RSS

Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Shape of the Inside Determines the Appearance on the Outside (February 24, 2019)

Luke 6:27-38

 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

pottery

As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.

Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.

This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.

The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.

And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.

But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?

Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”

This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.

No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.

So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.

More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.

As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Right Now. You are Called. And It Matters (February 10, 2019)

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Two call stories. Isaiah and Simon. Two different ways of being called:

Isaiah Simon
  Inconvenienced x2

·         After working all night, “put out a little way from shore.”

·         After no catch, “put out into deep water, let down nets.”

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Throne Room

·         Hem filled temple

·         Seraphs crying out, “Holy!”

·         Earthquake and smoke

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Big catch!

   Unworthy, “Woe is me! I am lost” Unworthy, “Go away, I’m sinful”
Forgiven–

Seraph brings live coal and touched his lips with it.

Now he’s worthy.

 
Called to speak Called to catch
Accept with understanding proclaim to Israel their ignorance and their destruction.

But needs clarification, “how long?”

Accept with no idea what this means or what it entails.

But left everything to follow (along with James and John).

There is no clear-cut pattern to being called by God. No template where people can fill in the blanks. No checklist where people can mark off the steps as they’re completed. Each call is unique. And each call is specific. And each call is necessary.

There are a couple of things about being called by God that we can say with a little bit of certainty. One is that through our baptism we are called! Through our discipleship we are called!

Another is that we are called to be part of something that God is doing. It fits somehow into God’s vision, God’s mission, God’s intention for the world. What that looks like and how we recognize it are up for grabs, however.

Accepting a call from God is not a smooth process. It’s not a “one and done” kind of deal. It’s ongoing, it involves making mistakes, and it usually feels more like stepping off a ledge than it does following a well-defined path.

If this is all true, then how do we go about figuring out this call stuff?

  1. Trust that you are called by God to be part of what God is doing. Remind yourself every day. Say it out loud, “I am called by God — to be part of what God is doing.”
  2. Know that none of us do this alone, but we are all parts of a whole. We need to remind each other that we are all called to be part of what God is doing. Tell someone, “You are called by God — to be part of what God is doing.” As a congregation, we need to be encouraging each other, supporting each other, lifting each other up. Because it’s not just each of us separately following, but all of us following together.
  3. Grow in your own understanding. Discover your gifts and your passions. Isaiah loved the temple and Jerusalem. He was concerned about the people’s straying from their temple identity as God’s people. Simon knew fishing. That was about it. Grow in your spiritual life, grow in your discipleship, and grow in your own self-awareness. God isn’t calling you to become something you’re not; God is calling you because of who you already are.
  4. Accept that we won’t do it right. Forgiveness means that you get to try again. How many times in scripture does God have to remind people, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus says it to Simon in this text today, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” We don’t have to afraid that we’re not doing it perfectly. God can easily work with failed attempts and mistakes. It’s a lot tougher for God to work with no attempt at all.
  5. Keep at it. The prophets that make up the book of Isaiah watched the destruction of Jerusalem and the people being forcefully taken away as captives into Babylon. Simon watched the as the one on whom he bet everything—his entire life—was killed on a cross as a criminal. When it looks like nothing is happening, when it seems God has abandoned this project, when it appears that God may not be able to use you after all, keep at it. When we see that God’s work isn’t going as expected or hoped for, we’re in really good company.
  6. Celebrate the victories! Watch for God’s justice happening. Pay attention to compassion being shown. Look for love and grace and mercy being lived out in unlikely places. See how God is surprising people not only with what God is doing, but through whom God is doing it! And then, having recognized God’s vision moving forward, share that good news!
  7. Rinse and repeat. We continue in this process of our spiritual awakening and discipleship growth. As we continue working these process steps, we’ll re-discover our call to a deeper purpose for our lives and a fulfillment that comes from being who God has created us to be. Plus, our trust, our faith, our awareness of the reality of God takes on new life and more meaning. And all the while, God’s intention for creation continues in its fulfillment.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 10, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , ,

There is Good News! But Being Favored Isn’t It (February 3, 2019)

Luke 4:21-30

Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Last week was Jesus’ first sermon recorded in Luke back in his home congregation in Nazareth. Today’s text continues, even overlaps a verse, and includes the congregation’s response to it. In a word, it wasn’t a great response.

I can’t imagine going back to my home church in Salt Lake City right after seminary and preaching my very first public sermon ever. And the congregational response is to drive me out of town and try to throw me off a cliff. I think I’d likely rethink this whole preaching thing as a career choice.

