Tag Archive | Luke

3rd Sunday of Easter, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, year A, preached 4/30/17

first reading:  Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

second reading:  1 Peter 1:17-23

There are times in our lives when we’ve all faced disappointment.  Deep disappointment.  Sometimes that disappointment is also accompanied by a loss of hope.  I think I can safely assume that most of us also have gone through periods of hopelessness.  I know I have.

Disappointment and hopelessness can lead to profound grief over what “could have been.”  But grief can also lead to disappointment and hopelessness.  Grief can be the cause or the result.

For our disciples this morning, grief was the cause.  This was just a few days after the crucifixion.  They had lost Jesus.  They had been in Jerusalem, where just the week before Jesus had entered triumphantly to “Hosanna’s.”  A week before, filled with hope.

Now they were leaving, filled with grief.  And this grief wasn’t only for the loss of a teacher.  This was grief for what they had hoped Jesus would bring to their people.  As they would tell the “stranger” walking with them, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

They “had” hoped.  Hope in the past tense.  Hope gone.  They were grieving the loss of Jesus, but they were also grieving the loss of hope.

I can only imagine their disappointment.  Their teacher dead, hopes crushed.  The believers hiding and dispersed. I’m sure they felt like God had abandoned them.  They obviously thought there was no reason for them to stay in the holy city.  And so they were walking away in grief.

Pastor Robert Hoch of Baltimore writes, “There are some walks that are longer than others – not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens…”¹  And into this journey, which Pastor Hoch refers to as a “walk of hopes in shambles” comes a stranger.

They were “talking and discussing” and this man they didn’t recognize asks them a question:  “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

One of the disciples, named Cleopas, basically says, “What rock have you been hiding under?  How could you NOT know?”  To which Jesus basically answers, “Then tell me.”

And Cleopas does.  Cleopas pours his heart out to Jesus the stranger.  Most telling is his account of the empty tomb.  He and his companion know about the women finding it empty, they know about the “vision of angels who said that he was alive,” but it seems they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it.

Then it’s Jesus’ turn to talk.  First we need to understand that when he calls them “foolish” – what he really means is “thoughtless.”  He isn’t calling them stupid or rejecting them.  He’s pointing out that their hearts have been “slow” – they’re not connecting the dots.  So he does it for them.

The Word proclaims the word.  Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself…”  Then after the Word proclaimed the word, Cleopas and his companion implored the stranger Jesus to stay with them. They were living the gospel of Christ – loving their neighbor by showing hospitality.

Then in the breaking of the bread they saw the stranger for who he was.

Grief turned to joy!  Hopelessness to purpose!  Disappointment to mission!  Back to Jerusalem they go to share their experience!

All along, even when they were disappointed and hopeless and filled with grief, and even in their confusion, the Savior was with them.  They just didn’t realize it.

Their words are telling.  And they tell us where WE can find the Lord when WE feel lost, disappointed, hopeless, confused or grieving.

Their hearts were “burning” while Jesus preached, and then recognized him in the “breaking of the bread.”  How Lutheran of them!  This is “CHURCH” for us – where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered.²

Often when we hit rough patches in our lives, when nothing seems to be going right, when we feel hurt or betrayed or abandoned, when it seems to be one thing after another, we might doubt God’s presence or even existence.  Or we might not doubt God’s presence but doubt God’s LOVE for us while we’re deep in our troubles.

This is precisely when we need to be reminded that we are NOT alone, that God not only exists but is indeed “with us” – Emmanuel – in the midst of all our mess.  And “church” is the best way we have to get that reminder.

Church – where we hear the Word proclaimed, the uncompromising unconditional love of Jesus who gave his life for us, not because our lives are great, but precisely because they are NOT.

Church – where we receive the sacraments of love – the covenants – that God has made with us. Baptism, when we are marked with the cross of Christ forever; and Holy Communion, when we receive the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

God gives us the gift of Jesus and Jesus gives us the gift of the Word and Sacraments, so that our hearts might burn too, and realize his presence with us.

