Vacating: Day Two

Rain drips from the pine trees into the lake. A mist hovers over the water, like the Spirit at Creation.

This is where healing begins, going back to the very beginning, when everything was new, before corruption began to eat away at the perfect balance.

Even now, the forest is greater than the houses that peek out from their clearings: tiny shelters against the elements that were designed to sustain us (before we broke everything and had to hide from perfection).

Even now, creation claims its rightful place in the Order established by Creator God. Only we struggle into and out of that Order. Only we fight against accepting our place in it.

Creation waits for us to figure it out, to realize that true rest and peace comes from submitting ourselves to the great design. For this is where healing begins: back at the beginning, as the rain drips from the pines into the lake, and the mist hovers over the water.

clouds roll in over nazareth 2015-01-09 07.37.59

Sign of the Times – Sermon on Luke 12:49-56

August 14, 2016

I have had a crazy week – how about you? There have been meetings, and we started a new worship service at Ridgeway on 23rd, plus the County Fair, with our Diaper Depot and Feeding Station, and Thursday night’s concert with 7th Time Down and Bob Lenz… it’s been busy, busy, busy around here! The constant hum of busy-ness fools us into thinking we have everything under control, as long as we can keep checking things off our “To Do” lists.

And then Jesus shows up and wads up the list and calls us nasty names. Just when we think we know what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to do it, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace lashes out at us and calls us hypocrites – just about the worst thing he could possibly call us. You think I’m making this up?

Jesus said to his disciples (that’s us, by the way):

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;  they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” – Luke 12:49-56

Not a very cheerful passage, is it? Remember that Jesus and his disciples were on their final journey to Jerusalem. As Jesus moved closer and closer to his destination – his death – a sense of urgency must have been rising in him. There was so much his disciples still did not understand about the Kingdom he had been born to rule. They were still looking for a Messiah who would be a military champion, someone to bring down Rome in a great show of armed strength. They were looking for a king who would restore the throne of David. They were not looking for a King reigning on the throne of heaven, or a king who would be a servant, or one who would be tortured and executed. They were not expecting that kind of king.

It must have been very frustrating for Jesus. Here he had been teaching with stories and parables about the way the Kingdom of God works, and they still didn’t get it. Once in a while, there would be a glimmer of understanding, but it would quickly fade, as the disciples who knew Jesus best kept trying to put him into the box of their own expectations. Can you hear the exasperation in his voice, as Jesus starts yelling – first at the twelve, and then at the crowds that were always gathering wherever he went?

Earlier, Jesus had rebuked James and John for wanting to bring down fire on some Samaritans who had not welcomed them (Luke 9:51-56), and now he declares that he cannot wait to bring down fire himself. Can’t you just hear James and John complaining, “How come you get to when we don’t?”

There is a difference between cleansing fire and fire that consumes. James and John were eager to destroy, but Jesus is talking about cleansing, purifying fire. He knows what lies ahead for him, and for his disciples, and he wants to be sure they have been refined and tested, so that they can remain strong when the time comes.

And that time is very near. Very soon, Jesus will ride a donkey into Jerusalem while the crowds shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” A few days later, these same crowds will cry out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and he will be led to the place of the skull, hung on a cross, and crucified. There isn’t much time left before the prophets’ words will be fulfilled.

Against this image of cleansing fire, Jesus throws another image, one we normally associate with water. He speaks of his own baptism, not as water to extinguish the flames, but as an example of what purification by fire prepares us to endure. He knows he will be put to the ultimate test.

The Jesus we see in this passage doesn’t seem much like the Jesus who loves and heals and cares for the poor. No, this Jesus announces division instead of peace. His rant sounds more like John the Baptist than the Beatitudes.

This Jesus is fed up with the way people keep insisting that their rules are more important than God’s love. He didn’t come to endorse the status quo. Jesus has come to set into motion God’s radical will for the world. The stress Jesus is under is not anxiety, but a total absorption in his mission. That mission is to redeem a broken world.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus pits “peace” against “division,” treating them as opposites? We often think of the opposite of peace as war, and the opposite of division as unity. But here Jesus turns the dial another notch. It’s as if Jesus is saying any division is war, and there can be no peace without unity.

Yet he knows that his own mission and ministry will cause division, even between family members. Jesus describes how following him with undivided hearts can set children against their parent or parents against their children, if those we love do not follow Jesus, too. It isn’t that Christ intends to cause ruptures just for the sake of disruption, but he knows that being his disciple carries with it the cost of forsaking everything else, and not everyone will make that kind of commitment.

Did you notice that all the divisions Jesus lists are between generations? Jesus is telling us that family ties no longer determine a person’s identity, loyalty, or status. Instead, what marks us is whether we accept or deny Jesus as Lord. What ties believers together is not our ancestry, but Christ. Jesus overturns the world’s priorities, causing division and clearing the way for God’s divine plan for peace to come to its fullness in the Kingdom of God.

God’s divine plan for peace is not always welcome. Those who benefit from the status quo, who hold positions of power at the expense of the powerless, will oppose any who come alongside Jesus to bring peace and justice to others. It is a sign of our times that political and military power struggles are escalating throughout the world, not just here in the United States. That sign, Jesus says, is something we need to pay attention to.

Even those of us who aren’t farmers will check the weather report before we go to bed, and again first thing in the morning, so we can order our lives accordingly. This week, as the temperature and humidity levels rose, I was watching the radar pretty carefully on my phone’s weather app. I was grateful when concert organizers used the same tools to determine we should move Thursday evening’s concert indoors, instead of risking a violent thunderstorm hitting the grandstand during the performance, or someone being overtaken with the heat.

Jesus is saying that it is nothing less than hypocrisy when the same skills are not brought to bear on recognizing that the day of the Lord is near. In Luke 11, Jesus chastises the crowds because they keep asking for a sign that he is the Messiah. Now, he chastises them for their complete inability to interpret the signs they are given.

