May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your
sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It’s the first day of Advent!
We’ll spend the next four weeks waiting together for the joyous celebration of
While the rest of the world has decorated their spaces for Christmas:
(My own home included)
In the church:
And one of the ways that the church has done that in its history,
Is through a Jesse tree.
You might’ve heard of it before.
In the book of Isaiah:
The Messiah’s family tree is identified:
And it’s identified as the root of Jesse.
(Jesse was David’s father)
Isaiah knew that the house of David would produce an ideal king, who would
inaugurate the reign of peace, justice, and universal knowledge of God.
In art: a reclining Jesse dreams of a genealogical tree that grows out of his loins
with “leaves” in the tree that name the ancestors of Jesus.
In homes and in churches, a barren branch or bare evergreen is laden with the
Of messianic lineage until the Jesse tree blooms on Christmas day with Jesus’
Traditionally, the first “leaf” om the tree is Adam and Eve, representing the
common origins of all humanity.
And the New Testament opens with Matthews genealogy:
A list of the lineage of Jesus:
Another sort of “Jesse Tree.”
Matthew opens by saying:
“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the Son of
He then lists many names:
Some of which we hear in the biblical stories of the Old testament.
In the next four weeks,
We’re going to make our own communal Jesse tree.
We’ll explore a different story from Jesus’ lineage.
And then you’ll be invited:
To go home, and find a common object in your home to bring to church and add
to our tree.
It’s going to be weird.
It’s going to be fun.
And it’s going to teach us more about God and each other.
So are you ready for our first story for our Jesse tree?
One of the most significant stories in the old Testament is that of Abraham and
(READ THE STORY HERE) Genesis 38:12-26
Abraham and Sarah left their own home to travel to the Promised Land.
They crossed through enemy territory multiple times,
And they had all but given up on God’s promise to provide them with a child.
They relied on Sarah’s slave Hagar to bear Abrahams son, Ishmael, on Sarah’s
In this story:
“Yes, of course, I’ll take care of Ishmael, but that is not what I meant! Sarah
herself will have a child. Go ahead and laugh.”
When Abraham, and later Sarah, laugh at the absurdity of the promise, perhaps
God laughs along. But only because God knows how the story will end.
God’s work with Sarah and Abraham is already happening. The promise is already
Like a current that will flow down through the generations.
But Sarah and Abraham just can’t believe it.
Rather than letting go and joining the current,
They struggle against it,
Trying to find their own ways to do God’s work:
Rather than trusting God to provide.
When their own son Isaac is finally born,
The joy of his birth seems to take them by surprise:
Completely out of the blue.
In the pages of Genesis, however,
God has been repeating this promise to them for twenty-five years.
Sarah and Abraham are the first generation identified in Jesus’ ancestry.
They’re an unlikely, disbelieving, and at times vengeful, and meddling couple.
They aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all good either.
God works with them.
They become the ancestors of nations and of salvation itself.
I invite you to go home,
And find something that seems impossible to understand.
Like Abraham and Sarah,
Who couldn’t begin to believe or understand what amazing things God was up to.
Whatever weird thing you find:
I hope you’ll bring it back with you next week to add to our Jesse tree.
Something impossible to understand.
Like a challenging puzzle,
A difficult book,
Or your tax return.
At the beginning of the service:
I’ll invite any of you to briefly share your found object,
And add it to our tree.
Our tree is going to look weird.
But it’s going to be ours:
With ordinary objects that might begin to remind us of what God is up to in our
In the next four weeks:
Let’s see how our tree changes,
With findings from our own lives and homes:
As we re-read a few of the stories form Jesus’ lineage.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Lately: Chris and I have been talking a lot about time.
And how time sometimes gets blurred.
How it’s not always in a linear line.
How eternity sometimes sweeps around and around.
We’ve talked about eternity before.
We know that eternity is not just in the future:
But includes all of time.
Yet it’s still hard for us to wrap our heads around.
Because too often, our modern minds force us to think in a linear fashion:
To think of stories and time on a continuum: a line.
As we’re taught to strive for the ultimate goal:
To finish to the end.
But real time:
Real time: is God’s time.
And God’s time is beginning, middle, end:
all of it wrapped up together.
And we catch a glimpse of it today.
Today is a strange day in the church.
Because today the lines seem blurred
Time is kind of blurred.
And everything seems to run together.
It’s Christ the King Sunday.
A special celebratory feast where we celebrate Christ the King.
Pope Pius the 11 th instituted Christ the King Sunday.
In order to celebrate the lordship of Christ in an increasingly secular world.
Pope Pius wanted people to remember that God’s power and majesty is radically
different from the reign of human monarchs or presidents.
Originally, Christ the King Sunday was celebrated on the last Sunday of October.
But when the Roman Catholics proposed the three year lectionary:
After the second Vatican council:
Christ the King was moved to the final Sunday of the liturgical year.
Which is today.
The last Sunday of the Church year.
The last Sunday before Advent:
Is the Sunday we particularly focus on Christ the King.
And it’s brilliant, really:
Because that’s part of why the lines get all blurred.
Where everything runs together: Even time.
It all runs together today.
Today: On the last Sunday of the Church year:
The story is no longer linear.
The last isn’t really the last.
And we’re reminded that next week’s beginning isn’t really the beginning.
Today: The story is blurred all together:
Where the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things merges and time
appears to stop:
if only for a moment.
Let’s see if I can explain what I mean.
Our lessons today show God’s intention to send a king who will set the world
Each of those lessons has a linear place in the larger Christian story.
And yet all together, they’re no longer linear.
The lines become blurred:
And they embody they fullness of time through the fullness of Christ.
Our first reading from Jeremiah speaks of the coming of Christ.
Jeremiah tells the people that a new and righteous shepherd will be sent by God.
This follows a common ancient near eastern metaphor of the king as shepherd.
And even further:
This idea that Kings nourish and protect their people.
In near Eastern texts: like Jeremiah:
such rulers were likened to the tree of life:
As if the king was the center and source of life for the nation.
This is why Jeremiah says that God will raise up for David a righteous branch:
A tree: growing through David’s line.
This reading from Jeremiah is an Advent reading.
A foretelling and prophecy of Jesus’ birth.
But here we are, on the last Sunday of the Church year:
Still in the season of Pentecost:
With the lines blurred.
But here we are:
Not in advent:
Not in Christmas:
But still in the season of Pentecost:
With the lines all blurred.
The Gospel reading from Luke,
Is perhaps the most fascinating as we think about the blurring of time and story.
This lesson enters the linear story near the end:
At the crucifixion.
As Jesus: “The King of the Jews”
hangs on the cross: executed next to two criminals.
It’s a Palm Sunday reading, about Good Friday.
And yet here we are:
On the last Sunday of the Church year.
Still in the season of Pentecost:
With white frontals, and vestments:
White: The color of the resurrection:
And we’re reading a passion reading from Holy Week.
Right next to Advent and Christmas readings.
Today the lines are blurred.
Today is not Palm Sunday.
It’s not Good Friday.
It’s not Advent.
It’s not Christmas.
It’s just the last Sunday after Pentecost.
Maybe that is exactly the point.
That Christ the King blurs the lines.
That Gods time is eternal.
It’s beginning, middle and end.
It’s Alpha and Omega.
It’s Advent, it’s Christmas, It’s Holy Week, It’s Easter.
Christ the King is King eternal.
And we see it all come together in the second lesson from Colossians.
Let’s hear it again:
He—as in Christ the King--
Is the image of the invisible God:
The first born of all creation.
For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created:
Things visible and invisible:
Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--
All things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things:
And in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body: the church:
He is the beginning:
The firstborn from the dead:
So that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL:
And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things:
Whether on earth or in heaven:
By making peace through the blood of the cross.
It should sound kind of familiar.
Kind of like the creed that we recite together every Sunday.
This ideal king—Christ--
Holds all things together:
Time, space, and story.
Through him all things were made.
Christ the King was present at creation:
And is reigning eternally:
Blurring all of the lines of time and story.
Christ is king when he reigns at the beginning of creation.
Christ is King when he reigns as the tree growing through David’s line.
Christ is King when he reigns in the womb of his mother.
And Christ is king when he reigns from the cross: Forgiving our sins, and hanging
between two criminals.
It wasn’t the cross that made Christ the king.
It wasn’t his crowning as King of the Jews.
Christ IS the King of Creation.
Christ IS the King in the manger.
Christ IS the King on the cross.
Christ IS the king resurrected.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…
The fullness of all eternity:
Of all seasons,
Of all years.
And we catch that glimpse every time we gather.
The glimpse of the mystery of blurred stories and blurred time.
Because every Sunday is a mini-Easter:
Whether it’s the last Sunday after Pentecost:
Or Palm Sunday.
All of time is wrapped up together in Christ the King.
And Every time we come to the table:
We PROCLAIM Christ as king.
At the beginning, at the middle, at the end.
In the fullness of all time:
For all eternity.
And our lives:
Are no longer a series of linear events.
We are no longer a series of separate individuals.
Instead: our lives and ourselves are made full:
By Christ the king eternal.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Did you know that there’s a stewardship drive in the Bible?
I don’t mean that there’s stuff in the bible that touches on stewardship,
Or that there are teachings about money.
I mean—there’s an actual fundraising letter:
In the Bible.
You wouldn’t know it because it also happens to be one of the most influential
and meaty treatises in the New Testament:
It’s Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I’m not bringing this up to make some point about how everything is about
Because it’s not.
What’s really interesting here,
Is that there’s an actual biblical stewardship drive:
And yet: Paul’s letter to the Romans is not primarily focused on money.
This book of the Bible starts out by scolding everyone in the Roman church:
Because people were judging, and holding onto stereotypes about each other.
And then Paul just throws it out there saying basically:
“I hope you support my mission:
Because my mission is your mission.
We’re in this together and we’re going to have some hard conversations too.”
It’s not exactly the sort of best practices you’d get from professional fundraisers.
There’s not personal stories, or flattering of the audience.
Of any sense of: “If we don’t get our money, our mission will fail.”
Paul trusted that he didn’t have to flatter his audience.
He didn’t have to speak manipulatively,
And he didn’t have to butter anyone up because he trusted in the call from God:
And he knew that his faith was going to be rewarded.
And part of what this tells us:
Is that Christians really shouldn’t do money the same way that the rest of the
It actually shouldn’t be any surprise that Paul would approach fundraising
dramatically different from how we would often approach it in our world today.
And that’s not just because we’re separated from Paul by 2000 years.
In fact, if anything,
The people of the ancient Roman world knew the value of trying to get in
someone’s good graces.
If you wanted to move up in that world:
If you were looking to make it:
You found yourself a patron who would support you and that meant going out
and selling yourself:
Making the case that the patron would get something out of the exchange.
Paul knew what that kind of hustle was like and that just wasn’t what he was up
to in his letter to the Romans.
Paul was fully absorbed by the kind of weird,
Countercultural relationship to the world that Jesus talks about in the end of
today’s Gospel lesson.
The world is not going to “get” us,
Not only is it not going to get us and find our practices weird:
It’s going to be a bit hostile.
We hold on to the fact that our highest purpose comes form outside of the world
as we know it.
It’s rooted in Jesus:
In the resurrection:
In the end of death and evil and violence.
And we aren’t ultimately beholden to the structures of this world:
The structures that say we have to decide between helping ourselves and helping
Or the structures that say that we should love our friends and punish our
Or that we need to get ours before someone else does.
And so this whole thing about us giving our money to the church is going to seem
suspicious to the world outside the church.
And think about it:
We’re asking for a strange thing.
Ito potentially give a large amount of money:
To an institution that:
From a material standpoint gives us back very little.
Not only that:
But we’re being asked to give a good amount of money:
To an institution that the more you are invested in it:
The more it asks of you!
Can you imagine if the YMCA, or Netflix started asking you for 10% of your income
for a more imitated range of services?
Would you keep you subscription or stay involved?
I don’t know about you: but I’ve been on the verge of dropping Netflix for months
when they upped their prices.
I can’t imagine I’d stick with them if it started costing thousands of dollars a year.
And that’s how we might look to the outside world.
The world can only ever look at things like “a return on investment.”
Like bringing tremendous euphoria, or a sense of social superiority or wealth, or
And the church just isn’t going to bring us those things.
Actually, if we follow the example of most of the saints:
It’ll probably take us in the opposite direction.
Because here’s the thing:
When we give to the church:
We’re not really giving to make sure that a certain set of services or rewards or
goods are given.
We’re giving as a sign of faith and hope and love:
Not in the church per se,
(Although the church IS God’s imperfect sign and place of God’s mission in the
We give because we have faith and hope that this is not all that there is.
That God is the ultimate source of our life and light.
We give, and give enough to kind of feel lit:
To be reminded that we are not the source of our own blessings:
And that we ultimately depend not on ourselves:
But on the grace of our God.
And we give in faith that we do not have to be too dependent on the things of this
That we do not have to define our success on our wealth:
That it does not have control over us.
We give in love:
Love for God, and love for the people around us who we want to see reconciled to
God like we have been.
There can also be a lot of talk about giving joy fully.
And the bible does say that God loves a joyful giver.
But let me level with you here:
Giving isn’t always this euphoric experience where you have this great mountain
top experience every time you write a check.
I had long struggled with giving.
And it was really only last year that my husband and I decided that we’d give 10%
of our income.
We finally realized, that all the “we’re waiting for the right time.” (like… when we
don’t have credit card debt, or our kids are bigger, or whatever.)
All of this thinking would mean that we would never actually bring a change.
We’d never be right enough for it because we could always find other things to do
with our money.
So we took the plunge.
And honestly, sometimes it’s been a bit of a stretch.
(I’m actually slightly behind on my pledge right now.)
But at the same time:
We make it work.
We’ve never overdrafted:
And we’ve never run out of money.
The Spirit has rewarded our meager attempt at faithfulness:
Not with an over abundance of extra cash,
But with the grace to make different priorities:
To be more intentional about our spending,
To teach that to our kids:
And to have a stronger connection to the church and it’s mission in the world.
All of that’s to say that there is a joy that comes with giving:
But sometimes it’s a joy that comes from the faithfulness and the hope:
But there’s always a deeper abiding sense:
That the peace that passes understanding:
That we’re doing the right thing.
We give out of a sense of gratitude:
To the God who is bringing us into something insanely better than what can be
brought or built in this world around us.
We are already brought into the coming kingdom,
Where there is not pain or illness or suffering or enmity or hunger or sorry.
And while we certainly can’t buy our way into this world:
We believe that we an begin inhabiting it through the same kind of faith and hope
and love that our giving helps us to cultivate and reinforce.
The reason someone like Paul could write with such honesty:
And seeming unconcern about meeting his financial goals,
Even as eh asked for money:
Was that his hope was rooted in something much deeper than hope for the
generosity of strangers:
And his faith was fully founded in the God who could bring new life out of death.
And the opportunity we have before us today is to give out of that very same
faith, hope, and love. Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Good Guys and Bad Guys.
They fight against each other in movies.
We read about them in literature.
We see them on TV.
We cheer for the good guy.
We hope for the demise of the bad guy.
In the stories that we see and hear,
The good guy wins.
The Bad guy loses.
And we think we know the difference between the good and the bad.
But it’s not always quite so simple.
It’s not always so black and white.
It’s not always so either/or.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a story about what appears to be a good guy,
and a bad guy.
Only the tables are turned.
It’s not what we would expect.
Because it’s not quite so simple.
Jesus begins the story by saying, “Two men went up to the temple to pray,
one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
In Jesus’ time, the Pharisee is the good guy.
He Loves God.
He knows all the rules and he follows them meticulously.
The tax collector is the bad guy.
He’s a scoundrel.
If we modernize this story a bit,
We can see that we have the same standards and tendencies today.
At first glance, we assume that
The Christian who goes to church (like you and I) is the good guy.
The atheist down the street is the bad guy.
As a matter of fact, if Jesus were to tell this parable today, he might begin it by
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Christian, the other an atheist.”
Atheists wouldn’t go to the temple to pray!
They don’t even believe in God!
This idea is shocking.
And the same kind of shock value is inherent in Jesus’ ancient story,
The tax collector wouldn’t go to the temple to pray!
The shock reminds us that its not quite so simple.
Not quite so black and white.
Not quite so either or.
Instead, Jesus uproots our expectations.
He switches everything around:
producing a double shock.
In the story that Jesus tells, we learn that
The good guy isn’t quite so good.
The bad guy isn’t quite so bad.
It’s not what we would expect
It’s not so simple.
Because there’s no such thing as a purely good guy.
No such thing as a purely bad guy.
But there is such a thing as being purely human.
And both the good guy and the bad guy have human tendencies.
And we must bring those human tendencies to God in prayer.
We all have the human tendency that the Pharisee has:
We all want to be good--
Be better—be perfect.
We want to do things right:
For ourselves, for our loved ones, for God.
And we also have the human tendency of the tax collector:
We all mess up,
We all fall short.
We’re all sometimes scoundrels.
But we’re not just good.
And we’re not just bad.
And we need God’s help.
And this means that we have to be honest.
Honest even in our prayer.
You see, the Pharisee: Who we thought was going to be the good guy,
Who gets made out to be the bad guy:
Is actually just the guy who is extremely dishonest in his prayer.
In his prayer, he says:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or
even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.
But he leaves a lot out.
Because he’s definitely not perfect.
He can’t be, because he’s human.
But he didn’t bring that to his prayer.
Instead, the surprise comes from the tax collector:
Who we thought was going to be the bad guy,
Who gets made out to be the good guy:
Is actually just the guy who is being honest about his humanity.
And that honestly is deeply good.
The tac collector, was standing far off:
He would not even look up to heaven:
Was beating his breast and saying,
“God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Jesus’ story today reminds us to be humble.
And being humble is often about being honest.
Honest about who we are.
Honest about our actions: both good ones and bad ones.
I’m not saying that we should be self-deprecating:
Or overly hard on ourselves.
But we should be honest.
Because if we’re really honest:
We’ll remember that we don’t have to be perfect.
We don’t have to be perfect before each other.
We don’t have to be perfect before God.
Because we’re really just human: And it’s not quite so simple,
Not quite so black and white.
Not quite so either/or.
And that’s not even the greatest news.
The greatest news is that God loves us anyway.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, Oh
Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
The Gospel of Luke is full of stories of personal encounters between Jesus and
Sometimes with his followers,
Sometimes his opponents,
And sometimes strangers.
There are crowds of curious and hopeful individuals:
A tax collector,
A grieving mother,
A sinful woman,
A man inflicted with demons.
As Luke relates these stories,
He shows Jesus responding with love and grace,
Using the occasions to teach the values of God,
While challenging the contrasting and distorted ways of the world.
We find Luke telling a story about Jesus,
And 10 lepers begging for mercy.
These lepers most likely suffered from what we now call Hanson’s disease.
This illness, known among humans for thousands of years,
Went untreated in biblical times and caused permanent damage,
To skin, nerves, limbs, and even compromised the immune system,
It hastened death.
Though it is now known to be only mildly infectious,
The ancients considered it highly contagious,
And forced lepers to stay away from others,
Identifying their condition by announcing,
“Unclean, Unclean,” when approached.
As a result,
These people were excluded from the general society and forced to make their
Not unlike leper colonies that still exist in some parts of the world.
They became dead men walking--
At the mercy of others,
Ostracized, alienated from family life, and the comfort of communal religious
Like others, the lepers in today’s gospel were outcasts,
Who bound themselves to one another out of necessity and because no one else
would touch them.
All that mattered was their disease.
We know this,
Because among these lepers, was a Samaritan:
Who would have been a hated and shunned foreigner in mainline society.
But because he’s a leper. That’s all he is.
This band of 10 lepers had nothing to offer others,
Nothing to offer Jesus when they saw him coming.
But they recognized him:
Perhaps by his reputation as a holy man,
And approached within shouting distance the one they knew by name.
They cried out,
“Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us.”
Possessing enough inspiration,
Or maybe just a sense of desperation,
They reached out to Jesus with an appeal for healing that went beyond all
Jesus did not hesitate in his response.
He did not back off or require the lepers to confess faith in God.
He did not inquire about whether they were worthy.
He did not ask anything of them.
Jesus saw them and said simply,
“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
Now, according to the Jewish law,
A cured leper had to appear before the priests,
Who would conduct a series of elaborate ritual actions in order to declare them
The lepers, who had hoped in Jesus,
Now displayed enough faith to obey him.
They immediately left his presence to go to the priests as required and to begin
the new lives that Jesus made possible.
What Jesus did for them, of course, bore remarkable significance.
Not only were they cured of a horrendous, disabling disease,
But the cleansing also enabled them to overcome what was perhaps the greater
Now they could return to the community,
To become a part of the body that had cast them out.
Now they could participate fully,
Restored physical and socially,
and surely experiencing the beginnings of emotional healing.
Yet we might ask,
Did they gain everything Jesus hoped for?
Did they achieve spiritual healing as well?
We will never know about all of them,
But we have assurance that one did--
The Samaritan who returned to give thanks.
If we wonder what led to his distinguishing himself by praising God and falling at
Jesus’ feet in gratitude,
We might speculate that it was easier for him--
As a double outcast--
Leper and Samaritan--
To see clearly the remarkable nature of what had happened.
More likely, however,
It was due to his greater maturity and deeper strength of character.
Whatever the reason, Jesus was saddened that he was the only one who turned
And he used the one and the nine to teach his disciples another lesson about the
values of God.
He was clearly disappointed by the behavior of the nine,
And in earshot of his followers,
He said to the now-cleansed Samaritan leper,
“Your faith has made you well.”
In place of the word “well,”
Some translations use “made whole” or “Saved”
There is ambiguity about the Greek meaning,
But its use by Jesus surely implies more than simply being cured from a disease.
“Your faith has made you whole,”
Seems to be closer to the way Jesus used this episode to provide a new teaching.
The Samaritan was not simply cured like the others,
But experienced something more important.
His response to being cleansed demonstrated that his view of God,
Was closer to what Jesus came to reveal.
He acted not out of selfishness to gain certification of his cure,
Not rushing to the priests without reflection,
But paused to put his cleansing in a wider perspective,
Seeing God as the center of the personal miracle he was experiencing.
Before anything else, the Samaritan gave thanks for the chance to renew his life.
This was the beginning of his transformation,
And it provided a fitting model for Jesus to honor.
He was not only cured physically,
But he also gained spiritual wholeness.
For us, there are several “take aways” from this story:
Community, inclusivity, and wholeness in the life of the world.
Think about the Eucharist this morning:
The moment we experience among our fellow worshipers today,
As we come forward to receive at the table together.
It’s a moment of unity in its purest form.
Receiving the sacrament of bread and wine,
The body and blood of Christ,
We are at one with God and one another:
In a sublime moment of grace.
Or: think about the moments we’ll have next week:
When we celebrate confirmation:
And pray with and for our two confirmands:
And rejoice with them.
In moments like these: just like the Samaritan Leper, we are made whole.
Even if we lose this reality as we go out the door or back to our pews,
We know it as a deep truth on which to draw on our journeys of faith.
In that moment,
We know that everyone is like the Samaritan,
Freed from alienation and separation from others in a realm of God that is a circle
of universal inclusion.
Luke’s story of this encounter between Jesus and the lepers allows him to teach
us about the disappointment Jesus felt because the nine failed to give thanks,
That the nine who failed to give thanks:
Still remained healed.
Jesus didn’t take that away, even though he was disappointed.
And at the same time, This story teaches us of the joy he experienced in
discovering that the Samaritan recognized some of the deeper truths of God.
Through this story: Jesus speaks to us, as well as to the disciples:
Today we are reminded of the sadness of our Lord when we,
Like the nine,
Fail to follow him and recognize all that he has done for us.
But we are also led to emulate the Samaritan.
We can take joy in committing ourselves anew to respond in love and gratitude to
the grace, forgiveness, and wholeness of God that we ALL can have: and that God
will never take away from us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh
Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Across the church this week,
People are remembering and honoring St. Francis of Assisi.
We’re going to bless our pets:
And many other churches will do the same.
Some will put up new birdbaths, and say special prayers for nature.
But there’s a lot more to St. Francis than that.
Francis was the son of a wealthy textile merchant.
His father’s wealth, and Francis’ own charisma,
Made the young man a leader of the youth of his town.
And Francis gained a rock-star following by the Early 1200’s.
And he remains famous today,
Not just because of birdbaths and animals,
Not just because of his own words and actions,
But more because his words and actions conformed so closely to those of Jesus.
As a young boy,
Francis dreamed of earning glory and battle.
He got his chance at an early age when he enlisted,
Along with the other young men of Assisi,
To fight in a feud against a neighboring city-state.
Assis lost the battle and Francis was imprisoned for a time.
Defeat in battle and a serious illness in prison caused Francis to turn away from
his visions of glory on the battlefield.
The course of Francis’ life was profoundly changed by at least two formative
On a pilgrimage to Rome,
Francis saw a beggar outside of St. Peter’s Church.
They Holy Spirit moved him to trade places with the beggar.
Francis exchanged clothes with a beggar,
And spent the day begging for alms.
That experience of being poor shook Francis to the core.
Later he confronted his own fears of leprosy by hugging a leper.
Like trading places with the beggar in Rome,
Hugging a leper left a deep mark on Francis.
Shaped by his experiences with the beggar and the leper,
He had a strong identification with the poor.
Francis cut himself off from the rich lifestyle of his father,
And sought out a radically simple life.
By the time of his death,
The love of God had compelled Francis to accomplish much toward rebuilding the
He was known for preaching to anyone:
Even to birds!
He believed that God loved EVERY one: and EVERY creature.
He could look on thousands of lives transformed by his call for repentance and
simplicity of life.
Yet, Francis was simply a man transformed by the love of God,
And the joy that flowed from a deep understanding of all that God has done for
Francis’ approach to his life of Christian service fits with Jesus’ words to us in
Jesus tells those who follow him that they are to serve with no thought of reward.
Jesus says, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do,
‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
When you come in from doing something for God,
Don’t expect a reward, only more work.
Francis knew this. And he lived it.
I think we all know about this.
Do you get thanked every time you do the dishes?
Or mow the lawn? Or wash the laundry?
Or make your bed?
But if you wait too long without doing the dishes, mowing the lawn,
Washing the laundry, making your bed,
you are sure to hear about it.
These are thankless tasks and you take them on with no thought to getting praise
for doing them.
Sort of like:
Feeding your dog.
Or emptying your cat’s litterbox.
It must be done.
And you don’t get much thanks.
(although you might get a tail wag or a little meowing chirp)
Notice that in this Gospel story,
Jesus tells of the servant who does what he or she is supposed to do,
In response to the disciples asking for more faith.
First he tells them the parable of the mustard seed,
And how the tiniest amount of faith is enough to accomplish great things for God.
Then he goes on to describe the thankless task of serving God his father.
It is in serving God that we find our faith strengthened.
We are not to serve others for the thanks we get.
We are to serve others as serving Jesus,
Because that is the life God calls us to,
Knowing that we will benefit more than the people we help.
We will benefit in increased faith and increased love.
Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to trust that he could hug a
Though he was terribly afraid.
Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to grow in compassion:
By begging for alms in order to more deeply know another.
Francis took his mustard seed of faith, and preached to all God’s creatures:
Knowing that each of them was beloved.
In the process,
Francis found the faith to work among lepers,
And to become one with the poor.
And so, again and again,
His steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God even more.
It’s the same for us.
Each small mustard seed of faith,
Strengthens our trust in God to follow even more boldly.
Nobody mirrors this more than our pets.
Who place their love and trust in us:
Whether we deserve it or not.
And that small mustard seed of faith that they place in us:
Strengthens and grows powerfully.
But our beloved pets mirror God too.
Through the unconditional love they offer.
Mark found this great song: God and Dog.
The words say:
“I look up and I see God,
I look down and see my dog.
Simple spelling GOD,
Same word backwards, DOG.
They would stay with me all day.
I’m the one who walks away.
But both of them just wait for me,
And dance at my return with glee.
Both love me no matter what:
Divine God and canine mutt.
I take it hard each time I fail,
But God forgives,
Dog wags his tail.
God thought up and made the dog,
Dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now,
It’s everywhere, amen, bow wow.
I look up and I see God,
I look down and see my dog.
And in my human frailty,
I can’t match their love for me.”
It only takes a tiny mustard seed of faith to start.
And then it grows:
But not because of the thanks of praise we may get for that small seed of faith.
It’s because that faith is an act of love.
We can join Francis in saying that we are merely servants doing what we are
called to do.
We call ourselves servants knowing that what we do,
We do for love,
For the one who knows us fully,
And loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Lately we’ve been getting lots of parables from Jesus.
Stories that Jesus tells to make some sort of point to either his disciples, or
some of his enemies, or sometimes even both.
These stories that Jesus tells are fictional.
They didn’t actually happen.
But at the same time, they acknowledge real truths.
Today’s story from Jesus is no different.
Jesus mentions a rich man, who is not named.
The rich man is feasting sumptuously every day,
And wearing purple (which was a color that was reserved for someone of
especially high status: like rulers and kings.)
There’s also a poor man in this story:
And the poor man is named:
Now, this Lazarus should not be confused with the Lazarus who was Jesus’
The one that he raised form the dead.
We can assume that Lazarus was a somewhat popular name at the time,
sort of like the name “Mary.”
The fact that Jesus gives the poor man Lazarus a name,
And the rich man is not named,
Perhaps as a sign of how God would honor Lazarus in his afterlife.
In the story,
Both men die.
And this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Death is just a fact of life.
No matter what you have:
No matter what you do:
It can’t save you from that most basic fact of human life.
But it’s after their death that the story gets interesting.
The rich man is in agonizing flames,
And the poor man Lazarus gets to hang out with Abraham near the water.
The rich man begs Abraham to give him some relief.
When Abraham refuses,
The rich man asks Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead to warn his
brothers of the agonizing afterlife if they live the way he did.
How should we read this story from Jesus?
It’s a fictional story:
But we generally take Jesus’ fiction very seriously.
We try to live the Parable of the Good Samaritan;
We try to live the parable of the lost sheep, and the lost coin,
How should we live this parable?
It generally helps us to put a sort of analogy in the parable:
Placing ourselves within them.
We are the lost sheep:
God is the shepherd:
We are the person who helps the Samaritan.
We usually extend some meaning into our lives:
We are lost, God found us:
Now we should live and love like that Good Shepherd and accept
hospitality from Samaritans.
Who are we in this parable?
Are we the rich man who is ignoring the poor man?
Are we the poor man, Lazarus?
Are we the great chasm that has been set up that keeps Lazarus and the
rich man eternally divided?
Like with some of the other parables we’ve been hearing lately,
We could probably find ways to fit ourselves into many of the characters in
At least at one time or another.
But I’d like to point out a particular analogy,
That was suggested by one of my favorite preachers:
Joshua astutely points out that we are not the rich man.
The rich man, after all was VERY rich.
Jesus explicitly tells us that he is dressed in purple:
A color reserved for someone more rich and powerful than we could even
And we’re not Lazarus either.
Most of us have some sort of economic something.
We have homes and food.
So if we’re not the rich man,
And we’re not Lazarus,
And we DEFINITELY aren’t Abraham:
Perhaps we are the rich man’s brothers.
Remember: In the story:
The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to the world:
To warn his five brothers of the potential torment that awaits them if they
don’t turn their lives around.
Abraham replies by saying of the brothers:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,
Neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I love this analogy that we are Lazarus’ brothers.
I love that in this analogy,
Jesus comes off pretty funny and playful (even with such a dark story!)
Because someone DOES come back from the dead:
To certify the kind of living that God described through Moses and the
And that somebody:
Is Jesus himself.
We are the brothers:
And Jesus was sent back to warn us.
And Lazarus is at the gate.
The truth is,
As Jesus tells us elsewhere:
The poor will always be with us.
Lazarus will always be at the gate.
But what makes Lazarus LAZARUS,
Is that the rich man does nothing for him.
We have an opportunity to un-write this parable.
We, at this moment,
Can undo what Jesus describes in this parable, right here.
There’s an old rabbinical saying:
That darkness does not end when the sun rises:
Or when someone lights a candle.
Instead, darkness ends when you can look into a person’s eyes and see
When we look at another person and know that they are God’s beloved
That’s when the darkness will end.
We must see others not for what they’ve done,
Or what they can become,
But for their unbreakable status as a child of God.
That’s how we can undo this parable.
All the social improvement plans,
All the money we can give:
None of it will make any difference if we don’t understand this fundamental
The ones we dislike,
The ones we resist,
The ones we argue with:
Are God’s beloved children.
I was struck: in all of the media around Queen Elizabeth’s funeral:
Of something pretty amazing:
Particularly about the liturgy of most mainline churches:
Nomatter who you are:
Nomatter what you’ve done:
We all die.
And should we receive Christian burial in the church:
The same sort of prayer is said over every single person:
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the queen of England,
Or the Poor Man Lazarus.
Or anyone in between.
We are ALL:
A sheep of the fold,
A lamb of the flock:
A sinner redeemed.
We are the rich man’s brothers.
Abraham somehow agreed to the rich man’s request:
As God himself rose from the dead:
And came back to our gate to warn us:
So that we might be brave enough to look at those who are calling for our
And now is our opportunity:
To see them (and ourselves) as the children of God that we all are:
Sheep of the fold:
Lamb of the flock:
All of us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Today’s Gospel tells of a dishonest manager.
That’s literally what the story is known as in Christian circles:
“the story of the dishonest manager.”
It’s a story that Jesus tells to his disciples.
And in true Jesus form:
It’s a story that’s hard to follow in one reading:
So let’s sum it up.
The dishonest manager convinces all of the vendors who owe his employer
money to falsify their invoices,
So that it appears that they owe the master less than what they do.
He’s thinking ahead:
If he does the vendors a favor now by making it seem like they owe less than they
Then maybe they’ll be more likely to do him a favor:
Like give him a job once he gets fired for corruption.
This could totally be a story in a news headline today.
A guy, who schemes out others, to make himself look better.
But here’s where it gets weird:
Jesus: the Son of God:
Praises this corrupt manager!
He even says:
make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
So, is that it? Is the point here that Jesus wants us to be deceitful?
Are we called to cheat others when our own neck is on the line?
What is going on here?
There are a couple of possibilities.
First, at least part of what Jesus is trying to say is that just as the Body of Christ is
not only about hands and feet,
So too the body of Christ is not only about the heart.
It’s also about the brain:
It’s about thinking and thinking critically.
Without the ability to think critically and share our expertise with others,
no amount of passion or money or creativity will bring our goals to a reality.
In praising the manager, Jesus is not praising his dishonesty;
he is praising his shrewdness and creativity.
He’s praising the manager’s ability to utilize his capacity for critical thinking as a
tool for building up the Body of Christ and bringing about the Kingdom of God.
And you know, that’s hard to hear,
Jesus praising a man who committed a fraud.
But here’s another piece of Good News:
Towards the end of the reading, we hear Jesus say this:
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;
and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
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?
No slave can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is kind of confusing stuff.
At first, we might want to use these words to indict the manager for his
He has been dishonest in his dealings.
He obviously cannot be trusted with true riches.
But perhaps there is another possibility.
For every reason that we have to condemn the manager,
there is an equally important reason to forgive him.
The manager is:
To use Jesus’ words:
“dishonest in a very little,”
but can we really be so sure that he is not also faithful in very little, too?
Are not we all a complicated mixture of faithfulness and frustration;
of dishonesty and determination?
Perhaps the manager was a good father;
a faithful and loving husband.
Maybe he took care of the yard for his aging neighbors and shared fresh
vegetables from his garden with the widow across the street.
