GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2017_04_16 Easter is About Life.

Sermon Easter Sunday, NL3, 16 April 2017 

The Gospel reading for Easter Sunday is from the Gospel of Luke the 24th chapterGlory to you O Lord.  
NRS  Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 
 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 
 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 
 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 
 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 
  6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 
 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 
 8 Then they remembered his words, 
 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 
 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 
 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 
 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 
The Gospel of our Lord.  Praise to you O Christ. 
Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen. 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
"On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb." 
Doesn't this sound like the beginning of a scary novel that we should be reading while it is still dark?  Immediately we have questions about the significance of the first day of the week?  Is it somehow related to the first day of creation?  Who were the "they"?  Why did "they" go to a tomb?  Does it have something to do with carrying spices? 
Then the unknown "they" find the stone rolled away from the tomb.  It could mean one of two things; either the tomb has never been sealed, never used before, awaiting its first occupant OR if it has been used before, someone has either gone in or come out, maybe both.  Will the body still be there or not? 
"They" go in.  And "they" do not find "the body".  It seems they expected to find "the body" but it is no longer here.  And that's the mystery.  What happened to the body? 
What happens when you meet the unexpected that challenges your knowledge of truth?  You question yourself.  Did we get the correct tomb?  Yes we did, we saw the body being laid here two nights ago.  There's no mistake.  Was it really dead?  Of course it was, we saw it die and the Romans made sure of it.  We saw it come off the cross.  It was very dead.  What else?  Could someone have come and taken it?  What would anyone want with a bloody, crucified, dead body?   
What you would never imagine is that the body that was dead is now very much alive.  That just can't happen.  Nor would you expect the sudden and brilliant arrival of two men that you can barely look at because they are so brightly lit.  Your only response is to drop to your knees and cover your face in terror, fearful of what may happen to you next.   
Yes, this is the making of a good novel with the potential for a follow-on movie that probably wouldn't be as good as the book. 
But we know the back story.  "They" are the women who witnessed Jesus' crucifixion.  They followed Joseph of Arimathea with the body of Jesus to the tomb and saw where he laid it.  They are the women who have followed Jesus for quite some time.  They provided for his ministry.  They heard his predictions of the Son of Man being handed over to the authorities and being killed and on the third day rise again.  They are disciples and they know the apostles.  They want to do right by their friend Jesus and give his body due respect by providing the customary burial spices in the tomb.  But, the body is gone.  They are perplexed by the emptiness of the tomb and terrified by the angel's arrival. 
They hear the question, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"  The question is a contradiction of what they know.  They are asked to believe something different than their experience would have them believe.  Either he is dead because we saw him die and dead people remain dead.  OR they must believe the new evidence that the angels give them, "He is not here, but has risen."  He was dead but now he is alive just like he told you he would be...remember? 
This is our question today.  Our entire faith hangs on what we believe about the evidence presented to us.  We know about people who die.  On the third day, they are still dead.  Or we are presented with the witness of someone who says, "This One did die, but He is now alive.  He is not in the tomb.  After he died, I saw him alive.  I ate with him.  I spoke with him.  I walked with him.  I did all of that after he died; and he did die, no question about that."  Now, what do you believe?  Is he alive or is he dead? 
It is a question about the finality of death.  Does death have the final word for you?  OR does life?  Do we believe this to be an idle tale, a bunch of rubbish?  Or do we believe the testimony of witnesses? 
What Easter and our faith proclaims is that death does not have the final word.  Because Jesus lives after dying, so will you.  We proclaim that God is all about life.  He is about life that will not be constrained or overruled by the power of death.   
Jesus permitted the power of death to have its way with him.  He died in the worst way ever imagined.  The most awful, shameful, painful, public, drawn out, gasping death ever designed by human beings.  It was a death reserved for the worst criminals and enemies of the Roman Empire.  It exemplified the utter power of the state over any potential enemy.  It was what would happen to you if you defied the state.  It was the worst. 
Jesus died this way.  Death did its best.  But on the third day he was alive because God is all about life not death..  Think of Jesus last words from the cross reported by Luke.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Today, you will be with me in paradise.  Father into your hands I commend my spirit.  Forgiveness, promise of paradise and complete faith in what the Father will do.  These are words of life and we are to remember them. 
Jesus is the life and the resurrection.  It means we no longer need to fear death.  What does that mean?  We no longer need to fear...anything!  If God is for us, who can be against us?  No one.  Death no longer is a threat to us.  It no longer has a hold on us.  We are free from its domination!  We are absolutely free! 
We should note that this Easter story of the resurrection from Luke has no joy in it.  It has only perplexion and terror and amazement and disbelief.  At this point all the disciples know, both men and women, is that the tomb is empty and they remember Jesus' words that he would rise again on the third day.  It will not be until later in the day that some disciples will meet Jesus and walk and talk with him and finally be recognized.  He is found among the living not among the dead, just like the angels said.  It is only later that they will know joy.  We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus is alive.  He is the victory over death.  Because we know he is risen and he lives, we sing songs of joy and raise shouts of alleluia!  Amen. 
P:  Alleluia!  Christ is risen. 
C:  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia! 
P:  The Grace of our risen Savior, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017_03_19 Lent 3 God, the Persistent Seeker of All the Lost

Sermon 3th Sunday in Lent, NL3, 19 March 2017

Pray:  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Twice during the worship service we respond to God's call to us with words of confession.  Once confessing our sin and once confessing our faith.  We confess our faith in God the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth and we confess in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, who is both fully human, born of a human mother and yet fully divine.  After we confess who he is by birth then we confess our faith about his death and resurrection.  Apparently the authors of the creeds of our faith didn't feel it necessary to confess anything about the time between Jesus' birth and death.

It is important to know who Jesus is based on his miraculous birth.  God leaving the unlimited, glory of heaven to become an extremely limited human being can barely be fathomed.  His sacrificial death and resurrection are also unfathomable not only because he let it happen but because of what it meant.  But God also came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to live in a lifetime between birth and death for a purpose.

The Gospel writer's all wrote about Jesus' life between birth and death with the intent of helping the world understand God the Father who is revealed through his Son Jesus.  In today's Gospel reading Jesus teaches in wonder about our God that is so different than our human expectations.

We are going to hear three parables about the love of God that goes so far beyond what we could even imagine.  Each parable builds, fills in, and expands on the previous one.  To help fully grasp the impact of what Jesus tells in the parable they won't be told without interruption.  Much of what I will add comes from a book called, "The Cross and the Prodigal" by Kenneth Bailey who lived forty years in the Middle East talking with village folks about how they interpreted Jesus parables after hearing them for the first time.

The Gospel lesson for the 3th Sunday in Lent is from the Gospel of Luke the 15th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

 3 So he told them this parable:

Here we have the reason Jesus launches into these parables.  Tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees were gathered around him.  And one group thought the other group shouldn't be there.  "He welcomes sinners...and eats with them!  How disgusting and beneath a true man of God!"  The fact that Jesus ate with them was especially appalling.  Eating with a Middle Easterner goes beyond a sense of friendship, it goes deeper than mere friendship, it is acceptance at a deep level, it is almost sacramental.  Jesus eats with the least accepted people in all of society, people you wouldn't want your kids to associate with, people you might cross the street to avoid meeting.  And yet Jesus is in their midst breaking bread and enjoying fellowship with them.  Remember that he also broke bread with Pharisees.

3 So he told them this parable: (to the Pharisees)

 4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them (in other words, you lost the sheep that was in your responsibility to keep), does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

(If course, none of them would go, because they aren't shepherds.  Pharisees hire shepherds to care for their sheep.  Shepherds are unclean, unwashed, uncouth, uneducated, lowlife people best suited for life in the wilderness away from others tending sheep.  And yet God calls his leaders to be shepherds in Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah.  The good shepherd does leave the rest of the flock and seeks until he finds the lost.)

5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

 6 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.'

 7 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.

The good shepherd rejoices in finding the lost sheep.  He rejoices before the real work starts.  An adult sheep, we are not talking about a cute little lamb here, weighs between 75 and 125 pounds.  He  now hoists that load on his back and finds his way back.  As lost as the sheep was this good shepherd now carries it all the way back rejoicing.  So that when he gets back to the village with the people who depend upon him to care for the sheep he gathers everyone around and shares his joy with them.  But it is almost foolish to go to this kind of effort.  It would be so much easier to find the remains of the sheep devoured by wild animals than to carry this load back.  And what about the rest of the 99 in the flock?  Still in the wilderness?  Apparently.

Jesus began the second parable:

8 "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?

 9 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.'

 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Do you know the panic of losing something very valuable?  For a poor Middle-Eastern woman her coins are her safety net should anything happen to her husband or it's the money for food for her family that is entrusted to her safe-keeping.  "I know I had it right here and now it is gone."  As you search and search.  the more you search the more the knot in your stomach and throat tightens.  You might let loose sounds of frustration and anger.  In the small and tightly packed streets of the Middle Eastern village it wouldn't take long for her neighbors to know what was going on.  Finally, after what may seem an eternity the coin is found.  It's time to call your friends together and rejoice and share the good news, retelling the story of what it felt like to lose and seek and eventually find what was so valuable.  What a relief!

The coin that was lost wasn't far away.  It was in the house...of Israel.  But it was carelessly lost and required an intense search to find.  Who should be seeking with such diligence for what was lost?  Did the Pharisees hear this message?

Jesus ended each of these parables with, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  In each of the parables neither the sheep nor the coin did anything to be found.  They did not repent in the way we think of repenting, saying "I must repent, I must turn my life around!"  The repenting, or returning to their rightful place depended not on the sheep or the coin but entirely on the seeker.  It is the seeker's intent and will to find the lost.  It appears that repentance of the lost is really acceptance of being found.  Repentance is the wonder at being found after being so lost.  Who is this seeker that won't give up until he has found me?

Jesus continued with the last parable:
  11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. (This parable is about two sons, not just one).

 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.

 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

The son only wanted the money so that he could be in control of his life.  He didn't call it his inheritance because that would imply responsibility to the family.  He immediately sold his share of the property which would have been about one-third of what the father owned.  He couldn't stay in his village because what he did was known to everyone in the village and was considered extremely shameful.  All Middle-Easterners said this conversation NEVER would have happened because it was so disrespectful and so shameful to even contemplate.  And even if it had happened the father NEVER should have given his son the share of the inheritance.  This demand broke the father's heart, but the son could not see that.

 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.  (For a Jew this is an appalling situation to be found in, feeding and caring for pigs).

 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." '

So the son only wanted to go back to his father because he knows there is always plenty of food there and he is very hungry.  Perhaps he thinks he can sweet talk his father into a little help so he can get back on his feet.  He still wants control of his life.  He doesn't know that the real problem between he and his father is not the money that the son took but the relationship that he broke.  He thinks he can just be accepted as a skilled servant, meaning still live outside the home, remain in control of his life, and continue to avoid the father and the brother.

 20 So he (arose) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran (he raced) and put his arms around him and kissed him (repeatedly).

 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

But the son couldn't finish the end of the speech he had prepared about being a hired servant.  He could no longer try to manipulate his father, he could only confess the truth.  He was not worthy to be called a son.  With shock he realized the extent of his father's love for him.  He watched his Father suffer immense personal shame in front of all of the villagers including his own servants as he raced down the road, robe gathered up and bare legs flying, to meet his son.  The villagers were more amazed and appalled to see a man of his position and dignity act this way, especially towards someone who had insulted him, his family and his village the way his son had.  The scene is inconceivable, unimaginable!

 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe -- the best one -- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!'

Again the son is faced with the unexpected extravagant love of his father protecting him from the scorn of the villagers.  No one would insult the son wearing the father's best robe or wearing the signet ring of the family without also giving major insult to the father.  Then to be the honored guest of a celebratory meal, how does one respond to such generosity in the face of what had been done?  Humble obedience perhaps?

And they began to celebrate.

 25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

 27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'

So your younger brother/sibling gets one third of the family's wealth and disappears for a long time only to return dressed in rags, smelling like a pig, not a penny to his name.  And Dad puts the best robe on him, gives him the family signet ring, puts the shoes of a free man on his bare and calloused slave feet and throws him a party????!!!!  You have stayed home, done everything your father has asked of you, and he never did anything like that for you!!!!  Wouldn't that make you really mad???

28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

 29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'

Now it is the elder son who insults his father in front of the guests who can hear everything.  The position expected of the elder son in a party like this, given for the village, was to stand beside his father and serve the guests showing honor and respect to the guests.  But he disrespectfully refuses to do this and refuses to go in to the party.  Amazingly the father lowers himself and leaves the party.  The son angrily insults his father even further and voices his complaint.  He doesn't claim the younger brother but calls him the father's son.  He makes assumptions about how the money was wasted.  But again the father doesn't react like the villagers expected.  He loves this son too and desires reconciliation and again shamefully humbles himself in front of the people of the village by trying to reason with his son.

31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

The parable ends. 

But what happened to the elder son?  What will he do?

I can picture Jesus turning to the Pharisees with a questioning look after finishing telling these parables.  Maybe he is looking at us too.  Do you get the point of these parables?  Do you see yourself in them?  What will you do?  Do you see how outrageously loving your Father in heaven is?  How badly he wants restoration of sinners who were lost to him, whether the sinners wear the clothes of a tax collector or a Pharisee, the rags of the homeless or the robes of a preacher?  No one is outside the extreme love of the Father who seeks until he finds the lost - all of them.  No one can stand in judgment of another and exclude them from the meal of fellowship.  The agony of the shepherd, of the woman and of the father over the lost sheep, coin, or sons is only relieved when the lost is found.  And what fun it is when the lost is found.  Call out your friends and neighbors!  Let's party!  There is joy, and rejoicing in heaven.  There is celebrating and gathering around a festive meal.  Let's give up that heavy baggage of prejudice, judgment, selfishness, and misunderstanding.  Let's eat together in restored friendship that is so deeply sacramental.  Indeed our cups run over.  We were lost and now we are found.  All because the persistent LORD seeks until he finds.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.