Keeping the faith is hard…passing it on is even harder!

As we studied the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, we learned that disciples understand that our well-being is linked to the well-being of others. The neighbor’s – OUR neighbor’s – needs are our needs. We are called to be responsive to those needs. We are called to reach out, care for and love our neighbors.

Here at Resurrection Lutheran Church this is part of our mission statement: Reaching. Loving. Caring.

We looked at a dollar bill – in God we trust — think about what is written on it.

“In God we trust…” Is that really true? Do we trust in God? Do we take to heart God’s calling of us to have compassion on our neighbors? Are we able to see God’s face on the face of our neighbor’s need?

And this week – think about what you will do with that dollar. How will you spend it? Is that something easy to figure out? difficult?

Does it reflect our trust in God? Our faith? Do our choices make a difference in the wellbeing of others? Are we passing our faith on?

Keeping the faith is hard…passing it on is even harder.  

The disciples were finding that to be true as well.  They are walking with Jesus to Jerusalem and the walk is getting more challenging because the talk is getting more challenging.

In fact, it’s downright scary to the disciples. And us.  

Jesus says we will stumble – that time is coming. Even worse, cause someone to stumble, especially someone new in the faith? Tie a millstone around your neck and jump in the deep end of the lake.

Be on guard – see a sinner, rebuke a sinner however, if they ask for forgiveness? Give it to them.

Even if they sin seven times a day every day and seven times a day every day they repent, then you forgive seven times a day every day.

It is at this point the disciples begin think, “we can’t do this! We will never be able to do this…” Doubt comes flooding in and they run to Jesus and say, “Increase our faith…we don’t have enough, it’s not going to be enough, add to what we have.” 

In other words, Jesus we don’t have enough faith to handle all of this forgiving and anything else that is coming our way. We just can’t do this. We are not enough.

As we careen towards yet another election, I’m concerned that I won’t have enough either. It doesn’t matter what year. It doesn’t matter who the candidates are. Less than a month away from the election…I’m ready to scream, “God, just make it stop!” In the midst of all of this I’m supposed to have faith.

I begin repeating my mantra. God says “fear not” 365 times, one for each day…do not be afraid…

A plea falls from my lips…please help me believe this.   

And the same plea of the disciples falls from our lips, too:  Jesus, increase our faith…we just can’t do this…we don’t have enough… it’s not going to be enough, add to what we have. We’re. not. Enough.

Fear has crept in again… It is fear that is opposite of faith.

Perhaps this request surprises Jesus a bit. Perhaps he’s taken aback by both the disciples and us.

“But you do have faith!” Jesus says. It might be the size of this tiny mustard seed but you do have faith. And it is enough. And you are enough.

The original Greek isn’t always the easiest to translate and convey meaning into English, but there is a conditional clause there. Scholars dispute just how to translate it. In our text we have one version. But here’s another. …if you had the faith of a mustard seed…and you do! And. You. Do.

Jesus says. “You do have faith! It might be the size of this tiny mustard seed but you do have faith. And it is enough. It is strong enough.

Mustard wasn’t a welcome addition to any Jewish garden. It was considered a weed, useless and even forbidden to plant – but prolific just the same. So you would find these weeds outside of the acceptable 1st century garden gate.

Look at whom Jesus commends for having faith –those outside of the “acceptable” garden gate of the time – a Roman centurion concerned about a sick servant, a diseased woman who knows that just a touch will heal her.

Looking ahead in Luke, a leper will turn back to give thanks and a blind beggar will receive sight. Again all people who would have been found outside of the “acceptable” gate.

Faith doesn’t have to huge or flashy or prominent. It just has to be.

This is the kind of faith that Jesus is saying is enough, it will get us through. We will be OK. From a tiny seed, great things will happen. Just like the mustard, our faith can and will grow with wild abandon and it will be wonderful.

And here’s why it’s enough.

Jesus talks about a servant who does what is expected of him, just going about his job and not expecting any great rewards for doing.

The servant is simply doing what has to be done, the mundane work that is right in front of him. The ordinary, everyday tasks of being a servant. Getting the job done and Just doing it.

Faith isn’t a commodity that can be added to, saved, spent. Faith is not something heroic and God certainly isn’t going to give us a greater reward when we see God face to face.

