Posts Tagged ‘Separation’

What Are You Doing Here 9-29-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:19-31, I explore the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. At face value this seems to tell us that economic status determines our eternal destination. But if we look deeper, we find something else at play.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

As we begin today, a tiny little tidbit about me…I’ve recently begun Chiropractic care in order to get my spine back to where it should be…over the course of the past couple years my wife has done the same thing and its really helped, and since I’m not getting any younger, I’ve started the same process.

Friday morning, I was at the office, and sat down with one of the office staff to discuss scheduling and payment information, all that logistically type stuff…and in the midst of the conversation, the staff member and I both commented that we recognized each other. Neither of us could figure out where from…but clearly we have crossed paths at some point in the past…who knows where.  But I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure it out with zero success…just one of those situations where I recognize the face, but CANNOT place the setting.

But as I’ve thought about that, I’ve got to thinking about the flipside of the same coin…and those times when you see someone that you instantly know…but in a setting where they have no business being…I’ve talked about this type of situation before…like when I randomly met a guy from my hometown in the hotel lounge in Bethlehem of all places…or the time when I ran into a former coworker from Minnesota while at camp in the mountains of Colorado.  The type of situation when you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing and all you can say is “What are you doing here?” (Pause) Now, tuck that sense in the back of your minds…and let’s get into the scripture for today. (Pause)

Once again, Jesus regales us with a parable…a story that he makes up intended to illustrate a point or a perspective…to in some way or another illuminate an aspect of the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve had a lot of them lately. Some a little more accessible than others.  Last week we had the dishonest manger.  We’ve had a lost sheep and a lost coin. We’ve got a guy building a tower or a king going out to war, both counting the cost of their endeavor. And another one about where to sit when you are invited into a banquet…no shortage of illustrations from Jesus…right up to today and our story of the rich man and Lazarus. (pause)

The gist is pretty simple today isn’t it? We’ve got this rich guy…wears purple…eats a feast everyday…sounds like he’s got a nice house in a gated community somewhere…although he doesn’t get a name…that little detail seemingly slipped Jesus’ mind as he puts this story together…so let’s just call him Richy Rich shall we? (pause)

So we’ve got Richy Rich riding high…enjoying life…and at the same time we’ve got this poor homeless guy named Lazarus…lays outside at the gate…longs for the table scraps…he’s covered in sores which apparently taste pretty good to the neighborhood dogs. (Pause)

2 guys…2 different people, seemingly NOTHING in common except the community they live in…and with that brief description…BOOM both guys die.  Lazarus get’s picked up by angels and hauled off to hang out with Abraham in the afterlife…while Richy Rich gets buried and finds himself on the fiery side of some giant chasm in Hades…side note, Hades is the place where dead people go, in case you’re wondering…and its worth noting that they seem to be in the same place, just on opposite sides of this impassable canyon. (pause)

Now it probably goes without saying that Richy Rich is used to the finest hotel establishments…and this torturous environment that he finds himself in is just NOT up to snuff…and so he looks across the canyon, and he sees Lazarus enjoying himself alongside Father Abraham…and he makes this small request.

Father Abraham…send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue…send him over…grant me this tiny instant of relief…for I am in torment…Abraham refuses…it would seem that even though they’re close enough to see each other and communicate…they can’t cross the barrier…we can’t get to you…and you can’t get to us.  Bummer right?

And Richy Rich says “Yah that is a bummer.” And here’s an interesting switch…realizing that he’s out of luck…that he can’t talk his way out of his current situation…that no one can relieve him or free him from it…probably for the first time in his existence, he starting thinking about someone besides himself.

Father Abraham…why don’t you send Lazarus back to the land of the living, into my father’s house…I’ve got 5 brothers…and I don’t want them to end up here.  They’d be in torment too…not to mention they’re all younger and really annoying and they’d just bother me if they showed up…yah I made up that last part…but isn’t that interesting?  Send a dead guy to warn them…and Abraham says…No…they’ve got the scriptures…if they don’t believe that, they won’t believe a dead guy either.

And that’s it…that’s the parable. (pause) Now what do we do with parables?  We tend to ask some basic questions don’t we?  And the first one is almost ALWAYS…who am I in this story?  Or maybe we come at it from a slightly different direction and we make the comparison…and if we do that…the obvious conclusion that we reach…wealth, or money, or status or prestige…these things are bad…and to be poor and lowly is ultimately good. (Pause) Yah?  Is that what we get here?  Seems like it right?  Rich guy has it good, but then suffers…poor guy has it bad but is rewarded. (Pause)  So then ask the next question…who am I?  (Pause) And we all REALLY want to say that we’re Lazarus right?  But are we?  Or are we Richy Rich?

If you’re wondering about that…think about this…does this parable sound like good news or bad news to you? (pause)  Good question to think about…because all too often it seems that what sounds like liberating good news to one person, sounds like bad news to another.

But…should it? Should the gospel sound like good news to some and bad news to someone else?  Is that how it works?  Is the gospel some sort of pie…the type of thing where a portion is removed for one person, leaving less available for everyone else?  I don’t think so.

Think about the parable…does the eternal good fortunate of Lazarus come at the expense of Richy Rich? Doesn’t seem to…but if we want to think in terms of limitations and scarcity we might start to think so. And we’re conditioned to think in those terms aren’t we?  That’s how our society works…if you gain something, then someone or something has to lose it right? (pause)

But…here’s Jesus…giving us an illustration that reminds us…over here in the kingdom…that’s not how it works…its not just that the wealthy and the high and mighty end up burning, while the lowly go to heaven…because there’s a third person in this parable…and think about who that is.

Abraham.  Now what we know about him?  Hung out in Genesis…predates the Holy Land being the Holy Land…predates Moses…predates pretty much everything beyond a garden, and an apple, and a flood. WAY before Jesus…and yet…where do we find him today?

He’s on the good side of the chasm…we might say heaven. And maybe we think “duh, its Abraham…of course he’s in heaven.”  But Abraham died rich…like SUPER RICH….he had good things in life…so shouldn’t that land him in hell?  I mean…if we think “great reversal” then Lazarus should have shown up in heaven and been like “ABRAHAM? What are you doing here?” (pause) Or, since they can see each other…Richy Rich should have found in himself in the flames and been wondering “Abraham…shouldn’t you be over here with me?” (pause)

So what’s different? What does Abraham have that Richy Rich doesn’t?  What does he share with Lazarus that landed each of them on one side of this great divide rather than the other?

What do we hear about Abraham in the New Testament…his name comes up a lot…and typically when it does, he is called the father of faith…that he believes what God tells him…and it is credited as righteousness.
Well if he’ believes what he’s told…then someone needs to tell him right? Something must be announced…it must be proclaimed. And what was announced to Abraham?  A promise.

What about Lazarus…we don’t hear much about him…except for the action that happens to him…like when angels come and carry him off.  But do you know what an angel is?  Angel, or angalos in the original language means one who bears a message…Lazarus is carried off to heaven…by one carrying a proclamation. (pause)

Now think about Richy Rich…he wants someone to come to him to relieve him of torment…and when that doesn’t work he wants someone to go announce things to his brothers. (pause)

It would seem that this separation, this chasm…that Jesus is illustrating today is revealed with the presence OR the absence of a proclamation of God’s promises. And what are those promises? That you are loved…that you are accepted…and that the brokenness that is a part of your existence has been overcome by the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. That’s the gospel. You can’t get there on your own…You cannot fulfill righteousness…so God has done it for you through Christ…that is the good news…that is the promise…that is the proclamation…and THAT is what carries Lazarus away from torment into whatever lies on the other side of that chasm…whether we want to call it heaven or paradise or eternal rewards…or simply being in the kingdom. (pause)

So that’s mean for us?  Well…it seems to indicate that faith comes through hearing the proclamation of the gospel…and it reminds us that salvation or faith or heaven or any of that…its not self-generated. Lazarus didn’t do anything to receive it…he was completely passive in this whole story…we never even hear him talk, much less do anything.

And so, we realize the importance of proclaiming the gospel…because it needs to be heard before it can nestle in our hearts…and before the Holy Spirit can use it to create faith. And this is why we stress the importance of the priesthood of ALL believers.  Proclamation is not just limited to the person wearing a weird little white tab on Sunday mornings…we are ALL called to share the gospel with those that we encounter…so that they can hear it to…so they can hear that announcement…and be carried off to be with Abraham…whatever that might entail.

And this is the case whether we like it or not…God’s grace is not up to us to determine who gets it and who doesn’t. That’s the beauty of God’s grace and mercy…and that’s also the curse…because anytime we start trying to decide who has it, or on the flipside who doesn’t, then Christ calls us forward to his table where we receive the bread and wine along with the promise that his body and blood has been broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins…and that it is for all people…and when that person that we think doesn’t deserve it faithfully receives the means of grace while believing the promise of the proclamation…they are forgiven…and we have to deal with it.

