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
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God our father,
Jesus our savior
and the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide. Amen
Today Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray
and he gives them a lesson on the goodness of God.
This is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer,
you may have noticed that it’s a little bit different
than the one we usually pray,
that version comes from the gospel of Matthew
who has a different focus to his gospel.
it seems that Jesus is not as concerned
with the exact form of the prayer
as he is with the one who receives the prayer.
Jesus follows the simple petitions that he gives them,
With some scenarios that illustrate who God is
and how God relates to us in prayer
First Jesus says
image that you have a friend come in the middle of the night
and you have nothing to offer them in the way of food.
So you think to yourself,
maybe my neighbor has something I can borrow,
so you go next door in the middle of the night
and bang on the door to ask for some bread.
And your neighbor is not happy with you,
they’ve locked the door and gone to bed,
you are seriously annoying them,
but you keep up your shameless begging,
you’re starting to make a scene
and Jesus says, the neighbor will get up,
not because they’re your friend
but because it is the honorable thing to do.
“When you pray, say Father hallowed by your name.”
God will act to honor God’s name,
even when we act in dishonorable ways,
even when we’re seriously annoying God.
Now there’s something to be said for persistence in prayer,
Jesus has other examples of that,
but the point here
is that God is good
even when we are not.
It is the goodness of God
that drives God’s response to prayer.
And that’s why we pray for God’s kingdom to come,
for that unwavering goodness to be the rule rather than the exception.
Even now, in this world,
God knows what we need,
daily bread and forgiveness
and God provides it, like a parent caring for children.
God, Jesus says,
is better than any parent
again he turns to the crowd and asks them to consider
their own experience as parents or caretakers of children.
“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
God is good.
God is eager to give,
though notice Jesus specifies the Holy Spirit there at the end
God, while eager to give
is not a cosmic vending machine,
where if we put the right amount of prayer in
and specify what we want
we’ll get it.
Prayer rather is about being in relationship
with the creator of the universe, the source of all goodness and life.
and the way to build a relationship
is to spend time together.
That’s what prayer is,
spending time with God,
getting to know God.
And we struggle with this,
the disciples, watching Jesus pray
want what he has,
that intimate relationship with God,
and so they ask him, how do we do that, teach us.
We see others pray and we think,
I want that, that intimate relationship with God
but I’m not sure how to do that.
Professor Matt Skinner likens learning to pray with learning to kiss
“You learn some by watching others do it. You should be discerning about whom you will allow to teach you. You certainly make mistakes. And maybe you always worry deep in your head that you might be doing it wrong.” (www.workingpreacher.org)
Funny but true right?
As much as we pray,
with whatever techniques or words we try
we worry that we’re not doing it right,
but that’s Jesus’ point
it’s not about the how but the who.
God who is good,
who listens, who wants the best for us.
So yes, our attempts at prayer
are probably going to be fumbling and awkward at first,
and we might try a few different ways of doing it
before we find what feels right
and God will be there
even through these times
because God is good, and listens and wants the best for us,
wants to spend time with us.
And gradually through spending more time
we will get to a place where prayer,
if not comfortable is at least familiar
and from there the relationship builds
And the thing about building a relationship with someone
is that we are changed in the process,
think about your best friend and how you became friends,
it took some time to get to know each other
but you learned to trust your friend
with your deepest fears and secrets,
and the things that are important to your friend
became important to you
because of your love for them
and through experience
you know in your heart as well as your head
that they have your back.
That’s what prayer does with God,
we get to know each other,
we learn to trust God with our deepest fears and secrets
and the things that are important to God
become important to us
That’s what we want,
when we say teach us to pray Jesus,
an intimate relationship with God.
and God who is good
Gives us Jesus to show us what that relationship can look like
the Holy Spirit to guide us as we learn
and the freedom to focus on the who rather than the how. Amen
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who calls us to love both God and neighbor. Amen
When Jesus is pressed to summarize his teaching
it boils down to love of God and love of neighbor.
These two things are most important,
and while this seems simple enough
it can get confusing
because as much as we claim otherwise
we humans are pretty bad at multi-tasking,
we tend to focus on one thing at a time
Yet Jesus calls us to both,
and he gives examples of both.
Last week we heard the story of the Good Samaritan
who embodies love of neighbor
by stopping to help a man left for dead
on the side of a dangerous road,
in the story the Good Samaritan
is contrasted with a priest and a Levite
who when they choose their own way of loving God
rather than helping their neighbor
turn out looking not so great.
this week we hear of Mary
who embodies love of God
by sitting at Jesus’ feet
listening to him teach.
She is contrasted with Martha,
who, busy loving her neighbor in her own way
comes off looking not so great.
we tend to see these contrasts
in terms of right and wrong,
one better than the other,
but it’s not that one person is better than the other,
it’s the choices they make in the moment
that Jesus comments on,
Jesus needs both the priest and the Good Samaritan
both Mary and Martha as his followers.
As a disciple
Martha embodies the hospitality
that will further the kingdom.
When Jesus sent the 70 out to share the good news
he told them to depend on hospitality
of the kind that Martha offered
welcoming people into her home
and caring for their needs.
As a disciple
Mary embodies the devotion to Jesus’ teaching
that will further the kingdom.
She is attuned to Jesus’ presence
and hangs on his every word.
Jesus will depend on her
to teach others when he has returned to his father.
Jesus needs both Mary and Martha,
the conflict comes
when Martha gets so caught up in the tasks in front of her
that she tries to make her way of serving
necessary for someone else,
And that’s when Jesus jumps in
and gently chides Martha,
not for serving
but for being so caught up in what she was doing
that the tasks suddenly became more important than loving God and neighbor,
and for trying to spread her worry and distraction to Mary
when Mary is doing just fine
at loving God and neighbor in her own way.
This past week at confirmation camp
we spent our confirmation time
talking about how God made each of us different,
gave us different gifts and callings
and how God needs all of us
to further the kingdom in our own way.
Some of us like to follow the rules,
some of us like to create new ways of doing things.
Some of us like to listen and study
and some of us like to get our hands dirty and learn through new experiences.
Some of us are good at organizing,
some of us are good at encouraging,
some dream up new ideas and others make those ideas a reality.
None of these ways of being a disciple of Jesus
are better than the others,
God needs all of them to further the kindom.
Where we get into trouble
is when we prioritize our gifts or ways of doing things over others,
when we expect others to love and serve in the exact same way we do
or have been doing,
and getting frustrated when they don’t
that’s when Jesus gently chides us
and turns our attention back to him,
because when we get upset
we forget that it’s Jesus in our living room.
Jesus calls his disciples to lives of both and.
Which means following Jesus
is more complicated than following a set of rules
that detail exactly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation.
Instead Jesus has created us as unique individuals
designed to work as a small part of a whole,
it is up to us to choose how to live out love of God and love of neighbor
using our God given gifts and callings
Sometimes that will look like stopping on a dangerous road to help a stranger,
sometimes that will look like saying the dishes can wait
while spending time with this special person who is here right now.
And while what we decide to do
will be different for each of us
the common thread is love of God and neighbor.
We live in a tradition that recognizes the both and of life.
And while some may find the lack of exactness frustrating
both and catches the truth of life in all its complexities.
We acknowledge that we are both saints and sinners.
And while those two seem to conflict
we know the reality that we are not perfect,
we make mistakes, we intentionally harm others,
and at the same time
we know that in our baptisms
God has forgiven our sins
and that nothing will separate us from God.
Both are true at the same time. Both and.
We acknowledge that we need both the law and the gospel.
There are times when we need a good talking to,
where we need to be shown how we have not been loving God and neighbor,
we need to law to reflect back to us
our need for repentance our need for God.
And then there are times when we feel like we will never be enough,
that we can never do enough,
that the pain of the world threatens to overwhelm us,
and that is when we need to hear the gospel,
the good news that in Jesus we are enough,
that Jesus is present in the pain of the world,
that it’s up to Jesus to save the world not us.
We are both saint and sinner
We need both law and gospel
We are to love both God and neighbor
And Jesus tells us that
In a world of both and
there is need of only one thing. Jesus,
the way, the truth and the life.
when we get worried and distracted
Jesus is there, gently calming us down,
giving us perspective,
calling us to return to the one we need.
When we are loving our neighbor
Jesus is there alongside us.
When we take time to study his teachings
Jesus is there pointing out the important parts.
When we are torn between both and
Jesus is present
reminding us of the gifts he has given us
and the community that surrounds us,
the community made up of many members
that is able to both love God and neighbor
in the name of Jesus. Amen
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to be neighbors. Amen
Did you ever notice that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the lawyer’s question?
The lawyer asks Jesus,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?
this is who you must be.
They’re speaking different languages
the lawyer is speaking of doing,
Jesus is speaking of being
because for Jesus it’s not about what you do,
it’s about who you are
and that is a much more wholistic approach
than the world usually takes
In the world we are able to,
even supposed to
compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives,
who we are and what we do
can and should depend on the situation,
at work we are to be one person,
at home another,
at church another,
and heaven help you if one of those areas bleed over into another.
Compartmentalization it what allows someone
who is loving and kind to family and friends
to be ruthless and unfeeling as a business person,
just doing a job
is what allows seemingly good
people to inflict harm on others.
Compartmentalization allows us
to know exactly where we stand
in a cause and effect world
and we humans like to know where we stand,
mostly so we know just how much we can get away with,
or so that we know we have done enough.
That's what is behind the lawyer's questioning of Jesus.
But that’s not how God works.
God sees all of us all the time,
we are one whole person
and God expects that one person to be consistent whether at work,
among family or even at church.
And yes, while there is some wisdom
to keeping good boundaries between work and home
and in relationships,
the purpose of these boundaries
is to define who we are as a whole person.
With God it’s about who we are,
not what we do,
it’s about identity.
And that is what is behind Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question.
Because the lawyer knows the answer to his own question,
he quotes the law as written in Deuteronomy
back to Jesus when pressed,
“you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
this is the law that God gave the people
after they were freed from slavery in Egypt
to teach them how to live as free people,
how to be free.
But the lawyer has turned the teaching into a means to an end
- inheriting eternal life-
his follow up question who is my neighbor, shows that.
And that’s not the point Jesus says,
as he tells the story of the man beaten and left by the side of the road
- the priest and the levite were following the law-
to touch blood would have left them ritually unclean
and the road was dangerous,
they are thinking of themselves
and as far as self preservation goes
they did the right thing,
and yet they don’t come off looking so good
when compared with the samaritan
who allows himself to be changed by encountering the man,
when he sees him in the ditch he is moved with pity,
at least that’s how our version translates it,
but the Greek word is much stronger
it literally means to be moved as to one’s bowels,
which is kind of like us saying his heart was wrenched.
He has compassion,
he feels the pain of the man in the ditch in his gut
and that leads him to serve the man with all his resources,
his time, his animal and supplies, his money
even his emotions in essence his whole life.
And this is the example Jesus gives to the lawyer
of the one who was a neighbor.
It’s about who we are rather than what we do,
and that’s hard for us,
because it means that when we think about our relationships with God and neighbor
improving those relationships means working on ourselves,
who we are,
rather than a check list of things to do
and that can seem overwhelming,
the first six months of this year
I did a leadership development experience
through the Nebraska synod,
there were about 30 of us
and the goal was to look at leadership
so we took a bunch of those instruments
that told us about our preferences for being in the world,
how we handle our emotions
and other things
and of course all of the reports
came with suggestions for how we could improve our leadership
through improving ourselves,
and it was really hard work
and overwhelming at times,
after one of the sessions one
of the other pastors posted on facebook as his status:
“you know continuing ed is good when you need to finish a cry in the parking lot before you leave.”
working on ourselves can be overwhelming,
overwhelming enough as to seem impossible,
overwhelming enough to feel like you can never be enough,
especially when it come to your relationship with God
and that’s where the grace of God comes into play,
joined to Christ we are enough for God
who loves the whole us,
when it comes to inheriting eternal life
Jesus has it taken care of,
there is a place for us
and nothing can separate us from God’s love
no matter how many times we mess up or fail
and this sets us free
to practice living as a neighbor to those around us,
it frees us to be available with our whole selves
to those who have been beaten and left in ditches,
it frees us to try to be our best
even when we know our best isn’t perfect.
It’s not about what we do,
it’s about who we are,
and who we are,
is beloved children of God
grounded in grace, nurtured for growth.
This is Paul’s message to the Colossians
when he writes them in our second reading
essentially he tells them
that Grace leads to faith,
faith leads to hope,
hope leads to lives that bear fruit in service to neighbor,
and this is something we learn from others,
the ones who reach out to us
when we are in the ditch
and we practice this
when we are moved with compassion
as we move through our lives.
When we mess up there is forgiveness,
when we get discouraged there is the community of saints
and throughout it all
is the love of God
for whom we are enough. Amen
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sends us out. Amen
In this time after Pentecost
we are exploring how to live as disciples
of the crucified and risen Jesus
and here today in our gospel
Jesus gives concrete step by step instructions.
He has set his face toward Jerusalem
and is calling followers to go with him,
not everyone he meets accepts him
so now Jesus picks 70 followers
to go ahead of him to prepare the way for him
and this is how they are to go:
First they are to go in pairs,
Jesus knows that the disciples
will encounter difficulties
and that hard times are much easier to bear
with a friend by your side.
Following Jesus is something we are to do together,
Next Jesus tells them
that they are to travel light,
as in with only the clothes on their backs,
no extra sandals, no money, no extra food,
now this is a hard one for me,
when I travel I like to make sure
that I am as prepared as possible
and my last check before I head off
is always to make sure that at the very least I have my wallet
so that I can purchase anything I’ve forgotten along the way.
Jesus removes this safety net from the disciples’ journey,
God will provide for them
through the hospitality of those they meet
in the towns they enter.
when they get to a town
the disciples are to enter a house
and say ‘peace to this house’
and now Jesus’ instructions
become like one of those choose your own adventure stories
that were popular when I was growing up,
if the peace is shared turn to page 50,
if you are not welcomed turn to page 65 to see what happens next!
if the peace is shared
Jesus says that’s where the pair of disciples are to stay
and accept whatever hospitality is offered,
that means even if the house doesn’t follow the dietary laws,
or perhaps they are not wealthy
but are willing to share-
Jesus makes sure to say
that the disciples are not supposed to go from house to house
looking for the comfiest beds or best meals,
they are to stay where they are first welcomed,
and while they are there they are to cure the sick and say to the people
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
But now we turn to page 65,
if the disciples enter a town and are not welcomed,
Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dust of the town off their feet in protest
and move on,
they’re not to argue or threaten or even try to convince
the people there that they should listen,
the disciples are to move on,
after they proclaim
“yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
God acts whether we acknowledge it or not,
the kingdom is promised to all
whether it is received or rejected.
Our job as disciples
is to proclaim that it has come near
and let the spirit do the rest.
And it is a risk
because the message will be rejected
and rejection is hard to face,
especially again and again
and yet Jesus says to leave the rejection behind,
trust that God was present
and move on.
So the disciples go out following Jesus’ instructions
and when they come back
they are full of joy!
But what they are excited about is the power they have been given,
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
Wow this is amazing they exclaim
but Jesus cautions them
“do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The success of serving in Jesus’ name
goes to our heads pretty quickly.
We take a risk, it works out,
wow, look what we’ve accomplished we say,
and Jesus reminds us that it’s not about what we’ve done
but what God is doing through us.
What is God doing through us?
God is proclaiming peace
and the promise that God is acting in the world.
How are we to live as disciples?
We are to go out proclaiming peace to all we meet,
and whether we are welcomed or rejected
share the good news that God is near.
This summer each Sunday
we’ll have a discipleship practice
to help us grow as we follow Jesus.
This week it comes from Professor Amy G. Ogden
in her commentary on workingpreacher.org she says: “As Christians, we can reliably root our lives in these two proclamations -- “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the good news that we have to share! These keep our gaze on God’s activity right in front of us, rather than turning it to blaming, accusing or judgmental analyzing, symptoms that reactivity holds our lives in bondage.”
Then she suggests that we “experiment with these two proclamations
by offering them daily for a week…”
first putting these proclamations into our own words,
something like ‘welcome as you are’
or ‘God’s love is near to you’
a way that sounds natural to whatever situation you are in
and sure sometimes these proclamations may be rejected
or seen as odd,
but you may also be surprised
at just how many times they are exactly what the person needs to hear in that moment.
So give it a try,
take a risk and remember:
Peace be with you,
you are in God’s care,
God’s love surrounds you whether you know it or not. Amen
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets us free
to love and serve our neighbor. Amen
Welcome to the time after Pentecost,
the long green season
that will take us all the way to the end of November and Christ the King Sunday.
Sometimes this season is called Ordinary Time
and that fits in with our lessons
that seem to address the question:
how do we live as disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus in our ordinary lives?
what our lessons tell us
is that Jesus’ understanding of ordinary
is very different from the world’s understanding of ordinary
and that can be uncomfortable for us.
The Jesus of our gospel today
is an uncomfortable Jesus
because he’s not accepting any excuses,
there are times Jesus says,
that are so important
that everything else must take a back seat,
even very important things.
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem,
he is going to his death,
which he will die on behalf of all humanity
Jesus knows that there is nothing more important than this
and he calls for followers to accompany him
but what Jesus is about to do,
is so difficult, so painful, so inconvenient
that some he encounters simply don’t receive him,
they can’t handle Jesus headed toward Jerusalem
so they don’t even try
There are others though
that make a half-hearted attempt,
it’s the soft rejections,
they say sure I’ll join but first let me take care of this other
important thing then I’ll follow,
and Jesus is having none of it.
He says “follow me” to one person and their response is:
“let me first bury my father” But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
no “but first let me”
And this is uncomfortable,
because the reasons the people cite
for delaying their following of Jesus
seem good and reasonable,
it’s hard to argue with caring for family obligations,
and it’s hard to argue with letting loved ones know where you’re going
and yet Jesus calls them excuses
for avoiding the hard yet crucial task in front of them.
There are times, Jesus says,
when following him
is so important that there is no excuse to be made for delay,
not even those that seem good and reasonable.
And we struggle with that,
because the crucial moments of following Jesus
are the most difficult,
and we as humans are very good at coming up
with seemingly good and reasonable excuses not to act,
not to follow Jesus,
or to delay following Jesus.
And Jesus is having none of it.
We are in such a moment in our country
where Jesus is calling us to follow him and is accepting no excuses.
This is the moment where children are being separated from their families
and kept in prisons without adequate food, water and sanitation.
There is no excuse,
no but first let us,
that could make this okay,
there is no reason reasonable enough
to justify turning our heads
or making excuses for why this is the way it is right now.
And to be clear It is not a matter of lack of resources,
multiple news agencies have reported on people
bringing donations of diapers, toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children
only to be turned away by those in charge.
This is a crucial moment in following Jesus,
who brought children close to him,
who valued bodies so much that he healed all the suffering who came to him,
who though he was God became human,
body and all,
a body that got tired and hungry and thirsty,
a body that was broken on the cross in the ultimate form of suffering,
a body that experienced death just like all bodies will.
But, Jesus body and all,
rose from the dead,
he changed the rules,
now death no longer has the final say
and by changing the rules
Jesus freed us from fear.
When we are afraid we serve ourselves,
when we are released from fear
we are to serve others
this is the heart of discipleship.
Paul in our second reading
reminds the Galatians:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
then he reminds them that
“for the whole of the law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Freedom in Christ
is freedom that is to be used to set others free,
as opposed to freedom of the world
which is license to do whatever we want,
to work for our own benefit
often at the expense of others,
often to calm our own fears
that make self-preservation the order of the day.
But again Paul reminds us, Christ has already preserved us,
“those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”
joined to Christ in baptism
we have been made citizens of heaven,
so that, in Christ
death is not the end
just a stop along the way
and this frees us to face the fears of the world.
We affirm this at the beginning of funerals with these words:
“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (ELW Pastoral Care, 233-234)
Christ has already done this for us.
Past tense, completed action.
The challenge of discipleship
is to become who we have are.
To live following Jesus,
this ordinary time,
we will be exploring how we practice living as disciples,
and because we sometimes practice better with tangible tasks
we will offer a discipleship practice for each week,
a simple exercise that will help us to live into who we already are.
Our discipleship practice this week
is to name an excuse you have made
to avoid following Jesus,
and then to do one small thing
to follow Jesus in spite of that excuse.
You are called to freedom brothers and sisters,
the freedom of Christ works through you to free others.
Let us live into that freedom together,
and may Christ be with us all. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who wants all the children at the party. Amen
The story of the Prodigal Son,
we’ve all heard it, at least a couple times
so we know what comes next
when we hear the line “there was a man who had two sons”
now these two sons are wildly different,
as often happens with siblings.