Mosaic, 6th century

The Emmaus road is a hard road to walk for any of us – but even there, especially there, Jesus shows us that he is with us, just as he was with Cleopas and the unnamed companion.

It’s true that sometimes Jesus feels like a stranger to us.  We feel alone – hopeless and grieving.  But even when we don’t see him he is there.  Even when we don’t recognize him he is holding us.

And while the Church isn’t always perfect, indeed is NEVER perfect, the Church is still the place “where two or three are gathered”³ that Jesus promises to be.

Where we are reminded explicitly that God loves us and is with us no matter what.

Where we are reminded that our hope is ETERNAL life, but also that God holds us and walks with us in THIS life too.

This is our Easter hope.  Alleluia.


¹source:  Working Preacher commentary for Easter 3, year A, 2017, at WorkingPreacher.org

²Augsburg Confession, article 5

³Matthew 18:20


Name of Jesus (Circumcision of our Lord), 2017

Name of Jesus (Circumcision of our Lord), preached 1/1/17

first reading:  Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 8

second reading:  Galatians 4:4-7

gospel reading:  Luke 2:15-21

This morning’s gospel reading begins with the story of the shepherds, which we read on Christmas Eve, and ends with the event of our special commemoration today – the naming and circumcision of our Lord.

Along with the story of his birth, the story of Jesus’ circumcision places him in a specific place and time, and in a specific culture and faith.  Our God is not a god that comes to us out of context.

Jesus was born into a family that was under Roman rule – a brutal oppressive government which he would experience personally.  As a child, Jesus and his family would have to flee Israel to Egypt, because King Herod wanted the newborn king the Wise Men spoke of, killed.  Herod wanted no threat to his power, and would go to the extreme of killing all the baby boys.  It was a death sentence, that through the family’s fleeing to Egypt, Jesus escaped.

But Jesus did NOT escape the death sentence of the crucifixion – another brutal, cruel fixture of the Roman Empire. A very long and agonizing way to die.

But Jesus wasn’t just born into a specific time in history, he was also born into a specific faith and culture.  He was born a Jew.

His Jewish identity formed him from the time of his circumcision to the time of his death.  Marked and named on his 8th day, a trip to the Temple itself when he was 12, sitting at the feet of the rabbis, quoting from the Hebrew scriptures from the beginning of his earthly ministry until its end on the cross, honoring the Sabbath, celebrating Passover – Jesus was a Jew.

Why is it important that we remember Jesus being born, living, and dying in a specific time and place?  I mean, isn’t he our savior for ALL time and place?  Isn’t he OUT of any particular context?

Well, certainly Jesus was more than a first century Jew.  He came in a specific context, but he most definitely TRANSCENDS time and place.  He was not just the savior for his first disciples – he is our savior for ALL time.

But context DOES tell us something.  It tells us that God didn’t cut corners when Jesus came to be with us.  God put Jesus right into the thick of it.  God didn’t pick a time when it was easy to be Jewish, or when it was easy to be a non-Roman.  God chose to come to us as a persecuted religious minority, as a member of a population that was exploited and victimized.  Indeed, God in Jesus became exploited and victimized for you and me.

This is incredibly important, because you and I do NOT have a savior/God who is unable to understand our lives. Because of the context in which he was born and lived and died – even though VERY different from our context in 2017 – Jesus experienced all the same things we do, and even some things we’ve been lucky NOT to have experienced.  Jesus felt happiness, sorrow, love, pain, grief, doubts, confusion, success and failure.

He lived in a real family with real family tension.  Remember the story of Jesus’ parents losing him when they went on the pilgrimage to the Temple, and his response to their worry?  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know where I’d be?” (Luke 2:41-52)  Such a typical adolescent reaction, it even translates well now!

His first miracle at Cana, when his mother wants him to do something about the lack of wine – he has a testy response to her request, but he listens to her anyway. (John 2:1-12)  And from the cross, he makes sure that Mary will be taken care of after his death, when he says to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother.” (John 19:27)

Jesus GETS it.  He lived a REAL life, in a real family, in a real culture.

The Incarnation is “God WITH us.”  Not just with us in some overly spiritual fashion, but with us eating and breathing, walking, talking and sleeping.

So when we’re frustrated with our lives, when we’re in pain, when we feel we’ve been betrayed, when we’re frightened, when our bodies are broken, when we grieve, Jesus is truly WITH US because he’s been there too.

He is not just a god of earthly triumph, sent to praise and reward the strong and powerful.  Jesus is God come to lift up the fallen, heal the broken, forgive the sinful and bring life to the dying.

That’s an amazing comfort, a tremendous source of strength, a guiding light.

Our God comes to be with us, experience everything we experience, and to conquer it all – even death – so that we ARE never, and WILL never be alone or forsaken, so that we can be with him as his own – forever.

Ethiopian icon, artist unknown

Ethiopian icon, artist unknown


26th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost, year c, preached 11/13/16

first reading:  Malachi 4:1-2a

Psalm 98

second reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

gospel reading:  Luke 21:5-19

*I was guest preaching this morning at a congregation where I am not the pastor.

I don’t know ONE pastor who was looking forward to preaching today – and I know a LOT of pastors.  At first I felt overwhelmed at the thought of being here with you today, knowing a few of you a little, but none of you well.  Our country has had an almost indescribable week – thrilling for some, and devastating for others.

But the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that NOT knowing any of you too well allows me to say some things that perhaps someone close to you can’t say.

I see three things in our gospel text for today, and I thank Professor Gilberto Ruiz from WorkingPreacher.org for helping me sort through them.  And these three things speak to all of us – whether we voted for Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton or another candidate.

First of all, Jesus makes it clear that we are NOT to put our trust in temporary human structures or institutions – whether that’s the town hall, the governor’s mansion, the White House, the Temple in Jerusalem, or this building right here – not in the town or church council, state or national houses or even our beloved presidency.  NONE OF IT.

“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upone another; all will be thrown down.'”

All this stuff we surround ourselves with is TEMPORARY.  Our comfy houses and nice cars, even our country.  This may sound like American heresy, but we almost lost our democracy once in the civil war – and no one can say with certainty that in our lifetime or a hundred years from now, that our democracy will still be here.

DON’T PUT YOUR FAITH IN IT – or any other human institution – for eventually the stones will all be “thrown down.”

Two – don’t put your faith in people either.  Persecutions happen.  We’re incredibly lucky right now.  It’s been a LONG time since we’ve had to worry about what church we go to.  In our early years this did happen, with colonies having their official religions – and people in THIS country WERE persecuted if they stepped out of those bounds.

It’s a bit much to say any Christians here are suffering persecution now, but you never know – and certainly there are Christians in other parts of the world that fear for their lives EVERY DAY.  Persecution happens.

And don’t put your faith in people, because people can betray you.  “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends…  You will be hated.”  Sometimes our faith requires us to stand against all we see around us.  People might think we’re crazy.  Relationships will break.

Thursday was Martin Luther’s 533rd birthday.  Friday was the day his father carried him to the local church to receive baptism.  But the father who carried him to church was bitterly angry, and their relationship strained to the breaking point, when Martin became a monk.

Even outside arguments and stands of faith, we suffer broken relationships.  I know a family as I speak where the siblings are suing each other over their father’s will.

Jesus says these things WILL happen.  Human institutions and human relationships are fleeting – our lives just a dot on the canvas of history.  And this is the third thing…

The key, not IF, but WHEN, we suffer these things, is to cling to GOD.

When these things happen – when the world seems to be crumbling around us – we need to remember not to be distracted by that stuff.  Even when life is good and things are going great, don’t be distracted by it.  Do NOT be distracted by the earthquakes and “dreadful portents” – don’t be distracted by betrayals or persecutions.

Jesus tells us that the point of these things is this, found in verse 13 – the key to the entire passage:

“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

When chaos is reigning in the world, it becomes our job as baptized children of God to remind people over and over and  over who Jesus is.  And in doing that we remind ourselves too.

Right now there are a lot of people who feel like this country is going down the drain.  I know this.  But if Clinton had won there would also be a whole lot of people who would feel like the country was going down the drain.  I know this too.

Cling to Jesus.  Preach Jesus.  LIVE Jesus.  THAT is our call win or lose, republican or democrat, man or woman, Hispanic or black or white.

How we go about that is different, however, depending on who we are.  If you are feeling thrilled, it is YOUR job to comfort those who are feeling frightened.  Like it or not.

Jesus calls us to tend to the weak and brokenhearted.  Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Gloating isn’t helpful or productive, neither is saying “get over it.”  It’s not going to help the grieving to move on.  It will only make things worse.  And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.

If you’re feeling frightened, don’t let anyone convince you you have to just “get over it.”  If you’re not feeling safe, seek out people you know who love you.  Protest if it helps you feel strong again.  But do not resort to violence. Because when you do, you become like the very people you protest against.  And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.

When we come through the church doors, our political labels, and all other labels, come off and the only mark we wear is the sign of the cross we were given at baptism.  THAT is where our care for each other and all people must begin and end, no questions asked.

THAT is what our behavior OUT of these doors must reflect – that we follow Jesus – a savior of love, forgiveness and grace for ALL people, not just those who look, talk, act or think like us.

There may be chaos, there may be calm, but whatever is doing on around us, we cling to Jesus, and use it as “an opportunity to testify.”


19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/25/16

first reading:  Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

second reading:  1 Timothy 6:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 16:19-31

*I was guest preaching at a congregation with three Sunday services, the middle service omitting the second reading and psalm – so while I could’ve commented on those readings as well, I did not.

As a Lutheran seminary student, at least when I was there 20+ years ago, we didn’t have to learn a lot of Latin.  But there were a few Latin phrases that we absolutely had to learn.  One of them was “Incurvatus in se.”  And I think it applies very well in ALL our scriptures today, because they are DARK.

They offer us warning of judgment, which on the surface revolve around one thing – the dangers of wealth.

Money is an idol for most of us, me included, and we need to be regularly shaken awake from the delusion that money brings real happiness or eternal security.  But even more than that, our readings are also about another one of our sins, the sin of not seeing our neighbors – of Israel not caring about the ruin of Joseph” and the rich man not caring for Lazarus, MISERABLE at his doorstep.

THIS is “incurvatus in se” – which means being turned in, CURVED IN on ourselves.


  • When we believe the world revolves around us, around our desires; when our opinions are the most important and our “feeling good” is the greatest pursuit, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we don’t even think about the color of our skin, but get offended when others try to tell us that they suffer because of the color of theirs, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • As we mourn over yet another mass shooting on Friday – when we think (for any reason) we have the right to blow away the life of another, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but do not see or care about the hunger and health of our neighbors next door or in New York City or Syria, we are “incarvatus in se.”

And the more resources WE have, the easier it is to be curved in on ourselves.  When we close the doors to our nice houses, have tinted windows in our cars to protect us from what’s outside – when we surround ourselves only with people in the same social, economic and political world as we, we are indeed headed down a slippery slope.

Amos and Jesus warn us that this is self-destructive on many different levels.

When we are curved in on ourselves, we fail, like the rich man, to see the desperate needs of our neighbors.  When we lie on beds of ivory” and anoint [ourselves] with the finest oils” it becomes easy to forget that the gas station attendant, the cashier, the pizza delivery guy, and the hotel maid are people too.

