Aware.

Matthew 24:36-44

The Necessity for Watchfulness

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

This has been simply an amazing week.  I needed a week like this.  I’m not sure what your week has been like, but my hope and prayer that as you come into this time, this morning, that you are able to be thankful…and that you are wide awake to the possibilities that surround you.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is from Matthew.  Jesus is preparing his disciples, his followers, and those that are listening to him, that the time is coming, and maybe even already upon us, that the Son of Man, would be present with them.

During Jesus’ day, there was much anxiety.  Israel was an occupied land by the Roman Empire.  They were on edge from the whims of the most powerful force in the world at the time.  What’s more, the Roman Empire had enriched and empowered narcissistic rulers in Israel.  Things were on edge.  Yet, within that, persons were sensing that things were changing.  Their hope was for the Son of Man, the messiah to return soon and be a political ruler that would make things right.

What Jesus was saying is so much more.  The Greek phrase in this passage for the visitation or coming of the Son of Man, is “Parousia”.  It translates as the coming of the King, but it also translates as the Presence of God.  This is a theme throughout scripture, that the Kingdom of God is coming and we’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are phrases that tell us that God’s Presence is with us, coming to us, in our midst and even in us.  

Now, Jesus wasn’t a political ruler…no, Jesus wasn’t interested in simply seeking earthly power or making things great for a few folks or through some sense of cultural collective ego that was looking for an external savior to drop from the heavens.  Jesus was about something much more, much deeper…Jesus was about bringing all of humanity together.  Not making everyone the same, actually celebrating our human diversity, while also bringing unity and a deep sense of communal love and connection.  Jesus, in his humanity, showed us how to love and how to work towards reconciliation and inclusion in his life.  After his death and resurrection, Jesus continues on to represent all of humanity.  Our passage this morning gave our spiritual fathers and mothers a couple of hundred years later a sense of our understanding of God’s Trinitarian nature.  In the first verse it talks about the Father knowing the time that the son of Man will be with us, that phrase denotes relationship between the father, and the son, and bears witness to that relational dynamic of three creating, redeeming, and sustaining through relationship and that Relationship’s flow in and through our lives.  

It also goes on to say that we don’t know when calamities or hardship fall upon us, we do live in anxious times.  Every election cycle that we have had in the past six or seven years has been evidence of that anxiety.  Which, is really more about a shift in culture than an election.  People are fearful in times of change and we can all become susceptible to extremes.  Regardless of who you voted for, and we all know this, there has been a deep sense of change happening all around us for years.  Yet, the fear of the unknown is real.  

The way of dealing with change in a productive way is the path of awareness.  We are called to be awake, to be sober to the realities around us and to be interested or curious without judgment as things unfold.  Discernment yes, but not judgment.   To cultivate a sense that God is coming to us and that God has come to us…that the Kingdom of God is here and we celebrate Advent, the coming of God’s physical presence through Jesus and God’s commitment to us throughout history in Jesus’ representation of humanity.  

There can be moments in our lives, whether through life events in our families or neighborhoods, or even national elections that remind us of the divisiveness and walls between us…but, we have also have moments like today that remind us that we are called to be together.

In this mornings passage, Noah is referenced.  He goes into the ark, into the storm, and after 40 days, the waters receded and Noah was reborn.  Life wasn’t perfect for Noah after this “rebirth”, he was messy, read the story.  But faith held him and he took a risk and he lived into a new era with a deeper sense of Presence.  

In our baptism, which is more than a one time symbolic event, we also arise out of the waters, symbolizing our old lives being shed and being awakened to the deeper reality of God’s Presence, of God’s Kingdom in our midst and in us, to each other, and to the world through Jesus’ actions on our behalf and the relational flow from our 3 in 1 God.  

May we stay awake and aware to the realities of this world and in our lives, that we do face dark times in this world, as well as our own lives, we do experience anxiety and grief…we are not alone…we can overcome that which divides us and move towards real friendship with God and each other.  Yes, it is hard work, this work of awareness, of living in God’s Kingdom presence following the model of Jesus as we work out the practices of reconciliation and inclusion….of allowing ourselves to emerge and to grow towards an ever deepening maturity.  

As we close this morning, there is a great quote from a Hispanic theologian, Miguel Diaz, “As beloved triune community, God ‘dances’ to birth human communities torn by suffering, hatred, and division.”

As we celebrate many of the things of this past week, and all the weeks that preceded it and will come after this moment, may we know that life is filled with paradox, but life is also amazing and wonderful and filled with possibility and imagination.  That anxiety and fear are no match for love and grace.  And, may we enter into the dance of God, and be awake even in the face of things we may not understand or predict.  

Friends, keep your eyes and ears open, stay awake, be aware, and live in faith even as the night comes..and dance in God’s Presence that has come, is coming, and is here now.  

Unexpected.

Luke 23:33-43 

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere 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. 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 Messiahof 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“This is the King of the Jews.” 

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridinghim and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?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 intoyour kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise

What does it mean to be saved? 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? 

You’ve heard me say before, in my tradition growing up, I think I was saved at least 42 times!  Every time there was what we called an “altar call”, I would get caught up in the emotion of the moment and go forward.  I was so afraid of not being saved!  From what, at almost 55, I’m not exactly sure anymore.  Probably some sense of guilt, of loneliness, of whatever.  And, always looking for something to save that was distant, an external savior to take my problems away.  

