Tag Archives: privilege

Personal Relationship with Jesus Means No Special Privilege (Jan. 31, 2016)

Luke 4:21-30

21 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.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

My Uncle Bill, who is also my Godfather, used to teach community courses on the History of Boston at Boston College. One time when I was in Boston for something, I contacted him to see if we could get together for dinner. He told me his class was going to tour the Old North Church the next day; the church made famous in Longfellow’s classic poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.” . . .

My uncle invited me to join his class and tour the Old North Church. I readily agreed and met him there the next day. Even though the poem is historically inaccurate, the signal from the bell tower of the British march is true. We all followed my uncle on the tour, heard him describe the history of the church building including the famous bell tower. The church is very old and preserved, so on these tours you really can’t go running around the building. You can look, but you can’t go past the velvet ropes that separate the public from the private areas. But it was quite interesting.

After it was over, I was ready to leave and thanked my uncle , but he pulled me aside. He says, “Do you want to go up into the tower?” “Really?” “Sure,” he says. After all his students had left, he pulls the velvet rope aside and invites me to go ahead on up. “Just be careful, the steps get steep, narrow, and a little rickety at the top.”

So up I go. With special permission because my uncle taught this class at B.C., I had the exclusive privilege of climbing up the bell tower of the Old North Church. I got to see the place where those two lanterns were hung. Plus I got to climb up into the pulpit and go down into the vaults underneath the church.

Special privilege! It’s all about who you know! That’s how you get the special stuff, by knowing people with clout and influence.

And so here are the people back in Jesus’ home church who really know him. He’s working miracles all over Galilee and now he’s come back to where he grew up. We’re the people that baby sat him. We’re the people that coached his little league team. We’re the people that gave him piano lessons. We’re the people that taught him in Sunday School. If he’s dazzling people in other towns with miracles and cures and powerful teaching where people don’t even know him, what’s he gonna do here for us?

With high expectations, they come to see what their hometown boy can do. They’ve got an inside track to some exclusive miracles that not everyone gets to see. Some kind of demons are going to get cast out today! There are going to be some special cures for diseases that he doesn’t cure in other towns!

So imagine their disappointment when they received nothing more than all the other people in Galilee. In fact, they got less—Jesus did no miracles at all in Nazareth.

When they start to express their disappointment—after all, there has to be some advantage to having a  personal relationship with Jesus—he starts to tell them that God sometimes actually shows favor toward those who don’t know him, toward the unrighteous and the undeserving.

They became angry. They were so upset about his claim that they were no more deserving of God’s privilege than Gentiles and unbelievers and wicked people that they tried to throw him off a cliff. They felt they deserved more. They deserved better. Because they knew Jesus.

How does that sit with us? Most of us are here because we know Jesus. We confess our faith in him. We trust him for forgiveness. We give up a Sunday morning to come to him. We know him. And if what he says here is true, then all our faithfulness and belief don’t gain us anything. We, his devout followers, get no special privilege at all.  How does that sit with you?

And yet this, apparently, is God’s word being fulfilled. This is what the prophets of old were trying to make clear. This is what Jesus came to fulfill, his purpose, his mission. That no one gets special privileges.

No, that’s not exactly true. The nature of God means that everyone gets special privileges. Everyone will be filled with love. God’s dream is that everyone will be fed, cared for, accepted, valued. Everyone. We all get the special tour of forgiveness and wholeness. This is God’s good news for the world. We’re all privileged, we’re all included, we’re all insiders. And we, Christ’s church, we get to share that with the rest of the world. Everyone you meet this week gets God’s special privilege of love, grace, and mercy! We get to share that good news with them!

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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Sermon


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Not Everything is About Me

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
A month ago I qualified for membership in a relatively exclusive club. After working for it my whole life, I finally was able to meet all the qualifications in order to apply for membership. I sent in certification of the necessary attributes and received the official application in the mail this week. My qualifications? I’ve been breathing for 55 years. And for only $16.00, I can become a member of the AARP, the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons.

I mention this partly because I believe that to be quite an accomplishment. But also because I’ve learned a thing or two as I’ve worked toward qualifying for the AARP. I believe the single most important thing I’ve learned is that not everything is about me.

By the time I was born, I already had two sisters, who, for my first 10 years or so were bigger than me. So I learned quickly that I wasn’t always going to have my way. It’s not always about me.

Four years after I was born, my parents had another kid–my little sister. She was really cute and everyone’s favorite. And she remained the baby of the family, a role she was very good at. For those of us who have little brothers or sisters, we know, it’s not always about us.

