Archive for July, 2016

Barn Guy 7-31-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 12:13-21 I explore the parable of the barn guy, as Jesus warns us against greed and coveting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
It is my hope and intention…that I never do anything foolish enough to land myself in prison….However…if, heaven forbid, I do ever end up there…I have often said that my plan would be to get myself put in solitary confinement…because I can just sit there and play various movies in my head…and not only that, but I can have meaningful conversation with myself…and therefore I could keep myself entertained…but of course…that’s just a joke…and the reality of this hypothetical situation is quite a bit different.

About midway through my seminary education, I took the first of two ethics courses…and one of the writing assignments that we had in that particular class was to identify a social issue and write on it from a theological standpoint. I ended up choosing the topic of solitary confinement and whether or not it is an ethical punishment from a theological standpoint.

I won’t bore you with the full extent of my theological or ethical conclusions…other than way back in the beginning, God himself said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So let’s just say in the long run, IF I ever ended up in solitary confinement, I think its safe to say that this is not good. (pause)

Humanity is not intended to be alone…we crave relationship, we desire it within our very nature…and I believe that this is all because we bear the divine image of God…the divine image of the one who exists in three persons…father, son, and holy spirit…and yes this goes beyond our ability to comprehend…and yet we confess it to be true.

And our Lord…the triune God…the one who exists in relationship, desires this same sort of relationship, both with us…as well as for us…but since this crafty thing known as sin came into the picture and skewed our reality…hindering our ability to exist with one another in harmony…well then the 10 commandments came along…several of which are aimed at how we live in relationship with God, honoring and loving him…and the rest aimed at how we live in relationship with one another, honoring and loving our neighbors.

Now one of the 10 commandments…one of the things that God warns us about…is on display here in today’s gospel lesson…Teacher…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me…a request that Jesus immediately sidesteps…Dude, who made me judge over you and your brother? (pause) What’s interesting is that this is one of only two times in Luke’s gospel when someone demands that Jesus intervene to make a judgement call…the other one, we heard it a few weeks ago when Martha told Jesus to step in and get Mary to pull her weight in the house work, and perhaps you recall how that one turned out for Martha…but now this random guy wants Jesus to use his apparent authority…in order to put some green in his pocket. (pause)

But as Jesus sidesteps this random request…he jumps into a teaching moment…be on your guard from all kinds of greed…Now granted, we don’t know what’s going on in this situation…we don’t know the details…maybe the random guy was actually justified in his request…but if Jesus’ statement shows us anything…its that this guy just wanted to improve his situation…and he didn’t care who got hurt in the process.

Because isn’t that what greed does? It sets us up as number one…I want more…more…more…I want this, I want that.  And this need for more consumes us…and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process because our focus has turned inwards.

And I find myself thinking…isn’t that what it means to covet? We’ve got 2 commandments about this…don’t covet your neighbors house…and don’t covet his wife or servants or animals…pretty well covers the bases…don’t covet that which is your neighbors…because if you do, then you are falling in the greed trap…seeing yourself as more deserving of it than your neighbor…in short…greed…or coveting…like pretty much every single one of the commandments…places us on the pedestal…and embodies that old saying “Look out for number 1.” And in doing do…aren’t we creating an idol? Something that we are putting all of our stock in…something that commands our attention…

Idols take a lot of forms…and in this case…when greed rears its ugly head…well then the idol takes the form of the face looking back in the mirror. (pause)
And you know what…sometimes that face looking back at us from the mirror…sometimes he really seems to know what he’s talking about…You ever have that conversation with yourself…talking yourself into something…or maybe out of something…listening to that voice…listening only to that voice?
That’s what happens in the parable…and I gotta say, as parables go, this is a pretty good one…pretty well known…one that I’ve heard call the parable of the barn guy.  Here’s this rich farmer…who has a particularly good year…so much so that his, normally adequate barns and storehouses aren’t gonna cut it…What to do? What to do? What to do?

That’s the question…and rather than seeking advice…barn guy looks in the mirror…first with the question “What will I do?” And then with quite the plan.  This is what I will do. I…will pull down my barns…and I…will build bigger ones…and there I…will store my grain and my goods…and once I…have done this I…will tell myself….SELF…you are good to go…you have done all this work and now you will reap the rewards…Rest…eat…drink…and be merry.”

Sounds like barn guy is having quite the lively conversation with himself…going back and forth…talking to the guy in the mirror…but here’s the tripping point…all the while, he is only thinking of himself…that’s the tension about this parable…all too often its seen as a critique of wealth…as taking a shot at the rich…and it makes us question the way we go about things in our society today…should I save for the future? Or is this asking me to just give it all away.

But that’s not really the case here…the problem is that greed…the desire for more…and the faith that barn guy finds in having accounted for the future…it all stops right there…and because of this…he is completely self centered…there is no thought of anyone else…no one else’s voice in the conversation…the entire world of barn guy is population 1…just him. (pause)
Now I’ve had this thought before…this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this passage after all…and I’ll be honest…when I read it…it hits close to home…Barn guy seems to be asking the question of How can I take advantage of this windfall? How do I look out for the future? But maybe we can boil it down to the question of “how much is enough?” And I don’t know about you, but I fall in that trap with a fair bit of regularity.

