Luke 11:1-13

The Lord’s Prayer

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father,[ahallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.[b]

Give us each day our daily bread.[c]And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]

Perseverance in Prayer

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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[f] to those who ask him!”

I love being a dad. All of it. From the time my kids were born, my prayer has been to always take in every age. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, oftentimes I’ve struggled with the concept of how to be a good dad.

Plus, being a son, I’ve had to unwrap my own relationship with my dad. How that relationship impacted me in good ways, and in ways that I’m still trying to figure out. It’s all that much harder now that he’s passed away.

But, I’m finding out more and more, the biggest thing as a dad is to simply be committed to being in deep relationship with my kids. I don’t beat myself up too much for mistakes I’ve made along the way, but try to always keep the deep love that I have for my kids in front of me. I also remind myself of the deep love that my own dad had for me, even if it has been rocky or absent at times.

The past few weeks, you’ve heard us share about our son’s trip to the UK to be with close family friends and to work with refugees and asylum seekers. Even though we could not be there with him, we were so excited for him to have this experience. The growth, the adventures, the relational connections were all wonderful for him. As parents, we were a bit worried about him going, but we were also filled with excitement for him! How could we not encourage him on this ventures.

Our gospel lesson this morning finds Jesus using the word “father”. It’s a teaching moment for his disciples as one of them asks Jesus to them to pray. They noticed that Jesus had a deep sense of intimacy with God, that Jesus prayed and conversed with God and that it seemed to have a calming and transformational effect on Jesus.

Our gospel lesson this morning finds Jesus using the word “father”. It’s a teaching moment for his disciples as one of them asks Jesus to them to pray. They noticed that Jesus had a deep sense of intimacy with God, that Jesus prayed and conversed with God and that it seemed to have a calming and transformational effect on Jesus.

Jesus takes in the request and starts with this line of addressing God as father. On the surface, this may seem that Jesus is being very patriarchal, but in reality, Jesus is redeeming a concept. In Greco-Roman culture, the father had absolute authority. He ruled over his household, his wife and kids. Children were persons non-grata.

Sometimes, it may seem like a good idea to have that kind of control we may think. But, really, any kind of absolute control or attempting to exert control over someone can lead to a loss of relationship, a void that leaves both persons feeling empty eventually.

Jesus is using his relationship to God to redeem the word “Father”. In Jewish understanding, beyond the patriarchal implications that could be there, father is a relational term. It should denote a sense of deep and abiding love and commitment. As we’ve said before, the word to describe God’s characteristic the most in the Bible is Hesed…which means ever loving, ever faithful, ever compassionate, and ever loyal to us in community with us.

So, the writer of Luke is saying that God is a father not like the Roman fathers, but a father filled with care and commitment to his children.

Jesus is also saying that we should respect God’s name, we don’t take it for granted and we don’t use it in vain as some seem to do these days. Honor and respect are important for any relationship. If we want to grow in our relationship with God and with others, then we need to honor and respect that relationship, which is also honoring and respecting ourselves.

Jesus goes on to say that praying for the Kingdom to come is important…not just a kingdom in the future, but to for Kingdom or Presence of God to made known to us every day and that we are to pray for God to provide for us sustenance, or to carry us with nourishment every day.

It’s also important to note that we are to ask for God’s kingdom, no one can give us God’s presence…no one can say magic words and eyes will be opened to see God or ears cleaned out to hear God’s word…that we have to realize that we are surrounded by God’s presence and we should converse with God to be aware of that presence. It doesn’t say in Scripture to “build” God’s Kingdom, but to “seek” it…to see it literally.

Our Reformed understanding of worship gets this. One of the things that it emphasizes is that worship is not a spectator sport. We can get into all sorts of conversations about what happens up front, and those can be important, but the real work is being done by all of us together. We can go into any worship service, or any setting really, and experience God’s Presence, God’s kingdom…but it’s up to us to be in prayer for our lives to be settled and to let go. When we can do that, we can experience more fully the blessings of God’s Presence.

That Presence of God can also bring healing. As a pastor, there are so many times that I pray for folks. That I want to see something happen in their lives that will bring them joy, health, and growth. And, often I work really hard to see that happen as well as praying. But, really, I have to remember that it’s not up to me to see someone experience God…God gives the daily bread in whatever ways God chooses…and it’s up to others to receive it.

