“A Blessing for Persistence”

Sermon – 10-20-19 – Proper 24 – Cycle C
Scripture – Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Sermon Title – “A Blessing for Persistence”

Kicking a football again and again until it goes just where it is supposed to go. Hitting the golf ball endlessly until we achieve a hole-in-one. Practicing the organ until the organist finds extreme satisfaction with the experience. Welcoming students into the classroom day-after-day, honing the skill of dispensing knowledge so that the classroom becomes an eager learning space with happy, well-balanced students. Practicing the art and science of medical expertise and genuine care. Reading the Bible until it is no longer tedious but becomes an addiction as God leads and the Holy Spirit inspires.

All persistence. Never giving up. Or giving up but coming back for more. Quitting smoking. Quitting an alcohol habit or a drug habit. Asking forgiveness. Wrestling with a relationship. Wrestling with God! What do I mean? God values persistence. Sometimes it is a real challenge to prove to God that we are capable of persisting, of sticking with something until we can’t continue and then coming back to try again.

The funny thing is that we can’t persist without God’s help. We think we are proving our ability while all the while it is proving our faith. Just trying to make sense of the Hebrew scripture takes persistence. But all the while it is God who is working with our minds and hearts to wade through verse after verse, chapter after chapter, episode after episode until all the gruesomeness shapes itself into meaning; until we get the bigger picture. It is a life-time of absorbing and molding, not by ourselves, but by being the project of the Holy Spirit.

It may be difficult to detect the Holy Spirit in our New Testament Gospel. A woman wants justice and pleads and pleads, never giving up. Finally the judge grants mercy. He does not believe in God, he is not granting the woman’s request as deserved justice, but simply because he cannot stand her nagging anymore – her persistence. He needs to stop the effect on himself. Therefore, he grants her whatever she is seeking. In this story, Jesus is questioning the amount of faith we have. Is our faith enough to keep our persistence fueled?

Meet Jacob or re-meet Jacob. Twin brother of Esau. Sons of Isaac who is son of Abraham. All is not well with Jacob and Esau. Here again is another example of the shrewd action being rewarded. Shrewd – meaning watching for opportunity and using it for mostly selfish advantage. We have been meeting these shrewd people in our scripture lessons in recent months. We read along expecting punishment for these people. Instead, God praises this attitude, this practice, this way of being.

Today Jacob manages to be alone. Wait. Jacob does not manage it, God arranges it. No caravan of servants and wives and children. No caravan of animals. No caravan of supplies and equipment. These parts of Jacob’s life are sent ahead, away. Jacob is alone. A person alone with God.

God has a purpose for this time of aloneness. A man comes to wrestle with Jacob. The scripture says “a man.” As it happens, this man is not human, but “a divine adversary.” In the end, God himself is revealed as the adversary. The point is that Jacob does not give up. All night Jacob does not give up. At one point the other wrestler, this divine adversary, attempts to be free by striking Jacob’s hip so that it is put out of joint, but still Jacob keeps resisting.

This is not the only time Jacob has resisted. He resisted his father, Isaac. He resisted his brother, Esau. He resisted his father-in-law, Laban. Now he is resisting God. Let’s substitute the word “tricked” for resisted. Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, at his mother’s instruction. He tricked his brother, Esau. He tricked his father-in-law, Laban. Can we say that Jacob is tricking God? Well, strangely enough, Jacob is the one who is persisting in this wrestling match with God in the form of a man. This wrestler wants to be free; he wants to stop this hours-long contest. But, God is also helping Jacob to continue.

Once again, God is baffling us. Once again we are confronted with God’s actions which do not make sense to the human mind. Once again we feel like walking away from this God whose actions and words we do not understand.

In our own lives, what is puzzling us about God? Is someone not being healed? Is a relationship becoming sour? Is a certain career eluding us? Are we living from one big bill to the next big bill and it seems that persistence is not “paying off.” Where is God? Why has he abandoned us? Even, we wonder why God seems to be wrestling with us.

Now is when we really need to look at the hills. We read together that our help comes from God, not the hills. Let’s question that thought. Going alone to a place where nature is still intact, breathe in the raw, clean nature. Breathe out the torment of our souls. Breathe in the sky. Breathe out the pollution in our minds. Breathe in the Spirit of God. This Spirit of God is everywhere.