Yet, over time, through so much of life, living into even the shadow sides of life…times of despair and even humiliation, something unexpected happened.  I began to see, and still seeing…although sometimes dimly, that God is bigger than some euphoric moment…a bigger God that doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you…a God so intimate that this God is already in and and around you in all things and all people….and a God who does not need to be appeased by a blood sacrifice.  That this Jesus does the unexpected, like forgiving someone on the cross while they are both dying…this guy did not earn forgiveness…it was given.

Our passage this morning from the gospel of Luke depicts humiliation as well as something unexpected. 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. It is also referred to as Gahenna, a garbage dump that is outside of the city…Gahenna is often used as a reference to what we call “hell”.  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. 

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. 

Its been an interesting week, one full of unexpected conversations.  Bob Frey and I met and had a great conversation on what it means to be a church member at Fleming Road UCC and ways that we can enhance membership health.  How do we grow in unexpected ways, what imagination do we have, and what is a way that we can lay the groundwork to see what it means to us, and the culture around us, what it means to be member of this particular congregation.

Later in the week, at our weekly Bible study, in our opening devotion we talked about the story of Ezekiel calling forth dry bones to life.  It was an unexpected turn of events for Ezekiel, yet God reminded him that, with God, all things are possible.  Dave Kleinschmidt immediately thought of the song that the community choir sang the night before, an African spiritual about bones coming to life.  When all seems lost, there is a deeper faith at work un unexpected ways.  

It’s important to note that’s why the black church has been a powerful voice in unexpected ways. In our recent history, like Jesus, Black folks were often considered less than human.  They have understood humiliation, and they have persevered. In many unexpected ways, I feel like the Black church is the salvation of the American church. It is through their suffering and example of love in so many ways, 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.  And, in unexpected ways, the Black church continues to be a much needed prophetic voice to the Church Universal…as well as a source of friendship even in the midst of persecution and racism.  

We see that in the gospel lesson. Jesus is humiliated with the scandal of the cross. Yet, Jesus asks for God to forgive them, which is unexpected.  Usually, you’d think that a response would be one of anger or a desire for revenge, but Jesus greats violence with non-violence. 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 in unexpected ways. It seems like we often look for a savior to simply come in and swoop us out of a situation, but, more often than not, we experience growth, humility, and salvation even in the midst of a tragedy by simply recognizing God’s Presence and embracing the moments we are in…and seeking a deeper undestanding… 

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. 

Today is the Reign of Christ Sunday.  This is not simply a king, the Christ encompasses all people, things, creation…it is the universal presence filled with promise and relationship.  This Christ, in all things, shows up in the most unexpected ways.  May we live in these times looking for the unexpected.  

Foretell.

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.

“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 siblings, 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.

Foretelling…what’s going to happen…we live in a world that is constantly searching for answers in the future, aren’t we?   We want to know what the future is.

We find Jesus in this morning’s text foretelling the future.  Now, he’s obviously giving a metaphor…the temple’s stones aren’t being taken down literally.  Although, a few years after Jesus’ death they were taken down by the Romans.

Jesus is saying that they system of the Temple, the way things have been, is going to change.  Something else is going to take its place.  Instead of a place to worship like the temple, Jesus is calling his followers back to what God intended, for all to live in relationship.  

Yet, the listeners are fixated on the temple imagery and wonder when it will happen.  “What are the signs of when this will happen?” 

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 often talk with folks 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.  But, 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.  

When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways:  one is fear, the other is faith.  Do we trust that God will keep God’s promises and that we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love in the midst of uncertainty?  

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.  As we said last week, that “kingdom” presence is within us, and in our midst.  The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?  Or better yet, those signs are there and all around us, are we “willing” to see those signs?  Do we really want to?

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, better yet, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with whatever 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 see signs that strengthen our faith in God and in others if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us.  As we listen to ourselves, 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.

The church universal is facing some hard realities.  Rev. Carl Robinson, in a blog from last week said that we are living in apocalyptic times.  The institution of church as we have known it is changing, dying, ending.  We see that all around us.  Yet, the good news is that we can have encouragement.  We have a resurrection faith.  Something new is emerging.  That’s why I am curious about what we are about at Fleming Road UCC.  When I took this call almost 5 years ago, Carl gave me some great advice, “keep your eye on the ball”.  What he meant is that with so much change happening, our way forward has to be to find ways to engage the places in which our church is placed.  We are making adjustments, we are changing, slowly, but it’s happening.  Imagination and energy are emerging as we live in these uncertain times.  And, our faith is becoming alive. 

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.  

Friends, we don’t need a fortune teller, and we don’t have to live into anxiety about the future.  What we need is trust, faith…faith that hold us and carry us into the future.  In the meantime, let’s be good stewards of this congregation, together, loving and honoring one another as we commit and re-commit to the call of what it means to be together as a community of faith.  

Eat.

John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

59 He said these things while he was teaching in a synagogue at Capernaum.

Our passage this morning says that Jesus is the bread of life.   Jesus’ bread, his life given to us, helps us to move us deep within ourselves and outside of ourselves to see the abundance of God’s connection with us, and all of humanity and creation.  

Yet, even after this declaration, even after all of the actions of God’s love through Jesus, people still grumble don’t they?  Even in Jesus’ time, like today, they started to feel a bit insecure, and made statements posed as questions, isn’t this Joseph’s son?  Who is this Jesus to say that his bread has come from heaven, that his life comes from the very presence of God and that he is in God’s presence even now?  

What these folks were trying to do was to put Jesus in a box, to take away the possibility of change and growth in their own lives.  They were afraid and acting out of a deep lack of self-awareness or others awareness.  They wanted to be independent, they didn’t get that Jesus was saying that they were wired for connection with others.  

Jesus gives us a promise this morning though, the manna that the Jewish folks ate in the desert gave them nourishment for a time, but Jesus’ bread, his living and breathing bread, his life, will be intertwined with ours.  This bread, this life, is Jesus’ flesh.  The greek in verse 51 for flesh is sarx.  It’s not another greek word sometimes used for body or life called soma.  This is Jesus’ flesh, it’s as if to say to us, I am making the sacrifice for you, I’m giving you my very flesh…not only for you, but for the world, all of it.  Friends, if we are going to grow, we have to be drawn out of ourselves by God.  We also have to be connected to others around us in a deep way, not just folks sitting with us in these pews, but the folks outside these walls, the folks in our neighborhood, the folks down on Vine, the students up the hill, everyone.  

“To be or not to be”…isn’t that the great Shakespearean question?  What does it mean to be?  “Be” is the English languages most irregular verb…it’s a word of action…to be something or someone.  It is a verb of existence or reality.  I am in a car, I am in church, I will be grilling hamburgers tomorrow.  It is also a verb that points to relationship.  I am friends with…I am a member of this community…

My friend John McKnight once remarked that he has been blessed his entire life.  Why?  Because of friends that he’s had throughout his life.  He would go on to say that his entire life has been touched by the Divine because of that.  

That makes sense, you see, we were all created to be in loving friendships or relationships with each other.  We were even created by a relational God.  It says in Genesis 1:27, that God created us in his image.  God’s image is one of relationship.  God exists in perfect unity as a three-in-one God…God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct persons, but of one essence…God’s essence is relational and that relationship demonstrates perfect love.  Out of that essence, that loving essence, God, the uncreated created us.  And, we are of the same essence.  

If that wasn’t enough, creating us…God gave us the gift of himself.  God desires to simply be in relationship with us.  Throughout history God has demonstrated his pursuit of us, rescuing humanity from itself.  Humanity has sought to know God, yet we have often forgotten that God knows us and loves us.  

When Moses was being called by God out of a burning bush to go and preach release to the Jews who were being held as slaves in Egypt, Moses sought to know God’s name, because in those days, to know someone’s name was to know who they were, to have them define, to be in relationship and to know them.  Yet, when asked, God gave a peculiar answer:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exo 3:14-15 TNIV)

I am who I am.  The verb used here in Hebrew is “to be”. God is.  God is saying that he is wholly other and cannot be comprehended.  Yet, he goes on to say something more.  He is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses knew that God interacted with all of those people.  God is saying, in effect, I am a God of relationship.  I cannot be comprehended, but I can be apprehended.  

God with us.  God with us in relationship.  Ultimately that is displayed in God becoming one of us through Jesus.  Jesus is completely God and is the exact representation of who God is, a God of relationship.  

Our passage this morning is one of deep relationship.  We are continuing the food theme of Jesus being the bread of life.  Jesus goes on to say that in order to have eternal life, or abundant life filled with meaning and purpose, a forever life, then we must consume Jesus’ body.  Again, the word flesh is used, it’s very graphic.  When some folks in the first or second century heard this reading from John after Jesus’ death, they actually thought Christ followers were espousing cannibalism!

Of course, that’s not true.  It’s a metaphor that’s implying that we must consume Jesus, we must take Jesus in to the deepest parts of who we are, even the parts that are messy, our very bowels.  We cannot change, grow, become self/others/or God aware without help.  We need Jesus’ life to rise up within and outside of us, to take Jesus in.  In other words, we are not merely called to be Christ followers, but to live in Christ.  

Jesus goes on to say that we must remain in him, as he is remaining in us.  This is a phrase that is referenced in others parts of John.  

John 15:4 says this, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  Remain, or abide, live…Live in Christ.  How do we do that?  We are in Christ, he sustains all things.  We simply have the pleasure of saying thank you by living in the imperative of remaining in him.  Just like any relationship, we need to be with God and with each other in order to grow.  Jay, my friend, spent time with me, he knew me.  As a friend of mine here at Immanuel reminded me this week, we are on a journey at Immanuel together.  

Friends, we cannot truly live as we were meant to live separated from him or from each other…to attempt to do so makes us less than human.  We may not understand that completely, but our being our “I am” is found in the life of Christ that also is our lives.  We are the body of Christ!  Jesus is the exact representation of God to us and he is our truly human representative in the presence of God as God in the flesh.  

So friends, BE!  Be in and with Christ, consume Christ!  He is your identity…you are not defined ultimately by the color of your skin, how much (or how little) is in your bank account, what political party you identify with, or what you have done or not done…YOU are defined by Christ’s actions on your behalf!  Your wealth in this life is defined by the relationships you have which is defined by your relationship with Christ!  My friendship with Jay is great still, but my truest friend has always been Jesus.  He is really different, yet I find my identity in him because of his pursuit of me.  Friends, as you live and find you identity in Christ, know that He wants to be with you and will not let you go! 

Door.

Luke 13:22-30

The Narrow Door

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 Once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and take their places at the banquet in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

In our passage this morning, we find the journey motif again with Jesus.  He’s on his way to Jerusalem and there are several discourses, conversations, teachings along the way.  These teachings actually pretty countercultural, against the stream.  Jesus is asking folks to open up to who they are, who they really are…to let go of whatever is holding them back from becoming their truest selves.  

Which is so hard to let emerge.  Our true selves.  Why because we have so many layers of ideologies, belief systems, and other things that prevent us from seeing ourselves.  

