Thursday, August 30, 2007

September 2, 2007: Pentecost 14

PENTECOST 14 September 2, 2007
Texts: Proverbs 25:6-7
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

TITLE: Hospitality

Since the College Football season cranked up this week, I thought I’d start the sermon with a College Football story.

Around here, people mostly talk about the ACC, but I spent 15 years in Georgia and Tennessee and learned a lot about the SEC and its legendary coaches. I buried one of them; Coach Al Guipe who coached Vanderbilt in the 1950’s and famously said that “Vanderbilt, like Duke, wants to be Harvard during the week and Alabama on Saturday.”

Well, one of the more interesting SEC coaches was Shug Jordan at Auburn. The story is told that Shug wanted one of his old players to do some scouting, to go to some high school games in his part of Alabama and look for some talent.

The player said, “Coach, I’d be happy to, but what sort of player are we looking for?”

Coach – Well, Mike, you know when you go to a game and there’s always one boy that gets knocked down and stays down?

Mike – Yeah, we don’t want that boy do we?

Coach – No, we don’t want that boy. And you know there’s always a boy that gets knocked down and gets up and gets knocked down and stays down?

Mike – We don’t want that boy either, do we coach?

Coach – No, we don’t want that boy either. But you know there’s always that boy that gets knocked down and gets up and gets knocked down and gets up and gets knocked down and gets up and . . . .

Mike – That’s the boy we want, ain’t it coach.

Coach – NO! We don’t want him. We want the boy who’s been knocking everybody down!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are honest with ourselves we’ll have to admit, that’s the boy we’re looking for too!

NO, not many of us are likely to go looking for a big, brawny football player to invite to dinner; but we do look for “acceptable,” or “successful” or “interesting” or “nice” or “talented” people to entertain in our homes, or to share our leisure time with.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus challenges his host about the make-up of his guest list. Speaking directly to the rich Pharisee, he says:

“By inviting your friends and family and your neighbors who are in your social class, you have made sure that you have lost nothing, risked nothing, spent nothing, ultimately, sacrificed nothing, actually DONE nothing that qualifies you as a HOST in the Biblical sense of the word.”

“You have invited only people who can AFFORD to return the favor and invite you to their house and feed you there. This is a nice social event, its good fellowship, but it’s not real HOSPITALITY. “

Biblical hospitality is about taking a risk on behalf of the strangers and aliens in your midst. It is rooted in the Hebrew awareness that we are all, every one of us, strangers here on this earth.

The SHEMA, which every Hebrew was enjoined to pray each morning, begins with these words:

A wandering Aramaen was my father, recalling how the first Hebrews, Abram and Sarai, were called out of UR of the Chaldees, and were sent to wandering the earth, looking for the Promised Land.

Abram and Sarai very much depended upon the hospitality they received as strangers in their travels, and kindness to strangers was built into the Hebrew faith from the beginning.

IN our text for today, Jesus reminds his HOST that he gets no credit for hospitality for inviting those who are NOT strangers; notice the list of people whom Jesus tells us NOT to invite: friends, brothers, other relatives, neighbors. Why? Because these people are not, generally speaking, in NEED of hospitality.

Okay. So who are the strangers, the aliens in our midst, the wanderers upon the earth whom we are called upon to invite to our banquets and celebrations?

According to Jesus they are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. This is not a random, off the top of his head list. By reciting it, Jesus intentionally offended both his host and the other guests.

The poor, of course, is a reminder not to invite those who can repay you. The rest of the list consists of those who are ritually unclean; they are persons who were not welcome at worship.

Leviticus 21:17-20, for example, says, in part:
No one . . . who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or hand . . .

These were people who were not allowed to worship, people whom you could not touch or associate with without becoming unclean yourself. And these are the people whom Jesus calls us to invite to the banquet.
Who are the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind among us? Who are the strangers in our midst in need of hospitality? Whom has God placed in our path for us to pay attention to? Who are the “wandering Aramaens” looking for a Promised Land who have happened upon our door?

In order to answer that question, we have to realize a couple of things:

1) We are all strangers here on this earth. As the old Gospel song had it, “This world is not my home.” We have all been called out of the safety and comfort of the familiar to launch out on a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey seeking a spiritual Promised Land. This journey will lead us to and fro as we search for our eternal home. Because we are all strangers, we are all in need of hospitality from time to time.