Let us remove ourselves. temporarily probably, from the wrestling position with God. Let God wrestle with someone else for awhile as we listen to music that speaks of the gentleness, the positiveness that is God through the Holy Spirit. We don’t worship a clear, running, babbling brook but the Holy Spirit is present in that brook. We don’t worship birds as they appear at our window or soar through the sky, but the Holy Spirit is tuning our souls to accept surrender as we notice the naturalness of the soaring and the gentlenss and the trust in that robin or that sparrow that appears when we least expect.

You know the song we sing, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” Does that resonate with God watching over our going out and our coming in? Think of Jacob and this God-man wrestling all night matched to the words from Psalm 121, “Behold the keeper of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Let us place our bodies on our beds, our heads on the pillow and give all the anxiety to God. Let us be peaceful in the trust that God is watching over us. Invite his presence into every cell in our bodies. Let slumber settle over us like a chiffon scarf or a curly cloud. The Lord will preserve you from all evil and will keep your life. The Lord will watch over you. This Creator of the earth, this Creator of heaven. This awesome presence is everywhere! Let us not resist but accept. Amen

“Naaman, Elisha, and the Ten Lepers”

Sermon – 10-13-19 – Proper 23 – Cycle C
Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Sermon Title: “Naaman, Elisha, and the Ten Lepers”

A servant girl knows the solution! In this Old Testament or Hebrew scripture, we find this delightful story of healing. Naaman has the skin problem. Elisha is God’s prophet. The King of Israel gets mixed into the story and goes berserk. The servant girl is the most important character in the story.

First, you may have noticed an awkward break in the Hebrew lesson that George read. We are going to tell the missing part or it does not make sense.

Syria is in our present-day news. Syria is part of our story today. Naaman is a commander in the Syrian army although the translation we heard today – the New Revised Standard Version – uses the name Aram for the country instead of Syria. The Contemporary English Version uses Syria. Whether we call it Aram or Syria, the leaders of that country did not get along well with the leaders of Israel.

In fact, God helps Naaman to lead the Aramean army in victory over the Israelite army. So the King of Aram respects Naaman highly. Winning over Israel and being respected by the King of Aram does not prevent Naaman from being tormented by a skin problem, referred to as leprosy.

Here is where our main character comes into the picture. This servant girl had been captured in Israel as part of the spoils of war. She became a servant to Naaman’s wife. One day, the girl could not refrain from declaring to Naaman’s wife that she knows a person who can heal Naaman. She is referring to Elisha, prophet of God, who is presently in the Samaria section of Israel.

Wife tells Naaman. Naaman asks King of Aram for permission to go to Israel in the hope of being healed. The King says, “Go. I will give you a letter to the King of Israel.”

Naaman packs silver, gold, clothes and the letter. The letter says, “I am sending my servant Naaman to you. Would you cure him of his leprosy?” When Naaman arrives in Israel, he finds the king which is probably King Joash. Naaman gives the letter to one of the king’s servants and waits. Well! The king thinks he is supposed to heal this army commander from Aram who has just defeated the King of Israel’s army. The king tears his clothing in fear and says, “That Aramean king believes I can cure this man of leprosy! Does he think I am God with power over life and death? He must be trying to pick a fight with me.”

Somehow, Elisha hears about this predicament – I think God told him – and sends word to the King of Israel that he, Elisha, can heal Naaman. “Just send him to me,” says Elisha. So Naaman left with his horses and chariots and went to Elisha’s house. Instead of Elisha coming from his house to actually touch Naaman or wave his hand over Naaman, Elisha sends the instruction that Naaman shall go wash in the Jordan River seven times. If Naaman does that, his flesh will be restored and he will be clean.

Instead of Naaman saying “thank you,” Naaman has a fit of his own. Naaman is expecting more drama. He thinks he is owed more respect from Elisha, this man of God.

It also happens that the Jordan River is not a clean river. Naaman knows other rivers in his own country that are cleaner and nicer. So Naaman is angry. Why should he lower himself in a muddy river! But his servants suggest to him that he would have done something much harder or more expensive to be cleansed. Why won’t he just dip himself seven times in this dirty river and see what happens? So Naaman becomes meek. He gives in and immerses himself into the dirty river until he is covered . His flesh is restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he is clean.

Now does Naaman give any kind of thanks to anybody when he sees the good result? You probably caught the end of the Hebrew lesson that George read. Naaman finds Elisha and stands before Elisha saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Now, moving forward into the time of Jesus, we have this story of the ten lepers who happen to be where Jesus is walking. They are careful not to come too close to Jesus because this skin problem called leprosy is very contagious. You probably know that, in those days, lepers needed to live at a distance from the town, like near the garbage dump.