But we need to look at why they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. He was their hometown hero at this point. His reputation as a preacher and teacher had spread throughout Galilee already. Everyone was amazed at him and they all praised his ability.

So the bar was high when he comes back to Nazareth. Things start out just fine. Everyone was amazed at what he was saying. They liked his emphasis on God’s good news coming into the world. They beamed with pride, “Yup, this is Joseph’s son, he’s one of us!”

And then someone shouted, “Hey, Jesus! We’ve been hearing about some things you did in Capernaum. How about doing one of those miracles or something here?” And everyone else chimed in too. “Heal one of our sick, cast out a demon from one of us. After all, we’re your people. We’re like your family. We’ve always supported you. We deserve something from you.”

That’s when the wheels came off. Instead of showing favoritism to his family and friends, Jesus took the opportunity to make a bigger point. “That’s not the way God’s reign works,” he said. “If God shows any preference, it’s for those who are on the outside, the poor, the oppressed, the migrant, and the prisoners. You’re not entitled to better treatment and bigger miracles because you know me.”

Then Jesus gives them two examples from their own scriptures. In a famine which lasted 3 ½ years, God’s prophet Elijah wasn’t sent to his own people in Israel, but to a poor Gentile widow from Sidon. And later, God’s prophet Elisha was sent to heal only one leper, and that wasn’t someone from Israel, but a man from Syria.

Jesus found out that apparently, people get mad when you say they are no more deserving of God’s power than anyone else. Apparently, they are enraged when you let them know that their enemies are at least as favored as they are. And apparently, they try to kill you when you tell them God doesn’t tip the scales in their favor.

Let’s not get too judgmental about these hometown folks in the synagogue in Nazareth. Because that attitude of being God’s favorites, of being more entitled to God’s salvation, and more deserving of God’s help is still pretty prevalent among us.

For the people in Nazareth, they feel more entitled because they know Jesus. For us, we feel more entitled because . . . we know Jesus.

We’re Christians, we believe in the Triune God, which includes Jesus. We know the Lord’s prayer, we confess Jesus as Lord, and we are good moral people—in his name. We honestly try hard. That’s gotta be worth something, doesn’t it? If God is going to help anyone, it oughta be someone who knows God’s son, right? If anyone is saved, it should really be those who know Jesus, shouldn’t it? Don’t we still kind of believe that we as Christians (especially as Lutherans; and even more especially as Americans) are somehow favored? That we’re just a bit entitled? That we should get God’s attention first?

Think about it. We trust that we who go to Christian churches are destined for heaven, but aren’t so sure about those that go to the Mile Hi Church of Religious Science on Alameda. We are in favor of converting non-believers, but not so enthusiastic about loving them. We pray for the safety of American troops, but rarely pray for the safety of enemy troops. We welcome educated European immigrants, but put up walls to keep out poor Central American ones, and bans to keep out Muslim ones.

And what does Jesus say to us? The same thing he says to his hometown church. Jesus says, “The truth is, there were many Christians who are suffering loneliness and despair; yet my disciples are sent to the Hindus and the agnostics. There are also many Christians who are hated and persecuted, yet my disciples are sent to welcome the Muslims and the non-religious.”

In Nazareth, people thought Jesus was great when he said things they liked. But they were ready to kill him when he said things they didn’t.

We can listen to those parts of Jesus’ teachings that we agree with and that seem to be good news for us personally, e.g., you’re forgiven, I go to prepare a place for you, today you’ll be with me in paradise, those who believe and are baptized will be saved, etc. It’s easy to find Jesus amazing!

We also need to hear the parts that are hard, and trust that since they’re coming from Jesus, they’ve got to be good news too. E.g., love your enemies, forgive everyone, serve the poor, protect the immigrant, and accept the reality that we are not more favored because we know Jesus. Like the folks in Nazareth, it can be hard to follow Jesus when we hear these things.

But the good news is Jesus. Not just some of his teachings, but Christ himself. In this crucified and risen one is God’s vision for us and for all creation. This Christ is present and comes and calls and invites all of us into God’s redemptive work in the world. He brings it—all of it—into our hearts and into our lives. The good news for the world is Jesus—all of him. Jesus has come. Not just for us, but for the whole world. As Jesus said to those in Nazareth, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Christ has come into the world, and has come to us. Whether easy or hard, it is good news!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 1, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: