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Word and Sacrament: A Conversation Starter

8th Pentecost C
Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Children’s message…

When I was 12, a friend and I wanted some extra spending money. So we came up with a get-rich-quick plan. We got a couple of brooms and planned to go to area businesses and offer to sweep their parking lots. If they said “no,” we would let them know how badly their parking lot needed sweeping. If they still said “no,” we would then inform them that we could do just as good a job as anyone else, but we could do it cheaper. Foolproof!

So we set out with all confidence that we had this in the bag. We’d be swimming in money by the end of the day. We had thought of everything. The first business we came to was a fast food restaurant. We asked for the manager and confidently laid out our sales pitch. Surprisingly, he said “no,” so we went on with stage 2 of our foolproof plan, pointing out how debris-ridden his parking lot was and how bad that was for business. He still said “no,” so we played out ace-in-the-hole, how cost-effective we were.

We had all the information we needed, and were merely seeking an answer. We just needed the business owners to give it.

That’s how the lawyer in this text is approaching Jesus. He has all the information he really needs; he just wants an answer to his one question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In the same way, that’s also how many people understand the purpose of the Bible. OK, God, we know most of the stuff; we just need an answer, we’ll open the Bible and get it from you.

All of us–my friend and me with our brooms, the lawyer with eternal life, and those who want God’s answers from the Bible–don’t quite get what we want.

So after my friend and I finished our line about being the most cost-effective parking lot cleaning service in town, the business owner sat us down and began to patiently talk with us about child labor laws, liability insurance, and federal and state taxes. We just wanted an answer, but what we got was a conversation.

The lawyer knows his stuff when he comes to Jesus. He’s studied his Torah, he’s got his information. He just wants an answer to this one question. “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” He just wants an answer, but what he gets is a conversation.

When we are seeking an answer to what God’s will is for our life, or whether abortion is right or wrong, or how the church should deal with homosexuality, we often go to the Bible for answers. But what we get is a conversation.

That’s the Bible at its intended best, a conversation with God. The Bible functions much like the conversation the lawyer has with Jesus. He comes with one question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus asks him two questions in response, “Let’s start with what you know about it?” And, “how do you interpret that?” The conversation goes on, including the Good Samaritan story, with questions going back and forth and the conversation deepening, until Jesus asks, “Which person was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer gives the answer that he really needed all along–but just didn’t know it–“The one who showed mercy.” He came wanting to know how to inherit eternal life; he left with a realization that the way if God is showing mercy to the least likely. Not the answer he came looking to get, but through the conversation with Jesus, it was the answer he needed.

We gather as a community around the word of God (anything that proclaims Jesus–including Jesus himself) and the sacraments (promises of God’s grace connected to tangible elements–in our case baptism and Holy Communion). We do this in order to have an ongoing conversation with Jesus. Sometimes we come here with specific questions. “Why do so many bad things keep happening to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “What do you want me to do with my life?” “Should I break up with my girlfriend?” “How do I deal with my nephew who just told me he’s gay?” And sometimes we just want quick answers to these questions. But word and sacraments don’t often work that way. Instead, God uses them to open up a conversation–which happens through story, and together with the gathered community. The Bible becomes for us not a textbook where we look up answers for life’s tests, but a means for God to engage us in a dialogue that shapes our lives.

I’m wondering what question for God you have as you came here today? And I want to offer one small way to enter into a conversation with God about it. Bear in mind that we are best when we do this in community, listening to one another and sharing with one another, but for now let’s enter the conversation on our own. I’m going to read the scripture passage again, and I want you to listen for something in there that rubs you the wrong way or that is confusing or pricks at you a little. Ready?  . . .

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

You’ll want to share your sticking point with someone else, and I encourage you to do that at some point very soon. But for now, think about why this particular phrase or word or thought is catching you up. What is troubling you about it? What is going on in your life that makes this particular point difficult?

Now, from what you know about Jesus, what would he say to you to help you? Anyone want to share? . . .