When they see Jesus, they call to Jesus and ask to be healed. Instead of waving his hand over them from afar, Jesus just says, “Go to the priests and be declared clean.” They follow his directions. They go. That is what Jesus says, “Go to the priests.” It is the priests, not doctors, who declare the person healed of leprosy. It is like permission to re-enter society, to move home with family, to shop, to work. They follow the directions of Jesus.

It is strange then that the one who does not continue directly to the priests, who does not strictly follow the directions of Jesus, gets the praise and the blessing of Jesus. We read that this one leper, who happens to be a Samaritan and not a pure Jew, gives thanks to Jesus, prostrating himself in front of Jesus, not doing this quietly but in a loud voice. Jesus blesses this one person and says to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Where else do we know that a Samaritan receives praise to this very day for doing the good and right thing? Yes, we have the account of the Good Samaritan going out of his way, spending time and money to help someone who is in trouble. The Samaritans were a mixture of races. They did not have pure Jewish blood. They were ostracized by pure-blood Jews. But Jesus brings them into favorable light with his stories.

Can we possibly stop here and not get the whole picture? The idea and practice of ostracizing people because of skin color, because of religion, because of place of birth, because of economic levels, because of language or accent or inability to speak well because of a deficiency in development, because of physical differences, and mental differences are not new with us but we could make a big difference by changing our own attitudes and actions. We could! We could bring these people into a favorable light in society. After all, Jesus will probably be blessing these “cast-offs” more than he will bless ourselves unless we shape up and welcome these blessed ones into the light while we recede into the shadows. “Blessed are those who are meek.” We don’t read “Blessed are those who are proud and arrogant.” It is a choice. Meekness and inclusion or arrogance and exclusion. Lord, help us! Amen

“In the Darkest Hour: Blind Faith”

Sermon – 10-06-19 – Proper 22 – Cycle C
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Sermon Title: “In the Darkest Hour: Blind Faith”

Jesus says astonishing things! You may remember that, sometime in past weeks, I mentioned that Jesus’ style of teaching and preaching was exaggeration, hyperbole. Why would this God-man not stick to straight-line truth? If we think about it, we may catch the most profound wisdom that is hiding inside the startling ideas.

Today’s gospel passage is one such example. First, Jesus is saying that faith the size of a mustard seed – extremely small – will enable a mulberry tree to be uprooted and move through the air into the sea and be re-planted in the sea! Incredulous as that seems, we move from the antics of Disney-like film making into the reminder of cruelty being the status quo of human interaction. Just reading verses 7 through 10, leaves me exhausted and fuming that we as fellow humans expect such raw servanthood from other humans or even animals.

Those verses tell about servants or slaves working in the field all day in who knows what kind of weather; then coming into the house and heading straight for the kitchen – not to eat – but to prepare the meal and serve the meal and much later get to eat whatever is left. I added the “whatever is left.” Surely, they were not allowed to put aside food for themselves before they served the master and his family. This was called “duty.” I call it “cruelty.”

Upon researching mulberry tree, I learned that we should not expect fruit for ten years. That is a lot of patience, seemingly endless waiting! It is strange then that the reference to the mulberry tree by Jesus produces the idea of waiting for fruit followed by the master of the servants who thinks it is okay to make servants wait for a meal and for rest, but the master is not willing to wait. In that culture it was expected that servants had a duty to serve the master before any deserved rest for themselves. In the language of Jesus, we shall be like the servants in waiting.

Hearing from the long-ago Psalmist inPsalm 37, we have, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently. Do not be provoked by the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in evil schemes. Put your trust and delight in the Lord, who shall give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord, and see what God will do.”

Over and over, I find myself saying, “We’ll see what God will do.” We do our homework. We serve with servant attitudes. We do the leg work. We do the research. Then we wait! Wait patiently for him. This waiting business is hard! Especially hard if we have minds that race ahead the minute a faint possibility appears. “Go for it!” I tell myself. It is my nature. Seasoned and wise people say, “Wait!” Take it easy. Be patient. See what God wants us to do. See what God will produce. Before our eyes we will see the mulberry tree being lifted from the soil and being moved through the air into a new home – an unexpected new home for a tree. From Proverbs 3:5 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not onto your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”

If you feel a strange stirring in your minds or hearts or both when you hear and think on these words, don’t shush it away. Let it build, let it blossom. At this moment in time, when Zion United Church of Christ in Womelsdorf is seeking God’s guidance, we need to trust in the Lord, we need to do our homework, we need to do the research, we need to imagine all sorts of possibilities. But we also need to multi-task. While we are like spiders or centipedes trying to go in all directions with our many legs, in the middle of that there is a center for quietness, for checking with God, for being so quiet that we might hear God’s breath whispering to us.

