FROM THE RECTOR
Gentiles and Tax Collectors
For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve had a practice of maintaining a “boneyard” at the bottom of my sermon manuscript. As I work on my sermon, I keep a document and throw ideas, questions, quotes, word etymologies, stories, news stories—really whatever has caught my attention as I get into a text.
Alongside this practice I try to remember one of the more important teachings that I have received about writing (and communication in general) that came from one of my seminary professors, Bruce Mullin. He consistently reminded us that writing was akin to sculpture, in that it’s often not what you add in but what you take out that matters most.
With that in mind, as I’m creating a sermon, I use this boneyard at the bottom of the document for all of the ideas or possibilities that are interesting, but just don’t quite fit. Because while I can’t use them in that particular sermon, I don’t want to entirely let them go, as they are still really fascinating, or provocative, or unusual. Maybe next time I preach this text, I tell myself, having them around will come in handy.
It’s with this practice in mind that I’d like to explore something from last Sunday from the cutting room, so to speak. As you may know, last week’s Gospel was a teaching from Matthew’s Gospel about conflict, and how it can be engaged within a community. As Jesus goes through the steps of addressing it (first one on one, then with a couple of others, then with the community), he finally comes to the question of what to do if someone is still resistant to acknowledging the break that they have caused.
“If a member refuses to listen to even the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and tax collector.” (Mt. 18:17b) The question that biblical scholars have been debating ever since is just what that this challenging teaching means, and what the righteous response treatment should be. Setting aside the question as to whether these are the words of Jesus or instead the words of the Matthean community, there are scholars who believe that this teaching would mean banishment, or at least a separation so that the offender is no longer a part of the community. This interpretation certainly follows one of the trajectories of Matthew’s account.
And yet. On the whole, Jesus spent a lot of his time with Gentiles—that is, in conversation with and healing those outside of the house of Israel. And tax collectors? He specifically sought out encounters with them as well. Further more, the context of this teaching in Matthew’s Gospel is that it follows a story of a shepherd that searches for the one sheep out of a hundred that is lost in the mountains. And it precedes a teaching (Sunday spoiler alert) with Peter of the number of times one is to forgive (not just once or twice, or seven times, but many, many times).
All of this makes me and others wonder if in fact this teaching is a form of inversion. That is, Jesus is taking a commonly held belief and turning it on its head. When someone who has sinned against you, maybe treating them like a Gentile or a tax collector means that you evangelize them again. It might require sitting down to a meal and breaking bread together. Perhaps it means seeks them out as you would someone who is lost.
In our rush to deny, ostracize, or demonize others—even as they sin against us—we would do well to consider the actions of Jesus. In addition to paying attention to his words, we would do well to remember what he actually did when he encountered a Gentile or tax collector. Disciple beware though, it just might turn your world on its head.
From our Seminarian
It has been an amazing two-year journey with you! When our family moved to Berkeley in the summer of 2015 we knew two people. One was a friend of a friend who helped us navigate Berkeley schools and introduced us to Berkeley Bowl. The other was Tripp Hudgins.
All Souls was on our radar, but we had no idea how much of an impact this amazing parish would change our lives. In my first year of seminary, we would visit other parishes (as good seminarians do), but All Souls quickly became home. It was a place where our kids felt welcomed, where we all made friends, and we learned how we make Eucharist together.
I am so thankful that I was able to do my first year of field education with you this past year. Little did we know how much we would need the care and support of All Souls. It was just last year, at the parish retreat, when we began to realize the full gravity of Sarah’s car accident and all the help we would need. By the time we left the retreat last year, our kids had rides home from school and meals were planned for the next several weeks. You have walked with us through the valley of this last year and yet we have seen amazing vistas of God’s love and embrace embodied in this community.