But as I was reading through it this time around, something caught my attention…and its God’s response to the man…You know how it goes. Just when he thinks he’s got it all figured out…God calls him on the carpet. You FOOL…tonight you die…and who will have all that you have prepared for yourself?”

Now every other time I’ve read this passage, I took that as God saying that “someone else will have the fruits of all your work and scheming.” And while that might be true…this time around I was struck by the isolated nature of the man…his greed has isolated him to the point where there is no one around him…he can’t even pass on all of his accumulated goods to anyone else…because there’s no one there.

And so it seems that his barns are going to rot and fall to pieces…and all his grain will spoil…and no one…absolutely no one…will benefit from all this. (pause)

It is not good to be alone. God said this at the beginning of humanities existence…but because of the isolating nature of sin in our lives…we end up alone…but thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ, God has overcome that which isolates us…sin is overcome…relationship with God and with one another IS possible…despite our failings and the ongoing presence of sin in this flawed reality.

Now there are many signs of community and relationship within our lives…families, friends, neighbors, communities, schools, workplaces…and on and on and on…but one of the most important communities that God has given us is a community of faith.

When we gather here for worship, we join together, not only with one another, but with fellow believers all over the world…and across time…together we make up the one body…but we are also reminded that individuals parts of the body can, and will, become isolated…it still happens. We see it as individual people…and we see it within congregations.

And perhaps it is there that we find a touch of critique from this parable…I’m guessing I’m not the only one who hears this passage and feels that slight twinge of discomfort because we recognize that it hits close to home.

And I fear that we as a congregation need to listen to this word of critique…for we have been blessed beyond measure…and we reap the ongoing benefits of this blessing…yet this does not give us an excuse to simply eat, drink, and be merry…resting on our laurels because of the financial surplus that we are experiencing.

Rather it seems that the lesson today is reminding us of the need to look outwards…our needs are meet for today…so who can we help…who else can benefit from the excess that we have blessed with…this is an ongoing question…one that we’ve discussed before…and a discussion that continues to be ongoing. May our collective eyes and ears be open to the voices of those outside our walls. (pause)

There’s a saying in my house…something have reminded ourselves of when faced with questions like this…4 walls and roof.  Today we have 4 walls around us and roof over our heads…today we have food in our stomach and clothes on our back…and today, that’s enough…and we will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

May we as a community of faith trust that our Lord will continue to provide for us in the future…and so in the present may we do our best to look outwards…to not allow ourselves to become isolated by the blessings that allow us to be comfortable today.

And above all…may we remember why we are a church in the first place…we exist to be the body of Christ in the world…to declare the good news of Jesus Christ in the world…and to care for those that we encounter…may we cling to that mission, so that one day…if heaven forbid…the life of this congregation is demanded of it…there will be someone else out there to benefit from the true treasure that we possess…the freedom which has been granted to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some Assembly Required 7-24-16

In this sermon, based on the first account of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3, I explore the ongoing work that God has done in bringing our reality away from a formless void and moving towards order. This work is ongoing, and God has invited us to be a part of it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Often times when something annoys me, I end up calling it the bane of my existence…and I do this because I’m a little bit of a drama queen…and I’m okay with that.

But if there is one thing that truly does get my goat…it’s the phrase…some assembly required…and specifically…when I open up a package and find a batch of instructions that begin with this evil evil phrase. It happens with any number of different things…most recently, it was a new dresser…I’ve seen it on countless birthdays and Christmas mornings…after the presents are opened of course…and I even think about it when I’m faced with fajitas at a Mexican restaurant…I refuse to order them because my food should not be…some assembly required. (pause)
And yet, when we think about it…everything…absolutely everything here in our existence…was at one point…some assembly required…someone, or something…put it together…and we know this, because scientific discovery has allowed us to observe matter, all the way down to the atomic level…and of course, science is also working to bring our understanding down even farther than that…but since I don’t have an astrophysics degree, I’m gonna let that one go. (pause)

All of this…every single bit of it came from somewhere.  Now how it all works? I don’t know…Where it all came from…I don’t know…and I don’t have to…and yes I know that there are many different theories and ideas and understandings and interpretations…and we aren’t here to debate them today…but rather…we take a look around…as we find ourselves out in nature…out in our natural reality…out here in…creation.

Now creation is an interesting word…because it speaks to the very notion of being made…that this place where we are today…is part of a larger whole…this park, is part of a county…which is part of a state…which is part of a nation…which is part of a continent…which is part of a hemisphere…which is part of our world….and it doesn’t stop there…because it’s a part of our solar system, which is part of our galaxy…which is part of our universe…and at this point I’ll turn it back over to the astrophysicists again to explain it further.