The biggest trust we have in God is that he loves us with an everlasting love. A deep everlasting love. Yes, sometimes we find that love in a whisper. Sometimes we find that love in action on our behalf. Sometimes God needs to scream at us to get our attention. Something like the hyperbole of a mustard tree moving across our vision in the air or even scooting across the ground leaving a ditch as it goes. What is that ditch?!?! Oh, it is our injustice to people around us. It is our injustice to the earth. It is our unloving ways with the people we love the most. That is what that ditch is. Expecting the world to revolve around us, when, in fact, we need to be the wave of love that moves through the air or digs protective nurturing places for the mulberry trees in our lives, and in all people!

Picture this wave of love as a scarf, flowing in the breeze, circling the world. Sometimes that scarf is a filmy, light material, saying “God loves you. Go share the love.” Sometimes that scarf is a very heavy wool to smother the evil that increases until God can stand it no longer. Sometimes the scarf is a medium texture to keep things steady. This scarf moving before our eyes looks for injustice to change it to justice and kindness, looks for imbalance of wealth, imbalance of freedom and bullying, imbalance of knowing, and not knowing, the salvation in Christ Jesus and the power of God’s love.

As we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, may we wait patiently upon the Lord and be open vessels for God’s love and wisdom.

O God of love and solutions, stay with us, help us to wait patiently. Help us to picture the scarf of love as it encircles the globe, especially today as we celebrate world communion All the people of this world are involved with each other whether we want to be or not. In the dark places and times of this world, may our faith witness the mulberry trees being moved where God needs them to be so that all people equally have access to the fruit of justice, to the fruit of rest, to the fruit of wholeness and wellness. This shall be your kingdom on earth – a taste of heaven. Yes, God! Amen.

“Which One: Lazarus or the Rich Man”

Sermon – 09-29-19 – Proper 21 – Cycle C
Scripture: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Sermon Title: “Which One: Lazarus or the Rich Man”

The Insolent People and the Impoverished People. I typed “insolent” into my search engine and the first choice was “Insolent at Amazon!” How funny! Like I could buy “insolence” at Amazon. I guess it applies. But I was looking for the meaning of “insolent” to be sure I was on base. It means “proud, arrogant, haughty, lordly, overbearing, supercilious, disdainful, mean, showing scorn for inferiors.” What is an inferior? Who decides who is inferior?

Have you noticed recently that the newspapers and internet news is using the word “entitled” to refer to people who think they are entitled to step on other people. This can refer to wealth but people without wealth who wish they had wealth or are otherwise better than lowlier people can act “entitled.”

You may be saying, “What are you talking about?” An entitled mother lets her child take a toy or food from another child’s hand. An entitled person would break into a line of people waiting their turn. An entitled person would talk badly to a person of a different skin color or a disabled person which is bad enough but does it in front of children, especially his or her own children. An entitled person pays great sums of money to have their children accepted, without qualifying, into schools of high reputation. Those people are currently being punished.. I have not heard how the universities will be punished. Maybe I have missed that. Have you heard?

Moving on, or should I say backward, an entitled person would sit at a table laden with expensive food and deny the crumbs to a person who needs food and medical attention. Yes, the Rich Man and Lazarus! I foolishly love this story. It is so decisive. So right and wrong. I always take the side of Lazarus, the poor, pathetic person. Someone help him immediately! Well, God really turned the table on these characters. The Rich Man sitting on a chair at a table laden with sumptuous food while at the gate to his estate lay a man covered with sores. The only pity and mercy he received was from the dogs who licked his sores and probably aided in healing them.

How did God turn the table on these characters in his story? Eventually these two men died. One went to heaven and one went to hell. Surely, you can guess how the table was turned. The Rich Man is no longer sitting on a chair at a table full of food. He is under the table without a chair – way under. In hell. Flames all around, carelessly not caring where they crept, Rich Man or not. The Rich Man still thinks that he is better than Lazarus. He begs for Lazarus to come to him to give him water. Imagine!

Oh, yes. Where is Lazarus? Yes, he is sitting at heaven’s table next to Abraham who is the most important person at the table or so the religious people of the time thought. Lazarus is the honored guest beside Abraham. The table is turned but Rich Man is not resigned to this particular turn of events. When the Rich Man expects Lazarus to be sent to him in hell to comfort Rich Man, Abraham says in no uncertain terms that the chasm is too great. Abraham continues by saying that Rich Man had his chance. It is now too late!

