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.

AMEN.


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

²Augsburg Confession, article 5

³Matthew 18:20

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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

AMEN.

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.

narcissus-by-caravaggio

  • 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.

AMEN.

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.

AMEN.


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

8th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, 2016

first reading:  Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Psalm 25:1-10

second reading:  Colossians 1:1-14

gospel reading:  Luke 10:25-37


*I was guest preaching at another congregation this day.


A few weeks ago, right after the Orlando massacre, I began my sermon by saying, “It’s been one hell of a week.”  I sadly find that description accurate again today.  It’s been one hell of a week.

I also found myself saying to my pastoral colleagues a few weeks ago how strangely relevant our worship texts were to what was going on, and what a blessing that was.  And I gladly find THAT description accurate again too.

Today for our gospel, we read one of the most well-known stories in the whole Bible – “The Good Samaritan.” Problem is the meaning of it has lost a LOT of its “oomph.”

More than 2,000 years after its original telling we’ve come to see it as a nice story about a good man who helped someone in trouble.  Well, yes, perhaps.  But that’s only a small part of it.  I think we need a refresher.

There was this lawyer – which in Jesus’ culture meant someone who studied the religious law – the Torah. He knew his stuff and engaged Jesus with a question.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus put the question back to him:  “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  The lawyer gave him an answer which we can find in Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18b – and was widely accepted as the summation of the Mosaic Law.  Jesus praised his answer.

But the lawyer went one step further.  He wanted to make sure he was doing “it” right.  So he asked, “WHO is my neighbor?”  We often ask this very same question.  We make judgments every day about who is worthy of our attention and care.  We make judgments every day about who is “good” and who is “bad,” and what “good” and “bad” people deserve.  We make judgments every day about who our enemies are, and who are friends are.

It seems like a legitimate question.  Who is my neighbor?

But Jesus is an annoying Savior sometimes.  He CHANGES the question altogether.  And he does it with a story.

The Good Samaritan, He Qi

The Good Samaritan, He Qi

A Jewish man was a victim of violence, laying half-dead by the side of the road.  Two Jews from respectable upstanding groups saw the man and passed him by.  Then a Samaritan came, saw the man, and “was moved with pity.”  The Samaritan tended the man’s wounds, brought him to help, paid the bill, and promised to pay for whatever else the man might have needed.

In order for us to “get” the weight of this story, we have to understand one very important detail:  Jews and Samaritans DESPISED one another in the 1st century.  It’s hard to describe the loathing and contempt that they had for one another.

Jesus purposefully makes the “hero” of this story a person the lawyer can’t stomach.

Then Jesus backs the lawyer into a corner by asking, “Which of these three… was a neighbor to the man…?”  And the lawyer was forced to say, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”

In our day and age we might conclude this interchange with the comment, “mic drop,” or “BOOM.”

In this story Jesus tells us we shouldn’t be concerned about who our neighbor is, right or wrong, deserving or undeserving.  Don’t worry about who our neighbor is – BE A NEIGHBOR.   We no longer have a question, we have a command.  Don’t look out and make a judgment, look IN the mirror and act accordingly.

Jesus challenges the lawyer to see that pity and mercy – loving – knows no human boundaries or division.

Right now, in our country and in the world, we have created SO many barriers between people.  Jesus challenges us repeatedly, but most especially in this story, to get rid of them.

After Orlando, our national presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, wrote, “We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society.  Too often we sort ourselves into likeminded groups and sort others out.”  Also, “We are killing ourselves.  We believe that all people are created in God’s image….  Those murdered in Orlando were not abstract ‘others,’ they are us.”  And this week she repeated, “We are killing ourselves.”

Jesus forced the lawyer to see that the Samaritan was not an “other.”  In his act of mercy the Samaritan refused to see the beaten Jew as an “other.”

Jesus says, “Don’t worry about WHO your neighbor is, go and BE a neighbor.”  And BEING a neighbor means LOVING your neighbor as yourself.  Not warm fuzzy love, not even love that means “liking.”

BEING a neighbor by LOVING our neighbor means making sure through words and deeds that they are seen, heard, respected, valued and cared for.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

What groups would Jesus challenge US to love today?  Who are WE called to be neighbors to right now? Who are we called to LOVE?

I don’t know you all very well, so I feel free to give all kinds of suggestions.  Some of them may not be a problem for you, and others may make you gasp.  Actually, the ones that make you gasp should be where you start.  After all, that’s what our gospel today is all about – the GASP.  “Lord, you want me to love WHO????”

  • Love your Jewish neighbor.
  • Love your Muslim neighbor.
  • Love your atheist neighbor.
  • Love your NRA neighbor.
  • Love your gun control neighbor.
  • Love your gay neighbor.
  • Love your straight neighbor.
  • Love your Clinton supporter neighbor.
  • Love your Trump supporter neighbor.
  • Love your communist neighbor.
  • Love your Hispanic neighbor.
  • Love your Indian neighbor.
  • Love your white neighbor.
  • Love your Black Lives Matter neighbor.
  • Love your All Lives Matter neighbor.
  • Love your protester neighbor.
  • Love your law enforcement neighbor.
  • Love your rich neighbor.
  • Love your poor neighbor.
  • Love your neighbor who is sitting next to you right this very minute.

Jesus asked, “[Who] was a neighbor?”  The lawyer said, “The one who showed… mercy.”

Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

AMEN.

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 6/19/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

second reading:  Galatians 3:23-29

gospel reading:  Luke 8:26-39


This has been one hell of a week.  And when I say that, I mean it literally.

I know I’ve been preaching on Galatians the past few weeks, but where I feel led today is the gospel.  It’s not a nice, warm-fuzzy gospel which is surprising because it’s a healing story, and we should all rejoice in that.

gerasene demoniac, 2I mean, this man, tormented by demons, shackled and banished by his own people, is healed!  But there is very little rejoicing in this story.  Sure, the healed man is thrilled, BUT NO ONE ELSE IS.

Jesus demonstrated unequaled power here.  But Jesus shows us the Savior he is by using his divine power to heal. Jesus brings this man back to his true self.  Within a short period of time the man is clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet.

There should be rejoicing right?  Partying like the prodigal son who was gone and has now returned – right?  NO. Not at all.  What is the reaction of the people to this amazing healing?  FEAR.  “They were AFRAID.”

They saw the man they had known for years, the man they had been able to “control” by putting him in shackles and banishing him outside of the city – HEALED – CHANGED.

And they couldn’t cope.  Jesus had upset their “controlling the situation” apple cart.  They couldn’t deal with Jesus’ power, even IF it appeared that Jesus used his power for good.  The people couldn’t handle that power among them. They didn’t know what to do with themselves – or Jesus.

We read, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”  So he left.  Jesus will not force himself where he is not wanted.  Through their actions the people showed they preferred the darkness to the light of Christ.

We have a phrase, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”  Well, in this case, the people literally chose the devil over GOD.  They preferred the man wild with demons, and in shackles, over Jesus’ healing.  AMAZING.

And because they banished Jesus, because they chose the comfortable darkness they knew over the new light they didn’t know – they robbed themselves of any other healing Jesus could’ve brought them.  They robbed themselves of hearing the gospel.  They robbed themselves of learning how much Jesus LOVED them.  They robbed themselves of the power of the gospel to heal, love and save.

This has been one hell of a week.  All around us are examples of people accepting the comfortable darkness over the power of the light.  All around us are examples of evil forces, forces we usually “think” we can control, except we really can’t.

One week ago today 49 children of God were massacred in Orlando in an act of hatred because of WHO and WHAT they were.  A few days after that at Disney a family trip turned into a nightmare as a child was killed by an alligator.

This week, a young man at my daughter’s school was arrested for possessing pre-pubescent child pornography and for sexual contact with a 13 year old.  My daughter KNOWS this young man.  And he is now out on bail.

Friday was the first anniversary of the massacre in Charleston, when another young man opened fire and killed 9 people in a CHURCH who were having a Bible study, for being who they were.

One hell of a week.  Evil seems all around, and the WORLD seems very dark.

We’re understandably afraid.  WE are like the Gerasene people, going about our business, keeping the evil at bay. Except we can’t.  We can’t possibly shackle it the way they were able to with that poor man. We can’t shackle evil.

We have a choice, you and I.  What will we do with our fear?  Because in our lives there is a power which IS greater than evil, a power greater than our fear.  Will we choose the light, or will we choose to go on living in the darkness?

It seems like a ridiculous question, but it’s not really.  Because living in the darkness, though it’s painful, is easier. It’s easier because we know the script – back to the phrase, “the devil you know…”  Changing patterns, behaviors and thinking – going from darkness to light – choosing the light, is HARD work.

It’s hard to choose love and kindness instead of giving in to the instinct for revenge, or “tit for tat.” There are times when our fear of being hurt prevents us from loving one another.  Times when our instinct to protect ourselves keeps us from doing the thing that will bring ultimate healing instead of momentary relief.

The gospel is not easy.  In times like this, we ARE tempted to tell Jesus to let us handle it and LEAVE. Because calling us to love in the midst of hate is just wrong God!*  We want an eye for an eye!**  Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek is just stupid.**

But in the end it’s only love that will heal us.  Only love that will let us sleep.  Only love that keeps us from becoming the very thing we fear.  Only love that saves us.

Jesus did an amazing work of healing for that whole community and they rejected him.  EXCEPT for the healed man himself.

He begged to go with Jesus.  I’m sure he didn’t want to go back to the same community who rejected both him and the Savior.  But Jesus said no.  Jesus sent him back to the very community that banished and shackled him TO BE A WITNESS.  And he did.

I hope and pray WE choose to be that man.  “Proclaiming through the city how much Jesus [has] done for [us].” Going in peace and serving the Lord by showing THE light and BEING light amid the darkness of our world.

AMEN.


*Matthew 5:44, **Exodus 21:24, Matthew 5:38, ***Matthew 5:39

Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 3/6/16)

First reading:  Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32

Second Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Gospel Reading:  Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


This is one of the best loved of all the parables of Jesus.  Even non-Christians have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son.

It seems like a simple story, but it’s really SO much deeper.  None of these three characters are ideal. We’ve got a son who won’t grow up, an angry son who grumbles all day, and a father who wouldn’t know tough love if it hit him in the face.

Jesus tells this story because the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about the lowlife with whom he was associating.  They don’t think Jesus should be eating with “sinners.”  In response, Jesus tells them parables about being lost, then found, and the rejoicing that comes with the finding.

Makes sense when put simply – but it’s really NOT that simple.

I’ll be honest with you.  I identify with the elder son.  And I think Jesus meant for the Pharisees and scribes to do so as well, because the comparison is very clear.  They didn’t think Jesus should be eating with those who clearly didn’t deserve him.  So Jesus tells a story about a father who throws a FEAST for a child who clearly didn’t deserve HIM.

Jesus eating with sinners.  The father feasting with an undeserving son.

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Again, back to describing these characters:  one is selfish, immature and wasteful; one is rigid, unforgiving, angry and bitter; and one loves with no boundaries or discipline.  WE are the children, and God is the father.

Jesus is telling us that THIS is how God operates with us – God loves recklessly and forgives foolishly. THIS is the love of God.  It knows no bounds.  It doesn’t abide by human rules of what is proper or “good.”

God’s love accepts those of us who try our best and those of us who don’t try at all.  God’s love embraces those of us who sweat for the Church and those who have abused the Church.  God’s love prepares a feast for the lifelong faithful and for deathbed confessors.  God’s love makes no earthly sense.

It IS reckless and foolish.  There is no sense of fairness or right and wrong.  And thank God for that!

The father’s only actions in this parable are to forgive, show mercy and REJOICE.

And while we, (or at least “I”), grumble at the unfairness of it all like the elder son, God is forgiving US of THAT sin – the sin of wanting to be judge – thinking we can tell God who is “deserving” of God’s love and rejoicing.  How arrogant and presumptuous!

prodigal son - elder son clip artMost of us look at this parable and see the CLEAR obvious sin of the younger son, but because most of us identify with the elder son, we fail to see HIS sin.

Sure, the elder son did all the right things, but he was angry and bitter, even lashing out at his father at the unfairness of it all.  He refuses to attend the feast and greet his brother – and he rebukes his own father.  He does all the right things, but his attitude is rigid and unforgiving.  And he is more than a little jealous.  “Why didn’t you let me have a party?”

The father forgives them both.

The father could’ve said to the elder son, “Look, I’m in charge and if I want to throw your brother a party then I’ll throw him a party.  Now get in there!”

Instead he says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we HAD to celebrate and rejoice…”

The father even tries to repair the relationship between the brothers.  When the elder son refers to the younger son as “this son of yours,” the father changes it to “this brother of YOURS.”  The father wants them all to be reconciled – a theme in our second reading where St. Paul calls us to a “ministry of reconciliation” – not only to God, but to one another.¹

From a human perspective we get jealous and think that somehow love is a finite thing and that a loved one giving another love will somehow mean less for us.  And you know, sometimes with human beings that happens because of sin.  But it is not so with God.

God loves me more intensely, more personally, than I’ll ever know.  Yet God loves all of you the SAME way.  God’s love for me doesn’t mean there’s any less for you; God’s love for you doesn’t mean there’s any less for me.

And that love is with us no matter how well we’ve done, or how far we’ve fallen.  This may not seem fair, but it’s a glorious thing.  Because each one of us has times in our lives when we fall, when we fail – when we KNOW we have done wrong.  We feel small, humiliated, weak.  Each one of us has had times when WE are the younger son.

And we have been like the elder son – rigid, perhaps even jaded by events in our lives, only looking at the world with eyes of judgment instead of love and grace.

And in BOTH these times thank God that we are welcomed back by God with arms that embrace instead of reject us.

The world can be cruel, but God is not.  God is love.

Heaven rejoices whenever we, as we sing in our Lenten gospel verse “return to the your God”² again and again and again.  Every time we confess, every time we petition for God’s mercy, there is rejoicing in heaven.

Thank you Lord, for loving us foolishly and recklessly, when it makes no “earthly” sense to do so; thank you that there’s enough of your love to go around for us all; and thank you for loving us SO much that you rejoice whenever we return to you.  Please teach US to rejoice in your gifts of love and mercy, and in the gift you give us of each other.

AMEN.


¹Matthew 5:24, plus many other texts that speak of our need to forgive one another as God has forgiven us.

²Joel 2:13 – each week our congregation sings a verse from the Bible to introduce the gospel reading.  In Lent, we sing this verse.