“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
| Centering Prayer |
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Fear was an effective tactic used by Ms. Eggleston,
my 6th grade teacher.
We called her “Old Eagle Eye”
because of the way she stood at the end of the hall when we passed;
and looking over her cat eyed glasses.
Not much happened outside of her
all seeing power.
It was as if the hallway was the land of Mordor
and the eye of Sauron was always watching.
Fear is a powerful motivator for changing behavior.
I love trains;
not toy trains, mind you.
The real thing.
I love the railroad industry
and the horsepower, technology, the Surface Transportation Board, and people who make it go.
So I read as much industry information as possible;
I always have.
I’ve learned over the years,
by reading, direct observation, and talking with employees,
just how dangerous the rail industry is;
and it has been this way from the very start.
It is said
the rule book is founded
on the blood of railroad men and women who paid the price.
The result is perhaps the most strict work environment
any place on the planet.
In every American rail company,
rule violations by an employee quickly results
in swift, harsh punishment.
Qualifying for positions is hard, time consuming, and requires a lot of education.
can quickly result in catastrophe.
As a result of decades of intense regulation and an emphasis on safety,
a railroad job today is one that has a very low risk of injury or death
compared to other industries.
If you fear for your job,
you’ll jump through hoops to keep it!
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Consider how fear is, or has been, weld:
Stalin, less your village be deported to the gulag or worse.
The Roman Catholic Church, lest you be sent to hell for your sins.
Putin and his thug army, lest your village be shelled to oblivion.
The school yard bully, lest you have your lunch money pounded out of you.
The SAT test, lest you not get into a good school
Stalin got a slowly simmering society but will no opposition.
The Pope used to (emphasis on past tense) get churches with filled pews.
Putin is destroying power, water, utilities, with the occasional apartment complex.
The school yard bully got two milks instead of one.
And educational tutoring services thrive in the months before each test.
It is hard to hear our Gospel for this morning and not be afraid.
It sounds like Jesus is using fear as a tactic
to keep his followers alert for his return.
Everyone is eating, drinking, and having a good time one day,
and only Noah and his family are left behind the next day.
Everyone else was killed.
(Yes, later-day interpreters
who insert into scripture misaligned rapture theology
get it backwards.
Noah didn’t get it backwards;
Noah and his family were the ones left behind.)
Two people working in the field.
One is taken and one is left.
Two people working the grist mill.
One is taken and one is left.
It all sounds rather arbitrary on the surface
but Jesus knows
that no two workers,
no two disciples,
Some are eager to work
and are selected at six in the morning.
Those less eager
don’t get hired until the end of the day.
Jesus knows there is great diversity in the labor pool;
as there would be
great diversity among his followers.
Some will be all in,
will be persistent procrastinators.
Jesus knows the problems of identifying
that day and that hour.
He knows the nature and characteristic of people.
Everyone might stop working,
gather in Times Square
hold hands, and
start singing Kum Ba Yah.
There’d be chaos and pandemonium
if we knew the date and time.
His kingdom would REgress,
as opposed to PROgress,
which is what he desires.
“Better not to tell them,”
Jesus probably thought to himself.
“A little bit of fear is good for them
especially if it keep my disciples alert and awake.”
It is easy for us to look around our sanctuary today
and feel pretty smug.
We might feel like we will be the ones spared;
passed over, if you will.
After all, we’ve showed up.
We’ve ponied up.
We’ve dressed up.
We’re the ones who make the effort
week after week
to ensure our faithful presence, prayers, gifts, and service.
Why wouldn’t we be the ones spared by God.
Why wouldn’t we be
left behind to complete God’s kingdom?
Our Gospel for today calls us to self-examination;
are we doing everything possible
to remain alert and awake for imminent return of the Son of Man?
Fear is a powerful motivator;
welcome to Advent!
Advent is a season of anticipation
and today is the launch.
We take four Sundays to remember the Christ child who came.
We recognize the Christ present and at work in the Body assembled here.
And we anticipate the Christ that is promised yet to come.
Christ has come.
Christ is come.
Christ will come again.
Fear may be a powerful motivator,
but for the faithful follower of Christ,
we are given the confidence to
transform fear into anticipation,
changing our behaviors,
as is God’s will,
into a community preparing for the return of Christ!
Yes, Christ will be coming
like a thief in the night, Jesus teaches us.
So instead of being paralyzed with fear,
begin to prepare a way for him!
Let us bring down the mountains and fill in the valleys.
Let us gather our weapons and recast them into
plows, planters, and harvesters.
Let us complete the transformation of this world
to be God’s kingdom
as it is in heaven.
Beloved, set your hearts and minds about the business of preparation.
This is where the anticipation of Advent is found:
– Staying awake and alert
means loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength
and our neighbor as ourselves.
– Staying awake and alert
requires of us a feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Things have to change!
The poor must be lifted up.
The hungry need fed.
The sick need healed.
Prisoners need reformed and reintroduced into society.
Those mourning need comforted.
Peace makers need to strike new deals.
And the disabled, orphans, and widows need cared for.
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
| Centering Prayer |
Generally, we Americans bristle at the thought of monarchy.
Abusive, totalitarian monarchies drove immigration from every corner of Europe to the Americas.
It was one of our signature characteristics
Won for us in our Revolutionary war;
the idea that we would break from the king and elect our own leaders.
Colonists didn’t like heredity making that decision any more than we appreciated our tea being taxed.
We don’t like privilege.
We don’t like entitlements.
And we don’t like being told what to do by wealthy, privileged, entitled, kings or queens.
Yet, we still have this pathological voyeurism when it comes to royalty.
I admit, I tuned in for the wedding of Charles and Dianna and
was tragically shocked by Dianna’s death.
Most recently, I watched with interest the funerals of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.
On this, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year,
we celebrate the Reign of Christ, or,
what used to be known as Christ the King.
By removing the word king,
we de-emphasize monarchy;
and by adding reign,
we more properly place the focus on God’s kingdom.
(or so I’m told by liturgical scholars!)
Through the past twelve months,
we’ve walked the pages of the Gospel of Luke,
from manger to ministry,
from passion to death,
and on Easter Sunday, we stepped with Christ out from the empty tomb
as people redeemed, saved, and commissioned for duty.
“Go make disciples,” the resurrected Jesus tells us,
with an authority that can only be described as “Divine.”