To the Rich Man’s credit, he does seem to care for his own brothers. He begs Abraham to warn Rich Man’s brothers about this awful place so they don’t also end their lives licked by flames.

Does Abraham oblige Rich Man’s request? No, Abraham is being really resistant to these requests from the entitled Rich Man. Abraham says in no uncertain terms, “They can read it for themselves in the book of Moses and the prophets!” We know this book to be the Old Testament, the Hebrew scripture.

Did you hear me say that I sympathize with Lazarus, the poor soul? Well, it is right that I should do that. It is a righteous attitude. But, don’t let me walk away without admitting that I resemble the Rich Man more than I resemble Lazarus. I do. Not because I am rich and live elegantly and extravagantly but because I often ignore the Lazarus’s in my life. I think I am good about seeing the poor and needy. Well, seeing them and doing something for them are two separate matters.

Am I willing to share my meal at Red Lobster with a person I know is eating meagerly and alone? Oh, I do give money for other people to pass the food or a cooked meal to a Lazarus. I don’t even want to know how much money I have given for such purposes. But it is like throwing crumbs which may be better than not throwing any crumbs or money. But I have not let go of my entitlement; I have not let go of my insolence. I do not take Lazarus by the hand and bring him to the table in my house.

I am haunted by the words, “the poor will be lifted up and the rich will be sent empty away.” Who said those words? How do I know these words? Luke 1, Mary nurturing Jesus in her body, said these words when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. I picture Mary outdoors with the mountains as a background, proclaiming her song we have titled “The Magnificat.”

Imagine, Mary is still getting accustomed to the idea that she is carrying the Son of God in her body but she already knows him. She knows his character. She knows the way he will be our Savior and her Savior. She knows how her son will lift the lowly and put down the proud because he is the Son of God. This Son of God, this child of Mary, will be the Son person of God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom will be established on earth in the birth and personhood of Jesus, the Son. Mary is given these words by the Holy Spirit. She uses the past tense because this God always was and is and always will be. The child Mary is carrying will bring the Father’s values and methods to earth in human form to become the earthly Kingdom of God. Here are the specific words Mary sang about the rich and the poor:

And Mary sang, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty . . . according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”

We heard Paul’s instruction to young Timothy in our Epistle lesson: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” May it be so with us!

“Managing Wealth”

Sermon – 09-22-19 – Proper 20 – Cycle C
Scripture: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Sermon Title: “Managing Wealth”

Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit live in a lovely hole in a big meadow. They worked hard to dig that hole and make it a home. They are proud of it. They have little bunnies. They are a happy family. They protect their hole called home. They claim it as their own home earned by themselves.

One day Mr. Rabbit comes sliding through the main hallway from the opening in the ground hidden by tall grass. He calls to Mrs. Rabbit. “Where are you, Mrs. Rabbit? Come quickly!” he calls. When Mrs. Rabbit tears herself away from the dinner she is preparing, she says, “What could be so urgent when I am busy cooking our dinner?”

Mr. Rabbit says, taking deep breaths in-between his words, “You will never believe what I just heard!” What is it? says Mrs. Rabbit in an apprehensive tone. “Well,” says Mr. Rabbit, “As I was hurrying past a window in that nice building on the other side of the fence, I heard someone saying in a rather loud voice that we don’t own our homes, they are gifts from God. We take care of our homes and the things in our homes. This loud voice went on to say that we are free to enjoy our homes and each other. We have good food to eat and comfortable beds and heat in the winter. But . . . we do not own our homes even if, as people do, we have a deed to the property. Loud Voice said, “All of this belongs to God, even if we worked hard to pay for it.”

“Well, of course, Mrs. Rabbit, “Rabbits don’t ever have deeds to our properties but we did work very hard to dig this hole just the way we wanted it. You and I were exhausted by the time we had our home just the way we wanted it. A nursery here, a dining room there, a game room on the other side of the bedrooms. Yes- siree! Some super nice home we designed with our paws. We even experimented and found a way to keep the rain from pouring into our hole. We designed a channel to divert that water. We can stay nice and dry. To think we don’t own this home is ludicrous. Mrs. Rabbit, tell me I heard that loud voice wrong. My hearing must be going bad!”

Mrs. Rabbit said, “Who is this God who owns our home?” Mr. Rabbit replied, “The next time we see a lot of people going into that building, let’s take our family over and sit under the open window and listen. Maybe Loud Voice will talk some more about this God person.” “Okay,” said Mrs. Rabbit. “That is a plan!”