We hear about the younger son first,
how he doesn’t want to wait for his father to die
to receive his inheritance,
so he asks for it,
and when his father gives him his half
he takes it and sets out,
traveling to a distant country,
living in a way that uses up all his inheritance.
when a famine hits
the younger son finds himself starving without any money
so he finds a job feeding pigs
- remember pigs are religiously unclean animals
so we know that he’s hit rock bottom
when he’s hanging out with the pigs
and the pig food is starting to look pretty tasty-
and that’s when he realizes,
life in his father’s house is good, even for the servants
so he forms a plan to go home,
confess his sin to his father
and knowing he doesn’t deserve to be considered a son in the household
asks to be considered as a servant.
He acts on his plan and heads home
but before he can even get up the driveway
his father sees him and runs to him,
and before he can confess and lay out his plan
his father is already throwing a big welcome home party.
And this is where we hear about the older son,
the older son who also received his part of the inheritance
when the younger son asked,
but stayed at home,
he did was he was supposed to,
carrying on the family business
working with his father.
So he’s coming in from working in the fields
and he hears a party going on,
a party he didn’t know was happening,
a party he clearly didn’t receive an invitation to,
so he asks one of the servants about it
and only then does he hear that his younger brother has returned
and that dad is throwing an extravagant party for him.
At this he gets mad
and refuses to go in the house,
and when his father comes out to plead with him to come to the party,
years of resentment and bitterness come pouring out,
“I’ve been the good one,
I did what I’m supposed to,
I worked with you all these years
and you’ve never celebrated me,
you’ve never thrown a party for me
and now your son
who told you he wished you were dead so he could have your stuff comes back
- without all that money you gave him by the way-
and you throw a party for him?’
and he refuses to come inside
and his father reminds him that their relationship is intact
and that all that is the father’s is the older son’s,
his life is good,
but the father stands firm in his decision to celebrate the return of the younger son.
He loves both.
A man had two sons the story starts
and at the end it seems to ask us,
which is the better son?
Tradition would have us say
the older son is the better son
but despite his honoring his father
and the good life that he has
he ends bitter and resentful at his father,
feeling left out
that he wasn’t invited to a party in his own home,
a place he was already and always welcome,
and he ends up not looking so good.
The younger son on the other hand
shows personal growth,
sure he starts off looking pretty bad
there’s no denying that he squanders the love of his father
and ends up hungry sitting in a mess of his own making,
but when he considers the situation and realizes that life with dad was good
he repents hoping his father will treat him as one of the servants
because he knows that’s all he really deserves,
and he ends up humble and appreciative of life with dad.
In the end neither son is better than the other.
And yet, the father chases after both sons.
He wants them both at the party.
He rushes to celebrate the son that returned of his own volition
and he goes out and pleads with the son
who refuses to come in
reminding him that the grace and love of a father
is not a zero sum game,
showing love for one son does not diminish the love felt for the other son.
God loves in a way that is hard for humans to understand,
so we apply our own standards
which means that whether we are like the younger son
sitting in a mess of our own making
or like the older son
filled with bitter resentment
when we look across at our neighbor
it doesn’t seem like they deserve God’s grace and love.
when we judge our neighbor our sin is exposed,
to decide who God loves is God’s role,
and if we’re honest,
we admit that by any standards no one deserves God’s love
but in Christ God has made it clear that God’s love is for all
Which is why Paul,
when writing to the Corinthians,
instructing them in the way of living in Christ
says “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation everything old has passed away see everything has become new.”
In the waters of baptism Christ washes away our messes and our bitterness,
Forgiving us again and again
So that each day we are given new life.
And Having been given new life in Christ
we are to look at others with the eyes of God,
we are to see others as God sees them,
beloved children who God wants at the party. Amen
Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God who is with us at all times. Amen
Jesus is teaching,
he’s surrounded by people
who value what he says,
he helps them make sense of the world around them
so it’s only natural for them
to run puzzling situations by Jesus
to see what he thinks,
in this case it’s about these Galileans
who Pilate had murdered and then desecrated
by mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices.
And the people around him
tell Jesus this story
because they have a question:
Why did that horrible thing happen to those people?
And Jesus responds
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
he asks because he knows that is at the back of their minds,
it’s how our brains work,
we try to find meaning
so if something bad happened to these people
then they must have done something to deserve it.