Yet, it was only a few days earlier
that Jesus’ broken body,
was hanging on the cross.
He was flanked by two opposing criminals like
our altar cross flanked by candles,
his bloodied, dying pulp elevated above the mocking crowd,
even as his followers “stood by, watching.”
One criminal, with one foot in the grave, and the other anchored by Satin,
temps Jesus with blatant self-interest:
“Are you not the Messiah?
Save yourself and us!”
Religious leaders scoffed at him with sarcasm
and with similar temptation,
“He saved others;
let him save himself,
if he is the Messiah of God,
his chosen one!”
They even mock him with twisted sarcasm
by posting a derisive inscription for all to see:
“This is the King of the Jews”
the very title Herod Antipas exclusively reserved for himself.
As if 40 days of dealing with the Devil in the wilderness wasn’t enough.
Saint Luke paints the picture of
hell-bound criminals and religious leaders
sharing the same boat
that is opposed to Christ and
bent on his destruction.
To which Jesus replies,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
When Jesus makes his cross the symbol of forgiveness
he gives us a taste of his heavenly monarchy,
not one like we have rejected- wielding autocratic brutality,
rather, an eternal reign by a grace wielding King.
Many today may view the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ
as Christianity taking a soft approach to crime;
easy on the Law.
As if Christ gives us a get out of jail free card;
so eat, drink, and be merry!
for tomorrow we are forgiven anyway.
Luke’s narrative this morning tells us otherwise.
Forgiveness from the cross defines the eternal, all-inclusive monarchy of Christ!
Only a divine King has the power and authority to rule with such grace.
A judge and jury,
the gallows and the guillotine,
are replace by
“My son” or
“go and sin no more; your faith has made you well.”
The grace of God,
Through the cross of Jesus Christ,
outdoes bruit force
When it comes to Christ and his Kingdom.
Grace vacates your conviction,
Extends forgiveness, parole, probation, and pardon.
The grace of God,
Through the cross,
Brings healing to repair the damage we have caused because of our sin and offenses.
“Go and sin no more.”
At the same time, Jesus is not alone.
The passive crowd stood by, watching.
It is easy for us to be critical of their posture,
but it is important to remember how powerless they were to earthly authorities.
Any attempt at intervention would have brought swift, violent reprisals.
With their spears and swords
Were formidable deterrents.
Do not underestimate the value of this crowd of witnesses, however.
God apparently had other plans.
These are the people who will soon bear testimony to both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
They are essential first-person,
eye-witness accounts that will warm people’s hearts and change people’s minds.
Witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus
are the first people
to become subjects under the new reign of Christ
and to be empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit
to gather new subjects
into Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
Jesus is not alone on the cross, either.
The opposing criminal is balanced by another crucified for his crimes.
Instead of deriding Christ,
This man recognizes his own faults
and takes responsibility for his crimes.
“We have been condemned justly,” he proclaims.
“We are getting what we deserve for our deeds.”
In an attitude of confession, a willingness for repentance, and with an acceptance of the justice imposed upon him
this second crucified criminal expresses
extraordinary faith with his sincere petition:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus assures him,
“today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In a similar way to the passive crowd,
today we are called to be faithful witnesses
– paying careful attention to the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and worship;
not taking our eye off of the cross of Jesus Christ –
while at the same time, we are called and commissioned
to spread Christ’s kingdom by the power of our testimony.
This is how we celebrate the reign of Christ;
by expanding his Kingdom.
In a similar way to the penitent, faithful thief on the cross,
with sincere humility,
petition our King,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It doesn’t take much to rebuke the opposing competitors to Christ’s Kingdom,
just faith the size of a mustard seed;
just the faith that has already been given to us from God above.
This preemptive gift of faith,
called “prevenient grace”;
it is what God gives us before we know of it, asked for it, or needed it.
Prevenient grace is unearned, undeserved, without price.
Prevenient grace makes it possible for each of us to directly petition Christ,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Keep your eyes on the cross.
It is your forgiveness and mine.
Yet, the cross is more.
Jesus has transformed the cross
And it now has become the symbol for the eternal reign of Christ.
Watch, testify, make your petitions directly to Jesus;
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.“ When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
| Centering Prayer |
People are gullible.
We want to believe what we believe.
We seek justification for what we believe.
We can look at facts and each draw separate conclusions;
Each according to our personal biases, needs, wants, and motives.
This alone should make us critical of other people’s conclusions.
Personally, I want you suspicious of mine
Because it is a healthy means of self-improvement
And it keeps me honest!
It also means that we should always be examining our own conclusions.
People are persuadable.
Our gullibility makes us vulnerable to the opinions of others.
We like to fit in;
Go with the flow,
Not make any waves.
Sometimes it is good to be persuaded.
We learn, we adapt, we grow.
New information allows us to grow our world view and mature.
Sometimes being persuaded is a liability;
Some call it “being a flip-flopper.”
It can be a sign of indecisiveness,
A lack of confidence,
Or a sign of weakness.
People are naturally paranoid.
A little dose is healthy;
It comes down to self-preservation.
Being suspicious helps keep us alive in an environment filled with danger.
Too much paranoia, however,
Becomes the natural default for those who can’t or won’t make the effort to draw their own conclusions
And if left unchecked
Can lead to unhealthy lifestyles;
People are overconfident.
We think we are smarter than we really are.
I know I am.
In my own mind, I’m downright brilliant.
I’m also sufficiently self-aware to know that this is not true.
We believe we can think our way through any problem,
Solve any puzzle,
Find a solution to any perplexing issue life happens to deliver.
We are confident.
We are can-do type of people.
We have been marinating in self-esteem since childhood.
We believe we can do anything.
We are Americans, after all!
Gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and overconfident.
That’s the human condition.
It is a blessing, and a curse.
People haven’t changed much these past 2,000 years.
In fact, not only was Jesus teaching his disciples about their present circumstances
He is also reaching to the future to speak to us here today.
Jesus is providing us tools with which we can use to make sense of our world.
In the time of Jesus,
And in centuries to follow,
There were individuals who claimed to know future events
Based on present circumstances.
“The Temple is destroyed and the nation is defeated;
This must be a sign of the apocalypse.
This must be a sign the end is near.”
“Don’t you believe it!” Jesus clearly states in today’s gospel.
For Luke and his audience in the early first century church
The Temple had been destroyed.
Luke was authored after the destruction of the Temple in 72 AD.