So the next Sunday, people come. The rabbits hop cautiously to the best window for hearing Loud Voice and they sit very still, even the little bunnies. Soon they hear Loud Voice leading a song. “This is my Father’s World” it is. Oh, the world belongs to a Father. “How is he related to the God?” they wonder. Then the people start to sing, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” More words – “Under the shadow of Thy Throne, Still may we dwell secure, Our shelter from the stormy blast . . .”

They wait until they can bear it no longer. They have to share their thoughts with each other. So they quietly hop away, nudging the little bunnies toward home. When they are safely in their hole, which is their secure place, they burst into conversation. So God has a throne. Is he a king? Is he also called Father? Does he own everything? If he does then he could be called Landlord. Landlord! We don’t own our own home! How come we don’t ever see this landlord – God – Father – come to collect our rent check?

Quiet as their voices are, Big Eye Owl who is trying to sleep, hears them. He has good ears and even sitting on a branch high above he could overhear. Big Eye Owl is very wise. He calls to them to come sit under the tree and he will share his knowledge with them. Yes, there is this God who created this world and the animals and the people in it.

This God brought order to the chaos so the story goes. Some of the chaos were minerals including the soil which is your home. He created plants for your food. He created you and me – animals. And again as the story goes, God created people. Big Eye Owl continues, “God never gave the deed to the world to people.” He generously hosts us. That is he shares the world and the things in it with animals and people. He is not in the real estate business. This God wants everyone to live comfortably and to treat each other kindly. It seems like he does not come for a monthly rent check.

What God expects from his animals and people is to be caretakers and managers. God trusts us to use the things around us wisely and carefully and thankfully; not carelessly and wastefully. We are to get out and about and look-out for each other – to share the abundance, to tell each other that God as landlord is also the God of love and caring. If the world seems uncaring, he expects us to pay our rent by spreading love. Big Eye Owl explains that spreading love isn’t just smiles, as helpful as they might be. God’s creatures are supposed to spread the wealth.

Let’s look at that idea. It is fine for people to be shrewd with money. Jesus even praised this seemingly dishonest man whom we thought was headed for jail. We earn our money. Then there are umpteen methods to have our money grow! Which is fine if we remember the check for the landlord. Until we get the hang of this check for the landlord, we keep the money as it grows or we spend it in a variety of extraordinary ways on ourselves. But Big Eye Owl says, “Something is wrong here. We are to be shrewd in looking for the poor and the needy.”

We say, “Won’t our principal start to dwindle?” God’s economy is wild and unbelievable. It is firmly tied with God’s love. If we try to keep our money and keep love tied as tightly as possible to ourselves, it will slowly disappear. If we share our money and our love it will be replenished in some way. Of course, don’t let shrewdness get lost. Our back pocket might be a good place to keep our shrewdness. Jesus is suggesting that we keep it handy. It might be like a chocolate- coated almond. The hard almond is the shrewdness and the chocolate is the love.

Big Eye Owl reminds rabbit family and us that God’s way of living turns everything upside-down and inside-out. Try it a bit. Then try it a bit more! Be shrewd. Do not squander. How do we know the difference between good giving and good spending versus chasing money after money? Big Eye Owl, full of wisdom, says to the family of rabbits and to us, “Listen. Pray. Test. Watch.” Owl says, “This God can hear everything and see everything and know everything that is hidden in our hearts. God is waiting for us to be good tenants, good managers, good stewards!”

“The Lost Ones”

Sermon – 09-15-19 – Proper 19 – Harvest Home – Cycle C
Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Sermon Title: “The Lost Ones”

A lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost pearl, a lost son, and a lost us! How can we be lost if we are sitting in the church we call home? If there is something nagging in our mind or heart and soul, we are lost from a close relationship with God. Get rid of it! You say, “How can we get rid of something we said or did 50 years ago?” Or how I knew I was unkind yesterday, the minute I ignored a need of which I was aware but kept on walking or driving or eating. How hard would it have been to turn around and offer myself and my possessions to a hurting person?

Would that have been harder than getting rid of the nagging feeling I carry with me wherever I go from that day forward? Is the sin of not doing something we should as great as doing something we should not? Does sin have levels? Is some sin worse than other sins? So we wonder if we are equal to the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Or are we equal to the Israelites who turned their gold possessions into a golden calf to worship? THOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME! God was angry! But Moses implored God to forgive the false worship and God forgave his people.