It becomes easy to forget that the homeless person sleeping in the cold is a person too, and loved and valued by God just as much as we are.  It becomes easy to forget that ultimately we are all connected to one another – with every other person through our common humanity, and intimately with other Christians through our baptism into Christ.

When Cain asked God way back in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God’s answer was, “Yes.”

Over and over throughout scripture, and most especially in the teaching of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Because in loving our neighbor we DO love ourselves, in the healthiest of ways.

And when we are turned in on ourselves, not only do we fail to see our neighbor, we fail to see GOD.

And because most of us have a desire for a relationship with a higher power, we will find something to fill that void. When we’re curved in on ourselves, chances are we will fill that void WITH ourselves.

WE become our god, or money does, or work, or sports, or whatever we use to fill the hole in our hearts, minds or souls, so that even when confronted face to face with the real thing, we won’t see.

Abraham said as much to the rich man in our gospel today.  “If they (the rich man’s brothers) do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The One who rose from the dead, warns us that if we do not turn OUTWARD to see, we will miss HIM.

The good news here, is that in the middle of the dire warning, we have grace.

It is a grace that proclaims to us we are loved – not for how well we do in the world, not for how much money we make or how much power we have or how healthy we are.  Worldly signs of success are NOT signs of God’s love. Wealth cannot buy heaven, and poverty does not deserve hell.  Health does not earn paradise, and sickness is not a sign of sin.

The parable was meant to shake people awake, who believed then and believe now that those outward characteristics were signs of divine favor.

Truth be told, “incurvatus in se” isn’t something we can completely shake.  It’s part of human nature to think “me first.”  But it is our call, once we know it, when we see ourselves getting caught in it, to break it – or rather to have God break it for us; which is why we begin worship with confession – by admitting that we ARE curved in – and asking God to free us.

And God DOES indeed free us.  Through Jesus, the One who indeed rose from the dead, we are freed from our curved in selves – freed to be curved OUT –

out to love God who first loved us, and out to love our neighbors near and far, as we love ourselves.


16th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

16th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/4/16

first reading:  Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 1

second reading:  Philemon 1-21

gospel reading:  Luke 14:25-33

At the beginning of a podcast I try to listen to in preparation for sermon writing, one of the commentators said about our gospel reading, “This is a reminder of why Jesus wasn’t popular!”  The words we read today were NOT meant to be comforting or reassuring.  Jesus is not being a warm and fuzzy savior here.

At first glance he even seems to be contradicting himself.  I mean, doesn’t Jesus tell us to LOVE one another?  Yes. In fact, “love one another,” is the NEW commandment he gives to all who follow him.  (John 13:34)

So, how can our savior, who commands us to love one another, also tell us that we have to hate our parents, spouses, children, and even life itself?  And not only to hate those we are supposed to love, but also to give away ALL our possessions?

What are we to do with these words?  If we believe that Jesus loves us and wants us to love each other, how does this make sense?

Jesus was trying to drive home a point here.  He was dealing with these huge crowds who were treating him like some kind of rock star or miracle worker.  He was dealing the disciples who expected him to lead a political revolution and free them from Roman oppression.

What he says to those crowds, and what he says to us, is that following him is no hobby.  Being a disciple is not something we do with our spare time.  It’s not something we “play” at when it suits us.

Because being a disciple is WHO WE ARE.  All other identities play second fiddle – even the ones we mistakenly think come first.

Last month, when we welcomed little (S) through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, I said that he would be given a name that would come before all others.  The same is true for us.  WE have a name, an IDENTITY, which comes before all others – before son or daughter, before brother or sister, before husband or wife, before American or German,  before Giants or Jets, or Yankees or Mets.

THAT name, that identity, is CHRISTIAN:  follower of Christ.  Cross bearer.

Our identity as Christians, children of God, saved by Jesus and forgiven of our sins – needs to come before ALL else.

