Proclaiming Christ crucified…it’s what disciples DO!

Today is Christ the King Sunday and it is just natural for us to think about coronations and crowns and grandeur and palaces and kingdoms and power!

And yet there is a dead guy hanging on the cross!

This is where our salvation was bought. This is the one and only savior of the world. This is how the nations are saved. No other way. By no other means. By no other person.

The tomb is empty. Jesus is Lord. God is here! All means all!  

We proclaim Christ crucified!

In the gospel of Luke Jesus does things on the cross that are not contained in the other gospels.

First words that he utters from the cross are words of grace. The Greek supports he said it more than once: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Kings, rulers, presidents – persons in leadership, do you know of any in the last 2000 years that has asked God to forgive an offending nation?  We expect them to get even. Show might. Put the offender in their place.  

And yet, we hear again and again, Father forgive them… poignant words from the cross. Made all the more so, because no one has asked for forgiveness! Not a one. And yet, Jesus has come to enact God’s reign of mercy.

It was the Roman leadership that tacked that sign on the cross: This is the king of the Jews.

Pilate knew how to put usurpers to power and thrones in their place.  Pilate gave Jesus the title that Herod wanted for himself.

King of the Jews! Is that what you want to be? THIS is what we do to kings who dare mess with Rome. Come riding into town like some hero. Stir up the populace.

Some messiah this guy turned out to be hanging out here on this hill. You want a royal throne in the Roman colony? THIS is what you get! Here’s your king.

He claimed to save others but could not save himself.

The leaders mocked him, the soldiers mocked him. Even one of the criminals mocked him and implored him to get all three of them out this mess.  

Unique to Luke, as Jesus hangs between the two criminals, he is having a conversation with them.

As the one is mocking him, from the other cross comes a simple request.

A simple, humble request that has been called one of the greatest acts of faith in the Bible: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He doesn’t ask to be rescued from his plight, a consequence that he knows he deserves. He doesn’t ask for his suffering to end. He doesn’t ask to be saved.

This man wants to be remembered. He does not want forgotten. Someone, anyone who would remember who he was.

This is the kind of king Jesus is. A king that can be approached, even as he hangs dying on a cross. A king that shows mercy and love as the world around him can only show cruelty and hate.

Now, Jesus could have simply said, “OK, no problem.” But Jesus is hanging on that cross for a reason.

What no one understood at the time, no one could possibly comprehend – it wasn’t that Jesus could not save himself, rather Jesus WOULD not save himself.

To do anything else would mean that a world would not experience God’s reign of mercy and grace.

And this guy – this common criminal – gets so much more than he asked for. In a sentence that, again, is unique to Luke, Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus welcomes him INTO his kingdom, into paradise, TODAY! This man will not only be remembered, but will be with Jesus. TODAY!

That’s kind of king Jesus is. The kind that you can approach, even in the midst of the agony of the cross, even if you are a criminal, and he will look at you and proclaim God’s kingdom and promise you that you will be a part of it NOW, not in the future, not in sometime in the great by and by, but now!

Today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise – the same word used to describe the Garden of Eden. It is the same word that is used in the book of Revelation to describe the tree of life.

Paradise is the place where we go to be with God.

Not just to be with God, but to in special relationship with him. That is what Adam and Eve had with God, a special relationship, that was broken by their sin.

Paradise is a restored relationship with God and that relationship was restored on the cross – not three days later at the resurrection but on the cross when he took our sin upon himself and died and faithful obedience and saved us.

That is why we proclaim Christ crucified. Jesus and this criminal show us the truth about salvation. They were not saved from their suffering. Rather they were faithful in their suffering.

Proclaiming Christ crucified means that we proclaim faith, that when we are dying we will be saved from our sin.

It doesn’t get us out of our hardships, doesn’t make the challenges go away, doesn’t end the suffering. But we do have the promise of paradise, a right relationship with God. Today. NOW.

Yes, Christ is already here among us. That is the interesting paradox – Christ’s kingdom is now but not yet. Here but not all the way here.

This king who hangs on a cross—our king who hangs on the cross – is willing to embrace, forgive, redeem and to usher in his kingdom through his death, a death he willingly accepted.