The conversation has only just begun. God’s story has just become part of your story. Your life’s story is informed now by God’s story. Don’t let that conversation end. Share it with your friends, listen to their conversations too. Let’s gather together next week in this community that supports our conversations with God. God will be engaging us together–in the Word and in the sacraments. Amen

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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Sermon

 

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The Advantage of the Wilderness, 2/26/12 (1 Lent)

1st Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15

 This is quite the dramatic description of Jesus’ baptism. I wonder how we’d feel about baptism if this sort of thing that happened all the time? Picture it: we all gather at the church, everyone in their best clothes. Relatives have all been invited and even those who haven’t darkened the door of a church in years have shown up to support the ones being baptized. Those being baptized along with their parents have been practicing their promises. The Godparents are nervous, because they have promises to make too and don’t want to goof them up. Everyone sits in the reserved “baptismal family” seating, which is, unfortunately, at the front. Those parents of small children are saying silent prayers that their kids won’t choose this particular time to throw a holy tantrum.

The time of baptism comes, and all gather around the font. Water is poured, the Word is spoken, candles are lit, and promises are made. Just when everyone breathes a sigh of relief that all has gone so wonderfully well, suddenly the heavens are torn apart, the Holy Spirit resembling a dove descends on the newly baptized, and a voice booms from above, “These are my beloved children; with you I am well pleased.”

I have to admit, that would be cool, don’t you think? Pretty impressive and powerful, right? Obviously, God is doing something that would get our attention. That would be just amazing—so far.

But then, in this text Mark goes on. This remarkable scene at Jesus’ baptism takes a turn. Right then the Spirit, who up until now has been cute and quiet, like an innocent little white dove, takes hold of Jesus and hurls him out into the wilderness. That’s the verb used here. The Spirit doesn’t guide Jesus, or suggest to Jesus, or even lead Jesus. The Spirit drives him, throws him, violently casts him out into the wilderness all alone, where he had to deal with Satan and wild beasts for six weeks.

What would we do if that happened at our baptisms? Suddenly, baptism isn’t so fun. Thrown into the wilderness for forty days with the wild beasts, tested by Satan the whole time. If this is what happened, we’d probably rethink this whole baptismal thing. Forty days in the wilderness sounds pretty lousy. Wild beasts? Satan? Sure, some angels came and help him out, but is this what we really bargain for in baptism?

So what is really going on here?

In the Bible, the wilderness is a difficult place. It’s a place where all the things we rely on are stripped away. It’s a place where we are the most vulnerable, weak, and lost. It’s a place where we are alone and where our strength is drained until we have nothing left. Have you been there?

You’re in the wilderness when you’re grieving the death of someone you love. You’re in the wilderness when you experience serious illness or injury. You’re in the wilderness when you try as hard as you can for as long as you can and still can’t find a job or save your children or even gain a foothold in your life. You’re in the wilderness when your best and most honest efforts still result in falling prey to an addiction or losing control. That’s wilderness. And it’s not a place we ever want to be.

And in spite of that, or perhaps because of that, the wilderness is also a place where people in all times and in all places have been met by God. Maybe because in the wilderness there’s nothing else to rely on. Maybe because we’re in such need that we can recognize God. Maybe because we’re so desperate that we actually seek God out. The wilderness is a place or a time in our lives when the saving power of God is real; because there is nothing else. When we live through the wilderness, when we have that experience of being held up only by the mercy of God, we are changed. We have that opportunity in the wilderness to know what we mean to God; in the wilderness we come to know who we are.

If we aren’t thrown into the wilderness immediately after baptism, we’re thrown there eventually. No one chooses to go; we’re always thrown there. The advantage we have is that when we’re thrown into the wilderness, we go with the promises, the assurance, the clarity of who we are in baptism. We can come out of it knowing God more fully and trusting God more deeply.

On Ash Wednesday, we experienced the reminder that we will all die, that ultimately in the face of death we are all helpless. We were marked with a sign of that helplessness, a sign of wilderness on our foreheads: we were smeared with ashes, the dust of the earth out of which we came and to which we will return.

But more than that, this mark of death was shaped in the form of a cross. We were marked not just with death, but with the cross of Christ and the promise of life. We were marked with assurance of the presence of God no matter how deep our wilderness becomes. Even in the wilderness of death, God meets us there to lift us up to life.

Last Wednesday we were reminded of our helplessness in the wilderness and our utter dependence on God. Today we recall the reality that we are at times thrown into the wilderness. But most of all we have the promises of God, spoken at our baptism, that no matter how deep, no matter how dark, no matter how lonely the wilderness may be, God will meet us there. And that really is cool. That really is impressive and powerful. Because God really is doing something that not only gets our attention, but truly is amazing.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Sermon

 

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