It has been an honor to work alongside you all. I have learned so much. Thank you for being generous teachers, companions along the way, and capable guides for what it means to be a parish in the Bay Area. We had hoped to continue this work with you in this academic year, but this summer we had to come to terms with Sarah’s ongoing health issues. She continues to recover, but her doctors do not want her to go back to work yet. As such, I needed to obtain full-time employment to meet our family’s needs. I had hoped it would be such that I could continue my field education at All Souls, but that was not to be.
On September 24th, I will begin work with Trinity Church in Menlo Park as their Associate for Children and Family Ministry. It feels a bit like I am taking a piece of All Souls with me. I am hopeful that I can apply all that I learned with you to this new calling. We will continue to live in Berkeley this academic year, I will be taking classes part-time at CDSP, and our intention is to move across the bay next summer. You will continue to see our kids at worship, in Sunday School, and on the playground. I imagine they will join me at Trinity some Sundays this year as we acclimate to life in a new community.
The parish retreat will be my last official Sunday. The kids and I are looking forward to spending the weekend with you at Bishop’s Ranch. It will be good to take a break in the midst of this very busy season of transition. My hunch is it will be heavenly.
– Aaron Klinefelter
In the Garden
I was once described in print as “an accelerated female” and it’s been suggested that, as such, I might benefit from some kind of stillness training, something to help quiet the intrusion of what Buddhists call the monkey mind.
One of the reasons I’ve always loved the liturgy of the Episcopal Church is that – to whatever degree I happened to be believing it right then – the rite would act to fill my mind with metaphoric language, always infinitely more beautiful than what I’d normally be thinking.
What I’d normally be thinking is something like this:
Do you sit? I’ve been asked.
No, I would say. I used to drink but that was like squirting lighter fluid on the already blazing barbecue.
Prayer, you see, serves to quiet my mind, to relieve me of the burden of being creative, my needing to say the next clever thing. The prayers we say, songs we sing, interceded in an almost mechanical way. It’s by saying these older better truer words I can turn down the volume of monkey chatter, becoming quiet enough to listen for the hum.
It’s in the wordless hum that I experience the holy feeling of communion.
But something has happened in the two years since my husband and I’ve been coming to All Souls – it’s stunning to me that gradually I am becoming a more peaceful person. And this feels miraculous in that this is concurrent with what I experience as a cataclysmic moment in geopolitics. It occurs to me that neither my customary anxiety nor my anger serves to help our dire global situation. So it seems one small miracle that with everything I love and care for under threat, I have become quiet enough to work in the garden, the garden being one place from which I – with my lifelong habit of what I’d call a resolute unbelief – have felt spiritually exiled.
I have signed up to take the Education for Ministry class with Stephen Southern – my husband and Stephen both grew up in a faith tradition that had them reading the Bible, but for me every word of this is new a complete and utter revelation:
Here’s Eliot Weinberger:
God (now called Yahweh) makes a human (adam)… out of the
dust of soil (adaman) and places him in the Garden of Eden
to till the land and care for trees.
I see, I think, as I’m digging deeply enough into the hummus to feel what is not sun warmth but generative heat, how defiantly alive all this remains, and I’m amazed that this even seems to apply to me.
I see, I think, dirt and humankind and what is made and what begotten, Scripture carrying to us the oldest story, our stories, ancient and simple truths giving us back to ourselves.
– Jane Vandenburgh
Camp All Souls: Called to Justice
In August, we embarked on a wild and wonderful adventure here at All Souls: we launched a new home-grown day camp. Nineteen campers joined seven youth leaders and a host of generous adults for a week of fun in community. We explored themes of justice in scripture and our common life and shared in art, games, advocacy, music, worship, reflection, and more. Here’s a peek into the joy of that week:
Centering Prayer for Social Action
Please join us for a bi-weekly guided contemplative practice in the Christian tradition of Centering Prayer. We will gather with a trained facilitator from 7:30 – 8:30 pm for instruction and silent contemplative prayer, meeting in the chapel here at All Souls. While there will be a focus on the emotional challenges particular to working for peace and justice in difficult times, we hope that everyone in need of a restorative contemplative practice will join us!