I played some sports, and soon realized that my baseball team could win even when I wasn’t the one who hit in the winning run. My basketball team could win even if I only scored a couple of points. And sometimes we’d lose even if I had a good game. You see, it wasn’t always about me.

Sometimes my friends had the audacity to want to do what they wanted, or to go where they wanted. It’s not always about me.

In school I was exposed to subjects I deeply, viscerally disliked. I had to study for those tests just as much as subjects that were easier. It wasn’t always about me.

Later, when I married the woman of my dreams, it was very clear that it wasn’t always about me.

Then I had children, and guess what? It was even less about me.

Are you picking up a theme here? As much as I may want it to be sometimes, life isn’t always about me and what I want. I didn’t want to have three sisters and no brothers. I didn’t want one of my parents to abandon me and my family. I didn’t want to not know very well my grandparents or extended family. I’m sure you could list a whole bunch of things that, if life was all about you, would certainly be different.

But I am who I am mostly because of the situations that weren’t about me; when the needs of someone else took precedence. My life is full and meaningful and my relationships are deep because it isn’t always about me. It has to be about others too. If everything was just about us, I can’t even imagine how boring, empty, and insignificant our lives would be. We would miss out on the fullness of life, because so much of what’s important in life comes from being shaped by experiences we may never choose. Experiences that shape us in ways we never would have guessed but that perhaps make us more compassionate, a better friend, a more devoted parent, or a more cooperative employee. And even a more authentic disciple of Jesus.

The author of Ecclesiastes calls it vanity. The author of Colossians calls it greed. Jesus calls it foolishness. When we live only for ourselves and our desires, we miss out on the richest portions of life as we become shallow, hollow, and insignificant.

The rich man in this parable isn’t a fool because he’s wealthy; not because he builds bigger barns to store his amazing crop; and not because he’s now set up for his retirement. Jesus calls him a fool because this rich man thinks that all of this is about him. He talks only to himself about bimself. He’s greedy, selfish, and self-absorbed. His desires and his preferences are all that matter to him. There’s only room in his life for himself. He has no concern for anyone around him. He has no thought of showing appreciation to his laborers who helped make him wealthy. He has no intenion of sharing any of his riches with others. And he certainly has no regard for God, the very creator of his life. He’s a fool because, regardless of how full his barns are, his life is empty.

We are made in the image of a generous God, who gives everything–even God’s own life–for the sake of the world. The same is true for us as a congregation. It’s not about us. Our life as church is full and significant when we recognize we are here for the sake of those not here. We’re most authentic as a community bearing the name of Jesus when we make decisions in the best interests of the community around us instead of just the community that gathers in this room.

Right now, as a congregation, we give away 11% of our income to provide care for those that need it and support ministries that make a difference in the world. Campus ministries, Bible camps, social service agencies, ministries that accompany the poor and feed the starving. That’s wonderful! Imagine how fulfilling it would be to give away 15%. Or 20%. Or 50%. Or more.

Right now, as a congregation, we pray for all those we know who are in need. We lift them up before God and ask that God use us for their sakes. That’s wonderful! Imagine how meaningful it would be to also pray for our schools, our businesses, our government officials–and let them know we’re doing it. Let them know we are here to help them, to listen to them, to be part of the community with them.

Right now, as a congregation, we learn about Jesus and his love, we offer education to help us understand the Bible and our Lutheran tradition. It’s helpful for us because opens us up to God’s fullness and richness. That’s wonderful! Imagine how significant it would be if we learned this with the intention of sharing it in the world so that those who aren’t part of LCM have the experience of God’s love through us, God’s compassion through us, God’s forgiveness through us. So that they, too, can experience the fullness and richness that comes from God.

As the church, one of the joys we have is the meaningful life Christ offers that comes from not living just for ourselves. And one of the responsibilities we have is to encourage each other as we live as disciples in the world: it’s not always about us.

So one of our reflections stations today will help us live fuller, richer, more significant lives as Jesus intends. A few weeks ago we created a cross made up of our individual fingerprints, made in white ink–a sign of our being part of this congregational community. That banner is in the back. Think of someone not part of this church, who you will bless this week. Someone who you will serve, help, pray for, listen to, or share with. Someone not in the church who needs a sign of God’s love in some way. Someone you will be in contact with this week, and who you will bless in Christ’s name. Later, you’ll be invited to go back to that banner and place a new fingerprint in red ink, around the cross, representing that person being blessed by you this week. Pray for them, be open to God’s love present in their lives, and be part of that this week.

How wonderful that it’s not all about us. As we live with Christ–for the sake of the world–our own lives become richer. Thank God it’s not all about us, and still our lives are fuller. Amen

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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Sermon


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