Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-44
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
This third Sunday in the Easter season
finds us on the road,
the road to Emmaus.
Luke’s story of the two disciples
traveling away from Jerusalem
that first Easter evening
who are joined by a stranger on the road
who they tell of the events of the last three days,
their hopes and disappointment and confusion,
who then opens to them the scriptures
and when they arrive at their destination,
they invite the stranger to stay for the night and share a meal with them,
in the breaking of the bread it is revealed that Jesus
was the stranger with them all along
and so the disciples rush out into the night
back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples
who are sharing resurrection stories.
The Journey to Emmaus
is a story beloved of the church.
It seems like it has everything,
disciples coming from disbelief to belief,
a resurrection appearance of Jesus,
modeling accompaniment as a way of evangelism,
All these great things that we love to talk about,
for awhile it seemed like every assembly and conference I went to
used the story of the Walk to Emmaus
as the scriptural basis for their theme
and none of the themes were the same
but all fell under the heading of this is how we do church!
There are so many good things in the story,
but this year it seems to me
that the bits that we usually focus on
and rejoice in during the Easter season,
hospitality leading to the revelation of Jesus in the breaking of the bread,
the rush to return to community,
serve more to highlight that which we are missing right now
hitting the tender spots created by the grief caused by the pandemic.
Now don’t get me wrong,
as much as I long to be gathered together once again,
to break the bread,
to not just see but feel the presence of the body of Christ before me
in the gathered congregation,
I want to ensure that everyone will be here
to partake in that joyous occasion,
and that means staying separate for awhile longer.
It means continuing the lenten fast
beyond an arbitrary date on the calendar
journeying to a day both expected and unknown,
and in the meantime looking at old stories with new eyes.
Which is why, this year,
I take comfort in the first part of the story of the Road to Emmaus,
the journey part.
It’s Easter afternoon,
the resurrection has been announced to the women
who have shared it with the disciples
who don’t quite know what to do with the news.
For two of the disciples,
it marks the time to go home.
They followed Jesus,
heard him preach, saw him heal,
and were present for his arrest, conviction and crucifixion
the dashing of their hopes
that Jesus might be the messiah,
because of travel restrictions on the sabbath
they stayed in Jerusalem
but now it’s time to go back home,
to return to life before their hopes were raised
and so they leave,
even with the women and the other disciples finding the tomb empty,
it’s confusing but there will be some explanation,
dead is dead, no one comes back from that.
They are mulling all this over as they travel home
and a stranger,
who is Jesus but they don’t know that yet,
comes near to them and asks
“what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
and this question
brings them to a stand still,
“They stood still, looking sad.”
Their grief is such that this ordinary question:
what are you talking about?
Stops them in their tracks.
That’s the way it is with grief sometimes,
it surfaces in the midst of the ordinary
causing us to stand still and be sad for a moment
because we’ve forgotten that life goes on around us
even in the midst of our grief.
Cleopas asks “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”
showing just how consumed his world has been in Jesus,
Jerusalem is a large place,
there would have been many people who didn’t know about the execution of Jesus,
but it is inconceivable to Cleopas
that anyone should not know about it.
And here Jesus responds
not by revealing who he is
but by asking a simple question: What things?
And allows the disciples to tell the story
of their experience of Jesus,
their hopes raised and dashed,
their confusion of the morning.
Jesus listens to their lament,
the voicing of their grief
and when they finish,
Jesus turns them back to the scriptures,
reminds them of the words of the prophets,
reframes their experience in light of the promises of God,
helps them look at the scriptures with new eyes
as he is present with them on their journey.
We might wonder why Jesus didn’t reveal himself right away,
wouldn’t have that answered the disciples questions?
But perhaps Jesus knew that they were not yet ready
for a resurrection appearance,
they needed time to grieve first.
In his article on WorkingPreacher.org this week professor Matt Skinner, reflecting on this says:
“I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.
The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.”
Humans in tough situations need to lament before anything else
and lament takes time,
lament is the manure laid on the field
in preparation for planting the seeds of new life,
it doesn’t smell so great
but it is a necessary step to ensure
that the new life grows healthy and strong
past the initial sprout.
I think this is where we are at right now.
Even as we sing Alleluia
and proclaim the risen Christ,
we are also still on the road to Emmaus,
narrating our disappointment and confusion,
laying the ground work for new life together,
life that will last.
And whether we realize it or not,
Jesus is walking alongside us,
asking us questions that stop us in our tracks,
showing us new ways to look at the promises of God
and preparing us to receive the revelation of the risen Lord
in a way that sustains new life in Christ.
