GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017_03_12 Lent 2 If it Bears Fruit Well and Good, If Not...

Sermon 2nd Sunday of Lent, NL3, 12 March 2017

The Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday of Lent is from the Gospel of Luke the 13th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

 2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them -- do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

 6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

 7 So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'

 8 He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

NRS  Luke 13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."

 32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'

 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

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 the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I used to work for a guy who had an odd sense of humor.  Occasionally a bunch of us underlings would gather in his office to shoot the breeze.  He was a former air force fighter and bomber pilot so there was usually a lot of breeze to shoot.  But we would know it was time to leave when he would say, "Okay, Get outta here, you're using up my oxygen!"  Which usually happened when he lost an argument.  Yeah he was fun to work for!

But I think he expressed a thought similar to the vineyard owner in today's gospel reading.  "This tree is not producing any fruit.  Dig it up and throw it away.  It's using up my ground!"

Unlike the vineyard owner in Jesus' parable my boss did not have a loyal gardener to apply manure hoping for fruit to grow.  Now around him there was a lot of manure thrown around but it had nothing to do with encouraging growth.  In Jesus' parable the gardener is all about giving the fruit tree another chance, realizing that if the tree doesn't respond to his tender loving care and produce would be better to get another tree in there, one that will produce fruit.

The message of the parable is the gracious, persistence and patience of God hoping for the plants and trees in his vineyard to produce fruit.  But also included in the message is that there will also come an end to the waiting.  What we don't know from the parable is whether the tree responded to the gardener's care and produced fruit.  I'd kinda like to know what happened but Jesus left the ending for the tree unanswered.  It's as if he told the story and then looked pointedly at his hearer's asking each one to fill in the ending.  What will it be, fruit or no fruit?  Fruit or uprooting?  Fruit or bonfire?

The parable leaves us a little uncomfortable doesn't it?  Aren't we more used to hearing, "Let the little children come unto me." and "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Sort of the warm and fuzzy and comfortable Jesus.  But Jesus' parable informs us of another aspect of life.  Jesus indeed wants nothing more for us to respond to him and hear his word and be obedient to it.  He sees himself as the mother hen who wants most to gather her little chicks under her wings and protect them.  This is his heartfelt plea for us.  But in the parable he makes us aware of another truth.  At some point there will be no more chances.

This parable comes after he has been asked a question that seems unrelated.  "What about those poor folks who were killed by Herod so he could mix their blood with the blood of the temple sacrifice."  That's awful, though entirely consistent with Herod's historical brutality.  The real question to the people of Jesus' time though was "Were these folks bad folks?"  Shouldn't bad people expect and deserve bad things to happen to them?

You can almost feel Jesus' exasperation in his reply.  "Heavens no!  Just like the folks who were killed by the falling tower of Siloam.  They were no more bad or good than any other person living in Jerusalem.  Bad things can happen to anybody, whether they happen because of bad people or by mere accidents.  Bad things are part of life."

So Jesus didn't really answer the "Why did this happen?" question.  Because there is no answer to that question this side of heaven.  Jesus used their question to point to something more important that he wanted his listeners to focus on.

Bad things are going to happen in life.  Most often we don't have much control over when we will die or what will happen that will lead to our death.  No one has much control over crazy Herods, bad drivers or gunmen, falling towers, or high winds, floods, ice, sickness, disease or cancer.  What Jesus said was, "Unless you repent, you will perish just as they did."  Suddenly and unexpectedly.

Embedded in Jesus warning is a sense of urgency.  No one knows when the next tower will fall, car will crash, or cancer cells will hit.  No one knows when that will happen and to whom it will happen.  But certainly it will happen.  So repent now before it is too late!. 

So why is Jesus asking you to repent?  After all it is the subject of his first sermon, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Repenting is important.  And Jesus wants us to do it now.  Why?  Perhaps you won't have time if you delay.

Today I don't think we think that bad things only happen to bad people.  That they just get what they deserve and conversely that bad things don't happen to people who are blessed by God..  More often I think we wonder how can a good and gracious God allow such things to happen at all!  And a more challenging thought to our faith comes from Jeremiah 29,

 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NRS)

Would it be in God's plans for a tower to fall and kill 18 innocents or a gunman shoot up innocent people worshipping in church?  Or for any other tragedy that happens?  These questions could really rock our faith if we let them.  I think though, that if we were to ask this question of Jesus, "What about those people in the church in Charleston?"  Jesus would give a similar answer as he did in our reading today.  The issue is not the bad things that happen, the issue is have you and do you repent?  Because if you haven't and something terrible happens to you, there may be no more chances, as harsh as that sounds.  But that is the reality.  There will be a time of no more chances.  Jesus told us about it in the parable of the barren fig tree.  He also told about it in a parable between the two texts we read today.  In this parable a householder rose and shut the door.  Those outside begged to be let in claiming to have eaten with him and knew that he taught among them .  But the householder denied all knowledge of them and would not open the door.  At some point there will be no more chances.

This can be a terrifying thought can't it?  But the good news is that it is not God's intent for this to happen.  That is why he is so patient.  That is why he urges us so strongly to repent.  That is why he tells a parable about a gardener who would rather shovel manure and fertilize for a year in hopes the tree will bear fruit.  It is not God's plan for his creation to perish in this manner.  Not his plan, but it may be the consequence for disobedient people who do not take Jesus seriously and obey his word.  It is why our Confirmation Students learn from the Small Catechism that baptism means we should daily confess and repent, which has the effect of drowning all of our sins so that we will arise and daily live as new creatures before God.  It's this newness of life that the Father wants for us and works so hard for us to know about.  He will do anything for us...even go to the cross.

So we return to the parable of the fig tree that hasn't produced any fruit in way too long.  The landowner is getting impatient.  Day after day he checks to see if there is fruit.  Is there more love, is there is more joy or peace or patience.  Is there evidence of kindness, generosity and faithfulness?  What about gentleness and self control among others?  Is this one being affected by the Holy Spirit?  Is there fruit that makes a difference in the lives around it?  If there is well and good the tree is fulfilling its purpose.  If it isn't...what shall we do?

This is an appropriate question for us during Lent.  What shall we do?  What baggage shall we leave behind that keeps us from bearing fruit?  Will we let God's Word have the desired effect on us?  Will it change us so that we become obedient and do bear fruit?  God has planted us here for a purpose, a purpose beyond employment or low cost of living or climate.  We are placed in God's desert garden for the purpose of bearing fruit for Him.  He's checking on us routinely.  He is surrounding us with fertilizer and care.  If we don't bear fruit then we are wasting the ground, wasting the oxygen that could be better used for others.  But if we are bearing fruit...well and good.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017_03_05 Lent 1 Go & Do AND Sit & Listen

Sermon 1st Sunday of Lent, NL3, 5 March 2017

The Gospel lesson for the 1st Sunday of Lent is from the Gospel of Luke the 10th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"

 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'

 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"

 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

 38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.

 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

 41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

 42 there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

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 the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ah, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We know this parable pretty well don't we.  We know the concept.  We have a Good Samaritan Fund to help people out.  We have Good Samaritan laws to protect people who help others.  There are Good Samaritan folks who help people out of burning cars, houses or from drowning in floods.  Is there anything to be gained by hearing the parable once again?  Even during the season of Lent?

Another thing that caught my attention is how our lectionary pairs the Good Samaritan parable with the story of Mary and Martha.  One is working hard and the other is just listening.  Is there a connection between these stories.  There usually is when the Gospel write puts things together like this.

Well, as I prepared for today I came across some insights to this parable and the story of Mary and Martha that I had never considered before and it changed the way I understand them.

I was going to pick on the lawyer.  He asked Jesus, "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?"  Well, wouldn't he know that to inherit something his father would have to die so he could claim inheritance?  There is nothing to DO but keep breathing!  There is nothing to DO at all.  He was born into the family and so he gets to inherit.  There is nothing to DO.

But Jesus takes his question seriously, so perhaps I should also.  Knowing that he was a lawyer, Jesus asked him.  "How do you read the law?  What does it say about getting eternal life?"

And the lawyer comes up with the right answer, something we've heard from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  We know it as the great Commandment.  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  But in Luke this commandment is the gateway to eternal life not just a command.

Jesus compliments the lawyer.  "Good answer, that's all you have to do.  Just go and do that."  But the lawyer has another question.  "Just who is my neighbor?"

You see when you are a lawyer, it's all about the rules and the laws and you need to have good definitions of the terms.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that rules help you determine, who your neighbors are and who they aren't.  They help you know who you need to love and who you don't need to love in accordance with the law of Moses.  Rather than explain Jesus told a parable.

Here it might be helpful to review what a parable is, perhaps and why Jesus taught so often using them. (or not).

So he told the story of the man who had been brutally beaten up and robbed, left half dead alongside the road.  Three guys come along the first two pass by but the third stops and help the man out.  If Jesus had told it as simply as this no one would have remembered it and we wouldn't know the story today.  Jesus included some shocking details that we need to pay attention to.  The crowd almost expected to hear about a priest and a Levite.  They were good respected folks.  It's almost like when we hear a story about the Priest, the Pastor and the Rabbi going fishing.  After hearing Priest and Pastor we are already tuned to hearing another minister person, like a rabbi being the third member of the party.  But Jesus crossed them up a bit by not including a scribe or lawyer in the group.  He put in someone completely unexpected.  Someone who was considered racially impure, not a real Jew, someone who was ritually unclean and never went to Jerusalem to worship.  The Samaritan was someone almost hated and despised by the Jews.  They were no one to associate with.  I don't think there is an equivalent type of person in our culture today.  Maybe to some Middle Eastern or African Muslims might come close but probably not.  So the crowd is shocked by Jesus choice of characters.  They would expect the Samaritan to do something bad, like finish the wounded guy off or something, never would he be expected to do something good.  You wouldn't want a Samaritan to actually touch you.

Put yourself in the place of the wounded guy.  There is a sigh of relief when the Priest comes by - surely he will help.  But no.  He is pretty important, he may be on his way to meet someone and can't afford the time to stop.  Well the Levite comes.  He will stop.  But no.  He also is pretty important and he may need to remain ritually clean so he couldn't touch a dead or wounded guy or he would have to spend some time getting purified.  He couldn't do his work in the temple.  Well it seems to be a pretty busy road certainly someone else will come along and stop to help.

But not this Samaritan.  Not him.  Anybody but him.  Please God don't let him stop.  Keep going, I'll wait for the next guy to come along.  No luck.  Here he comes.

Another thought.  Where do we put ourselves in the parable?  Priest, Levite?  Probably not.  They never help anybody.  The Samaritan?  Perhaps.  He's the good guy.  Do we ever see ourselves as the robbed and beat up guy? 

What was Jesus’ intent for the characters?  Who did he want us to see?  What if we thought of it this way?  The beat up guy is helpless.  He was waylaid by some evil guys who took all that he had, beat him up and left him to die.  He can't save himself, he can't really help himself.  He is depending upon the compassion and mercy of someone else to come along and save him.  He is the passive recipient of the Samaritans saving actions.  Even after he is picked up and taken to safety, his bills are all generously paid in advance by someone who is leaving but promises to return later.  Does that ring bells in our heads?  Do we recognize the story?

I wonder which of the characters in the parable Jesus intended the lawyer to relate to or see as himself - the wounded guy?  Which one did he intend for the lawyer to see as Jesus himself?  The despised Samaritan?  It would seem so.  Jesus really turned expectations upside down in this parable.  Even the Greek words for compassion and mercy are associated in Luke only with Jesus or the Father.  The first hearers of the parable would miss that but we the readers of Luke can't help but catch it.

Jesus even changed the lawyers last question.  He didn't answer the lawyer saying "This is your neighbor.  This is the one you are to love in accordance with the law."  That answer gives a response that is too limiting and it discriminates.  Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of the three was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"  The answer to this question changes everything.  The neighbors are not those respected folks who pass you by.  The neighbor is the one who has compassion and shows mercy and comes to your aid.  There is no line drawing identifying neighbor and not neighbor, those whom you are to love or not love.  The neighbor has the sacrificial love for those in need and responds to that need.

