Monthly Archives: August 2019

The Way Things Have Always Been

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.  (Luke 13:10-17 NRSV)

Whenever Jesus stands up to authority, we cheer.  We’re delighted, perhaps because we’re the one he’s defending.  Or we love to see the bullies and the rich and the powerful get their comeuppance.

Today, I wonder.  What was so wrong about the synagogue leader speaking out on a matter of law.  The bent-over woman made no request of Jesus; despite her disability, she wasn’t as death’s door; no one made a request in her name.  She showed up for worship and Jesus picked her out and healed her.

The synagogue leader had a strong sense of Sabbath rest.  In fact, he used scripture: it’s in the commandments.  Exodus 20:8 clearly states that we’re to remember the sabbath.  We have six days to work and go to the grocery store and clean the house.  On the seventh day we rest along with our livestock, our family and even our servants.

The commandment is so important that there’s an explanation for why we should rest on the sabbath: because God took six days to create the earth and rested on the seventh day.  God liked that concept so much that God blessed that day and made it holy.

Again, the woman wasn’t dying, she didn’t even make a request for healing.  Jesus called on her, laid on hands and declared her healed.

In a world where the Jews were trying to hang on to their temple and their religious practice, Jesus turned the tables and broke the law.

Let’s go back to his “mission statement.”  When he began his ministry he went to his hometown of Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)

  • Bring good news to the poor
  • Proclaim release to the captives
  • Recovery of sight to the blind
  • Let the oppressed go free

Wasn’t that what he was doing?  He taught in the synagogue and I think we can assume it was good news he preached.  He proclaimed release to the captives.  And at that moment this bent-over woman walks in.  Jesus calls her forward and “looses” her from her ailment.  Then he touches this untouchable woman, uncaring of the law.  His touch brings this woman who was denied human contact for 18 years into fellowship.  His touch welcomes her back.

He brought good news, he proclaimed released to a captive and then he helped those present that day recover their sight.  Not physical sight but spiritual sight.

He begins by reminding them that they don’t allow their animals to go thirsty on the sabbath.  They need to be nourished while they, too, rest from their work.  Jesus then points out that this woman isn’t a mere animal, but a daughter of Abraham.  Wasn’t she entitled to be loosed from her bondage to the evils of illness?

You can almost hear the crowd saying, “Ah-ha!”  When they left that day, they along with the formerly bent-over woman, had been released from their captivity to the law.

Yes, Exodus does speak to sabbath rest and keeping it holy.  There’s another version, though, in Deuteronomy.  The reason for keeping the sabbath holy was because those who inherited the law had once been slaves and God brought them out of slavery into a land of their own.  The sabbath is a time for everyone from farm animal to servant to resident aliens to family to rest and remember.

And that’s what Jesus did that day.  He broke the bonds of slavery to illness for that bent-over woman and he opened eyes to a new way of viewing the law.

When do you follow rules?  When do you break them?  I learned a long time ago that in leadership sometimes you ask for permission while other times you seek forgiveness.  Rules and laws are made for a reason.  They grant us boundaries within which we can live and move and have our being.  Yet, our laws are created by human beings who can’t consider every eventuality.  Our courts argue these laws every day, because sometimes a law binds someone up from living and moving and having their being.

God’s law is sacred and good.  It is demeaned when we use it to keep power over people.  The synagogue leader was guilty of trying to hang onto his power.  He was guilty of keeping the bent-over woman in “her place.”  Every time someone is healed, they can take their place in society and that changes everything. 

We are the synagogue leader when we insist on rules being followed even when the innocent suffer harm.  We are that leader when we see the law as more important than a child of Abraham. We are that leader when we use the law to keep the oppressed powerless.

When we shatter the notion that we’ve always done it this way, then we open ourselves up to the teachings of Jesus.  We open ourselves up to more inclusive viewpoints.  We open ourselves up to reaching out a helping hand to the oppressed and powerless and offering them grace.

The bent-over woman was a human being.  She was oppressed.  She was in bondage.  Perhaps Jesus could have waited until the next day to heal her.  But, the teaching moment would not have existed.  And more than that needed to happen.

Because if we use the law to keep ourselves holy, then it seems to me that the most holy thing we can do is to release a captive from the power of Satan.  Even on the sabbath.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


Fighting Words

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16 NRSV)

We memorized it in Sunday school.  Some of us carry it in our wallets and billfolds.  As we read it, the words come quickly to our tongues.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (verse 1)

So, what does it mean? 

“The assurance of things hoped for.”  “The conviction of things not seen.”

The New Living Translation reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

We believe because of what we have seen. 

The author of Hebrews points immediately to Creation.  God spoke creation into being.  Let there be light.  Let there be fishes and animals.  Let us create humanity in our image.  God spoke and it happened. 

Think about it.  I couldn’t get my teenage son to mow the lawn, but God speaks and things happen.  The preacher in Hebrews is just beginning with this example.  He continues by reminding us of those who have gone before us.  This morning we look at Abraham.

