St. John's - Morgan
23 Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Luke 18:9-14
Subject: Forgiveness of sins
Predicate: is given to even the slimiest person imaginable when they pray for it.
Do you know why we fold our hands, bow our heads and close our eyes when we pray?
For most of it is just something that we grew up with.
I vaguely remember that when I first went to Sunday school as a 3 year old, the teacher would say, "Let's all pray. Now fold you hands, bow your heads down and close your eyes." And then she'd say a prayer, or we'd all pray a simple prayer together.
We may also have learned the bowed heads, folded hands, prayer posture from our parents. At our house, a table prayer was (and is) a ritual that we practiced at every meal. When my brother and sister and I were as young as 1 or 2, we were learning through observation, and the coaching of our parents, that the way to pray was like this - (Fold hands, bow head, strike pose). //
Now what I never realized when I was young, but what I learned over 30 years after I was first taught how to pray, is that our Gospel lesson for today is the root of our bowed head, folded hands, prayer posture.
Historically, the oldest posture for prayer was to hold the palms of your hands upward, facing the heavens, and to look upward to the heavens too, so that when you began to speak the words of your prayer, they would be directed to the place where everyone envisioned God to be.
In the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in the Temple, that is the way the Pharisee was standing when he prayed.
Today, you can see a remnant this ancient prayer posture in the Holy Communion service when I hold my hands out like this, (assume "orans posture"), or at the end of the prayer petitions when I raise my hands and pray, "Into your hands we commend all for whom we pray. . ."
But except for these few ceremonial instances where the uplifted hands and eyes posture is still used, we have by and large modeled our prayer posture after the tax collector who, instead of praying like he was taught, stood "far off," and "would not even lift his eyes to heaven."
You see, when we read this parable, and especially when we hear Jesus' conclusion that the Tax Collector was justified and the Pharisee was not, we automatically assume that we should model ourselves and our prayers and how we pray after Tax Collector.
And we automatically assume that we should condemn the Pharisee, and the prayer he prayed and the way he prayed. And even more importantly than that, IF we have any hope of being justified, THEN we better not act like him, or we'll be the ones going home unjustified.
We have to be careful though. The Pharisee is not quite the bad guy that we make him out to be.
And the parable IS NOT primarily a story about two different ways to pray, one of which God prefers and will reward, and the other of which God does not like and will ignore.
The truth is that the Pharisee was praying in the correct way. Both his prayer posture and the content of his prayer was pretty good.
You see, usually we fixate on the fact that the Pharisee was glad that he was not "like OTHER people who were unjust, or extortioners, or adulterers."
Usually we fixate on the fact that he told God how he fasted twice a week (instead of once a year as his religious tradition prescribed), and that he gave a whopping 10% of his income to the church.
Usually we think that the Pharisee is bragging about his great behavior when he talks about it in his prayer.
But take a real careful note of ALL the words in the Pharisee's prayer.
Then you'll see that the Pharisee is NOT bragging. He is not taking personal credit for all the good things that he does.
In reality, he is actually thanking God. He recognizes that he is only good because God has been with him. It is strictly because of God's grace and mercy that the Pharisee has been empowered to live a good life.
And, when he looks at the Tax Collector and mentions him in his prayer, the Pharisee is not condemning the Tax Collector. Instead he is still thanking God, realizing that if it wasn't for the grace of God, then the Pharisee might be a disreputable person too.
Now, what's wrong with a prayer like that?
It would be wrong if we thought we were good strictly because of our own efforts and convictions. It would be wrong if we pushed God completely out of the picture and took all the credit for the way we live.
But it is NEVER wrong to realize that we are good, or that we have faith, or that we are pious people BECAUSE of the grace of God.
And it is NEVER wrong to thank God for being with us and keeping us on the right path.
We should give credit to God for ALL the ways in which we've been blessed, and we should give thanks to God for ALL the ways in which we've been blessed. //
Now, even thought there is nothing really wrong with the Pharisee's prayer, we still have to make some sense of the parable.
