Luke 23:33-43

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[a] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.[[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][b] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[c] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[d] “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[e] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[f] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[g] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve wanted to be saved?  Maybe a social situation that you wanted to get out of?

The summer before my 8th grade year in school was particularly hard.  

Actually, this is my sophomore year in high school…could not find an 8th grade picture!

I can’t remember exactly why, but that can be such an awkward age.  Dealing with emotional and physical changes and sometimes even life changes…and, we all know that no matter how old we are, change can be hard, even when we embrace that change.

That summer for me was one of change.  It was also the first mission trip with our youth group that I was able to go on.  I had been looking forward to this time.  I had grown up in that church, really, my family ancestors were a part of that church since it’s beginning, in 1792!  It was the only church I knew.  We also had this rather large youth group at the time.  The mission trip that year was to Washington, DC.  We filled a school bus with kids and had simply an amazing week of service.  There were also lots of practical jokes…some even from the youth director and music director.  I wasn’t used to this kind of humor, so it took some getting used to.

One of the fun things about this trip, is that we planned to go to King’s Island on our way home from DC back to Louisville.  The night before we left, our youth director told us that we had to wear our trip t-shirts (which were 3/4 sleeve and ugly) and blue jeans or khaki long pants because we were representing the church.  Now, I’m not one for uniforms, and it was July…and unusually hot week.  I protested, a lot, but eventually gave in.

Growing up, whenever we went to Kings Island, it was a badge of honor to be the first one to see the Eiffel Tower replica.  So, on the bus, I was so excited that I sat in the front in my cool t-shirt and blue jeans…I eventually got the whole bus excited and was leading them in chant of “almost there” while looking intently for the tower.  

King’s Island, Mason, Ohio

Sure enough, I was the first one to see it!  So, I exclaimed there it is, turned around to the rest of the bus to point it out, and to my amazement, saw about 50 kids on that bus laughing, as they began to take off their youth group t-shirts, shed their hot blue jeans, to reveal light short sleeve summer shirts and shorts underneath…and, looked over at my youth director, who was doing the same.  

The joke was on me.  I laughed with them, I told them all what a great joke it was.  But, on the inside, I was humiliated.  It went deeper than the intended joke, I was 13, felt alone, hurt, and no one to rescue me.  I changed clothes when we got to the park, but that memory is still with me.

Our passage this morning from the gospel of Luke depicts humiliation.  Only on a scale that I could never imagine.  Crucifixion by the Romans was meant to be more about humiliation than pain even.  The place of the Skulls in Jerusalem was picked by the Romans for crucifixion because it was visible for all to see.  To be nailed to a tree, lifted up, often for days, while folks walked by either throwing scorn and insults, or shielding their eyes away from the cruelty.

One of my office windows at Fleming Road UCC

Luke reminds us that the Romans and the Jewish authorities formed an alliance of convenience in order to maintain the system status quo.  They viewed Jesus as a threat to their hold on power and to the way things have been that kept them on the top.  They wanted to send a message.  Even giving Jesus cheap wine with vinegar in it…not good wine fit for a king, but sour wine.  It says that the Romans mocked Jesus.  The term for mock in this passage denotes that the Romans thought of Jesus as less than human.  

This past week, I got together with a friend of mine who works for the Mayor of Cincinnati.  She’s amazing.  A true leader.  She’s a woman of color and has a different outlook that I need to listen to and learn from.  We talked about a lot of things, but especially on the humiliation of persons of color in our country’s history with chattel slavery, a form of slavery that attempted to label persons of color as less than human…and how that continued on with Jim Crow laws and even to this day in various forms.  

It’s also important to note that’s why the black church has been a powerful voice.  They have understood humiliation, and they have persevered.  In many ways, I feel like the black church is the salvation of the American church.  It is through their suffering that we, as a church universal, can have an avenue of understanding what it means in many ways to live in faith of a God with us.

We see that in the gospel lesson.  Jesus is humiliated with the scandal of the cross.  Yet, Jesus asks for God to forgive them.  They are telling Jesus, jeering at Jesus, to save himself.  Yet, Jesus has incredible agency and resolve to absorb and to suffer…to take on death in a scandalous way in order to show us a better and deeper way of living.  The people that killed Jesus were telling him to look for salvation like any other king would, by force or violence.  Jesus is responding to violence with an inner strength of love and non-violence.  Which, ultimately brings salvation to them, and to all of us, as we live into becoming people of love, resolve, and our truest selves.  

Jesus responds to persons as they begin to move towards humility.  It seems like we often look for a savior to simply come in and swoop us out of a situation. But, if we look deeper, we can possibly experience growth, humility, and salvation even in the midst of a tragedy by recognizing God’s Presence. It takes courage to confront the darkness in our lives, but oftentimes, that is where we find God.

Jesus is crucified in between two thieves.  One, wanting to be saved, but cannot recognize himself or his humiliation….the other, recognizes where he is, knows his humiliation, names it, and sees in Jesus a Presence, the presence of God.  And, Jesus follows up on God’s promise of being with us by reassuring him that they would be together in paradise that day.

Friends, Jesus remembers us, all of us.  Jesus is with us in all of life’s ups and downs.  May we own where we are, we may be looking around for someone or something else to save us…but, may we follow the example of this gospel lesson and look deep inside, as well as deep inside of others as we build genuine friendships, and recognize that God is with us and God knows what we are going through…God does not give up on us, God brings us forgiveness, brings us salvation, God brings us God’s self. 


Luke 21:5-19

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

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

Signs and Persecutions

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and, ‘The time is near!’[b] Do not go after them.

9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words[c] and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.


I was thinking of that this week.  I have signals all of the time!  Signals when I drive, signals on my watch when I run, signals of my health even.  I know that a few years ago that my body was telling that I needed to make some changes…career changes even!  

Signals!  They are everywhere and they are important.  Sometimes we can have too many and the message gets lost.  But, they can also help to inform us about what’s going on. 

We come to this morning’s gospel lesson and its reminder to pay attention to the signals.  The setting is right before Jesus and the disciples have their last supper.  

Jesus is teaching in the temple and telling folks that they should recognize the signs all around them.  That there is distress in the nations, a foreboding of what is to come and to be on the look-out for the Son of Man, the Messiah.

It’s interesting that not much has changed since Jesus gave those words.  In Jesus’ time there were protests, Roman oppression and rule, unjust systems and folks rising up to challenge them, and wars, always wars. 

Today, if you only watch the news for 5 minutes, you hear about the same things.  Different actors, but still the same.

Not only are their signs of the times that tell us that something isn’t right in the world, but we see signs in our own lives:   conflicts with others, a deep sense of distrust, a desire to win rather than work together towards good goals, a deep sense of anxiety and fear within culture and within ourselves.  We not only see signs of distress in culture, but in our lives.  I talk with folks all of the time that are dealing with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and situational as well as chronic depression.  

These are all signs that can lead one towards despair and even confusion.  What’s going on here?  We may wonder.  There are some who even come in Jesus’ name, claiming this or that…but, Jesus warns us, those that come in his name but do not model Jesus, are not from him and to not be led astray.  It is more important for us to see the signals from God and to hear them.  Jesus has other words for us, that when we sense some of the things I just mentioned, there is a deeper promise that God has made to us.  We are not alone and that God has come, is here, and will come for us.  

The writer of Luke is telling us that God’s promise of entering humanity is upon us.  That in the midst of the anxiety, distress, and confusing times, that there is good news.  When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways:  one is fear, the other is faith that God will keep God’s promises and we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love.  

Rather than looking at the events around us with fear and anxiety, we can live with confidence and courage.  A Greek word that is used often to describe God’s Presence is “parousia”.  It means literally presence, arrival, or visit.  God’s Kingdom is upon us, God’s Presence.  The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?

Do we sense that something new is emerging within our lives and do we live in expectation of this newness being made known?  Do we get wrapped up in the anxiety and emotion of external issues that arise around us or are we able to take a deep breath and sense that something good may arise out of whatever situation that we are facing eventually?  Or, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with what is happening and know that we are not alone and that we can share whatever is happening with others and with God?

I believe that cultivating this sense of Presence is key for our lives.  We can sense signals that strengthen our faith in God and in others if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us.  As we stop, contemplate, we can listen to ourselves, even others, and attempt to look at even familiar things with a sense of God’s presence in everything. We can catch those glimpses of God that can move us towards growth.

Faith is defined in the dictionary as trust or confidence in someone or something, it is also a strong belief in God based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.  

The writer of Luke is calling us out to have faith that we may never understand, but we can live into or apprehend, we can’t prove it.  But, it is a faith that keeps us alert, keeps us living expectantly.  We are called to be open to God’s breaking into our lives in the most unexpected ways.  God is giving us signs all of the time.  We can be stubborn or attempt to control what signs God may be giving us, we can be resistant to God’s Presence out of fear and a desire to cling to what we know.  Or, we can see, that, just like the seasons give us clues that change is upon us, that God’s Presence in our lives has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive.  We can see that as we stay alert and practice listening or noticing the signs of God’s activity, that we can have lives filled with meaning, purpose, and even gratitude in the midst of all of the craziness that we experience within us and around us.  

Just as we pay attention to the signals around us of change, growth, death, and even life.  We also have to pay attention to God’s signals to us.  God does not promise us that life will be easy, even in this passage, we are reminded that trouble will surely come our way.  That’s why it’s so important to remember that God is faithful to us.  I would add, that God is not only faithful to us individually, but also to us as a church.  That faithfulness to us personally and corporately, gives us the courage to respond to God in faith.  Whether it’s in things that we are confronted with daily, with our church’s direction and our stewardship of it, really, whatever, we should pay attention to the signs, and have the courage to respond in ways that will increase our understanding of ourselves, others, God…ways that will increase our understanding that God’s presence is everywhere and in all things.


Luke 20:27-38

The Question about the Resurrection

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man[a] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

This is an odd story…it’s about marriage, but traditions that we don’t understand. 

I’ve been thinking about what marriage has meant through the centuries.  I remember this scene from a movie that gives one particular view of marriage.

So, our message this morning is about marriage…or “twu wuv”.  Lets dig deeper.

Our gospel story this morning is about a group of folks called the Sadduccees.  They understood the law of the day well, they were also a part of the power structure of that day.  They came to Jesus with a question about marriage…but, they really were not interested in a conversation about marriage.  They wanted to debate, to work towards a “gotcha” moment with Jesus.  The Sadduccess, along with the religious leaders, the Pharisees, sat on top of the proverbial social order.  They had it made.  Along comes Jesus making all sorts of statements, interpreting things differently, having a different take on the temple and its future, talking about relationships over institutional preservation…saying things like the Kingdom of God is here, in our midst.  

So, the Sadduccees did just that, they presented Jesus with an issue to try and trip him up.  They were devout Jews, but they were also rational thinkers and didn’t believe in the resurrection.  They believed that when you died, you died.

The Sadducees brought up this issue of a woman marrying someone, then her husband dying without a son, marrying his brother, then the same thing happening several times, but still without a son.  She would die eventually without an heir, therefore, with Jewish custom of that day, she would not have a strong identity.  Because she had no children, no one could make claim…so, in the resurrection, who’s wife would she be?  This was a patriarchal society, and even this question has undertones of 1st century sexism.  But, they were trying to trick Jesus into either denying the resurrection, or making a social statement about marriage.

Jesus, gives a wonderful answer.  It’s interesting to note the tone as well.  Jesus is being treated in a very condescending way, he’s also being pushed into an argument that he doesn’t really care to win or lose…that’s not Jesus’ way…winning or losing.  Jesus is more interested in people and authentic friendships, Kingdom living….real living than some philosophical question about marriage in the resurrection.  

Jesus knows that this question isn’t about marriage…it’s about power, control, and the Sadduccees wanting to prove their worth by trying to get Jesus in a gotcha moment.  

Who was going to be married to who in heaven wasn’t an issue…marriage is a gift in this life to be shared equally between folks, but even the question of would there be marriage in heaven is moot.  In the resurrection, there is only pure relationship, real life, and it’s not necessarily hierarchal or sexist.  It’s interesting to note that he mentions casually that no one is “given” away in the resurrection…thus a simple statement that takes away the patriarchal system of giving women away at the time.

He goes on to paint a picture that in the resurrection, one is with God and with others in perfect, loving unity.  That’s the way of the Kingdom, that’s where we want to live and find our being, now and in the future.

They were using a trap, but Jesus steps over it.  He also quotes from Moses at the burning bush.  When Moses asks God what his name is, Moses responds by saying that he is the God of Jacob, of Isaiah, etc.  The God of the living, not the dead.  

Friends, how is this applicable to us today?  Well, my hope is that you see many things in this passage in Jesus’ actions to not get caught up in trying to prove yourself through winning arguments…which is a good reminder in this election season.  But, to also see that God calls us to be alive, truly alive.  We do experience death…not only physical death, but relational death with others, and even within ourselves.  We see this often in how we treat others or are treated by others in ways where we try to somehow “win” rather than simply love and work towards unity or true friendship.  Yet, there is a better way.  As Jesus followers, we are called to love as Jesus loved, to practice true love if you will.  How did Jesus love so well?  Because he allowed himself to die to himself and others…daily, and at the end of his life…knowing that love always wins and leads to resurrection.  A new and fresh start.  We spend so much time living the way we’ve always lived or thinking and acting at how we always have, but God calls us to follow the way of Jesus and to die to ourselves in order to have resurrection and to truly find ourselves.  

Our church, Fleming Road UCC, is experiencing resurrection…I see it, glimpses of it all of the time…we are having lots of good discussions around here, and in the midst of those, we are moving towards new life as we let go of winning and let God move and dance in our friendships with each other and with others in our neighborhoods and families.  

We are invited to live into this resurrection life daily…we are all one body.


Luke 19:1-10

Jesus and Zacchaeus

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Zaachaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…

I grew up listening to that song in Sunday school.  It’s ingrained on my brainwaves.  Our Gospel reading this morning, Luke 19:1-10, is about the story of Zaacheaus.  And, I think we can find ourselves in this story.  I know I can…there are times in my life when I’ve been curious, when I’ve wanted to see what’s going on…and have found myself being discovered, or discovering something about myself.  

The writer of Luke wants its readers to see that Jesus brings a fundamental and transformational change of perspective on faith in order to understand what it means to be a “Son of Abraham” and consequently a part the Kingdom of God.   This change not only recognizes that the salvation comes through Jesus’ recognition or calling out and a response from the hearer, in this case Zaacheus, but it also brings justice to an entire community as it breaks down the concept of what it means to be on the inside of a community versus on the outside.  As we’ve said around Fleming Road UCC, we want to follow the example of Jesus and be an “outside-in” focused, or “community engaged” church.  

Inviting others into friendship that are outside the church and bringing them into community.  We want to be about including new people into community of this church and giving leadership roles and friendship.  

By showing God’s love for those on the margins of society, the writer of Luke shows Jesus as being very generous and that invokes a response of gratitude as we’ve shared in other stories the past couple of weeks.  Luke 19:1-10 gives a summary of Jesus’ ministry that Luke stresses which is that Jesus came to “seek and save the lost”.  This passage shows the perspective of the Kingdom of God that Luke wants the reader to see and experience.  

Throughout Luke, there is a central theme on “seeking and saving the lost” in preceding stories before Luke 19:1-10.  Jesus’ perspective on what it means to be “in” or “out” is fundamentally different from what society at that time believed which is evident in the crowd’s “grumbling” (Luke 19:7) about Jesus’ desire to stay with Zacch who was considered a “sinner” and thus one who was ostracized to a certain degree in that society. Oftentimes in the church today, we can relate.   

Luke wants the reader to see Jesus as a “universal redeemer”for all.  

Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, everyone, not just Israel, and that the understanding of faith needed to be seen in a new way. This is a shift in thinking, and in practice. It means that all are “in” and no one is to be outside of God’s love.

