“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.

“Sheer Joy!”

Luke 15:1-10

15 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church 

 

Luke 15:1-10

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

1

Prayer.

 

Inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental are all qualities

We look for when we walk a candidate for ministry

From call, to ordination, and supervision down the road.

These are qualities I look for in the hearts of parishioners

For I am naturally drawn to such people

like moths drawn to a flame.

 

True confession, number one:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

This Gospel narrative from Luke

Is forcing me to come clean,

To fess up.

 

The Gospel demands honesty and transparency.

 

I suspect the Gospel may call you too

To closer self-examination.

 

……….

 

Grumbling.

 

Fact is,

I don’t like hanging around people that grumble all the time.

People that grumble are more contagious than

A family of twelve with the measles

Making their way through a crowded water park.

 

Negative people attract negative people.

I don’t want to be a part of that scene.

 

My inclusive, non-judgmental tolerance ends at the front door of the church.

“Come on in! We welcome everyone!” I’m known to say,

All the while I’m quietly thinking to myself,

“… except for people that grumble, complain, criticize, and voice their unsolicited opinions about everyone and everything.

There’s a better church for you

down the road on the left.”

 

Church should be a grumble-free zone,

Don’t you think?

 

Jesus is holding down church;

Continuing the Gospel narrative from last Sunday.

As is often the case,

Tax collectors and sinners are attracted to him.

 

Finding the Way appeals to the Lost.

The One who forgives sins is appealing to the guilty.

The Savior of the world is appealing to those who wake up one day and recognize that they are hopelessly lost.

Not one of us can save ourselves,

Let alone anyone else.

 

Jesus naturally draws people in,

Especially the lost, sinners, and

Those considering their own mortality.

People like you and me.

 

Note the fact that

There isn’t any grumbling among sinners

Who come near to listen to Jesus.

The nice thing about confession and repentance:

It takes the grumbling and complaining right out of a person.

 

The grumbling comes from who?

The Pharisees and scribes!

They crash the party,

They disrupt the church of Jesus,

They criticize Jesus for welcoming and eating with sinners.

 

Jesus teaches with a true shepherd’s heart.

His parables reveal essential truths about God and God’s kingdom,

With a focus on love and grace.

He teaches the grumbling Pharisees and scribes three parables in a row:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep,

The Parable of the Lost Coin, and

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother.

 

Jesus weaves common threads among all three:

Someone or something is lost.

Someone or something is found.

Being found results in joy.

 

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …” Jesus observes (15:7a)

“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (15:10b)

 

Repentance makes God happy!

Repentance brings God joy!

Repentance comes from the tax collectors and sinners,

Not from righteous, law abiding Pharisees and scribes left behind.

Their grumbling doesn’t bring the Lord joy;

Only repentance … being found

Brings joy to heaven.

 

Repent of your sins, beloved!

And bring the Lord some JOY this morning!

 

Jesus, our Shepherd,

Has a commitment to the lost.

Like it or not, we, like sheep navigate through life with blinders,

With a subjective world view.

As a sheep will graze themselves lost,

So, too, will you and I find ourselves being drawn into the darkness of temptation.

Sin lures us in, and

Like a frog in a gradually warming kettle,

We eventually find ourselves cooked.

 

It’s delusional to think that we are not sinful.

Sin is as original as is Adam and Eve;

It shows no favorite and it spares no victim.

There’s no shame in our common state,

But there is great satisfaction in confessing it so.

 

The Pharisees and scribes were unable to see

their grumbling was a sign and symptom of a darker, deeper sin.

Self-righteousness may be more egregious

than collecting taxes on behalf of an occupying, oppressive enemy.

 

Fact is, at one point or another in life,

Each of us will come face-to-face with the fact

That we’re no longer one of the 99.

We’re the one who has strayed.

We are the one who has become lost.

We can’t find our way home.

We need to be rescued.

We need saved.

 

Jesus throws us a line

Just as we’re ready to slip beneath the waves.

Grab hold of that line, beloved peeps.

Allow Jesus to pull you in and return you home.

 

Wow! The rescue makes God rejoice!

 

….

 

Resentful.

 

True confession, number two:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

I don’t like hanging around people who are resentful.

 

When I’m around resentful people,

I start to become resentful, too.

 

Just as the Parable of the Lost Sheep reveals essential truth about God

If we associate ourselves with the one sheep who is lost,

It also works if we think of ourselves as one of the 99 left behind.

