Saturday, September 29, 2007

SATURDAY! September 29: St. Michael & All Angels

We had a very fine meeting today, getting our heads together about what kind of leaders we need to start this new congregation here in Brockton -- this new congregational LIFE in Brockton.
My role model of the moment is Frances Willard, social gospel organizer extraordinary, whose motto was, "Do Everything." If we are going to bring about new life on Pleasant Street, we DO need to do everything, and do it more or less at the same time. New congregational life, and new social outreach.
How can we fail, as Desmond Tutu used to say, when the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are on our side?

Here' are two sermons: one about MONEY and one about BLUEBERRIES.

Proper 20 C 9/23/2007 St. Paul’s
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 Psalm 79 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Luke 16:1-13

So, what is your vote on the governor’s casino proposal? Is he the shrewd dishonest manager, commended by the master? The one who hopes to make friends for himself by means of dishonest wealth?

Who knows what is the right side to take on that casino issue, and today’s gospel lesson is similarly hard to understand. One thing is certain, though: the Gospels talk a lot about economics. Jesus cares how we use our money.

One other certain thing about the bible: it’s written from the perspective of the people on the bottom of the heap, people for whom money is a real concern because they do not have much – people for whom freedom, or comfort, or security are real concerns, because their lives are so precarious.

A line from the Jeremiah reading brings to mind a familiar old spiritual: There is a balm in Gilead. Originally sung by slaves, it contains layers of meaning, in code, that the slaves would know and keep from the masters. The song is shrouded in this gloomy passage from Jeremiah, which seems to allow no hope, no room for redemption. The prophet cries that God has abandoned the people to misery. But even the barely literate slaves knew that later on the prophet Jeremiah would seem to be speaking directly to them, with words that sounded to their ears like retribution and triumph. Indeed, balm overflows in Gilead, but their masters will have none of it: In Chapter 22, Jeremiah tells us, ‘The Lord says (about the palace of the king of Judea) “Though you are like Gilead to me, … I will surely make you like a desert, … Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labour”.’ There is a balm in Gilead, for people who really knew their Bible, with healing and wholeness for those who now had none.

Like those spirituals with their layers of meaning, the parables of Jesus often don't make sense to our modern ears. The gospel as we have it today contains stories about Jesus passed down to the community of faith, stories then retold and reshaped by the evangelists. And so, the gospel also tells us something about the experience of people of faith in the first century. Life was not easy for them; they were persecuted by other Jews or the Roman authorities, and they believed that the End was coming literally within their own lifetimes. Consequently, they added to the gospel a sense of urgency, of the immediate coming of Judgment Day: a crisis. Each parable is told within a situation of conflict in the life of Jesus, conflicts with Roman or Jewish authorities or with people who do not believe what he has to say. Jesus' responds to the challenge or conflict with a parable: a story that makes people stop and think.

Here is the setting: The socially unacceptable tax collectors and sinners are gathered around Jesus to hear him teach; the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about this Jew who lowers himself to be with those people. First he tells the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin (which we read last week), then the story of the Prodigal Son, and then, today's story, the parable of the dishonest steward. As he tells each story, Jesus raises the stakes. The conflict escalates. When Jesus delivers the moral of the story, "You cannot serve God and wealth," Luke tells us, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and they ridiculed him." Jesus knows who his audience is, friendly and hostile, and he uses the hostility as a foil for teaching, as a set-up to show the faithful how to make decisions when the Judgment Day is at hand.

The dishonest manager cuts some corners and satisfies everyone as best he can. He is in a time of crisis; the Day of Judgment is at hand, and he acts decisively (and saves his neck).

Jesus makes the connection between this bold decisiveness (or "creative bookkeeping") and the boldness and imagination that the Kingdom of God requires. If a crooked servant acts with such shrewdness in settling accounts, how much more quick thinking and bold action are required of us when our Judgment Day comes?

This unsettling story presents several "morals" tacked on at the end of it. After the master has commended the dishonest manager we read, "For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." Are we to think, therefore, that since we live in this age, before the coming of the kingdom of heaven, that we should be as sleazy as the steward? When in Rome, do as the Romans do?

The next one is quite odd: "Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes." That sounds a lot like buying indulgences, or paying your way into heaven with someone else's money.

The third interpretation talks about honesty, faithfulness and trustworthiness, which are tested by the manager's use of the rich man's resources: the accounts squared up for the master, no matter how unethical the means by which the steward balanced the books.

But finally, the real message of this parable is revealed: no servant can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money. We are called, through this peculiar story, to choose between God and devotion to profit and gain. We live where we live: in an unscrupulous world, and so the example of the crooked steward who is shrewd and resourceful with his master's goods is appropriate teaching for us as we wrestle with our crises of life and faith, as we come to terms with the daily decisions between right and wrong, as we struggle with how to use God's resources rightly in the service of others and to God's honor and glory.

Proper 19 C 9/16/2007 St. Paul’s
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 Psalm 14 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10

In Blueberries for Sal, a little girl and her mother, and a little bear cub and her mother, climb a mountain to gather berries. Both mothers are dutiful and systematic berry-gatherers, while both children are easily distracted, would rather sit and chomp than follow mom, and surprisingly find themselves following the other mother. Both mothers are shocked, dumbfounded, to turn around to check on the little muncher and discover a creature not only not her own, but not even her own species. A panicked hunt ensues, both children are found, and each family pair goes relievedly, and peacefully, on their way. Sal’s mother, and the bear’s mother, were both like the shepherd in Jesus’ parable: persistent and diligent in finding the one that was lost. But to me, a bear is not a particularly attractive metaphor for a shepherd. When I see a bear, I would just as soon they were NOT persistent or diligent in finding ME.

When Jesus told these parables, neither the shepherd nor the poor woman were particularly attractive figures to use as protagonists of these stories. Neither were commonly held up as exemplary or virtuous figures. Jews and Romans did not see eye to eye on many things, but they did agree that shepherds were not to be trusted. People who had to make their living as shepherds, or tax-collectors, or donkey-drivers or peddlers, were considered necessary but shady characters. They worked on the margins of society, where breaking the law was almost inevitable. How could you trust a shepherd NOT to graze his sheep in someone else’s pasture?

Yet as Jesus tells it, the shepherd is not only the hero of the story; the shepherd gets to play the part of God. God loves the world the way the shepherd loves all his sheep – you can hear the jaws drop like iron when Jesus tells this one. Of course, the sheep love the shepherd, just as the baby bear loves her mother, but I wouldn’t want to get found by a bear, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get mothered by one. But that is just what Jesus says: God loves us like a shepherd, no matter how scrawny, smelly or disobedient we are, no matter how deep the ditch we have fallen into, the shepherd God will look for us, find us, and bring us home.

The hero of the second parable is an even more shocking character to Jesus’ listeners, for she is a woman – a lowly, ordinary, poor woman – and she represents God. God is a poor woman who has lost one coin out of the ten she has. When she finally founds the lost money, she throws a party for all her friends. The point of the story is not her unwearied search, nor her housekeeping abilities, “but simply and solely the joy of finding what was lost. As the shepherd rejoices over the lamb brought home, and the woman over her recovered [coin], so will God rejoice”[i] when God finds us, too.

God wants us, and God won’t give up. It’s not about being perfect that God wants, or being self-sufficient, or getting out our Global Positioning System. It’s when we’ve got nothing, when we’re last, least, little, lonely and lost, that God comes and finds us.

God has been at this a long time. The passage from the prophet Jeremiah is bleak indeed, a picture of desolation and desertion. The poem is a reverse of creation – every piece of what God had done is undone, the void returns, the birds are silent, the earth is barren, the very creatures created in the image of God – human beings – choose evil over good. God is angry, so angry that God seems ready to throw in the towel on all of us.

It’s a tough world. It’s tough to read the newspapers daily, or watch the reports from Iraq, to hear about yet another indication of global warming, that we have poisoned this very earth with our carelessness and greed. God is angry. If we stayed only in this 4th chapter of Jeremiah, we might not see any good reason to get up in the morning.

But God, that persistent shepherd, that diligent woman, tries again. A few chapters later in Jeremiah, God is pleading with the people of Israel to leave their evil ways behind and come back to God. By the end of the book, Jeremiah has a vision of a people completely transformed, a people whose lives are so conformed to God that even their hearts are new.

God doesn’t give up on us, doesn’t stop looking. It’s not when we think we have it all together, when we’re powerful and in charge and in control, but when we are lost – really lost – with nothing left to lose – last, least, little, lonely and lost – that God finds us and brings us home.

[i] Jeremias, p. 107

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Well, ok, a couple weeks behind ...

It's been quite busy, as more energy and interest builds in our St. Paul's Community, our ideas for a day community center for people who have few other places to go during the day. We'll collaborate with local friends, agencies, businesses, churches, to open our parish hall to people in need. Lots to do -- the need is great.
A terrific day on Pleasant Street, today! Tony, from the clothing store, and Fred, from the laundromat, organized dozens of teens and adults to pluck weeks and sweep trash from the sidewalks. They fed everyone with a picnic on our front lawn. Nice, indeed, to participate in a community ritual of hope and reconstruction.
What would Jesus do in such a time and place? No doubt pick up the rake and join in.

There probably was a time when Pleasant Street was always clean and tidy -- when it was Pleasant, indeed -- perhaps even a green and pleasant land. Some people would say, it's just chaos here now, a mess, why bother to clean it up today? "They" will just trash it tomorrow.
What would Jesus do? I don't think he'd give up on Pleasant Street; I think he'd pitch in.

God doesn't give up on us, any of us. Read on ...

Proper 18 C 9-9-2007 St. Paul’s Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 139 Philemon 1-21 Luke 14: 25-33

When I was growing up, our neighbor was a potter. He was a very fine potter, taught in an art school, and made wonderful sculptures. But in order to pay the bills, to feed a family of four children and to fix up an old farmhouse with a barn for a studio, he had to make these, these blue bowls. He made hundreds of them, and they are lovely. They are smooth, perfect, whole, and the blue glaze he developed himself. I think these blue bowls, as beautiful as they are, became a burden to him. Now that he is retired, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t make blue bowls anymore.

We children were welcome to visit Henry in his studio. Sometimes he would give us clay to play with, or we could look at the racks of pots waiting to be fired in the silo kiln, or watch them be pulled out, finished, put on racks to cool. One day one pot – a small vase – came out not a perfect blue but a mottled brown and green – an unnatural color, really. Henry was ready to throw it out. Wait, I said. Can I have it? It was shaped perfectly; it was only the color that was wrong. Henry looked at his wife. An artist of his skill would of course smash any pots not up to his standards, especially pots that were supposed to be fired in his signature blue glaze, pots that were the livelihood for his family. Henry looked at the pot. His wife looked at me, and then said, “Oh, come on, Hank. Let her have it.” It’s a treasure of mine, I love the mottled color, the bumpy surface. He couldn’t sell it. He would have destroyed it, but it is quite fine and unusual indeed.

The image of the potter, from the prophet Jeremiah, is a familiar one. “You are the potter,” the Christian crooners sing, “I am the clay.” The lesson Jeremiah took from his visit to the potter’s studio was also one of an imperfect creation, a flawed pot in the potter’s hands, which he nonetheless reshaped into something pleasing and beautiful. This flawed pot, for Jeremiah, was the people of Israel, who had wandered from God – who had even done evil. They were so flawed, as Jeremiah saw it, that God had every reason to smash them to the ground. But like the patient potter, God will try again. God will implore the people of Israel to try again. God will even threaten them with destruction. But what God really wants is for them to come back. The prophet Jeremiah might mention a pot like this thrown on a potter’s wheel, but what he is really talking about is, about our relationship with God, and how God yearns for us and has created us as perfectly, as minutely, as carefully, as this potter created this bowl.

It’s a busy world, 2007. How do we find God, this God whom Jeremiah says is looking for us? Is God there among the hundreds of cable TV channels at our disposal? Does God hang among the racks of dresses at Macy’s? Is God a guest at our weekend picnics, or jumping in the waves at the beach? We who come to church every Sunday might think we have it all figured out: God is locked up here, waiting for us. Well, yes, God is here, and we do meet God – in the bread and wine, in the fellowship at coffee hour, with each other, serving lunch at St. Paul’s Table.

Here, God rules. Here is our Sabbath place, the place where we find companionship. As one wise rabbi describes this Sabbath place, "There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control, but to share."[1] It is a place where we can listen to hard lessons, like today’s lesson from Luke, where Jesus tells us to leave our families to follow him – where Jesus tells us to lay a solid foundation to our work – where Jesus advises us not to enter into a war we cannot win. We don’t have the absolute answers to the questions those stories pose, but like the potter we can take those bits of clay and work them into something pleasing, something beautiful, something meaningful, something we can share.

Life is full of tough questions like the ones we read in today’s gospel, and all of us yearn for some time to stop and think and figure things out – we yearn for some people with whom to share our struggles, and we would like a little refreshment and nourishment along the way. We are a tiny group, but we have kind of figured out how to do those things for ourselves, here and in our relationships with each other.

But what about people who have not yet stumbled across our threshold? They are still looking for something meaningful, for community, for refreshment, for something – the word, the gesture, the music – that will change their lives.

How many of you have been to Starbucks?

Starbucks was the idea of one man who visited Italy and realized that coffee houses there were not just for getting coffee.[2] They were, as he said, the “third place” in people’s lives, between work and home, a place where people lingered, where they met other people. He found that these places were attractive, welcoming, inviting. “Everything matters,” Starbucks would say. Here’s your coffee, but here’s also a comfy chair to sit in while you drink it, and here’s today’s paper, and some nice music, and someone across the table you can have a conversation with. Location matters for Starbucks. They are located at the busy places in town, where many people’s paths cross; not isolated but central, easy to find, open.

If the point was just coffee, well, you could go anywhere for coffee, any hole in the wall, any lunch counter, even make it at home, alone. But Starbucks took that lump of clay, that ordinary, kind of misshapen thing, and reformed it into something pleasant -- maybe not as beautiful as this blue bowl, but certainly into something that gives people a respite in their busy lives.

God is the potter; we are the clay. How is God re-forming and re-shaping our lives, re-forming us into disciples and followers of Jesus? Where is your lump of clay, and what might your blue bowl look like? How is God re-forming and re-shaping our life as a community? If we open our doors even more, invite more people in to this place of respite and community, how will it change us? What shape will we be in when God has reformed our clay?

[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, TheSabbath

[2] "Cafes of community: the Starbucks principle" by Billy Coburn. Strategic Adult Ministries Journal, (Vol 18, No 5, Issue 145). Pages 8-9.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

New Look, New Start, New Paint, New Garden

No picture yet, but you MUST come to St. Paul's and see our renovations:
new red door -- not "fire engine" red but a true deep Henry Hobson Richardson-Frank Lloyd Wright red, a red that I think Ralph Adams Cram, the original architect of the building, would like.
Secondly, the interiors of both of our entrances have been painted -- clean, welcoming, cheerful -- Come on in!!
Thirdly, a garden! Well, there has always been a garden outside the chapel door, but today I planted some mums -- lovely fall mums, donated by a faithful donor. Come by, quite nice, indeed!

Here is last week's sermon -- it's about mission and hospitality. And a clean, welcoming entrance, nicely painted and fresh, is a good start. Come and see.

Proper 17 C 9/2/2007 St. Paul’s Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81 Hebrews 13:1-8,10-16 Luke 14:1, 7-14

These lessons today are about two things:

Mission is something you give away.

Mission is the work of God.

“Mission” is a buzzword in today’s corporate culture. Businesses follow mission plans and boards write mission statements.

But “mission” as we use it, as God uses it, is not about the bottom line. “Customer satisfaction” is not a mission, nor is “meeting our target goals” nor even “our mission is to get 500 more people in here every Sunday so we can pay our bills.”

No, those things are not part of God’s mission. They do not, as Jeremiah would say, spring from the fountain of living water. Such mission statements are more in the category of the cracked cisterns of our own making. In the words of the old Prayer Book, such things are among ‘the devices and desires of our own hearts.”

When it is not being used as a corporate slogan, “mission” is kind of a dusty word. In some contexts it has a very bad rap indeed. “Mission” is something that went with “empire,” and “missionaries” accompanied invading armies, and built institutions and came to care more about institutional survival than they did about the original impulse which sent them out into the world in the first place.

That original impulse is the mission of God, which, when we first hear it, sends us out into the world with urgency and fire. We are doing God’s work, which is to help bring God and the world closer together.

Which brings us to the point of today’s parable: hospitality.

The parables of Jesus are not wise sayings, or universal declarations. They are stories which always point us back to ourselves and to our relationship with God. When Jesus talks about hospitality, what is he then saying about us, about our relationship with God, about our participation in this mission work of God?

Mission work is hospitality, and it is hospitality given away – absolutely given away to people who can never hope to afford to be able to pay you back. In the economy of the ancient near east, you would receive a dinner invitation as a mark of status: the status of your host would be somehow improved by your accepting her invitation, and your status as a guest would be enhanced, and then you would invite your host back to have dinner at your house, and so it would go: gracious, kind, hospitable – but reciprocal. You ate; you owed. Such patterns served to keep social relationships intact.

But God’s hospitality serves to upset social relationships. You don’t invite the high-status people to dinner; you invite the low-status. Everybody gets a seat at God’s table, and you don’t get any brownie points for the best outfit or the fanciest college degree or the highest paying job. The first guests to be seated are the ones not on the social register – the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, to be exact – the ones who, as a matter of fact, are on God’s A-list for all the best parties. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews might say, you never know when you welcome in that stranger that you have entertained an angel unawares.

Now we certainly do not do this hospitality perfectly. All too often this kind of hospitality is more like charity, with the “have’s” playing the parts of the Ladies Bountiful with the “have-not’s.” No, in God’s mission, around God’s table, with God’s seating chart, everyone is equal. At God’s table, we all eat family style, and when God passes around that big bowl of green beans, yes, the ones who are hungriest get to eat first, but there will be plenty – more than enough – to go around.

Mission – doing God’s work – is not a zero sum game. It doesn’t get used up. There is no bottom line. Just when you think your old Aunt Tilly, so crippled up with arthritis, has just eaten the last slice of roast beef, why the next thing you know, someone else has come in, and Tilly has gotten up and served this newcomer a plate of God’s best prime ribs. At God’s table, everyone is a guest, and everyone a host. It’s a beggar’s banquet with every place fit for a king.

So let’s not get too puffed up here about what we are doing. We are not inventing any wheel with this “new mission” in Brockton. It’s not St. Paul’s Table downstairs; it’s God’s Table, just as this is God’s Table, where we gather each Sunday, each one of us a beggar, starving for the sustenance that only God can provide – each one of us a king, looking out for the weaker ones among us who need a better place in line. This is where we come when our cisterns are empty. This is where the fountains flow with living water. Come. It’s time to eat and drink.

Now, I did not put this poem by George Herbert in the sermon, but it fits. It's a love song to Jesus, from an ordinary person, who recognizes just what a gracious, abundant gift God gives us, each day, each week, even. Come and see.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Some sad news ...

A good friend died this week: Barney Farnham. He was a very kind man, a priest, a risk-taker, a gentle soul, who did indeed listen for the voice of the Spirit moving among us. Here is his obituary from the Baltimore Sun, which does not mention his summer duties. He served the parish in Blue Mountain Lake, NY, where we worship every summer, where the congregation gives more than half of its income away to folks who struggle to make a living in the Adirondacks. We never got the chance to have our annual summer evening of dinner and drinks and real conversation. He is missed.

I have also missed a couple weeks of sermons to post!! This is the one from August 19. "God expects a lot from us," I begin. Yes, indeed. When God hands us turmoil -- like moving (!) -- like the death of a beloved friend -- like uncertainty about where we are to go next -- not to mention those things which cause us deep despair, like the global climate change we have created, or the war in Iraq we let happen, or the homeless we let sleep on our city streets ... yes, God expects a lot from us.

Proper 15 C 8/19/2007 St. Paul’s Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80 Hebrews11:29-12:2 Luke 12:49-56

God, I am afraid, expects a lot from us.

This passage from Isaiah, for example, is an impassioned plea. Isaiah begs the faithless people (us) to get back with God, God the heart-broken and bereft, God the anguished, feeling abandoned. If God’s anger seems over the top, it’s because God’s investment in the people – in us -- has been so high. God expects, well, those same old things. God expects us to hold up our part of the relationship with God, by showing love, hospitality, generosity, service with all our neighbors. That is the seed God has planted in us, God’s garden, and God expects that seed to flourish.

Jesus, I am afraid, also expects a lot from us.

Today’s gospel is a difficult passage for those of us who look to Jesus for a little peace and quiet in our lives. According to this passage, we won’t get it. This is Jesus as the disturber of the peace, the upsetter of the apple cart, the one who will soon overturn the tables of the money changers and all the business-as-usual that represents. Fire, stress, division, clouds rising, wind blowing, scorching heat: when we pray for Jesus to come among us, this is what we will get. When we ask Jesus to come into our lives, we had better be prepared for change.

Ninety years ago the world was in turmoil, and people in the countries which were engaged in bloody and violent war believed that everything they had come to rely on was shattered. Many thoughtful people were shocked that human beings could behave as barbarically as they were doing on the battlefields of Europe. In this all-out war, towns were destroyed, families shattered, whole populations displaced. The painful irony of the First World War is that it came after an era hailed as one of great progress: for society, for science, for peace and prosperity, for Christianity. The spreading empires of the great European Christian powers, as well as the missionary efforts here, across North America, surely meant the world was becoming a better place, with the dawning of a new, harmonious day.

But with the horror of the First World War, those progressive hopes were gone. Rather than Jesus the bland, pious and optimistic, a new understanding of God in the world had to emerge. "The only safe place for the Christian in this life is in the center of the storm, in the midst of the battle, for that is precisely where Jesus is,” wrote German theologian Karl Barth, who lived through the First World War, and whose theology was a life-long reflection on that experience. God meets us, Barth says, where life is the hardest: where violence and anger erupts in families and among friends; where people are suffering and starving; where the demands of the gospel pit even people who love each other against each other. Barth knew that a Jesus depicted as harmonious and sociable could not sustain people wrenched from all their moorings, a people plunged into a social conflict not of their own making: "To defend the poor,” he wrote, “provokes the anger of the rich; to defend the outcast enrages the in-group; to support a fair wage irritates the robber-barons, to call for peace incites others to war."

The urgency we read in the 2000-year-old gospel, or the 80-year-old writings of Karl Barth is the urgency of a world out of balance. The demands of the prophet Isaiah 800 years before the birth of Christ could be written today, as God cries in anguish over young murder victims on the summer streets of Brockton, or over this seemingly unwinnable-by-any-side war in Iraq. Do we read the signs of the times any better than we predict the weather? Not if the people of New Orleans left vulnerable by the governments they thought were protecting them are any measure – or the people of Haiti, having lost every roll of the dice in the global economy, who fear the next hurricane that will wash their poor soil and poor people into the sea. It’s this world that is out of balance, and we know it, and God knows it, and only heaven can help us now.

Jesus may be expecting extraordinary things from us, but Jesus is not expecting us to go it alone. Jesus, Emmanuel, the God-with-us, also takes us up into God, right into the heart of the divine activity. We are not only following Jesus, doing what Jesus would have us do, but when we are doing God’s work of repairing this broken world, it is Christ working through us.

This gospel passage is about what we do when we see the fractures and terror of the world around us, about what we do when things have gone awry. The number of murders here in Brockton is a sign, pointing to deep social and personal problems, to a lack of well-paying and meaningful work, to a lack of decent, affordable places to live, to a surplus of vital young people with time on their hands and death-dealing drugs and guns too easy to find. What Jesus is saying is when we see those things, when our eyes are opened to the signs of the times and we can measure how far off we have come from the people God created us to be, then there is hope. Then the work of change, of healing, of rebuilding can begin.