Friends of ours, the Kenny’s, many of you know their daughter, Georgia, who lived with us for about a year, bought an old castle last year.  I believe I’ve mentioned that before.  But, their castle, or more accurately, a tower, had, over the years, some new additions as well as lots of decay.  They have been busy restoring it to it’s original glory, but it’s taking so much time effort to peal back the layers.

Christianity is the same.  Jesus never intended to even start something called Christianity.  He was calling us, all of us, back to our true essence, which is being made in the image of God.  Which is good, beautiful, and full of love, presence, and wholeness.  

Yet, over the past 2,000 years, we have had so many layers put on our understanding of what it means to live in Christ, to live the abundant lives that Jesus came to call us in to being.  

Even being made in the image of God was diminished when St. Augustine ponied up with Roman imperial authority with the concept of “original sin”, that we were born sinners.  Later, the concept of “substitutionary atonement”, that we are originally sinners in the hands of an angry god that had to appeased by a blood offering.  Which is a concept found in other religions in antiquity, human sacrifice to satisfy the gods…which was also a way for the powers that be to control the population through a certain ideology.

Friends, you were born to be human, human as Jesus is human.  And, you are divine.  You are not God, but you are divine.  You have God’s DNA and are made of God from the very beginning, and even now…yet, there are so many layers in our lives that we need to shed to know our true selves.  

In this passage today, someone asks Jesus if only a few will be saved.  Jesus, as he does, does not answer the question directly, but is trying to get the questioner to get to what the questioner really wants.  Strive to enter through the narrow door.  In other words, be open, allow yourself to let go of certain ideologies or ways that you’ve been brought up.

This narrow door concept is not new in Jesus teachings.  It’s similar to the “eye of the needle” story, where Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than a rich man (or woman) into heaven.  Jesus isn’t saying it’s bad to be rich, he’s saying let go of whatever you are clinging to in this world that you think will bring you wholeness or whatever.  The eye of the needle is a narrow door on a city gate that would be closed at night.   Traders with camels or donkeys could not get into the city unless they went through the narrow door.  That meant taking off all of their possessions from their animals in order to get the animals through.  That meant being vulnerable also, because you would have to leave stuff outside until you could go back and get it.  

I used to go cave exploring or spelunking.  Similar concept, if you wanted to get into the vastness of an underground cave, sometimes you’d have to go through a narrow opening.  That meant only taking with you things you would need (like a flashlight!).  

Jesus is preparing this wild and beautiful feast for us.  He is the host of the banquet, and he wants all of us to fully live into this banquet!  So often we think that church membership, or showing up on Sunday, or doing this or that is what it means to live in Christ.  Actually, it’s so much more!  Jesus is saying to folks that it’s not just showing up in attendance or hearing nice things…it’s leaning into who we are, it’s being connected, truly connected to all things.  It’s being alive and real, and vulnerable…like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and so many others who came before us.  

It’s not some narrow reading of scripture or living into some belief that was placed upon us for control by the authorities and rulers of this age.  For instance, when I was growing up, my tradition took on this one conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus where Jesus says you must be born again, actually, Jesus said you must be born from above.  We took one conversation between two people and turned into a universal truth, but we didn’t take another conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler when he said to sell all that you have to enter the Kingdom of God.  I wonder why?  

Throughout history, there has been a cozy relationship between religion and the powerful, if you can get the masses to think that somehow they are not good enough in simply being themselves rather than to have love, peace, or to see themselves as divine, then you can put out the terms of what it takes to get to God or wholeness.  Religion becomes like a business, a transaction.

When, in essence, Jesus is saying that YOU already have everything you need, and want…in abundance even!  

It’s simply not about your status or lack of status in what the world says.  You are enough.   And God wants you to be YOU and that’s a cause for celebration.  

This world tells us that winning at all costs is what is important.  But, Jesus says, nope…as a matter of faith, the first will be last and the last will be first.  

People will come from all over…this narrow door is actually an ever expanding door…it’s big enough for all of us, all of humanity and creation.  And, it’s right in front of us.  Jesus says that he’s knocking on the doors of our lives, lives filled with layer upon layer of religion, beliefs, and expectations…meanwhile, the God of the Universe, inside of us and outside of us, all around us, is calling us towards something so much more.  That knocking is loving and open and graceful…look into your hearts, look into the hearts of others.  Look around in this room and in everyone and everything you encounter…and see God in all things and all people.  As you continue on this journey and allow your eyes to see God in you and around you…know that you are walking through the narrow door and into a great banquet prepared for you!  

Abundance.

Mark 6:30-44; John 6:35

Feeding the Five Thousand

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled, 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

John 6:35

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

When I was a kid, I was worried about being homeless, of not having enough.  Our family was not super wealthy, but we always had enough.  But, I still worried.  I remember talking to mom as an 8 or 9 yer old about this…her response, you will never be homeless unless you decide to be.  You have resources in abundance, not just monetary, but relational connections that will find you throughout your life.  Lots of wisdom that that’s been proven for almost 55 years.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the focus is on abundance…especially when it seems like everyone is exhausted and can’t see the abundance.  Jesus performing a miracle it seems where he fed the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and fishes.  There was so much food that they had leftovers.  The Gospel narrative implies that folks had their fill, they were well fed.  

At the beginning of this gospel narrative, we have the disciples coming to Jesus and sharing all that they had seen, heard, and done.  They were exhausted, tired, in need of some sabbath and time away.  We can relate can’t we?  I know I can.  These disciples were dealing with their issues, as well as the issues of those around them.  24/7.  It was good work, sometimes energizing and amazing I’d imagine.  So, Jesus says lets get out of here, head to a deserted place.  Yet, so many folks followed them.  They were tired, hungry…maybe even a bit “hangry”, cranky and complaining on empty stomachs.  Jesus says to his disciples, send the folks away, they need to find food.  He had compassion on them.  In this context, the Greek translation for compassion is often one of deep feeling.  Jesus felt their anguish in his bowels, it bodily moved him with love.  There’s a mystery there.  Jesus didn’t know all of them, yet, being both very human and very divine, incarnate, he felt for them.  

I think we can relate to that.  When we are doing the work of living in Christ, of being the body of Christ, we have compassion on others, as well as ourselves, don’t we?  We see others suffering, and before we let fear or divisive voices take over, we “feel” for their plight.  I know I do, and I know it takes work to not let my ego or the voices of others to drown out that compassion.  

Jesus groans with compassion from his very bowels for the folks in this story.   

That compassion moved Jesus to look for the positive.  He did not look at the outward issues and throw his hangs up, he simply adapted and moved forward.  What do we have?  What can we provide?  We don’t have much the disciples tell him, a few loaves and fishes.  

Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples to organize folks, and then Jesus blesses the bread and the fishes and there’s more than enough for everyone.  When they collect what’s left over, they have more than what they started with.

Friends, we know the parallel to where we are as a congregation.  There is much to tell us today of where we are…we are tired, we look at our church and wonder how we can do anything, we are too old, we are too little, we do not have much, we need this or that before we can do anything, we need more young families, our congregation is going to close in 2 or 3 years, or 5…we need more of this, less of that, whatever the argument or the issue of the day is, we often go to a place of scarcity.  And, that’s understandable.  That’s our cultural default.  And it leads us to be dependent on looking for a savior, a messiah, someone outside of ourselves to save us…we do that in our politics, in our religion, our business, and even in our families.  

We so often forget, I know I do, that Jesus reminds us that we are the body of Christ.  That God RESIDES in us, we are made of God DNA.  Bread for the world.  We have enough, and if we look closer, we see that we live in abundance and have gifts that we can offer the world around us.   

It reminds me of how we, in the church, and in the non-profit world in general, often ask, what are our needs or even the needs of those around us?  Sometimes those are good to identify, but there is a deeper question to ask, what are we aiming for?  Who are we?  What do we have already?  I think those questions are exemplified in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus knows that folks need to be fed, but instead of asking how do we get to a place, he simply says, what do we have?  What’s abundant?  What are our assets, then he uses those assets to bless the people gathered.

Jesus goes on to say in our other passage this morning from the book of John, which took place right after the feeding of the 5000, that we should not work for food that spoils.  Again, he’s saying that we can provide for needs of the moment, but we should look for something deeper, something more meaningful or even empowering.  We should look for food that doesn’t spoil, that lasts forever and is eternal.  And, remember, as we’ve mentioned before, the word eternal in the gospels has much more to do with quality than quantity.  Jesus wants us to have big, meaningful, and full lives together with each other and with God.  

Which, is what Jesus is driving his listeners towards.  They keep on asking questions and go to the place of trying to connect Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to Moses providing Manna from heaven.  Moses’ Manna lasted for 40 years and helped the Jewish population stay alive physically, but the point of that is that it came from heaven.  God provided through Moses.  Jesus says this, says this is truth telling, God has given them, and us, the true bread from heaven, that gives life to the world, everyone.

They clamored for that kind of bread and asked where they could get it.  Jesus then declares with a double imperative, which translates from the Greek “I am, I am the bread of life.”  Whoever is willing to believe and to dare to grow and become the person that God created them to be, to receive the gift of relationship from God will never be thirsty.  

Friends, this world needs this kind of bread.  I used tell my cross country runners all of the time that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Bad carbs can fill you up but have no nutritional value other than making you a larger person, but good carbs give you energy and are building blocks for getting stronger, healthier.  

Jesus is coming to us with the promise of Presence, of relationship.  A promise that he will be with us, even in the darkness of our lives.  He doesn’t promise some self-help technique, he simply gives us relationship.  

Jesus is the bread of life, and that bread starts with yeast rising.  That yeast has been planted in this world through Jesus’ coming to us, entering humanity, being one with us, while also being one with the Father and with the Spirit.  

God’s Spirit is also moving in and through us like yeast in dough.  We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us.

Friends, as we move forward in this stewardship season, into 2023 and the YEARS that follow, let’s remember the seed that God has planted in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence, that is growing, that is giving us ideas and new life, and is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.

Eat, Drink, Be.

Matthew 26:26–29 (NRSV)

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”     

As we kick off Stewardship season, we start with this passage.  It’s about the Lord’s Supper.  Side note:  I’m pretty excited about this series the next few Sundays.  Are stewardship theme has lots of food imagery…our church loves food…and it’s appropriate the stewardship season also has the Mett Sausage dinner happening!  

Food is meant to be a sign of nourishment…as well as a token of friendship, of hospitality.  In Antiquity, when you offer food to someone, or invite them over for dinner, it’s a huge deal.  You are extending friendship to them.  And, receiving the invitation is just as important as giving it.  It signifies that you are open to the friendship.  

