Sunday, March 24, 2013
Luke 19: 41-44, NT page 83 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. Sermon We were about 16 years old, and my best friend Matt was driving on fumes – the tank was just about empty. We pulled into McDonalds. I had five dollars to my name, and even though I was hungry and we were in the McDonald’s parking lot I gave the money to Matt. After all, he was nice enough to be driving me around, and it seemed like the least I could do: give him some money to buy gas. So he thanked me for the money; then took it into the McDonalds to buy two double cheese burgers – both of which he ate himself. There I was – hungry – sitting in a car nearly out of gas - and thinking about how if I would have known that my friend Matt were going to use my last $5.00 to buy hamburgers and not gasoline I wouldn’t have given him the money. Maybe that’s how you are too – you see a man on the side of the road asking for help. His sign says that he’s out of work and hungry, so you pull out what you can spare, only to watch as he turns the corner and ducks into the liquor store. I once saw a man in line at a soup kitchen with a cell phone clipped to his belt. One time I gave a man a fist full of cash and he asked me about giving him 15 more – and there was another time I gave a man coke right out of our church refrigerator and after he drank it he threw the can on our lawn. But that’s the risk involved in charity. You can’t control what people are going to do with what you give them – you can’t see into the future to find out who they’ll be tomorrow – you can’t know their heart – and you are foolish to expect a thank you because there is no guarantee you’ll be getting it. Knowing all that – some give up on charity. It’s too hard to know what someone will do with what you give them, so some people just don’t give. And that’s something that makes us different from Jesus. “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes… You did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” While our first scripture lesson describes his triumphal entry into the city – the crowds cheering, the coats and palms laid on the road to soften the steps of his colt – Jesus knows that while they celebrate today, while today they cheer: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” soon enough the crowd will chant: “Crucify him!” That’s the risk involved. Even Jesus can’t control what people are going to do – but unlike us he can see into the future to find out who they’ll be tomorrow – he can know their heart – and in knowing all that – some would give up on charity, give up on kindness, give up on love, while Christ weeps over Jerusalem knowing that he will be offering these people his very self whether they appreciate it or not. And that’s something that makes us different from Jesus. Some imagine that he’s more like us – helping those who help themselves, blessing those who bless his name; that he only gives to those who appreciate what he has to offer. There are some who have said that he’s turned away from our world. That having come to know the true state of our hearts, he’s turned away and ridden his colt in the other direction – but I tell you – while he weeps over Jerusalem knowing that their celebration will soon enough turn into his death on the cross – he does not turn around, but rides on into the city, offering his life for a people who do not even recognize him. Surely that’s foolishness. Surely that’s foolishness - to go on giving to people who misuse and don’t appreciate. Surely that’s foolishness. Not to turn around once you know that destruction awaits. Surely that is foolishness. To lay down your life out of love for a people who would love you one day and hate you the next. But is it foolishness or is it divinity? Is it foolishness or is it the definition of love? There was a time when I believed that love was deserved. That it could be earned, and just as it could be earned it could be lost. But love doesn’t work that way – the love of Christ doesn’t look like that – for he rode on into Jerusalem knowing exactly who those people were, just as he rides on into this very church knowing exactly who you are. You may cheer for him today, but should you disappoint him tomorrow, should you fail him, should you even curse him – still he chose to face the cross for you. Even as they cheered, he wept because he knew that they did not recognize him. But he did not turn around – and he will never turn his back on you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Luke 15: 1-3 and 11-32, NT pages 78-79 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” Sermon I learned from Bob Duncan, our county historian that in Rose Hill Cemetery there is a series of very old tombstones that nearly tells a complete family history. A mother with her date of birth and date of death, two children’s markers with their dates of birth and death as well. Then there is the tombstone of their father but only his date of birth is listed. Now, he can’t still be alive, the tombstones are too old. I imagine instead that after the death of his wife and his children he left Columbia, and prayed that he would never return to a place that for him was full of sadness. I think that would explain it, because there are reasons never to return home. The first son in our parable for this morning nearly met the same fate – a tombstone with only a date of birth. He had many reasons not to return home. For one thing he had asked for his inheritance early, requested his father to give him what he would receive at the time of his father’s death before his father had actually died, and then he went and wasted it all on what our Bibles call “dissolute living.” This past Friday morning the Satterwhite farm was named the Maury County Century Farm of the year, as for 100 years that piece of land has been passed down from one generation to the next all from the same family. This son in our scripture lesson interrupted any such accomplishment, as a large portion of the family land would not be passed down from this generation to the next because this son wasted it away – how could