Finding those who aren’t lost

Luke 15:1-10

1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? (Read the whole passage)

For parents of small children looking for solidarity one of the places I go to is Fowl Language Comics, fowl spelled “F.O.W.L.” Parenting comics using ducks and chicks. In my favourite comic, a chick with arms in the air and standing in a nearly empty room loudly declaring, “I can’t find it anywhere! It’s just gone!”

The only other thing in the room is a red ball on the floor with an arrow pointing to the ball and the word “It” on the other side of the arrow. The caption below reads, “whenever I send my kid to find something.”

I am sure many of you can relate.

In our house, I am the designated finder.

I am sure most families have one – the person whose job it is to find misplaced and lost things. Other finders out there will know, that there is a certain art to checking all the usual spots, getting into the head of the person who has lost something, retracing steps, scanning rooms and eliminating all the places where something is not followed by almost always finding the lost thing. The TV remote under the couch, a toy in a low kitchen drawer, a phone under a magazine, keys in a coat pocket.

Today, Jesus tells some grumbling Pharisees two parables about lost things. Two familiar parables. The lost sheep and the lost coin.

On the surface, these parables can give us those warm, soft, comfortable feelings. The sense that Jesus has got our back. The Shepherd who goes out to find the one lost sheep, leaving the 99 behind. The woman who tears apart her house looking for a single lost coin. And of course, there is a third story that we don’t hear today but still know very well, the parable of the prodigal son.

Each parable follows the same pattern. Something is lost, something is found and then there is a party to celebrate.

Although… the party to celebrate part is a little weird, isn’t it? A party to celebrate finding one lost sheep out of a hundred? One lost coin out of a ten? A party for a son who squandered his inheritance and returned home, cap in hand?

As a finder, I like finding things, but not that much.

And of course what is truly interesting is that this trio of parables begins with the Pharisees grumbling about the fact that Jesus eats with sinners. And they end with the older brother of the prodigal son grumbling about the party his father is throwing.

And the grumblers might have a point.

That lost sheep is likely the curious one, the one who gets in trouble, the one who wanders instead of staying with the flock. And those coins, they are small and slippery and hard to see. And lets not get started on the prodigal son and his issues.

The Pharisees, they know something about the real world, something that we know too. Sometimes lost things are lost for a reason. Sometimes sinners are sinners for a reason. And why is Jesus spending so much time with sinners? Why leave the 99 sheep to find the one? And can’t 9 coins still buy the things you need? And what about that older brother and what he deserves for his hard work and obedience?

We get what the Pharisees are grumbling about. There are consequences to our actions. People get what they deserve. The Pharisees start off these parables about lost things with a point that is kind of important… at least it feels important to us. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” And all know what the unspoken line that should follow – They don’t deserve to eat with Jesus!

We know the world of ‘people get what they deserve’ very well. We live by it every day. It colours our feelings and principles about immigrants, those who are poor, those who are different skin colour or background, about indigenous people, about those with different sexual orientations and gender identities, about those who vote for different political parties…

And Christians have been just as guilty of grumbling as anyone. Grumbling about those who we deem unworthy, those who choose sports, or shopping, or sleeping in Sundays. Grumbling often about those who worship in other ways or choose not to worship any God at all. Grumbling about those who we deem not to be pulling their weight or giving enough of themselves…

And yet, in the past few years our Grumbling has been accompanied by grief. Grief that we aren’t what we once were. Fresh, exciting, vibrant churches of decades past are not aging as well as we had hoped. Decline feels like it is ravaging our communities, our bodies… in a world of “You get what you deserve” decline makes us wonder what it is that we have done to deserve this… why does it feel like God might be letting us die?

These parables of the lost – lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons – might be saying something to us today that different that what we have always heard. They may not be so much about the lost things as they are about grumblers.

For you see, even as the Pharisees and the elder son grumble about the parties being thrown for the found things… Jesus is still doing something curious and unexpected. This isn’t just a case of things being turn upside down. It is not just that the sinners are welcome, the 1 sheep and the 1 coin are searched for, that there is a party for the prodigal son…

It is that all the rules are being changed. It is that “You get what you deserve” is an idea that doesn’t matter to God. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with Pharisees. There is a party for lost sheep and lost coins and everyone is invited. The Loving Father runs to meet his lost on the road and goes out to meet his older son in the field to invite him to the party too.

Jesus invites all. All are welcome at the table. Lost things, sinners and the worthy along with the Pharisees, obedient sons and the grumblers.

And yeah… that is something that is hard for us to imagine, hard for us to accept. We would prefer the world where there were some rules…

And yet, welcoming all has been what Jesus has been up to all along.

Here in this community of welcome, in this gathering, we are welcomed. Welcomed by God who washes, names and claims us in the waters of baptism. Welcomed by God who builds us up, gives us hope and shown the coming of God’s Kingdom in the gospel word. And here God feeds us, binds us together and makes us one at the table. And Jesus then reminds us that we just might not be as worthy as our grumbling suggests… and we might not be as lost as we might feel. We are a little bit of both – lost and grumbling. Worthy and unworthy, Sinner and forgiven.

These parables of the lost and grumbling remind us today that Jesus is changing the rules… changing the rule of the world that says you get what you deserve… And Jesus is ushering in a new rule, a new reality – A reality where God is forgiving and welcoming sinners… sinners not just like those whom we think don’t deserve it, but welcoming sinners like us.

And just like the lost things that aren’t as lost as we thought, and worthy things that aren’t as worthy as we thought… these familiar parables aren’t the straightforward stories that we thought.

And yet, in them Jesus keeps finding us. Finding us in unexpected and surprising ways. Finding the lost and the grumblers all the same.

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Discipleship doesn’t fit on a to-do list

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? (Read the whole thing)

Does anyone else feel like summer shouldn’t be over yet? But here we are a week after labour day, the first few days of school under the belt. All those work and volunteer and church commitments that took a little hiatus for a few months, are now back in our calendars. The summer road trips and weekends at the cabin on the lake are coming to an end or over with seemingly too soon.

So of course, as fall seems to be fully here, even if not technically arriving until the end of the month, Jesus throws us right back into the busy pace of modern 21st Century life. And he does it all the way back from the 1st century Israel.

Jesus starts talking about discipleship. Whoever comes to me does not hate their family cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.

Okay… hate family, carry cross, give up possessions.

Add them to the to-do list, hopefully we can get to those things by the end of the month, if we are lucky. As long as the frost doesn’t come, the rain stops long enough to mow the lawn, the baking for that school fundraiser gets done, there isn’t too much extra work for that committee that just started back up… we should be able to get the discipleship jobs done.

But I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind.

Discipleship, following Jesus, practicing our faith… these are pretty big questions that come at us in a pretty busy and task filled life. I read a few months ago about the idea of the bottom half of the to-do list. The half of the list that most of us never have time to get to. And if we are honest about the way discipleship is often practiced in church, it is usually a bottom half of the to-do list thing.

Of course, Jesus would probably take issue with the idea of discipleship being something on a to-do list, but we live in a busy world where things that aren’t on lists and in calendars don’t get done at all.

And yet here we are in the midst of the some of busiest times of our calendars and year, and Jesus is talking about Discipleship. And not just about to-do list items, but about giving all that stuff up, jobs, family, possessions, in order to follow him.

It almost doesn’t compute with us on a week like this.

And then Jesus gives us a couple other examples of what discipleship is like, and things get even more confusing.

As Jesus speaks to the crowds that he was walking down the road with, he asks,

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”

And then he asks the same question again in a different way.

“Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?”

I wonder if anyone raised their hand or laughed…

Because if we don’t think about it much, of course everyone makes plans before a building project, and certainly before going to war. And yet, how often does a project not go over budget or time. And how many of the remembered stories of history are about battles between opponents facing overwhelming odds… like the Spartan 300 or the Alamo.

Recently, in Winnipeg, it was big news that the new Waverly St underpass came under budget and year of ahead of schedule. Things going according to plan is big news.

If we do think about Jesus’ questions about discipleship and we answer honestly, we need to admit that almost every one sets out on big projects not knowing the true cost or time for certain. Kings and armies and nations go to war all the time against the odds. Human beings are, in fact, really bad at predicting the future and really bad at imagining the implication or consequences for our choices.

And so what is Jesus really getting at today when he talks to the crowds and to us about discipleship?

Well, he is not talking about items for our to-do list. He is not talking about a faith that is crammed in between work and volunteering and caring for family and hobbies and leisure and summer relaxing and fall busy-ness.

Jesus is not giving instructions for or prescribing the steps to a fuller discipleship.

Jesus is telling us what will and what is happening because God has caught us up in a story that we could never imagine or plan for or make a to-do list for in our wildest dreams.

Jesus is telling the crowds and us that following him will mean we end up in places we never saw coming. For the crowds the next place was Jesus riding into Jerusalem a King and being nailed to the cross a criminal.