The nation was defeated.
Rome had burned it to the ground.
The few survivors were scattered to the far corners of the world
(known as the “diaspora”).
The people were gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and had a complete loss of confidence.
The end isn’t near,
Jesus reassures his future Apostles and church planters.
Persecution may be a reality.
Death was a certainty.
“Do not fear,” Jesus assures.
“I will give you words.”
“I will save you.”
The curse of being naturally gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and over confident is that we draw similar conclusions about the future
Based on current world circumstances.
Don’t believe one word of it, we hear Jesus echoing today.
“Volcanoes and earthquakes,
War in Ukraine,
North Korea firing off missile left and right,
Car jackings and mass shootings,
Hacked emails, ransomware, and the dark net,
Are all signs the end must be near!”
From Watch Tower tracts to Hollywood movies and music,
We are constantly being tempted to believe in rapture, apocalypse, and the end of the world.
Just stop it.
What makes our generation any more exceptional than the prior 39 going back to Jesus?
“Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus proclaims.
“Do not go after them …
The end will not follow immediately.”
Though fear monger politicians and snake oil peddling preachers
May be spreading terrifying tall tales,
(Often to pack their pews and fill their bank accounts)
Jesus is crystal clear:
Don’t believe it.
Future events cannot be foretold.
Neither can the will of God be maligned, corrupted, or railroaded
To satisfy human will.
Prophesy means looking at the horizon,
Seeing the storm clouds,
And drawing the conclusion that it is going to rain.
Prophesy does not convince God to put the clouds in the sky.
Prophesy does not predict when it will rain, how much it will rain, or how long it is going to rain.
Neither does prophesy draw conclusions that storm clouds are the result of God’s judgment.
Mostly, it rains just because it rains.
Prophets are not oracles or fortune tellers.
Mostly, prophets simply watch and listen and faithfully report what God wants them to hear.
A life lived in fear is a life of missed opportunities.
Fear prevents us from building up the kingdom of God:
Of eliminating barriers that divide us,
From ending poverty that plaques us,
Of establishing justice, mercy and grace throughout the land.
Fear prevents us from placing our trust in God.
We become fearful of placing our dependence in anyone other than our selves.
We don’t want to depend on others, and we don’t want to depend on God.
Fear creates false idols;
We trust our bank accounts, not God.
We build bigger and better barns.
We stockpile our treasures
And justify our hoarding by saying we are just “saving for a rainy day.”
We trust our instincts, not the word of God.
Fear makes us hibernate when we get home, lock our doors, and complain that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Fear breeds distrust and causes us to do irrational things.
Fear leads us to distrust people who look or believe differently.
Fear sucks us into get rich quick schemes,
Leads us to invest in swampland,
And opens our wallets to unproven cures.
Don’t drink the cool-aid!
Do not follow those who breed fear and discontent.
Do not be terrified
When you hear threats of terrorism, war, end times, a culture divided.
Do not be afraid.
God is in control.
God’s got this.
God has already saved you.
The assurance of Jesus is not always welcomed as good news.
Arrest, persecution, and death await.
Bad things do happen to good and faithful people.
Within two sentences
Jesus says some of you will be put to death,
Then promises “not a hair of your head will perish.”
Indeed, though all will die a mortal death,
Eternal life with God is a gift that can never be taken away.
Instead of fearing trials, temptations, plagues, and famines-
Instead of fearing the pain and suffering that life ultimately serves to everyone,
Jesus gives us another strategy,
Another tool for our faithful living:
Take the opportunity of pain, suffering, and persecution
To testify to the redemption and salvation of Jesus Christ.
Testify to the dirty world who it was that washed you clean.
Testify to the world who embraces death and destruction
Who it is that has saved and recreated you as Christ’s disciple.
Instead of standing at the grave and fearing death,
Look into the face of death and proclaim
I believe in both the cross and the empty tomb.
I believe in both death and resurrection.
I believe Jesus both died and was raised
And in doing so,
Won for us victory over the grave
And the gift of eternal life.
Testify your faith when life fails you.
Lift high the cross of Christ
When walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Proclaim the sweet name of Jesus even when the devil looks you square in the eye.
Place your trust in God.
Refuse to succumb to fear.
When given the opportunity to witness, speak up and speak out!
Sharing your personal testimony repeatedly builds confidence.
“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.
| Centering Prayer |
Our hope is in Jesus Christ.
Our hope is in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
On this sacred Sunday
the saints from our church family and community
Who have died in the Lord this past year
And who now have received the fulfillment of hope;
The forgiveness and absolution of every sin,
and, the gift of eternal life.
Jesus Christ is what unites us.
He holds us together as one.
Our beloved saints
Were baptized by the same water that flowed over the Lord
When he was baptized in the chilly Jordan;
The same water that we were baptized with
Before our own font,
or in our own stream or lake.
Our beloved saints lived as sinners,
Much as we do,
Yet, returned to God’s house of prayer
To seek forgiveness and absolution of sins.
Our beloved saints
Sat in these same pews and chairs,
And experienced the Word proclaimed
That gave the foundation for hope.
Our beloved saints
Came humbly before this same altar table,
And celebrated the sacrament of the Eucharist,
Bread and wine,
The Body and Blood of Christ,
Broken and shed for each and every one of us.
Indeed, Jesus Christ is what unites us.
From Ephesians 1:11-23 we read:
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Today, we join with the saints
For the praise of Jesus Christ, and his glory,
As the Apostle Paul so eloquently wrote to the church in Ephesus.
Praise God from whom all blessings fall!
As the heavenly host sang
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!
Give thanks to Jesus Christ for his inheritance,
His gifts of grace
To each of his disciples.
To know Christ,
To grow deeper in love with Christ,
To develop an understanding of the inheritance Jesus has given to us,
Like the saints before us,
We’ve been given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation.
Wisdom and revelation opens the eyes of our hearts
To know the hope to which saints are called.
Allow me for a moment,
To use the Gospel to bring our celebration of saints
Into the context of our current state of affairs.
Wisdom and revelation are in short supply this (and every) election cycle.
It appears “truth” has been the first casualty.
There are as many truths as there are news channels on cable television.
Without discernment that leads to God’s revelation,
There can be no truth,
Only half-truths, lies, and damn lies.
Jesus people, do not despair!
Jesus gives his disciples, you and me, our politic,
If only we choose to listen, to think, and to open our hearts.
The politic of the Christian are not Republican or Democrat,
Liberal or Conservative.
The Spirit has given to us the inheritance of Jesus;
His grace and
Today’s word comes from his “Sermon on the Plane.”
With saints who have gone before us,
We are united with Jesus Christ and his Gospel politic.
What say you about the poor?
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, … But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Jesus responds.
Wisdom comes when we discern God’s will
To wipe poverty off the face of the earth.
Poverty is the result of greed, theft, embezzlement.
Christ calls us to love our neighbor,
Not to swindle or steal from our neighbors.
Disciples of Jesus are called to teach the world,
By word and example,
How to love our neighbors, especially the poor.
What say you about the hungry?
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Jesus responds.
Like at a restaurant when more friends arrive,
Is not God calling us to add another table?
To pull up more chairs?
Extend the table and add more chairs
Such that everyone who is hungry might be fed.
And, oh yeah, for those who have the means,
Pick up the check for those who don’t.
The weaponizing of food,
As is being done in the Russian Ukraine war,
Is an ghastly politic
That is contrary to the politic of the Gospel.
There is no reason for anyone to go hungry in the world today,
Either in North Korea, South Africa, Guatemala, or under the Court Street bridge.
It’s up to us, as Christ’s disciples, to ensure everyone is fed.
What say you about those who weep?
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Jesus proclaims.
Saints who have gone before us tasted death and grief,
For many, numerous times in their lives.
Much of death and grief in our experience
Is at the natural conclusion of the life cycle.
Yet, there is also a secular politic of death
Being played out on battlefields
With horrific civilian casualties and
Refugees fleeing the violence.
Grip global adversaries in war, or near war,
Leaving unintended, collateral damage spewing in every direction.
There is even a death politic in American culture
Where schools fail, crime roams, and families divide.
America cries with death and grief.
The world moans in travail with senseless murder and mayhem.
Yet, know this to be TRUE:
The politics of death have no rule over
Our Savior who triumphs over the grave!
Disciples of Jesus are called to stop the violence,
Stop the murder,
To heal and restore humanity
Such that every life is valued,
And only natural causes lead one home to eternal glory.
Comfort those who mourn in every circumstance.
God blesses, and calls us to open our hearts to those who weep.
Hold the world tenderly in the loving embrace of Jesus.
Dry the tears with assurance of faith,
Spoken in the language of love.
What say you about those who hate you?
“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.” Jesus taught.
Certainly saints who have gone before us have tasted hatred,
Just as we have.
Hatred goes both ways;
Hatred that grows from envy or resentment,
Hatred that festers from discrimination or exclusion,
Hatred that is deeply rooted in our history or original sin.
Christ’s Gospel politic
Is a call for every disciple of Jesus to love enemies,
To do good to those who hate,
To bless those who curse,
To pray for those who abuse.
This is a far different politic than what is espoused by the world today.
The standards for Jesus’ politics
Are set extraordinarily high.
Many would call them naive;
Bless those who call you naïve,
Who hate you,
Who exclude and revile you
And who defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Turn to them, Jesus tells us,
And give them your blessing.
Jesus Christ unites us,
Joining with us,
Together with every Christian
Upon whose shoulders we now stand.
Our inherited gifts are forgiveness of sins
And the salvation of our souls.
Make faith our body politic.
Unlike social politics
Faith in Jesus Christ will never fail you.
Faith in Jesus Christ will always lead to an inner transformation from sinner to saint, to God healing and blessing the world.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
| Centering Prayer |
There are occasions
For all serious students of scripture
When something new appears
That so alters the way we think about a passage
That shakes faith and challenges us to the core.
Could this “something new”
Be a gift from God?
On many occasions, in my experience, it is.
Behold, the Spirit makes all things new.
I recently read an academic article suggesting that Zacchaeus’ stature may have
Entailed more than just being short.
There are linguistic hints that the author of Luke
Is suggesting that Zacchaeus was,
In fact, someone who looked like this:
An individual with dwarfism;
Most probably, a genetic disorder
That limited his height to under 4 feet 10 inches.
The proper term today is short stature,
Defined as a height with the lowest 2.3% of the general population.
The most common type of this condition is called achondroplasia
(A-chon-dro-pla-sia) and is
exhibited with disproportionate body features.
As is all too common even today,
Zacchaeus was one who almost certainly
Suffered from ridicule and social discrimination all his life.
Consider the implications of Zacchaeus being disabled;
Or, as I like to say it,
He was a person with different abilities, or, differently abled.
How does this alter the way
We experience the Gospel this morning?
What if that song of old
We learned in Sunday School
Or in Vacation Bible School
Would be rewritten like this?
Zacchaeus was a discriminated man,
an ostracized man was he,
And he climbed up in a sycamore tree,
for he wanted the Lord to see,
for he wanted the Lord to see.
And as the Savior passed that way,
he looked up in the tree.
And he said, “Zacchaeus! you come down,
for I’m going to your house to stay.”
“For I’m going to your house to stay.”
As opposed to other encounters
Jesus has with people of different abilities,
Jesus does not make an attempt to cure Zacchaeus.
Jesus doesn’t try to “stretch him out,”
“lengthen him up,”
Or “right size him,” as it were.
Today’s encounter with Jesus
Requires a deeper contemplation of faith, ability,
And our relationship with God.
Behold, the Spirit makes all things new.
Let’s take a closer look at Luke 19:1-10.
The Zacchaeus story immediately follows the
Story of the rich young ruler
(Who desired to follow Jesus,
Found the requirements too difficult,
And decided to walk away disappointed).
It also follows the story
Of Jesus restoring sight to a blind beggar
Who loudly asked to have his sight back.
Once his sight was restored,
The former blind man followed Jesus,
Becoming a recognized celebrity.
The newly healed man became a catalyst for faith:
“and all the people,
When they saw it,
– Luke 18:43b
Jesus entered Jericho
And was passing through it,
Down the north / south main thoroughfare.
Jericho was, and is, known as a City of Palms,
An oasis in the gravel desert
Watered by Elisha’s Spring;
Carefully channeled via aqueducts
From the surrounding mountains to the west.
The palm trees that line the streets are beautiful.
In the center of Jericho today is a small park
With a Zacchaeus tree in it,
An overgrown fig palm tree that is thousands of years old.
(Let that sink in for a moment).