he go back home after doing that? Combine hunger, poverty, shame, and guilt and even the pods of pig slop look good enough to eat. Go back home? Not after having spent everything and with nothing to show for it. Not after having sunk so far down the latter of respectability as to have found himself feeding pigs – and for a Kosher Jew this is rock bottom. “But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ In addition to everything else this son has already done wrong, there’s a sin floating around this statement. The sin of idolatry is mentioned frequently in scripture – so often in the Bible God warns the people against worshiping other gods: “Do not worship the god’s of Egypt. Do not worship the God’s of the Canaanites or the Hittites.” On and on go these warnings, and in the Old Testament book of Daniel, a young hero is asked to bow down to a statue of the Emperor of Babylon. He refuses for fear of committing idolatry, but what about when you find yourself putting your faith in a god who looks like the God of scripture, some claim is the God of scripture, and you’ve always been told was the God of scripture, but is not quite our God. This son imagines, based on what he knows about his father, that his father is merciful enough to let him come back home to rejoin the household as a hired hand, but certainly he imagines that his father is not merciful enough to ever call him son again. He believes in his version of his father, and is convinced that he knows his father well enough to count on being welcomed home, but only as a hired hand. However, walking home, “while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!’” Now we see who the father really is – how the father really acts – he is not just merciful – it’s as though he has been sitting by the window day after day waiting and longing for this son to return. What’s required now is to take this new knowledge of who the father is, and to give up on that old image of his wrath and judgment and disappointment and rejection. There is less need for shame for the father is consumed with a desire that you return to him, not that you give any explanation or excuse as to why you wandered so far off and for so long. What Christ demands here is that you change – that by this parable you come to a new understand of who God actually is, for faith in a God who would turn his back on a son or a daughter returned home is idolatry. But change isn’t easy – so the older son goes on expecting the father to act differently. To be more just and less merciful – to give his brother some discipline rather than a party on his return. I can relate to this son – because change for me isn’t easy. I was invited to have lunch at Bucky’s last week. Frank Bellamy called and asked if I’d like to go, and I almost declined, not because I have anything against Frank, but because in this town some people go to Bucky’s and some people go to Kathy’s and having dedicated myself to Kathy’s I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to go the Bucky’s any more. I decided to give it a shot, and it was pretty good. And I had a lot of fun talking to Frank, but then I got nervous again when Frank wanted to talk politics: “I’m thinking about taking the Romney sticker off my truck,” Frank said, “I guess I’ve held out hope long enough.” Then he said, “I’m really a liberal you know.” That sounded strange. First I looked around the restaurant to make sure nobody heard him. Then I wondered to myself, “Well if you’re a liberal than who has been sending me all those National Rifle Association videos to my email account.” “That’s right, I’m a liberal,” he said again. “Most of the time I vote republican, but I’m always liberal enough to change.” I don’t need to tell you, that most people aren’t. Certainly the Pharisees and scribes who heard this parable from Jesus weren’t able to accept or believe in a God whose mercy was like that of a father welcoming home a prodigal son. They settled again for idolatry – belief in a harder God, with hands raised in judgment rather than extended in welcoming embrace. You face the same choice – as there are Christians everywhere who believe that God is more interested in condemnation than salvation – more likely to turn away from you than welcome you home – but I tell you this – before you is the great sign that when God came to earth in Christ Jesus our Lord – he came not to condemn the world but to save it – and rather than destroy us all for our sins, he laid down his life that you would see his love. The table is still set – and you are welcome to come home to this table – not because you’ve never done anything wrong – not because you deserve to come – but because our God is like a father welcoming home his children who he has been longing to see. Longing to welcome you home. Today - see God for who God truly is. Amen.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Luke 13: 1-9, page 76 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil? He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ Sermon Our daughter Lily has a friend at school named Jack, and one afternoon this week Lily reported to me that Jack’s father had been in a car accident. She didn’t volunteer any additional details, even when I asked, so on Saturday when we ran into Jack at the Children’s museum downtown I asked him about it. “Jack, I heard your dad was in a car accident. Is he OK?” Jack’s response was matter of fact: “He’s not dead.” I guess he could tell by the look on my face that I was a little confused, so he clarified. “He’s still alive.” “That’s good,” I said, though I said it to myself because Jack had moved on. He had communicated all the information necessary. His dad had been in a car accident but he’s still alive and that’s all that really concerned three year old Jack. I suppose that’s really what concerns all of us – after a car accident or surgery or any trip to the emergency room. If he’s going to be OK I can stop worrying and get back to doing whatever I was doing too. But if he’s not OK – then there are a whole host of additional questions: “Is there anything I can do? How are you handling this? Did he have on his seat belt? Was he driving over the speed limit? How was the tread on his tires?” Some of these questions are helpful but some of these questions are doing something else as they don’t have much to do with the victim of the accident and they have more to do with figuring out why his accident happened. I’ll often read the obituaries and will do the same thing: if someone died I want to know why – did they smoke, were they an alcoholic or a drug addict? If they died from testing nuclear missiles or wrestling alligators that’s one thing – but if they just died – that’s something else altogether. We want there to be a reason, and if there isn’t a reason we may well just make something up. This tendency to make something up isn’t restricted to explaining tragedy either – finding themselves in need of an answer people make things up all the time. About two years ago I was with a group on a mission trip to Haiti, and we were flying from one side of the island to another in a little propeller plane driven by a Cuban Pilate. The turbulence was horrible and once we landed we were all thankful to finally be on solid ground again. While unloading the baggage, one member of the group says to another, “I wasn’t worried. Our pastor was head bowed in prayer the whole flight.” And I’m glad that when she saw me with my head bowed on that turbulent flight that’s what she thought I was doing – that description paints me in a much holier light than what I was actually doing – putting my head down between my legs because I thought doing that would keep me from throwing up. Sometimes we make up what we need to hear in the moment – and whether what we make up is the truth or not may not matter because what we make up may be more comforting than the truth. That was the case with this group who told Jesus about the Galileans, the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Certainly this phrase isn’t as descriptive as it could be, but what you may assume is that these Galileans were murdered while on pilgrimage to make a sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. They weren’t there to make a spectacle or to start a revolution – no they were only doing what every devout Jew had been doing for thousands of years. And then there were the 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them. Were they trying to topple the tower or climb up the side of it? If they had then there would be no need to go any further – but because their death just happened another explanation had to be found – for when we are confronted with such bad things we want an answer, and whether the answer is true or not may not matter because having an answer feels better than not knowing. We want to know, “why do bad things happen?” Why did Pilate murder those people? Why did that tower fall? Any answer to these questions will do, just so long as there is an answer – and the more an answer allows me to believe that the same thing won’t happen to me the better. An answer that the masses seemed to cling to in Jesus’ time was that people got what they deserved – that bad things happen to bad people – that when people suffer they are being punished for something so you need not worry about falling to the same fate as long as you keep your nose clean and mind your own business. But when the crowd comes to Jesus pointing fingers – first at Pilate and then at the Galileans – Jesus calls the crowd to account for their own infractions. “But unless you repent,” he says. “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He lumps us together with them by these words – while all our thoughts and worries and speculations so often try to make them different. Surely the same thing won’t happen to me we imagine – surely they had it coming – but in the mind of Christ, if they had it coming, than so do you. “Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” The vineyard owner says to the gardener, and he’s not just talking about a tree. “Sir, the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” The scripture lesson ends with that – an ambiguous ending if ever there was one. But if we have today we can all assume we have been spared the axe, unlike the men, women, and children victim to the tragedies of life. So what will you do with today? Too often today, yesterday, and tomorrow are all blended in my head. Rather than living I’m just trying to get through - not thinking about what I’m prioritizing or what’s best – struggling to pay for everything, not wondering whether or not I need what I’m paying for. When lunch time comes I don’t necessarily think about what would be best so much as I want what’s convenient and fast. When I come home I’m not thinking about seizing the opportunity to cherish my family so much as I’m looking forward to dinner and laying down on the couch. And then when I finally do have some time to relax there I am – glazed over and sullen – as though talking with my wife can wait. There are words that come from a doctor that can change all of that – suddenly life is to be lived and cherished – but don’t wait to hear those words from the doctor – hear them now from the gardener: “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” He’s talking about you – for you have been given today – and before you go assuming you’ll have tomorrow remember that it is only by the grace of God that you woke up this morning. Do not squander this gift by returning to the ways of sin, but be about the practice of examination – not to the examination of your neighbors to fuel self-righteousness – but to examine something you can actually change. Today is the day for me to become the kind of pastor they thought I was on that plane over Haiti – the kind who prays in times of trial – the husband and father I should be rather than the husband and father that I too often am - but what will it be for you? You have been given today – so turn away from your own sin and live into the new life that our Lord Jesus Christ has provided you. Cherish your family – value your days – change - slow down – give thanks. For here it is – today – the chance for new life. Amen.