2019-3-24 “The Workers in the Vineyard”

Third Sunday in Lent

The Workers in the Vineyard

Given by Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar

March 24, 2019

Text is Matthew 20:1-16


I still remember the first time I came to visit my dad after he had moved out here to California. I was a first -year student at Andover Newton, a mere 23 years old back then. My dad was just getting started at his new church in South Gate, while my mom was still packing up the house in Chicago. So, I came out and my dad was driving me around, showing me the new neighborhood between his new church and their new house in Downey. On one street corner, I couldn’t help but notice a line of men standing around. Some had backpacks, others weren’t carrying anything. Some looked bored. Others were talking with friends. I asked my dad what they were doing. He explained that they were day-laborers. Not knowing that meant I asked for a further explanation.

          Well, today’s scripture lesson reminds me of that first visit out here when I saw that group of men on that street corner. Today, though I can’t help but wonder what it would have felt like, had I been one of those hired men who had worked all day, perhaps doing a construction job or working in some field only to find out that another guy had been hired in the last hour of the day and had been paid the same amount I was. Would I think that was fair?  No, I surely doubt it!

          Yet, in Jesus’ wisdom He uses this parable to show His disciples of that time (and disciples of today) what it looks like to work in God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, or God’s economy.

And so, I now wonder what it would have felt like to have heard this parable had I been one of Jesus’ disciples who had left everything behind to follow Him. Would I have been happy to have heard this story? Would I have immediately said, “sure I get it Jesus! You’re saying that even though I left everything for you and I’ve been serving these people right along with you, that if some new person comes along tomorrow you’re going to treat them just as great as you’ve been treating me?” Um… I surely doubt that would have made me very happy!

You see, we’ve been conditioned to think of what is fair and what is unfair and to judge that according to our own human standards. We like to measure ourselves up against others and to be the ones to decide who has paid their dues and who hasn’t- whether that is at our place of work, in society or even in the Church. Don’t we?

I think we learn how to do that from a very young age- it is as if we were born with that capacity in us. Think about it- how many times have your children said to you “that isn’t fair” about their sibling? Or how many times have you thought to yourself “I worked harder than that co-worker of mine and yet they get paid the same amount as I do.” 

When thinking of society- I can’t help but think about when I hear some people on the news say regarding recent immigrants, “That isn’t fair! They haven’t paid their dues, why do they get to benefit just like everyone else?”

But, the reality is that this story is much more about God and much less about us. It is much more about God’s amazing grace and much less about our egos, jealousy, or sense of fairness.

You see I think the key to understanding this text is to think about the last workers hired. But first, in order to do that we must wonder why they had been hanging around all day w/ out getting hired? Were they perhaps not very strong looking? Not able-bodied? Not considered to be the “winners” by any chance? Could that have been why they hadn’t been hired all day? Yet, here they are at the end of the day, putting in just a short amount of time and yet receiving as much as the others.

When I think of this story I can easily identify with one of those last workers. In fact, I like being reminded that God loves me no matter what and when I am reminded that God loves me even when I’m not considered one of the winners or a part of the in-crowd or the elite, by any means. That part I enjoy hearing all of the time.

Yet, the harder part is to wonder how it is that God might be asking me to respond to such a story? Is God reminding me, perhaps that God loves everyone just as much as God loves me? That whether we have followed God all of our lives or have just begun today that God doesn’t play favorites? That in God’s vineyard there is room for all of us to serve God?

As we witness the beautiful sacrament of baptism today I hope that we ARE reminded of God’s amazing grace which isn’t based on our ability or our talents but is based solely on Jesus’ free love for us. My prayer is that we can approach it asking how it is that we might serve God by loving others-no matter who they are.

God doesn’t play favorites and neither should we. Amen. 