That day is coming,
the resurrected Christ sustains our hope,
and the resurrected Christ walks with us on the way. Amen
Christ the King Sunday
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who reigns in unexpected ways. Amen
I’ve been doing a lot of pre-marital counseling with couples lately,
there just seem to be a bunch of weddings coming up,
and in the first session of pre-marital counseling
I sit down with the couple
and we talk about how relationships are based on expectations,
for example when we set a date and time to meet with someone
we expect that they will arrive at the agreed upon time, right?
And if that doesn’t happen,
our expectation is broken
and so is the relationship at least in a small way
and that break needs to be repaired,
it can be as simple as the other person explaining that they were stuck in traffic
and their phone was dead, apology accepted the relationship moves on.
If the break isn’t fixed, even the little ones,
They tend to pile up until something small sets off a big explosion
Like the straw the breaks the camel’s back
It’s fairly straight forward right?
But often times our expectations are unspoken,
and many times we don’t even realize we have them
and so when they are broken by another person
thereby breaking the relationship
the odds are that the other person has no idea
that there’s been a break in the relationship
and therefore cannot work to repair the break
unless the other person tells them.
You can see how this is useful to understand
when going into a marriage right?
And it doesn’t have to be about big things,
which way the toilet paper roll goes
or how the dishwasher is loaded etc.
All this by the way applies to being a member of a group,
especially say a church congregation...
now these expectations don’t just appear overnight,
we’re not born expecting the toilet paper to always roll from the top
or knowing how to load a dishwasher,
these are things we are taught
whether directly from someone or through our life experiences.
And these expectations based on past experiences
help us navigate new situations or relationships
by giving us a framework for understanding
how to act and how the other person might act,
but these frameworks can also get in the way
when the new experience doesn’t line up exactly with our expectations.
All the people in our gospel for today
have expectations for Jesus.
Jesus is someone they are trying to figure out
and yet every set of expectations they use
to explain who he might be fall through
because Jesus doesn’t live according to the expectations of the world
which is initially disappointing
but in the end, really good news.
Our gospel is Luke’s account of the crucifixion,
the culmination of Jesus’ life (so it seems).
Jesus has been preaching and teaching publicly,
feeding crowds and healing outcasts,
gathering followers and enemies
and all have been trying to figure out the answer to the question,
who is Jesus?
And while each of the roles they assign to him carries a measure of truth
ultimately their expectations are disappointed.
We are told the people stand by watching,
the people that followed Jesus,
who hoped he might be the messiah,
the way out of oppression and misery
and yet here he is,
for all the wondrous things they have witnessed,
about to die on a cross.
The leaders of the people,
who have heard the crowds hoping that Jesus is the messiah,
scoff to see him up on the cross
“he saved others, let him save himself, if he is the messiah of God his chosen one.”
they expect that the messiah will be powerful enough to save himself
and that he will use that power
The empire of Rome sees Jesus as a rival,
one who has disrupted the peace
brought by conquering all in its path.
If the Jews think Jesus is their King,
they need to be reminded
that they have been defeated by Rome
and what better way to be reminded of that
than with a humiliating execution of the so called King.
The soldiers mock Jesus,
their experience of Kings is that they have power
and they wield it,
usually to save their own skin.
One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus
expects the messiah be powerful enough to save himself from this death,
oh and while you’re at it, why don’t you get me down from this thing too?
Some messiah you are he
says to Jesus when Jesus just hangs there.
All these expectations, all these disappointments.
So who is Jesus?
The person, the criminal, on the other side of Jesus
sees something else,
he sees an innocent man being put to death,
and perhaps he senses the true power that that takes,
more power than fighting to get off the cross,
because he says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus replies “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.”
It turns out that Jesus is all these roles
that people have tried to place him in,
king, messiah, human
and instead of breaking expectations
what he’s doing is exceeding them.
As Colossians reminds us,
Jesus is not just another charismatic human
who gathers crowds based on personality and skills,
no Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation...He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together..for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”
crafted for humans
based on human experiences,
hold no chance against the fullness of God made visible,
our expectations have been set too low.
We have come to expect rulers
who wield power first for themselves,
then for the people they rule.
Jesus reigns as king on the cross,
for the sake of the greater good,
the destruction of death.
In the same way the expectation of the messiah
was an earthly expectation,
one who throws off oppression with military might
instead of one who takes on death and heals all creation.
Jesus’ fulfillment of the roles we have used to try to understand him
far exceeds our expectations,
sometimes even our imaginations
And even though Jesus is the image of the invisible God
in whom the fullness of God was please to dwell,
in many ways our own expectations of Jesus
are still earthly expectations,
like the second criminal
we expect to be judged according to our actions under the law,
and we expect to get what we deserve,
punishment and ultimately death,
and we are astonished each time Jesus judges us according to grace,
and tells us that we deserve to live.
Yet still we say to Jesus
remember me when you come into your kingdom,
hoping but not believing
And Jesus responds to us,
truly I tell you today,
you will be with me in paradise.
A response far beyond our expectation
but completely in line with who Jesus is,
the fullness of God
who reigns with grace and mercy,
beyond our expectations.
This is Christ the King. Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers hope in the midst of chaos. Amen
In the calendar of the church year
we are nearing the end,
next week we will observe the festival of the Reign of Christ
and the church calendar will click over into a new year.
And as we’ve been approaching the end of the year
our readings have also been dealing with the end.
whether we call it the end of the world
or the end of life as we know it
or even judgement day,
this is a topic which we humans are fascinated with,
look at all the depictions we see in movies and literature,
where something catastrophic has happened
and what happens next is imagined.
Whether it is hunger games or zombies
or differently ordered societies
we keep coming back to what have been named apocalypses,
and however they are told
they have an element of fear running through them,
they are to be avoided.
Now the name apocalypse or apocalyptic
comes from a genre of writing
that is found in several places in the Bible
and while these writings do tend to come up with some odd images
their purpose is the exact opposite of fear,
they, in all their weirdness
are intended to offer comfort and hope
for people in the midst of situations that may feel like the end.
Apocalypse after all
just means revelation,
these messages are meant to reveal hope to the oppressed,
whether it was Jews in exile or facing the loss of the temple
or Christians living in secret in Rome
or people facing the loss of the way things have always been
and that’s what our apocalyptic texts for today do for us,
they point to hope.
The hope that God is in control of the end,
whatever that happens to look like
and with God in control
the people of God will be okay.
Now as good as that news is,
it does leave a question for us humans,
what is our role?
We like to control our surroundings
and we have just been told
that it is out of our control,
so we wonder, what are we to do?
and each of our texts for today offers insight to that question as well.
Malachi is short and to the point
with an image of evildoers burning up,
which, if you have been oppressed by the evildoers
is good news,
hope is found in the promise of justice for the oppressed
and God continues
“for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
God will bring the justice,
the role of humans is to revere God’s name
and this sounds good until we start to think
of all the times when we have not done that,
when we have forgotten God’s name,
the times when we have been evildoers
and we start to get worried again
But that’s where our Psalm comes in,
a song of celebration at the victory of God,
once again the promise is that judgement is God’s work
and the hope is found in how God will judge,
“O Lord, you have made known your victory, you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations. You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel...The Lord will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity”
Judgement is God’s work
and God will judge out of steadfast love and faithfulness,
this is not some impartial deity
but one who loves us,
one who loves us so much
that God became human and died for us,
and so joined to Christ in our baptisms,
when God judges us
what God sees
is not all the times we’ve messed up,
the perfect one who has already forgiven us.
God’s got it all taken care of,
and so what is our role?
Our role is to sing praises to God,
to shout with joy,
to sing to the lord,
to make joyful noises on trumpets and tambourines
joining with the sounds of creation that also praise God.
God’s got it under control
and our role is to revere God’s name and praise God.
Sounds pretty easy so far
but having lived in the reality of the world
we know that’s not the full story,
which is where Jesus in our gospel for today comes in
as he anticipates the difficulties in store for his followers before the end.
The conversation starts out innocently enough
with some followers marveling at the temple,
it is the grandest building they have ever seen,
it is the home of God, look at it!
And Jesus tells them that one day the temple will be destroyed.
Now it’s important to note
that the temple in Luke
is seen as a good place,
it is the place of worship,
Jesus teaches there all the time,
he tries to clean it up,
he stayed there debating when he was 12,
the disciples go back after the resurrection and worship there.
The temple is the center of religious life,
Jesus is pro-temple,
so why would he be saying it will be destroyed?
Because Jesus knows that in between now
and the end which God has taken care of
living a life of faith will be difficult
and that even good centers of faith will be destroyed
and he warns his followers
not to focus on the wrong thing.
the life of faith while aided by places like the temple
is not defined by
it rather the promise that there is another way of living
apart from the values of the world,
a way of living where all are valued and cared for,
a way of peace where death does not have the last say,
and when bad things happen to good places
the role of the followers is to testify to this promise and vision of God.
Don’t get caught up in fear
trying to predict when these bad things will happen
Jesus tells his followers,
don’t look at the strife in the world
as signs for something more than what they are,
a reflection of the brokenness of this world,
instead you are to cling to the promise of God
and tell others of that promise.
