landowner has already done everything to make it successful—planted it, established boundaries for its safekeeping, provided the tools needed to convert the harvest into fine wine, built a watchtower—a space to keep the big picture in view.
Notice this: the landowner has trusted the tenants to honor their agreement. But they don’t honor it. Instead, they intentionally violate their own promise and respond to the landowner with violence. And when Jesus asked the religious leaders what the landowner will do to the tenants when he comes, THEY respond with violence.
Jesus’ response points back to Scripture, and then, he tells them the kingdom of God will be taken away from them. Taken away from them. In other words, they already have it available to them, but they are blind to it. Kingdom folks produce kingdom fruits, Jesus tells them, and they aren’t producing kingdom fruits. The parable describes what God’s Kingdom is not meant to be.
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray. What are we asking for when we pray that prayer? Let’s walk through our liturgical readings for today.
First step: Paul lets his life speak in his letter to the Philippians. He tells about who he once was and where he has been. He tells about his journey toward truth and about discovering who he really is in the process. Did you notice: he does not renounce his past, nor does he ask the Philippians to renounce theirs. He does, however, turn away from the past as the defining marker of who he is. The marker for our own identity, Paul claims, is the living presence of the risen Christ, and Paul invites us to reevaluate our own lives against that marker. Why? Because of “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he says. Paul’s journey has only begun, and in his own words, “I press on . . . I press on . . . toward the prize of the heavenly call.” The prize of the heavenly call.
Next step: We hear the ten commandments, a foundation to help prepare God’s people to live as God intends—in right relationship with God and one another. Still, those who first heard the law from God’s own lips responded with fear, so that Moses must tell them, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus told us that he has come to fulfill the law—keeping the connection but breaking open its meaning and purpose to show us how it can better serve our world--by living it out through our hearts, acting on it from our hearts, from our very center. Jesus told us repeatedly that God is Love. Yet, how many times has Jesus in our Scripture said to us, “Do not be afraid.”
And finally, step into the Psalmist’s line of sight as he responds to God’s rule becoming a reality on earth. Listen to his song as Nan Merrill prays it:
“The law of Love is perfect, and revives our soul;
the testimony of Love is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of Love are right, rejoicing the heart;
the authority of Love is pure, enlightening the eyes:
the spirit of Love is glorious, enduring forever;
the judgments of Love are true, awakening compassion.” [ii]
The Psalmist sings about a truth that exists. “It is more to be desired than gold,” he sings, “more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.” [iii]
Against this vision of God’s reign, the Psalmist lets his life speak. He sees that he often fails Love’s call. “But who can discern their own weaknesses?” he cries. And so, he prays for insight: “Cleanse me from all my hidden faults. Keep me from boldly acting in error; let my fears and illusions not have dominion over me! Then shall I be whole and sound, and freely and fully surrendered to Love.”
Our Scripture readings today all point to a heavenly call. It is a calling with a purpose: to collaborate with God and one another to produce kingdom fruits. The priority we give to God’s invitation is up to us. How well our life speaks is up to us. Whether we are good stewards of the gift we already have is up to us. Whether we share our God-given gift with others, is up to us.
There is a connection between our inner journey and our response to God’s vision for this world. If our inner-vision of God is like the wicked tenants, the picture includes greed, violence, and power struggles. But, if our inner-vision of God is like Paul’s or the Psalmist’s, then we already have our vision statement written. And our mission, to support that vision, is to hear God’s all-pervading music, to focus on the presence of the living Christ, to find our own God-given instrument, and to allow our life to speak while we learn to play our song.