But all of this…that which we can see and observe…and that which is either too small or too large…or simply too different for us to be able to witness…all of this…came from somewhere….and today we have heard an account of the creation of our reality…one of many possibilities…shoot, one of two that we find with distinct differences even within the first two chapters of scripture…an account that certainly butts heads with scientific theories…one that butts heads with other cultural mythologies of where everything came from.

This story…Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 through chapter 2 verse 3…tells the story of how God started off with a formless void…and step by step…in ways that we cannot understand or fathom…and certainly in ways that we ourselves cannot achieve…God has brought that formless void up to the point that we see as we look around right now…in this moment.

Now once again…I’m not going to tell you if you should take this batch of 34 verses literally…I’m not going to say that God pulled it off in 6 days and that the earth is a few thousand years old…and on the flip side I’m not going say that the Big Bang is right and all of this has been swirling around for a dozen or so billion years…you can make up your own minds about that.

But what I do think is this…that if we are to look at this story of creation, not to mention the second one that starts up immediately after it…I believe that we find a very simple and yet profound truth…that creation…was some assembly required…and that in each respective time frame…be them days or eons…God took creation one step away from that formless void…that chaos…and with each respective step, God brings creation…nearer and nearer to completion.

And with each step…God takes a look and like a proud craftsman…God nods his head and says….Yah…that’s good. (pause)

Day one…God hovers over a formless void…and we hear there’s water…which is understandable as the Jewish culture views the deep…the ocean…the sea…they understand as the unknown void…and if you’ve ever stood next to sea shore and felt utterly small…then you understand this.

That’s how things are…formless, empty, unknown…and dark…devoid of even the slightest trace of light…and so…that’s where God starts…Be light…and Light was…and there was a separation…and distinction between darkness and light…one step towards order…and that’s good.

And then God decided that there needs to be something of separation between water…there must have two sets of water…and so God made a dome to separate the top water from the bottom…and God called it sky…and God nodded his head…cuz that’s good.

And then God looked at the world that was in process…and God pulled the water together and called it Sea…and the dry land appeared and God called it Earth…so not only do has creation achieved separate and order between the land and the water…and not only has God set a boundary on the sea saying “you’ll come this far and no farther” But now we even hear that God grants identity to the two…you will be sea and you will be earth…another step towards order…and its good. (pause)

And now God starts making thing interesting…because next we have vegetation…grass and trees and all kinds of plant life…and we hear that God makes them to bear seed…to be able to reproduce…its at this point that God allows his creation…this ongoing masterpiece to begin to work along side him in the ongoing process of creating order…because if the plants can reproduce…then for the first time we have something able to be formed without God doing it directly…and what does God say? He says that’s good.

And then, God continues this work of creating distinction and order and he makes the sun and moon and stars…and makes them in such a way that they create order in the days and years and seasons…and even night and day…and that’s good.

And then God decides that plant life isn’t sufficient…because life is just too cool…and so the waters bring forth all matter of fish and swarming creatures…and the air is full of birds…and its good and God likes it and he tells these creatures…be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth….and once more we have a step forward…as intelligent life is empowered to create of itself to fill the earth with life…and as good as God knows that is…he’s not content with the sea and the sky to be filled…and so he brings forth the beasts of the land…of every kind…and its good.

So now by this point…things have come a long way…we started with a formless void and now we have the earth and the seas and sky all filled with life…and we have the amazing creation of the earth itself with all of its majesty…but God’s not satisfied yet.

And so God makes that one thing that scripture tells us is God’s greatest creation…humanity…made in very image of God…and now what’s that mean? That’s a great question…maybe that divine image is what gives us our intellence…or our ability to form culture and relationships…maybe it is in the very appearance of our bodies…it could be a lot of things…or maybe its all of these things…but most importantly…it includes our God-given ability and instruction to join with him in the ongoing work of creation…and an appreciation for beauty and order.

We have this ability, because God instructed us to be fruitful and multiply…and subdue the earth…humanity alone in this amazing creation…we alone we invited by God to join with him in the work of bring all of this towards completion…with each step, God has brought things farther away from chaos and towards the ultimate balance…and we aren’t there yet…but isn’t it amazing to realize that God desires our help in this work…and if you don’t believe me…then believe God…because while every step up to this point has been…good…once God makes us and invites us into this work…indeed…it is…VERY GOOD.

And so, may we use our gifts and talents…those very qualities and abilities to help God create…believing in the promise that one day this work will be completed…and that God has promised that we each have a place within it. Amen.

Quit Working So Hard 7-17-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, two sisters who represent both sides of the coin in our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

We moved from the Okoboji area up to the Twin Cities during the last couple of days of 2010…and so by the time of the Super Bowl in 2011, we’d only been living there for a month or so. For the most part, we didn’t know a whole lot of people up that way yet…with about our only built in community consisting of a couple of my wife’s cousins…and my uncle and his three kids.

As it turned out, my uncle invited us over to his house to watch the big game…and since we didn’t have any other plans, that’s what we figured on and so…on game day, late afternoon, we headed on over…now just a touch of back story…my uncle had recently been widowed, so hosting duties fell squarely on his shoulders that day…and let me tell you…he did not disappoint.

