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Words with Jesus: Gulf Is Crossed

October 16, 2022

Unlike our other parables so far, this one does not stay in the realm of first-century village life.  It spans this life and the next. This parable is found only in Luke. It underscores a theme expressed earlier in the Gospel.  God has "put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree."

And the story reflects the ancient belief that the righteous and the wicked can see each other after death. And look and see who Jesus is telling this story to and why…this story grows out of the reaction of the Pharisees to his story of the dishonest steward we looked at last week. Let’s look at Luke 16:19

“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day.

Jesus wastes no time in describing this rich man.  He gives us a couple of important details: notice first, this man was clothed in purple and fine linen. His clothing was the best money could buy. When it came to himself, he spared no expense. The rich loved to be clothed in purple; it was the color of royalty and it was very costly to make. Fine linen was a woolen garment, soaked in a special clay pot which made it brilliantly white, worn as a status symbol. 

Second, Jesus mentions that this man feasted every day. The very definition of a feast is that it is a special occasion. To this man, his feasting was so common he hardly even thought of it as feasting anymore. Compare this to the Father who when his Lost son was restored to him, killed the fattened calf and began to celebrate. 

The rich man was characterized by the externals of life. There are many people like that. Their whole concern is: "What shall I eat, and where shall I sleep, and what shall I wear? He lived a hollow life concerned only with the love of displaying his wealth and the desire for self-indulgence. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.

Jesus says that this poor man was in very close vicinity to the rich man. While in this life, the rich man had ample time to tend to the needs of Lazarus but never gave him a second thought.

Lazarus was covered with sores, Do you see the imagery and contrast Jesus is picturing before us? One man clothed in fine linen and costly purple the other clothed in sores.

The Pharisees would have viewed Lazarus as unclean and suffering divine judgment. Much like Job’s friends who wondered what great evil Job must have secretly done for God to curse him so severely.  

The idea of the poor waiting for crumbs at the doors of the rich is a detail taken straight from first-century life. People then did not use knives or forks or napkins; they would eat with their hands, wiping them on crusts of bread which were thrown out afterward. Lazarus, was waiting for those crusts of discarded bread that had been thrown out after the feast.

Do Lazarus's hunger and willingness to eat whatever was at hand remind you of anyone? The Lost Son. Just as the Lost son longed to eat the pods that were fed to the pigs, so Lazarus longed to just eat the crumbs that fell from this rich man’s table.

Lazarus was in such a poor state and so utterly unclean that, Jesus tells us, the mongrel dogs that ate from the refuse pile even added more misery to him.  The dogs add one more reason for us to regard him as less than human, unclean, through-and-through an outcast.  

Next, Jesus contrasts their homes. The rich man lives in a compound, which is signified by the fact that he has his own gate.  Cities had gates and fortified towns had gates, not a house. However, this man was so rich his fenced in compound had its own gate. Lazarus, on the other hand, had no home at all.

First-century hearers of this parable would not have assumed that the rich man was evil and that the poor man was righteous. On the contrary, wealth in the ancient world was often viewed as a sign of divine favor, while poverty was viewed as evidence of sin. Was the rich man blessed because he was rich? Was Lazarus under divine judgment because he was suffering so?

But Jesus leads us to understand that the rich man's sin was not that he was rich, but that, during his earthly life, he did not "see" Lazarus, despite his daily presence at the entrance to his home.

Could you be clothed in the finest clothing and feasting every day while fifty feet away a man lay in tattered clothing, sick and starving?  But something is about to change everything…

“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side.

Jesus continues with His comparison and contrast of these two men. No longer are they living their earthly lives but both have died. Notice the switch in their circumstances.

Lazarus no longer suffered. He was no longer hungry and needy. He now had a home and rather than being mocked as he lay at the rich man’s gate, he was cared for and it was he who now feasted. 

In life his only companions were the scavenger wild dogs, but now he is in the presence of Abraham and the angels. As soon as Lazarus breathed his last breath, he was whisked up by the angels and transported in a split second to heaven or as Jesus symbolically explains, Abraham’s side or bosom, which depicts a place of the beloved.  

The flames, the water, the tongue, the great chasm, etc. They, too, are metaphors like when Jesus says, "I am the door," you do not start looking for the doorknob. or you are the salt of the earth and lick each other. Guess what Lazarus means? "God is my helper," which I think Jesus chose on purpose to imply righteousness. 

The rich man was now in dire need. His suffering was unfathomable. In Hades or Hell, as some translations call it, he suffered great pain. The tables have now turned. The one who suffered greatly in this life now feasts daily at the side of Abraham and the other who in this life enjoyed many pleasures now is the one suffering for all eternity.

But what I find most interesting about this story is how the rich man is gravely mistaken in the wrong assumptions he makes and how that affects him eternally. And maybe us as well. What are those assumptions as we see these dead men talking?

Wrong Assumption #1: That Abraham Was His Father

The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me… The rich man calls Abraham his "Father." As kindly and as fatherly as Abraham’s response was, he was not the rich man’s father. To be a child of Abraham is to be a child of God. All he could claim was to be a physical descendant of Abraham not a spiritual descendant. 

It is true, Abraham addressed him as child but this indicates a kind Jewish address not an indication of faith. He is not a child of God. Earlier in Luke (3:8) (Produce fruit slide) we get the message that claiming a religious heritage cannot by itself gain us salvation. Living a life characterized by active compassion to others is a sign that we are responding to God's covenant.

Wrong Assumption #2: His Status in This Life Continued in the Life to Come

Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I'm suffering in this flame.' 

Even in torture, the rich man’s arrogance is seen. Who does he think he is that he could ask Lazarus to enter the tortures of hell to give him some relief? He assumes that Lazarus should still be low in the status department and he should be high. He is viewing the circumstances as if Lazarus is still covered in sores and he is covered in purple and fine linen. 

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain.

When we experience times of suffering in this life, we must never think that sorrow and grief in this life means sorrow and grief in the life to come.  Like Lazarus, who experienced pain and suffering here, went on to be highly exalted in the life to come.

Wrong Assumption #3: The Great Gulf Between Heaven and Hell Can Be Crossed

Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.'

Do you understand how eternity works?  Jesus tells us very clearly and it is the only time he really mentions it. Don’t get hung up on the geography of the hereafter that is not the focus for Jesus here. It is not a literal chasm. We make a mistake in trying to visualize hell as a place where all the lost are in flames below, while above, in heaven, are the redeemed. The chasm simply indicates the impossibility of a change in either condition. No one can pass from the one to the other.

Wrong Assumption #4: Some People are Entitled to Special Treatment

"The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father's house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don't come to this place of agony.'

Here, the rich man may seem to finally be showing some compassion. But I don’t think so. His heart is still only concerned about himself and a certain few people among the socially elite. If Lazarus cannot come here then send him to warn my people.  He still does not care about the poor and needy.  He doesn’t say, please send Lazarus to the rest of those lying at my gate and warn them. He simply cares for his own. The rich caring for the rich and no one else.

Wrong Assumption #5:  A Miracle Will Bring About Repentance (Luke 16:29-31)

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.' 30 The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.' 31 Abraham said, ‘If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'"

Hearing is a very important theme in Luke’s Gospel. The phrase those who have ears to hear…this is a hearing with a response. It’s so important that we understand that the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) teach us our need to repent, to turn around. Jesus is saying if we don’t read the word of God, listen to it and do it then there is nothing left for God to do. Do you understand this most important truth? No miracle will convince us to repent if we don’t believe what we read.

Rather than seeing a miracle, like Lazarus coming back from the dead and warning the rich man’s family, they must heed the warnings already given. The same is true for all people.

I pray, as we read through God’s Word we don’t simply read old stories but we hear God speak to us the warnings given in the pages. This rich man should have listened to the Prophets. His brothers should listen to them as well and so should the Pharisees and so should we. Do you have ears to hear? But this is not really a story of heaven. It is a call to holy living. It is an invitation to listen to the prophets and the law and to live as though the kingdom was already among us.

And I think Jesus is saying this too, to the Pharisees , to the rich man, and to us: Do we have eyes to see? Give me your eyes for just one second ..give me your eyes so that I can see everything I keep missing...give me your love for humanity...

What is it that causes some people to have something or someone in their line of vision and yet not really see them? What makes the difference between not really seeing and seeing? What gulfs do we see around us; what divides people in our communities? How might we speak into those gaps? Whom do we lift up in prayer as a way of acknowledging those marginalized?

This parable is one of several in Luke that shows us that the kingdom of God shows up when and where we least expect it. We don't expect it to show up in the gap between the bearable, even pleasant, or luxurious living conditions of some and the unbearable, inhumane living conditions of others. 

To see that gap and move from seeing to active compassion before it is too late. But we ought to have learned by now that the kingdom of God is not a prisoner to our expectations. Let our testimony be of crossing the gulfs that exist between us, of overcoming barriers and differences in order to be one body, one family.