2019-3-17 “The Prodigal Son”

Sermon for The Second Sunday in Lent

March 17th, 2019

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Community Congregational Church Of Chula Vista

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar


Today we are focusing on a well-known and well-loved parable; The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Some Biblical versions refer to it as the “lost son.” You might be wondering why we would be looking at this familiare story urging Lent, of all times. It is because Lent invites us toe examine where we have fallen short. Who it is that we need to ask forgiveness from and who it that we must forgive as well. It is a seaon of seeking repentance.


Just as I have asked you in previous sermons, I want to ask you again today- with which character of this Tory do you identify the most?


Is it the gather figure- who was hurt, sad, betrayed, possibly angry and then oh so joyous a the return of his wayward son? The father who wa ready to forgive his lost,confused son?


Or, are you the prodigal son? You broke your parent’s hearts. You left either physically or emotionally or both. You “hit rock bottom” sort to speak, only to come to your sense, eventually, and return home?


Or are you the older son? The “dutiful one?” The one who was always there at his father’s side, doing “everything that he wa supposed to do.” However, instead of being happy when your lost, younger sibling returns you are bitter, jealous of your father’s love for him and even resentful because all you had “played by all the right rules.”


So which one are you? My guess is that you can answer that in question ins a instant. I can. I have always known. I am the older son. I was the “good daughter” in my family; always played by all the rules, always did the right thing.


But, this sermon isn’t about me. It isn’t really about any of us. It is about God’s amazing gracious love, God’s forgiveness and acceptance of all of us.


Well Jesus was a brilliant storyteller. He always knew how to tell a good story with a good message. The author of Luke has this parable after Jesus has already shared other parables. He has been curing the sick, performing miracles. He has dined with sinners. He is famous. He is also beginning to be criticized by the Pharisees.


In preparation for this sermon, I re-read a short but very good book by Henri Nouwen, called The Return of the Prodigal Son. You will recall that Henri Nouwen was a Jesuit priest who had been a professor at Yale and Harvard. Later, in his career, he went to minister to developmentally disabled adults in a community called L’arche Daybreak Communityin Canada. There, was where Nouwen stated he learned the most and was “molded him.”


This short but powerful reflection of Nowen’s invites us to look closer at this famous parable. To look closer at the themes of sin, loneliness, rejection, jealousy and of course, forgiveness. I also re-read parts of Daryl Tippen’s book, Pilgrim Heart, where he examines this famous story, as well.


What I enjoyed about both books wa they invited me to re-look a thi story with fresh eyes. It invited me to ask myself- who is that I need to forgive? Who is it that I have been so judgemental toward that I have been unable to regirse them? Who is that I have been jealous of? When does jealousy get in the way of my growth in my walk with Christ? Who is that may been my prayers because they are a parent or grandparent waiting for their lost son or father to return? When have I really thanked God for forgiving me?


In Tippen’s book, interestingly, he quotes a doctor of palliative care and hospice. Coincidentally, this doctor became a colleague of mine when I was a chaplain at Providence hospital in San Pedro. Dr. Ira Byock is now the director of the Institute for Human Caring and was one of the first doctors back in the 1970s who began to provide hospice care to patients. He wrote. A book called The Four Things that Matter Most whis a book about dying well. In his book he stated that what most matter to people at he end of life a these four messages, they are: please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you and I love you. Of course, Tippens says that these messages are ones that all people use hear throughout their lives, not just as they face death.


But both Tipens and Byock make the point that without forgiveness and without the opportunity be forgiven a person can live or die who much emotional and spiritual sidress. And who want sot live or die that way?


I once met a man, whom I will call “Frank” who had played for the Red Sox minor league when they used to have one. He was a patient of mine while he was on hospice. He was a “devout atheist” and loved to remind me of that every week while I visited him for 1.5 years before his death. He got a kick reminding me  of it. I always found it interesting that although he was an atheist he required that i visit him every week. And so I did. As he shared his life story with me I realized that the common theme was his need to give or receive forgiveness.


We made a decision to work on a project. He would write three letters; one to his ex-wife, one to his son and one to current wife. Fortunately, we finished his letters 2 weeks before he died and I was able to deliver those letters to these individuals at his memorial service.


I was grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this helping process. To hear his stories, to help him reflect on why he need to forgive and ask for forgiveness. I’m mostly grateful for the opportunity to gently share with him that God would forgive him if he asked for it.


Later, I thought to myself, how much more powerful had it been had this gentleman had the opportunity say those words of repentance and forgiveness while he was still alive? I like to belie that hoteliers were enough for all involved. But again, why wait until we are about to die? Why not forgive now? Why not say I am sorry to the one who have injured? Why not forgive the one who has injured us? Why wait?


Reading Nouwen’s book helped me to realize my own difficulty in forcing and not judging. You see, I had Leander the I “thought” I had forgiven some people in my life but I was still holding resentment and yes, judgement against them. The simple thrust can’t oe light or me which was this- how ant i continue to judge those people when God does not judge me? God HAD forgiven me over an over and donto hold bitterness or resentment toward me. Who am I to do that toward others?


The beauty about the Christian faith is that we know we are indeed sinners who are forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are however, fallen creatures who sometimes continue to sin but all we need to to do is ask for forgiveness and accept  it.


One thing  we cannot forget is that we are called to repent. The Hebrew word for repent means to turn around. A literal turning around. To change, in other words. Therefore, we can no keep repeating our offenses over and over. We can not seek forgiveness and then treat the other person to behave in the same way repeatedly.


If we did repeat that sinful behavior and expected to be forgiven that would be called cheap grace. The great apostle Paul and the great Reformer, Martin Luther warn us of cheap grace. No, the real work of seeking forgiveness is about repentance. It’s about changing one’s behavior through God’s Grace because all things are possible through Him. And then, not reacting that offline over and over again.


And so my question to you today is- who do you still need to forgive? Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? And lastly, have you asked God to forgive in a way where you can truly believe that you are forgiven and therefore, do not need to continue to punish yourself?


Have you accepted God’s forgiveness? These are difficult questions which only you can answer in your heart with God. But I think that God does invite us to do the hard work of discipleship in order to continue to grow in our faith and not get stuck in one place.


I will end by giving you a challenge- If you have old resentment among anyone in your family, or or friends or even people who worship with you, here- consider forgiving them. Remember that “all things ARE possible” through God’s amazing grace who gives us the power to forgive. Let us not be like the Pharisees who lacked humility to see their own faults and just focused on the faults of others. Let us be like the gracious father who forgave his son. Amen.






2019-3-10 “The Temptation of Jesus”

March 10, 2019

The Temptation of Jesus

First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4: 1-13

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar


I once met a young person who said he couldn’t quite relate to Jesus because Jesus was perfect. I agreed. I said, yes He was. He was and is God but He understands our imperfections. He understands our weaknesses, our need to trust in something bigger than us. The young man wasn’t too sure if he followed. I pressed on. I asked, “do you ever get tempted to do something you know isn’t good for you to do?” He said, yes, all the time… I laughed. I said, so did Jesus but the difference is that Jesus was tempted but didn’t give into it. The young man sad, “you see, He’s too perfect.” I pressed on- “yes,  I said, but He ‘gets it’ when we are tempted too…” to which he replied, “well, that’s good because it happens all the time!”  We laughed again…

Well, this story is no stranger to us. It is probably the most famous of the Gospel stories that occurs during this time of Lent. We base our 40 days of Lent around the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. The wilderness experience parallels that of the Israelite’s 40 year experience in another wilderness. The difference of course is that the Israelites had failed at their tests while Jesus did not.

Lent literally means “spring time.” “It is a time of preparation, a time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty trying days readying for his ministry. He allowed himself to be tested and if we are serious about following him, we will do the same….(Pp. xvi, introduction to Bread and WIne. The Ploughing Publishing House, Farmington, PA, 2003.)

Lent of course, is usually associated with seeking repentance, alms giving, fasting, deep prayer, giving something up and now increasingly known as a time of giving to causes or people in need. Yet, it should never be morose. “Instead it should be seen as an opportunity, not a requirement.”