Jesus is en-route from Galilee in the north,
To Jerusalem, straight uphill to the west, as the crow flies
14 miles away,
Or 30 miles by the treacherous, switch back, serpentine road.
People who are “short in stature”
(as Luke reports it)
Get picked on all the time;
Probably discriminate against
Just as many are today.
Offensive words today
Would have ancient counterparts.
I’m jumping to an assumption here,
But my guess is that a lifetime
Of trauma, ridicule, bullying, exclusion, and discrimination
Had probably left emotional scars on Zacchaeus
Leaving him bitter;
Which would be ironic,
Because his name, from the Greek, means “pure” and “innocent.”
This would be like the grumpiest person you know
Being named “Joy.”
Luke describes Zacchaeus as being
Not only a tax collector,
But the Chief Tax Collector.
Remember from last Sunday’s Gospel,
Tax collectors were hated as traitors and as extortionists?
Zacchaeus was the boss;
The head of them all.
This tells us that he was rich,
For he skimmed off the top of all his subordinates,
And, being a public figure,
That he was universally despised by his neighbors.
Zacchaeus was ambitious with his career.
He was at the top of his pay scale.
And he was rich.
For a moment
Hold in dynamic tension
The wealth of Zacchaeus
With that of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31).
With the same determination
That overcame a lifetime of almost certain ridicule,
That propelled him to the top of his corporate ladder,
Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd
That had come out to see Jesus with
healing tour and
He ran ahead.
He climbed into an overgrown fig palm
And perched himself above the road in the branches.
Consider how ridiculous he must has looked.
He didn’t care what other people thought.
His emotional calluses were much too thick.
He had power and money
And he’d come to see Jesus.
Talk about creative and expedient!
There is no wonder Jesus was stopped dead in his tracks.
He looked up,
Calls Zachaeus by name
(by the way, how did Jesus know his name?),
And invites himself over to his house
Right in front of a certainly flabbergasted crowd.
The crowd knows the sinful trade of the tax collecting community.
They would have been scandalized
That Jesus invites himself
To the home of the chief sinner.
As an uncomfortable hush descended upon the crowd,
Zacchaeus “hurried down and was happy to welcome him.”
This is the third-time Jesus
Has chosen to eat with a tax collector
And the third time people have grumbled about it.
One would think,
Jesus of all people,
Would want to separate himself from sinners,
Jesus was sent to the world to eat with
And relate to sinners.
Oh, the scandal of the Gospel!
Instead of walking away sad,
Zacchaeus responds with exuberance!
I will give away half of my possessions to the poor, he promises.
On top of that,
Zacchaeus vows to pay back four times
Anyone who he had defrauded,
Which is double the requirement of Jewish Law.
Zacchaeus is eagerly willing to work to overcome poverty
(Much of which Zacchaeus is personally responsible for creating).
And he is willing to make reparations
To everyone who he has treated unjustly.
That would be … everyone.
Zacchaeus is willing to give up nearly everything
To be saved from his sin,
To be reunited to his family as a child of Abraham, and
To be found by God.
Jesus’ mission has been fulfilled,
“to seek out and to save the lost.” (19:10)
… to seek and to save.
Are you willing to give up nearly everything?
I don’t know about you,
But I am.
What can we learn from Zacchaeus
That can be applied to our lives today?
First, Zacchaeus was determined.
Dare we exercise our discipleship
With the same amount of determination?
Can we race ahead of the crowd?
Can we risk the embarrassment of climbing up over the crowd?
Can we deploy the same amount of determination to lift Jesus up
For all the world to see and learn from Him?
Where is the Lord in today’s world?
The fact is
Most of the world has never seen Jesus
And wouldn’t know him if they bumped into one of his disciples.
Be determined to produce Jesus
And to wear Him on your sleeve.
Secondly, Zacchaeus was expedient.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Gettysburg
Is by Robert E. Lee confronting the overdue General Jeb Stuart.
When Jeb Stuart sees that his delay
May have very well cost Lee the battle
He offers to step down from his command.
“There is no time!!!” Lee thunders.
Zacchaeus knew there was precious little time to see the Savior;
That’s why he ran ahead.
There is no time for us to waste, either.
We must offer Christ to the world
With all his grace, love, forgiveness, and salvation
– a world desperately searching for what Christ has to offer –
– before it is too late
And even one is lost before we had a chance.
Thirdly, Zacchaeus is amazingly creative.
He broke the social standard,
Made a fool of himself;
Yet, his creativity stopped the Lord dead in his tracks.
So too, we need to be just as creative.
What new ways can we use to present Christ to the world?
How can we better share the Good News
Of his redemption and salvation?
Technologically? theatrically? artistically? with audio-visuals?
I do not like rap music;
However, look at what has happened
When rap was set to a Broadway show named “Hamilton”.
The creative genius of a writer
Turned Broadway upside down
And pulled the Arts from the Culture section of the paper
To the front page.
Fourthly, Zacchaeus was willing to repent
And so, too, should we;
On an ongoing, regular basis.
Although the story doesn’t specifically mention it,
It is quite easy for us to make the assumption that Zacchaeus,
By his actions,
Came to repentance:
Acknowledging his sin and
Swearing to make a 180-degree change in his life.
We, like Zacchaeus,
Are invited to acknowledge before God
The instances we have sinned,
And to make every attempt to correct our behavior
Such that we don’t sin again.
Lastly, Zacchaeus teaches us about the value of reparation.
Reparation is not a popular topic
Especially when spoken of in the context
Of U.S. politics,
Of American slavery,
Or Native American resettlement.
The Gospel suggests that we listen to Zacchaeus carefully.
Pay attention to Zacchaeus, what he says and what he does.
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.”
| Centering Prayer |
Our Gospel lesson
Follows last Sunday’s
“Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.”
Jesus taught about the importance of prayer,
Praying for justice.
Praying, knowing God answers our prayers.
Today, Jesus immediately follows on with a second parable,
Often called “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”
This is not a story about the virtues of righteous living.
This is a story about were one plants and grows their faith.
Jesus uses role reversal as a literary technique in this parable.
of contrasting people
so that listeners are taken by surprise.
The good man goes away disappointed,
while the bad one leaves forgiven.
The angel is made into a devil,
And the devil is made into an angel.
In a way,
Jesus is painting a picture for us
of what the new age will be like.
The present, evil age will be brought down
and Christ’s new kingdom will take its place.
Take note of Jesus’ immediate audience.