Our invitation to the table – whether you are high on the mountain top of faith, or low in the valley of faith or whether you doubt you have no faith at all…come to the Christ’s table.

You are enough for God. You are faithful enough for Christ.

Faith is found in the mundane, in the doing of what needs to be done. That is what Jesus is saying is faithful. And this is what passes faith along.

Going to work and doing a good job.

Listening when someone needs to talk.

Packing the kids’ lunches for school and getting them to the bus on time.

Sitting with someone at lunch who looks like they could use a friend.

Praying with a friend who is having a hard time.

Cooking breakfast this morning. Feeding the dog. Making breakfast.

Letting someone in front of you on the highway.

Writing a letter of thanks.

The things that we did for God’s work our hands – make personal care kits or trimming bushes and planting mums and bulbs at the local elementary school – didn’t seem like much but they were done in faith.

Make your own list.

None of these things seem like a big deal and yet they fill our lives.

These are indeed acts of faith.

And what if, tomorrow, you didn’t do any of this stuff, and the next day, and the next day… What might the world look like?

Bleak to say the least.

This week there will be more gun violence, there will be hatred, there will be more computer hackings, there will be more of this contentious election.

And yet among all of this there will be signs of hope. Because God will continue to love and care for this world – using our hands, and hearts and voices, and time, and treasure and talents.

God will use all those mundane, simple, ordinary, everyday tasks that we do to help spread that love and hope and grace and joy in this world.

So you might think that you are not enough, but Jesus thinks that you are enough. You do have faith and at the end of our days it will be Jesus that will be saying to us,

Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.

Keep the faith and pass it on.

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Being generous with God’s love…

“There was a rich man dressed in purple…and at his gate lay a poor man, Lazarus covered in sores…”

Jesus tells this parable found in Luke 16 – a story that is not necessarily true but speaks truth about God, Jesus, the Kingdom and to us. Jesus uses stark contrasts, of two people on the opposite sides of a great chasm, of a great divide.

The rich man gets no name, though he certainly could afford one. Just a description.

In true Lukan reversals it is the poor man, Lazarus, who is named. For the first time, someone in a parable gets a name and his name  means “God helps”.

The poor were considered outside of God’s blessings. They must have done something in their lives to incur God’s wrath. And yet, this man – the first to be named in a parable – has a name that means “God helps.’

The rich man is covered with purple and fine linen – no lack of money here!

Lazarus – covered with sores and ulcers – so weak that he can’t even crawl over to compete with the dogs to eat the scraps from the table.

These two men were at a feast – one at table and one looking at it from afar. Now when we sit down at a fine dining experience – or even at a fast food experience – what do we have? Besides food? A napkin!

They didn’t have napkins in the 1st century – they had bread.  They would use the bread to wipe the grease from their hands and then toss it away. This is very likely what the dogs were eating.

And speaking of tossing – that’s what happened to Lazarus. No one wanted to see him competing with the dogs for the scraps. Someone picked him up and literally threw him before the gate. Just like the piece of bread used for a napkin, he was tossed away. He had no strength to get away from the dogs.

Ah, the dogs! Lots of us have dogs. They are wonderful companions and they sit at our feet. They are amazing, loving and devoted creatures.

But in the 1st century – they were not welcome features in a home. They were considered unclean, hung out in the rubbish dumps of the town and were carriers of disease. Much like third world countries today.

After their deaths, Lazarus is carried away by the angles – “God helps.” The rich guy – buried.

Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham. And when someone is in the “bosom” it is Bible-speak for “beloved”. The beloved is held so close that you hear and feel the heart beat of the one who is holding you.

The rich guy is in Hades.

The one who lived the life of comfort now finds himself tormented, Lazarus is now the comforted and the great divide between these two men continues into the afterlife as well.

And if the parable stopped right here – the message is very clear – Don’t expect to be rewarded in heaven for what you hoarded here on earth.

How do we regard our wealth? How do we use our wealth? Are we using it for the glory of God’s kingdom or furthering our own?

This rich guy is not condemned for being rich but he is condemned for generalizing the plight of the poor, for his indifference, for his uncaring attitude. Here, Lazarus died right outside of his door – and the rich guy did nothing to help.

