Month: October 2019

October 13, 2019

October 13, 2019

Grateful
Luke 17:11-19

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Bishop’s Convocation in Indian Wells.  It was a wonderful enriching time apart.  The guest speaker was Diana Butler Bass.  I was so excited to attend.  She I one of my favorite Christian personalities.  I have followed her on twitter for years and have always appreciated her take on Christianity and current events.  I have been a fan for years, but I have never actually read one of her books, most because I’ve been in seminary and have had a ton of books to read.    Her book “Grateful” came out last year and that is what she spoke on during the retreat.  She calls “Grateful” the subversive power of giving thanks.

 I’m a big believer in the power of gratitude.  Every morning I spend time writing and I either start or finish with the list of things I am grateful for.  Living in an attitude of gratitude has changed the quality of my life.  In recovery programs, one of the first things recommended is to make a daily gratitude list, even if all you can be grateful for is your toothbrush.  There is always something to be grateful for. When we experience gratitude, it changes the chemistry in your brain. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of gratitude, summarizes this research from studies on heart patients, “Gratitude drives out toxic emotions of resentment, anger, and envy, and may be associated with better long-term emotional and physical health in transplant recipients.”  Being grateful is good for your heart, emotionally and physically.

 In our scripture today ten people were cleansed of leprosy, which is a terrible disease that rendered one unclean. People with leprosy had to leave their friends and family and go live alone, or with people with the same disease.  They lost their health and their community.  These men saw Jesus from afar. Knowing that Jesus shouldn’t come near them they shouted. Jesus have mercy on us. Jesus shouts back to them to go show themselves to the priest. They will be healed. Can you imagine how exciting that must have been. As they are making their way to the priest their wounds are healing. Their skin is clearing. I’m sure they were in a big hurry to see the priest and be able to return to their loved ones. Not only were they no longer sick they were no longer alone.

 But one man stops, he sees that he is healed and so he turns around praising God with a loud voice and he lies face down at the feet of Jesus and thanks him.  Jesus asks about the other nine.  Didn’t he heal 10?  It sounds as if he is disparaging the nine for not returning, but I wonder if what Jesus emphasizing how remarkable it was that this one person returned.  He was pointing out that something was different about this person.   This Samaritan, this foreigner. And then he sees it.  This one has been made whole.  This one has been saved by his faith.

After the Samaritan saw that he was healed, the rest of his response is characterized by four verbs: turn back, praise, prostrate (literally fall on his face), and thank. Jesus highlights the first two verbs by repetition: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Return and praise play significant roles in Luke. At Jesus’ birth the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen … ” (Luke 2:20). After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, in the last two verses of this Gospel, the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52). Return and praise frame this Gospel, suggesting a road map for our response to God’s activity in our world.

The passage ends with a command to the Samaritan: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” When it appears in Luke-Acts the phrase “get up and go,” suggests that a significant, even wondrous. change is about to occur. After the annunciation, for example, Mary “gets up and goes” to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). The prodigal son decides to “get up and go” back to his father (Luke 15:18), and God tells Paul to “get up and go” to Damascus (Acts 22:10; cf. Acts 9:11; 10:20).

The command to get up and go comes with a promise to the Samaritan: “your faith has made you well (literally saved you).” The good news of this encounter carries with it the promise that through Jesus, God empowers people to step across boundaries, share mercy with outsiders, pay attention to things worthy of praise and move forward into God’s future with assurance that there is more to God’s story than meets the eye. For that, may we always give thanks.

As we prepare for our Charge Conference on November 17th, the Bishop has asked us to craft a vision statement for our church.  Pastor Mary and I decided that it would be appropriate to have two statements, one from each ministry.  I have an idea about the direction our church can take, but I need more information.  I need to know more about you and your relationship with this church.  I need to know what you are grateful to this church community for.  Today we will all play the role of the Samaritan.  This is our opportunity to turn back, praise God, fall on our face before the lord and give thanks.  I think we can leave out the fall on our face part unless you feel so led.  There are blank slips of paper included in your bulletin.  I’d like you to take a few moments and jot down some things you are grateful to this church for.  It is okay if the things you are most grateful for happened in the past.  It would be helpful if you could include something you grateful for recently as well.        

We all want this church to get up and go, to be a part of this community, and be faithful to God’s purpose. Before we can do that, we need to turn back and give praise.  I’d like you to turn in your gratitude list with your offering.  You don’t need to put your name on it, unless you want to.  Let’s us take a few moments to be in an attitude of gratitude and write down what comes to mind.

pause

In her book The Color Purple, Alice Walker wrote a dialogue between two women about God, who is sometimes referred to as “it”:

One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happens, you can’t miss it. . . . Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God loves admiration.

      You say God vain?

Naw. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it ticks God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

      What it do when it ticked off?

Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. . . . It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.

      You mean it want to be loved just like the Bible say?

Yes, Celie. Everything want to be loved.

 God wants to be loved. God wants our attention, our praise, our thanks. God doesn’t want to be taken for granted any more than we do. God wants a strong connection with us. God wants us to enjoy life, to be amazed and enthusiastic, grateful and adoring. God wants to share our joy with us and for us to share our joy with God, because God knows we are only truly whole when we experience and express our gratitude.

October 6, 2019

October 6, 2019

Have Faith
Luke 17:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a[a] mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

The beginning of this text seems to come out of nowhere.  Why are the disciples asking for their faith to be increased?  They are asking for more faith to be able to do what Jesus has just stated.  Let’s read the verses right before this.

Jesus[a] said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  By little ones, Jesus could be referring to children, but he also could be referring to those new to the faith.  Be on your guard! If another disciple[b] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.  This is a tall order.  It is no wonder the disciples were alarmed.  Not only must we rebuke or call out those who are on the wrong path.  When they repent, we must forgive again, and again, and again.

The disciples felt like they needed extra power.  They wanted to take Jesus to the bargaining table.  Look Jesus, if you are going to require so much of us, you are going to have to provide us with the power to do it.  They asked Jesus to increase their faith.  His answer was not exactly what they were hoping for. Jesus explains that even having a tiny amount of faith one would be able to do amazing things.  The example he gives is purposefully outlandish. He says with just a tiny amount of faith we could tell the mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea.  Jesus is telling them they don’t need more faith. Any amount of faith is sufficient.  Our abilities are not determined by the size of our faith, rather they are determined by the love of our God.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, those we least expect to have faith are often held up as examples of that faith. When the sinful woman pours ointment and kisses Jesus’ feet — to the dismay of all those in attendance, disciples and Pharisees alike, — Jesus not only forgives her sins but also says “your faith has saved you.” (7:50) Jesus says the same thing when he heals a blind beggar (18:42); again, with the Samaritan leper who comes back to thank him after he has been healed (17:19); still again to the woman who touches his cloak in order to be healed of hemorrhages (3:48). Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the disciples themselves often appear to lack faith. When they are in a boat with Jesus and a storm happens, they get so anxious that Jesus has to ask, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). Aware that Peter will betray him, Jesus prays that his faith will not fail him (22:32). We often distinguish between the faith that “moves mountains” or “mulberry trees” from our basic trust in God.  Rather than two different kinds of faith, it is our trust in God that enables God to move the mountains.  To have faith means having our whole way of perceiving and responding to life transformed by the abundance of God’s creative justice and power. What seems “impossible” for us is “possible” for God.

My first experience with such faith came from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you prefer, “a design for living” that really works.”

Just in case we start feeling a little full of ourselves, Jesus goes on to talk about a Master and a slave.  I have to remind myself to read this in the context in which it was written.  In those days, having a slave was normal.  That is how people worked off their debts.  Jesus says if we were masters, we would treat a slave like a slave.  We would not thank them for doing what is expected of them.  We would not treat them with special regard.  But as the lesson progresses, our point of view changes from that of the master to that of the slave.  And as slaves we recognize our own lack of status and the fact that we are simply doing the work we are supposed to do.  Jesus is explaining that just as there is no limit to what we are able to do through our faith in God, neither is there a limit to what we will be expected to do.  As long as we have breath, we will be doing God’s work.  We know from experience that doing the work of God is its own reward.  But in this life, there will be no recognition.  No brownie points, no gold stars, no slave of the month.  We cannot level up. Jesus is telling us that this path of discipleship that we are on will not be easy.  We will never feel like we’ve arrived, like we are finished.  We will not feel accomplished.  As soon as one task is complete, there will be another.  There is no bargaining with God.  There is no quid pro quo.  But sometimes I live as if there were and I don’t even realize it.

Once I went on a trip to the Colorado River with my daughter, Kayleen, and the youth at my church.  My pastor had property on the river and every year she took the youth group out.  They had a boat and the kids learned to water ski, they slept under the starts, they all helped to prepare and clean up from meals.  It sounded amazing.  I was excited to be a driver and a chaperone.  I drove a bunch of teens to the property and my husband, Karl was to meet me there with Kelly and our son Kyle.  Kelly had a Taekwondo test she needed to take, and Kyle had a football game. I was so worried about them arriving safely I couldn’t sleep.  Neither of us had ever been to this place before and it was late at night.  I prayed for God to please help them travel safely.  And then I thought that I am not proud of.  I thought God, after all my family has done for you, you had better make sure they get here in one piece.  As soon as that thought came into my head, I knew that was wrong.  God doesn’t work that way.  Rather than dwell on what my family had done for God, I began to recognize how much God had done for me and my family.  That I even have a family is a gift from God.  As often as we might try, God will not sit down at the bargaining table with us, and that is a very good thing.