They are described as
“some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous
and regarded others with contempt.” (18:9)
The practice of placing trust in yourself
and in your righteousness
is a type of
arrogant, self-assured piety.
Jesus is asking
Do you really think you don’t need to trust God?
Do you believe you are capable of such righteous behavior that you are without sin or blemish?
He is also making a statement about how one treats others.
Are we to despise others?
To regard others with contempt?
Clearly, Jesus is commenting that such behavior
it is a form of spiritual condescension.
Together, Jesus describes his audience
as being exactly like the character of the Pharisee
in his story: people filled with pride and arrogance.
The audience and the Pharisee are as one.
This fictional Pharisee is an interesting guy.
Not all Pharisees were like this fella;
in fact, he was probably an exception.
There are many examples in the Bible and elsewhere
of Pharisees behaving better,
who were humble and compassionate.
Judaism placed a theological emphasis on legalism,
Righteous living, and merit.
In this environment
there was always the danger of spiritual pride.
This Pharisee did have some good attributes.
1. He attends temple and prays silently.
If they handed out perfect attendance pins,
He would have had oodles of them.
2. His prayer follows the Jewish liturgy of the day:
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe
But then his prayer takes an unexpected turn and flies off the rails.
He thanks God that he was not like others in the crowd:
Thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like that tax collector.
Thank God he wasn’t
Made a Gentile, a slave, a woman.
Thank God he wasn’t made … (you fill in the blank).
3. The Pharisee lives a righteous life, and
He makes it a point to remind God about it.
4. The Pharisee engages in the spiritual discipline of fasting.
He is proud to exceed expectations.
Instead of fasting once a week, he fasts twice.
5. The Pharisee is generous.
He gives tithes of everything he gets;
not just giving ten percent of his income
from agricultural products
as required by Jewish law.
He parses the language like a lawyer.
6. The Pharisee is a praying man.
In his prayer,
he recognizes that God is the source of his lot in life;
extending to him blessings of favor and prosperity.
He thanks God in his prayer,
(thanking God is always a good thing)
and he doesn’t ask God for anything in return.
There is no doubt about it,
this man was leading a life of exemplary righteousness.
That, nobody could deny.
Life was about to be turned upside down.
Then Jesus introduces to the audience the tax collector.
A number of years ago I received
One of those wonderful love letters from the IRS.
It was everything I imagined,
It might be more desirable to get a call
From your accountant telling you you’re broke
Or a call from your doctor informing you
that you have cancer.
Tax collectors in biblical times
Were loved even less than today’s tax collectors.
Rome set the tax rate;
often between 80 and 90 percent of people’s total income.
Such high taxes were required
to pay for very expensive Roman Legions
expanding the empire
and maintaining newly won territories.
Rome made the rules for collecting taxes.
They hired only willing collaborators.
The tax collector’s wage would be earned by commission,
on anything that could be collected above and beyond
the government tax.
(And we think that taxes are high today!)
No wonder tax collectors
were often hated and thought of as extortionists.
To be a tax collector meant
they would have to profess their faith and allegiance
solely to Rome.
Besides being thought of as a dishonest extortionist,
the Jewish community
considered tax collectors disloyal to the people.
They were viewed as traitors.
Temple authorities would consider
A traitorous tax collector as “unclean”.
It appears that the tax collector in Jesus’ parable
Knew that he was unclean, too,
because we find him described in the story
“standing far off” away from the altar.
So here we have two people
on the hill of Zion in the temple praying;
two people who were
as different as black and white,
oil and vinegar,
day and night.
The audience to whom Jesus was speaking
probably began to believe at this point
that they understood how this parable concluded:
that Jesus was lifting up the virtues of righteousness.
(Perhaps you may have thought of this yourself.)
Instead, Jesus turns the world upside down.
The better characteristics of the Pharisee begin to tarnish.
Jesus knew that
“the proud are always most provoked by pride,”
because like the audience to whom Jesus was speaking,
Jesus paints the picture of this Pharisee
as one who trusts in his own righteousness,
and was proud of who he was.
He lists all those who he is glad he is not like,
then he starts to make the case for himself.
Let’s be honest.
His prayer was never directed to God.
It’s focus is solely upon himself: I, I, I, …
look how righteous I am.
The worst part about the Pharisee
is that his idolatry is revealed.
He attempts to replace himself for God;
tries to take God’s place as the judge of other people’s soul:
“thank you that I am not like other people
– thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like
THAT tax collector.”
Thank God I’m Not Like YOU!
And oh, how easy this is to do!
“America is adrift.”
“We need to turn back to God.”
“Those people are what’s wrong with our country.”
“What’s wrong with all those people
who don’t come to church?”
It is so easy to yield to the temptation
to use a broad paint brush to blame others,
to judge others:
or economic status.
This is the pride
which makes us a fallen angel,
St. Augustine proclaimed.
Judging others puts us in the position of spiritual arrogance,
of thinking that we are superior to others.
But arrogance and thinking more of oneself than of others
is completely contrary to the grace of God.
or more righteous,
or leading a more clean life
doesn’t make us more acceptable to God.
Only a life of faith does.
Only a life of faith makes us acceptable to God.
A life of faith gives God pleasure;
A life of faith like the sinful tax collector was leading.
He, on the other hand,
recognizes his own sinfulness
and throws himself upon the mercy of the Lord.
The tax collector places his trust in the Lord,
Not in himself.
Both the tax collector and the Pharisee
are perceptive enough to confront the issue of righteousness,
or the lack thereof.
But it was only the tax collector
who moved beyond the issue of righteousness
to that of faith.
It takes faith and a whole lot of courage
to present yourself wholly and submissively
at the feet of Jesus.
Whereas the Pharisee trusted in himself
for his righteousness to save him,
the tax collector rightly recognized
that it was not righteousness that provides salvation.
He trusted not in who he was but in who God is.
God is merciful.
He hoped not in what he had
but in what he might receive:
mercy and forgiveness.
It is when one can extend faith and trust beyond the self,
to call upon the mercy of the Lord,
that one can expect to be justified,
to be made whole and perfect,
by Jesus Christ, our Savior.
This passage is the core of our Wesleyan / Methodist ethos:
We are justified, or made complete with God,
by our faith, not by what we say or do.
This is the stumbling point that I mentioned earlier.
