Friday, February 24, 2017

i got angels all around me

got love all around me

When I stopped running and started going to the gym, I read a few articles about how to stick with it. The reason I was joining a gym in the first place was because my discipline to keep running by myself was rapidly waning
My favorite piece of advice was to watch inspirational films.
You know; Rocky, Rudy, Hoosiers, Miracle. Those kind of movies…

Turns out; I’m a total sucker for these movies. 
Sometimes Amanda will pop in, and catch me wiping tears from my face. “Are you crying,” she will ask.
And I will mutter back, “Only the manliest of tears.”

Maybe you’ve seen these movies. Even if you haven’t, though; you already know their plot. 
The hero faces some challenge. Some challenge that, as things stand, the hero cannot best. To overcome the trial, the hero must go on a journey to acquire the key that will turn the tides in their favor. After not a few tribulations, the hero returns with the key and overcomes the challenge.

In most sports movies, the journey is a training montage. You know, Rocky running around the yard trying to catch the chicken. Rocky in the locker, giving a side of beef a left-hook. 

But this trope isn't limited to sports movie, you know. 
Truth be told, it’s basically the plot to every movie you go out to see - or rent for a night-in. Westerns, action-adventures, the ubiquitous superhero movies; even rom-coms. 

We all know that cycle. It’s embedded in our psyche. That’s why movies are so comforting; the details may vary, but the structure is the same. We go to the movie to watch the hero overcome the odds. 

What makes for an especially interesting film is when the motif is twisted in an unexpected way. Or sometimes, even subverted
*Like Million Dollar Baby, where the boxer is trained. And instead of overcoming the odds, she’s crushed by them. And, by the way, only a strong woman could play that role; can you imagine Rocky falling onto a misplaced stool?

Truthfully, though, what’s so particularly good about Rocky is that it twists the familiar plot in a satisfying way. 
I don’t mean the whole franchise, though. Just the first Rocky. Or it’s latest iteration, “Creed.”
Like in the first Rocky. Balboa doesn’t defeat his nemesis. He just barely survives Apollo Creed’s beating. But he goes the distance. And somehow in losing, but barely hanging on, he overcomes the real challenge. 
Or in Creed. When the now sick and aging Balboa tells Apollo’s son, that his real enemy isn’t the other boxer, but the man in the mirror. 

It’s a familiar trope, isn’t it? The couple fall in love, but in no time, something comes between them. They must overcome it, and prove their love. 

It’s a familiar story, and Hollywood knows what to do with it. 

But this isn’t Hollywood. Is it? 
This is real life. 
At least it was for the disciples and the would-be followers who try to keep up with Jesus as his face is set to Jerusalem

Jesus who does not journey to find the key to overcome the odds. But instead is overcome by the cruelty of humanity, and dies on a cross like a common crook. 

The thing every movie has in common is that no matter what; the solution is the same. The hero must dig deep, give if their best, their all if they are to overcome the odds. 

Jesus’ life, however, is lived not by giving it his best; but by obedience

Furthermore, in the scripture for today, we hear as three individuals approach Jesus full of the best they have to offer; only to be rebuffed!

-The first person comes up to Jesus, declaring her fortitude to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Only to be told that the one she proposes to follow, will be permanently homeless.
-The second person is called to follow Jesus. Thinking it over the person replies that the funeral arrangement haven’t been finalized yet. And Jesus just says not to bother with any of that. 
-The third person says he will follow, but first he needs say goodbye. Jesus curtly tells him that, that kind of behavior has no place in the Kingdom of God!

Here are three people. Digging deep. Giving it all they have to prepare for their journey with Jesus, only to be told-off!

Because this isn’t Hollywood. This is real life. And in real, ordinary, daily life it isn’t evil’s worst that hinders God’s plan. Is it?
In the everyday grind, it’s our best that gets in the way.
Our best.

That is the hard truth about Jesus’ face set toward Jerusalem. 
In the end it will be a collaboration between the civil and religious establishments that will crucify Jesus. 

And none of this, they were all crooked anyway, nonsense
When you learned about the Pax Romana who, exactly, were the good guys? Or the Temple, for that matter. Let’s not be anti-semitic here of all places. The Church and the temple are always founded on our highest aspirations; the desire to glorify God. 

It is the very virtues that society and religion are built on, that will kill Jesus. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you don’t believe me; look at the three would-be followers. It isn’t vices that keep them from following Jesus. It’s virtues: Ambition, family and respect for your elders. 

Beloved, that’s what’s really going to be hard this Lent. 
The real temptation will be to imagine that these 40 days are our journey to overcome evil; even our own evil. Be it with our works of love or our fasts from self-indulgence. 

What you need to hear this Ash Wednesday, though, is that Jesus has already overcome evil. Your’s and the world’s. All evil. 

And the truth be told, all our efforts are most likely to interfere. Or, lead to even greater evil. 

Because that’s what Hollywood doesn’t know. 
Not that there is a dark side to all our virtues. Just watch the movie Tombstone and the way it inverts the hero’s journey, if you’re unsure of that.

No, what Hollywood doesn’t know, is that you are not left on your own.

Every hero in the movie, they have to dig deep and give it their all, because in the end, they’re all they have. 
If they fail, that’s the end of the movie. There are no sequels for the losers.

What the Gospel promises, though, is that you are not on your own. You have Jesus Christ. 
Jesus who set his face to Jerusalem to die by his and every other death, to save you from your’s. Jesus who set his face to Jerusalem to die by all our sin, to save you from your’s.

Win, lose of draw, Jesus is your’s. You are not alone. You are not on your own. Jesus has died to save you. Save you from your worst, yes. But even your best, too. 

You are not alone. You have more than your vices or virtues to rely on. You have Jesus. Jesus who’s face is set toward his death, to save you from your’s. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

because tramps like us

baby, we were born to run

Bruce Springsteen’s breakout, third album, “Born to Run” is a gem. With Born to Run, Springsteen swung for the fences. He had a sound he wanted, and the studio put a bunch of money behind the album so he could have one last shot to break through to a larger audience. 

And with Born to Run, Springsteen managed to do it all. The album was a critical success, and he managed to out out an album that sounded like Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, and had been produced by Phil Spector. 
It’s an album with the swagger of a young man full of confidence and optimism. Embodied by the song the album takes its name from, “Born to Run.”
Cause, tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

His next, and best, album “Darkness on the Edge of Town” would reckon with the limits of such joyrides. Because although he was right, tramps like us are born to run; you can’t run forever. And, there are some things you can’t outrun — no matter how hard you try…

What I love about The Boss is his albums are chockfull of the kind of characters who always turn up in the Gospel; and for that matter the Church.

Like today. Simon an open-minded Pharisee, has invited Jesus over for dinner. Before second course is served, though, the party is crashed. And by a sinner, no less. 

Personal gripe here, whenever there’s a woman in the Bible who needs forgiving, we always assume we know what she needs forgiving of. If you catch my drift. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge
All Luke says, though, is that she had the public reputation of a sinner. In other words, this woman couldn’t run from her sin anymore. It was public knowledge. Everyone knew about it. Especially her

Which is what gets Simon. Here’s this sinner, ruining his perfectly nice dinner. And Jesus, this supposed prophet, isn’t even trying to tell her off!

Before Simon can give the two a lesson on the finer points of etiquette, Jesus speaks up. He tells this parable about a
creditor no bank would hire. 
A creditor who has two borrowers. One who owes over two month’s wages, and the other who owes even more! Nearly two years. When both borrowers are about to default on their loan, instead of sending a collection agency, this creditor cancels their debt. All of it!
No repayment plans. No refinancing. No strings attached!

Just cancels the debt for no other reason than, that’s just the kind character this creditor is. 
Like I said, no bank would hire this creditor

Then, Jesus locks eyes with Simon, “now which of the debtors would love the creditor more,” Jesus asks…

…When I started preaching I loved parables. Nice little object lessons. Plus, I didn’t have to come up with an illustration, Jesus had done that. 
But after a few too many times of Jesus’ parables ruining yet another earnest sermon, I came to find Jesus’ parables are more like a trap door than a morality play. 

Parables are the proverbial carpet, Jesus pulls out from under you. Which is what happens to poor Simon. 

Simon thinks Jesus’ question over and ventures, “well, I suppose the one the creditor cancelled more debt.”
Jesus sighs, “Simon, you’ve judged rightly.”

