RSS

Monthly Archives: September 2019

In God’s Reign, All Gates are Open–if They Exist at All (Sept 29, 2019)

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

In this parable, Jesus tells about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. There was a barrier that kept them separated into different categories as well as different lives while they were alive: the gate at the edge of the rich man’s property. It was this gate that separated them. Lazarus lay on one side of that gate day after day, hungry, bleeding, and broken. And day after day, the rich man stayed on his side of the gate where it was easy to ignore Lazarus. It was the gate that separated one from the other.

Lazarus was powerless to do anything in that situation, but the rich man could do something. He’s the one who could have opened the gate to offer Lazarus some help. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen Lazarus. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen someone God loves, a real life human being, someone with a story, with a history. If he had opened the gate, the rich man would have seen someone worthy of respect and who is truly valued by God as part of God’s creation. But he kept the gate closed. And the parable goes on to follow both these men after they die where everything is reversed. The point Jesus is making is that in the vision of God, that gate separating these two people should be open.

I’m ashamed to say that no matter how hard I try, I still put people into categories and label them accordingly. When I do that, I close a gate on people.

I see someone wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and a giant belt buckle and I automatically label them as heading to a bar with straw one the floor to line dance to music about a horse dying in the back of a pickup. So I close the gate on them.

I get on the light rail and see a teenage boy with pants hanging too low and a baseball cap worn off center and I label them as having nothing in common with me. So I close the gate on them.

I see a white person carrying a Bible and I don’t walk to talk to them because label them as thinking about Jesus differently than I do. So I close the gate on them.

As long as I continue to make these quick judgments and stereotype people, I feel justified in separating myself, closing a gate on them. I’m the one putting up barriers between me and them. I’m closing the gate.

And since I’m the one closing the gate, I can be the one to open it. I can recognize that all the people on the other side of my gates are real human beings. They are loved by God. They are valuable. They are gifted. They have real stories and real lives. They are worth opening the gate for.

We all categorize people. We all close gates. Who do you close the gate on? Who do you put under one label and see as separate from you? People here who aren’t US citizens are labeled “illegals”? People of Islamic faith labeled as “terrorists”? People who hold cardboard signs on corners labeled as “lazy” or “bums”? Any time we label people, we are shutting a gate on them.

What would be different if we saw those on the other side of that closed gate, not as others, separated from us with labels, but as valuable human beings with a story and a life. What if we saw them first as people God loves? Because here’s the deal: Jesus says, not just here, but over and over again, that to see the face of God, we have to see the faces of those on the other side of the gate we’ve closed.

In this parable, the rich man could easily have opened his gate and gotten to know Lazarus. He could have used some of his wealth to benefit Lazarus.

We have that same opportunity. Together as a congregation, we open gates right and left. A bunch of our ministries are all about opening these gates: HEART Ministry, GMES Refugee Ministry, Molholm Ministry, Samaritan Ministry, Blanket Outreach Ministry, weekly donations to The Action Center, the list goes on and on. When we use our finances to open a gate to show love and care to anyone who we are separated from, we are also opening the gate to God.

Lazarus needed the rich man. But the rich man also needed Lazarus. He needed to open his gate to Lazarus so that he could see God.

We need to open the gate to those who are different: in their looks, speech, orientation, expression, background, and income to recognize God. We need to open the gate to them in order see God.

Our finances are one important way we open that gate that keeps us separated from those others God loves. We have a perfect opportunity next week which is our “Commitment Sunday.” We get to show up. We get to open the gate a little wider. We get to give some of our wealth to Lazarus and those like him. We get to make their lives better. When we fill out both parts of our Estimate of Giving card next week—both for the general fund and Building to Share—we open the gate a little more for those in our neighborhood who we are still separated from. We get to see God a little more clearly.

Yeah, Jesus has something to say about all this. So we will continue to pray for Lazarus and those like him, and we will come together next week and make our financial commitments. We will open the gate a little wider. Because there’s room in the reign of God for all of us. Especially those who need us to open the gate for them. Amen.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 30, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

A Very Secure Investment (September 22, 2019)

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Let’s cut to the chase here. This is a hard parable. Jesus is saying that if the priority of our lives attaining money makes for a more fragile and more vulnerable life than most of us realize. If our lives are centered on making sure we are financially secure in order to provide a good life, what happens if we discover an inoperable tumor? All that wealth doesn’t change that. We may have money for retirement, but what if there are no golden years to enjoy? Ultimately, our finances can’t be trusted.