But then Jesus answers his own question:
“No, I tell you but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Now this seems like kind of a harsh response
to a question about suffering
but Jesus goes on to give another example,
he tells those present
about some people who were killed
when a tower collapsed and asks
“do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?”
and again he answers his own question
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
What does Jesus mean with this response?
And we’re all curious right?
Because we have observed the suffering of others and asked:
why did it happen to them?
And right behind that question, why didn’t it happen to me?
Or why did it happen to me and not them?
These questions have been raised to the surface of our own lives
in the past weeks
as flood waters have risen
and we’ve watched some people lose everything
while others stayed dry.
And we’ve wondered,
It’s an age old question
and frankly one without a good answer
and that drives us nuts
Desmond Tutu in his book God Has A Dream
makes the observation
“We humans can tolerate suffering but we cannot tolerate meaninglessness.” pg 75
We cannot tolerate meaninglessness,
so when faced with situations of suffering
we try to make sense of it,
the meaning we put on it is wrong,
at least according to God.
We heard this in Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts your thoughts.”
There is often a disconnect
between our thinking and God’s thinking,
so when Jesus tells the questioning crowd
“No, I tell you, repent”
he is telling them, us,
to align our thinking with God’s thinking,
in a way,
that’s Jesus’ whole mission,
to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between people and God.
In telling us to repent
Jesus is not saying we should feel bad about our thinking,
that’s often the feeling we associate with that word,
but in the gospel of Luke,
a call to repent
is a call to turn away from the assumptions and norms of the world
to live lives directed toward God,
living God’s way as taught to us by Jesus.
Jesus knows that this teaching is a bit of a stretch for his listeners
so he tells them a parable to illustrate his point,
a man with a vineyard plants a fig tree,
and when he comes to the tree and finds no fruit on it
he tells his gardener to cut it down,
it’d been three years,
clearly the tree was useless.
But the gardener intercedes for the tree,
asks for a year reprieve,
time for the gardener to nurture it,
dig around it, put manure on it
and if the tree produces fruit next year, great,
if not then the owner can cut it down.
There is a gap of misunderstanding
between the owner and the gardener about the fig tree,
from the owner’s perspective
a fig tree is supposed to produce figs
and after three years without figs
he determines that the tree is a waste of soil.
What the gardener understands that the owner doesn’t
is that it often takes fruit trees three or four years to grow
before they produce fruit,
and so he offers to nurture the tree for one more year,
to get it to the point where it would be reasonable to expect fruit from it
We are often the owner to God’s gardener,
we know what is supposed to happen, or think we do anyway,
and when it doesn’t happen when we expect
we get impatient
we render judgement
and cut down perfectly good trees in our search to make meaning.
We do this with ourselves as well as others,
we expect things of ourselves
and when we don’t live up to those expectations
we cut ourselves down
before we’re done growing,
before we’re ready to produce fruit
when God knows that all we need is some more time,
and perhaps a little manure.
And this brings us right back to the discussion of suffering
because the manure in our lives,
what seems like stinky waste
is actually often what we need to grow into our full selves.
Again, Archbishop Tutu observes: “In our universe suffering is often how we grow, especially how we grow emotionally, spiritually, and morally. That is, when we let the suffering ennoble us and not embitter us.” pg 72
His point is that when faced with suffering
we have a choice in how we respond,
we can tie ourselves in knots
trying to figure out why it happened
and whether we blame ourselves or others
we end up feeling resentful,
like we got a raw deal.
Or, we can turn toward God,
face the suffering head on,
and work to lessen the suffering,
finding the humanity in ourselves
and those around us,
growing in the love of God as we do so.
I think it’s safe to say that most of Nebraska
has made the second choice
in responding to the suffering around us.
People have already come together
to lessen the suffering of others
and we will continue to do so
as what needs to be done to recover becomes clearer,
it will be a long road
but we will walk it together
and we will grow together.
Why is there suffering?
We don’t really know,
and that’s unsatisfying.
But what we do know
is that we have a God who has also experienced suffering,
who chose to work through it
to lessen the suffering of others,
who promises to be with us in the midst of suffering,
that we may even grow because of it
and that it will not have the last say,
the cross of Friday after all
was only a stop along the way
to the empty tomb on Sunday. 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.