I promise to be there with you Jesus says
to take care of you,
in the end not a hair of your head will perish,
remember God’s got it under control.
And I think Jesus is speaking directly to all of us with this conversation.
We are living in a time where our temple is coming down,
the institution of the church as we’ve known it,
is being dismantled before our eyes
even if we haven’t named it as such
we’ve felt the effects,
fewer people finding value in participating in a life of faith
and the changes in society that support that
people being scheduled to work on Sunday mornings,
youth activities scheduled then as well
things are not going the way they used to.
And I think despite Jesus’ warning
we’ve gotten caught focusing on the walls coming down
when really our role is to testify,
to testify to a life different from the kind valued by the world,
to live out that life to the best of our ability
and most of all to trust God’s promise of salvation and redemption.
And yes that will mean change from how things always were,
there will be grief
and a time where we don’t quite know where that next center of faith will be,
we will experiment and fail
but as long as we continue to hope in God
and testify to that hope
faith will continue,
and while it might be tempting to just give up on the testifying
and rest only in the hope,
that’s not what God wants for us either.
That’s why Paul had to write to the Thessalonians,
some of the community decided that their sole focus
was to be waiting on the day of the Lord,
and since that was coming soon
they didn’t need to do anything in this life,
especially if they had some resources stored up.
That’s not how this works Paul writes,
yes we’re living in hope of the day of the Lord
but we still have to attend to this life
that we’re living now
and that includes meaningful occupation and contribution to the community,
“do not be weary in doing what is right” Paul admonishes them
And yet sometimes we do grow weary,
weary of waiting,
of testifying to a world that doesn’t seem to hear,
of singing praises with a hurting creation
of revering the name of God even,
and that’s when Jesus brings us to the table
with the saints of all times and places,
forgives and feeds us
with his body and blood
and sends us out no longer weary
renewed in hope
to praise God and testify,
sharing the good news of God with a weary world.
God has claimed us,
nothing, not even the brokenness of the world
can change that
and so we set our hope on God,
we praise and we persist
knowing that in the end
God’s got it under control. Amen
22nd Sunday After Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of the living. Amen
So we’ve got a hot debate
running throughout all of our texts for today,
it’s the debate over what happens next.
Now we all I’m guessing have wondered about this
at some point in our lives,
we may have even had some serious questions
even though we live in a pretty doctrinally settled time,
the institution of the church settled on the answers a long time ago,
found when we recite the creeds, the statements of belief,
what happens next?
According to the creeds the crucified,
resurrection and ascended Jesus
will return to judge the living and the dead,
and we believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
But in time our readings were written
these were not settled questions,
and though on the surface the debate is about what happens after death,
the whole discussion is really about how what we believe about the next life
affects how we live this life,
something that is important for all of us to consider
and our readings give us a few examples and thoughts on the matter.
In our gospel
Luke tells us that some Sadducees come to debate Jesus,
Luke helpfully provides the information
that the Sadducees, who are scholars and officials in the temple,
are on the side of the debate that says there is no resurrection,
we live and then we die and that is it
and if there is any living on after death
it is in the memory of ones descendants
so with this view in mind
the debating approach they use
takes the logic of the other party, hyperbolizes it
and then criticizes the results.
In this case they give an example of levarite marriage
- the law that says that if a man dies without children
and he has a brother,
his brother is to marry his wife
to produce offspring to keep his brother’s name alive.
This law takes care of several things,
the issue of heirs and inheritance
but also the care of the woman who has been widowed,
This of course assumes that a woman is owned by her husband or father
which presents other issues
but that’s the structure they were working with.
Now the sadducees before Jesus
imagine a scenario where a woman is widowed by seven brothers,
if there’s a resurrection they say,
whose wife will she be?
She married all seven.
The undertone is that it would be ridiculous
for this woman to have seven husbands in the resurrection.
And Jesus responds that the scenario they have envisioned
is completely beside the point.
They’ve gotten caught up in the little details
that frankly are ridiculous when played out to the end
and these little details get in the way of seeing the bigger picture
which is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living
Marriage is for this life Jesus says,
it is one way that is used to make sure that people take care of each other,
but in the resurrection there is no need for these relationships,
especially ones where a person has status based on another,
I think we will still be in relationship with our loved ones from this life
But there will be no need to put boundaries like marriage in place
all are worthy, all are children of God, all are cared for
So, what does this mean?
It means that what we do in this life matters
not because of what happens next
but because of what happens now
God is concerned with the wellbeing of all the living
and we should be too,
in a way, Jesus is telling the Sadducees,
‘focus on how you live this life,
God’s got the next one all taken care of.’
Now there are times when that’s easier said than done,
look at Job,
we only get a snippet of his greater story
but the jist is that Job is a good person
who loves God and was doing really well in life
and it was all taken away as a bet between God and the accuser
to see if Job would turn away from God
when times got tough,
Job’s wealth, his children, even his health are taken away
and yet he refuses to curse God,
he curses the day that he was born,
and he certainly complains of his many sufferings,
and then to make matters worse,
his friends come and give him really bad advice,
they place the blame on Job in various ways
saying that he clearly must have sinned to be on God’s bad side,
that he should repent for his wickedness,
and yet Job maintains his innocence,
yes he wonders about that age old question
of bad things happening to good people
but he doesn’t give up on God,
to the point where even in the midst of all the terrible things in his present life
Job still proclaims “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;”
Sometimes when the present is unbearable,
we need the hope for the future to carry us through,
we need to believe that something better is out there for life
But this view can be taken too far,
to the point where we despise this life
and get caught in the trap
where we live just biding our time until the next, better life,
the focus of this life
becomes consumed by the vision of the next
and that is no kind of life,
especially because if questions arise
as to what happens next
as they inevitably will in the course of human life,
it then calls into question the whole meaning of life
and can be a cause of great anxiety.
This is apparently what happened to the community at Thessalonica
to whom Paul is writing in our second lesson,
they are so focused on waiting for the day of the Lord
that when something happens to put that in jeopardy they get really concerned,
Paul is writing to calm them down,
begging them not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed
when the day of the lord is brought up.
It sounds like someone had come and told the community
that the day had already come,
so they’re afraid they missed it,
Paul reassures them and then reminds them
“for this purpose (God) called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us...”
What are these traditions?
A bath as entrance into a community,
regular meals with Jesus,
the gathering together in community to hear the word of God,
caring for the vulnerable in this life
and sharing the good news of God.
Traditions, that make a difference our life now
and in the lives of those around us.
We as a community believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
the life everlasting
and that God is the God of the living,
which means how we live right now matters,
not because of what will happen next,
but because life is precious to God.
and yes there are times in this broken world
when we need to focus on the hope to come
and there are times when we get caught in the details
that don’t really matter,
and times when we worry
and that’s when Jesus calls us back to himself,
his life lived among others,
his death for all,
his resurrection defeating death
and most of all his love for life.
So as you continue on in this life
Hear this benediction:
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and world.” Amen
19th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God
who calls us to faith, prayer and acts of justice. Amen
We have another parable for our gospel today,
commonly titled the parable of the widow and the unjust judge,
now another parable doesn’t really surprise us
because Jesus loves telling parables,
these little teaching stories
that have multiple meanings
and often leave the listener more confused
at the end of hearing them than enlightened.
Which is why we should be suspicious
when Luke tells us what the parable is about
before giving us the parable.
“Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart”
Luke pre-interprets the parable for us
and I’ve got to say,
if this parable is only about prayer
then I’m not sure I like the picture it paints.
We’ve got two characters the unjust judge,
who we’re told right at the beginning that is bad at his job,
he doesn’t respect the law,
or God or other people,
and we have a widow
who in terms of the law
has very little power
a woman’s legal status and protection
came through either her father or her husband,
which meant if a woman were widowed
she had not only lost her husband
but legal protection as well,
additionally wives were not allowed
to inherit their husband’s property
leaving widows in an extremely vulnerable state,
which is why the law emphasizes over and over again
that special care is to be taken for widows
So in our parable we have a widow in a legal dispute with someone
and we assume her cause is just,
and we have a judge whose job it is to settle the dispute
and he refuses to do his job
but this widow doesn’t give up
, she keeps coming to him
asking him to do his job,
again and again she comes
until finally the judge grants her justice,
not out of any concern for God or the law or the widow
but purely out of self preservation,
we hear his inner monologue
“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
I will grant her justice
so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’
Now I discovered this week
that the translators really toned down the imagery
when the judge says the widow keeps bothering him
and gives her justice so that she won’t wear him out,
that seems pretty mild right,
more annoying than anything,
when in fact the greek uses boxing imagery,
this is a boxing match
and the direct translation is
: “so that in the end she may not come and strike me under the eye”
in other words, give the judge a black eye.
This widow is persistent,
in her pursuit of justice until it is granted to her.
I love this image,
the two characters in a boxing ring
the widow cornering the judge
landing punches until he gives up,
a true underdog match
but if this is about prayer
then I have a problem with it,
because at least at first glance
it seems that God is the unjust judge
and we are all the widow
and prayer is a relentless pursuit of God
to get what we want.
And I don’t think God or prayer work that way,
neither does Jesus by the way
his concluding remarks contrast God to the judge,
he says unlike the judge God doesn’t have to be badgered into giving justice
but will listen and respond quickly,
but I’ve got to say the contrast isn’t strong enough for me,
the image I am left with
is of the boxing match
and the widow throwing punches until she gets justice.
Now, if there were no pre-interpretation to this parable
that’s what I would think the parable is about.
Justice and the pursuit thereof,
the widow keeps coming
until justice is granted,
it often takes that kind of persistence
to get justice in the world
and we know we have a God who cares about justice,
In fact God fits the description of the widow,
one who continually comes to those in power in the world
until they do the right thing.
Think of the defining story of the exodus
where God sends plague after plague on Pharaoh
until the Isrealites are set free.
Jesus in his ministry
has been preaching and enacting justice too,
mostly among people in the place of the widow
with no power and few options,
he’s told them the world doesn’t have to be this way,
when someone is hungry, feed them,
when someone is sick offer medicine/ healing,
that is God’s vision for the world,
a vision that Jesus has been living all along the way
now Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and the cross
where the justice of God will be completed,
there are a variety of different ways to try to explain
what happens on the cross,
the words debt and substitution are often used
but these all fall short
but we do know the result,
for the sake of Jesus
God forgives us all the injustices we commit,
the breaches in relationship we’ve created
and God welcomes us with open arms.
Jesus concludes his interpretation of the parable like this:
“Listen to what the unjust judge says,
and will not God grant justice to his chosen ones
who cry to him day and night,
will he delay long in helping them?
I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”
and this interpretation makes sense to me
given what has taken place in the parable
and in the interactions between God and people.
But those of you who are paying close attention
know that there is actually one more sentence to Jesus’ conclusion:
“and yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What? Where does faith come into this?
Just when we’d finally figured something out about the parable
faith gets thrown into the mix.
Just before telling this parable in Luke,
Jesus has been teaching his disciples
about the return of the Son of Man,
he’s told them that he will die,
rise three days later,
ascend to his father
and then after an extended absence return-
this is what we confess in the second article of the apostle’s creed
when we say “he will come to judge the living and the dead”
Jesus understands that this gap
will be long enough for people to lose faith,
but what does that have to do with justice,
or even prayer?
What is this parable about? Prayer? Justice? Faith?
Perhaps it’s all three,
Barbara Lundblad is a professor of preaching
and an amazing interpreter of scripture
and in a sermon on this text at the festival of homiletics last year
she suggested just that,
that this parable is actually about all three things,
prayer, justice and faith
because they are connected,
we can’t have one without the other,
if we pray but don’t seek justice
our prayers are empty-
this is why people react so strongly now
when politicians offer thoughts and prayers after a tragedy
without acting to correct the injustice that created the tragedy,
those thoughts and prayers mean nothing
if not followed by meaningful action.
On the other hand
if we work for justice and don’t pray
we will come to think everything depends on us,
we neatly cut God out of the equation
when in fact while our work is important
it is God who will bring about the full realization of justice in the world,
our actions are drops in the bucket,
meaningful drops, but drops all the same.
And finally Barabara Lundblad suggests
that if we manage to both pray and work for justice
but have no faith
we will give up when justice doesn’t come.
Think, how many times the widow appealed to the judge
before justice was granted her.
each round of the boxing match is harder to get up for.
Faith is often defined as trust,
lately I’ve been thinking that another good definition of faith
the willingness to wait for God.
Jesus wonders if he will find faith on earth when he returns,
so in the end,
perhaps the parable is about what Luke said in the first place,
about the need to pray always and not lose heart,
to work for justice in the world
as Jesus has commanded his followers to do
requires constant prayer
not so much to badger God
but to remind ourselves that we have a relationship with God
who acts for justice,
and it requires faith,
the trust that God will help us
and the patience to wait for the time when that justice will be realized.
So in whatever boxing match you may find yourself
pray, work for justice, have faith,
and don’t lose heart,
Christ is coming. Amen
18th Sunday After Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God who is powerful and gracious. Amen
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart
the psalmists exclaims this morning
and goes on to extol why whole hearted thanksgiving
is appropriate for God,
Great are your works O Lord,
Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever,
you have shown your people the power of your works
and so on and so forth,
painting a picture of a powerful God
capable of anything,
one who should inspire awe
and even a little fear
as the Psalmist concludes “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
we start to become wise
when we realize how little power we have,
how limited our understanding of what God is capable of is.
And yet, as humans
we seem to frequently both expect great displays of power from God,
and miss or almost miss them when they occur
because God who is gracious and merciful and full of compassion
rarely acts as we humans expect,
namely in the same way that we would do something.
In fact it’s usually the opposite,
God frequently uses power
in ways we least expect
among the people we think don’t deserve it,
that is the grace of God,
forgiveness, mercy, salvation,
given because of the goodness of God
not because it is earned or deserved
And we’re generally okay with that
when that grace is directed toward us,
but it seems to really upset us
when others, especially our enemies
are on the receiving end of grace as well.
In fact that’s the key to grace
It’s for everyone
I was at fall theological conference earlier this week
and Bishop Maas reminded us all that
“It’s not grace until it upsets you”
(he used slightly stronger language than that).
God extending grace in the world
Will invariably upset someone
Take the story of Naaman,
God’s grace and mercy are on display
but in all the unexpected and dare we say wrong ways.
Naaman is not an Israelite,
in fact he’s spent a good amount of time
waging war on the Israelites
and has been successful enough to take captives as slaves,
and yet it’s that small girl from Israel
whose faith in the power of God
suggests that the prophet in service of the God of Israel
could heal her captor.
And Naaman who must be really itchy
decides to give it a try
and sends a letter to the King of Israel,
who thinks, this is a trap
another way to provoke war
why else would he write?
but Elijah the prophet tells the king to let him come,
and so Naaman comes in a great display of wealth
to meet this supposedly great and powerful prophet,
and what happens?
Elisha doesn’t even come out of his tent,
he sends a messenger telling Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times,
and this upsets Naaman,
he was expecting a display of power,
a great show at the very least
and all he gets is a messenger
telling him to go wash in a piddly little stream,
and he throws a temper tantrum
refuses to do as Elisha instructs
until his servants point out to him
that if the prophet had told him to do something difficult
he would have done it,
so why not try doing the easy thing that was actually instructed.
And seeing sense in that
Naaman goes and follows the instructions and he is healed.
He almost missed being healed,
witnessing the power of God
because the way God chose to work
didn’t seem powerful enough,
let alone the fact that from the perspective of Israel
he was an enemy of the people of God,
he certainly didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of the grace of God,
and yet God acted with power, and grace.
It’s not grace until it upsets someone.
Equally potentially upsetting is our gospel story for today.
Jesus displays the power and grace of God
and even though it’s Jesus,
it’s still not what we expect from God
On the way to Jerusalem
Jesus passes through a boarder region
between Samaria and Galilee.
Remember in the Bible Samaritans
are the stand in for everyone
that we think doesn’t deserves the grace of God.
So Jesus is traveling through Samaria,
the proverbial wrong side of the tracks
and he is doing it intentionally,
there was a route from Galilee to Jerusalem
that avoided this region
As Jesus approaches a village in this borderlands
ten people with leprosy approach him,
in a place that is already on the margins
these are the marginalized,
those with leprosy were excluded from community life,
they were taught to keep a safe distance from everyone
because they were considered religiously unclean.
and even more than that,
logic of the day said
that these people were sick
because they were being punished by God
for something they had done,
even God doesn’t like them they were told
the people with leprosy call out to Jesus for mercy.
And Jesus see them.
and responds with mercy,
he heals them,
not with some flashy display
but by telling them to go show themselves to the priests,
And as they go they are made clean.
These people that conventional wisdom says
do not deserve the grace of God
And then one out of the ten
sees that he has been healed,
he recognizes God’s mercy at work in Jesus
and he turns back praising God with a loud voice and thanks Jesus.
And the punchline of the story
is that the one who gets it is a samaritan,
a leperous Samaritan, two strikes against him
and yet he is the one that returns and praises God.
Now to be fair
if I was one of those other nine
and I saw I was healed
I would continue to follow the directions of Jesus precisely,
he said go and show the priests
and that’s what I would do,
which makes it all the more upsetting
that the one who is praised
is the one that doesn’t follow through on the instructions.
See how easy it is to be upset by the grace of God?
And yet This is our God,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
love so great that God became human,
and walked among us preaching and healing
even though God knew
that it would eventually lead to a brutal death on the cross
because that way of life
would be so upsetting to those in power,
or at least what passes for power among humanity
and even then
death could not contain God
and on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.
All so that we would no longer be tormented by the finality of death.
This is our God,
the one who offers mercy first and asks questions later,
Who extends grace to all,
even and especially to those who don’t deserve it,
grace that often goes unnoticed by us
and upsets us when we do,
grace that causes us to proclaim
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Amen
17th Sunday After Pentecost
Habbakuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Timothey 1:1-14
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.