Words with Jesus: Debts Are Tossed

October 9, 2022

The first thing we read in today’s text is that Jesus was talking to his disciples. Or was he? Remember that the Pharisees had been following Him, listening, trying to trip him up and discredit him. They had just heard him tell the stories about the lost sheep, lost coin, and the lost son. Stories about the love of God and God’s intent to tirelessly pursue every sinner, not only the Jews, and bring them into the fold. 

And now these same Pharisees were eavesdropping on this teaching moment too. “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. Do you wonder who brought these charges? We are not told, but the natural assumption is that the master’s friends in the community told him not to trust his manager. If the reports were from other servants, the master would most certainly have investigated further. Clearly, the reports are considered reliable. 

In all the parables of Jesus, when there are two major characters: one is dishonorable, and the other is always honorable but both are never evil. In this case, the manager is a liar and a thief, but there is no hint that the master is dishonest. The language of this text clearly presupposes a farming scene. It focuses on rents to be paid by tenants and the rents are in the form of agricultural produce not money. After being informed of the manager’s dishonesty, the owner called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? This question is a classic Middle Eastern opener that is used before a confrontation. The manager does not know what information has reached the master, and if he panics it will no doubt give the master a great deal of insight. But this manager is too clever. The manager knows the game and refuses to play. He responds to this direct order with complete silence. After a few tense moments, the master realizes that he cannot extract any new information from the manager. But he already has enough reliable information to fire him.

Give me a report of your accounting because you can no longer serve as my manager.' 

The Greek word translated "accounting” means “the account books." The manager is not asked to "balance the books" but to "turn them in." In short, he is fired on the spot. and from that point onward under Rabbinic Law anything the manager does in the name of the estate is illegal. The manager has been told to relinquish the account books yet they are still in his hands. Now the manager is an ex-manager who has been fired but still has the account books. These two facts are critical to the rest of the story. What would Jesus listeners of this parable expect this manager to do after being fired? In the Middle East, a master does have the power to revoke an agent’s power with or without good cause but they could not dismiss an ordinary servant, let alone a manager, without days of negotiation and discussion. But the manager does nothing he keeps silent. In the Middle East silence is consent and in this parable silence is a confession of guilt. The manager’s silent acceptance of dismissal would be stunning to the listeners. It is not the tradition in the Middle East for an underling when dismissed to walk out of the room without pleading to be reinstated. Now the next scene is a monologue by the manager on his way to collect the account books, the manager says to himself, 

 What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I'm not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 

He knows that he lacks the qualifications for begging that the community accepts: blindness, a broken back, a loss of a limb. In the middle of reflecting on his "outcast state" a light suddenly dawns and a new idea comes to mind. His murmurings continue:   I know what I'll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses. 

This phrase means "to get another job." He wants to manage someone else's estate, but how can he achieve such a goal? Now the staff is not aware that he has been fired. He was dismissed in private yet the books are still in his possession. He discovers that he has one last card that he can play and with daring he proceeds to play it. If he is simply fired for corruption, no one will hire him. But being a clever scoundrel he dreams up a cunning scheme. 

Here is the disclaimer: Remember this spiritual truth: Without repentance sin leads to more sin. After the servant was caught stealing he should repent and reform his life. Instead he decides to steal more.

 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?' 

He does not go to his master's debtors. He summons them to come to him and is careful to talk to them individually. They would not dream of appearing if they knew that he had been fired from his post. It is not harvest time. So the summons can only mean that the master has some important information that he wants the manager to communicate to them. And these are precisely the assumptions that the manager wants the wealthy debtors to have. On the debtor’s arrival, the manager conducts private interviews, not a group meeting so he can keep control. 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.' The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.' 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?' He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.' He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.' Each conversation is private, and without witnesses, who can prove what was said? The manager knows exactly what he is doing. The reason for haste is obvious. These little deals will not be possible once the manager surrenders the books. The depths in the reductions are enormous. The manager wants the changes in their handwriting. Why? So that anyone looking at the accounts will first recognize the handwriting and secondly know that the renters have been contacted and have accepted the terms in writing. You can see why Jesus highlights this manager he is so clever! Each debtor makes the change in his rental agreement and returns to the village to share the good news with family and friends. As word spreads in the village a festive mood breaks out in honor of the most generous man that ever rented land in the history of the village. And also in praise of his manager who convinced the master to make such huge reductions in their rents.