But now, even in death, this rich guy wants to command people, perhaps thinking that his privilege has extended into the afterlife.  He demands that Lazarus bring him water.  He wants him to send his siblings a message.

He wants mercy, but Abraham has a message – “Child, remember…” Remember what Moses and the prophets said. And listen…

Where does life, scripture and faith intersect for us in this parable? What truth is speaking to us?

Who are we? The Rich Man? Lazarus?

“If they don’t listen to Moses the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Are we the five siblings? Are we them?

We DO know that a man rose from the dead.

We are the ones who have Moses and the prophets.

We do know the compassion of a God embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We gather each week to celebrate Jesus conquering sin, death and the devil.

We partake in the bread and the wine.

We splash in the waters of baptism.

We know the promise that we live forgiven lives and that we live in the light of God’s grace, mercy and abundance.

Or, like those five siblings, do we ignore the messages already here.

The tomb is empty.  Jesus is Lord. All means all.

What difference does that make in our lives? Or does it make a difference?

What difference does it make that Christ is risen and brings about a whole new economy.

What difference does it make that we know God is loose in the world and working to fill the chasms – where every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground made level and rugged places made into a plain.

What difference does all this make in our lives?

For the rich man, it didn’t make any difference. Lazarus doesn’t get treated any differently by him in life or in death.

This parable is about the character and quality of our life right now.

Our world is not that much different than the world of 1st century. Their lives were complicated, just like ours.

And a fascinating observation made by a colleague: Jesus speaks to two groups of listeners (and to post on Facebook!). One group is looking for things to agree with and the other is looking for things to disagree with (and to post on Facebook!).

So, information bias was just as alive and well in the 1st century as it is in the 21st. This gave me pause for thought.

We live in a world of chasms, great divides between rich and poor, 1st world and 3rd, who’s in, who’s out. The list of the chasms is enormous. And the list of ways society perpetuates those chasms is even longer. 

We are invited to embrace the abundant life God offers. God calls us to participate in chasm-closing activities of God.

We are invited to live into fuller, more meaningful, more joyous life by sharing what God first gave to us – our time, treasures and talents – with those around us.

It is important to God in how we deal with each other. How we treat our neighbor. How we regard the least, the last, the lonely, the left behind and the lost.

Christ conquered sin, death and the devil but now what?

We may have the assurance that we won’t suffer the same fate of the Rich Man but does that release us from our debt to God?

It changes the question of “what must I do to be saved?” to “How do I respond to the free gift of grace, justification and salvation?”

We are freed from the worry about being saved, we are freed to love and serve God.

This is kingdom living at its best!

And because we believe that God is loose in this world, we are participants in the chasm-closing activities of God.

God’s love never runs out – there will always be more than enough for everyone. How can we be generous with that love?

It is God’s work, but our hands – God is working for us, in us and through us. We are the flesh and blood of God’s action in the world.

We are walking, talking illustrations that the life, death and resurrection of Christ has made the difference in the world.

The kingdom of God is here and now – not yet fully realized but definitely present for all to participate in.

God saw fit to send a man from the dead to awaken us, to bid us to bring relief to others and to tell all that we meet that God loves us and cares for us. 

We have seen a man rise from the dead and it has made all the difference in the world.

Are we generous with that good news that will never run out?

As disciples – followers and believers of Christ, has it made a difference to us? In the way we act? In the way we think? In the way we see the world?

Do we love like Jesus? Are we generous with God’s love?

Did Jesus REALLY say THAT?

Make friends by means of dishonest wealth, learn prudence from your corrupt neighbor…did Jesus really just say that? Once again, I’m left scratching my head and saying to myself, “Come on Jesus, what does THIS mean? “

One of many focuses of Jesus in the gospel of Luke involves “seeing” the least, the lost, the lonely, the left-behind, the last. These people were the least, the lost, the lonely, the left-behind and the last because of people just like the ones described in the parable of the dishonest manager.

A parable is a story that is not necessarily true but reveals truth about the kingdom of God, Jesus or about us. Because they are closely tied to the ancient setting it is helpful to listen to them with 1st century ears.