I don’t mean to be a downer, but since that’s true, then there has to be something deeper to life than finances. “Success” has to be defined by something other than economics.

One of cruelest lessons of life is that our economy doesn’t care about us, the quality of our lives, our sick children, or our leaky roofs. The bottom line of our economic world is that the bottom line is the only line that matters. From an economic perspective, every one of us is expendable.

Yet, it is still the way we approach our world; still the primary view we have. We center our lives on being able to take care of our own individual financial security. That is the lens through which we see life. That’s how we measure our success: do we have enough wealth to believe we are secure? And this perspective, this way we look at our lives, this approach we have to living is impersonal, sometimes cruel, and pits us against one as we compete for financial resources. What’s more, seeing our world from this economic definition disconnects us from each other because it encourages me to take care of myself and, well, good luck to you. I hope you do OK. If you need help, maybe there’s some charity for you or someone with some extra cash that feels sorry for you. But really, in this worldview, we’re each on our own. Securing our individual security through wealth is the opposite of how Jesus reveals God’s intention for our lives.

That view of individual financial security is exactly the perspective of this dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable today. He was using his position as manager of a wealthy master’s estate to take care of himself financially; though it was at the expense of others in the community. He was doing it dishonestly somehow—we don’t have the details of that. But he got caught by his master, the rich man in the parable.

Without his economic security, his means of making a living, his economic worldview is revealed as lacking. He realizes that he isn’t equipped to secure his financial future any other way than the way he’s been doing it. He can’t do physical labor. He ashamed to beg from his neighbors. He’s at a loss as to what to do.

This is the turning point of this parable. Though he was stealing from his master, what he does next is commended by the rich man. He turns to those in the community who owe his master money. He reduces their debt. His master commends his shrewdness, better translated as wisdom.

What was so wise about that? The lens through which he had been viewing the world shattered. He could no longer accomplish the primary goal of securing wealth for himself—provide for himself and his family. That is no longer possible.

So because he can no longer invest in his own financial security, by reducing their debt he invests in his neighbors’ financial security. That’s the wisdom, that’s the shift in thinking. That’s the new perspective. He will no longer be able to survive if he’s only out for himself. In order to live he now has to throw his lot in with his neighbors. His worldview has been forced away from “taking care of myself and good luck to you” and instead he’s realized “we’re in this thing together. As a community, we sink or swim together. My fate, my security, is actually tied to yours.” That is the wisdom Jesus lifts up. Though dishonest, this slave now understands security—God’s way. Not through taking care of himself, but taking care of others.

Now remember, this isn’t an historical event. It’s a parable, so Jesus is making a point here. He’s exposing the fallacy of believing that we can secure our lives through our finances. I heard someone say that the big lie of 400 years of American Christianity is that we believe we can serve both God and wealth. We cannot. We cannot serve a Triune God whose very nature is interdependent community while at the same time separating ourselves for our own security. We can’t do both. We still try, but Jesus calls us out on it.

He points out the truth that security-from-wealth is an illusion. Genuine security comes from trusting and connecting to a community. That’s the wisdom this dishonest manager now understands. The best way to achieve security is to work for the wellbeing of our neighbors, to recognize that when life takes us beyond our financial ability to fix it, the relationships we’ve invested in are what will hold us. If we are only looking out for ourselves and our own security while our neighbors are being hurt, being detained, being separated from family, being oppressed, and being shot, we are setting ourselves up for misery. Because according to the very nature of God, our fates are tied together—the richest and the poorest together. If one part of our body has cancer, the whole body is in danger. If one part of our human community is suffering, all of us are at risk.

So, yeah, this is a hard parable. Not because we can’t understand it, but because we can. We either trust in our ability to gain wealth to save us or we trust in God. Money is fine—even necessary. Let’s use it to invest in each other, in our neighborhood, in the human community. For in each other is where our security truly lies.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 20, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Sparkly Things in the Sky” (September 15, 2019)

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I have a great nephew who developed cataracts as a little tiny kid. When he was five or six, he had surgery to remove them. After some healing time, he was outside with his parents as the sun set. When it got dark, he looked up at the sky and said, “What are all those sparkly things in the sky?” He had never seen stars before. Suddenly, he was looking at the world in a completely new way. Keep that in mind, because we’ll come back to that.