Today’s passage is specifically about the last supper.  The meal that Jesus invited his disciples, his friends to come to…

As I’ve been reading about this passage this week, and pondering about.  I looked at the book of John, the gospel written by the “disciple that Jesus loved”.  As many of you know, I’ve been spending a lot of time reconnecting with my Celtic heritage.  Celtic spirituality has a lot to say to us these days.  It gives us the picture of a loving and expansive God that is connected to us, to all things and all people.  In Celtic tradition, John the disciple is called “John the Beloved”.  He is one of the favorite disciples in Celtic tradition because of his sense of relational connectedness to Jesus, to the Divine, to others.  And, he was one of only two disciples to stay at the cross while Jesus was having violence and humiliation inflicted upon him, the other disciple being Mary Magdalene.  

At the last supper, John is depicted at one point as leaning his head upon Jesus’ shoulder or breast.  He knew Jesus loved him, he received it, and he gave it back to Jesus.  

I think that this picture of John and Jesus at the last supper gives us a picture of surrendering to growth of a deeper kind.  

You see, John, like the rest of the apostles, disciples, and followers of Jesus had spent a lifetime hoping for something grand to happen, to be a part of something that would change their world.  For three years they had followed Jesus, putting on him their hopes and dreams.  They had an agenda.  Or so they thought.

But, Jesus is telling them something more.  That they are his body, a universal body.  They are to be fed by being connected to all things and all people.  That their lives are also in a flow of God’s self giving of God’s self into them.  The bread, giving sustenance, and showing that as God is broken, we, the body of Christ, are also broken.  We have to lean into the sadness, the shadow of our own lives…as well as the world’s.  The blood, Jesus pouring out his life by the violence of this world, being broken and bleeding…naked, exposed to the world…yet, in that symbol, finding life.

John is not only hearing this, but experiencing this.  And, in so doing, he is finding that He, John, is the body, and is also life of God within and without.  John knows that he is loved in spite of everything that he had been through…he knew he was loved.

This image reminds me of a time that I had with my spiritual director, Fr. Bollman, a few months ago…actually, maybe even a year or so ago.  It was a pretty emotional session.  I had expressed this deep sense of love and being loved…even in the midst of so much change in my life.  It was a very different time in my life, yet I was experience a sense of surrender.  Of being in complete freedom and not in control at all.  I was entering a sense of universal Presence…of deepening love.  At the end of the session, as I was saying goodbye, Fr. Bollman, this great Catholic leader in Cincinnati, leaned over and put his head on chest and gave me a blessing.  Reminding me that I was the image of God to him.  I felt the same way.  In that moment, it was Jesus’ head on my chest.  

Friends, YOU are the body of Christ.  You are the image of God.  You are made OF God, not just created!  God’s lifeblood flows through you!  

It’s a mystery how all of this works in our lives.  And we are called to be “mystics”.  Faith is not real if we strive to be certain or live for certainty.  Faith is alive when we have lost everything.  Fr. Bollman asked me this week if “my congregation was ready to be a people of mystics”?  Are we?  Only you can answer that.  I think there are many of us that are…we are asking questions and desiring a differing way to live…and allowing our “true selves” to emerge. 

We can not understand the ways or wisdom of God.  Nor could John, but we can live in love and grow into deeper places as we surrender to the moment.  But, we have to be willing to be disappointed, and to lean into that disappointment, to embrace it even.  To let go of our agendas.  To think and act out of a deep love for self and others.  To allow the flow of God to do just that…flow through our lives and lead us towards deeper places of being.   

Friends, we, the church, the body are having to redefine ourselves.  We are tired.  Our agenda and our visions may have to be let go of…the world is looking for something more than what we have offered out of a sense of ego.  The world is asking for us to show our true selves.  And, to do that, we have to simply rest in God’s belovedness and let something new emerge.  The church needs to be rebirth-ed in this new day.  We need a rebirthing in our own lives.  This takes risk.  But, God is inviting us to come to the table, to come together in unity, not for some program or event, but all that we can of our very lives to this table.  To offer friendship to one another and to receive it.  Not only in this congregation, but the community around us.  

May it be so.  

Wellness.

New Testament Reading 

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As I was preparing this week, the theme of gratitude was in my thoughts…it made me think of my grandpa, or PePa.

PePa was someone that really believed in me.  I always felt loved and respected by him.  No matter what I was going through, or when I was acting out or having major growing pains…even as a teenager, he always had the effect of seeing something worthwhile in me.  He was a huge encourager, I loved being around him.

When I graduated from UK, I wanted to change the world, so I went to work for a non-profit youth ministry.  I didn’t make hardly any money, but my PePa still supported me and was proud of me.  When I graduated from UK, I didn’t have any debt because of the generosity of my parents.  After about 3-4 years or so of being on staff with this non-profit, I had accumulated quite a bit of debt.  I had made a decision at that point to move to Atlanta to work in partnership with the PCUSA and another non-profit.  My PePa had me over for dinner, and asked me to write down all of my debts.  I was so embarrassed giving him that sheet of paper.  But, when I did, he sat down, didn’t question anything, and wrote a check out to me for the full amount of my debts.  He then said, “you need to start in Atlanta a new page and not have any financial debt to worry about.  I believe in you and what you are about.”

My debt was gone financially, but I also felt something more, a deeper healing knowing that my PePa believed in me.  

Jesus, in our passage, is on a journey towards Jerusalem still…he passes through a region and there are some men who meet him.  They have leprosy, which could be interpreted not only as leprosy, but some other skin disease.  Because of their ailment, they could not be a full part of the community, they were outside the village, marginalized.  So, from a distance, they call out to Jesus.  They recognize that Jesus is someone who has a standing in society, they call him Master.  They ask him for pity…they could be asking for a handout, a healing, or simply some kind of connection.  

Jesus replies, from a distance, go and show yourselves to the priests…this was customary…priests didn’t have healing power, but if someone is healed, they have to prove it to the priests, and the priests go through a process of purification and then declare folks to be able to be in community again, restored.  

As the ten are going, they are healed along the way.  One, only one, praised God and went back to find Jesus.  When he found him, he recognized that Jesus had healed him, and fell at this knees, bestowing honor and deep gratitude towards Jesus.  

And, the kicker, for the first time in this story, the healed man who returns is identified as a foreigner, and, even more, a Samaritan.  Jesus had crossed cultural boundaries, had healed and restored a foreigner to community…showing immense compassion and love for this person.  

Jesus goes on to ask, “where are the other 9”…they are assumed to be jewish folk, part of Jesus’ tribe, folks that should have known better and were shown the same affection as the Samaritan by Jesus, but they didn’t return…maybe they got distracted, or didn’t want to travel back, or wanted to get on with the process of being restored…they were, after all, doing what Jesus had asked them to do.  Not bad folks…but, the Samaritan responded to the healing with gratitude.

So, Jesus then heals him even more, not just the physical healing, but uses a different word for healing in the last verse from verse 15…in the last verse Jesus uses “sozo”.  Which means wellness or well being.  Jesus not only takes away the physical disease, but gives this man peace, wholeness, or wellness.  He cleanses him on the outside and the inside..the whole person.

In other words, this man’s gratitude opens him up the fullness of God’s Presence, the fullness of the good news of the Kingdom of God, release from what is keeping him back on the inside, what voices or fears or anxieties that have prevented him from living, from having you, from knowing that someone truly believes in him.

On a run a few years ago, I came across a good friend that I have not talked with in a while.  He was walking his dog and had a protective collar around his neck.  I stopped to talked to him and find out how he was doing.  He had major neck/back surgery, his work had changed dramatically and he was forced out as a partner, and he had to miss a major mountaineering trip that he had been planning for months…yet, he made a great statement:  I’m alive and grateful for the life I live.  He was experiencing wellness in the midst of hard things.  He knew that Jesus believed in him and he had gratitude, which can lead to the deeper healing.

Friends, we have done an amazing job of welcoming the community this year in so many ways!  Now, we have the awesome privilege of continuing to welcome our community, but also going to them and showing them that they can be well also, that they can be loved…and it starts with us knowing that God believes in us, which enables us to be believe in others and to demonstrate to them God’s love as Jesus did…and in so doing, bringing wellness to our lives through gratitude, and bring wellness in the lives of others.  That’s good news.

Increase.

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“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’? 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’? 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!’”

When you think of the word “faith”, what thoughts or images come to mine? How does one “increase” faith? 

A simple definition of faith is as follows:  

strong belief or trust in someone or something
belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs a system of religious beliefs 

The apostles are asking Jesus to give them faith, but Jesus is turning it around, as he often does, saying essentially that they have faith already…but, that it’s not rooted in a belief system, but in something much more. It’s rooted in trust and commitment. In other words, we don’t have proof that Jesus is the son of God, or that Jesus is represents all of humanity. Yet, we commit to God that we don’t have all of the answers, that God is a mystery, and that this God indwelled in Jesus and this Jesus embodied what it means to be human, and was human…and, somehow, this Jesus, after being killed and rising from the dead, encompasses all of humanity. This commitment leads to trust in the flow of God’s presence in and around us, and in others…causing our faith to increase. 

Jesus’s disciples simply need to start with a small kernel of faith, a mustard seed, an inkling of an idea of God’s experience with us. I’m not a gardener, but I know quite a few of them…they will tell you that even the tiniest seeds can grow into something huge. 

Jesus is telling his disciples that if you can start with even a small amount of faith, you can see amazing things happen, things that we could hardly imagine happening in our lives. 

Allowing that faith to grow, nurturing it with encouragement, grace, humility, love, and even obedience and accountability in community with others are the gardeners tools to cultivate a mature faith over time. 

But, again, that seed needs to be planted with commitment, curiosity, and knowing that God believes in us…if God believes in us, then we can begin to believe in this God I’d imagine. 

The second part of our story talks about a slave and their master. This is not a commen- tary on slavery, nor is it accepting it. It’s just using something that was common in the 1st century as an illustration. And, it wasn’t the type of slavery that we had in America, this was more of a relationship type of thing. It was still wrong, any time you feel like you can own someone is wrong, or put a barrier to equitable relationship. The writer of this passage is saying that masters and slaves have a type of relationship that is respon- sive…and that we should be responsive to God. 

We also have to remember, especially in this day and time, that scripture is on a trajectory towards equality and inclusion. The writers 2000 years ago are attempting to articulate a beauty of relationship, of awareness, and even progressive cultural attitudes using the context that they live. 

In our time and day, we have to follow that trajectory of scripture towards radically inclu- sive relational love bound in community with one another. We also have to be willing to speak out against racism, sexism…and sorts of “isms” as we work towards be reconciling and prophetic voices…not only within our communities, which is where it starts, but to those who want to be in leadership roles in our country and world. 

God wants us to live in deep faith, the deep faith that God demonstrates to us and shows us. Fear and anxiety can be detriments to that faith. 

Henri Nouwen says this: 

Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that oth- er people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait, we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear. 

Faith allows us to overcome fear…even a small amount of faith, but as we take risks be- cause of God’s faith in us and our faith in God, we will find that we can overcome fear, have imagination, and change the world as we build bridges with one another, not walls. 