Abraham heard God call him out of his homeland.  He and Sarah were to leave family, friends and all that was familiar to them for a land of promise.  They answered the call and wandered in that land all their lives.  They lived in tents.  Sarah gave birth to Isaac.  Isaac married in that land and gave birth to Jacob and Esau.  They lived in the land understanding the promise from God.

But, here’s the thing.  Neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob ever owned the land.  Abraham purchased a small cave so that Sarah and he could be buried, but they never owned the land.  Hundreds of years later the land would belong to the great nation founded on Abraham. 

They understood themselves to be aliens.  They could have returned to their homeland, but they chose to follow the promise and the vision.  They ultimate promise of the future kingdom.

Abraham made lots of mistakes in judgements.  Yet, he never gave up on the vision.  He kept his faith by looking to the future as promised by God.  Abraham saw beyond today to tomorrow — even a tomorrow that he would never see. 

He lived in tents, a mere earthly existence.  He looked forward to the permanent security of being with God. 

Faith is what we hang onto because we’ve seen over and over and over again how good and wise and strong God is.  Faith is what we cling to when life today is fraught with fighting: fighting words that lead to disharmony and acrimony; fighting words that lead to shootings and death of humanity; fighting words that deepen chasms of opinion; fighting words that get us nowhere.

Red vs. Blue.  Democrats vs Republicans. The loudest voice gets heard.  The most offensive are looked upon with admiration.

Bigotry. Racism. White supremacy. Ku Klux Klan. White Nationalism. White privilege.

We’re scared to death.  The white majority will sink below 50% by 2045.  Change is occurring at the speed of light.  We can’t keep up with the information age, the twenty-four/seven news cycle.  We barely have time for friends and family.  

We’re scared to death.  It’s no different than it’s been in the past.  Every age has its own fears.  Today we have terrorism.  I grew up with Communism.  Some of you fought a war against Fascism on three fronts. 

Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were being martyred, abused.  They even dealt with “plundering of their possessions.”  Now, they’re tired.  They’re lagging.  Some have quit attending worship.  They’re losing their faith.

We aren’t being killed for our faith today, but there are some who seek to kill our faith.  We aren’t being martyred, but we feel so much alone, wondering if anyone else out there believes as we do?  Many have given up going to church and reading scripture.  They feel as if they’ve been let down and that nobody cares.  They’re tired of speaking peace in a world that strikes terror and seeks out war.

No human being, no matter how powerful, has spoken this world into being.  No human being is powerful enough to wipe out your faith.  Unless  you allow them.   

Faith is what we have today because of what we’ve witnessed in the past.  Faith is what we have today because of those who have gone before us.  Faith is what we have when all hell is breaking out around us.  Faith is an inner sight, a vision.  God has made the promise and we can count on it.  We live in that promise as a response to God.

God can be trusted.  God is reliable.  Look for moments of grace in your own life.  Look back on those you have admired and see how their faith held them in the tough times.  Look at scripture.  The preacher in Hebrews turned to the books of Genesis, Exodus, Judges and I & II Samuel.

Abel knew suffering, being murdered by his own brother.  He gave God the sacrifice that he deserved and even today, his blood cries out for justice for all human suffering.

Enoch walked with God, trusting in his word.  His inner vision gave him confidence that God really exists.  

Noah trusted God when everyone else said he was being ridiculous.  It made no sense to build that ark, but he did it anyway.  He made the right choice and lived to tell the story.

Abraham and Sarah needed the trust demonstrated by Noah to travel into the unknown.  They didn’t know where they were going, but their destination was clear.

While all hell breaks loose in the world who will listen to?  There are many intriguing choices.  But, before you listen to the world view, on whom do you place your trust?  In whom do you live and breathe and have your being?  

With faith, the inner vision, and trust in what we haven’t seen, enter the world as a resident alien and look around you.  Where are the words of Jesus being spoken?  

Jesus himself gave us his mission statement in the Gospel of Luke:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV Italics mine.))

To bring good news to the poor.  What would be good news to the poor?  Food.  A sense of purpose in all aspects of their lives.  Where do you see this good news in the world?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  Who is being held back from what gives life?  Where are the blind stumbling around in the darkness?  Where do you see release and recovery of sight?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

To let the oppressed go free.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Who are the oppressed?  How can they be set free?  Where do you see God’s favor in the world?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

Wherever you see good news and release and recovery of sight and freedom in the world, you see God at work.  You see people of faith with that inner vision that allows them to see beyond this life into a new reality when God will ultimately fulfill God’s purposes.

It’s a tall order.  Keeping the faith in a broken world is hard in any era.  Truth be known we have a choice.  We can endure the suffering by keeping faith and holding God’s vision in our sights.

Or we can become overwhelmed by the pain we’re experiencing or witnessing in others.  When it’s simply too much, we can avoid the risk and lose hope.  We can give up.  And what will that accomplish?