So if  we are to see Lent as an opportunity. Could we also see the story of Jesus’s temptation as an opportunity also? An opportunity for what you might ask?

The Temptation of Jesus invites us into the wilderness with Him. It invites us to reflect upon those times or circumstance we too have been presented the give into a desire for control, power, and prestige.

The first temptation was about taking control and not trusting God. Not waiting  on God to provide. Satan, also known as the evil one knew that Jesus was hungry. Jesus was fully human and so, of course, would be hungry after fasting for 40 days. So, the devil tempts Jesus, during the first test into cutting Jesus’s fast short and turning stones into bread.

Jesus doesn’t give in, of course, and instead relies on the power of scripture to dissuade Satan.

The next temptation had to do with power. The devil tells Jesus that he will give him the entire world only if Jesus worships him. Jesus again looks to scripture to counter-act the devil.

The last temptation had to do with prestige. Making a big splash, be popular. The devil tells him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of a temple. This time we get the sense hat the devil is getting desperate and wants to beat Jesus at his own game, sort to speak because this time he decides to quote scripture too, by quoting Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12.

None of these temptations or tests had to do with Jesus’ mission which was that of servanthood to God. Of trusting God completely. Trusting in God to provide, trusting in God’s time to provide. Trusting in God’s purpose and plan…

The Temptation of Jesus was not to give into any traditional terms of power, strength and conquest. Instead, Jesus models servanthood. Following God’s will, God’s time, God’s purpose and plan for His life.

This takes us back to our earlier invitation. To follow Jesus into the wilderness. Do you want to? Do you want to be tested? I must admit that I don’t want to be tested. I don’t want to be tested into giving into a sense of false power or prestige, or control. All those things that take my eyes and focus off of Jesus’s example of servanthood and trust in God. No, instead, I want my faith to be strong enough to follow Jesus no matter what, never to doubt. Never to be distracted. Never to be confronted with my own weaknesses.

But that isn’t the human condition.Is it? No, this story reminds us that we will be tested and be tested often. It reminds us to be ready for when we are with scripture, with total focus on Jesus.

And let’s not forget about the timing of this event. All three synoptic writers place it happening right after the baptism of Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry. This makes me think about how we are often tested when things are going really well. Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry. GOd’s voice had just declared Him as His very own Son, the Messiah. Things were on the upside, sort to speak.

What about you? What is your temptation or test? Is it power? We see in our country so many examples of abuse of power don’t we? People being asked to work longer and harder for less pay. Women being exploited against their will. Children and youth being taken advantage of.

In this world, it seems that the poor and the weak become poorer and weaker and yet that isn’t that way in the kingdom of God. That isn’t what God invites us to be about. We are meant to share our power. We are meant to follow Christ and His ways. Not our own selfish ambitions. We are meant to trust Him instead of give into our own sense of control and therefore, manipulating something that isn’t supposed to be manipulated.

The good news is that although the walk in the wilderness may not be an easy one, we do not do it alone. We do it with God and we do it with one another. We do it by carrying out spiritual practices like fasting, scripture reading and prayer…

We have tools, we have spiritual resources, we have one another to help us along this journey. Let us take this walk focusing on Jesus, on his call to follow Him, to not give into desires of control, power, or distrust of God.

Instead, let us do what Jesus did- when he told the devil that he was called to worship God and only follow God. Let us trust God to provide in all times.








2019 2 24 “The Sermon on the Plain Part II”

Sermon for February 24, 2019

The Sermon on the Plain- Part II

Luke 6: 27-38

Rev. Liz Aguilar


We continue today in the same area of the Gospel of Luke as last week. You may recall from last week that we read about Jesus’s sermon on the Plain (otherwise known as “The Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew. Last week it was about the blessings and “woes/warnings.” Today we make our way through Jesus’s sermon some more.

Please do refer to the scripture found on pages 64 and 65 in your pew Bible.