We are called to manifest this kingdom already around us as we reach out to the other, love, care and proclaim the crucified Christ’s love. 

Proclaiming Christ crucified…it’s what disciples DO!

Taking it to the streets…it’s what disciples DO!

The long journey to the cross is nearing the end.

The mood has changed and along with it, Jesus’ approach has changed. No longer is he telling people to “not to tell anyone.” Instead it’s time to go public. It’s time to change things up. Its time to stir things up just a bit more.

It’s time to take it to the streets.

Jesus – with the chosen 12 disciples in tow and many others besides – receives a hero’s welcome. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” cheer the people as they threw cloaks on the ground

The Pharisees say to Jesus, “make them stop” –and he said “if they stopped the stones would shout out!”

From the moment that Jesus stepped foot into Jerusalem, Jesus has been fending off the verbal attacks and inane questions that the temple authorities posed to him in order to “trip him up” to find reason to arrest and get rid of the him once and for all and shut all this messiah talk down.

No surprise that the chosen 12 were a little star-struck with all this excitement going on.

Yes, they have heard Jesus predict his death multiple times but I am sure they are wondering – with the amazing welcome that they received – is it really true or is Jesus just being dramatic?

They look up at this opulent temple and all the really cool things that were there and were just blown away. And Jesus must have seen their eyes bug out. And so he brings them back down to earth and to reality with the gravity of the situation.

Now, Jesus tells them about the destruction of the temple – the ending of the world as they know it.

So, do these passages from Luke give us a clue as to when the world will end? What do they mean to us?

The reality of our lives is that the world is always ending.

For those who have been carted away to Babylon and for whom Isaiah is written, found themselves in a foreign land and their identity slowly being stripped away. Their world had ended.

Each of the gospel authors are writing after 70 AD. The Romans destroyed the temple – this very same temple that has them all agog. A major Jewish insurrection had been put down and the temple left in ruins – their world had ended.

For us here in the 21st century, we receive devastating news all the time – death of a spouse, incarceration of a loved one, home lost in a fire, a terminal health diagnosis, a natural disaster – all of it world-ending and hope draining.

Luke is assuring his 1st century readers that the end was NOT in fact near. He was reassuring them with hope that indeed there will be a future.

And this future is filled with the hope of resurrection – because if we have a baptism like Jesus’ and a death like Jesus’ then we have the promise of a resurrection like Jesus’.

Now, Jesus is not saying that it is going to be easy. On the contrary. The struggles of life will still go on. This is the reality of being human in a broken world. Nothing will change in that regard.

But an interesting opportunity will arise – right after they arrest you and persecute you and throw you in prison and drag you before the oppositional leadership simply because you uttered the name of Jesus —

“THIS will give you an opportunity to testify.” Take it to the streets. Share the good news!

Testify! Now, there is a word that strikes fear in the heart of just about any self-respecting Lutheran. We avoid that word like the plague.

It’s not that we don’t do it – we just prefer to call it by another name – “temple talk.”

When we get up and give a “temple talk” about how something that we are doing affects others people’s lives or even our own life and how God was a part of that difference – we are indeed TESTIFYING to the mighty acts of the Father. We are testifying to the fact that God is here, among us and in our midst!

Even more importantly, when in the midst of setbacks, in the midst of challenges, in the midst of the tragedies that we face, when we talk about “God moments” then we are indeed TESTIFYING to the one who claims us as his own and holds us in the palm of his hand.

So, think about some catastrophic events that have happened over the years. For me, one that comes quickly to mind is the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010. What took my breath away then and what was burned in my memory was the response of the people.

In the midst of the agony, in the midst of the heartbreak, in the midst of the pain – they were praising God and thanking God and pointing out where God was active in their lives. They were testifying to the mighty power of Jesus’ name. And they did it JOYFULLY. They found JOY in the midst of pain.

There were young Lutheran missionaries working in the area at the time. As the young man lay dying, crushed beneath the ruble, he could be heard singing psalms – not of lament but of praise.

These words of Jesus encourage us to take a different look at the things that have befallen us in our lives – those challenges, tragedies and calamities – and look for places where God is at work – either directly or indirectly – in our lives giving us comfort and healing.

Or as Mr. Rogers said once, “Look for the helpers…”

This is NOT to say that we are to take a “Pollyanna” approach to life. For those of you who don’t know who Pollyanna was – she was a character created by Eleanor Porter in 1913 who ALWAYS looked on the bright side of dark things that happened to her and became known as the eternal optimist.

Rather, to hear in “I will give you words and a wisdom” an assurance from God that he has our back. Not only does he have our back, not only is he there in the past, but he is here in the present and has gone ahead of us into the future.

How many times has someone in your life offered an encouraging word, a helping hand, a comforting touch at just the right moment. What if God had put them there, had them in place, ready to do his work with their hands, and to receive you?

God doesn’t create the horrible things in this world – the fact that we live in a broken world filled with sinful people – and that includes you and me – creates the horrible things.

We DO have the assurance that God is already IN those calamities of life – God is the joy in the midst of sorrow and pain.

God shows up where we least expect God!

When we look for God and see God and recognize those wonderful “God moments” –and share that with others, then we testify to the mighty power of Jesus.

This week, look for God in the everyday moments of your lives, and know, KNOW that God was already there, having found you.

And TESTIFY – that the tomb is empty; Jesus is Lord; God is here! All means all!

And take it to the streets…it’s what disciples DO!

Walking by faith…it’s what disciples DO!

Walking in faith…it’s what disciples DO!

Several years ago, giraffes started showing up as profile pictures all over Facebook.

For uninitiated, profile pictures are pictures that people chose for themselves – it can be either of self or something that represents self – or nothing at all, like my husband’s…

There was a riddle going around and if you got the answer wrong – you had to put a giraffe as your profile picture for three days. And the riddle went like this:

3 a.m. The doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors. It’s your parents and they are there for breakfast! You have strawberry jam, honey, cheese, wine and bread. What is the first thing you open?

If my parents were there at 3 a.m. expecting to be fed? Definitely the wine!

Any other answer other than “eyes”, and you were putting a giraffe as your Facebook profile.  

According to an article by the Huffington Post no one is quite sure what giraffes have to do with all this except to say that maybe you were willing to stick your neck out, answer publicly and put up the profile of shame for all to see!

But isn’t that the purpose of riddles – to trip us up, embarrass us when we don’t get the right answer or allow us to feel good about ourselves when we do.

When the Sadducees joined Jesus that day – their one and only motive with the riddle about the wife and seven brothers was to embarrass and discredit this teacher who had recently taken up residence in the temple.

And Jesus answers it correctly – but not in a way that the Sadducees anticipated and in a way that can leave us – the children of God in the 21st century more than just a bit concerned and perhaps downright confused.

The top two questions raised in regard to this passage are

1. What will resurrection life be like?
2. Will I recognize and know my loved ones? 

To be sure – there are others – but these tend to come to the fore.

Before we answer these important 21st century questions, it might be helpful to understand just a little better the 1st century context reflected in this passage.

This passage in Luke takes place after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, after Palm Sunday. 

The 20th chapter of Luke begins with the temple authorities questioning Jesus, “by whose authority do you do these things?” In other words, who do you think you are?

Various groups had already posed their questions or sent spies. But in walk the Sadducees in grand style and fashionably late to the “party.”

Sadducees are temple people and they didn’t appreciate Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and disrupting the commerce upon which they depended.  They were the elite spiritual advisors to the elite.

To be fair, no one, save for the scribes, is happy that Jesus is there and all are seeking a way to discredit him and do a bit of their own “temple cleansing.” The scribes were enjoying seeing the Sadducees reduced at the hands of this itinerant rabbi from the outback.

Sadducees were a bit different. They didn’t believe in the Resurrection, primarily because they only recognized the first five books of the Hebrew bible – which are the first five books of the Old Testament. They claimed that there was no evidence there of the resurrection of the dead. To prove their point – they use a passage from Deuteronomy 25 – from the fifth book — and the Levirate marriage laws.  

Levirate marriage laws stated that if the oldest brother died childless, then his wife gets passed to the next brother for procreation. It had everything to do with propagating the family name without regard to the woman.

So what does Jesus do?

He goes to the scroll of Exodus, back further than Deuteronomy and references chapter 3. Moses has encountered the burning bush, and God says, “I am” – not I was – but I am – present tense — the God of your father, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

And nearing that Friday, when he goes to the cross and knowing that he will rise again, Jesus finishes with these words that we, too, can hang hope on, cling to, walk in faith with and live into… “Now God is God, not of the dead, but of the living, for to God all are alive.”

Each week, we come here and we affirm what we believe – using one of the Creeds or other statements of faith. We believe in the resurrection of the dead.

So what will this resurrection be like?

Jesus doesn’t give us a clear picture here.  Jesus points out the Sadducees mistake of thinking that eternal life is just going to be more of the same here on earth.

Jesus is saying that it will be different – that resurrection is not an extension of all those things important in our mortal life.

For the 1st century person – those were words of hope! The children of God were perishing under the crush of the Roman Empire – who wanted more of that life? Hunger. Fear. Poverty.

It is interesting to note that those who encounter Jesus in the temple that day use Scripture and theology to make sure that Jesus doesn’t fit in their scheme of authority.

In other words, they are proof-texting – ripping a verse or two out of context and using it to defend their position without regard to the intent of the entire passage.

Jesus does say – and we can cling to these words – that we will have the same relationship as we do now with God– as children of God and as children of the resurrection.

As children of God and children of the Resurrection, we are to be “like” angels – angels, in Greek, meant messengers.

We are to live as resurrection people, bringing Good News to all. We are to reflect the love of Christ. We are to reach out, care for and love those around us.

Because as we live into the resurrection, we are assured that we will all be whole and holy – fully the person that God created, loved and redeemed in and through Christ. We do this by faith.

This passage offers amazing affirmation to us – for those of us of this age and of the age to come – we are worthy of a place in the resurrection, that we cannot die anymore, that we are children of God, we are children of the resurrection and that to God, we all are alive!

We don’t have to worry about answering riddles correctly or changing our Facebook profile picture to reflect when we don’t.

And if God, our awesome parent shows up on our doorstep at 3 a.m., may God open our eyes, and open the door and say, “I have the bread and the wine – welcome to the feast!”

Walk in faith…that’s what disciples DO!

We proclaim the tomb is empty, Jesus is Lord, all means all!…it’s what disciples DO! Luke 6:20-31

This past Sunday was All Saints Sunday – a day that reminds us that we are bonded with Christ.

It reminds us that the tomb is empty! If we have a baptism like Christ’s and a death like Christ’s, then we will have a resurrection like Christ’s.

Jesus is Lord! Death doesn’t have the last word. This promise and bond of our baptisms can never be broken.

The assigned gospel text for this past Sunday gives the Lukan spin of Matthew’s beloved Beatitudes that many of us know so well. Luke changes up the words a bit. Instead of saying “blessed are they”, Luke’s Jesus gets personal and says “blessed are YOU…” With equal intensity, Jesus matches each blessing with a woe, as in “woe to YOU…”

All means all! Jesus is turning the world upside down. But he doesn’t stop there. Verse 27 Jesus says “Love your enemies.” And the punctuating verse, v. 31, which we all know so well, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now I tell my folks at RLC, I don’t pick ‘em, I just preach ‘em. And, if the gospel begins to shout who am I to tell it to pipe down? AND, keeping in mind that

  1. the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) was established by a bunch of men holed up in a room somewhere over 55 years ago,
  2. A calendar that was established more than 400 years ago would put November 3 on Sunday THIS year and on a Tuesday NEXT year because 2020 is a leap year,
  3. Who knew that “Golden Rule 2020” would also kick of on this All Saints Sunday.
  4. that as of All Saints Sunday November 3, we are exactly ONE YEAR from said election,
  5. And finally that all these dates and scriptures lined up in the way that they did, putting Luke 6:20-31 this Sunday, because it’s the appointed text for All Saints Sunday Year C.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Working of the Holy Spirit? I’m going with that one and to which I respond sarcastically, “thanks.”

Many Christian leaders from across the theological and political divide, including Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, the bishop of the ELCA of which we are a member, signed a document developed by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, called “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics” with the hopes that the next 365 days won’t be a repeat of the 2016 election.