 

“The Good Shepherd wouldn’t have to leave us unprotected,”

we angrily think to ourselves,

“If that fool hadn’t strayed away and gotten themselves lost.”

 

Resentful people look at what others got and

Wish they had more.

Resentful people look at what others have and

Wish others had less.

 

Resentful people live a life of comparison

And desire to one-up the neighbor.

“Those refugee families get a job and nice apartment at a discount.

No one ever did that for me.

I picked myself up by my own bootstraps.”

 

“The neighbor got herself a ‘she shed.’

Now I want one, too.

Only bigger.”

 

“The dude plays the Lottery one time and

Strikes it rich.

Not fair! Grrrr!”

 

I just don’t like resentment.

Resentment is ugly in others.

I don’t like it when it wells up in me.

Like indigestion, resentment leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Resentful people are also delusional,

Believing grace is a zero-sum game.

“Your benefit comes at my expense,” or

“My loss results in your win.”

 

This is what it sounds like:

“The rich get richer, and I just keep getting poorer and poorer.”

 

These Gospel parables teach us just the opposite.

God’s grace is so abundant,

So lavish,

So over the top,

there is enough to go around for everyone.

 

God is ready, willing, and able to put the kingdom on hold

While he goes to save the one.

That’s how much God loves each of us.

That’s how bountiful is God’s grace.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet

… is that sound?

 

When it comes to grace, everyone wins.

Drop the comparisons, the envy, the resentment.

Lay down that burden

At the foot of the cross of Jesus.

 

Recognition of God’s grace

Takes the hot air of self-righteousness

right out of even the biggest blow hard.

 

This is my witness:

Grace opens my eyes.

I didn’t pick myself up by my own bootstraps.

God gave me life, knew me before I was born.

God gave me health and breath;

God gave me skills, talents, and education;

God sent to me parents, mentors, friends, teachers, pastors, and counselors.

 

It wasn’t me.

It’s always been God.

 

The tidal wave of God’s grace opens my eyes:

I simply showed up,

Surrendered to God,

And the rest takes care of itself.

It’s never been about Todd,

It’s always been about God.

 

Hallelujah! Praise God!

 

This is my witness;

What is your witness?

Have you shared it with others?

Make it a point to share your story of God’s grace in your life this coming week.

Witness your gratitude.

 

Indeed, the antidote for being poisoned by resentment is gratitude;

Being grateful to God

… for what God has done,

… for what God is doing,

… for God’s abundant grace and abiding love,

… for where God is leading us,

… for what God is revealing.

 

…..

 

Beloved members, friends, guests, and visitors

Let us be convicted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us live as one who is lost, rescued by God,

Bringing God great joy!

Let us replace grumbling and resentment with gratitude,

Immersed completely in God’s grace and love.

 

To God be the glory!

Everything else is sheer joy!

Amen.

“Counting the Costs”

Luke 14:25-33

8 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:25-33

 

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

 

Prayer.

 

The table talk has ended. 

Farewells exchanged.

The host was glad to see him go. 

 

As we heard last Sunday, 

Jesus had schooled 

The leader of the Pharisees and his invited friends 

In a stinging lecture

Around his Sabbath day dinner table.

 

Their hubris had taken a hit. 

Their selfish lack of charity

Revealed for all the world to see

Which master they truly served:

It wasn’t the Lord. 

 

As Willie Nelson is known to sing,

Jesus was “On the Road Again.”

 

More than mere movement of geography,

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has symbolic meaning. 

God’s redemptive plan had been set in motion.

Every step Jesus took

Was God’s plan for humankind being revealed.

 

Jesus moved south: 

Teaching, preaching, preparing his disciples for his imminent absence.

Jesus moved south:

Healing, restoring, casting out demons, unbinding those bound by Satan. 

 

Every step brings Jesus nearer to the cross,

Nearer to his suffering,

Nearer to redemption and forgiveness of sins,

Nearer to God’s surprising gift that lay three days beyond the grave. 

 

Jesus moved south and the crowds grew larger:

Some curious to see the latest flavor of traveling evangelist,

Others hopeful their messianic expectations were being fulfilled with revolutionary uprising

and Rome would be kicked out by civil insurrection,

Still others gathering just to see what the fuss was all about.

 

Everyone loves a parade.

 

The intersection of the crowds expectation 

and Jesus’ divine fulfillment of God’s greater plan

Is coming to a violent collision.

The masses who hope for an easy pass to heaven

are about to get a bucket of ice water thrown in the face.

 

The word “Hate” usually isn’t considered 

one of the fruits of the Spirit. 

“Hate” isn’t a word we usually associate with Jesus,

Yet, here it is, in all it’s Lukan glory.

“Hate” is the ice water no one saw coming.

Hate, or Miseó (μισέω), from the Greek,

Is about to separate the crowd

Like grain separated from the chaff. 

 

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks,

Transcending geography, culture, and time.

Wake up!

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks us today,

Demanding our undivided attention. 

 

Hate father and mother;

Hate spouse and children;

Hate brothers and sisters; 

Hate your own life; and 

While he was at it, he could have added

Hate flag and country, too. 

 

The first of three conditions of discipleship is hate. 

 

Don’t know about you, 

But Jesus preaching hate

Doesn’t sit very well with me. 

We’re talking family here. 

We’re talking patriotism here. 

Jesus, the God who creates life, hating life itself? 

 

Take a deep breath.

There must be more to the story.

 

Miseó, as used here,

Is not the opposite of love. 

Language scholars tell us

The word Luke uses here 

Is a comparative,

Exposing contrasts to make a point, 

To renounce one choice in favor of another. 

(Strong’s Concordance, as found at: https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm)

 

Jesus is calling all would-be and experienced disciples

To make a moral choice,

Elevating commitment to him

Over and above commitment to everything which we hold dear;

Our families, 

Even our own life. 

 

Instead of country first,

Instead of family first, 

Jesus’ first condition of discipleship is:

6

Jesus first. 

 

Like the allies terms of surrender,

Jesus is uncompromising. 

 

Can Washington or Albany 

Forgive your sins or save your soul?

Family can and should be 

the most loving, caring, social support one can have.

But I have yet to meet a parent, spouse, sibling, or child

That redeems us from judgment 

or saves us into eternal life.

 

“Jesus First” is the Lord’s enlistment poster.

 

……..

 

So, Jesus just lost half the crowd. 

He’s about to lose half of what’s left

When his second condition for discipleship is deeply considered.

 

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me

cannot be my disciple.” (14:27)

Expecting death by crucifixion,

Jesus knew how the machinery of capital punishment

made mincemeat of all those sucked into its path. 

Luke, writing from an after-the-fact, historical point of view,

Intentionally keeps the burner on high,

For his reality, and that of the first century Church, 

Was martyrdom. 

 

Jesus’ condition for all disciples

Was, and remains to this day, 

Radical self-denial. 

 

Follow Jesus.

Be prepared to give up your life.

Live prepared to die.

 

Deny my self-interest

To advance the Lord’s interest.

Deny my self-preservation

To pick up my cross, and 

Be crucified right there

alongside with Jesus. 

 

Martyrdom is what love looks like

In a Jesus first economy. 

 

The Apostle Paul wrote 

to the fledgling, persecuted church in Rome,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:35-39)

 

The Lord of resurrection 

Does not allow death to win.

 

The temptation is to grow tired,

Lose faith, and 

set down the cross of Jesus.

 

The temptation is to walk away,

Fearful of death,

Uncertain of eternal life. 

“It’s just too hard,” 

“Jesus demands too much,”

we’ve heard many complain. 

“I’m not certain that even I have it in me,” I sometimes wonder

In a momentary crisis of faith. 

 

Consider the cost.

Am I ready to die for the one who died for me?

Only a fool would fail to consider the cost of discipleship.

 

Consider the cost.

Think of the risks, consequences, and benefits.

Family will laugh and friends will pretend like they never knew us. 

That’s okay by me;

I’d rather hang out with Jesus followers anyways. 

When I love God and love neighbors,

Neighbors become my extended family.

 

Consider the cost.

Reflect on the power of God’s love

That binds us to Christ,

That is just as uncompromising,

That never lets us go. 

 

Is it worth the risk? 

It is for me.

 

…………

 

One half of the remaining quarter 

Probably meant there weren’t many willing candidates for discipleship left in the crowd following Jesus.

Jesus is salting the crowd really good.

 

Oh, yeah. 

One last thing, Jesus tells us. 

It’s kind of like his third condition of discipleship is an afterthought.

He says:

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” 

(14:33)

 

Here we are headed into the season of 

stewardship, pledge cards, and fund drives.

“Isn’t that convenient, Pastor Todd?” you may sarcastically ask.

 

Jesus isn’t asking for ten percent;

Jesus wants it all. 

 

Yikes!

There goes the rest of the crowd,

Leaving the remaining few 

standing alone before our Lord,

Hat in hand, 

Weighing the cost of following Jesus.

 

This radical renunciation of money, possessions, and things

Caused the rich young ruler to walk away from Jesus. 

At the same time, 

Such a strict condition of discipleship isn’t made of Zacchaeus. 

Jesus didn’t demand he give everything away.

 

Zacchaeus, exposed of his sin,

Was convicted to volunteer to Jesus 

One half of his possessions to be given to the poor, and

To repay fourfold to anyone who he defrauded. (19:8)

 

Jesus wants it all,

But it isn’t all about money.

It’s about our heart;

Where our allegiance lies. 

 

Soon to come in a future Gospel passage,

(Quite possibly next week!) 

Jesus concludes his story about a dishonest manager by teaching,

“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.”

(16:13)

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me.

 

…………

 

Beloved members, friends, guests and visitors of our Rush United Methodist family

Do not fear the conditions of discipleship. 

 

We can calculate the cost and make the sacrifice,

Not individually,

Because not one of us,

Myself included,

Has the sufficient strength of faith or purity of heart to be worthy of our King. 

 

We can pay the price,

Because we are in this journey of faith together. 

We are Christ’s Body;

The embodiment of God’s love.

We are strength and support for one another.

 

Have no fear.

Be confident! 

Together, God can get every last one of Christ’s disciples

Through the eye of any old needle. 

 

We can do this, 

Because redemption and salvation

Have already been won.

Victory and life have been won

By Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

 

……..

 

Count the cost.

Consider carefully. 

Jesus first. 

Jesus to die for. 

Jesus without any reservations. 

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me. 

Join me, will you?

Let’s travel this journey together. 

Amen.

“An Invitation to the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14

September 1, 2019

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

1

Prayer.

 

Today’s gospel lesson

is a continuation of St. Luke’s narrative

reporting from the heart of Jesus’ ministry

– healing, teaching, and preaching.

 

Jesus is preparing his disciples

for the near future when he would be

physically absent from their presence.

He is laying the groundwork for His Church,

and us today,

by giving us the elemental ideals and essential truth

for leading a Christian life.

 

Today’s lesson could be placed

into the category of “Table Talks”

about the kingdom of God.

Jesus is teaching while he is eating,

sharing his table with others,

breaking bread and sharing wine,

with both his disciples,

and, with his host, a leader of the Pharisees,

and the Pharisee’s colleagues.

 

St. Luke’s editors label this section as “a parable.” (Verse 7).

This is somewhat inaccurate.

I don’t believe Jesus

would have used the word “parable”

to describe his narrative in this location.

There isn’t any story or tale that imparts a larger truth.

Jesus is simply teaching by directive.

“When you do this, then you should do that.”

 

While these are not parables (strictly speaking),

Jesus is using allegory and symbolism

to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In effect, he is saying,

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you attend a wedding banquet …

take the lowest seat.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you host a luncheon or a dinner ….

Invite those who can never repay you.”

 

Jesus is painting on a brand-new palate;

creating a landscape of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

At the same time,

Jesus is telling us the nature of the rules for the kingdom.

Much to our surprise,

the rules for the kingdom are

topsy-turvy,

upside down,

Revolutionary (some would say),

completely upending our expectations.

……….

 

Whether we were living

in the life and times of Jesus,

or today, 2,000 years later,

one of the most important social rules

is that we are born with a Darwinian sense of self-preservation, and raised to look out for “number one.”

 

Self-interest is the motivation of so much of what we do.

We are always thinking

in the back of our minds

when we give

what we can get back.

 

I give to United Way at the office …

so the boss will notice and think more highly of me.

I give at home …

so the kids will love me back,

or so I can get something from my spouse.

I give at the church …

so I can get good worship,

good Sunday school and youth fellowship, or

good mission and outreach options.

 

I give … so I can get.

 

In today’s lesson,

Jesus is challenging this basic assumption.

 

Instead of looking out for number one,

our fundamental concern should be to serve God’s interest.

 

This means giving away,

making a sacrifice;

making our self-interest secondary

to God’s primary interest.

This means subjecting my will

To Thy will (be done).

 

This is a recognition that we are God’s own

and that one day we will return to God;

making God’s interest the focus and motivation of our faith.

 

It means we substitute the question,

“what do I want to do?”

with “what does God want me to do?”

 

Consider for a moment

If all the world would discern deeply,

“What does God want me to do?”

 

There are many,

(some would say) way too many,

who use the name of God

to promote self-interest

– to obtain power, authority, control, or wealth.

Let us not be tempted to make the same mistake.

 

Don’t confuse my will with God’s interests.

 

In the inverted world of God’s greatest concerns,

we hear today Jesus teaching

that being humble,

and lifting up the most vulnerable members of society

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind –

– those least likely to be able to repay you –

this is God’s concern,

and therefore,

should be our greatest concern, too.

 

Being humble and

lifting up the most vulnerable

Is God’s intentional desire.

 

Two thoughts.

 

1. First of all, seek the humble and lowly way through life.

Humility means that the interest of others

comes before our own …

like at a wedding banquet.

Let others have more honorable seats.

Take your place at the lowest place.

 

Pastors and church leaders eat last.

 

Lowliness springs from gratitude.

Be thankful to be invited in the first place!

After all,

consider the fact that none of us have done anything to deserve God’s invitation to the banquet.

 

Consider our sinful nature …

can we presume to approach the majesty of God

Worthy of God’s amazing grace?

A lowly approach springs from the reverence

we should be offering to God.

 

Humility is the Disciples’ place in life.

It requires a discipline of reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Humility embraces silence

And recognizes the intrinsic value of becoming still,

Awareness of God’s presence, and

The ability to trust in God’s direction.

Humility lifts up our God above all other competitors,

Shielding us from the temptation of idolatry.

 

Jesus punctuates this narrative

with his topsy-turvy, upside down rule of the kingdom

by saying in the 11th verse,

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Seek the humble and lowly road.

 

2. The second point of the kingdom is made

when Jesus turns his attention

from the guest of the dinner party

to speak directly to the host.

He looks to the Pharisee and his friends.

Jesus directs them to not invite their friends when they host a party.

 

Instead, extend hospitality and generosity

to those who cannot repay it.

 

We are usually hospitable because of what it can gain us.

Be nice to visitors and guests at church,

we might be able to persuade them to return.

Be nice to our friends when they come to dinner,

for you never know when it will come time they can repay you.

Hospitality as a quid pro quo

has no merit with God;

Selfish hospitality is nothing more than self-interest.

 

God’s interest is elsewhere.

 

God is most interested in making sure

that those who are most in need

and least able to repay

are the ones being served.

 

Jesus just gives an example

of the kinds of people in his day and age

that would be God’s most suitable guests

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.

 

Today, updated language expands his sampling

to a much larger audience:

the widow, the shut-in, the elderly,

caregivers,

those with disabilities and differently abled,

the poor,

those suffering from chronic illness,

and new immigrants to our neighborhood.

 

Ronald Sider, a Christian social activist,

has made it his life purpose

to keep reminding us

that Christians are to have a special relationship with the poor.

 

He observes that global Christianity is wealthy.

We make up one-third of the world’s people,

but we receive two-thirds of the world’s income each year. Furthermore, he notes,

we spend 97% of our income on ourselves.

A mere 2% goes to Christian work or missions.

(Pulpit Resources, August 29, 2004)

 

All this takes place at the same time

when almost half of the world,

over three billion people,

live on less than $2.50 a day,

and 80% live on less than $10 a day.

According to UNICEF,

22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Nearly a billion people are unable to read a book or sign their name.

Less than 1% of what is spent globally on weapons each year

Could put every child through school.

(http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats)

 

Poverty is grinding.

 

……..

 

Who are we inviting to our table?

We serve God’s interest when we invite

the least, the lowly, the most vulnerable.

We serve God’s interest when we serve

those who cannot ever repay it.

We serve God’s interest when we

lose our self-interest first.

 

The topsy-turvy, upside down rule of God’s heavenly kingdom

is punctuated by Jesus

for the second time in verse 14, when he says,

 

“And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you,

for you will be repaid,” Jesus promises,

“at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

Let’s face it;

Jesus would be a challenging person to invite to dinner.

He goes as an invited guest

and immediately criticizes

both his host and his fellow guests.

 

But social etiquette is not so much Jesus’ concern

as is preparing his disciples for the emerging kingdom of God.

Jesus has bigger fish to fry.

 

His concern is you and me

– what are we going to make our ultimate concern in life –

satisfying the self, or satisfying God?

 

There is no time to waist.

 

Indeed, God’s kingdom begins here and now,

not in some future time or after we die.

It starts with our response to the challenge of the Gospel.

It begins when we assume a posture of humility.

It begins when we extend hospitality and generosity

to those who are most in need.

 

Dearly beloved members, guests, visitors, and friends of Rush,

whose interest will you serve this day?

Amen.