16th Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothey 6:6-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to eternal life. Amen
Over and over
our lessons for today
emphasize the message
that we are to place our hope in Go
and anything else,
will let us down.
This message is present in Jesus’ story
about the rich man and Lazarus,
often Jesus’ stories are confusing
but this one is pretty clear.
There are two characters,
the rich man who has everything in life
and a poor man named Lazarus
who in life longed for even a crumb from the rich man’s table.
Both men die,
Lazarus is taken by angels to Abraham
while the rich man is tormented in hades
and as he’s being tormented
he looks up and sees Abraham,
his ancestor, the original ancestor
and he calls to him
“Father Abraham have mercy”
he longs for even a drip of water to cool his tongue,
“send Lazarus” he says.
And Abraham replies,
“that’s not going to happen,
what you did in life determined your location for eternity
and there’s no going back.”
So the rich man says
“well at least can you send a message
to my brothers who are still living before it’s too late”
and Abraham replies
“they have Moses and the prophets for that”,
but the rich man insists that they will really change their ways
if they see someone from the dead
and here’s the punch line,
Abraham, in the voice of Jesus who is telling the story,
says “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I sense a little Jesus snark here,
Jesus, who knows that he will rise from the dead,
also knows that not everyone will believe him,
especially those who are comfortable in this life
“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria”
the prophet Amos cries out in our first lesson
those that lounge around eating and drinking,
singing idle songs, anointing themselves with oil,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph,
they will be the first ones taken into exile
when the Assyrians come conquering.
And while it seems at first
that Amos is railing against the riches,
the real reason the people he’s addressing
will be taken into exile first
is because they are neglecting the troubles of the nation,
these are presumably the leaders
and instead of taking care of all the people
they focus on their own comforts
and as long as they are comfortable,
nothing else matters
to the point where it will become their ruin.
“Put not your trust in rulers”
the psalmist proclaims
“in mortals in whom there is no help.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.”
and here we start getting to the crux of the matter,
human rulers and rules will pass away,
but then the psalmist sings “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
whose hope is in the Lord their God
and goes on to explain all the reasons to trust God:
God created the heavens and the earth
God keeps promises forever
God gives justice, food, freedom, healing to those who need it
God cares for the stranger and the abandoned
God is forever
God is the one in whom we should place our hope,
and when we do,
the concerns of God become our concerns,
justice, food, freedom, healing,
care for the stranger and the abandoned,
and that means that we will probably not be comfortable all the time,
and this is the exact opposite message
than the one that we receive from the world around us
that more is better,
we’re to look out just for ourselves
because comfort even at the expense of others is the goal,
and here we get caught in the in between nature of the kingdom of God,
the one that has already begun
but it not yet completed,
we see the need for justice around us
and we live within the systems of the world
that are designed to maintain injustice
We are caught in the middle,
So what are we to do?
Paul in his first letter to Timothy suggests this:
“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Paul has already acknowledged
that the love of money leads people astray,
it does so by promising security,
a promise it cannot keep
but there is another promise out there
the promise of God of eternal life,
a promise which Christ has already kept
and calls us to accept,
it is ours
place your trust there Paul says,
and if you do happen to have resources,
use the resources as tools to take hold of the life that really is life.
And what is the life that really is life?
I think Dan Erlander paints the picture,
well draws it actually,
at the end of his book “A Place For You: My Communion Book”
it’s the book I use to teach the first communion class,
it traces all the ways Jesus welcomed people,
culminating with the Lord’s Supper,
and the affect that the gift of the Lord’s supper had on the early church community
and he ends speaking directly to us:
With Jesus and your church family you will dream of a day when Jesus will gather all living beings together, creatures that fly in the air, swim in the water, walk on the earth, and crawl underground. This joyful gathering will include people of every kind, both happy people and crabby people (who will no longer be crabby). All will be safe; all will have food; all will have a home; all will worship God; and all will know that God loves everybody”
That friends, is the life that really is life,
the community of creation coming together in the love of God.
That is what we seek when we come to church
and participate in community,
that is what Jesus sends us out to work toward
with whatever resources we have,
whether it is wealth by the standards of the world
or simply ourselves.
God has blessed us,
we celebrate that today,
we give praise and thanksgiving for this community coming together,
for the resources to care for our common ministry,
and now God sends us out,
to use our resources,
to work for justice, feed the hungry,
free the captive, heal the sick,
care for the stranger and the abandoned,
to gather all in community joined together in the love of God,
God sends us out to seek the life that really is life. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you
from the one who destined us for adoption as Children of God. Amen
Identity and purpose,
these are the threads that run through our scripture today,
calling us to consider who we are
and what that means for our lives.
And who we are,
are people chosen by God.
Our reading from Ephesians
hammers this home again and again,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ… He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will...In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance...you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”
God has acted decisively in regard to our identity,
there can be no question,
we are God’s
and while we use a variety of images
to try to explain this,
the end result is always the same,
God has chosen us,
not because of anything we have done or earned
but because that’s who God is.
We are God’s because of the grace of God.
And the appropriate response is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
When faced with such a gift,
what can we do but offer praise to God?
And how do we praise God?
In worship, prayer and song certainly
but also with how we live our lives,
consciously living out God’s vision for the redemption of the world,
a vision lived and taught by Jesus,
one where all people have value
and are treated accordingly,
value that is based on their God given identity
and not on the many ways that the world has found
to define and divide people,
rich or poor,
healthy or sick,
by place of birth,
color of skin,
what value they’ll add to the economy, age,
the list goes on
And here’s the hard part,
those with power
don’t like when we live for the praise of God’s glory in this way,
and sometimes we have to admit
that when we have power,
we aren’t always comfortable living for the praise of God’s glory either,
because at times the blessings of the world
seem to outweigh the blessings of God.
But that doesn’t change who we are
and what we are supposed to do,
and yes this is difficult,
our passage from Ephesians
is a kind of pep talk to the community,
building them back up before sending them out into the world again,
a world that is unreceptive to their message,
that will resist it in all ways possible.
The prophets are familiar with this resistance,
two prophets join us today,
in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospel.
Amos is called by God to pronounce judgement on Israel,
and when he does he is confronted by the priest
on behalf of the king,
who says ‘I know you have a message, just go someplace else and share it, the king and the land can’t take it, I won’t kill you, just go away.’
to which Amos responds (I paraphrase of course)
‘I feel you buddy, I was minding my own business tending my farm and my flock when God told me to go prophesy to the people. I don’t see myself as a professional prophet, just someone who is doing what God told them to do.’
In other words,
this isn’t about earning a living as the priest suggests
but a response to the call of God,
however inconvenient that may be.
God works through all of us,
not just the professionals.
And then we have our friend John the Baptist
and the end of his story,
John who dared to tell the King what everyone knew,
that it wasn’t lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife Herodias,
who hated John for pointing that out
because she had more power married to Herod than his brother Philip.
So Herod puts John in prison
but protects him
because he has some respect for John as a holy man,
but then comes the night where Herod hosts a banquet
and is pleased by his daughter’s dancing,
and in front of everyone present,
all his officials
Herod promises to give her whatever she wants.
She consults her mother
and runs back to ask for the head of John on a platter
and Herod is presented with a choice:
protect a man who he knows to be righteous and holy
in front of all his officials
or maintain the facade of his benevolent power and do as requested.
And we know which he chooses
John is beheaded in prison
and that is the end of that prophet.
Everything is at stake when we proclaim the message of God.
John lost his head,
Jesus was crucified,
but that was not the end.
God is bigger than the resistance the world puts up
bigger even than death,
in God life goes on,
and so does the message we are called to proclaim,
and more than proclaim we are called to live,
The message that God
“set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And when God says all, God means all.
Even the people we don’t think deserve it.
At the youth gathering
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke about grace
and her struggle with the fact that God’s grace is
“Both for me and my haters.”
She confessed she struggles with the wideness of God’s grace,
Her struggle is not a particular to her
we all do at times,
because it just doesn’t seem fair
and yet the only way that God’s good news
can be good news for us,
is if it is good news for the people we can’t stand,
even for the people who have hurt us,
because when it comes down to it,
we don’t deserve God’s grace either.
God claims us as Children
Has included us in the inheritance of redemption
And marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit
So how can we not live to the praise of God’s glory? Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is coming. Amen
There was a bumper sticker I saw a few years ago
that I thought was pretty funny,
it said “Jesus is coming, look busy”
the readings for this week
reminded me of that bumper sticker,
before I used it as a sermon illustration
I looked it up online to make sure I wasn’t imagining things
and found that yes, I had remembered correctly
and that it is still available in a wide variety of styles.
Which surprised me at first
and then when I thought about it a little,
sadly made sense
because while it is supposed to be a tongue in cheek funny
I think it actually reflects the view of most Christians these days,
The view where though we confess in the words of the apostle’s creed
that we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead,
we rarely think about it
and if we do
our reaction is more like
realizing that family will arrive for thanksgiving in two weeks
and we haven’t dusted for a while
and if we don’t mom is going to spend part of her vacation dusting our house,
which let’s be honest,
wouldn’t be all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
We have lost our sense of urgency over Jesus’ coming,
to be fair it has been over two thousand years,
we are far removed from Paul and the early Christians
who expected Jesus to come before the end of their lives.
In our reading from 1 Thessalonians
we hear Paul counseling the community
over their anxiety that Jesus has not yet returned
and believers have begun to die,
the Thessalonians are worried
that their loved ones will miss out on life everlasting with Jesus
because they died before Jesus’ coming.
Paul assures them
that for the one who died and rose
death is not a problem
and that when Jesus comes
all believers both living and dead will be with the Lord forever.
This is the hope to which we cling,
especially at the death of loved ones.
That God is coming
and will reunite us with all the Saints
like those we remembered last week.
But in the meantime, we wait.
Perhaps the bumper sticker should read:
“Jesus is coming, how are you waiting?”
because how we wait matters.
We often think of waiting as a passive time
and in some cases
like when we are waiting for a doctor
or in line at the post office
the outcome of our waiting
will be the same whether we are impatient or resigned during that time.
Then there is active waiting,
the kind of waiting the accompanies an expected event
like the birth of a baby.
There are things to do during this kind of waiting,
a nursery to get ready, purchasing a car seat and little clothes,
stocking up on diapers, packing the hospital bag,
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for the expected baby.
This is the kind of waiting which God expects of us
as we anticipate God’s coming,
waiting that includes preparation
so that when the time comes,
everything is ready,
or as ready as it can be for our expected God.
But what if we’re not preparing?
Or we’ve decided to let the dust build up
because mom will take care of it when she comes?
The prophet Amos points out to the people of his day,
that the way they are acting,
the day of the Lord will not be pleasant for them
because with the coming of God
is the coming of a new order,
of justice and mercy,
and those who have ignored justice and mercy
will have a hard time adjusting
even if they have longed for the day of the Lord.
Through the prophet God says to the people
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
God is tired of thoughts and prayers without accompanying action.
God is tired of being treated like a cosmic vending machine,
you put the right amount of prayers and festivals in
and your desired godly treat will come out.
That’s not the point says God,
the point all along has been to build a relationship between me the God of the Universe
and you the people,
a relationship built on mercy and justice
so that relationships among the people
will be built on mercy and justice.
God is coming. How are you waiting?
Are you sitting back like there’s nothing you can do?
Are you preparing? Working for mercy and justice?
Perhaps you’re getting tired and need some rest
because it has already been a long wait.
In Matthew Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids
waiting to greet the groom.
The groom is delayed and all the bridesmaids fall asleep.
There is no judgment over this,
they are tired and the wait is long,
the key to the parable comes when the groom finally arrives,
half the bridesmaids prepared for a delay and brought extra oil,
the other half did not
and are unable to fulfill their duties.
It seems that Jesus is telling us to be prepared for a delay,
and being prepared for a delay
means being prepared to keep God’s vision alive,
the lamp lit as it were,
shining light on the acts of justice, righteousness and peace that keep hope alive,
hope in the promise that what we are doing in the way of preparation
is only a fraction of what God will do in the way of justice, righteousness and peace
when God comes.
I think our prayer of the day sums all this up best, so let us pray it again.
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. 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.