Congregations and individuals are invited to pray for our country and encouraged to take specific actions to foster dignity and respect in politics as they feel led by the Holy Spirit.

Any verse of the Bible can be ripped out of context and used to justify all sorts of things – both good and evil. And perhaps that is why at least one of my colleagues called this idea of using the Golden Rule as “spiritual gaslighting” and proclaimed it not such a good idea.

The reality is that we have ripped this verse from its context and mis-used it, but not in the way that the colleague contends. I think our Christian leaders mean well and that they are communicating something in a way most of us can understand.

If we think of the Golden Rule as just a maxim for fairness and niceness, then we have grossly shortchanged it. And here is what is behind that statement: referring back to the blessings and woes that Jesus gave us in the verses leading up to this and the statement of “love your enemies” brings the power of the Golden Rule to a whole new level.  And that level is love, leading SALTProject* to suggest that we call it the “Golden Love”.

The RCL does have its short-falls and one of them is it doesn’t always extend the readings far enough. If we read on to through vs. 36, we would then realize that “love your enemies” bookends (we call that an inclusio) this whole section. Of particular interest are verses 32-35, in which the word “credit” is used three times. Drilling down into the Greek translation, the word for “credit” is really “charis” which means “grace.” I don’t know why the NRSV translates it that way but there it is, asked three times when Jesus talks about reciprocating love, good works and lending. Each time the question is “what grace is there in that?”

The message is clear – in all of these – love, good works and lending – expect nothing in return. That’s how it works in God’s economy. That’s how it works in the Kingdom. No quid pro quo. It’s not fair. It never was and it’s not designed to be. That’s how God works.

And God loves God’s children! And we have the blessing of God’s grace. If this were a quid pro quo kingdom then we would all be in trouble and condemned to eternal damnation. God forgives us, even when we don’t forgive others. God doesn’t condemn us, even though we condemn others. God loves us, even when we don’t love others. God is merciful to us, even when we are not merciful to others.

We are made in the image of God – all of us. Remember, all means all! As such we are called to live grace-filled lives, just as God overflows with grace as vs. 35 “for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

Who knows if we’ll see anything come about because of Golden Rule 2020. That’s not the point. Remember, no quid pro quo here. But what we will know is that we have walked the next 365 days acting as if the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has made a difference our lives. And, as my dad used to say, “not lowering ourselves to their level” and modeling what civil discourse should be. We can talk civilly, disagree and still like each other at the end of the day.

To borrow a quote from Brene Brown in her book Braving the Wilderness, “Speak truth to bullshit. Be Civil.” Speaking truth is kind, not nice. Jesus was never nice. But he was kind, especially when he was speaking truth.

An remember, at the end of the day, we can proclaim this truth with certainty: the tomb is empty, Jesus is Lord, all means all! It’s what disciples DO!

No judging…it’s what disciples DO! Luke 18:9-14

There but for the grace of God go I…

I’ve said that line more than once. I’ve done it because I’m comparing myself to something much worse than what I am experiencing, have done, will do, have to contend with, you name it. And I am thanking my sweet Jesus that I didn’t have to deal with “that”, whatever “that” might be. I confess to feeling a sense of pride and of course, relief.

There has been at least one individual in history who has shared my plight – the one in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18. The Pharisee goes to the temple to pray, tells God how great he is and looks over to the tax collector and says, “thank you for not making me like him.”

In other words, “there but for the grace of God go I…”as he compared himself to others…I tithe EVERYTHING, I fast TWICE a week…and I am NOT a sinner, like HIM.

Pharisees weren’t the villains that Luke and the other gospel writers like to make them out to be. It was the Pharisees’ job, tasked with keeping Israel holy, set apart, blessed by God in a cultural landscape inhospitable to their way of thinking, believing, living.

The law of Moses required three prayers to be said every day and they went like this:

Praise be the Lord that

  • God didn’t make me a heathen, for all heathen are as nothing before God
  • God didn’t make me a woman, for a woman is not under obligation to fulfill the law
  • God didn’t make me an uneducated man, for the uneducated man is not cautious to avoid sins.

As this particular Pharisee prayed, he added a few addendums extolling his righteousness.  

The Pharisee is right, you know. He wasn’t a sinner like the tax collector. The listeners of the parable understood this and no bothered by what they were hearing — at least until the final line.

And the Pharisee is very aware that he ranks high above the tax collector. After all, the Pharisee is standing IN the temple and the tax collector can’t even cross the threshold, underscoring the chasm between the two individuals.

Pharisees were very good at saying who was in and who was out – of the temple, the community, the synagogue, the family. 

This is what drew Jesus into so many encounters with them. Many times they were at odds about how this holy, set-apartness should be expressed in a changing culture and landscape and world. I am struck, given recent events, that it is no different in the 21st century world, either.

The reality is that as humans we are hard-wired to compare ourselves to others. Facebook and just about every other social media outlet bear this out. We get the “photo-shopped” version of other people’s lives — lives that seem to be going so much better than our own, filled with fun when ours is not, whose kids are doing so much better than ours, whose jobs are fabulous when ours are drudgery, who are living their best lives ever while we struggle and on and on.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt said that. With the help of social media, the comparison thief has done its job. We’re left without joy and filled with despair.  OR the opposite happens, “but for the grace of God go I…”

The Pharisee was righteous. No question about that. He conformed his life to the law. It’s a wonderful thing to do and the focus of much of the old testament. Reality is that it is so very difficult for anyone to achieve. We always fall short of the glory of God. There is no way we can have a right relationship with God through our own efforts. And we find ourselves judging or worse, being judged.

That was the Pharisee’s down fall – it was all about him and nothing about God. The Pharisee stands by himself, like the lead in a play taking his solo bow. It’s all about what he did and nothing about what God has done, is doing and will do in his life.

Jesus says, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled; all who humble themselves will be exalted.” So let’s all be humble, shall we? I won’t be like those Pharisees. I’m a sinner. I know where I stand with God. There but for the grace of God go I in the path of the Pharisees.

And I’ve drawn a line. I left the judgement free zone, because I just made all those statements about me.

And I DIDN’t make God the subject of active verbs.

Oh snap!

Not just a trendy saying but the sound of the parable’s trap. It gets us coming and going. We draw lines of comparison and find God on the other side. Every. Single. Time. When the truth is that God wants to us to be on God’s side. And not the other way around.

And the way that God wants us to be on God’s side is to trust in God’s ENDLESS grace and mercy rather than in our limited view of the comparative world. The good news is that God ranks no one. God makes no one stand outside of the temple. God says to everyone, you are enough, come inside.

That is not what we want to hear, is it? We want to draw lines.

Stand over there if you don’t believe as I do.

Stand over there if you are of a different sexual orientation.

Stand over there if you don’t think like I do.

Stand over there if you don’t worship the way I do.

Stand over there if you look different, sing different, dress different, believe different.

Leave the human ranking system at the curb. When we draw lines, we will find God on the other side every. Single. Time.

Two men went up to the temple to pray. One returned righteous – nothing wrong with that. Remember, no judging.

One returned justified. Returned to a right relationship with God. Restored. That’s what justification means. 

That is what makes this the perfect Reformation Day text – it’s all about God’s justification and not what we do or don’t do. It’s all about God being the subject of active verbs.

Because God gives us justification, not righteousness. God loves, not hate. God grants mercy, not judgment. God imbues us with faith, not fear.

God already knows the hateful and dark thoughts that we hold inside and reaches right past them to touch our very hearts with God’s love.

It is God who redeems, not our own actions. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more or less. God just loves. That makes all the difference in your life, in my life, in our lives together as church in this place and at this time.

And say, “There because of the grace of God I go…no judging…it’s what disciples DO! ”

Keeping it real…it’s what disciples DO!

Luke 18:1-8

The Pharisees have asked Jesus a question, “When is the kingdom of God coming?”

Jesus answers them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

In other words, you are looking for something in the future that is here and now, that you already have, that is present reality.

So, in part, to answer the question Jesus tells this parable, a

story that is not true but reveals truth about the Kingdom of God, the character of God, Jesus or ourselves.

There is this judge who was afraid of no one and nothing – not even God.

And this widow.

Widows in ancient times were vulnerable, regularly listed with the orphans and aliens, strangers and immigrants in the land, who deserved special attention.

Widows were left to the care of the closest male relative and were a liability.

This widow is standing before the judge without any family. She is alone. The closest male relative is not doing his job and that the problem more than likely, financially based.

She keeps coming back and pestering the judge to the point that he fears personal injury if he doesn’t get her off his back. She has gotten on his last nerve. “So that she may not wear me out.” This woman is making him look bad.

If you translated this directly and literally from the original Greek  “so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face”.

Even better, the literal meaning is to strike under the eye. And you know what happens when one is struck under the eye – you get a black eye.

This powerful judge is concerned about his reputation in the community. His carefully fashioned façade of being caring and reputable is crumbling because this widow.  She is unrelenting, coming before him again and again, not being quiet about it, letting everyone know that she is not receiving justice.

She is embarrassing him and giving him a “black eye.”

And this widow is on to him. She knows he’s just a pretender.

For her the struggle is real. In the face of this uncaring judge, she is keeping that struggle real and will. Not. Let go.

Jesus holds up the unjust judge as the antithesis of God – the complete opposite of God.

A bad judge moved by neither mercy or justice, simply his own reputation.

A good God who acts out of unqualified mercy and justice.

This bad judge wanted nothing more than to get this woman with a righteous complaint out of his life. How much so would God, who loves us, do for us out of his love and grace.

And this is all well and good when things are going so well and good. But what about when things aren’t so well and good. When things are falling apart? When I loose heart and can’t even pray? Then what?

Because the struggle is real. I pray and God seems so far away and things are getting scary and loose heart. All. The. Time.

And my mantra: Fear not. God is doing a new thing. It’s going to be great! I get to be a part of it. Yeah God!

And I’ve added another line: But how long, O Lord, how long must I endure this?

The silence frustrates me. I long to hear something, anything. But there is only silence. I am not alone in this particular longing.

Jesus tells us to pray always and not loose heart. When things are not going so well that is hard to hear. Perhaps the last thing we want to hear.

Are we in danger of losing our heart? Was it difficult to be here this morning? 

Soon we will be asked by the brave souls who lead the Stewardship Team to consider our yearly gift – to fill out the pledge cards.

In the coming months we may find ourselves wrestling, struggling really, with other issues, just as we struggled and wrestled with the ELCA’s decision to be a sanctuary denomination – whatever that meant.

Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Expect to struggle with God and expect it to be real.

And like Jacob, whose story we hear in Genesis 32:22-32, we wrestle with God, seeking discernment, fearful of answers, not letting go until we get them. Our struggle is real and we may find ourselves limping a bit.

Prayer is not for the manipulation of God. Rather prayer is a conversation with God and to be in prayer even when God seems far away and justice even further, says a lot of about our community’s faith character.

Because if this unjust judge will relent if only to get this nagging widow out of his face, how much so will God do for us, his children. God made us God’s children through our baptism.

The take away message from this parable, the understanding of God that we are to experience is even when God appears to us to be slow in responding; we are to persist. We are to struggle and we are to keep it real, rather than offering platitudes and niceties just to make it all go away.

Not only in prayer but as we live out our baptismal covenant in which we are

  • to live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

This parable is a descriptive statement about God and prayer. The benefit of prayer is not dependent upon the outcome. Rather, it is for the experience of the person who is praying.

The widow was courageous, brave, and bold and we can even add in “brazen” in her persistence to get that bad judge to listen to her. As she stood before him undeterred and unafraid, keeping the struggle real.

And we can do the same with God. We, too, can be courageous, brave, bold AND brazen with God.

Like the widow, stand before God undeterred and unafraid, keeping the struggle real.

In the first century, the most common prayer poster was standing, arms out, eyes open and a voice – loud and clear.

Say what we mean – again and again and again.

Unlike the bad judge, God hears us with mercy and grace and love.

We may even pray in anger but God hears in love.

Prayer may not change things to the way WE want them changed, but in the act of praying, we always receive.

We receive the assurance that God has indeed heard us.

We have the promise of a trustworthy God.

We can stand before God and take everything to him in our vulnerability and awe and even anger.

God can be trusted – unlike this bad judge – because God is always for God’s people.

