15th Sunday after Pentecost: The Shrewd Manager

September 18, 2022

First Reading: Amos 8:4-7

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
  and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5saying, “When will the new moon be over
  so that we may sell grain;
 and the sabbath,
  so that we may offer wheat for sale?
 We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
  and practice deceit with false balances,
6buying the poor for silver
  and the needy for a pair of sandals,
  and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
 Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Psalm: Psalm 113

1Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the Lord;
  praise the name of the Lord.
2Let the name of the Lord be blessed,
  from this time forth forevermore.
3From the rising of the sun to its going down
  let the name of the Lord be praised.
4The Lord is high above all nations;
  God’s glory above the heavens.
5Who is like the Lord our God,
  who sits enthroned on high,
6but stoops to behold
  the heavens and the earth?
7The Lord takes up the weak out of the dust
  and lifts up the poor from the ashes,
8enthroning them with the rulers,
  with the rulers of the people.
9The Lord makes the woman of a childless house
  to be a joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!

Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For
 there is one God;
  there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
 Christ Jesus, himself human,
  6who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time.7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

1Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON;  Shrewd

Today’s parable is about a shrewd manager who got himself in trouble. As I tried to think of stories that we know about shrewdness, I remembered the story of two shrewd men told by Hans Christian Anderson.  Once upon a time there was an emperor who loved his clothes more than anything.  Two men came to him and claimed they could weave material so beautiful and so colorful the emperor would be admired by all.  AND the beauty of the material could only be seen by his honest and trustworthy people, not by fools.  The two men started weaving, and measuring, and cutting, and sewing.  The emperor’s officials came in but could not see the material but dared not confess so to the emperor who would think them foolish.  When finished, the emperor organized a great parade to show off his outfit.  As he swaggered along, a child watching shouted out, “The Emperor has no clothes on!”

         Turn to your neighbor and share what you think was so shrewd about the two men’s scheme.

Let us pray.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

CONTEXT

         Let’s get our context straight as we delve into this very interesting parable.  We are in Pentecost and reflecting on how our God who incarnated, died and rose, impacts our lives.  Do we hear these parables as old familiar history tales or are these parables impacting our lives as we make history? Luke is sharing a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven.  He is not just sharing fables like Aesop and making moral pronouncements.  Luke is reporting parables Jesus shared with his followers to teach them and us about the kingdom of heaven.  Are we listening?

         The kingdom of heaven is like being invited to a banquet at the king’s palace but we will be tempted to be distracted by family (a wife), possessions (a cow), and fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.  We will be tempted to think we can put off till tomorrow our relationship with God.  “Please hold me excused, I cannot come.”  Jesus also advises us to wait on God to reveal our seat at the banquet table and not grab the best seats only to be embarrassed when others are given that seat.  Humility is the attitude to learn.  As we give banquets are we investing in a future when we will be repaid or just trying to impress others and pay back social debts?  Last week Jesus compared God to a good shepherd who goes after his sheep who are lost or like a woman searching for a lost coin.  We are invited, we are sought after, and we are rejoiced over when we turn to God.  Today we skip the parable of the prodigal son and turn to the following text that challenges us because it is counter intuitive.  I would suggest that our text today is a direct counter comparison to the preceding parables.

         A rich man hears rumors that his manager is misappropriating funds and so calls him to account.  Did your heart skip a beat at this picture?  Some groups of Christians picture meeting God as a court room scenario where the angry judge is accusing us of all our sins.  We are only saved because Jesus steps in and says he has paid the price on the cross.  Like the man in the parable we know our future is a bit unknown and potentially disastrous.  We cannot work.  We cannot work our way into God’s favor.  Our failures threaten unemployment and rejection. 

         The fear of unemployment is a fear we all know.  Having to regroup lives because of the pandemic is affecting many Americans today.  Having to regroup lives because of war is affecting many all over the world.  Having to regroup lives because of environment as in Pakistan’s floods or droughts or famine is the reality of many.  Having to regroup lives because of sickness touches my life.  We know the despair the manager in our story grappled with.  He is too old to work and too proud to beg.  It does not sound like he could turn to his wise investments, but was turning to “social” security, the security that comes from developing relationship with the social system at the time.   Friends, we know this man.  He is us.

         In direct contrast to this scene that is so familiar to us are the preceding parables picturing a God who invites us to a banquet regardless of our social class, regardless of our accomplishments, regardless of our ethnicity or language. Our sins need not be held against us.  The Shepherd goes out and looks for us if we are lost.  The woman lights a lamp to dispel darkness and sweeps away the cobwebs that hide us in a corner.  There was no sense of judgment last week.  We need not scramble to make friends who will stand up for us when we meet the judge.  Our social security is not with other people but with Jesus, God incarnate.

         Need I remind us of our confirmation verse:  Ephesians 2:8-9.  Let’s say it together.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  We are saved by grace, not works.  We are saved through faith, not by our works.  Salvation is a gift of God.

Shrewdness vs. Humility

         Knowing that he is being called to account by the master, creates a crisis for the manager.  He has a moment of truth.  He must make a “course correction.”  What he is doing is not getting him where he wants to go.  He develops a plan.  He cuts the debts of the tenants.  Perhaps he eliminated his share of the profit.  Often the manager, like the tax collector, would add a percentage to the cost and the extra went into his pocket.  The plan also makes the owner look forgiving and generous.  This guy was shrewd!

            “8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” The world praises shrewdness, cleverness, education, power, wealth and talent.  Those are the values of this world.  In the parable of the banquet Jesus values humility.  The guests are told to be humble and allow the host to seat them.  The hosts of heaven are rejoicing over the lost sheep found, the lost coin found. They are not praising a shrewd sheep!  The kingdom of heaven does not value what the kingdom of earth values.

And so…

         We know the anxiety of being called to account for our actions, the doubts and fears that plague our thinking.  We know that someday we will all die and face the God of the universe.  Jesus’ parable of the banquet paints a very different picture than this parable.  Like the emperor, we want to look good and be considered worthy of eternity.  The world suggests that shrewdness and cleverness is the road to success.  If only we had clothes that made us appear wonderful, clothes that the world offers – clothes, houses, degrees, medicine or beauty products.  Unfortunately these earthly accomplishments are “invisible clothes” that wear out and fade and do not impress God.  Faithfulness and trustworthiness in little matters we are given tell the true story of how we might handle bigger tasks.

         Jesus advises us to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”  What is Jesus advising?  May I suggest that Jesus is advising us to use our wealth, that is not really ours but a gift from God, use our wealth to build God’s kingdom.  Creating spiritual relationships now with whatever wealth the Lord entrusts to us, creates eternal relationships that will greet us when we enter the banquet hall.  How we handle our trusts here on earth reflects our eternal values. The text ultimately challenges us to have a moment of truth about what kingdom we serve.     “13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one         and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The kingdom of earth calls us to account on how we handle the talents we are entrusted with and threatens us with unemployment, rejection, if we have failed the standard.  God’s kingdom is ruled by grace and forgiveness based on relationship with the host, the owner, the God of the universe.  We need only accept his invitation. 

The kingdom of earth admires shrewdness and cleverly developed plans to protect ourselves and ours.  God’s kingdom, the kingdom of light, values using our wealth not for self-protection but for developing friendships that will last into eternity.  Jesus advises humility.

The kingdom of earth sees us as slaves to bosses who evaluate our worth by our faithfulness in small matters.  The kingdom of heaven sees us as “friends,” as “servants,” and as God’s sheep.

We cannot serve two masters.  We must choose between God and mammon.  Who do you serve today?


14th Sunday after Pentecost: Lost and Found

September 11, 2022

First Reading: Exodus 32:7-14

7The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm: Psalm 51:1-10

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
  in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
  and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my offenses,
  and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
  so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment. 
5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
  a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
  and would have me know wisdom deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
  wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
  that the body you have broken may rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
  and blot out all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and renew a right spirit within me. 

Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

12I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON

According to the Internet, “When asked which items they misplace at least once a week, the most common lost items (in order) is revealed as – TV remotes (45%), phones (33%), car & keys (28%), glasses (27%), shoes (24%) and wallets/purses (20%) Americans are spending 2.5 days a year looking for lost items.”  Turn to your neighbor and share which item you are most likely to misplace?  Where do you usually find it?

Let us pray, Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and Redeemer.

SERMON:   Lost and Found

Last week, Jesus was pretty blunt with us.  “Whoever,” and that includes you and me, wants to be his disciple must prioritize God over family, prioritize God’s values in how we carry our burdens, and we must count the cost as we set our hearts to fight with someone rather than forgive. Those were heavy words.  We don’t like the word “hate” and have trouble internalizing that truth.  In today’s text, that directly follows last week, Luke says that crowds of tax collectors and sinners are gathering around Jesus as he speaks.  I bet they know what it means to be hated!  That message hit home.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law are muttering.  They are struggling, perhaps convicted, by this series of parables and are uncomfortable with the people they are having to associate with to hear Jesus.  Hmmm.  Jesus continues today with two more parables.  Let’s ponder them.

Lost

Last week we talked about building towers or waging wars with others that we think are attacking us.  I proposed that the modern day term might be “defriending.”  We stop connection with others either willfully ignoring or willfully attacking. Today Jesus presents a different picture.  He is looking not through our eyes of being offended and so cutting off relationship but through God’s eyes.  Remember all are invited to the banquet.  Now he shares about a shepherd who has lost a sheep and a woman who has lost a coin.  We see that the connection between lover and beloved has broken down.   This is not a story of a shepherd who cut off communication with a disobedient sheep but a shepherd who is trying to get his sheep to respond but the phone lines seem to be down.  The sheep is lost, out of communication.

         We know the picture.  The sheep who has gone astray may be entangled in a bush so cannot respond when the shepherd calls it to follow.  The sheep may have fallen over a cliff as in that famous picture.  The sheep may be hurt and can’t walk.  It is not necessarily true that the sheep is trying to get lost but life happens! Connection is broken.

         I should like to add to this scenario with my insight from this week.  My husband went into a memory care facility because he needs more care than I am able to give.  I’m not trained as a nurse and he is, or was, 6 foot 6 inches.  He has Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia so standing up and sitting down is very difficult.  Doing it from a normal chair is impossible because he is so tall.  Walking from point A to point B, making his legs move smoothly is almost impossible.  They call it frozen gait.  He has forgotten how to use a cell phone so I cannot call in and he cannot call out nor does he know how to answer.  Communication as we have known it for 46 years has been broken.  The disease has disrupted the nerve communication between brain and body. 