We walked in to find a spread of all sorts of different game time food including a bunch of different appetizers as well as some pretty darn good chili…not to mention the house was spotless…he had been busy.

But I still remember when we sat down, just in time for kickoff, my uncle let out a big old sigh and said “Wow…all this cooking and cleaning to get ready by myself…it’s a lot of work.” And I’m sure it was…it reminds me of the gradual change that we’ve undergone in recent years when we find ourselves preparing for guests coming over…particularly when the guests are family.

Gone are the days of making sure that the house is utterly spotless…because when we stop and think about it…all those extra people are going to get it messy…and then you promptly have to pick it all up again…and because of this, my wife and I have adopted a slightly different approach…bathroom and floors…namely we do clean the bathrooms and we run a broom across the floor…but that’s it…the major cleaning will happen after everyone else is gone.

Now I bring this up, because our gospel story features the same sort of deal…just like my uncle going all out to prepare for his role as host…with all sorts of food and a spotless house…just for us to sit and watch a football game mind you…today we hear that Jesus enters a village and is welcomed into the home of Martha…who turns into a major busy-body…all while her sister takes a load off, sitting at Jesus feet as he talks.

I can only imagine that Martha takes the same sort of approach…strapping on her apron and cooking up a storm…grabbing a broom…dusting spray, window cleaner…toilet bowl cleaner…washing the rugs, pulling out new bedding in the guest room…etc…etc…etc.

Okay, so maybe I went overboard there…but as we hear in the story…I’m not the only one…because Martha quite literally, goes overboard as well…and even though we don’t know exactly what’s she’s doing…we know she’s busy…so busy in fact that she was worried and stressed and completely absorbed in so many different things all at once, that she likely wasn’t accomplishing any of them overly well.

But you know what…I don’t really blame her…because she was in the mode of making sure absolutely everything got done that was expected…even if it was really needed. (pause) I think a lot of us have that tendency don’t we…the tendency to go overboard, trying to check everything off the list so that we can finally sit down and relax…all the while our guests…probably would rather that we just sit down and relax in the first place.

But that’s not what happens is it? (pause) Jesus has entered the house and is sitting there engaging with whoever else is there…and Martha keeps jumping from task to task…all the while getting more and more irritated because someone else is there who isn’t doing what’s expected of them…Mary…get off your keister and come help me.
But Mary ignores her…instead paying attention to the Lord…listening to his words…and Martha gets more and more irritated…and I don’t blame her…been there done that…who among us hasn’t had a time when they were doing task after task, and someone else just sits there…refusing to pitch in and do their share…doesn’t that drive you nuts when that happens? Doesn’t matter who it is…a coworker…a buddy…your kids…your spouse…they sit there, either intentionally ignoring you…or possibly just oblivious to the fact that you could use a hand.

No wonder Martha eventually got angry enough that she snarked off at Jesus…LORD…DON’T YOU CARE THAT MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK…TELL HER TO HELP ME!!!! (pause)
Now I have to admit…Jesus reaction in this story…it catches me just a little off guard…but maybe it shouldn’t…because he’s calling it like it is…Martha…Martha…you are worried and distracted by many things…there is need for only one…Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (pause)

The reaction of Jesus gives me pause…mainly because of what we have just hear from him. Directly before this passage, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan…offering the lesson that as followers of Christ…we are called to be servants…to meet the needs of those that we encounter…Jesus himself tells us that he has come among us as a servant and instructed us to do likewise….so when Martha is so passionately trying to meet the needs of her guests…why is it that Jesus gives her this gentle rebuke? (pause)
All too often when we hear this passage…I fear that it’s a common reaction that we demonize Martha…that we paint her with a portrait of the tyrant older sister…the strict one who cares more about appearances and rules and expectations than she does about anything else…and at the same time, we think of Mary as having it all together…being the image of the perfect Christ follower…and when we do that…we are doing a disservice to Martha.

In truth, I think that Mary and Martha represent two sides of the same coin…how do we respond to the Lord…or perhaps a way for us to think about it today, is how do we respond to one who brings the good news…because isn’t that what Jesus must have been sharing as he sat there in Martha’s house? Isn’t that what Mary must have been listening to? (pause)
Now think back to some of the different gospel texts we’ve heard recently…the Good Samaritan and serving our neighbors that I’ve already mentioned…and the mission of the 70, when Jesus sends his followers out to proclaim the good news…and doing so at the mercy of others…utterly dependent upon the hospitality of those that they are proclaiming the good news to.

And so we realize that at times, we are called to serve…and at other times we’re called to listen to the voice of the Lord…both are needed…both are important…and I really realized this as I worked with the original language of this text…and we hear that Martha was so worried and distracted by her many tasks…but the word for that is the same word that we apply to the notion of service or ministry…Martha was distracted by her many ministries…and Jesus tells her…you are doing many things…only one is needed.