And for us who know the end of the story, we still cannot predict what following Jesus to the cross will truly mean for us. And we certainly cannot imagine how Jesus’ resurrected new life given for us will change us.

And that is the point that Jesus is making.

We cannot imagine giving up our family, even as God welcomes us into a new family, the family of the Body of Christ.

We cannot carry the cross, even as Jesus goes to the cross for our sake, dying to sin and death and rising to new life.

We cannot imagine giving giving up all our possessions, all that we cling to in this life and that clings to us, even as God gives up all power and might, in order to join us in creation, to take on flesh to show us love and mercy and grace.

We cannot imagine discipleship as Jesus talks about it today, because it doesn’t fit on a to-do list and cannot be squeezed into the empty slots on calendar. And because as human beings we are bound to sin and death, we are stuck in an imperfect and limited world of our making. We cannot predict the future very well, whether it is building a tower, going to war, electing a government, building an underpass, planning a career, growing a family or ensuring a faith community like this one carries on for our children and grandchildren.

And yet our ability to plan, to know and understand what following Jesus will mean for us is not what matters.

Rather, it is Jesus who does discipleship for us. It is Jesus who sets us on the path of following him to new places. Jesus who shows us the way out of sin and death, out of limits and imperfection. Jesus shows to us to the cross, to resurrection and new life. Jesus transforms us, even while we don’t know what the end result will be.

Discipleship isn’t a task that Jesus is handing on to us, following Jesus isn’t really something we can do at all.

Because Jesus the one following us, the one coming to us, the one giving up his father, the one carrying our cross, the one giving away all he possessed, in order to hold on to us. In order to carry us from sin and death, to the new life the resurrection… to new life that we could never predict or imagine or plan for.

For Jesus, discipleship has never been about what we are doing but about God transforming us from sinners to forgiven, from suffering to wholeness, from death to new and resurrected life.

Jesus and breaking the rules for the right reasons

Luke 13:10-17

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” (Read the whole passage)

I know a pastor who tells his congregation the following about his day off: “if you want to see me on Monday, you have to die.” A dramatic statement, with some humour, to make the point. There is only one exception for which he will give up his personal time, imminent death.

Boundaries around time, work and family, leisure and hobbies are sometimes hard to navigate. We live in a world that is always challenging boundaries. The boundaries of national borders, the boundaries of science and technology, the boundaries of social convention, of workers personal and private time, of online privacy and security.

And so to leave our time and place to listen in on a scene from Jesus’ time and place, we have to understand that boundaries were not so easily pushed and broken. Boundaries and rules and limits were hard and fast, exceptions were rare.

Yet, like that pastor I know who makes a joke about having to die if you want to see him on a Monday, Jesus outlines a similar exception today. He encounters a bent and crippled woman in the synagogue, and without hesitation offers her healing. As the community of faith gathers in God’s house, the place of healing, nourishment and renewal, this crippled woman is touched by God and granted new life. Now she can look her friends and neighbours in the eye, instead of the feet. It is not only healing of a crooked back, but a healing of community. Jesus’ compassion seems to make perfect sense.

Yet, before there can be any celebration, the leader of the synagogue scolds Jesus in front of the crowds. Healing and curing illness is work, and it is the Sabbath day. A day for rest and relaxation. Surely one more day would not make a difference after 18 years. The leader is worried that this exception will lead to other exceptions, and then the day set apart for no-work will be just like any other day of the week.

Jesus’ exception to the no-work rule on the Sabbath seems pretty obvious to us. The healing only took a moment, so why not heal the crippled woman? To the people of Israel, working on the Sabbath was a much bigger deal that it is to us. The Israelites had left slavery and 7 day work weeks in Egypt. In the wilderness, Yahweh then gave them the 10 commandments, including the one to rest on the Sabbath. No work for one day a week was very good news. Keeping the sabbath for rest was very important for the Israelites. The leader of the synagogue’s objection to Jesus doing work was an honest attempt at reminding the people of this good news. Taking Sabbath time was one of the most import things the Israelites did.

For us, the importance of a day of rest is… well not that important. We hear the story about Jesus today and say the healing only took moment, but we also answer those extra emails at midnight, answer those after hours phone calls, stay that one extra hour of work even though we should go home. We find it much more acceptable to give up rest time for extra work, and we celebrate those who work too much. We live in a culture of busy… rest is simply not a priority for us. And because we relax on our own boundaries, we often feel comfortable to infringe on the boundaries of others. How often have we slipped into a store minutes before it closed? Made a phone call or sent a text later than we should have? Parked in a parking spot for people with disabilities?

Of course the problem is not about measuring out how much work is okay on the Sabbath day, but how we live with the rules that govern our lives as community. How many exceptions do we make to a rule before it stops being a rule? In the Church, we have had to deal with rules and exceptions for a long time. It used to be that women and members of the LGBTQ2SIA couldn’t be pastors or serve in other leadership roles. Divorces were not permitted except in cases of infidelity. Children were not communed until confirmed. Marriages, baptisms and funerals were not performed for non-members. Sometimes those who weren’t of a certain ethnicity or skin colour were not welcome to worship.

Both keeping the rules and allowing exceptions has always been a difficult process to navigate for us. And today Jesus doesn’t actually make it easier. Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath in a 1st century synagogue. Today, Jesus might be inviting his drug addict friends to church, or tweeting with non-church goers during the sermon, or playing soccer in the sanctuary with the youth, or hosting Islamic prayer on Friday nights, or serving meals to homeless during communion.

Jesus bends the rules wherever he can, and if Jesus were busy doing all these things we would certainly protest like the leader of the synagogue, and with good reason. Yet, despite our protests, Jesus often seems to find the exceptions that we cannot see. Jesus is often more concerned with the 1 than the 99.

Still, sometimes our rules and exceptions have no obvious way around them. We can see that our rules are hurting some, but breaking them would hurt others. It feels like our only alternative is to choose the lesser of two evils. One more day of suffering for one person is the best we can do without giving up everyone else’s day off. Or so it seems. But for God, the exception is where mercy and compassion are given. And God is all about the exception:

God is giving up godly power to be intimate with powerless creation.

God is giving forgiveness to sinners who deserve condemnation.

God is preaching Good News to those who are too poor, too sick, too unclean earn it. God is going to the cross and dying when God shouldn’t die.

God is coming back to life when death should be the end.

We struggle with the rules, yet God holds all the exceptions within Godself. We cannot see the way to compassion and mercy, but God does. And God sees people before God sees rules. God values us more than the rules. We are judged and found imperfect under the rules, under the Law, but God loves us perfectly as we are.

The rules are supposed to help us live together peacefully, but eventually they serve only to condemn. And God finds the exceptions, when the rules push us down, God finds us and lifts us up. Lifts us up with mercy and compassion.

When the rules lay us low, and we are weighed down with the burden of keeping the law, when we cannot imagine exceptions without chaos, God find us in the rule bending Christ.

Christ who touches us with mercy and compassion,

Christ who holds all the exceptions in God,

Christ who is God’s exception, sent to be with us.

Christ who sets us free.

Not the Jesus we are used to…

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Read the whole passage)

This is not the Jesus we are used to hearing.

Where did the nice Jesus go who said “Blessed are the poor” or “You are healed, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus is saying some tough things today. “I came to bring fire to earth” “What stress I am under?” “Households will be divided” “You hypocrites!” “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth?”

These kinds of things are not what our usual Jesus would be saying, they sound much more like the kinds of things a movie villain might say and then laugh manically. For us Jesus is more of a Good Shepherd, gently herding sheep, or a kind teacher welcoming children, or a caregiver who tends to us when we are sick. We generally have a very gentle and soft perception of Jesus the Christ.

And so when we hear Jesus speaking in these confrontational terms, it doesn’t jive for us. Especially as church people, we work hard to make churches places where we show only our best. We like to think that God makes life easier and that Jesus is doing the opposite of what he talks about today. We prefer the Jesus who puts out fires, who relieves stress, who unites broken families, who congratulates us for our faithfulness, who brings us peace. It is very uncomfortable to imagine a Jesus who is causing trouble.

The Jesus who is confronting us with fire and with our own hypocrisy, and the Jesus who creates conflict in families, is very uncomfortable for us. We have become good at pushing the negative away. We are good at avoiding uncomfortable topics of conversation. We are adept at presenting put together personas to the outside world, even when we are a mess on the inside. We are afraid to show weakness, suffering, imperfection or flaw to others.

Even as the struggles of world are shown to us on online newsfeeds and 24 hour new channels, our society has become masterful at performing outrage and shock just long enough before going back to pretending that everything is okay. We so good at going back to business as usual we hardly need Jesus to bring us peace.

Yet to the crowds listening to Jesus speak, and to the first readers of Luke’s gospel, there was no pretending that their worlds were not unfair, broken, suffering places. They were living under foreign occupation, the brutal Roman Empire. Their own authorities made sure that everyone knew they place. Most people were poor. Women and children were considered property of men, and were excluded from public life. Most people worked long hours, and only could provide for themselves one day at a time. Most people could not access to the temple, therefore could not access God. Most had little chance of changing their circumstances.

For the crowds listening to Jesus speak, peace was not a simple matter. It wasn’t just an end to war, or a new political party in power, or a little more giving to charity. It couldn’t be solved in therapy or with medication. Peace wasn’t just a little change away.

For there to be true peace, there would be need of serious change. The world would have to be changed. Society would have to be changed. The rules would have to be change. And that kind of change causes conflict. That kind of change often ends in cities burning, families being broken apart, and a revolution that is much bigger than a change in weather. It is the kind of unrest that we are witnessing in Hong Kong this week, curfews and media blacks outs in Kashmir, in mass shooting after mass shooting, in high school students striking for climate change, in families being locked up in cages at borders all amidst political leaders who seem unable and unwilling to work for lasting change.

In fact, taken all together, the division and conflict that Jesus describes is already upon us.

And for the crowds hearing Jesus speak, the promise of radical change in their very chaotic world probably didn’t sound so bad. Their world, as it was, couldn’t really get much worse.

Yet, as we hear Jesus speak, the dramatic change and conflict that Jesus describes, confronts our carefully crafted ways of hiding our problems. Jesus isn’t making these things happen, but simply uncovering what already exists. We know that our world is far from perfect, and is full of big problems, and lots of suffering. But we don’t know how to deal with it, other than to pretend it isn’t really there.

And that is precisely what Jesus is getting at today. Underneath the drama of a burning world and broken families, is the promise that God is transforming it all. God is transforming us. And God’s transformation looks like nothing we could ever imagine.

God’s world changing activities are rooted in the baptism that Christ is baptized with. Unlike the crowds, we know the end of Jesus story. We know where Christ is headed. We know that God’s work of transforming creation begins in a manger, and leads to a cross. We know that Christ’s baptism, means death and resurrection. For Jesus, death at the hands of Romans, religious authorities and an angry mob. For us it is drowning baptism, all our flaws and sins exposed. Being identified as broken, suffering sinners, destined to die.

But this Baptism is also an empty tomb on the 3rd day. It is rising to new life out of the murky, churning waters. It is Body of Christ that meets us in bread and wine, and in our brothers and sister in faith. This Baptism is showing our true selves to one another and discovering that we are made children of God.

Yes, Jesus words are unexpected and uncomfortable today. But they point us to the difficult work of transformation. Jesus points us to God’s work being done here and now. To our transformation from sinner to saved, from unforgiven to loved. Jesus is pointing us to the end of the story. To the end where Christ walks out of the tomb, and meets us in cleansing healing waters, meets in life giving bread and wine, meets us in the honest and exposed body of Christ, where we practice confessing all the things usually hidden from the world.

No, Jesus has not come to bring us peace. And deep down we know that our world doesn’t need peace but change. We know it every time we read or watch or hear the news, every time we have to spend more than five minutes in community. We know that before there can be peace in our homes and families, in our neighbourhoods and communities, in our churches and congregations, that there will first need to be radical change and transformation.

Peace without change would be too easy, and nor would it deal with our problems. Instead, Jesus comes to uncover us and see who we truly are.

But Jesus is also revealing something else. Someone else.

Jesus also uncovers God. The God of life. The God of resurrection and new life. The God who can turn nothing into something, who can transform sinners into saints, who can right all the troubles and struggles and suffering of the world… who can transform death into life.

Jesus show us this uncovered God who is transforming us and the world, right before our eyes.

And no, it is not the Jesus we are used to… but this is the God that we need.

Waiting with lamps lit – has Jesus forgotten us?

Luke 12:32-40

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them…(Read the whole passage)

Jesus is still talking to his disciples and the gathered crowds from last week. Last week Jesus told the parable of the absurd rich man who, despite his inherited land, worked by others, and blessed with abundance by God, believed it was his own doing that made himself rich. The rich man who stored up all his wealth only to have his life demanded of him, and all his hoarding be for nothing. Jesus warned his listeners against the dangers of greed and thinking that stuff will save us.

Today, Jesus is continuing the conversation. And while the instructions start out seemingly normal, they get odder and odder as Jesus goes along. He begins by telling his audience not to rely on material possessions, but to give their wealth away. Trust in heavenly riches, in the grace and mercy of God. Sounds good so far.

But then Jesus instructs the disciples and crowds to be prepared. Be ready and on guard. Wait for the return of the master. Stay awake because the master can return at any moment, day or night.

This advice sounds odd to us. And in fact, probably sounded a bit odd to Jesus’ listeners. The people of Israel were waiting for a Messiah, but he wasn’t going to sneak up on them. There would be signs and advance warning.

For us 2000 years later, the hyper vigilance that Jesus was suggesting seems out of place. We have been waiting for a long time, and we are more accustomed to the long view…

So what is Jesus getting at with all this being awake, dressed and ready?

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Christian community waited with great anticipation for Jesus’ return. Some didn’t even bother working to feed or clothe themselves because they thought Jesus was about to return any day. Yet 50 years later, as Luke sets out to gather the first hand accounts for his gospel, the Christian community was beginning to wonder what was going on. Was Jesus actually going to come back? They were 2nd and 3rd generation believers, how long were they to wait? How could they keep the community going? What were they supposed to do?

In many ways, we are not that different from that community who would have first read Luke’s gospel. We might not be waiting for Jesus to return in the same way, but often churches today wonder what we are supposed to do now? Those of us who can remember the church 30, 40, 50 years ago, remember worship services with people packed to the rafters. Sunday schools had more kids than could be counted. Pastors sermons were broadcast on the radio. Churches were so so full that you could almost feel Jesus ready to pop the roofs off and say hello.

We look around now, and we feel like Luke’s audience. We have watched as members drift away, as attendance and budgets have shrunk. We have lamented the loss of our young people (which we might have to admit is actually the loss of our own youth as we age). We have searched for the next new thing to make us exciting again. And we have been left asking,

“Has God forgotten about us? What do we do now?”.

The Christian community of Luke’s day struggled with how to go forward, not entirely certain what they were supposed to do. We are in the same boat.

And so we hear Jesus’ words today, and they add insult to injury. Be dressed for action. Stay awake, the master is returning, at any hour. As we dream of our bursting congregations coming back. We think being prepared means becoming again the churches we once were. We will know God has come back when we look like that again.

How wrong we are.

Without even thinking we make things about ourselves. Even in how we read Jesus’ words. Today, Jesus seems to be telling us, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet”.

Yet, the greek says something quite different.

Instead Jesus could be translated this way, “Let your waist be girded about, and the lamps burning.” Let someone else dress you, let the light around you illuminate your world.

The disciples, the crowds… us. We are not the doers of the action. We aren’t doing the verbs. We are the recipients of the action. We are not the ones who get ready, or who prepare the way for Christ’s return. It is the Master who is preparing us. It is Jesus who makes us ready.

Even still, when the master comes it is not the servants who will do the serving, but the Master. Jesus says, “truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them”.

The Master is the one serving, and the servants are being served. Jesus comes back to turn our expectations upside down. Jesus is coming at an unexpected hour and we won’t have made ourselves ready. Jesus is the one making us ready, and still when Jesus comes, he does the serving. Not us. We are the ones being prepared. Being prepared to be served.

Like the first readers of Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus words today and we imagine that it is our faith that will make Jesus return. We think it was our faithfulness that filled our churches in the past. It wasn’t us.

Today, Jesus tell us that he is making us ready. Jesus is the one doing the serving. And God’s presence is not measured in attendance and offerings. God has always been here, doing the things that God has always done for us.

God shows us the signs each week. God clothes us in baptism with Christ. God feeds us with Christ’s Body and Blood. God makes us into new creations with Christ the Word. God gives us new identities as members of the Body of Christ.

Our preparations have not made God come, and nor has our shrinking made God leave. Rather, God has always been here. Making us ready in Water, Meal and Word. Serving us with the Word and the Bread of everlasting life.

Prayer is the starting line, not the finish.

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

For every prayer that is offered around the world today, there must be an equal amount of opinions and ideas, rules of thumb and conventions, that tell us how prayer works. As, seek, knock. Ask and keep asking. Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking. Pray boldly and you will receive. You need more faith to pray. You need to pray more. You need to pray for God’s will. You didn’t pray enough and you were punished with illness, suffering or death. Prayer brings us closer to God. Prayer doesn’t do anything. Prayer is for us, so that we know our needs. God hears the prayers of holy people more, especially pastors. God hears all prayers. God only gives us what we need. God will give you what you ask for. There are three answers to prayer, yes, no and maybe later. Prayer is like meditation. God speaks to us in prayer. You have to pray from the heart, you need to pray with words that have been prayed by the faithful for centuries.

Lost and confused yet?

Prayer is a key aspect of Christian life. We pray together each Sunday, we pray alone. We pray for many things here: for rain and sunshine. For Justice and peace. For those who are ill, who are grieving and in distress.

And still prayer can be a very frustrating aspect of Christian life. We want to know the hows, and the whens and the whys. Prayer carries with such expectation that it has the power to make things happen, and yet… we have prayed for and with those for whom prayers have not been answered. We have all had prayers that are not answered. And it begs us to wonder what use is prayer, and perhaps more painfully, why God does not hear us.

The disciples ask Jesus how to pray. And he gives them a mouthful.

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

It sounds familiar, but not quite. Of course it’s the Lord’s prayer, but not quite the one we remember. There is no earthly will of God mentioned in Luke’s version, but it is an earthy prayer that gives us a foundation. The Lord’s Prayer has grounded Christians for 2000 years. Daily bread, forgiveness of sins and salvation from trial and temptation.

This prayer is so engrained in us that we pray it without needing to think… like breathing. It becomes part of the most basic aspects of our living. It is a prayer that goes with us through life from beginning to end. A prayer prayed at baptisms and prayed at on death beds. A prayer prayed before meals and to end meetings, and each time right before we gather together at God’s table for the meal of bread and wine.

Yet, the disciples surely were not hoping for a prayer like this. They maybe wanted one of the cool ones like Jesus would pray. When Jesus would look to heaven and bread and fish would multiply, or dead children would be raised, or demons would scatter, or the sick, blind and lame would be healed, or when a man who had been a corpse for four days would rise up from a sealed tomb. The disciples, 70 of them, had been just sent out and had been healing and casting out demons in Jesus name. Yet, like us, they probably wanted to control such power, not for it just to happen without really knowing why. They want to know the trick, the formula to prayer.

We want prayer to be the same as rubbing a magic lantern. We hope that prayer can gives us wealth and happiness. We hope that it will save us from harm and heal everyone who is sick. Or at the very least, we all wish that prayer and its effects would be something we can measure simply and easily. But it isn’t… Jesus doesn’t do simple and easy.

(Pause)

With every new tragedy to scroll through facebook feeds and across the tickers on 24 hours news channels, we hear politicians and other leaders stand up and offer ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ for victims and families. Thoughts and prayers are offered so often, that these words feel like an empty phrase. Every time there is yet another horrendous act of violence, thoughts and prayers abound, but nothing seems to change. It makes us wonder, if all this praying is doing anything at all. It makes us wonder if there is a point to praying at all.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, it may seem like they are looking for some angle on power, on the ability to get stuff from God. They might be looking for what so many TV prosperity gospel preachers are offering.

But they might also be more like us and how we feel about prayer. They might be asking Jesus how to pray, because for them, prayer feels empty and powerless.

And so Jesus offers them a place to start, a beginning. Jesus give the disciples instructions on how to achieve great things in prayer, but how to start and begin.

Daily Bread, Forgiveness, Salvation from Trial.

God’s Kingdom come.

Jesus shows them that prayer doesn’t achieve the results but begins the process.

Praying for Daily Bread doesn’t feed all who are hungry.

Praying for Forgiveness doesn’t reconcile all peoples.

Praying for salvation in times of trial, doesn’t alleviate all suffering and pain.

Praying begins those things. Prayer is the starting place.

To put it another away, what would it look like if we didn’t pray for the world, the church and those in need.

How many refugees or migrants would ever find welcome if we didn’t pray for displaced persons week after week? None. Yet as pray for those without homes and displaced week after week, it is often people and communities of faith leading the way in sponsoring refugees, welcoming displaced persons at borders, offering shelter and compassion.

How many congregations would run food banks, serve at soup kitchens or offer meal programs if we didn’t pray for the hungry week after week? None! Yet, as we pray for daily bread, churches and people of faith have been the primary feet on the ground for feeding the hungry for years, decades, centuries!

Would we will be able to offer forgiveness if we didn’t pray that God would help us forgive? No we wouldn’t. Yet, as we ask for forgiveness, God shows us how to give forgiveness.

Where would we turn in times of trial, if we didn’t pray that God would save us week after week? We don’t know. Yet, as we pray that God would deliver us, God reminds us that we do not face the trials of our world on our own, but together as the Body of Christ.