Friends, I’m not sure where you are today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for our church…but, I do know that it is a great future if we want to work towards it. And I know from working with churches and faith communities across the world, and even in our own church, that we often live in a place of anxiety over what we don’t have. We live in scarcity. Yet, faith with imagination can move us towards a place of abundance. When we look around, we can see the richness of friendship, of relationship, we can see that we live in a place filled with potential for listening and deepening a sense of community. We can have faith that is mysterious and keeps us curious and moves us towards the blessing of connecting with others in a nonjudgmental, non transactional way…a way of true love the is transformational…that can cause us to see church in a new way…not in who’s not here or here on a Sunday morning, but in ways that we can bless our neighborhood…and in so doing, change the world! God’s faith in us gives us courage to do just that…may it be so! 

Debt?

Luke 16:1-13 

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager 

16 Then Jesussaid to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealthso that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth] who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faith- ful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”


What does it mean to trick someone?
My good friend of mine, Dr. Dean Nicholas, that many of you know and love from his preaching and teaching here at Fleming Road UCC who’s now the headmaster at CHCA and holds a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union up the street, wrote a book on the “tricksters” in the Bible. 

This concept as a long history in many ancient cultures, and certainly in Jewish writings. The basic concept is that God will sometimes honor folks in the Bible who trick others into doing or acting a certain way to get themselves or others to move in a different direction, to change the story that we find ourselves in. The story of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and his brothers, etc. All have a sense of “tricking” if you will, or doing some- thing that isn’t obvious at first, and then moving folks towards a different outcome…and seemingly God works it not only for their good, but for the good of others. 

Our gospel lesson this morning has a sort of “trickster” feel to it. Jesus is sharing a para- ble, a story about a rich man. Many of Jesus’ stories talk about wealthy folks. Essential- ly, because Jesus is drawing out that wealth oftentimes gets in the way of how others are treated or looked upon. It’s sets up real boundaries or walls between us. 

This story is in between the stories that Jesus shares about the prodigal son and the divide between the rich man and Lazarus, but with a twist. 

This rich man has a manager for his business dealings. Apparently this manager wasn’t doing so good, so the rich man calls him towards accountability for how he’s handled his possessions. 

The manager realizes his job is about to be taken away, he realizes he doesn’t want to be out on the street or doing hard labor…he’s not depicted in the most flattering way, is he? But, he is shrewd, so knowing he has nothing to lose because his boss is going to take his job away, he goes to the people that are indebted to his master. He takes their accounts and greatly reduces the amount that each person owes. He does this knowing that his master’s debtors will be grateful and take him in, show him hospitality as he gives them a huge break. He tricks the master before the master actually fires him. Pretty dishonest, and the master realizes it. 

So, what does the master do, he commends the manager, congratulates him even. 

Now, we may read this today and think at how wrong this is…at best, we wonder why this is even the bible. Is Jesus telling us to act shrewdly? Jesus doesn’t say to be dishonest, but Jesus does say that we can learn from folks who act in gracious ways, even if it’s out of self-centered way. Oftentimes, unchurched folks act more gracious than the disciples, or the children of the light as Jesus says in this passage. It may be out of a sense of self-preservation, but their actions still produce a blessing. 

In essence, Jesus is saying that God works through the actions of the trickster manager, he redeems his actions somehow and blesses others. That no matter what happens, God will work towards the good of others. 

One commentary that I read this week brought it home well. The manager is making friends through dishonest wealth, yet those friendships are there for him. God is calling us towards a relational way of living, we are called to make friends as well, albeit in a more just and honest way. We are called to not collect debts, just as we pray to be forgiven of our debts and to forgive our debtors. By so doing and acting, by working towards unity and friendship and not trying to win or dredge up past wrongs or indebtedness, but through forgiveness and grace towards others and ourselves, we can love well and see friendships, true friendships form. 

We need that kind of wealth of community. By so doing, by blessing others and our neighbors, when we need them, they more likely to be there for us. 

Jesus is telling his disciples, learn to make friends, and in so doing, cultivate a healthy sense of reciprocal love. 

So much of Jesus’ followers existence was based on the hospitality of others, so it must be with us. It is hard for us to lean in on the generosity of others, yet we learn a lot when we do…and when we extend it with true authenticity and not for any other reason than to bless others. 

Jesus is saying also that we have to understand that we can’t serve two masters, it’s either the way of money, our a life based on transactions, or the way of God, which is based on authentic love and community. You can’t have both being dominate. Our attempts to preserve ourselves or our institutions through maintaining a status quo mindset ultimately still leads towards death. We have to have movement within our institutions that is initiated by authentic friendship and working towards the common good…institutions then can bless that work, which actually, ultimately, leads to their reformation and growth. If we share what we have, as Jesus says clearly in this passage, being trusted with much means to share it with others…this trust that God has given us with materials to bless others, then we will be given true riches as it says in verse 11…those true riches are found in the Kingdom of God, the presence of God with one another. 

The manager in our gospel lesson may have learned something as well even beyond his part in the parable…a lesson open to all of us. God’s love for us is fierce. It doesn’t always make sense, this love sometimes seems to trick us into doing and being in ways that we don’t understand. Yet, the love also produces within us a fierceness that moves us towards the other, towards accepting ourselves, and to a God who rewards us with relationships and community that may surprise us. 

Friends, may we live in a fierce love of God, not of money or possessions, or even institutional preservation…may we live loving new folks that we meet in and out of the church, and may we live loving each other even as we experience God’s love for us.