That Jesus uses wealth as a frequent example should come as no surprise to us. It is the second most talked about subject in the Bible and the writer of Luke does most of that talking!

The powers of the time sought to separate the illiterate peasants from their family lands by charging incredible amounts of interest (forbidden in Deuteronomy and Leviticus) and hidden fees. A 21st equivalent is the predatory pay-day loan companies that have sprung up all over the country. Simply put, the land-sharks of the day were getting rich at the expense of the poor. That is NOT what a disciple of Christ does.

Also at play is the patronage system of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” Everyone owed something to someone. Just a few chapters back when Jesus challenged the Pharisees to invite those to dinner who cannot repay the favor, we are reminded that a disciple of Christ does not look to be repaid here on earth but rather celebrates the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. There is no need to court favors with God and God owes us nothing. But God gives us everything!

So what are we to do with these statements by Jesus, especially as we continue our focus on what a disciple not only believes but does?

Let the scriptures speak to us, especially about our wealth. The children of the light (that would be us) have a lot to learn. Could it be that this parable turns on this statement of Jesus: “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?”

Could it be that Jesus was in fact commending the dishonest manager for the lesson that he has painfully learned? That wealth is a blessing and a responsibility. That it is more important to amass relationships rather than money. In the end, the manager learned that you love people and use money and not love money and use people.

What about learning prudence from the corrupt neighbor? Jesus recognized that while we are not of this world but we are definitely in it. However, it is very hard not to get caught up in it, especially when it comes to the economy of the world vs. the economy of God. We need to know how the economy of God works, what living in the kingdom right now looks like and that it won’t look like what is going on in the rest of the world. God’s love and care are constant and eternal. When money is your god it is fleeting, unpredictable and temporary.

And finally, the realization is that everything that we are is not our own but of God. And as such we are to be “faithful with what belongs to another” – we are to be faithful with what belongs to God. We are to love God, love people—God’s people – and make disciples by being disciples.

Throughout Luke, God shows up exactly where we don’t expect him to – in the faces of the least, the last, the lonely, the left-behind, all children of God. These are the ones God loves. These are the ones that belong to God. We are to be faithful and to care for our neighbor and love them rather than to use our status to separate ourselves from them. What is true for them is also true for us. We too are the least, the last, the lonely and the left-behind.

Following our baptismal covenant let us “…live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

We are freed in Christ to do just that.

Rejoice with me!

Sorrow at being lost.  Joy at being found! Mourning turned into dancing. Rejoice with me!

When what was lost is now found it’s party time…Jesus has a way of doing that for us!

And yet…we don’t party. Rather we grumble, don’t we? It’s hard not to sometimes especially when things don’t go our way.

The Pharisees were grumbling – not because they were in a bad mood. They were not happy with what they were seeing. They did not like the kind of dinner parties Jesus gave, they didn’t like who was on the guest list. As Pharisees, they just couldn’t understand and their contempt was palpable – how could Jesus eat with people like those.

The sinners and tax collectors were coming near.

The sinners were the outcasts, the ones no one wanted to be seen with. These were the people who did dirty things: pig farming for example; these were the people who were immoral such as liars and adulterers; these were the people who didn’t keep the law or live up to the standards of the religious authorities – does that sound like me? Like you? Let’s not leave out the gentiles and the worst of the bunch: Samaritans.

 And the tax collectors get special mention.  Well they were nothing more than traitors to their own kind. They were the ones who helped the Empire collect taxes and of course, skimmed a bit off the top for themselves. They did the work of the oppressors.

And Jesus was sharing table fellowship with all of them and the Pharisees couldn’t understand that. These sinners and tax collectors were the people that NO ONE wanted anything to do with and there sat Jesus in the middle of them and eating with them.

So Jesus told them – the ones that were grumbling, the ones that did not understand, the ones who held others in contempt – three parables –ridiculous stories with foolhardy answers that prove a point, offer an insight into just what the kingdom of God really looks like.  The stories offer insight to God’s heart.

The first is about a shepherd who has a lost a sheep. One sheep out of 100 and he has left 99 of them unguarded, unpenned, just to go look for the lost one. And Jesus asks the rhetorical question, “which one of you would go look for it just leaving the other 99 to their own devices in the wilderness”. The first century listeners would answer – no one!

