The Gospel of Avoiding Triangulation

Luke 10:38-42

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Read the whole passage)

As we continue through the summer, we are rolling through the scenes from Jesus’ ministry. Healings, exorcisms, forgiveness, parables and more. Last week Jesus challenged the young lawyer’s views on what it means to be saved and who our neighbours are, by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan whom we found out is not someone we are supposed to be, but who God is. The one who comes to find us and rescue us from the ditch.

Today, we take a break from ministry and work. Instead, Jesus goes to dinner. Dinner with his friends, Mary and Martha. These two sisters have have become icons and symbols of hardwork, effort and busyness on the one hand and reflection, attentiveness and faithfulness on the other.

Jesus is waiting for the meal to prepared, something we have all done in the living room of someone else’s house. Presumably Martha is not just cooking for Jesus, but for his disciples, and maybe even Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother too. This is probably a big job to get the meal ready. And Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say. Martha is annoyed that her sister is not helping cook the meal (we will just leave the fact that she isn’t mad at her brother aside). So Martha comes to Jesus and tells him to set her sister straight and send her into the kitchen. And then we get this famous line from Jesus: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary and Martha can become two of the ways we categorize and label each other in the church. This week, church members from congregations across the interlake gathered together in Arborg to talk about ways that we can work together in the midst of declining membership and resources. The leader of the meeting began with a short bible study on Mary and Martha. We were asked to self identify as either one or the other. Martha was understood to the be do-ers of the congregation. The ones ushering, folding bulletins, pounding in loose nails, planting flowers, making coffee, keeping things neat, tidy and clean.

But Mary… well, Mary was a little harder to define. But we assumed Mary was understood to the be the ones interested in faith, in learning, thinking, praying. The ones at bible study, looking for books on spirituality, asking questions about faith.

Once all the hands had been raised, there were a lot more self-identified Marthas than Marys.

I wonder why that is in the church?

 

There is something universal about these two women aren’t there? It is easy to see ourselves in either or even both. Yet, the way this story is told, there are two opposing approaches to hospitality, to faith, to being in community.

But two things about the story of Mary and Martha has always bothered me. 

The first is that Martha seems to get an unnecessarily bum rap from Jesus. Sure she is frantic and whining when she could take it a bit easier. But Jesus seems to have no sympathy.

The second is that despite Jesus’ emphasis on the value of Mary’s choice to slow down and listen, we tend to value Martha’s work ethic above Mary’s desire to learn and grow.

And I will confess, for a long time, I didn’t know what to do with this story… particularly, Jesus’ apparent scolding of Martha.

But then just a few weeks ago, I read something that put this story in a new light.

Jesus’ issue with Martha is not her work ethic or busyness. While he does say that Mary’s desire to learn and grow in faith is good and important and something to value. Jesus is setting a boundary with Martha. A boundary about being drawn into her conflict with her sister. When Jesus’s pushes back against Martha’s request, is not because he is judging her choice of activity. Jesus is refusing to be drawn into a conflict between two others. If Martha has a problem with her sister Mary, she should take it to Mary directly. Jesus is refusing to be triangulated. 

Usually, the good news sounds like Jesus healing, forgiving, exorcizing demons, raising to life, rescuing us from the ditch of sin and death. Yet, while it may sound odd, Jesus setting a boundary is good news too. Jesus refusing to be triangulated is good news too.

When Jesus sets a boundary refusing to be drawn into our drama, it means that God is free from the burdens our of conflict, the burdens of our sins, the burdens of our suffering. God is free to let go and forgive. God can act to take hold of us and care for us. God can respond in a way that we need, rather than the one we want.

When Jesus refuses to be triangulated, it means that God will not be distant from us, that God makes no obstacles for our salvation, that God does not operate through intermediaries. Rather God deals directly with us. God does not talk about our salvation with someone else, but deals directly with us.

When Jesus refuses to get involved with Martha and Mary’s issue today, Jesus is showing us something much more important about how God deals with us. And that is directly.

God speaks to us directly through God’s word.

God washes us directly in the waters of baptism.

God feeds us directly in the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

God saves us directly, not through works or laws or prayers or righteousness.

When God saves us, God just saves us. 

Today, we might wonder if we are Marys or Marthas, we might feel like both.

But there is no question about how Jesus deals with us. Directly.

Amen

The Good Samaritan vs. #AllLivesMatter

Luke 10:25-37

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

To begin with a moment of honest confession: with baby number 2 two arriving on Wednesday, I had planned to lessen my preparation load this past week by preaching a sermon that I wrote 6 years ago on this passage of the Good Samaritan. It was a good sermon that challenged the ways in which we look at just what the story of the Good Samaritan is about.

It was a good plan and a good sermon.

But then guns, and racism, and violence and death broke out.

Then Cyril Weenusk, a visitor to Winnipeg coming to bring his father to the hospital, was beaten to death in downtown Winnipeg for no apparent reason.

Then Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man was pinned to the ground under two police officers and then shot and killed in Louisiana.

Then another black man, Philando Castile, was shot and killed by a cop in front of his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter, during a routine traffic stop.

And then 5 police officers were shot and killed in Dallas during a protest of the violence, by a troubled man upset by the state of race relations in the United States.

And then all of a sudden, it was impossible to hear this parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable about violence, about race relations, about the debate between #SamaritanLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter, about what it means to truly be a good neighbour, and not to think about the events of this week.

In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan has already been told to us in many different ways this week, and the questions it raised in Jesus’ day, continue to be raised in our world.

A young man, a religious lawyer or expert in religious law is having a conversation with Jesus about what it means to be saved, and when Jesus tells him to love his neighbour as himself, the man wants to confuse and blur the lines of the issue, “Who is my neighbour?” he asks.

Jesus responds with a parable about a man taking the dangerous journey from Jericho to Jerusalem – a rocky, downhill road that requires a traveller to leave the safety of Jewish territory. It is an ideal place for bandits, and along the way, the man is beaten, robbed and left half-dead.

And then a temple priest passes by the man. The priest is not heartless, but rather makes a considered ethical choice. He chooses the good of the many over the good of one. If he defiles himself to save this one half-dead man, he will be unclean for 7 days an unable to help scores of people obtain forgives in the temple.

And then a Levite passed by the man. He too is not heartless, but rather makes the same considered ethical choice, as he too is a servant of the greater good.

But then a Samaritan comes along. The Samaritan is a heretical jew, because he worships God in the wrong place. And he would not be concerned with ritual purity, because Samaritans were considered unclean anyways. Yet, despite the bad blood between Samaritans and Jews, the Samaritan stops to help. He goes the extra mile and makes sure the half-dead man is taken care of by an innkeeper.

The story is meant to challenge ideas around who is our neighbour, but also the systems that lay at the foundation of our society. This parable isn’t about telling us to be Good Samaritans, and telling us not to be priests and levites. The parable questions the assumptions and ethics that are buried deep within our society.

As police officers encountered Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it wasn’t a heartless merciless instinct that led them to shoot these two men. Rather it was something worse. It was an ethical framework that told them it was not even worth ten seconds of second thought before shooting. It is the ingrained belief that allowing for even the question to hang in the air about whether a black man may or may not be dangerous is simply not worth it. The police officers made the same decision that the priest and levite made. It is better for the half-person before them to die, than to risk their ability to serve.

As a gunman in Dallas decided that he wanted white people and police officers to die, he was suffering from the same ethical framework embedded in our world. He was suffering under the idea that somehow some lives were more valuable than his, that it was okay for him to try and inflict as much damage as possible to even some kind of score. That his half-personhood was worth a certain and violent end in order to get as many full persons a possible.

The tragic reality of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is not the moral lesson we usually think it to be. Instead, it is a mirror that we can hold up to see the broken state of the world. There are bandits who would rob and beat a traveller on the road to Jericho, there are bandits who would kill a traveler on his way with his father to a hospital in Winnipeg. There are important privileged people who are compelled to walk by the suffering of others for the sake of the greater good, those who under a banner that says all lives matter, easily impose a hierarchy valuing some lives more than others in the name of good social order. And in the world of police shooter and vengeful snipers, being a Good Samaritan is maintaining the status quo and systems that oppress some and privilege others.

But the grace-filled reality of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is not the moral lesson that we usually think it to be. Instead, it is a lens that we can hold up to see God’s action in the world. There is God who comes along to rescue and save a half-dead traveller in the ditch, there is God who says that random, senseless violence does not define us. There is the God of all power and might, who gives it up to come and find us in the ditch, and who doesn’t make distinctions between greater and lesser good. The Good Samaritan is not who we should aspire to be, but who God is.

We can never be the Good Samaritan. God is always the Good Samaritan.

Back at the beginning of the story, before Jesus tells the parable, a young lawyer stands to ask Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life. And this question points us back to the heart of what this parable is about. The parable tells us about God’s response to sin and death in our world. And when we listen closely, the parable sounds more like this:

“Humanity” was going down from “The Holy City” into “the night”, and fell into the hands of robbers or racist cops or vengeful gunmen, “into the hands of Sin and Death” who stripped “Humanity”, beat humanity, and went away, leaving humanity half dead. Now by chance “Power” was going down that road; and when he saw “Humanity, “Power” passed by on the other side. So likewise “Privilege”, when he came to the place and saw “Humanity” passed by on the other side. But “the Grace and Mercy of God” while traveling came near “to Humanity”; and when “Grace and Mercy” saw humanity, “she” was moved with pity. “Grace and Mercy” went to humanity and bandaged humanity’s wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then “Grace and Mercy” put  humanity on “her” own animal, brought humanity to an inn, and took care of humankind. The next day “she” took out two denarii (silver coins), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of “humanity”; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a moral lesson on good works, but a description of the injustice, suffering, sin and death that seem to control our world, that seem to control us.  When the news tells us of sense violence and death, of the sins of racism and injustice, of revenge and tragedy, we can see ourselves in the man beaten and left to die.

But ultimately, the parable shows us how God comes into our broken world, with mercy and grace. And what God does in our world, only God can. God rescues us from the tragedy of random violence and suffering. God meets us where power and privilege can never go. And God finds us in the ditches of sin and death to bring us into healing, and new life.

Amen. 

What have we done…

IMG_4927And now a break from regularly scheduled programming, for some personal news.

Two years ago in May of 2014, Courtenay and I welcomed our son Oscar into the world (you can read that story here). He emerged into the world only to step on our dreams and free time, and we couldn’t love him more for it.

Last October, Courtenay and I discovered that we would be welcoming another child into the world. But with less free time and fewer dreams to crush, our next child would be a joy to rival her older brother!

IMG_4928Well, on Wednesday morning, July 6th, 2016, Courtenay and I welcomed Maeve Dorothy Pearl Reedman Parker into the world. She was born by C-section at 10am sharp. She was 9lbs, 3 ounces and 21 inches long. Thankfully we opted for the surgical delivery before 48 hours of labour and our OB/GYN said we made the right choice.

Maeve (pronounced Mayv) is happy and healthy. She is a hungry little baby and only this morning, almost 48 hours after being born, she finally finding some time to sleep after eating non-stop.

IMG_4939Oscar is very happy to spend time with “Baby Maeve” any chance he can get. He would sit in her lap if we let him!

Courtenay is an amazing mother, and I am blessed to have her and now two beautiful, amazing children.

 



Lost in the Discipleship Details

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Jesus is talking the dreaded “D” word again this week. Discipleship.

Last week Jesus had to come to terms with the quality of disciples he had to work with. Disciples who didn’t get it, who wanted to destroy those whom they were trying to reach as much as help them. Disciples who were not committed, who only had one toe in the water.

And so today, Jesus uses those disciples anyways, sending 70 of them out into the world to proclaim the good news, the kingdom of God has come near.

Now, this story of discipleship is one that many here will know well. It is one that during the past year, council and other groups read to one another each time we gathered for a meeting. And over that year, we unpacked this story as much as we could, we asked questions, we considered the words or phrases or ideas that struck us, and we kept coming up with new questions and new insights despite reading the same story for a whole year. And the intention of coming back to this particular story was to hopefully see ourselves and our call as disciples in the experience of this 70.

Yet, when the 70 return rejoicing and with excitement at for their efforts in ministry, it may be hard put ourselves in their shoes. In fact, we may feel the exact opposite – burnout and dread at keeping up with the ministry of being church. It gets tiring juggling all the parts of church and keeping all the balls in the air.

Still, the idea of Jesus sending 70 disciples out to proclaim the gospel seems relatively simple. Perhaps not easy, but it sounds simple to be sent out with little more than the shirt on our backs.

Yet, the directions that Jesus gives for ministry are not all the straightforward. Jesus has directions on what to bring on the journey, where to stay, who to stay with, how to be good guests, how to know when it is time move on.

In fact, it turns out that being disciples and preaching the gospel isn’t all that simple at all, even for the very first group of disciples sent out on the mission. And as most of us know, people who show up at the front doors of our homes, asking us if we have heard the good news are not usually all that welcome… Nor are the door knocking evangelists we have in our world all that effective.

Whether it is 1st century Israelite disciples being sent out on the road with nothing, or 21st century disciples with buildings and budgets, staff and volunteers, programs and committees to manage, it is not simple to just go out and preach the gospel.

In fact, it is the complexity that is draining. Managing all the different pieces of being church together can feel exhausting. Just for us to gather and worship on Sundays, as this community has been doing for over 60 years requires a lot of planning and work. Just this morning, someone needed to open the door, turn on the lights, put out the bulletins, put up the hymn numbers, greet worshippers and hand out the bulletins, light the candles, play the organ, collect the offering, count the offering, turn off the lights and lock doors. Someone needs to plan worship, make the bulletin, and write the sermon. Other Sundays people need to set up, serve and clean up communion. Others are needed to teach Sunday School, lead bible study, teach confirmation. And these are just tasks for a fairly typical Sunday morning. We won’t even get into maintaining the building, overseeing the large scope of year to year operations, fulling all due diligence legally and insurance wise.

It is a complicated endeavour to be a group of people called by Jesus to preach the gospel.

 

Yet, when 70 return they are excited. They are on fire. They are energized for the mission:

“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

But Jesus is not impressed:

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The disciples are guilty of doing the same thing that church people have been doing for 2000 years. They get wrapped up in the complexities, the potential for power and relevance and influence. Like Popes who would be Kings or committee chairs who enjoy having a little power for even just a couples of hours at a monthly meeting… the disciples get distracted by the details of Jesus’ mission.

So, Jesus calls them back to the main thing: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven”

Translation: Rejoice that God’s Kingdom has been made known in the world!

Jesus reminds the disciples and us that all the complexities of being sent out are about one thing. The mission. Preaching the Kingdom of God come near. Letting people know about God’s love.

But it goes even deeper. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s mission is about people. About people who need to hear good news. Jesus didn’t send them to find the right people, the chosen people, the good people. Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the ones who needed to hear. The peace they offered was for people who needed peace. The demons they exorcized was because people needed to be free from unclean spirits. Even the hospitality they received was so that the unlikeliest of people would be given the honour of being hosts to prophets and preachers.

All the instructions that Jesus gave, all the complexities. They were so that the disciples could reach the people that needed the gospel the most. So that God’s love would be shown to those who are normally excluded… the unclean, the marginalized, the unrighteous.

And all the complexities that tire us out, that fill us with burnout and dread?

They too are in service of the mission. They too are about the people that Jesus is reaching through us.

When we make this place ready for worship and welcome all who gather, God gathers us into the One Body of Christ, God ties us together to far and wide, into community of the faithful that can only exist here.

When we hand out bulletins and play musical instruments, God becomes known to us in worship and praise, in worship and praise that thins the gap between heaven and earth just enough that we might glimpse the heavenly chorus.

When someone stands up and reads the lessons, God’s very voice speaks to us with promises of forgiveness and new life, God speaks to heal our wounds, comfort our sorrows, and to give shape to our place God’s world.

When the table is set with bread and wine, God feeds the hungry with the only food that has a hope of satisfying the hunger in our souls. God feeds us with bread so that we become bread for the world. God gives us the Body Christ so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.

When ushers direct us forward and servers serve, God makes God’s table a place for each and everyone of us, a place for. God leads us into the holy of holies, into God’s Kingdom come near to us.

This is the thing about being sent as disciples in the world… it easy for us to lose sight of what all the complexities really mean. It is easy for the disciples to get wrapped up in casting out demons. It is easy for us to be burned out and tired by having to keep track of all the little details of being church here.

But Jesus never said it would be easy. Nor did Jesus say that being a disciple was about the results. In fact, Jesus kind of made it complicated right from the beginning.

Yet, what Jesus does remind the disciples of today is that everything we do is connected to the work of God’s kingdom, that God’s Kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and hope is breaking into the world for us, and for those around us who need to hear some good news.

So yes, Jesus is talking about discipleship again today. Because it is through disciples, through us, that God is bringing the Kingdom near.

Amen.

The Frustration of Discipleship

Luke 9:51-62

When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Read the Whole passage)

Sermon

Our Lutheran seminary in Saskatoon works in cooperation with an Anglican seminary and a United Church seminary. While I attended, students from the 3 schools started a hockey team to play in the University of Saskatchewan intramural league. One way that the 3 schools worked together was to regularly have shared chapel services, and one particular service there were a number of hockey team members in attendance. During the prayers of the people, the  worship leader opened up time for petitions from the congregation. One of the hockey players piously added a prayer for the hockey game that day,

“Dear Lord, bless our team and keep us from injury or harm. Give us strength and unity in our play. And finally, Lord, reign down a hellfire of pucks on our opponents.”

Suffice it to say, there were those among the other students and some professors who were not impressed.

When Jesus and the disciples enter into a Samaritan Village, and things don’t go as planned, the disciples pray a similar prayer to the seminary hockey player. They wonder if fire from heaven that will consume the Samaritans would be appropriate for the unreceptive villagers. And Jesus is not impressed.

The disciples just don’t seem to get it. They are supposed to be out working alongside Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God coming near. They are not supposed to be wanting to destroy people whom they think are their enemies. But as usual, the disciples end up frustrating Jesus.

But frustration doesn’t end there for Jesus. As Jesus comes along to potential disciples, he invites them follow. It isn’t a glamorous lifestyle and there are some drawbacks. But the disciples Jesus invites seem to have a commitment problem. The first says that he will only come once he has buried his father… and not that his father is already dead or anything. The second says that he will only come once he has said goodbye to his family, the group of people most likely prevent his leaving. These potential disciples are lukewarm at best.

Discipleship and following Jesus seems particularly frustrating for Jesus today. If the disciples aren’t getting the whole point completely wrong by wanting to punish and destroy the very people they are trying to reach, potential new recruits are are balking at jumping in with two feet.

These two experiences of disciples are something we know all too well. The disciples’ desire to destroy their enemies, or to the blame foreigners for their troubles sounds disturbingly like the motivation behind the violence in Orlando, like some of the reasons that Britons voted to leave the European Union, or like the words of a certain blustery presidential candidate.

But the disciple’s frustration with the Samaritan village for not receiving Jesus is also the same experience of churches who put time and energy into a new program or initiative only for the people they are trying to reach not to respond.

And this leads us to the half-hearted commitment of the potential disciples. It isn’t just that we all have things tying us down at home and at work, things that prevent us from spending all our time at church. But our hesitancy to jump in with two feet is just as much about uncertainty. We just don’t know where all this discipleship and faith stuff will take us. Jesus says follow, but he doesn’t alway give a clear picture of where. Jesus invites us to leave everything behind, but without much promise as to what we will earn in return. Like the non-committal recruits, we just don’t know where God is calling us to go and that scares us.

That is the thing about discipleship, it is messy, it is uncertain, we don’t know where it is taking us. Jesus doesn’t give us a roadmap, but just an invitation to follow. And like Jesus who is frustrated with the disciples and non-committal recruits, we can get frustrated with trying to follow Jesus without getting the results we expect. The fact is, discipleship is hard.

It it hard when the people we are trying to reach don’t respond the way we hope. It is hard when the disciples like us just aren’t in with two feet.

And maybe that is the heart of issue today.

As Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem before heading out with the disciples, it isn’t just a place. Jesus is setting himself towards the cross. Towards the empty tomb. And as we know the story before and after those things, that the disciples seemed just as confused about discipleship after Jesus rose from the dead as they were before.

So maybe the point isn’t the disciples and how good they are at discipleship.

Maybe the point isn’t us and how good we are at discipleship.

Maybe this is about God, and what God is doing in the world. Maybe this is about who God uses to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Maybe this is about God who is doing the saving and God who able to use us for God’s mission of saving all of creation.

In fact, Jesus’ frustration with discipleship is about exactly these things.

Today, isn’t about being better disciples.

Today, Jesus sees that the disciples that he has, the disciples that we are, are exactly who God needs for God’s mission.

Disciples who don’t get it, disciples who are only partially committed, disciples who find discipleship frustrating.

These are the disciples, we are the disciples, that God uses despite our flaws. We are the ones whom God uses to be God’s hand and feet in the world. We are the ones who are same before and after the crucifixion and resurrection, but who are still transformed to be the Body of Christ in the world.

And somehow, through us, God is saving and transforming, God bringing the Kingdom near.

Today, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, after we have seen Jesus heal a sick slave, raise a dead son, forgive a forgotten woman, and cast out an unclean spirit… we see the people that God chooses to be disciples.

And those people are us. Imperfect, uncertain, confused, uncommitted us.

And somehow through us, even with all the frustrations and complications and uncertainty, God is bringing Good News to the world. God bringing Good News for us, with us and through us. And God is using exactly the people that God needs to save the world.