         I wonder if sin is not like that.  I believe we struggle from birth because we are sinners, born disconnected from God.  The spiritual dopamine in our spiritual brain is not working right and so communication with the Good Shepherd is a challenge.  It may mean we have strayed due to our own willful stubbornness and have turned our back on the shepherd.  It may mean we are captives to addictions that blind us.  But it may mean we have a disease that disrupts communication with God.  We call it sin.

         I find comfort in this parable that the shepherd and the woman know whom theirs is.  The shepherd knows one sheep is missing even if the sheep does not know and the woman knows a coin is lost.  The burden of care lies in the heart of God.

Leave

Neither the shepherd nor the woman sigh and say “Ho hum, I’ll have to make due with what I have.”  The host of the banquet is not happy that all who were invited did not come but sent servants out to seek guests.  God invests in our salvation.  He is not passive.  He does not sit off in the sky and wait for us to work our way back to him or meditate our character into an acceptable shape to be admitted.  The Shepherd and the woman actively seek the lost.

         The word “leave” implies process to me and I find that comforting.  Often in testimonials, it feels to me like the person shares the moment when the light bulb turns on and they believe, “accept Jesus as their Savior.”  Some immediately turn from their “sin” and feel welcome in the arms of God.  We can picture the lamb on the shoulders of the shepherd.  But leaving can also be a process.  As we labor in prayer for someone we care about who seems lost, let us never cease praying and may we never doubt that God is seeking our loved one.  No one is beyond God’s power to find.  I have told you that I love the picture of a handshake.  In that mysterious relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep that can be pictured as a handshake, when we don’t remember who we are, when we are blinded by diseases like Alzheimer’s, when we are despairing and suicidal, when we have Down’s syndrome and don’t understand as many do…in all those situations that are so hard to grasp, God’s hand holds on to us in our darkness.

         Now for those of us who think we are the 99 who feel sometimes God has left us to be present with refugees caught in war, girls sold into human trafficking, people crying from jails…all those scenarios that we are sure God cares about more then us, I would suggest leaving does not mean abandoning.  The evil one loves to sit on our shoulder and whisper words of doubt that God is not in our neighborhood.  Evil loves to discourage us from prayer, from sharing our faith yet again, from singing hymns or turning on the radio or going for a walk.  We are not abandoned.  Jesus in the incarnation was visible and in a location but remember how he cured the Centurion’s servant from a distance?  God is not like us but the parable speaks of a Shepherd to comfort us that he knows where we are, when we suffer and he care about us and our loved ones.  He comes to us.

         Perhaps the question that we see in this text that we read during Pentecost is to ask if we are willing to leave the security of the flock to reach out to a “lost sheep.”  We are not the Good Shepherd but we are his servants responsible for caring for his sheep, even the lost ones!  Perhaps there is someone you could reach out to this week.

Lays it on his shoulders

God or the woman are aware when a lost connection has broken communiation and a sheep or a coin is lost.  They leave and begin searching for the lost.  Thirdly the Shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulder.  Having been lost, healing may take time.  Are we willing to lay the recovering on our shoulders and carry them until they are strong again?  As I get older I find I have less flex with the ups and downs of youth, the immature understanding of how faith works.  It all seems so logical to me because I have had years to grow in faith.  Tradition is such a good support when we are discouraged but it can also create walls as we expect others Christians, the young and the hurt, to live their faith in the same way we do.  Laying on the shoulders of Jesus is the process of discipleship, of growth, of learning to walk the walk and talk the talk.  When we are weak, we lean on Jesus!

         How broad are our shoulders today?  Again we must ask ourselves if we are willing to forgive the immaturity of those younger in faith or do we demand their faith look like ours?  It is a fair question.  I sometimes suspect that the popularity of media church, be that streaming or TV evangelists or zooming, which served us so well during the pandemic also helps the differently challenged, the old, and the insecure who feel inadequate to appear in our churches.   Our text challenges us to be aware of the woundedness of those returning from being lost.

Celebrate

The woman does not leave the lost coin in the dark corner or under the couch but picks it up, brushes it off, and calls her neighbors to rejoice with her.  The Shepherd returns the lost sheep to the flock and the angels rejoice.  Jesus concludes,  “10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  And so we come full circle.  Are we standing with the tax collectors and sinners rejoicing that we are welcome because we know our sin and it is ever before us and we know what it is like to be hated and lost or are we grumbling with the Pharisees and scribes, feeling forgotten and a bit miffed that Jesus is not patting us on the back for trying so hard to be faithful? 

         American misplace at least once a week,

  • TV remotes (45%) – our connection with news and entertainment
  • phones (33%) – our connection to family and friends
  • car & keys (28%), – our connection with transport
  • glasses (27%) – our connection to seeing clearly
  • shoes (24%) – our connection with exercise and travel outside
  • and wallets/purses (20%) – our connection with financial independence.

May we never loose our connection with the compassion for the lost, with the willingness to reach out and share, and with our tolerance of the immaturity of others as they heal and return to the flock.  We cannot see the angels rejoicing over the fruits of our efforts but they are.  May we follow the Good Shepherd and be good servants imitating him this week.  May we not be found muttering about the people God puts on our pathway!

The people of God said “Amen!”


13th Sunday after Pentecost

September 4, 2022

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm: Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
  nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats | of the scornful!
2Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
  and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night.
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
  everything they do shall prosper.
4It is not so with the wicked;
  they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
  nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
  but the way of the wicked shall be destroyed.

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21

1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
  To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Jesus speaks frankly about the costs of discipleship.

25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON: How many of you remember the lyrics to the chorus of this old youth song?

I cannot come,
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments,
That cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused
I cannot come.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Last week we stood with Jesus as guests at a meal in a prominent Pharisee’s home.  We were admonished by Jesus to be humble and not grab the best seats but wait for the host to seat us and exalt us.  The Pharisee hosting was questioned about his motives too.  Was he inviting people for what he would get in return, whom he might impress, or was he looking for whom he would be blessing.  Was the host willing also to wait until God rewarded him at God’s banquet?  Waiting for God is tough stuff!

         Following those verses Jesus tells another parable about a great banquet where again all are invited but those invited begin to make excuses.  They are preoccupied with a new wife, a new cow, and fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum so cannot accept the invitation to the banquet.  We sang that song about our excuses for not obeying God’s word.  The host is not defeated, though, and sends his servants to the highways and byways to invite people.  Again we understand the host to be God, the banquet is our welcome into his kingdom, and the guests are you and me.  Luke continues to focus on this theme of our invitation to a banquet.  All are invited BUT…

         Jesus expands on the parable in our text today and is quite blunt.  Jesus can see into our futures and he warns us that discipleship is not about health, wealth, and prosperity even though the banquet is.  He is not calling us to be successful members of the kingdom of this world.  He is calling us to a heavenly banquet that is in the future.  As followers of Christ we look at family, fame and forgiveness differently and it is a challenge that can only be met with faith.  Jesus concludes, “ 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  Ouch. Let’s ponder this.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother…

“Whoever.”  Some of us who had abusive, absent or horrible fathers might say, “No prob, Bob,” but for most of us this is a challenge.  Assumed family relationships offend me. I feel uncomfortable when in the presence of people who call me “sister Collins” as it feels like an invasion of privacy.  I have probably told the story of being in Kenya where first names are never used because names carry power, so sharing your name opens up the ability to be cursed.  I was “the wife of Collins,” or “teacher.”  Returning to the States and going to the bank where the teller not only called me by my first name but also shortened it to a nickname was mouth dropping and offensive.  Whom I include as “family” is a highly cultural and personal experience.  To hate family is not usually natural.

         Jesus tells us these parables about the banquet we are invited to but he also sees the journey we will go through to come to the eternal banquet.  We are going to be tempted to ask to be excused for “we have married us a wife.”  The importance of family is huge and can undermine our devotion to God.  We love to breeze past the genealogies in the Bible that define who was related to who because they mean nothing to us.  Jesus knew his followers would soon be dispersed all over the world and the definition of family would shift from biological to faith parameters. 

         Family knows us – our past and our present, those embarrassing moments, our failures, our weak points they can pressure.  Family implies a certain transparency that we usually do not find in churches.  We like to keep our public faces on when in public.  A modern day example that we can identify with – kinda – is how the refugees fled from Ukraine and Christians were challenged to broaden their definition of family and to include new members into their homes and deal with all the complications that brought.

         Faith not only challenges us to broaden our definition of father, mother, sister, or brother but it also challenges us about our priorities.  Jesus is telling us that we will be challenged to value faith over family.  Ouch.  Back in the first century that may have meant the difference between the arena and a small lie.  Today the temptation is still there to compromise our integrity for the sake of the security of our families.  Was there not a case recently where the mother cheated on the college application to get her child into the college she thought would give the child a better future?  Compromising faith for family challenges us daily.

         Today’s text addresses “whoever” to evaluate their priority of faith over family.  Do we hesitate to share our faith for fear of offending?  It could be we do not reach out to the “other” because we are not biologically or socially connected.  Do we “bend the truth” to help those we love?  These are serious questions Jesus asks you and me today!  Do we love God more than family and friends?  Will we stand up for God if family might be compromised?

27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me

            Here is another “whoever.”  The first “whoever” challenged our beliefs about family.  This “whoever” challenges the values that drive our life.  As far as we know, Simon of Cyrene was the only person who helped Jesus carry “the cross” and so we have to ponder what this phrase means.  The cross is mostly found on a necklace today!  Matthew 11:28-30 shares Jesus saying,

         28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy   burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn    from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for        your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Let’s take our two pointer fingers and form a cross infront of ourselves for a moment.  Perhaps you have heard the explanation of the cross as the horizontal beam representing our relationships with each other, with those we encounter daily.  The vertical, up and down, post represents our relationship with God, with the divine.  The cross of Christ makes holy all our relationships with fellow people and our relationship with God.  It is the crossroad where the holy meets the ordinary in our lives.

         The phrase does not end with the “carry your cross,” though.  We all have burdens, crosses, we carry for others as we seek to honor the divine as we know it.  All religions deal with moral and social dynamics.  But Jesus continues to say, “and follow me.”  It is not just about being spiritual about being religious.  It is not that all roads lead to God.  This challenge asks me if I am living in the light of what I know about Jesus.  It challenges me to know Jesus better that I might be his disciple better – not to earn salvation because Christ did that on the cross, but because I believe Jesus teaches us the best way to live.  Loving God and loving others fulfills the Golden Rule but also will challenges me on all fronts.  This challenge goes beyond who I associate with as family to what are the values that will govern my actions.

         So stop for a moment and reflect on some of the top values and priorities in your personal life.  Do we want to be famous for who we are or for living a life that demonstrates loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves?  Perhaps there are some course corrections we are challenged to make today.

         Lastly Jesus says,

28For which of you, intending to build a tower,

does not first sit down and estimate the cost,

to see whether he has enough to complete it? 

Jesus confronts us about our relationships and who we call “family.”  He asks us about our values and what drives our lives.  Now he comes to the arena of conflict.  He zeroes in on the offenses that often consume our attention.  How do we deal with people who offend us?  Jesus presents two possibilities, building towers to protect ourselves or like a king actively go to war against our offender.  Jesus advises, “Count the cost!” 

         We may never build a tower or wage a war, but we have other ways we defend ourselves and attack others.  I think a popular technique today is to “defriend” someone on social media.  We use to call it a “cut off.”  We stop communication on any platform so the person cannot enter our castle.  When we cannot hear their words we think we are protecting ourselves from being hurt.  Words are like arrows shot into our lives.  I would say “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words often hurt me.”

         Keeping gossip alive is a real danger as we pass “news” about what we heard in the market place of life.  As we age and are less occupied with childcare or vocations and our social world narrows, it is easy to fall into sharing hearsay.  It is easy to ruminate on who said what, old grievances, and perceived slights.  One way we can defend ourselves is with silence or sharing the story with another hoping that person will affirm our worth.

Jesus does not say to not protect ourselves from enemies.  Some people or situations are toxic.  Alcoholics do not just go into a bar because they will go to AA afterwards.  The setting and the people will lead to a problem.  Playing with fire, we can be burned.  Jesus does say to count the cost. 

         For me this raises the question of forgiveness. As we evaluate the potential threat of hurt from another because we have experienced them as “the enemy,” it seems to me we are faced with a choice.  The Christian method of dealing with offense is through forgiveness, through turning the other cheek, or through kindness.  We do have options for how we decide to deal with offenses.  We have alternatives.  Counting the cost of carrying a grudge that cuts others out of our lives will cost as we look down the road of life.  Others like our children are watching and will be impacted as we walk through an offense.  We do face problems daily.  We feel wronged. We defend ourselves and unfortunately we attack others.  Conflict has a price and we need to evaluate in light of the Gospel whenever we are involved in conflict.

33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Jesus concludes that we must give up our possessions.  What do we “possess”?  What do we hold on to?  We hold on to family, to our relationships that so much inform us about who we are.  We hold on to our choices, the burdens we carry when our lives with others cross the values we are taught by God.  And we possess our ability to forgive and forget rather than wage war with others when others offend us.  Discipleship, following Jesus, will challenge us to trust God.  It is not easy but as we are invited to the banquet we do not want to be found guilty of refusing because “we have married a wife, we have bought a new cow, because of fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.” May we not ask to be excused but be willing to hold God as most important.  I look forward to meeting you at that banquet.  The cost of admission is faith!

And the people of God said, “Amen!”


12th Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2022

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
  or stand in the place of the great;
7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
  than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Psalm: Psalm 112

1Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear the Lord
  and have great delight in God’s commandments!
2Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
  the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3Wealth and riches will be in their house,
  and their righteousness will last forever.
4Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
  the righteous are merciful and full | of compassion.
5It is good for them to be generous in lending
  and to manage their affairs with justice.
6For they will never be shaken;
  the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;
  their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8Their heart is established and will not shrink,
  until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9They have given freely to the poor, and their righteousness stands fast          forever; they will hold up their head with honor.
10The wicked will see it and be angry; they will gnash their teeth   and pine away; the desires of the wicked will perish.

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence,
 “The Lord is my helper;
  I will not be afraid.
 What can anyone do to me?”
7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Cinderella

Here is a short summary of one of our favorite children’s tales, Cinderella.  A wicked stepmother and her two jealous daughters treat Cinderella, the daughter of the missing father as a servant. They make sure Cinderella will not be able to attend the royal ball. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears and magically transforms Cinderella with a gown, coach and glass slippers. Cinderella enchants the handsome Prince Charming at the ball, but there is a catch.  At midnight she returns to her everyday life.  We all cheer when the Prince finds Cinderella by using the glass slipper.  They live happy ever after.  Oh sigh.  Ah if only life were like that.

         So which character grabs your imagination today, the step-mother, the step-sisters, Cinderella, the fairy Godmother, or Prince Charming?  Share with your neighbor which one you like.

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

We love the story of Cinderella and keep reinventing it in various film versions.  The basic plot is common to stories in many cultures around the world.  In fact today our text tells of a parable told by Jesus at a meal on the Sabbath at a Pharisee’s home.  Jesus notices the guests trying to get the best seats.  Not too dissimilar to being invited to the Prince’s ball.

         Jesus tells a parable about another banquet but interestingly he describes the banquet in the second person, “you,” and invites even us to identify directly with the characters in the parable.  Not only are we personally invited into this parable, into this banquet, but Jesus is setting the parable in a greater discussion he is having with followers about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.  During Pentecost we are asking ourselves how the truths of Jesus impact our lives so a  “you” invite is appropriate.  We are invited to the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.   I would suggest today that the story of Cinderella pulls the truth of the parable Jesus shares into our current life stories that in a way we understand.  Who do you identify with in the Cinderella story?

         The film Ever After sets Cinderella in France and gives a bit of context to the stepmother.  Cinderella’s father is never mentioned possibly because he died after remarrying, leaving Cinderella to be raised by her stepmother. Some of us know the disappointment of marriage that did not turn out as we anticipated, of relationship dreams never fulfilled, of carrying burdens of stepchildren.  It is so easy to scapegoat, to take out our disappointment on those around us.  Life after the death, disappearance of a spouse or loss of a father is hard.  Perhaps we choose the stepmother because we understand her pain and frustration.

         Some of us are like the stepsisters, number two, second class citizens.  We feel like the extra baggage that came as the result of another’s choice.  We too want to be invited to a banquet where we might feel important and seen.  We want someone to replace our lost birthfather.  We want a handsome prince.  We dream of the day when we will be valued and can sit at a place of honor at a banquet.

         Cinderella could represent a person enslaved by the injustices of life.  I’m sure refugees, victims of war, maybe the poor are tempted to sit by the fire and sigh about their life and the hopelessness of it.  Perhaps today you identify as someone at the meal watching other people scramble for seats of honor and realizing you don’t fit in that group.  The Pharisees would never invite you to their home.  Life has put you at the fringes.

         Let us not forget Prince Charming.  He is the one everyone wants to be aligned with.  Popularity is a double edged deal.  Is he popular because of his looks?  Because of his money?  Because of his connections?  Finding a friend, or a wife, that “sticks closer than a brother” is a hard task our prince is facing.  Proverbs 31 would affirm this, “A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.”  Perhaps you are looking for that special someone today.

         Then there is the fairy godmother.  Few of us identify with her power to give hope to Cinderella nor do we possess the magic to change mice into horses, a pumpkin into a coach.  But as grandparents we can bless grandchildren with stories and affirmation that opens new worlds to them. We are friends and we have the magic of listening others back into life when they are discouraged and need a shoulder to cry on.  Perhaps you are a boss who helps an employee stand a little bit taller with words of affirmation and recognition.  We all have the power to give life and hope to others so you might identify with the fairy godmother today as you seek to bless another.

         Perhaps I am stretching this children’s fable a bit but there are certain things I notice.  God’s kingdom is often compared to a wedding feast and the invitation is open to all.  He invites not just all the women but he invites all of us.  Christ died for all!  He died for the stepmothers, the stepsisters, the Cinderellas, the Prince Charmings, the missing father, and the fairy godmothers.  We are all invited.  And like the disciples and like the guests in the parable, we would love a seat of honor.  Reading the parable as a moral story about being humble without putting ourselves in the story, sells the story short.  We are those guests invited to a banquet and are challenged to reflect today on our attitude about that invitation.  Are we scrambling for seats of honor or too busy to respond to the invite or taking our invite for granted and not properly clothed..  Jesus addresses us, “When you are invited to a wedding banquet…”

Words To the Guests

Humility: a modest or low view of one’s own importance

         Jesus first addresses the guests, “…do not sit down at the place of honor.”  Running through the Gospels is this theme of reversals.  The road to ultimate happiness is not through putting ourselves forward but through “a modest or low view of our own importance.” Humility and trust in God is important.  Honor does not come through works but through grace.  Cinderella has no hope to be chosen and elevated and she knows it. Disney would have us believe it is because Cinderella is beautiful, blessed with a dazzling countenance, has an empowering godmother and of course is oh so humble.  None of us possess those qualities. Humility calls us to acknowledge our humanness, our sinfulness.  We do not get to the eternal banquet without kneeling at the communion table banquet where we acknowledge sinfulness and our need for God’s grace. 

         Our dreams have us scramble for seats of honor.  Humility is realizing that it is the host who determines who sits where at the banquet.  Waiting for the host to show us where to sit is hard. We are tempted to focus on the flaws of the others and falsely flatter our own attributes as we seek high seats. We are not realistic in evaluating our worth.   Humility is looking to the host for seating, for value.  All the guests are flawed.  We do not know their stories.  Our value does not lie within us but within the eyes of the host who invited us.  God is the only true, honest, impartial judge of who sits where.

           We are all invited and we are all flawed.  And the truth is that the magic fades at midnight and we are left with our sinful selves.  We all need the magic, the forgiveness of Jesus.  The journey with aging certainly makes us realize that our value is fading.  Life is unfair.  Disease seems sometimes to be an arbitrary enemy attacking the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and the talented and ordinary.  Economic and environmental factors affect and threaten everyone at the banquet.  The banquets of this world can disappear but it is the eternal banquet in the heavenly kingdom whose invitation we need to seek. God’s grace not only throws the banquet to which all are invited but also God’s grace rewards us all appropriately and knows the right seat for us.  God is the one who will exalt us. Jesus reminds us, you and me, “11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

         Jesus’ word to us today:  we are all invited, God knows where we will sit, and God exalts us.  It is grace and not works.

Words To the host

Invite those who cannot repay

Jesus now addresses the host of the meal.  Now we have another reversal of logic.  Let us think about who gets invited to banquets.  We can pull up several current examples.  A fund raising meal invites those whom the host hopes will participate in the cause the meal represents or at least the guest will pay a large price to be invited.  Money is speaking!  We often call it a benefit.  Each plate benefits the host or the cause.  Then there is the list for the wedding meal after the wedding.  The bride’s family can invite so many and the groom’s family can invite so many because each meal costs the host.  Each plate represents a social obligation of the host.  Another current example would be the Thanksgiving meal or some other family gathering.  Be honest!  We reflect first on who came last year and who we are socially obligated to include along with our favorite peeps.  Who to invite is always a question we think about.

         It seems to me that Jesus is saying that who we invite to a banquet reflects on the character of the host.  Hosts often invite based on what they can get rather than on what they can give, on appearances, and on social connectedness.  That is not the character of God.  He is not obligated and he is not trying to impress us. Again we see that God invites all of us to the banqueting table and “his banner over us is love.”  Jesus himself was criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus stops his journey to tell Zacchaeus up in a tree that he would eat at his house.  God invites unlikely people like you and me to his eternal banquet.  The doctor treats the sick that need healing.

         Hosting is not about obligation but about who we desire to bless.  But hosting is also an investment in the future.  We hear the phrase now, “pay forward.”  Blessing someone today who can never repay us is an investment in the future and a statement of our faith that there is a God who sees and cares.  “14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The unseen reality

         Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven.  He speaks to the guests and to the host at a Pharisees’ meal by telling a parable to them and us about banquet behavior.  The parable resonates with our fable of Cinderella.  In the Cinderella fable, all the women are invited to a ball where the prince will choose a bride.  All want to attend but are flawed by the scars of life.  All want to be chosen, blessed.  It is the intervention of the fairy godmother that makes it possible for Cinderella to be chosen.  It is the intervention of Christ on the cross that makes it possible for us to approach God.

         But let me make one more point.  Jesus is a host and a guest in this world.  He created us and is one with the King but comes down to earth to dance with us through our lives.  It is his grace that blesses and it is his grace that touches our lives.  Jesus is the ultimate guest and the best host! Jesus can transform the disappointment of the stepmother, the jealousy of the stepsisters, and the poverty of Cinderella in our life.  It’s not magic.  It is grace and we say thank you.

Let the people of God say, “Amen!”


11th Sunday after Pentecost: Lower Back Pain

August 21, 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14

9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
 and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in.

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
  from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
 if you call the sabbath a delight
  and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
 if you honor it, not going your own ways,
  serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
  and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
 I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
  for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm: Psalm 103:1-8

The Lord crowns you with mercy and steadfast love. (Ps. 103:4)

1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and forget not all God’s benefits—
3who forgives all your sins
  and heals all your diseases;
4who redeems your life from the grave
  and crowns you with steadfast love mercy;
5who satisfies your desires with good things
  so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6O Lord, you provide vindication
  and justice for all who are oppressed.
7You made known your ways to Moses
  and your works to the children of Israel.
8Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy,
  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  The Lion and the Mouse

A Lion lay asleep in the forest. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her. “Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”

The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.

Some days later, in the forest, the Lion was caught in a hunter’s net. He filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

So quickly share with your neighbor:  What bound the mouse?  What bound the lion?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

As I have read and reread our text for today, I decided this must be the chiropractor’s favorite story in the Bible.  I have gone to a chiropractor for years and lower back pain is the name of my game.  Walking bent over seems far too common these days.  Compression fracture of L1 is the exray’s opinion, “Old” and “ugly” are some of the words being whispered in my ear daily, and the chiropractor says to go to a doctor who will do an MRI to tell us if it is an old fracture or new.  I start the day pretty well but by the end, I creep into bed and am beaten down by the pain and the constant reminders of my aging.  The lady in this story has my ears.

         Maybe lower back pain in not your challenge.  It may be poor eye sight or perhaps a different diagnosis.  Or maybe you have carried a burden in your heart for someone, an aging parent or spouse, a wayward child, or even a debt.  Remember those days when we agonized over finding a spouse or a job or the right house?  Many things burden us and we walk around bent over if not physically, then emotionally.  Like the woman in the text, we come to church as the walking wounded.  Like the woman in the text, the problem is physical and spiritual.  Young people are not exempt from carrying burdens.  Our woman has been like this for 18 years, perhaps half her life.

         So take a moment and reflect on the burden you carry and the message that is whispered in your ear by the evil one.  I won’t ask you to share with a neighbor for most often our burdens are private and we try to be strong.  But be honest with yourself this morning and don’t point to the other guy or the person in the other pew.  What cripples you?

         Our woman did the right thing.  She went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Perhaps her bent over image had become routine and accepted so it did not bother her or others.  In fact her condition may have become part of the scenery.  Maybe she could not stand up to see that her hair was frazzled and wrinkles were forming.  Maybe she didn’t have a mirror and no one cared anymore, not even her.  But she went to the synagogue because it was the Sabbath.  Good choice.

         Our woman was not one of the ones who so often cried out to Jesus to deliver them from their demise.  She was not seeking healing.  It is possible to become oblivious to our dilemma.  We are like the frog in the pan of water that is gradually warming and we have given up hope that we can be rescued.  Like the woman we can be resigned to our burdens.  Coming to church is still a good choice even if it is 18 years without a miracle.

         She comes not asking and not expecting but Jesus sees her.  He calls her over. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  Do we need to read that again?  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  It probably was not a dramatic Pentecostal healing service for there is nothing in our text to indicate that type of scene.  I do not read about a preacher calling to the congregation for people with burdens to come forward.  I do not read about an animated congregation praying loudly or in tongues over her demise.  I DO read about a God who sees us when we are bent over, crippled, and besieged by spirits that would cripple us.  I do hear God say, “You are set free!”  Please hear those words for the unseen burden you carry today.  Jesus says, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will set you free.”

Stand Up Straight

         Jesus did not deliver the woman from having a back.  He removed the burden.  Perhaps like the chiropractor, he did an adjustment and suddenly her spine was straight and the nerves were back in line.  Perhaps like the mouse, the lion’s paw was lifted and she was no longer a snack.  Or perhaps like the lion, a chord snapped and the net fell off.  Jesus declared “You are free,” and commanded her to “stand up straight.”   What does that mean to us, to stand up straight?

         When we are seen, we do stand taller.  The hospice nurse visited our home and brought the doctor with her.  They asked my husband to stand up.  He got to his feet and straightened his back and was suddenly 6 foot 6 again.  I had forgotten.  I’m sure our son in the army stands straight when a higher authority comes and calls his name. To stand up straight is to acknowledge personhood and responsibility.  Jesus has taken the burden and now the woman can stand up straight and be a significant part of the community, not a piece of the background poor.  Accepting that Jesus is here, carrying our burdens, even in the worst of times, allows us to face life with hope. Our lady praised God and gave God the credit that was due.  The chiropractor is the agent of hope but God is the object of our praise!

Sabbath

         Our lion sets the mouse free but there are still hunters in the forest of his life.  Jesus sets the woman free but the leaders of the synagogue are watching with their expectations and explanations of reality.  Not everyone likes the chiropractor.  The leaders complain that Jesus has broken the Sabbath.  And even so our churches splinter over how the Sabbath or Sunday should be observed.  Let us hang our head in shame and pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  Even we have probably at some point defended our Lutheran traditions.  Jesus points out the incongruity.  On the Sabbath, the leaders untie their ox or donkey, not honoring all the multitude of rules established in faith tradition.  Likewise God works outside our boxes and our definitions.  He even heals on the Sabbath, a day of rest!

         “Untie” to me means that God releases us from guilt, from shame, from expectations.  Freedom is the opposite of being tied.  Freedom is not getting everything I want, that I think will make me happy.  Our lady will still live in reality and have to face challenges but she will face those challenges knowing in the depth of her soul that God has and does see her and is capable of helping her deal with her problem.

         The leaders not only untie the oxen and donkey, the leaders take them to water.  Being untied and left in the stall, hungry and thirsty is not what benefits the animal.  The animals are led to water.  Jesus not only unties us but he also feeds us.  The woman chose to be in the synagogue even as you chose to come to church this morning. The sermon is spiritual food, delving in his word, enlightening our lives.  Communion reminds us that we are forgiven.  The prayers of the congregation release those things that concern us and place them squarely in God’s hands.  The woman’s choice to be in the synagogue was a good choice.  That day she was untied and she was watered.

         Jesus concludes, 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”  Please do not slip over her title, “daughter of Abraham.”  She has gone from “a woman bent over” at the beginning of the text to “a daughter of Abraham.”  She is untied, watered and owned.  When we step into church on the Sabbath, we leave behind our “one of the masses” anonymity, we leave the freeway of life, and we step into the presence of God as his child, seen and cared about.  We come tied and thirsty but God unties and offers us water.  The woman made a good choice to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath and you made a good choice to be here today.

         The lion had mercy on the mouse.  The mouse was bound by the lion’s paw and bound by fear but the lion had mercy.  Later the lion is caught in a hunter’s net, bound by ropes and the fear of the hunter but the mouse has mercy.  We come to church today as the bent over ones, caught by the lions of life that would devour us or by the nets of systems that bind us.  We come bent over and often we are not even looking for healing for we feel helpless.  But God sees us when we don’t see ourselves.  We can stand up straight as we leave here.  God unties us and waters us even on the Sabbath, surprising others…especially on the Sabbath…for we are his children and the praise goes to him.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”


9th Sunday after Pentecost

August 7, 2022

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Psalm: Psalm 33:12-22

12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord!
  Happy the people chosen to be God’s heritage!
13The Lord looks down from heaven,
  and sees all humankind.
14God sits firmly enthroned and watches
  all who dwell on the earth.
15God fashions all their hearts
  and observes all their deeds. 
16A king is not saved by the size of the army,
  nor are warriors rescued by their great strength.
17The horse gives vain hope for victory;
  despite its great strength it cannot save.
18Truly, your eye is upon those who fear you, O Lord,
  upon those who wait for your steadfast love,
19to deliver their lives from death,
  and to keep them alive in |time of famine. 
20Our innermost being waits for you, O Lord,
  our helper and our shield.
21Surely, our heart rejoices in you,
  for in your holy name we put our trust.
22Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
  even as we place our hope in you. 

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Gospel: Luke 12:32-40

 [Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON   Here is a new Aesop’s Fable.  You fishermen may not agree with it but it helps with our text today, I hope.

The Fisherman & the Little Fish

A poor Fisherman, who lived on the fish he caught, had bad luck one day and caught nothing but a very small fry. The Fisherman was about to put it in his basket when the little Fish said:  “Please spare me, Mr. Fisherman! I am so small it is not worth while to carry me home. When I am bigger, I shall make you a much better meal.”

But the Fisherman quickly put the fish into his basket.  “How foolish I should be,” he said, “to throw you back. However small you may be, you are better than nothing at all.”

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Last Sunday we pondered Jesus’ parable of “The Rich Fool” given in response to the plea from a person asking Jesus to create a just division of the family’s inheritance.  Jesus tells of a rich fool who had such a bumper crop that he was going to build bigger barns.  Perhaps in line with today’s fable, we would say the fisherman who had such a haul of fish, he decided to buy a bigger boat!  Today the fisherman is at the other end of life. The fisherman had only a tiny catch.  Jesus continues to teach the crowd.  In the verses between last week and this, Jesus encourages the people not to worry about the injustices of life, about the size of our barns or the size of the fish we catch but Jesus points our eyes to the birds.  God gave them no barns but they thrive. Flowers are so fragile and they thrive.  We are reminded that God knows our needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you.”  It sounds good but the bills come in the mail tomorrow, grocery prices climb, and we will listen to the news tonight.  In the face of reality, how do we keep from worrying?  Our text for today speaks into this tension.

God’s Game Plan

         32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Our text opens today with a statement of the goal.  God is leading us, guiding us, giving us a kingdom!  Jesus opens by saying, “Do not be afraid!”  My heart always pays attention when I read those words “Do not be afraid,” because I am a fearling.  Whether I am writing a sermon, cooking a meal, or trying to be artistic, I can always hear that little voice telling me, it won’t be good enough.  My deaconess friend said that her family use to sit with a map and with eyes closed put their finger on some spot and find a road that seemed to lead to nowhere.  They packed their camper to go and see what was at the end of the road!  Unthinkable for my family.  A pastor friend agreed and shared how in his youth, he and his friend got in a car and drove trying not to cross any major highways, just to see where they would end up.  Heading out with no destination feels overwhelming and very scary for me.  Maybe you are adventuresome but for those today who struggle with fear, Jesus is saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  God has a plan and we are going to be given a kingdom.  Like the man who met Jesus when he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, I pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Generosity

         So how is that faith lived in reality?  “Declutter” is the word I am hearing for my generation that is approaching retirement and the move to downsize.  I love the book, Repacking Your Bags by David Shapiro and Richard Leiden, professors of aging at the University of Minnesota.  They encourage us to take time periodically to inventory what we are carrying in the suitcases, briefcases, overnight bags, and knapsacks of our life.  We need different tools for different phases of life and knowing the task we are facing allows us to get rid of unnecessary luggage that burdens us, slows us down and then we can better enjoy the phase we are in.  A little ole lady acting like a teenager is foolish.  Jesus is giving us very similar advice.  We are headed to a kingdom with God.  The skills that prepare us for God’s kingdom are not the skills we use to navigate our life now.  We need to be developing new skills.

         Jesus focuses on generosity and sharing of worldly wealth.  We do not need all the possessions that fill our houses and garages.  We can hold our worldly goods in open hands, ready to share, because we know this world is not our home.  We can share with the poor, with the church, and with those in need.  We know this philosophy for we often will sacrifice so our children can go to college or we might take a second job to make ends meet.  We work to bless those we love but how often does our perspective include “the other”?  I have been so impressed with the generosity poured out on the fleeing Ukrainians not just in sending money and goods but also in opening borders and schools and homes.  The news is testifying to the community spirit of compassion in Kentucky in the face of floods right now.  Bethany Gardens and the Day Care are other examples.  Trouble has a way of challenging us and making us dig deeper into ourselves for the sake of others.  The foolish farmer wanted to build bigger barns for himself.  Jesus, as always, is counter-intuitive and says to share.  The fisherman did not distain the little fish because it was not a huge, picture snapping big guy.  He accepted what God gave him and was prepared to make a meal.

         Generosity is a direct indicator of our eternal wealth and of our earthly values.  Eternal wealth has no moths.  The wealth is not tucked away in some drawer for a rainy day as we do not have that fear.  In a heavenly perspective there are no rainy days.

Be Prepared to Act

         Remember that Girl Scout or Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”?  Jesus says, ““Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”  I understand that to be a reminder that actions, the deeds we do, are as important as our theological expertise and having all our theories right about baptism or faith experiences.  We spend so much wasteful energy critiquing others.

         I feel compelled to speak into those of us who are entering that phase of life when our ability to act seems to be diminishing.  Of course sharing wealth is one way but it is also true that prayers are important and a smile costs nothing.  I would challenge us to think of five people we would like to encourage this week.  Try to pick someone that perhaps is a growing edge for you.  The lady who helps by cleaning my house once a month, helped me make the bed and lift that heavy mattress.  I was so appreciative.  I believe that it was on a news broadcast this week that they were reporting the impact of gratitude.  They concluded that even if we cannot solve a problem, just being there to encourage means a lot to people.  If God has us alive, God has a purpose for us and we are important.

         Jesus says to be dressed for action.  Kindness may be something we have to work at, like getting dressed.  It does not always come naturally to turn the other cheek or to do a good deed.  Let’s experiment.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Thank you for …”  or some other compliment.

Who serves whom?

         Jesus gives an example.  The servant waits to serve the master when the master comes home, whatever the hour and whatever the master’s attitude.  That servant has to be generous and have a kind attitude no matter how tired the servant is.  The master could be returning from an exhausting day at work, at war, or from a journey.  The servant’s attitude is not dependent on the master’s attitude.  We most often understand life as tit for tat.  You be nice to me and I be nice to you.  You smile at me and I smile back.  Jesus is challenging us to take the lead position and set the positive atmosphere regardless of the other’s attitude.  This feels very familiar but again I would challenge us to look, not at how we treat friends but how we treat the irritating guy who cuts us off in traffic or slows us down at the grocery story.  It is also true that I can be nice to stranger but I may be more snarky with my loved one.  The knife seems to cut both ways.

         Now the reversal!  An attitude of gratitude impacts the other and the master now serves the servants.  God’s heart is touched by our attitudes, our alertness, our desire to serve and God is so pleased to see us responding to him so well that he blesses us.  Now that is a very revolutionary picture of God!  We think of God as a severe judge, bringing justice. Perhaps for the unbeliever it will be so, but for those of us seeking to do the best with the resources we have, the picture of an appreciative master is a beautiful picture.

         Let’s take a moment and think of the titles and pictures we have of Jesus in our mind.  We like the Good Shepherd holding his sheep.  We like Jesus welcoming the children.  My parents had the picture of Jesus standing behind the young guy at the helm of a boat in a storm.  Perhaps God is that pillar of fire leading Israel or the cloud of smoke surrounding Moses’ tent.  Jesus washing the disciples feet at the last supper and the Garden of Gethsemane are familiar also.  This story pictures God as delighted and anxious to respond to our attitude of gratitude.  Nice!

Be diligent

Jesus closes by warning us to not only be generous and grateful with whatever we have, not only to be alert and helpful in all we do, but also to be diligent.  We do not know when Christ will return. We do not need to fear because, as Jesus reminds us today, God’s plan is to give us a kingdom, to give us life abundant.  He delights in our service.

         Returning to our foolish farmer and our hungry fisherman, it is so easy to focus on the blessing of the moment and loose sight of the big picture. The events and people in our lives may look like small “frys,” little fish, no big thing to make a fuss about but it is while dealing in generosity and integrity, being active as we are able that the Master may return.  Many will choose to wait till the fish gets bigger, till the “right” opportunity comes along but Jesus again encourages us to faithfully focus on serving the Lord now in all situations we find ourselves in.  Lord, give us the strength to be generous, to be alert to opportunities to serve you, and guard us from all fear!

The people of God said, “AMEN!”


7th Sunday in Pentecost

July 24, 2022

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

20Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
22So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Psalm: Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
  before the gods I will sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,   because of your steadfast love and faithfulness;
  for you have glorified your name and your word above all things. 
3When I called, you answered me;
  you increased my strength within me.
4All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,
  when they have heard the words of your mouth.
5They will sing of the ways of the Lord,
  that great is the glory of the Lord.
6The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly,
  perceiving the haughty from afar. 
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
  you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your         right hand shall save me.
8You will make good your purpose for me;
  O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the      works of your hands. 

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]

6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
16Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

.

1[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
 Father, hallowed be your name.
  Your kingdom come.
  3Give us each day our daily bread.
  4And forgive us our sins,
   for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
  And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Share with your neighbor.  If you could learn anything new at this point in your life, what would you want to be taught?

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Teach us to pray!

We ended last week’s sermon with Jesus’ affirmation of Mary’s choice to sit at his feet.  41 “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  What had Mary chosen?  Did she chose a lecture or a relationship?

         The disciples listened as Jesus affirmed Mary.  Luke then goes directly to another scenario that is our text today.  The disciples now observe Jesus praying and it seems they have also observed the disciples of John the Baptist.  I wonder what they observed that led to the thirst to be taught to pray.

“Lord, teach us to pray”   

Being a teacher myself, I find this a catching introduction to the text.  Teaching for me means not just lecturing like a professor or listening like Mary.  I can come to church every Sunday and I can walk away exactly as I entered, perhaps intellectually challenged and entertained but untouched in my soul.  I hear but it doesn’t change my life.  Sundays may not impact our lives because faith at its core is relational, not instructional. The disciples must have seen something happening in John’s disciples and in Mary and in Jesus himself.  Could it be that the disciples saw people being transformed through prayer?

         Perhaps our first challenge is to ask ourselves when we last wanted to really be taught, really be transformed?  Our culture has become so performance and entertainment focused that for many learning and teaching is thought of as an academic skill acquired at a school from someone who knows more than us.  My adult ESL students needed English to cope with life in the USA and to get citizenship.  They wanted to be taught so they could function and be successful.  I might take a cooking class to improve my entertaining skills.  I want to be taught so I can impress others. Then there are the paint classes where I can go and sip a glass of wine while learning how to reproduce a picture.  I want to learn and I feel better about myself.  These are examples of fun learning experiences but not the teaching that I suspect is being talked about in our passage.

Prayer as relationship

         Jesus answers the disciples request by presenting a pattern for prayer.  Jesus does not open a devotional book to read or a favorite prayer book.  He does not go to Scripture.  He says to pray like this, “Our Father.”  You have probably heard it said how revolutionary this opening is.  We approach the God of the universe on the basis of communal relationship, not authority.  I suspect we often think of God as having all power and so our request is a small task for him to grant…if he wishes.  Prayer subtly shifts to a power paradigm.  Likewise we read that if we have enough faith, then we have the power to move a mountain, heal a sick friend, do the miracles that Jesus did.  If the request is not granted then we feel rejected and a failure.  Prayers can be an intercession and request for God to use his power to end the war in Ukraine, to heal my friend with cancer, or to bring relief for those suffering in the heat in Europe.  These are legitimate prayers of intercession but I would like us today to look at the relational aspect of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Luke.

         We approach God as family (I would add – with all the respect due our elders) requesting his kingdom to come.  We want to be in his kingdom, a citizen, not a foreigner or refugee.  We want “daily” bread, not a monthly paycheck but a daily check in.  We want forgiveness that is two-way, that re-establishes relationship and two-way communication.  And he closes with a request for no trials, no misunderstanding and strained relationships. The Lord’s Prayer is very interactional and intimate.

         Some of us have had abusive fathers or absent fathers and so approaching God as “Father” is not a very cozy idea because of our experiences.  I hear ways to get around this emotional block by addressing God as Mother or as Eternal One or Jehovah Jirah/Provider but all these variations are the cry of our heart for relationship with the One we cannot see but know is real and whom we believe cares.  Prayer is not approaching the Congress of heaven and asking for a new amendment to the constitution to protect the rights we feel are endangered by life.  Prayer is communicating with a being who cares, who relates to us individually and as a group for the good of all concerned.  It is not saying “I want” but opening a discussion with a being we want to be in relationship with.

         This week I asked my friend whom I knew came from a very abusive childhood how she navigated the Lord’s Prayer.  She replied that at first she had understood Jesus’ death as taking care of her sins, her debts, kind of like a tax write-off.  So for many years she felt God saw her as a tax write-off until she had one of those impacting dreams where she was handed a check, “Paid in full.”  Suddenly she realized she was not a write-off still on the records but a child embraced and loved.  Prayer is personal and relational, foundational to the functioning of our lives.

Prayer as Persistent Relationship

Jesus gave us a pattern in the Lord’s Prayer that followers of Jesus have prayed through the ages.  It is probably one of the first prayers we learned and in times of crisis it often comes to our hearts and lips giving words to our struggle. Jesus goes on, though, to give us not only a pattern but also a parable to flesh out the meaning of prayer.  Jesus presents two men.  One is content, in bed with his children.  The other has met with an unexpected event, a late night guest, and he is unprepared to “welcome” the guest properly.  Note we are now tied back to Martha working so hard to welcome Jesus as Mary sits devotedly at his feet.  The needy man goes to his contented neighbor, not as peasant to king but as friend to friend.  Jesus again frames prayer in the context of friendship, relationship.

         God has no need to get out of bed and help the needy person.  Prayer again is reiterated not as a power relationship but a friendship.  So what does persistence on the part of the needy friend tell us today?  I would suggest that persistence means there is no fear in the relationship.  The needy friend is not afraid of offending the contented friend by persisting in his request.  The request is open to discussion.  I think of Abraham bargaining with God in our Old Testament reading over the fate of Gomorrah.  I think of Moses responding to the burning bush about his own perceived imperfections for the task God is asking of him.  I think of the woman with the daughter with the evil spirit who was unwilling to accept a “no” from Jesus.  I think of the woman at the well.  There is a long line of Biblical heroes who were “persistent” with God and who stood on relationship, not authority.

         I suspect we think of persistence as pestering but Jesus seems to be seeing prayer as conversational.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us into relationship about the future – God’s kingdom, about our needs – daily bread, about our pains – forgiveness, and about our fears – trials.  We are invited to stay in relationship and conversation with God about the concerns of our hearts for he is our “Abba.”

Prayer as Quest

The Lord’s Prayer is a pattern for prayerful relationship.  The story is a parable about persistent prayerful relationship.  The third part of the text today presents prayer as a quest for relationship that allows us to ask, to seek, and to knock.

         When we have a need where do we turn? Who can we ask for help? 

  • Prayer is asking, turning to the God of the universe who is our father, our friend, and who is in relationship with us.  It is not standing in line to fill out a form.  It is not a legal relationship, getting good advice on how to do life right.  Prayer is conversation about anything and everything that is on our mind.  God is not tricky, giving us a snake instead of a fish.  He does not play games with us.  God invites us to ask.
  • Prayer is seeking, continuing conversation in a relationship that grows and evolves.  God is not an answering machine.  Searching requires persistence like the woman with the lost coin or the shepherd with the lost sheep.  Jesus says if we search, we will find.  I suspect we may not find the answer we are looking for but we will find peace knowing that God is working on the situation we are concerned about.  His goal is not a scorpion but an egg, the birth of something that will be worth the search.
  • Prayer is knocking on a door that appears shut.  We are free to take our doubts, our fears, and our concerns – all those things that block our relationships with God and with others – to God.  When we knock on those doors that seem to divide us from the other side, Jesus says the door will open.

So let us go back to our original question.  If we could learn anything today from God, what would we like to learn?  Learning factors me into the equation of life’s problems.  I am not asking God to solve my problem for me but asking how I can enter into a persistent, meaningful, transforming relationship with him as I face my everyday challenges.  God is longing to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us navigate life.  I don’t know about you, but I need that help.

And the people of God said, “Amen!”


4th Sunday in Pentecost

July 3, 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14

10Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
  all you who love her;
 rejoice with her in joy,
  all you who mourn over her—
11that you may nurse and be satisfied
  from her consoling breast;
 that you may drink deeply with delight
  from her glorious bosom.

12For thus says the Lord:
 I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
  and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
 and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
  and dandled on her knees.
13As a mother comforts her child,
  so I will comfort you;
  you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
  your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
 and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
  and his indignation is against his enemies.

Psalm: Psalm 66:1-9

1Be joyful in God, all you lands; be joyful, all the earth.
2Sing the glory of God’s name; sing the glory of God’s praise.
3Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
  Because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
4All the earth bows down before you,
  sings to you, sings out your name.” 
5Come now and see the works of God,
  how awesome are God’s deeds toward all people.
6God turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in God.
7Ruling forever in might, God keeps watch over the nations;
  let no rebels exalt themselves.
8Bless our God, you peoples; let the sound of praise be heard.
9Our God has kept us among the living and has not allowed our feet to   slip.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

 [1My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.]
7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ ”

16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON

The Old Lion & the Fox

An old Lion, whose teeth and claws were so worn that it was not so easy for him to get food as in his younger days, pretended that he was sick. He took care to let all his neighbors know about it. He lay down in his cave to wait for visitors. And when they came to offer him their sympathy, he ate them up one by one.

         The Fox came too, but he was very cautious about it. Standing at a safe distance from the cave, he inquired politely after the Lion’s health. The Lion replied that he was very ill indeed, and asked the Fox to step in for a moment. But Master Fox very wisely stayed outside, thanking the Lion very kindly for the invitation.

         “I should be glad to do as you ask,” he added, “but I have noticed that there are many footprints leading into your cave and none coming out. Pray tell me, how do your visitors find their way out again?”

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON – Going in and out of the Lion’s den

We have gone from the mountaintop of Pentecost to the valley of real life where we encounter evil and are challenged to focus on our commitment to follow Jesus.  No if, buts or firsts!  To be a follower of Jesus is to have no place but Christ to rest our head and heart!  Today we visit Luke 10 that has become one of the models for our marching orders as followers of Jesus.  Jesus pictures God as a harvester preparing to collect the harvest.  He compares his group of followers to lambs facing wolves. These lambs, us, are sent out before he comes.  We are sent people.  We help to prepare for his coming.  This is kind of like the fox in Aesop’s fable, arriving at the den of the old Lion.  The Lion was defeated at the crucifixion but he still is alive and inviting us into his den.  How do we understand his welcome?  Is there a back door for escape from his den?

We are sent

Master Fox received an invitation from Mr. Lion.  The followers of Jesus are sent with the invitation from Jesus.  Both invitations are open to all but we notice the Lion’s has strings attached.  His welcome is not genuine.  His aim is death, not life.  Jesus’ intentions were genuine.  Jesus not only wants all to be invited but his goal is life.  Let us notice that he sends us out in community, in pairs to relate in homes.  This passage is not Paul preaching in the Forum or Peter speaking at Pentecost.  This has a certain warmth and communal feeling.  This passage speaks to us. 

         Our second son got a job after his freshman year of college, selling “the Book.”  He was promised $3000 for the summer and coming from the mission field, that sounded fantastic.  He and another guy were teamed up, dropped on a corner in a Midwest town and told to start door knocking to find a house that would take them in to sleep on their floor for the summer.  I had never heard of anything like that.  They found a lady who took them in and they slept on her floor and lived on peanut butter.  I made an emergency trip to the States that summer!!!  That ended any sales career for his future. 

         Those early followers were also sent out to find a home that would take them in.  They were not selling books for some company but sharing about their experience with Jesus who was coming.  Sharing our story is part of growing as disciples.  Most of us will not go door knocking but we do meet people every day and have opportunities to share our faith.  People are not forced to believe in Jesus, they are invited, often through the presence of another.  As sent ones and followers, our lives are not random or meaningless.  We have purpose.   Those early followers were not sent to convert people but to share about Jesus. Jesus is coming.  God gives faith but we often learn about that gift through others who are willing to share their experiences with us.