You’ll notice that some of these scripture verses have become very well known, especially one called the “golden rule.” But in general, we can say that this scripture portion has to do with how one is to treat those who have done wrong to you. Here, Jesus challenges us to be gracious, forgiving, and to ultimately extend God’s grace to all around us.

Those are easier said than done, though, aren’t they?


This Friday I treated myself to a movie- Friday is my sabbath and I try to do something I wouldn’t normal do- not just errands but also something fun. I decided to watch the movie, “The Green Book.” 

The film is inspired by the true story of a tour of the deep south by an African-American classical and jazz pianist named, Dr. Don Shirley, and an Italian-American bouncer named Jimmy Vallalonga who served as Shirley’s driver and bodyguard.

In the movie- we see how these two very different men learn to get along and respect one another, despite their big differences. One is a working-class Italian immigrant who lives in the Bronx and the other is a very well-educated, very cultured, accomplished, professional musician who is African-American.


They travel together through the south so that Dr. Shirley can perform a series of concerts. As they travel along, Dr. Shirley is confronted by racism almost at every stop along the way.


His body guard becomes very angry and at first wants to beat up everyone who treats Dr. Shirley badly. However, Dr. Shirly teaches “Jimmy the Lip” how to rise above it, hold oneself with dignity, and keep going.

You can quickly put yourself in his shoes and you are made to wonder if you would react in that same way- standing up for yourself but not giving into violence.


In our scripture of today- Jesus says to give the other cheek if someone strikes you. To give money to those who ask of it, and expect nothing in return. To forgive. To treat others as you would want to be treated…


I wonder- have any of you ever had anyone do anything really bad to you. something that was very hard to forgive and that you will probably never forget?


Some of us might be tempted to think that Jesus’s words were easy at the time. That the people he would have been speaking to would have had easier lives. But they did not. They would have been confronted by betrayal, robbery, violence, conflict. Some would have been familiar with the stories of the prophets, Moses, the Israelites- Cane and Abel; David and Saul; Esau and Jacob- all of these famous rivalries.


Those who were traveling would have been confronted easily with thieves, people wanting to cause them harm. So no, these words wouldn’t have been easy to receive or accept.


So what about you. What about me?


I want to share with you a story that happened in the life of my family. My father came to the US and went to Chicago as an immigrant from Mexico. He had written to his half brothers whom had extended their welcome to him, letting him know that they would be available to help him out. Much to my father’s surprise, his half-brother’s wife did not allow my father to stay with them or even enter the house the first day he arrived.

Years later after my father had become a minister my uncle and his wife attended a worship service. My father introduced him to us kids. Later, I remembered who he was and what he had done to my dad many years prior.

My uncle and aunt had come to the church hoping that my father would help my uncle to find a job. My dad did just that. He still had connections at the hospital he had worked at for 12 years as a respiratory therapist, and helped my uncle secure a good job as a custodian. My uncle remained in that job until he retired many years later.

I remember I must have harbored bad feelings toward my uncle because my father would tell me, “you must forgive your uncle.” Had my dad not forgiven him and had not helped him out, my uncle’s life would have been much different. 


Forgive. Walk on. Extend Grace…




2019-2-17 : Beatitudes For Today

Sermon: Beatitudes For Today

February 17, 2019

Text is Luke 6:17-31

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar


We are still in the season of Epiphany, when the church still celebrates the many ways God reveals Himself to the world; both in scripture, in history and in our own lives, today.

You may have recognized this text as they are so close to the famous Sermon on the Mount scripture portion found in Matthew, but it is not the Sermon on the Mount. This is called the Sermon on the Plain. Luke’s version is shorter than Mathew’s and the setting is not on a mountain but down below, signifying Jesus’s desire to be on the same level as his followers.

And when this story takes place is notable as well. It is still early on in Jesus’s ministry but by now he has made a name for himself. We read that he is known and large crowds have followed him. Could we say, that he has reached “celebrity status” by now?

Speaking of celebrities- do any of you watch annual award shows? Maybe some of you are genuinely interested in who won best song of the year or who will win best actor, director, picture… Or pershaps some of you might tune in just to see what these celebrities are wearing?