No one would leave the 99 to wolves just to find the lost one.

The truth is that neither would I.

I wouldn’t leave the 99 unattended to look for the one that couldn’t keep up with the flock, who didn’t have the good sense to keep up. That is not fiscally prudent. The truth is I would be happy that I just lost one – just one percent. That’s a loss that can be absorbed. To look for the lost one and leave 99 – well that is just foolishness!

And that woman – spends the entire day looking for the coin. No water was fetched. No bread was baked. No children attended to. Just relentless search. And she finds it!

OK, so I might look for lost money, especially if it equaled a day’s income. And I would be mighty glad when I found it.  But throw a party? A party that costs twice the amount of the lost income now found? It is best saved or spent on something that is needed. To throw an extravagant party – well, that is just foolishness! 

And let’s not leave out the parable of the Lost Son. An ungrateful son who asks for his inheritance BEFORE dear old dad dies, squanders it, and when the ingrate shows up one day offering to be treated like a slave, Dad throws down a HUGE shindig, complete with party clothes, the finest food and friends. There’s no punishment for the son. No shaming. Rather Dad rewards him. That is the epitome of foolishness!!

Foolishness! That’s what God is all about! And God is intense about it. And it makes no sense.

You might say God displays a desperation that is unbecoming of a deity. That’s really foolishness!

But here’s the truth of these stories: lost lives matter.

There are no lengths that God will not go to find the least, the last, the lost, the lonely and the left behind. God is desperate to find you. To find me. 

Truly, what does God need with one more person? What makes us worth the effort when we go astray? Because on each and every one of us, God puts his fingerprints. We are made in the image of God – wonderfully and beautifully made. We are God’s.

And when God is looking for us, God makes no sense either. God’s heart rules God’s mind. Because when just one of us is missing, the kingdom is not whole.  To restore the lost life means that a lost part of God’s image is restored. God doesn’t want to loose part of God’s self.

The sheep belongs to the flock; the coin belongs to the purse; the lost son belongs to his family. God is committed to finding all of us! We are valuable. God is seeking to make the family whole again. Lost lives matter!

It’s the shepherd that leaves, finds, lays on his shoulders, rejoices, comes home, calls his friends together, PARTYS! The sheep, the lost one, does nothing.

It’s the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps the house, searches carefully, finds, calls her friends and PARTYS! The coin, the lost one, does nothing.

It’s the father who keeps vigil, who watches for his son, who calls the family together and PARTYS! The son, the lost one, does nothing.

God is the subject of active verbs.

God searches, God finds, God redeems, God calls his people together and PARTYS with great joy!!

And the more lost we are, the more joy at our being found, the bigger the party! Because not only is the community restored, but most importantly, relationship is restored.

About that repentant sinner? Let’s look at the Greek on this one. The word is metanoia, which means a change of mind and purpose. As God finds us he transforms us – and we begin to see like Jesus. And love like Jesus. And party with all the wrong people, like Jesus.

Because as we are transformed, God then uses us to find others. The lost, the lonely, the least, the left-behind are everywhere no matter where we are – work, home, school, with our faith community, in our servanthood and service to others. Sometimes we have to look hard to find them, to recognize them. They are not just the refugee, the homeless person. They can be right beside you in Starbucks or working the cubicle next to you. Or sitting at the lunch table beside you. Or living right next to you. And they are waiting for an invitation. They are waiting to be found.

They are waiting for an invitation to party with Jesus, to party with us. It’s God’s work to redeem the least, the last, the lost and the lonely. It’s our hands that throw the party every Sunday.

It’s time we start inviting people to enter into the joy of being found every single week that we experience in the light of the God who will stop at nothing to find us. Everyone – you, me, the refugee, the homeless person, the barista at Starbucks, the co-worker, the neighbor – is cordially invited…to be found, TO PARTY!! And when God says all, he means ALL!! Because in God’s economy, all lives matter – whether they are lost and especially when they are found.

Seriously?

Talk about uncomfortable! Read Luke 14:25-33 and you’ll see words like “hate” and “cross” and “give it all up.” Seriously?

Using 21st century accounting, Jesus is the picture of success in the 14th chapter of Luke: large following, huge church building, bulging parking lot, THE messiah. But he was a 1st century rabbi and it was time to thin the herd. He wasn’t the messiah that they were looking for. And following Jesus was, is and will always be a life-style not a hobby. You have to “all in” to be a disciple of Christ but don’t try it on your own.

To be sure, Jesus is not into the church growth movement, not into the trendy praise music much less a glitzy building. Jesus expects the same from these new arrivals on the journey as he does from his first 12 called disciples. Jesus called, they dropped nets, or coins or whatever they were doing and they followed.

These crowds have joined the “Jesus train” because of the blessings and healings and everything else that comes with kingdom living. But wait, there’s more…much more!  Hate your family; bear your cross; do the math and give it all up! That’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

What Jesus was trying to get them to understand that following him was not going to be easy, there was a cross involved, a crown of thorns and a whole lot of other stuff before they got to the glory and eternal life part. So he helps them out by doing a cost-analysis Jesus-style. Because being an “all in” disciple is going to cost you!

Listening to 1st century scripture with 21st century ears requires discernment and a bit of explanation, not to soften the call to discipleship but to understand it in its original context and how we can relate to it at this time and in this place.

Requirement number one seems simple enough…and dramatic! Hate your mother, father, brother, sister wife, children, even your own life. The 1st century ear would have heard the word “hate” as literally detaching oneself from or turning away from someone or something. This was drastic when you consider that in the 1st century without a family you were nothing.

There was no such thing as “I” and blood ties were important. No family equaled no social existence. That is what made being a widow or orphan so bad. There was no one on whom that they could rely. That’s really radical and counter-cultural stuff when Jesus says they should detach themselves from their families.

Requirement number two: carry the cross. What does the cross mean to you? There is no “correct” answer to this one because it can mean so many different things: see the one that world overlooks, loving the marginalized even if the world will punish you for that action. Yes, the cross is salvation for sure but this story is situated BEFORE Jesus gets to Jerusalem and Golgotha. To carry the cross can mean that we will carry the results of our choices, burdens and realities of kingdom living and living the gospel out loud.

Requirement number three is “do the math.” In using the two analogies of the builder and king considering a battle, I believe that Jesus was addressing the character of our Christian lives. It is a way of living, a way of being, that we are called to be and do certain things as disciples of Christ.

We already have grace and forgiveness through the love of God in Christ. The reality is that the Christian life is expensive – we are called to expend time, talents and treasures for the good of the kingdom of God.

Do a cost analysis. Who doesn’t do a such an analysis in the 21st century? Before we signed our youngest up for baseball or scouts or rowing, we always calculated the cost: missed family outings, investment in equipment, time and money spent shuttling to and from events every Saturday. And we decided that it was worth it, especially given the enjoyment, exercise, relationship and team building opportunities that each provided. Even if that meant sometimes missing church and Sunday activities. As a parent, I get it. I really get it. It’s hard.

As a parent of now young adults, I hope and pray, that in the long run that they have a life marked by relationship with God in Christ and that they know that they are beloved children of God and that they will always consider the cost when making important decisions. That they will imagine that church is just as important as a sport or career that might take them away on Sunday mornings.

Requirement number four: Give it up! Be all in! Does being a disciple the number one priority in your life? This requirement is so radical because Jesus is asking the question of us, “who and whose are you?” There is a baptism tie in here: when we are baptized our last name is not used. Why? So that it is clear that, even though we are not renouncing our familial ties, they are no longer the most important. Being called “child of God” is now the most important. Our relationship with God is priority and all else is secondary. We dead in sin and risen in Christ.

Yes, Jesus expects us to be “all in” as a disciple doesn’t mean an “all by myself” disciples.

 An interesting aspect gets lost in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. We read “not able to be my disciple” when it could be read as something that we really, really want to do but are not able to do.

Does that mean that we will never be able to be disciples no matter how hard we try and no matter how deep our desire to be one? Yes, however there never was, never is and never will be a requirement for us to do it alone.

Consider the words of the angel Gabriel in the first chapter of Luke when he was breaking the good news to Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” The same holds true with our ability to be disciples. For nothing is impossible with God. We can’t be disciples on our own or in a vacuum. It can be done in relationship with God.