2) Jesus the Christ is the true host, the perfect and loving welcome of strangers, aliens and pilgrims upon the earth. We, the Church, exercise our hospitality in imitation of Christ, seeking to be Christ in the world.

It is not by accident that the most important thing we do in church, the central ritual action of our faith, is the remembrance, the re-creation, of a meal at which Jesus was the Host.

Did you know that the name for the bread that I bless, that I consecrate in the Communion prayer is the HOST? This word, and its many meanings, goes back to a Latin root word which means stranger. Various English words come from this word, all a result of how one treats the stranger:

Hospice – it means a guest room,

Hospital – a place for strangers who are sick

Host - a person who receives a stranger

Hostile – which is seeing the stranger as an enemy

Host – Bread which one gives to the stranger

Hospitality – welcoming the stranger

All these meanings come into play as we come to communion, as we respond to the invitation,

Come to the Banquet, all is now ready!

We come as though we had just wandered off the street in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

We come as someone who stands in the door of the Upper Room, watching, and suddenly Jesus looks up from table and sees us and says,
Come up higher, friend, you look hungry,
have some bread, drink some wine.

We come, leaving behind in the pew our power or position.

We come and stand and bow and hold out our hands,

Hands with which we have for so long tried so hard to hold on to control of our lives;

We come, and relax our grip and hold out our hands,
like a child asking for candy,
willing to receive whatever God has to give us,

We come and God gives us;
the Bread of life,
the Host,
the food given to strangers,
the food which changes us
from strangers into friends,

Indeed, the food that transforms us
from pilgrims into hosts,

And we return to our pews as new people,
and from our pews we are sent forth into the world
sent forth to seek and save those who,
like us, are seekers and strangers
upon the earth.

Who are the strangers, the aliens,
the lame, the blind, the poor?

They are us,
and they are all those in the world who, like us,
need the love of Christ!

Amen and amen

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pentecost 13, August 26, 2007

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17


Ravi Zacharias tells this story:

On his way to work every day, a man walked past a clockmaker’s store. Without fail, he would stop and reset his watch from the clock in the window, then proceed on to the factory.

The clockmaker observed this scene morning after morning. One day he stepped outside and asked the man what he did and why he set his watch every morning.

The man replied, “I’m the watchman at the factory, and its part of my job to blow the 4:00 o’clock whistle for the end of the day. My watch is slow so I reset it every morning.

The clockmaker laughed and said, “You won’t believe this. That clock in the window is fast, so I reset it every afternoon by the factory whistle. Heaven only knows what time it really is.”
That story is about the search for a true, reliable standard by which to measure time. And about the problems that result when that standard is simply what others are doing.

Our Gospel lesson is about the search for a true and reliable standard by which to measure morality. And about the problems which results when that standard is anything other than love and compassion.

The story opens with Jesus at worship on the Sabbath day.
There is a woman present who has suffered for almost twenty years from a crippling disease. Jesus responds to her illness with love and compassion; without her asking he reaches out and heals her.

And immediately, the leader of the synagogue lambasts Jesus for having the wrong standard for moral behaviour, for coloring outside the lines, for not following the exact letter of the law.

Jesus responds by pointing out that even the strictest interpretation of the Law, the most reliable eternal timepiece, allows people to untie their cows and horses and mules and lead them to water on the Sabbath in order to prevent unnecessary cruelty.

Jesus then asks the rhetorical question: “is not a woman’s unloosing from the suffering of disease as important as the unloosing of an animal from its thirst?

We will lose the point of this story FOR US if we dwell
too long on the subject of Sabbath observance; that battle has already been won. Very few of us here would really hesitate to do anything on Sunday that we would do any other day of the week.

Actually, about the only thing that Jesus could have done in this situation that would have shocked us would have been to NOT heal the woman because it was the Sabbath.

For us to get the point FOR US: TODAY , in Gibsonville, NC, in 2007, we must think outside the box and consider ways in which our understanding of religious rules and regulations would block us from showing genuine, heartfelt compassion to those in need.

HMMM. GEEE. I can’t think of any right off the top of my head. Which is precisely the problem. No one of us considers our self to be a cruel and unjust person.

Nobody here thinks that our way of being Christian gets in the way of being kind, caring and compassionate.

The leader of the synagogue surely thinks of himself as a kind man; and so do his neighbors. After all, they made him their leader. He’s just a local working man, a fisherman or cobbler or farmer or tentmaker, who has taken on the volunteer leadership role. He’s doing his best to interpret and enforce the rules as he knows them.

He says,

There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, but not on the Sabbath Day.

I’m sure he never imagined that one day, 2000 years later, he would be held up in sermons to millions of people as an example of religious hypocrisy.

He would surely protest:

But, But, I’m an unpaid leader of a tiny congregation. I spend countless hours aiding the poor and the widows and the sick in our community. All I was trying to do was keep order, make sure everybody followed the rules, after all, that’s my job.

Ken Callahan is a Church Consultant and a prolific writer of books on Church Management. In his book Dynamic Worship, he says,

Across the years I have frequently asked congregations what one thing they like best about their church.

Again and again the answer is: “We’re so friendly”

NOTE: Virtually All congregations believe themselves to be a friendly group of people. (This is because) the only people who are not at that church are the people who did not find it friendly. They are somewhere else, some where that feels friendly to them.

What applies to friendliness also applies to the rest of our faith life; what it looks like to us may not be what it looks like to others; to someone looking in from the outside.

We may think we are friendly and caring and compassionate people, while other eyes may be the ones who see us more clearly as we are.

This is why we need Jesus to look at us and speak to us about ourselves. Just as Jesus broke into the pat little world of first century Palestinian Judaism with a new set of eyes and a fresh voice;

we need to let Jesus look US over and tell us what he sees. We need to hear and heed the call of Christ to break out of our old comfortable way of seeing and doing things;

we need to look at the world with the fresh eyes of Jesus,

we need to look at the world as a place filled with opportunities to bend the rules in the name of love.

We need to follow Jesus to the Cross, and there at the Cross, we need to take the risk of doing new things for an old reason, THE LOVE OF GOD.
In 1944, Bert Frizen was an infantryman on the front lines
in Europe. Bert’s patrol had reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field stretched out before them.

Bert and another private were sent out across the open field. About halfway across, a German battalion hiding in a hedgerow opened fire. A machine gun ripped into Bert’s legs, and he fell into a little stream while the battle raged above him.

Bert was trapped, with no hope of survival. When he looked around, searching for anyway he could crawl to safety, Bert saw a German soldier inching toward him.

Concluding that his time was up, that the German was coming to finish him off, Bert closed his eyes and said his prayers, crossing himself at the end. He waited and waited for the knife to the throat or the quick gunshot, but nothing happened.

Finally Bert opened his eyes and was startled to see the German kneeling at his side smiling. Then, Bert noticed that the shooting had stopped. Troops from both sides were anxiously watching what transpired in the middle of the battlefield. Without saying a word, the German lifted Bert into his arms and proceeded to carry him to the safety of the American lines.

Then he stood, and turned his back on the American lines and walked slowly back across the field to the hedgerow.

No one said a word, no one dared breathe, afraid to break the silence of this incredible and sacred moment.

In a few minutes, the shooting began again; but for those few minutes, while one man dared to break the rules and risk death in the name of love and compassion; the world stood still and paid attention.

Our calling today is to set our spiritual clock by the unchanging rhythm of God’s love. We are called to look deep within and to find the courage and faith to break the rules in the name of love, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pentecost 12, august 19, 2007

August 19, 2007

TEXT: Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56


My sons and I love to listen to the comedian Bill Engvald. Ya’ll know who he is, don’t you? “Here’s your sign” is his tagline.

He says, “When my family moved from Texas to California, there was a van in the yard full of boxes full of our stuff. Our neighbor came over and said,
YA’LL MOVING? (pause) here’s your sign.

Again Engvald, “My buddy and I went fishing. Came up to the dock at the lake with a big string of fish. Feller on the dock said, YA’LL CATCH THOSE FISH? (pause) here’s your sign. Engvald responded, “Nope, we talked ‘em into giving up.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about the ability to read, to interpret the signs. To look at obvious things, like dark clouds and south winds
(or perhaps moving boxes and strings of fish!) and
know what they mean.

Jesus wonders about why people can interpret ordinary stuff, but don’t know how to look at the social world around them and see it for what it is.

Listen again to his words in the Gospel; vs. 54-56.

When we hear this, we usually assume Jesus’ is referring to what Credence Clearwater Revival called a Bad Moon Rising, a dark omen of evil times in the offing.

But, let me propose that that is not necessarily the case. As we can all agree right now, there are many times when rain in the offing is Good News, not bad.

Jesus says here nothing about looking out for evil times, he merely suggests that we should pay as much attention to the times as we do the clouds.

You know, in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, clouds were symbols of God’s presence.

When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, he ascended up a mountain into the clouds where God was hidden from the view of those below.

Remember when the Children of Israel were crossing the Wilderness, they were lead by God, by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

The clouds were signs of God’s presence, God’s protection, God’s provision.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians. In it, the author uses the phrase
“a great cloud of witnesses.”

He is referring to the long list of folk he has named who trusted God throughout their problems and difficulties.

look at Hebrews with me:

1) The first part is about the exodus and the coming into the promised land.

2) The second, verses 32-34 is about the time of the Kingdom, the history of Israel.

3) The third part, starting with vs. 35 “women received…” is about the great trials the Jews faced during the Maccabean period.

This is the incident commemorated by the Jewish Holiday of Channakah.

It was a time 200 years before Christ when the Greek conquerors defiled the temple by putting in pagan idols and sacrificing pigs there.

The Jewish people rebelled and the rebellion was mercilessly put down.

4) Then beginning with Chapter 12:1, the author makes his point, we are surrounded by this CLOUD of witnesses.

(What did we say a cloud represented in the OT? The Presence and Protection and Provision of God.)

The witnesses are a cloud, a sign to us of what God can do with and for us in the midst of difficult and hard times.

Listen to the end of our Hebbrews reading, vs. 2
Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of
our faith, who for our sake endured the cross,
disregarding its shame, . . .

This ties directly to the beginning of the Gospel lesson: vs. 49-50. (read)

Jesus is referring here not to some future apocalypse, some deep punishment of the earth which an angry God holds in abeyance until it suits his whim and fancy to unleash it on us. NO.

Jesus is saying that he came to bring Good News, not necessarily Pleasant News.

Jesus came to break in order to heal, to burn in order to purify, to tear down in order to build up.

It seems the world now, and always in the past as well, has longed for Pleasant News, not Good News.

And it has been the un-pleasant duty of Christ and by extension, the Church, to bring Good News that is often times not initially very pleasant.

People want, in the midst of the misery that their sin and rebellion have brought upon them, to be told that God is love and forgives them.
That is Pleasant News.

They do not want to be told that though God loves them as they are, God also loves them too much to let them stay that way; and seeks to change, to transform, them from sinners into saints.

Jesus came to bring us, not Pleasant News but Good News.
Some years ago a man I knew in one of my churches had a badly bent arm that pained him greatly.

He went to several doctors, none of whom could help him.

Finally, he went to a doctor in Atlanta, a specialist, who told him Good News, he could help him, he could fix his arm.

It was Good news, but it was not Pleasant News. He could fix his arm, but first he would have to break it.

Jesus came with Good News, but it was not necessarily Pleasant, welcome News.

Do you know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Rev. Woodie White, once the Methodist Bishop of Indianapolis, tells of seeing a book on the shelves titled, If It Ain’t Broke, Break It!

It was by a couple of corporate exec’s thinking outside the box about management, but. . . .

It got him to thinking. What needs to be broken in this world? What needs to be changed? Break it!

It’s a different message than we’re used to hearing, but it is an important one.

Jesus came into this world with a message and a mission, both of which were Good, but neither of which was Pleasant.

His message was a message of love, and as we all know, love can be very, very unpleasant at times.

You see, the opposite of love is not hate, not anger, not unpleasantness.

The opposite of love is apathy, uncaring, uninvolved; which can often be very quiet and pleasant.

Love is noisy and nosy and involved. Love will not let you slip away unchallenged into nice failure. Jesus had a message of love, a message of love that disturbed families because it called upon people to get beyond roles:

“I’m the father and this is what I do, and you’re the son and this is what you do, and this is the Mother and this is what she does, etc.

To get beyond roles and to get into relationships, real, messy, involved relationships; and that kind of love was disruptive, it broke what wasn’t working
in order to create a new family, a new community of truth and love.

Yes, Jesus came with a message and a mission, and his mission was to break the power of the evil one through the power of selfless love. That is the “baptism” he refers to, the thing that must be completed.

Jesus came to complete what was begun many years ago in the parting of the Red Sea;

Jesus came to rescue God’s people,

Jesus came to fight the good fight of faith and to break us free from our bondage to sin, death and the devil.

Jesus came to be the capstone, the final chapter, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

So, what is our sign today, what do the clouds hold for us?

Life is difficult for many of us right now, isn’t it?

We’re in the midst of an unpopular war that drags on and on.

The weather has been unforgiving, cold in the winter, way too hot, severe drought; what next.

There’s been a downturn in the stock-market, etc. etc. We are in the midst of tough times.

But, we are called upon to look to the “great cloud of witnesses” who went before us, those in the Bible and those across the street in the cemetery.

We are not alone, brothers and sisters, and we are not traveling down roads untrod.

Where we are, for the most part, others have been before, and they held on to their faith and God held on to them.

We are called to look to them as a sign, a seal and a promise of God’s presence, God’s protection and God’s provision; we are to look to them and trust in the hand of God to carry us through.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

pentecost 12, august 19, 2007

i was discussion leader at our Greensboro, NC Lutheran Lectionary group this morning.(tuesday) here is the discussion guide I prepared and used. delmo

August 19, 2007 PENTECOST 12


JEREMIAH 23:23-29

Context: Conflict among prophets at the time of Jeremiah. Some predict that the nation will dwell secure, others convey a message of doom.

Ideas: Jeremiah equates false prophecy with subjective feelings, dreams and desires. Old idolatry was in the name of another God (Baal); the New Idolatry is false hope in the name of YHWH.

Connection to Gospel: Verse 23: Don’t think God not intimately involved in our lives. Verse 29: Fire and hammer.

HEBREWS 11:29-12:2

Context: Faith history as encouragement to the faithful. (Note Barak, use to counter “Hussein” issues re: Obama!)

Ideas: Tough times, can we make it? Rehearse some of Hebrews biblical history, then a bit of congregational history. Emphasize God’s action and the people’s faith.

Connection to Gospel: vs. 34, “raging fire escaped edge of sword, won strength out of weakness, etc.” vs35-38 – the faithful during the Maccabean period. The “cloud of witnesses” and “the cloud rising in the West” Could it be that the sign is the sign of faithfulness in the midst of trouble?

LUKE 12:49-56

Context: This passage comes in a large section where the talk becomes sober and the reality of judgment is clear. “The statement that Jesus came to bring fire, a distressful baptism, and division, even among families, are hardly welcome words for any congregation. We are happier with Jesus as a peacemaker than as a home breaker.” Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching

Ideas: What is the fire? Judgment, REFINING, purifying
What is the “baptism”? – Mark 10:38, the cup and Jesus’ coming death.
This is a long, tough journey, fraught with danger and peril, are you sure you’re up for this?

Jesus is trying to draw the attention of his hearers away from the Pleasant News to the GOOD NEWS. The Pleasant News is idle dreams of the Prophets, Cheap Grace a la Dietrich Bonhoeffer, etc. The Good News is both Good and Hard News. We are called to follow Christ.

The Hard News is that this is difficult and we will be resisted by the world. The Good News is that God will be with us.

Again, the connection between the cloud rising in the West and the great Cloud of witnesses. What are we to discern? Are we to only see that Bad Times approacheth and we should keep our heads down and our chin up?

Or, do we see God carrying God’s faithful people through. Do we see the hand of God in the past and trust the promise of God’s faith presence into the future?

Friday, August 10, 2007

August 12, 2007 - Pentecost 11

Guest homilist/blogger this week. Mark Scott is a Lutheran Pastor living in Newberry SC. Formerly pastor of ELCA congregations in Knoxville, TN, Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL and one-time VP of Newberry College, Dr. Scott is currently the ELCA Foundation's Representative in SC. This sermon will be preached to the "little flock" at the Episcopal Church across the street from Mark's home in Newberry.

Have No Fear
A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost on Luke 12:32-40
August 12, 2007
Preached at St. Luke Episcopal Church
Newberry, South Carolina
Mark Scott, Preacher

My name is Stanley Johnson. I have this nice house, two kids. I drive two new cars, am a member of the country club and I send my kids to private school. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. Someone please help me.

Apparently, if you watch the markets in the world, you realize that there are lots of Stanley Johnsons in the world. And last week, a lot of nervous investors were hoping that someone would come along to help.

I am willing to bet that not many of those nervous investors turned to Luke 12 last week for guidance. If they had, they would have heard a message that would have been unmistakably clear: Don’t worry. Have no fear. The father has chosen to give you the Kingdom.

Instead of hearing that message of faith, we in the world often find ourselves in the position of Abraham in the first lesson. Abraham and Sarah have grown old with no heirs, so they have determined to take God’s promise into their own hands. They are naming Eleazar as their heir. He is supposed to be the one who takes up the cause.

But God pulls Abraham back from his faithlessness and reminds him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. In this lesson, God trusts Abraham to act on his faith. IN the Gospel lesson we hear today, Jesus trusts the disciples to act on their faith as well. They are to have no fear. They are to listen to the word of God. And they are to respond by giving.

I realize that it sounds odd to say that the simplest act of faith is giving something away. But when you think about it, that action truly is an act of faith. When we give something of ourselves away, something happens to us. We change. I can’t explain how this happens, but it does. We are no longer focusing on ourselves or our own devices. We are depending on the Lord to provide for us. And no matter how much or how little we give, it makes a difference in our lives.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus calls the disciples a “little flock.” Today, all kinds of little flocks exist all over the world to share the Gospel with others around them. Last week, one news story told about a Catholic congregation in Wisconsin. The pries was so worried that people weren’t showing up for mass that he decided to take attendance. If you don’t show up 7 out of 10 Sundays, you won’t get the special rate for the school anymore.

To me, that approach is really misguided. Actions of faith should be actions we take by the motivation of the Spirit, not by the motivation of some rule of law. But the problem is that we don’t always understand this very well. Grace is something that should flow through our lives of service freely and openly.

A corporate headhunter tells the story that he liked to visit with executives around the country to find out about the people he was trying to place in positions of authority. As he would visit with these people, he would do the thing we often do in the South. He would sit down with them and talk about a wide range of subjects. Then, when he felt comfortable talking with the person, he would ask a simple but direct question: What do you think is the purpose for your life?

The headhunter stated that this question caught a number of his clients by surprise. Some of them could not answer the question at all. Others simply did not know what to say. But one executive answered this question immediately.

“My purpose in life,” he said, “is to go to heaven and to take as many people as I can with me.”

If you read the Gospel lesson carefully, you realize that is exactly what this Gospel lesson is about. Jesus is asking his disciples to focus on the eternal values rather than on earthly worries. When we do that, there is nothing we have to fear. The recruiter noted that this man had an attitude about his life that he had not encountered among many other people in the business world.

No doubt as you have experienced others in this life, you have encountered people who reflected the Kingdom of God in their lives. As we listen to this Gospel lesson, we realize that is exactly the attitude that Jesus expects his disciples to reflect.

It isn’t difficult to see Kingdom values every day. When you read obituaries, you see these values every day. People whose lives have reflected care for the needs of others generally are noted well in obituary pages. But the key issue here is that giving is something that provides center and grounding for our lives.

Through giving of ourselves, we reflect the values Jesus describes. The Anglican priest, John Wesley, was noted as such a giver in his life. Throughout his life he managed to live on one tenth of his earnings. And through his tremendous largesse, he developed the motto: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”

While we live with more inflation than Wesley knew, this motto is still relevant in our lives and world. Have no fear little flock. True riches await all of us as we live into the Kingdom of God. And the great things is that God has chosen this kingdom for each of us.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Pentecost 10 August 5, 2007
Luke 12:13-21

A few years ago at Confirmation Camp I learned a game called WOULD YOU RATHER? The students line up down the middle of the room and then they are asked a question like would you rather kiss your brother/sister or fall in a pile of manure? It is a game based on silly choices, and the educational value comes from thinking about WHY we chose what we chose.

The game reminded me of the old Jack Benny comedy routine. A man steps up to Benny on the street, puts a gun in his ribs and says, “Your money or your life.” There’s a very long pause while Benny adopts his trademark pose of chin in hand. Finally the mugger demands “YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE!” Benny replies, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”


In our Gospel lesson, a man wants Jesus to make his brother share the family inheritance. Rather than get involved in this family dispute, Jesus takes the opportunity to caution his listeners about the dangers of greed, backing up his warning with a story.

The story of the man and his barns brings to mind the Old Testament story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Remember how Joseph was in prison because his boss’ wife had accused him of sexual harassment? While in prison, Joseph made quite a name for himself as an interpreter of dreams.

While Joseph is in prison, the Pharaoh is having strange dreams about fat cows and skinny cows, full and empty stems of grain. He asks his servants if they know any dream interpreter and someone remembers Joseph and they send for him.

Joseph interprets these dreams to mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine and advises Pharaoh to build large barns to store the surplus from the good years to help tide the country over in the bad times.

Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph that he appoints him Prime Minister. And when things work out as Joseph predicted, the country is saved, and Egypt is able to help people from other starving countries.

Our Gospel story is similar:
1) great material blessing is followed by
2) great vision for the future
The stories begin to differ in the use to which the great material blessings will be put.

In the Joseph story, Joseph and Pharaoh use the abundance for the good of the community and for hospitality to the stranger. They store up the blessing to be used during the time of want and need, not for themselves, but for others, for the poor people of Egypt and the world; all who come in want and need.

In the story of the “Rich Fool” the farmer thinks only of himself. One scholar says that no other parable of Jesus is so full of the words Me and MY and I and MYSELF. The Greek word for I is EGO, so this story is full of EGOTISM.

God has given us what we have, not for ourselves, but for the benefit of the community and for hospitality to strangers. This is true, whether we are talking about our personal, individual goods, or the goods we hold in common as a congregation, as the church.

Everything we have, right down to the last breath we take, God has given to us. And God’s judgment of us will have little to do with what we have, and everything to do with what we have done with it.

Tithing has gone out of fashion, I suppose. At least very few people seem to do it anymore. I think tithing lost its appeal among Lutherans because if seemed too legalistic, too rule-oriented. After all, we are Gospel people, free to respond to the Grace of God as we wish.

I think this is unfortunate, for it robs us of the many blessings to be received from a proper understanding of stewardship. We have created for ourselves a Stewardship Game of WOULD YOU RATHER, a game nobody wins. We have created a false choice between two styles of giving and then acted as though we’ve been forced to chose between them.

I like easy math, so let’s use $100 as an illustration number. A tithe of $100 would be $10.

An “of my own free-will giving” attitude would say:

I have done well, worked hard and earned this money. It would be a good thing if I gave some of it back to the community. Let me examine the programs and agencies in the community to see which deserve MY hard-earned dollars. I will give them, say $10.

Now, this is a commendable and worthy attitude, but it is also not Biblical Stewardship.

A “God’s Law compels me” attitude would say,

God has commanded that I give $10 of every $100 I earn to the church. Because I am a god-fearing person and do not want to make God mad at me, I will give the church $10 of my money.

Do you see how this is a b ad game of Would you rather? One way, you feel like its something you have done; in the other you feel like God made you do it. Neither one is Biblical Stewardship.

A Biblical, Christ-centered attitude toward giving says:

God has $100 and has trusted me with it. God has asked that I use at least, AT LEAST $10 of this money for the benefit of others and the spreading of the Gospel. Of the other $90, I should use as much as necessary for my needs and I am asked to share the rest with others as I see their needs.

What we do with our possessions depends upon which of these attitudes we take toward stewardship. In his parable, Jesus reminds us that we are all going to die someday. And Jesus says, at the inevitable moment of our death, our accumulated possessions will be worthless to us.
As a matter of fact, they could be worse than useless. If the care and maintenance of our stuff has diverted us from seeing the care and maintenance of our souls; the very things we cherish in this life will have been that which has ruined us for the next.

As Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

God has placed in our hands all that we are, and all that we have. And the question is: What are we going to do with it, with our life and with our stuff?

Would you rather serve God or serve yourself?
That is the real WOULD YOU RATHER question.
Amen and Amen.