Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is revealed as merciful. Amen
The psalmist cries out to God today,
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses”
then goes on to acknowledge
that they know they’ve really messed up,
they’ve sinned against God
and they deserve whatever judgement God hands down
and yet they are still bold to call on God to forgive them
and end with the petition
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.”
a petition which frankly seems pretty bold
given what the psalmist acknowledged earlier.
Who is this person that would be so bold as to ask God
to do these things,
or perhaps the better question is,
who is this God who would hear and consider these requests?
Who is God?
Yep we’re going there this morning,
who is God?
Paul in our reading from 1 Timothy
describes God as “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God.”
and that is a good general description
of what most monotheists would say about God,
God is the only God,
God is immortal-outside of time
and God is invisible,
we cannot see God,
what we know of God
is only what God has chosen to reveal to us.
And the moments of revelation
upon which we most depend
are found in the scriptures,
the stories of God and people
and while that’s a start,
even these revelations
present a variety of pictures
of who God is
even in just our selections for today
In Exodus we have the all-powerful God
meeting with Moses on the mountain top
and who is acting kind of like a sullen teenager.
God has rescued the Israelites,
the people God chose,
has led them into the desert
and has given them the 10 commandments,
God even let the people approach the mountain
to see the glory of God,
but it was too much for them,
they were content to let Moses do all the talking with God,
so now Moses has been up on the mountain
getting the particulars of the law,
and he’s been gone a long time,
so long that the people think,
well he’s probably dead by now
what with all that glory of the Lord,
it’s time to take matters into our own hands,
so they go to Aaron
and say give us a god to worship,
and Aaron seemingly without questioning the request
takes all their gold
and makes the image of a calf
and says here, go worship this.
Which gets us to our reading for today
where God notices what the people have done,
how quickly they’ve forgotten the covenant they made with God
and “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now 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.”
The people messed up
and God is ready to give up,
change plans, focus on the one who has stayed loyal,
maybe pout a bit
but unlike a teenager,
God’s wrath could actually consume all the people.
But here Moses intercedes for the people,
Moses reminds God of all the promises God has made over the generations,
all the trouble God went to with the plagues,
and on top of that,
what will the Egyptians think of you if you do this?
that you just brought them out to kill them in the mountains.
“And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
God can change God’s mind,
God is merciful.
Which is good for us,
because it also seems like God gets really unhappy
when people break the rules
and God has the power to do something about it.
So that’s one picture of God,
one who gets angry but is merciful.
Then we have Jesus in our gospel for today,
we confess that Jesus is God,
and so what Jesus does
reveals who God is
and here he is,
teaching a wide variety of people,
the usual suspects the scribes and Pharisees
who can always be found around a good lecture
but also the unlikely suspects
the tax collectors and sinners,
those whose lives don’t seem to reflect much time spent with God
and this is annoying to the pharisees,
the professional church goers,
who grumble “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
the subtext is that he must not be a very good scholar of the law
if he ignores what it says about associating with sinners.
And here Jesus, God,
turns to them
and tells two parables, two teaching stories
about first a shepherd who had lost a sheep
and then a woman who had lost a coin
both go to great lengths to find what they had lost
and upon finding the sheep and the coin
gather their neighbors together to celebrate.
Often interpretations of these stories
make the shepherd and the woman the characters who represent God
who here is relentless, stubborn, insistent
and tireless in pursuit of what was lost,
but God here is also foolish
because the one who searches in the story
is also the one who loses the sheep and the coin in the first place,
and they are foolish for spending so much time on one sheep
when they had 99 others
or on one coin of moderate value
when they had 9 others,
surely the expense of the party thrown when the lost was found
far outweighed that one sheep or that one coin.
But this is God’s foolishness,
foolishness that shows insistent mercy to the lost,
who others have calculated to be not worth the trouble,
God here, goes to the trouble
in defiance of common sense.
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
And the foolishness of God continues on,
for who but a fool
would use someone who is trying to kill a cause to further it.
That’s what Paul was doing,
trying to kill the Jesus movement
through actually killing those involved,
and it’s this person
on the way to expand their terror
that Jesus comes to and calls,
and whose life is changed
to where his travels are then to spread the news of Jesus
and his letters go to various communities around the world
to strengthen their faith in Jesus.
Paul says “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the foremost. But 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.”
Much like the psalmist
Paul is fully aware
that he deserves whatever judgement
God decides to hand down for his actions as a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. And he wonders at the grace and mercy of God,
who sought him out
was patient with him,
who changed his life drastically
so that now he lives as an example to others of life in Christ.
God is revealed as one who not only uses
but seeks out
and is patient and persistent with them
as grace and mercy turns their lives upside down.
Who would do something like that?
God, creator of the universe, that’s who,
God who gets angry, and then changes their mind,
God who is relentless, stubborn, insistent, tireless, foolish, patient, confusing,
God, who time after time is revealed as merciful
choosing to forgive rather than judge,
choosing to set aside anger
or what would make the most sense
in favor of life and a fresh start
no matter how angry God is
like with the Israelites,
or how little the person is valued by the world
like the lost sheep and coin,
or even how hopeless a case it seems to be
God can and will forgive
and will create clean hearts
and renew right spirits,
and God has promised us,
that God will treat us in the same way
When we confess our sins knowing we deserve to be judged,
God responds with forgiveness,
when we feel lost and insignificant
God goes great lengths to find us
when we intentionally turn from God,
God pursues us with grace and mercy,
and when God finally finds us,
stuck in a ravine or under the couch covered in dust,
because that’s who God is. Amen
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who chose life for all. Amen
We have some pretty stark choices
before us in our lessons for today,
Moses starts us off in Deuteronomy,
he’s addressing the Israelites
just before they enter the promised land,
they’ve wandered in the desert for 40 years,
learning how to be a free people
while still being taken care of by God,
but the manna will stop when they cross the Jordan river,
and there will be other people there
and it will be time to put the lessons learned
over the past forty years to the test.
You are free to choose,
Moses tells the people
and here are your choices:
life and prosperity,
death and adversity.
And he urges them to choose life.
That seems like a pretty obvious choice doesn’t it?
The comedian Eddie Izzard does a bit
where he says,”Cake or death That’s a pretty easy question anyone can answer that.
‘Cake or death’
‘uh cake please’
‘very well, give him cake’
‘ah thanks very much’
‘you, cake or death?’
‘ah cake for me too please’
‘very well, give him cake too, we’re going to run out of cake at this rate, you cake or death?” ‘Death please, no cake, cake, cake, sorry’
‘you said death first’
‘I meant cake’
Life or death, that seems like a pretty easy question to answer doesn’t it?
But of course
because we’re humans
we make it more complicated than that.
After the initial offering of life or death
Moses goes on to explain what living out that choice looks like:
Choosing life looks like obeying the commandments
loving God, and walking in his ways
“But,” Moses continues
“if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish.”
Serving other gods is the choice of death
and here’s the thing,
those other gods, those false idols
make it seem like they are the better choice,
whether it’s because following them is easier
or more comfortable
or even more exciting,
they disguise death in flashy shiny things
that grab our attention for a moment
but ultimately lead to death
because in making these choices
we’re serving ourselves,
we’re thinking of our own lives and comforts.
Life as God defines it
is bigger than just ourselves,
life encompasses all of creation,
life is lived in community with others and God,
that’s what the rules God gives the people are about,
living with God and others in community
to us at least,
choosing life means giving up some things,
namely being self-centered.
And that’s hard
because the messages we receive on a daily basis
tell us that we should be thinking about ourselves (and families) first
and these false idols lead us astray
promising life with quick fixes
or the next great thing
when all it leads to is death.
Choosing life is hard.
It’s what Jesus is talking about in our gospel for today,
it’s one of those readings
where we want to put a question mark at the end of the proclamation,
the gospel of the Lord?
Because it doesn’t really sound like good news does it?
Hating family and giving up all possessions
but here Jesus is in the process of choosing life
and he’s trying to communicate
to those following him
just how radical choosing life is.
Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem
and the cross where he will die
so that all may live,
in dying he will destroy death
and bring about everlasting life for all.
And yes that sounds backwards and foolish
but that’s how our God, the author of all life works.
So Jesus turns to the crowd following behind him,
waiting for him to do miracles and overthrow the Romans
and he asks them to consider just how far they’re willing to go,
what they are willing to give up to be his disciple,
to choose life,
when you choose life Jesus says
it means caring for the whole community,
especially the most vulnerable,
and sometimes you will get caught between caring for your family
and the most vulnerable
and with Jesus, the most vulnerable come first
And Jesus says
when you follow me
you’ve got to be willing to make your resources
available to the community,
if it’s a choice between your things and someone who is hurting,
they come first.
And boy how foolish you will look
if you say you’re going to follow me
and then change your mind partway through.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity... Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…”
Choosing life should,
well, it should change our lives.
means doing things that seem foolish to the world around us,
like taking time on Sunday mornings
to gather with a community broader than our family,
it looks like using our time, talent, and treasure
for the sake of people we don’t even know
because we believe that their needs should be taken care of
in the same way ours are
even if that means we use less for ourselves.
means that we care about all lives
with a special emphasis on the marginalized,
understanding that our call to love and serve our neighbors
expands around the globe,
that in Christ we are one body
and when one part hurts all the parts hurt.
Choosing life means
that if they way we’ve done something in the past
hurts others we must acknowledge that hurt and change our ways.
So, what’ll it be? Life or death?
It’s an easy question to answer,
it’s a hard choice to live out,
and it seems that no matter how hard we try,
we always seemed to be lured away again
by the ease and comfort of just focusing on ourselves
And God knows that’s going to happen
which is why Jesus,
fully God and fully human,
chose life for all
and lived out that choice
through the cross all the way to the empty tomb
Which means when we fail,
there is forgiveness and the chance to try again,
joined to Christ in baptism
each day we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ
each day a new chance
to chose life so that all may live. Amen
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is all and in all. Amen
Who is your God?
That’s what Jesus is asking the crowd to consider
when he tells the parable of the rich fool.
We sometimes turn this parable
into a morality lesson
about how we can’t take things with us when we die
or a stewardship sermon about giving out of abundance,
and sure those things are in there,
but Jesus’ message goes much deeper than that,
it’s about priorities,
it’s about who is god in our lives.
Luther, in his explanation of the first commandment
(you shall have no other gods) in the Large Catechism
defines a god in this way:
“A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.” (Kolb and Wengert, 386)
In other words A god is who or what we turn to when life gets rough
And by that definition
the rich man turned to his goods as his god.
This rich man is foolish
not because he is rich
or his land produces abundantly,
or because he plans to save for the future
he is a fool because he places his trust about the future of his life
in the goods he has stored up
rather than God.
We overhear his conversation with himself
when considering what to do with the abundance that the land produced
“I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
He places his trust for the future in his goods,
he creates a false idol out of them
and of course as soon as he settles in,
thinking his future is secure
due to his own work and possessions
God comes to disabuse him of that notion
“You fool!” God says “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
and those goods that can’t save him
are revealed as an idol.
And while this idol is revealed at the end of life,
it has been working harm throughout life.
The idol of greed turns us in on ourselves
and away from our neighbors,
in fact if we place our trust in things,
whether it is money, or possessions,
or even the ability to produce possessions
we come to see our neighbor as a threat,
because if they have something then we don’t
and that means they are a threat to our security
and we come to see life as a zero sum game,
if they have it than I don’t
and I need it because that is where I’ve placed my ultimate trust.
And just like that
neighbors become enemies
I wrote this before I woke up this morning
to find two horrific examples
of the results of this kind of idolatry
splayed across the news,
first in El Paso and then in Dayton,
because someone believed the lie
that their neighbors were their enemies
so much that they saw them as a threat
and intentionally went to kill them.
Who our God is matters.
Our God is the source of our life
Creator of the world
Who created the world with enough for all,
So that there is no need to fear the future,
no need to attempt to control it and those around us
in search for security.
Christ who, claimed us in baptism
has declared us God’s once and for all
Christ has secured us.
And that makes a difference in how we live our lives.
We heard Paul in our second lesson today
talking to the Colossians about this:
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
In Christ God has set us free
from trying to save ourselves
which allows us to focus on other things like caring for one another.
Again Paul says you “have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
Christ is all and in all which means those we saw as threats while under the influence of the idol of greed are revealed as neighbor, are revealed as Christ.
And when seen in this way
caring for our neighbors, becomes caring for God.
Who is your god?
Jesus asks the crowd to consider for themselves,
knowing that their actions reveal who they trust.
Do they turn inward, serving the idol of greed by serving themselves,
or do they turn outward toward others,
toward Christ, who is all and in all.
Who is your God?
What do the actions of your life reveal?
and then come to the table,
where God has provided enough for all,
where in God’s own body and blood
God forgives us and renews us,
and then renewed in the image of our creator
God sends us back out
to live lives that reveal just who is our God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.