Ok, let’s get something out of the way real fast. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because we don’t need to and because we’ve got better things to do, but something needs to be said! If you’ll remember way, way back to 2 weeks ago (I know, I can barely remember yesterday), we talked in the sermon about how context matter. Well, that is doubly true for our gospel this week. This passage from Matthew is one of those that gets used to build what we call “rapture theology”. The whole “Left Behind” series? One giant love song to Rapture Theology. And in this theology, the idea is that at some surprising point, Jesus comes back and those who are chosen are “swept away” and those who are “bad” are “left behind”, presumably to be punished for all eternity, or some garbage like that. (If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of Rapture Theology.) And this passage from Matthew is a big one that gets pointed to a lot. But I just want to point out one, quick little detail – the context! Verse 37 – “For as the days of Noah.” So stick the story of Noah and the flood in your head and think about, if you were in that story, would you want to get “swept away”? No! That wasn’t a good thing! So this one passage that gets used to build a bad theology gets it wrong from the beginning! And that’s all I’m going to say on that, because we’ve got bigger fish to fry! It’s Advent! We are in the first week of Advent. This pre-Christmas season that is all about vision and light. What do you see? This season is all about clearing the sleep out of your eyes and looking up. And looking and watching and seeing until you begin to make out those first glimmers of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, you may not know this, but in one of my past lives, I worked as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization. Which was a lot about asking for money, but even more so, it was about helping people see a vision, and to see a vision so compelling that they would want to be a part of it. But critical for helping cast a vision was to consider your framework. And one of the ways we talked about this work was in terms of altitude. How high up was your vision? You could talk about your 6 ft. vision. What do you see if you just look around where you stand? For Trinity, we could say that our 6 ft. vision includes this big, beautiful building, that’s got some really great space, but maybe in need of some new carpet, some plaster repair, and some paint touch-ups. And we have one another. We’ve got these 300 or so people who call Trinity their faith home and who work to love and care for one another. And it’s beautiful! It’s a beautiful thing to see! But let’s go higher. How about the 10,000 ft. vision? What would you see from the top of a mountain? Well, from up there, you could see all of Green Bay. And there, smack dab in the middle of it, you would see this building. And from that point you could see that we are only one part of this whole community. And you might see a vision of this one small building that has connections all over this city. You might see this congregation as one that shows up at the NEW Community Shelter and Wellspring and Woodside. And you may even see a vision of this one small church that sends each and every one of its members into the community, to be a person of light and hope every place they go: at home, at work, at the grocery store. 300 points of light in Brown county! Can you see it? From 10,000 ft., you can see that ”this” is only one small piece of the whole vision. But let’s go bigger! Let’s take it up to 30,000 ft.! What would you see from an airplane? You can’t see the building anymore, but you can see that we’ve moved way beyond Green Bay. You’d see that we share this earth with 7.5 billion other people. And we all share this planet together. From 30,000 ft., it would be easy to say, what can one little church in Green Bay, Wisconsin do, anyway? But look! What do you see? Do you see the quilts that move from our auditorium, over to Minneapolis, and then on to wherever in the world they are needed? Someone in Haiti and someone in Zimbabwe and someone in Serbia is wrapped right now in a blanket that was put together here. And in Brazil, coffee farmers and cocoa farmers have escaped poverty because we here at Trinity have said it matter to us that farmers are paid a fair wage for their labor. So we drink Fair Trade coffee and sell Fair Trade chocolate and tea and olive oil. Because we can’t do it all, but we can do this. From 30,000 ft., you can see that this small community stretches around the globe and you can see that we are a part, one small part of the global vision. And we have work to do. There are ways we could be less wasteful and better stewards. But from 30,000 ft., you can see that we are there. This one small group of 300 people in Green Bay has arms of love and justice that stretch around the globe. And in the fundraising world, that’s where it stops. If you can help people see your 30,000 ft. vision, that you’re asking people to support just this one small non-profit, but you are a part of something so much bigger that what you can see and hear and touch in front of you. That’s where it ends in fundraising. But we’re not a non-profit. We’re not a social service agency. We are the Body of Christ. And God has given us an even greater vision. God’s vision. And Advent, this pre-Christmas season of hope and anticipation is all about listening and looking for God’s vision. It is a season of reorienting yourself to God’s future. God’s vision doesn’t end with what is, but what will be. God’s vision doesn’t stop with what we know, but with what we hope. So what do you see? In our reading from Isaiah, it begins with, “The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw.” And it goes on to describe this vision of God’s future, that in God’s future, swords will be hammered down into shovels, and guns into coat racks, and everyone will stream to God, to learn the ways of peace and justice and never again will we know war. How big is your vision? What do you see? Are you limited by what you know and can feel and taste and see? Or are you pulled forward by what you hope? Advent is the season of God’s vision, of being pulled forward by hope, by living today as if God’s future really is true. There a story of a church, down in the deep south, shortly after the civil war, during the years of revival. And this church cause quite a stir because at their revivals, both white folks and black folks were worshipping and singing praising God together. And good upstanding members of the community were appalled and asked the leaders of that group, “Don’t you know that in Genesis it clearly says that the races are to be separate? What gives you the right to turn over what the bible commands?” And the leaders of that congregation said, “Yes, it does say that in Genesis. But in Revelation, it also says that one day, all people will worship together before God. And if that’s where we’re headed anyway, doesn’t it make sense to start now?” This congregation was living into God’s vision and God’s future now. Imperfectly, to be sure. All is not yet finished. But these men and women were reaching into God’s future and pulling into now whatever little bits they could grab a hold of. And we do that, too! Did you know that? We run a food pantry and serve food at the shelter. Why? Because it’s a good thing to do, yes, but also because in the Kingdom of God, no one goes hungry. No one is left behind. And so we reach ahead and grab a hold of that scrap of the Kingdom and pull it into now. In the Kingdom of God, there is joy in the harvest and celebration at the feast, and so we support Fair Trade now, trusting that one day all God’s children will know justice and joy. In God’s Kingdom, forgiveness and love and grace is the very air we breathe, so we love and forgive and show mercy now, even imperfectly and sometimes even poorly, but because we have reached forward into the hope of God’s future and pulled into now whatever small bits we can. Advent is the season of hope. Of asking God to open our eyes until we begin to see even faint glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven. And then, in hope and trust, we reach forward into God’s future and drag whatever small pieces we can into now. And it will be imperfect. And it will be faint. But it is also holy. It is also the most beautiful work to which we could ever hope to be called. … What do you see? How big is your vision? Advent is the season of hope, it is the season of setting your sights on God’s vision, and following that light all the way to the Kingdom, and maybe even, all the way to the manger. Amen.
Ok, let’s get something out of the way real fast. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because we don’t need to and because we’ve got better things to do, but something needs to be said!
If you’ll remember way, way back to 2 weeks ago (I know, I can barely remember yesterday), we talked in the sermon about how context matter. Well, that is doubly true for our gospel this week.
This passage from Matthew is one of those that gets used to build what we call “rapture theology”. The whole “Left Behind” series? One giant love song to Rapture Theology.
And in this theology, the idea is that at some surprising point, Jesus comes back and those who are chosen are “swept away” and those who are “bad” are “left behind”, presumably to be punished for all eternity, or some garbage like that. (If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of Rapture Theology.)
And this passage from Matthew is a big one that gets pointed to a lot. But I just want to point out one, quick little detail – the context! Verse 37 – “For as the days of Noah.”
So stick the story of Noah and the flood in your head and think about, if you were in that story, would you want to get “swept away”? No! That wasn’t a good thing!
So this one passage that gets used to build a bad theology gets it wrong from the beginning! And that’s all I’m going to say on that, because we’ve got bigger fish to fry!
It’s Advent! We are in the first week of Advent. This pre-Christmas season that is all about vision and light. What do you see?
This season is all about clearing the sleep out of your eyes and looking up. And looking and watching and seeing until you begin to make out those first glimmers of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, you may not know this, but in one of my past lives, I worked as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization. Which was a lot about asking for money, but even more so, it was about helping people see a vision, and to see a vision so compelling that they would want to be a part of it.
But critical for helping cast a vision was to consider your framework. And one of the ways we talked about this work was in terms of altitude. How high up was your vision?
You could talk about your 6 ft. vision. What do you see if you just look around where you stand?
For Trinity, we could say that our 6 ft. vision includes this big, beautiful building, that’s got some really great space, but maybe in need of some new carpet, some plaster repair, and some paint touch-ups.
And we have one another. We’ve got these 300 or so people who call Trinity their faith home and who work to love and care for one another. And it’s beautiful! It’s a beautiful thing to see! But let’s go higher.
How about the 10,000 ft. vision? What would you see from the top of a mountain? Well, from up there, you could see all of Green Bay. And there, smack dab in the middle of it, you would see this building.
And from that point you could see that we are only one part of this whole community. And you might see a vision of this one small building that has connections all over this city.
You might see this congregation as one that shows up at the NEW Community Shelter and Wellspring and Woodside.
And you may even see a vision of this one small church that sends each and every one of its members into the community, to be a person of light and hope every place they go: at home, at work, at the grocery store.
300 points of light in Brown county! Can you see it? From 10,000 ft., you can see that ”this” is only one small piece of the whole vision.
But let’s go bigger! Let’s take it up to 30,000 ft.! What would you see from an airplane? You can’t see the building anymore, but you can see that we’ve moved way beyond Green Bay.
You’d see that we share this earth with 7.5 billion other people. And we all share this planet together. From 30,000 ft., it would be easy to say, what can one little church in Green Bay, Wisconsin do, anyway?
But look! What do you see? Do you see the quilts that move from our auditorium, over to Minneapolis, and then on to wherever in the world they are needed?
Someone in Haiti and someone in Zimbabwe and someone in Serbia is wrapped right now in a blanket that was put together here.
And in Brazil, coffee farmers and cocoa farmers have escaped poverty because we here at Trinity have said it matter to us that farmers are paid a fair wage for their labor.
So we drink Fair Trade coffee and sell Fair Trade chocolate and tea and olive oil. Because we can’t do it all, but we can do this.
From 30,000 ft., you can see that this small community stretches around the globe and you can see that we are a part, one small part of the global vision. And we have work to do.
There are ways we could be less wasteful and better stewards. But from 30,000 ft., you can see that we are there. This one small group of 300 people in Green Bay has arms of love and justice that stretch around the globe.
And in the fundraising world, that’s where it stops.
If you can help people see your 30,000 ft. vision, that you’re asking people to support just this one small non-profit, but you are a part of something so much bigger that what you can see and hear and touch in front of you.
That’s where it ends in fundraising.
But we’re not a non-profit. We’re not a social service agency. We are the Body of Christ. And God has given us an even greater vision. God’s vision.
And Advent, this pre-Christmas season of hope and anticipation is all about listening and looking for God’s vision. It is a season of reorienting yourself to God’s future.
God’s vision doesn’t end with what is, but what will be. God’s vision doesn’t stop with what we know, but with what we hope. So what do you see?
In our reading from Isaiah, it begins with, “The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw.”
And it goes on to describe this vision of God’s future, that in God’s future, swords will be hammered down into shovels, and guns into coat racks, and everyone will stream to God, to learn the ways of peace and justice and never again will we know war.
How big is your vision? What do you see? Are you limited by what you know and can feel and taste and see? Or are you pulled forward by what you hope?
Advent is the season of God’s vision, of being pulled forward by hope, by living today as if God’s future really is true.
There a story of a church, down in the deep south, shortly after the civil war, during the years of revival. And this church cause quite a stir because at their revivals, both white folks and black folks were worshipping and singing praising God together.
And good upstanding members of the community were appalled and asked the leaders of that group, “Don’t you know that in Genesis it clearly says that the races are to be separate? What gives you the right to turn over what the bible commands?”
And the leaders of that congregation said, “Yes, it does say that in Genesis. But in Revelation, it also says that one day, all people will worship together before God. And if that’s where we’re headed anyway, doesn’t it make sense to start now?”
This congregation was living into God’s vision and God’s future now. Imperfectly, to be sure. All is not yet finished.
But these men and women were reaching into God’s future and pulling into now whatever little bits they could grab a hold of.
And we do that, too! Did you know that? We run a food pantry and serve food at the shelter. Why? Because it’s a good thing to do, yes, but also because in the Kingdom of God, no one goes hungry. No one is left behind.
And so we reach ahead and grab a hold of that scrap of the Kingdom and pull it into now.
In the Kingdom of God, there is joy in the harvest and celebration at the feast, and so we support Fair Trade now, trusting that one day all God’s children will know justice and joy.
In God’s Kingdom, forgiveness and love and grace is the very air we breathe, so we love and forgive and show mercy now, even imperfectly and sometimes even poorly, but because we have reached forward into the hope of God’s future and pulled into now whatever small bits we can.
Advent is the season of hope. Of asking God to open our eyes until we begin to see even faint glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And then, in hope and trust, we reach forward into God’s future and drag whatever small pieces we can into now.
And it will be imperfect. And it will be faint. But it is also holy. It is also the most beautiful work to which we could ever hope to be called.
What do you see? How big is your vision? Advent is the season of hope, it is the season of setting your sights on God’s vision, and following that light all the way to the Kingdom, and maybe even, all the way to the manger.
It seems sort of appropriate that in the week after the election, the lectionary gives us a bunch of Apocalyptic readings! There’s just something oddly ironic about all of it. But here we are, on the other side of things, still standing. But I will tell you, in all honestly, I don’t really care for any of our readings today. I almost scrapped ‘em all and started from scratch. If I had to rank the different parts of the bible, Apocalyptic passages, these parts that are all “doom and gloom and wars and pestilence and disaster”, are probably my least favorite. In fact, I will go so far as to say I don’t like them. I don’t like ‘em! But just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean I should ignore them. Which really only leaves me with one other option: to dig in. So…let’s talk about the apocalypse! Now, this might be a bit dull for a minute, but stay with me because this is actually going someplace. See, context matters. If you’re reading something and it starts, “Once upon a time…,” you are probably expecting that what follows is a story. Not a historical recollections of true events, but a story. Something that is supposed to entertain, or maybe teach a moral or a lesson. If what you’re reading starts with, “Dear Pastor Rachel,” you’re probably reading a ____? Yes! (although I’d like to know what you’re doing reading my mail?…And those of you who are younger, “letters” are when you write out your email or text on paper and send it through the mail.) And in a letter, you wouldn’t expect to find a scholarly article or copied entries from the dictionary. You’d probably expect some news and some pleasantries and some sort of personal information shared. The point is, the type of writing tells you something about what you can expect, but also something about what this is not. Fairy tales are not historical textbooks! And apocalyptic writings, these passages that often begin with “Beware!” or “The day is coming…” are not a timeline of future events. It’s not about fortune telling or predictions or laying out the pathway to the end. That is not what these writings are about. I mean, just listen to what Jesus says! He warns of people who claim to be god, or something close to it, and cry that “the end is near!” He talks about wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues. It all sounds terrible, and it is, but all those things are things that happen in every generation! There is not a single generation that has not been touched by war or famine or natural disaster somewhere in the world. Using apocalyptic literature to map out the future makes as much sense as using fortune cookies to make decisions. These parts of scripture, this passage from Luke, the Book of Revelation, Malachi, Daniel, all these places that speak of the doom and gloom to come are not and never have been a roadmap of the future or of God’s punishment. Russia is not one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Gays don’t cause hurricanes. God is not killing soldiers to punish America for our moral failings. These things Jesus speaks of happen in every generation. This is not a timeline of the future. It is not a roadmap to the end of time. But of course, then, the next question becomes, if we know what these writings aren’t, then what are they? Well, in a word, truth. It’s truth in the same way that a cancer diagnosis is truth. Or divorce is truth. Or global warming or injustice is truth. It is hard truth. It is the very real truth that what lies ahead for all of us will not always be pleasant. Wars, famine, natural disasters, all of these are in our future. Not because God hates us or is punishing us, but because until the fullness of time, all is not yet finished. MLK, Jr. said that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” God is moving us someplace. We are being pushed and pulled toward something, but until then, the truth is that our lives will be marked by hard things. Things that will try us, and tempt us, and maybe even break us. It’s not a prediction any more than saying that, “tomorrow will be Monday” is a prediction. It’s just the truth. But the other truth, the truth spoken by these doom and gloom apocalyptic passages, is that even in the worst of it, God is still there. In all of what Jesus says of wars and famine and disasters, he also says, “Do not be afraid.” He says that he will be there, even to the point of putting the words we need to speak in our mouths. That’s how close God stays to us. Jesus calls us to trust God so much that we don’t even bother to prepare our defense, just to trust that God’s got us. You know, when you read these apocalyptic sections, you really have 2 options in front of you. Your first option is to panic, to hear these words as something to fear and to start preparing for the end, or, barring that, finding someone to blame. Which, history shows, is what we’re most likely to do. And there’s a certain amount of self-satisfaction in that, to believe somewhere in you that you can protect yourself from all that lies ahead. But you can’t. None of us can. Things will happen that we can’t control or stop. It’s just a part of being alive. Which brings us to our second option, which is to trust God and take advantage of the down time. If in your life right now you are in an apocalyptic time, a time of turmoil and pain and uncertainty, I’m so sorry. It may seem small comfort, but God is with you and has never, not for a minute, left your side. By your endurance, Jesus says, you will gain your souls. If today you are suffering, you are not alone. And if you are in a down time, a time of ease or pleasure or even mediocrity, take advantage of this time. Get to know God now. Listen for God now. For the better you get to know God now, the better you’ll be able to recognize God when you really need to. These are the times when faith is formed and deepened. Jesus promises us, and we all know, life is not always sunshine and rainbows. But Jesus also promises that we won’t be alone. God never leaves our side. Not even in the darkest storm or the longest famine. Whatever lies ahead, God is there, too. So hang on to that promise, and know that if you ever do let go, that God never lets go of you. Amen.
It seems sort of appropriate that in the week after the election, the lectionary gives us a bunch of Apocalyptic readings! There’s just something oddly ironic about all of it. But here we are, on the other side of things, still standing.
But I will tell you, in all honestly, I don’t really care for any of our readings today. I almost scrapped ‘em all and started from scratch.
If I had to rank the different parts of the bible, Apocalyptic passages, these parts that are all “doom and gloom and wars and pestilence and disaster”, are probably my least favorite.
In fact, I will go so far as to say I don’t like them. I don’t like ‘em! But just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean I should ignore them. Which really only leaves me with one other option: to dig in. So…let’s talk about the apocalypse!
Now, this might be a bit dull for a minute, but stay with me because this is actually going someplace. See, context matters.
If you’re reading something and it starts, “Once upon a time…,” you are probably expecting that what follows is a story. Not a historical recollections of true events, but a story.
Something that is supposed to entertain, or maybe teach a moral or a lesson.
If what you’re reading starts with, “Dear Pastor Rachel,” you’re probably reading a ____? Yes! (although I’d like to know what you’re doing reading my mail?…And those of you who are younger, “letters” are when you write out your email or text on paper and send it through the mail.)
And in a letter, you wouldn’t expect to find a scholarly article or copied entries from the dictionary. You’d probably expect some news and some pleasantries and some sort of personal information shared.
The point is, the type of writing tells you something about what you can expect, but also something about what this is not. Fairy tales are not historical textbooks!
And apocalyptic writings, these passages that often begin with “Beware!” or “The day is coming…” are not a timeline of future events.
It’s not about fortune telling or predictions or laying out the pathway to the end. That is not what these writings are about.
I mean, just listen to what Jesus says! He warns of people who claim to be god, or something close to it, and cry that “the end is near!” He talks about wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues.
It all sounds terrible, and it is, but all those things are things that happen in every generation! There is not a single generation that has not been touched by war or famine or natural disaster somewhere in the world.
Using apocalyptic literature to map out the future makes as much sense as using fortune cookies to make decisions.
These parts of scripture, this passage from Luke, the Book of Revelation, Malachi, Daniel, all these places that speak of the doom and gloom to come are not and never have been a roadmap of the future or of God’s punishment.
Russia is not one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Gays don’t cause hurricanes. God is not killing soldiers to punish America for our moral failings.
These things Jesus speaks of happen in every generation. This is not a timeline of the future. It is not a roadmap to the end of time.
But of course, then, the next question becomes, if we know what these writings aren’t, then what are they? Well, in a word, truth.
It’s truth in the same way that a cancer diagnosis is truth. Or divorce is truth. Or global warming or injustice is truth. It is hard truth. It is the very real truth that what lies ahead for all of us will not always be pleasant.
Wars, famine, natural disasters, all of these are in our future. Not because God hates us or is punishing us, but because until the fullness of time, all is not yet finished.
MLK, Jr. said that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” God is moving us someplace. We are being pushed and pulled toward something, but until then, the truth is that our lives will be marked by hard things.
Things that will try us, and tempt us, and maybe even break us. It’s not a prediction any more than saying that, “tomorrow will be Monday” is a prediction. It’s just the truth.
But the other truth, the truth spoken by these doom and gloom apocalyptic passages, is that even in the worst of it, God is still there. In all of what Jesus says of wars and famine and disasters, he also says, “Do not be afraid.”
He says that he will be there, even to the point of putting the words we need to speak in our mouths. That’s how close God stays to us.
Jesus calls us to trust God so much that we don’t even bother to prepare our defense, just to trust that God’s got us.
You know, when you read these apocalyptic sections, you really have 2 options in front of you. Your first option is to panic, to hear these words as something to fear and to start preparing for the end, or, barring that, finding someone to blame.
Which, history shows, is what we’re most likely to do. And there’s a certain amount of self-satisfaction in that, to believe somewhere in you that you can protect yourself from all that lies ahead.
But you can’t. None of us can. Things will happen that we can’t control or stop. It’s just a part of being alive.
Which brings us to our second option, which is to trust God and take advantage of the down time.
If in your life right now you are in an apocalyptic time, a time of turmoil and pain and uncertainty, I’m so sorry. It may seem small comfort, but God is with you and has never, not for a minute, left your side.
By your endurance, Jesus says, you will gain your souls. If today you are suffering, you are not alone.
And if you are in a down time, a time of ease or pleasure or even mediocrity, take advantage of this time. Get to know God now. Listen for God now.
For the better you get to know God now, the better you’ll be able to recognize God when you really need to. These are the times when faith is formed and deepened.
Jesus promises us, and we all know, life is not always sunshine and rainbows. But Jesus also promises that we won’t be alone.
God never leaves our side. Not even in the darkest storm or the longest famine. Whatever lies ahead, God is there, too.
So hang on to that promise, and know that if you ever do let go, that God never lets go of you.
Anyone here ever seen the movie, “The Princess Bride”? I was raised on that movie. If you haven’t seen it (I highly recommend it), or if it’s been a while, allow me to recap for you. See, in this movie, there are three bad guys who kidnap a princess.
But things don’t go according to plan. And the head bad guy, the brains of the operation, keeps exclaiming, “Inconceivable!” every time something unexpected happens. “Inconceivable!”
And finally, another one of the bad guys, a Spanish sword fighter, says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
That’s the scene that’s been going through my head as I’ve been pondering our gospel lesson and pondering what it means to be “blessed”.
See, the way we use this word is sort of synonymous with gifted, or fortunate. We say, “I have my health. I’m so blessed.” Or a roof over our heads or a good job or a fridge full of food or respectful, well-behaved kids.
And when we’re talking about these things, particularly in a religious context, we will say, “I’m so blessed.” Blessings seem to be equated with gifts, presents from God.
And we use this so much that I don’t think we even really think about it. And frankly, we’re in good company. For the first 6,000 years or so of God’s relationship with God’s people, that’s how EVERYONE understood “blessings”.
Wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Lots of kids were a sign of God’s blessings. Health was God’s blessing. Herds of cows and large tracts of land were all signs that you were truly blessed by God.
We inherited from generations and generations of people this idea that blessings and gifts are interchangeable. To be blessed is to have good and happy things in your life.
And then I hear how Jesus uses the word “blessed”, (Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep) and I think, “We keep using this word. I do not think it means what we think it means.”
I mean, maybe it does! Maybe “blessings” are the same thing as gifts from God and Jesus is just a terrible gift-giver! “Merry Christmas, kids! This year Uncle Jesus is giving you poverty and hunger and grief!” “Gee! Thanks, Jesus!”
Maybe? Maybe it’s just that Jesus is a terrible gift-giver. Or maybe…maybe it’s that we have drastically misunderstood what it means to be blessed.
See, we say “blessed” and what we mean, what I think we mean, when we say this is “grateful”, or satisfied, or full. To be blessed, in the way we use it, is to be full.
Our image of blessings is that God fills our cup, and in our abundance, those blessings spill over to those less fortunate. Or maybe, less blessed. Sort of like divine trickle-down economics.
But if Jesus and the cross teach us anything, it’s that God’s not a “trickle-down” sort of God. Our God is more of a “flip it upside-down” sort of God.
We say, it’s a blessing to be full. And Jesus answers, it is a blessing to be wanting.
Blessed are those who live wanting. Blessed are those who long for more, who can imagine a better day and live in longing and anticipation of what God will do.
Blessed are you who are unsettled and unsatisfied with what this world has to offer. We say, “It’s a blessing to be full.” But Jesus tells us, “It is a blessing to be wanting.”
See, those who want for nothing, want nothing. If you are always full, you will never know the all-consuming drive of hunger. If you have never been reviled or excluded, you will never know what a precious gift it is to belong.
If you never grieve, you will never know the gaping ache of love and longing. You will never know that every single human life is one of a kind and absolutely irreplaceable.
Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who are reviled and scorned. Blessed are you who grieve. Blessed are you who are unsettled and unsatisfied, who long for more and live wanting.
To ones such as these is given the Kingdom of God.
Today, on this day, as we hold these names in front of us, we know these aren’t just letters on a page. Each of these names is a hole, an empty place in us that will never and can never be filled by another.
But today, the invitation is not to run from that empty place, that longing ache, but to pry it open, and to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in that very spot you thought nothing would grow again.
Today, we remember these men and women who taught us and formed us, who came into our lives and became irreplaceable. And in their absence, the seed of longing was planted.
And in the hole they have left in our lives, if we do not rush to fill that space with empty words or activities, the tendrils of God find room to take root.
All Saints day is a day not just to remember and honor dead people we love. It is a day to remember and proclaim that grief is holy work. That God takes hold of our dead and empty places and does not let go until we know resurrection.
Today is the day we proclaim, despite all the voices who would say otherwise, that it is a gift, a blessing, to stand before God in need, wanting and waiting for God to breathe life into all our dead places.
For to ones such as these belongs the Kingdom of God. Amen.
It’s Reformation Sunday!, so naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about Martin Luther this week. He was a pretty brilliant theologian, you know. But even more so, he was deeply, deeply concerned for the faith lives of your average, everyday peasants.
So much of what Luther did was about getting the Word of God and the Good News into the hands and ears and hearts of everyday men and women.
Translating the bible into German, writing the Small and Large Catechism, writing new hymns, preaching, teaching, sitting around the kitchen table with students and colleagues.
Luther was a brilliant theologian, but mostly, he had a profound experience of the grace of God and wanted to share that with whoever would listen. He was set free, and he wanted to set others free.
But as I was thinking about the Reformation this week, and as I was thinking about the Gospel, I realized that no one in Luther’s world was asking to be set free. No one was waiting for someone to step up and lead the charge to reform the church.
Your average, everyday men and women were just going about their days, maybe not “on fire for Jesus”, but content with what they had. They were just…fine.
But Luther stepped in front of church leaders and his fellow theologians and lay men and women anyway, and preached to all of them about freedom and forgiveness.
And the church leaders and the theologians and the lay men and women looked at him and said, “You’re crazy. We’ve never been slaves to anyone. We’re just fine, just the way we are.” And it could have ended there.
1,500 years before this conversation, Jesus was talking with some Jews who maybe had believed in him, but were maybe starting to feel a little uncertain about where all of this was going.
And Jesus told them that if they remained with him, they would know what is true and in that truth, they would be set free.
And they pushed back, “But we’re just fine the way we are. We’ve never been slaves to anyone. Why would we need that?” And it could have ended there.
And 2,000 years after that conversation, here we stand, dare I say, rehashing the same conversation. It’s a conversation we are having in this country, in our city and neighborhood, and even in our selves.
One voice calls for us to remain with Jesus, to learn what is true, and to be set free. And another voice cries, “Thanks, but no thanks! We’ve never been slaves to anyone! And we’re just fine, just the way we are, thank you very much!”
And it might end there.
But then again, probably not.
I’ve been thinking about Luther this week. And Jesus. And our new members who are joining this community. And Aimee who is affirming her baptism this morning. And I wonder, how did we make it here?
For 2,000 years, the Word of God has gone out into the world, to call people to stay close to Jesus, to remain with God, to learn truth, and in learning what is true, to be set free.
And generally, the world has responded, “Thanks but no thanks. I’m no slave. I don’t need your freedom.”
And I wonder, why doesn’t it end there? How is it that we are all here this morning? I suspect it has something to do with Jesus’ insistence that he cares less about what we want and more about what we need.
The thing is, the world doesn’t want a God. We don’t want a God. If it was up to us, this whole Christianity thing would have died a long time ago!
Forget the Reformation! We would have stopped this whole thing before it ever began!
But God cares a whole lot less about what we want than about what we need. And the truth, the truth that will eventually set you free, is that we need God.
I can’t tell you, how many times in my journey with God what I have most wanted was to be left alone! Just back off, God! I’m just fine, just the way I am!
My deepest desire was just to be left alone to live my life. It’s what I wanted. But, God knows!, it wasn’t what I needed. So God showed up, and pushed and pushed and pushed, and didn’t stop pushing until I was where I needed to be.
And I failed a lot along the way. And sometimes it hurt, a lot. And I lost things. And things changed. I changed.
But all that work God was doing, all that work I didn’t want, brought me here, to this community, where I need to be.
And If you had asked me 10 years ago what I wanted, it certainly wouldn’t have been this. But, thank God!, we have a God who cares less about what we want and more about what we need.
Lila, Ron, Sue, Donna, and Aimee, today is a good day. A day of energy and excitement and joy. And I thank God for each and every one of you (as well as the rest of ya’ll…).
I thank God that the Holy Spirit has called you to this community and I hope that in the years to come, that Trinity will be a place of joy and growth for you.
But I also know, for you and for all of us, that not every day is a joy. And that sometimes you won’t want this, you won’t want this community, or this life together. You won’t want the hassle and maybe you just won’t want to show up.
And when that day comes, remember this day. Remember this gospel.
Remember that God is reforming each and every one of us, not because we want it, but because we need it. And then show up anyway. Not because you want to, but because you need to.
You know, back in the 1500’s, people weren’t sitting around, just waiting for a Reformation, waiting for their lives to be completely upended. Nobody wanted that. But it happened anyway, because God knows, we needed it.
We needed to remember that grace is a gift. That forgiveness is given, not earned. That God is God and we are not.
And despite all the reasons we give God to bolt, all the times we tell God, “not interested,” God doesn’t give up. God never walks away. Do you hear that? God never walks away.
Because God doesn’t really care so much for what we want, but has given everything to give us what we need. And this is most certainly true.
The gospel’s a trap! Consider yourselves warned.
In one corner, we’ve got the Pharisee, who’s off on his own (but within earshot of other Temple-goers), praying to God, listing off all his good, holy, magnanimous works of faith and offering a prayer of thanks that he’s not like “that guy”.
What a self-righteous jerk!
And in the other corner, we’ve got “that guy”, the much hated and misunderstood Tax Collector, who can’t even bear to look to the heavens, he carries so much shame, calling on God to have mercy on his poor, wretched, sinful self.
Well, Jesus lets us know which one is the good guy here. He says the one who exalted himself will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. And so we think, “Ok! We can do that!” But, you were warned. It’s a trap.
Because here’s the thing about humility: once you know you’ve got it, you don’t got it anymore! The minute you start to say, “well, thank God I’m not as bad as that Pharisee”, YOU HAVE BECOME THE PHARISEE.
I tell you, the single greatest danger of mission and service trips is our self-righteous tendency to come home saying to one another, “Being around such poor people made me feel so blessed.”
Which is just another way to say, “Thank God that’s not me. Thank God I’m not ‘that guy’.”
Every time we try to prove we are not like the Pharisee, we end up right in his shoes, and the first trap is sprung.
So let’s not focus on the Pharisee. Let’s take a page out of the Tax Collector’s playbook. Maybe rather than worrying about getting too hung up on ourselves, we should concentrate on our shortcomings!
Maybe when we pray, we should beat our chests, and wail and focus on all the thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of ways we screw up every day.
Every time our hearts held a grudge. Every time we were stingy with money. Every time we just didn’t care.
Maybe that’s the key. Maybe it’s not about NOT being like the Pharisee, but about being MORE like the Tax Collector. Focusing more on our wretched, sinful, vile, miserable selves. And in that ditch, the second trap is sprung.
Because once again, it’s about us and our self-judgement, and no longer about God and God’s work.
Pick your ditch! On one side, you’ve got an over-developed sense of self-importance and on the other, an over-developed sense of self-loathing.
But in both ditches, the path begins and ends with you. And neither path gets you closer to God.
So what are we to do? Well, nothing, and that’s the point.
Whenever we follow our own path, rely on our own sense of direction, our own skills gifts and talents, it very often moves us from side to side, or from ditch to ditch, but it never moves us up or down.
I may one day grow into the most spiritually mature, compassionate, generous, loving human being this world has ever seen! But that won’t move me one step closer to God.
On the flip side, I might also end up a miserable, greedy, vengeful, hateful, soulless shell of a human that brings a dark shadow of desolation to every place I go…and even that could not move me an inch further away from God.
And this is the thing! Our lives will have many twists and turns and success and failures, but none of that moves us any closer or any further from God.
And that’s the point. It’s not about us! It’s about God!
Did you know Martin Luther didn’t believe in free will? At least not toward God. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t learn that until I got to seminary.
Luther says that, oh, sure, we’ve got free will for the things below us. When you wake up in the morning, you pick what shirt you’re going to wear, what route you’ll take to the store, how you’re going to treat your family and coworkers and your enemies.
You have free will for the things below you, Luther says, but not for the things above us.
Luther says there is something fundamental in all of us that will not allow us to choose any God above our very selves. We have no free will to choose God. Our very nature does not and will not allow it. Not in this life, anyway.
Which means, the next time someone asks you, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” the correct Lutheran answer is, “Nope!” Because we can’t choose God.
We can move from side to side, from ditch to ditch, but we can never move ourselves up. We cannot choose God. It is only and always God who chooses us.
And the day you understand that, to your very core, will be the day you first know real humility. Not the humility of our choosing, but the humility of being chosen.
The Tax Collector, he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on. He couldn’t even bring himself to look up.
And so he throws himself at God’s mercy, knowing he can’t argue, cajole, or boast his way into the Kingdom. He can’t choose God, he can only be chosen.
And so he prays for God to come to him, to grab ahold of him, to forgive him, to claim him. The only way he amounts to anything in the Kingdom is if God makes it so.
But the Pharisee, this righteous man who did everything by the book, thought the book would move him up. And if there’s an up, then there must be a down. And if there are people, better people, on top, then there must be lesser people below.
It’s just the natural outcome of assuming that our social ladder is somehow a reflection of God’s Kingdom and God’s blessing.
And I tell you, there are very few things further from the truth than thinking that the Kingdom of God somehow resembles the way we divide and order ourselves.
The Kingdom of God is entirely beyond us. Beyond our striving and our grasping, beyond our very, very best efforts. And so God has to come, all the way to us, all the way to flesh and bone, and grab ahold of us.
It turns out our parable isn’t really about humility or arrogance or us at all. It’s God. It’s God who chooses you. Who shows up in flesh and bone and bread and wine and grabs ahold of you and says,
“Don’t you get it yet?! I love you! You don’t have to work for it! And you can’t ever lose it!
There’s nothing you need to prove and nothing you have to hide. I love you because I made you!”
And that’s enough. That’s more than enough, actually. And even though we’ll never stop trying to prove we’re good enough, never stop comparing ourselves to others, God will just keep showing up, right where we are, to pick us up and carry us home.
You know, we started worship (tonight/this morning) with confession and forgiveness. You are forgiven. You have been set free from everything that keeps you apart from God and now nothing stands between you and the complete and overwhelming love of God.
And you know what? I didn’t hear a single “thank-you” from anyone this morning.
Well, according to Biblical statistics, 9 out of 10 people respond the same way!
(Retell the story)
And one guy returned. And Jesus asked, “Weren’t there 10 of you? Where are the other 9?” And what about those 9? Oh, if you think about it, that one’s not too hard to figure out.
That first leper, well, he was just following orders…
2—Too excited, ran right home. Been kept away from family, friends, loved ones.
3—The “spiritual but not religious” leper. He didn’t believe Jesus had anything to do with it.
4—Chip on his shoulder. Yelling “unclean, unclean!” for too long. Can’t say ‘thank you’ so anyone anymore. Desperately clinging to dignity.
5—Just plain lazy
6—Heading to the priests for ‘insurance’. Surely there has to be more to do, like Naaman of the OT. Couldn’t believe it could really be that easy. Oh sure, he’s healed for now, but what does he need to do to insure God’s continued blessing. There has to be more to do.
7—Angry. Realized too late that he didn’t want to be healed. Doesn’t know who he is any more. Identity=Leper.
8—This guy is still thinking about all the stuff he still doesn’t have. home, job, etc.
9—The worst. This is the guy who thinks he deserved it. He’s suffered long enough. Of course Christ would heal him.
And then we have the one. The one lone guy who, when he realized what had happened, raced back, praising God and thanking Jesus. What do we do with him?
It’s not like he got an extra special present for returning. He was still just as healed as the other 9. And you know what, I don’t even think that’s what he was looking for when he came back.
I think he just had a moment when he realized he was free.
–Double whammy of Samaritan and leper. Only thing worse would be to be a woman! By the law of the land, he never should have approached Jesus. Until he got the “all clear” from the priest, he was still unclean, not to mention a Samaritan. And Jesus freed him.
And in a moment, he was no longer shackled by leprosy or shame or fear or anger or embarrassment. Christ had set him free.
And in that moment, he realized that Christ’s love had more power and authority over his life than leprosy or his homeland ever had. And so he raced back to say ‘thank you’.
Ever had a moment like that? A moment when everything else that defined you took a back seat to the joy and freedom in front of you. A moment when freedom just hit you, and you realized that the only thing you could do was say ‘thank you’?
–When your last child moved out, hitting a sobriety milestone, passing five years of cancer remission, writing your last mortgage or student loan check, being pain free, or maybe just realizing that God’s kingdom actually does include you.
And the Samaritan leper, the outcast among outcasts, experienced healing and freedom. And so he raced back to say ‘thank you’.
And the thing is, saying ‘thank you’ didn’t change the gift. Jesus had already given that. But it did change him. Gratitude changes us. Saying ‘thank you’ changes us. And for our ex-leper, he was changed from being healed to being whole.
-It’s easy to miss in the English translation – Different words in Greek.
The gift is the same, but gratitude moves us from being healed, to being whole.
–This type of gratitude has nothing to do with being polite. It has everything to do with our hearts and minds. This is the gratitude that changes us.
– Gratitude changes awesome moments into holy moments.
Moments when everything takes a back seat to the freedom and joy in front of you.
Moments when labels and homeland and history and everything else we lug around with us disappear in the shining light of God’s love and the only thing you see, the only thing that matters is who you are to God.
The only thing that matters is that God has called you “child”. And God has claimed you as his own. That when you are with God, the only thing you can be is whole and holy.
Not because of what we have done or what we bring to the table, but because whatever God touches, whatever God claims, is made clean, and whole, and holy.
Gratitude opens our eyes, not just to see how much God gives, but that God always gives first.
What Jesus reveals to us about God in our gospel text this morning is that God always gives first. Everything we do is a response to what God has already done.
And how will we respond? Well, 9 times out of 10, we’ll probably just continue on our way. And that won’t change God’s love for you and it won’t take away what God has already done.
But every once in a while, it’s good to remember to turn right back around and give thanks to God. And in thanksgiving we receive not just God’s healing, but God’s wholeness.
And the one Samaritan leper returned to God, offering thanks and praise. And Jesus said,
“Go in peace. Share the good news.”
And all God’s people say, “Thanks be to God.”
I’d like to be a better person than what I am. I wish I could work faster and was more organized. I wish I was a morning person and in good shape. I wish I was less judgmental and more trusting. I wish I was more grounded and more self-assured.
I wish that I had the kind of relationship with God that I could stop worrying. I could stop worrying that I’m doing the right thing or we’re doing the right thing or that things will be ok. I could stop worrying and you and us and the future.
I wish I had the kind of relationship with God that I just listened to the Spirit, loved you, and trusted God.
That’s it! I wish I could just be that! And it seems so simple, but I’m still so far from the person I want to be!
Increase my faith, God! Give me more of that good stuff! Wave your magic God-wand and make it happen!
It’s the same thing the disciples were asking for. We’re catching up with Jesus at the tale end of some words to his disciples about the necessity of forgiveness. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day, you forgive seven times in one day.
Lord God! Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could! I want to be the person you want me to be! Increase my faith! Make me better than I am!
The disciples heard these words of Jesus, saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God, and knew they didn’t measure up! Lord God, we are so far from where you call us to be!
Increase our faith! Make us something other than what we are. Make us better.
And then Jesus tells us what “better” looks like in the Kingdom of God, what “greater faith” looks like in the Kingdom of God.
Contrary to what we may desire, “better” to God apparently does not involved more power, but less. Not more authority or control or respect or honor, but less.
Be very careful what you wish for, what you pray for, because if you ask God to help you be “better”, you make not end up where you thought you wanted to go.
“Better” in the Kingdom of God apparently looks an awful lot like slavery. The disciples ask to be “better”, they ask for “more”, and what Jesus gives them are words that put us on the other side of where we think we want to be.
It starts off all fine and good, asking the disciples to imagine that they are wealthy enough to own a household slave. “Who,” Jesus asks, “would say to your slave, ‘Come and sit down a spell. You’ve been working so hard.’”
No, of course not! You would tell your slave to make you dinner, finish up their tasks, and then they could help themselves when they’re all done with that.
And a better translation of the Greek would be to say, “Isn’t it thanks enough to expect a slave to have done what has been ordered?”
And I get that! I’ve worked with plenty of people who expected gratitude for every little thing they did. And it gets so frustrating because you just want to yell, “That’s your job! You have not gone above and beyond!
You have not done anything extraordinary or unusual! You have done your job! That’s what we expect of you!”
So yeah, I get this! Isn’t it thanks enough to expect a slave to do what they’ve been ordered? You don’t get a gold star for doing your job!
…And then, Jesus flips the script, and puts us on the other side of it.
“So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves. We have only done what we ought to have done.’”
You want to be “better”? This is what “better” looks like in the Kingdom of God. You want more faith? Be prepared for service. Be prepared to get nothing in return. Be prepared to let go of pride and autonomy and control.
The disciples asked for Jesus to make them better. They ask for God to give them more, maybe just an extra special helping of faith. And Jesus answers, “Isn’t it grace enough to expect that you would do what you have been ordered?”
I mean, really. How often do we expect God to just come through for us without giving any thought to what God expects from us?
We want God to heal people and stop wars and fix things. We expect God to show up when we say “now” and act when it’s convenient for us. And in so many ways, over and over again, we cast ourselves as Masters of the Kingdom.
And Jesus flips it all over on us. “You are the slaves. You are the ones who serve God. You are the ones who are expected to do your job.” God says forgive, you forgive, because that’s your job.
Do you worry? Stop it. Having trouble finding time for God? Then make it a priority. In the wise words of Nike, Just Do It. Because that’s what God expects of you.
You have no right to ask for anything more from God and God has every right to ask for everything from you.
That’s how this God things works. And as much as we like to think of Jesus like our wise big brother or mystical sage, we cannot forget that Jesus is God in flesh and bone.
So if Jesus says “forgive”, it’s not a helpful suggestion or sage advice. This is a command from God. Forgive. Just do it. It’s your job. It’s what God expects of you.
And it is grace enough that God has commanded us to do it. And you have what you need, now just do it. You have no right to expect anything more.
…Except…except there is this one little bugaboo.
There’s just this one line that I just can’t quite let go of. Did you catch it?
“What master, when his servant has come in from the field, says, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table.’”
What Master would do that?…Well, ours would. Ours did! That’s pretty much exactly what Jesus says to us every week.
We come through those doors, we come from our labors of the week, from our jobs or family or service. We come in from all the ways we have been working in the fields.
We come carrying all our burdens of anxiety, of grief, of fear, of responsibility. We come in, carrying everything we can’t quite bring ourselves to put down.
And the truth of the matter is, our duty is to worship, to offer thanks and praise. That’s our job! But rather than meeting us as the door and saying, “Get to work. You can rest when you’re dead.”
Jesus greets us at the door and says, “Come. Come here at once and take your place at the table.”
And he wraps his apron around his waist, sets the table, and offers his very self to feed and nourish us. And Jesus takes our place as servant and slave. And Jesus finished the work that needed to be done.
We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. And we have no right to expect it. But Jesus did it anyway. Because that’s the kind of master we have.
The head of our house is the one who chose service, who chose vulnerability and humility, who chose love over power.
You want God to help you be better? This is what “better” looks like in this house.
You want better? Choose love. Choose service. Choose humility. And then get over here and take your place at the table.
And to that, I will say “Amen. Let it be so.”
Two weeks in a row, we get gospel texts that are sort of disconcerting. Last week, we had the dishonest steward and this week we’ve got the rich man and Lazarus.
And in some ways, as strange and difficult as the parable of the dishonest steward is, this one, I think, is worse. As someone once said, “It’s not the parts of the bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that do!”
In our parable this morning, we get a stark reminder, even a warning about the great reversal of fortunes in the Kingdom of God.
And make no mistake, out of all the gospels, Luke is the one most concerned with our relationship with money. Matthew tends to “spiritualize” poverty, but Luke is pretty focused on real poverty.
For instance, if you ever compare the Beatitudes in Matthew to those in Luke, Luke writes, “Blessed are the poor”. It’s Matthew who adds, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Luke’s image of Jesus is a man who cares deeply for our lives. Not just our spiritual lives. Not just the after-life, but our lives day to day. How we live. How we treat one another.
This Jesus is very serious about the work of lifting the lowly and humbling the proud. This Jesus has every intention of turning our lives upside down and flipping the way of the world right over. As C.S. Lewis writes, “He’s not a tame lion.”
And so we get this parable of a very, very rich man and a very, very poor man, whose fortunes are flipped in the Kingdom of God.
No surprise there. God is turning the world upside down. The New Creation isn’t just a spit-shined version of this one. God’s New Creation is something new.
And at first, the rich man doesn’t get it. In his mortal life, he was top dog, so of course he still would be in the after-life, right?
Even with this drastic turn of events, he still treats Lazarus as nothing more than his servant, a thing to be used for his well-being. But that notion is quickly squashed.
Lazarus, who in mortal life was less than nobody to the rich man, is now in the place of honor and the place of intimacy with God.
And after some back and forth with Father Abraham, I think the rich man finally gets that it’s too late for him, but not for his brothers. So he asks for Lazarus to be sent as a messenger from the dead, to warn his family that God is flipping things over.
But Father Abraham says, “no.” God’s New Creation is something new. And at the same time, it’s also been in the works for a long, long time, from very nearly the beginning.
If they won’t listen to the entire history of God and God’s people, one messenger from the dead isn’t going to cut it either.
Through Moses and the prophets we have scads of evidence that not only does God care deeply about how we live and how we treat each other, but even from the very beginning, God has been working to open our eyes to God’s path of life.
If you don’t believe that God has been moving things along since the beginning of time, then one dead guy brought back to life won’t make much of a difference either.
And isn’t that the thing? If you have a relationship with God, Jesus is still plenty weird and surprising and confusing, but it sort of makes sense!
It’s like the end of “The Usual Suspects” or “The Sixth Sense”, if you’ve seen those movies. The story moves along as it does, and then right at the end, the veil is lifted and you go, “AAAAH! I get it now!!!”
If you know God, if you are in a relationship with God and have been paying attention at all, then Jesus makes this weird and surprising sense.
Of course the Kingdom is flipped upside down! Of course our relationship with money matters! Of course Lazarus would be in the seat of honor! That’s what God is up to!
But if you don’t have a relationship with God, if you don’t know or don’t care how God has acted through history and what God is up to, then Jesus is going to make absolutely no sense.
Because the thing is, Jesus didn’t show up out of the blue. And his work wasn’t to erase or change everything God had already done. Jesus’ work was to finish it.
For generations upon generations, God had been calling God’s people to lives of mercy and compassion, to caring for the weakest and most vulnerable. God’s path of life was laid out as one of service and joy and commitment and trust. In God’s Kingdom, the poor are not “tolerated”, but loved, cared for.
But God’s work is as much about caring for the poor and lifting the lowly as it is about keeping the rich and haughty in check. My very favorite line of our Amos reading is, “And the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.”
Here, from the prophet Amos, we hear again God’s condemnation of those who “eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall.” Which is another way to say, people who care more for satisfying themselves now than for caring for the future, the ones who are to come after them.
Oh sure, baby animals are delicious and tender, but if you eat all the babies, pretty soon you won’t have a flock anymore. Woe to you who care more about your own comfort than for the lives of those who will come after you!
Every valley shall be lifted and every hill made low. We really shouldn’t be surprised. Those were basically the words that started Jesus’ ministry. And now, Jesus is just putting it into practice.
This rich man has been brought low and Lazarus has been lifted up. There’s really nothing surprising about it. It’s what God has been up to and still is. Just turning the world upside down.
So…have you been turned upside down by God? Have you learned to see from the underbelly? Life looks different when you’re looking up from the bottom.
Because that’s where the cross takes us. That’s where the path of Jesus takes us. Downward. To the bottom.
Until we are finally stripped of everything we carry with us.
Stripped of our love of money and false gods, stripped of our ego and fragile pride, stripped of our belief that we can somehow get ourselves out of this mess we’ve made.
The path of Jesus turns it all over and carries us down, until we’ve finally given up on everything we’ve been carrying with us and realize our only hope is to wrap our now empty hands around Jesus and hang on for the ride.
In Jesus, the work of God is finished. In Jesus, in our walk to the cross, we are flipped upside down and emptied out.
And with empty hands, and only with empty hands, we are finally ready to take hold of the life that really is life.
Jesus is just doing his thing. Turning things over and inside out. Why would we expect anything else?
Today we have one of the strangest, and maybe the strangest parable in the bible. It’s so strange that not even Luke really knows what to do with it. Verses 10-13 are most likely Luke’s attempt at an explanation, and he’s kind of taking a shotgun approach here.
“Oh…well, it’s about honesty and dishonest…Or maybe it’s about wealth…Er, or maybe it’s about being faithful? Oh here! Here! Just pick one!”
I don’t think even Luke knows what to do with this one. This parable is, by far, one of the strangest parables Jesus tells. We have a wealthy man, a manager, and some pretty fancy bookkeeping, ending with advice we’d never give our kids.
See, in Jesus’ day, in the farming world, there were 3 classes of people: Masters, who owned the land. Workers, who farmed the land. And managers, or stewards, who were the middle men between the Master and the farmers.
And most often, the farmers lived in debt to the owner. Much like tenant farming, the owner would have paid the farmers to work the land, but not enough to pay for the supplies they needed for farming and for living.
And so with every passing year, these farmer families would find themselves more and more in debt to the owner, trapped by debt to this land, to this work, and to this Master.
And history tells us that this was common practice, so it’s not as if these workers could up and leave. The next master over “might” have had a better deal, but it might be worse, too.
And from these ranks of farmers and workers, the Master might pick one or two kids to teach how to read and write and do math, so that they could one day serve as his steward, the manager of the estate. The one who tracked who owed what.
And it was a position of responsibility and privilege, and a position that provided a little more luxury and life of ease than farming. But it was also a hard position, because whatever people felt about the Master, the steward was the face they saw.
And the steward also served at the will of the Master. He could be fired at any time, replaced with the next guy coming up the pipeline.
So all this gives you a little background as to what’s going on here. The Master gets word that the steward has been squandering his property and so he calls his steward to him and says, “Give me an accounting of everything you’ve done as steward, because you’re fired.”
Well, the steward panics. It seems like laziness to our ears to hear him say, “I can’t dig and I’m too ashamed to beg,” but it makes sense if you remember that this guy hasn’t been raised to do labor. He’s been raised to be a steward.
He wouldn’t be strong enough to get even the worst and lowest job of digging. And as the face of the Master, who were generally despised by the workers, chances are slim he’d have much luck at begging either. So what on earth is he to do?
Well, before word gets around that’s he’s fired, while people still think he’s working for the Master, he goes around to all the workers and asks to see the bills of what they owe to the Master.
And in a brazen act of forgery and dishonesty, he cuts everyone’s bills.
And when the Master finds out, he’s stuck. All the sudden, everyone loves the Master because of what the steward has done. The Master is now the cat’s pajamas! The bee’s knees!
He can’t possibly go back and reinstate that debt, not without causing a riot. And the steward has gone from being a harbinger of doom to being the bearer of Good News.
“And his Master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes…”
What?! It is such an insanely weird and counter-intuitive parable that a big part of me wonders if Jesus threw this one in here just to keep us humble.
“Oh? You think you’ve got it all figured out? Try this one, fool! Ha, ha!!!”
And the only way I can make any sense of this parable is to listen for what this teaches us about God and God’s Kingdom. And when I do that, some pieces start to come into focus, but unlike some of the parables, like the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep, the picture that comes into focus isn’t necessarily a comfortable one to hear.
See, this parable is coming in at the tail end of a bunch of parables that Jesus starts to tell, right after the Pharisees complain that this Jesus guy eats with sinners. Shame on him!
And so Jesus responds with a bunch of stories to drive home, over and over again, how God goes after the lost, how heaven rejoices when even one wayward sheep comes home! And then we get this one.
And even though it says that Jesus is speaking to his disciples, I’m pretty sure he was talking to the Pharisees, too. These Pharisees who were the leaders of the church. Who had been called throughout history to be stewards of God’s estate.
The promise of Abraham was that they would be “blessed to be a blessing”. Set apart, called forth, placed in leadership and privilege, yes, but also given the mighty responsibility of caring for the Kingdom just as God would. To administer, nurture, and tend the estate.
And here Jesus tells a parable about a Master who gets word that his steward has been squandering the Kingdom.
I wonder if the Pharisees realized Jesus was talking about them? And I wonder also if there might be a word of warning in here for us, too.
We, too, this global institutional church, have been raised up, trained to serve as stewards of God’s Kingdom.
We too have been given a mighty responsibility.
And if we are not tending the Kingdom, if we are not stewarding the estate as God desires and calls, as God would, God will find people who will.
God will call up new stewards out of the pipeline. And we will be left in shock, realizing we’re too weak to dig and we all know that begging doesn’t get us anywhere.
…But Jesus doesn’t end the parable there. He tells the story of a steward who realizes he’s got to do something drastic, something that may cost him everything, and with absolutely no guarantee it’s going to gain him anything.
…He proclaims freedom and forgiveness in the name of the Master. And even more so, he doesn’t just proclaim it, he makes it happen.
Not in his own name, not for his gain, but for the benefit of the Master and his estate. To nurture joy and loyalty and trust, not to him, but to the Master.
He realizes, finally, that what is good for the Kingdom is good for him. And what hurts the Kingdom, hurts him.
And the Master says, “Now you’ve got it.”
We have been called to serve as stewards of the Kingdom of God. And God cares deeply how we live into that call. And for sure, it’s not always, actually almost never easy. But there is hope.
There is hope when we will realize that what builds the Kingdom, builds us. And what hurts the Kingdom hurts us.
There is hope every time we dare to work for joy and loyalty and trust, not in us or in this building or even in this congregation, but in God.
There is hope every time we proclaim freedom and forgiveness and not just in name, but in truth! Freedom and forgiveness are at the very heart of the Kingdom of God!
And what builds the Kingdom, builds us. And what hurts the Kingdom hurts us.
And of course, our very best hope is that Jesus did it all first. There is no steward that has erased more debt, freed more debtors, and been as extravagantly generous with the Kingdom as Jesus.
He is the one who did something drastic, something that cost him everything but with absolutely not guarantee it was going to gain him anything.
There is no steward more dishonest than Jesus. No steward who has cooked the books to our favor more than Jesus.
Was it honest? Not in the least. Did it work? By risking everything, did he gain anything? Well, he got us. And, as Jesus tells us, that’s exactly what the Master is after.
In the Lutheran world, we talk a lot about Law and Gospel and how key to faith is differentiating between Law and Gospel in scripture.
And probably the simplest definition I can come up with to distinguish the two is that the Law is whatever commands and the Gospel is whatever promises.
And in some ways, it’s pretty clear-cut. But in some very important ways, it can get kind of muddy.
For instance, we can take the exact same words and one person might hear those words as Law, but someone else might hear those exact same words as Gospel.
Take Jesus’ words, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you.” For Joe Schmoe, he hears these words as Law. God commands that we eat and so Joe Schmoe comes forward for communion in obedience to God, to do as God has commanded.
He hears these words as instruction for what he is to do.
But for Mary Berry, these words are Gospel. This is not a command given for us to do, but a revelation of what God has done.
“This is my body, given for you.” And so as Mary Berry comes forward to the table, it is as a grateful response to God’s invitation, to God’s promise. It’s not her action that matters, but God’s.
The very same words, but one ear hears Law, the other Gospel. And this matters because our text from Luke is one of those that can be heard as either Law or Gospel.
And I’ll be honest, when we first discussed this text in my colleague group, we all heard these words as Law. “Be dressed and ready for service! The master returns at any minute! Be prepared to open the door when he comes!
It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or even toward dawn!”
And when we first read these words together, I think my first response was, “That sounds exhausting!” And it does! It sounds exhausting! And even a little unfair!
Just wait? Be ready at any time? Is that even possible? But then one of my colleagues spoke up and said, “You know, this really reminds me of my dog.”
Now, for those of you who are dog people, you’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about. And for those of you who aren’t dog people, trust me when I tell you that dogs can go from dead asleep, leg-kicking dreaming, relaxed as a rock to wide awake and bolting at even the slightest sound of interest.
It could be the quiet click of a key in the door or the gentle crackle of a cheese wrapper. Dogs have this uncanny ability to live in a constant state of readiness.
And they seem to do this with joy. Particularly when it involves something they really love!
I have not yet figured out how to master this accomplishment, but my dog sure has! And through this lens, for me anyway, I heard the Gospel in a whole new light.
Waiting, readiness, vigilance, these aren’t taxing or exhausting when you love the one you are waiting for. When the sound of the key in the door jolts your heart to joy.
My dog helped me understand, just a little bit better, the Good News of God. And once you head down that track, so much of the Gospel starts to make more sense.
How our pets trust us, trust that we will provide, that we will keep them safe. They don’t worry about tomorrow or have existential crises. Our pets want nothing more than to be with us, to please us.
And even when they’re naughty and jump on the table or poop in the living room, we love ‘em! Once you’ve loved a pet, it’s pretty hard to imagine that you ever lived without them.
And through the eyes of pets, so much of what God is up to starts to make more sense. Guys! We are God’s pets! Or at least in the process of being domesticated.
And whether you hear that as Law or Gospel, good news or burden, will depend on whether you hear what that asks of you or what that tells us about God.
But for me, this is Gospel.
I mean, look around! All of creation is buzzing with life and we are the only ones out of all of this that worries, that stresses about the future. We are the only ones who ever doubt the goodness of God.
I want what the rest of creation already has…
God’s creation has so much to teach us about what God is up to. And we have so much to learn about who we are to God.
And dear Lord, we may not be tamed just yet, but if that’s where you’re headed, take me with you!
Tame our minds to trust! Turn our eyes to look for you!
Create is us hearts of anticipation, so that when we hear the scratch of your key in the door, you would find us waiting with uncontained joy!
We call this gospel, “Jesus channels his inner Miss Manners”. As he’s attending a meal put on by someone, Jesus is looking around at how things are going and then turns to his disciples and tells them a parable.
And unlike some of the more notable parables (like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son), this parable reads more like an excerpt out of an etiquette book.
When you show up as a guest, you don’t know who all will be there, so don’t take a place of honor, in case someone above your pay grade shows up and the host has to give you the boot and then it gets awkward and everyone gets uncomfortable.
Keep your distance, play it cool, leave the door open to be invited to a higher station.
And then Jesus keeps going and says, “And when you’re a host, when it’s your party, don’t invite your friends and family and rich neighbors or distant relatives with no heirs, ‘cause they’ll just want to pay you back.
Invite the people who can’t repay. Invite the poor, the blind, the lame, the ones who don’t have anything to offer you in return.”
And I think this is probably where the crowd went, “Ok, what???!!”
See, you’ve got to understand that, in Jesus’ day, everything was tit-for-tat. It’s how status was established, how relationships were maintained, how business was done.
You didn’t even bother with people who had nothing to offer you. What was the point? Those people may as well not even exist to you.
The point of hosting a dinner would have been to establish yourself as someone who had something to offer, thereby assuring that others would reciprocate. Sort of like building yourself a safety net.
So Jesus’ instruction to specifically invite those who couldn’t pay you back makes absolutely no sense in that culture at that time. In Jesus’ time, everything was based on reciprocity. I do this, you do that.
And it’s easy to think how much more civilized we are these days, but are we? If you really look close, have we actually changed that much? Maybe the terms have changed, but I don’t think the expectation has.
“If I give you something out of my generosity, I expect you to be grateful. I expect you to use this give exactly as I would, in the way that I think is best. I’ll offer you all this, but you better not take any more than what I think you should.”
We know we’re supposed to give, and so we do. But when the response isn’t what we want or expect, it’s easy to feel resentful, taken advantage of, even abused.
We go from being a giver to casting ourselves as the victim.
And it makes you want to pull back, hold your cards a little closer, build that wall around your heart just a little taller.
The terms are different, and maybe a little less well defined, but we all still live with some notion of tit-for-tat. I don’t expect to get back what I gave, but I do expect something from you, even if it’s just a “thank you”.
And Jesus says “nope”. Giving is about you, not them. Giving is about your own heart, your own freedom. This morning Jesus specifically says that as a host, as a giver, seek out those who can’t respond the way they’re supposed to.
If you want to break the habit of tit-for-tat, if you want to find freedom and transformation, look for people who can’t give back, who won’t repay. It’s not about them, how they respond. It’s about you, about your heart.
One of the very hardest things in the world, and I mean this truly, is to give without counting the cost. That is, to give without expectation. But that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.
God, as you know, calls us to give, but you’ll also notice that God never calls us to direct the results.
And all of this is fine and good (and hard), but we also can’t forget that these words are a parable. This isn’t a fable or a morality tale or etiquette advice. This is a parable.
And while parables always say something about our lives (think The Good Samaritan or The Prodigal Son), the other thing parables do is teach us something about the Kingdom of God and about the character of God.
And so when Jesus is speaking about how to be a faithful host, we learn a little something about how God runs the Kingdom. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite the ones that cannot repay you.”
We’ve said it before ad we’ll say it again, we don’t deserve to feast at God’s table, we didn’t earn our spot, and there’s nothing we can do to repay it. God’s kingdom is not tit-for-tat.
As host of the Kingdom, God just gives because God can’t not give. It’s who God is.
In this parable, we learn something about God and God’s feast, and we learn a little something about who we are at God’s table…We’re beggars. We’re the ones at God’s mercy.
And this is fine and good (and hard), but what I find most…intriguing, and maybe challenging, about this parable is to actually back up, back to that first little bit, where Jesus is talking not about how to be a host, but how to show up as a guest.
He says, “When you are invited, sit down at the lowest place. Let the host be the one to call you forward to the place of honor.”
And I wonder, how many times has Jesus showed up and I’ve looked right past him, because he did not show up looking like honor or status or prestige?
What if the Kingdom doesn’t arrive with a bang and a flash and fanfare, but quietly and humbly, taking the lowest place?
What if the Kingdom is here, just waiting to be recognized, waiting to be called to the place of honor, waiting for our hearts to make room and to say, “come, and sit at this place of honor in my home, in my life.”
I wonder, how many people have I looked right past? How many faces of Jesus have gone unrecognized?
How many times has God spoken and my ears refused to hear what did not puff me up?
If parables also teach us something about God, then what might we be learning about how God shows up as guest among us?
In the Kingdom of God, you are the guest. But in your life, you are the host. And guests of all shapes and reputations will come in and out of your life. And some of those guests, inevitably, will be carrying within them the living Christ.
And maybe the call of this parable is to pay attention. Pay attention to your ego, to your assumptions, to your expectations. To let yourself be surprised by humility and gentleness.
And when you catch a glimpse of Jesus out of the corner of your eye, to invite him to the seat of honor, to make room in your life and in your heart for the Kingdom of God.
And to recognize that this is what matters. This is the good stuff.
Because this is how God looks at you.
Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath, teaching, when in walks a woman who was bent in half, who had been unable to stand up straight for 18 years. Luke writes that, “a spirit had crippled her for 18 years.”
And when Jesus saw this woman, he called her over, laid his hands on her, and told her she was free. And immediately, she stood up straight and began praising God.
But the leader of the synagogue, a teacher alongside Jesus, got pretty upset. How could a fellow teacher be so unthinking?! There are six other days in the week for work to happen. The Sabbath is a day of rest.
She’s been living with this for 18 years, so clearly this isn’t an emergency! The right and proper thing would have been to wait until tomorrow. This day is sacred.
And on the one hand, he absolutely right. Exodus 20 clearly links the Sabbath to the story of creation. For six days, God worked. And on the 7th, God rested. And then God told us to do the same.
For one day a week, stop working! Rest! God can handle things for 24 hours without your “help”.
The Sabbath is a gift that’s been given to us and as stewards of what God has given, we have a responsibility to care for it well. And if you look at history, this Jewish teacher was right to worry.
Frankly, I would be surprised if anyone here still honors the Sabbath the way God has called us to. I know I don’t. I wish I did. I know the Sabbath is a good thing.
I know it would be good for me. I know that. I know it’s a gift. And I don’t honor the Sabbath as God has commanded. Sometimes that how it goes.
Sometimes it’s a slippery slope and things that were once sacred now only exist in our memories. When I was growing up, Wednesday nights were for church stuff. Everyone knew that. Nothing else was scheduled for that night. It just was.
Now, my nephew has youth football games on Sunday morning. Forget Wednesdays! That went out the window a while ago. Now Sunday’s gone, too. The Packers this year are playing at noon on Christmas Eve.
And it makes me sad, and frustrated. And frankly, I feel pretty powerless in front of it all. So I get what this other teacher is upset about. He sees the writing on the wall and the slippery slope right behind it.
Some things, if you don’t fight to keep them, will slip right through your hands. Exodus tells us that the Sabbath is for rest and if we start to fudge it, even a little bit, it’s just a matter of time before it’s gone for good.
Sure, healing is good, but clearly it’s not an emergency. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?
But Jesus knows scripture, too. Jesus knows the heart of God, too. And throughout the Old Testament, it’s almost as if there are two stories, two voices going on at the same time.
One story is all about the Israelites coming together as one people, about claiming their own identity as one cohesive people of God. The other story is the call of God to keep cracking that circle open.
Like a parent that sweeps their kid in for a hug with one hand and pushes them out the door with other, telling them to “get outside and go play nice with others”.
And these two stories weave in and out of the entire OT, sometimes working together, sometimes in conflict. It’s like breathing. Sometimes we breathe in and sometimes we breathe out, but life means doing both.
And while the Jewish teacher is preaching from Exodus, to call people together, Jesus is preaching from Deuteronomy, to crack the circle open.
See, in Exodus, the Sabbath is tied to creation and God’s call to rest. But in Deuteronomy, the Sabbath is tied to the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. Because you were once slaves, you know how precious freedom is.
This day is set aside so that you might never forget that God is in the business of freedom, of cracking things open, releasing us from bondage. And so when Jesus fires back at the Jewish teacher, he’s not making things up.
He’s reminding everyone that God breathes out, too. God breathes in, and the people gather together, to be one, to live and love and rest together. And God breathes out, and speaks freedom and mercy and grace.
This woman, who for 18 years only saw the world out of the corner of her eye, who was held captive by her own body, was set free that Sabbath day.
Because God is in the business of calling us together, and forming us as God’s people. But God is also in the business of setting us free.
And that’s sort of scary, when you get right down to it. See, we tend to like the idea of freedom as long as it’s ours, but when it’s for others, we can get a little iffy about it all.
The thing about freedom, and the thing about love, is that there are no guarantees. There’s no promise that things are going to turn out like you want them too, or that people will do what you think they should.
Freedom, and love, they’re so terribly, terribly risky. Rules, restrictions are easier, safer.
There’s a big part of me that would love it if the Packers (and the NFL!) never had noon games on Sunday and stayed away from Christmas Eve entirely. And I would love it if things never got scheduled on Wednesdays. And I would love it if faith formation and learning were valued by the world around us.
But I don’t have any control over any of that. And even if I did, even if I had it in my power to command the world to be just as I think it should be, God would be coming right alongside me to work freedom, which includes freedom from enforced religious piety.
You are free. The law, the 10 commandments, the Sabbath, these are all gifts from God given for the people of God, that through them, we might start to figure out who we are as God’s beloved children.
Through all these things, God wraps God’s arms around all of us and draws us together, because gifts are always better when they’re shared.
But the same God who gave the law in love is the same God who has given freedom in love.
You’re not slaves anymore. Not to sin, not to death, not to religious piety or unrealistic expectations.
We are called together, but we are also set free. God breathes in, and God breathes out. It’s how we stay alive. And it’s what God it up to.
What, exactly, is greed?
If you are anything like me, you’ve got an image in your head of what greed looks like. In fact, pretty much across the board, anytime we think of something that we know is sinful, we’ve painted a picture for ourselves of what those things look like.
We do this with racism, sexism, idolatry, hatred, fear, and yes, even greed.
Trouble is, if you’re anything like me, the picture you’ve painting is more like an absurd caricature of sin, something that makes it awfully easy to say, “Well, that’s not me.”
Take greed! My caricature of greed is a fat, balding white guy in an expensive suit, sitting on his pile of gold coins, laughing gleefully as he throws his coins over his head and showers himself in his wealth…Basically the human version of Scrooge McDuck. And that’s not me! I’m not like that!
But if I cut down the absurdity just a hair, my picture of greed is the person who takes pleasure in just accumulating more and more, and who doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. The person whose life is all about getting and having more and building up themselves, without regard for anyone else.
A little closer to reality, but it’s still pretty easy for me to say, “That’s not me. I don’t have a problem with greed.”
But the thing is, that’s not the wealthy farmer in our parable either.
If you’ll look close, Jesus never calls the farmer wicked or evil. There’s no indication his wealth came dishonestly or maliciously. He’s just done well at farming.
And on top of that, he doesn’t actually seem all that greedy. He seems as surprised as anyone that the land has done so well! He’s so surprised, he’s completely unprepared for the windfall.
By all accounts, this is a hardworking business man who’s been surprised by his own success. Whatever this guy is, he doesn’t fit my definition of greedy.
So either Jesus is making a big deal out of nothing, or Jesus has something to teach us about greed. Be wary of all types of greed he says to the brother, asking about inheritance. So what, exactly, is greed?
I suspect is has something more to do with our hearts, and less to do with our wealth. Did you happen to catch the conversation the wealthy farmer had when he realized he had a windfall coming his way?
“He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Did you catch how many people were a part of that conversation?….ONE. This guy has an entire conversation with himself. No mention of his family, his neighbors, the workers of his land. And notably, no mention of God.
It has been my experience that unexpected gifts do one of two things: they either open us up or turn us in.
If this parable is teaching us something about greed, then what we might learn is that greed is the movement of the heart that turns us inward, that convinces us that the solution to our problems and our hope for the future lies in “me, myself, and I”.
Greed is the voice that says, “I am my only hope. My future is in my hands.” Our wealthy farmer is not greedy because he has saved for the future. He’s greedy because he believes that his wealth will secure his future.
That if he only plans well enough and keeps enough for himself, he can finally relax. His future is in his hands. Greed is the voice that says, “my hope lies in me.”
Greed isn’t really about money or wealth at all. Greed is all about our hearts, and our fears, and who and what we ultimately trust. And once that voice finds a home in you, that you are your only hope, it’s like a stack of dominos falling.
Because once you have convinced yourself that your future is in your hands, what follows right behind is the unrelenting fear that you do not have enough.
And I will tell you, brothers and sisters, if you believe that your future is in your hands, if greed has convinced you that you are the only one you can count on, you will never, ever, ever have enough.
If what you trust is you, you will never have enough. Greed is absolutely insatiable.
It’s not about wealth or money. It’s about our hearts. And about trust. Who do you trust?
Trust greed and you will forever be wanting, forever running after something that can never be caught. Trust God and you will see you already have more than enough.
Jesus tells the story of the wealthy farmer who has put his faith in himself. His heart has turned inward. And Jesus calls him a fool.
Look around you, fool! Do you see the birds!? The flowers!? Everything they need (and then some!) flows freely from the heart of God! And don’t you know how much more God cherishes you?!
Trust greed and you will never have enough. Trust God and you will see that you already have more than enough. I promise you, and more so, (much, much more so!) God promises, it’s all there. What you need, God provides.
And I wish it were that easy. That we could just say, “Ok! I turn to God! Amen! The end!”
But greed is a sneaky little devil. And greed already has its hooks in every single one of us. Sometimes it’s a loud booming voice that yells over and over, “Be afraid! It’s all going to crap! Hoard, hoard, hoard!”
But more often, it’s that little voice that whispers, “What if? What if there’s not enough? What if God doesn’t come through this time? What if there is no God?” Greed is a tricky little devil. And in this life, it will be our constant companion.
So if you want to drown out the voice of greed, you’ve got to be intentional. You’ve got to practice. And a really great and easy place to start is to turn your focus to what you do have, not what you don’t.
Every day, pay attention to what brings you joy, what turns your heart toward God or toward your neighbor.
Erin and I have a practice that at the end of every day, we share our highs and lows with one another. It’s a simple, easy practice that intentionally opens our eyes to what has been good in a day.
When, today, have we had more than enough. Try it for a couple of weeks. Share with someone in your life highs and lows every day. Or journal, if that’s your thing. Start practicing looking for goodness and joy in your day.
If you want to go even further, start paying attention to when you feel the urge to spend money. I’ll tell you, I like getting money, but I looooove spending money.
And I’m not talking about necessities like food and shelter and Netflix. I’m talking about stuff. About that longing for more stuff.
You know, we all know that money can’t buy happiness, but we’ll all sure like the opportunity to prove ourselves the exception to the rule, am I right?
But that, again, is another lie that greed tells. So pay attention when that urge to spend comes up. What’s going on in your heart? What are you actually longing for? ‘Cause chances are, it’s probably not actually more stuff.
And finally, start talking about money. Start with someone you trust, someone you can be honest with. We’ve probably all been taught that money, fear, insecurity, these are things you’re not supposed to talk about.
But greed, like all sins, grows best in the dark. So shine a light on it. Talk about your concerns about the future, what scares you, what makes you feel insecure.
And remember to loop God into the conversation, ‘cause I guarantee you, God’s got something to say about it.
And if you don’t want to listen to me, then listen to Jesus.
“Do not be afraid. Do not worry. Worry has never added a single day to someone’s life. God knows what you need. Set your heart on God and you will see that all has been provided. For it is our Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Let’s talk about stewardship this morning. And I want to start by telling you what I hate about stewardship. What I hate is all the talk about what stewardship is supposed to be like.
We’re supposed to not worry. We’re supposed to give freely. Stewardship is supposed to just flow out of our faith. We’re supposed to want to give. And we’re supposed to be cheerful about it. God loves a cheerful giver, right?!
Yeah, well, what if you don’t want to? What if you’re just not feeling it? Huh? I’m not gonna lie, most of the time I’m not a cheerful giver.
-Coffee vs. offering at the Bishop’s Convocation.
On the one hand, I think I made the more faithful choice. On the other hand, I thought about that cup of coffee I didn’t get all day. Not exactly cheerful giving, eh?
I was remembering this story this week as I was contemplating stewardship and cheerful giving and not worrying. And I was thinking about how the way I actually live matches up against the way we hear we’re supposed to live.
In an ideal world, we all realized that everything we have is from God and because of the joy we feel at knowing that, we all become cheerful, generous givers!
And isn’t this the gist of pretty much every stewardship sermon ever? Talk about what God has done and then talk about what our response is supposed to be.
You’re supposed to be cheerful. You’re supposed to want to do it. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Have you ever felt like you should want something or someone more than you do? Nothing you can do about that, eh? Tough luck! In the words of heartbroken singers everywhere, you can’t make your heart feel something it won’t!
Trouble is, Jesus doesn’t seem to agree. Jesus seems to suggest something different. We hear from him this morning that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”
I’m guessing you’ve heard this before. Maybe you’ve even heard people talk about how you can tell what someone treasures by how they spend their money. “Show me your checkbook and I’ll show you what you value.”
And that’s one way of hearing this.
But there’s another way, too. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Where you put your treasure, that’s where your heart will end up.
Mark Allan Powell, a Lutheran scholar who has written about stewardship, says that, “The point isn’t that how we spend our money reveals what sort of people we are, but that how we spend our money determines what sort of people we become.”
We hear, “Give from the heart.” And Jesus responds, “Give where you want your heart to be, and let your heart catch up.” Your heart will follow your treasure.
The thing is, for as much as I think about that cup of coffee I didn’t get, I also think about that ministry that I’m now invested in.
I don’t know a thing about Asian immigrants and refugees, but there is now a small part of me that is invested in the success and growth of that ministry. I want them to do well because a part of my treasure is in their hands.
Any of you have kids, nieces, nephews, brothers, sister, whatever, that got involved with an organization or cause that, before this, you never really cared or even thought about?
Now, all the sudden, you find yourself as a spokesman for something you hadn’t even thought twice about before?
Your heart will follow your treasure. How we give determines what sort of people we become.
What we’re talking about here is giving as a spiritual practice. And it’s really hard to talk about spiritual practices as a Lutheran Christian.
See, as Lutheran Christians, we proclaim that the good news of God is that God has already claimed you. God has grabbed a hold of your life and will not let go, even to the other side of death.
And there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s nothing you can do or not do to scare God away and there’s nothing you can do or not do to get God to love you any more than what God already does. Including any and all spiritual practices.
Being the most well-behaved, spiritually mature human being on the planet will not earn you any more than what God has already given you.
May God shut my mouth should it sound as if anything of what I say this morning is contrary to that good news!
And so before I go on, I need to ask you, do you know that the love of God is a free gift and it comes to us whether we want it or not? Answer
Do you know that there is nothing you can do or not do that will negate God’s love? Answer
Do you know that there is nothing, nothing you can do or not do that will make God love you any more than God already does? Answer
Good. Then do you know that out of the bounty of God’s love, that God desires for you to have the best life possible?
If we know all this, then we also know why spiritual practices matter. Spiritual practices are, in a way, our confession that, left to our own devices, we do not know how to recognize the best.
God desires for us the best, but on our own, we will look right past it, and land on the rusty treasure.
Left to our own devices, we will choose convenience, we will choose darkness, we will choose death. And not necessarily because we want to, but because on our own, we do not know how to recognize the best.
Smoking gun #1… God sent God’s best, and we killed him.
On our own, we do not know how to recognize the best, how to see God’s kingdom.
And so, by the grace of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we practice. We practice what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.
We practice trusting God. We practice living generously. We practice. And through practice, we start to learn how to recognize God’s best.
Are you a cheerful giver? Does your sense of stewardship and generosity flow freely from your faith? Not yet?…Well…practice.
Practice putting your treasure where you want your heart to be. Trust that your heart will catch up. Practice living as if God’s kingdom were already here. Because it is. It’s right here.
The doors to the warehouse of the Kingdom of God are wide open, for you. The lock’s been cut, the security guard’s been fired! In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the doors have been thrown open, for you.
And this is good news. You might even say, this is the best news.
Would you agree that God is the source of life?
Would you agree that God is the source of time and talents?
Would you agree that God is the source of creativity and growth and energy?
Then what do you suppose happens when you are distant from the heart of God?
Today’s gospel reading is all about prayer. And here are some things I know about prayer: There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do it. Praying in different ways can help you hear God differently.
Prayer is like eating vegetable, for me anyway. If I don’t eat vegetables today, I might not notice. But if I go a long time without any, I start to feel pretty crappy. Same thing with prayer.
It’s easy to not do because sometimes it really doesn’t seem to make a difference. But when I go long periods without connecting with God, it makes a big difference, in my energy, in my creativity, in my joy. But mostly, what I know about prayer is that it’s a mystery.
I can’t explain to you how prayer works, or why sometimes prayers aren’t answered or why sometimes God seems so, so close, but other times so far away. I don’t know when the best time to pray is. And I don’t know if our prayers can change God’s mind.
But what I know, more than anything, is that God wants us to pray. God wants to be in a relationship with us.
God is the source of life and energy, and growth and creativity, and what I know is that God want to give it all away.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about prayer. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is praying all the time. And his disciples finally notice and they ask him to teach them to pray. They want, whatever it is that he’s got.
You ever met people like this? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there’s something about them, something about their spirit that is just…compelling. And all you want to do is sit at their feet and soak up their wisdom, just to try and get even a smidgen of whatever it is that they have.
The disciples, they’ve been watching him. They’ve seen he’s got something special, something very, very different going on, and so they ask him to teach them. Teach them how to pray.
So Jesus gives them words. We pray them together every week and I would guess some of us even pray them on our own from time to time. (p.s., if you’re looking for the rest of it, Matthew records the fuller version.)
Jesus gives them words to pray. But then he goes further. He doesn’t just teach them how, he teaches them about who. Who is this conversation with?
The Father, our Father, Jesus tells us, is the one who gives. God is the one who opens eyes and reveals what was hidden. God is the one who opens the door.
And Jesus tells us we are to come to God shamelessly, persistently, like the guy who woke his friend up in the middle of the night. Don’t hold anything back! If even that guy will get up out of bed to help a friend, how much more will God rush to greet us?
This is what I know: God is the source of life and of energy and creativity. Anything good that has ever come into or out of my life first came from God.
And when my relationship with God is strong and solid, when I’m actually taking time to not just talk to God, but to listen, everything is clearer. Everything is more grounded.
Things seem, miraculously, to just fall into place. I look around and my eyes can see than God provides whatever I need to do whatever God is calling me to do.
I don’t understand prayer. I can’t tell you how it works. I just know that it does.
And I can also tell you that when my prayer life slips, and it does!, everything else goes with it. Things get muddy, and uncertain. Creativity and energy dried up. My heart, when it stops reaching out to God, starts to turn in on itself. And life just gets smaller. Deader. And much, much less interesting.
The truth of it is, there just is no substitute for tuning your own heart to the heart of God.
But let’s be clear, prayer is not a “magic cure-all”. God is not just the “holy ATM” in the sky that shoots out wads of blessings if you guess the PIN number right.
It’s easy to hear Jesus’ words to “ask and you shall receive” and be left wondering why God didn’t give you that bajillion dollars you had asked for. Or maybe why God didn’t save the life of someone you loved, like you had asked.
You have to read further. Jesus is teaching us something about the one who we are praying to. This is the one who wants us to ask, yes, but also to seek, to search for God, to pursue with gusto the movement of God’s heart.
And God wants us to knock, to approach the throne of God with confidence and announce our presence.
This is the relationship God wants with us! Because, yes, God is the source of life. And God is the source of energy. And yes, God is the source of creativity and growth.
And God wants to give it all away.
I will tell you, this congregation will live or die on our prayer life. Not because God “punishes” those who don’t pray, but because our only (hope of life) is to be connected to the one who is the (source of life).
I can’t tell you how prayer works. I just know that it does. Because that’s the kind of God we have.
The easy sermon on the Good Samaritan goes like this: Go, and do likewise! (It’s always good to start by quoting Jesus…) Be like the Good Samaritan! Show mercy!
The priest and the Levite, the guys who were supposed to be the good guys, walked right by. And not just right by, but they crossed the street to avoid the half-dead man!
Because you know what you can’t see from that side of the road? Whatever, or whoever, is in the ditch on that side!
The priest and the Levite. Jesus says they saw the need, and they crossed the road, passed by on the other side. If I don’t look too hard, I can pretend I never saw it at all. And they walked right by.
But the Samaritan, he saw. He saw the man and he moved toward him. The text says he was “moved with compassion”. The Greek word here, one of my favorites, is splangnidzomai, which literally means his “bowels turned over.”
The Samaritan saw this man in need and he got that pit in his stomach that tells you “pay attention, dig deep, this matters.” And he picked up that half-dead man, put him on his own beast, and carried him to safety, where he could heal.
And Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise.” So…go, and do likewise.
There’s the easy sermon. Go, and do likewise! Be like the one who showed mercy! Be a neighbor to those in need. Don’t cross the road, listen to your gut.
But we’d be doing this text a horrible disservice if we stopped there. Because there’s so much more to this story than just a “morality tale” about being nice to strangers.
Would you believe me if I told you this story wasn’t actually about us at all, but about God?
Remember our Greek word, splangnidzomai? Turns out, that one matters.
In all of Luke, that word only gets used 3 times. The other two times are 1) when Jesus sees the widow grieving her dead son, and 2) when the Father sees the Prodigal Son returning home.
In Luke’s gospel, it is always God who shows compassion. Same thing with mercy! In Luke’s gospel, compassion and mercy are God’s work, tell-tale characteristics of God.
And here in this story, we hear about a man who had compassion and who showed mercy…
Jesus is telling a story about himself. And about who he is to us.
On the road to Jerusalem, a man was robbed, stripped down, and left half-dead along the side of the road. One foot in life, one in death. Guys, this is us.
From the day we are born, we live with one foot in life, one in death. Always and every day. From our first breath, it is only a matter of time until our last.
When you’re young and healthy, it’s easy to walk to the other side of the road, to pretend you can’t see the ditch over there.
But the truth, our truth, is lying right there in that ditch, on the other side of the road. We all live with one foot in life, one in death.