Paul was an enemy of the new Christians. He thought he was pleasing God. He thought the followers of Jesus were against God. He thought he was saving the Hebrew religion – keeping it pure.  God, through Jesus, stopped Paul in his tracks and saved Paul!  In turn, Paul grew the Kingdom of God on earth, preaching about Jesus allowing himself to die on the cross so that future generations might be saved. Here we are, the continuing thread of the saved ones! We need not be lost anymore!

Is being lost the same as sinning? Oh my! This is funny if we think of a sheep nibbling its way to the cliff without realizing where it is heading. And the coin, as it rolled out of sight when it dropped from the woman’s hand. Do we nibble our way into the land of the lost? Do we roll into darkness? Then there is the son – the son who wandered away. Was his a nibbling situation or was he focused on the giant, glamorous money tree with deliberation? He was lost when he found himself alone and in big trouble. It was not a leaf at a time occurrence. He had taken a giant leap for the cliff where the city grabbed him and used him.

How close have we come to being the prodigal, the lost son? Who advocated for that son? Moses advocated to God for the Israelite people. The father advocated for the prodigal son. Jesus, himself, advocated for Paul. Advocate: to stand behind, to lead the way, root for, to open the door, to plead for, to pray and wait. Who has advocated for you in your life? Have you been an advocate for someone? My sister is an advocate for me. She taught me the power of prayer.

Chances are that someone advocated for you or you would not be present here today. Who influenced your life? Or who wanted to influence your life but you resisted? Remember that the Holy Spirit is sometimes called our “Advocate.” We believe the Holy Spirit cares for us with a love so deep it cannot be fathomed. The Holy Spirit stands beside us when we face God and confess that we have made an awful choice or mistake, if you will. The Holy Spirit advocates for us as we move step by step through our lives. The Holy Spirit counsels us and rescues us.

Just as the shepherd says, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep!” we hear the Holy Spirit saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found and rescued this wayward soul!” Just as the woman is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost coin!” so Jesus is saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found the soul for whom I died!” And the Father in heaven is saying, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need not repentance.” Do you hear that heavenly singing? It is the angels. Yes, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents!

Okay! Are we the one sinner who repents or can we claim to be among the righteous? I guess it depends on which minute we are asked that question. After we say to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we may be righteous for a second or so. But that second is what we live for! To be forgiven, to be as white as snow in the inside. To hear the joy and gladness in our ears and in our souls. That is when we join Paul in shouting, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”

And while we are on that high, we are expected to praise God with our actions, not just our voices. That is why today we have this beautiful and bountiful display of God’s goodness before us. That is why we faithfully bring food Sunday after Sunday or week after week. We recognize the mercy and faithfulness of God in our lives.

How is the bounty in this world distributed? According to righteousness? Rain falls on the just and on the unjust. It is a puzzle why we are not evenly blessed with bounty. It is like asking why do good people suffer. We need to acknowledge that the suffering of this world does not match people’s righteousness. The people who live in drought can be our brothers and sisters in Christ. The people, who live where cruel gangs control neighborhoods or the whole country, could be the chicks under the wings of Christ. But Christ could be expecting us to be extensions of his wings to these people.

Who will receive this bounty after we have enjoyed the sight? Who will receive this bounty that we could have kept for ourselves? People who never had the privilege. People who had opportunities but made poor choices. People who never knew human love. People who were bullied until their self-worth is mashed into a pulp. People who never knew that Jesus was more than a swear word. People who are viciously mean.

Then again, how much gratitude are we to expect for the sharing of our bounty? Will receiving gratitude make the giving more worthwhile? It is in the giving that Jesus will say, “Good and faithful servants.” It is in the giving that we can feel the reward. It is in the giving that we can grow to see what more is needed. We as a congregation are givers! We can be pleased that it is this way. Does God have a vision for us to be challenged to somehow let the receiving person know that “Jesus” is real and not only a swear word. “Jesus” is the name by which angels will sing over one sinner who comes home. Who is going to bring that person home? Is it you? Is it me? Is it all of us together? One plants the seed. One waters. Over and over, tirelessly. Like the plants which became this food. The seed was planted and watered and harvested. So be it with the person who is rescued and becomes living grain and fruit for the Kingdom of God.

“Figure the Cost”

Sermon – 09-08-19 – Proper 18 – Cycle C
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Sermon Title: “Figure the Cost”

One of my friends is a conscientious buyer. She is willing to research various companies, be it landscaping, painting, washing machine, new car. She is willing to go store-to-store or website-to-website to compare prices to buy almost everything she buys. She knows the quality of the things she buys. You can’t fool my friend! My goodness, if she were planning to build a new house, she would price things down to the last brick.