That’s HARD.  But when we think about it, God came first in our lives – God GIVES us life in the first place.

But still… to hate our parents, spouses and children?  Give away all our possessions?  How can Jesus ask us to do something that is clearly impossible?  As I said a few moments ago – he is making a point.  He is confronting us with the fact that we often get our priorities mixed up.

Jesus is using the most basic human relationships, and our greatest temptation, to confront us with our idolatries.

THIS is what the reading is really all about – Jesus confronting those crowds, his first disciples, and his 21st century disciples, with our idolatry.  And when dealing with idolatry Jesus can’t be warm and fuzzy, because idolatry KILLS, and he knows it.

What is idolatry?  Simply put, idolatry is the worship of an idol.  And an idol is an image or object of that worship.  Anything can become an idol for us – a thing, an idea, a person.  Anything or anyone that becomes the focus of our lives, that we build our lives around, besides God, is an idol.

And we DO have them.  Some are the same as those that people wrestled with in the first century. Family, being at the center of the lives of so many people, can still be an idol for us.  This is a tough one, because family commitments DO take up HUGE chunks of our time.

And that’s ok.  Families should “be there” for each other.  The trouble starts when our whole universe begins to revolve around that.  When our identity becomes all wrapped up in being mom, husband or daughter.  When we lose sight of the fact that we are something MORE, that we belong to something “bigger,” something more basic.

With all that our families are involved in within our communities, in clubs and sports, all the “stuff” we DO – it’s easy to get wrapped up in it.  Instead of controlling our schedules, our schedules control US – to take the words from our confession, “we are in bondage [to our schedules] and we cannot free ourselves!”

And speaking of “stuff,” Jesus tells us it’s not just people or stuff we DO – our material stuff can also become idolatry. This is easier for many people to understand.  I know I would be lost without a lot of my stuff, but to say “give up ALL our possessions?  Again, Jesus is making a point.

So many of us don’t own our stuff – our stuff owns us.  We get caught in the vicious circle of thinking we need things, when we really just want them.  Wanting the latest and greatest and keeping up with our neighbors.  “We are in bondage [to our stuff] and we cannot free ourselves!”

In the end idolatry kills us, because it blind us to our true center.  The idols we create are just illusions. They are all temporary – family, the things we do, the stuff we accumulate – they’re all transient – here today, gone tomorrow. Idolatry kills us because it distracts us from remembering our primary identity as baptized children of God.

This is why worship is so important.  Worship helps us to re-orient ourselves, to slow down and remember WHO WE ARE.

This is why a community of faith – a church – is so important, so that we surround ourselves with people who will help us remember.

And this is why hearing Jesus’ words are so important.  Not always warm and fuzzy, but ALWAYS about giving us life – now and forever.


11th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost, year B (preached 7/31/16)

first reading:  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Psalm 49:1-12

second reading:  Colossians 3:1-11

gospel reading:  Luke 12:13-21

Today’s readings have a strong message, one that’s uncomfortable for many to hear, because especially in our culture, we have a strong attachment to STUFF.  We like our stuff.  We LOVE our stuff.

It’s the American dream to have nice things in a nice house and drive a nice care with a nice bank account.  But dang it, Jesus calls us on it.  And not only Jesus, ALL the readings call us out.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is depressed and hopeless because they’re realizing that all their hard work and toil is ultimately pointless – “chasing after wind.”  They also realize they must pass on the fruits of their work to unknown heirs, “and who knows whether they will be wise of foolish?”

Our psalmist writes, “for the ransom of a life is so great that there would never be enough to pay it, in order to live forever and ever and never see the grave.”  “Their graves shall be their homes forever… though they had named lands after themselves.”

The writer of Colossians reminds us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…  Put to death therefore, whatever in you is earthly” including “evil desire and greed (which is idolatry).”