Jesus goes on to say that it’s important for us to know that we are forgiven, that God is not concerned about the past. That doesn’t mean that we can’t grow from the past, and that we should own our past, but it does mean that God wants us to move forward. That we are forgiven in God’s eyes. And, because of that, we should forgive those whom we feel owe us something.

As a parent, sometimes I want my kids to say they are sorry, I may work really hard to get them to understand that…and, my kids are pretty aware and eventually, most of the time, will come around to that. But, I’m more focused on them realizing that my love for them, the love that will carry them through this part of their journey and hopefully take them to the next, is not dependent on their actions. I’ll love them and forgive them no matter what.

Jesus is saying that same thing. God loves us, and God wants us to practice loving others. When we do, we’ll find our relationships with ourselves, God, and others will thrive.

Forgiving debts is also important…I think that word “debts” is huge. We live in a world that piles up debts, not only monetarily, but to so many things that hold us back…

Our friend, Dr. Walter Brueggemann says that we are all a part of a pharoh economy, that we are all enslaved to something.

As people of faith, we are called to walk away from whatever we are enslaved to, just like the Israelites walked out of Egypt. Freedom isn’t easy, but it does beat being broken by the debt that’s put on us. But, God doesn’t send us to freedom by ourselves. The Israelites as a people gathered were freed together, none of this rugged individualism, but a called out people together. We cannot do this journey towards freedom alone, we have to depend on one another.

We are also to ask God to not test us. We don’t have anything to prove. God’s love for us is a transformational relationship. It isn’t a transaction. God is not going to love us any less if we pass or fail or a test. We will always have things or people in our journey in life that will want to test us, but not God. God wants to love us into growth. As that happens, we can find ourselves able to overcome so many obstacles.

The second part of our gospel narrative gives us more of an understanding of the practical aspects of prayer. The verb to ask is very similar to the verb to pray. It is an action. I believe that it’s paired with the Lord’s prayer because Jesus wants us to understand that our God wants us to be able to go to God as a loving parent, in relationship. God wants us to converse with God, to pray for whatever we may need in order to be sustained and to grow. But, to also realize again and again that it’s always for a sense of relational intimacy and growth. Even with the story of asking a neighbor for bread after they’ve gone to bed…they may not want to get up, but they will eventually give us bread!

Friends, Jesus is telling us that if you want to be sustained in your relationship with God, that if you want to grow, if you want to be strong in who you are as a child of God, made in God’s image…that you need to persevere, that you need to know that God is a loving father and will not give you a scorpion if you ask for bread! What kind of a parent is that?!

But, you have to ask, you have to be aware and to be humble. Asking for forgiveness, asking for God to sustain you, that you can’t do it on your own, asking for eyes to see God’s Presence means that you have to admit that you haven’t been looking or have some blind spots.

I know that for me as a dad that I have to ask my kids from time to time to help me understand, to see what they see, when I ask them that, I grow.

I believe in a similar way, that if we want to grow as a church, we have to be humble and ask others about their experiences. We have a rich resource in this church to learn from….our own children, some who have left the church, some who have not. And, from neighbors of this church…some who have been in this church, some who have never darkened the door of this church, or maybe any church. But, as we pray for growth, we should ask those around us about their experiences…and listen.

May we all ask God, the force that is so intimate and relational…the force that creates, saves, and sustains, to move through us in this moment and in every moment of our lives.

Homework this week:

Take 15 minutes out of your week to pray to God…use the time to ask for listening ears and seeing eyes. Journal some questions.

Then, find someone to talk to, take some risks, ask them what they think about God, Church, etc. See what you learn. Journal some reflection thoughts.


Luke 10:38-42

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What does it mean to “sit with something”? 

Our gospel passage this past Sunday from the lectionary continues this concept of Jesus going along somewhere, of a journey.  It paints a picture of a stop on that journey, the home of Mary and Martha, after entering a certain village.  

The author is concerned about folks genuinely hearing a message, a word, an understanding of God’s Kingdom, or, as I’ve said before, God’s Presence and radical inclusion, which, when we recognize it and live into it, allows us to be present, to be aware, and to love the folks that we meet, especially those on the margins.

In the past couple of weeks, in the Lectionary, we’ve talked about the lawyer asking Jesus about the greatest commandment, and we’ve heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, how everyone is our neighbor and having eyes to see and ears to hear.

We’ve also seen Jesus’ compassion for humanity, for Jesus’ desire to love well and to see folks grow into their true selves, the persons they were created to be in God’s image.  We’ve also seen Jesus’ frustration when folks are prevented by cultural norms, or unjust systems, that prevent them from fully being in community with others or having the chance to reach their God-given potential.  We’ve seen Jesus reach out with compassion, not just with words, but with action.

So, Jesus arrives at Mary and Martha’s house, close friends of his.  Jesus has been involved in their lives, even raising their brother Lazarus from the dead at some point as depicted in the book of John.

While at their house, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while he shared, while Martha was busy with certain household tasks.  After a while, Martha gets frustrated because she’s doing all of the work and Mary is seemingly just sitting there, so Martha makes this statement to Jesus about Mary leaving her to all of the work.

Well, before we go into what we read on the surface, it would be good to understand some of the underlying messages.  In Jesus’ day, women were expected to do certain tasks, to work on the household maintenance, sitting at the feet of a Rabbi or a teacher and learning about the word of God, was not expected of a woman.  This is another example of Jesus making a statement about equality and inclusion, that women were to be included in everything, including education.  Today, it is hoped, that we take that for granted, but it hasn’t always been so, and it’s important that we not only confront racism, classism, and most ‘ism’s” but, we still have to be vigilant in addressing sexism.  

Jesus is friends with both Mary and Martha, he loves them both.  I’m sure that Martha’s work was very important, needed to get done.  Yet, she also allowed her pride, anxiety, and the many things on her mind to take over, to cloud her vision of her love for her sister.  She also wanted to exert some sense of control over her sister, and even Jesus.  Calling him out with a passive aggressive statement about her sister.  

Yet, Jesus has a very loving response, he doesn’t jump on the anxiety train, he doesn’t put Martha down, he doesn’t talk about her behind her back, he simply calls out her anxiety and takes the heat off of Mary.  And, I believe that the way that Jesus says this, its not only direct, but it seems to me to be written by the author in a tone that says it’s ok.  Jesus keeps the bridge open relationally with Martha.

When people complain, it’s easy to want to correct them or get defensive. Yet, Jesus gives us an example of how to listen, confront the issue, and then point out a deeper truth. It doesn’t necessarily say that Martha has an “ah-ha” moment, but we do know that they continue in relationship and life moves forward.

The need for one thing in this story is Presence.  Mary is not only learning about the word of God, she is literally sitting in God’s presence.  That’s something that we all have access to…we may not always recognize it, but it’s something that won’t be taken away from us, ever.  Jesus states that it won’t be taken away from Mary, and the same is true for us.  


This story is especially true for me…I know in my personality enneagram (3), that it’s important for me to unwind, unplug, take in Jesus’ words of encouragement, and practice sabbath rest.  I value my time on Friday mornings to do just that.  I may or may not have my phone, but I almost always take a nap, do some reading, journal, and run.  And, remember a bit of who I am and reflect upon my week.  

My personality, my M.O. if you will, is to move forward, to be a practitioner.  I can often be driven towards some measurement for success and can easily become a workaholic, burning myself out and others.  

There is good in getting things done, I value that, and I value competency and efficiency.  But, I’ve also learned through years of practicing sabbath, of taking time off, going to the Monastery or other retreat centers, stopping and simply sitting for a while, that I can learn and grow and be attentive to God’s flow in my life and in the work God’s doing around me.  

I think it’s also an important ethos for us a church…both in a local context and global context.  Again, it’s important to get things done, to do something.  Yet, we also have to live in the tension as a church of simply being and letting go…that requires a lot of trust and faith that God’s faith in us is sufficient, and that God, the creator, sustainer, redeemer is speaking to us, giving us imagination and moving us in beautiful directions.  

I’ve said this before, one of the things why I believe God led me to Fleming Road UCC and Fleming Road UCC to me was this sense of possibility.  I wanted to be in a church that has a potential for being community engaged, a church willing to take risks on opening its doors to the community, and even walking out those doors into the community around us.  A church willing to sit with God and with others to listen to God’s word, and to have ears to hear it even if it comes from all sorts of places and voices inside and outside the church.