Now at first, when I thought about that…picturing Martha cooking a 5 course meal while trying to sweep and dust and wash windows all at the same time…it occurred to me that all Jesus probably needed was for her to pick up a spare cloak off the chair so he could sit down…and maybe she could make him a sandwich…and then come sit down too so they could actually share the time together….but she was so wrapped up in her many acts of service…her many ministries that she wasn’t actually accomplishing any of them…and she was ignoring the voice of the one who simply desired to spend time with her.

I wonder if we do the same…if we get so wrapped up in so many different things that we aren’t doing any of them well…and I wonder if this is the case in the church…we do a lot here at Underwood…and there are a lot of other churches that do a lot as well…and the greater church…we have so many ministries going on at any given time, I wonder if we are actually accomplishing that which is needed…which is often quite simple…Preach the gospel, share the sacraments, and announce the forgiveness of sins…that’s what the church is called to do…and in the mean time, we’re called to sit at the feet of our Lord…time well spent…time that shapes us…that helps us grow…a time that we could call Sabbath.

Now just what this looks like is different from person to person, and even from time to time…There is no rule book for Sabbath…God just tells us to keep it Holy…to realize that Sabbath is a way and a time that we encounter the Lord…perhaps its time spent in the word…or maybe its time we spend gathered in community here in worship…or maybe its time spent praying…or maybe, just maybe, its like when you’re sitting around with your buddied with no agenda…and someone says “What do you want to do?” And someone else says “I dunno…what do you want to do?” And so you just sit there drinking coffee and having a conversation about nothing…and then at some point you realize that this is some of the most relaxing wonderful time that you’ve ever spent together. (pause)

I think that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make today…when he gently calls Martha’s name twice…because maybe the first time she didn’t hear him…and he needed to call her again….Martha…calm down…you don’t have to do all that…all I need is a sandwich and place to sit down…and then we can spend time together.

Now granted…we don’t know just what happens…because the story cuts off here and Luke takes the narrative in a different direction…but I’d like to think that once Jesus finally gets Martha’s attention…that she stops…and she takes off her apron…and she puts down her broom…and she pulls up a chair beside her sister…content simply to spend time with the one who is willing to call her by name…just as he is willing to call each of us by name.

May we remember to slow down…and to stop trying to do everything…when only one thing is needed…you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts for the kingdom…and that is wonderful…and yes we are called to use them…but sometimes simply doing that one thing is enough…so that we still have time to listen the voice of the one who calls our name…and we can simply be content to ask the Lord “So what do you want to do?” and maybe in that instance, the Lord will simply reply “I dunno…what do you want to do?” (take a drink of coffee) Maybe we should just do this for awhile.   Amen.

Here We Go Again 7-10-16

In this sermon based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the parable of the Good Samaritan in light of recent violence and killing. Jesus reminds us that we are unable to “do” the law, but reminds us that we can and must be moved to compassion to come along side our neighbors.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

My grandfather was in the Navy during World War 2. He was assigned to a destroyer escort, a small ship in the fleet compared with some of the big dogs like aircraft carriers or battleships…but important none the less.

The ship that Grandpa served on was stationed in the North Atlantic, and was tasked with hunting and destroying German submarines…now Grandpa never told me just how successful his ship was at this task…but I do know that they destroyed at least one. (pause)
Now I can’t speak from experience, but I have tried to imagine the state of mind when military members find themselves in situations like this…most of them young impressionable people…practically kids…following orders, and probably scared out their minds.

But regardless of that, Grandpa’s ship destroyed the sub, which came to the surface as it was breaking up…and survivors were jumping out into the water…and with that…the duty of the men on Grandpa’s ship changed…and they went out on deck to pluck those survivors out of the water…enemies yes…but now prisoners of war…and most importantly, fellow human beings.

Grandpa was on deck, pulling men up from the water…and one individual stood out…another young man who was wounded in the chest. Grandpa pulled him out, just one of who knows how many…but the memory of that man stayed with Grandpa…and decades later…somehow, someway, those two guys…now senior citizens…managed to locate one another…Grandpa in Arizona, the other man in Germany…and thanks to a friendly neighbor down the street who was fluid in the language, Grandpa was able to exchange letters with this former enemy for several years…learning about one another and sharing stories of their respective lives…they never met again in person…but in this small way, these two former enemies became friends. (pause)

I’m guessing that you’re making the connection. The parable of the Good Samaritan…when someone offers a helping hand…this story is perhaps…one of the finest in the scriptures…or in the very least, its one of the most widely known.  So much so that the phrase “good Samaritan” has become synonymous with the idea of random acts of kindness…witnesses the need of a stranger and coming to their aid.  We have laws dubbed Good Samaritan…and these laws were even featured in the series finale of the popular sitcom Seinfeld…resulting in the 4 main characters sent to jail for failing to help someone in need.

Now all too often…when this story comes up for preaching…or even in general conversation…we hear the application of how we should think or act from a moral standpoint…see the need meet the need…and that’s not in error…after all Jesus says “Go and do likewise.”

