“Great is Your Reward”

1Luke 6:20-31

November 3, 2019 – All Saints’ Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 6:20-31

 

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

Prayer.

 

Blessed All Saints’ Sunday.

 

For 1,646 years

Christianity has celebrated with great respect

The memory and legacy of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ

Whose mortal life is ended, and

Whose eternal life with God and all the saints

has been confirmed.

 

All Saints’ Day,

The First of November,

Was first recognized by St. Ephrem in 373 A.D.

Due to the fact that so many Christians were being persecuted and martyred,

It became impossible for each Saint

to be given a unique day in a calendar year.

In time, November 1st

became the day we collectively recognize all the saints.

 

(By the way)

Halloween, was named from the Old English combination of

Hallow, meaning saint, and

Een, or eve, meaning the day prior to the celebration of the saint.

Secular ghouls and ghosts of the imagination soon followed.

 

All Saints’ Day is a holy day John Wesley loved.

“All Saints Day revolves around,” Wesley said,

“giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints”, including those who are “famous or obscure”.”

(Iovino, Joe (28 October 2015). “All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved”. The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 20 October 2016.)

 

A saint is anyone in heaven,

Who collectively forms a “great cloud of witnesses”

Surrounding us, here on earth.

Hebrews 12:1-2 reads,

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

 

The line between heaven and earth is very thin.

 

Saints are not perfect people.

They were sinners who ran a mortal race,

striving for perfection,

looking to Jesus.

Saints were people

Just like you and me.

 

The words and actions of saints serve as a witness to each of us:

This is the Christ I follow!

These are the mistakes I made!

Learn from these mistakes!

Grow!

Grow closer to Jesus!

Grow more disciples following Jesus!

Expand! Expand! Expand!

 

I appreciate the distinction that

 

saints are perfected sinners,

once mortal,

now immortal.

This contrast gives emphasis to Luke’s unique narrative of Jesus’ Beatitudes.

Blessed are … and

Woe to you.

 

Woe to you, mere mortals,

Inhabitants of aging, aching bodies!

 

Woe, or “ouai” in the Greek

– pronounced oo-ah-ee –

Is an emotional word, such as Yikes! Or Look Out!

(http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4256)

 

Contrast woe with blessed,

As saints lifted into eternal glory!

Blessed, or “Makarios” in the Greek

– pronounced mak-ar-ee-os –

Means God’s benefits are extended to the one being blessed.

Salvation is God’s benefit extended to saints in heaven.

(Ibid.)

 

Jesus is teaching

God’s benefit of eternal life is gifted to

The poor, hungry, those who weep and mourn.

The Lord’s salvation is given to those

Who are hated, reviled, and defamed

Simply because the faith of their mortal life was defined by following Jesus.

 

Look out, you who are rich! Jesus is saying.

When your mortal life ends, you’re going to become poor.

You can’t take anything with you.

 

You who went back to the buffet for seconds and are so stuffed you need to loosen your belt?

Yikes! Jesus is saying. Death is going to bring a hunger that can’t be satisfied.

 

Look out! Those whose party never seems to end.

It’s coming to an end.

Time is running out.

 

Living on the path of discipleship leading to sainthood,

Means we love our enemies.

No exceptions.

Bless those who curse you, and

Pray for those who abuse you.

 

What will your obituary say?

How will your eulogy read?

What will be your legacy?

 

Will people say,

He was the most loving person?

Or, she was a blessing to all her neighbors, near and far?

Or, he was always praying; at the drop of a hat, he’d hold your hand and start praying?

 

Riding this mortal train to glory,

Means we don’t respond when insulted.

We just don’t.

We don’t retaliate when robbed.

We give to every beggar, knowing full well that

one or more don’t need our charity and will abuse our gift.

We lend

without the expectation that

what we lent

will ever be returned.

 

Making our way through life is a journey leading to Jesus.

Closing in on eternity and sainthood means

We live according to Christ’s Golden Rule:

 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (6:26)

 

This is what Jesus taught;

This is how we are to behave.

This is the blessing,

The legacy,

Of All Saints’ Sunday.

Make it your legacy, too.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

“The Upside Down World of Jesus”

1.pngOctober 27, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 18:9-14

 

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Prayer.

 

Jesus tells a parable;

a parable that sets a trap.

The best traps are camouflaged in simplicity and in plain sight.

Do not be fooled by this simple parable!

 

Jesus sets this trap for any unsuspecting or uninformed disciple following him.

This parable is a trap set for you and me.

 

Wake up!

Pay attention!

Less the trap of this simple parable spring

and convict us of heresy and contempt.

 

Heresy and contempt.

You heard me right.

One wrong step and

you or I can step into the cow pie of heresy;

of violating two of the big ten commandments:

“I Am the Lord your God. Thou shall not have any gods before me.”

(Exodus 20:2-3)

 

One wrong step in a different direction will actuate the trap door;

dropping us into the dungeon of contempt;

unredeemed confinement,

exposing the disdain we harbor for others.

 

……

 

First, let’s deal with Heresy.

Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine.

Where is the heresy here?

and how can I learn to spot it, and

avoid stepping in it?

 

Pharisees in the time of Jesus often get a bad rap.

They aren’t villans, not hypocrites, nor necessarily adversaries of Jesus.

Scripture tells us that some are even sympathetic to Jesus.

The Pharisaic movement in ancient Israel sprung up in an effort to

emphasize obedience to the law of Moses.

It was a movement of both lay and rabbinical clergy.

 

Righteousness according to the law ensured

healthy spiritual disciplines,

healthy families and communities,

and for keeping the rites of kosher and cleanliness,

a way to encounter God’s holiness.

 

You or I could easily be Pharisees.

 

This Pharisee in today’s parable attends Temple.

Wonderful, we should attend worship, too.

The Pharisee prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Great, we should offer to God prayers of thanksgiving, too.

So far, so good.

 

This is when the wheels come flying off.

He begins with the pronoun, “I”.

I give thanks

I’m not like that thief,

that rogue,

that adulterer,

THAT tax collector.

 

Three more times the Pharisee starts with “I”.

I exceed the minimum requirement to fast once a week.

I fast twice a week!

I exceed the minimum requirement to tithe 10% of my net income.

I tithe 10% of my gross income!

 

In fact,

the Pharisee is so full of himself;

He’s so full of his own righteousness

that he has lost the desire to place his whole trust in the Lord.

“I trust in myself and my own righteousness!” he’s thinking to himself.

 

He doesn’t need the Lord.

His trust is in his ability to follow the law of Moses without fail,

making his self-confidence greater than

his trust in the Lord.

 

This is the height of heresy.

 

The Lord reminds us, “I Am the Lord your God.”

You and I? We are not the Lord.

Living a good, clean life does not rocket us to the front of the line

Displacing God.

 

……….

 

Second, lets deal with the trap of contempt.

Because of the Pharisees self-imposed righteousness

He has developed a chronic disease known as spiritual superiority.

 

Spiritual superiority.

Oooh.

We all shift uncomfortably in our seats.

 

The Pharisee believed others were beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn;

Especially those who intentionally broke the law of Moses,

Like thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors.

His disdain is exposed for all to see.

 

Contempt is a delusional belief that we know better than God

who should or who should not receive God’s mercy.

 

We do not.

We do not know better than God.

 

The Lord knows better than anyone

Where his mercy and grace are to be spread.

Mercy is the Lord’s prerogative and

Ours is not to judge.

 

Jesus is criticizing those who distinguish

Ourselves and our values from

“one of them.”

 

In God’s worldview

All are sinners, loved anyways.

All are fallen, redeemed anyways.

Even the most righteous still come up short of perfection, are saved anyways.

 

When we think of ourselves as holier than thou,

Better than “one of them,”

Our exalted contempt is flipped upside down by Jesus

And we find ourselves humbled.

 

Who are the “one of them” people in your world?

 

Are they communists, socialists, or a member of the opposite party?

Are they drug addicts, street people, or crazy people released from the asylum?

Are they owners, administrators, managers, or workers in the trench?

Are they officers, enlisted, or civilians?

Are they people with HIV, members of the LGBTQ community, people getting welfare handouts, or people with developmental disabilities?

Are they convicts, inmates, or felons?

Are they pimps, prostitutes, or people caught with their hand in the cookie jar?

Are they people with different skin colors, different accents, different faiths, from different lands?

 

Who are your

“one of them”?

 

We do love to paint people with a broad brush,

Lump people into stereotypes, because

Then, it’s easier to build a wall between us and them.

 

Contempt for “them”

does violence to the individual.

 

Every “one of them” has a name,

A story,

A history.

Every “one of them” is a child of God,

A person of worth,

Who is equally loved and cared for by the One who created

“them.”

Jesus died for every “one of them,”

An equal sacrifice,

Just as he died for me.

 

…………..

 

The traps of this simple parable are harsey and contempt,

But God’s gift of absurdly generous grace

Turns the world upside down.

 

Grace comes to none other than the foil of this parable:

The tax collector!

 

No one saw that coming!

The twist of this parable would have taken the breath away

from Jesus’ audience.

It should take our breath away, too.

 

Let’s talk about tax collectors,

People like Zacheus,

In the time of Jesus.

 

Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt.

They were hired contractors who worked on behalf of the Roman Empire,

The enemy occupiers of Israel.

These scoundrels would collect taxes

In neighborhoods, on highways, in markets, and at the dock.

Their take was anything they could collect above and beyond the Empire’s regulation.

They were dishonest, greedy, opportunist, collaborators;

Willing to victimize their own neighbors, family members, and friends.

 

Jesus, a respected Rabbi, associating with tax collectors would be scandalous in the eyes of every observant Jew.

Why would Jesus spend time with the likes of this?

 

(Mobster video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nHNHIDduH4)

 

In the parable, the tax collector stands far off.

He was probably afraid the roof of the Temple would collapse on him if stepped through the door.

He beats his breast, begs God for mercy, and confesses his sin.

 

That’s it.

He doesn’t promise to repent or change.

He doesn’t offer to go get an honest job.

He doesn’t volunteer to join the underground and become a part of the resistance.

 

“This man went down to his home justified,” Jesus declared.

The Pharisee had written him off.

But God had not.

The tax collector could only speak of his own brokenness.

And he is exalted.

 

Unburdened.

Vindicated.

Fully restored by God.

Wow!

 

Such is the nature of God’s absurdly generous grace.

 

………..

 

Dearly beloved,

This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector

Warns us of the dangers of righteousness.

Living according to the law has mostly an upside to it, but

Yet, it has dangers.

The danger is that our trust can turn away from God.

We can turn inward,

trusting in ourselves,

Not in God.

 

We are warned of contempt;

For it reveals spiritual superiority,

Unsightly disdain for children of God.

We’ve been warned.

Don’t fall into the trap.

 

Indeed, even the most righteous of us,

Myself included,

are in need of contrition, repentance, and forgiveness.

 

Dearly beloved,

This parable resolves itself,

Completes the square,

In God’s absurdly generous grace;

A core characteristic of God.

We are launched into the upside down world of Jesus,

Where those who exalt themselves will be humbled,

And those who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

So, be humbled.

Seek God’s mercy.

Confess sins; the big, the little, the intentional, even those unknown.

Abide in this upside down world of Jesus

known as the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

“Lessons from People Who Wear You Out”

1

Luke 18:1-8

20 October 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

 

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

 

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel for today

Begins with praying always and not losing heart.

It takes a pit stop into persistence and justice.

And it concludes with a question about where faith will be found.

 

Undoubtedly, across the land

exceptional sermons will be delivered on each of these three points.

 

I am reminded by the wisdom of one seminary professor

taught us that every parable

is meant to communicate Divine truth.

At the same time,

every parable has a limit,

a capacity of what can be revealed.

 

In other words,

search for what God desires us to know,

but, don’t push the parable beyond its capacity

such that you begin to read into the story

personal agenda

Jesus never meant to be included.

 

Across the centuries,

spanning the globe,

crossing multiple cultures,

enduring transitions from oral, to written, to printed communication techniques

as well as multiple translations from one language to another to another,

It’s obvious

well intentioned editors have had a field day with this Gospel before us.

 

It has become a diverse mess,

a spray of divergent topics

that could obscure the essential Divine truth hidden within.

The challenge is to clarify;

to fine tune what is presented

into a clear concise message

we can apply to our lives today.

 

“Pray always,” Jesus says.

Clear. Concise. To the point.

Number one

Take home application I can implement immediately:

Pray always,

Even in the supermarket.

 

Pray without interruption,

without ceasing.

Pray continuously.

Pray persistently,

like a persistent, stubborn widow who won’t give up and won’t give in.

Pray like there is no tomorrow.

Keep praying because the Son of Man is coming

and he is expecting to find us in prayer.

 

Prayer is not a new topic in Luke.

When viewed inside the larger Gospel

we know the story begins

with the whole assembly of people praying outside the temple.

Jesus prays at his baptism.

He withdraws to pray at key points throughout his ministry.

Jesus prays such that he sweats blood on the Mount of Olives.

He instructs his disciples to pray for those who abuse them.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray when they ask for instruction.

And Jesus assures us that the Holy Spirit comes to those who ask.

 

As Jesus was persistently in prayer throughout his life and ministry,

as he illustrates in this parable a widow who is persistence in her petition for justice,

so, too, are we to claim

the same persistence

for our prayer life.

 

Time for some introspection.

Consider our life, our actions, our behaviors:

Is everything we think, say, and do

firmly anchored in persistent prayer?

 

Persistent means always;

never ceasing.

 

Are we praying when we are shopping;

that our choices will reflect our stewardship of God’s creation?

Are we praying when we are picking our kids up from day care, school, or practice;

that our attitudes and language will be tempered by God’s love and wisdom?

Are we praying when we face temptation to do something we know we shouldn’t;

that God would steal our heart

and divert our attention to more faithful endeavors?

Are we praying when we wonder if we should stand up and speak out;

for God to channel our passion, to give us His words, and help keep us faithful?

 

It’s easy to pray occasionally;

when facing a personal crisis,

when set in routine,

or when we step foot into the sanctuary.

Praying persistently is advancing the spiritual life one step forward;

filling the in-between time

with our intentional effort to listen and speak with our God.

 

Time for some Extrospection.

Consider the life of our community of faith,

our church:

Is everything we think, say, and do

also firmly anchored in persistent prayer?

 

Can we let go and let God;

Give up our agenda and listen for God’s agenda to be made known to us?

 

When we talk finance

is it in such a way that reflects our prayerful revelation of God’s grace?

 

When we talk missions and outreach

is it in such a way that recognizes the fact that God is telling us to be like Jesus

reaching out to the last, the least, and the lost?

 

When we are pouring coffee, waiting tables, selling brownies, or mopping the floor

are we asking God to work through us to bless and love

everyone who enjoyed our turkey dinner?

 

Persistent means always,

whether we are gathered,

or whether we are deployed throughout the community.

Are we prayerfully supporting one another,

and through each other,

our neighbors, community, state and world?

 

God already knows what’s going on.

God wants us to pray to him because

 

 

Prayer changes the heart of the one doing the praying.

 

…..

 

“Pray always,” Jesus commands,

“and not to lose heart.”

 

Do not lose heart.

Keep faith.

Don’t lose heart.

 

Keep faith that God is in control,

today, tomorrow, and forever.

Today, most of us have the faith to pray.

We’ve come to worship after all.

In the spur of the moment

just about every Christian is able to muster up an

“Our Father, who art in heaven,”

“Now I lay me down to sleep,”

or “God is good, God is great.”

 

When the petition becomes a little bit more personal

– like a plea –

and when the petition is made not just one day,

but for a succession of days,

it becomes an intimate, ongoing conversation,

placing ourselves in the hands and arms of the one who created and loves us.

 

Do not lose heart, Jesus injects his confidence directly into our souls.

In the short term,

the persistent widow’s prayers for justice were not answered,

yet, she came back day after day,

knocking at the door of stubbornness.

 

Keep faith that

God’s time is God’s time,

not our time.

 

We live in God’s time.

We think we live in our time,

but it isn’t true.

 

“With the Lord one day is like a thousand years,

and a thousand years are like one day.”

– Apostle Peter, 2nd Letter to the Church in Greece, Turkey, and Asia, 2 Peter 3:8

 

When one talks resurrection and salvation

all talk is eternal.

All talk is God’s time.

It is according to God’s schedule that God responds.

 

Be there no misunderstanding;

God responds to every prayer.

Our job is to pray without ceasing,

with mustard seed sized faith,

and to keep knocking on God’s door.

Be assured, Jesus tells us,

persistent prayers are answered

always according to God’s time.

 

Do not lose heart;

keep faith

that every answered prayer,

that comes from God,

comes to us

from the one characteristic of God

that remains eternal and unchanging:

God’s everlasting love.

 

When Jesus says,

“Ask anything and God will grant it,”

we conveniently leave off that part “according to his will.”

 

“And this is the boldness we have in him,

that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

 

God’s will and motivation has always been for our personal and communal benefit.

Only a God who loved the world would send a son

to forgive us of the sins we’ve committed against Him and each other.

 

Only a God who loved the world would send His son

to win victory over death with a gift of eternal life.

 

When our persistent prayer

are according to God’s will to love us,

then, yes, every petition is granted.

When we believe our petitions haven’t been granted,

either it is because

what we’ve been asking for has been contrary to the will of God,

or,

what we’ve been asking for has yet to be revealed by God’s greater, long term plan.

 

Eventually, the persistent widow

was granted her petition.

She asked for justice and she got it.

Of course, justice is consistent with the love and will of God.

Why wouldn’t it be granted?

The point is

she was persistent in her petitions; and so should we.

She didn’t lose heart, she didn’t lose faith, and neither should we.

 

Jesus ends our Gospel for today

with what I believe is the perfect question:

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18:8)

 

The beginning of an answer is found in the Gospel

where numerous people are commended for their faith:

 

  • the centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
  • the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
  • friends of the paralytic who are willing to cut a hole through a perfectly good roof;
  • the bleeding, unclean woman who touches Jesus’ clothes in the crowd and is healed;
  • the Samaritan with leprosy, whose gratitude turns him back to Jesus where he falls at his feet in thanksgiving;
  • and the blind beggar later in this chapter who sees Jesus for who he is and calls to him.

 

Yes, the Son of Man will find faith,

but Luke suggests that it may be in unexpected places,

not among the religious professionals

or the ones certain of their own righteousness.

10

Faith is found among

outsiders,

the unlovely,

the unclean,

the ones who are certain of their sinfulness.

Faith isn’t found within; it’s found outside, in the community, among those in greatest need.

(Thanks to: Meda Stamper, pastor, Anstey United Reformed Church, Leicestershire, England, as found at workingpreacher.org)

 

Signs of faith today

are people and communities persistently praying

in everything that is said and done.

Signs of faith today are evident

when culture is wrapped so tightly in persistent prayer

that peace replaces violence

God’s love drowns out hatred and prejudice,

and grace leads to life lived completely in the Spirit.

 

Signs of faith today

can be seen

in people and communities who persistently pray

and who do not lose heart,

who keep coming back

and coming back

and coming back

until the prayer is answered in God’s time,

or, until the Son of Man returns.

Whichever comes first.

It’s all good.

 

Don’t stretch the parable too far.

It was good advice.

Jesus gives his followers better advice:

 

Pray.

Pray always.

Pray and do not lose heart.

 

Be the Gospel.

Be the Good News of Jesus.

Amen.

“Unlikely Gratitude”

Luke 17:11-19

13 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

And he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Prayer.

1

A Story of Kings

 

There once was a commander of the Syrian army

By the name of Naaman.

He was loved by his men, for

He was strong and

The Lord, Yahweh, our God, brought him victory,

Though Naaman was a pagan and knew him not.

 

Naaman developed a disfiguring, communicable disease.

He suffered in isolation and shame.

How could he lead men if none would come near?

 

There was a great prophet of Yahweh

Who had developed the reputation as a healer.

The prophet lived in Israel,

South of the Syrian border,

His name was Elisha.

 

Naaman had to see Elisha

Even though Syria and Israel were adversaries,

As they are to this day.

The healer was behind enemy lines.

 

The intersection of Naaman and the Lord was heating up.

 

King Joram of Israel was suspicious of the king of Syria,

Who requested safe passage for his commander to visit Elisha.

Was this a pretext for starting a war?

What should he do?

Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty overwhelms King Joram.

He tears his shirt in frustration.

The crown’s concerns spread throughout the kingdom.

 

The prophet Elisha hears the news.

He sends for Naaman,

That he might come to know Yahweh;

The source of his victories,

The Lord of prophecy,

The God of healing.

 

Naaman comes.

Elisha tells him

“Go, wash in the Jordan seven time, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean,” (2 Kings 5:10)

 

You’ve got to be kidding.

 

Desperation overcomes skepticism.

Naaman washes himself just as he was told.

He is healed of his leprosy.

 

At the intersection of Naaman and the Lord,

There is healing.

He renounces his former pagan god and

Claims the God of Israel,

Giving praise:

“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)

 

Naaman comes to the Lord and

Finds himself

At the intersection of faith and praise.

 

……………..

 

800 years later

Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem

Through the land of Elisha.

 

Leprosy was a disease of legend,

So easily transmitted and feared,

It left its victims in forced isolation.

 

Ten people with leprosy like Naaman approach Jesus.

All the while, they keep their distance.

A touch means becoming unclean and a time-consuming trip to the ceremonial baths and coming before the local priests.

 

Jesus was Jewish.

They were Samaritans.

They shared a common belief in Yahweh,

As do we.

Jesus was widely known throughout the region as a healer.

He attracted large crowds.

Jesus had something

These ten people with leprosy wanted:

To be cleaned, healed, and restored to normal life.

In short, to be made well.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

If Yahweh can heal Naaman,

So too, can the Lord use Jesus to heal us.

 

The region between Galilee in the north

And Judah and Jerusalem in the south

Had changed in the 800 years between Elisha and Jesus.

Samaria had been dominated by faithful Jews

From the 12 tribes of Israel,

Namely Ephraim and Manasseh.

 

About eighty years after Elisha

The region fell to the conquering Assyrians,

Who deported the best and brightest of the population to exile.

 

Assyrians settled in,

Intermarried with those who remained behind to tend the land.

To the Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem

The Samaritans became known as mixed raced collaborators with the enemy.

 

To talk about Samaritans

Is to bring up the topic of racism.

 

The divide deepened.

Most Samaritans remained faithful to Yahweh,

Yet were prohibited to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

They established their own local Temple first in Shechem,

Then to Shiloh.

Judaism schismed.

To the faithful Jews in the time of Jesus,

Samaritans were treated as pagans.

 

Samaritans.

Discriminated because of their mixed race;

Hated for their collaboration with the enemy;

Dismissed as pagans.

It is in this cultural context

Jesus enters when he stops in a village between Samaria and Galilee.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

 

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan,

Also unique to the Gospel of Luke? (10:29-37)

When held in contrast with this narrative of Jesus healing ten people with leprosy

It is as if this

Miracle of healing becomes secondary.

When held in context with the narrative of the healing of Naaman

It is as if the Gospel is painting a far greater trajectory

Of God’s intervention in salvation history.

 

Imagine that.

A miracle may be pointing us to something more profound.

 

This story of healing

Reveals a deeper message of unlikely gratitude.

 

…………..

 

Allow me to bring laser focus on the one Samaritan

Who returned to Jesus.

 

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”

(17:15-16)

 

The text appears relatively simple and straight forward.

But, consistent with Luke, let us pay attention to details.

 

The first detail is the healed man

Came to an immediate awareness of God;

A display of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

He saw that he was healed.

 

For us today,

Are we as self-aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy?

Or, have our spiritual senses been so dulled by the world

That we’ve lost most of our situational awareness of God?

 

Have our spiritual senses been dulled by our passive approach to discipleship

That we’ve grown distant from the only source of healing,

The only solution to the fractures of the world

And the brokenness in our life?

 

Beloved, let us adjust our sets and tune our spiritual antenna.

Let us be aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

 

The second detail

Is that the man healed of leprosy changes his orientation towards God.

He walked away, but then

He turned back.

He returned to Jesus.

 

Oh, it is so easy to be healed by the Lord

And to simply move on,

As did the nine others who were made clean

But who failed to return.

 

Experiencing the presence, power, mercy, and grace of God’s healing intervention in our lives

Is an opportunity to repent

And to engage in the hard work of discipleship.

 

To turn back requires the intentional desire to change and grow in spiritual depth

Even though every one of us naturally resist change.

Repentance and change always begins with the self;

It always begins with me.

 

The third detail has much to teach us.

As the cleansed and healed man made his way back to Jesus,

He praises God with a loud voice!

 

Praise is recognition:

The source of healing is the object of praise,

None other than the Lord, our God.

Praise is reassurance:

Instilling confidence of faith within

And bearing testimony to others of

God’s greatness, glory, and mercy.

Praise is admiration of

God’s power, grace, and love.

 

And he did it loudly!

Shouldn’t our praise be loud, too!

Perhaps the cry room in the back should be reserved

For those who want to praise God in silence,

Because this sanctuary should be rocking!

 

The fourth detail is instructive.

The healed man prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet.

 

Do we place ourselves in a position of submission before Jesus?

Do we listen to his teaching at his feet?

Do we make our selves vulnerable before the Lord,

Placing ourselves completely, whole, utterly in the mercy of God?

 

The final detail is all about gratitude.

The healed man,

Mixed race,

A former foe,

One who had been considered a pagan like Naaman,

Gave thanks for what the Lord had done.

 

None were more unlikely to extend gratitude to God

Than this Samaritan man.

Yet, he did.

So, too, can you and me.

 

Beloved members and friends, guests and visitors,

The Gospel invites us today

To fill our hearts with gratitude.

 

Thank the Lord,

For all that has been, and

For where our spiritual journey has led us

To this day and time and place.

 

Thank the Lord,

For his faithfulness.

God keeps his covenants.

The One who created us stays in love with us.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness gives us assurance,

That if we follow wherever God is leading,

We will remain in God’s presence,

Strengthened by God’s power,

Blessed by God’s mercy and grace.

 

In this season of thanksgiving,

Let us thank the Lord

That, yesterday I may have been at war with God,

Emotionally and spiritually scared as a man with leprosy,

But today, I’ve been given a second chance

To turn back, and

Return to the feet of Jesus,

Cleansed, cured, and restored,

With a heart at peace.

 

“Get up and go on your way;” Jesus tells us.

“Your faith has made you well.” (17:19)

 

Our Lord’s invitation to us today

Is to place ourselves at

The intersection of faith and praise and gratitude.

That’s where we meet the Lord.

Amen.

“The Size of a Mustard Seed”

Luke 17:5-10, Proper 22 C, 6 October 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

5

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of the past couple of Sundays.

You may remember

We left Jesus first teaching the disciples,

Then teaching the Pharisees

(who were lovers of money),

And, last week

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

 

Today, Jesus again turns to his disciples

And begins to teach

Four seemingly unconnected sayings

That are found in the first ten verses of chapter 17.

The first two are not included in our reading this morning;

Yet it is important to mention them.

 

The first saying

Is a warning to anyone who would cause someone to stumble,

That is, to temp someone to sin.

Jesus warns

“It would be better for you

If a millstone were hung around your neck

And you were thrown into the sea.”

– Luke 17:2

This is familiar for most of us. It’s also self-explanatory.

 

The second saying

Is Jesus giving instructions about

How one disciple is to treat another disciple who sins.

“You must rebuke the offender,”

Jesus instructs them,

“and if there is repentance,

You must forgive.”

– Luke 17:4

Again, straight forward.

 

Allow me to leapfrog the third saying and go right to the fourth.

The fourth saying of Jesus

Was read this morning and is found in verses 7-10.

Jesus makes his point with an illustration that causes us to shutter today,

Yet, this was a common cultural reality in the time of Jesus.

 

I doubt if any of Jesus’ disciples owned slaves.

At the same time, it was a slave holding society.

Slaves came primarily from military expansion, victory, and settlements.

Only the wealthy, politicians, and members of the military would have owned slaves.

Everyone would have been exposed to slavery

And known the ins and outs of how it worked.

 

The slave’s time and labor belongs to the master,

Therefore, the slave has no claim on the master

Even after a period of obedient service.

The point being,

 

We cannot put God into our debt.

 

God never owes us.

What we receive from God is kindness,

God’s grace,

Not reward for what we should do in the first place.

This is an important point:

What we receive from God is grace, not reward.

 

It is God’s nature to love, forgive, and save.

There isn’t a thing we can do to earn it;

It is already ours to accept.

 

….

 

My primary focus for today is upon the third continuous saying of Jesus,

Found in Luke 17:5-6, which reads:

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

The Lord replied,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,

you could say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’

and it would obey you.”

 

Note the fact that

It isn’t the disciples who ask,

Rather, it is the “apostles” who ask Jesus to

“increase our faith.”

 

The use of the word “apostles” indicates the fact

That this passage was most probably first written down

Almost two generations after Jesus.

Think about this dynamic for a moment;

The Gospel of Luke was written down nearly 50 to 70 years

After Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

It goes to show that

For those who follow Jesus,

Be they the original disciples,

The faithful members of the early, first century church,

Or even for us today,

It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

 

What they are asking is, “Lord, make us adequate for being your disciples.”

 

This reminds me of the old hymn

 

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. (x2)

When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,

Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”

(Words and music by Charles Albert Tindley, 1906)

 

Sometimes we feel like the weight of the world is crushing us,

The responsibilities thrust upon us are more than we can bear,

The expectations of family, work, and life exceed our capacity to endure,

And we, like the disciples of old cry out

“Lord, increase our faith!”

We cry out like the old hymn

“Lord, stand by me,

because I can’t stand alone any longer.”

 

Jesus reminds us

 

The faith we already have is more than adequate.

 

Our natural tendency is to think this is a parable about us.

We want to measure and quantify our faith.

We do so to correlate life’s events,

Suggesting that times of great faith is a sign of God’s favor

And times of weakened faith is a sign that we’ve fallen out of God’s favor

(which is patently untrue).

 

I’d suggest, however, Jesus teaches this parable

To reveal more about the characteristics about God, our Heavenly Father,

Than to teach his disciples about how to increase our faith.

 

Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

God’s power is unlimited.

When our faith is connected with God’s infinite power

There is nothing God can’t do through us.

All things are possible by God

When working through willing disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus’ response to his disciples petition is quite familiar;

Familiar much more so to us from Matthew and Mark

Where “mountain” is substituted for “mulberry tree.”

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,

You could move a mighty mountain.”

– Paraphrased from Matthew 17:20 and Mark 11:23

 

Mulberry tree or Mountain,

… Six and one-half dozen the other …

Both employ impossible tasks at the time of Jesus.

Yes, the top of a mountain could be leveled and a temple built on top of it;

But move a whole mountain?

Whoa! I don’t think so;

Not in an era before shovels, earth movers, dynamite and pan dump trucks.

 

Likewise, it would have been quite impossible

For a mulberry tree,

A middle-eastern blackberry tree with an extensive root system

Which thrives in the desert,

To be transplanted from its original growing place

And be replanted in, or near, the sea.

It would be quite the impossible task!

 

Another point.

From the original Greek,

Our Lord’s words,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,”

Implies or assumes an existing level of faith.

 

Specifically, Jesus isn’t questioning

Whether or not his disciples had any faith,

He was simply saying,

“If the faith you already have is equal to, or bigger than,

The size of a mustard seed …”

 

Friends, a mustard seed is the very smallest of seeds,

Nearly microscopic in size.

 

When looking at the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to leave life and family behind,

To lay down their nets to come and follow Jesus,

Every one of his disciples would have thought,

“Well, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

Today, when considering the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to roll out of bed

And to come to worship on a Sunday morning,

Every one of us can also proclaim,

“Why, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible for God.

 

You heard me right.

The faith you already have

Gives you the potential

To do the impossible.

 

Faith in Jesus Christ connects us to the power of God.

It taps us into the Almighty,

The Creator of the universe.

The faith you already have

Connects you directly into the power of God,

Enabling that power

To be put to use for God’s useful means.

 

Faith grows when we take God at his word.

God has been tugging at you all your life.

God has been whispering in your ear all your life.

God has been speaking to your conscience all your life.

 

It is God’s initiative,

God’s persistence,

God’s urging

That brought you forward to the baptismal font

And cleansed you with

Your baptismal waters.

Jesus has led you to the foot of his cross

To be washed clean of sin by his blood.

 

It is God’s prompting you,

Nagging you,

Urging you,

Longing for you to step forward again,

To partner with our Creator in this great endeavor,

To follow his lead and to expand his kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

 

….

 

So, what are the implications of this passage for our church family today?

Let’s call it “Mustard Seed Sized Faith”

 

Let’s take them one-by-one.

 

1. It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

God’s vision is far greater than ours.

We get so focused on the here and now

And our personal challenges

That we are blinded to the possibilities of what God is creating.

 

We see our life and our church as broken, as limited, and vulnerable.

This is based upon the past and present.

But this is not the future reality to which God is calling us.

 

Take heart!

Be of good courage!

Wherever God is leading, let us follow,

Knowing in the depth of our bones

That God has given us all that is necessary for this journey.

The church of tomorrow

Will be what God wants it to be.

 

2. The faith we already have is more than adequate.

The particulars of doctrine don’t matter to God;

What matters to God is that

“we live by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

The fact that you are here right now,

In front of this altar and the cross of Jesus Christ,

Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses,

Tells me that though

None of us have seen Jesus,

Each of us live with Christ living in us

( – Galatians 2:20).

The breath of his Holy Spirit filling our lungs.

 

That’s sufficient.

That’s all you need.

Your faith is more than adequate.

Stop complaining and making excuses.

Move on.

Move this church forward

And bring it into the fullness of all that God wants us to be.

 

3. Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

“With God all things are possible.”

– Matthew 19:26 and Mark 10:27

Jesus is claiming,

The God who created all there is,

All there ever has been,

And all there ever shall be,

Is a God of infinite power and ability.

Faith is like hooking in a power cable directly into God.

God’s will is the future’s reality for this congregation

 

Whether we like it, or not.

Whether we’re on board, or not.

Whether we cooperate, or not.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

– Luke 11:2

 

Grow this church two-fold in the next year?

Of course this is possible.

If this is God’s will, our faith can make this happen.

 

Though the opposite may be true,

It is important to recognize that

God is in the expansion business!

 

Faithfulness is the ability to pray,

“Use me, O Lord, …

Use this church, O Lord …

That Thy will may be done.”

 

4. If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible.

Beloved friends, you’ve got this!

God’s future for us is not dependent

On how smart we are,

How creative we are,

Or how much money we have.

We’re tapped into the greatest power in the cosmos,

And through this power

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

– Philippians 4:13

We’ve got this, if we want this

And if we are willing to be faithful.

 

5. Lastly, Faith grows when we take God at his word.

Disciples of Jesus,

Stop complaining and stop obsessing about all that distract our attention from Jesus:

Size, status, past mistakes, promises unfulfilled.

 

Let it go.

Let it be.

With Christ by our side,

There is no reason to be anxious about the future.

Our future is God’s to give,

For us to confidently claim.

 

Stop trying to quantify faith.

Faith will take care of itself,

Just so long as we continually attempt to seek God’s will

And follow God’s ways.

 

Living the quest to discern and follow God’s will

Normally, naturally, grows faith.

Instead of petitioning Jesus to increase our faith,

Perhaps we should spend more time asking our Heavenly Father

What he would have us do

And spend more time getting it done!

 

….

 

Dearly beloved,

Because of God love

The reality of God’s tomorrow is more wonderful than you or I can imagine.

In the meantime,

Take heart in the faith that you have been given.

Know that your faith is sufficient,

Because it connects us,

It binds us together with God,

Tapping us into God’s unlimited power.

 

Together, we can complete God’s will.

Together, we can do anything.

Amen.

 

 

“Lazarus and the Rich Man”

Luke 16:19-31

29 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 16:19-31

 

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

1

Prayer.

 

Jesus is a master storyteller.

Some of the parables Jesus tells

Just speak for themselves.

The message is obvious.

Little commentary is necessary.

Truth is revealed for all to see and experience.

 

I love these opportunities, such as today,

For it affords me greater latitude to

expand the story

and challenge us with questions we can apply to our lives and families.

 

This parable about a rich man and Lazarus,

Unique to Luke,

Plays itself out in three acts, and

Leads me to ask four questions.

 

 

First question: what separates us from each other?

 

I’m thinking about the gate;

The gate that came between the rich man and Lazarus.

I think about the chasm that is fixed

preventing passage between Hades and the

Elevated environs of angels and Father Abraham.

The gate and the chasm are obvious barriers.

 

Makes me think,

I erect gates and dig uncrossable chasms

Between others and myself all the time.

Instead of serving God,

I live enslaved by my schedule.

Instead of stopping to help someone in need,

I rush to make an appointment on time.

I justify passing by on the other side by telling myself that

My meeting was a church meeting.

 

I confess that I live according to Chronos time;

That counts the hours, minutes, and seconds of every day.

I confess that I fail to live according to God’s time,

That counts people, relationships, and service in the name of Jesus.

 

How about you?

 

What are the gates we erect and what are the chasms we dig

between ourselves and others

that are not so obvious?

 

 

The man living in the gated community is wealthy.

As I mentioned last Sunday,

Wealth is a sign of a failure to follow God’s laws:

Charging interest and not celebrating Jubilee.

 

According to the World Bank,

10.5% of the 7.7 billion people of the world

Live on less than $1.90 a day.

(https://www.worldvision.org/sponsorship-news-stories/global-poverty-facts)

 

(I can’t speak for you, but …)

I’m practically

Living in a vault,

Swimming in gold coins,

Spending my days printing money.

I confess that my wealth is a barrier between others and me.

 

Lazarus’ health care is delivered by dogs who lick his open sores.

(And you thought your health care was bad!)

At the same time,

I complain about health care to anyone who will listen:

The copays, seeing my doctor, scheduling an appointment, referrals to a specialist, juggling my FSA and my HSA.

 

Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control reported last year

that 11.1% of Americans under the age of 65 don’t even have health insurance.

That’s 30.1 million people.

(https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/health-insurance.htm)

 

The World Health Organization reports that in 2019

Life expectancy in high income countries is 80.8 years,

While life expectancy in low income countries is 62.7 years;

A difference of difference of 18.1 years.

In low income countries, one in three deaths are children under the age of five.

(https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311696/WHO-DAD-2019.1-eng.pdf)

 

I confess that access to healthcare

is an unjust and uncrossable chasm the world has created and

In which, I enjoy the advantage of an unlevel playing field.

 

The Gospel begs the question,

What gates and chasms are placed in your life

That benefit you at the expense of others?

 

If you built the barrier, you can remove it.

 

If the barriers that give you privilege have been put in place by others,

We are called to honor our baptismal vow to

Reject injustice and oppression

Where ever and when ever they are found.

Speak for those without voice.

Defend the defenseless.

Reject injustice and oppression and

do it in the name of the author of Justice and equality,

Jesus Christ, our Lord.

 

 

Second question: how do I treat others? as objects or as individuals?

 

Jesus uses this fictional parable of Lazarus and the rich man

to teach us many lessons.

Pay close attention to the details.

 

As is often the characteristic of the Gospel of Luke,

Jesus identifies Lazarus and Abraham by name.

The rich man is not identified.

Why?

 

Perhaps Jesus is doling out justice;

Revocation of membership in the VIP club and

Granting eternal anonymity as payment

For a privileged, promoted, pimped-up and pimped-out mortal life?

 

Welcome to coach … and being called last to board.

 

Notice; the rich man knows Lazarus by name.

He noticed him begging and suffering at his gate

Over a long of enough period of time that he learned Lazarus’ name.

And still, he did nothing to help.

 

 

Notice; the rich man,

In the agony of Hades flames,

Looks up and doesn’t speak to Lazarus;

He speaks to Abraham.

In death, as in life,

The rich man treats Lazarus with disdain,

as less than a slave,

as one who can be ordered around.

 

The rich man treats Lazarus as an object.

To the rich man, Lazarus is nothing more than a pawn to be moved,

A means to an ends,

A disposable detail to be blamed

For the delay and, ultimately, the denial of his eternal objective.

 

I confess, I easily fall to the temptation of treating others as objects.

I pass judgment about others by the way they look,

Their lifestyle, or their choices.

I treat others as objects when I think about them by labels or categories:

That welfare mother,

That lazy immigrant,

That ignorant member of the other political party,

That convicted prisoner,

That woman with Down Syndrome,

That pain in my butt,

That triple bypass,

That widow with dementia.

 

The Gospel is clear,

How we treat our neighbor matters.

Using broad brush strokes and generalities lumps everyone together and

Makes other groups the object of our rage.

 

 

Objectifying others becomes the catalyst for

Cold, insensitive words and escalating violence.

 

When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus

Words and behavior matter.

Jesus teaches us to treat our neighbors as human,

As equals,

As peers.

Learn their name and respectfully call them by name.

Jesus teaches us to speak and act with respect and compassion,

Treating every individual as a child of God of sacred worth,

As a near perfect image of our Creator.

 

The way we act and speak about others

Reveals

the honest way we think about God and

our true behavior in God’s Kingdom.

 

Third question: Is my heart at war or at peace?

 

Jesus does a masterful job of casting the roll of the rich man

As a character in this parable as a man whose heart is at war.

 

He fights for privilege

To receive good things.

He demands to be respected,

To be treated with the honor worthy of his purple, royal clothing.

He resorts to manipulation

To get his way.

(Notice how he addresses Abraham as ‘Father’? It’s a shameless appeal to recognize the fact that he is a child of Abraham, too.)

Equal justice is good for me when it gives me a leg up,

But it’s bad for me when it gives someone else the advantage.

 

A heart that fights is a heart at war.

A heart that demands special treatment is a heart at war.

A heart that is manipulative is a heart at war.

 

How’s your heart these days?

 

I confess that

I fight to increase my net wealth and improve my future pension.

I love being seated at the table of honor and getting called to go first to the buffet.

Sometimes I’m even known to try to manipulate my marriage, my children, my friends, and parish.

I confess that sometimes my heart cold as ice, made of stone, and at war with the world.

 

Obsession is often a sign and symptom of a heart at war.

 

Isn’t Jesus using this story of a rich man and Lazarus

To change our hearts?

To remold and remake our hearts into hearts of peace?

 

Which leads us to the fourth question,

Quietly lurking in the background of this Gospel lesson;

The unspoken truth that is obvious

But no one wants to talk about …

Repentance.

 

 

Fourth question: How will we respond to Jesus’ call to repentance?

 

No one wants to talk about repentance,

Let alone do it,

Because repentance is hard and painful.

 

Repentance is coming to terms with the truth about ourselves and our sins.

 

Repentance exposes the fact that we sometimes treat others as objects, less worthy, inferior, not as God’s children.

Repentance reveals the truth about our wealth and how we use it.

Repentance is a painful slap in the face, and

We know it’s going to cost us.

 

Repentance lifts the curtain,

Exposes our hearts when at war,

And lets all the world to see the hypocrisy,

Of stepping over the poor and the sick

dying at our front door or front gate.

 

Repentance is painful because it demands a change.

I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t like to make changes in my life.

Change costs me time and money.

Jesus’ story of a rich man and Lazarus

Is a call for you and me to make necessary changes in our lives

While we still have the time and the means to do so.

 

 

The clock is ticking.

 

Repentance requires me to fess up to my mistakes,

Tear down barriers I’ve built between others and myself, and

Get to work making it right.

 

Repentance is as painful as ribs getting spread for heart surgery;

It transforms the heart,

Giving us a heart of peace when we follow Jesus

In place of a heart at war

When we live in wealth and privilege at the expense of others.

 

 

Dearly beloved,

What separates us from each other and from our Lord, Jesus Christ?

Grant us, O Lord, the will to repent of our ways,

To tear down our barriers,

And to replace every gate and chasm in our life

With a door or a bridge.

 

How do we treat others? As individuals; each with a name, story, and of sacred worth?

Grant us, O Lord, the courage to repent of our ways,

To embrace every person, without exception,

as a person of worth, as your precious child.

 

Is your heart at war, at peace, or someplace in between?

Hear our cry of repentance, O Lord,

That we may turn away from war

And receive your perfect and eternal peace.

 

“Turn back, O man

Forswear thy foolish ways

Old now is earth

And none may count her days

Da da da da da

Yet thou, her child

Whose head is crowned with flames

Still will not hear

Thine inner God proclaims

 

Turn back, O man

Turn back, O man

Turn back, O man

Forswear thy foolish ways”

(Godspell, by John-Michael Tebelak, lyrics from “Turn Back, O Man”)

 

Amen.

“Jesus and Two Rascals”

Luke 16:1-13

22 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 16:1-13

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had 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 yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

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Prayer.

 

I don’t know about you,

But I like the older language

Found in the King James and Revised Standard versions that reads:

“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Mammon serves as a personification for the acquisition of wealth,

Or, as Martin Luther called it,

The “most common god on earth.”

 

Bob Dylan sings, everybody’s “gotta serve somebody.”

You cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus concludes.

 

Our Gospel from Luke today is especially difficult to understand.

It is hard for us to know

HOW Jesus wants us

To judge any of the characters in his story.

It is almost as if understanding Jesus’ intent

Requires us to take a mini course in ancient Biblical economics.

 

(Much of today’s insight comes from the excellent work of Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, Ill. As found at workingpreacher.org)

 

Most people will look at this unusual passage

Only found in the Gospel of Luke,

Reel in bewilderment,

And toss up their hands, saying,

“Why should I even bother

To try to make heads or tails of this complex mess?”

“It’s too complicated!”

(Remember: Church is a “No Complaint Zone”)

 

Believe me.

It’s worth the effort.

It’s worth the effort to dig deeply

To uncover Jesus’ intended message and essential truth.

 

In Biblical Judaism,

It is forbidden to charge interest on a loan.

These prohibitions are listed exhaustively in

Exodus 22, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15.