Amen

Orlando and Unclean Spirits

Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (Read the whole passage)

 

At a legislative budget committee meeting on Friday, an odd thing happened. Rather than political foes going at each other over ideological differences, two people – NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine and Premier Brian Pallister – talked about their mothers. For half an hour, the two set political and partisan differences aside to talk to one another as people. What resulted was a personal and intimate conversation that led the two to a deeper understanding and appreciation for one another. Political rivals speaking to one another in this way was so surprising and unusual that it made news headlines around the province.

Two Sundays ago, a contingent from the MNO Synod, including lay people, pastors and the Bishop walked in the Winnipeg Pride parade in downtown Winnipeg. The presence of a faith group in the parade prompted some surprised looks, and more than a few on-lookers to say things like, “Wow! The Lutherans are here!?! – That’s cool!”

Today, Jesus and the disciples sail across the sea of Galilee to gentile territory and show up in the region of Geresa, a place where no self-respecting Jew would ever want to find themselves.

We are 5 Sundays into Ordinary Time, and while there are about 22 more to go before we get to Advent, we have already seen a wide variety of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has healed a sick slave, raised a dead son to life, forgiven a forgotten and sinful woman, and today Jesus exorcizes an unclean spirit. Yet, perhaps the thing that ties these different acts of ministry together is who Jesus is ministering to. Each example is of Jesus encountering a person that he wouldn’t be expected to encounter, and in places where Jesus isn’t expected to go.

Geresa, where Jesus is today, is the strongest example of Jesus being somewhere he shouldn’t be. Geresa was a town on the other side of the sea of Galilee from Judea, it was a mixed territory, where Jews and Gentiles both lived. But Geresa more recently was also a Roman military outpost, where Roman soldiers were stationed. And because occupying soldiers need food and shelter, the towns people were forced to work in service of the army, raising pigs and hosting their oppressors.

But Jesus doesn’t just show in Geresa, the first person he meets there is a man possessed by unclean spirits. A man living in the town cemetery. An outsider.

So when Jesus shows up in Geresa, he is showing up in a place that good jews would avoid at all costs because everything about this place is unclean. The town, the cemetery, the pigs, the possessed man. This isn’t just the discomfort we might feel visiting a poor, impoverished, rundown part of the city. This is about Jesus and the disciples coming into contact with the unholy, about Jesus becoming unholy himself. It isn’t just the possessed man who has an unclean spirit, but everything around this place seems to suffer from unclean spirits.

And those who lived there, did as much as they could to protect themselves from the unclean spirits around them. The people shackled the possessed man in the cemetery in order to avoid his uncleanliness. The possessed man tries to escape the chains of the townspeople, so that he can avoid their shackles. The pigs are kept near the cemetery so that everyone can avoid the unclean spirits of the Roman occupiers. And by the time people figure out what Jesus is up to in their town, they even ask him to go away too, fearing what kind of unholy power he might possess. Of all the unclean spirits in this place, the greatest is not Legion or the Romans or the pigs. But fear. The unclean spirit of fear has gripped and paralyzed the people of Geresa.

And just like the fearful people of Geresa, we go to great lengths to mitigate coming into contact with the unclean spirits of our world, to avoid coming face to face with the things, or other people we fear the most. We are possessed by unclean spirits of fear as much as the poor man is possessed by legion.

And in case we thought we could forget or pretend the unclean spirits of our fear don’t exist, this week we were reminded in a horrific and tragic way.

Early last Sunday morning, a deeply troubled man walked into a packed nightclub in Orlando and began shooting. The result was the largest mass shooting in US history, with 49 people dead and 53 injured. But it wasn’t just any troubled man walking into a random nightclub, but a young Muslim walking into a popular gay nightclub.

And almost immediately the unclean spirits of our fear began speaking for us:

“The shooter was muslim, so we must protect ourselves from terrorists”

“The nightclub was full of LGBTQ people, and the shooter may have been gay, so this is their tragedy and their problem”

“Mass shootings are a problem that Americans have, Canadians know better”

The unclean spirits of fear push and pull us to blame anyone other than ourselves. They demand that we protect ourselves from anyone or anything different. They make us feel like need to divide ourselves from the other, build walls to keep the other out, destroy the other in order stop feeling threatened. And thus fear begets more fear and violence begets more violence.

But the most powerful thing that the unclean spirits of fear make us feel is stuck. They make us feel like we can never escape the other unclean spirits around us, like we can never make the dangers go away.

And that is why Jesus’ presence in Geresa can seem like such a problem… he is too close to all the unclean spirits, too close for our fear’s liking.

When Jesus shows up in Geresa, he does exactly what the unclean spirits of our fears keep us from doing. Jesus approaches unafraid.

Jesus is not afraid of the unclean spirits. He doesn’t fear the town, or the cemetery, or the pigs, or the possessed man. And because Jesus is not afraid, not afraid that the spirits will taint him, he is willing to meet and be with the community of Geresa. He is willing to meet the possessed man on the man’s turf, in the cemetery. When the possessed man begs for mercy, Jesus simply asks his name.

And because Jesus is willing to brave the uncleanliness around him, Jesus does what we cannot. Jesus begins to reconcile and rebuild the people of Geresa. He sends the unclean spirit of Legion away. He sends the unclean spirits of oppression, division, intolerance and fear away. Jesus restores the man to community and the community to the man.

Anyone else would have been afraid of becoming unclean in Geresa. Anyone else would have feared the unholy taint of unclean spirits. But when Jesus comes to this unholy place, God comes and meets the unclean and the unholy. And all of sudden, the fears that held everyone back don’t matter anymore. They don’t matter because the God of all creation, the Holy One of Israel, the Christ in whom we are God’s children makes the unclean clean. In Christ, God shows us how not fearing the unclean spirits, the unclean places, the unclean people allows God to see people instead of a condition. God sees beloved children instead of things to be feared and avoided. God shows us what it looks like to see beyond our perceived uncleanliness, and how to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Last Sunday in Orlando, the unclean spirits of fear pushed us to the edge of fear and division. The unclean spirits threatened the places of sanctuary and refuge for the LGBT community, the unclean spirits churned up bigotry towards all muslims, and the unclean spirits made us all feel like potential victims of arbitrary violence.

And yet throughout the week God began showing up precisely where God shouldn’t have been. In places and in people we wouldn’t expect. In the people who stood in line for hours waiting to give blood, in the vigils of solidarity with the LGBTQ community around the world, and even in a short conversation between politicians who were able to set aside partisan differences to see each other’s humanity.

When the unclean spirits of fear threaten to divide us beyond all hope, to keep us stuck and afraid… God shows up. God shows up despite the uncleanliness. God shows up despite the fear. God shows up to free us to see one another as God sees us. As beloved Children of God.


This sermon was co-written with my wife, Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker – Twitter: @ReedmanParker

The Stanford Rape Victim, Jesus and Forgiveness

Luke 7:36-8:3

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Read the whole passage)

In January of 2015, a young woman was sexually assaulted on Stanford University’s campus following a campus party. A young man named Brock turner was caught in the act by two  passersby and later convicted in the assault. Last week, the victim impact statement written by the anonymous woman was released to the public. Over the past number of days, the 7000 word letter has been trending online, and making headlines on TV and Radio news and in newspapers. Celebrities and pundits have commented on the case. US Vice-President Joe Biden even wrote an open letter to the young woman at the heart of this case.

Brock Tuner was sentenced to a shockingly lenient 6 months, of a possible 14 years because the Judge believed any longer would have had a “negative impact” on the young man. Turner’s swimming career and affluent background with no prior convictions were cited as reasons for the lenient sentence.

You may have read the statement from the young woman who was Brock Turner’s victim. You may have heard the commentary or read about the story. You may have discussed it with family and friends, or maybe you just heard about it for the first time now. But almost certainly, you would not have expected to read this story in church today…

This week, Jesus meets Brock Turner and the anonymous Stanford Rape victim. They go by different names, Simon the Pharisee and the woman who was a sinner, but make no mistake, this morning our gospel lesson is telling the same story that the world has been telling all week.

Jesus is invited by Simon the Pharisee for dinner. Simon is a well-to-do Pharisee, a religious authority, a moral authority, one who occupies position and privilege in his world. Someone that proper people would have considered righteous, a stand-up guy, some one who should be given the benefit of the doubt. Someone who gets a name in the story.

Just as Jesus, Simon and the other guests are about to sit down for dinner, a woman enters the scene. The woman only descriptor the woman gets is “sinner.” She doesn’t get a name, or position, she is only known for her “sins.”

And as if to emphasize the point, when Simon objects to this sinful woman’s presence, Jesus tells a story about two debtors, and how the one who is forgiven more would love more. It almost seems like Jesus is saying this poor sinful woman is to be pitied.

Can you see Brock Turner in Simon? The privileged man with power who doesn’t even see a person in the woman.

Can you see the anonymous woman who is a victim of her world in the woman who washes Jesus’ feet? The woman who is assumed to be a sinner first and foremost.

In case it isn’t clear, the assumptions built into this story are the same as the ones so many have made about the Stanford Rape case. 

Simon is assumed to be righteous, because we tend to think that people of his kind, powerful, respected, well-to-do people, are righteous. Brock Turner is assumed to be a good kid because he is a college athlete, he comes from an affluent family, he is a white guy going to a prestigious university. If he is accused of doing something wrong, it must not be that bad.

But more importantly, the woman who washes Jesus feet is assumed to be a sinner, but not just any kind of sinner. While the text doesn’t actually say, we assume that this is a prostitute. A promiscuous woman. She is assumed to be a prostitute because she is a woman, because there is no husband with her, because she is doing something intimate with Jesus’ feet. If she is a sinner, it must be the worst kind of sinner can think of.

And young woman who was assaulted? Every detail of her sins were laid out in court. Her clothing choices, how much she drank, what kind of relationship she had with her boyfriend, whether she actually wanted what Brock Turner did to her. Because she was sexually assaulted, we feel the need to question the ‘assaulted’ part.

Our assumptions about Simon and this woman who washes Jesus’ feet, about Brock Turner and the young woman he assaulted… our assumptions show our bias. How we can easily assume someone is righteous without any real evidence. How we can easily assume someone is a sinner just because of their gender or social standing.

And in case we still don’t see our assumptions about who is righteous and who isn’t, who should be given the benefit of the doubt and who shouldn’t, Jesus makes sure we get it.

Lest Simon think that he is the one with few sins to be forgiven, Jesus reminds Simon that just in that moment Simon has failed to show hospitality according to the law. He has failed to wash the feet of his guest, he has failed to offer a kiss of peace, he has failed anoint his guest with oil. The “sinful” woman has done all these things. The sinner has kept the law.

And then Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your sins are forgiven”

But not forgiveness in the sense that her wrongdoing have been forgiven. Because Jesus knows that this woman is victim too. A victim of her society that sees women as property to be owned and casually discarded if perceived to be broken. This woman is a victim of a world where an unowned woman’s life choices included begging or prostitution.

Forgiveness in the sense that the sins that have been heaped on her do not define her. Forgiveness in the sense that the judgment and scorn of the well-to-do and powerful don’t get to determine her value.Forgiveness in the sense that her righteousness isn’t decided by the standards of her unjust world.

Forgiveness in the sense of freedom and release. 

A seminary professor of mine once said to us,

“The gospel is always contextual. You wouldn’t tell a rape victim that she is forgiven of her sins”

But after reading statement of the young woman whom Brock Turner was convicted of assaulting, after reading about the shame, self-doubt, the regret and suffering, after reading about the trauma and re-traumatization, after reading of helplessness and injustice she endured…

Perhaps forgiveness is exactly what is needed.

Release and freedom from the sins that have been dumped on her. Release from the shame and judgment of the powerful. Forgiveness of any need on her part to demonstrate her victimization or righteousness or need for justice.

Forgiveness and freedom.

Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who has been victim and accused sinner before us.

Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who does not live by assumptions about our goodness, worthiness or sinfulness.

Forgiveness and freedom shown by The One who determines our righteousness solely in love.

Forgiveness and freedom found in Christ. 

The reality is that our world is full of Simons and Brock Turners, those whose power and privilege protect them from seeing their un-righteousness. Our world is full of anonymous, unnamed people looking for freedman and release from the shame, judgment and sin of the world. The reality is that we are both Simon and the woman who washed Jesus feet, we are both Brock Turner and the young woman who was his assault victim.

We are people who assume our righteousness, our goodness, or worth is based in our power, achievements, wealth and status. We are people who assume our sinfulness is based on our gender, race, language, religion, orientation.

But most importantly, we are people for whom God chooses to discard all that. We are people loved and freed by Jesus. We are people that God chooses to forgive.

God chooses to forgive us and free us from our sin, to free us from all the ways the we try to define ourselves, to free us from the burden of trying to be righteous on our own, free from the shame and judgement heaped on us by the world.

God chooses to forgive and free us. Period.

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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