And the things we look to, the things we assume will save us, money, health, reputation, the church, they will walk right by you when the time comes. None of those things can or will pull you up from the ditch of death.
The priest walked right by. The Levite walked right by. But God has looked upon you. The very innards of God have turned over in compassion.
And rather than crossing the road, God has come near. Near enough to pick up your lifeless body and carry you to safety, to a place of healing.
Another fun Greek fact, you’re getting a lot of those today, the word Luke uses for “inn” literally means, “all are welcome”.
From his own being, Jesus pours out wine for healing, and wraps your wounds in tender care. And then Jesus carries you to where all are welcome, where you can heal.
And he pays the cost of admittance, pays your debt, and leaves you there with a promise that any future debt will be paid as well.
Jesus is telling a story about himself. He is telling the story of who he is to us.
The lawyer who came to question Jesus wanted to know about life, and how to get it. What, exactly, is the criteria? When you’re half-dead, with one foot in the grave, questions of life become imminently important.
And Jesus asks him two questions: what is written? And how do you read it?
Those are two different questions, you know. What is written? What are the words on the page? And then, how do you read them? 10 people can all read the same words and come away with 10 different ideas about what it was about.
So Jesus asks the lawyer, how do you read it?
And the lawyer gives the words he knows, the words we all know: you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind and you will love your neighbor as yourself.
Those are the words. And then the lawyer answers Jesus’ second question, he reveals how he reads, when he asks, “And just who is my neighbor?”
To the lawyer, these words of scripture are like a doctor’s prescription. Swallow this pill and all will be well. So of course, he wants to know the details. What’s the dose? How often? How long do I have to do this? Just who is my neighbor, exactly?
What the lawyer misses is that love is not a prescription. It doesn’t get measured out it doses. It doesn’t happen on a schedule. Life is not acquired if you “just love twice a day for 15 minutes.”
Love is not pill to swallow. Love is the path. Love is the way. Love is life.
And our lawyer wants to know about life, and how you get it. So Jesus tells him a story. He tells him a story about himself and who he is to us.
He tells him a story of compassion and mercy. Of lifting us up from death, of healing and paying debts, of coming home where all are safe, all are welcome.
Jesus is the one who has become our neighbor. He has become the one that loves and brings life. This is the story he tells our lawyer. And then he tells him, “Go, and do likewise.”
The easy sermon calls us to “Go, and do likewise!” Be a good neighbor, don’t look away, help those in need!
If all this is is a morality tale, then we leave here (tonight/this morning) with a prescription. A checklist of what to do. Have compassion. (Check!) Show mercy. (Check!)
But if this story is about Jesus and who Jesus is to us, then what we leave her with is not a checklist, but an identity. Don’t do compassion, be compassion. Be mercy. Be little Christs.
C. S. Lewis writes in “Mere Christianity” that the Church “exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
God has lifted you up from the ditch of death, carried you to safety, and paid your debt.
Now go, and be “little Christs” wherever you land.
We’ve spent six weeks with Paul’s letter to the Galatians. So, needless to say, I’ve been thinking about them a lot, that community in Galatia. And one of the things I’ve been mulling over quite a bit is what a pickle the Galatians are in.
Here they are, this small community of new disciples of Jesus, caught in the middle of an argument between Paul and the Jewish Christian leaders, just trying to figure out what’s good and right.
And it’s so far from an easy choice. It’s not like there’s one voice that’s advocating for goodness and beauty and another voice that’s calling for evil and debauchery.
Choices are almost never between pure good and pure evil, but between shades of goodness.
And the Galatians, I believe, are just trying to do the good and right thing. But they have all sorts of voices coming at them with all sorts of different ideas about what the good and right thing is.
And boy, do I get that. What is the good choice? In a world of a million choices, how do I spend my time, my money? Where should I put my energy?
Out of a million good choices, what will turn my own heart closer to the heart of God? What will line me up with what God is up to?
It’s almost never a choice between good and evil, but between good and good-er. And that is such a hard, hard thing. And it is so easy to find yourself making a thousand good choices and to still feel disconnected from God, and from life.
So many times, I have dived into good and beautiful things, Kingdom of God things!, only to find myself down the road feeling burnt out…restless. It’s not that I had gotten involved in a bad thing, it’s just that wasn’t the “good” to which God was calling me.
You know, a couple of weeks ago, eight of us took a little field trip down to Milwaukee to visit three churches, all urban, all who were going or had gone through a process of redevelopment.
Or to say in another way, three churches that were facing near certain death and who decided to risk it all on the chance that God wasn’t done with them yet.
It was a great trip. To hear the stories of these churches who are navigating a journey with God.
To hear their stories of taking those first steps, of discerning the way forward, of trial and error, of beautiful encounters and epic failures, of listening for God and being ready to respond.
None of us know what lies ahead, not in our own lives and not in our life together. And there are a thousand different voices yelling at us that, “This is the right path! This is the way to go!”
And most of those voices and ideas are good. But the question is, which step is “good-er”? Which step turns our hearts and our lives closer to the heart of God? Closer to the source of our life?
Do we pour energy into deepening our prayer life? Or in study of scripture? Is the faithful step for us in developing better faith formation for kids and families? Or building cross-generation learning?
How about investing in stewardship or service? Or revamping worship? How about more intentional fellowship together?
Is God calling us to reach out and expand to more intentional ministry with another congregation? Or are we called to double-down here, in this particular gathering of faithful?
We have a thousand paths, a thousand voices, before us, and almost all are good. And our work together is not to find the “good” path, because they’re all good, but to seek the faithful path.
To listen for the one voice of God for us. To what is God calling this community?
Do you all have any idea how many hours I have spent in prayer about all of you? About this community? About where God is calling us? And if you have not prayed for this community, I ask for you to start.
The more of us coming before God, the better. The more of us listening for the heartbeat of God, the better. The paths before us are a thousand good things. But to what, to whom, and where is God calling us?
You know, the Galatians were new to this faith thing, still not sure where they were going or how they were going to get there. And they had a lot of voices with a lot of different ideas. It’s a pickle.
Sometimes discernment is clear and easy. But most of the time, it can get pretty muddy. What are we to do? Where do we start?
I think Julie Andrews may have been on to something. How about at the very beginning. And the very beginning of our story starts with God.
And we know that the fruit of the Spirit, the manifestation of God’s presence, is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness. We can start by looking for and investing in what brings those things to life. And then we can also pay attention to what doesn’t.
We know life with God brings freedom and is steeped in trust of God. But we also know the path of God is one that brings us back to one another, that binds us together in love.
And most importantly, the faithful path is always the one that starts where we began, at the cross of Jesus.
Paul writes here, at the very end of this letter, his parting words to the Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Where we start, always, is where God meets the world, where God entered into all things human, including death. At the cross.
The faithful path, for us, is the one that starts at the cross. And the first step is the step that turns our hearts toward God and to the source of our life.
And how will we know? By listening. By praying. But mostly, by living it.
The time has come for boldness. And for courage. God is calling us into uncharted waters. And there are a thousand voices calling for us to follow.
And I pray, and I hope that you will pray with me, that in wisdom and faith we would hear the voice of the one who calls each of us by name.
Once upon a time, there was a family with two children. And these kids were the apple of their parents’ eyes. And when they were born, these parents knew in an instant that they would give these kids everything they had: food, shelter, love, yes, of course!
But also hope and wisdom, knowledge and patience, guidance and courage. Everything these parents had to give, they would gladly pour out for the life of their precious children. These children would grow up knowing that they could come to their parents for anything. And did they ever!
Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! …Daaaaaad? Daaaaad?…Into infinity!
But then one day, something changed. The words, “I can do it myself” showed up.
What were these parents to do? There was still so much they wanted to give, still so much to teach. The kids weren’t nearly ready to be on their own yet, but they didn’t listen nearly as well as they used to.
So mom and dad did what parents do; they started making rules, to keep their kids safe, mostly from themselves. There was still so much to learn, so many dangers ahead.
And so the rules were laid down, that these precious kids might learn the path of wisdom, of knowledge, of hope and courage. That they might learn the way of life.
And the eldest child, as eldest children are prone to doing, took to these rules as if they were the very presence of mom and dad. If this is what mom and dad want, then this is what’s best. This child, you could trust. This child you could leave alone in a room and feel pretty certain that all was well.
But the youngest child, as youngest children are prone to doing, didn’t take it so well. Rules weren’t walls, as the eldest child supposed, they were sign posts.
And the youngest child knew that the really good stuff was out past where the rules ended. This was the child that set off alarms when the house got quiet. All silence does, after all, is allow time and space for plotting.
Two children, both different, both beloved.
But as these kids grew, things got more challenging. As the youngest grew and continued to push and pull against the constraint of rules and guidance, the rules got firmer, more specific, with less wiggle room for “personal interpretation.”
And the longer the list of rules got, the further away the younger child moved. But the elder child loved it. As much of a screw up as that one was, elder child was just the opposite.
Elder child lived by the letter of the law. There was no room, nor even a desire, to do otherwise. The rules gave structure, comfort, certainty. The rules kept this child in mom and dad’s good graces. Without rules, who’s to say what might happen?
Two children, both beloved, both so different. And as time went by the divide between the two grew wider and wider, until one day, they no longer recognized one another as from the same family.
And mom and dad were at a loss. What were they to do? This was not what they had hoped for their kids. But where is the way out?
More rules will only risk losing their younger child entirely. And elder child is missing out on so much of life by hiding behind the rules they do have.
All these parents ever wanted for their kids is that they might have life. And not just any life, but a life of love and goodness, wisdom and hope, patience and courage. How did we get to this point? And where do we go from here?
Two children, both loved beyond measure. Both worth living for. Both worth dying for. What are mom and dad to do? Something has to give. Something fundamental has to change.
So mom and dad called one last family dinner. They called the children home and said, “Look, we’re not going to be here forever. But no matter what, we will always love you.
And what we want, more than anything, is that you will one day love each other as much as we love you. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve ever told you or asked of you was so that you might know how amazing life is when you love someone as much as we love you.
It’s not easy to love someone so much, and sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes they will break your heart, but the thing that makes life good is love.”
And the kids went to bed that night wondering what all that was about. And mom and dad went to bed, and never woke up. Something had to give. Something fundamental had to change.
And in a moment, these precious, beloved children were free.
No one was keeping track anymore of whether they followed the rules or broke the rules. No one was keeping score. There was no reward for being “good” or punishment for being “bad”. The only ones left to help or hurt now were each other.
What was God to do? Something had to change. So Jesus called his people together and told them,
“No matter what, I will always love you. And what I want is all I have ever wanted, that you might have life, that you might love each other as much as I love you. Because the thing that makes life good is love.”
And then Jesus died. And there was no more record-keeping, no more scorecards. And the only ones left to help or hurt now are each other.
“For freedom, Christ has set you free,” Paul says. From the beginning of creation, God’s children drifted further and further apart, until they no longer recognized one another as from the same family.
More rules just pushed some further away. And some children had become so fixated, and are still so fixated, on being “right”, that they miss the goodness of life, in all its messy, confusing, glorious agony.
So Jesus died. Because something had to give. “For freedom, Christ has set you free. And if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.”
Which is not to say that God is impartial, that God doesn’t care! God’s creation was designed for life. God’s desire is for life to flourish. For all life to flourish.
And we know from scripture, from Jesus, from our own lives, that life flourishes when we live for others, when we pour ourselves out in love and service of our neighbor, when we care for widows and orphans and immigrants, when we bind ourselves to the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
We know this is the path of life. We know that God’s creation functions best, for all of us, when we are walking in God’s path of life.
Think of it like a car! You don’t change the oil in your car because it’s “the right thing to do”. You change the oil in your car because cars were designed to function best when they get regular oil changes!
You don’t have to change your oil, but eventually, you’ll run the car into the ground if you don’t!
God’s creation was built for life! And it was designed to function best for everyone when we pour ourselves out in love for one another, when we walk in God’s path of life.
But, God knows, the path of life cannot be a forced march, or it is no life at all. Life can’t be forced, it can only be offered. Life can only be received in freedom
And for freedom, Christ has set us free. That we might, finally, find the fullness of the life that God offers us.
There was once a family with two children. Two precious, beloved children who each got lost in their own way.
So God did what God had to do to bring them back home, back to the way of life. God died.
And in a moment, every one of God’s children were set free. No more scorekeeping, no more scales. And the only ones left to help or hurt are each other.
For freedom, Christ has set you free, that in this freedom, you might finally know life.
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