When the interviews are finished, the manager gathers the altered accounts and probably with a smile surrenders them to the master. The master takes the accounts, notes the changes recorded in the handwriting of his closest business associates and quickly considers his options. The Master is faced with two choices. First, legally he can go to the village and explain that the reductions were not authorized, so the original amounts must be paid in full. But such an action would turn the festivities on their ear. Or, second, the master can remain quiet, pay the price of this clever scoundrel and continue to enjoy his reputation as a generous and gracious man. A reputation which was enhanced by this ruse of the manager not created by it. The master is known in the community as a good and generous man. In addition we know the master is generous because he dismissed the manager but did not jail him. Further proof that the Master is generous is that he could have sold the manager and his family as slaves to recoup his losses, but he didn’t. It was the generosity in his nature that led him to refrain from both actions. The listeners of this story would have known this and understood the extraordinary grace of the master.

Even in light of this extraordinary grace,  the manager decides to risk everything on this one roll of the dice. The Manager builds this plan on the basis of his unshakable awareness of the generous nature of this Master. Did the manager manipulate the Master to get his way? No quite the opposite. He could not manipulate the Master to change his nature. The listeners of this parable would have clearly understood when Jesus said  “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. 

The Master condemned him for his actions, yet also commended him fully in the understanding of the master's nature of grace. The community will discover the details and will be amazed at the manager’s intelligence and daring. They will not trust him but will nonetheless employ him. On the basis that such a clever fellow "must work for us and not for them. The master again pays the price of the manager’s salvation.  

Both the manager and the master become heroes of the community, yet for very different reasons. Having procured a huge economic windfall for the village, the community will find a place where the manager can be employed. And watched!

Folks there is a difference between "I applaud the dishonored manager because he acted cleverly" and "I applaud the clever manager because he acted dishonestly." This was a fraud, but it was a most clever and ingenious fraud. The manager is a scoundrel, but he is indeed a clever scoundrel. Jesus says  People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 

Jesus calls him "a son of this age, a son of this world". His morals are deplorable. Yet the Manager is smart enough to know that his only hope his only salvation is to put his entire trust in the unqualified mercy and grace of the master. Superficially, the parable appears to present the story of a manager who cheats his master and is commended by Jesus for being a liar and a thief. But what if this is instead a story of God’s unparalleled grace?

Originally the parable of the unjust manager and the parable of the prodigal son were not separated. Chapters were added in the 4th century by the monks making copies of the Bible. What if the division wasn’t there like originally written? Think about this. This Parable and the Prodigal Son both have a noble master who demonstrates extraordinary grace to one who has become wayward.

Both stories contain a dishonorable son or manager who wastes the master's resources. In both cases the son or manager unknowingly or knowingly throws himself on the mercy of the honorable master. These parallels suggest that the parable of the unjust manager needs to be examined in light of three lost things. The stories Jesus just told with the themes of God’s generosity, sin, grace and salvation and not honesty when dealing with money.

In fact, this manager is used instead as an illustration for Jesus’ disciples at how diligent they should be in seeking an eternal dwelling (vs 9).

Jesus through observation has seen “sons of this world” chasing harder after worldly goods that believers chase after treasure in heaven. If his disciples understood the ways of heaven as well as this steward understood the ways of the world, they would be much more diligent in laying up treasure in heaven and seek an eternal home there. And so these last verses are really more about the kingdom and eternity than just money. (vs 10) Jesus is saying If God has given you the kingdom, then the kingdom of this world really should be unimportant. Are you a follower of Christ? How close do you follow? ( vs 11-12) 

Jesus says one way to tell is to look at how you use unrighteous wealth…mammon versus true riches. Do you serve it or does it serve Christ? 

The Prodigal Son believed the wealth of this world was all he needed to be happy. He squandered it on reckless living. When it was all gone, his life was at an end. They connect.

What about you? Are you laying up treasure in heaven? Are you being shrewd for eternity? Do you think about what you can do with your money that will bring the most glory to God? Do you plan and scheme for eternity? Do you give it away?

These are difficult words. But keep reading anyway — at least one more verse. And remember who also is listening: the Pharisees. They were the keepers and interpreters of Gods law. They were the Stewards of the word. Do you see where this is going? “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all of this, and they ridiculed him” Uh oh. Reading verse 14 is supposed to catch all of us who heard the parable of the dishonest manager. We all rolled our eyes, or raised our brows, or at that last verse Jesus tosses out here. So, we too ridiculed him in our own somewhat respectful way.

And Jesus was telling them in an indirect way that they had been mismanaging the law that was entrusted to them. These people of the world were applying the same principles they used in earthly riches, which they loved, according to Jesus, to their stewardship of spiritual riches.

Folks Jesus wants “those in the light” those that know him as Savior and Lord to be resourceful. To step out in faith.  To trust completely in the mercy and grace of our Master like the shrewd manager did. To trust him completely for our salvation and seek that with all we have. You can Trust in the Grace of our Master.