Judged rightly?!?
As if anyone needs to tell Simon that, thank you very much. Simon judged the woman the moment she graced his doorway. And he judged Jesus the moment he didn’t throw her back out it. 
No, Simon fancies himself a fine judge. And what if that’s the problem?

Yes, perhaps Simon judged rightly. But what if, in doing so, he missed the point? What if a correct judgement is never right in the presence of Jesus? The one who even forgives sins. What if the parable is about judgement and forgiveness mixing as well as oil and water?

After all, think about it. To the creditor there may be a difference; like 450 days wages. But to the debtors, there isn’t any difference! Both had debts they couldn’t repay. Both had all their debt cancelled.

Honestly, the only way either one of the debtors is going to love a creditor like that any less; is the one who upon being forgiven, turns around to crow, “At least I was only forgiven 50 day’s wages, and not 500 like that other guy.”

Then Jesus gives a punchline to lay you flat, “The one for whom little is forgiven, loves little.” The one for whom little is forgiven, loves little…

That’s the way of parables. At first you think you’re the one doing the judging, but before the parable’s finished, everything is topsy-turvy.

Before Jesus finishes praising the woman for her hospitality, Simon has fallen under the very criticism of his own, unrelenting judgement.
Before Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, his parable has put Simon where Simon had pegged the woman. A dead-end with nowhere to run. A sinner, and everyone knew it…

The woman, had a public reputation as a sinner. Seeing as Jesus told a parable about debtors, perhaps she had to ask to borrow money and was never able to pay it all back. Maybe she was the kind of woman who would show up for a dinner party, and everyone would hide their wallet - just waiting for the host to escort her out.
Before dinner is over, though, Jesus has revealed Simon’s inner thoughts. 

Now Simon, like the woman he just threw shade at, can’t outrun his sin either. He can’t hide behind dinner invitations or religious pretensions, he’s been exposed. His private thoughts have been revealed
Now both he and the woman can’t get away from their sin. There’s no more pretending for either of them anymore. Sure, tramps like us may be born to run, but sometimes there’s nowhere to run

And we know how that feels, don’t we? 
Those times in all our lives when we come face-to-face with our own sin. When we can’t run from it anymore. 

That’s why, for my money, “Darkness of the Edge of Town,” is Bruce Springsteen’s best work. It’s the album he wrote after the stress of getting everything he thought he wanted. An album that reckons with the fact that, although tramps like us may be born to run, no matter how hard you try; you can’t run forever. And furthermore, that there are some things you just can’t outrun.

Sure, “Born to Run” might be great for a summer day. But on those times when you find yourself on the backstreets, nothing beats “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
As he puts it in “Streets of Fire,” where instead of singing about casing the promised land, he wails: “And the weak lies and the cold walls you embrace / Eat at your insides and leave you face to face with Streets of fire.”

And that puts it pretty well, doesn’t it? Those streets that suddenly dead-end. Those streets that bring you to those sins you can’t outrun.

Maybe that’s where you are right now
Maybe you’re like the woman in the Gospel, you have a reputation. Or, maybe you're more like Simon, brought face to face with the sin not one can see but you can’t ignore. Either way.

Either way, Jesus’ parable has put your right where it intends; defenseless and exposed before the indiscriminate grace of God. That’s what the trapdoor of Jesus’ parables are for, to get us to stop running so we will find ourselves before the indiscriminate grace of God that forgives you if your debt is 50 or even 500. The indiscriminate grace of God that forgives the sin only Jesus can see, or the sin anyone can see. 
Jesus is the one who even forgives all you sin, cancels all your debt. Whatever it might be. However much it is.
That’s the point of his parable. It isn't about which debtor is best. It’s about the creditor who would do something like cancel a debt you can’t repay. 

That’s what today is about, too. Jesus coming to you at those streets of fire. Where you can’t outrun your sin. And instead of writing an album that’s honest enough to break your heart. He breaks his heart for you. He goes to the dead end you’ve hurtling toward, and dies by it, for you

That’s what it means that Jesus is the one who even forgives sins. He is the only one who stands on the other side of your dead-end and says to you, “your sins are forgiven.”