A colleague shared that when he heard this as a child he was very confused – he wanted to be a good follower of Christ and love God but not hate his family. This passage scares people. It’s important to remember that before Jesus was telling us to count the cost, to discern what it means to say “I love Jesus” and live like it, we heard Jesus say in Luke 12 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

In our baptism, we have the promise of God that he will always have our back. We can be “all in and not all by myself” and we don’t have to worry about doing it on our own!

Sitting at Jesus’ counter-cultural lunch table

As of Tuesday, all public schools are back in session in our commonwealth.

From kindergarten to seniors, there were students who walked into a lunchroom for the first time wondering where and with whom they were going to sit. The decision that is made on the first day of a new school has lasting affects for the rest of the school year and beyond.

Join the wrong table and “social cred” goes out the window. You are “marked” for life.

Try to join the “right” table without the proper admitting credentials from the kingpins and queen bees who run the social structure, the shame will be quick and your dignity devastated. And you are marked for life.

But join the “right table”, and to be accepted and to belong — there is honor.

Sitting at the “right table” was just as important in Jesus’ day. In Luke 14 we read about Jesus’s visit to a pharisee’s home. On the way he healed yet another person on the Sabbath.

The pharisees were watching him closely.  Jesus, too was watching them. He noticed how everyone gravitated to the places of honor.

Table fellowship in the honor and shame society of the 1st century could be a minefield. The inviting host held the position of “kingpin.” Those who sat closest to the host were carefully picked. They were the ones who held important positions or were influential in the local community. And, if per chance, a person of higher social status than the host would join the table, then you could expect to see a lot of sucking up going on.

The thing that anyone wanted to be in 1st century was shamed. It could have devastating, life-long consequences. No one to marry your daughters or sons to, no one with which to barter. Being ostracized and treated like a social pariah would surely follow. And, you were marked for life.  

Jesus reminds them of a proverb. Something we all try to teach our children. In verse 11 when Jesus says, “…all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” we get that.  

But wait, Jesus is also telling a parable. And a parable is a story told by Jesus that is not necessarily true BUT reveals truth about God, the kingdom of God, Jesus or us.  

So what’s not necessarily true about this tale? The humility part. Humility was NOT a virtue in the Greco-Roman world. To act in a humble way was to lower one’s social status and that just wasn’t happening.

They always compared themselves to others. Identity came from what others thought of you, from the clothing you wore to the people you associated with. Like I said, not much different from today, if we are being truthful with ourselves.

That makes Jesus’ statement of “humble themselves” a counter-cultural statement. Not exalt oneself? Yes, because that is what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God, right here on earth.

Jesus didn’t stop with the honor and shame system but rather moved right on to the “patronage system” or quid pro quo. I scratch your back; you scratch mine. You owe me; I owe you. And in the patronage system EVERYTHING was counted.

Those who were at dinner with Pharisee now owed him retribution. They were expected to “pay him back” with political favors, undying loyalty or a personal audience. Again, not much different from today. We see that in our political system.  

So when in verse 14 Jesus instructs the host, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” they must have thought Jesus was out of his mind.

What? Waste an opportunity for personal advancement? What good is inviting the least, the last, the lost, the lonely, and the left-behind when they absolutely meant nothing and could do even less for you?

There is one more thing here, the twist in the parable. With the invitation to the least, the lost, the lonely and left behind the parable comes full circle.

We’re not to go to the low places in a passive-aggressive attempt to be rewarded later. Because that is not how it works in the Kingdom of God.

And is putting yourself at a lower place really being humble or just playing the game to be exalted in the end?

Inviting the least, the last, the lonely and the left behind means that THEY now take the highest places at the table. The places of honor go to those who would have never been at the table in the first place. Ever. Now, those who have humbled themselves are truly humbled as they receive expect no earthly reward for their actions.

One more thing gets said loud and clear: All means all really means all in the kingdom of God where love is the outcome and no one has to play games and out maneuver anyone for a place. Everyone belongs. Everyone has a seat at the table. Location at that table doesn’t matter.

This is the kingdom of God. This is how God treats us. W are the least, the last, the lonely and the left behind. Even if we don’t want to admit it.