The problem is not so much that we are unable to interpret the signs of the times, but more that we are unwilling to do so. It’s interesting that Jesus uses this word “interpret,” because the root word of hypocrite – that nasty name Jesus aims in our direction – also refers to an actor, or interpreter. Just as an actor puts on a character different from his own and interprets a role, so a hypocrite interprets the weather but not the more obvious current state of affairs. This kind of interpretation is superficial, not authentic, just like an actor dressed in costume and stage makeup. It is hypocrisy.

So what does the weather look like today, here in New Ulm? What time is it getting to be? What are the current concerns of the Kingdom, which Jesus is so eager to bring to completion? How are we being hypocrites, acting out our own short-sighted interpretation of “the way things are,” and missing the point of the way things ought to be? On the surface, like an actor dressed in costume and stage makeup, we look fine. But are we really paying attention to what time it is?

As I listened to Bob Lenz speak at the 7th Time Down Concert on Thursday night, something was troubling me about his message that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until later. I realized that, for all his talk about claiming resurrection power in our lives, he never once said anything about repenting of our sin or how that resurrection power transforms us into people who love more.

Earlier in the day, I had talked with Cathy Townley, who is consulting with our “Boost Sunday Morning” team to help us look at ways we can make worship more meaningful and rich. During our conversation, Cathy said, “You need to look at what makes your church unique in your community, and live into that identity. Don’t try to be the Cool Church or the Hip Church, if that is not in your DNA. But figure out what it is your church is offering that no other church in town offers, and live into it.”

Well, I thought, we have identified that. We are forming our identity around hospitality, because that’s what we’re good at. In a moment, Jerry is going to share with you some of the ways we are already beginning to make changes to help us focus on that identity.

But as I struggled to identify what it was about Bob Lenz’s presentation that didn’t sit right with me, I realized this was also the very thing we need to be sure our identity as a church makes clear to the whole community around us. Bob talked about claiming resurrection power, but it isn’t just any resurrection we are talking about. It is the power of Christ’s resurrection, offered to all who believe in him.

I’m also not just talking about life in heaven after we die. I’m talking about being resurrected from our current state of sinful death into a new life that begins immediately when we decide to turn away from living in ways that are killing us, and begin to follow Jesus into life that is rich and full and filled with joy and peace.

This church isn’t just about hospitality, because you can find that at any of the local restaurants or bed and breakfasts around town. We are about extending Christ’s hospitality to people no one else wants to welcome. We are about showing love to people no one else wants to love, in the name of Jesus. We are about helping people no one else thinks they can help, because that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

Jesus holds division and peace in tension, and asks us to interpret the times through God’s clock. What time is it? The same time it was 2000 years ago. Time to wake up. Time to take off the blinders and see what God sees. Time to repent of our complacency, our hypocrisy, our willingness to act one way in public and be something else in private, our willingness to maintain the status quo instead of moving radically into the demands of Kingdom living. It’s time to take a good hard look at who we are, and what we do, and recognize that Jesus calls us to be more – not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s time to realize that the weather is shifting. In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul writes, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2)” It’s time to become true followers of Jesus Christ. The time is now. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Clairesheep

Have No Fear – Sermon on Luke 12:32-40

August 7, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus continues to teach us what the Kingdom of God is like, and how different that Kingdom’s priorities are from the priorities we set as sinful human beings. Let’s join Jesus and his disciples as they travel toward Jerusalem.

 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” – Luke 12:32-40

 

Three years ago, as I began my appointment to this congregation, I talked about not being afraid, storing up treasures in heaven, and being ready for the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness. I could probably preach that same sermon again, and all the things I said three years ago would still be true. But today, I’d like to focus on just one verse in this passage, because I think it sums up the whole reading pretty well. It’s the first verse we read: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.“

DO NOT FEAR…

We hear the opening phrase, “Do not be afraid” throughout scripture, whenever people encounter God directly or through a heavenly messenger, like the angel Gabriel. You probably know by now that it is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible.

I’ve shared with you before that the Greek phrase for “Fear not,” or “don’t be afraid” really means “Stop being afraid.” We aren’t talking about hypothetical fear that might occur sometime down the road here. This isn’t even a warning against becoming afraid. We are talking about real fear that is already present, fear that has been with us for some time already, fear that won’t let go of us. And Jesus says, “Just stop it. Stop being afraid.”

We live in a world that runs on fear, it seems. We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t know. Our imaginations see threats to our community and nation on every side. As individuals, we fear losing control of our lives, making ourselves vulnerable to someone else. We fear getting hurt. We fear what others might think of us.
We fear shame and embarrassment.

We may try to escape our fear by ignoring it, or by building elaborate fantasies to hide from it. We may even try to escape our fear through self-medication in various forms. Maybe we overeat. We might try to accumulate comfort to offset our fear, buying things we don’t really need, in the hope that they will provide some kind of security.

None of these things will take away our fear.

Yet Jesus says, “Stop being afraid. Your Father in Heaven knows what you need.” In fact, it gives God pleasure to give you what you need.

… YOUR FATHER’S GOOD PLEASURE…

I have a sister who loves to give presents. She would much rather shop for gifts than for groceries. It’s her nature to give things away. She loves to be generous. It gives her pleasure.

In ancient Rome, gifts were given to create a sense of obligation for repayment. It was the way one climbed the social ladder – making sure others were in your debt and owed you favors.

But in Kingdom Economy, God lavishly gives away his entire Kingdom to us, and when we, in turn, give without expecting anything in return, we participate in that Kingdom and receive even more from God. More love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more faithfulness, more self-control, more, more, more.

More … treasure.

Your treasure is the Kingdom of God, which he has already decided it is his pleasure to give you. What stands at the core of this Good News is not the fear of shame, but God’s amazingly tender concern for us, his own little flock. This is an invitation to trust that our future rests in the gracious promises and presence of God. The Gospel invites us to put first things first. The Gospel says, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Because it was God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom in the first place. Have you ever thought much about what gives God pleasure? The movie Chariots of Fire follows a couple of English runners through the 1924 Olympics. One of those runners, Eric Liddell, is torn between his devotion to serving as a missionary in China, and his desire to run. In one scene, he tells his sister, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

What gifts or talents do you possess, that can be put to use for the benefit of the Kingdom of God?