God is not like the bad judge, who had to be manipulated and we don’t have to feel that we are taking a risk when we take everything to God. We can have faith that he hears us and will not take offense.

Jesus asks, “when the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

So long as we together strive for justice, pray unceasingly and never stop, you better believe he’ll find faith on earth!

Remember, that was the question that started this whole thing – back in the middle of chapter 17 – when is the kingdom of God going to show up?

Jesus says, be in prayer because in prayer we can know that the kingdom God is among us, that the faithful one is among us and that faith is found on earth.

And in the meantime? Keep the struggle real…that’s what disciples DO!

Seeing with eyes wide open…it’s what disciples DO!

What IS it with men??? They NEVER ask for directions and rarely look at a map…or so the stereotype goes.

And this is a strange way to get Jerusalem…a really strange way! But when Jesus is leading there are no strange ways nor does he need to ask for directions or consult a map.

Just for the record, there is no region between Samaria and Galilee. These countries border each other. Luke sets the story of the 10 lepers (17:11ff) here on the border. His description of this area gives the reader a feeling of “no mans” land.  This is a place between clear cut boundaries, a place of transition, a place of disorientation, where neither a Galilean or Samaritan feel at home, which makes it the perfect place to encounter 10 lepers.

Ten lepers who are keeping their distance.  Ten men are stuck in “no mans” land of sorts. They are socially, religiously and physically unclean. They, too, are in between the boundaries of society. They are cut off from the community and from the worship life – everything that they know – life for them is disorientation, desolation, isolation. 

These men, who have formed their own community, approach Jesus asking for mercy.

And he saw them… in a society where no one even looked their way, Jesus SAW them!

And so he sends them off –this small community of 10 — to the priests – the very ones who condemned them to “no mans’” land. Priests are the very ones who could release the 10 from this disorientation and reorient them to back to the community. A priest must certify that they are healed. Only a priest can readmit them into the full participation of worship.

This was the law. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest because that was the law.

But for one of the ten, even though he recognizes that he was healed, he also knows that he was not whole. Because the world will still see him for what he was.  He will still be seen as being on the outside. He will be still seen as despised. He is not released from the disorientation. He is not free of the “no mans’” land. Because the whole world would still see him for what he is — a Samaritan. 

He had lost the community that he had gained with these other 9 – presumably Jewish – men. Where could he go? There was only one place – back to the one who clearly saw him; back to the one who saw him for what he was – a beloved, precious child of God.

Divine mercy – loving mercy – grace-filled mercy sees beyond boundaries that we would impose between “us” and “them” and embraces the excluded and outsiders. Just like that Samaritan leper of so long ago. It is to that divine mercy that this man returns.

But the other nine, where are they? Well, they were doing what Jesus told them to do! How should we read that question? Was it scorn? Was it laughter? Was it simple delight at the sight of a man who gets and now sees the world very differently – through the eyes of grace and love and faith.

When we look through faith’s eyes as a disciple of Christ, what do we see? Do we see differently? Do we see things that others do not see? Are we able to see the last, the lost, the lonely, the left behind and the least in society?

What is Jesus calling us to see in our world around us? What is Jesus calling us to see in ourselves? And, seeing through the lens of faith and love, can we return to the one who loves us with joy, praise and thanksgiving?

Go on your way…your faith has made you whole!

If you have a King James version of the bible, that is what you will read “made you whole”. This leper, seen by Jesus, comes back with thanksgiving and praise. And he has been made whole – restored and drawn back into relationship with God. In other words, he has been saved.

This man recognizes he has been healed from leprosy and he has been given new sight.

Seeing is believing – that is what we are taught. We want proof, we want to know that we are not being made fools of. But the opposite is also true – believing is seeing – what we expect often dictates what we perceive.

That leads to the next question – is the glass half empty or is it half full? Do we see the challenge that lies before us – no matter what it is – as adversity or as opportunity? How we answer these questions determines how we see the world.

Believing is seeing. That is what Christian faith is about – see the world with our faith and seeing what God would have us see.

God sees us and restores us; heals us and saves us so that we might go out into the world, rejoicing and praising God to face the challenges before us.

We look with eyes wide open…because that’s what disciples DO!