Words with Jesus: Finding the Lost

October 2, 2022

In 2000 a former homeless man was buried at the prestigious St. John’s Episcopal Church,  called the “church of presidents”, since nearly every U.S. leader since James Madison has worshiped there.

 In an unusual memorial, former members of Congress and prominent professionals attended the burial of William Wallace Brown, Jr. Someone had swindled Brown out of his house 15 years ago, and he had lived on the streets ever since. 

One Sunday morning in 1989 he spotted, then president, George H. W. Bush entering the church and asked the former president to pray for him. Bush looked at him for a moment and said, “No. Come inside with us and pray for yourself.” 

After that, William Brown became a regular attender and always placed a crumpled dollar bill in the silver offering plate. At his funeral, Dolph Hatfield, a member of the church who befriended Brown, said: “the homeless and the most important are one and the same.” 

Hatfield introduced himself to Brown after another parishioner snubbed him. He became Brown’s best friend, inviting him for a meal or taking him grocery shopping after church. The pastor who conducted the service said that Brown, “really understood that the kingdom of God is for all of us. It doesn’t matter about ethnic background, race, or class — all the things that we allow to divide us, but that in God’s eyes are not really important.”

In these two parables we are looking at today, we find two separate illustrations where individuals are looking for something which was lost. One was a lost sheep and the other was a lost coin. Have you ever looked for something that is lost? Keep that mind for this sermon.

The parables are introduced by the first two verses, 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

So in the background there are these critical, muttering, religious folk. And in the foreground Jesus paints this portrait of words to a group of broken people who are gathering around Him and hearing Him gladly. The religious folk are there because they want to find fault with Jesus, and the broken were there because they were genuinely attracted to Jesus. 

You might find yourself saying, “Now wait a minute, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the sinners be giving Jesus a hard time and the righteous folks be His friends? Shouldn’t the religious people be His supporters and the sinners be His detractors? But it is the other way around. How can this be?” 

The pious crowd Pharisees and teachers of the law thought they were the “in crowd.” and that the others should be the outsiders. I suppose if Jesus had catered to the devout people of his day and looked down his nose at the dirty sinners, they would have loved him. 

They were always criticizing Jesus for not doing things right and following the time-honored traditions. They accused him of doing wrong when he did things like heal on the Sabbath, and never seemed to understand that their hatred of him, and their plots to kill him, were in any way breaking the law or the result of the evil in their hearts.

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

The sinners, on the other hand, loved Jesus. He made them feel like God was interested in them and that there was hope for them. Far from being put off by his preaching about repentance and faith, they found themselves hopelessly attracted to him. They couldn’t get enough of what he had to say. They invited him to their parties and enjoyed his company. Far from being starchy and stiff, religious and self-righteous, he was genuine and real. 

The first thing that these parables teach us is: God is interested in the least. Of course, in God’s eyes there are no “least.” Every person is valuable. Even if they have tattoos and body piercing, even if they are steeped in sin, even if they smell bad and have no money, even if they have poor grammar and no education, they are valuable to God. 

FEED the NEED…There was Michelle and her mother. A little girl name grace. Willis. DeShaun. Marion. And numerous other yesterday. They asked for prayers for health and a car fixed and a home as one was living in their car. They asked for breakfast that morning as they hungered even when they came. 

But it is important to understand that the lost coin was not more or less valuable than the ones which were not lost. The lost sheep was not any more special than the 99 others. But to the other sheep it may have seemed unfair that the shepherd left them in order to search for the one which was lost. After all, they had not wandered away. They had followed the shepherd and listened to him. Didn’t they deserve special treatment since they had not gone astray?

Secondly, these parables teach us that: God is interested in the lost. And let’s talk about this woman and her lost coin. She sweeps the house — good idea — and when she finds the coin, she throws a party for all her friends and neighbors, which is going to cost more than the coin was worth. 

Maybe this isn’t just a coin, but a dowry. Since women did not carry purses, they would wear their money — usually in a necklace or a special headdress that signaled her worth to the whole world. That may be true but it isn’t clear. The word is drachma does mean a significant coin. It may represent a tenth of her life savings or even her whole family’s life savings or generations of family, perhaps. Maybe it was not of greater value than the other coins, or of any less value. The thing that made it the center of her attention was that it was lost.

In telling this story, Jesus was trying to help the religious folk understand that all people are important to God. They thought that God hated sinners and was not interested in them. They thought they were more important to God than sinners because they had never wandered away. They thought if someone wandered away, it was their responsibility to find their own way back. But God cares about lost people, and he searches for them like the woman searched for her coin. The greatest search and rescue mission ever conducted. 

