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It only took one Leper

2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c    
Psalm 111    
2 Timothy 2:8-15    
Luke 17:11-19    
Proper 23
October 13, 2019
It took only one Leper
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
 
   Three years ago, we were preparing for the birth of Thomas.  One of the things that I had to do was prepare Easter Sunday for Bishop Reigel.  We got to discussing what he wanted to do in the liturgy and asked for the Kyrie to be sung. I hesitated because I normally do not include the Kyrie on Easter Sunday.  I was also a pastor of two churches right before I came here...I had to be done in an hour so that I was not late to the next church.  The kyrie was often cut to keep the length of the service to that tight time frame.  So I pushed back on the good bishop.  I said that it was Easter and it didn't need to sung because of the past three days of worship.  His reply, and I will never forget, shouldn't we always pray for these things?

    For peace; for our salvation; for the whole world; for the wellbeing of the church of God; for the unity of all; for this holy house; for all who offer here their worship and praise; and that God would help, save, comfort and defend us.  Yes, even on Easter when we joyously celebrate the resurrection of Jesus we should stop and pray for these things.  These prayers that we say week after week are often seen as not necessary, as something we just say for the sake of good order or simply because we have always done them.  I mean, I use to feel that way about the Kyrie, but you all taught me differently. 

    These prayers that we say are old.  The word Kyrie is Greek.  Every other part in the Liturgy has a latin name.  The Kyrie is the only hold over from the Greek language.  Think about it.  The early church which spoke Greek, gathered in homes, gathered at a time when it was not safe to be a Christian, gathered in hidden places, gathered and prayed these same prayer petitions because the concerns we have today are the same as they were 2000 years ago.  Yet today, we enjoy the freedom of being able to pray “Lord have mercy” in relative safety and peace.  We pray with no fear of a Roman soldier crashing through our doors, ready to arrest us, and drag us to our deaths.  

    These prayers petition still have relevance.  They still hold power and we say each petition week after week with our response being, "Lord have mercy." The same response said by the Lepers walking close to Jesus.  They called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They were forbidden by the laws of the day to live in town with people.  They were uncleaned.  Te laws of the day forbid them to live with the general population.  The law was a good law to have in order protect everyone, but it meant that those who contracted leprosy would die alone—in the wilderness, alone and isolated from the people who they love.  

    They beg Jesus to have mercy on them.  How many of us feel like we beg God to have mercy on us each week in the kyrie?  How many of us feel like these words are just of a idle tale, holding no meaning? They are just something we do because it sounds pretty.  Imagine saying these petitions with the same conviction and hope that these 10 lepers say with their petition.  Lord have mercy on me.  Save me from this disease.  Let me go back to my family, my friends, my life before I contracted this disease.  Let me be normal once again.  Let me be healthy once again.  Let me have my life back once again. Lord have mercy on me. 

    And their prayers are answered.  Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went and while they are walking, they are healed.  One person notices their healing and returns to praise Jesus.  The rest don't and they have been villainized many times over.  Yet notice in the story, Jesus tells entire group to do something.  He says, go and show yourselves to the priest.  The other nine men do what they are told.  You can't have your cake and eat it too.  You can't say one week, "do what Jesus tells you to do" and then next week say, "Only do what Jesus says when it doesn’t involves worship."  No, these other nine men did what they were told to do and should not be chastised for obeying Jesus.  The thing we should be focusing on is the one who returned. The Samaritan. The foreigner. The enemy. 

    Some history about Samaria would be good here.  "The region of Samaria, along with Galilee to the north, had once comprised the northern Israelite tribes who separated from Judah in the 10th century BCE in order to establish a rival monarchy. Two centuries later, these northern tribes were conquered by the Assyrian empire, which transported distant Mesopotamian peoples into the region, resulting in centuries of inter-marriage. From a Judean perspective, these developments led to a kind of ethnic compromising of the already alienated branches of Jacob’s family tree. Over time, Samaritans developed their own religious traditions, emphasizing devotion to Torah and affiliation with the sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem." 

    "In 128 BCE, the rivalry turned especially violent when Judeans destroyed the Samaritan sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. In Jesus’ day, hostility toward Samaritans was still strong enough that Galilean pilgrims often bypassed Samaria en route to Jerusalem, even though it added considerable time to the journey." After the fall of the temple, it was the Samaritans and Pharisees who came to the aid of the Jewish people. They were the ones who kept the torah front and center for the Jewish people after the fall of the temple.  They taught that worship did not have to happen in one temple in Jerusalem but could happen on the local level--in synagogues as it does today.

    Luke has a thing for Samaritans.  Between the gospel and the book of Acts, there are numerous stories involving Samaritans.  This is a bit odd considering Luke's community most likely would have been made up of Gentiles and not Jewish converts—which means the Gentiles would really have no idea about the intricacies of this fight.  They would not hold the same animosity towards Samaritans as the Jewish converts in say Matthew’s community.  Yet, Lukan theology has Samaritans playing a key role in the universal significance of Jesus’ mission. In Acts 1:8, Jesus says to the apostles as he is lifted into the heavens, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus "seems to envision Samaria as a kind of threshold between the Jewish homeland and worldwide ministry." Meaning, Samaria was necessary in the proclamation of the gospel.  Yet at time of Jesus, Samaritans were seen as the enemy by the Jews even though they share a common ancestry and heritage.  And before we go and judge these groups, my brothers and sisters, remember that we have a common ancestry with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.  We have not been so kind to them over the years and there have been times when we might have described Catholics as the enemy. These types of feuds still happen today.
 
   With all of this history now in mind, let’s look at Luke use of the parable of the Good Samaritan. No other gospel has this parable.  This parable, this powerful parable, "identifies the nearby Samaritan enemy as the “neighbor” whom Jesus’ Jewish hearers are called to love." "The good Samaritan is not only the object of neighborly love—he is also, and perhaps more importantly, the exemplary subject of neighborly love. Thus we find a narrative development in Luke from “love your enemy” (Luke 6:27, 35) to “love your worst enemy” (the Good Samaritan) to “see your worst enemy, no longer as enemy, but as an agent of God’s love” (again the Good Samaritan). Luke, throughout the gospel, is building a case for indiscriminate love and radical inclusion." 

    "The Samaritan leper mirrors the Good Samaritan as a loving subject, but with this crucial difference: while the Good Samaritan is the subject of neighborly love, the Samaritan leper is the subject of godly love."  And the surprise is that the one showing the love of God is the least likely person to do so. The greatest outcome of the parable is the fact that a foreigner came back to give praise to God.    

    I am sure Jesus and the other disciples were taught their entire lives that Samaritans do not even know how to worship.  They were taught their entire lives awful, horrible things about the Samaritans.  Some probably true while others overly-gross-generalizations. To see one of them turn back and give praise to God for what has been done is the most powerful part of the whole story.