         We are sent people with a message. We are helpless as sheep before the wolf or an old lion but we are not alone.  We are part of a body and the Holy Spirit goes with us.  Jesus continues to describe the process?

No preparation needed.

         How many times do we hesitate to share our experience of faith because we feel we are not qualified?  This group does not seem to be uniquely qualified.  70 people means more than the apostles.  They were men and women and no special education was shared by all.  They were not seminary graduates.  They were ordinary people like you and me but they were committed to Jesus.

         I also note that these people didn’t need a purse, a bag, or sandals; and were not to be distracted by anyone on the road.  Not only were qualifications not mentioned but preparations didn’t seem to be important.  In Kenya, the people we worked with were nomads living in the desert.  It always amazed me that they started their journey to see someone with only their staff and spear.  They carried no suitcases of goods.  No 4WD cars were driven with spare parts.  A spear for snakes or lions and perhaps a small gourd of water but otherwise they went forth, convinced that they would be received with generosity.  The host would be required to kill a goat!  How different from us Westerners who arrived with shipments of goods to ensure our former lifestyle.  No preparations perhaps implies an assurance that God goes with us and will give us the words and will lead us to the right people who will be receptive. 

         Do we see God’s hand directing and leading us in our daily encounters?  Our news today certainly talks about the fear of the stranger and the potential danger from people who might be a mass murderer or carry a virus or be a foreigner with evil intent.  The ole Lion wants us to enter his cave but like the Fox, we fear danger.  Jesus sends us forth and says to not be afraid.  As we celebrate July 4th tomorrow, we might ponder those early pilgrims arriving on this continent facing all the unknown challenges and mostly armed with faith.  So what slows us down from sharing today?

         The 70 were not specially educated, not specially equipped, and were also told to carry a message of “peace.”  The animals in the fable visited the Lion to comfort him in his illness.  It makes me think of the angels singing to the shepherds in the Christmas story, “Peace on earth, goodwill to people.”  It is so easy to fall into the “you’re a sinner and need the message of salvation I bring” thinking, judging the other’s lifestyle before we know them and the factors affecting their life.  This Luke passage focuses on sending and bringing “peace” to share with another, not theological debate. When we are at peace with another, we are more willing to open our hearts and be transparent.  When we feel attacked we tend to become defensive and shut down.  The Lion was sly to fake illness.  We are sent with real peace, peace from above that the world does not give.  What are we sharing?

         Jesus tells the 70, if there is not the presence of peace in the encounter, move on.  No one will be argued into heaven.  Don’t waste spiritual energy chasing unreceptive hearts.  Perhaps the time is not right or perhaps you are not the right person.  Just because our heart is ready to share, does not mean the other is ready to receive.  Paul said that some of us plant the seed of faith, some of us water the seed, some of us are the manure, and some of us get to see the harvest.  May we not let rejection bog us down but be fuel for our prayers.  

         Interestingly, Jesus then warns the 70, “Do not move about from house to house.”  I would understand this to mean that we are to be people who bring peace and who build relationships.  We are not just engaging with people to tell them about Jesus but we are developing relationships.  The famous quote from the end of Matthew says, “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all I have taught you, and I will be with you.

“…the kingdom of God has come near”

Now this is a heavy statement to end our day.  As believers we are not just saved from the guilt and shame of our sins, to use language of some preachers.  We are sent people bringing the kingdom of God near to others.  Just as we go with no special qualifications necessary and no special preparations needed, each one of you is God’s special representative right where you are.  We are representatives of the kingdom of heaven, an ambassador according to Paul.  So as we end this sermon, the question we might ask ourselves is what type of ambassador are we.  Would someone else recognize us as a representative of Jesus?  Do the words we speak let others know that Jesus is coming and cares about them?

     The Lion’s den did have a back door but no one could find it if someone did not tell them where it was.  Unlike Mr. Fox, we do not have a choice about being in the Lion’s den.  We do have a choice, though, about who we serve in that den.  The lion may look big and intimidating or perhaps large and inviting.  He may roar and look powerful.  But the truth is that he is old, claws are frayed, and strength is limited. We are sent with the truth to tell others that there is a door out of the Lion’s den. They do have a choice about whom they believe in and serve. There is a source of strength better than the lion.  The creator of the lion is coming and is inviting them to meet him and experience life abundant.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”


Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 26, 2022

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

15Then the Lord said to [Elijah,] “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Psalm: Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
  I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
2All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
  upon those who are noble among the people.
3But those who run after other gods
  shall have their troubles multiplied.
4I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
  never take their names upon my lips. 
5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
  it is you who uphold my lot.
6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
  indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
  my heart teaches me night after night.
8I have set the Lord always before me;
  because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
  my body also shall rest in hope.
10For you will not abandon me to the grave,
  nor let your holy one see the pit.
11You will show me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are     pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON

A common gesture that is popular today is to point two fingers at someone’s eyes, back to our eyes, and back to theirs.  Turn to your neighbor and make the motion.  What are you communicating in this gesture do you think?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Last week we started to dig in to our journey of Pentecost.  We faced the reality that while we have mountaintop experiences like Pentecost when the Triune God seems so real and powerfully working in our lives even beyond our expectations, the truth is that evil also is working in our world.  Last week we visited the healing of the demoniac who ran to Jesus.  But we also saw the demons who only bargained with Jesus about their demise and the towns people that flat out refused to engage with Jesus.  The journey of faith and transformation into our better selves, the person God created us to be, is just that, a journey and we make choices.  Last week we saw the choices being made about submitting to the authority of Jesus and trusting him for our future. Today we look from a different perspective.  We see the challenges of faith to our priorities.  We are challenged to FOCUS.

          Our text from Luke occurs as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and his crucifixion.  Jesus passed from Galilee in northern Israel through Samaria to get to Jerusalem.  He was not received well in Samaria and the disciples were furious.  They wanted to call down fire from heaven.  Jesus looked at them and said “FOCUS!” Today we would use the gesture of pointing our two fingers at another’s eyes and then wave them back to ours and then back to theirs.  The implied message is “Focus!”, “Are we on the same page?”, or “Are we agreed on this?”

Where to lay my head?

Back on the road, Jesus is met by three people that present three challenges to following Jesus.  The first person wants to follow Jesus anywhere. Today’s movies would have Jesus pointing his two fingers at the man’s eyes and saying, “Focus.”  To follow Jesus is to be homeless.  His followers have no den like a fox and no nest like a bird.  Are we up for that kind of homelessness? 

         St. Augustine in his book Confessions is famously quoted for writing, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  To enter the Pentecost journey is to shift our focus from place to person.  As a person who has spent her life moving, much like military people, I often say, “My home is where my suitcase is!”  The question, “Where are you from?” is very difficult because I automatically search my memory banks to evaluate which of the many places I’ve lived, I most identify with.  Now people ask me, “Does you house feel like home yet?”

         Jesus says that foxes have holes, places to hide, and birds have nests, places above danger.  Both my parents died when we were in Kenya.  The next furlough I had a big argument with my husband, probably about a small issue, stomped out, got in the car and suddenly realized I now had no where to go.  I sat in my car in the library lot crying.  Home is a place where we are known, where we are loved hopefully, and where there are people who hold your story, who know you.  I know that is not true for all people because many carry scars of abuse, abandonment, and rejection.  Jesus is saying that “home” is no longer something we strive to find or create here on earth because like the reception in Samaria, the journey of faith often puts us at odds with the world and the values of the world.  Family is no longer biological and even in churches people are forgiven sinners and hurt each other.  “Home” becomes a spiritual definition and not a social definition.

     Similarly birds can fly away.  In the movie  “Forest Gump”, one of the scenes that always comes to mind is when young Forest runs to Jenny’s house and Jenny is evading her father who is abusing her.  They run into the cornfield and she has him kneel and pray with her, “Lord make me a bird so I can fly away.”  Birds can fly away from trouble but Christians are often known for facing into problems.  Bethany Gardens is of course the obvious example.  We do not fly away from the problems whether that is the war in Ukraine where relief is pouring in or whether it is the hunger in our own neighborhood.  Hospitals, social services, orphanages, schools and learning institutions all have sprung up from not flying away.  It is true the efforts are marred with human problems but the truth is that to be a follower of Jesus is to face the dramas of evil and to have restless hearts til our hearts rest in God.

         So where do you rest your head today?  When worry, fears, bad memories plague you, where do you focus?  Jesus says, “Focus.” (do the finger motion).  We are called to look Jesus eye to eye and agree with him.  We do that through Scripture, through music, through prayer, through fellowship and perhaps through a walk.  We are called to look at Jesus eye to eye wherever we go.  Is there an area you need to gaze into his eyes today?

“first let me go and bury my father”

Our first person is challenged to redefine “home.”  Our second person is challenged to redefine “priorities.”  Jesus calls this person to follow and the person replies, “first let me….”   Ooops, the response shows priority issues.  Jesus points his fingers at this person and again says, “FOCUS.”  We know that Jesus is not arguing about the burial of the person’s father for other places in Scripture tell us to care for our families.  Jesus reprimands religious leaders who got around helping parents by saying something was promised to God.  He also says that he who does not care for parents is worse than a heathen.  Jesus must not be opposed to family but to that word “first.”  How often do we prioritize our obedience to God and beg, first let me… fill in the blank?

         We share our money or resources after we pay our bills.  That of course is easy to point to with so many voices begging us to share our resources for the worthy cause they are supporting.  Starving, emaciated people’s faces cover letters and magazine.  So we make decisions on how to share our blessings with these many causes that call to us.  Are we giving to assuage guilt and earn credit with God or friends?  Jesus wants us to put him first.  For others, the challenge is getting to church if they are not too tired from Friday and Saturday activities.  Our world is over run with activities and noise.  Sunday morning is an opportunity for family and self.  Jesus challenges us to make God our “first” choice, however that looks.

         Jesus response is enlightening, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Perhaps the question is not if we give money or time, but more a question of who we associate with.  Who we associate with says something about our priorities.   Dead people don’t bury dead people but that idiom challenges the man’s request to let him first bury his father.  We might throw back our idiom, “Birds of a feather flock together,” to challenge someone about loyalties and priorities.   The important point is that in whatever we do and with whomever we associate, we be living out our focus on the kingdom of God.  I don’t think Jesus is wanting us to feel guilty about watching a movie with family, going fishing, or socializing.  He wants us to do things that build community, build our souls, and enjoy the creation he made for us but the challenge is to not loose focus on what is our first love, God.  So perhaps we ask ourselves with this follower, Is what I am doing drawing me closer to God or drawing me away from God?  That’s something to think about.

