Posts Tagged ‘God’s grace’

Did Anyone See That 10-9-16

This sermon is based on Luke 17:11-19. Jesus encounters 10 lepers and heals them, but only 1 shows any gratitude. That’s worth exploring.

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

I think its safe to say that we as a society have a little bit of a fascination with seeing people crash and burn…not literally of course…but there’s something utterly fascinating about seeing someone fail, resulting in some sort of wipe out. A quick search on youtube will reveal videos beyond measure of someone trying to do something big, only to have it fail miserably.

And I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person…and there have been many times when I’ve seen a video like this, and I instantly share it with my buddies, usually with the tagline “You’ve got to see this.” (pause) Now again, its not that I want to see someone get hurt…far from it, but yet it almost mesmerizing to see some sort of trick go wrong.

But before you judge my strange fascination with epic wipe outs…rest assured that I’ve had a few of my own as well…and the biggest one happened back when we were still living in Minnesota, and it involves a bike. Though I don’t do much biking these days, there was a time when I would hop on my bike and ride through town to the gym that we belonged to, I’d check in there and then hop back on my bike to ride home. I’d get a few miles of exercise along with checking off a notch on my monthly gym tally, which was a requirement to get an insurance discount there.

But anyway, this one day I was riding, actually on my way home…and was going through an area full of businesses…at it was commuter time, so there were people driving around, heading to work…Now as I was riding, there were a few moments when I had to go from the street up onto the sidewalk, and rather than simply riding up at a crosswalk, I was trying to be fancy and pop a wheelie to get my front tire up over the curb. I’d done it a couple times already…but this time, I didn’t time it right…and my tire smacked into the curb, and the next thing I knew I was laying on the sidewalk…now I was ok, and so was my bike…but I figured I better let everyone around me know I was okay…so I looked and looked, trying to make eye contact with anyone that was concerned about this whole accident…and even though there were a lot of people around…no one noticed anything….they were all so busy with their normal day to day routine that they had completed missed this epic wipe out…they were too engrossed in their normal lives to notice something amazing happening in their midst. (pause)
Now, what’s this got to the do with the gospel? Good question…so let’s set the stage. Now if you’ve been paying attention, we’ve been moving Jesus towards Jerusalem for quite a while now. His face has been turned towards the end goal of the cross since chapter 9, but now it seems that he’s finally making some progress as he’s heading south. A good chunk of Jesus time and ministry happens up north in Galilee, so in order to finally make it into Jerusalem in chapter 19, he’s got to head south, which means encountering the region of Samaria…as we hear today, his in the borderlands between the two areas.

Now you’ve likely heard me talk about the relations between Jewish people and Samaritans before…they don’t get along…and even though they are distantly related to one another and share many cultural similarities…the Samaritans status as half-breed descendants from the Assyrians several centuries prior still causes issues. And so they are consider foreigners, uncouth…but ironically, being from Galilee, isn’t a whole better, as its considered pretty back water as well.

But here’s Jesus walking in the countryside between the two area…coming up on some unidentified village, when he encounters a group of 10 lepers…Now these 10 guys have it pretty rough…leprosy is a horrible disease…but back in Jesus day, leprosy actually meant a whole lot of different things…it wasn’t any single disease, but was pretty much assigned to any sort of skin ailment.

Now if you had some sort of unexplained issue…you were declared ceremonially unclean…and you got kicked out of town. You had to remain outside of town for a period of time…basically until the problem cleared up, or until you died…kind of an either or situation…but if the problem cleared up, well then there was a procedure to follow…periodically go present yourself to a priest, who would inspect your skin to make sure you were, in fact, okay…and if he gave you the thumbs up, well then you’d do a ceremonial washing, and you’d make a thanksgiving sacrifice…and then you were clean again, and you could rejoin the community.

But until that time, well you were out in the wilderness…required to cover your face and announce from a distance “UNCLEAN!” so that anyone who wanted to avoid contamination could stay away from you…but as misery does love company…fellow lepers could band together. This is why Jesus encounters a group of 10…10 guys…all kicked out of their local communities…hanging out together…and all of them seeking mercy…seeking healing…and apparently…aware of who this Jesus guy is.