But Jesus hits the hardest, where it hurts.  “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  


This IS a strong message, and one that IS uncomfortable for us.  Not that we in this congregation are in danger of being called ostentatious.  I can’t speak to the greed that might be in our hearts, but I know we don’t show it on the outside.  None of us have big houses.  I know most of you live modestly on more or less fixed incomes.  What are WE, who live simply, to take from these readings that focus on greed and mortality?

We focus on the end point of the gospel – the zinger – storing up treasures ourselves, but not being “rich toward God.”

What does this mean?

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Well, first of all, Jesus is NOT condemning the rich man simply for being rich.  There is a difference between wealth and greed.  The man is a fool because he focuses his whole life on his possessions.

On a podcast called “Sermon Brainwave” that I listen to every week, the commentators described this man as living in a “1st person universe.”  He’s all wrapped up in himself.  Look at the language in the parable.  It’s all in first person.

“What should I do, for I have no place for my crops?” “I will do this,” “I will pull down,” “I will store,” “I will say.”  He “thought to himself then spoke to himself.  He’s completely turned inward and there’s no room for anyone in his world but him.

Jesus calls us to a life BEYOND ourselves.  Jesus calls us to see our neighbors.  Jesus call us to love God AND our neighbors in word and deed.

The man is a fool not because he was productive and had abundance – he was a fool because he hoarded it all for himself, and FORGOT about his neighbor AND his God.

Instead of finding the poor around him and sharing from the crops of the field, he built bigger barns to keep them to himself, and “relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Being “rich toward God” means fighting against the urge to make everything about ME.  It means setting our “minds on things that are above” as we read in Colossians.

Now, even though you and I may not be building bigger barns, I’m sure there are “things” in our life that distract us from loving God and neighbor, things that compete for our attention.  It doesn’t have to be money or “stuff.”

I think Jesus uses greed as an example because it’s easy and obvious.  It’s a temptation because the more worldly successful we become, the more likely we are to think we did it ourselves and deserve more.  It’s a rare person who can be wealthy and successful while being humble and generous.

But there are certainly other things that can distract us from being “rich toward God.”  We can go back to Colossians again for some examples.  The writer gives us a pretty good list of things that distract and/or tempt us from the “things that are above:”

“Fornication, impurity, evil desire, greed,” but also “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  Notice that greed is only one among many distractions or temptations.  And notice too, that many things on this list have to do with how we treat our neighbors.

It is a constant theme in Jesus’ preaching.  It is the ONE thing he called the new commandment for us who follow him – that we love one another.

Love of God and neighbor is central to our faith because it is what Jesus calls us to do.

We have been claimed by a loving God.  A God who SO loved us that Jesus came and gave HIS life for us – HIS neighbors – so that we could live.

We have been forgiven by a loving God.  All the sins which weigh us down God raises up on the cross.

And we are called by a loving God to love others.  To show them in word and deed what God has done for them too.

Being “rich toward God” means paying attention to God’s relationship with us – our first relationship – the one that gives us life.  Then, as we often pray at the end of communion, we live “in faith toward [God] and in fervent love toward one another.”


10th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

10th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 7/24/16

first reading:  Genesis 18:20-32

Psalm 138

second reading:  Colossians 2:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 11:1-13

When we’re in awe of someone who does something really well, we want to capture a bit of their magic. A kid who meets Derek Jeter wants to know how he holds the bat.  An aspiring singer gets to meet Beyonce or Adele and they want to know, “How did you break through?”  A struggling writer gets to meet J.K. Rowlings and asks, “Do you have any advice?”

We see someone we admire, we look up to, someone who we KNOW has the “inside track” and we WANT TO KNOW.

Jesus was praying.  And when he was done, one of the disciples had the courage to step forward and do the same thing.  “Lord, how do you do it?  What’s your secret?”  “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.”

Durer's praying handsJesus not only teaches the disciples words, but teaches them about attitude, perseverance, and the character of God.