“But let me first say farewell to those at my home”

Jesus challenges the first person to realize the faith journey brings a restlessness and a focus that feels like not having a den or a nest, a place to rest our head.  He challenges the second person about his priorities and what is first.  Are the tasks that come “first” in our life drawing us into relationship with God or distracting us.  The third challenge is similar.  The person requests to bid farewell to family, but notice that the person starts with “but.”  This person’s request is more conditional than a matter of priorities.  It reminds me of our demons last week who when ordered to leave the man but they bargain with Jesus, yes, but..send us into the pigs. 

         The “buts” in life are the fears and doubts that slow down our journey.  I want to be a Christian but…God might ask me to be a missionary and I’m afraid of snakes, but God might ask me to be single and not follow the cultural norms of dating, but God might ask me to give up partying on Saturday and so the excuses go. I can hear that little voice whispering in my ear about the potential hazards and prices I might pay for living life God’s way.

         Can you envision Jesus taking his fingers and pointing them at this person’s eyes, FOCUS, and listen. 

  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)”   
  • Again we read “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)” 

God goes before us to guide us, behind us to protect us and beside us to partner with us.  Those are serious promises.

Jesus ends, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Unlike modern evangelists who tell us, “Try Jesus, you’ll like him,” Jesus points his finger at our eyes and calls us to focus on him.  The faith journey is not easy and he does not deceive us.  We will have to do battle with evil in all its guises.  We will have to make choices.

  • We will have no place to rest our head except in him. “28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)”
  • We will have to examine our priorities. “seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)”
  • We will be tempted to fear and doubt the consequences of our choice.  But God is faithful to travel with us.

May we not be guilty of loosing focus this week as we journey with our Savior. 

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”


Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 19, 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
  to be found by those who did not seek me.
 I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
  to a nation that did not call on my name.
2I held out my hands all day long
  to a rebellious people,
 who walk in a way that is not good,
  following their own devices;
3a people who provoke me
  to my face continually,
 sacrificing in gardens
  and offering incense on bricks;
4who sit inside tombs,
  and spend the night in secret places;
 who eat swine’s flesh,
  with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5who say, “Keep to yourself,
  do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
 These are a smoke in my nostrils,
  a fire that burns all day long.
6See, it is written before me:
  I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
 I will indeed repay into their laps
  7their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,
 says the Lord;
 because they offered incense on the mountains
  and reviled me on the hills,
 I will measure into their laps
  full payment for their actions.
8Thus says the Lord:
 As the wine is found in the cluster,
  and they say, “Do not destroy it,
  for there is a blessing in it,”
 so I will do for my servants’ sake,
  and not destroy them all.
9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
  and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
 my chosen shall inherit it,
  and my servants shall settle there.

Psalm: Psalm 22:19-28

19But you, O Lord, be not far away;  O my help, hasten to my aid.
20Deliver me from the sword, my life from the power | of the dog.
21Save me from the lion’s mouth!
  From the horns of wild bulls you have | rescued me.
22I will declare your name to my people;
  in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
  Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;    neither is the Lord’s face hidden from them;
  but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who | fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts  live forever! 
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
  who rules over the nations.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Another look at Aesop’s “Lion and the Mouse” 

A Lion lay asleep in the forest. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly. In her fright to get away, she ran across the Lion’s nose. The Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.

“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.” The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and let the Mouse go.

Some days later, the Lion was caught in a hunter’s net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”

Turn to your neighbor.  What choice do you think the lion had to make?  What choice did the mouse have to make?

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Moments of Truth and Consequences

         Today we continue into the Pentecost season. Pentecost shifts our attention from who our God is, as seen in the life of Jesus, to challenging us to ponder who we are with Jesus in our lives. At Pentecost the Spirit touched 3,000 lives and the Christian church started to have birthing pains.  Peter stood and preached, people believed and somehow life was different.  We now return to earlier texts with a different perspective. An encounter with the Holy tells us about God but it also changes us.  We come to a fork in the road of our life.  The lion had a choice to make in our Aesop fable.  Would he eat the mouse or spare it’s life?  The mouse had a choice to make also.  Would she try to aide the lion or let him die?  The consequences of choices impacts the trajectory of lives. 

         In our text today we have three sets of people or beings who stand on holy ground and must make a decision about what they are going to do.  The man, the demons, and the towns’ people all encounter Jesus and decide how to respond.  We are here today watching as the disciples did, the unseen audience standing on holy ground, and we must decide if we are going to snooze or apply the truth God brings to our hearts today!

A Man Obsessed or Possessed

         We don’t much like to talk about demon possession today as evil is for cartoons or for those people of the other party or the other country or just plain different from us.  Our text has a man who has been possessed by demons that controls his life.  Before we dismiss this, perhaps we know people who struggle with alcohol, with pornography, with anger, with eating, with shopping and dast we mention gossip!  Uvalde and how many other mass shootings testify that this Biblical story is real today.  To be human is to be susceptible to the influences of evil.

      To be tempted is not the problem.  Jesus was tempted.  The problem comes when we are driven by the tempter.  The man “had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.”  Ouch.  When we are out of control, we are no longer able to clothe ourselves socially.  The addiction identifies us and labels us and we loose our unique identity as child of God.  We use words like drunk, addict, gossip, or loose to describe people who are not in control of their lives.  The man lived in the tombs, in hiding, out of touch with those who might help him.  Death is the companion.  We have suicide prevention lines and depression counselors and support groups for people caught in the grips of evil.  Let us not deceive ourselves, we are this person or at least we could be.  This is not a story.  This is real. It is us.

         This man has a choice.  He chooses to draw near to Jesus but please note, Jesus is not afraid of him and is willing to engage.  Jesus orders evil to leave as the man falls down before him. 

         “28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the    top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”” 

Our man, as well as the demons, as well as the towns’ people, as well as the swine, and maybe even us, are all gripped with fear at the thought of interacting with Jesus.  Perhaps here we have a big clue for spiritual growth and peace.  When we are in the grips of fear, it probably is not God speaking but evil.  In the presence of that fear the man must decide to approach Jesus or flee to the tombs.  He approaches and Jesus restores him.  Jesus is not afraid of the man or the evil within him.  Jesus is more powerful than evil. And Jesus reaches out to the man in his helplessness.  The man realizes he is in the wrong and is afraid of torment.  I suspect when we know we are in the wrong, we too, become afraid of God and we are afraid of torment or afraid of the cost of repentance. 

         I have quoted Robert Frost’s poem before and do again:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

We choose Jesus and he heals.  We choose to run with fear and we suffer.  We all today have choices to make.  Jesus calls us to life!

Demons possessed or possessor

Our second group of beings that deal with Jesus are the demons possessing the man.  They know they are in the presence of the Holy, of the Son of God, and they bargain.  They beg not to be sent back to the abyss but into a herd of pigs.  Jesus grants their request.

         Yup, we know bargaining too.  Have we ever bargained with God and asked him to rescue us from a perceived trauma and promised to ….  At least we promise to be better, to return to church, to not eat sweets again, to not turn on pornography… if only he would deliver us this time.  I think this is the stuff of New Year’s resolutions and we all know we are lucky if we finish January before we slide into old habits again.  I catch myself with mouth in motion and shoot a prayer to heaven for help so I won’t be snarky again, but I am.

         Bargaining post pones the consequences.  The demons are allowed to go into the pigs but the pigs run down the steep bank to the lake and are drown.  The outcome is death so where are the demons now?  Getting the human dreams of our hearts is often not a solution and only leads to more pain.  I think of all those young adult dreams when I was sure I had found the right guy but that ended in pain.  It was only as I started listening to God and seeking his will that my life turned around.  The lion could have eaten the mouse but it would not have satisfied his hunger.  The mouse could have ignored the roars of the lion but she could not quiet her conscience that would remind her of his kindness and her promise.  Bargaining works for a while but it is not a good, long-term solution.

         Take a moment and sweep through your memory.  Are there areas in your life where you are bargaining with God and compromising?  Perhaps it is only avoiding saying “sorry” and healing a relationship.  The fear of humiliation, blocks the joy of restoration.  We need to put down those loads of anger and resentment and jealousy we carry.  Violence does not resolve anger.  Alcohol does not resolve grief.  The demons stand in the presence of Jesus but cannot say that four lettered word, “help.”

Town People Refuse

The demoniac pleads for help.  The demons bargain for compromise.  The town people just plain refuse Jesus and ask him to leave.  God does not force us to believe and be good and choose his way.  Jesus has cured the demoniac and returned him to his right mind.  Living proof of his power.  Jesus has sent the demons into the swine and into the lake.  Living proof of his authority.  God’s power and authority are used to help the demoniac and, I would contend are living demonstrations of Jesus’ loving commitment to help us.  In the presence of God’s love, people do refuse and send Jesus away.  The lion had no guarantee the mouse would ever help and the mouse had no guarantee that she could help the lion.  Both chose mercy. 

         The town’s people were seized with great fear.  Fear can paralyze us.  I think we say that the known enemy is better than the potential problems of the new.  I keep my old clunker because I know it’s quirks rather than buy a new-to-me used car.  Trust is scary.  People walk away and often we blame ourselves.

         The demoniac, now healed, is sent back to work with those people.  I think of those people we deeply love who seem to have hardened their hearts to God.  Like the demoniac, we have been healed and we have a story to tell of how God worked in our lives.  Perhaps we can remember when we felt out of control as if we were running around unclothed.  Perhaps we remember living in the tombs when we were so depressed and death felt like such a real option.  Perhaps we remember those failed bargains with God because our choice was not the best choice and we paid the consequences.  And perhaps we remember times when we hardened our hearts and insisted on doing it our own way and turned our back on God for a while.  So often the problem or challenge facing us is as big as a lion and we see ourselves quivering in fear like a mouse.  But I think that the beauty of the story is that Jesus crossed the lake and found the demoniac, was not afraid of the demoniac and had the power and authority to heal the demoniac.  What crossroad are you standing at today?  The best choice is the Jesus road.  He’s there and will bless.  Don’t be afraid.

The people of God said, “AMEN!”