Folks at Feed the Need…They help teach us something…they are the lost and least and they are important to God….their stories should break our hearts…

The third thing these parables teach us is: God rejoices when the least and lost are found. When the Shepherd finds his sheeP,  5  he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent

When the woman finds her lost coin  she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 

Have you ever noticed the intensity with which you will search for an inanimate object when you need it? Your wallet, your purse, your keys, a document, an address, a phone number, a pair of socks or earrings. When you need it, you need it now and if time is running out, finding that thing is the highest priority in your life at that moment.

But what you probably won’t do is to scold your keys or purse or your socks when you find them. What do you do? You rejoice. Do that crazy happy dance you know the one that you think nobody sees. 

When you see someone come to know Christ in their life. What does it make you feel like? I hope It has been the cause of great joy. There is more joy over them than the many who have been in the church since they were carried in by their parents and never left. That is the way it should be. It is not that the new Christians are more important than the established Christians. It is that something new and wonderful has happened. Someone who was lost has been found, and we have the need to rejoice.

There is a lot of effort involved in this seeking. The shepherd risks life and limb to find this wandering sheep, putting at risk the ninety-nine who know better. The woman lights a light and sweeps the whole house and extra effort to find this coin. And neither the coin nor the sheep have expressed any desire to be found, let’s be honest.

We like the lost who find their own way back. In fact, a lot of our evangelism efforts are based on that premise – that they’ll find their own way back, or at least they’ll ask to be found.

But you see, God is searching for people who don’t know they’re lost. The sheep, the coin they don’t know they are lost. We don’t always recognize the lost as wandering children of God. The lost may be a mess and muddy, but they are no less loved by God. One theologian wrote: Jesus was able to love them because he loved them right through the layer of mud.” 

You have never locked eyes on someone who doesn’t matter to God. People who don’t understand that they were created by a loving God. They don’t realize that when this temporary life ends, an eternal life begins. I was one of these people. I was not raised in a religious or Christian home. I believed my purpose in life was to be a good person, to be financially successful and take care of my family. Whether or not there was a God or an afterlife or whether or not the Bible was true was never an issue.

I was like this coin. I wasn’t trying to be lost, but I was lost.  I didn’t know I was lost, but I was lost.  And God found me before it was too late. 

And so, we understand that each of us is infinitely important to God. God is not using us to accomplish some great goal, we are the goal. We are the purpose and end of God’s great plan. What God wants is us — the least of us, the lost among us. And when Jesus finds us He places us on His shoulders and carries us home. And God calls all the host of heaven to rejoice over what has been found. We are the prize — the purpose of God’s work — the focus of God’s love.

So Jesus sends us seeking. That’s why these stories qualify as hard words. We’re given work to do, effort to extend; and we are given an attitude in which we expend this energy. We’re seeking with joy. We’re seeking something precious, something essential. And then when we find those we are seeking, we celebrate.

So where do we begin? One writer offers this By asking God to open our eyes to the possibilities all around us, to the people we have overlooked, to the populations on the margins. By seeing all the people. 

Words with Jesus: Counting the Cost

September 25, 2022

How much does it cost? It is a familiar question we have all asked at some time in our lives.  Whether it’s a product or a service we want, in the grocery store, at the car dealer, a new business deal or a new home, the bottom line is that we need to know the cost. After we discover the price we check our pockets and consider our resources and ask ourselves an even more important question which is: “ Can I afford it”?

In Luke 14, Jesus has just responded to people seeking good seats by advising them to seek the lowest seat and to invite the least desirable guests. Then Jesus told the parable of the great dinner, suggesting that the chosen people had declined the invitation because of other priorities and that Gentiles would take their place. And so, this lesson follows naturally from that parable, in which the chosen people were not willing to give the master the priority that he deserved.

Jesus spoke these words in Luke, to a large crowd of people, many of whom where on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and a cross, but the crowd thinks that he is on his way to Jerusalem and a crown. They consider Jesus a “winner,” and follow him so that they too might win. Everyone loves a winner right? But Jesus teaches them that discipleship carries a high price tag. Those who aspire to follow him need to count the cost before signing on the dotted line.

Jesus does not make discipleship easy. He does not offer an easy payment plan. He never tries to disguise the cost of discipleship. Instead, he writes the price tag large for all to see. But Jesus doesn’t require anything of his disciples that he himself is not willing to give. Many of the people following him heard and liked what he taught. They saw the love he had for all people, especially the weak and poor, and the outcasts and sinners. Jesus accepted them and more importantly he offered them forgiveness. It is these people that have gathered around him that Jesus directs to count the cost of following him --the real cost of discipleship. 

