Proper 27- A Veterans Day Observance, Matthew 25:1-13

The parable of the wise and foolish maidens surprised me as I never have juxtaposed marriage and its similar image of being “married” to the military before. Being in the military is like being married—once committed you’re in it.

The preparation for a wedding in the Middle East symbolically represents the preparation and training that a civilian goes through after signing the dotted line on the enlistment papers. Your life is no longer your own. The soldier, sailor, airman or Marine becomes a servant. Most weddings take place in autumn or winter in the Middle East as the growing season is over and more time is available to spend what can be a week-long series of ritual events. Candles and lamps were used to provide light and would be procured in preparation for several months beforehand. Weddings begin when all is ready, not by chronological time, and can be delayed until the late evening hours.

Jesus tells the story about 10 bridesmaids. Only half of them made the preparation to obtain and bring enough oil for their lamps. The other 5 expected to be able to find some when they arrived in town only to find the shops closed. Lamps were necessary as processions would go throughout the town down unlit narrow streets. One could not participate if they did not prepare enough oil to provide light.

Preparation is a key word paralleling this story and the lives of veterans. Veterans spend much time in preparation and training for the difficult and often multifaceted work that they volunteered to embrace.
This reveals a basic truth that unless one invests in the will to act, nothing is gained and failure is imminent. This is both true in the military and the civilian world. But it is also true in the spiritual life.

Unless one practices stewardship of time and energy investment, one does not grow spiritually. God did not create us to fit His life into ours but Jesus came so that we might learn and practice how to fit our life into God’s in order to receive our true nature. It takes intention, time and practice. It also takes a willingness to journey within to discover who we really are and the God who waits for us in the depth of our being.

The greatest virtue that the veteran embraces is embodied in the words of Jesus in John 15: Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. It is important to realize that Jesus was not a victim but that he chose to hand his life over. Veterans lay down their lives for their fellow veterans and country if the situation necessitates it. There is no greater act than this. One hands his or her life over so that others might live.

There are many levels of handing one’s life over. A loss of personal freedom where the veteran was told where to go instead of having a more pleasant choice. Or putting oneself in harm’s way with unpleasant consequences besides being a casualty and the ultimate sacrifice.

When veterans are discharged and make the adjustment—the sometimes long, tedious and difficult adjustment to civilian life, many of them, from my experience as a therapist, enter what I call, their second deployment. This second deployment involves adjusting to the civilian world, but for some, the adjustment is made more difficult because they are still living the memories of their previous deployments either physically, psychologically, spiritually or any combination of the three.
The explanation of these three domains is beyond the time we have here to address.

But the experience of the second deployment is known not only by the soldier, sailor, airman or the Marine, but by their families, friends and sometimes neighbors as well. This is why it is important not only to recognize the veterans but the family members and friends as well. Notice the proportion of our congregation whose lives are involved with veterans. We are grateful. Thank you.

How do we recognize veterans when and after they return? Our good intentions of honoring veterans may not turn out so well unless we do so with knowledge and insight. Veterans are individuals. And being individuals, each has different needs and outlooks on their varied experience. Welcoming veterans home and thanking them for their service is generally, a more sound approach than emphasizing that they are heroes, even though they are. Not knowing the individual veteran’s mind, emphasizing that they are a hero may not be congruent with their experience. When one suffers from moral injury, PTSD and other factors, being called a hero may feel incongruent to a veteran and lead to feelings of alienation. We have the choice also to serve by making sure that our intentions are clear so that our gestures are helpful to veterans first instead of the temptation to make us feel good.

Both Jesus and veterans model the mission mindset of a servant. We would be good to emulate them.


Proper 24A; Matthew 22:15 ff; 10/22/17

If you were on a government finance committee, how would you change the tax code if at all?

Did you experience any feelings at all when I said, “tax code?”  What might the feelings be about?

You might have something in common with the Judeans.  What would be your intention behind changing the tax code and what values would underlie your proposed changes?

In Jesus’ time, taxes were an issue.  Everyone paid property taxes. Taxes were also paid on livestock as property.  But Judea also paid an additional head or poll tax.  In order for Judea to remain an independent protectorate under Roman occupation, people had to pay a tribute tax to the Roman government as a tribute to Caesar. This tribute tax was levied on the people by their own rulers.

Offering a tribute tax agitated the people as paying tribute to Caesar.  Caesar proclaimed himself as divine, a god, and paying a tribute to Caesar was considered idolatry. There was no first amendment in Judea.

This is the classic “double bind.”  Pay the tribute tax and you’re an idolater and unpatriotic.  Rebel against the tax and your community will be sacked.  In order to discredit Jesus, the Pharisees stick Jesus with this double bind on the tribute tax. Ha! We’ve got him,” they thought. “Either way, Jesus answers, we’ve got him.” What the Pharisees did not understand and what Jesus did understand, is that double binds do not exist in spiritual reality. The spiritual realm transcends human thought and polarity.

The Spirit can enlighten the mind because the mind only functions as good as the spiritual health and development of the person using it.  Another word for this is wisdom which is not the same as intelligence. Intelligence may know how to facilitate something but wisdom knows when and how to use it.

Jesus doesn’t get caught in double binds.  Truth transcends polarized double binds. Denari coins were minted at the imperial mint with the image of Caesar.  The temple coin, shekel, had no image or inscription on it, representing a quantity of gold or silver. Roman money was exchanged for temple shekels.  Give Caesar his money and offer the shekel to God. In reality, there was no double bind at all.

The Pharisees and the people at large, lacked the spiritual insight to comprehend this.

There is a saying that, how can the same mind that created the problem, fix the problem?”  It cannot.

I find it interesting how people try the same methods over and over that do not work expecting different results.  Insanity.

When fear consumes us, it motivates us to try to protect ourselves from problems that do not exist, keeping us in a state of dualistic conflict. The central issue is allowing the Holy Spirit to cultivate wisdom in our hearts which creates within us a vision of truth and reality and enough peace to ride through the storm. If our first intention is to be connected to God, then eventually, all things can come into place without an inordinate amount of conflict. But intention is critical.

When we find ourselves in a double bind, our instincts are to think harder when in spiritual reality we can begin to be released from double bind by listening more to the Spirit’s direction. The Spirit will help us to see reality clearly and give us the will to choose it, being delivered from the incessant conflict and angst of the double binds that are created by the weakness of the mind.

When you find yourself in a double bind, the Scriptures are clear: Be still and know that I am God.  Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

Pray with me…
by repeating the words, Be still and know that I am God.