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The Wheat and the Tares

The Wheat and the Tares

“‘Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ The Master answered, ‘an enemy has done this.’” Matthew 13:28

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

July 23, 2017 – 7A Pentecost

A few years ago when I was preparing some parents for the baptism of their infant daughter, the mom stopped me in the middle of our conversation and said: “You know, I really don’t know why we have to spoil a perfectly joyful occasion with all this talk about ‘Satan’ and ‘evil’ and ‘sinful desires’?” She was, of course, referring to the questions we always ask candidates for baptism – “do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?…do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?…do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” Often called the ‘three renunciations,’ these questions have been a part of the baptismal rite since the Church’s founding. But to this mom, and to many modern-day Christians, this language of renunciation seems hopelessly anachronistic. What are we to make of it?

Our gospel lesson today – the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares – is a good place to start in framing an answer to this question.[1] The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is like a field where the Master has spread plenty of good seed. There are acres and acres of flourishing wheat; but there are also weeds trying to take root among the stalks of wheat. ‘Where have these weeds come from?,’ the field workers want to know. Surely, they say to the Master, you would only scatter good seed. Yes, he assures them. So why are there weeds, they want to know? And then in one short, mysterious, but profoundly important sentence, the Master says: ‘An enemy has done this.’

When Jesus later takes his disciples aside to explain to them the meaning of the parable, he tells them that this enemy is the Devil. God is the Master who has created a wonderfully thriving wheat field; but then there are weeds, placed there not by God, but by the Devil.

For most of us, talk of devils is weirdly alien, an image drawn from a bygone mythology. But ‘the devil’ of this Parable is best understood not literally, but rather as a symbol of a deep theological truth – namely, that evil is real, and has a reality beyond the sum of its parts.

We moderns describe the array of destructive forces that surround us in different terms. Rather than devils, we talk about the scourge of addictions, obsessions and compulsions; the plague of depression and melancholy; the ravages of cancer; human preoccupations with violence and domination; and the like. We like to think we have a more sophisticated understanding of these dehumanizing forces, but at the end of the day, these realities are the same as they were in Jesus’ time, and they remain as intractable and destructive as ever, notwithstanding our fancier ways of describing them. To say that the enemy is the Devil, then, is not to revert to pre-scientific fairytale images but rather to acknowledge, through the ancient language of Scripture, that evil has a cosmic, trans-human reality.

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Captive to Sin, Freed by Grace

Captive to Sin, Freed by Grace

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15.

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

5A Pentecost – July 9, 2017

If you’ve noticed these past few weeks, our epistle lessons this summer have been drawn from St. Paul’s magisterial, yet difficult, Epistle to the Romans. Well, I’ve dodged him long enough, so today I take up St. Paul and one of his favorite topics: sin. And not only do I hope to talk about ‘sin,’ but even more foolishly perhaps, I shall try to persuade you that ‘sin’ is still a theologically important category, a helpful and true way of talking about the human condition, even if the concept is, at the same time, in need of some modest rehabilitation.

Let me frame our conversation with a story: In the early 1970s, about a decade before I arrived on the Stanford University campus for my graduate work, a young psychologist there had made quite a name for himself because of a controversial experiment he had conducted in human behavior. His name was Phillip Zimbardo, and his study has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What Zimbardo did was this: He ran an ad in newspapers around the country seeking volunteers to participate in a study of the psychological effects of prison life. He sought healthy, intelligent, college-age men, and he screened them to eliminate candidates with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse.

The young men were then arbitrarily divided into two groups by a flip of the coin: half were randomly assigned to be guards, the other half were to be the prisoners. They were essentially invited to role-play, so as to recreate the atmosphere of prison life. Zimbardo outfitted the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department building to serve as the prison.

The guards were given no specific training on how to be guards. Instead they were free, within limits, to do whatever they thought was necessary to maintain law and order and to command the respect of the prisoners. To give the experiment a feeling of authenticity, the prisoner volunteers were actually arrested by the Palo Alto Police Department from their homes, strip-searched, fingerprinted, given prison uniforms, and then confined in the makeshift prison. They, too, were given no specific instructions as to how to behave, but were left free to react to their captivity in whatever ways seemed real to them.

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Welcome

Welcome

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” Matthew 10:40

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

4A Pentecost – July 2, 2017

Heroes seem few and far between these days. I’m not sure if every generation thinks that things were better in the past, but it is hard to look around the current landscape of politics, culture, or sports, and find many candidates whom one might nominate as a hero.

Perhaps for that reason, I believe now more than ever in the importance of learning from heroic lives. It is one thing to study the abstract truths of moral and religious philosophy; but it is altogether more rewarding to see how a real, living and breathing person uses his or her talents to make the world a better or more beautiful or more just place. Which is to say we find such people ‘inspiring’ – or literally ‘filled with the Spirit’ – which is why we call them heroes or saints.

When I was a chaplain to an elementary school many years ago, I taught a fifth grade religion course that was all about “heroic lives,” a unit I entitled “Saints of Yesterday and Today.” In the course, we studied saintly lives, both past and present, and as a final project, I asked each student to select a person whose life the student found to be compelling, and to do a presentation to the class about the saint.