26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 

Counting The Cost. Jesus, in these words, talks about the cost of following Him. Jesus lays it out for us. The price tag is clear. He pulls no punches. And I am sure they like us were ready to have some words with Jesus. And the question that I am asking when I read these words is Does he really mean what he says?

Because we might say, wow!  Jesus, are you kidding? What do you mean by these words and who can pay such a high price? How can I hate my father and mother and family? After all, didn’t God tell me in the fourth commandment that I should honor my father and my mother? How can I hate myself, when you have taught me that I should love other people as I love myself? Hating our family? Not going to happen. Let’s be honest here. It just isn’t. 

At least in the usual way we understand those words and that experience and those emotions. We’re good at hating honestly but family isn’t the one we use to list as objects of our hate. Susan has a rule against using the word hate at all. These words of Jesus just seem harsh.

Why did he say this? Was it because there was a large crowd following him? Did he turn around and get scared by all of them and then think, “What can I do to thin the herd?” Why does Jesus have to make it so hard to follow him? Why? Why can’t we add it to our long list of other interests? Our overfull schedule of appointments and good deeds? Why can’t Jesus be satisfied with giving him what time we have to give? At least that’s something, right? At least we’re giving it a try. When we can. When nothing else is going on. When the kids aren’t in town. When we haven’t been out too late the night before and the worship service is at an hour before God gets out of bed! Surely that ought to count for something.

So, we have two possible responses. One is to just pretend we didn’t read it or say “We can’t do that!” But we do it all the time. We pretend Jesus didn’t say a lot of things that he said. We just focus on the doable stuff, the stuff we like, the stuff that affirms us as we are.

Or response number two: go back to Jesus words and wrestle with them a little while trying to find some meaning that is escaping us. Asking does Jesus really call us to hate our biological families and our very lives? There are two observations that might be helpful for our modern ears to understand about what Jesus is saying here. 

First, Jesus is using hyperbolic, over the top language here, exaggeration for effect if you will as he does frequently in his teachings like in Matthew 18:8-9 for instance. And this becomes even clearer when we compare this saying in Luke with its parallel in Matthew (10:37):Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew, drawing on the same Jesus tradition as Luke, seems to have interpreted the starker language of “hate” to refer to primary allegiance. 

For Matthew, this saying indicates that our primary allegiance must be to Jesus rather than to family. Hate is a call to love them less than Christ. 

A second helpful observation is that the use of “hate” in Luke might reflect an expression that comes from Hebrew. In Genesis 29:30-31we hear that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and that Leah was “hated” by Jacob. A similar use of the Hebrew word for “hate” occurs in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 where it is also clear that the issue is one of preference or allegiance. This is the same thing we see here. Jesus is not calling his followers to hate their families in terms of an emotional response; instead, he is calling for undivided loyalty to himself above family loyalties.

Jesus is doing with this crowd what he did earlier with wannabe disciples. To one who wanted first to bury his father Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (9:60). To one who wanted to say goodbye to his family, Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”(9:62).Jesus does promise that our commitment will be rewarded. “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or wife, or brothers, or parents, or children, for the Kingdom of God’s sake, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life” (18:29-30)but that comment comes later.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus only tells us the cost not the benefits. Jesus himself experienced in his own life the conflict between calling and family. When told that his mother and brothers wanted to see him, he responded, “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God, and do it” (8:21)Then he does it…

27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. And then he talks about carrying the cross emphasizing the same point about loyalty. Discipleship is defined by following Jesus and “carrying the cross.” Meaning giving up self-interest and competing loyalties are central to discipleship. Neither of these sayings of Jesus lend themselves to an “easy believism” or a “low-cost” form of faith. Instead, they stress the high cost of following Jesus.

Luke is writing to Christians who know what cross-bearing means. Persecution has begun, and Christians are dying on crosses. For the person desiring casual discipleship, Jesus’ words about cross-bearing would be discouraging — but for Luke’s church, experiencing persecution, these words would back their sacrifices.

Then Jesus tells two brief parables that illustrate this cost by suggesting two scenarios. The first envisions a landowner building a tower, either for storing produce or guarding land and animals. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ So, if the landowner has not estimated how much the tower will cost, it is possible that the project will remain unfinished due to lack of funds. If you have renovated your house, you were probably advised to add ten to twenty percent to the estimate, because you never know what you will encounter once you open up the walls.