Today our lessons are talking about faith,
which is one of those things
that can be hard to talk about or even define
and yet each year I have the students about to be confirmed
write statements of faith,
I give them a pad of paper and say go for it,
write about your faith,
and each year they stare back at me for a few moments
unsure of where to begin
but after a moment and a few prompts
they figure it out
and each statement truly reflects the person who wrote it.
This weekend I met with our two 9th graders
who will affirm their baptisms at the end of the month
and As Mira and Aiden were writing
I went back through and read the faith statements from the past years
and while each had their own particular flair
common themes emerged,
The theme of Family as crucial to faith,
acknowledging that their faith grew out of parents
who got them baptized,
read them the bible
and made them go to Sunday school
The theme of belonging and acceptance
showed up again and again,
both as relates to God and community,
faith means knowing you belong to God
and that you belong to a community.
And lastly the theme of trusting God,
trusting that God will guide and be present in hard times
and in the way forward,
trusting God by following God in how life is lived.
All these expressions and definitions of faith
are found in our readings for today
but the readings go a step further,
they also address the times when faith is difficult,
Times where we cry out with the prophets
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?”
because it seems like God is not listening,
that our prayers are going unanswered,
or even worse that not only do our prayers go unanswered
but that bad people,
the ones doing evil are succeeding in life
where we are failing,
they are prospering while we are left in the dust
and while the psalmist urges us not to be provoked by evildoers,
that they will fade away like grass,
that holds little consolation now in the midst of suffering.
Why don’t you just snap your fingers and make it all go away God?
We ask at times,
or we starting thinking,
maybe it’s not God,
maybe it’s me,
my faith isn’t strong enough,
and we stand with the disciples from our gospel for today
and demand of God “increase our faith.”
Jesus has just told them by the way,
that they should be continually forgiving those who sin against them
and the disciples feel that perhaps
they don’t have enough faith for that momentous task,
Jesus responds to their request
with his odd illustration of faith the size of a mustard seed
being able to replant a mulberry tree in the ocean
which is a little different from the mustard seed parable in Matthew
then goes on to talk about expectations for servants,
and what he’s saying
is that faith is not magic,
more faith does not equal greater things happening,
the existence of any faith is enough,
even the smallest amount is sufficient,
and this goes against everything that living in the world has taught us,
that more is better,
and not only is more better
but that we are responsible for acquiring it (whatever it is) in the first place
and then it is possible to work to increase it
based on our own hard work and merit.
That’s not how God works, Jesus says,
and it’s definitely not how faith works
because faith at its core is a gift from God,
we only have faith because God has given it to us.
Paul, writing to Timothy
reminds him that God
“saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
God has done all the work
and given us the gift of faith freely
and so we are tempted to wonder,
what’s our role?
Well, what do we do with gifts?
What does a kid on Christmas afternoon do?
They play with the toys they opened that morning,
take them out of the box and try them out,
and yes sometimes interest in the toy will wane
and it ends up on a shelf or more realistically in a pile in the closet
but just because the toy isn’t being played with
doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist
or was never given,
it just means that it’s waiting to be taken out,
dusted off and played with again.
And even if the kid forgets the toy exists,
Mom knows it’s there
and keeps it safe until it’s time to play with it again.
Our faith is a gift from God,
and though there are times when we lose interest
or put it on a shelf,
or even times when we fear we’ve lost or broken it
it is still ours
Paul writing to Timothy reminds him
that he’s been given the gift of faith by God,
and now it’s time for Timothy to reclaim it as his own,
much as our confirmands will do
as they take over responsibility for the promises made on their behalf
at their baptisms.
Paul uses the image of fire,
urging Timothy to
rekindle the gift of God that is within him
and just like the mustard seed image
the fire image shows that the smallest amount is enough,
it only takes a spark to light a forest on fire,
it is sufficient,
a little faith is sufficient to change our lives.
And yes a fire that is tended will grow
just as faith that is tended will also grow
and we may at times feel like we’re responsible for that growth and our faith
but we also have times in life when our faith seems insufficient
no matter what we do
and these are the times when the community steps in
and takes care of faith for us,
because we’re not in this alone,
those times when we have a hard time praying,
the community prays for us,
when we have a hard time waiting,
the community waits with us,
when we have a hard time believing
the community believes for us,
they take care of the gift for us because faith,
trust in God
is not just an individual thing, it is also a communal thing,
And yes, there are times when the faith of a community seems insufficient
and in those times,
Christ takes care of faith for us
and the faith of Christ is sufficient,
it is enough,
it is for us.
Paul says “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”
Ultimately faith is from God
and that is enough,
it is always ours,
even when we may not feel like it,
it is always held in trust by God
even when we feel responsible for it.
We are God’s,
we are enough. Amen
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
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
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.