I’ve done lots of programs, I’ve been busy in my 30+ years of doing some sort of ministry.  I’ve seen metrics of large numbers come and go, it’s been fun in many ways, as well as exhausting and at times, having a certain sense of temporary community.  But, I love being at Fleming Road UCC at this crossroads in church history.  As a church universal, we are learning to listen as Mary listened, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus in people’s homes, in community gathering spots, and we see God’s love flow into us and through us.  This isn’t a new program, this isn’t a scalable new initiative that has false promises of some type of measurable metrics, this is simply listening, being loved, and then loving others and moving towards some sense of action that blesses others, and, in so doing, seeing community happen, loving our neighbors well with new imagination, and seeing ourselves grow internally and externally in ways we’ve really always wanted to grow.

I’ve loved the work of our New Parish Roundtable the past year +…As we sit with each other, engage in conversation, and as we experiment, and as we continue to invite others in the congregation into this process, we are seeing and hearing God’s gentle nudge.

As we sit, may we hear God’s voice leading us towards God and towards folks that need to be loved and included…which, really, is everyone in our neighborhoods!

Homework:  find a space to sit, and to intentionally listen with both your ears and eyes to what God may be doing in your life, and in the lives of those around you.  Some you may know their stories, others you may wonder.  But, practice active listening to your heart and where your heart connects with others.  


Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Who is our neighbor?  A few years ago, I was asked this question in an unusual place.  I was at a Presbytery meeting where we were electing a new General Presbyter.  She is a lovely person, but wasn’t the General Presbyter for very long as she has since moved to another call. Well, that afternoon, folks were asking her all sorts of questions, but they weren’t asking a question I was keenly interested in, as well as many of my colleagues.

So, I did something I’ve not done in the 18 years I’ve been a part of the presbytery.  I went forward with a question.  My question was something along the lines of our Presbytery’s focus on transformation by listening to God’s work in our neigbhorhood.  We were seeing the primary way of thinking and acting in our Presbytery start to move. We had spent lots of good money on consultants who had become good friends from the Missional Network along the way . Together, we had done some great work in getting us into this process.  

Her response, “who is our neighbor?”  I realize I was putting her on the spot, and that setting wasn’t the best, but, it’s a question that needed to be asked and produced a good discussion even after that evening.

In our parable this morning, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples and others.  In the crowd, there is a lawyer who asks Jesus about the greatest commandment.  Jesus’ answer can be summed by “loving God, loving others…nothing else matters.” as my friend Bart Campolo used to say.  Jesus specifically says, loving your neighbors as yourself.

 The lawyer, for some reason, feels like his ego is on the line and wants to justify himself, so asks, who is our neighbor?

Jesus replies with a parable, the one of the “Good Samaritan”.

A man is robbed, everything is taken from him while he’s on a journey…he’s beaten, left for dead.  Yet, he’s still hanging on.  But, he has one thing left even if everything else is stripped away, his humanity.

Along comes priest, then a Levite.  Both of these folks have high positions in society, important people.  They probably came from great families with good connections to have these kinds of positions.  They also had places to get to, in their defence, others were counting on them.  Plus, they understood that if they helped, they would be unclean, in those days, to touch a bloody person meant days of cleansing and purification.  It would be inconvenient.  Now, before we pass judgement, how many times have we passed up things, how many times have we not gotten involved with someone because of time or convenience…maybe we’ve passed by an accident, or saw someone arguing in public, or something small or great…I know I’m guilty at times.  

Yet, then comes a Samaritan.  Jesus has just welcomed the 70 or 72 messengers back in the previous story that we talked about last week.  They had gone into Samaria, some were welcomed, some were not…maybe some still had bad feelings towards Samaritans…who knows.  The Samaritan, someone not Jewish, not religious, a merchant also…not part of the ruling religious cast, stops, gets dirty, helps this man.  He didn’t ask if he was a Jew, or an illegal, or why he was on this particular road…he didn’t blame him for his circumstances or for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. No, he was moved with compassion…which is the same phrase that is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe how Jesus felt about folks who were in desperate places.  

In other words, this Samaritan felt the same way that Jesus, God’s son, felt.  That folks who don’t have a “religious” inkling may be closer to God’s heart than some that call themselves God followers.  

And, this Samaritan follows through, bandages the man, takes him to an Inn, has his needs paid for…and even checks in on him the next day.  

It seems like Jesus is saying that your religion, even your beliefs, mean nothing unless they line up with your practice or praxis.  