The lawyer answered Jesus question correctly and then Jesus told him simply, "Go and do likewise.  Have compassion for the wounded.  Have mercy on the helpless.  Be generous in your care.  Leave behind your schedule and your plans.  Helping the helpless is more important.  Give away your time for those in need.  Make a commitment."  These actions are simply following in Jesus footsteps.  As our leader does, so should we.

And that leads us to the vignette of Mary and Martha.

Jesus visits them.  Martha is anxious and distracted.  Perhaps she is trying to put on a big meal.  There's a lot of work to do.  It's easy to get distracted when you are trying so hard to get a good meal on the table, on time, with the food hot.  Things can get a little tense in the kitchen.  Focus is on getting the meal done right and the guest starts to take second or third place.  Martha is the one doing.  She is being the good hostess.  Mary is not.  She is with the guest listening to every word.  Martha complains to the guest, which puts him in a spot.  He says though, "There is need of only one thing."  Perhaps we should understand Jesus as saying, "We only need a simple one course meal so that you don't need to be so anxious about it, so you too can join Mary and listen."

In contrasting the lawyer with Mary and Martha, the lawyer is told to "Go and do."  Martha is told, "Stop and listen."  I think the intent of these stories happening sequentially is to avoid making a new law.  Like "You should always go and do."  There is also a time where "You should stop and listen."  Listen to Jesus, help our neighbor.  What is central is Jesus; his words and his actions, which means as followers we should both listen and do.  We take our cues from him.  Amen.

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

2017_02_26 Transfiguration Sunday, Messiah is both Light and Cross

Sermon Transfiguration Sunday, NL3, 26 February 2017
The Gospel lesson for Transfiguration Sunday is from the Gospel of Luke the 9th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.

 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.

 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.

 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not."

 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here."

 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,

 44 "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands."

 45 But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

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 Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It's funny how you can remember certain conversations from when you were a youth and also what you don't remember about them.  I remember talking with one of my pastors as a youth, I don't remember which one.  It could have been Pastor Barnwell, Pastor Braafladt, Pastor Knudsen, or Pastor Wold.  In any event, I remember him saying that you could preach on just a single verse of scripture, you could even preach on a single word of scripture.  That impressed me.  I may have asked him if he could preach on the word THE.  I am sure he said yes.  So...I'm not going to do that.

But one phrase from today's reading has stuck in my mind.  It comes from verse 44.  "Let these words sink into your ears..."  Let them sink into your ears.  They sink in but they don't come out.  It's a way of saying, "Remember this, it's important."  And what follows, that should sink into our ears is that "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands."  Which sounds ominous, though vague.  What does that mean?

When we have a question like that it is helpful to search the surrounding scripture to see if the answer has been given or further hinted at.  As we search backward from verse 44 there is the healing of the man's only son from a demon, Jesus and his three disciples come silently down the mountain, Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, Jesus and three disciples go up the mountain to pray.  Then we run into this phrase from verse 28, "...after these sayings..."  Hmmm.  More words that we should pay attention to have been said.  Continuing further back we find that Jesus again speaks of bad things that will happen to him, but now in some detail.  Just what we were looking for!

After praying, Jesus asked his disciples who other people said that he was.  The crowds did not know the truth saying they thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life, or perhaps Elijah, the precursor to the coming Messiah, or perhaps another prophet from ancient times.

Then he asked his disciples directly, "Who do you say that I am?"  Peter spoke for the group. "You are the Christ of God."  Jesus warned them not to tell this to anyone.  Peter got it right but didn't know the full impact of his confession.  There was something about the Messiah that Peter did not know and could not at first understand.  So Jesus told him the words that should sink into their ears, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."  This is what it means to be "betrayed into human hands" from Verse 44.  The problem is that these things were not in the commonly understood job description of the Messiah.

Look also at the symmetry of this narrative.  There is silence as they ponder new information about the Messiah in verses 21 and 45.  There are words of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection in verse 22 and betrayal into human hands in verse 44.  There is going up the mountain to pray in verse 28 and there is coming down the mountain wondering what they had just seen in verse 37.  In the middle there is this wonderful, mysterious, incredibly bright Transfiguration of Jesus into his divine appearance as he speaks with the famous ancient leaders of the faith, Moses and Elijah (proving he can't be either of them as some people thought).  In this symmetrical pyramid we have the complete Epiphany of Jesus.  He is the brilliantly lit divine being.  He is the rejected Messiah of suffering, death, and resurrection.

As an aside, I can't help but notice the parallels of some events surrounding today.  Last Friday there was a Memorial Service here following the death of David Brown.  This coming Saturday there will be a Memorial Service here following the death of Vicki Brewer.  Between them is today, Transfiguration Sunday.  In the center of dying, both of the predictions of Jesus death and the death of people we know, there is the brilliantly alive and Divine Jesus, in a living conversation with two of those who died centuries before.  No wonder the three disciples who witnessed this were speechless on their way down the mountain.  How could they adequately describe such a luminous event and who would believe them anyway until after Jesus was resurrected, when it would all make sense.

But returning to those words that are to sink into our ears; words of Jesus' torture and death.  Can't we just forget about them and concentrate on the good times of his resurrection and ascension?  Apparently not.

Immediately after Jesus first informed his disciples about what was coming for him he told them what that would mean for them and what it means for us centuries later.  The words that should sink into our ears include not only Jesus' painful near future but our response.  We are not to forget that because of what Jesus went through, his followers, including us, have something similar to do.

And this is what he said starting at verse 23, " 23 Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?  26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Luke 9:23-26 NRS).

Here we have echoes of the Great Commandment.  We are to love the LORD our God with ALL of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  That is the same as completely denying self and daily taking up your cross and following this LORD God whom you love.  There is a total dedication in this call to follow Jesus that is difficult for us to accept, let alone obey.  Love of God and of neighbor and following Jesus must fall far ahead of loving self.  And that is so hard to do.

It might be helpful to think about what this does not mean.  It does not mean dealing with the difficult stuff that happens in life - disease, wayward children, addictions, politics, world events, natural disasters, pain, or personal failures that we often call our crosses to bear.  This is not martyrdom.  This is not the cross-bearing that Jesus is referring to.

This cross bearing is daily denial of self in the service of God in meeting human needs.  This cross is not sought after or pursued, but it comes.  And when it comes it will be costly, there will be a price to pay, there may be pain and hurt but when it comes.  In the service of and in obedience to the LORD God, we are to pick up this cross and carry it.  This is the Good Samaritan who dropped everything and at his own expense helped a wounded and dying stranger who likely would not have spoken to him on the street.  This is Jesus leaving the glory of heaven to live and die at the hands of his creation.  This is as simple as buying food, opening a door, visiting the sick, helping with homework, praying with someone, or as difficult as donating an organ, or a car, helping the stranded, breaking up a fight, serving as a police officer, firefighter, or military service member or serving as an overseas missionary.  This is losing the world and gaining your life.  This is being unashamed of Jesus.  This is the all-in discipleship that Jesus calls us to live.  This is following Jesus.

As one Bible commentator put it, Jesus demands "that we think habitually of others and occasionally of ourselves."  "It is a demand for radical re-orientation of our lives."  And if we were to simplify this demand so that it would sink into our ears and stay there, we could say that Jesus calls us to a life of "self-denial, bearing one's cross and obedience."  Deny self, bear your cross and obey.  In doing so we would be doing what Jesus first did.  Our leader, our head, the one we love with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength did it first and calls us to follow.  But he does not leave us alone, because alone we could do none of these things.  Jesus breathed into us his Holy Spirit and through that Spirit we are given the strength to deny self, carry our cross and to obey.  Let those words sink into our ears too.  Amen.

I think I feel ready to preach on the word THE next week.

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