Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pentecost 9, July 29, 2007

Pentecost 9 July 29, 2007
Luke 11:1-13

True story. Heard it on the Paul Harvey radio show a few years ago. Three year old goes with his mother to the grocery store. As they started in the door, Mom says to son, “Now, you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.

She put him in the child’s seat and off they went up and down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they got to the cookie session. When he saw the familiar package, he said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?

I told you not to even ask. YOU’RE NOT GETTING ANY!

They continued up and down the aisles, but, like always, they had to backtrack looking for a few things and wound up back on the cookie aisle again.

Mom, can I have some C C cookies?

Finally, they arrived at the checkout. Junior is an experienced shopper. He knows this is his last chance. He stood up in the seat and shouted.

Everyone in the checkout area stared, then laughed, and then applauded. And then, while Mom stared, 23 shoppers went and bought her little boy his C C cookies, 23 boxes of them.

What was it Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given”?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking with his followers about prayer. First he teaches them what we call the LORD’S PRAYER. Then he tells them a weird story about bothering your neighbors in the middle of the night. And he finishes up by urging them to keep at it with prayer; to search, to knock, to ask!

And what is the core of what Jesus says about prayer?
1) Do not be afraid of God.
2) Ask God for what you want.
3) Trust God to give you what you need.

As the story begins, Jesus has been praying while the disciples wait for him. When he has finished, they ask him to teach them to pray.

They have noticed that John the Baptist has taught his disciples to pray, and they want Jesus to get with the program and to teach them this secret knowledge as well. And so he does. But the prayer he taught them is probably not exactly what they had in mind.

Of course, it is impossible for us to get inside their heads and know for sure, but they probably wanted to learn the secrets to POWERFUL prayer, the kind of prayer that changes things, fixes things, gets you things you want, like Chocolate Chip Cookies.

But instead of getting a prayer that changes things OUT THERE, in the external world which they hoped to control with God’s help; Jesus teaches them a prayer that changes things IN HERE, inside our hearts and minds and souls.

Martin Luther once said that to be a SINNER is to be BENT, to be CROOKED, to be TWISTED in upon ourselves. The root of sinfulness begins in selfishness; in looking at the world as a place to get MY needs met, MY life straightened out, MY career, MY enjoyment, MY fulfillment, MY future, MY happiness.

But the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray is not MY prayer, it is OUR prayer, directed to OUR father, and it is not a prayer aimed at getting what I want. It is designed to turn us away from our wants toward what GOD wants. It is in praying this prayer that we become the people God made us to be, wants us to be in Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer is a powerful prayer, and it’s power lies in its ability to mold us into a Christlike shape.

As we pray and meditate upon this prayer throughout our lives, we discover that it constantly pulls us away from our focus upon ourselves and then bends us in a new direction; in the direction of loving God and serving others.

There are four basic sections to the prayer:

1) About God
2) About Stuff
3) About Forgiveness
4) About Trouble

1) About God. First we learn to be comfortable in approaching God, not afraid, not intimidated and fearful. Jesus, in the original text, uses the Aramaic word that means Dad or Daddy, or Papa to refer to God.

It’s hard for us to understand how shocking this was to Jesus’ disciples. We live in a very informal age. Remember, these are people who would not even call God by name, they made elaborate sentence structures to avoid it; saying things like, “the one who made the clouds and sky,” or “the one who hung the sun in the sky.” They were afraid of offending God by saying the name wrong.

In contrast, Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with God, a relationship of love and trust, like the little boy in the store, begging his Mommy for cookies.

2) About Stuff. Jesus says, “give us this day our daily bread.” This is a reference to the manna in the wilderness, when the children of Israel were going from Egypt to the Promised Land. Remember, they were allowed only enough for each day; if they took more, it would rot before they could use it. So it is with our stuff. We are asked to trust that God will give us enough for our needs, beyond that we are not to ask or to worry.

3) About Forgiveness. This one is extremely simple and very difficult. God, who loves you as a parent loves a child, who cares about your needs and gives you the things, the stuff, you need, has forgiven you your failures and sins, every evil deed you have ever done. And all God asks in return is that you forgive each other. It’s that simple. And that hard.

4) About our troubles. Jesus is realistic, yet hopeful. What is translated here time of trial does not mean that God creates trouble in our life to test us or to trip us up or to see how faithful we are; it does mean that hard times are sure to come in every life and are difficult for us, and it is during those times that we find out how secure our faith is. In this prayer we ask that we be spared these hard times whenever possible. This is what Jesus was saying when he prayed not my will in the Garden before his crucifixion.

Having taught his disciples a basic prayer, Jesus drives home its lesson with the story about the grouchy neighbor and the noisy friend. Remember; a parable does operate on a one-to-one, this represents that, basis. The neighbor is not God and beating on doors in the middle of the night is not prayer. Jesus’ point is to be persistent in prayer; you’re not afraid of you friends, don’t be afraid of God. Ask for what you want.

Remember, Jesus didn’t say anything about going to a stranger in the middle of the night to ask for food. He said to go to a neighbor, a friend, someone with whom you have a relationship; someone you know and who knows you! The point of prayer is to talk with God, to be in relationship with God, to move your heart and mind and soul into cooperation with God in loving and serving the world.

The Rev. Leslie Weatherhead was a famous British Methodist preacher of about 50 years ago. He used to tell the story of his neighbor’s children, Tommy and Suzy. They lived in the English countryside, and Tommy loved to trap rabbits. Suzy was very unhappy about this and every day begged her big brother to stop being so cruel to the rabbits, but Tommy laughed her off and continued to run proudly into the kitchen with his trapped and skinned rabbits held high.

One night, their mother heard Suzy praying:
Dear God, please stop Tommy from trapping rabbits. Please don’t let them get trapped. They can’t They Won’t! Amen.

Mom was a little worried about this prayer. She was afraid her little girl would be disappointed when God didn’t stop Tommy’s traps from working. She was afraid of her daughter losing faith because of unanswered prayer. She said to Suzy,
How can you be so sure that God won’t let the rabbits be trapped?


Jesus’ teaching on prayer is that we should pray so often, and so regularly, and so persistently that we become as familiar with God as we are our neighbors and friends. And it is within that relationship and familiarity that God changes our lives, unbends us from selfishness and evil and turns us in the direction of love and goodness.

And as a result of having had our lives changed by God, we find ourselves empowered to change the world. We embrace Christ as the way of salvation for ourselves and discover that we have become a part of the ay of salvation for the world. AMEN

Friday, July 20, 2007

St. mary Magdalene, July 22, 2007

Saint Mary Magdalene
July 22, 2007

Text: John 20:1-2,11-18

I made my first trip to study at Oxford University’s Summer Programmed in Theology exactly ten years ago. I had a wonderful time rambling around 15th century buildings in Oxford, debating obscure theological ideas with Australian nuns, African priests and Methodist ministers from Iowa.

There were two flies in my ointment though: one it was unseasonably warm that year, in the 90’s and most of England has no A/C, mostly because they don’t really need it, so I sweated through my days.

The second fly is that, well, people assumed all Southerners were Baptists. I would introduce myself; say I was from Nashville, TN. And they would say, so you’re a Southern Baptist then?

And I’d say, “No, I’m a Lutheran,” and they would look at me with a startled, quizzical look; as though I had said something as unbelievable as, “I’m a ballet dancer,” or “I’m a rap singer.”

It happened over and over again. Not just Brits, but mostly Americans and Canadians. It got, frankly, a bit annoying. But I smiled and explained about how there were Lutherans in the South and that many of them had been here a long time, etc. etc.

The night before the Summer Programme was over, we had a banquet, and we were all requested to “dress up” so, in spite of the heat, I put on a black clerical shirt with white collar and a jacket.

As I settled down to dinner, I found myself opposite a woman to whom I had explained that I was a Lutheran at least three times in the last two weeks. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t know Southern Baptists wore collars.” I said, “They don’t.” And she said, “Then why are you wearing one?” and I said, “Oh, a number of reasons: Tradition, I don’t like neck-ties, you can wear them anywhere and be considered “dressed formally,” they look good with my graying hair, etc., but the main reason I wear one is I’M NOT A BAPTIST, I’M A LUTHERAN!” And she said, “OH.”

Today’s sermon deals with issues of mistaken identity, of misunderstanding of who Christ is, and also of our misunderstanding of who Mary Magdalene was. Mary thought she knew who Jesus was, but she did not fully understand him until after she met him in the garden on Easter morning. We think we know who Mary Magdalene is, but her identity has been obscured through a thousand years of wrong assumptions and bad Biblical scholarship. And we think we know who we are, but we don’t really know ourselves until we see ourselves through the eyes of Christ.

Through the years, popular culture has made as many assumptions about Mary Magdalene as the rest of the world has made about all southerners being illiterate, barefoot Baptists who are still fighting the Civil War.

For many years, she was identified with the woman taken in adultery and with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Medieval priests added 2 + 2 and got 5 and decided that Mary Magdalene was a converted prostitute, a notion that has made her the “patron saint of fallen women.” And in recent years, Dan Brown in his novel The DaVinci Code has held out the idea that Mary Magdalene was all that, and also that she married Jesus and they had a family, etc. etc.

And none of it’s true. There is no evidence in the Bible connecting her to any kind of sinfulness whatsoever. As a matter of fact, in 1969, The RC Church apologized and declared her a saint. A little late, but at least they took it back!

To set the record straight:
Her name is often listed first among the women who followed Jesus. Her name carries the same respect afforded Peter who was always first among disciples.

She was a woman of wealth who helped support Jesus and his disciples. While most disciples abandoned Jesus, Mary Magdalene had the courage to follow him all the way to the Cross. She stood beside his mother the entire time. She helped take him down from the cross; she helped put him in the tomb. (Info from “People of Purpose”)

And on Easter morning, she went to the tomb. She went not really knowing who Jesus was. Yes, he had healed her, yes she had heard him preach many times, yes, she had had many private conversations with him, yes, she knew him better than almost anyone else, but still, she didn’t really know him. For she thought he was dead. She had seen him die, she had heard him cry out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” she had handled his dead body.
She went to the tomb that early Sunday morning knowing that he was dead.

She came to the garden that day and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. And, the thought of Jesus being alive did not enter her mind. She knew him as a great teacher, and friend and healer, but she did not really know who he was.

She went back to Peter and the other disciples and told them. They have taken the LORD out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.

Even after she returned to the tomb and spoke with the angels, she was still seeking a dead teacher, not a living LORD.

When she saw Jesus, she did not recognize him, she made an assumption that it was the Gardener. It was dark, it was early, who else who be out here at this time of day? Besides, even if it did look a little like Jesus, it couldn’t be, Jesus is dead.

So she speaks to him, asking for Jesus’ body, and he answers her, calls her by name, and in that moment, she knows who he is. And also, in that moment, she discovers who she herself is.

He is the LORD, the Living God of Israel, the conqueror of Sin Death and the Devil. And she is not only the beneficiary of his healing power and the recipient of his teaching in this life, but in him she has the gateway to life eternal.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hinge-pin of history. Without it, the story of life is one long agonizing headache interrupted by brief moments of happiness. With the Rx, all history and all of life are filled with meaning and hope.
The Rx defines Christianity, it defines us.

In his novel A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANEY, John Irving writes:

Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the Resurrection, you’re not a believer.

What we proclaim, what we preach, sing and celebrate Sunday after Sunday is the promise of God that God’s love is greater and stronger than anything, even death. We revel in the joyous Good News that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed!

But, for us, one question remains. Mary was lucky enough to meet the risen Christ in the garden, lucky enough to have her life changed by a face-to-face encounter. But what about us, we who live 2000 years later? Where can we find the Christ? How do we meet the Risen Lord?

In the movie Whistle Down the Wind, three young children stumble upon a bum sleeping in the straw in an abandoned country barn. “Who are you?” a girl demanded. The bum jerked awake, stared around in an alcoholic stupor and muttered, “Jesus Christ!” And the Children believed him.

What he meant as a curse, they took as a statement of fact and treated him accordingly. For the rest of the movie, they treated him with awe, respect and love. They brought him food and blankets and sat and talked with him and told him about their lives. Over time, their tenderness changed this man, an escaped convict who had never known such love.

Our calling today is to see the face of the Risen Christ in those around us.

The risen Christ is here in this room – we are the Body of Christ in the world.

The Risen Christ is here on this Altar in the Sacrament of the table – the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Risen Christ is most of all to be found in those around us who need love: the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed and imprisoned, the sick of body and weary of soul.

We are called to be like Mary and tell the world, “I have seen the LORD!” and this is what he did for me, I know he can change your life too!

Amen and Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Pentecost 7 Who’s in the Ditch July 15, 2007
A few years ago this story was in a NY paper. A woman was driving home on the NJ turnpike when she became aware of a huge truck that was tailgating her and switching lanes with her. She sped up to get some distance and the truck sped up too. She slowed and moved to the right lane and he slowed and moved to the right lane right behind her. She sped up again; slowly she began to panic, driving faster and faster trying to elude the semi on her tail. Scared out of her wits, abruptly drove up an exit lamp, passing cars by getting on the shoulder, turned onto a main street almost on two wheels and darted forward, hoping to lose her pursuer in traffic. But he ran a red light and kept coming, dogging her all the way.

Near panic, she whipped her car into a service station and bolted out of the car – screaming for help. The truck driver slid into the parking lot behind her, jumped from his car and ran – not after her, but to her car; jerking open the rear door and pulling out a man hidden there with a knife in his teeth. From his high seat in his truck cab, the driver had seen the would-be rapist/attacker crouching in the back seat, awaiting his chance. He had chased the woman in an attempt to save her from the very dangers she carried with her.

In our Gospel lesson for today, the lawyer asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus gives him an unusual answer, an answer that really means, “Your neighbor is exactly the opposite of who you think it is. The one you think is your enemy is really your friend.” When we hear the lawyer’s question, we usually think he is asking: “Who is the person (or persons) whom I can reasonably be expected to help when they are in trouble?” And, frankly, that is probably what the lawyer meant by the question.

But Jesus turns the man’s question upside down with his story. Jesus makes the question of “Who is my neighbor?” into one that asks, “Who will help me, from whom can I expect help when I am in need?” Now, when we hear a story, we usually “identify” with someone in it, we say to ourselves, “Yes, I’m like that person, that’s the way I feel or that’s the way I would act.” Truth be told, when most of us hear the story of the Good Samaritan, most of us sort of identify with the, well the Good guy, don’t we? We’d like to think we’d be like him, helpful and kind. None of us wants to be the haughty priest or the bustling Levite, religious officials too busy to care. Yes, we would like to think of ourselves as the good, kind, Mother Teresa type person, selflessly coming to the aid of a stranger.

But, I need to point out that, as a good storyteller, Jesus knew who his listeners were likely to identify with, and he knew it would not be the Samaritan. Jesus’ audience was Jewish, the foolish man in the ditch was Jewish, the Priest was Jewish, the Levite was Jewish, the robbers were Jewish, Jesus, the storyteller, was Jewish. It is a completely Jewish story. And the last person any of these Jews would identify with would be the good “Samaritan.” He was a hated enemy, an apostate, a heretic, a foul worshipper of the wrong God, an unclean person; and Jesus used him as the hero of the story. Jesus here shook up their preconceived notion of where they could look for help in time of need. Jesus was telling them that your neighbor – the one who will help you – could be the person you least expect. It could indeed be a person you wouldn’t cross the road to spit on if they were on fire. Like the woman being chased by the truck-driver. She thought he was her enemy, yet he turned out to be her rescuer, her protector, her neighbor.

When he asked Jesus who his neighbor was, the lawyer was trying to define the limits of his own love, his own ethical actions toward others. Jesus turns this upside down by establishing a love ethic which has no limits, and which does not play by previously established rules of who’s in and who’s out. Really, I think this story moves beyond whom we are required to help and from whom can we legitimately expect help. It moves from our relationship to each other into God’s relationship with us.

The man in the ditch had acted foolishly by traveling alone on a dangerous road. He did not deserve help. If he could have chosen his helper, he would have chosen either the priest or the Levite, people whose duty it was to help him. But instead, he was helped by a Samaritan, a Samaritan who helped him, freely, graciously, without any expectation of reward or of being paid back. We are the person in the ditch, and the Good Samaritan is our God. Our spiritual condition is that we all follow foolish paths at times, we all get ourselves into all sorts of ditches; spiritual, emotional, physical, mental. We are hurt and injured, lying there, unable to help ourselves. And the Gospel is that God, like the Samaritan, comes along and picks us up and dresses our wounds, and pays for our mistakes (sins) and does all of this free of charge.

We don’t like to ask God for help do we? We want to come into God’s presence looking pure and clean and whole. We don’t like it when we have to come broken and needy. We don’t like it when we have to come with remorse and repentance for foolish actions and sinful deeds. We don’t want to need free grace, free love and free tender care. We want to deserve God’s love, we want to earn it, deserve it, pay for it. We want God to reward us for being the fine folks we are sure that we are. While I was on vacation, I was driving in the mountains and I saw a little church with a message sign almost bigger that the church. The message read, “For sinners only. None others need apply.”

About 20 years ago the New York Times reported that a man went to Times Square to a line in front of the Theater box office for the play “The Real Thing.” He had two tickets to give away. They were a $60 value. He had no takers. He explained that his wife was sick and he couldn’t go to the play. Still no takers. The man really hated to see the seats go to waste. He went over to a little coffee shop across the street and pondered a while; then he came back and offered the tickets for $100 a piece and they sold immediately.

We are like that with God. We don’t want God’s handout of love, we don’t want God’s generous offer of health and hope and grace for life. We want to earn God’s love, but, but, here’s the hard part, we can’t. We really can’t. For we are the one in the ditch, we are the wounded and foolish one, in heed of help and healing.

Before the Lawyer asked Jesus who was his neighbor, he asked Jesus another question. Do you remember? He asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus pointed him to the Scriptures and the man gave the right answer, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “That’s right. You’ve got it.” And right here’s where the lawyer fell in the ditch,

Notice, he doesn’t blink an eye at the monumental idea of devoting his entire existence to loving God; isn’t that what all your heart, soul, strength, and mind imply? Total and complete commitment. If you give all that over to God, there isn’t much room left for TV or baseball or gardening or dating or whatever. But apparently, the lawyer is okay with that demand. It’s the neighbor business that bothers him. Perhaps this is because it’s easier to get caught not loving your neighbor than it is to get caught not loving God. It’s plain to see if you fail to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, but who’s going to notice if you don’t pray or read your Bible enough?

Jesus picks up immediately on the fact that the lawyer has skipped over the “loving God” part and gone immediately to the “who’s my neighbor” part. The man is guilty of the twin sins of pride and ingratitude. He believes he is capable of pleasing God through his own actions and he is therefore not grateful to God for God’s love and grace. He does not admit either his need or his rescue, and so he asks the question, “About whom am I required to care?” The truth is, if you get part one, {God has loved me so much and so freely that all I can do is love him in return.} then part two {the way to show my love for God is to love everybody else the way God loved me} comes naturally.

So, what is the answer to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Simple: “Swallow your pride and realize that God has already given it to you.” Our calling today is to live in that love, to reach out to others with that love, to be that love to the world for the sake of Jesus the Christ who gave himself for us. Amen and amen.