Three’s Company – A Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday

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         How easy it is for adults to ignore, gloss over, or to block out some of the pressing questions of faith of youth?  Even to say “I don’t know” is so much better than some flippant or derisive answer.  Today is one of the weird Sunday’s in the church calendar known as ‘Holy Trinity” Sunday. It’s a Sunday in which we come face-to-face with a mystery; the mystery of Almighty God.  Like the children who are trying to wrap their young minds around the concept of God, we too have questions about the Trinity.  Who is God?  Where is God? What is God doing?

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Frederick Buechner, who always has something witty to say about the Christian faith, describes the Trinity in his classic book, “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC” describes the trinity in this fashion: 

If the idea of God as both Three and One seems far-fetched and confusing, look in the mirror someday. There is (a) the interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to (the Father). There is (b) the visible face which in some measure reflects that inner life (the Son). And there is (c) the invisible power you have in order to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit). Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and invisibly the one and only you.”

          This is one the days in the church year to ask these questions.  Our appointed readings give us a sense of what God is like.  You might say a glimpse of the Trinity; for we see Jesus, the Son of god, speaking of his father and of the unseen power of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are interested in searching for God, John’s Gospel gives us an unusual perspective.

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         Meet Nicodemus.  You know this story well.  Nicodemus is a man whose questions may have been squashed at one time or another, but he is curious about God.  He has searched for God, and went to one person whom he thought could give him a couple of answers, (or most likely more questions!)  Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews go to talk about God to Jesus by night.  No one of his social significance would take the chance of being seen with a rebel teacher. But Nicodemus was curious, so he meets with Jesus in the dark of night.

         You’ll note in verse 2 of the reading Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”  Nicodemus pointed to the signs that Jesus did as evidence of his identity.  Without even asking a question, Nicodemus heard an unexpected answer about entering the kingdom of God.  “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Jesus tells Nicodemus. 

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         New birth is the entrance into the kingdom of God.  And if it’s the entrance into the Kingdom, it must be pretty significant. To Christians, especially Lutherans, baptism is essential.  God may have other ways of bringing people into the kingdom, but if God does, the Bible doesn’t say.  Someone has said, “God has bound us to baptism, but he has not bound himself to it.”

         What is this kingdom into which we are baptized?  We know it’s not a place.  You won’t find it on a roadmap.  There are no billboards or road signs.  This kingdom is instead a matter of your heart’s allegiance.  God’s kingdom is found in the soul of every believer.  Outwardly to the secular world, the reign of God doesn’t exist.  The domain is invisible.  But the people of the reign are everywhere.  We are gathered here this morning into what we call the church or the body of Christ.  Baptism is God’s new birth, and it changes us and makes us ready to respond to God’s will. It gives us a fresh start, a new beginning. 

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         You and I make all kinds of new beginnings.  New school, new jobs, new marriage, or merely a fresh start to an old way. None of these brings us into God’s kingdom.  Only that which God provides can do it.  The Bible calls it Baptism, by water and the Spirit of God, it is God’s means to enter the kingdom.

         And baptism lasts forever because it is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the name of God in which we baptize. It is God’s grace that saves us- and that never wears thin.  No matter how old we are when it happens, in baptism, we come before the Trinity and receive grace upon grace.  God’s goodness comes to us, washes us clean, and saves us from death and the devil. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of the church has a large swimming pool with all kinds of kids floating around in the baptismal waters. 

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         Because every ministry we do in the name of Christ, we do from the waters of our baptism.  And our baptism isn’t a spectacle.  It is a sacrament featuring God – the Holy Trinity.  That means the spotlight is on God’s love and grace for us, each and every time.  And each of us can be part of the lighting crew that shines forth God’s love. Thanks be to God.

        

Life Interrupted: A Bad Thing?

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         Mystic Meister Eckhard once said, “To Grasp God in all things – this is the sign of your new birth.” Being in love with the ordinary and the sameness is the challenge to see God present in each and every moment. Each morning in the same place watching the rising of the son from the same house, hearing the same birds awaken, and to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different each moment is. That is the challenge that Eckhard speaks of; the problem to see God in the most ordinary moments, not in the moments of the magnitude of emotions.