Little Johnny was a quiet, Catholic boy, who was new to the class and whose family came from Hawaii. Johnny came up to me after I had given the assignment, and said to me: “I’d like to do my project on Father Damien.” I had vaguely heard of Father Damien, because the Episcopal Church had at the time recently included him in our own book of saints, but I honestly didn’t know much about him. “Terrific,” I said. “I look forward to learning about Father Damien.”

“Tell me, Johnny,” I asked, “why did you pick him as your saint?” Johnny thought for a moment, and then said: “because he welcomed people who nobody else liked.”

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Losing One’s Life, Only to Regain It

Losing One’s Life, Only to Regain It

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Pentecost 3A – June 25, 2017

If our gospel story had taken place in today’s superficial world of tweets, I can only imagine what this morning’s newsfeed would read. “Jesus turns against families! Pits fathers against sons, and mothers against daughters!” Or, worse still: “Christ urges his followers to wield the sword! Says peace is not achievable!”

Such hypothetical tweets are not entirely inaccurate, of course, because Jesus does say, as we just heard: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother….” And so too does he say: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” But if we’re interested in really understanding what Jesus means with these words, rather than merely being seduced by the easy sensationalism of twitter feeds, then we have to take the time to plumb these texts a little more deeply.

To get at these issues, let me tell a story. When I was a chaplain at Harvard, our student community worshipped in Christ Church Cambridge, where my altar guild support was a lovely, older widow by the name of Summer Akimoto. With great care each week, Summer would always wash and iron the fine linens for the altar, so that our service of holy communion was appropriately elegant and reverent. Although Summer was a white woman, she had married a Japanese-American man by the name of Ted Akimoto, whose last name she had taken. I never knew Ted, because, sadly, he died shortly before I arrived at Harvard.

When you meet Summer, you immediately realize that she still adores her late husband, as she loves to share Ted’s story with others, and rightly so. Ted was a prize-winning war photographer. He served with distinction as a U.S. Army officer during World War II on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. He was one of the first photographers to visit Hiroshima after the bomb, and his photographs painfully document the devastation of that awful historical moment.

The really extraordinary part of Ted’s story, though, is not his artistry as a photographer so much as it is the events that led up to his service. You see, Ted and his two brothers, Victor and Johnny, volunteered to serve their country despite the fact that just months before their enlistment, in early 1942, the United States had herded their family into an internment camp. The Akimotos were loyal American citizens who had lived in Southern California for decades, but that didn’t matter in the wake of Pearl Harbor, when panic won out over good sense. At the time, President Roosevelt ordered internment of anyone with Japanese blood as an expedient solution to identifying and corralling “the enemy.”

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Making Emmanuel Church Accessible for All

Making Emmanuel Church Accessible for All

Exciting plans are underway for a major restoration of our beautiful and historic Church, including making the Church accessible to those persons with disabilities.  A summary of this work may be found below, along with our fundraising goals. We hope you share in our excitement about this project. If you want to contribute, you may do so either by mailing a check made payable to “Emmanuel Church” to Emmanuel Church, Restoration Campaign, P.O. Box 705, Manchester, MA 01944, or if you would like to donate online via our secure payment system, please click here.

A Summary of the Project and our Campaign

This restoration will entail refinishing the floors, repairing the plaster, restoring one of our beautiful stained glass windows, installing additional lighting, painting the interior, and most important of all, providing an additional means of access for those with disabilities. This project represents the culmination of several years of effort as we have considered a variety of options for making our services accessible to all. Many of you have seen the design of the new entrance on the poster boards that have been displayed after selected services, which can be seen here. We believe that this approach will preserve, and indeed enhance, our Church’s original beauty while enabling us to welcome to our worship services those with disabilities. In addition to the restoration of our Church, we are making some essential repairs to our parsonage, including replacing the roof.

The total cost of the restoration of the Church and the repair of the parsonage will be $300,000. We are pleased to report that before we even commenced the Restoration Campaign, we received generous commitments of $35,000 from faithful friends of Emmanuel. We are also extremely thankful that a generous donor has committed to match any money raised, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000. Thus, after giving effect to the matching gift, we have already raised $70,000, with an additional $65,000 available to match future donations. Much of the restoration work will begin after our Christmas service and most interior work will be completed by Easter. Accordingly, our goal is to complete our Campaign by April 30, 2017.

As we prepare ourselves during this beautiful Advent season to remember the birth of the infant Jesus, Luther has encouraged us to reflect on how Christ is coming into our lives. How is Christ encouraging us to use our gifts, talents and treasure to help Him reveal God’s kingdom? Wonderful things are happening at Emmanuel Church. Please consider contributing to our Restoration Campaign so that we can restore and preserve our beautiful Church, and ensure access to all who wish to join us in worship. Council member Jim Westra has graciously agreed to chair this Restoration Campaign and he is available to provide additional information or answer questions. Jim can be reached at 617-257-4205 or jim.westra@icloud.com.

 

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