For when they recognize him, even though they are following the rules and staying at a distance, they cry out “JESUS…MASTER…have mercy on us.” (pause)  And Jesus, being Jesus…does.  But…here’s the weird part about this story.  We don’t really hear about the healing itself do we?

Rather, Jesus just tells them…go show yourself to the priest. And…that’s it. We don’t actually hear about the healing itself do we? Only a passing comment that as they’re going, they are cleansed…Jesus doesn’t offer any fancy words…he doesn’t do any oddball actions as we hear in other instances…he doesn’t even touch them…he just tells them to go the priest…to basically do exactly what they would already do.  And its on the way that the action happens…the action of being cleansed. (pause)
Now I’m drawn to the notion of action here…because there are actually 3 different actions described within the story…while the 10 men are heading towards the priests…all 10 are cleansed…We also hear that they are healed…now one could argue that these are sort of the same thing…and they are certainly related…but there is a distinction…for their ailment is healed…but to be healed of something, that requires the action of nature…whatever it is that’s causing the sickness clears up, whether by itself or with the help of medicine or in this case with the help of God…but it is…a biological action.

Now on the other hand, to be “cleansed,” while referring to the healing of their leprosy, well according to the rules that we’ve already discussed, well this involves the judgement and action of a priest to say that “yes, you are clean.” And so this action is up to another person. (pause)

Now both of these actions happen to all 10 guys…essentially, even though it originates in a miraculous way…its still very much a part of the normal status quo…for this type of thing happened…someone would be called a leper…but after time they could be called clean and return to normal life.

And here’s where things get tricky…9 of the guys…we don’t really know what happens to them do we?  They believe Jesus enough to follow his instructions…and along the way they are healed…but after that, we don’t know. In all likelihood these 9 guys, who we can assume are Jewish, go to the priest, get the thumbs up, make the required sacrifice and head back to their community…

But 1 guy…the one who happens to be the foreigner…the outsider among outsider, he does something different doesn’t he? As we hear, he returns…praising God in a loud voice, falling at Jesus feet to thank him for the gift of mercy that Jesus had shown him…and we hear from Jesus that this man’s faith has made him well…it has made him whole…and in fact the Greek even says it has “SAVED” him.

Now we talk a lot about salvation don’t we…and we talk a lot about faith…last week’s sermon was all about that…but I find myself wondering what it is that was different about this guy…because out of 10 men who all experienced the same thing…this one guy experiences more…and Jesus commends him for it…pointing out his faith…his faith which apparently is on display through his action of returning with incredible gratitude for that which God has done in his life. (pause)
So what’s different about this guy? What is it that makes him respond as he does? What is it that makes him recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the regular day to day? (pause)
As we hear, it’s the presence of faith within him…the belief that God has done something…and that God is the source of this miraculous healing. (pause)
Say what you will about the other 9 guys…there must have been something going on there, because they were healed as well…but it would seem that they are so caught up in the regular…in the status quo…in the way things normally are that they have missed the presence of something more.

Just like all those people in Minnesota who were so busy with their morning routine that they missed me crashing into curb and wiping out…these 9 guys just go about their business…getting back to normal…but because of the presence of faith within this random Samaritan leper…this man who is not only an outcast, but is an outcast among outcasts…he is able to recognize just how enormous this gift of God is.

There’s a moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus says that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and I think that’s on display here…One could argue that the Samaritan, even though the healing was the same, the blessing was a double measure…so perhaps he’s got insight that the other 9 guys lacked…and we see the same sort of thing on display with believers who’s faith came about in the midst of hitting rock bottom…and the turnaround in their lives is so blatant, because they recognize the enormity of God’s free gift of Grace.

Now, in our lives of faith, we all have moments when we’re one of the 9…and the incredible gift that we’ve been given, simply because God has chosen to out his monumentous love for us…gets missed in our ordinary day to day lives…but at the same time, faith gives us the ability to also be the 1…faith gives us the ability to recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the status quo…because through Christ, the kingdom has come near…through Christ, the miracle has already been done…through Christ God’s grace is already given to us, and because of what God has said about us…and what God has done for us…its already here…and it is through the presence of faith in the midst of our humdrum lives, that we recognize the enormity of this gift…and we respond with gratitude. (pause)

Interestingly enough I got into a discussion on social media this week on this very subject…and the question of how do we respond to this gift of grace…and how does faith manifest itself?  Do we respond by cheapening God’s gift and continuing to act like a jerk, holding onto our get out of jail free card…expecting to repent at the last possible second?

Or are we changed? Do we recognize the incredible gift that we have been given…not by anything we have done, but simply because Jesus does have mercy on us.  And in recognizing this, does our life reflect true gratitude…and do we praise God for this gift?

That’s what faith does…it allows us to see just how big of a gift we have already received in the midst of the normal…and our gratitude is reflected as we praise the one who has given us this gift. (pause)

All 10 men were healed…all 10 were cleansed…but only one was made whole…may our eyes be opened to witness the amazing gift that God has given us…and may our lives reflect that back as praise. Amen.

There Is No Order In Grace 9-21-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 19:30-20:16. It is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I explore the sense of fairness being broken by the master’s actions, but then discuss how there is no measure to God’s grace other than that we receive the fullness of it.

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Since becoming the pastor here at Underwood Lutheran, I’ve presided over two weddings, and in both of them…the placement of the individuals who made up the wedding party was the same…everyone has their place…and as I think back to the multitude of weddings that I’ve been to, regardless of my level of involvement with them, I can say that there is certainly a normal placement of people that is pretty universal…a sort of inverted V…spreading out from the front…pastor here…bride and groom here…best man and groomsmen going out that way…maid of honor and bridesmaids going out that way…ring bearer and flower girl alongside…father of bride standing out here at one point…ushers in the back… …and in my time…I’ve stood in just about all of them at least once.

I’ve stood here in the pastor’s spot…being married I’ve obviously stood in the grooms spot…I’ve been best man…I’ve been a groomsman…I’ve been a ring bearer…I’ve been an usher…I haven’t managed father of the bride yet…but my daughter is only 8, we’ll give that one some time…and believe it or not…I’ve even stood over here in the bridesmaid line…long story…I’m not going into it…but yes I have even stood there. (pause)

Being part of the wedding party is a lot of fun…but for me, the best aspect…the biggest benefit…is that you get to go through the food line first at the reception. 9 times out of 10, the wedding party is the last to get there…and yet they are the first to eat…and I pay attention to these things…because inevitably…whenever I am at a reception and have not been part of the wedding party…my table is one of the last one’s to go through line…never fails…even if I’ve been one of the first to arrive…I’m always one of the last to eat. (pause) The first will be last…and the last will be first…Sound familiar?

This phrase bookends the gospel lesson for today…and perhaps you’ve heard me say it before…but in the writing style of the New Testament…when they repeat something…it means that it’s important…and of course today our speaker is Jesus himself…The first will be last and the last will be first.

Jesus, currently in an ongoing discussion with the disciples, uses this phrase to make a point…and then he transitions into the parable that makes up the bulk of today’s lesson…and then at the end…he says the phrase again…wrapping everything up…and so I have found myself coming back to that phrase over and over again this week…not because I want to…but because that appears to be the theme of yet another one of Jesus’ parables. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early to hire laborers for the vineyard…they agreed on the wage…and he sent them out to get to work…Three hours later…he goes out again…Oh hey…there’s more people hanging around…Hey guys…go get to work…and I’ll pay you…and again a couple hours later…More people? Okay…go get to work…and then in a few more hours…Wow…more people…off to the vineyard…until finally, he makes one last trip right before the end of the day…and yet again…there are people standing around who have yet to be invited to work…people who lack the call into a crew…and yet again…the master says come on, I’ll hire you. (pause)

Hmmm…so the kingdom of heaven apparently has a WHOLE lot of work to do…and apparently there are a lot of people standing around lacking direction…interesting…but that’s just the start of things.