Many think Church is where you come to get your life in order, but we know better, don’t we? We know Church is the last stop on our dead-end. Where we go when we can’t go anywhere else. 
S you who have found that running is only fun for so long. You who can no longer run. You who can’t run far enough, Jesus is the one on the other sider of your dead-end, the creditor who cancels your debt, the one who even forgives sins.

Jesus finds you and says, “your sins are forgiven.” All of them. No strings attached. No matter what it might be. No matter how much it is. That’s just the kind of creditor he is. Indiscriminate.

Tramps may be born to run. But youyou don’t have to run any more. Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. No longer to run, but forgiven. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

want a little grace

but who's gonna say a little grace for me(?)

Each week the pastor returns from an encounter with Scripture to report back what he’s seen and heard…
Truthfully, that’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially with a doozy of a passage like today’s
John, shut-up in prison, sends a message to Jesus, “Are you The One, or should we keep waiting.”

Honestly, the honesty of John’s question scandalizes us. Why would John, who leapt in utero when Jesus’ mom was simply within earshot, be having second thoughts now?
And, if that did happen at all, why does Luke insist on telling us about it? Couldn’t he have papered over that part? 

It’s not what we’d like to hear today; a report of this fiery preacher having misgivings…

But it is for me, to report this back to you. 
And of course, the temptation is to wriggle here on the hook for ten-minutes, or so. Doing what I can to convince you John didn’t really mean that. 
That John was just trying to get Jesus to openly reveal his identity. Or maybe John, that fiery preacher, was wondering why Jesus hadn’t declared war on the evil empire. And, as all us good, modern Christians already know, Jesus is a peaceful revolutionary

I could do that, and we’d go home with all our preconceived notions intact. Happily protected from the shock of scripture, but not fooled. Not fooled. We’d know better. John’s question is too direct to be turned into anything else.

So, let’s just ask the most obvious question today; what if John’s question isn’t as complicated as all that? What if you don’t need my seminary training to get you off the hook today? What if the reason this passage is so challenging, is because it’s so obvious?
What it we understand John’s question, better than we understand Jesus’ answer…

Listen, I’ve spoken with enough of you, heard enough reports on NPR and read enough op-ed’s to know plenty of us feel just the way John did when he sent Jesus his message from prison.

There are moments in all our lives when we look around, unable not to wonder if Jesus is The One to set things right. Or, if we have to keep waiting for another.

In the Gospel, John’s locked up in prison. 
His problem is, he’d done everything right. He did what he was supposed to. He’d been out there, boldly preaching. Leading multitudes to repentance. What’s more, John’s obediently left everything to do that. 
Yet, for everything, all he has to show, are his chains…

A prison cell isn’t how it was supposed to go down. It certainly wasn’t what John was planning on. 

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned

Instead of planning a jailbreak or insurrection, Jesus has been partying. In fact, remember when he healed the centurion’s servant? Well that centurion undoubtedly worked for the very people that locked folks like John up!
So yeah, John isn’t so sure. And when he can bear it no longer, he sends word to Jesus. “Are you The One, or should we keep waiting for another?”

And we know what that’s like, don’t we?
I know plenty of us, when we read the newspaper or watch whatever network we prefer, feel the same as John. Is Jesus going to set things right, or should we wait for someone or something else?

And today Jesus responds to us the same as he responded to John’s uncertainty. Sending a messenger to come and report what’s been seen and heard…

That’s what’s really shocking about the Gospel today. 
It isn’t John’s question. We get that. What unsettles us, what’s hard to hear, is Jesus’ answer.

You don’t need me to climb up in front of you and explain away John’s question. You know better. It’s too honest to need any explaining. 

Because those second thoughts you have when things don’t go the way you planned. Or the anger and sorrow that wells up in your chest when you put down the newspaper, and wonder why it is the wicked always seem to get away with it; that tells us all we need to know about John’s question.

No, what’s unnerving about today’s scripture isn’t John’s question. 
It’s Jesus’ reply
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the leapers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Blessed, indeed…

Today Jesus meets your misgivings with the same Word he met John’s with; the report of God’s grace
God’s grace, and Nothing else. Nothing else.
There are no marching orders. No clandestine reports. No easy answers. Just news of God’s grace.

Here’s the really hard thing scripture has to report; Jesus will save the world with grace; and grace alone.
That John’s hope, is your’s.
Shockingly, it’s the entire world’s too. 