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Martin Luther in his theology of vocation, to points at encountering the divine through our labors and occupations. Where we are called to serve and earn our living is the place where God meets us. It is our duty and delight..” so says the Eucharistic liturgy we seek to glorify God through both our household duties, work in the fields, and the humming of a song in our head. When we invite God into our labor, we begin to see how the most ordinary of job or task is actually serving others. Farmers in the combine all day are not just collect a check or harvesting corn when we grasp to understand this, we realize we are helping our neighbors by providing food and substance to a hungry world.

But we must recognize what we are doing at the moment. Otherwise, we will have faith to see God at work in all things. It’s so easy for us to miss as we are all distracted and unencouraged to look for God at work. But God is there.

That is the holy disruption that faced the disciples as they were trying to make sense of what happened to their teacher and Lord. The Living Lord disrupts them as they were huddled in fear and doubt to transform the moment. “Touch and See,” Jesus invites them to make this moment real. They want validation of what God has done and is doing through Jesus in spite of the world’s attempt to crush the power of the divine.

Lutheran Theologian and pastor in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes in his seminal novel, “Life Together”[1]

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.

God will constantly be crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass themby, preoccupied with our more important tasks. . . . It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them.

They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually, they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path.”

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And in the gospel, as the disciples stood in wonder at the Holy Disruption of Jesus dwelling and dining with them, that that is when they started to make sense of it. Jesus sets them straight on the law of Moses and the understanding of scripture and makes them the witness of God.

Isn’t it just like God to show up an unknown time and only after reflecting on the scriptures and the Word of God then we realize, like the disciples how God was working in our life? Discernment is a practice of discovery and it’s a practice that is done by having spiritual conversations with other people. Wondering what God’s call for my life is? Ask someone and share a conversation with them about what you believe you are being called into and then prepare for Jesus to be present in the conversation just like he was with the disciples following that first Easter.

We are a distracted people. If we are not thinking about God at work in the world, in our busy-ness, we will surely miss the moving of the Holy Spirit among us. But let me pose this question to you this morning.  What if, instead, of our spiritual lives becoming what amounts to just another thing we should do, what if what we learned to experience as a disruption is actually the Holy Spirit trying to grab our attention? Rather than viewing all outside interruption as the enemy of productivity and creativity, what if we considered our lives as expansive containers for the sake of the other? If we open ourselves to holy interruption, we may usher in newness, revelation, enlightenment, and story to inform our work and life in ways that otherwise would just not be possible.

Interruption Is God’s Invitation | Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/interruption-is-god-s-invitation (accessed April 16, 2018).

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What if we learned to understand that when God wants to break through and speak to our lives, but we are too busy, we acknowledge the moments of spiritual interruption and take the time to deepen our relationship. What I am suggesting is those holy interruptions are God’s invitation. God is inviting us to see him all around us, in the lives of others, in our conversations, in our serving those in need. Interruption is not merely a matter of our heart developing patience; it’s about experiencing real life. It is one of God’s ways of waking us up to what’s around us to see there’s more to be done than our self-appointed tasks for the day, as important as they may seem.

And there are many ways God might interrupt our lives. God might disrupt our life when we are called to share a portion of our time and resources with Christ’s church, or showing up to worship Christ in his church. Not for necessarily my own sake, but maybe my presence in worship will bring someone joy. God might interrupt our life by speaking up for what we believe and offering up testimony by how we live life and what values we hold. There are so many ways that God interrupts life and tries to capture our attention. Unfortunately, often times, so many brushes off the interruption and move along.

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Interruption is God’s enhancement of our craft and our work, and his tender way of encouraging his creatures to be a part of the kingdom come. Welcome the One who stood among the disciples and invited peace to be among them and be a witness for God interruption. Disciple our trying to tune out the call, God will keep interrupting each of our lives. What might God be trying to tell you?

Amen.  

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John W Doberstein, Life together: the classic exploration of Christian community, 2009.P. 23.

God’s Great Reversal – Matthew 20:1-16

I’m going to share a truth that we know is true, but for some reason, it’s easier for us to deny it.  The truth I’m speaking of is that sometimes life just isn’t fair.  It’s a reality that sooner or later we’re all going to face.  It’s best that we are learning this fact while you are in your first half of life than waiting until old age to discover this truth.  In fact, you can learn this truth in nursery school – Sometimes lives deals us lemons.

Sometimes that’s the way things happen, isn’t it?  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  So we learn to deal with the unfairness.  So, let me tie this life reality in with the Gospel text today.  It’s a crucial point that I don’t want you to miss in the text.  Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying that God isn’t fair for two reasons.  First, of all, because God doesn’t owe you and me anything at all.  Like Luther said on his deathbed, “It’s true.  We’re all beggars.”  And second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works.

Saying life is not fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair because God doesn’t owe us anything at all.  In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, the very opposite is correct.  We owe God everything:  our time, our talents, and our treasures.  The very life that lives inside each of us has been gifted to us; even the breaths that you take, the clothes on your back, the food that is prepared for you, even your health to some extent is a gift from God.   The simple fact is:  God doesn’t owe us anything.

As active disciples of Christ, we commit our lives to God.  We resist the urge not to show up or to sleep in on our Sunday morning to worship God.  We spend our hard-earned money and resources to support the work and ministry of our congregation.  We spend time in prayer and the study of Scripture when we could be golfing or some recreation.  Our confirmation students could do something with their one hour on Wednesday nights other than talking about faith formation.  You see, as active Christians, we follow Jesus, the landowner into the vineyard, where we are called to do the work of God.

For us, active disciples of Christ, things may not always seem the way we would like.  It doesn’t seem fair to us that some deserve God’s grace when they don’t even show up or participate.  We are the ones, after all, who’ve done most of the work, we tell ourselves.  The laborers in the parable that began picking the first hour of the day picked more grapes than those who started picking the last moment.  If that were to happen today, there would be an uproar; labor strikes and unions would lash out. It is only right that the reward for our work should be consistent with the time we put into our efforts.

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But this parable has nothing to do with economics, at least in the sense that we understand the economy.  It is not a description of how employers should treat workers.  It is, after all, a description of how God works in the kingdom of heaven.  God’s goodness may or may not be entirely understandable.  We don’t fully understand the grace of God.  And based on this parable, we may indeed think that God doesn’t operate fairly.

God’s not fair, according to our limited human reasoning.  In fact, if we put ourselves in the place of the laborers who started at sunrise or midmorning or even early afternoon, we have missed the point of the parable.  Jesus is the one who works from sunup to sundown.  Jesus is the one who has borne the burden of the day and heat.  Only Jesus has earned us salvation.  The grace is that God still calls us towards God’s self and gives us the full wage.   God offers you the promise of salvation, not because you have worked hard enough but because Jesus has done it for you.

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God gives us more than we can ever earn.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin are death, but it is God who gives life.  The laborers in the vineyard all received a full day’s pay regardless of the hours they worked.  We have all been given salvation, irrespective of the sins we’ve been under.

And perhaps even more remarkable is that God has entrusted us to do God’s work.  In baptism, we’ve been given the work of a lifetime, and at the table, God renews us and then sends us out as labors to plant the seeds of God’s word, to speak to those who have never heard and to proclaim the word anew to those who have fallen away.

ripe-47423__480.jpgRemember that the kingdom of heaven is a gift, and in a way, we’re all latecomers, aren’t we? In Christ, it’s never too late to come home to the mercy of God. Thanks, be to God.  Amen.

 

 

Gaining God’s Favor? – Luke 18:9-14

As a parent, I often find myself encountering a situation I’d like to use as a learning example of “what-not-to-do-when-this-happens”.  Maybe you, too, know of similar situations, using the actions of others as a teaching example.

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Touching a hot stove can be dangerous to your child’s health.  Please don’t let your children touch hot objects.

If you touch the hot stove you will get burned.” This style of trial-and-error suited me well in my growing years.  I’m one who learns through experiences – positive and negative.   Those days are over, at least in this stage of life, and now I certainly learn more for negative situation than those that reward.

Yet, even still, as I’ve mature in my many facets of life, I learned to question what I’ve held onto to be true.   Particularly has I’ve grown to understand that:

  • The world doesn’t revolve around me.
  • Other people’s experience is just as important to my self-understanding as my own

What is regarded as truth for me might not exactly ring true for the other.

Jesus tells a parable about folks who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others as being wrong. Two men, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector are in the temple to pray.

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The Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.

This is a parable from which we can glean much.  WE all have some well protected pocket of self-righteousness deep down in our self that reassures us of our personal worth and merit.  A certain level of ego is healthy, but when we are true self is shadowed by the mask of our ego, life becomes false and untrue.  Not wrong, but untrue.

So this parable is attractive because Jesus shares a rejection of the absolutes by which the Pharisee is defined. The Pharisee displays a one-dimensional spirituality expressed through the obedience to the Law, and at the opposite side of the scale is the tax collector, a person who admits he has fallen short of the glory of his creator and prays for God’s mercy as he is a shamed sinner.

As much as we are conditioned to understand the Pharisee as the one who will be rejected, it is really the tax collect we should expect Jesus to condemn. Even though he was despised and considered low on the morality scale of Jews, as a fellow Jew he would have every right to be in the temple that day.

Jesus parable illustrates that God commends people who come to God for forgiveness. And that a surprise, because we, the readers, assume that it would be the Pharisee who is the righteous one, and Jesus shocks us we he explains that the despised tax collector is the one who, through his prayer of mercy, displays an attitude of humility and gratitude towards the Lord.

I saw a meme on Facebook this week that said, “People come to worship every week to see Jesus and we give them religion.”  The problem with religion is that it is based on figuring out how we good we are when we try to measure ourselves with the Law.   We try to prove how good we are by using a negative index.  “Thou shall not do this… or that”.

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Lutheran don’t understand the Law in this regard, we know the Law points us to our Savior– Jesus Christ, but Lutherans would never suggest we should self-justify ourselves by the Law, but only to the Light of Jesus Christ.

So then we attempt, like the Pharisee, to show how good we are by a positive index.   We examine our week by the good things we’ve done like:  I gave money to the Boy Scout, I helped hold the door for someone who was physically impaired, or…. Some other good dead. I mean, come on Jesus, for me to be right (or righteous) doesn’t someone else have to be wrong (or wretched)? I go to church, I put something in the offering plate most weeks, I serve on a committee or two, and when I have extra time I volunteer to serve those less fortunate. I clean up pretty well compared to most folks, don’t I? Surely I pass the righteousness sniff test in a world filled people who complain and don’t offer much.

And then we can judge our character by comparing ourselves to those who appear sinful.  We tell ourselves, “Well, I would never say such things about him.”  Or, “Can you believe she runs her mouth like that?”

But here’s Jesus’ point in the parable about being justified… Jesus says, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exulted.”  To receive God’s mercy requires that we can’t make it alone, regardless of how “religious” we might be.  We need Jesus.  Plain and simple.

Jesus rejoices in the very worst of us who reach out in humility for God’s forgiveness. To be affirmed as good we must act with humility, otherwise the opposite of what we hope for will happen.

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‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I mentioned to you that when you come to worship God you should see Jesus.  So, what might this parable look like tomorrow (Monday morning) when you go back to work?   First of all, Jesus says we don’t need to be perfect by putting on airs or falsities.  You are created by God for a purpose and know that we are all with faults.  There’s not a single one of us who are perfect.  Stop trying to be!  Admit that you are standing in the need of God to help pilot your life. Be honest to yourself about who you are and your own need to repent for living a false life. It’s ok to take off your mask, God knows who you are and still loves you!

God’s upside down kingdom requires that to be affirmed to others we must act with humility.  Draw the circle wider to include those “other people”—thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors.

Prepare to be amazed at how God can redeem and exalt the brokenness of others (and you!).  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“The Good Things of Life”-Luke 16:19-31

I’ve been a reading blitz this year….and it’s not been work related!  It’s rare that I get a quiet moment to myself. Reading for the sake of reading, only.   It’s hard for me to find a novel that I want to read, and when I do, I’m hooked. As in, “I can’t put the book down.”  The lasted book I’m hooked on is a wonderful story entitled, “Homegoing”.  It’s a story that traces the lives of two African half-sisters who were caught up in the slave trade of the mid-18th century.

One sister was married off to the commander of the British Slave company who worked with the local people to sell the slaves and the other sister was sold into slavery.  It’s a wonderful, intense story as it develops the details of the two sisters and their families in a way that, although fiction, it certainly and quite plausibly is indeed historically accurate.

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Homegoing” The book I’m currently reading by Yaa Gyasi. 

The sister who was married off into the British officer lived a life of luxury in the court, while her sister sold into slavery lived in the dungeon beneath her as she was shipped off to the Americas.

 

The premise of the story is the story Jesus tells about the Rich ruler and the poor man, Lazarus in our text.   Like the book I’m reading, the parable of the rich man is heavy.

 

But not without reason.

 

How do we hear the truth of the parable?   What will it take to convince us that there is wisdom in this parable.  It’s something that we wrestle as those who are like the first sister in the novel “Homegoing” we all here have been blessed with, as Jesus describes, “The good things in life.”

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So, this parable for us should awaken us to the peril facing us, when by the world’s standards, we have arrived with the finer things in life.

 

Let’s talk about money.  We talked a little about giving last Sunday and I mentioned you can only do three things with your money:  you can spend it, save it, or give it away. Money is not dangerous or evil.  Money is only a tool.  But here’s where the danger comes in, it’s what we do with our resources, or perhaps more appropriately, what our resources do to us.   The Bible isn’t clear about what the rich man sin was about.  Only that it is implied the rich man never saw the poor man, Lazarus lying at his gate.

 

Jesus is trying to shock his listens with a different twist to what was expected to be heard.  They believed that riches were a sign of God’s approval and reward.  They also believed that sickness and poverty are a result of God’s punishment.   Not really much different that some of the theology that we hear in our culture is it?

 

Yet, we come hear from the prophet Amos, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” And then Jesus pricks us with words that we really don’t want to hear.  His words reverse our expectations and shifts us from complacency to action.

 

Fact is if you know about Luke’s gospel and Jesus as the one who is Good News to the poor, you aren’t really surprised by this tough passage.  Jesus mission statement as record all the way back in Luke 4 was that “the spirit of the Lord anointed him to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives.” (lk4:18).

 

The danger for us is that we can become so smug with the good things in life, that we overlook the poor right outside our door.

 

So, the question that lies before us is will we heed the danger signals?  Will we look with our spiritual eyes upon the world as Jesus sees?  And will we respond in faithfulness to the needs of the world.

 

The question still haunts us, is it a sin to be wealth?   What was the sin of the rich man in the story?  Was it because he was wealth? His sin was that he had an “I” trouble.  Not eye trouble that is treaded with glasses or contacts.  His eye trouble was that he wasn’t able to look beyond his own nose.  He could not see the world beyond himself, beyond his own desires, beyond his needs, wants, or even “deserves”.

 

So his sin was what he did with his resources.  The sin here is not how much was in the bank balance, but that there were blinders that kept him for seeing the needs of those around.  The danger with any of us our wealth seduces us into thinking of our personal wants and into thinking that things can satisfy our spiritual desires. Or, that our believing in our possessions can provide our identity.

 

So, what will it take to convince us?

 

We have the scripture to point us to what God desires for us.  Rest assured, we have the needy at our gate:  people who are poor, hungry, oppressed, and those who have yet to hear and understand the gospel message.

 

What will it take to convince us?  Convince us of who we are in the parable? Convince us of our own blessings? Of our need to share?

 

It is the generosity and unconditional love and grace of God that gives us life and identity.  It is the generosity and unconditional love and grace of God that satisfies our souls.  It is the generosity and unconditional love of God that seeks justice for us as God’s grace calls and empowers us to live out our true identity while seeking the needs of the world. 

 

It is the generosity and unconditional love of God and grace of God that gives contemptment with what we have, meaning and hope for our lives, rich or poor.

 

Are you convinced?

 

 

“Lost No More” – Luke 15:1-10

 

There is a lot of depth to all the readings this morning.  This morning’s parable comes to us from the most theologically rich chapter in Luke’s gospel.  It’s a parable that Jesus tells to illustrate God’s mercy is found not only with the “insiders” but also the “outsider” as well.

In this chapter, I am always struck by learning something that I either didn’t realize with a previous study, or knew and kind of forgot.   Today, we hear two of the three parables from Luke 15, the third we heard in March – it’s the beloved parable of the Prodigal Son.  This week, however, we heard the two other parables that precede the Prodigal Son.

The first parable Jesus tells is more a question than a story.  Jesus asks his audience, “Which of you, having 100 sheep, losing one, doesn’t leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”  And when he finds it he returns to his neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”  It’s implied that the answer will be, “yeah, I’d go out looking for a sheep because there is value in not having all my sheep. I’ll miss even one if it’s not there.

And then in a second parable, Jesus conveys a woman, who having 10 silver coins, losing one in the house, lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches until she finds it.  Again, Jesus is asking a question to which the expected response from the audience is “yes.”  And when the women finds the lost coin, she says to her neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.”

Finally, we receive Jesus’ point: “I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

The message for those gathered immediately around him was that every single person matters to God in the same way that every single sheep and every single coin matters.

Part of the reason parables are fun to study is because of the different interpretations that are possible in the story.  My first question, I ask myself, when studying a parable of Jesus is, “Who is God in the parable?” Secondly, I ask, “Who am I?”

In the parable of the lost sheep, the Shepherd symbolizes God. While shepherding in Old Testament times was a respected vocation, by the first century shepherds were right up there with other despised trades like tax collectors. Jesus responds to the criticism over his acceptance of the despised tax collectors and “sinners” by telling a story that casts God in the role of the despised shepherd! It’s not at all what the tax collectors and the sinners would expect to hear from Jesus, really.

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Life’s lonely when you go at it alone.

And then in the story of the lost coin, who plays God? The woman! Another equally unlikely character that would have been unexpected.

Here’s the deal, implied in these stories Jesus tells this group of unwanted people who have screwed up, or been outcast, that God cares about each person who loses his or her way. Everyone has value. The shepherd and woman are desperate to find what they’ve lost and God feels just as strongly.

Jesus says — I know there are people who will write you off, not eat with you, not touch or talk with you, shun you, hurt you, judge you and cut you down, but God isn’t like that. God wants to help find you, bring you back to yourself and into a relationship with the Divine and celebrate. God wants you to stop walking the path that takes you away from fullness of life and turn around!

The word we translate as “repent” really meant to turn around.

As for the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, Jesus lets them know that they are even more lost because they have forgotten to love. They have forgotten compassion and are stuck in the law and so draw further and further away from God. Jesus essentially says to them, “God is not writing these people off like you are. God is not judging them and shunning them, ignoring them, refusing to eat with them or be seen with them. God loves them… now what is your problem?”

Here is a wonderful little parable from the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary that seems to apply so well to the Pharisees who would rather hold people in their “lostness” instead of lifting them up and celebrating when they are found and back on the right track.

 

A Jewish story tells of the good fortune of a hardworking farmer.

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The Lord appeared to this farmer and granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received a hundred cattle, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbor had received more than he. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept. (NIB, Luke, p. 298)

 

Why do we want to have more than others? Be better than others? Why don’t we recognize the inherent value in every person? Why are we so quick to judge? And, why do we prefer to then hold people in that judgment? Why don’t we care when some get lost over and over again? Who are we as a faith community and as individuals who follow the teachings of Jesus? And what is our purpose? It seems like these are all really good questions for today.

 

God’s grace and mercy are extended to all. Sure we all want to claim that God has been merciful to us and we want justice for the “other” but the parable Jesus tells calls us to celebrate with God that God’s mercy has shown forth to, not only to us, but to others as well.  Even to those who, we would deem, not welcome to connect with us.

“Poor AND Generous?” A Sermon based on Luke 12:13-21- The Parable of the “Rich Fool”

When Dave Hanson and I visited our companion congregation in January, I was most impressed by the warmth of our companion’s hospitality.   Seriously.  We’ve got lots to learn about being hospitable to one another in our culture.  And the thing you should know is that I’m not talking about the kind of hospitality that cost a lot of money, or fame and fortune, or even about glory.  The hospitality that we were shown was more about caring and focused on receive a guest that was honored and valued. Never once, did I carry a bag on my shoulder; in fact, from the second we were greeted by our host, we received directions to hand over our bags and to take our place in the Toyota Land cruiser and off we went.

The Tanzanians are a people who are both formidable and inviting, caring and tough.   It was good to be invited into their homes and experience their culture for a few weeks.

And here’s what Dave and I observed when we went to each of the 9 sub parishes.  As we were invited into the homes of the people who don’t have much (by our standards), we were treated like kings.   And the funny thing was:  the poor the people we visited, the larger and the great gift we received.

So, we went to a remote village called Kurumba and after week met with the local parish, we walked to a nearby home where we sat and enjoyed a meal of stewed goat and rice and Coca-Cola and conversation with our guest. As the men were seated at the table and the women were washing the dishes, the daughter of our host brought in a box and set it under the table.  It noticed this took place but didn’t think much about it until we got up to leave some 30-45 minutes later.

As we were preparing to jump into the Land cruiser, the woman who initially brought in the box, came up to me and Dave and offered the box to us.  As she motioned to hand us the box, it begins to shake and cluck.  We opened the top, and to our surprise, the guest had given us a gift of a duck and chicken.

Now, to us, this sounds silly.  But to our guest, this was a sign of great respect and honor.   They had given us what surely was a banquet to them.  They only had so many chickens and ducks to eat.   It’s not like they could travel to the nearest Hy-Vee and go to the meat counter for a neatly trimmed whole roster.

So, getting back to our companions, I left the small village of Kurumba with tears welling up in my eyes.   It was a moment of beauty.   A moment in time when a white man and African woman were caught up in a common humanity. And just like that, it was back on the road to the town of Kihirio where our host took the duck and the chicken and put them to good use.   I’m really not sure who ended up with the livestock, but I know that nothing goes to waste in their culture.

So, this is the image that is left in my mind as Jesus tells a parable about a fool rich person, who the bible describes as being “greedy.”  Then Jesus issues a warning, “Be careful! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of possessions.”

Fact is, our greed and consumption is a never-ending cycle of acquiring more and more stuff.  So much so, that the man in the parable thinks to himself, “Hmmm.  I’ve got so much stuff, what should I do with it all?”  So he builds himself larger grain bins and stores up stuff for he and his family.

Doring-greed
Miser” by Doring.  Vanderbilt Divinity School

But, here’s the thing we need to know, and what Jesus is trying to point out by telling this parable, and that is just this:   all this stuff we have just stands in the way of our relationship with what truly matters – and that is our relationship with the source of life, God.

The man’s soul was demanded that night and he was caught off guard because he wasn’t rich with God. And then we come to Jesus’ point in verse 21, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

So, what exactly was this “fools” recklessness? The bible really never answers that question.  His follies are many, but let’s take a look and see.  What was it?

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Image of the “Fool”
  1. Preoccupation with possessions. Notice in the story that until the voice of God interrupts him, it is just the man and his possessions. His goods and possessions have become the sole purpose in his life.
  2. Security in self-sufficiency. Along with the preoccupation in his possessions, here’s a man who doesn’t need anyone else.   He thinks he can provide for himself and believes that what he has will last him for many years. He neglects the human need for community and the support of others and the security of God’s love.
  3. He’s caught up in a system of Greed. This is a person who isn’t self-aware.   The thought of others doesn’t even register in his head. He has no sense of responsibility to use his abundance for the commonwealth.  His greed has eaten away his compassion.
  4. Self-indulgence. “Eat. Drink. And be marry.” Is his mantra.

Sisters and brothers, here’s where God’s grace enters the story.

Remember that Jesus tells this parable in response to a request to settle a will. Someone wants Jesus to decide how distribute the property.

What will we leaving behind when we are no longer around?   What’s our legacy gift?  If fighting over material possessions is all that’s left after we die, did we really live in the first place?

There are parents whose legacy to their children is a good character, strong values, a love of the Lord. All this man left his sons was a pile of stuff and a bitter family fight.

Maybe the good news for many of us here this morning is that all this stuff {on the board} doesn’t matter.   You have come to this place of worship  this morning knowing that Jesus isn’t going to offer you an investment plan and create a perfect life where you will be healthy, wealthy and wise.   Jesus just doesn’t do that sort of thing.  You already know that.

Simply put- you have come to be with Jesus.   You have come here, not primarily to get something out of Jesus, but because you love him. We come here searching for a word of life from Jesus and we are willing to listen to him, to examine our lives, and to bend ourselves to the will of God. 

At the end of the day, Jesus’ wisdom and grace teaches us what is worth living for and he shows us what we need to let go in order to become whole before God. The good news is, we have a savior who loves to teach, to save fools like us.  Amen.

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God’s good news  – You won’t be needing your “stuff” anyway!  Let it go!