    How many of us have been taught things about our enemies?  How many of them are true?  How many of them are false?  How many of us would be surprised to see one of our enemies walk into church and worship with us?  And don't get me wrong, I am guilty of doing this myself all the time.  I find it hard to be in the room sometimes with other Lutherans let alone an outsider such as a Baptist or a Roman Catholic, you know our so-called enemies.  But God has this vision where all nations will know about Jesus.  God has this vision where even enemy territory will know of God's son, Jesus.  "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." And as we approach 502 years of the Protestant Reformation at the end of this month, I encourage each of you to find ways we can continue to go into quote/unquote "enemy territory.”  What places need to hear about God's son, Jesus, that we are scared to go into?  What places do you avoid like Jews traveling to Jerusalem avoided Samaria?  These are the places that God wants us to go into and proclaim Jesus—to be witnesses of these things which take place week after week in this holy place.  And you will be surprised as to who responds to the good news of Jesus Christ and you should celebrate that our enemy is no longer our enemy but a fellow co-worker in the body of Christ.  "Maybe [you] are the self-assured disciple who needs to hear Jesus’ praise of the Samaritan leper, or maybe [you] are the Samaritan leper who can only praise God and thank Jesus!" Whoever you are, know that you are welcomed here, in this place, to learn about a man named Jesus who died for your sins, was raised on the third day, and promises each of his followers life and resurrection despite the fact that you might be a foreigner, the enemy, or that you might just a plain sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Small Faith with Super Cosmic Powers

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4     
Psalm 37:1-9    
2 Timothy 1:1-14    
Luke 17:5-10     
Proper 22
October 6, 2019
Small Faith with Super Cosmic Powers
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

     What makes someone a good disciple?  Who is your ideal disciple?  What would you put on the job description of a good disciple?  Holy than thou? Faithful in all things?  Prays every day?  Does acts of charity?  Tithes their income? Becomes a pastor? A choir director? A organist? Or a church secretary. I find it funny when people say that my prayers will get to God faster than anyone else's prayers because I am a pastor.  I am here to tell you that this just isn’t the case.  Some days I even feel like Job.  People who dedicate themselves to serving God through the church are not any more faithful than the person sitting in the pew.

    Many of us think of faith as something that is tangible, quantifiable, or even magical.  Our Lord's words make it sound like faith is that of a cheap parlor trick—if you just have the faith, you can make trees and mountains move on your command.  If you just do it right...And many of us go through life believing this to be the case about faith then all of sudden, the unthinkable happens and no mountains or trees are moveable.  And good meaning Christians will often come up others who are suffering and say, "Keep the faith" or "You just got to have more faith to get through this." And that is all well and good to say when your world is not shaken, but how many times have you been sitting in a pile of grief and despair and instead of someone coming and sitting next to you, they stand over top of you and ask, "where is your faith" and they use passages like this one as justification—how many of you have been in those situations?

    The problem with this text is that we are reading this completely out of context.  On its own, it is a valid conclusion to simply believe that Jesus is making faith out to be this tangible thing and we need to just work really, really hard at and things will go your way.  But in the larger context of this verse, we see that Jesus is not talking about faith as a tangible thing but is answering the request of his disciples, "Increase our faith!"

    A strange request to ask of Jesus.  Why would you ask Jesus to increase your faith?  I normally ask these things when I am tasked with doing an impossible thing.  And that is what is happening here.  In verse 1-5 of chapter 17, Jesus tells the disciples to forgive 77 times or in today's terms: Infinity times infinity. Forgiveness is sometimes an impossible task on its own, and Jesus wants to forgive someone infinity times infinity.

    "Jesus’ response suggests that the apostles’ request is misguided. He pivots from the question of quantity to the question of sufficiency. Faith “the size of a mustard seed” is sufficient for even the most demanding tasks of discipleship. The mustard seed...is the perfect metaphor for small beginnings leading to big results. But again, the point of Jesus’ metaphor is not to quantify faith as much as to affirm its power. God works through a modicum of faith to empower us to forgive even the most annoyingly, repetitive sinners." 

    And how I wish Jesus would have ended the discussion there but he goes and tells a parable.  A strange parable.  A parable about slaves and slavery.  As we talked about on Thursday night in Table Talk, slavery in the Bible is different from American slavery with the only similarity being, they are both horrible, horrible things other humans did to each other. Nonetheless, Jesus still said this parable so it bears some thought from us today. The pitfall with this parable "is the implied association between discipleship and thankless drudgery...do we have to paint such a dismal picture? Are obedient disciples really just “worthless slaves” (verse 10a)?" I mean, its hard enough to get people to come to church, can we try to sell it a little bit better, Jesus?

    "Three observations help to alleviate the gloomy tenor of this metaphor. First, it makes more sense to translate the aforementioned phrase as “unworthy slaves...” This shifts the point of verse 10 from the seeming denigration of the disciple to the nature of discipleship itself. Obedience to Jesus is not, in and of itself, something to be rewarded but the rewards of discipleship are far more vast.  Discipleship means we have fellowship with God and neighbor." There is more to discipleship than blind obedience.

    "Second, we should keep in mind that scripture frequently connects obedience with joy. Especially when we conceive of obedience as an entering more deeply into fellowship with God, it is not hard to see how obedience even fosters joy. In fact, Luke is the preeminent spokesperson for joy in the New Testament. Numerous Lukan characters rejoice over God’s saving actions in and through the ministry of Jesus. Luke would be the last person to equate discipleship with drudgery."

    "Finally, we must bear in mind the previous verses: the apostles have asked Jesus to “increase our faith” (verse 5) in response to Jesus’ extraordinary directive about forgiveness (verses 3-4). Jesus, however, assures them that even a mustard-seed faith will prove sufficient (verse 6). Jesus then offers the slave metaphor as a way of situating his forgiveness directive among the everyday tasks of discipleship. What the apostles hear as an extraordinary case of discipleship is, in fact, quite ordinary. Forgiving the most repetitive (but repentant) sinner is more extraordinary than the slave tending the sheep or preparing dinner."

    "When it’s all said and done, then, this passage presents “faith” in terms of our steadfast devotion to Christ—that is, as the Christian life itself....Our ongoing commitment to the practice of forgiveness is, in other words, a reflection of our own faithfulness to Christ." Christian disciples forgive each other and those around them, and to be faithful to Christ means we must practice the spiritual discipline of forgiveness.

    So, maybe my brothers and sisters, the greatest disciples among us are not those who holy than thou, are not those who never doubts God, it is not those who have an active Prayer life (though I do believe each disciple should be active in prayer each and every day).  The greatest disciples are not those who go out every weekend and participate in community service, are a generous giver, or commits themselves to a life service to the church.  No, the greatest and most faithful disciples are those who forgive even the most screwed up but repentant sinner week after week, sin after sin.  And I know I am not perfect in this regard.  I find it very hard to forgive and forget and so my prayer and I hope you prayer to Jesus this day is the same as his disciples 2000 years ago--Lord, increase our faith so that I might forgive.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Spoiler Alert: The angels always win

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3     
Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22    
Revelation 12:7-12    
Luke 10:17-20     
St. Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2019
Spoiler Alert: The Angels Always Win.
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    You know, when I started seminary back in 2008, I might have been very skeptical about the existence of angels.  Before Seminary, my closest angelic experience was on TV with Unsolved Mysteries or in the movie, “Angels in the Outfield.” I don’t think I would have doubted their existence, but I know for sure that I did not see them as the strong defenders of the faith.  My experience with angels was that of whimsical foley.  Silly creatures that helped major league baseball players win games or interact with humanity as Della Reese or Roma Domey did on TV.  While I think Roma and Della did a great job of showing angels as messengers of God’s love, that was where it stopped in terms of Biblical portrayal. Angels of the Hebrew Bible and even in the New Testament are not creatures, people, you want to mess with.  

    I mean, think about it, what is the first thing that angels say to humans. “Do not be afraid.” You wouldn’t say that if you weren’t scary.  Like, I walk into Thomas’ room every morning and do not say, “don’t be scared little man.”  When he sees me, he has no reason to be afraid.  When an angel shows up, the Biblical narrative has the people afraid; standing in fear. Yet, when we think of angels today, we tend to think of them as cute, cuddly little creatures.  Cheriubs are reduced to little cupids shooting arrows of love at each others.  Michael and his his angels are painted as these beautiful, angeo-saxon colored humans with long brown hair, and beautiful fair skin.  We are stuck in this lingering angel craze which is not biblical.  

    How does Daniel describe Michael? “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise.” How does revelation describe Michael? “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Listen, if you are going to go up against the devil and win, you can’t be a cute, cuddly, little creature.  
You have to be larger than life. 
You need to be braver than brave.  
Tougher than tough.  
Stronger than strong.  
You need to be someone who you don’t want to run into a dark alley at night. 
You need someone who is just as terrifying as Satan and all his little demons. 
You need someone equally as terrifying.  
Yet we crave angels who are like Della Reese and Roma Downey—soft and cuddly, beautiful skin, soft spoken.  We crave people who look like us instead of supernatural beings who are not afraid to stand in-between you and Satan himself.  
 
   I was reading through a number of articles this week about angels to try to garner some holy inspiration and I found one written by Jay Koyle. He writes, "In the Bible, when angels show up, they're never the focus. They signal that God is about to show up. God is about to pronounce or fulfill a promise. God is acting to set people free.”

    So, how is God acting to set the people free in our lessons appointed for today?  “The apocalyptic Book of Daniel was written in the third or second century BCE. Its visions and interpretations mean to comfort the Jews in their time of political oppression with a sense of the ultimate power of their God...An angelic messenger, “a hand,” brings Daniel the word that the archangel Michael, who before human time conquered Satan, will once again and finally conquer evil, after which will come the general resurrection.” Daniel and his people are facing a time of exile and oppression.  They are the minority in the land with no voice.  Yet, the great prince known as as Michael comes to Daniel and tells him, “Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you…Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” Michale reminds Daniel of the time when he stood before Satan and won.  Now he needs Daniel to trust that he will do the same in Babylon. God tells them through the voice of Michael that God will not abandon them. That God has sent to them Michael and the other princes to protect the people and to see them through this difficult time. That God has sent them Michael as a physical reminder of God’s presence with the nation of Israel. 

    Or in the book of Revelation, again we meet Micheal before Humans were created.  Here St. John of Pathmos tells us “the legend of a war in heaven in which angels who turned against the authority of God were defeated in battle by Michael and then thrown out of heaven.” The story that John recalls reminds readers of a time when Michael and his angels waged war against Satan and they won.  Satan and all his other fallen angels were expelled from heaven.  This imagery of Angels standing up to evil and casting evil out of heaven holds great, theological importance for the Christians of the early church.  Angels have been battling evil from before the beginning of time and this brings great comfort to “the late first-century Christians who are facing persecution from the Roman Empire, but who hope in God’s final victory.”

    Two powerful stories for people living as a minority.  Jews living in exile.  Christians living with the threat of persecution.  Both stories tell how God will bring them through.  But notice that the angels are not the focus of either of these passages.  We typically focus all our attention onto what the angels are doing.  We are fascinated by their work, yet we never hear the details of their work.  We are just told what happens.  Spoiler alert:  the angels always win.  They defeat Satan each time. Evil doesn't have a chance when Michael and his angels arrive on scene.  The angels, by their very presence, remind us that God is with with us.  They bear witness to the fact that God wants to meet God’s people.  That God wants to be with you.  For where the angels are at, there God will be also.   

    So, where is God?  Biblically speaking, God is at this table.  Therefore, it is safe to assume that every week we gather around this table, we entertain angels among us.  God is also in the last, lost, least, little, and lifeless.  God is in naked, the hungry, the homeless.  Whenever you help the least of these, you do it to our Lord.  So, it is safe to say that whenever you help our fellow brother and sister, the angels are present.  Imagine with me that every time we feed people for Friends Feeding Friends, angels are among us.  Last year, our youth pulled weeds in a historic African American cemetery in Houston, TX during the 2018 National Gathering.  This cemetery was a forgotten place by the people for many years.  Many of the grave makers were fallen over or impossible to read because the weather.  Some markers were a turtle's shell or rock. In a place that hold the forgotten souls of another minority group, God’s angels are present.  They were pulling the weeds along side of us. They were ministering to the kids as they sweated out under the Sunday.  They brought a message from God—that even in the midst of forgotten places, God does not forget.  And after we left, the angels will stand guard over the blessed saints who rest from their labors. 

    Often on this day, it is easy to turn all our attention onto the angels.  We like to think of them simply as cute, cuddly creatures.  We get caught up in their stories of triumphant defeat over evil.  We get caught up in the illusionary hope that angels provide humanity.  Instead, I want to offer a different approach today.  I offer that we do not put angels at the center of our worship, our lives, or even our theology.  That at the center of our worship, our lives, our theology must be God.  And where God dwells so do the angels.  And if we want to be with the angels, we need to look not only in holy places such as this, but to those places forgotten by the rest of the world.  “If we want to get in touch with the holy, the spiritual, the presence of God in life...,we just need to turn up where angels turn up, and then simply do what angels do—worship and witness to the God of life, and to the One who is our meeting place with God.”

    My brothers and sisters, there are angels all around us this day and they are not afraid of Satan.  They are not afraid of evil.  They will stand in front of you and will bring you through to the other side.  Do not see difficult moments in your life as times when God is testing you, but see them as a moments when the angels are there with you.  As a time in your life when the angels defended you, carried you, brought you to other side.  And do not fear.  These terrifying creatures bring a message for you—that God loves you, that God wants to be with you, and God will send you angels to lead through the storms.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

You're such a shrewd

Amos 8:4-7     
Psalm 113    
1 Timothy 2:1-7    
Luke 16:1-13    
Proper 20
September 22, 2019
You’re such a shrewd
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Robert Capon calls the Parable of the Unjust Steward—the hardest parable.  I went back and read what I said on this text three years ago and I am surprised you all didn’t try to bring me up on charges of heresy. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad but definitely not my finest work.  This is not an easy parable to interpret.  It is not an easy parable to hear as Christians.  We do not really enjoy hearing, “be like the shrew business people.”  After the 2008 recession, the idea of acting like banks who prey on unsuspecting consumers and robbing people blind of their financial futures does not seem very Christ like.  

    There are some that claim Jesus never said this parable—that it was added years, hundreds of years, after his Ascension.  The problems with this approach is that we have no way to prove Jesus didn’t say it and the second, if Jesus didn’t say it, who did? And where do you draw the line?  Can we just pick and choose what we like and don’t like?  That sounds a lot like modern day consumerism—a problem that has been plaguing the church for the last 50 or 60 years, but that is a sermon for another day.

    I come from the approach that Jesus told this parable and that Jesus wants us to hear it from a background of grace and not morality. Don’t look to this parable on how to live as a Christian.  Most of the bad interpretations of this parable are a result of not being able to hear the parable in the original language.  Two key words stand out in Greek:  Wasting and money/possessions. These two words point the parable towards a grace interpretation verses a morality interpretation, Wasting—diaskorpizein is the same verb used in the Prodigal Son to describe the boy’s wasting of his substance in a foreign country.” I think Jesus/Luke wants us to think Prodigal Son.  

    And notice the interaction between the master and the unjust steward.  “The Master—without any trial or fair inquiry—simply reads the steward the riot act:  “What’s this I hear? You’re a disgrace! Turn in your books! You’re fired!”…Just as with the Prodigal son, death enters this parable early...The son found himself to be dead in some far country; the steward comes out of his master’s office with none of his old life left at all.”  Both of these men are essentially dead—trapped in their own skin with no way out.

    But this is where Jesus takes the parable on a different direction and I am thankful that he did.  We already have a parable on Prodigal Son.  The Parable of the Unjust Steward tells us something different about God, Jesus, and coming dominion of God.  So notice what happens after the unjust Steward’s life is taken away.  He says to himself, “What shall I do now that my master has taken away my managership.  I am not strong enough to work as a laborer.  I’m too proud to be a beggar.  Aha! I got nothing.  I’ll use my brains and try to out act that unforgiving tyrant.  So, he wants to play letter-of-the-law games, does he? He would like me to turn in my books, eh? Alright, I’ll do just that—after I’ve made a few…adjustments.”

    So, he goes to the master’s clients and starts slashing their bills.  Pay now in cash and you only have to pay a small portion.  This could go two ways.  The master could be very upset that he is not getting fully compensated for what was borrowed.  Essentially, the unjust steward just cost the master lots of potential capital.  On the other, cash is king.  It really doesn’t mean anything if all your money is tied up in loans.  Those are just numbers on a paper, and numbers on a paper do not buy you dinner.  What matters is how much cash you have in your till. And this has a duel effect.  Not only does it give the master some cash, it makes the unjust steward look like an amazing guy who is worthy of receiving help in the future by these same people who just had a massive part of their loans forgiven.  Remember what the Steward said: “I am not strong enough to work as a laborer.  I’m too proud to be a beggar.” The unjust Steward is going to need a place to live if this doesn’t work out. 
 
   The unjust steward forgives a great deal of debt and the master turns around and praises him for his action.  Remember I said that we should hear this parable from a standpoint of Grace.  Forgiveness is key to hearing the parable.  The steward, who finds himself dead, realizes that “he is freed by death to think about things in ways he could not have thought before.” He who was once dead “becomes the agent of life for everybody in the parable”  The unjust steward also shows us resurrection—the debtors would only make the deal with someone who was unjust and as crooked as they were:  “They would never have gone near him if they hadn’t been convinced he was dead to all the laws of respectable bookkeeping.” 
 
   In many ways, this parable describes the death and resurrection that is awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.  The unjust steward dies and rises like Jesus.  By his death and resurrection, the unjust steward raises others, just like Jesus.  And probably the most important shared quality is that both Jesus and the unjust steward are both crooks.  Yes.  I said that.  But hear me out.  Look at the Biblical narrative and all the offensives that Jesus has committed.  Jesus broke the sabbath. He ate dinner with crooks.  He died as a criminal.  “Jesus became for us sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost of us losers, and dead for us dead.”  

    “St. Augustine said: the cross is the devil’s mousetrap, baited with Jesus’ disreputable death.  And it is a mousetrap for us, too.  Jesus baits us criminals with his own criminality: as the shabby debtors in the parables were willing to deal only with the crooked steward and not with the upright lord, so we find ourselves drawn by the bait of a Jesus who winks at iniquity and makes friends of sinners—of us crooks, that is—and of all the losers who would never in a million years go near a God” are somehow drawn close to God and receive a once in a lifetime deal—forgiveness.
    God becomes a crook in order to save a crook like you and me.  Does that make you feel a little uncomfortable?  It makes me feel a little uncomfortable.  In fact, I fear that this idea might upset the entire social order—and I hope it does.  I know is already has. It should upset all us who go through life expecting reciprocity instead of mercy.  Who demand that God give us what we are owed instead of begging God for mercy.  We gussy up Jesus to make him out to be this untouchable person.  We focus only on the divine part, rather than on the human part.  Jesus knows what we go through each day of our lives.  The coming dominion of God knows the struggles of crooks like you and me.  But the good news of this parable is that at the head of this new dominion is a man who lived with crooks and was consider to be a crook by the rest of the world.  And he has a deal to make only with other crooks.

    Are you a crook?  Good.  Take the deal Jesus the Christ has made with you. Take the forgiveness.  Because we aren’t dealing with a Just Steward.  Dealing with a Just Steward means we would receive justice and justice is not something your want. Justice means facing punishment for your crimes.  Justice might sound good, but remember we are crooks.  We are sinners.  Rather, we are dealing with an unjust steward, who acts as shrewdly as you and me, and who is making a once in a lifetime deal with you. Forgiveness is the deal of a lifetime.  Take the deal.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Where did I put my keys?

Deuteronomy 30:15-20     
Psalm 1    
Philemon 1:1-21    
Luke 14:25-33     
Proper 19
September 15, 2019
Where did I put my keys?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    A common question asked by me in my house is not, "What's for dinner?" It's not, "Where's the baby?"  It's not even, "What's that smell?" The most common question is almost always, "Where did I put my keys?"  Almost every day, I lose the little suckers.  And the first thing I do when I lose them, I blame Diane.  She almost never moves them unless it is to move them to the key hook.  Thomas has been known to take them but he usually pushes the panic button the car so it is easy to find them—Just listen for the little boy squealing with either excitement or fear. They typically fall in the couch, or are left in a bucket in the basement, or on my dresser buried under clothes (Funny thing is, the clothes were there before I put the keys there, so how did they end up underneath the clothes?) I have put them in the refrigerator.  I have locked them in my car while the car is running (it has been a while since I have done this).  Me losing my keys have gotten so bad that my wife bought me this keyfinder.  It uses bluetooth to help me find the keys.  I just open the app on my phone (which I lose equally as much as my keys) and hit find my keys.  What I also love is that I push this little button on my keys and it rings my phone.  The only problem is that the keyfinder needs to be charged every 45 days.  

    You think they have a notification come up on my phone that says it needs to be charged, but the keyfinder people have not gotten the memo.  People who need this keyfinder are not the kind of people who remember to charge these things.  I usually find out that the thing is dead when I go to find my keys and it says, "Battery needs charge." This happened in Nags Head.  I lost my keys and everyone in that house was ready to kill me.  30 minutes of running around the house to find my keys.  They were in the bathroom under the step stool for Thomas to wash his hands.  When we found them, there was no rejoicing like the woman did. We didn't throw a party.  My wife and Jess made me charge my key finder before I could leave the house. They yelled, but I rejoiced.  Those key fabs cost like $60 a piece to replace and I have three on my key ring.  I was happy to not have to spend $180 plus on those new fabs.  

    As someone who loses things, forgets things almost every day, I feel like these parables were meant for me.  Do you feel that way? The rest of the world might not care about me finding my keys, but I do.  The rest of the world might not care that this woman lost here one coin, but she does.  The rest of the world might not care that the shepherd found that one sheep, but he does.  These things mean the world to the shepherd and the woman.  They mean that they can put food on the table for their family.  These meaningless things such as a coin, a lamb, and even my keys, they mean that WE hear how the dominion of God is coming near.  

    So, we all know that parables function as metaphors that challenge and or invite us into a new or deep understanding of God's dominion, a dominion identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  And in this case, with those who lose important things every day of their lives.
    We as Christians are moved by images and parables around sheep and shepherds.  There is a common image of a Jesus carrying a lamb, one such piece of art dating back to the third century found in the catacombs of Rome. They were painted at a time when this kind of artwork was deemed illegal.  This image of Jesus holding a lamb is a powerful image that could have cost the artist his or her life.  Yet, it was deemed necessary because of the comfort it gave to people who were laying their loved ones to rest.  So, when we hear this passage, we immediately have images of Jesus with a flock of sheep, but what about those who hearing this parable?  What images come to their minds?

    In the first century world, outside the Biblical ideal of shepherding, "shepherds were seen as shiftless, thieving, trespassing hirelings."  "Shepherding was listed among the despised trades by the rabbis, along with camel drives, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors." It is safe to say that shepherds (along with camel drives, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors) are a part of the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  They are the sinners sitting at the table with Jesus.  They are the sinners that Jesus welcomes into his circle of disciples.  

    A quote from a Gettysburg Seminary professor from years ago says, "Whenever you draw a line in the sand to say who inside the kingdom of God and who is on the outside, Jesus is always going to be on the other side of that line.  Jesus is always with the outsiders." Jesus is with the shepherds, or in modern day terms, those shady fellows who sell things out of the back of their cars.  Jesus is with them even though we might fervently want to keep them out. “Jesus' actions in accepting sinners and eating with them reflects God's gracious spirit toward those who were held in contempt by the Pharisees and scribes.” It also resets Jesus’ priority and therefore God’s priority.  Jesus doesn’t want righteous people.  He wants to be with people who know they are sinners, who need Jesus, who cannot do it on their own.  “God takes more delight in the return of the tax collectors and sinners than in the others, and because the [Pharisees] take offense at Jesus’ celebration with the tax collectors and sinners, they show that their spirit is far from God’s.” That “God takes more delight in celebrating with a repentant sinner than with the scribes and Pharisees” who feel like they are righteous enough all on their own.

    Jesus is with the sinners.  Jesus is with the people who know just how screwed up and sinful they are.  Jesus has no need to be with people who don’t need him. Jesus is with the people who lose things all the time.  Jesus is with the woman who lost $120 dollars.  When we read this story, especially as Americans, we hear a coin and think a quarter.  But a drachmas, a silver coin, was worth about the same as a Denarius—a day’s wage. She has 10 of these coins so $1,200. Who wouldn’t tear up the house for $120.  I have tore up my house looking for my wallet that has all of $10 in it. You  would celebrate if you found the $120 you lost.  You would celebrate at what you have recovered.  God celebrates when you, a sinner, have been recovered.  God celebrates not at what God already has, but at the recovery of what everyone deemed as lost.  Notice something key about these two parables:  The focus is not on the act of repentance itself.  If that was the focus, Jesus would have chosen another parable that spoke to repentance.  The commonality between the two parables is the party being thrown by the shepherd and the woman.  The real focus of these two parables is therefore the celebration that God is throwing on behalf of the lost and sinful, and the righteous are beckoned to join the party.  “Those who find God’s mercy offensive cannot celebrate with the angels when a sinner repents.  Thus they exclude themselves from God’s grace” and God’s coming dominion.

    So, celebrate when a sinner confesses their sin.  Celebrate when the lost are brought home.  Celebrate the little things. For God’s mercy is mercy for a reason.  If we received what we deserved, it would not be mercy.  It would not be grace.  It would be reciprocity.  It would be something we are owed for services rendered.  God could care less about you have to give. God cares about you needing God’s mercy, love, and grace.  We are given mercy because we could never afford what God gives us, gives you, gives me. And you will never be able to receive God’s mercy if you continue to have a grudging spirit against others not like you.  “Only those who can celebrate God’s grace to others can experience that mercy themselves.” So break out the party hats, the noise makers, the fancy glasses and fancy plates and enjoy the celebration for the things you thought were lost have been found. 
 
   In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Decluttering Discipleship

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 
Psalm 1
Philemon 1:1-21 
Luke 14:25-33
Proper 18
September 8, 2019

Decluttering Discipleship

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."  It would appear, on the surface, that none of us are ready or able to be a disciple of Jesus.  I'm not giving up my retirement.  I am not giving up my paycheck.  I am not giving up my home.  I am not giving my car.  I am not giving up my clothes.  I, by the very literal meaning of this verse, cannot be a disciple of Jesus, and yet, here I am. An ordained pastor in Christ's church.  

It is amazing that so many claim to be literalist of the Bible till we get to passage like this one.  "Well, clearly Jesus was speaking in a metaphor here and not literally."   This is why I am not a Biblical literalist but I am by no means any less devout in my belief of what is written in this holy book.  There are metaphors and we need to carefully read the Bible.  We need to not only understand the words on the page, but we need also to understand the world behind the text.  We need to understand the context.  We need to know the whole picture.  Otherwise, you will you get to passages like Matthew 16 and think Jesus turned Peter into a rock.  

So, what is Jesus trying tell his disciples about discipleship.  The world of the text tells us that Jesus has his face point towards Jerusalem.  He is making his way to the place where he will be martyred, killed on the cross.  "His followers must be prepared to leave everything behind and make their commitment to Jesus as complete and all-consuming as Jesus' own devotion to his mission."  That the demands of discipleship are more than just signing up to be a member.  You have to be ready to stand firm.  Rather than luring the unsuspecting into "unconsidered commitments, Jesus warns the crowd in advance that the way of discipleship will not be easy."  Notice three phrases that Jesus uses:

    1. Verse 26--"Whoever comes to me and does not...cannot be my disciple.
    2. Verse 27--"whoever does not...cannot be my disciple.
    3. Verse 33--"so therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not..."

Whoever does not renounce family ties, bear one's cross, and forsake possessions cannot be my disciple.  And in the first century world, demands like these would have been equally as demanding as they are today, maybe even more.  They would have been so counter-cultural that it is a wonder that anyone continued to follow Jesus after chapter 14.  "Discipleship requires the denunciation of all that we have." Disciples who cannot do this are as useless as salt without salinity.  

Let's break down this first requirement of Discipleship.   "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." Most of the commentaries that I have read on this verse say that Luke is using hyperbole.  The very word that we translate as Hate does not mean anger or hostility but "indicates that if there is a conflict, one's response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships." But what if it is not hyperbole?  What if this really happens.  What if you father or your mother turns you into the authorities for being a Christian?  What if you spouse leaves you because of your conversion to Christianity?  What do you do?  Do you turn to your family or to your savior?  When put to reality, the hyperbole is no longer a hyperbole.  For "there is no duty higher than commitment to Jesus and to being his disciple."  Not even life itself.  

"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."  Notice Jesus does not say bear a cross.  Jesus is looking for people to pick up the cross.  There is a big difference bearing a cross and picking up a cross.  One will cost you time and one will cost you your life. This second requirement has me really wondering if Jesus is speaking in hyperbole or if he dead serious about discipleship.  Disciples need to put Jesus before family and they must be willing to not just bear the cross as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus, but will take one up when called upon to do so. 

And then there are the possessions.  If you can get past hating one's family, taking up the cross, are you willing to put God before your financial wellbeing?  Are you willing to put your wallet where your cross is?  In some ways, Jesus has laid out an impossible task for his followers and no one can become a disciple and that is bad news.  But the Good News is that Jesus  is not not looking for a guarantee.