To us, it doesn't look like enough, does it?
Because while there may be more than two-thousand years between us and John. While we may live in the so-called “freest nation,” we come before Jesus trapped behind the same bars of wariness. Don’t we?

“What’s the deal, Jesus? Are you The One we’ve been waiting for, or do we have to keep waiting for another?

And Jesus sends back the same message to you, he sent to John. 
All I have to tell you today, is what John’s messengers reported to him. 
Jesus is saving the world with grace; and grace alone… 

This is such a abrasive thing to say, it is so hard to hear, I am going to repeat it; Jesus is saving the world with grace; and grace alone.
How is Jesus saving the world? (Grace.)

But that’s easier to say than it is to believe, isn’t it?
Especially when nothing works out. When everything goes wrong. When you put down the newspaper and wonder what’s taking God so long.

That’s the thing about grace. 
It isn’t practical. It’s opulent
It comes to all the wrong sorts of people. At a time that isn’t good
Grace is foolish. In the face of violence and even outright rejection, it insists on loving. The love God gives whether we’re worthy, or not. Whether we accept it, or not.

From the prison we sit in, it doesn’t look like enough. As Saint Paul says, The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for the likes of you - you who are being saved, it is the power of God. 

Today’s scripture doesn’t tell us how John reacted to the message, does it?
Perhaps he heard the message and thought, ‘that’s a good way to get killed.’ And he’d be right
Or, maybe he heard the message, and suddenly saw everything differently. That doing something foolish like raising the dead or bringing good news to the poor of all people, would save the world. And he’d be right, too

Perhaps you’re here this morning, hands gripped around your prison bars, wondering if Jesus is The One. Maybe you've made peace with your imprisonment, and can’t tell freedom from the slammer anymore. 

Either way. Either way, Jesus sends you a message. A message with the power to save you, to set you free, to give you hope
Jesus is saving the world with grace
Right now, Jesus is saving the world with grace. Saving you with grace. 

This is hard to see. 
For now, this is a promise you can only hear. One day, though, you will look back. In that day your faith will become sight. On that day, you will see for yourself grace was, grace is enough. That Jesus saved the world with grace. And grace alone.
For now, though, that faith comes by hearing.

Look, I want to take away the shock of that. I’d love to give you some evidence, something to see. What our savior gives, is what he gave John. The message that Jesus is saving the world with grace. 

And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at that.
Blessed, indeed. Right?

But really, what else did you come out here to see anyway? Some stained glass windows? C’mon. 
What then did you come out here to see? The president? You know better. 
So what then did you come out here to see?

A Church Service? Yes, I tell you. And more than just a service. The ministry of God’s Word, giving to you the message big enough for the entire world, and expressly for you:
Jesus is saving the world with grace, and grace alone. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

you think that all your time is used

too busy earnin'

A sermon from the Gospel of Luke:

It just hangs there; unanswered

In the Gospel today there’s a man who works for the enemy. One of his slaves -one who is special to him- is ill. Close to death, even. 
Despite who he’s on the dole from, he’s been good to the Jewish people in town. So some elders parlay Jesus to heal the man’s slave.
They appeal to Jesus, insisting the man deserves to have his slave healed. He’s worthy of it, they tell Jesus. 

Now, apparently the man catches wind of that, because before Jesus can get to his house, he’s sent another envoy! This time with a personal message. “Don’t bother yourself, Jesus. I’m not worthy to receive you.”

Worthy. Not worthy. Which is it?
Whether we admit it or not, it’s a question we spend a lot of time on. Worthy? Unworthy? We want to know…

Well, you who were listening carefully know that a judgement is never given. Jesus doesn’t remark on the man’s worthiness one way or the other. 
Worthy or unworthy. It just hangs there, unanswered

I love the Disney/Pixar movie, “Up.”
It came out the summer after my senior year of college. It had gotten good reviews, so one day me and a couple friends went to see it. Since classes were over, we went to a matinee. Easily making us the oldest people in the theater that day…

Right from the get-go, the movie plunges in. Showing a couple of kids fall in love, grow up, grow old and finally even face Death…

I remember as it became clear the woman was going to die, my friend leaned over and said, “I don’t like this movie.” Then, my other friend, sitting opposite me leaned over and said, “If this movie makes me cry.” My voice broke as I said, “here we are, the oldest people in the theater, crying!”

It’s a well done movie. What I love about it, though, is that it’s all about worthiness; and how to render a judgement on it. Which our Gospel does not do today

I won’t ruin the ending of the movie this time, I promise. 
It begins with the couple meeting as kids, pretending to be adventurers. At first their games of adventure are just a shared interest. Over time, though, it forms the bond that moves them from friends to companions

In a brilliant montage, without any dialogue, you watch them grow up. 
They get married. She gives him a book she made as a chid, her book of adventures. Only now, she added a new page, “Adventures we will go on.” 

From there you watch the married couple work at the zoo, selling concessions. Go on picnics. Cloud watching. 
In one scene he points to a cloud, and you realize he sees a baby. The camera pans over to her, and she spreads her arms wide. A whole fleet of babies!

…Then you see them holding each other in the doctor’s office. They go home and paint over the baby room. She’s sitting by herself, crying. He goes, gets the book of adventures, and hands it to her. 
In a newly repainted room they put a jar that says “our adventure” to collect their loose change. Over time, the jar fills with quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. 
Then the car get a flat tire. They break open the jar. The car’s tire is replaced, and a new -but empty- jar is put out. Over time, it fills with change again. But then there’s a hospital visit. They break open the jar again. A new -but empty- jar is put out another time. This time a storm that knocks a tree into their house. They break open the jar. You get the picture…
Still free of dialogue, you see them get older and get on with life. Eventually the jar is moved to a corner, where instead of change, it collects dust

One day when the man is cleaning, he see’s that old book of adventures. A furrow comes on his brow. After a moment, though, a smile replaces it. 
He goes to a travel agent and buys two tickets to South America. Then he assembles a picnic basket, carefully packing the tickets. 
As they walk to the familiar tree, you watch as she looses her footing…

Then, they’re in the hospital. She’s in the bed. She hands him that old book of their adventures. Guilty, he turns the book over and sets it down

Finally, you see him all alone in the funeral home. Going home by himself, he puts away that old book of adventures. He can’t bring himself to open it. His guilt over failing to take his wife on her adventures is too much for him…

Then, the camera cuts. This time the sound is back to normal. He’s older now, though. Each day he goes out to sit on his porch by himself. Scowling at passers-by. He’s grown bitter over the years…

We can be a lot like that, can’t we?
Those things that make us feel guilty. They keep us from opening The Book. Or praying for that matter. Taking the sermon message that “God loves you” to heart. Opening up to the pastor. From even going to church.

We would do well to remember that. Sometimes we get cranky about the people who don’t come to church. We forget that for many of them, their guilt is too much.
He can’t open the book of adventures. We don’t open The Bible; afraid of what it will say about us…

Well, throughout the movie, that old, empty book of adventures turns up again and again. Each time, a sigh sweeps across the man’s face each time he looks at the page, “Adventures we will go on.”

One time, though, as he holds the book the page slips past his fingers! 
The page he could never bring himself to look at, turns over… 
…And instead of being empty, there’s a picture from their wedding day!When he turns to the next page there’s picture from one of their picnics! He keeps turning the pages; and page after page is filled with photos from their life together!

Now he sees his life, not through his evaluation, but her’s. He sees his life, not measured by his worthiness or unworthiness, but her love. All that guilt he had been carrying, disappears!

Listen, that’s an analogy. That’s precisely how it is with the Bible!
So often we’re afraid to open it, afraid it will say we’re guilty. That we’ve failed. That we’re not worthy. So we keep the Bible closed. We don’t pray. During the sermon when the pastor says “God loves you,” you think, if pastor knew the real me…

But get this loud and clear; that’s not the way God works. That’s not what the Bible is about. When it comes to God, it’s never about us, whether we’re worthy or not. It’s about the One who looks at you with compassion. Compassion. “

Remember our Gospel today? Jesus didn’t remark on the man’s worthiness one way or the other, did he? He let it hang there, unanswered. 
But Jesus did speak, didn’t he? It was when he heard the message from that second envoy. In fact, when he heard it, he couldn’t keep quiet. 