But to be perfectly honest…I’m not even that interested in the parable itself today. Rather…I’m more interested in the exchange that goes on between Jesus and the expert in the law at the beginning of the passage.

Now here’s the thing…this isn’t a lawyer like we think of things today…but rather…he’s an expert in the law of Moses…he’s the pro…the authority…the equivalent of a tenured Seminary professor with a doctorate in the 10 Commandments as well as the rest of the laws laid out by Moses clear back in the book of Deuteronomy. He knows it cold.

And so we begin to question his motives when he steps up to “test” Jesus…while we can’t be sure…it certainly seems as if his intentions are less than ideal…likely he’s hoping to discredit Jesus’ teaching…or in the very least, since he’s wanting to justified…his intentions are simply to make himself look good…but regardless…whatever his motivations are…he asks what could be considered to be the most important question that any of us ever wrestle with…what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now what strikes me as interesting here, is that Jesus does the typical Jesus thing…and manages to point out exactly where the problem is for the individual…and he does so here by turning the question back upon the questioner…What is written in the law? What do you read?

Jesus might as well be saying “You know this, what do I need to tell you for.” But the man responds…love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind…and then love your neighbor as yourself…and Jesus approves…you have given the right answer…do this and you will live.

But now here’s where things get tricky…and where the man trips up…because its not enough to know the right answer…as we see…he needs to go one step farther to prove…perhaps to those around but most importantly to himself…that’s he’s covered the bases…and so he poses the next question…And who is my neighbor?

Cue the parable…random dude gets jumped by bandits and is left for dead…two people who should both know better…who’s very identities dictate that they are the very ones who must stop and help him…don’t…they choose to ignore him…to act like they didn’t see him, or that his life is not important enough for them to be bothered.

But then here comes the token good guy…the proverbial good Samaritan who not only helps him…but goes WAY out of his way, at significant personal cost…to help him. (pause)
Now I could go into a whole bunch of stuff here…really unpacking this to reveal just why it would have been so shocking, not only for the lawyer in the story, but for everyone else that heard it…but the long and sort of it is that the Samaritan was the enemy…there would have been nothing but hatred and animosity between these two individuals…simply because of the cultural differences…words cannot express how utterly “at odds” these two cultures were…and yet they were quite literally neighbors.

And this guy helps…and as shocking as that must have been…Jesus tells this expert in the law that in order to love his neighbor…in order to fulfill what must be done to inherit eternal life…he needs to learn from the enemy. (pause) How well do you suppose that went over?  Do you think the lawyer really learned the lesson that Jesus was sharing? (pause) Have we?

Friday morning I was stuck asking myself “who am I in this story?” Because it has happened again…more needless killing. 2 African American men killed in confrontations with police officers…and then 5 police officers killed and 6 more wounded while doing their jobs.

Call it what you will…escalation…choosing sides…whatever…one thing led to the next thing…and I’m guessing that its going to lead to the next thing…which will lead to the next thing.

What’s it been…3 weeks…a month maybe since I stood up here and talked about pointless hate and the utter destruction of life that this hate has caused? And now, here we are again…different circumstances…difference groups of people involved…but the same result…People died…people who should have lived long joyful lives…cut short…families broken…people grieving.

How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many times do we have to hear news like this before we finally decide enough is enough? I’ve asked myself that question over and over again…but as I dwelled on these questions another one came to mind…based on our history…and the constant reminders of violence and hatred and fear that dominate our society…ARE WE ACTUALLY ABLE TO DO SOMETHING?

I don’t ask this question to imply that there’s nothing we can do so we should just shrug our shoulders and ignore it…that’s what the priest and levite did…but maybe, just maybe what we need to pay attention to is the notion that the Samaritan WAS MOVED with pity.

This is important to take note of…original language…this is passive…the Samaritan does not choose pity leading him to help the man…he was moved BY it. This was an outside force working on him, leading him to respond as he does.

This happens 3 times in Luke’s gospel…this is one…the second is within the parable of the prodigal son when the father see’s his wayward child and is moved by compassion because this son of mine that was dead has come back….and the third is Jesus when he encounters a widow who has lost her only son and is moved by compassion to help her.

The story of the good Samaritan is not just some corrective for us to take the moral road…but it points out that there are forces in this world that are directing us to be different…there are forces in this world that empower us to do something…and they ARE NOT…self-generated…because as we see in the case of the priest and the Levite…not to mention the lawyer who posed these questions in the first place…our selfish sinful nature will seek to justify ourselves…and therefore will end up placing us on the pedestal above others every single time.

And so when Jesus says “you know the law…do this and you will live.” We realize that we don’t do it…and we die…because the wages of sin is death…we don’t know when or where, but it catches all of us…and for 7 beloved children of God…fellow members of the human race bearing the divine image of God…it came too soon.

And in the aftermath far too many have taken up sides…and even if they don’t intend to, they are seeking to justify themselves…and we use these tragedies as ammunition to use against each other…but no one wins…I know African Americans who are outraged and yet afraid…and I know police officers who are outraged and afraid…and this problem is not limited to these two groups…but as we’ve seen time and time again, hate seems pretty universal….They’re different than me…they look different…or they sound different…or the believe different things…and how do we respond? Fear…we feel like we’re backed into a corner like a dog and what does a cornered dog do? Its bites.