He is not asking his disciples to sign a contact in blood. The language of Cross bearing has been corrupted by so called disciples and preachers for centuries.  A great example of this is those who demand baptism only be offered to "people who can make a public profession." They ignore passages like this one that makes discipleship, faith in Jesus Christ, near impossible on our own.  If we could do it on our own, we would not need Jesus.  Faith dose play a major part in baptism, whether it be of an infant or an adult, but the Holy Spirit is the one who is moving and doing this vital work.  Not ourselves.  It is God and God alone who does the work of baptism.  

This past week, I was talking to a man in Aldi's who asked me if I was born again.  I told him, "Yes of course I was baptized." He asked when? I replied “As a child.”  He said, "No, that doesn't count." I really despise people who think they are better than 2000 years of church teaching and doctrine around this issue.  I am a pastor of Christ's church.  I read and study the Bible daily.  I have dedicated my life to being a follower of Jesus and helping people in their journey of faith.  Yet, there are times when I doubt.  There are times when my faith is not solid.  Yet, The Holy Spirit ignores my faults and failures, "has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith." 

Jesus is not looking for 100% guarantee because he will never find it with any human other than himself.  Rather, "Jesus is calling for each person who would be a disciple to consider in advance what that commitment requires." That we stop watering down discipleship into something that will make you successful, that will make you rich beyond your imagination, that is void of suffering.  That we stop trying to sell discipleship like a used car—it is not great deal but it is something that will save your life.  

"The cost of discipleship is paid in many different kinds of currency.  For some people a redirection of time and energy is required, for others a change in a personal relationship, a change in vocation, or a commitment of financial resources; but for each person the call to discipleship is all consuming.  A complete change in priorities is required of all would-be disciples.  No part-time disciples are needed.  No partial commitments are accepted." Its either all or nothing.  May the Holy Spirit give you the strength and the will to give it your all.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Who's on the B List?

Jeremiah 2:4-13 
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Proper 17
September 1, 2019
Who's on the B List?

This week, Pastor Diane joined us and preached a prophetic word.  We think you will enjoy it!

Bonus Sermon
While Pastor Matt was down at St. Thomas, he preached on the prophetic message from Jeremiah.  

What the big deal with the Sabbath?

Isaiah 58:9b-14     
Psalm 103:1-8    
Hebrews 12:18-29    
Luke 13:10-17    
Proper 16
August 25, 2019
What's the Big Deal with the Sabbath?
 

   In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Third Commandment:  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What is this?  or  What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Notice that Luther does not say anything in his explanation     about not working on the Sabbath but rather focuses his attention on the importance of using the Sabbath to worship God.  Luther believed that the 10 commandments chief function "is not to show us an easy way to heaven, which (with a little hard work) we can reach, but to show us our sin—how infinitely far we are from heaven, God, and our neighbor (who is Christ in our midst!).”  So when we break this commandment, what does it teach us about ourselves?  What ugly truth does this commandment reveal about our nature as 

    And I am the chief of sinners with this commandment and with all the commandments for that matter.  Days off?  Maybe.  Putting God first before wealth, fame, or fortune?  Maybe.  Not swearing... Let's not talk about that one...

    Keeping a sabbath is hard especially when it is my job  lead a congregation in worship on the Sabbath.  However, there are ways that help me worship while at the same time being a leader.  Ask the members of the Altar Guild and you will find out that I am very, very particular about how the altar is set up on a Sunday Morning.  Everything has a place and it has to be in the exact place so that when I put my hands down to grab something, I know what will be there.  I don't have to think about what is coming next.  Worship is a natural movement, a natural flow, for me and I am thankful for this because some weeks my head is just not in the game.  Last week, I felt like I was walking around in such a fog.  I forgot Amanda and her family's last name.  I know their last name better than my last name, but I just could not pull myself out this fog and so anything I did that was impromptu, I felt lost.  But when I got back up to the altar, I knew exactly what to do because the motions are so imbedded in my muscle memory.   Repetition helps me worship and keep the Third Commandment.  

    But as soon as I leave here, I rarely go home and rest.  And I know people who have young children or who jobs that require them to work on Sunday know that Sundays are just another day of the week.  Chasing kids, administering medicine, working on the factory line—it is hard to take the day for sabbath rest.  And even those who work throughout the week, sometimes Sunday is the only time to finish up those weekend projects

    In some ways, the church has not helped with Sabbath.  We are very much like the hypocrites Jesus calls out in the text.  Thankfully though, when it comes to hypocrites, there is always room for one more around the table and in our pews.  We demand people maintain a sabbath day, but yet how many of us complain when a business is closed on Sunday or any other day of the week.  I am not someone who believes Sabbath needs to be kept to a particular day of the week; that there is flexibility.  We say we want the blue laws back but how many of us are willing to give up Sunday brunch after church or running to Lowes for those Sunday afternoon projects?  

    Personally, I am glad blue laws do not exist anymore and I do not believe that getting rid of the blue laws killed church participation.  We simply did not give a compelling reason why participation in church and keeping the sabbath was important.  Why is it important that you come to church?  Why is it important to keep the Sabbath?  So humans do what humans do, they look for alternatives while we, as a church, remained silent.

    Taking a Sabbath day means we will have a healthier life.  When I was in college and seminary, the last two weeks of the semester were spent working all hours of the day and night to finish those last minute assignments (mainly those assignments that I have known about all semester but refused to do till the very end).  After those two weeks, I would typically get sick.  Apparently copious amounts of coffee, very little sleep, an unhealthy diet, very little physical activity, and a break from the work were not part of a healthy lifestyle.  When we push ourselves to work hard every day with no break, our bodies will break down.  The reason for the third commandment is not selfish on the part of God, but was done for our benefit.  To ensure one day a week that we take a break from the work and spend time in prayer and worship of God.

    But people used the law not liberate people but to condemn.  In the mind of Jesus, the Sabbath laws had become oppressive to the people they were meant to protect.  "In Jesus’ view, since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting—not inhibiting—the present-day liberation of Israelites. Moreover, given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath (verse 15), it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath (verse 16). In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment." 

    "Rather he aims to follow it faithfully. Jesus enters what was, at that time, an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum (see also Luke 6:1-11; 14:1-6)."

    "But this is more than a debate about scriptural interpretation. It is, more fundamentally, an instance of God’s kingdom breaking into the present world. Careful readers will notice that the episode does not really end with verse 17. In the very next parable following this lesson, Jesus continues to explain his actions: “He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like?”” (Luke 13:18)."

    "It is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree for sheltering birds, or like yeast that leavens bread for provision and fellowship (Luke 13:19-20). Notice the similarities to the bent-over woman: something seemingly small and insignificant becomes, with God’s loving and transforming power, a vessel to further God’s kingdom. “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (verse 13)."

    What we see as a small and insignificant aliment, was torturous for this woman.  For 18 years, Satan bound her in this state.  18 years she has waited to meet the messiah, the Lord, the one who would free her from this bondage of the devil.  She does not need to wait another day.  And notice, she is the only one praising God in this story.  The leader of the synagogue is chastising her.  She is the only one doing what the Sabbath was design to be about.  "For eighteen years she has been “quite unable to stand up straight” (verse 11), meaning she has been unable to look people in the eyes. Her vision has been limited to the ground in front of her." Now she is able to look people in the eyes.  She is able to lift her hands in prayer and praise to God.  She has been set free from her slavery.  She has been set free to have Sabbath.  

    Why does the sabbath matter?  Why is it important to worship God?  Because you have been in bondage to sin for your entire life yet because of your baptism, you are set free.  You are free from the chasm of sin and have been reunited with our God because of your baptism. You are no different from this woman.  What the world deemed as small and insignificant aliments, these things have kept you from worship God.  Now you are free and are continually set free week after week through confession and forgiveness.  You need to take time out of your busy schedules to give thanks to God because constantly working and running from one thing to another will cause you body to fail making you unable to keep the third commandment.

    I have been with many people on their death beds.  None of them ever said, "I regret I didn't work enough."  "I regret I saw my family too much."  "I regret I came to church too much."  It is usually the opposite.  So do the hard work of saying no.  Do the hard work of resting.  Of being with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for worship.  It is hard to do this work, but it is vital not just to your health, but the health of all gathered here.  When you are absent, we are that much quieter.  We miss your voice. We miss you face.  We miss your presence.  We are that much weaker.

    I know this sermon will probably not make a radical difference in our church attendance or participation.  And I'm not looking to make the numbers I send off to the ELCA make me look better.  I could care less about those numbers.  What I do care about is the spiritual lives of all who come here.  I care about making this a place, a place where everyone is able to explore their spiritual natures and their faith in God.  The only way for this community to exist and do this vital work is for you to be here.  Never think that you coming church is solely for you.  You being here, you taking time to sabbath benefits not only your soul but the souls of those around you.  God's word is efficacious and holy without our work, but it requires that people be present in order to be transformed and sanctified by it.  
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus Brings the Fire

Jeremiah 23:23-29    
Psalm 82    
Hebrews 11:29-12:2    
Luke 12:49-56    
Proper 15
August 18, 2019
Jesus Brings the Fire 

 In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    We are a congregation that can do the impossible. Last year, we and the entire conference of Lutheran churches came together and raised over 20,000 dollars in 6 months to send 15 of our youth and adults to Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  Yesterday, we handed out 150 backpacks, 495 hot dogs, probably 600 snow cones, tons of bottle water, hundreds of our new welcome brochures to people in our community who we may or may never met.  We went beyond the the standard community service project—we engaged our brothers and sisters, our neighbors.      

    When I was approached about this event, it originally started out as just backpacks.  Then we added school supplies.  Then we decided to get the lists from Berkeley county and make grade specific backpacks.  Then we realized we didn't have enough school supplies.  So we asked again and with the help of the Lions Club and your contributions, we made 150 backpacks happen.  And then we ran out in 20 minutes.  

    But that didn't stop us.  We took their names, grades, and phone numbers.  I went to two dollar trees, office depot, 5 and below and bought them out of glue, backpacks, and paper as well as a whole host of other things.  I was like Robert Irvine...pushing two carts full of school supplies. We got enough school supplies in my car right now for the 95 kids who didn't get a backpack yesterday.

    I met someone yesterday who told me that she receives only $430 some dollars a month.  After rent and food, she only had $30 left to purchase school supplies, clothes and shoes for her kids.  I know many of the teachers in our congregation know about these situations all too well.  When you look at the Berkeley County Backpack Program, a wonderful ministry that makes sure no child goes hungry over the weekend, they serve 27 of our countries schools.  Children in our community face hunger scarcity and that does not sit well with me.  No child in our community should ever have to worry about a meal.  No child in our community should ever have to worry about having the necessary tools to start school. No family should have to make a choice between buying clothes for their children or school supplies.  My brothers and sisters, we have found a need in our community and the Holy Spirit would not us stay silent.  

    We doing the impossible is not just a trait of St. John's--it is a trait of the Holy Spirit.  It is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence.  How in the world were we going to fill 150 backpacks?  That was the question I asked and I know many others asked a couple of weeks ago when we started to fill them.  How are going to get enough school supplies together.  The Holy Spirit united us as congregation together along with the Lions Clubs, local businesses and organizations to make this dream we had a 8 months ago a reality.  That is what the Holy Spirit does—the Holy Spirit does the impossible.

    But yet, Luke 12 says, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!...Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! A day after we came together to do the impossible, we read about division.  And not just division, but division that seems to be endorsed by Christ.  It is really an amazing thing that anyone would want to follow Jesus.  It is an amazing thing that people willingly bring their precious, little sons and daughters to the baptismal font.  Being a Christian will cause friction with your family, your neighbors, even people you thought would always love and accept you.  
 
   Being a Christian means we believe that Jesus has brought with him fire to the earth.  Though, I think our 21st century minds run a little to far with this fire imagery.  "Luke has already told us, through John the Baptist, that Jesus is coming with a fire of purification and refinement. Fire also connotes God’s presence."  Think about the burning bush and how it was in that fire that God laid out his plan for salvation for the people of Israel.  Fire also "represents the power of God to effect change in the face of formidable resistance as well as the power to overwhelm God’s enemies." It is no wonder why fire becomes a symbol of judgment, "because judgment is another way of speaking about how unrighteousness, idolatry, and injustice cannot exist in God’s presence."  The fire that Jesus promising to bring, therefore, is not something out Dante's Inferno, but is more like the fire of a foundry where the impure elements rise to the top, are skimmed away, and we are left with a pure alloy that is strong, formidable, and mailable.   

    When you start to peel away the layers of Jesus' words, they become less terrifying and more affirming, though they are still very terrifying and should leave each us with a healthy dose of fear. Jesus also says "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat'; and it happens." These words about the weather seem a bit out of place, but think hard here about what Jesus is saying.  He goes from talking about division to talking about noticing the weather.  You know when you walk out the door in the morning, look to the west and see clouds, it is going to rain.  Simple observation tells us that. What does simple observation tell you about division?  

    That it is all around us.  How many of us have lost friendships over political beliefs?  It doesn't seem like it is that hard to do these days.  Last week, the ELCA had its tri-annual assembly and made some pretty big decisions—though most of what was decided can only be enforced if a congregation decides it wants to enforce them.  People are dividing themselves yet again.  We have been dividing ourselves, as a church, since 1517 when Martin Luther wrote 95 grievances over the sale of indulgences.  I think from general observation, we should be able to see that division happens all the time because the word of God is a divisive thing.  The word of God says the powerful will fall from their thrones and the lowly lifted up.  The word of God calls us to welcome the stranger as the Samaritan man did.  The word of God gives forgiveness of sin to people said to be unforgivable.  The word of God upsets the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.  The word of God is going to cause division. 

    The question is, will these divisions cause us to fracture away.  When do we call it quits?  What is that red line in the sand for you?  I think in many ways, events like yesterday show us just how strong we can be united as one community.  Yeah divisions will happen and people will come and go because that is what happens when you mix in sin into the equation.  So, how are you going to interpret the present time? What do you see in our future? In your future?  
    I'm not sure.  And so, when I am not sure, I turn to Mary who was unsure of her future. As an unwed mother carrying the word of God made flesh, she has something to say about interpreting the present time. She says,


‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

May you see that even in the midst of division, in the midst of broken promises, of broken friendships, broken families that Christ is the midst of all these shattered part of your life.  And he is the only stable thing we can cling to in the hope that the basic aspects of this corrupted-world-system will change.  May you see that the work you do as a Christian will cause divisions in the world society, but you are following someone who knows the way.  For our Lord is near.  Have no fear little flock, for the one who brings division will be your strong and everlasting tower of hope, and nothing is impossible with the power of the Holy Spirit at our side.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Argh! Treasures Matey!

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23     
Psalm 49:1-12    
Colossians 3:1-11    
Luke 12:13-21    
Proper 13
August 4, 2019
Argh Treasures Matey! 
 

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I was listening to a Dave Ramsey podcast the other day.  My wife and I did his Financial Peace University last summer and have paid off all our credit cards, our van (as of Friday morning) and are now focusing all our attention on our Student Loans to be paid off in December 2021.  Last year, our target payoff of our student loans was 20 years.  Now, we are just a year and a half off.  So, needless to say, I am a big follower of Dave Ramsey and I believe a lot of what he says about finances to be true, though he said something the other day that got under my skin.

    A caller called into his show to ask about tithing.  He said tithing was just something that evangelicals do.  Let me be clear, Tithing is not just something evangelicals do, it something all followers of Christ should be doing, or at the least striving to do.  Jesus is very concerned about where his followers are invested.  And I am not talking about Morgan and Chase.  I am talking about priorities and how much faith you are willing to put in God to provide for you.  Our Lord talks more about money and stewardship than anything else in the Bible.  More than salvation, more than the cross  because we cannot change the fact that our Lord died for our sins and grants us salvation.  That is a fact that cannot be changed, but how we treat each other and how we express our faith in God (i.e. stewardship) is just as important, if not more important as followers of Jesus.  Are we going to be like the rich fool or are we going to leave everything behind and follower Christ's example?

    When I was first ordained, I was talking with a funeral director about how he had to start hiring off duty police officers to work funerals because so many families would get into fights.  Anyone have any guesses what the fights were about?  Inheritance.  I was stunned, but it is the truth.  So much so that I have told my mom and dad to give it all away because I don't want anything to come in between my brother and I.  The request put before Jesus seems to be older than time—tell my brother to give me my due portion. 

    Though, Jesus dismisses the man's request because he is not a judge or arbitrator.  Jesus probably realized that the man is making the request out of greed and Jesus wants no part in satisfying the greed of the younger brother.  Jesus could have have taken on the role as judge because Moses often filled this role in ancient Israel according to Exodus 2:14 and Numbers 27:1-11.  And the law is clear about inheritances.  According to Deuteronomy 21:17, "the elder brother would receive a double portion of the inheritance.  And in Numbers 27 and 36, "If the father had no sons, his possessions were to be divided among his daughters (Num 27:1-11), but his daughters were then required to marry within their father's tribe so that his possessions would not leave the tribe (Num 36:7-9). This encounter in Luke 12 appears to be a younger brother wanting more than was given to him and Jesus wants no part of the man's greed.  

    Jesus was not looking to debate over whether the law of Deuteronomy and Numbers is fair.  To be a disciple of Jesus means we put things such as greed behind us.  Material possessions do not matter in the long run because food molds, houses fall down, cars break down—but our place in heaven is secured and that is the only thing worth preparing ourselves for.  

    So, Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool.  Now let me just say this about this fellow.  He is not a fool because he is rich.  He is a fool because of how he acts.  Notice how he speaks, What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. He is a fool because all he thinks about is himself.  He doesn't think about the widow in his community. He doesn't think about the kids in his community that are starving.  He thinks about himself and how "his" abundance can benefit him the future.  That makes what makes him a fool.  

    But there is one more thing that he says that sheds light on another part of his character.  In one of the loneliest statements I have ever heard, the rich man says, "And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."  He can't even have this conversation with another person, he has to have it with his own self. He has nobody else in his life.  It seems he has spent his entire life working to amass a large quantity of wealth and has chosen nobody to join him.  No friend.  No spouse.  No family.  Nobody.  He is a lonely fool who just happens to be rich.  And I am not saying that we need to be married to find happiness—I just can't imagine going through this life without even having a friend to talk too.  How lonely this poor man must be and he can't even see how pitiful his life truly is. 

    "There is no one else in the story—just the man and his possessions—until God's speaks to him."  Imagine going through your entire life wishing and praying for God to speak to you and the first time God speaks to you, he calls you a fool.  Yeah, poor life choices.  "No sooner has he envisioned his future than God speaks to declare what the future actually holds for him."  There is no mention that this man has put any of his wealth aside to God. Where does this man's faith lie?  Does it lie in  his ability to plant crops? Manage a business? Handle workers?  Does he even believe in God? Does he believe his success is rooted in God's over abundance or in his own ability to do the work?  This fool is a fool because he doesn't believe in God.  He only sees and believes in himself.  In a sense, he believes that he is God and his fortune is proof of that claim. In his mind, he is worth divine praise and adoration.  

    But we know we know he is not God.  He is nothing like God.  This parable shows us that the kingdom of God is filled with abundance far beyond our imagination and planning.  God gives to all people, even rich fools and as Dave Ramsey often says, “You need to live like no one else so that you can live and GIVE like no one else later.”  Our holy calling as Christians is good managers as to what God has given us and to see that what has taken a lifetime to amass can be taken away in the blink of an eye.  

    This man has spent his entire life working to amass a large fortune and now, this very night, his life he will be demanded.  His possessions take his life from him but then, whose do they will they become?  “He presumed all along that he could hoard the bounty of the harvest for himself, but now whose will it be?" This man will die and nobody will miss him.  His fortune will rot away and nobody will benefit from the food he has worked his entire life to produce.  How is the world going to remember this man?  

    What do you want written on your tombstone?  This parable "holds up a mirror before us and ask us to take good look at our inner lives and listen to our inner voices." To wonder how we want to be remembered.  As one preacher once said, you don't want the pastor to lie at your funeral.  Do you want to be remembered as lonely fool?  Do you want to be remembered as a generous person who went above and beyond to care for people. The Lord is demanding that our lives not be rooted in greed and self desires.  Christian disciples are generous.  Christian disciples are joyful, joy-filled givers.  They care for the community.  They do not isolate themselves from the people around them but see themselves as an integral part of the lives of people in their community.  And you don't have to be rich to be generous.  I have met many people who have so little and yet made sure they shared God’s abundance.  Don't get me wrong, I have met really generous rich people.  I have also met stringy poor people as well.  But that is not the point of this parable.  

    This parable demands that we look at ourselves, whether we feel as though we are rich or we are poor, and decide what is more important:
  • Amassing a large fortune that nobody will ever get to enjoy or sharing in the joy of community and family?  
  • Spending our life isolated and alone or spending it with people we love?
  • To be remembered as a greedy, old man or woman or to be remembered as the generous person who gave of their self each and every day of our your life?
As disciples of Jesus, we don't have time to get bogged down in greed.  Jesus doesn't have time to settle family disputes over whether or not something was divided fairly.  Notice, the man who came to Jesus didn't say, "My brother withheld my inheritance."  Luke wants us to see that the younger brother  receive his inheritance—he just wants more.  And what does it matter?  The fight will forever divide himself from his brother and community.  The younger brother might make himself richer, but he will forfeit his life.  He will be no different than the greedy, lonely fool of the parable—the opposite of a follower of Jesus. 

    So I'll ask again, what do you want written on your tombstone? What do you want people to say about you after die?  Is the preacher going to have to lie? Think carefully about these questions because God has demanded that as followers of Jesus, we must be different. So be different.  Be weird. Don't do as the world does.  Do as Jesus did, leave everything behind, follow him, and be so generous that the world will miss you when you’re gone.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  
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