Here. Now. God invites us to be in relationship with God. God creates us, cares for us, forgives us, redeems us, loves us. And even likes us too!

And there is absolutely nothing that we can do to make God love us more. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to make God love us less. And that is something that we can never repay. Ever. So what are we to do? How can we respond.

Live the kingdom life! Live as if our faith matters. Live as if it makes a difference in our lives. Live the Gospel out loud. In that way we give back to God what God has given us…our selves, our time, our posessions, signs of his gracious love!

So what might living the gospel out loud, living the kingdom life look like? While these ideas are geared toward our kids returning to school, it is not much different at the workroom lunch table, on a college campus, at church functions or bridge club, just to name a few. You fill in the blank.

First, take a seat at Jesus’ counter-cultural lunch table and invite someone to join you. Invite that kid who always sits alone to join you. Invite that worker that seems distanced from others.

Stop someone from bullying someone else. It only takes one to make it done. People get bullied at work, too.

Pick the one who is always picked last, first to be on your team.

Value others simply for who they are, just like who we are, children of God!

Give someone else your place, expect nothing in return, that’s what truly being humble is all about.

And I can guarantee you, promise you in fact, that people will look at you as if you’re out of your mind. And not understand why you’re doing it. And might even yell at you, as I found out in Aldi one day when I invited someone with just a few things to go in front of my basket of many items.

But keep doing it anyway. That’s what living the gospel out loud and living the kingdom life is all about.  

That’s living like your faith makes a difference in your life. And it isn’t easy. And you might get hurt. And it will be OK because God has your back on this one.

And for homework…hey, school has started, right? For homework, share with someone what living the gospel out loud and living the kingdom life looked like for you this week.

Blessings on your week as you sit at Jesus’ counter cultural lunch table, where everyone is welcome and no one, no matter your sexual orientation or ethnicity, whether you are high in faith, low in faith, questioning your faith, or doubting that you have any faith.

All are welcome at Jesus’ lunch table! Are we there yet? You bet! There is room for you. Come, have a seat!

Rules of the Road…Luke 13:10-17

“Does this mean we DON’T have to follow the rules of the road?”

I got this question in response to the sermon from a couple headed out the door to their Sunday activities. My first reaction: I really blew that sermon. And the answer to the question: yes and no. While I don’t pretend to the know the heart of Jesus I have to wonder if that is Jesus’ answer as well.

This passage in Luke is not so much about the miracle of the bent woman made straight, though that is significant, but rather Jesus’ clarification of God’s law, God’s heart. Jesus doesn’t say that the laws are unimportant, because scripture reveals that to Jesus they are. The law keeps people safe, helps us make sense of life, encourages relationship living.

Jesus DOES offer a different interpretation.  Laws might make living good but it is grace that makes life abundant and great. When asked what was the greatest law, Jesus said love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, love your neighbor as God loves you. The law of love is clear: love God, love people. Add in “make disciples” and you’ve got the three core purposes of the church. Love trumps law every time.

To make his point even clearer, Jesus reminds the leaders of the synagogue that on the Sabbath they NEED to untie their ox or donkey to transfer it from the manger to the trough so that the poor creature wouldn’t die of bloat before sunset and their investment safe for another day.

This unnamed woman, whom no others but Jesus saw, was a daughter of Abraham, someone even more valuable than an ox or donkey. Of course, out of love, grace and mercy, so that she doesn’t have to suffer one more day, is Jesus going to heal her on the Sabbath. It was the kindest thing to do. This is the heart of God, that we should also act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

And what better day than the Sabbath for setting us free from the bondage of sin, death and the devil! She’s waited 18 long years. It’s never too soon to be released from what holds us captive, what weighs us down, what keeps our head bowed in shame, what prevents us from being in relationship with each other. That’s what the leader missed. Laws are good but love – freeing, grace -filled, life giving, courage building love — is even better.

Love wins. That’s what the world really needs to hear. There is release for the captives. The church is willing to heal, even if it’s on the Sabbath, that evil can be named and that those who have bent backs from the weight of systems that are unjust, that perpetuate bondage, will be told “stand up!” beloved of God. You are made in God’s image and that makes you holy and good and worth it!

Stand up and keep on praising God! On this journey with Jesus there really is only one rule of the road and that is love.