Because Jesus makes if perfectly clear that when they head for home, the Pharisee IS NOT justified and the Tax Collector IS.
And it is important for us to understand why.
To do that we must go all the way back to Jesus' day and think about the reaction of the people who first heard this parable. For them, the outcome was both unexpected and shocking.
It was unexpected and shocking because no one in their right mind could possibly imagine that God would be willing to forgive a tax collector.
In Jesus' day, tax collectors were not much different that a career criminal in our world.
They used force and intimidation to extort money out of the common citizens of the nation. If the tax they were supposed to collect was $100 a household, and through threatening to burn the house down or to kill the householder they could collect $200, they could pocket a nifty 100% profit!
To get the proper image in our head I think we have to envision the Tax Collector as a Mafia extortionist and hit man, or a major league drug dealer who handles millions of dollars a year in profits from his illegal trade and ruthlessly executes anyone who tries to hone in on his turf.
And to complete the image of the parable, instead of the Pharisee, I think we need to see someone like me, a basically nice guy who happens to serve as a leader in the church standing in his place. Or better yet, you can personalize it by placing yourself, a basically good and faithful person who worships and prays regularly, in the sandals of the Pharisee.
And then, holding on to that image (because that's the image that Jesus' audience would have seen) consider the impact of the final verdict.
You and I are left standing in the sanctuary, unforgiven and unjustified, while the criminal heads for home with God's forgiveness granted, and the gates of heaven open to him!
Well there is one difference between the prayer of the Pharisee and the prayer of the Tax Collector that does matter.
It has nothing to do with their posture. It has nothing to do with the Pharisee's gratefulness. And it has nothing to do with the humble attitude of the Tax Collector.
But it has everything to do with the fact that the Tax Collector prayed, "Lord have mercy on me, A SINNER!"
As Jesus tells the parable, this confession of sin is a sincere confession, and the Lord who hears it knows it, and the Tax Collector's sins are forgiven.
The Pharisee's mistake was that he failed to realize that he too was in need of God's forgiveness. Though he was correct in rejoicing that by God's grace he was living a good life, he was blind to the subtle, yet damning sin that he was guilty of.
The good news, the shocking Good News, is that our God is the God who decreed that his only son must die to win forgiveness for ALL people, including the slimiest criminal on the face of the earth.
The challenge for good, faithful people like the Pharisee, and us, is twofold.
First we are challenged to remember that we still stand in need of God's mercy and forgiveness, no matter how good we are, and even if we give ALL the credit for our goodness to God and God alone.
And secondly, we are challenged to rejoice in the fact that anyone and everyone, even the worst person we can image, can be forgiven and justified by God.
No sin is too great to forgive. No sin is more powerful than God. God can, and God will grant forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who sincerely repents. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran
Christ the King - C
Text: Luke 23:35-43
Subject: Christ is the king
Predicate: not only in the heavenly, eternal realm, but the temporal, now, TODAY realm too!
If it were possible, it would be interesting to sit down with EVERYONE who goes to church regularly to ask them a bunch of "Why?" questions.
Questions like: "Why are you a Christian? Why do you think it is important to have faith? Why do you attend worship?" And, "Why do you think other people should also become Christians?
I'm sure that the answers that people would give to these questions would be as varied as the people themselves.
But I'm also sure that certain general themes would emerge in their answers as well.
And one of the general themes that I would expect to hear, (because I've already heard it quite frequently from many people in my conversations with them) is that the whole business of religion and faith has something to do with the future.
A child might talk about how their faith in Jesus is so that someday, they can go to heaven.
Older kids and adults are likely to say the same thing, but usually with the additional understanding that we must first die, and then face a judgment day where it is necessary for God to see that we have been faithful people in order for us to be judged worthy of entering the heavenly realm.
Other people are looking to the future for the second coming of Jesus. There are many Christians who have focused ALL their attention on Jesus' promise to return at some future date. Whole churches have been founded to prepare people for the "rapture," an event where the faithful living are expected to be instantly transported to heaven.
And even those of us who serve as pastors are keenly focused on the future benefits of our faith.