Jesus says do this and you will live…We don’t…and so as I wrestled with this text in light of this week’s events, I struggled to find the gospel…but then I realized that Jesus wasn’t trying to give a moral lesson…he was pointing out our human inability to fulfill the law…love God and your neighbor…sorry, you can’t pull it off…none of us can.

And yet God loves us all…every single one of us…so much…that he looks upon us…trapped in this sinful reality…and just like the man in the story…we are left for dead…and God is moved to compassion…and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, our sinful death sentence is overcome…and we are invited by God to join in proclaiming this message to the entire world.

But in doing so…we are, in fact…called into action…not only to proclaim the gospel…but to recognize our neighbor…and who is our neighbor? Its everyone…and that includes the one that we perceive to be our enemy.

The holy spirit empowers us to be different in this world…not perfect…but different…to look upon one another and see a fellow child of God…worthy of love and respect and acceptance…not as someone who is less human than I am.

No longer can we be like the priest or the Levite…those who couldn’t be bothered to step up and do something for our neighbor…those who chose to ignore the Holy Spirit moving us to compassion…we’ve done that for too long…and our society and the latent hate that is so present is evidence to that.

Are we willing to stand up? Are we willing to listen to the prompting of God who desires for this work of reconciling the entire world to himself to come to completion? Or will we chose to ignore it…and convince ourselves that it didn’t happen to us…or it didn’t happen here…because we’ve sat behind that excuse long enough.

You can apply whatever hashtag you want to this. Black lives matter…blue lives matter…poor lives matter…gay lives matter…refuge lives matter…Hispanic lives matter…yes all lives matter…and so I leave you with this question…who is your neighbor…who do you need to accept mercy from…and who do you need to offer mercy to?

I can’t answer that question for you…only you can…I’ll be over here figuring it out for myself…but may it be our prayer that the world…and yes that includes us…remember Jesus words….what does the law say?
Well, the law includes the 5th commandment…thou shall not kill. (pause) Maybe we should start there. Amen

If These Walls Could Talk 7-3-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, I explore the story of Jesus sending out the 70 to proclaim the good news in the places where he intended to go. We share in this mission, and though the time and place has changed, the message hasn’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As we begin today, a brief survey…just to gather a bit of history about those of us gathered. How many of you were married here in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) Okay…now how many of you were confirmed here in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) Alright, lets go back to the beginning. How many of you were baptized in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) On the flip side, how many of you have been coming here for less than 5 years? (pause for answer) And on the opposite end of the spectrum, anyone here today that was around when this building was dedicated and the congregation moved in all the way back in the 50’s? (pause for answer)

Okay, well between everyone here today, there are a lot of stories…a lot of experiences here within the sanctuary of Underwood Lutheran…and as I think about that multitude of stories…it reminds me of the old saying “If these walls could talk.” (pause) These walls have witnessed every one of those stories…and prior to Underwood Lutheran calling this building home, those of you familiar with our history know that this sanctuary was a military chapel out in Nebraska…and so there’s another section of history that we are all oblivious to…but boy, if these walls could talk. (pause)

But they can’t talk can they? So we have to find other ways to tell the stories…to remember the events of the past…and of course there are a lot of ways to do that as well…memories can be recorded in journals and diaries…pictures or videos can be taken to offer a snippet of things that have occurred…but perhaps the most effective way that these events live on, is when we tell the story…when we remember and pass on what has occurred. (pause)
Earlier this week, I was in conversation…talking about the old days…and how things have changed over the years…but that there are times or places that offer us a little snippet into the ways things used to be…as we sat there jabbering about different places like this…we also started talking about the old stories that go along with them…and how those stories serve to keep the memories alive…even if time and retelling tends to create various embellishments to what actually happened…its still wonderful to hear them…and to be able to fill in some of the blanks of what life was like in days gone by.

Its funny…how connected we humans are to the past…the way that we try to hold onto things even as time marches on…and things change…even in our modern fast paced lives that we lead today, we see evidence of this…for instance, log onto Facebook, and you’ll be greeted with a picture that you posted on this particular date a few years ago. It seems like every time that happens, we stop and relive the memory…and often we retell the story to those who aren’t familiar with it.

Without a doubt…humanity is a species of story tellers…and we have been for as long as we’ve been walking the earth…which is a pretty good thing when you think about it…because without the desire to tell stories of our history…the need to pass them along from one generation to the next, well we wouldn’t have this amazing book known as the Bible.

The entire narrative of the Bible consists of stories that were passed down…New Testament, Old Testament…all of it…including the gospels…which of course includes today’s gospel lesson…handed down from person to person…stories told over and over again…sharing the message of what has happened…until finally, in the case of Luke’s gospel…roughly 70 years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…someone wrote it down so that these stories…these events that surround God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ would not be lost.