First, Jesus gives them the words.  What we have before us is a form of our beloved “Lord’s Prayer,” or “Our Father.” It’s not as wordy in Luke’s gospel, but it catches the spirit of the longer form we all know from St. Matthew (6:9-13). And it pretty much sums up the things that are most important in life and faith.  Jesus DOES know what he’s talking about.

“God, you are holy.  We pray for your kingdom.  Give us the things we need.  Forgive us, as we forgive, and save us.” Then, after giving them the words to use, he teaches them about perseverance and attitude using a silly story about two friends.  One friend is needy, and the other is tired.  New Testament scholar David Tiede puts it this way:  “The man making the request is some kind of midnight fool, and the man in the house only responds to hush the noise.”¹

I know what that’s about.  I have three kids, and all my great parental rules went out the window when I had my third.  I’d do almost anything to placate the older two while the baby was napping, and I’d do almost anything to keep the baby quiet in the middle of the night while the older two were sleeping (because they had school in the morning)!  I gave into my kids’ demands, not out of any great love or affection for them at 3am, but because I just wanted quiet.

Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, might’ve had our gospel reading in mind when he wrote:  “…call upon God incessantly and drum into his ears our prayer.”²

Although… contrary to the story Jesus tells and the quote from Luther, Jesus tells us that God DESIRES to answer our prayers.  For as much as we grant requests because we’re pestered, God grants us the needs of our lives out of LOVE.  In this, Jesus tells us about the character of God.

The persevering part is for US.  So that WE don’t forget to pray, or forget the importance of prayer in keeping relationship with God.  God, in fact, desires, LONGS, to answer our prayers.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  If we sinful people, on our best days, want to give the best to our children and those we love – how much more does God?

This is where I claim a certain amount of humanly ignorance.  This is why I really don’t like to preach on prayer. Because our understanding of it is so so small.  Our experience of it is imperfect, even though God IS perfect.

Because the first question that comes into many minds is “Well, why do certain prayers go unanswered?” Sometimes the response to that question is, “ALL prayers ARE answered – some with a ‘yes,’ some with a ‘no,’ and some with a ‘not yet.'”

But that response is REALLY unsatisfying.  What parent, begging in prayer for their child’s chemotherapy to work wants a “not yet” from God?  What child, pleading with God for their mother to stop hitting them, will be comforted by a “no?”  Every week in worship we pray for peace, and yet are almost daily confronted by some national or international act of violence.  Is our answer to senseless death, “not yet?”

I think we can all agree that certain prayers deserve a “no.”  I think we can all agree that sometimes God is perfectly just and even loving to deny us some of the things we desire.  Janis Joplin asked in her famous song, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedez Benz?”  I can hear the Lord saying, “Nope.”  But the prayer of an abused child?  The prayers of couples struggling with infertility?  Of the spouse sitting by their loved ones hospital bed?  Our prayers for peace on our streets?

What’s up with this God?  Why the delays or “no” answers?

This I cannot tell you.  I only fall back on God’s command TO pray, and God’s promise to hear us.

That may, at times, seem small consolation when we’re in pain.  I’ve been there.  I’ve felt it.  And we may even get really angry with God at times.  I’ve been there too.

But that’s when we also fall back on another promise of God – the promise that we are not alone.  That is the ultimate promise of Jesus’ words, of his life, of his death, and of his resurrection – that we are HIS. We are NOT left to face our life circumstances, or our deaths, alone.  “I am with you always,”³ MEANS something.

Are we freed from every painful circumstance?  Are we showered with every material desire?  Are we granted the worldly power we seek?  Not always.  Maybe hardly ever.

But are we claimed and loved and strengthened and guided through the journey?  Are we promised a place prepared for us at the end by a loving Savior?

You bet.


¹David Tiede.  Luke. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988. page 214.

²Theodore Tappert trans & edited.  Book of Concord.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.  page 420

³Matthew 28:20