(This, of course, makes it impossible today

For Bankers, or any lender, mortgage or bond holders,

To believe in a

Literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible).

 

The Bible forbids interest because it exploits the vulnerable and poor.

In the time of Jesus,

This prohibition was being ignored.

Surprise! Surprise!

God’s people fail to heed God’s Word.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

The vulnerable poor were being exploited.

They were being gouged.

How bad were the poor being exploited? You ask …

 

Scholars suggest the real interest rate would have been

25 percent per year for borrowing money, and

50 percent per year for borrowing goods.

The manager? You ask, “How does he make his money?

By charging his fee on top of everything else.

 

So, after twelve months, a $1,000 loan of grain

Will now cost the borrower $1,500 to pay back,

Plus an additional $150 fee for the debt collector.

The sum total for a thousand dollar loan would be $1,650.

You can see why the poor were being crushed by debt.

 

The poor were attracted to Jesus

Like new college graduates heavily encumbered with student debt

Are attracted to a politician promising the sun, the moon, and the stars.

 

The shrewd manager

Quickly writes down everyone’s debt

So they will treat him well after he is fired.

Let me be clear:

He is only writing off the debt that was unjust interest and, possibly, his fee.

He was only writing the debt off

Back to the original principle amount of the loan.

 

Borrowers had been pounded for years

Under the exploitative debt of both

The rich man and his manager.

Both the rich man and his manager were rascals of the worst kind.

They exploited the poor.

 

Now the manager

Who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar

Was simply doing what was right,

What was according to Law,

What he should have been doing in the first place.

 

Throughout the Gospel of Luke,

Jesus calls for another Biblical directive: Jubilee.

 

What is Jubilee? You ask …

 

Leviticus 25:8-15 states

  “You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

  It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.”

 

Every 49 years

Liberty is to be proclaimed throughout the land.

Slaves and prisoners would be freed.

Debts would be forgiven.

The mercies of God would be manifest.

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_(biblical))

 

You heard me right.

All debts shall be forgiven.

 

Jesus cracks the Jubilee whip throughout the Gospel of Luke.

In the Magnificat,

Luke reports (1:53) that God

“Has filled the hungry with good things,

And sent the rich away empty.”

When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus,

Zacchaeus restores to the borrowers

That which he had defrauded four-fold.

As a result

Jesus restores Zacchaeus to community and proclaims,

“Today salvation has come to this house.” (19:18).

 

Because of this generational reset

Of everyone’s accumulated assets to zero,

There would be no way to accumulate massive wealth,

Unless, of course,

You had the financial ability and the sinful disdain

To defy the law regarding lending and debt.

All massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

Massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

When Jesus begins his narrative about a rich man and a manager,

Everyone to whom he was speaking

… the disciples, sinners, and tax collectors – everyone…

Would have immediately known

That Jesus was

Speaking about not one, but two rascals

Who disobey the Bible and who exploit the poor.

 

Jesus is condemning both equally;

Both the rich man and his shrewd manager.

It is not okay to exploit the poor.

Financial exploitation of the poor

Is absolutely contrary to the Gospel

And contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

 

I find it refreshing to learn

That “the Lutheran World Federation

Calls oppressive debt terms

Imposed on Latin American countries

As “illegitimate debt”

And likens such debt itself to “violence,”

Because of its crushing effects on people’s future.”

Some even go so far to

Refer to the international debt system as “modern slavery.”

 

(Rev. Ángel Furlan, coordinator of the illegitimate debt program for LWF member churches in Latin America, referred to the debt system as “modern slavery.” See the 2013 report at https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/just-and-sustainable-future-without-illegitimate-foreign-debt)

 

By this Gospel story

Jesus is attempting to dismantle

Human systems of greed;

Greed that disobey God’s Word and God’s Law,

Greed that exploit the vulnerable poor,

And greed that perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty.

 

Jesus is reviving village life!

Jesus is reviving the call to Biblical behavior!

Jesus is reviving the call for all his followers

To be people in covenant with God and with our neighbors!

Jesus is reviving the call to forgive debts!

(“Forgive us this day our debts,

As we forgive our debtors” – Matthew 6:12)

 

Jesus is in the business of revival and resurrection baby,

Today he has hit pure gold!

 

In today’s world

Most people notice the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

The middle class is being squeezed

And most of the pulverized remains are flowing through the grinder

Forging people who are marginalized by

Poverty, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness.

 

Disciples of Christ

Are being asked to choose

In this important teaching lesson today:

Whom shall we serve?

God or mammon?

Disciples of Jesus are repeatedly warned

That we cannot be disciples while accumulating wealth

At the expense of the poor.

 

If we choose to serve mammon.

Go home.

Go ahead and turn your back on those in need.

Remain quiet when injustice is exposed.

Don’t lift a finger to prevent exploitation from taking place.

God bless you.

You’re going to need it.

 

But Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard.

Jesus calls us to become engaged in the world’s dysfunction.

God wants us to not only reach out to the poor,

But to also take control of the levers that create

An unfair playing field

That favor the rich

At the expense of the poor.

Take control and restore the system

That enslaves people in endless unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.

 

Jesus is calling us to join him in the business of restoration and resurrection,

Not only individually,

But across all systems, political ideologies, and economic realities.

 

Might I even go so far as to suggest

That impoverishing future generations

By our mammon imitating consumption

Might also have environmental implications?

Of course!

Let us not leave the world a toxic waste dump

For our children to inherit

To feed off the piles

Or drink from its runoff.

 

Lastly,

I’d suggest that when we choose God,

When we choose to intentionally follow Jesus,

We choose to submit ourselves to God’s will

And Biblical justice.

 

Being faithful to the Word

Is not opposed to working for justice.

The foundation for Divine justice is one of many common threads

That is woven throughout the Biblical text.

Anyone who suggests otherwise

Is presenting to the world a lie,

A false dichotomy.

 

If one is faithful to the Word,

One must live the Word

with Christ centered conviction and holiness.

 

Working for Biblical justice

Individually, and collectively as the Church,

Is what building the Kingdom of God is all about.

 

Signs of Kingdom progress

Come in the form of both

Building houses with Habitat for Humanity

Or in Nicaragua or Guatemala,

But also with legislation

That empowers and resources the poor

To build their own houses and homes.

 

Kingdom building is setting up and operating food cupboards,

As well as working with community leaders

To ensure free lunches for hungry children in school.

 

Kingdom building helps give a job

As well as working with the local employment office

To ensure everyone who needs a job can get a job.

 

The goal of the Kingdom of God

Is to bring healing to the broken,

Restoration to the poor,

And resurrection to the dead.

Nothing more,

Nothing less.

 

Today, we are given a choice:

Will we serve God

Or will we serve mammon?

Chose God.

Revive one life.

Resurrect the world.

Amen.