We can trust God and we can trust ourselves.  We can listen carefully to the worldview through the lens of Jesus’ words.  We can speak out courageously on the wrongs in this world, keeping Jesus’ words in mind.    Yes, we live in difficult times.  Look to God and then to the saints who have gone before us. 

A quotation from the books, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, comes to mind:  “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Little_Prince)

What they lived for was the vision given them in faith by God and they lived for the future, living out God’s purposes in the now.  Faith is the very being of God’s promise. Faith, not in the powers of this world, but in God’s kingdom in the yet and not yet.

On that we live and breathe and have our being.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


It All Depends

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  ( Luke 12:13-21 NRSV)

What’s in your wallet?

No, really.   Take a look inside your wallet and see what’s in it.  Probably credit cards, cash, medical id’s, driver’s license.  What else?

Recently, I turned out a closet of “stuff” I was storing.  In one box I found my deceased father-in-law’s wallet.  Yes, most of the above were in it: his Medicare Card, driver’s license, credit cards.  In another pocket I found what were probably far more important to him: pictures of his family; the printer make and model for the next time he needed ink cartridges; even his Army Pocket Orders (he fought in World War II.)

This was the pocket that moved me the most.  It reminded me of his injury at the Battle of the Bulge, of the many pictures he printed out of family and friends, of the great love he held for my husband and me, our son and our grandsons.  In that wallet were representations of what mattered to him.

What’s in your wallet?  I’m afraid mine is not the least bit interesting.  Only what I need.  No pictures, nothing to remind me of the past, nothing that indicates what’s important to me.  Hm.

Today’s scripture passage speaks to a decision: to whom am I rich, God or myself?

We’re the wealthiest nation in the world, financially.  We’re the poorest in the world, spiritually.  Church membership is down so low, that churches are closing.  There’s a rise in the “spiritual but not religious” population.  Perhaps this has been brought on by our polarized religious beliefs.

What’s wrong with the farmer’s decision?  He’s obviously a good farmer (and a lucky one.)  He knows how to save and he’s astute.  What’s wrong with that?  If he gives it all away, he’ll be out on the streets begging with the rest of them.

It reminds me of Joseph.  Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter.  Joseph was born to his beloved wife Rachel and was his favorite.  All the elder brothers knew it and were jealous.  Joseph was well aware of it and, in the way that teenagers can rub the truth in, he made sure that he was the special one at every turn.  Finally, his brothers could take no more and through a series of foibles, he was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt.

After several years in the local prison, it came to Pharaoh’s attention that this Hebrew man was an interpreter of dreams.  Joseph was brought into his presence and heard the dream.  Joseph explained that Egypt would enjoy the next seven years of plenty.  The crops would be bumper crops and everyone would eat well.  But, following that would be an additional seven years of famine.

Then he proposed a plan.  Assign someone the job of building barns (ring a bell?) and storing the grain during the first seven years.  When the famine arrived there would be plenty of grain for everyone.  Pharaoh jumped on the idea and assigned Joseph the task.

What’s the problem with the man in Jesus’ parable?  His problem is that he forgot to give thanks to the One who grows the seed.  He didn’t say thank you to God for the bumper crop.  He neglected look around and see his neighbors — all of them: the poor, the alien, the children.  And he failed to find balance between looking out for his future, giving thanks and caring for the neighbor in need.

How then should we live?  Save more?  Spend less?  Give more?  That’s not really very helpful, is it?  How much more should we save?  How much less should we spend?  How much more should we give?  We need boundaries on our decisions and we need to understand our values, our ethics and our love for God and God’s people.

How then should we live?  It all depends.

First, what are your priorities?  Is it to save everything in fear of a coming need?  Or is it to turn to God and care for the neighbor?

Next, look at your faith and trust in God.  Is life only good if others see your abundance?  Do you spend more because you want others to see your wealth?  Or do you make your money work for you instead of allowing it to use and control you?

The Good News is that God has already set our old self aside.  When we turn to God and away from fear of insecurity, we become people with new life in Christ.  We resist this good news because it’s hard to believe that God loves us warts and all.  We resist because this new self who looks upward and outward feels vulnerable and afraid.  What if I give too much?  What if I don’t save enough?  Will God love me is I say no?

Yet, Christ stands there looking on as we look up and outward.  Holy Spirit stands willing to guide our decisions and create appropriate boundaries of spending and giving and saving.

We can’t turn on the news, pick up a newspaper or our smart phones without seeing the poor, the alien, the disenfranchised struggling for food and health and education.  The task is insurmountable.

Feeling guilty will do little.  Prayer and conversation and identifying what bugs you the most is the first step to take action.  What is needed?  Your money, your time and talents?

We can be rich towards God because we set our minds on God by looking upward and outward.  The farmer in the parable could only look inward.  It was all about himself and his own security.  If God is seeing the person in you that has been moved and transformed by Christ, then how can we not live as if that is the best and truest part of you?

After all, it is.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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