What do you do that gives God pleasure?

This is the same good pleasure (or “delightful decision”) that the angels announced at Jesus’ birth when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14). It is the same good pleasure God announced at Jesus’ baptism when he said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

And this good pleasure, or “delightful decision” has already happened.

…TO GIVE YOU THE KINGDOM

The Kingdom of God is not just eternal life in the sweet by and by; the Kingdom of God’s active and current reign over heaven has already begun in Jesus’ ministry, and continues to the present time. It is here, now.

God has already given us the Kingdom. We respond by carrying out the values and standards of that Kingdom, which include getting rid of possessions, giving to the poor, and making purses that contain ultimate, inexhaustible, heavenly treasure. Instead of getting rich by accumulating human treasure, our hearts are set on what God ultimately treasures, which is compassion and mercy for those in need.

Since God, in his own good pleasure, has already given us the Kingdom, we are called to be prepared for its fulfillment when Christ comes again.

While Jesus is certainly talking about the end of time, when he will come again in glory to reign over a new heaven and a new earth, we should not be distracted by attempts to pinpoint the day and the hour this will happen. We should also not be lulled into passively twiddling our thumbs while we wait for Jesus to return. Luke offers the certainty that Christ will come again, and the uncertainty of when that will be. This certain uncertainty reminds us that, instead of passively waiting or living wildly because the end is near, we need to be faithful and alert.

Being ready for Jesus’ coming is less about any actual time and place and more about recognizing Jesus’ activity in the world when and where you least expect it. In other words, waiting around for further instructions doesn’t cut it. Fearlessly claiming your identity as a child of God allows you to immediately participate in the Kingdom that it is your Father’s good pleasure to give to you.

Karoline Lewis writes,Jesus is asking us, what is it that encapsulates the Kingdom of God for you? What is the one thing that if someone asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confidence in the presence of the Spirit? … Jesus says that the treasures close to your heart are those you can actually clarify to another in a way that the other gets what you mean, can sense that it matters, and that it matters deeply. … This is not a call to recite proper doctrine, but to be able to express in your own words, close to your heart, what your faith means to you. … confessing what matters.” 

What matters is this, dear friends. Christ calls you to let go of your fear, and accept the gift of the Kingdom of God, which it is your Father’s good pleasure to give to you. Will you receive it? Will you accept this precious gift? As we approach Christ’s Table, I invite you to drop your guard, to let go of your concern about what other people might think, and simply receive the assurance that you are God’s own beloved child, redeemed through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Have no fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

 

2013-10-13 receiving new members2

Clothed in Christ – Sermon on Colossians 3:12-17

July 31, 2016
View a video of this sermon here. 

Did you ever play “Dress Up” when you were little? Maybe you dressed up as a superhero, or you put on your parents’ clothes to play a game of make-believe, pretending you were all grown up. Maybe you put on a costume for Halloween, or to act out your part in the Christmas pageant. Whatever you put on, it gave you permission to be someone different for a short time, to pretend you had more power or grace or holiness than you actually possessed. You could be someone new.

A couple of years ago, I listened to an interview with one of the actors from Downton Abbey. She described how putting on those amazing period costumes affected her. Her posture changed, even the way she spoke suddenly became more refined. Wearing the costume automatically put her into the character she was portraying. Putting on the dress made her into someone new.

Maybe this is why Paul chooses to use clothing as a metaphor in his letter to the Colossians. Paul writes about taking off the old self and clothing ourselves in the new life in Christ. Colossians 3:1-11 tells us to strip away everything from our lives that is not of God, so that we can put on the new self, the self that is constantly being restored to bear the image of God. In that process, Paul tells us, there is no longer any identity that matters, except for Christ, who is all and in all.

But, even though the assigned reading for today ends there, Paul does not! He goes on to describe what we are to put on, once we have stripped away all the sinfulness and self-centeredness, and have given ourselves over completely to become followers of Jesus Christ.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17

This taking off the old and putting on the new that Paul describes is the essence of following Jesus. We renounce sin in all its forms and repent of our old, broken way of living for ourselves. Then we turn away from that life and toward the new life in Christ that is filled with grace and peace. We begin living for God, and in the process, we become more and more like Christ.

Clothe yourself with Christ’s attributes of humility and gentleness, forgiveness and love, Paul tells us. As we consciously begin to wear these attributes, we may find that they don’t fit very well at first. They won’t fit at all if we try to put them on without first taking off the pride and anger, the lying and the fear that marked our old life.

For Christ’s goodness to live in us and fit us well, we must strip off everything that connects us to sin. Then, and only then, will the characteristics of Christ-likeness begin to fit. As they become more and more a part of our thinking and speaking and doing, we find that something else happens. Putting on these external behaviors does something to our internal spirit.

“Let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts,” Paul writes. What began as an outward change of behavior now becomes and inward change of heart. The peace of Christ begins to take over the way we think and behave, ruling not only our hearts, but also our actions.

It is important to remember that all of the Christ-like characteristics we are to put on are social ones. We are connected to one another, and as Christ’s body, we are sent into the world to connect with others, as well.

Kenneth Sehested writes, “There is more than functional purpose for being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bearing with one another, forgiving each other, binding us to each other – such work is not for the faint of heart. This is not conflict-avoidance advice. … This is about what to do when bare-knuckled emotional brawls break out.”[1]

Because they will. People whose lives are connected by a common purpose, as we are in the church, are bound to come into conflict with each other from time to time. The question isn’t whether, but how will we respond to that conflict when it arises.

When you avoid me because you are angry or disagree with me, it does damage, not only to the Body of Christ to which we both belong, but also to your witness to the world that is watching. When I confront you with anger or abusive language, it does damage, not only to the body of Christ to which we both belong, but also to my witness to a world that is always looking to see what makes us different because we follow Christ Jesus.

That’s why Paul puts one Christ-like virtue ahead of all the others. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” he writes. Even when we disagree, as we sometimes will, speaking the truth in love will keep us in harmony with one another, and keep our witness to the rest of the world intact.

Paul goes on to say, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This change of heart, this movement from clothing ourselves in Christ to finding inward peace, happens when we immerse ourselves in the Word of God.

John W. Coakley writes, “The texts of the Bible … are not to be treated as objects to be understood, containers of ideas to be questioned or debated, rather, they are to be taken into oneself through the whole shape of daily life.”[2] The author of Hebrews puts it another way: “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). When Christ’s word dwells in us richly, our lives bubble up in worship and praise, and we are filled to the brim with thanksgiving.

Giving God thanks and praise is the one thing you can do that will set you apart from the rest of the world. Because the rest of the world is busy trying to be self-sufficient, instead of God-dependent. The rest of the world is busy paying attention to its physical desires instead of seeking the Kingdom of God. The rest of the world is obsessed with hatred and fear, with anger and lies, instead of the love, peace, and truth that Christ offers to all who will call on his name and turn their lives over to him.

Three times in two verses, Paul reminds us to be thankful, to have gratitude in our hearts, to give God our thanks and praise in everything we do. The word for thanksgiving is Eucharist, a word we closely associate with worship. We don’t know if the early church was already using this word to mean Communion, as we use it now, but it’s helpful to remember that we call it Eucharist because the solemn rite we follow in this sacrament always begins with something called the Great Thanksgiving.

Paul tells us that, having put off the old sinful self, and having put on Christ, our hearts are transformed by Christ’s peace as we take God’s Word into ourselves. The only response we can offer to such a great gift is our continual thanks and praise. Our lives become lives of worship, so that everything we do or think or say is done in the name of Jesus, even as we give thanks to God through Christ.


A church was looking for a new pastor, and the District Superintendent (DS) sat down with church leaders to talk about what they wanted to see in this new person. “Someone who can attract young families,” they said. This made sense, because the church had been in decline for many years, and the congregation was aging. So the DS asked them, “what is it about your church that young families would find attractive now?”

They looked at each other, then at the floor.
“Well, what attracted you to this church when you first started to come here?” the DS asked encouragingly.

“It’s the fellowship. This is where I can see my friends every week, and we can catch up with each other’s lives,” one woman replied. “It’s where I get a sense of belonging, where my friendships were formed.”

The DS thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, and these days, people who are under the age of 35 with children can get that same sense of belonging and friendship building at their kids’ soccer games, or other sports activities. They build friendships with other parents whose kids are involved in the same things their kids are involved in. They don’t need church for ‘fellowship,’” the DS said. “What else?”

“Well, church is where I get involved in helping other people. We work at the food pantry or take a meal to the homeless shelter, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that,” said one man.

“Yes, and people who are under the age of 35 do those things, too. They just don’t need a church to help them do it. They are very involved in social justice issues, but they work through secular organizations to get that same satisfaction,” the DS told them. “What else?”

The room was silent. Someone coughed.

Finally, the DS said, “What’s the one thing that church has to offer that soccer teams and social agencies often don’t? … Anyone?”

Still no answer.

“Okay, look at it this way. What difference has being part of this church made to your faith? How has following Jesus Christ, as a member of this congregation, changed your life?”

“Oh pastor,” one man grumbled, “You don’t want to go there. That’s getting too personal!”

“Well,” the DS answered, “it’s the one thing you have going for you that other social groups and service groups don’t. The one thing the church can claim as its own is Jesus, and if you can’t identify how Jesus has changed your life, what makes you think anyone else would be attracted to your church?”


Sometimes it’s the people in the pews who need Jesus the most.

When we put on Christ, we look different, we act differently, we speak differently, because we not only wear Christ on the outside, we are filled with Christ from the inside. And it shows. People notice. They become curious, and want to know why our lives are different from theirs, why we have peace and joy in abundance, whatever the circumstances are, why we aren’t greedy like everyone else, why we aren’t consumed with lust, why we aren’t angry all the time, why we don’t resort to slander and gossip and foul language.

If no one is noticing how your life is different from theirs, why is that? If no one is asking you how you have such peace, why is that? If no one is remarking about the joy you always show, why aren’t they? If no one can see Christ in you, ask yourself why.

Could it be that you haven’t really been changed, that you have not ever experienced the transformation Christ offers to all who will call him Lord? Is it possible that the person who needs Jesus most is you?

If you are like the person who comes to church to see your friends, but Christ hasn’t changed your life and made you new, maybe it’s time for you to strip off the old you and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ.

If you come to church for the satisfaction of serving others, maybe it’s time for you to strip off the old you and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ.

If you talk one way at church, but your language at home and at work is laced with criticism and slander and abusive talk, maybe it’s time for you to cast off the old you and clothe yourself “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Maybe it’s time for you to start bearing with your sisters and brothers in Christ, and if you have a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

[1] Kenneth Sehested, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1, 160.

[2] John W. Coakley, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, 162.

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Brazen Beseeching – Sermon on Luke 11:1-13

July 24, 2016
View a video of this sermon here.

I like Luke’s gospel a lot. He’s a good storyteller, and I love a good story. I mean, what would Christmas Eve be without Luke? As we read today’s passage together in a moment, you will find words that may be quite comforting to you, because, like the Christmas story, they are so familiar. That’s just the problem.

Maybe this never happens to you, but sometimes, as I read a familiar passage of Scripture, I tend to tune it out. ‘Oh, I know this part,’ says a little voice in the back of my mind. As my eyes scan the page, my brain goes on autopilot, and before I know it, I’m making a grocery list in my head, or planning the next day’s activities – even as I read words that should be challenging me and transforming me.

And I have to confess that I’m a little bit afraid to tackle a text that is so familiar to many of us. What on earth could I possibly add to what has already been said about the Lord’s Prayer? But here it is, the gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, that well-organized three year cycle of readings from the Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospels that we use to center our weekly worship in the Word of God. Following the discipline of the Common Lectionary forces us to face difficult passages, but it also forces us to revisit words we think we already know, to hear God speak directly into our lives. So let’s begin. Let us dive into the gospel lesson together this morning, and see what the Lord would have us find.

He [that is, Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “when you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us,
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 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!” (Luke 11:1-13)

There are at least four sermons available to us in this gospel reading, and you’ve probably already heard all of them. We could dissect the Lord’s Prayer, which some scholars suggest should really be called ‘the Disciples’ Prayer’ since this is the only place in the gospels where the disciples actually ask Jesus to teach them something.

Prayer is a central theme throughout Luke’s gospel, and we find Jesus praying at key moments in his ministry. In his book, Stories with Intent, Klyne Snodgrass points out that “Luke emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus by including seven references not present in Matthew and Mark: [Jesus prays] at his baptism, 3:21; after the cleansing of the leper and before the conflict with authorities 5:16; before choosing the twelve, 6:12; before Peter’s confession and the passion prediction, 9:18; at the transfiguration, 9:28; the Lord’s Prayer 11:1; and on the cross at 23:34 (omitted in several manuscripts).”[1]

This is the only instance we find where the disciples are asking to be taught, and it is significant that the lesson they want to learn is How to Pray. This request may not reflect a deep desire to converse with God as Jesus does, so much as it shows a desire to be identified with Jesus, even by the way they pray. And isn’t that what we claim to want, too? To be identified with Jesus by the way we live our lives, and even by the way we pray?

Of course, whole volumes have been written on the Ask-Seek-Knock verses, and you’ve already heard the Children’s version of the “how much more” verses. But perhaps the key to this passage lies in the parable of the Friend at Midnight, for this parable is unique to Luke’s gospel, and it contains a word that occurs no where else in the New Testament. Let’s take another look at verses 5 through 8, and this time, I’d like to read to you from the English Standard Version, to give us a slightly different translation than the one we read a moment ago.

[5] And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, [6] for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; [7] and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? [8] I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.   (Luke 11:5-8 ESV)

Because of his impudence! Now, that puts a little different spin on this story, doesn’t it? The Greek word, translated here as ‘impudence,’ and in the version we read earlier as ‘persistence’, is anaídeia – and it only occurs this one time in the entire New Testament. Since we cannot infer its definition from other Biblical usage, scholars have examined ancient literature from the first and second centuries to determine its meaning. In those other writings, anaídeia most commonly refers to a lack of sensitivity to what is proper, a lack of modesty or respect, a brazen or shameless manner of behavior. Until Jesus told this story, anaídeia was considered a negative term. This kind of shamelessness didn’t even care about being shameless.

We have to remember that the culture of Jesus’ day was one in which honor and shame held great importance. You wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared for company, for this would bring shame on both you and your guest. Likewise, your neighbor would not want to bring shame on either of you by failing to help you maintain your honor.

So these verses (5-7) are really a long rhetorical question, typical of Jesus’ teaching style. The question “Who among you…?” introduced an everyday situation that was common enough for everyone to know the answer. No one would think of denying a neighbor whatever he needed to welcome an unexpected guest. It just wasn’t done.

It’s interesting that some translations interpret this shameless, brazen entreaty as persistence, because nowhere in this passage does it say anything about repeated asking. The man seeking help asks once. After the parable, Jesus says, “ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.’ He does not say, “keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until you get what you want.”

God is gracious and eager to supply all our needs. Our asking isn’t for God’s benefit, but for our own, to put us in the right frame of mind to humbly remember that all things come from God alone.

But this awareness begs another question: Just who is behaving shamelessly in this parable? Is it the one knocking at the door, asking for help? Or is it the one in bed, who won’t get up for friendship, but will for honor’s sake? The original Greek doesn’t help us much here, because the same pronouns – “he”, “him”, “his” – refer to both participants in the drama.

Maybe Jesus is describing the knocker-at-the-door as the Brazen Beseecher. In this scenario, we find a person who is willing to impose on one friend in an effort to maintain his honor with another. He knows he can depend on his neighbor to help him, not because they are friends, but because they both understand their social structure and they want to uphold it. Isn’t it ironic that such a culture allows someone to become vulnerable to a neighbor’s displeasure, risking the loss of honor with that friend, in order to maintain honor with a guest?

Or maybe the friend-behind-the-door is the Shameless Steward, climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, risking his family’s displeasure and the embarrassment of being seen ‘ready for bed’ when he opens the door, just to help a neighbor who didn’t get his baking done yesterday. Either scenario is possible, and maybe both possibilities are true. Maybe both friends are behaving without any regard for shame, stretching the limits of appropriate behavior with each other for the benefit of yet another.

Often, as I consider this parable, I find myself assuming the role of the one knocking, asking for help. As I lay my heart’s concerns before God, I find myself asking God to help me with this, or help me with that, shamelessly asking for the things I see as my greatest needs. I’m a lot like the guy banging on the door in the middle of the night, begging for help.

Now, mind you, I’m not asking for anything bad. I ask for wisdom and discernment. I ask God to give me courage when I’m under stress, to keep me focused on what’s really important, instead of being distracted by petty issues. I ask God to protect my children from evil. And I ask God to guide my steps, to keep me disciplined.

None of that sounds so awful, does it? But it does sound pretty specific, like the man asking for exactly three loaves of bread to feed a hungry traveler.

But, if I’m the person knocking on the door, that makes God the one inside, willing to get out of bed in the middle of the night for his own honor’s sake, to give me – notice it doesn’t say ‘three loaves of bread’ here – no, to give me whatever I need. And why? For his honor’s sake. So that God may be glorified.

“Hallowed be your Name. … Give us each day our daily bread.” Jesus teaches us to pray.

But what if the roles are reversed? What if I am the one in bed, and Christ is the one shamelessly knocking at the door? We find this image in Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

“I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Christ isn’t asking to borrow bread. Instead, he shamelessly offers table fellowship to anyone who will hear his voice and open the door. Christ bore the shame of our sin on the cross. He died for us. He brazenly knocks at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to hear his voice, to open the door, and to invite him in.

As we join Christ at the table, he does ask something of us. Christ asks that we bring honor to God by shamelessly, brazenly sharing the good news that God loves us and will provide for us – all that we ask, and all that we need.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard another very familiar story from Luke’s gospel, one that we often call the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story Jesus tells in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Today’s story turns that question around and asks us to consider, “Whose neighbor am I?” Who needs me to set aside my own ideas of proper behavior so I can shamelessly offer mercy and give glory to God?

But we also need to remember that this whole passage is about prayer. It’s about asking for what we need. And what we need is often not the three loaves of bread we see as our most pressing issue. What we need is God’s Spirit, breathing life into us and through us into the world where we live.

Jesus says, “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!” No snakes instead of fish. No scorpions instead of eggs. God will not ration out three loaves of bread to share with a friend. How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to us, if we dare to shamelessly ask!

So what would it look like for this congregation to be made up of people who shamelessly ask God to give us what we need, instead of what we want? Are we ready to dare to ask for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us in ways we haven’t seen before, ways that might not look too polite? Are we willing to risk embarrassment for the sake of the gospel?

Because I know people in this community who risk embarrassment every day, coming here and brazenly asking for what they need because they can’t find it anywhere else. We can give them “three loaves of bread,” but how much more God asks us to offer them! How much more God offers to us, if we will only ask for it.

One of our Five Strategic Goals is to “create an environment for Pentecost to happen.” Luke’s other book, the Book of Acts, tells us that the believers were all gathered together in the upper room after the resurrection, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on them. And what were they doing during those fifty days of waiting? They were praying. They were praying shamelessly, asking God to come among them and give them what Jesus had promised.

Jesus says, “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” He reminds us that even in our human frailty, we know how to give good things to our children. “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So let’s ask. Let’s get on our knees and beg brazenly for the very thing God wants to give us: his own dear self, in the person of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray.

[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 440.

2015-01-14 Good Samaritan road

Who is My Neighbor? Another sermon on Luke 10:25-37

I preached on this text just a few months ago, to a different congregation, so the first part of this sermon is that sermon, with a few tweaks. But events of this past week have demanded that I speak to the violence that has overwhelmed us, and the need to remind my very white congregation that Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the set up to today’s gospel reading, from last week’s reading in Luke 10. What has just happened was the sending of the 70 (or 72) into the villages and towns where Jesus plans to go next. These disciples are the advance team, and their mission is successful.

The 72 have just returned, and Jesus has prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to the Father, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit and blessing these disciples. Everyone’s feeling pretty good about what has just happened. If this were a television show, the commercial break would come right about here.

Luke sets off today’s famous story with one of his signature introductions: “And behold.” Luke acknowledges what has just happened, and connects it to this story with “and.” But there’s that “behold” to show us that we are about to hear something new.

 

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your 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.”28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer who steps up to question Jesus only asks two questions. The first is a test, but the lawyer’s question isn’t as simple as our modern translations make it seem. A literal translation might sound more like, “Teacher, I will inherit life eternal having done or fulfilled or acquired what, exactly?” It’s a messy question, and hard to put into simple words.

Jesus identifies a teachable moment, and answers the question with –you guessed it – another question. Actually, two – and this is important. Jesus wants to know “What is in the law? You’re a lawyer, you know the scriptures; you already have your answer. You tell me what it says.” That’s questions number one.

But then Jesus immediately follows with a much more personal question – “How do you read it?” At once we realize that Jesus does not see the Law as a dead and stagnant set of words that mean the same thing to everyone. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and how we read it determines how we will respond to God’s message.

The lawyer doesn’t hesitate, but begins by quoting the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

We think of this as a command, but the verb “shall” is not an imperative in this case. It’s more of an indication that something will surely happen in the future. You are going to love the Lord your God, because the Lord is the only God there is.

The lawyer adds part of Leviticus 19:18(b), and this blending of two verses gives us what we now call “the Great Commandment.” To love God, we must also love our neighbor.

Yes, Jesus says, you’ve got it. Go do it. But just as Jesus turns back to his friends, who are still celebrating their successful mission trip, the lawyer adds a new question, and this isn’t a test, it’s an attempt to justify himself. This guy who was challenging Jesus a moment ago suddenly feels the need to get his approval, so he asks, “Yes, but … who is my neighbor?

I can imagine the others getting quiet as Jesus looks at the lawyer. They have a hunch they know what Jesus is going to do. I imagine Jesus pausing a moment, considering the best way to teach this lawyer about the high cost of discipleship. He decides to take on this expert in the law, and everyone else settles in to listen. They know that a story is coming.

Jesus sets the scene. It’s the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. About a year and a half ago, I was on that road. We stopped at a Bedouin camp to get a good view of what is commonly called The Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think I have shown you some of these photos before, but let’s get a refresher course on what this valley looks like. ….

2015-01-14 Valley of the ShadowIt was the rainy season, so there was a bit of green showing here and there, but when we looked out across the Valley toward Jerusalem, it was hard to imagine anyone walking through this wilderness.

 

That’s Jerusalem off in the distance, on the very rim of the horizon:

2015-01-14 UP to Jerusalem

 

 

 

 

 

When we turned and looked down the valley in the other direction, we could almost make out Jericho.2015-01-14 down to Jericho1

 

In between is treacherous wilderness, and the distance was too great to be traveled on foot in a single day. This made travelers vulnerable to the robbers and nomads who spent their lives scrabbling out an existence in this wasteland.

bedouin homes

The place where our bus stopped was near a Bedouin camp. At first, we thought it had been abandoned, but the tour guide assured us that it was not.

The guide warned us to take valuables with us when we got off the bus, and keep them close. We were also encouraged to not buy anything or try to bargain with these Bedouins. And whatever we did, when the children asked us for candy, even if we had some, we should refuse. It might be a ruse to get us to open our bags or pockets – something you should never do in front of a Bedouin child. You also should not let them catch you taking their pictures.

Bedouins on the run to meet the bus 2015-01-14 10.35.17

Sure enough, as soon as the bus stopped, here they came.

I was careful to wait until the children weren’t looking to take a snapshot.

Bedouin girl 2015-01-14 10.36.45

 

 

Bedouin boy with backpack 2015-01-14 10.36.01This charming little guy had a backpack full of trinkets he was trying to sell us. Everything was “one dollar.” When we declined, he held out his hand and asked, “Candy? Gum?” He went from salesman to beggar in the blink of an eye.

As I tried to imagine someone walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, it occurred to me that these Bedouin children were a much milder version of the robbers in Jesus’ story. Clearly, they were not a real threat to us. We were in no danger of being stripped and left to die on the side of the road.

2015-01-14 Good Samaritan roadBut if this was the road Jesus and his listeners were imagining as he told the story, I could see why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel it alone.

Whenever Jesus tells a parable, he invites us into the story. There is almost always one character with whom we identify. Quite often, there’s a twist somewhere in the story that surprises us. It tells us we’ve been identifying with the wrong character all along, if we really want to be followers of Christ. The story of the Good Samaritan is no exception.

The first two people who accidentally happen by are a priest and a Levite. IF you were the man lying in the ditch, who better to come along than someone whose life is dedicated to God? At the very least, you would expect no further harm to come to you. These must be the heroes, surely.

But they both hurry over to the other side of the road. Neither of these likely heroes stop to help. They probably wanted to avoid contamination – touching this man, who looked like he might be dead, would make them ritually unclean.

It is the third traveler who is moved to compassion. Finally, someone who can do something! He gets down off his camel or donkey, cleans the man’s wounds with wine and oil, bandages him up and puts the man on the camel – or donkey. But there’s a catch. This kind person, whose care has saved a life, is – a Samaritan. The very last person on earth any self-respecting Jew would ask for help. The Enemy.

There was a long history of animosity between the people of Samaria and the people of Israel. It went all the way back to King Solomon’s son, who had failed to keep the kingdom together, and ten tribes had renounced their allegiance to David’s line. They stopped worshiping in Jerusalem, and within a very short time, had turned away from worshiping God alone. The tribe of Judah – the Jews – didn’t even really consider the Samaritans to be Hebrews anymore. As far as they were concerned, the Samaritans were worse than Gentiles.

The disciples and the lawyer who heard Jesus tell this parable might have had a hard time accepting the Samaritan as the hero. They probably assumed it would be the priest or the Levite. After all, it’s easy to justify their failure to help by remembering they were just trying to stay clean. But the person who does the right thing turns out to be a Samaritan – just about the worst possible ethnic group any of the disciples could imagine.

The difference between the Samaritan and the first two holy men who happened along that road between Jerusalem and Jericho wasn’t a matter of eyesight. All three of them saw the man lying in the ditch. The difference is what they did when they saw him. The first two made a beeline for the opposite side of the road. Only the Samaritan saw the man and had compassion. Remember that this word compassion is more than pity. It’s a gut-wrenching, heart-changing feeling. The Samaritan didn’t see an enemy lying in the ditch; he saw a person in need.
He saw a brother, a neighbor, and his heart went out to this stranger.

Jesus says, “Go be like the Samaritan.” Go be like the person you snub. Go be like the person you think you’re too good to be around. Go be like the person you think is your enemy.This week, we have seen violence erupt in an all too familiar pattern.

On Tuesday of this week, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On Wednesday, Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. These two incidents sparked a wave of protests, prayer vigils, and calls for justice.

On Thursday, a sniper attacked police officers in Dallas Texas as they protected and served during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration. Five officers died, and seven officers, along with two civilians, were injured.

Each of the people involved in these shooting incidents was a beloved child of God. Every single one. Every single person was a neighbor.

While violence and anger have escalated, many have experienced a growing sense of frustration and a feeling of helplessness. What can we possibly do? How are we to respond?

We may think that we are exempt from racial unrest here in our little corner of the world. But we aren’t. We may not be shouting racist epithets or actively discriminating against people of color, but even in our silence, we still experience privilege because of our white skin. We benefit from a system of oppression and advantage no matter what our intentions are.

During World War II, Martin Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime. He spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. After the war, Niemöller gave lectures, and his point was always the same: through their silence, the German people, and the Protestant churches in particular, had given support to Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and the murder of millions of people. Even if they did not agree with Hitler, their silence had made them complicit in the evil that Hitler had perpetrated. Niemöller’s famous words, repeated in several different variations over many speeches, go something like this:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews – and I did not speak out,
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Over the last several days, we have seen T-shirts and signs and hashtags on social media repeating the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” and sometimes I see a response that says, “All Lives Matter.” One of my black clergy colleagues wrote this week that saying, “All lives matter,” is like saying “All houses matter” when there is one house on fire. Of course all houses matter, but shouldn’t we be throwing some water on the one that is burning right now? It’s like going to the emergency room with a broken leg and hearing the doctor say, “Well you know, all bones matter.” Of course they do, but shouldn’t we be taking care of the one bone that is broken right now?

Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Samaritan lives matter.”
Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Children’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Jewish lives matter.”
Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying, “All lives matter,” Jesus said, “Leper’s lives matter.”

Even though Jesus loved everyone, even dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people – the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.
So saying, “Black Lives Matter” is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.” (from Stephen Mattson’s article ‘Social Justice is a Christian Tradition – Not a Liberal Agenda’ in Sojourners (08/11/15))

In the Friday Five this week, I issued a call to prayer that echoes our Bishop’s call to pray for peace and justice. If you use Facebook, I invite you to “like” the church’s Facebook page, where you will see a prayer prompt each day this week at noon. Prayer is the most basic, fundamental thing we can do as Christians, to begin the transformational healing our world so desperately needs. No ministry can be effective unless we first bathe it in prayer.

But prayer isn’t enough. It’s a start, but until we actively work at peacemaking, there will be no peace. Until we actively work at listening to the cry of pain in our community, we will keep walking past the very ones Christ calls us to stand beside. Until we actively work at recognizing the privilege we experience just by not having to think about racism if we so choose, our brothers and sisters who have no choice but to think about racism every waking moment will continue to suffer.

So let’s keep praying at noon every day this week. But let’s do more than that. Let’s look for ways we can actively work to overcome hatred and fear with the love of Christ. If a Samaritan can do it, surely we can. If a Jewish lawyer can do it, surely we can.

As we pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the choice is ours. Will we see and cross over to the other side of the road, or will we see and be consumed by gut-wrenching compassion for those who suffer injustice, especially our brothers and sisters of color whose lives matter to God?

When Jesus finished his story, he asked the lawyer, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” He says the same to each of us. Amen.

Wheat-harvest-Kansas

The Kingdom of God Is Near – Sermon on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

July 3, 2016

After this the Lord appointed seventy [or seventy-two] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ …

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

 

Jesus sent an advance party to the places he planned to go himself. He told them to offer healing and peace, and to announce that the Kingdom of God had come near. But he didn’t send these disciples out alone; they went in pairs, to give each other encouragement and to hold each other accountable. A couple of weeks ago, we sent out some disciples from this congregation to offer healing and peace to the East Side of St. Paul. Through their work and their witness, they made it known that the Kingdom of God has indeed come near. I invite the UrbanCROSS team to come and share with us some of their experiences.

[SPECIAL REPORT: Mission trip team on UrbanCROSS]

It started with just 70 or 72 people, this movement of trusting and following Jesus. Seventy or so people who were given the task of spreading peace, healing the sick, and announcing the Kingdom of God. This year’s Annual Conference Session in St. Cloud was just one example of how Christ continues to call us to offer peace and healing while we proclaim the Good News. Sue served as our conference lay delegate this year, and she is going to share with you some of her observations.

[SPECIAL REPORT: Annual Conference Session]

The kingdom of God has come near to you. This is the only sermon Jesus gave his disciples to preach. Heal the sick, spread peace, and say these words over and over: the Kingdom of God has come near to you. Practice saying this to yourself for a moment: “The Kingdom of God has come near to me.” Go ahead, whisper it to yourself out loud!

You have just heard some examples of the Kingdom of God drawing near, of being sent into the world in the name of Jesus to heal brokenness and spread peace. Sometimes we may think that the Great Commission from Matthew’s gospel is the only call to discipleship Jesus offered. But here we are, traveling toward Jerusalem with Jesus through Luke’s gospel, and we see that Jesus has always been sending his followers out to heal, to offer shalom, and to remind this crazy world we live in that it is not our final destination. The kingdom of God has come near to you.

When Jesus sent out the seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which version you favor), he warned them that the work they were to do, this Kingdom work, might not always be easy. We might think that he made it even more difficult with the instructions he gave: take nothing with you, accept whatever hospitality is shown to you, and don’t go looking for the softest bed or the best cook in town. In other words, allow yourselves to become vulnerable, and trust in God to provide for your needs. When people welcome you, receive their hospitality with grace. Know that sometimes, your message will not be received very well. When people don’t welcome you, move on. Either way, the Kingdom of God has come near, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

When Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God has come near, he says “near,” not “soon.” Theologians like to talk about the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom of God. God’s kingdom has already been introduced to this world in the coming of Jesus, God’s own Son. This Kingdom is not something you have to wait for. It is now, it has already come near in the person of Jesus Christ. You can reach out and touch it, it’s so close to you. But it is not yet completed, not yet fulfilled. Christ calls us to participate fully in God’s kingdom, to help bring it to full reality when Christ comes again in glory. There is still work to do. There is still a harvest to gather in.

Maybe you noticed an article in the New Ulm Journal (Friday, July 1, 2016) this week about the wheat harvest in Kansas. It’s been described as a once-in-a-lifetime harvest. Yields in some fields are well above 100 bushels an acre. That’s a lot of wheat. One custom cutter brought in four combines to harvest a particular farm, and had to park one on the side of the field, because the trucks couldn’t keep up with the amount of grain coming in. Remember the piles of corn we had around here last year? They are piling wheat at the Co-Ops in Kansas, because all the storage bins are full to bursting, and there is nowhere else to put this bumper crop.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Harvest time is when you bring in all the help you can find, because there is only a short window of opportunity to get the crops in while they are at their peak. Cousins and in-laws and neighbors work diligently together from early morning into the night to bring in the harvest. They understand the urgency of the situation.

Jesus reminds us that our situation is just as urgent. In the passage we heard earlier from Galatians, Paul writes, “Let us not grow weary of doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) It is this urgency, this need to persevere in doing the work of the Kingdom that brings us to one more realization: we cannot do this work alone.

We need each other to fulfill Christ’s call on our lives. Jesus sent out his followers two-by-two, not to echo the animals entering Noah’s ark, but because he knew how important it is to have partners you can depend on in ministry. A partner holds you accountable for keeping the work going, just by being present. You don’t want your partner to see you goofing off, do you? And a partner offers encouragement when you need it most, when you feel weary, and especially when your message is rejected and you feel like your work is in vain. A partner helps you keep focused on your mission: to offer healing, to spread peace, and to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

We are called to be partners in ministry together. Jesus sends us out into the world like sheep in the midst of wolves. He gives us authority to act in his name, encouraging one another, so that, when the Kingdom finally comes in its fullness, we can rejoice that our names are written in heaven, where we will feast at our Lord’s Table with all the company of saints. As we anticipate that joy, Christ invites you to this Table.

Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may; come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be his true disciples; come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your weakness and sin you stand in constant need of God’s mercy and help; come, not to express an opinion, but to seek God’s presence and pray for his Spirit. Come, for the Kingdom of God has come near to you, and Christ invites you to be part of it.