Remembrance!

Sermon Notes - April 30

Introduction: The road to Emmaus is one of the famous accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. As two distraught disciples walk back home from Jerusalem, their hopes dashed and their sharing with each other not only the tragedy of what just happened but perhaps the puzzling accounts of the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body only to find it empty. As I ponder over the death of those near and dear to me, as I think of what they have left behind, things that I still have in my possession, a piece of furniture or a treasured knickknack, I find myself drawn to something I do not have, chose not to ask for, and find myself not really wanting, the memory of the thing is so strong I no longer need the thing itself to bring back a flood of memories.

I) As Jesus appears with the two disciples they do not recognize him. Their eyes we are told are prevented from seeing who is present with them. Jesus draws out from them the reason for their despair.

II) Jesus then goes on to share with them the reasons that the one they long for must have had to go through the torment by explaining the scriptures to them beginning with Moses and going through the entire Old Testament. They find their hearts strangely warmed and their gloom turns toward something they did not expect hope. As they near their destination, Jesus appears to be going further, but they attempt to constrain him by admonishing him to stay and have a meal together.

III) As they share a meal Jesus blesses the bread and then they are allowed to recognize him. Once they realize who it is, he vanishes from their sight and they are left in disbelief. Now they realize what has happened they immediately rush back to share this wonderful news with the disciples. As we get ready to remodel our sanctuary, there may be certain attributes that you may well miss as we move into the remodeled sanctuary. The dread I have felt thinking of losing my parents reminds me of the anticipation of this coming loss. What has surprised me is that though I can no longer call them and talk with them, I can still have vivid memories of them. What is more, I am surprised that I can think of something I do not have, like the bluing paper and creche that my mother put up every Christmas. As we come together and break bread the power of Jesus comes among us as well. The old sanctuary certainly contains some of this power and I suspect some of us may well miss certain elements of this environment. What we hold dear in the previous setting we can recall just by shutting our eyes and seeing what it is we recall, more important the feelings and longings we have will be satisfied in part by the mere remembering, I believe Jesus’ presence will do the rest.

Using Our Gifts!

Sermon Notes - April 23

Introduction: We continue our celebration of the Day of the Resurrection with this episode from the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene has shared with the disciples that she has found the tomb empty. She goes back to the tomb and while outside looking in sees two angels. Finally a man behind her gains her attention. Finally she realizes that this is not just any person, but Jesus himself. She goes back again to tell the disciples she has actually seen and talked with Jesus!

I) The disciples, despite the news from Mary Magdalene are unable to leave the room. They have locked themselves in and have become more dead than alive so fearful have they become of what might happen to them. As darkness is about to descend one can only imagine what their conversations may have been like as they must have been at least musing over what Mary had shared with them.

II) Without so much as a knock to announce his presence Jesus is found standing among them. He gives the typical Jewish greeting, ‘peace be with you’ which must have seemed anything but usual given the circumstances. After showing them the nail marks and where the spear had entered into his side he once more tells them ‘Peace be with you”. This new peace will no longer allow them to act as the dead but spring to life giving them new found purpose in all they do.

III) Jesus breathes on them and tells them that the sins of nay that they retain are retained and the sins of nay they forgive will be forgotten. What jumps out to me in this scene is that Jesus now sends them out into the world. They are no longer to remain hidden, entombed in their own fear. Instead they are to be energized to go into the world to share this new vision they have received of God’s love. A love that will overcome all trepidation they may feel and embolden them to reach out to a world that is itself dead without any realization that there is the potential for life in Jesus’ name. We too, are given this opportunity now as we hear this final word from Jesus to Thomas today. Thomas would not believe until he had seen for himself. Jesus notes that most of his followers would never have the opportunity that Thomas and the rest of the disciples had to gaze on the risen Christ. We are faced with the opportunity to share about God with those around us. As we continue our spiritual journey as we remodel our sanctuary we have the opportunity to make our presence known to our immediate neighbors. What are you willing to do to help those around us here in South Harbour or in your immediate neighborhood to become aware of St. Michael’s and our ministry to the community?

If you do not Enjoy the Journey

February 19, 2017

Introduction: Many of us have been taught that we should seek and end. Whether that end is finishing our education, getting married and settling down, getting the job we always wanted, or retiring. The focus is on always seeking some final conclusion. Even in our spiritual lives we look toward an end such as getting into heaven. Today Jesus challenges our assumption that we should seek an end. Instead he invites us to see life as a journey. This in turn reminded me of a teacher who stated, “if you do not enjoy the process you will in all likelihood not enjoy the end result.”

I) We are concluding our discussion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, though in fact this teaching will continue for another two chapters. We began with the Beatitudes, discussed being the salt and light of the earth, examined how Jesus understands the commandments not as something to be done away with but in fact making even more stringent. Now we come to the most difficult portion of his teaching. We are to be willing to endure persecution and to even love those who persecute us! 

II) One might conclude that these demands Jesus is making upon his disciples are not demands at all, merely trying to get us out of our comfortable thinking about God. Or in other words, ‘can Jesus really be serious’? This issue is addressed at the end of this reading when Jesus urges us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect! Even here we may be tempted to think that Jesus does not really mean this for how can we ever live up to the perfection of God!?

III) Instead of trying to make this into some kind of metaphor for how we ought to behave, I believe we need to take Jesus seriously. He is certainly not trying to down play evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison does in fact talk about the evil all around him. That does not prevent him from caring for his fellow prisoners and even for the guards! We must also note that he took evil extremely seriously and decided to participate in the plot to murder Adolph Hitler, even though he believed murder to be wrong and because of that, believed God would condemn him for participating in such as act. If we take seriously the proclamation that we are to love our enemies and not just our neighbor just what does this mean? Jesus points out that even the lowest of the low, tax collectors love those who love them. He holds us to a higher standard, one that we should even love those who persecute us. A dear friend descried how his own mother was led off to her death in a British internment camp in Kenya. I was astounded that instead of being overcome with bitterness for these his enemies, he found a way to love them through forgiveness. His secret, I believe, was the ability to have compassion for everyone, even those who did him and his family incredible harm.

What God Really Expects!

February 12, 2017

Introduction: As we continue the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus spells out what he means by upholding the commandments. He talks about anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. He begins with the most constraining understanding of them – the most obvious interpretation that the people would have assumed to be the ‘correct’ interpretation.

I) After telling the disciples he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, he now goes on to share what this means. He begins with the commandment ‘thou shalt not murder’. Jesus warns the disciples that even begin angry at someone in God’s view is like committing murder, for it is out of this emotion that murder arises. Adultery is addressed in a similar manner, it is not just the physical act, but the very act of lusting after someone else that must be avoided. Divorce is no longer an option save perhaps in special circumstances, since God’s command was to be married for life. Finally the giving of oaths is now unnecessary because our word should be enough.

II) The problem becomes who can live up to these seemingly incredible and unrealistic demands? Certainly Matthew states that we ought to be perfect like our Father in heaven. This is of little consolation since we cannot achieve this level of purity. Our temptation may be to simply throw up our arms and exclaim since this is not possible except perhaps for a saint we might as well just give up. 

III) Although this may seem our only realistic alternative I believe this is selling the Gospel short. Jesus is not asking us to do that which is impossible or makes no sense such as gouging out our right eye or cutting off our right hand. Instead he is inviting us to consider the true demands of God and what it means to actually live up to them. As we put ourselves into the role of trying to live without ever being angry at someone else, of never feeling lust for another, of always treating our spouse as the most valued relationship we have on this earth and acting on our word as we have made the promise. This would seem undoable. So once more we must go back to the context these words have been spoken. We are invited to run into the brick wall of our own fallibility. Realizing we are imperfect and we are always in need of forgiveness, we then can pray as Jesus taught us with a renewed sense of purpose. Now we can no longer hold ourselves innocent by the fact we have not done something, we have as President Carter admitted committed adultery in our heart. Instead we are now able to see ourselves as having fallen short and thus we can be more able to offer forgiveness to others. Knowing we are in need of being forgiven just as much as someone else.

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

February 5, 2017

Introduction: Jesus begins by praising his disciples and then admonishing them; comparing a good disciples to that of salt. He points out that if salt has lost its flavor it is worth nothing but to be thrown out. His point is that the salt in the region was mixed with other elements and so was not pure. If the salt leached out from these elements it obviously no longer contained salt and thus had lost its taste and ability to preserve the food it was mixed within.

I) After the Beatitudes Jesus compares the disciple to salt and light. Through these comparisons he implies that the disciple brings both zest and life to the world. This happens by how they live out their discipleship. He also urges them to do this in such a manner that those around them may witness their goodness and so help impact society in such a way that it brings out the goodness of those around them.

II) Jesus goes on to warn his disciples that he has not come to destroy the law, even the smallest part of it. At first blush this may not seem to mirror Jesus’ relationship to the law because he seems to go against the law such as healing on the Sabbath. Nonetheless, he doubles down on this by saying that those who go against the teachings of the law and teach others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. It is important to note that they shall still gain entrance into the kingdom. To illustrate just how hard it is to follow this new kind of righteousness he points out that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes they will never enter the kingdom.

III) What is Jesus talking about when he tells the disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of those who were considered the most righteous! A disciple may well feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to live such a holy life. Here it is important to go back to the context of what Jesus is sharing with his disciples. The beatitudes illustrate that it is out of our being broken and thus incomplete comes our very ability to be his disciples. The righteousness he is challenging his disciples to live up to is one that is formed from their incompleteness and having recognized that they are then able to share this incite with those around them helping others realize that their lives do contain zest and life not by what they already have received from God but recognizing what they lack and letting God then fill this need with his grace. As we are able to do this, we are then able to put in perspective the law. Seeing the law as not an end in and of itself, but seeing the law as a means of how we love our neighbor. The temptation maybe in using the law to negate this basic premise and so undo God’s will.

Who’s in Charge Here Anyway?!?

January 8, 2017

Introduction: As Episcopalians we are used to hierarchies. We certainly understand that there is a vertical structure to our leadership. So too, one might expect within the context of the Gospel we would find this present as well. God is in charge and we are his servants. This would make sense and yet it is not Biblical. God does not use His position to laud it over us his creation. Instead we are constantly being given the opportunity to seemingly do our own thing. The story goes that man became angry with God and argued that he could do a better job and asked God that if he could take his place for only an instant he would show him just how to run things. So God after hearing this argument for an instant, and since that time man has never given God back his throne!

I) After Jesus and the holy family go home to Nazareth we are told of John the Baptist’s preaching and then we hear of Jesus coming from Galilee to be baptized by John. We really know very little of what drew Jesus to this defining moment, nor do we know what made John say to Jesus that he of everyone he had been baptizing, John should not baptize because after all, it was Jesus who should be baptizing John. 

II) We do not know how long it took for Jesus to convince John to baptize him, we are only told that Jesus’ argument that for this moment John must baptize Jesus and not the other way around and so it happens. What John identified in Jesus as something unique and special we will never know. We do know that both acted in obedience to God’s will as Jesus points out that there is a greater ‘righteousness’ than John understands. As God identifies Jesus as his beloved son, this maybe pointing all the way back to Genesis 22: 2 where Abraham decides he will be willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac to God.

III) As we listen to this story once more it is important to see within it echoes of not only Genesis but Psalm 2:1 and Isiah 42: 1. The combination of God’s beloved Son and the suffering servant are all present in this passage as we now come to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. What do you think Jesus dreamed he would be doing as he felt called to fulfill all righteousness at this point in his life? What did John the Baptist find welling up inside himself as he confronted the person whom he had been called to prepare the way for, and now found himself baptizing instead of being baptized by this great man? What have you been called to do by God in your life? Are you in the process of discerning this call, answering it, or living it out to its conclusion? No matter where we are in this process it is important to realize we too are God’s beloved.

Life

December 25, 2016

Introduction: Life is something many of us take for granted. We assume the gift of life comes from the moment we take our first breath. We even have a saying it is as easy as breathing. Yet nothing about life is really easy. Life is a gift. One my old philosophy teachers spoke of it as a miracle. Not simply the gift itself, but the fact we are here at all. Think of the endless possibilities that brought each one of us into being. The chance meeting of your parents, the incredible number of chances for a different sperm and egg to come together. Nonetheless here you are. The writer of John has more in mind than simply this kind of physical life. We are given a spiritual life that is brought into being by the presence of the Word who have given us this new life of grace, being able to live in the midst of God.

I) We are reminded of this in the very beginning of the Old Testament in Genesis. In the very beginning God gave life to all that was through his spirit that swept over the dark waters and spoke light into being. This light is now identified as the source of not only physical but spiritual life. 

II) Even though we have received this great gift from God we have forgotten our true origin. As we have moved from this center of who we are, we have left what is truly of value. Instead we have rushed to welcome the darkness accepting this as the light while rejecting the true life of God’s love.

III) Now God has acted once more. Not willing to let us rush off into ever deepening darkness and taking this darkness to be the new light. He sends His only Son to become a beacon of hope, so that we being crushed by a longing we cannot fulfill. Knowing that our lives lack something intrinsically important yet unsure just how to fill this void. God comes to us as he once did over the formless waters of creation to bring new life as he did so long ago. This new effort would now be done not just on a spiritual plain but on a spiritual dimension. This new assault on evil would now bring about the potential for a new relationship not just with God and our fellow human beings, but an inner renaissance of our inner nature, a nature God is determined to claim back once more for himself.

Saving Us From our Sins

December 18, 2016

Introduction: Jesus and Savior are a natural play on words in Hebrew but impossible in Aramaic. Matthew’s making the association between Jesus and his mission of ‘saving us from our sins’ points to a prophecy that may well go all the way back to his birth and even before his birth. As we ponder this insight that God comes to us to help us become more human or God like, for we are created in His image we cannot help but think of the gift of his love or grace. Grace may be more closely associated with a Pauline doctrine but Matthew certainly incorporates God’s mercy from the very beginnings of his Gospel. Note that his Gospel begins with a genealogy that is used to show that Jesus’ roots go back not just to Abraham but to David himself. Note especially the three woman mentioned Tamar, Ruth and Rahab. One seduced her father-in-law, the other a non-Israelite who would be a grandmother to David and finally Rahab who was a harlot. All of this points to God’s love for his people despite or even because of the plight they found themselves living in. 

I) After the genealogy Matthew immediately goes about and describes the birth of Jesus. He tells us that although Mary was engaged to Joseph – she would live for a year during this time with her parents until the time of their marriage when she would move into Joseph’s home. If a woman was discovered during this time to have sex with another man she would be considered an adulteress and could be stoned. 

II) Upon discovering that she was pregnant and it was obviously not his child, he being a righteous (merciful) man decided to divorce her quietly. He was doing this so as not to have Mary disgraced and perhaps even put to death despite the fact he most probably felt extremely wronged. 

III) All is changed! An angel or messenger from God appears to Joseph in a dream telling him that the child that Mary has conceived is of the Holy Spirit. He obediently changes his mind. As an indication of his new decision he will name the child “Jesus”. Matthew goes on to tell us that another apropos name is Emmanuel or God with us. Certainly this is true of Jesus he will become the symbol of God with us throughout all our lives as the way in which God illustrates to us his great love for us in the gift of his only son. The fact that he, Joseph named the child Jesus is Joseph clearly stating that this child was not just any child in his eyes, but his own son. He was now stating clearly for all to see that this child was his no matter what the circumstances were that led to his birth. We too are invited to accept the gift of Jesus who offers us the opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness of our sins accepting his rescue from our imprisonment.

Looking for Jesus

December 11, 2016

Introduction: When Rick Stilley put the statue of Jesus in front of the church I could not resist and asked people if they had seen Jesus? There were some quizzical looks like was I crazy? Or just what was I asking them! As I asked that question my assumption was we see things and yet do not really see them. Something is changed and we go on as if nothing has really happened. One of the reasons I enjoy being a priest here at St. Michael’s so much is that things are constantly changing and we are forced to have to take time to see things anew. This is the challenge of Advent, to see things anew.

I) John is in prison. He asks several of his disciples to inquire of Jesus just who is he. This may seem a little odd since at his baptism John seems to know just who he is telling Jesus he is not worthy to baptize him. We may read more into this statement than is really there, yes John is certainly indicating that Jesus is greater than he or ranks before him. He may not however, be saying that Jesus is the awaited for Messiah. Instead he may be referring to Jesus being either the Messiah or the forerunner of the Messiah the Elijah figure. What we do know is that John has heard reports of Jesus and is confused by what he has heard. This should not surprise us, for even Jesus’ own disciples were confused by Jesus at times seeming to get it and then just as quickly becoming unsure just who this ‘teacher’ ‘healer’ and ‘prophet’ actually was in the sight of God. 

II) Jesus does not answer their question directly. Instead he points out what he has done. He cures the blind, the lame walk and the deaf shall hear, which is referencing Isaiah 35:5 – 6 (p. 652). Jesus concludes his answer by referring to Isaiah 61: 1 (p. 681) where he announces that he has come to preach good news to the poor. The proof is if you will in the pudding.

III) As John’s disciples are leaving Jesus tells the crowd that there is no one born of a woman greater than John the Baptist and yet the least in God’s Kingdom is greater than John. What is going on here? Jesus is drawing a contrast between John the Baptist and those prophets who have gone before him only being able to prophesize the coming of the Christ  whereas John has actually seen the Messiah. Yet John will not live to see the coming of God’s kingdom fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus those who have that opportunity to witness this coming of the kingdom of God, will then be able to have entrance into God’s Kingdom. Our challenge is to see God’s kingdom and respond to its call. What do you believe that god is calling you to do this Advent Season?

Kingdom is a Verb!

December 4, 2016

Introduction: What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘kingdom’? Personally, it conjures up a place or realm where a king or queen oversees his or her people. In Matthew, kingdom refers not as it is used in the passive sense we have just described, in this context. John the Baptist sees God’s kingdom as God actively ruling. God is not seen as a disengaged ruler, instead He is seen as a ruler actively engaged in working with his people. Part of John’s urgency in calling the people to repent, to change their mind from sinning to one of working with God to care for His creation. As we engage the reading for today, it is clear that John is inviting us to focus on caring for the needs of others.

I) All Judea and Jerusalem come out to be baptized by John. We must remember that baptism then had a different meaning associated with it, compared to what we think now which is a baby being sprinkled with water. Certainly it meant then to dip or even plunge, but it also had the connotation of drown or sink as a ship getting sunk. So the word had the association of death and even violence. When John was calling upon the people of his day to bear good fruit, he was challenging them to work with God by making a wholesale change in how they lived out their lives.

II) As John was approached by the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, he looked at them and asked ‘who warned you offspring of snakes to flee the wrath to come? He goes on to talk about bearing fruit worthy of repentance. This brings to mind the Garden of Eden and the serpent inviting Eve to eat of its fruit. John even brings to mind the tree of good and evil when he says that even now the axe is laid at the root of the tree making sure the people made the association with the utter destruction they will face if they fail to transform their lives. The results of this decision were now being lived out as they struggled with having to live lives that focus on having to do more than simply obey the law. They cannot even use the claim that they are children of Abraham! John tells them that God can create new children to Abraham out of the very rocks that surround them on every side!

III) We are to live our lives with urgency as well. Knowing that God will act in the near future. Jesus will come and it is up to us to be ready for his appearance. He will be infinitely more powerful than John. For he will baptize us with the Holy Spirit which will not only give us more power, but more responsibility to live out our lives using this power responsibly as we serve the needs of others. He will bring the rule of his kingdom into our lives and it is up to us to work to help establish his kingdom by how we respond to his call to bear the fruit that will exemplify his love of creation.

Turmoil

November 27, 2016

Introduction: When I hear the accounts in scripture of the ‘end times’, my thinking goes to the incredible disorder that is indelible part of the text. Whether that is in Daniel, Ezekiel, Mark, Luke or Revelation. Personally I do not like chaos in my life. I like to get up and feel a sense of permanence to what is happening around me. As I have grown older and seen the world change so fast it is hard to believe anything is permanent. Growing up the phone we had a black rotary dial instrument, seemed as permanent as everything else in my life. Our neighbors, schools and places of business all seemed permanent fixtures. Now, my phone is disposable. Each new day seems to bring with it some new application I can add to my phone and wonder if I will ever master its new challenges.

I) Today Jesus calls into question what will remain, what really matters in our lives and more important are we ready for when He shall return? So often we turn to those important to us and look for permanence there, but I suspect Jesus was more interested in something more than just relationships.

II) specifically Jesus mentions two men in a field together, one is taken one is left; two women grinding wheat, one taken the other left. I believe he is inviting us to think of these people as inter-related. Both doing the same thing and yet having very different results in their destiny. Inviting us to ask ourselves what are we doing with our own lives? Are we prepared for the coming of Christ?

III) Jesus is really at the heart of this message inviting us to consider what will last. If not relationships, we are told that there will be no marriage in heaven. Instead I suspect we will be focused on how we take what God has given to us and use them in a way that exemplifies His own self glory. Or in other words, what is at the core of who we are, what really matters to us as a human being. We have already been told that we are to ‘love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul and love our neighbor as our self.’ The only question that remains is what urgency do we live this out? Do we set out each day to demonstrate who we are by how we care for those around us? Doing this in a way that focuses on our relationship to God and seeing God in every person we come into contact with during the day. Personally this is no easy task. I have found myself having to ‘wake up’ and really pay attention to those around me and in so doing really think about what I am saying and doing. As we enter this Advent Season, readying ourselves for His Second Coming, we must be willing to take the time in prayer, spending time with God as we would a good friend and letting Him speak to our heart amidst all the turmoil in our lives.

Do to others as you want to be treated!

November 6, 2016

Introduction: Today we celebrate All Saints Day. This is one of my favorite Holy Days! I think back on all those who have been important to me. My friends and relatives who have died but despite their death leave behind a lasting legacy. Who, living or dead, has made a lasting difference in your life? What made them someone you wanted to model your own life after? Jesus tells us something about what it means to be a saint as he gives his sermon on the plain.

I) Jesus begins his teaching by giving four characteristics of what it means to be a saint. To be poor, to be hungry, to weep, and to be excluded by society. These are not the kind of attributes most of us think of when we hold people in high regard. Many of us may think the attributes of saints to be extra-worldly. They are individuals who have left the world behind no longer bothered by its cares and concerns, not so, at least according to Jesus. 

II) Jesus goes on to share about what to be wary of in life that might lead us away from the love of God. Riches, changing our focus to having enough and sharing with others to hoarding for ourselves. Those who have enough to eat, and forget those who are in need. Or those who laugh shunning compassion for those who are hurting. Finally, those who are respected, not because of their depth of compassion, but for what others can gain from them. At first blush one might have thought this is what we think saints are supposed to be like! Instead Jesus warns us that a life of physical ease may well lead to a life of spiritual devastation.

III) What seems even more incredible, just when one thought Jesus could not get any more confusing, he tells us to love our enemies, to care for those who hate us, and even if they hit or steal from us we should let them! Indeed that no matter how others may treat us we should treat others as we would want to be treated! As we are willing to attempt to follow this command I believe it does change us and how we see the world around us. No longer are we so interested in getting ahead at any cost or winning at any cost. Something more important has now been presented to us as being more fulfilling. We are to look to the interest of others as we would look to our own interest. This, if done with an empathy for even those who hate us and then invite our hatred of them in return. This is not how we are to live. Instead we are to find our hope somewhere else. Our rising in the kingdom of God does not depend on our having wealth and the esteem of others. Instead our rising in God’s kingdom is predicated on how we love the other. Knowing, that God loves both the good and the evil. We are not to even to try and determine which are which, instead leaving that to God. Our task is to become spiritually whole and in so doing inviting those around us to become complete spiritually as well.

Driven to Find Something Better!

October 30, 2016

Introduction: As a young man with grand illusions of grandeur I recall wanting to emulate Francis of Assisi. Seeing the movie Brother Son and Sister Moon and the portrayal of Francis and how he served the poor and saw God in the world all around him, I could not help but be drawn to this incredible way of life. As the years went by I slowly forgot this calling as I became focused on my family and trying to make a living. As we look back on our lives do we have regrets? Things we have done or failed to do that we now wish we could have accomplished?

I) On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus goes through Jericho. On his way through this town a man named Zacchaeus, a toll collector decides he needs to see Jesus. He is unable to do so because he is a small man, so he climbs a sycamore tree to have a chance to see him. What is his motive to go and want to see Jesus, and perhaps look even a little childish in doing so, what grown man climbs a tree? Especially one who has wealth and would appear at least outwardly to have no need for anything. 

II) Zacchaeus while up a tree, literally, is called to by Jesus and told to come on down! He does so and Jesus invites himself over to his house for dinner and perhaps even to spend the night. This does not ingratiate either Zacchaeus or Jesus to those around them; since the people are quick to condemn Jesus for going over to a sinner’s house. 

III) After he has come down the tree and is facing Jesus, and has joyfully received him, the crowd begins to murmur against him because after all he is known to be a sinner. Zacchaeus immediately sets about defending himself. He tells Jesus that he gives half his goods to the poor and if he inadvertently defrauds anyone he gives restitution four times for that which was taken wrongly. Note Exodus 22:1 and Leviticus 6:5 as  examples of the laws that would have been relevant to what Zacchaeus is pointing out that he does to make sure he has treated others fairly. What is interesting at this point in Luke’s account is to note what happened just before Jesus meets Zacchaeus. A ruler comes and asks him what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him he must obey the Ten Commandments and the ruler says he has done so since his youth. So Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give it to the poor and come follow him. This leaves the rich magistrate sad for he is unwilling to do this. Which ultimately leads to Jesus’ statement about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now we come to the rich tax collector, how is it salvation has come to him and not to the rich ruler. Could it be the rich tax collector was more aware of and willing to admit his sin?

It’s Hard to be Humble!

October 23, 2016

Introduction: It may be tempting to look down upon the Pharisees who not only oppose Jesus they seem to be against the common people. So often they are depicted focused solely on the law and not on the importance of a man’s soul. The Pharisees were the pastors of Israel in Jesus’ day. They cared for the flock and many were determined to care for them not only using the law as their guide, they also used compassion. An example might well be Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night perhaps out of fear of what his fellow Pharisees might think of him coming to Jesus for council (see John 3). He would not see Jesus again until he came to help bury his body (John 19:39).

I) All of us want to be special. Indeed we are, as God’s beloved. I believe the Pharisees saw themselves as God’s special or even consecrated class. They were after all, at least in their own eyes, those who had been set apart and made a holy to be God’s representatives on earth. 

II) The people believed that this was true of the Pharisees. So Jesus tells a tale about a Pharisee who goes to pray. He goes and prays in some translations with himself. He has no need to really be with God. Instead he is concerned with all the acts he accomplishes that will please God and then after reassuring himself that he is not like other people naming notorious sinners and finally even notes that thank God he is not like that tax collector. 

III) One might have thought just looking at this scene with the tax collector who was disdained by the people and the Pharisee who the people looked up to and admired, especially in a day when most could not read and write. When most had little schooling and here was someone who would read and think preparing for their teaching on the Sabbath. They were also known for their being the political leaders and even judges in their communities. So ere was Jesus showing them in a negative light, just who did this teacher think he was? Yet Jesus points out what it really means to put yourself in the place of another. Instead of looking down on someone because of their overt occupation, he encourages the people to look at others as God might well see them. For here was a man not interested in impressing God with his many good works and the supposed fact that he was better than those around him noting that not only those who were in his eyes evil, but noting that there right in front of him was someone that he was the spiritual superior, at least in his own eyes. Jesus warns us to watch how we see ourselves. For as he pointed out in an earlier parable all we can say for all we have done is that we are worthless servants.

Scandal in the Church!?!