There is only one kind of table God will meet us at.  It is the table of Grace.  The table we gather at today, where everyone is welcomed, and everyone is fed with the abundance of God’s love as shown to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Today we come to the table with Christians all over the world.  It is an act of solidarity; it is an act of resistance to the bargaining ways of the world.  Amen

September 29, 2019

September 29, 2019

Last Sunday we talked about Lament.  We talked about how the prophet, Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, was devastated by what would become of the people.  Devastated that they turned their backs on God and would now suffer the consequences of their actions. “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” Jeremiah 8:21 “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” Jeremiah 9:1

Prophets are rarely warmly received.  They have the dubious distinction of telling people what they don’t want to hear.  It is their job to speak truth to power.  Jeremiah was no exception.  People were conspiring to kill him for what he was saying.  The king had him imprisoned.  He was begging people to repent, to return to God or they would be destroyed.  The people would not accept what he was saying. 

In today’s scripture, what Jeremiah predicted is coming to fruition.  The armies of Nebuchadnezzar have surrounded the city of Jerusalem to starve the people and crush their government.  This is the second time in a decade that a king of Judah has revolted against Babylonian authority.  The current king, Zedekiah, hoped that Egypt would swoop in and save them from their mutual enemy, Babylon, and Judah would have its independence.  That did not happen.  The same army that squashed their rebellion ten years before surrounded the city again.  This time there would be no mercy.   The punishment would be severe. 

While imprisoned, Jeremiah continued to receive God’s word.

“Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.”

According to the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, redemption refers to the release of an item, or person, in exchange for some type of payment.  Of special importance was the question of redemption of the land.  Israelite legal codes guaranteed the right of Israelite landowners to regain property that had been sold.  The land was considered as belonging to God and therefore inheritances granted to the tribes were divinely ordained; the laws of redemption were designed to protect the poor by keeping family inheritances intact.  Provisions were made for ways land could be reclaimed, should it be lost, due to debt or poverty:  a designated relative could purchase the land, the original owner could buy it back, or it would automatically revert to the previous owner every fifty years, the jubilee year. 

Jeremiah agrees to buy the land, even though the land, currently occupied by Babylon is worthless.  He makes a scene out of purchasing the land.  He calls for his assistant and some other friends to witness the transaction.  He follows the law to the letter and asks his assistant, to store the documents in a place where they will be safe indefinitely. The transaction was carried out according to proper legal procedure and the deeds were put in clay pots and hidden for safekeeping, rather reminiscent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.   The documents would survive the war and devastation.  Buying a plot of land was a display of hope in the future.  Jeremiah would not live long enough to see the people return to the land.  But the purchase wasn’t for him.  His purchase showed the people watching that there was hope for restoration.  Just as Jeremiah had redeemed his family’s land, God would someday, redeem God’s people. Jeremiah conducted a drama in which he has played the role of God, performing redemption, in a small way, that Israel’s God would perform on a larger stage.  Just as Jeremiah redeemed the land, God has redeemed us.  Like the land, we belong to God. 

I have made mistakes; we all make mistakes. I worshiped false gods, like money, work, and alcohol.  But ultimately, I belong to God, we belong to God and God has redeemed us.  God has paid our ransom, our redemption, through our next of kin, his Son, Jesus Christ.  All that is required of us is to repent. Repent, doesn’t mean just to confess, or apologize.  Repent means to turn, to change our ways and turn toward God.  This is one of the reasons we begin worship with a prayer of confession.  We want to confess and repent of anything that comes between us and God. 

Is there something in your life that requires repentance? Something that remains between you and God?  Is there something that requires renewal?  A way of thinking, a way of being, that is causing you pain?

Let’s take a moment to think about what those things are. What in your life, in your family, in this church, requires renewal? There is a special piece of paper included with your bulletin.  It looks like this.  Use the paper to write down those things that you want to give to God for renewal. For me, I get carried away with current events.  I spend so much time reading about everything that is wrong in the world, that I forget who’s I am. I forget to have hope.  Maybe you need to let go of an idea of how this church should be, based on how it was years ago.  Perhaps there is a hurt you’ve experienced in your life, or even here at church that requires healing.  You can give that desire, that regret, that wound to God for renewal so that you can have a fresh vision of what church can be, what life can be, or even what your relationship with God can be.

These bowls contain water, it symbolizes God’s living water that brings life and renewal to all things. I invite you to come up as you feel led and place those pieces of paper in one of these bowls of water.  If you are not able to come forward, an usher will bring some living water to you. 

Play music

Today’s passage reminds us that God is invested in the future destiny of humankind. Even when catastrophe was imminent, Jeremiah performed an outlandish and oddly specific financial act, symbolizing God’s declaration that judgment and destruction would not have the final word. Judah would suffer the consequences that God had announced. Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and Judah and carry off its inhabitants into exile. The prophet, however, shows us a glimmer of hope through a symbolic act of purchasing a field. God’s people would be restored and would again thrive in the land. “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Perilous times require the faithful to put into embodied action the hope that God has announced, which is already here, but not yet realized.

There is plenty in today’s world that creates anxiety about our future, the economy, climate change, politics, the threat of violence, even the state of the church.  We have hope because we know that the Kingdom of God has come near and ultimately the Kingdom of God will prevail.

Amen

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