GLC in Lent

GLC in Lent

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017_02_05 Epiphany 5 Jesus Walked the Talk

Sermon 5th Sunday of Epiphany, NL3, 5 February 2017

The Gospel lesson for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany is from the Gospel of Luke the 7th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 7:1 After Jesus1 had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.

 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.

 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.

 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him,

 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us."

 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;

 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.

 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it."

 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

 11 Soon afterwards1 he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.

 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."

 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"

 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus1 gave him to his mother.

 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"

 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

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.

We've all recognized the "Do as I say, not as I do" leader haven't we?  And there's the old maxim, "RHIP, Rank Has Its Privileges."  Sometimes we don't want to talk about this because it requires us to look in the mirror and perhaps not like what we find.  Better is someone who not only "Talks the talk but walks the walk."  This one tends to adhere to the rare saying, "RHIR, Rank Has Its Responsibility."  This is the kind of leadership that Jesus lives.

The Gospel of Luke is intricately written.  The narrative weaves from story into story, into story to meet Luke’s objective of having the "certainty concerning the things we have been taught." (Luke 1:4 ESV) about Jesus.  Today's Gospel reading is a good example.  We take up our Bibles to the last half of Luke chapter 6.  After Jesus prays all night then selects 12 of his disciples to be apostles he preaches what is known as the Sermon on the Plain.  In this sermon we hear, "Love your enemies and do good."  "Do good to those who hate you."  "Bless those who curse you."  "Pray for those who abuse you."  "Give to anyone who begs of you."  "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." and the Golden Rule, "As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."

As those words begin to sink in to his disciples, Jesus is confronted by the request of a Roman Centurion.  Now when we and the first Christians who heard Luke's Gospel hear the word centurion we remember there was a centurion present when Christ was crucified.  He oversaw Jesus' beating and the mockery of him.  There is no love lost between the Jewish citizenry and Roman centurions.  Would it be a strange twist of fate if this centurion was the same one who put Jesus on the cross?  We will never know.

But this centurion seems different.  He first sent Jewish elders to make a request and plead his case to Jesus.  The elders said that he is worthy to have Jesus come and heal the centurion's slave.  “Look at all of the things he has done for us!  He's friendly, he built our synagogue.”  But worthy?  Is anyone worthy of Jesus' attention?  Regardless, Jesus went with them.  As he approached the centurion's house another delegation arrived, this time friends of the centurion.  They brought an unusual message.  "I am not worthy."  The centurion knew about worthiness.  He has looked into the mirror and knows what he sees.  "Don't come into my house.  I know what that will mean to you.  You will be unclean because you have stepped into the house of a gentile.  You don't need to do that. Merely say the word and permit my servant to be healed.  Give your permission and my servant will be healed."

Jesus was astounded by this message from the centurion.  Apparently of all of the healing that he has done no one had expressed this kind of faith, this understanding of the relationship between man and God.  No one is worthy, yet all may ask.  Only the word is needed.  The word of God created all of creation.  The word of God can heal, even at a distance, even out of sight of the one healed.  The request is made not even knowing whether it would be heard or acted upon.

In his action of healing, Jesus walked the walk after he talked the talk in his Sermon on the Plain.  To the first Christians who heard this Gospel they heard that the power and authority of Jesus is present even when Jesus is no longer physically present.  Who else do we know that has faith in Jesus based only upon the witness of others?  Who has never seen him and yet learn to have faith in him?  You and I perhaps?

The second part of our reading today is meant to compare and contrast with the healing of the centurion's slave.

A powerful Roman centurion made a request for healing of his slave.

A powerless widow wrapped in grief at the death of her only son made no request.

A delegation came to Jesus from the centurion.

Jesus interrupted the funeral crowd.

Jesus did not speak to the slave and the slave was healed.

Jesus spoke to the dead son and he returned to life and began to speak.

Jesus was amazed at the faith of the centurion.

The crowd was amazed being in the presence of God.

Jesus had compassion for the slave and for the widow.

In both cases the authority of Jesus is confirmed.  It is part of his Epiphany, his revelation to the world.  This first part of Luke's Gospel is all about finding out who this Jesus is.  He is revealed by his talk and confirmed by his walk.

The story of Jesus healing the widow's son is then woven into the second half of chapter 7 where John the Baptist sends a delegation to Jesus asking, "Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  Part of Jesus’ answer is that they should note what they have seen and heard.  They recall the writing of the prophet Isaiah saying that when God comes the blind will receive their sight, the lame will walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the poor will have good news preached to them.  John's disciples have seen and heard that Jesus has done all of this.  And if that were not enough for them to know that this is the One they are looking for, the dead are raised.

As Luke's gospel progresses we and his first reader's begin to know more and more who this Jesus is.  He fulfills those things expected when the Lord comes.  "Jesus is Lord" is what these healings proclaim.

About faith and healing there seem to be four options, only two of which are covered in this text.

With the centurion and his slave there is faith and there is the gift of healing.  This is what we often expect.  It is as it should be.  We ask in all faith and Jesus responds.  It's fair.

With the widow and the raising to life of her son there is no mention of faith and yet there is healing out of the deep compassion of Jesus.  This is the surprising case.  Jesus acts without our intervention or at our request, he just acts.  The dire situation of an individual is enough to move Jesus to action.

There is the case of no faith and no healing which is what happened when Jesus went home to Nazareth that we read about a few weeks ago.  Few believed and few were healed.  This case is also reasonable.  Why should Jesus heal when there is no faith?  When he doesn't heal in this case - it seems fair.

The difficult case is when there is faith, there is asking and yet there is no healing.  This case we know well and perhaps we ask the question why?  Why would Jesus heal in one case and not heal in the other when people of faith call on him?  This is the question and the contention of Job.  "Lord I believe, I have faith and you don't answer."  The difficult thing for us is that the LORD moves in the way that meets his will and desire.  This is a control and authority beyond us.  We don't know how to deal with this kind of freedom.  It is something we cannot control and influence.  It isn't like gravity that always works, and we can take advantage of that consistency and bend it to our will.  We cannot do that with God.  God gets to decide.  We don't.  He makes the rules and he can change the rules.  He retains all initiative for himself.  He cannot be manipulated by any of our claims of faith, good works, or worthiness.  From us there is righteous fear in the presence of ultimate goodness and power as we realize our weakness and unworthiness.

However, in the gap between our weakness and God's power, our unworthiness and God's goodness is where we find grace, another thing that is beyond our control.  God heals and does not heal both believers and non-believers every day out of his grace, compassion, and wisdom beyond our limitations to know or understand.  Often we give more credit for healing to our judicious use of exercise, diet, rest, motrin, drinking plenty of fluids, taking two aspirin and seeing the doc in the morning than we do to the grace from our Great Physician.  If only we would see God's hand in more things that happen in life.  We too would stand in awe like the crowds surrounding the formerly dead son and his mother.  We too would cry "God has visited his people!"

These stories of Jesus' compassionate healing and raising to life emphasize that Jesus continues healing and raising today because that is what he has already done in the past.  We rely on the unchangeable nature of a compassionate and wise God who should receive our thanks and praise in all circumstances, even beyond what we can see and know. 

Jesus holds the highest rank and yet he rejects his privilege and grasps a responsibility.  He talks the talk then walks the walk.  We could have no better example and friend.  Blessed be our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

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

2017_01_29 Epiphany 4 The Gift of Sabbath

Sermon 4th Sunday of Epiphany, NL3, 29 January 2017

The First Reading for 4th Sunday in Epiphany is from the 92nd Psalm.

NRS  Psalm 92:1 <A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day.> It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,

 3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

 4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

 5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!

 6 The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this:

 7 though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever,

 8 but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

 9 For your enemies, O LORD, for your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.

 10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil.

 11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

 13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.

 14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,

 15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

The Gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday in Epiphany is from the Gospel of Luke the 6th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 6:1 One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.

 2 But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?"

 3 Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?

 4 He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?"

 5 Then he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."

 6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.

 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.

 8 Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." He got up and stood there.

 9 Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"

 10 After looking around at all of them, he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was restored.

 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

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.