This is what I love about the gospel of God’s grace and mercy through Christ…God’s grace is all in, or its not grace…and it means that one day in the resurrection, whatever that’s gonna look like…I’m going to see the LAST person I ever expected and in astonishment I’ll say “What are you doing here?”  And they’ll look at me, equally astonished…and ask me the same thing. Amen

What Are We Really Preparing For 12-13-15

In this sermon, based on Luke 3:7-18, I explore the theme of Advent, preparing for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist plays a central role in this part of Jesus’ story, yet his message is quite blunt. I contrast the old with the new that comes with Christ.

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 from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’m going to start things off with a little bit of an advertisement today. Tuesdays at 7pm…our ongoing study of The Story…a Bible study in which we are discussing the overarching narrative of the Bible from start to finish. Lively discussion ensues…and you’re all invited.

One of the main points that we’ve been discussing in this study since beginning last summer as been the ongoing activity of God behind the scenes…asking the question of how the particular chapter highlights God’s greater work in the grand scheme of things…now sometimes its pretty obvious…chapter 1 for instance…the story of creation from the first couple chapters of Genesis…what’s God up to there? Well, making…everything…kind of a no brainer.

But on the flip side…sometimes we have to work a little harder to try and figure out just what God is up to…because its not nearly as obvious as the first chapter…and this week, was one of those times. (pause) This week we studied the story of Esther…a young Jewish girl living life within the great Persian empire…and she’s picked from obscurity…wins the favor of the king and becomes the new queen…and along the way she manages to foil a plot to annihilate the Jewish people…it’s a wonderful story…and our discussion was great…but one interesting fact came up. Nowhere within the Old Testament book of Esther…not even once…do we hear about God…which admittedly seems a little strange when we consider that the Bible as a whole is the word of God, and is aimed at revealing truth of what God is up to in the world to us…but its true…the book of Esther is silent when it comes to God. (pause)
Now I bring this up because there’s a similar theme in today’s gospel lesson…the gospel’s, naturally, are New Testament books…and the gospels more than any other books, are certainly aimed at Jesus…the son of God…God in human form…walking and dwelling among us. (pause)

But…in today’s lesson…we see one of the very few times when Jesus is neither present…nor is he named…The closest we get to hearing about Jesus is a few comments regarding the coming Messiah. (pause) Now how often does that actually happen? That we have a gospel lesson that fails to feature Jesus? Its pretty rare…but the main reason behind it today is the season that we find ourselves in…Advent.

Now, you’ve heard me talk about this before….but Advent is considered the season of preparation…as the world awaits the coming Messiah…something that we’ll celebrate together in just a couple weeks’ time at Christmas as Jesus enters into our reality, yet again…as a helpless baby. (pause) But we aren’t there yet are we?

And so, here at the half way point of this 4 week season of preparation, we find a gospel lesson that doesn’t feature Jesus…but rather…another familiar figure…John the Baptist. (pause) Now John is an interesting individual…and he shares in a pretty rare distinction…being one of the few individuals that actually shows up in all 4 gospels…he’s not one of course, but there aren’t many…and because of this distinction, we recognize just how important of a figure he really was…and I think most of us do. We know that he’s the precursor to Christ…we know that he was the voice crying in the wilderness…his name is synonymous with the idea of baptism…

Maybe, if you’re like me, you hear the name John that Baptist and you picture some hairy wildman with a huge bush beard and afro splashing around in a river and yelling at everyone…that’s the image that’s in my head anytime I hear about him…and for the most part, that’s a pretty accurate image to hold…because John’s part of the overarching gospel of Jesus Christ is pretty brief…mostly limited to this one story right here towards the beginning…with only a few brief references that pop up here and there throughout the rest of the gospels.

But as we think about our normal notions of John…not to mention listening to his rather blunt message for those who have come out to listen to him…doesn’t it seem to be kind of one note? (pause) Think about it…I say John the Baptist and ask you what his message it…and I’m guessing most of you think “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!!!! WHO WARNED YOU ABOUT THE WRATH TO COME?” (pause) Sound about right?

I thought a lot about that this week…and kind of chuckled to myself as I realized that this one passage culminates in the single sermon that I get to preach this year during Advent…we have this one passage to help us get ready for the coming Messiah…and when we hear John’s words…it sort of resonates as the same old same old. (pause)

Think about everything you know about John…because it seems…at first glance anyway…that’s he’s really not broadcasting much that’s new. (pause) First off…he’s a prophet…the first one that’s popped up in the Holy Land for about 4 centuries…so the word of God has been pretty quiet for awhile…but the first thing this wilderness prophet rattles off…is a call to repentance…because wrath is coming…and if we’ve learned one thing trekking through the Old Testament in our Bible Study its that the word of the Lord tends to call the people to repent or face God’s wrath quite a bit.

But what else…what about the notion of Baptism…because John was doing that too…obviously right, just look at his name…but don’t be fooled. Even though we tend to think of Baptism as a fairly new innovation…something that came along with the rise of Christianity, its actually a lot older than that…Jewish people practice baptism…particularly when a foreigner would join the Jewish culture…and they would be baptized to cleanse themselves of all that which is ungodly…and so…this baptism that John practiced…was nothing new either.

So then, what about his interactions with the people…those who ask him “What should we do?” The crowds, and tax collectors, and the soldiers…at this point John gets into some life application that seems like kind of no-brainer…if you’ve got more than you need…share it with someone who doesn’t. Treat one another fairly…don’t lie…and be satisfied with what you earn…sounds pretty “golden rule-ish” doesn’t it…and it reflects the expected culture of the Jewish people…who’s lives centered around hospitality and the expectation of treating one another fairly….truly the message of John seems like nothing new does it?

And yet as we hear it…and we hear John screaming out at the brood of vipers who are only there to save their own skin…and his predictions that one is coming who is going to sort everything out…separating the good from the bad…the grain from the chaff…doesn’t it all sound…so…judgmental…so accusatory…so downright negative? (pause)

And yet…this seems to be exactly the message that the people expect…so much so, that they start to ask if John might just be the long awaited Messiah…the one who would usher in God’s blessed kingdom and throw out all that which oppresses God’s people. (pause) Crazy huh? That this, was their expectation…that the messiah would bring the same old judgmental, divisive story? (pause)

But here’s the thing…if John could make only one point, its this…he knows who he is…and he knows who he…isn’t…and he is very direct in pointing out the difference between himself and the coming Messiah. (pause)
I baptize with water…he will baptize with the holy spirit and fire…I am a lowly servant…not even worthy to untie his sandals…but HE…is more powerful that I am… (pause) Now we hear all this and instantly start thinking about Jesus don’t we…as well we should…but I think what we tend to miss about all this is just what John’s talking about when he references the power of the coming Messiah.

We hear John’s words of wrath and repentance…of separation and judgement of gathering the grain and burning the chaff…and if you’re anything like me you hear…DIVISION…that the coming Messiah will one day separate the evil people from the good people.

But here’s the thing…have you ever really known a person who was completely evil…or on the flip side someone who was completely good? (pause) Sure we’ve had some pretty decent examples on both sides of the coin…but I’m pretty sure even the worst of the worst probably had good intentions…and even the most saintly still harbored dark thoughts in their minds.

And that’s all because of the presence of sin and darkness in our lives…it has permeated us so deeply…into the very depths of our existence…and that’s why each and every one of us feels the effects of sin in our lives…and just being a person who professes faith in Christ…or a person who claims the promises of our baptism…it isn’t enough to eliminate the darkness that still resides within each of us.

We can’t separate the good from the bad and maybe just maybe, when we hear these words from John they seem so confrontational…so judgmental because when we are honest with ourselves we the darkness within us and can’t help but expect to be the evil chaff that gets thrown into the fire…and news flash…if you happen to take a look and only see the good stuff and fully expect to be gathered into the barn…well guess what…pride my friend…you just earned yourself the fire…that’s how deep this goes and there is NOTHING we can do about it.

But as John tells us…there is one who is coming…one who is MORE powerful…MORE able than any of us…Because God is coming…and God, who exists in ways far beyond our ability to understand or comprehend IS ABLE, to somehow, someway separate that which evil from that which God claims as good, from within each of us as individuals.

We are each made in the image of God, something that God called VERY GOOD…but likewise the power of sin has settled within each of us…but what if…maybe, just maybe, what John is talking about here…is the possibility that we have a God who lived this life…who came into this reality…then died and rose again to overcome the power of sin and death and somehow, someway, holds the power to separate them out from within the individual.

Isn’t that good news? That the savior of the world…who will enter into our reality at Christmas…just a couple weeks from now…did so in order to take away that from within YOU…that separate you from God…so that the aspect of YOU that God calls VERY GOOD…will remain to be with him forever. Isn’t that the best news in the world? (pause)

Now what if I told you that there are some out there who have never heard it? That there are some out there who think of the gospel and only hear the old judgmental accusation without understanding the love that God holds for us…that Christ came not to divide the good people from the bad people…but to redeem that which is good within each of us…and that this gift…this promise is for them too. (pause)

Soon…very soon, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…the messiah who is coming into the world…and as we do each and every Christmas we will sing the familiar hymn to Go Tell It On The Mountain…so that one day…all may know the Good News….and that my friends…here during the season of Advent…that, it what we are really preparing for. Amen