When we find ourselves caught off guard by someone’s immoral or unethical
especially when we’re on the receiving end of it--
we have a tendency to second-guess the sincerity of every single word they’ve
and doubt the intentions behind every single action they’ve ever done,
in an effort to insulate ourselves from the pain of being wronged.
Then after agonizing over and second-guessing every last detail of a relationship,
we begin to think of the person who committed the immoral or unethical
not as a person who made a mistake,
but as a bad person.
And when we change the conversation from being about questionable behavior
into a conversation about personhood,
when we reduce them to being a bad person,
they become disposable—unworthy of our concern,
and certainly undeserving of our forgiveness.
Jesus’ praise of the manager is not an endorsement of unethical behavior;
his praise of the manager is an affirmation of his personhood;
of his identity as a beloved—although broken—part of the Body of Christ,
and a builder of the Kingdom of God.
So perhaps what Jesus is teaching us is that words matter.
Perhaps he’s reminding us that critical thinking is a part of Christian life.
And at the end of the day, perhaps Jesus is calling us to second-guess ourselves;
to re-evaluate our presuppositions and judgments.
Because when we do that--
when we err on the side of mercy and forgiveness--
the Kingdom becomes just a little bigger,
and the Body of Christ becomes just a little stronger.
It’s not every day that we read nearly an entire book of the Bible in church.
And today, we do:
The book of Philemon:
Almost the whole entire thing.
And it’s a book that you might not have even heard of!
It only appears once in our three year lectionary:
And many often skip over it.
And while I usually preach on the Gospel:
It seems worth it to take a closer look at Philemon:
And do a sort of mini-bible study,
Since we get the whole book today.
And this little tiny book packs a pretty real punch:
That we, the church, need to hear.
Even I didn’t know that much about Philemon.
I had to do some serious research on this little book:
And I learned a lot that’s worth sharing.
Philemon is one of the shortest books in the bible, only behind the letters of first, second, and third John.
This little book, is one of Paul’s letters.
But it’s unique, because it’s written to an individual.
In most of Paul’s letters, he’s writing to a community, a church:
Like the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus….
But Philemon is an individual person.
And like the rest of Paul’s letters:
We just have one side of the conversation.
Paul’s letters are a little like overhearing a person’s phone call:
Just hearing one side:
Where we can make out the main point of the conversation,
But we don’t know what the other person is saying:
And we might not even know why the call was made in the first place!
There’s a lot about the letter to Philemon that’s a mystery.
But at the same time, we can learn a lot with a careful reading.
First, we see that Paul knows and loves Philemon.
We can also see that Philemon has a church in his home:
(and most churches in the first generations of the church were house churches.)
Since Philemon even HAD a house, we might guess that he was fairly wealthy.
And then, as we read further,
We learn that Philemon actually is wealthy, because he owned a slave.
That slave’s name is O-NEE-si-mus.
And the meat of this short letter is about Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, and their relationships to one another.
Paul writes to Philemon:
Letting him know that Onesimus is with him,
And he asks Philemon to take Onesimus back, and welcome him as a brother rather than a slave.
Now, at the time of this letter, Paul is in prison:
And how Onesimus got to Paul is unknown.
Historians have suggested a few scenarios:
The first is that Philemon, the slave owner:
Sent his slave Onesimus to Paul who was in prison for greetings or supplies.
Maybe even with a letter!
The second, is that Onesimus escaped from Philemon:
Maybe in search of Paul,
Or maybe in search of freedom.
In this letter, we see that Onesimus has made his way to Paul:
He’s been converted to Christianity:
And now Paul is sending him back to Philemon:
As a brother in Christ:
No longer a slave.
And with Christ:
Our relationships change.
Just like in today’s Gospel.
Those difficult words from Luke:
About Hating mother and father, sister, and brother, wife, and children…
Jesus is describing the cost of discipleship.
The cost of discipleship that changes our relationships:
Changes our allegiances:
Because following Jesus means we must renounce other allegiances.
As we read the letter to Philemon:
We see those allegiances change:
We see family dynamics change.
We see ownership of slaves and masters, fathers and sons, change:
We see that the only dynamics and allegiances that matter:
Are those of God and the Christian family.
In reading the letter, it’s clear that Paul has great affection for Onesimus.
He says that he has become Onesimus’ father.
The relationships are changed.
And it’s interesting because it seems that Paul is also something of a spiritual father to Philemon as well.
Paul even alludes to the fact that he brought Philemon to faith.
The relationships are changed.
SO: Being the sort of Christian “father” of both Philemon and Onesimus:
Paul urges Philemon to receive the returned Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother.
The relationships are different now.
Whether they like it or not:
They’re a family.
A family in Christ.
A family in baptism.
And their relationships to one another are totally changed from before.
Paul, through the relationships that have been forged through Jesus Christ:
Is overturning slavery for Onesimus.
And we see in this letter to Philemon,
Three people in a new relationship because of Jesus Christ:
A relationship that moves across the seemingly insurmountable barrier of slave and master.
We don’t know if Philemon obeyed Paul or not.
But we have the letter:
Which means that the church:
Guided by the Holy Spirit:
Thinks that what this letter has to say is worthwhile:
And even descriptive of what a Christian life should look like.
It’s too bad that we don’t have the next letter from Philemon back to Paul:
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.