October 2, 2016

Introduction: Many years ago a former co-worker shared about how an elderly woman would sit in the back of her church and mutter “Scandal in the Church! Scandal in the Church!” One can only conjecture just what she might have been thinking about. As I consider these words today, brought to mind by the words of my commentary that translated Jesus’ words in 17:1 “It is impossible for scandals not to occur.” When Jesus brings this issue up he goes on to say that when we by our actions lead others astray there will be dire consequences. Yet he goes on to warn us that we are to forgive each other not matter what and then we pick up today’s Gospel lesson with pushing us to have greater faith and ultimately not to assume because we have accomplished what he has asked us to consider it an accomplishment rather we have only done what we are supposed to have done.

I) Jesus invites his disciples to think about discipleship. He begins by stating that discipleship comes with demands that pushes them to work at their relationship not just with God but with each other. These relationships become difficult because they demand the disciple to not only work at helping others conform to the demands of discipleship by living out the demands themselves but when others fail to live up to them being willing to forgive as often as forgiveness is asked for by their fellow disciples.

II) The ability to do these tasks seems impossible. How can they possibly live up to these demands? Jesus tells them if they had the faith of a mustard seed they could even do such incredible things as tell a great tree to be planted in the midst of the sea and even this could be accomplished! 

III) Jesus concludes his remarks by pointing out that a servant (disciple) even after a hard day in the field does not expect his master to wait upon him, but comes in at the end of the day still ready to do his Master’s bidding. After all, the servant is only doing what is expected. We too, are instructed that as servants of God we cannot expect applause. Instead we are to focus on what we are supposed to do knowing that in the very act of undertaking these tasks of discipleship we become transformed. I believe this happens by our having to admit we have done acts that have led others astray, that we have failed to forgive when we have been asked to forgive and our faith has been less than adequate. Like an athlete having to push himself to ever greater heights we too are being invited to utilize our faith in such a way that it deepens are broadens who we are as a child of God.

How Do We Use Our Resources?

Introduction: The parable of the dishonest manager is one that gives us pause in part because it seems as if Jesus is commending us to act in less than honest ways. It is important to realize that the actions of the manager are in part based on Hebrew law – which speaks out against usury – getting interest on loans given to fellow Israelites see especially Exodus 22: 24 (p. 68) Deut. 15: 7 – 8 (p. 171) Deut. 23: 20- 21 (p. 178), and Leviticus 25: 36 - 37 (p. 112). It is important to realize that the master may be ‘using’ his manager in order that he may get around the demands of these scriptures since he personally is not charging interest only his manager who does so in part to be able to pay for his own services.

I) As we listen to this Gospel it is important to keep what Jesus is talking about in this parable with the context it is put in, in Luke’s Gospel. It comes immediately following Jesus’ discussion of the lost sheep, coin and prodigal son and before the story of Lazarus. In this context the dishonest manager is called to account for his poor performance by his master. Note he can offer no defense and so by his silence admits to his guilt. We do not know the specifics of what he has done, only that he has executed his duties so badly he has now lost his job!

II) Now he must come to grips with not only what he has done and the consequences of his actions, but the realization of what awaits him. He has been one who is used to sitting behind a desk, much like one of us who after going to college and getting our degree and working as a white collar worker now finds himself staring at the prospect of digging ditches. Since that is not an option he considers begging, but he is too proud! 

III) The manager then invites his master’s creditors in to go over their accounts as he had been instructed. He then takes the unusual step to go and mark out what they had owed on the books and put a smaller amount in its place. We might think that he is reducing the amount owed his master, not the case! He may well be removing the commission he would have received should he have remained in his master’s employ. Moreover, this addition would have amounted to interest which his master could not have charged, but being an absentee landlord he could ‘let’ his manager charge interest and so not come into conflict directly with Hebrew law. What then is Jesus instructing us to do? I believe we are being invited to use our resources not only wisely but in ways that we can utilize them to their maximum potential. God invites us to give away all we have, we obviously cannot do that, but we can use them in creative ways. When we lived in Fargo we had a parishioner living downstairs and treated him as a member of our family thus even using our house payment as a way to care for others.