Indeed, Luke’s gospel has even been referred to as the “Gospel of the Outcast”. 

There are many stories in Luke where Jesus encounters those who would be considered outsiders by Jewish society, those who didn’t have Jewish heritage or follow Mosaic Law.  Each time Jesus encounters someone marginalized, he sees something more in them than the culture of that time…he sees someone made in the image of God and created for relationship.  

Luke 19:1-10 stresses the need to “see”.   

In order to understand what it means to be “in” or a “Son of Abraham”, one has to see with their heart and mind and that seeing has to move towards present action.  It also highlights the author’s intent for the reader to see what is going on with Jesus’ mission, it requires a deeper sense of seeing.  When you read this passage, look at how many times you see the words “see” or “behold”.  

Zacchaeus sees Jesus as someone who accepts him and calls him out of the crowd.  Jesus sees Zacchaeus’ response to his acceptance and validates him by calling him a “Son of Abraham”.  Jesus sees the lost as needing to be sought out and brought into community with him and others.

Zacchaeus becomes an active participant in the kingdom of God when he meets Jesus and gives away much of his wealth.  Zacchaeus was unclean, a tax-collector, yet he was able to see the generosity of the Kingdom, not only benefiting from that generosity but acting as an extension of that generosity to others.  In Luke 19:8, Zacchaeus refers to Jesus twice as “Kyrie” or “Lord”.  Luke wants the reader to see that Zacchaeus, an unclean man who is a tax collector and on the outside of the “honor/shame” culture, recognizes Jesus’ authority.  

What were Zacchaeus’ motives?  He ran to the front of the crowd in Luke 19:4 and climbed a tree in order to see Jesus.  Was this because he was short or because he wanted others to notice him?  What was his stature in the community?  There is a “larger” narrative here than Zacchaeus’ physical size. In this passage, the Greek word for “stature” comes from “mikro” which means “small”.  In the NSRV this is translated as Zacchaeus being a small man or short.  It could it also mean that he was simply not well regarded in the community and was not looked upon with respect.  He was a chief tax collector, his job was to collect money owed to the government and he was “wealthy”.  He had an abundance of possessions that others may not have had access.  He was, in many ways, separate from others, and may have felt quite “small”.

In verse 9, Jesus identifies Zacchaeus as a “son of Abraham” and that “salvation has come to this house”.  The Greek word for salvation in Luke 19:9 is defined in this verse as meaning salvation in the NSRV, it could also mean “preservation”.  It could also be referring to Jesus as being salvation.  When exactly Zacchaeus is “saved” is not the point of this passage, it could have been either at that moment or he could have been saved already, the point is that he saw Jesus as Lord in 19:8 and Jesus saw him as a “son of Abraham” and he is somehow “saved” now.  This passage reverses the societal order and gives Zacchaeus validation as a “clean” member of the community.  I believe his stature that day grew, or his agency…he became much more through Jesus’ recognition of him as a “son of Abraham”, a child of God.

Zacchaeus, “with joy” welcomes him into his house as he asked to do.  Not only does he recognize that Jesus is Lord with words, he responds to Jesus’ request to come to his house with action. This joy and desire to act faithfully leads him to give away half of his possessions to the poor and to repay any he may have wronged in Luke 19:8, well beyond what was required by Jewish law.  This story sets up the closing statement in this passage in Luke 19:10 to address Jesus’ desire that he came to “seek and save the lost”, showing God’s generosity and that God sees faithfulness in an entirely different way than simply following all of the laws.  Faith has to be genuine and based on God’s generosity to us and his coming to us, not us to him.  Jesus sees a faith in Zaachaeus that he doesn’t see in many who are “devout” in their religious practices.

Recognizing God’s generosity as Jesus sees Zacchaeus leads him to respond in faith and obedience, not only in words, but in action as well.  This brings a fundamental change, transformation, in the way Zacchaeus sees himself and how others may see him.   Friends, may we too climb a tree, work our way towards curiousity…see Jesus and know that we are seen…and in so, move into action to love, to grow, to change.