At the end of the day…once the work is over…the master decides that its time to settle accounts and brings in those late arrivals first…and low and behold…he pays them for a full day…and word trickles down the line. (pause) WOW!!! This guy is generous…they only worked for an hour…and he paid them for a full day? We’ve been here longer…some of us WAY longer…I WONDER HOW MUCH WE’RE GONNA GET? (pause)

And when the first workers finally get their paycheck…and greedily open up the envelop…expecting to see countless riches from this generous master…they are shocked…and amazed to find…exactly what they earned…exactly what the master had promised them at the beginning of the day. (pause)

And this…does not…sit well…and we hear that they begin to grumble and complain against the master…but in typical fashion, they don’t actually take it to him…the greek word here indicates a sense of quiet mumbling…similar in scope to what we might do in the midst of an argument when the other person leaves the room and we grumble about them…not really wanting them to hear what we have to say…because in all likelihood, it isn’t’ that nice…but yet we want the last word because darn it…we’re right and they’re wrong.

MASTER!!!! This isn’t fair…We have worked our tail off for you…we’ve been here all day…the whole time…we have done 10 times as much…and yet you give them the same amount as us. (pause)THAT’S NOT FAIR!

Gone is their viewpoint of the master as a generous man…now he’s just acting ridiculous…because common sense dictates that WE’VE done…far outweighs what they’ve done…we’ve earned it…they haven’t…we deserve it…they don’t. (pause)

Sound familiar? (pause) I’m sure it does…anyone with kids has heard countless arguments about fairness…I’m pretty sure that the phrase “That’s not fair” is uttered in my house at least once a day…probably more…and when we’re honest with ourselves, our views of what’s fair…what’s right…what’s justifiable…goes far beyond childhood doesn’t it?

This is something that we see all the time…smack dab in the middle of our day to day life…and perhaps in our capitalistic society…driven all too often by the almighty dollar…we run into this attitude constantly…and this parable really speaks to us…and we feel like those guys who started off the day in the vineyard are completely justified in their concern over the paycheck situation. (pause)

The notion of earning…or seniority is certainly prevalent for us isn’t it? So much so, that its second nature…this thought that those who have been at longer deserve more…that they should be justly rewarded for their work…for their service…for their time.

But Jesus tells us in this parable today that this is not the case in the kingdom of heaven…and so perhaps we try to shift our thinking now…remembering that, Oh yah, this isn’t supposed to be about money…its about the kingdom…and so we start thinking about the church…the congregation…and all the work that we’ve done over the years…has that thought ever crossed your mind? That I’ve done my part…I’ve put in the time…and maybe, just maybe I deserve the benefits more than that person…or that one…ever thought that? Even for a moment? (pause) I know I have from time to time…that notion of superiority kicks in, whether I want it to or not…guilty. (pause)
But you know what…Jesus has this amazing ability to shut me up pretty quick when he reveals the truth about things. And in typical fashion, he does the same thing here…when the master reminds us that he is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him…and then Jesus reminds me again that this is about the kingdom of heaven…not money…not seniority…its about the gift of God.

God is like the master who continues to go out into the world…looking for those who have not been brought in yet…he doesn’t stop after the first trip…or the second…or the third…he keeps on going until the very last moment, continuing to bring people in…and regardless of when he finds that person…the result is the same…the full measure of God’s grace.

Because the grace of God cannot be measured out…it cannot be divided based on how long you’ve been in the body…grace doesn’t work like that…but he makes us a promise that if we call his name…if we come back into relationship with him through faith in Christ that we will receive the full measure of his grace…in its entirety.

And just as the master says to the first workers…God does us no harm by offering the same measure of grace to those that come after us…and no matter of longevity changes that grace…whether we are believer for a century or an instant…we receive the full measure of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord…and we need only look to the scripture in order to believe it…

Because as Jesus hung on the cross…dying for the sins of all humankind, one of the men hanging next to him looked up and said Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom…and Jesus looked back at him and assured him that Today…you will be with me paradise. (pause)

Friends in Christ…we know, full well, that there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head…and we all fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve earned it more than the next person…no matter what the subject is…but despite all that…despite our failings…and our sinful nature…we have a Master who is generous…who offers us the free gift of his grace…not because we earn it…but simply…because he chooses to…it doesn’t matter when you show up…only that he has called you in. Thanks be to God. Amen