Too many times down through the centuries,
Christians have failed to see this parable
as one whose purpose was little more
than to address the issue of doing good works
and humbly seeking forgiveness.
This is a parable that addresses
the deeper issue of what it means
to place one’s faith and trust in the Lord;
how to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ,
and how to grow that relationship
through lifelong discipleship.
The first step is to appeal to the mercy of Jesus.
Fall submissively at his feet.
Confess your sins.
Try praying repeatedly the Jesus Prayer:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is true faith:
to trust in God,
and in God’s mercy,
instead of trusting in yourself.
When the Jews in the crowd
Understood the deeper meaning of this parable
They were outraged.
They lived, breath, and died by the Law.
It was the Law that saved you,
or so the Jewish mind thought.
Jesus’s teachings, therefore, were revolutionary:
that, what is important is faith,
not the actions of an individual.
Likewise, Jesus’s actions were revolutionary:
Justification comes at the foot of the cross
and salvation is a gift
left at the door of the empty tomb.
Jesus embodied a new covenant,
a new covenant that we celebrate with Eucharist,
that we remember by breaking, pouring and sharing
the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
This is not to say
that Jesus was unconcerned with people’s behavior.
Not at all!
Rather, Jesus is frying other fish.
Jesus was and is primarily concerned with faithfulness;
fidelity and trust in the mercy of the Lord.
While good works and righteous living
are always the evidence of faithfulness
it is possible to lead a good and moral life
outside of faith.
“What does this imply for us today?” you may ask.
“How is God speaking to me through our Gospel?”
We are all sinful.
Given this fact
Don’t try to fix problems of sinfulness by yourself.
Begin by seeking the mercy of God.
Go to the feet of Jesus and ask for his assistance.
Peter says it quite plainly,
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
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?”
| Centering Prayer |
Our Gospel for today
Begins with praying always and not losing heart.
It takes a detour into persistence and justice.
And it concludes with a question about where faith will be found.
Undoubtedly, across the land
Pastors will deliver fine, inspiring sermons on each of these three points.
I am reminded by the wisdom of one seminary New Testament professor
who made the point that every parable
is meant to communicate Divine truth, …
at the same time,
every parable has a limit to how far it can be pushed or wrung dry.
In other words,
Keep it simple.
Seek that which God desires us to know,
but, don’t push a parable of Jesus beyond its intent.
The danger is reading into the narrative our personal agenda or biases,
which can distort the intended message.
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,
human editors have had a field day with today’s Gospel.
It has become a tangled furball,
a spray of divergent topics
that obscure the essential Divine truth hidden within.
The challenge is to clarify,
to fine tune what is presented
into a clear concise message
that can be applied to our lives today.
“Pray always,” Jesus says.
Pray without interruption,
like a widow seeking justice
who won’t give up and won’t give in.
Pray day and night.
Pray like there is no tomorrow.
Keep praying because the Son of Man is coming
and he is expecting to find us in prayer.
Consider the common nature of prayer in Luke.
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.
Pray like there is no tomorrow!
Which is to say
“Pray in this moment.”
Time for some introspection.
Close your eyes.
Consider your life,
Is everything you think, say, and do
firmly anchored to a foundation of prayer?
Persistent means always,
Do you pray while shopping;
that choices will reflect your stewardship of God’s creation?
How about praying as you shuttle your kids to and from practice or games?
Do you pray that your attitude and language will be tempered by God’s love and wisdom,
And set a good example for other parents and families?
Do you pray when facing temptation?
When facing something you know you shouldn’t do,
but want to do anyway?
Do you ask for God to help you? Give you strength?
To divert your attention to more faithful endeavors?
When confronting injustice,
Do you pray to resist,
As we vowed at our baptismal waters?
Ask for strength and direction to resist oppression,
Wherever it be found.
Ask for God to channel your passion, to give you His words, and help keep you faithful?
It’s easy to pray occasionally;
when facing crisis,
when set in routine,
or when we step foot into the sanctuary.
Praying persistently is advancing the spiritual life one step further;
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,
Is everything we think, say, and do
also firmly anchored to a foundation of 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 talk about a fund raiser,
are we asking God to work through us to bless and love
every one of our customers?
Persistent means always,
Praying as individuals and when we are gathered,
Here in the building or when we are deployed throughout the community.
Are we prayerfully supporting one another,
and through each other,
our neighbors, community, state and world?
“Pray always,” Jesus commands,
“and not to lose heart.”
Do not lose heart.
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.”
But when the petition is 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 a little bit more dicey.
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 the stubborn judge.
Keep faith that
is God’s time,
not our time.
We live in God’s time.
We think we live in our time,
but we don’t.
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
according to God’s will and according to God’s time.
Do not lose heart;
that every answered prayer,
that comes from God,
comes to us
from the one characteristic of God
that remains eternal:
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 prayers
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,
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 concludes our Gospel for today
with what I believe is the perfect question:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:8
Consider numerous Gospel narratives where a multitude of people are commended for their faith:
A centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
friends of a paralyzed man 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 healed of his 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 out 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.
Faith is to be found
those certain of their sinfulness.
(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
every moment of every day,
in every circumstance,
in submission to God’s power and will.
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, prejudice, and racism,
and grace leads to life lived completely in the Spirit.
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.”
| Centering Prayer |
The changing seasons-
In case you haven’t noticed
We are right in the final days …
Of election season.
Lawn signs have sprung up like daisies.
Television commercials portray political candidates
As fine, upstanding members of the community
Making promises everyone on the planet know they can’t keep,
All the while, tearing their opponent to pieces with innuendoes and lies.
America’s blood sport isn’t football;
If there is a bright side to this season
It would be that, at least,
we are not settling debates with a duel,
Like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
With candidates practically begging for each and every vote
I believe Christians have a prime opportunity
To look to the Word,
Listen to the whisper of God speak through the scriptures
And follow our Lord’s example of how to address some of today’s most challenging social problems.
Candidates on both sides of the aisle desperately want our vote
And to get it, they give us lip service saying they want our input.
Our input should come from a life walking with Jesus
Not by a life lived along political parties or partisan division.
Let’s take a walk with Jesus
From today’s Gospel:
“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.
Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
In that time and culture
It was common for people with unclean diseases to group together.
If one had leprosy,
He or she was considered unclean, untouchable.
Those with leprosy were forced to live
outside the protection of the city walls
or on the edge of town
to minimalize the risk of contamination.
Of course, this is where others with leprosy and other communicable diseases could be found.