For me the ultimate hope, that I long for, and that I proclaim in my preaching and pastoral visits, especially when someone is faced with death, is the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
And it is my hope that this eternal future in God's kingdom is something that ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE is able to be a part of. I believe, as Paul wrote to Timothy, that, "God desires ALL people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." //
Now, the promises of our faith, and our hopes for the future, are an important part of what it means to be a Christian.
As people facing the suffering and death that is an inevitable part of life, our faith means that we do not have to throw our hands up in despair. Even in the darkest of situations, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- the time when all pain will be gone, and the time when all sadness replaced with joy.
But -- there is a temptation that goes hand in hand with this hope for the future.
And that is to forget about the present.
You see, for a long time, ALL that mattered in the church, and its preaching and teaching, was the "heavenly life" beyond this earthly realm.
The present and eternity was carved up into two separate and distinct eras. And the spiritual and physical world was divided as well.
The church actually taught that spiritual and eternal matters were more important than the physical present.
And at its unfortunate worst, the church even led people to believe that the physical, earthly, temporal universe we live in is evil and bad, and that only the spiritual and heavenly realm is holy and good.
When this was taught, (and in cases when it is still taught), the church was not being faithful to God's Word as it is clearly stated in the Bible.
The first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, tells us that the physical world is not an inferior, infected, evil place. Over and over again, when God finished creating the different parts of the physical world, he contemplated the finished product, and God declared it to be, "Good!"
And in a similar way, in the New Testament, Jesus was constantly reminding the people he ministered to that his teachings were not strictly aimed at preparing people for the "future kingdom."
Instead, he wanted people to understand that the future begins right NOW.
Jesus taught that you can't carve up time into a present and an eternity that are two separate and distinct realms. Instead he wants us to see that the present and eternity are completely connected and intertwined.
Through his teaching and preaching he told us that eternity begins in the present.
And he told us that because NOW and FOREVER are so intimately connected, that to ignore the present, or to live imprudently in the present, is to imperil ourselves for all eternity.
We see one example of this in our Gospel lesson for today.
As Jesus and the two criminals were hanging on the cross, contemplating their impending deaths, one of the criminals, with an eye to the future, asked Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
But Jesus redirected the focus from the future to the present when he answered, "TODAY, you will be with me in paradise."
Now you may think that this is still a future focused promise. You may think that Jesus is referring to where they will be in a few hours after they both have died.
But the truth is, it is a present focused promise. Jesus is actually saying that the criminal's presence in paradise is beginning in his TODAY, at that very moment, even though he is suffering an agonizing death by crucifixion.
And Jesus is saying that each present experience, even an agonizing death, is an experience of being in paradise when we are united to him in faith.
St. Paul explained this well in his letter to the Romans when he wrote, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's."
Jesus words to the criminal hanging next to him were not the only ones that expressed how his relationship with us, and our relationship with him bring the future and present together.
When Jesus began his public ministry he read a portion of the prophet Isaiah to the people worship in the synagogue in Nazareth. The reading said that "The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news, to release the captives, to give sight to the blind, and to set free those who are oppressed." When Jesus finished reading, he proclaimed, "TODAY, (and not at some future date) this Scripture has been fulfilled."
Or when Jesus encountered Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, Jesus said, "Come on down for I must stay at your house TODAY." And later, at the house of Zacchaeus, Jesus said, "TODAY, salvation has come to this house (that is, to Zacchaeus and his family).
Or what about the time when the rich young man asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said, "Keep the commandments."
The young man said, "I have." And Jesus then told him to sell his possession and give them to the poor (or in other words, live a life of service to those who are needy). In telling him this, Jesus connected the young man's present living with eternity.
Or what about the time when the disciples asked Jesus for the seats of honor in his kingdom?
Jesus told them that the seats were not his to give, at least at the moment. Then he went on to say that if they had any hope of attaining the right and left hand seats in the kingdom then the disciples must be prepared to drink from the same cup as Jesus was going to drink from.
Or in other words, Jesus was saying that the disciples must be prepared to suffer like Jesus was going to suffer, and to serve as Jesus served, because TODAY and TOMORROW, the PRESENT and ETERNITY, are connected like this (intertwine fingers tightly). //
This is the last Sunday of the Church Year. We call it, "Christ the King Sunday." And we talk about and think about how Jesus Christ is our king.
But accepting Jesus as our king and understanding what it means that he is our king is not always the easiest thing to do.
In past sermons on Christ the King Sunday I've talked about the fact that the whole concept of having a king, and understanding what a king really is and what a king does for us is a challenge in our modern world.
Today I have tried to focus on a different problem. And that is the temptation to think that Jesus in only the king of that future time and place we call heaven.
But my friends, this is simply not true.
Since Jesus very clearly articulated how the present and eternity are not separated but rather, completely connected, that means that Jesus is our king TODAY. Right now. From the moment we were baptized, we've been a citizen of his kingdom.
That is good news!
It means that TODAY, we will be with Jesus in paradise. No matter what happens. Whether we suffer or thrive, or whether we live or die, we are the Lord's, and he is our king. Right now. At this very moment!
And it is a challenge!
When we walk out of the sanctuary door, we need to ask ourselves, "Will we live each moment of our lives as if we really are a citizen of the heavenly kingdom? Will we love our neighbors as ourselves? Will we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give water to those who thirst?"
Jesus kingship is a very present thing.
And our citizenship should be too! AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
1st Sunday in Advent
Text: Matthew 24:37-44
Subject: The coming of Jesus
Predicate: has past, present, and future aspects to it, we celebrate the past, experience the present and look forward to the future.
Though the stores beat the church to it every year, we have finally arrived at the season of Advent. A season of preparation. A season of expectation. A season when we experience a growing anticipation because of the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.
At least, that IS the way it should be.
Unfortunately in our world today we are tempted to focus on a variety of holiday "comings" other than the coming of Jesus Christ.
For Example: Children at school often sing that "Santa Claus is coming to town."
And parents may be tempted to manipulate the kid's expectation of Santa's arrival to squeeze a few extra drops of good behavior out of them. How many times have you heard a parent say something like, "Remember kids, he knows if you if you've been naughty or nice, so you better be good for goodness sake!"
Both kids and adults may also be focused on the coming of the holiday celebration itself.
To get ready for the special day there are a million things to do. There are presents to buy. There's baking to finish up. And parties to attend. Meals to prepare. Cards to send. Decorations to put up. We've got Christmas programs at church and at school that have to be rehearsed. And when they are ready, we've got to be there to participate in them, or to watch them.
And as I wrote out this quick list, I probably forgot a whole lot more that we think we need to do in order to get ready to celebrate the coming Christmas holiday.
We may also be looking forward to the Christmas holiday because it's a time when our loved ones come back home.
You know, as a pastor with an obligation to this parish to lead us in worship on all the religious holidays we celebrate, I am not able to be with my family in California at Christmas very often. As I recall, 1985 was the last time we were all together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,
This year we'll be traveling to California a couple of days after Christmas, (because that's as close as we can get to the holiday itself with everything that is going on). We are looking forward to the visit, and I know that my family out there is looking forward to us coming "home for the holidays" //
But there is also a flip side to the expectation and excitement many of us have for the coming holiday.
For there are some people, perhaps even many people, who dread the coming holidays.
For some people, no one is coming home for the holiday this year and the prospect of an empty house and loneliness seems like it may too much to bear.
Or, for lots of families, this will be the first Christmas after the death of a loved one, and the empty chair at all the holiday festivities will focus and magnify everyone's feelings of grief.
For others the impact of a financial set back or lost job means that "Santa Claus ISN'T coming to their home this year." //
Now - whether we are eagerly looking forward to Christmas, or if we have reason to dread the holiday this year, the fact is, that for the next few weeks our lives WILL BE SHAPED by the coming of the holiday.
During the next few weeks we may be busy doing what we think we have to do to prepare for it. Or we may be forcing ourselves to do what we have to do to survive it. But in either case, we will be preparing for its coming. In either case we will try to be ready when the 25th of December arrives.
The only problem with our seasonal expectations, and all of our busy preparations for the holiday, is that very few of us spend enough time thinking about and preparing for the one coming that really matters.
For it is the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that gives this holiday its name.
And it is the coming of Jesus Christ that gives Christmas its meaning.
Unfortunately, for most people, the coming of Jesus Christ just doesn't seem to be as much fun as the coming of Santa Claus. Even people who go to church on Christmas are tempted to tear out of here so that the family can gather for Christmas dinner and the opening of presents.
But food, folks and fun is not what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is serious business. Extremely serious business.
In the opening hymn this morning we sang, "Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here. . ."
You know, when you unwrap the meaning of the poetry of this hymn, you will see that we were not singing about Israel, but we were singing about ourselves.
For we are the captives that long to be ransomed.
We are enslaved by our sin. The good things that we want to do we don't do, and the evil things we don't want to do, we do.
And we are in bondage to the fear of death. We see death all around us. Starvation in Africa. Tornadoes down south. Murder on the job in Green Bay. And disease in our family, our friends, and perhaps even ourselves.
But all is not lost. There is hope. There is one thing, and only one thing that can set us free from our bondage to sin and death.
And that is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the only son of God.
And there is only one way for Jesus to accomplish this mission of ransoming us from our bondage.
He must come to this earth. He must be born a true human being. He must live among us. And he must fulfill God's will. He must be obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
What is most important during this season of Advent, and the season of Christmas soon to follow, is that we remember that the coming of Jesus Christ is the most important coming that ever has happened, and that ever will happen.
We need to look beyond all the holiday hoopla, and refocus our attention on the promises of God.
And we need to overcome the dread and depression bred by the fear that the holiday will be less than perfect, and remember that because Jesus was born to set us free, we have received more than any of us could possibly hope for.
Putting the holiday hoopla and seasonal blues in check is not going to be easy. But is it possible when, by the power of the Holy Spirit we open our hearts and minds to the living Word of God.
St. Paul describes the work of the Spirit and refocusing of our faith as "waking up from our slumber."
It is an apt description because when you sleep, you are not fully aware of all that is happening around you. But when you wake up, you can see again, and you can understand again.
To downplay or forget that Christmas is about the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ is to sleep your way through the holiday (and probably the rest of your life too!).
But on the other hand, to center all of our activities, and thoughts, and prayers, on the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came to save US, is to realize that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Subject: Lost sinners
Predicate: are to be found at any cost because that is what the mission of Christ (and therefore the church) is all about.
I think I'm in the wrong place.
Even though we've reached the point in our worship where it is time for the sermon, and even though I'm in the pulpit beginning to talk, I don't think I should be preaching here at Morgan this Sunday morning.
Or on any Sunday morning.
The problem is, that when I look out at you who are gathered here for worship today, I see a pretty good bunch of people.
That's not to say that you are perfect. But by and large you are all hard working, honest citizens. By and large you are all family people who love and care for each other. By and large you are all faithful people who attend church regularly.
And THAT IS the problem.
Because, according to the Bible, according to the words of Jesus Christ himself, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent.
And so, if as a pastor of the church and minister of the Gospel I am going to be faithful to the scriptures, then I should probably go someplace else to preach to some other people.
In fact, we who are pastors of the church would be doing the right thing if ALL OF US left our comfortable congregations of "nice" people and headed for the dirtiest, scummiest, most corrupt parts of our society.
We pastors would be doing the right thing if we started hanging around crack houses and pornographic bookstores and prostitutes and common criminals in order to preach the gospel of God's love and forgiveness to them.
We would be doing the right thing if we left our congregations and headed for the jails and prisons to share the good news of Jesus Christ with murderers and rapists.
We would be doing the right thing if we went out to the highways and byways and gathered up all the mean, nasty, uncaring, brutal people we could find and brought them back here to take your place in the pews and your place at the table to receive the sacrament of communion.
If we did this, then we would be more like Jesus.
Because Jesus spent the majority of his ministry time living and working with some really rotten people.
And that is something we are tempted to forget.
Think about the pictures of Jesus that we love so much. Pictures like the ones painted by Francis Hook with a kind looking Jesus surrounded by a group of cute little kids.
Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a picture like this. Jesus did say to, "Let the little children come to (him)."
But I am saying that if that is our ONLY image of Jesus we are forgetting over half the story.
For the whole picture, right along side Jesus and the children, we should also see Jesus surrounded by tax collectors and sinners. We should see the prostitute bathing his feet in her tears. We should see the thieves being executed for their crimes, hanging on the crosses right next to the Lord's.
Unfortunately a lot of people want nothing to do with the "real" Jesus Christ. A lot of people are offended by the fact that Jesus associated with sinners and outcasts. A lot of people want to mold Jesus into their own image of what the Son of God should be like.
People like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus' day, for example. Our gospel lesson for today tells us that the Pharisees and religious leaders muttered among themselves about Jesus' "outrageous behavior."
As you remember, the Pharisee's and religious leaders worked hard at keeping all the commandments and religious laws. They were good people, and they knew it and flaunted it. They never committed what we might call major sins - things like murder, assault, theft and the like. They were exemplary in the way that they obeyed all the minor points of the law such as resting on the Sabbath, and keeping themselves "religiously clean."
When they looked at Jesus they saw a man who didn't care about the religious laws that they considered so important, and that they thought God also held to be of the utmost importance. .
They saw a man who dared to work on the Sabbath day of rest. They saw a man who actually touched people affected by leprosy and other dread diseases. They saw a man who spent time visiting and teaching with prostitutes, and tax collectors (who were kind of like the Mafia in those days) and other undesirable people.
Everything Jesus did, and everything Jesus said, and all the people whom Jesus spent time with, did not fit with the image of God and the image of a servant of God that the Pharisees believed in.
And so, instead of rejoicing in Jesus and the good news that he was proclaiming in word and deed, they muttered about him, they rejected his message, they condemned him, and eventually they mustered up enough support to have him killed.
Ironically, the righteousness of the Pharisees was in fact, their sin.
The Pharisees figured that since sin is doing things that are the opposite of what God wants, then God must want nothing to do with the sinner.
And the logical extension of that is that the righteous person, the one who does their best at keeping God's commands, should also shun the blatant sinners of the world.
But the Pharisees and religious leaders simply did not understand the true will of God.
For although God hates the sin, God loves the sinner dearly.
And although those who sin deserve God's temporal and eternal punishment, God really wants them to be forgiven and saved.
Jesus made this abundantly clear in his ministry. From the people he associated with, to his parables and sermons, Jesus demonstrated and taught that God loves us all and that God can forgive us all, no matter what we have done.
Jesus summed up God's attitude and described his mission when he said that, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick do! Therefore, I came not to call the righteous, BUT SINNERS!"
Our challenge today, is to remember that the primary mission of the church is still the ministry of the forgiveness of sins.
One of the most common mistakes among Christians today is to forget this and replace this true mission of the church with a distorted version, or with our personal agenda, or with a politically correct ideology.
Some people today say the goal of the church is to become one big, happy, multi-cultural family.
That would be neat. I think God would like the church to be like that. But not at the expense of forgetting about bringing the word of forgiveness to sinners.
Other people say that the goal of the church is to get people to believe in Jesus so they will be saved.
That sounds good at first, but it subtly shifts the focus away from what truly saves us. For we are not saved because we believe, rather, we are saved because we are forgiven by God, through Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. What we really need to do, is accept the gift of forgiveness that God has given us.
And as forgiven, saved persons, who have been called to be Jesus' disciples in the year 1992, what we really need to do, is make sure that the word of forgiveness is still carried to the sinners who need to hear is.
This means that we must open the doors of our church to everyone.
If a person whom we know to be a terrible sinner comes to church some Sunday, we should rejoice that they are here to hear the Word.
And this means that we must support the ministries of the church that go directly to the people who need forgiveness the most.
Ministries such as chaplains in our prisons and jails, and street pastors among prostitutes and drug addicts and gang members, and pastors working with persons dying of AIDS even though they contracted the disease through immoral and sinful behavior.
And it means that we must be thankful.
For our greatest temptation is to forget how easily we could be in "their shoes."
Though we many be good upstanding citizens and members of the church today, we are at our core sinners who are here by the grace of God alone, and the forgiveness that God has granted us through Jesus Christ, his son, our Lord.
All heaven rejoiced on the day we were baptized, and for some of us the on day we repented and returned to the body of Christ.
My friends, never forget that you too are a sinner of God's own redeeming. By always remembering this, and, by the grace of God, may our voices now become a part of the heavenly choir that rejoices when new sinners are added to the fold of those being saved. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
18th Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:1-13
Subject: The kingdom of God
Predicate: is worth quick, astute, shrewd actions and decisions to seize the opportunity to be a part of is when we are faced with the chance.
In the midst of all the political rhetoric being tossed about during this year's presidential campaign, one criticism I've heard leveled at both the government and private enterprise, is that no one is planning for the long term any more.
According to those who make this complaint, instead of thinking about the future, and our children, and our children's children, and even beyond that, the problem with many people is that they are only thinking about themselves and today.
Instead of aiming for a steady flow of income for the next 10 or 20 or 100 years, the temptation is to make a quick killing on the market today.
Instead of parceling out scarce resources so that future generations can use and enjoy them, the temptation is to take everything now.
And instead of making sure that everyone in society has the opportunity to work and earn a living wage and in turn have decent shelter, sufficient food and adequate health care, the temptation is to let every person fend for him or herself. And if you aren't able to grab your own piece of the pie, then tough luck -- you deserve your poverty.
Now I don't intend to say that EVERY person in business or the government is guilty of this kind of thinking. But many are.
For many people the ONLY thing that counts is the "bottom line." For many people, anything goes, as long as it results in a profit.
There are people in our world who would be happy to cut the last tree or clear the last acre of rain forest if they thought they could make profit on it.
There are people in our world who would think nothing of closing down a plant in our country and relocating it half way around the globe where workers are paid less than a dollar an hour, in order to make more money for themselves.
There are people in our world who con hard-earned money out of unsuspecting victims (unfortunately - often the elderly on fixed incomes).
There are people who cheat, and cut corners, and deal on inside information in order to amass riches for themselves at the expense of honest people who work hard to deliver a quality product.
Now we might think that this sorry state of affairs is a modern phenomena. But if you recall what we heard in our Old Testament lesson, and our Gospel for today, you'll see that the love of money, and the willingness to cheat and steal to get it goes way, way back to the earliest years of recorded history.
In Amos, we hear about how the merchants wanted fewer Holy days and shorter Sabbath hours so they could be open for business longer so they could sell more and make more profit.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, these same merchants skimped on the measure when they sold commodities by volume. They used dishonest scales when they sold goods by weight. They conspired with other merchants to fix higher prices. And they even mixed sweepings of straw and chaff in with the grain when they sold wheat.
Common citizens, people like you and I, were the victims of their dishonest schemes. The middle class and the poor footed the bill for these rich merchants and their lives of luxury.
In the Gospel today, we heard the parable of the dishonest manager.
We don't know exactly what kind of problems this manager was responsible for. The text simply tells us that he wasted his boss' possessions. But it was serious enough that the boss decided to fire the manager. The boss called him in and asked, "What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot work for me any longer."
When he realized that he was being given the "pink slip," the manager wondered what to do. He knew he wasn't strong enough to dig or do any hard manual labor, and he was ashamed to go out and beg for food.
So he concocted one more dishonest scheme. Before he left the office for the last time, he called in all the people who were in debt to his boss.
He opened the books, and allowed them to slash the recorded debt. A farmer who owed a 1000 measures of wheat reduced it to 800. With the stroke of a pen, an olive oil processor cut his debt in half.
When his under the table revision of the books was done, the manager was ready to leave his job, fired to be sure, but also knowing that the ones who benefited from his conspiracy would welcome him into their houses, and maybe even give him a job.//
Well, the task before us now, is to make some sense out of these lessons.