Prayer is the beginning. In Prayer God reveals to us all the places where God’s Kingdom comes into world. In prayer, when we pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, for salvation from time of trial, we see that God’s Kingdom is breaking into the world with food for the hungry, with mercy and forgiveness for sinners like us, with salvation for those suffering under the shadow of death.

But even more than that, God gives us a way to speak about the needs of the world in prayer. God gives us words in prayer to speak about the hungry, the poor, the suffering, the dying without it sound like a depressing news report. Instead, prayer allows us to see where God is already at work meeting the needs of the world, and God gives us words to express this reality in prayer.

Prayer is a starting place, when we so often treat it like the end point. Prayer helps us to see where God is at work in the world, where God’s Kingdom is coming. Prayer helps give us the language to talk about the needs of the world without being overwhelmed and depressed by the brokenness of it all.

And so when we wonder with the disciples about whether prayer has any meaning or purpose, Jesus shows us that prayer is the starting place. The starting place to see God in our world. When another politician or leader or Facebook post offers “Thoughts and prayers” for something and we wonder if that does anything to help… Jesus shows us how to begin in prayer, how to begin with daily bread, with forgiveness and salvation from trial.

Jesus shows us that in prayer God’s Kingdom begins to come.

Amen.

What is Jesus’ problem with Martha?

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.” But the Lord answered her, “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.” (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 become icons and symbols of handwork, effort and busyness on the one hand and reflection, attentiveness and faithfulness on the other.

Jesus is waiting for the meal to be 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. It is a big job to get the meal ready. Meanwhile, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say. So 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). 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.”

Some 2000 years later, Mary and Martha have become iconic and symbolic of the ways we often categorize and label each other in the church.

Marthas are often understood to be the be do-ers in our midst. The ones ushering, folding bulletins, pounding in loose nails, planting flowers, making coffee, keeping things neat, tidy and clean.

Marys are often understood to the be the ones interested in faith, in learning, thinking, and praying. The ones at bible study, looking for books on spirituality, asking questions about faith.

I would bet that if we surveyed groups of committed church folks about who they identified with, most would probably raise a hand for Martha.

In fact, it isn’t just in church that we value busyness and hard work above stillness, listening and learning. Our world certainly lifts up the characteristic of a Martha above those of a Mary. Being busy is a badge of honour, being productive is sign of status, getting things done is a trait of value.

I wonder why that is in the church? And in the world?

It isn’t just our tendency to value productivity and work. It goes deeper than that.

Martha’s busyness is a means of self-justification. If her work is valuable (even if she hates doing it) than she by extension is also of value.

Whereas Mary’s idleness, her openness and listening posture are things we struggle to put a price tag on. Mary isn’t doing something that translates into giving herself self-worth.

It is okay to be a Martha type even as Jesus scolds her for being worried and frantic.

But it is rarely okay to be Mary, to simply listen and be and set aside trying to constantly justify ourselves by showing our value and worthiness through our work.

And yet, Jesus’ lack of sympathy or understanding for Martha is surprising. Because we can hear it as a lack of caring for a lot of the ways in which we spend our time.

If Jesus gives Martha a hard time about her dinner preparations, how would Jesus feel about our 50 and 60 hour work weeks, about our are high rates of burnout and stress, about our constant consumption in order to increase productivity, our endless pursuit of economic growth?

It perhaps too simple to think that this story is about a choice between to opposites – Mary and Martha.

And yet, Jesus’ issue with Martha is not specifically 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.

For you see, the better thing reaches both Mary and Martha today. Mary first hears it at Jesus’ feet as she sets aside her quest for self-justification… as she lets go of her own baggage, her own fears about needing to follow to the rules, to be valued for what she contributes and produces. Jesus gives Mary the better thing, the one thing that she needs – the Word of God.

And yet, even as Martha lashes out to Jesus, even as she complains about her sister, even as she stuck in a cycle of trying to be good enough on her own, by her own power… Jesus still reaches out Martha. Jesus breaks through Martha’s business and proclaims to her too the Word of God.

And of course that is the point of this story. It is a not a choice between idleness and busyness, not a prescription for what we need to be doing. It is a reminder, a declaration of what God is doing for us. That God comes to us with the good news, with the better thing, no matter our efforts or not to save ourselves.

And God has always been coming, always been meeting us where we are. Always speaking to us whether we have set our own baggage aside or whether we are trying to pull Jesus into our drama. Whether we are Mary or Martha or both:

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.

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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