And these events…these things that Jesus said and did…these things that were witnessed by a tiny group of people…they’ve changed the world…and over the course of 2000 years, these stories have been told and retold…and translated into different languages…and they’ve been read, and reread…and they’ve revealed new things to new people…and they’ve confirmed things in people who have read them before…this is the Gospel…the good news of what God is up to in the world.

Now our story for today, it highlights this very thing. For as Jesus was walking around Judea for 3 years…he attracted a following…great crowds surrounded him…amazed at his miracles and his teachings…but most of them came and went…and only a small group of people stuck with him…he had 12 dudes…a batch of ladies that came along as well…and eventually…by the time of his resurrection and return to heaven…the total number was about 120…

But at this point…its 70…not a huge number…honestly, about the size of our normal worship service here in the summer time…70 people who have heard the call of Jesus to “follow me” and did just that. But at this point, Jesus is no longer content to let them follow…for he has made a change…and he is intentionally on his way to the cross. But there’s a lot of ground to cover…and a lot of ministry to do…and a lot of towns to visit before he finally makes it to Jerusalem…and so, he empowers these 70 people to go out in pairs…never alone mind you…and to enter these places where Jesus intended to go…and they were to proclaim the gospel.

Now the way that Jesus sent them out is interesting…take no purse, no bag…no extra sandals…but go…and rely on the hospitality of the very people that you will proclaim the good news to. I’m sending you like sheep among wolves…with nothing of your own to depend on…powerless against the world…now go. (pause)

And here’s the interesting thing…Jesus warns them that they’re about to face mixed results…some will listen…some will welcome you…some will flat out reject you. Because the good news invites mixed results…that’s just the way it is.

But the instructions for these pairs of evangelists doesn’t change…enter a town and go into a house…and tell them “Peace to you.” That peace may be reciprocated…and you may be welcomed…and if you are, well, eat what they give you…and stay there until such time as you leave the town…heal the sick as I have give you power…cast out demons, for I give you that power too…and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)
Well Jesus, that sounds good…but what do we do when they won’t receive us? (Pause) Great question guys…if you enter a house and they refuse the peace you offer it will return to you…so walk out, and shake the dust of the town from your sandals, and head on to the next place…but tell them “The kingdom of God has come near.” (pause)
Did you catch that? Regardless of the response…the message DOES…NOT…CHANGE.

The kingdom of God has come near. (pause) Now often times, people will ask just what that means…what does that look like…that the kingdom of God is near to us? Even John the Baptist posed this question when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus “are you the one to come or do we wait for another.” Jesus response…the blind see, the deaf hear, the sick are healed, and the good news is proclaimed. (pause)

The kingdom of God comes near when the gospel is shared…that’s the good news…freedom from that which hinders us…that which isolates us…and that which creates separation…most importantly separation from God. The kingdom comes near when someone hears that freedom is offered to them…that God desires that they be set free…and that Christ has come in order to make that possible.

Now here’s the amazing thing about all this…remember that Jesus sent out the 70 into the places that he intended to go…and likewise we are also sent…but it raises the question of why? Because if Jesus was sending them to prepare for his arrival, and now he’s not in the world anymore…then what are we sent to prepare for?

Well…because Jesus has promised us that he will return…he will, once more enter into this world…and so we are called to go out and proclaim freedom from that which hinders…and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near…and one day, Christ will follow where that message has gone. (pause)

And this story gives us an important reminder…and I think perhaps a critique…that over recent history, we’ve been doing it wrong. (pause) Think about how often you hear the phrase “we’re a welcoming church.” Or we want to be experienced as welcoming. Or, we want new people to come and feel welcome. (pause)
But think about it…to be welcoming…is passive, because you have to wait for people to come to you…and I fear this environment within the greater church conveys the message that “we want you to come be like us.”
But that’s not what Jesus instructed…he sent them out…totally dependent upon those that they were ministering to…to be shaped by those that they were ministering to…so that as the body of Christ grows…the body truly becomes more and more like Christ…we are shaped and changed by those we encounter…and together we become more like Christ.

We must be willing to be changed….and we must be willing to be rejected…and yet throughout the experiences that we have when we actively go out in the world…our message does not change…the Kingdom of God has come near…and freedom is offered to those who are hindered. (pause)

Now what does that look like for us? Well…we can still welcome the new person when they come…but we also need to consider how to be more active out there in the world…allowing ourselves to be shaped by those who receive the good news…and remember that we don’t have to go around the world…the mission field is right out there…because the world is right out there…and we are sent where Jesus intends to go.

We are sent to share the same message…the same story…the same good news of Jesus Christ, through our stories…knowing that we are shaped by what Christ has done…and in sharing this, other lives will be shaped as well.

If these walls could talk…the stories they could tell…but they can’t…so we remember them…and we tell them…passing them on to the next generation…likewise, the world cannot tell the story of what God has done through Jesus Christ…so we remember it…and we tell it…but even more importantly…we are invited to follow along…and become part of it. Amen.