Whatever your motivation is watch or at least read the news article the next day that high-lights the winners; one thing we can agree on is that what these folks have in common is their celebrity. They are famous.

Well, Jesus did not have the expensive clothes or pubicity but we get these sense that by now, when this story occurs, he is well known. We read that he is so well known that people from all over- not just Gentiles are following Him. They want so much to be healed and to be blessed by him that they just try to touch Him, even.

We get the idea. Jesus is popular.

But, notice what Jesus decides to teach about. It isn’t about being popular or being powerful is it? No, in fact this whole discourse is a reversal of fortunes from the rich to the poor, the powerful to the powerless, the full to the empty.

We can actually say that this portion is not an easy one to read. It isn’t as poetic as the Sermon on the Mount, is, either. It is full of not just blessings but of woes. We can call these woes- warnings. For they are not the kind of woes where we think, “woe is us, something bad is happening and I need God’s help.” No, these woes are more like warning, as in “be careful not to do x or y will happen.”

Let’s be honest, we don’t like these kind of texts, do we? We like meek and mild Jesus. We like Jesus when he is healing and when he is calling others to follow Him and even when he is reminding his followers of how they are to treat one another. But this kind of discourse- this is hard. For we do not just see a Jesus in Luke’s Gospel that is only focusing on the good in others but a Jesus that is naming a truth that we do not like to confront. This Jesus of Luke is a Jesus that some liberation theologians say, preached a “preferential treatment for the poor.” That is, that Jesus lifts up the real hardships of people and exposes the rich and powerful for the ways in which they take advantage of the poor.

As Jesus’s popularity grows, of course, we see that His enemies grow too. In fact, in just a few weeks we will enter into the time of Lent where we will look at the ways in which his enemies begin to plan and connive to eventually kill and attempt to destroy Him. His light was too big. They had to snuff it out somehow.

But, here, Jesus is still liked and yet He took the risk to speak these very hard words. Words that surely would not have been received very well by everyone- anyone who WASN’T poor and powerful, that is.

But what are we to make of it? What do we do when we confront scripture passages that make us feel uncomfortable or confused? When we see a Jesus that is not so meek and mild, for instance?

What do we do when we are confronted with our own behavior?

Well, I can not answer those questions for you. For the spiritual walk of the Disciple is done in community but each individual must come to their own conclusion.

This sermon does not have a lot of answers for you. But it does have good news- which is that Jesus meets us with our questions and calls us to not only look at our own behavior and our own priorities- whether we share our resources with others or not. Whether we treat others with love and respect or not. But Jesus helps us to acknowledge ourselves in light of His truth and His teachings and then gives us opportunities to make changes if needed.

A good friend recently came to visit me. She and her husband. The husband had never really spoke to o me about his faith walk but we found ourselves talking about it since he is about to get baptized. I was curious to know why he was doing so as an adult and what made him feel that this was the time.

Before he could answer that question he spoke about what his theological dilemmas were while he was a youth and why had had put off making a decision to follow Christ because of those theological dilemmas.

He said that the problem he had had for many years was that he was confused with what he saw as a very vengeful God in the Hebrew Scriptures and a very loving God in the New Testament. Later he said he learned through Bible study and “remaining open” is that we have many facets of God in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The God of consequences and warnings is not about condemning us but about growing us into the disciples that He wants us to be. The Jesus of the New Testament isn’t just the sweet baby i the manger but is also the man who had very hard things to say to His followers.

        The conversation I had with my friend’s husband and this difficult scripture made me think that although we might not always like what scripture says it is there for us to study, to contemplate and to reflect upon in order so that we may grow in our own faith. It is the living word, not just words written for communities long ago but for today as well.

        That is the God we worship and we serve. The God that lovingly brings up a mirror to us so that we can look at our own actions and behaviors but then also walks alongside of us waiting, prompting, pushing, but always pouring His grace in us.