I have another friend who is very busy and is just glad if the first person she calls to do emergency lawn mowing can fit her yard into his schedule before she needs to bale the cut grass as hay for cattle. For this friend, time is money. She will take whichever gas station is near when her tank gauge says only one gallon left. She is fearful of trusting that one gallon. She simply does not have time to wait for AAA to come to her rescue if her car goes sput, sput, sput!
If this friend had to find a new dwelling place, she would not start with an empty lot. She would lean on a realtor to find the house that would vaguely fit her and sign the papers.

However, this friend needs to be in charge of planning, constructing, and using a new building for her company, she is all detail, endless detail, because she is accountable to the owner of the business to do this task well. She dare not go overbudget. This project needs to meet the time deadline. When it is finished on time and within budget, it looks good on her resume. She can feel pleased with herself. I don’t know how Jesus feels about her vanity. Last week we heard the “sit at the low end of the table” passage, the “be humble” instruction from Jesus. But, I believe that Jesus is pleased with the planning that my friend does for this new company building.

In Luke 14:28-30, we read Jesus’s words about planning before we attempt a project. Jesus goes on to say that a king needs to analyze his chances of winning a war before he says, “Go!” to his soldiers. If he can’t win, he asks for peace instead of starting a war.

This whole gospel passage from Luke 14 speaks to our giving up everything to become part of the kingdom of God, to be a follower of Jesus. Not just a walk-along follower, but an active disciple. We are to give up everything that detracts us from serving Jesus. Really! Do we need to do a total surrender? Yes, we do. Are we ready to do this? Do you know anyone who has done this and is still doing this? Give up everything to serve Jesus! Well, I always knew that God should come first in our lives, then our wife, then children, and then the dog, or something like that.

Did you hear, and did you see the cover of the bulletin, that we need to carry a cross in addition to giving up everything? Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” A cross!

I have good news about the word “hate” which Luke says that Jesus says. Get this! Jesus exaggerated to get people’s attention. It is called hyperbole. Apparently, Jesus really meant that we need to love Jesus more than we love anyone or anything else. Whew! What a relief!. Can we go back to our regular lackadaisical way of thinking and acting. Can we come to church once a week or once a month and think we are dong great as a Christian?

I acknowledge and submit to you that some of you are way ahead of me in Christian living. But no matter where we are in the matter of carrying crosses most of us are not at #10 on the scale of being a Jesus follower.

Carrying our cross could mean that we have burdens in our lives that are causing hardship. Some of these burdens are physical demands on our lives. Some of us are carrying crosses of guilt that no matter how many times we go through the confession routine, we cannot feel white as snow inside. Some of our crosses are a lack of discipline: harmful habits, loss of control with money, wastefulness with time, just thinking about ourselves. Some of our crosses are simply obeying the rules of life which work. Some of our crosses are an eagerness to get to the end of the race; to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Have you recognized your cross here or have I missed the cross you are carrying?

Does God, and therefore Jesus, really want us to feel the cross as a burden? Can carrying the cross bring healing from whatever made it feel like a burden? Can our cross become lighter as we move closer and closer to Jesus? Can carrying the cross transform us? Is there something magic in this cross? Think about this. If we are focused on Jesus as being #1 in our lives, could our families be carrying crosses together? Sounds like a plan to me. Let’s think of our families. Could you persuade each person in your family to put everything aside to carry a cross with the goal being a disciple of Jesus? Oh, Oh! Here is where the separation becomes reality. Not everyone is going to want to follow. Following Jesus seems like a gamble.

But we are here today because the gamble seems more sure than not sure. We are here because we are ready to carry our cross if we are not already carrying the cross. We can try to persuade other people to assume a cross on their backs but in the end some will and some won’t. But how will they know about the cross unless we tell them. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Bringing people to Jesus is a lost art. But if we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, if we want the fulness of the experience of being a disciple in the kingdom of God, we need to ask God to cover us with courage; courage to invite people to accept the love of Jesus, invite people to walk through the church door with us. Some of you have already done that. Some of you are the persons who were invited and you came. Some of us, including myself, need to pray, and pray some more, asking God to give us the right words to invite our co-workers, our co-volunteers, our own relatives, our friends to step inside. Let’s use a bit of marketing skill and not tell them they will be expected to carry a cross. Let’s make sure they feel the love of Jesus and our love. However, I have seen new Christians who could not stop telling people about Jesus. It was a truly joyous time for them. Maybe one of our own crosses could be finding and sharing the joy of Jesus!