Twenty-seventh Sunday in
October 5, 2014
Rev. Anthony Medairos,
Psalm 80:12-16, 19-20
Parents dream for their
children. Parents invest everything in
them – money, energy, education, faith.
Parents provide values and life lessons for their children. Some wounded parents do this when they reveal
through their own choices what a child’s life should not be like. But most
parents nurture their children carefully, thoughtfully, sacrificially,
lavishly. Good parents do everything
possible to provide opportunities for their children’s safe, happy and
And sometimes those parents’ hearts
are stung by ungrateful children who choose for themselves the wrong road. The wrong road may be destructive. Sometimes it’s a “wrong” road only because it
leads away from a future that the parents had planned, without regard for the
child’s own dreams. And so there is
disappointment when the attorney, the physician, or the millionaire becomes the
farmer, the firefighter, the pharmacist.
But as invested as those parents might have been in planning their
children’s future, eventually parents will come to accept their children’s
different choices because they have actually arrived at the hoped-for
destination: a wholesome, fulfilling
Sadly, sometimes there can be a
complete rupture between parent and child.
Differences degenerate into rejection, condemnation, alienation. Perhaps the parent is too rigid. Maybe the fault is the child’s
rebelliousness. It could be both. But despite stubbornness of heart, any normal
parent still loves that child. And
children, though hesitant, still hunger for the love that calls them home.
The prophet Isaiah sings of God’s
relationship with the Jews. The image in
his song is not of a parent, but of a vineyard owner. But like a parent, the vineyard owner makes
an enormous investment in hiring masons to build a tower, planting protective
hedges that take years to grow and groom, and establishing healthy vines that
must go through years of vintages before yielding the first decent grapes for
winemaking. These vines are the owner’s
“children” into whom he pours years of his love and dreams. And in Isaiah’s song, the vineyard owner
receives at harvest only wild, sour grapes.
song warned the Jews that their unfaithfulness to their Heavenly Father, the
vine grower, will result in the destruction of that vineyard. Historically we know that Isaiah’s prophecy
was fulfilled in Judah’s
utter destruction by the Babylonians.
God would, of course, send other prophets to the Jewish people in their
exile to revive the hope that God would restore their homeland and religion
after a time of captivity.
reminded his hearers of Isaiah’s song
of the vineyard. And while his story
also recounted the betrayal of God by his people, his story was ultimately
about hope and optimism: The vineyard
owner would hand over his vineyard to other people, faithful people.
and I are those other people. Are we the
faithful ones who will produce a vintage of fine grapes for the owner of the
vineyard? Or are we harvesting for him
wild, sour grapes, fit to produce not wine but vinegar? Do we ignore the lordship of the vine grower
over us in his vineyard?
spent the wee hours of this Saturday morning sitting in the emergency room with
parents as they gently stroked the hair of their son who had just died
unexpectedly, a young man of talent and kindness, a vegan since childhood
because he was so sensitive to animals.
Into him these parents had poured their hopes and dreams. And now so much lay unfulfilled. May he this day find the fullness of life
with our Father in heaven. Do not
delay. “… You know neither the day nor
the hour.” 
parents and grandparents, look to the vines you have planted. If the harvest is bitter, consider what you
can do to restore nurture between you and your children and grandchildren. Into them you have poured your hopes and
dreams and lives. It is too late to save
the vineyard you have planted only if you refuse to act boldly, with
humility. Pray. As Saint
Paul wrote, “Have no anxiety at all, but in
everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known
to God.” God will show you what you can
do to restore your vineyard.
children – young or old – the message for you is similar. Be prepared to act boldly but with
humility. Recognize the complex
relationships that are forged between your parents and you. Pray, with the Psalmist, that God “look down
from heaven, and see; take care of this vine….”
Pray and act. Pledge to God,
“give us new life, and we will call upon your name.” God will show you the way back home.
is a profound comparison between one’s relationship with parents and one’s
relationship with God. This is why
Jesus, when pressed to describe God, relied on the imagery of a parent. When a disciple asked that Jesus to teach
them how to pray, “He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be
your name, your kingdom come.’”  You know the rest. And in another place Jesus described our
vital intimacy with himself. He said, “I
am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without
me you can do nothing.” 
the ballad of Isaiah. He hoped to lead
people toward repentance that was necessary to preserve their relationship with
God. Hear the parable of Jesus as he
encouraged his listeners to welcome his own message rather than to continue to
reject God’s plan for them. Hear the
prophet and the Lord as they remind you and me that our lives are to be the
fruit of God’s vineyard here. Our
repentance, our turning from sin and selfishness, our receiving the Good News
of Jesus grows the fruit that restores our relationship with the Heavenly
Father, the vine grower, and our relationships with one another.
Twenty-sixth Sunday in
September 28, 2014
Rev. Anthony Medairos,
Samuel P. Huntington, in his 1996
book Clash of Civilizations, proposed
the idea that the post-Cold War world will face problems that originate from
the cultural differences between the West (generally meaning European culture)
and the East (specifically the Islamic culture). Up until that time, East-West problems meant
Soviet versus NATO or American interests. The rest of the world was quiet, except where
proxy wars between the Communists and the U.S. erupted from time to
time. (Korea and Vietnam are
prime examples, along with tension at the border between divided Germany.) Some accepted Huntington’s thesis; others roundly
recent events manifest a world that is, evidently, experiencing just such a
clash of civilizations. Events in the
Islamic world confound most of us. Problems
that you and I may surmise might be easily solved, through diplomacy for
example, seem to offer no solutions in the world of the Middle
East. We’re left with
mindless bloodletting and terror; ineffectual diplomacy; slaughter of
we may not understand that we live in different cultures, clashes between them
may go unrecognized or misunderstood until it is too late to avoid violence and
mayhem. This is because different
cultures share a different history, a different mythology, a different
“language.” And even if people from
various cultures were all willing to speak English, we still may not be
is an example. I invited a Brazilian brother
and sister to join me on a ski trip.
They said, “Yes, father. This is
good.” When the day arrived, I loaded
the ski rack, packed the car and waited – and waited. But my young friends did not arrive. I called their home, and their response was,
“Oh, sorry, father; we won’t be going skiing.
But thank you for asking us.”
Sister Ellen, who had worked in Brazil for
decades, helped me decipher that their initial “Yes,” really meant: “We know you will feel bad if we say we do
not want to go skiing. So we will say
‘Yes’ out of respect.” Sister surmised
they had never intended to go skiing. From
their cultural background, it seemed better to leave me packed and waiting on
some snowy day than to show disrespect today.
And that is a difference within two Western cultures! No wonder it is hard for us to understand
Middle Eastern cultures. And they ours.
Listen to Jesus’ parable with
something approximating the cultural ears of his original listeners. Theirs was a culture built on a code of honor
and shame. The fourth commandment is to
“honor” one’s father and mother. When
the first son refused to do his father’s bidding, he dishonored and shamed his
father. When the second son showed
respect, he was being a good son. Though
the first son eventually did as he had been told, that meant little because he
had shamed his father.
Jesus walked in that culture. So Jesus twisted his hearers’ expectations
when, instead of asking, “Which son honored his father,” he asked, “Which of
the two did his father’s will?” The
listeners had to admit, “The first.” But
they would have continued: “But what difference does that make? The first son shamed his father. End of story.”
Back in the time of the first Iraq
War “Baghdad Bob,” the Information Minister for Saddam’s government, announced categorically
to TV reporters that no Coalition Forces had entered Baghdad – even as U.S. tanks were rumbling past his TV
studio. It seemed far better for the
minister to deny the obvious than to shame his nation. Within that culture, what he did was correct. To us, this seems irrational. Hence, the culture clash: In that culture, appearance is the most real thing; it is everything. In our culture, on our best days, we look for
facts, we seek evidence.
clashed with his own human culture of honor and shame when he revealed that the
first son’s initial shaming of his father was not the end of the
story. The second son’s formal respectfulness
was not the end of the story. Appearances
do not count with God. Action does.
encountered God’s discomforting reality at last weekend’s liturgy.
learned of the vineyard owner’s “unfairness,” paying a day’s wage to men who had
toiled all day long and the same day’s pay to laborers who had worked only an
hour. “Are you envious because I am
generous?” This same envy resonates in
the people of today’s first reading:
“The Lord’s way is not fair!” because when someone at the last moment
turns “away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he
shall not die.” A godless life that
truly becomes repentant at the last hour will receive the same reward as those
of us who have struggled a lifetime to be faithful.
are you and I likely to rejoice in a long-time sinner’s return? Or are we more likely to be filled with envy
or even resentment that “we could have gotten away with a lot of stuff?” Are we judgmental of others’ lives, or even
judgmental of God? Remember, appearances
do not count with God. Action does.
does the Father ask of you and me? Saint Paul, in one verse,
summed up what the Heavenly Father asks:
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly
regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his
own interests, but also for those of others.”
This is a high goal. Paul made it
sound simple. But this is the way to
obey the Father’s will. It is, in fact,
what Jesus himself did in obedience to the Father. That is why Paul continued, “Have in you the
same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
was an ancient French custom that is now lost.
Long ago, it had been the practice to build a person’s coffin out of the
wood of the table from which he had, in his lifetime, fed the poor. The meaning was clear: our salvation begins in our actions now. “Have in you the same attitude that is also
in Christ Jesus.” Remember, appearances
do not count with God. Action does.
Twenty-fifth Sunday in
September 21, 2014
Rev. Anthony Medairos,
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9,
not fair! Our politicians talk a lot
about fairness. Ayn Rand in her massive novel
Atlas Shrugged nearly 60 years ago
uncovered the pitfalls of a government fixated on what’s “fair.” Ordinary people seem also to focus on
fairness. They do a lot of
measuring: jealous when someone else
gets more, or has better, than I. “It’s
not fair that my brother (or sister) got a bigger slice of pie.” “It’s not fair that I’m not as athletic or as
pretty or as smart or as wealthy or as popular as someone else.” So, I’m always looking for “justice” – what
is “fair.” But what I may mean by “justice” is that everyone
else ought to be jealous of me.
Today Jesus presents a story of
colossal unfairness. The workers who
toiled all day in the harsh sun got the same daily wage as those who worked in
the field only an hour or two. That’s
not fair, we all would agree.
Now remember, the parables of Jesus
compare the kingdom
of God to some familiar
human experience, in this instance a paycheck.
In this parable Jesus suggests that God is not fair. And thank God for that! While mere humans rush after fairness, God manifests
generosity and mercy instead. Think
about it: Would you and I really dare to
ask God to treat you and me fairly?
problem may be that we confuse “fairness” with “equality.” If things aren’t equal, then they must be
unjust, unfair. The Lord’s parable of
the workers tells us that, in God’s kingdom, justice consists in meeting the
essential needs of every individual person with compassion. In this case, each worker’s family needed the
“daily wage” just to survive; anything less would have meant the children’s empty
bellies that night.
it “equal” that handicapped folks get to park closer to the mall entrance? But it is just, since it meets their physical
needs. Is it “equal” that we take up a
collection for hurricane victims when our own homes need some fixing up? But it is just, because it is a matter of
God will accept our love and faith just
as generously whether we come to the Lord for the first time as a ninety-five
year old on his deathbed or whether we’ve devoted our entire life to God. It is unfair, yes. But as God revealed through the prophet
Isaiah, “Let [the scoundrel] turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is
generous and forgiving. For my thoughts
are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Thank God for that! God meets us in our neediness and shows us
Some people view their relationship
with God as a contract: quid pro quo as they say in Latin – this
for that. Such a contract, however,
presupposes a person’s equality with God!
We congratulate ourselves on our goodness and expect that God “owes
us.” That’s how those all-day laborers may
have felt. But Jesus tells us that you
and I cannot earn our way into
heaven, like laborers who sweat all day in the vineyard and earn a day’s wage. It is our Christian hope that we will be rewarded, not because God “owes
us,” but because God is compassionate toward the deserving and the undeserving
– at least the deserving and undeserving as human beings measure things.
If this is so, why try so hard to be
a Christian? Why not wait to do God’s
will until after we’ve spent our lives clawing over people to build our wealth? Why not wait to worship when we’re old and
frail, rather than praising God in our youth?
Why not be the last to the vineyard and the first to pick up the
The obvious answer is that we do not
know when our last hour has approached.
Some of us live to ninety, others to nineteen. We never know the day or the hour.
that’s not the real answer as to why
we should live as Christians right now. The
real answer is that the parable is not just about the slackers who only worked
an hour or two and still received a full day’s pay. It’s not even about the jealousy of the hard
workers who felt the injustice of equal pay for unequal work. The parable offers a model for meaningful
is a challenge to those of us who do
believe in God’s lordship over us to become God-like ourselves. We are invited to experience the life-long
joy of approaching other people and society in the way we hope God approaches us:
with generous mercy rather than measured fairness. What more fulfilling life could we imagine
for ourselves than being persons who communicate God’s mercy to those around
of the people you genuinely admire. Not
the ones who are idolized by the crowds like movie stars and MVPs and rock
stars – the ones the paparazzi stalk.
But the ones you admire and
would like to be like: perhaps a
grandparent, a certain teacher, a life-long friend. You will find in them – not perfectly, but
still there – a sense that they inform justice with mercy. The ones we admire and whom our better selves
want to be like are people who are not always seeking to be equal, but seek instead
to meet other people’s needs with compassion.
That is the justice that is found in the kingdom of heaven.
those who act toward others as God does with us, without always measuring out “fairness”
but seeking instead to be merciful toward others, Jesus made this reassuring
pledge: “the last will be first, and the
first will be last.”
Feast of the Exaltation
of the Holy Cross
September 14, 2014
Rev. Anthony Medairos,
Psalm 78:1b-2, 34-38
In the Middle
East some intolerant people who claim the faith of Islam torment people of other faiths,
particularly Christians. This
intolerance has extended even to Indiana,
where vandals recently marked three Christian churches with Koranic verses
painted on their walls.  In places like Iraq, the homes of Christians may
be marked with the Arabic letter “N,” indicating that a Nazarene lives here;
that is, a Christian.
Muslims label Christians as “cross worshippers.” Followers of the Koran hesitate saying “Jesus
followers,” since the Koran teaches that Jesus is a prophet, born of the virgin
Mary. Jesus, in Koranic verse, is the
only person besides Adam whose soul was created directly by God.  So, Muslim haters fixate on the cross rather
than on the one who hung upon it.
have reverted to crucifixion as a particularly graphic message of terror. 
Even governments in Yemen
and Saudi Arabia
have recently used this horrific method of torture and execution on political
enemies and even on common thieves.
We in the West have taken another
tack when it comes to the cross. Though
some wear a cross or crucifix as an act of faith, many others display it as a
bobble, a bit of “bling” to enhance their outfit – whether that be high fashion
or street-gang styled street clothes.
The cross is everywhere in our own town – so ubiquitous that many don’t
even see it. Every six-panel door in
American homes displays a cross. Did you
notice the cross on our own church? Does
our processional cross that leads us into worship capture from us even a
glance? The crucifix that stands at
every Catholic altar – doesn’t it disappear into the background?
Crucifixion is a gruesome
thing. The crucifix was not the
Christians’ first choice as our symbol.
The earliest Christians preferred the outline of a fish as
their symbol for Jesus. By better
artists Jesus was portrayed as a shepherd.
Sometimes Jesus was drawn as a lamb, the Lamb of God. Only much later was the cross universally
adopted as our sign. And still later the
image of Christ’s body was placed upon the bare cross.
see, the early Christians knew crucifixion.
It was not jewelry to them; it was horrifying. It was a means of execution the Romans used
to debase Rome’s
enemies, naked and publicly tortured toward a slow, agonizing death. Yet this symbol of that hated empire and of
death itself became our symbol of sacrificial love. For through Jesus’ obedience to the Heavenly
Father and love for you and me, he allowed himself to die ignominiously on a
cross. The very thing that killed people
– would save them. By his resurrection,
Jesus defeated sin and death. We are
Church has selected for this feast day a reading from the Book of Numbers. It recounts how God’s complaining people were
inflicted with saraph serpents, whose bite was like fire. Many died.
When the people repented, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent,
mount it on a pole, and lift it up before the people. If the people looked upon this symbol, they
would live. The thing that killed people
would now save them.
so it is with Christ’s ultimate act of love on the cross. Jesus was “lifted up” like the bronze saraph
“so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
me, the cross and crucifix do not blend into the woodwork. At home there is a crucifix prominently displayed
in my living room, one in each bedroom.
The processional cross is my focus as we begin and complete this
communal worship. The cross is a
comfort, signifying Christ’s love for me personally and for our community of
faith. It is prominent in my home
because it is a sign of my trust in God’s love.
Jesus “emptied himself” of the glory of the Trinity, “coming in human weakness”
and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” God “greatly exalted
him.” Good Friday was defeated by Easter. For this reason, despite any difficulties in
life – even the persecution of our faith – you and I have confidence in God’s
love and power to save. We acknowledge
and with courage confess “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
time we make the sign of the cross on our body, every time we look upon the
cross or venerate the crucifix, you and I profess our readiness to take Jesus
seriously. We are his disciples. Jesus is Lord. We embrace the whole gospel fully. We are ready to die for our beliefs. We are prepared to live by the values that
Jesus taught. We are committed to the
Heavenly Father, to Jesus and to one another in the power of the Holy
 Huston Smith, Islam: A Concise Introduction
(HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) p. 34.
 Joshua Hammer,
Days of Reckoning,” National Geographic (September