In this text there are some themes and parallels. Two parables include “lost, found, and rejoicing.” Jesus connects this to repentance:

Lost            =          Needing repentance

Found         =          Connected to repentance

Rejoicing    =          Result of repentance

Repentance seems to be a pretty central idea in these parables. So it would be worth figuring out exactly what is meant here by “repentance” instead of just assuming we know. Because I think you may be surprised.

The word “repentance” in Greek is actually a combination of two words. The first means with, together, or toward. So there’s movement involved. The second word means intellect, understanding, heart, purpose. So that has to do with the core of who you are and how you interpret the world. Combine these two words and you get something like changing the way you think about the world. And when you put that in the context of Jesus talking about God, repentance really means our thinking moving toward alignment with God’s thinking. Our view of the world moving toward God’s view of the world. Notice there really isn’t anything in there about feeling sorry for your sins and promising to do better. Biblical repentance, at least the way Luke records it coming out of Jesus’ mouth here, might include acknowledging sins and maybe even feeling bad. But more basically it has to do with seeing the world differently, more like God sees it. Having a heart that more closely resembles God’s heart. Living with a purpose that is moving toward God’s purpose.

With that understanding of repentance, can you think of a biblical example of someone who repents—whose worldview is changed because they are now seeing more with God’s eyes than they did before? Moses, Jonah, Zacchaeus, the Apostles after Pentecost, Saul/Paul, etc.

Now look back at these two parables. The lost sheep and the lost coin are found, and there is rejoicing and celebrating about that. Jesus compares that lost/found/celebration to a sinner who repents. There’s rejoicing over that. Celebration because of someone whose vision, whose purpose, wasn’t in keeping with God’s vision and purpose before, but now it is.

By the way, the word used for “sinner” here means someone who has deviated from the path. So a sinner who repents is someone who is off God’s way of thinking and has been brought back to God’s way of thinking. Jesus says that this is what God celebrates. Seeing the poor the way God sees them. Feeling about the vulnerable the way God feels about them. Including people the way God includes people.

That’s our journey as people who follow the risen Christ. It’s this being changed, this being moved closer to God’s worldview. It’s this being brought into closer alignment with God’s purposes in the world. It’s having our hearts being brought closer to God’s heart.

So what repentance really means is openness to being changed by God. Openness to seeing the world differently. Openness to having the cataracts removed and seeing the stars for the first time. Openness to grabbing hold of God’s vision in new ways.

Some of you are feeling that now. A little bit of “ahh-h-h!” because there’s a shift here that’s almost tangible. God is moving us still closer to God’s own heart. That is what’s happening in this congregation right now! Repentance in this biblical, Jesus-speak, sort of way. Let me tell you what I believe this means for us.

Jesus talks in these parables about having 100 sheep and 10 coins and losing one, and then searching to find that one until it is found. Seeking that one is the heart of God. God calls us to join God in seeking that one, finding that one, showing them the heart, the vision, the newness of God present right in front of their eyes.

100 sheep and one is lost. 10 coins and one is lost. Church membership across the country is declining. In Denver metro, it’s about 10%. Though that’s not the same thing as being lost, it does mean something.  Generally, there is a declining percentage of people who are not even aware of God’s vision and heart and compassion. So they would be much less willing to be changed and be moved toward that. They can’t see the stars because they don’t even know they’re there. Lost people.

Yet, almost every church is competing for that 10% that are already open to church. Repentance, our hearts aligning with God’s heart, means we search for those that God is searching for. We see the 90% as God sees them. As people don’t recognize God’s love present in their lives and who don’t realize they can be transformed by that. As people who don’t see the value of forgiveness and compassion. As people whose purpose in life doesn’t have much to do with God’s purpose of living in peace, unlimited compassion, unconditional love, unmerited mercy.

It’s like 90% of the people around us don’t even know they can’t see the stars. Our future as church lies in finding them, showing love and compassion and mercy to them, and sharing the wonder of the stars they’ve been missing. They’ll never see the world in the same way again. That is God’s heart and God’s vision. That’s who we are called to seek and to find. Being moved to that is what repentance means. That is what’s happening among us now. We see the stars. Our future lies in finding those who can’t.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 13, 2019 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: