Monday, November 29, 2010

So Long, and Thanks For all the Fish, Douglas Adams

Well, I started Delmo Dorite Writes a little over five years ago whilst I was still working at Hinton Center, doing Spiritual Formation and Continuing Education, etc. Since then, I've been a parish pastor (Friedens ELCA, Gibsonville, NC) and the Assistant to the Bishop (Southeastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Atlanta, GA.) Through it all, being Delmo Dorite has helped keep me sane, and I have enjoyed it tremendously. But it's time for a change.

This is my last post here, BUT! the work goes on in a new format. The Rev'd Dr. John Fairless and I ("Two Bubbas and a Bible, Inc.") have long collaborated on projects and now we have a new one. It's called The Lectionary Lab. (You can access it at

It's a combination of textual comments, one-liners, illustrations and short sermons designed to help the parish pastor get started on the weekly task of preaching the Word. Brought to you by two working pastors who've been doing just that week after week, for a collective 50 years or so. I hope you'll check it out and let us know what you think. (It could also be a good Bible Study and devotional for anyone, preacher or not.)



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nov. 14, 2010

Installation Sermon for Sally Fran Ross
Preached Nov. 14, 2010 at Luther's Chapel, Pulaski, Miss.

Texts: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

It was during Lent, 25 years ago. I was the pastor of a very old Lutheran church north of Charlotte. North Carolina.

On the wall of the apse, above the altar, there was a stained glass window in the shape of a cross lit by light bulbs.

One Wednesday afternoon I was putzing around the altar getting things ready for mid-week service when I noticed that one of the bulbs had gone out.

I resolved to change it, but, as often happens with me, I got distracted and forgot about it until the middle of the pre-service Fellowship Meal.

I excused myself and went into the church and then upstairs and opened a little door in the hall, got down on my knees to change the bulb. This is when I saw Seth.

Seth wasn't a bad kid; he was just six, and mischievous, he got into things.

This night Seth had gone into the church alone and he was pulling the big, heavy pulpit chair over to the front of the altar.

The altar was set for Communion, with a plate full of wafers, a stack of trays and a cup of wine already set out under a shear, white veil.

In a moment I realized what Seth was doing; he wanted to get a look at that table, and I visualized him pulling everything down on his head and falling out of the chair, etc. etc.

So, without thinking I barked out; "Seth, get down from there, you're going to hurt yourself!"

I will never forget the look of pure terror that washed over Seth's face as he jerked his head up and looked into the face of Jesus staring down at him from above the Altar.

He started crying and yelling "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" and ran out of the room.

I left what I was doing and followed Seth out of the Church, across the parking lot into the Fellowship Hall, where he was weeping into his grandmother's large and welcoming lap.

Grandma, Grandma, Grandma; Jesus yelled at me. I want to go home NOW!

Most of the time, I find church to be a pleasant and happy place. A place where, like Seth, I feel safe and welcome and at home.

But every once in a while, church can become a frightening, indeed a scary place, a place I would just as soon not be.

Like today while I was reading that Gospel lesson.

That's pretty scary stuff. All that talk about war and destruction and earthquakes and famines and pestilence and terror and persecution.

Well, it scares me to death; and I'm like Seth; I'm ready to go screaming out of the room, looking for my Grandma's lap.

Before we go too far down this scary road, I think it important that we read this text carefully.

What Jesus is getting at here is something we all know both from history and personal experience: the world is indeed a scary and dangerous place; full of danger, trouble and heartache.

Jesus point throughout this text is to remind us where to look for our salvation, for grace, for hope, for love; when trouble inevitably comes.

We are not to look to big buildings and institutions, we are not to look to governments (nations and kingdoms) we are not to look to kings and governors and multinational corporations.

All these things will fail you; indeed will turn against you.

When trouble comes, the one thing you can count on is God.

The one group of people you can rely on is the community of Christ, the gathered people of God, the Church.

We are here today to talk about and celebrate and cement the basic connection that exists between what it means to be THE CHURCH and what it means to be A PASTOR

The two belong together: a church needs a pastor, and a pastor needs a church.

It's hard to have one without the other. To put it bluntly, being a Pastor is not a personal identity.

Being called to preach implies being called to preach to PEOPLE.

Nobody is called to preach to the trees or the woods or to themselves, People are called of God to preach to the church and to the world.

We have been called to preach and pastor because the world is a dangerous and difficult place, and people struggle with life and need both comfort and guidance.

Prof. Marty Saarinan told the following story to every Senior class at LTSS, Columbia, SC

Marty graduated from Seminary back in the early 1950s and went to his first call in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pretty remote and rugged; then and now.

Not too long after Pastor Marty got there he learned of an elderly couple who lived way back in the woods and who seldom got to church anymore and he resolved to go visit them.

He was advised to borrow a jeep, which he did, and he drove the paved road and then the dirt road, and then two ruts, and then a creek bed, and then he parked the Jeep and climbed up a hill and through the wild bushes and found a cabin with a tiny wisp of smoke wafting into the sky from the chimney.

Pastor Marty walked onto the porch and knocked on the door and waited and waited and knocked again and waited and then he heard a noise and the door opened and a little old man stared at Marty for a long time and then he recognized the collar and turned around and shouted to his wife in her rocker: "Anna, God has not forgotten us!"

In our hectic, secular, modern world, in the midst of wars and natural disaster and economic uncertainty and the other more mundane trials and tribulations of ordinary life; it is hard for most of us to cling to an awareness of God's love and concern and presence.

The purpose of the Church and the purpose of the pastor, the purpose to which you, Sally Fran, have been called and are now set apart, is to be a constant reminder to the world of God's love.

In a few moments, Pastor Ross will stand before me and you all need to imagine yourselves standing beside her because what we are about is a wedding of sorts.

I will ask her questions and she will make promises to preach and teach and serve and then

I will ask questions of the congregation, the people of God assembled, and ya'll will promise to treat her as God's gift to you that she is and to work with her in serving a needy world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And then I will pronounce you united as Pastor and congregation.

And, as I usually say to couples during a wedding sermon, if you (all) will remember the promises you make here to each other, and do your best to fulfill those promises with honesty and integrity and Christian charity,

God will be able to bless your union, will fill your life together with joy and faith and loving service to each other and the world.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

PENTECOST 21 - Oct. 17, 2010

Texts: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

A friend of mine sent me this in an email a few weeks ago:

Sign seen posted in the cafeteria of a Florida hospital:
NOTICE: Due to the current budget cutbacks,
the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off
until further notice.

Today's Scripture lessons remind us to hang on to our faith, even when the light of God's love grows dim or even seems to have gone out.

August 5th of this year was an ordinary day in the life of 33 miners in Chile.

They got up early as usual, packed a lunch as usual, drove or rode to work as usual,
some kissed their wives and children goodbye that day; others left house with slammed doors and angry words; most of their mornings were somewhere in between.
Like I said; an ordinary day.

Then, sometime that day, everything changed.

Something happened, the mine collapsed, the 33 were trapped. For days they were presumed dead; then discovered alive; but how much hope was there? They were so deeply buried.

We have all been watching the news, paying attention to the story, know about their open space in the darkness, the small hole drilled to send them light and food,
the family members up top, keeping vigil, praying and hoping the drilling, drilling, drilling to find a way to get them out alive.

And this week, justice was done, hope was rewarded, the persistence of the miners,
and the families and the drillers paid off; the men were rescued, all is well.

I remind you of that story because it goes to the heart of the Biblical message for today.

The text from Jeremiah reminds us that God has promised that "the days are surely coming" when God's justice will fill the earth.

In 2 Timothy, the old Elder reminds the young preacher to "be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable," or as the old King James put it, "in season and out of season."

And our Gospel lesson is a story about not giving up in the face of difficult times.

This is a story about continuing to pray and trust God, even when you're getting no results; even when it feels like and looks like the windows of heaven are shut up tight and God either cannot or will not hear your plea.

Actually, preaching on this text is pretty easy. For once, Jesus told us what the parable meant before he told the story. Verse 1: "Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart."

The story uses courtrooms and bad judges and poor widows to teach us lessons about life and God and our need to pray without ceasing.

A judge in Israel was a powerful, powerful figure.

Biblical Scholar Raymond Bailey says,

In Israel, the judge was the final arbiter. There was no jury, no court of appeal. . . . . . The judge in the parable is a law unto himself, who has no sense of accountability to persons or God. He shirked his duty by not bothering to even hear the case . . . . . The widow throughout the Bible . . . . was a vulnerable victim . . . a symbol of helplessness.(The Lectionary Commentary, The Gospels, Eerdman's Press p. 429)

Jesus has set up for us a scene in which a poor, helpless person has nowhere else to turn but to the judge. And the judge appears not to care about her,
appears to be unwilling to help.

She has no money to bribe him,no power to coerce him, no important relatives to influence him; what is she to do?

Well; she has two choices:

1) she can quit, give up, crawl away in despair and frustration.

Or 2) she can continue to beat upon his door, accost him in the streets, stand in his yard with a sign demanding justice, tell his neighbors and friends about his unwillingness to help; in short she can refuse to go away.

And it worked: verse 5 " . . .because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming."
In other words, he gives her what she wants so she'll go away.

As I said, this story isn't really about courtrooms and judges and poor widows; it's about persistence in prayer and faithfulness in living.

God does not "grant us justice," to get rid of us, or because we disturb the divine repose, or to avoid embarrassment. God is not like the unfair judge in that way.

Jesus' point is that God works on a different time schedule than most of us and it is easy for us to get discouraged if the "days that are coming," that Jeremiah talked about seem never to come.

We do our best to live a good life, giving to God and neighbor generously, praying and attending worship and paying attention to our religious duties.

We are faithful to our wives or husbands or significant other; our family members can rely on us to be there for them in time of need; we raise our children with gentleness, discipline and generosity; we pursue our work with both diligence and honesty;

and yet, and yet; sometimes things fall apart; sometimes the roof caves in, sometimes the light goes out; sometimes we find ourselves trapped in the darkness of our souls, with no sign of hope; with no glimmer of grace; with not even a whisper of love.

And when that happens; how do we hang on? How do we keep faith through the dark night of the soul?

How do we keep on praying when things keep getting worse instead of better?

How do we find the will to get up and go out each day trusting God to see us through when nothing we do seems to work?

How do we keep from having "itching ears," looking here and there and everywhere for solutions to our problems;

or, if not solutions, then others to blame for our difficulties?

What does it take for us to stay the course in difficult and perilous times?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently retired from public life. When I read of his retirement in the paper, I was reminded of an incident I heard retold by South African Methodist Bishop Peter Storey.

It was the early 1960's. Tutu was the General Secretary of the South Africa Council of Churches, Storey Was the President. Tutu is Black, Storey is White. They were working together to end Apartheid.

The government and many others were unhappy with them. Someone came to Tutu by night and said, "You have to stop, you have to back down. They will stop you, they will beat you, they will kill you."

Desmond Tutu smiled a little smile and said, "Come now, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. I've got a resurrection Jesus, don't you?"

And that is indeed why we can and do persist in our faith and our prayers and our actions, even in the face of circumstances which oppose and seek to defeat us.

We have a resurrection Jesus. We know that no matter how many Good Fridays we face and live though, no matter the number of crosses we are given to carry, no matter how many times things grow difficult and dangerous,

We have a resurrection Jesus; Easter morning has come for Christ and will come for us.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Friday, October 01, 2010

GOT FAITH? Pentecost 19, Oct 3, 2010

(A sermon preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Bristol, TN.)

Luke 17:5-10

In her autobiography, Broadway actress Helen Hayes tells about her first attempt to cook a Thanksgiving Turkey.

Before bringing it out of the kitchen to the Dining Room table, Hayes announced to her husband and son:

Now, you know this is the first turkey I've ever cooked. If it isn't any good, I don't want anybody to say a word. We'll just get up from the table WITHOUT COMMENT, and go to a restaurant to eat.

She then went back to the kitchen to get the tray. When she came into the dining room with the turkey; she found her husband and her son seated at the table with their coats, hats and gloves on; ready to go out to eat. They did not have much faith in Miss Hayes' ability to cook a turkey.

In our Gospel lesson for today the disciples are also suffering from a lack of faith, or so it seems.

After all, Jesus says to them, "If you had even the faith of a mustard seed. . . " and the seed of a mustard plant is very tiny indeed, like the head of a pin, really.

The message seems to be that the disciples just don't have enough faith. I don't think this is what Jesus meant. I think Jesus meant the disciples have all the faith they need. What they don't have is an understanding of what it means to have faith.

Let me explain. In verse 1-4, right before our text starts; Jesus has said to the disciples that they should forgive a sinner who repents. Then he says, And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says I repent, you must forgive.

No wonder the disciples cry out "INCREASE OUR FAITH!" How can Jesus expect any normal human being to forgive somebody for treating them badly that many times?

When I was a little kid, when I got caught being bad, I always said, with my head hung down and twisting my feet, about to cry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

One time; my mother whacked me real good on the bottom and said, I know you're sorry. You're always sorry. What I want to know now is WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP DOING IT?

Somebody sins against me, treats me badly, sticks it to me, seven times in a row and seven times in a row they say they're sorry and Jesus expects me to forgive the jerk every time? Really! I think I'm with Mama on this one. Enough's enough. I want to know when it's gonna stop!

And yet; Jesus says forgive. So the disciples cry out, "INCREASE OUR FAITH! WE CAN'T DO THIS." The gap between what Jesus asks us to do and our ability to do it is enormous.

And that is just the point of this lesson. We are thinking of faith as something human, something that we do, some especially intense sort of believing, or some really focused positive thinking that results in good things happening for us and ours.

We think of faith from the human point of view and Jesus thinks of faith from God's side of things. It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the ocean because: IT'S NOT THE FAITH THAT DOES IT; IT'S GOD!

The disciples are worried about their ability to forgive as much as Jesus demands. So they ask for an increase in faith so that they will be able to perform this superhuman feat of humility and generosity and compassion. And Jesus tells them they don't need a bigger faith. With the God of Israel just a little bit of faith is plenty because God does the work.

The disciples are fretting about the quality of their performance as disciples and followers of Jesus. They are worried about how Spiritual and Faithful and Religious they will appear to their LORD and not incidentally, to their community.

But Jesus carefully reminds them that in the life of faith it is not the believer who performs the act of power or receives the praise for it. Both the act and the credit belong to GOD.

This is the point of Jesus' parable about the master and the slave.To most of us, this story sounds pretty harsh. All that talk about not thanking the slave for a job well done, and not allowing the slave who has been working hard in the fields all day to eat until after the Master has been served; well, it just sounds wrong to us.

There is an important movie coming into the theatres right now. It's called WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. It is not a comedy or a drama; though it has elements of each. It is a documentary about the failure of America's public schools to educate our children.

In one sequence it shows that of the top 30 developed countries, school children from the US measure between 25th and 30th on every measure of ability in every subject but one; we finish #1 in confidence! We have taught our children to think highly of themselves in spite of any evidence to the contrary.

NT Scholar Charles Cousar says a similar thing has happened to us spiritually.

This story (granted in a sneaky way) reminds us of our place and shows how easy it is to exchange roles. God is God; we are God's creatures - no more, no less. But subtly the order can get reversed, as Adam and Eve discovered. Dominion over the earth is a heady challenge! Why stop there? The serpent asks, you will be like God!

We begin to think of Jesus as the one who washes feet, forgives sins, hears prayers, supplies needs. Jesus gives, we receive. Pretty soon we come to expect it.
(Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV - Year C, WJK, p544)

Jesus point here is to remind us of the proper relationship between God and a person of Faith. If we perform our acts of love and service to God out of a desire to earn praise on earth in this life or a secure spot in heaven in the next; we are missing the point; not only of this parable but also of the life of faith.

There is nothing we can do to earn God's love. God's love has been ours since before we were born; it washes over us each day, unbidden and unearned. It fills our lives, melts our hearts, softens our eyes, tenderizes our spirits and turns us away from our preoccupation with ourselves to a fascination with loving and caring for Christ by loving and caring for those whom God has placed in our midst for us to love.

With this story, Jesus reminds us that the true KINGDOM AND POWER AND GLORY do indeed belong to God and to God alone, And any wishful thinking on our part that if we had more faith we could do more things for God misses the point entirely.

The reality is: We have all the faith we need to do great things for God. Or, to be more biblically and theologically correct; we have all the faith we need to allow God to do great things in, with and through us. Faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is necessary for God to put God's power to work in our lives and in our world.

Our calling today is to humbly ask God to increase, not our faith, but rather our willingness to be used by God, in any way God chooses.

Our calling today is to use what little faith we have to stay at the table; hat, coat and gloves off and put away; waiting patiently to dig in to whatever God has in store for us.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pentecost 18, September 26, 2010

Text: Luke 16:19-31
(A sermon preached at the Installation of David Hood as transition pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville, TN.)

I started my career as a pastor in three little churches in rural NC.

Wood-frame buildings on isolated dirt roads, a few dozen farmers and shop-owners and their children and grand-children who drove out on Sundays from the cities to visit the folks and go to church.

One weekday noon I went into a church member's place of business for lunch: Alvis Brigg's Bar-B-Q.

As I walked in, a Briggs grandchild, a boy about 4 years old, spotted me.

He stood up in the booth where he was sitting and yelled out, "Hello . . . " and then he was silent, because he couldn't remember where he knew me from.

He tried a couple more times, "HELLO . . . " then silence and meditation, "HELLO . . ." again, and more thoughtful silence.

By this time everyone in the room was quiet and looking back and forth between the boy and me.

Finally his face brightened and he shouted, HELLO CHURCH!

We are here today to talk about and celebrate and cement that basic connection between what it means to be PASTOR and what it means to be CHURCH and how the two are uniquely and inseparably entwined.

Particularly for us ELCA Lutherans, to be a minister of the Gospel, a pastor, requires a connection with a congregation.

While in many traditions, once you're ordained you are always a pastor no matter what you do for a living, this is not so for us. When people finish seminary, they are not ordained until a congregation calls them to be their pastor. If you want to be a Seminary teacher, or a Hospital chaplain, or a counselor, our church, the ELCA, requires that you first serve three years as a Parish Pastor, and after that, if you are not serving in a congregation, you must apply every year to the Bishop and Synod Council to maintain your status as a pastor, showing cause why you need to be ordained to do what you are doing.

In our church, to be a pastor is, by definition, connected to serving a community of God's people gathered around Word and Sacrament.To put it bluntly, being a Pastor is not a private, personal identity. It is a communal, relational, cooperative venture; rooted in the call and gift of God.

Many times I hear about such and such a pastor as being GIFTED. He has so many gifts for ministry; she is a gifted speaker, or musician, or counselor; he has the gift of leadership, etc. and I applaud and revel in their giftedness. So many people have so many gifts that I don't have and that I envy.

Singing, for instance. Not only do I wish I could sing; other people wish I could sing too. Being creative with Liturgy. Wow, I wish I could do that. I'm a setting One, Two or Three, pick three hymns kind of pastor. I don't have the gift of being creative with liturgy.

But it's important to remember why we pastors have been given our gifts for ministry.We have received these gifts not for ourselves, not for our own enjoyment and not so that we can be praised and lauded for having these gifts.

We have received these gifts for the benefit of the church, for serving God by serving the world, for preaching and teaching, for spreading the Good News of Christ to the world.

The difficulty of this task is revealed to us in our reading from Luke's Gospel, in the very last line, where Jesus tells the rich man in Hell, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even someone rises from the dead."

Well someone did rise from the dead, and many are still quite unconvinced, and we, the pastors and the people of the church, still find ourselves talking to people so enamored of their stuff that they are unable to hear the word of truth.

The first part of our text, verses 19 through 26, is a familiar middle eastern folk tale.

In the modern world, we recycle jokes and urban legends. Names, professions, locations change but the point is always the same. In Jesus' world they recycled these folk stories, and when a good story teller started to tell one, everyone settled in to see how well he told it, what clever riffs he used. Here in Nashville, we might think of a singer making an old standard song her own by singing it in a unique way. Creativity grew out of the art of adapting the story, not in creating a totally new one. So as Jesus began the story, everyone knew where he was going, they just weren't sure how he was going to get there.

The rich man/poor man reversal in the afterlife was a familiar moralistic tale; often used to shame the rich into being more generous to the poor. So when the rich man sees Lazarus in the "bosom of Abraham," and cries out for mercy, everyone is ready for the discussion of the finality of Hell, the great chasm that has been established and can't be crossed, etc.

What they are not prepared for is the next part, New Testament Scholar NT Wright says,

"In the usual story, when someone asks permission to send a message back to the people who are still alive on earth, the permission is granted. Here, it isn't; and the sharp ending of the story points beyond itself to all sorts of questions. . . " (Luke for Everyone, p.200)

Jesus' story was aimed at some familiar targets: those who think that being rich is a reward from God and proof of their goodness and those who think that poverty is largely deserved and either divine punishment for evil or just desserts for those who seem able to work but aren't very successful at it.

These words are also aimed by Luke at the early church, the first tellers of the Good News of Jesus, to remind them of the difficulty of their task. The people of Israel had had Moses and the Prophets, revealed words from God, for a thousand years and many were still sinful and in need of repentance. Just adding the Resurrection of Jesus to the story didn't make it easier for people to accept, believe and live out; indeed, for most people it made it harder.

Our calling as a community of faith is to take the old, old familiar story of God and sin and rescue and rebellion and death and resurrection; a story that has been told so often that many no longer listen, or if they listen, they think they know what it means and how it's going to turn out.

We are called to take that story and like Jesus, tell it in new ways, with surprising endings.We are called to tell that story to this generation, to people in the 21st century.

We are called to aim the story at the spiritual needs of people living now, in this time of richness and poorness, in this age of technology and social networking and the collective national attention span of a gnat.

We are called to bring the great truths of Moses and the prophets to people on this side of the grave, so that they will hear the call to repent, to turn, to change, to bring their lives into alignment with God's will and God's way.

And David, your calling in this place, and for this time, is to lead these people in discovering their voice in telling that story.

It is your calling to help Holy Trinity find the unique and God-given talent they have for making God's love known in this community NOW.

David, you are called here to lead this congregation in realizing who they are and what they have to say and do in the world, so that when people see them coming, they will shout with their hearts if not with their lips, "Hello CHURCH!"

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19

I am really late posting. it's been quite a week, from Atlanta, to Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama to Middle and then East Tennessee, 2000 miles, 9 churches in 8 days. And wrote two sermons along the way, whew!

Pentecost 17, Sept. 19, 2010
Resurrection Lutheran Church, Ooltewah, TN

Text: Luke 16:1-13

Almost fifteen years ago, when I was pastor at Holy Trinity in Nashville, Ellenita Zimmerman was the Director of Christian Education. She was over 70 and soon to retire.

Ellenita had a Master's degree in Bible and Education; she had been a missionary in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; she had been on staff at Holy Trinity as DCE and Organist/Choir director for almost 30 years.

One night Ellenita and I were meeting with the Worship and Christian Education teams to plan a month's worth of coordinated worship services and Christian Education classes when this lesson came up as one of the Gospel lessons for the month.

I read it out loud and glanced around the group for ideas and nobody said anything; they just looked a little stunned. Finally Ellenita said,

Why don't we just skip it? I never did understand that story anyway.

Well, I kind of agree with Ellenita, though I'm not sure her son, a NT professor at the Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong, would let her get away with skipping it!

It is a hard story to understand, isn't it? Or, to say it more honestly; it's a story we all understand; it's the way the world works and we all know it. It's what Jesus says about the story that's hard to take.

Look at the uproar about Derek Jeter of the Yankees. For those of you who don't follow baseball,
Jeter plays for New York and they are in a tight pennant race with Tampa Bay.

During a game this week, Jeter was at bat, the pitcher threw the ball, it bounced off Jeter's bat, and he started shaking his left arm and screwed up his face in pain, and grabbed his elbow and the umpire decided the ball had hit Jeter and awarded him first base.

Now, nobody but the home plate umpire thought Jeter had been hit, and after the game, when he was asked, Jeter admitted it, confessed that he had pulled a fast one on the umpire.

And, the newspapers and sports talk shows on TV and Radio had a field day, arguing if Jeter was a cheater or just smart ballplayer. (Yankee fan/Yankee hater?, how and when you learned to play baseball, etc? great argument.)

It seems to me that Jeter and the unjust office manager have a lot in common; both of them pulled a fast one, and the man in charge rewarded them for it.
The gospel lesson is a strange story. A business owner finds out that his office manager is guilty of mismanagement. He calls in the manager and says "You've got two weeks to get ready for an audit. Now get out of here."

The manager knows he's in deep trouble. Too proud to beg; too weak to work; what to do? What to do?

Suddenly, he has an idea. He calls in some of the company's biggest customers. "Have I got a deal for you?" he says. The plan is simple. He cuts their bills in half, destroys the paper trail and writes new invoices.

Now when the audit happens, no one can prove that he cheated and all the richest man in town will owe him a favor. His future is secure.

Of course, when the owner looks at the doctored books he knows what has happened but there is nothing he can do about it. He knows he has been conned.

And here's the surprise. He says to the man: I have to admit it, you were pretty smart. You got me. Now get out of here.

As I said, up to this point the story makes perfect sense to us; maybe even more so in these years after the Wall Street crash involving loan schemes that nobody understood, financial sleight of hand that caught everybody off guard.

What doesn't make sense to us is the fact that Jesus seems to join the owner in praising the manager for his dishonesty.

But a careful reading of the text shows that Jesus is NOT praising the man for being dishonest.

Rather, he is pointing to the man as an example of someone with single-minded devotion to a cause, which in this case, happens to be himself.

Jesus point here turns out to be pretty simple. Here, he says, is someone who knows how to give his entire heart mind and soul to the service of his god.

Hey, Jesus says, what if we, the citizens of the Kingdom of God, were to give such single-minded and complete devotion to the cause of the one and only true God!

Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, says: that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.

This story of the unjust steward confronts us with some serious questions we have to ask ourselves, the first one being WHAT REALLY IS MY GOD?

Is it my #1 concern in life to preach good News to the poor? To heal the sick? To give sight to the Blind?

How much of my valuable time do I spend each week in prayer and Bible Study? In visiting the sick and lonely?

How much of my time and money is given pursuing help and justice for the poor of the world?

These are the question Jesus is asking us in his story of the con-man office manager.

He's smart and devoted to serving his god; are we smart and devoted in serving ours?

We have this day talked a lot about Peace, the need for peace, God's desire for peace, our call to be peacemakers.

Building peace in this world begins on a small scale, not on a large one. It begins with each and every one of us resolving to give our complete and total selves to the service of the God of peace.

NT Scholar and Preaching professor Fred Craddock says:

The life of a disciple is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem.

The one faithful in today's nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with the big account, but it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while quite sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters.

The realism of these sayings is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities.

Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake.

More likely the week will present no more than chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor's cat.
[LUKE Interpretation Commentaries pp. 191-192]

Our call to peacemaking is the call to a single-minded devotion to the Cause of Christ, who is, most of all, the Prince of Peace.

Our Call to Peacemaking is a call to making peace in all that we do, to making all that we do work toward the goal of a more peaceful and peace-filled world.

Our Call to Peacemaking is a call to see each person in this world as a precious child of God whom God has called us to make peace with in his name.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

For Sept. 12/Pentecost 16

(A sermon preached at Peace Lutheran Church, Memphis TN)

Luke 15:1-10

"Is God a grown-up or a parent?" That's the question Kathleen Chesto's five year old asked her one day.

Writing in the Catholic Digest, Chesto admits her own confusion, "I'm not sure what you mean. What's the difference between a grown-up and a parent?"

"Well," she said, "Grown-ups love you when you're good and parents love you anyway."

It's a good question, isn't it? Is God a grown-up or a parent?

Does God love only when you're good? Or does God love you anyway?

What is the nature of God's love? Is it really complete and total and unconditional? Really?

And, if that's the nature of God's love; what does that mean for us?

Do we have to love everybody too? Or, are there some people we're allowed to dislike because we're pretty certain God doesn't like them either?

In Luke's Gospel the Pharisees and Scribes are shown as grown-ups, as people who have spent a lot of time figuring out all the dos and don'ts of life; of good and bad behavior.

And they are real unhappy when Jesus acts more like a parent than a grown-up. Even though he knows that the people he is partying with are not acceptable and nice and "good" people; well, he's going to party with them anyway.

They can't stand it. They thought he was one of them, they thought he was on their side.

They thought because he knew so much Bible and because he talked so much about giving your all for the Kingdom and because he was so obviously such a good man,

Why, he must be a Pharisee or a Scribe or someone acceptable to Pharisees and Scribes and, . .
well, they just could not figure his behavior out.

What was he doing, eating with THOSE people?

Doesn't he know WHO they are, where they've been and what they've been doing?

The Pharisees and Scribes had decided that the people Jesus was hanging out with were Bad people who violated the rules of Good behavior and should be avoided and shunned and in general treated badly; both by God and by us good people.

Therefore, when they saw Jesus eating and drinking and partying with these "tax collectors and sinners," they were appalled and disgusted and decided that Jesus could possibly be the Good Person they had presumed him to be.

Jesus responded to their distress not with argument or protest, but by telling them stories; stories about who's in and who's out; who's hot and who's not; and how God treats those the world has decided are OUT.

These stories have two "God figures," people who, according to Jesus, act the way God would act.

One is a shepherd, the other is a woman. These are interesting choices for Jesus to make because Pharisees and Scribes considered both shepherds and women OUT.

Shepherds were nomads. They slept, bathed, ate and lived outdoors. Because of this they were unable to keep most of the Purity laws that were so important to the Pharisees.

And women were a problem for Pharisees, who preferred to neither see them nor speak to them any more than was absolutely necessary.

These stories each have the same two points:

FIRST: Just as a shepherd values his lost sheep enough to spare no effort in looking for it, just so, God values all people enough to spare no effort in looking for us. God values us the way the woman values her piece of money and God will ransack the universe getting us back the way the woman ransacked her house hunting that coin.

These are incarnational stories; stories about God coming into the world to seek out and save God's lost creation. Jesus is the Shepherd looking high and low for those not in the fold; Jesus is the woman sweeping through the house, turning over chairs and pulling out couch cushions, looking high and low for a valuable possession.

SECOND: In telling about the parties given by the Shepherd and the woman; Jesus is pointedly chastising the Pharisees and Scribes for their hard-heartedness in grouching about Jesus spending time with the so-called "sinners."

Look, Jesus says, God is real happy these people are interested in Spiritual Things. These people are thinking about God and their life and about what it means to be a good person.

This is cause for Celebration.

One of my Mother's childhood preachers in the Virginia Mountains said, "Instead of being happy they came in for a bath, those old sourpusses sat around complaining about the smell."

It seems clear that for Jesus, God is a parent, not a Grown-up. That is; God does not just love us when we're good, God loves us anyway.

The question for us today is do we know that God loves us anyway?

Dr. William McElvaney was president of the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. One day he was driving to the airport to pick up a person who was giving a speech at the Seminary. To get there he had to drive across the Paseo Bridge over the Missouri River.

About a half mile from the bridge he got stuck in traffic. Nothing moved. After about fifteen minutes, traffic moved again. There was no indication of why traffic had stopped, no road work, no accident, nothing.

The next morning Dr. McElvaney read in his morning paper about a depressed man who stopped his car on the bridge, got out and crawled over the rail and got ready to jump. People saw him and called the police.

Officers leaned over the rail and talked to him, trying to get him to come back to safety. Meanwhile another officer fitted himself with a harness and a long rope. He secured the rope and crawled over the rail, inching toward the man.

Just when he got close enough to reach out and touch him, the man jumped off the bridge.

And the patrolman jumped after him, wrapping his arms and legs around him in a tight embrace.

They fell together until the rope was tight, and they swung above the river.

Up above, on the bridge, people could hear the policeman yelling in the ear of the jumper,

"If you go, I go! Because I'm going to hold onto you until hell freezes over!"
(Dr. Tex Sample, The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World p. 117-118)

What is the gospel for us today?

Is God a Grown-up or a parent? Does God love us only when we're good, or does God loves us anyway, all the time, until Hell freezes over?

God has clearly been revealed in the life death and resurrection of Jesus as a loving parent who will never stop loving us, ever.

Christ left the safety of Heaven and leapt into the world to seek and save us.

Christ has grabbed onto our soul and has promised to hold onto us until the fires of Hell burn out,

"I am with you always," Jesus said.

And Christ calls us to bring others into the grip of God's love, a love that takes any of us, anyway we are.