When Jesus asks who was the true neighbor back to the lawyer, the lawyer responds that it’s the one who showed mercy, the Samaritan.

I don’t believe that Jesus was interested in winning an argument, really, at this point, I think the lawyer wasn’t interested either, it was a genuine conversation…something that seems to be lacking in much of today’s culture.  In that conversation, the lawyer, and those listening had a sense of hearing the deeper nuances of this story…they were curious, and they experience a sort of conversion, change, transformation through listening.

That’s what parables do.  

They don’t give us measurements of success, they aren’t always feel good stories, they are not mean to be morality plays, they don’t even give us clues on how to grow the church bigger…They are organic and are meant be shared authentically and without a desire for winning.  They are like seeds that are then planted in our hearts and grow into deeper meanings for all of us.

As we think about this parable, may we let it grow within us.  As we’ve seen  in the past week, folks are more and more isolated, and filled with hate and prejudices…we as a church, have an obligation to our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, especially those on the margins or in need…and we have a greater joy in being good neighbors to all who we meet, inviting them into our lives, our church, and our community.  

An invitation this week!

As you are watching TV, looking up things on your smart phone, reading the paper, walking through the city or your neighborhood, in a conversation at work, ask yourself, “Who is my neighbor?”

Take some time to journal your thoughts/reactions.


Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The Mission of the Seventy

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy[a] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b]10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’[c]

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The Return of the Seventy

17 The seventy[a] returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Last week we discussed being on a journey and the importance of our journey partners.  Our passage in Luke was about Jesus setting his eyes towards Jerusalem and being set on the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, of living out the peace and presence of God on all of humanity.

This week, we find Jesus sending out 70, or in some manuscripts, 72, messengers to towns and places to proclaim the message that God’s Kingdom, God’s presence is now…that the time for release of prisoners, of welcoming of immigrants, of freedom for those being oppressed or persecuted has come…that community, true community…community marked by honest conversation, checking our egos at the door, being confident in who we are in Christ and what God has created within us, radical inclusion of everyone, of opening up the doors of our lives and our communities to all of those around us in some way while trusting that God’s love will flow in and through us is here!  

Jesus goes on to say that this is a message that is ripe and ready for harvest.  I get that.  When I’m out in my neighborhood I hear folks all of the time saying bits and pieces in their conversations for a yearning to belong to a larger purpose, to a community that will not judge them or hem them in, but will allow them to ask questions, to live in accountability and in friendship.  

Just this past week, in conversations at Panera, in my office, on my patio, in Northside, dinner guests in our house, and in so many other places, I’ve heard from folks their desire to be a part of a community that is marked by Presence…which is the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is not saying that he came to make a kingdom marked by boundaries and power, but a kingdom marked by authentic friendship…friendship that leads to freedom and growth.  Friendship, Kingdom friendship, happens when folks believe in each other, love one another, don’t hold grudges, are willing to ask questions out of love for one another and not out of winning arguments or out of some sort of personal agenda.  In that Kingdom, transformation is a mark of friendship, a mark of relationship, not transactions or “if I do this, you’ll do this”.  

Jesus, the representation of God, who’s very character is defined by relationship in the trinity…Father, son, HS…is sending out 72 folks to give this message.  The number is symbolic also, since we don’t know the exact number or even the exact mission of the 72,  it’s important to note that the author is simply trying to say that this is a message that needs to be spread…and that even 72 folks isn’t enough…the harvest is huge, all of humanity really.  But, have hope, you have all you need…you have yourself and a friend.  

My friends John McKnight and Peter Block have given us the concept of asset based community development.  

My friends John McKnight and Peter Block have given us the concept of asset based community development.  

This is a concept that has spread in community development and even corporate development around the world.  The idea is that you don’t go into a situation asking what the need is, you go in looking for your assets…you gather your assets, then apply them in a community and development and growth will hopefully follow.

I saw that firsthand in the ECI Oasis summer camp that my wife, Debbie, co-created four years ago. 

She’s busy with work and co-leading our family full time, but she has amazing assets in friendships.  She was able to gather neighborhood friends, get other relational assets such as local churches in our neighborhood, our local school district, and another local non-profit to put together this summer camp and feeding program for our community.  It was amazing…we did not have a huge budget, when we started, just about $5000 from various churches, now we have a budget of about $23,000 thanks to this church, other churches, individuals, and a foundation in the UMC.  But, we had the asset and the power of relationship and vision and imagination…and it took off.  We now have other members of our neighborhood coming out of the woodwork offering to take the camp to the next level, eventually all summer.  

Now, this is a message that some folks aren’t up for…they’d rather stay in their comfort zone, or they have something that they are enslaved to that is keeping them down.  

Jesus tells his messengers to model presence, even in the midst of resistors.  He tells them to go to homes and if they are welcomed there, to remain there, to bless the house, to give them peace.  For those who do not welcome God’s message, Jesus says to go into the streets, to shake the dust off their feet in protest…but, notice, he doesn’t tell them to leave.  They remain and still proclaim and live out their message.  What I understand in this passage is that the early jewish listener to this story would understand that the dust represents rejection or criticism.  Shake it off Jesus is saying, don’t let it stick to you.  And remain being the person that I’ve called you to be.  

Remain is a good thing to remember…always.  I have found that being in one place for a while helps to build up love and trust and beauty in that place…when someone makes a commitment to the growth of an area and remaining…and if that place is welcoming and open to the message, good things usually follow.  

It’s also a good reminder to remain in Christ, our true home in Christ is welcoming and allows us to grow to a place of self awareness, others awareness, and God awareness.   That awareness while remaining moves us towards growth.  

When we remain somewhere and we experience the dirt of criticism for our message and desire for loving Kingdom of God type community, to remember that we are not defined by that criticism, that we can shake it off and continue on with the message that we’ve been given to share.

God’s flow can’t be stopped, it will continue to flow over those who welcome it, and those who reject it.  Those who welcome it will grow, and those who can’t seem to welcome it, who can’t let go of the demons in their lives that are oppressing them, will continue to live in the hell that they’ve created…

But, to those whom God has called to be his messengers, we must continue to go and to share and to remain in ourselves and in friendships with others the authentic selves we are called to be…when we do this, we experience power over the demons of others, and even the demons, or the voices that torment us.

Friends, Jesus says that there is a thief that comes to steal and destroy, but in Jesus, we experience abundant life…life filled with wonderful assets of relationship, possibility, imagination, and purpose.  We are called to be the body of Christ together…and to experience the abundant life of Christ poured into us.


Luke 9:51-62

A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[a]55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then[b] they went on to another village.

Would-Be Followers of Jesus

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What does it mean to “set” your eyes on something?  Setting a course?  Is it important to have others with you in that endeavor?

Our Gospel lesson in Luke this week finds Jesus at a turning point, he is setting his eyes towards the journey to Jerusalem.   As we’ve discussed in the past,  Jerusalem is the center of Jewish religious life, it has the rebuilt temple, it is the focal point of Jewish life, it is where God dwells on earth symbolically and literally for Jews at that time.  Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and loving folks from all different walks of life.  He has been healing and restoring to community those on the margins of society.  He has also challenged the religious-political structures of that time to be model better the type of community that God intended:  inclusive, loving, restorative, and built upon the notion of God’s dwelling being made with all of humanity.  Jesus modeled this by being a rabbi, someone on the “in” of Jewish culture, going out to those on the outside, building genuine, authentic friendships with no strings attached, but loving them towards restoration and bringing folks back “in” to community with others.

I recently came across this quote from Richard Rohr that describes how Jesus, and how the church reforms.  

“You can only reform things long term by unlocking them from inside – by their own chosen authoritative sources. Outsiders have little authority or ability to reform anything.”

– Richard Rohr

In the Luke narrative, the theologian Gordon Fee says that Jesus is “the coming of salvation in all of its fullness to all people.”  No one is left out, humanity, as the Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says is the body of Christ that Jesus came to restore in the 2nd “big bang” of history.  

So, Jesus is now “set” to move towards the center of Jewish thought in Jerusalem, putting into another phase of God’s purposes of planting the seed that changes everything.  This is the Christ Project, the working all of humanity towards wholistic restoration of relationships with ourselves, others, and God.  

And, Jesus is determined to get there.  He sets out in a direct route that takes him towards Jerusalem.  In takes him through Samaria.  This is an area that is populated by folks who have have a mix of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) lineage both religiously and culturally. A very diverse population.  Because they were considered impure to devout Jews as they intermarried with various cultures, and because Samaritans had a different view of where God dwelt and even had some different religious leanings, they were looked down upon by Jews and Samaritans didn’t want to have anything to do with Jerusalem, because of their being rejected over time by Jews.

So, when Jesus sends messengers to prepare the way for his journey through Samaria, his messengers are rejected and the Samaritans, folks who Jesus actually was trying to befriend, reject Jesus because his “face was set for Jerusalem”…in other words, they weren’t rejecting Jesus personally, but his intent to go to Jerusalem.  Yet, the disciples were upset and asked if they could ask for “fire to come down from Heaven” and destroy Samaria.  

It seems as if the disciples had not quite received the message that Jesus was sharing yet, actually, they didn’t until after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s certainly safe to say that they were working in an old paradigm of viewing Samaritans, looking down upon them rather then opening up to them, and they also didn’t like rejection.  There were drawn to the aspect of power and glory that Jesus presented, they liked the notoriety of the flash of Jesus’ message, the hearings, the miracles, but they were missing the power of rejection and of humility.

We all face rejection, but how we deal it is important.  If we are set on something bigger than ourselves, then rejection can simply be a moment of growth for us. Even if we are the ones doing the rejecting, there are lessons to learn if we are willing to have some self-reflection. If we take rejection in stride and move forward, we grow.  If we do the rejecting out of pride or contempt, it can lead us towards bitterness, discontent, and we miss out on relationships and God’s blessings.  God’s flow, God’s Spirit will always find a way to move towards growing something within us and in the communities that we find our being.  When we are faced with obstacles, instead of reacting to them with power plays or with pride, if we let love flow in and through us, we can see that rejection or barriers will simply add some narrative or contour to a greater story and will not stop us on our journey.

That’s what happens in this story about Jesus.  Jesus rebukes the disciples, in some ancient manuscripts, there is even an extra line in verse 56 that says this:  “You do not know what spirit you are of, 56 for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”  Jesus is for us, Jesus is for humanity, and Jesus is set on his journey to Jerusalem to change the course of history towards a trajectory of love that always wins out.  And, Jesus wants us to live in his spirit and do the same.  

It’s also important to note that even though the Samaritans didn’t get it, had pride and couldn’t see beyond their contempt for the Jews, that there are stories in the bible that show Jesus’ love and commitment towards the Samaritans, even befriended them.  The same thing with the disciples, they didn’t get it, even put up roadblocks and made Jesus’ life and message a bit difficult.  Yet, Jesus chose them and they chose Jesus to be on the journey together in ministry and literally in their journey towards Jerusalem.  

I have been reminded these past weeks at how important it is to be on a journey together with folks…folks that are imperfect, yet committed to be together and to be set towards a goal. 

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

When we climbed Mt. Whitney, Andy was there for me in many ways…all of us would encourage each other as we climbed, even as made some mistakes on our route to the top of the mountain!  

That bond continues on in many ways.  I’ve had other journey companions who’ve trained for marathons, friends who have conspired to get some good things going in our neighborhoods, like Oasis, where the summer camp started out of.  And, others who have co-created with me so many good things.

I can point to others who have been there for me…not perfect folks, actually, all of us a mess at times….there have been difficult moments in those friendships… But, still, there has been a flow, a bond, some would even say a covenant or a promise of friendship.    

These journey companions have caused me to be set on certain goals that are all about seeing the Kingdom of God, the ushering in of a reorganization in my life around following Jesus, of building authentic community, and of loving others in practical and humbling ways.

Jesus calls all of us into these types of relationships, as we journey together, we realize that we are dependent on each other in this new community that Jesus is calling us towards.  It takes priority over all sorts of other tasks.  We can’t be bogged down by how we’ve always done things or even understood things, there are too many people in this world that need the system changed in a way that Jesus lived out.  Jesus says to follow him and his way, to let the dead bury their own dead, to not make excuses of why we can’t follow, to not delay, to not try to build up some idea of power or some sort of kingdom of our own making, but to not look back and to look forward towards building the new reality of God’s Presence that builds us up, builds bridges between us, and tears down walls that have been built up both literally and figuratively.  May we live lives set towards the journey God’s called us on. 

Your homework this week:  Take inventory this week of who in your life has been a “life journey companion”.  Maybe it’s someone you have not seen in a while.  Reach out to them with a note or an email or a text and say “thank you”.  Then, reflect on how they have been a witness to God’s love for you in friendship.