Monday, September 27, 2010

Christian Humility Luke 17:5-10

Just a note,
many in our town have had some water in their basement after significant rains in excess of 6 inches last week. Folks in other towns near by have faced even greater flooding and even greater challenges in the aftermath. Truman Minnesota just to our north had over a foot of rain last week. Please keep those who have lost some property so quickly to this surprising fall flooding in your prayers.
Jesus' friends asked for help to grow in faith. But looking at the reading I don't think they knew what they were asking for when they said, " the Lord, "Increase our faith.""
Jesus wasn't inviting his friends to grow in faith for their own sake. He was inviting them to grow in faith for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The same thing goes for us. We are called to be God's servants. Jesus drove the point home asking

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ” Luke 17:7-10 NRSV.

There's no hiding our humble position compared to God's. Still the same Jesus who asks humility of his friends bowed down before them to wash their feet the night before he died.
Read Luke 17:8 in contrast to the great invitation we receive from God to His table. We come unworthy and ill-prepared. We come as sinners undeserving who meet God in flesh at the table. We come warts and all. And the maker of the universe who could sternly keep us away welcomes us. We could be pushed aside because the blood of the lamb is on our hands; but the lamb who was slain welcomes us with scared hands to eat and drink with him.
Thanks be to God that Jesus calls us to his table. AMEN.

God knew his name Luke 16:19-31

Today we listen to Jesus and join him considering the lives of two men who lived and died in very close proximity to one another. One of the two men is very poor. This man with no home has a name, Lazarus. The other man has no name but is described as rich.

Jesus is telling this story in no small part to emphasize the great difference between human society and the world as God would have it be. In our world having a name matters and we know all the big names. Just this past week there was a list of the billionaires in our nation published. We celebrate celebrities. There are whole tv channels and websites dedicated to gossip about the celebrated. But in this story Jesus invites us to consider the life of a man who celebrated while a man who lived just outside his door suffered.

Luke writes,

[he] longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.g The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. Luke 16:21-23
Lazarus the man with a name had no permanent address that he could call his own. He laid in front of of the unnamed man's gate. Lazarus had sores on his body that the dogs would like when the came near. The thing is Jesus tells us the story in the reverse of the way that our culture tells such stories.Lazarus watched the unnamed man live sumptuously just beyond inside the gate of his home. Human culture celebrates wealth. We have no trouble naming the billionaires. But God knows every name of every person.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who you serve Luke 16:1-15

Jesus, in Luke 16:1-15, tells a story that many people can relate too. A man was about to lose his job as a business manager. He was accused of wrong doing and his boss demanded that he make an accounting for what he'd done and what he had left undone.

The manager didn't like his chances. He,

...thought to himself, ‘Now what? I’m through here, and I don’t have the strength to go out and dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. I know just the thing! And then I’ll have plenty of friends to take care of me when I leave!’ New Living Translation Luke 16:3-4.
The manager told his soon to be former customers to tear up their bills. A debt of 800 gallons became 400 and a debt of 1000 bushels became 800. Jesus story surprises me; but it shouldn't. He spoke bluntly as someone who sees the world in action for good and for ill. He explained that,
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:8-9 NIV.
Jesus saw the God fearing fall prey to the world. Even as we try to be shrewd in our dealings in the world we have an enemy who seeks to consume and destroy us by getting us to consume and destroy others. Jesus words have been sound advice for 2000 years but they have also pointed to our limits. We fall prey to the schemes of the evil one who seeks our loyalty. Jesus wasn't speaking idly when he said,
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Luke 16:13 NIV.
Jesus' words have the clarity of an alarm bell. The question is will people sleep through the alarm and sleepwalk in service to a master other than God.

Who do you serve?
More than a decade ago my old college roommates liked the band Nine in Nails. The words of the dark hard driving song "Head Like a Hole" on the album Pretty Hate Machine speak, in the chorus especially, of the power surrendered to whatever or who ever we serve. The chorus strikes hard, "Bow down before the one you serve, you're going to get what you deserve." These haunting words in response to the singer asking "...god money tell me what you want."

In my generation it's clear we serve all sorts of idols who will eagerly replace God. The ugly truth is these idols will demand even greater service at greater cost. The debate was not over trivial matters of day to day earthly choice but over the limits of human choice in matters of God's control. A few years later I entered seminary and encountered Luther's debate with Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will. Luther wrote naming the power God has and the limits of human choice as compared to God's power. Luther argued that because God is soveriegn our wills and powers have will always have limits. To some this sounds like a great loss; but to Luther he saw this as the source of greatest gain,
But surely it is preferable to lose the world rather than God the creator of the world, who is able to create innumerable worlds again, and who is better than infinite worlds! For what comparison is there between things temporal and things eternal? This leprosy of temporal evils ought therefore to be endured rather than that all souls should be slaughtered and eternally damned while the world is kept in peace and preserved from these tumults by their blood and perdition, seeing that the whole world cannot pay the price of redemption for a single soul. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 33 : Career of the Reformer III, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1972), Page 53.
Luther spoke of God's supreme power in debate with those who claimed humans have free choice even over salvation. Luther spoke of God's power as a word of gospel naming God's authority to rescue the most ungodly through the Word. Today give thanks for God's power to break any bonds and age to set captives free.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Loving the Unlovable Luke 15:1-10

Luke tells us in our gospel that people who might be considered ungodly were coming close to listen to Jesus. Luke wrote,

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus and the Pharisees didn't see eye to eye on this matter at all. The pharisees had human eyes and they saw Jesus sitting with broken imperfect people. And they wanted to know why. Didn't know who they were. Didn't Jesus know what they'd done. Jesus saw the broken most imperfect people and he wanted to bring them closer to God.

We get into trouble when we forget who are. And we get into even deeper trouble when we forget who God is. Human beings, who try to judge God and tell God what to do, are always in for a surprise. And often they are surprised by the audacity of God's love for those they consider most unlovable. Jesus told two stories about the love of God for people who aren't holy. Truth is God can do the very most with someone who believes they are too far gone for even God to help. Jesus is telling us plainly today that God has a mission and a plan and that mission and plan is to build the kingdom of God by searching out the lost.

There's a part of us that tries to protect God from the truth. But we don't need to protect God from reality. Jesus wanted people 2000 years ago to know the good news that God loves the unlovable and that he will search out and find those who wander away from him. The same is true today.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Leave that too Luke 14:25-33

When Jesus tried to make his way into the towns it was often impossible to get to him. The crowds who wanted to be near him were so big. And as the crowds got bigger Jesus turned and said words that weren't meant to attract more people to jump on to the band wagon.

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus' choice of the word hate strikes hard when you hear it. Hate father, mother, spouse, sister and brother. How can anyone, let alone Jesus say we are to detest and abhor them and even push away from them and from life itself. Oh such a strong word hate. And this strong word was used here on purpose. Eugene Peterson translated this word hate into a compound verb refuses to let go. He reads these words and explains them this way.

"Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27 The Message

Jesus is inviting us to give up everything that we seek so hard to protect and that we pour heart and soul energy into to follow him. And hard as you might fight to preserve your life and your family the day will come for all of us when we will turn away from everything that we have on this earth in order to enter into everlasting life with Jesus.

Joining the church means joining something new. Joining the church means leaving old things and even beloved old parts of our identity behind. The question for me today is does this happen all at once or does this happen over a lifetime.

Reading this week from Luke the word's that Jesus speaks seem so harsh at first glance. But I read this words this week knowing again that none of us will live forever. I read these word's knowing that as much as we love life and as hard as we work to preserve our families the day will come when we must let go of everything. Jesus isn't kidding anyone for even a second. Following Jesus means following Him into death and only through death into life everlasting. And that will mean giving up everything you know.