The city gate was a convenient location to beg for alms, food, and mercy.
A gate was a natural funnel for the flow of travelers,
A perfect location for the unclean to congregate.
Not only is this quite possible that Jesus and his disciples
would have encountered groups of individuals
with leprosy, and similar diseases or disabilities, as they traveled,
it was a certainty.
The Gospel is full of stories about Jesus healing the blind, the lame, and demon possessed.
Jesus and his disciples encountered groups of sick,
diseased and dying outside of every town they approached.
Jewish law, and it’s strict interpretation and application of cleanliness laws,
Segregated families, friends, and neighborhoods.
This primitive system of isolation and quarantine
Provided minimal public health benefit.
Honestly, the true benefit was “Out of sight, out of mind.”
“If I don’t see my disabled cousin every day
then I don’t have to worry about her
and I’m free to go about my business.”
Just another example of how the brutal application of law
– especially religious law –
destroys grace and compassion.
Beware of the practice of rigid fundamentalism,
Absolute, strict adherence to law,
Be it ultra-orthodox Judaism,
Sharia Islamic law, or
Modern day Christian fundamentalism.
It doesn’t take much imagination to consider the word ghetto,
from the Hebrew,
literally a bill of divorce,
and to apply it to our gospel for today.
Jewish society had divided itself, creating a system of
haves v. have-nots,
inclusion v. exclusion,
loved v. those who are to be shunned; even hated.
Let me see.
Can I envision a time and place and circumstance were issues divide us?
Leads me to think about healthcare.
For some, healthcare is wonderful, measured by brand and co-pay.
For others, healthcare is broken pony
dividing people unequally
by zip code, income, gender, age, or race.
If we ask “what would Jesus do” about healthcare,
We only need to turn to today’s Gospel:
Ten people suffering from leprosy cry out to Jesus for mercy.
Jesus saw their circumstance.
Jesus heard their cry.
Jesus healed all ten lepers.
Every last one of them.
As United Methodists
We are a part of a long heritage of
Providing faith-based health care.
Methodist based hospital systems and clinics,
Across the nation and the world,
Stand as a testament to
Our great Wesleyan heritage
Of healing the sick,
Just as Jesus did.
My question is
Why don’t we do everything possible
To ensure that 10 out of 10 are healed?
Too bad, so sad,
if you can’t afford health insurance
Or if your deductible to so high
You can’t afford to use the health insurance you have.
I’m confident Jesus didn’t ask these ten people with leprosy
For their health insurance card and photo ID
Before he healed them and made them whole.
It is possible to improve access and utilization of healthcare,
When we consider the intersection between the life of Jesus and the principles of science.
Faith and medicine
can go hand in hand to ensure
All ten are healed;
No one is left behind at the city gate.
Health is not the only contemporary issue addressed by Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is traveling from Galilee, in the north,
to Jerusalem, 90 miles south,
through the region of Samaria.
Jewish Samaritans practiced a different kind of Judaism than everyone else.
The term Samaritan meant different things to different people,
depending upon your ancestry, location, and point of view.
To Jews whose ancestors had endured Babylonian exile over 700 years earlier,
Samaritans were descendants that had captured but not forced into exile.
They were conquered, left in place,
forced to collaborate with their occupiers.
resulting in bi-racial offspring.
To orthodox Jews
Mixed race traitors
Practicing an unauthorized faith.
Additionally, during occupation,
Samaritans were forced to relocate the Temple,
due to travel restrictions to and from Jerusalem.
They built a new local temple on Mt. Gerizim,
the traditional location of the near-sacrifice of Isaac.
Samaritans who lived between Galilee in the north and Judah in the south
Thought of themselves as the faithful ones.
Their blue-blood cousins from Jerusalem
Were the unfaithful ones.
The music stopped,
The charge was injustice,
They faced the Lord’s judgment,
Deemed guilty and sent into exile.
Samaritans hadn’t faced the Lord’s anger, judgment, and exile.
They resorted to survival tactics in the midst of an unmerciful occupier,
doing whatever it took to survive and to remain faithful to God.
They despised those who eventually returned, dismissed their Temple,
and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.
By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were treated as if they were second class Jews.
To Jews who lived in the north, in Galilee,
where Jesus matured and ministered,
Samaria was a place most travelers avoided.
Best to go around to the east to make the annual visit to Jerusalem and the Temple.
Take the road down the Jordan Valley
instead of the high road through the mountains and hills of Samaria.
Avoid Samaritans, and you won’t have to deal with them.
Treat them as if they are invisible.
Blame them for all that is wrong with our country,
because, well, it is better to blame someone else than to take responsibility for ourselves.
Both, white hot;
Electrified issues today in
US partisan politics.
Some call it people illegal, others name them undocumented;
Regardless, it results in treating others as
Political pawns to press the advantage.
People get used and abused,
Treated as second-class citizens.
What did Jesus do?
The religious culture in which Jesus taught and ministered
Was tailor made to divide people.
Supported by powerful, occupying Roman legions,
Organized Judaism pitted
Jew v. Gentile.
Clean v. Unclean.
Priestly class v. the laity.
Rome v. Jew.
Men v. women.
Wealthy contributors v. the poor widow’s mite.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus included Gentiles into the kingdom,
Healed all and made everyone clean … even on the Sabbath!
He tore up the money changers in the Temple
And treated women as equals with men.
Oh, yes, he healed one Centurion’s servant and
Raised from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue.
Jesus elevates the foreigner, the immigrant, the migrant, for doing the right thing,
for returning and giving thanks to the Lord.
And like in so many other situations,
Jesus responds with the command,
‘Get up and go on your way;
your faith has made you well.’
We are called to do the same, too.
It begins with changing our attitudes,
ending our resistance to change,
and the acceptance of others,
simply the way they are: created beautiful and perfect in every possible way
by a loving and merciful God.
We don’t have to agree with others,
but we do have to tolerate and respect each other.
We don’t have to worship the same God,
but we do need to insist that all have the freedom to express their religious beliefs
however they see fit, and
without outside threat, risk, or danger.
We do need to stand up and speak out,
both in the voting booth and with our lobbying efforts,
to keep society a melting pot of individuals,
always refreshed with new members,
safe to raise our families,
respectful of our history,
tolerant of culture,
knowing that diversity makes us strong.
By faith in Jesus Christ, the impossible can be made possible.