Imagine the scene. 
The second envoy interrupts Jesus’ path. Passing along the message, “don’t bother, the man says he isn’t worthy to receive you. Plus, he knows what it’s like to be under orders. He says all you need to do is say the word, Jesus; and his servant will be healed.”
Imagine Jesus stopping in his tracks. Turning around to the crowd that’s behind, raising his arms over his head and exclaiming, “Did you hear that?!? I haven’t come across faith like this anywhere…”

Now, it isn’t that the man considers himself unworthy that blows Jesus away. It’s that what the man knows, that Jesus won’t have any truck with worthiness or unworthiness. 
But rather that, it all hinges on Jesus’ Word.

In other words the centurion says, “I’m may not be worthy, but that’s not what I’m counting on. I’m counting on you, Jesus. You word.”

Now, there’s a picture of a “forgiven sinner free-riding on Jesus,” folks. That’s what it looks like. To trust that when it comes to Jesus, the game of worthy/unworthy has ended, once and for all. To trust your life will be evaluated by Jesus’ compassion, and nothing else. 

The first envoy, they insist the man is worthy. The second, that he isn’t
But Jesus doesn’t to play that game, does he?

…The truth is, we’re a lot more like the character from “Up,” than we are the centurion, aren’t we?
Our guilt. Our fear we’re not worthy keep us from opening The Book, coming to church, praying, believing this News you’re being told right now.

And it isn’t even only in the church that this happens, is it? 
Our guilt. Our fear that we’re not worthy is always convicting us. Your hairline. Your waistline. Your bottomline. And on, and on. It never stops, does it? Worthy. Unworthy.

Well, get ready because it’s about to come to a blessed end; finally… 

Meet the one who brings an end to that tired game, worthy/unworthy. The one who looks at you, not by how you measure up, but by his compassion; Jesus Christ. The one you are baptized into, now and forever

Open The Book, he’s on every page. Jesus’ compassion is all over in it. 
After all, in the Gospel today Jesus didn’t bother to weigh in on the man’s worthiness or unworthiness. Did he? 
That’s because when it comes to Jesus, that’s never what’s at stake. Rather, it all hinges on his compassion.

Your life isn’t defined by your accomplishments, or your failures for that matter. It’s determined by the one who gave his life for you; and nothing else.

Worthy. Unworthy. It still hangs there; on the cross. When Jesus was raised to new life, the life he gives you, he left that question hanging on the cross; forever. Never to be answered. 
Your savior doesn’t look at you that way. He sees you with compassion.

Worthy? Unworthy? It hangs just there, unanswered. Jesus won’t answer. He has too much compassion

Thursday, January 19, 2017

they say you are dangerous

but I don't care

A sermon from the hodgepodge of Luke 5:

This is one of those passages from the Bible that you hear and think, “I’ve heard this before.” 
This passage has that ring of familiarity to it, doesn’t it?

Well, it sounds so familiar, because it is
This is one of the few passages in the Bible that turns up in all four Gospels! 
It’s a surprisingly rare thing for a account of Jesus’ ministry to turn up in all four gospels. And this passage does!
Well, parts of it anyway…
With the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, this passage tells of the drafting of the first disciples. How Jesus called Peter and his partners, to follow him. How then and there, they dropped everything and did just that. 

With the Gospel of John, this passage tells about how, after a night of failure, Jesus tells Peter to cast out to some spot or another. How when Jesus’ orders are followed the result is a catch is so big, the nets can barely keep from breaking!

This passage is so familiar because you have heard it. Multiple times, and in multiple places!
But the very reason this passage is so familiar; is also the reason it gives scholars trouble

Mark, Matthew and Luke agree the first disciples are called at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But in the Gospel of John, this miraculous catch comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in John it’s the resurrected Jesus who tells Peter to cast out to the other side of the boat. Yet here in Luke, this account of the miraculous catch happens in the beginning…

Now, you could say Luke and John are talking about different moments, but the trouble is there are other details in this passage that are out of place. Like the reference to “Simon Peter.” Jesus hasn’t given Simon the name “Peter” yet! That doesn’t happen until later, in chapter 6!

What’s more, Peter’s response to Jesus’ miracle doesn’t seem to fit  here, either. Instead of being elated at this catch, Peter’s overcome with guilt. Peter’s response would make more sense where John puts this story, after Peter’s denial!

Familiar as this Gospel is at first reading; upon closer inspection, it doesn’t quite fit here. The timing is all wrong

What if, though, that’s Luke’s point?

After all, this isn't just a story about the wrong time
It’s also a story about the wrong people

It’s after a night of failure for these fishers, when Jesus shows up fighting off the crowd he’s attracted. It’s after the sermon Jesus had to give from Peter’s boat, when Jesus tells Peter to cast out in the deep waters. It’s after Peter has to call for help to haul in the catch, when both boats nearly sink

It’s after all that failure, empty nets and a sinking ship, when Jesus calls Peter. Jesus calls Peter who can’t even do his own job right, to help Jesus with his!
And, when Peter saw what Jesus could do, he asks Jesus to leave him. It’s after Peter tries to get Jesus to leave. that Jesus tells Peter to follow him!

This familiar passage is not only about the wrong time; it’s about the wrong people too! 

And what if, that’s Luke’s point?
What if it isn’t in spite of these oddities that this passage works, but because of them? What if this passage fits perfectly? What if the point the scholars miss is the most obvious one of all?

That it’s no accident the resurrected Jesus turns up as Peter’s night of failure comes to an end. Because the resurrected Jesus is always doing that; turning up at the wrong time, to the wrong people!

And, if it’s no accident. If indeed it is Luke’s point; it also means Peter’s reaction isn't out of place either. 
And here’s where it hits home, there’s another reason why this passage is so familiar…

…The truth is, we could handle this passage if it ended with nothing more than a night of failure. 
If after mending his nets Peter politely listened to Jesus’ sermon, went home and talked to his accountant about how to adjust his books for the last night. We could handle that. 

And, we could handle this passage if the resurrected Jesus didn’t turn up. If Jesus would only show up when and where we expected him.

But that’s not what happened. Is it?
And it isn’t what happens, either.
The resurrected Jesus always shows up at the wrong time, to the wrong people. And like Peter, we try to tell Jesus to get out of here, it isn't the time or the place…

Like today, to us

It’s Annual Meeting time, isn’t it??
Play it safe. Keep the budget flat. Down if possible. No new ministry. Maybe even cut a few of the old ones. 
Manage the failure. Excuse and rationalize them. 

And after yet another night of failure, Jesus shows up. Here, of all places; and to us, of all people.

We too are tempted to tell Jesus to go away. 
We’ve got business to attend to. There’s the budget. The statistical report. Let us fiddle with these fraying nets a little more. It’s been a night of failure anyway. And by now we’re too tired to put out into the deep waters…

As always, though, the resurrected Jesus shows up. At the wrong time, to the wrong people

This is what it means to be a “forgiven sinner, free riding on Jesus,” folks.

It’s not trying to manage our fate or failure. It’s hearing Jesus call out to the deep, uncharted waters at the wrong time. To cast for all the wrong sorts of people too.
After all, isn’t that when and where Jesus caught you?
It’s Paul’s rhetorical question in First Corinthians all over again, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Gathering for a meeting to try and chart our own course is no different than Peter and his partners casting their nets all night. In the dark. 
When we come back empty, it’s all frustration and fear; isn’t it?

For all our worldly wisdom, we don’t know where the fish are. We dream of these young families. Active young adults. People with means, wanting to establish an endowment.
And of course, not a sinner among them.

But it’s Jesus who knows where the real fish are. 
And here’s the rub, they’re not where we want them to be. 

Jesus calls us to cast out into the deep waters. Turning from the trout and walleye, to the bottom feeders. Sinners who can do nothing more than cop a free ride from Jesus. 
In other words, folks who need Jesus. 

Today’s Gospel is familiar. And it’s not just because we’ve heard it. 
It’s because the resurrected Jesus is always turning up at the wrong time, to the wrong people

Today, even. To us, no less…
While we’re busy with business as usual, the resurrected Jesus shows up. Calling us out into the deep, uncharted waters where he found us in the first place.  
Jesus doesn’t let us sit on the sidelines fiddling with our nets. He calls us to take them and follow him out to the deep, uncharted waters.

It’s a frightening prospect, isn’t it? It’s not the right time. And we’re not the right people, either…

It may end with you telling Jesus to go away.

Or, it could very well end by you dropping everything to follow Jesus.