Friday, October 29, 2010

Jesus came for this small man Luke 19:1-10

About 10 years ago, when I was fresh from seminary, a group of 4 7th and 8th graders joined me reading the Gospel of Mark.  As we read we got some very clear ideas in our imaginations about what different people in the gospels were like.  
One of the most interesting groups of people to imagine were the tax collectors.  Every kid in that group could sing a little ditty about a tax collector, "Zacchaeus as a we little man..."  But somehow that song didn't capture the full revulsion that people felt towards men like Zacchaeus.  
As we visited about tax collectors I encouraged the group to imagine a tough violent man as Zacchaeus.  We imagined a small gangster similar in size and attitude to Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas.  He might have been small but his size wasn't an obstacle to his violent attempts to control others.  The same probably could be said for Zacchaeus.
How far can God's love go?Zaccheus was not a beloved member of the community.  Hearing the good news of Jesus' reaching out towards a man like him ought to still shake us when we're sitting in the seat of the Pharisee's.  Jesus was reaching for a man who had been written-off but who was not too far gone for God's reach.  May all who search for God hear the Good News that God's reaching waiting to enter into their lives.

Pax, John.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's in your heart Luke 18:9-14

Jesus told a story of two men who came to the temple to pray, a pharisee and a tax collector. In life men like these 2 are viewed ifferently and likely even see themselves differently. Jesus knows each of us. He knows very well that we each have our own views of ourselves and our own reasons why we might think that we out to come to God in prayer.

Jesus even let's us in on the reasons "why" each man came to pray. The Pharisee came to praise God for making him so great. He concluded with a speech about why he was so great. The tax collector had a reason why he needed to pray in the temple: he was a sinner to came to beg God for mercy.

Why questions are slippery and we look for ways to slide arround them. We look for ways to deflect and hide our sinful motives. But God is fully away of reasons why we need to come to Him that we don't understand and won't even face on our own. In the book Couples in Conflict Ronald Richardson says,

In the garden of Eden God did not ask Adam and Eve “why” they ate the fruit of the tree. God simply asked about the fact of eating. Did they do it? But they responded with “why” answers. They would have loved to debate the “whys” with God...(page 12)
There's a danger in presuming that we truly know what we need from God when we pray. Listen closely to story. Maybe we think we know the reason why each man wanted to come to God and the reason why God might have wanted each man to come to him. In at least one case in the story God's reason is different than those of a human being who came to him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep Praying Luke 18:1-8

There's a real picture of a human faith and prayer that Jesus paints as he tells the story of the widow and the unjust judge. It's a vivid picture that both haunts and inspires. We want to meet God and see him and reach him easily; truth is we want all of our encounters with God to be easy.

Jesus knows what we want from God; and he spoke boldly about the real character of God that isn't always what humans want it to be. We want our prayers to be heard and answered fast. Prayers offered to an entity who will answer in our timeframe aren't prayers to the real God.

Jesus said when you pray remember the woman who came to a judge who refused to listen. Remember her persistence when you come to God time after time. Jesus words are meant both to encourage and inspire us. But I also hear words of warning: there will be struggles among people of faith who pray to the God. There will be struggles even for those who have no place else to turn and are completely depending on God for help. Even more frightening to consider is that there might not be any answers from God that we would want to hear.

We might be the one who comes to God like this woman. We might be like the woman who wasn't been heard and who asked for a long time be heard. Martin Luther wrote of God's will both to be known and to be hidden. A good explanation of God's hiding in Luther's theology has been offered by Steven Paulson. It's an uneasy reality to face.

Jesus' story of the widow and the unjust judge is especially uncomfortable when you dwell in the middle space waiting to be heard having no place else to turn except for God. Frieghtening questions pop up inside those in the waiting middle space waiting for God, "Where are you God? Do you care?" There's no way through this middle space between us and God except faith; their are no anchors to hold to except faith in the God you can't see and hear and taste and touch and smell.

May God grant us perseverence and long suffering faith that his great and glorious will will be done among us. AMEN.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What happens when God changes your life? Luke 17:11-19

Look around today and you can see God at work in the lives of many who don't stop to give their thanks and praise in return for all that's been done for them. This situation is nothing new.

Luke tells the story of 10 people who lived with leprosy, a terrible disease that forced them into isolation for fear that their sickness would spread. They were unclean and had to live apart to prevent others from becoming unclean like them.
In faith and hope they called to Jesus. The 10 were asking him to change their lives and make them whole. The miracle they hoped for happened and all 10 were made whole.

1 of the 10 turned back to Jesus to give thanks. Jesus asked out loud about the other 9. He knew that all of them were whole. He knew that grace had been shown to them even while some didn't recognize the gracious free gift that they had been given.

Speaking with a mother and grandmother today about this story it becomes clear that gratitude isn't an instant part of our lives. God's work in our world often goes unnoticed. But thankfully God's love isn't limited by our works and our gratitude. Thankfully God's grace is limited only by his willingness to die for those he would come to redeem.