For not only do we have the story about the corrupt merchants and dishonest manager before us, but we also have the word of the Lord regarding the merchants, AND the boss' unexpected commendation of the manager's shrewdness, AND Jesus' interpretive comments on the parable, AND (if you want to go even further) a third lesson from 1 Timothy.
As I prepared my sermon this past week, I asked the question, "What message does God really want us to hear from these lessons?"
By the power of the Holy Spirit, one answer that came to me is that God wants all of us to get our lives straightened out in terms of the "bottom line."
You see, if the bottom line that we are aiming for; if the profit that we want to make IS NOT in harmony with what God desires for us, and for all people, then our lives, and the lives of those around us will be all messed up.
And the Bible makes it abundantly clear that accumulating lots of money and earthly wealth is not what life is all about. It is not the bottom line that we should be aiming for.
St. Paul wrote to Timothy that the "Love of money is the root of all evil."
The Letter to the Hebrews echoes this in the 13th chapter where the people are admonished, "To keep their lives free from the love of money."
The prophet Amos preached saying, "Hear this, you who trample the needy. . .The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: I will never forget anything that you have done."
And Jesus himself said that, "You cannot serve BOTH God and money." And he even turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, shouting, "My Father's house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves."//
Now there is nothing wrong with money in itself. It is an essential part of our life. We need money to buy the things that are required for survival.
And there is nothing wrong with honest success in business. If you work hard, if you sell a lot, if you invent the right thing at the right time, and you make a lot of money, well, good for you.
But becoming obsessed with money, diverts our attention from the bottom line that God really desires for all his children.
And that bottom line is that we, "Love God with all our heart and soul and mind, AND that we love our neighbors as ourselves."
Ultimately, that is the message of each of the three lessons for today.
From Amos, we hear a word of judgment against the people who are evil and corrupt and strive for money and riches at the expense of their neighbors.
Though no specific punishment is decreed for the moment, the LORD promises to remember the evil that they have done. He explicitly implies that unless they repent and change their ways, those who trample the needy will one day stand under his judgment.
In Timothy we hear that the bottom line of a Christian's life should be the praise of God, and concern for ALL members of the community.
And one of the best ways to both praise God, and to serve our neighbors is to lift up holy hands in prayer. St. Paul urges Timothy and us, to pray prayers of thanksgiving and to ask for God's favor on behalf of everyone from powerful kings and leaders to the least of the community including the poor, the sick, orphans, widows, the elderly, and the little children.
Finally, I have to say something about the Gospel and its confusing parable, and how it relates to what I'm talking about today.
The most troublesome aspect of this parable is the fact that when the boss found out about the manager's crooked fixing of the books, he commended him for his shrewdness.
That is troublesome and disturbing because at first it seems like Jesus is saying that what the manager did was good.
But remember, the point of all of Jesus' parables is to teach us something about the Kingdom of Heaven.
And so the point of this one is not the dishonest act that the manager did, but rather, his quick reaction and the fact that he came up with a shrewd, astute, focused plan to guarantee his survival.
The key line of all Jesus' interpretive comments is his first one where he said that, "The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light."
In saying this, Jesus is looking at all his would be followers, including us, and he's asking us if we will be like the dishonest manager when confronted with the kingdom of heaven?
Will we recognize the opportunity to become a part of the kingdom?
Will we be able to decide to act, quickly, shrewdly and single-mindedly in order that we might be a part of God's kingdom?
Will we use our wealth and power in such a way that eternal dwellings will be opened up to us?
Will we be prudent in the way that we live now, so that we will prepared for the eternal future that God is offering to each of us?
It all depends on our bottom line.
Living for money endangers us. As Jesus said, "It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven."
But if we have half the shrewdness of the dishonest steward, we will see the opportunity God is setting out before us.
We will repent of our sins. We will Love God with all our heart. We will love our neighbors. We will pray for them.
That is what God wants. By his grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, may it be the "bottom line," for all of us. AMEN!