There are times in the history of the faith when cultures have clashed, or one has overrun another as they intersect and the practices of faith are challenged.  Generally the successful invader determines what the culture will be and imposes their own religious practices.  The Holy Land has a different story though.  When the Hebrew, former slaves took over the promised land of Canaan they instituted worship of the one true God for the most part.  But there were other successful invaders afterwards; the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and Romans.  But something different happened.  The nation of Israel survived the invasion with their faith intact.  There was a fierce rejection of the invading polytheistic religions.

It was due to people like the Pharisees who re-established the practices of the Hebrew faith in the One true God after Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls and the temple and re-implemented the laws of the book of Moses.  One of the main things was re-establishment of the holiness of the Sabbath.  This is written about in the last chapters of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Their message to the people was that the nation had been destroyed by God because the people had abandoned God's law and teachings.  This should never happen again.

Then Rabbis and scholars began to study the scriptures and further codify the laws from the Torah.  They began to answer the questions that arose that were not specifically addressed in the Torah.  A good example is the situation of Jesus' disciples walking through the grain fields.  The Torah permits travelers passing through grain fields to pick grain by hand and eat it.  They are forbidden from using a sickle and actually harvesting the grain - that would be stealing.  This is a good law.  But there is no mention about whether travelers could pick grain like this on the Sabbath.  What to do?

What happened was that picking became defined as harvesting which is work and rolling the grain in your fingers is thrashing also work.  Work is not to be done on the Sabbath so the law allowing one to pick and eat with the hands is forbidden on the Sabbath, regardless of whether the person is hungry.

The leaders of the faith become determined to maintain the faith and the cultural practices of faith.  The intent was good, to preserve the cultural and faithful way of life that was before.  The method was to impose ancient and ritual practices upon the people backed by the words of scripture.  Guilt and shame were piled high on those who do not obey; often excommunication or execution were next for those who did not fall in line.  Rebels can cause the whole system to fall apart and the glories of the past might be lost and surrendered to the invading culture.  Soon the demands of religion override the intent of faith.  Power resided in the Chief Priest, scribes, Pharisees, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops.

Then a Reformer arrives.  The Reformer is a rebel in a sense.  Using the very same scripture he points out the errors of a religion that intends to keep the ancient ways in practice but have actually lost their way.

Jesus was such a Reformer.  The People of Israel, being ruled by the Greeks and Romans with the Greco-Roman culture dominating the country had the Pharisees to try and keep the faith of their ancestors alive among the people.  They built up a collection of dos and don'ts to help keep the Israelite faith alive and be kept separate from the occupiers.  The rules were drawn from scripture and applied strictly.  As in today's reading both the requirement to only pick grain with your hands if you went through someone else's fields and not to work on the Sabbath were in scripture.  The rules were kept above the needs of people to eat.

Healing might be considered work and so healing was forbidden on the Sabbath.  “You could be healed any other day of the week, get healed then.”

But the Rebel Reformer Jesus presented another interpretation of the scripture.  Jesus recalled that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of mankind.  God created the Sabbath so that people and their animals and their workers could rest.  There is to be no 24/7 work week.  If God can rest so can his creation.  The underlying understanding is an enacted trust in God that he can and will care for you, so trust him and rest for one day out of seven.

The day of rest also reminded the people that they had once been slaves when they had to work 24/7 making bricks for the Pharaoh's massive building projects.  Slaves don't rest.  Free people do.  Resting is a sign of freedom.

When Jesus said, "The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath."  It meant that the Sabbath works for the Son of Man, it provides for the Son of Man, it gives the Son of Man what is needed, it is subservient to the Son of Man.  The Sabbath is for the benefit of humanity.  Not the other way around.  That means you can heal on the Sabbath.  You can do what is right for another human being or an animal immediately, even on the Sabbath.  We hear echoes of Martin Luther King Jr's call to all people, "It is always the right time to do the right thing" even on a Sabbath.

What if Jesus' saying was reversed, "The Sabbath was Lord of the Son of Man," then the rule of Sabbath would hold sway over the needs of people.  People would serve the needs of the Sabbath.  People could not do any kind of work.  They could not help one another.  They could not help their animals or their workers.  They could only rest.  This was the interpretation of the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus' day.  It was more important to follow the rules of Sabbath rest than to feed the hungry or heal the wounded.

This ruling remained in effect after Jesus and it cost Jewish people dearly.  When Rome destroyed Jerusalem around 70 AD, they picked a Sabbath as the day of the attack, knowing that the Jews would not fight on that day because it was the Sabbath day of rest.  The Jews were slaughtered as they stood around the temple courtyard.  No one would fight because that would break the Sabbath rule of not doing any work, and fighting Romans was certainly work!

The Reformer Jesus called the religious leaders and even us today to reconsider God's intent for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was a gift.  It was a gift of freedom.  It was a gift to people who thought you had to work 24/7.  If you wasted time resting, you might not have enough and you lived in terror of not having enough.  But the gift is that you will indeed have enough.  You will have enough and more than you expect.  But it is still a gift.  Which means you can use it as you like.  Sometimes you need to work, so work, especially if the work is for the good of someone else.  Most of the time though, take the gift and rest, contemplate the God who frees you from the slavery of non-stop motion. 

Jesus did not advocate doing away with Sabbath rest, it was his custom to go to synagogue on the Sabbath and teach.  He advocated also doing good on the Sabbath, not doing good goes against the Sabbath.

In a sense we are in a clash of culture today.  We still have people who remember the Blue laws, when every business was closed on Sunday.  It was an enforced Sabbath.  We also have people who have no idea what that even looks like.  They have always been able to do whatever they want on any day of the week.  It is the oddity to go to a restaurant on a Sunday and find it closed like Chick-Fil-A.  Isn't it somewhat irksome to find that we can't have what we want when we want it - even on a Sabbath?

Think of what has happened in the life of this church.  When it started in 1956 it was the only Lutheran church in town.  Then the group split to form another Lutheran church or churches.  The controversy over the screen was a clash of culture.  The split from the ELCA to join the LCMC was a clash of culture.  At the heart of each event was the question, "What is the true way to worship and interpret scripture?"  Even beginning a worship service on a Wednesday night is the result of the question of working or worshiping on the Sabbath and whether Sabbath is defined as a particular day of the week for all people regardless.  In each case the lesson from today's scripture is to recall God's intent for the law.  Does the rule of law override the gift of Grace embedded in the law?  How can we feed and heal as well as rest and worship since God would have us do both?

Look at our culture today.  What happens on a good snow weekend, or a good dirt bike weekend the activity weekend.  We bust out of town to get where we are going as quickly as we can.  Have as much fun as we can while we are there because time is too short and we might miss something awesome, then we hurry back home to be ready for work.  Don't get me wrong.  I am not against getting out and enjoying God's creation and doing fun stuff.  It is a good thing to do.  But if that is all we do then we return to being slaves of constant motion.  We set the gift of rest aside perhaps to be picked up at some other time...or not.

The issue today is not the ability to take a day of rest or not doing good on the Sabbath, the issue is that the gift of a day of rest is in competition with a day of recreation and activity.  A chance to worship your creator is placed against playing in the creation.  The danger is turning the gift of grace into a law as has been done in the past.  What needs to be realized is that the gift is not a gift to be hung on a wall as mere decoration.  This gift has lifetime spiritual benefits that can only be obtained when the gift is opened and used.  These benefits accrue with time and they result in changed lives.  The gift does no good setting on the table to be used on occasion when there is nothing else to do, the exception rather than the rule.

It is like all of the disciplines of a disciple, the benefits accrue with time and use and may not be noticed day-to-day but they will year-to-year.  Like watching a child grow or going to the gym, or practicing a hobby, or learning to play an instrument.  It was Jesus' habit for the Sabbath, we can trust his example as we follow in his footsteps.  May the LORD continue to bless your Sabbath, your day of good and your day of rest.  May you grow in the gifts of Grace.  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017_01_15 Epiphany 2 Who is he? Who are we?

Sermon 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, NL3, 15 January 2017

The Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany is from the Gospel of Luke the 4th chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

NRS  Luke 4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'"

 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.

 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;

 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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.

Who is that masked man?

That was the last line of nearly every episode of one of my favorite TV shows growing up.  The show usually involved a masked western lawman and his sidekick riding into a dusty town that was overrun by bad guys.  By the end of the show the masked man and sidekick had run the bad guys out of town, restored peace and order and rode off into the sunset leaving the townspeople wondering just who was that masked man.

Luke's gospel is answering the same question for his readers.  Who is this that John is born to prepare the way for?  Who is this that the angel prepares Mary for and gives the name Jesus?  Who is this that multitudes of angels shout "Glory to God in the Highest" for and send the shepherds in search for?  Who is this that the elder prophets Simeon and Anna proclaim praise to God for in the midst of the temple?  Who is this boy who holds his own in deep theological conversation with temple priests?  Finally a voice from heaven proclaims him his beloved Son "with whom he is well pleased."  Ah now we know.  But even the devil knows who this Jesus is.

But when Jesus returns to his hometown the people are confused.  "We thought this was Joseph's son.  How can a mere son of a carpenter preach like this.  How can he do these things in the other towns that we've heard about.  He never did anything like that here.  Who is this Jesus really?"

In Jesus' first sermon he declares that he is the expected Messiah, the Anointed One, who is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, who has come in fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah.  Well this is good news for the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the captive - probably most of the town.  But they are also in wonder at his speaking ability and what they really to see the things that he did in the other Galilean towns as he made his way back to Nazareth.  The implication from the text is that he had healed and perhaps cast out demons.  They wanted to see the good stuff.  They wanted to be wowed just like the people in the other Galilean towns.

Jesus was not inclined to acquiesce.  He reminded them of the famous prophets Elijah and Elisha who had passed over the starving and the lepers in the home country but had helped a couple of foreigners from Sidon and Syria.  By challenging their expectations of him, Jesus was fulfilling John the Baptist's prophesy about the Messiah.  That he would have a winnowing fork in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.   Would the people of Nazareth disregard his call and be worthless chaff to be blown away and burned or would they hear his word and be valuable grain that would be collected and made useful?  How would the people respond?  Would they recognize the mission of God to the forgotten and abandoned of society, repent and become people who also proclaimed freedom and good news and sight?  Or would they become offended.

The text tells us the outcome.  They tried to throw him off a cliff.  The time for Jesus' death would come three years in the future and for the same reason.  People were offended by the message of Jesus and who he said he was.  The people of Nazareth were like chaff so Jesus slipped away and went to other towns in Galilee.  There is no indication in Luke's gospel that he ever went back to his home town.

In Jesus' short sermon he indicated his mission while on earth.  It was a mission to the poor, oppressed, captive, and the blind and I think this includes both the physically poor, oppressed, captive and blind and those who are this way in spirit.  It is the same mission that God gave the Israelites throughout the Old Testament.  It is the mission he gives us today.

And so we must consider the question: would Jesus come to this church and preach to us testing us for our reaction.  Would he be looking for us to respond and like good grain fall and be gathered up as useful?  Or might we be blown away by the wind like chaff and be considered useless to him?  Would we answer his call to the poor oppressed, blind and captive here in Ridgecrest and around the world?  As good disciples would we follow his lead?

The difficult thing is to change.  Once we are satisfied with the way we are it is very difficult to change.  Inertia works spiritually as well as physically.  We might be enthralled with the message and the aim of Jesus' mission but when it comes to making the necessary personal changes...well...will we change?  If we get thrown up into the air by Jesus' spiritual winnowing fork...where will we land? here with the grain or there with the chaff?

Think of the things that are common for disciples to do. 

Disciples know what they believe and they share that belief.  They witness and humbly share their genuine personal faith.

Disciples have a working knowledge of the Word of God, the Bible and seek to learn more. 

Disciples know and use their gifts for ministry.  They are joyful and generous with their time, talents and treasure knowing that they are only thankful stewards of these God-given gifts.

Disciples are connected with the body of Christ where they worship, pray and love one another.

Disciples actively serve others.  Faith without works is dead.  They have surrendered their lives to Jesus.

Disciples make other disciples.  They produce rather than consume.  Self takes a back seat to the love of God and of others.

Jesus calls us to be disciples with something to do.  Each one of us is called to do these disciple things, and if we are not doing them than we are to grow in them.  Jesus calls us to make an all-in commitment.  The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die?"  Jesus demands our lives and we are to be expended in, with, and for the poor, oppressed, blind, and captive.  If we are not, than we are useless chaff, good only to be thrown into the fire and burned up.

What Christ gives is grace and what he has done has called us to be disciples.  Being a disciple is a gift of grace but it is costly.  Bonhoeffer put it this way,

"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our lives, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "you were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”

Like the people of Nazareth we should get uncomfortable when Jesus calls, but rather than try to run Jesus off a cliff we should humbly confess our unworthiness as disciples and begin to make changes. 

If we don't know what we believe - then it's time to learn so that we can share it.

If our knowledge of the Bible is weak - begin to learn.  There are many Bible studies available here that have seats available for many more disciples.

If we are not generous - reconsider how to become joyfully generous.  Do I live a thankful life and out of thanksgiving for what God has done, do I return to him a portion of the gifts of time, talent and money for the furtherance of his kingdom?

Do I worship regularly?  prayer routinely? spend time in fellowship with Christian friends?

How do I serve others?  Do I look for ways to be of service?  Do I gather others to help me be of better service to those that Jesus cares deeply for?

How am I in the process of making disciples?  It requires knowing people, feeling comfortable sharing faith and prayer, of teaching.  People are drawn to faith they are not coerced into it.

If we think we are chaff now, I don't think it is a terminal one-time sentence to the firepit.  Jesus continually calls us to repent and change our ways.  He wants us to become fruit and to bear fruit.  We can change.

The heroes in one of my favorite movies are these two lovable bad guy train robbers whose time finally runs out and they are relentlessly chased by a posse who has extraordinary talent and persistence.  After many close calls and escapes the heroes find they can't get away.  They keep looking behind them in amazement and wonder "Who are those guys?" 

What if our community looked at each one of us in wonder as we rode off into the sunset after doing good, "Who is that?"  And when they drove by this street corner they also wondered, "Who are those guys?"  By God's grace and our own effort we can become the answer to these questions, "They are simply disciples of Jesus."  Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017_01_08 Epiphany Sunday, Prepared and then What?

The Gospel lesson for the Sunday of the baptism of our Lord, his Epiphany, is from the Gospel of Luke the 3rd chapter.  Glory to you O Lord.

Pray:  Let thy Word be effective among us O Lord.  Let us become useful grain and good fruit that you gather to thyself.  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.

Today we are beginning to make a turn in the focus of our readings from the Old Testament to the New.  Starting last September we began reading in Genesis, then Exodus, 1&2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and the prophets Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, &Joel.  Now we are beginning a concentration on the Gospel of Luke that will take us beyond Easter.  Let me encourage you to read Luke’s Gospel and focus on its flow and the intent of his message.  Is it merely a narrative or a narrative with a message.  Having just celebrated Christmas we have read most of the first two chapters of Luke and now we begin with Chapter 3 which is the revelation or epiphany of our Lord Jesus.

NRS  Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,

In the first sentences of chapter 3 Luke sets the scene for what will follow by using the common method for marking an era of time.  He referenced those who hold political power in the world both in Rome, in Judea, Galilee, and in the Jewish Temple.  Time was marked by the year of the reigning Emperor.  Using a contemporary example we might say "In the last days of the Obama presidency, when Brown was Gov of CA, and Gleeson was a Kern County Supervisor, Breeden was Mayor of Ridgecrest, and Francis was Pope."  It's certainly easier to say in the year of Our Lord 2017 but obviously that reference could not be used back then.  Luke's point is that the events in Jesus' life occurred on earth, in a specific region, during a specific and recognized moment in time.  This really happened.  It was during this time that:

verse 2 - the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Luke reminds people of how the 'Word of God" came to the prophets of old.  The Word of God came to Jeremiah, to Isaiah, to Jonah.  The Word of GOD coming to John identifies John as a prophet.  But it is also a subversive word that came not to the halls of power in Rome or Jerusalem or Washington DC, but to a dusty prophet in the wilderness of far-off Judea.  The Word coming to a prophet in the wilderness challenges the palaces of human power.  It identifies a conflict.  Where is the real power in the world?  The word from an emperor in Rome or the Word of the LORD from a prophet in the wilderness?

 3 He (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

The Messiah is coming says the voice in the wilderness.  Everyone get ready, get prepared.  Get washed, get cleaned up, get baptized, remove obstructions and barriers that would prevent you from hearing the Word, the salvation of God is coming.  And people came into the wilderness to hear the Word of the God spoken by John.

 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

This is the hard preaching of a prophet.  "You offsping of poisonous snakes!  You children of black Mambas and Mojave Greens!  What do you think you are doing?  Who warned you to run away from the fury of God's wrath that is certainly coming?  Turn around people!  Quit going the way you are going.  Quit doing what you are doing!  You can't depend upon your ancestry to be declared good enough to escape the wrath.  God can make Christians out of these stones that will follow him better than you do!  If you don't start bearing fruit of a repentant spirit than you are going to be cut down and thrown into the fire that will never go out!  Do you people get it?"  That kind of preaching gets your attention doesn't it!  Not very complimentary is it?  It's scary.  We take offense.  "Brood of vipers" and cut down and "thrown into the fire."  Why would people go to the wilderness to hear such preaching?  But they went.  They asked about repentance.  "How do I do that?  How do I repent?"

 10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"

 11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

(softly)  John says, "You know the laws of old.  'Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.'  You who have enough and more, have an obligation to those who have none.  Caring for the poor is an act of righteousness and justice.  It is the performance of a duty, an obligation to God for those in need.  Just do that."

 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"

 13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

 14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

Even the most despised members of the community, the Jewish tax collectors and soldiers, who served the hated Roman occupiers, came and heard John preach and were convicted and sought to repent from their ways.  What shall we do they asked?  Surprisingly they were not chastised by John.  They were not told to stop being tax collectors or soldiers.  They were only commended to "Do your required duty.  Take nothing more.  Don't lie, don't cheat, don't badger or extort.  Just do your job."  This must have been pretty radical preaching and it made people stop and wonder who this John really was.

 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

The Messiah is coming...soon, with a winnowing fork in his hand.  He will toss the mixture of good grain and useless chaff that has been harvested into the wind.  The good grain will drop to the floor and be gathered up into the barns.  The useless chaff will be separated by the wind but it will also be gathered up and then it will be burned up.  It is a warning to the people.  You can be good grain or useless chaff, you can be gathered up to be useful to others or gathered up as useless waste and burned.  What's it going to be?

 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Good news?  How can this be good news?  Be good or be burned up? Brood of vipers?  An ax ready to cut down and burn up?  Are we sure it will be a good thing when the Messiah arrives?

 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done,

 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Then there are some who object to John's preaching.  Especially ones in power and who think they have every right to do whatever they want, even stealing their brother's wife.  They will not stand for public criticism especially from a lowly Judean prophet in the wilderness.  They will not repent and do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God or with anyone else.  They will exert their unlimited power and remove the irritating voice of the LORD and put it in jail where no one can hear it.  More details will come later in Luke's gospel.  But if the Word of the LORD rebukes me what should I do?  If I repent and do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with my God then the good news has come to those who need to hear it and know it - the ones who have no coat, who have no food, who are no longer ripped off by the powerful.  The good news is doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with our God.

 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Finally we are prepared, finally we get to meet Jesus.  Everything before now has been preparation, just as John was called to do.  John called people to seriously repent and get prepared.  But who is the Messiah?  John didn't know.  He knew it wasn't himself.  He knew his job was to prepare the way, to get people prepared by repenting, to start doing things differently.  Jesus came quietly in the crowd, unobtrusively, unidentified and was baptized along with the brood of vipers.  Then he began to pray.  And while he was praying the heavens were opened and he was joined by the Spirit and the Father.  It's as if his baptism was a necessary step for Jesus' own preparation for his ministry as the expected Messiah.  And the Father was pleased.  The Spirit joined in and we have Jesus' Epiphany, his revelation. 

This is the beloved Son of God.  By everything he has done and everything he will do the Father is pleased.  The way Luke wrote it, the voice spoke only to Jesus.  We cannot determine whether anyone else heard the voice or knew of whom the voice spoke.  But Luke identifies for us and reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God.  The emperor in Rome is not, the governor is not, the rulers of the region are not, the high priests in Jerusalem are not.  The Son of God came not to palaces and privilege but to the poor and the pitiful.  He came to you and to me.  He calls us to repent, to live a new way of life, to bear fruit and be good grain for the benefit of our neighbors and to glory of the Father.  Jesus came and that is good news for all.  Amen.