It happens all the time on the HGTV shows we watch. They spend that much and more in the months that followed. I watched for years another home off Hillsboro Rd that sat idle for long periods of time as they tried to find money to finish it and it was the entrance of the subdivision. The end result will be ridicule from everyone who see the unfinished structure. This is a good metaphor for Christian discipleship. When we first decide to follow Christ, we know only that there will be a price to pay. Only as life unfolds can we begin to assess the full cost. Jesus warns at the outset that the price will be high.

Then the second story is about a king who assesses the number of his troops in light of the greater number that his enemy has.31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  So if the King cannot win with the number of soldiers he has, the only wise course will be to negotiate with his enemy long before they meet in battle. Jesus uses these two stories to illustrate the necessity of “counting the cost” of discipleship. Jesus praises commitment to finishing the discipleship journey once we begin it or not beginning it at all. Following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition. He makes the connections clear at the end when he says 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks often of our material possessions. He exposed the folly of the rich man whose only concern is the enjoyment of wealth in Luke 12 (12:13-21). He told his disciples not to worry about food and clothing, because “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. In Luke 12 (12:22-34), He requires that the rich young ruler sell his possessions and give them to the poor in Luke 18 (18:18-25).

Becoming a Christian requires repentance, a word that in the Greek means more than sorrow for sin — the picture being that of a soldier doing an about-face — turning to face a new direction. Jesus makes it clear that becoming a Christian means a turning toward God and a turning away from concern for possessions. Luke’s Jesus calls people to a  kind of discipleship that is not cheap (akin to Bonhoeffer’s aversion toward “cheap grace”), not easy, and not to be entered into without deep consideration of the consequences and costs. This passage speaks to the importance of loyalty and allegiance to Jesus over all other competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions.

And while we shouldn’t forget the earlier part of Luke 14 where the focus is on the redemption and freedom that Jesus brings and our inclusion in God’s kingdom, those themes should not dull our sense that here in 14:28-33 are some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus. We will always prefer hearing about God’s grace, but we can’t neglect the covenant loyalty that is expected from us in return. 

I often say grace and accountability go hand in hand. Sometimes we go too far toward one or the other and we don’t keep the tension that should exist between them. Salvation in Jesus is not merely a transaction. It is not something that we buy like insurance or you know that protection they want you to buy on items? It is, at its heart, a covenantal relationship. And no relationship lasts without loyal commitments and actions. Because the one who redeems us also calls us into costly discipleship, Jesus’ command to “Follow me” is both gift and demand to be faithful and fully devoted follower of Jesus. Bonhoeffer also said Salvation is free but discipleship will cost you your life. Are we ready to count the cost and follow him fully? 

Geared Up for Life: Armored

September 18, 2022, at Beersheba Springs Assembly

For some of you this might be a very familiar text and the depiction of the armor of God from the sixth chapter of Ephesians. For others maybe you have never heard it. And of those who have heard it, it never hurts to have a good refresher on being armored for God. Paul is calling for us as Christians to be active in our faith  10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Paul has already prayed that the readers may be strengthened with God’s power (3:16) but also recognizes the power at work within us (3:20). But now Ephesians 6:10-11 extends this idea to suggest that the community itself acts to take up God’s power, at least partially through its own initiative. This letter, then, was written for the Ephesians for whom their allegiance to Christ set them at conspicuous odds with the allegiances of others in their families and cities who worshipped the emperor as the Son of God.

12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. For the Ephesians, no matter what hostility is displayed by their fellow friends and families, they were to understand that hostility towards them as coming from larger, darker, spiritual forces. Such forces cannot be fought by the believers themselves, but are rather to be resisted. Spiritual hosts of wickedness guide and manipulate world rulers of this present age, but the battle is not with other people. Something we all need to remember.  Faithfulness to God places one in the midst of a battle one is unable to fight aggressively on earth but instead be Armored.

But maybe we need to re-think the metaphor of armor  here since we don’t walk around wearing armor in our day and age. And there aren’t many professions in our twenty-first-century world that require armor except to protect our law enforcement and military from harm. And of course, our front-line medical folks who have to armor up for 12 hrs or more every day. And we all have though learned what it is like to wear protective gear of all sorts that the pandemic brought into play in a powerful way. Instead of the helmet of salvation, maybe it is the facemask more aptly that brings us a sense of peace and protection. 

And maybe being armored sounds as though we are doing battle instead of trying to live our lives in a way that reflects our faith and the love that God has placed within us. But if we look closer at what we are being asked to put on -- do you notice something? Everything that all that is offered here is defensive, designed to protect the wearer and the faith we live. The only offensive “weapon” is not our own, but God’s Word. 

So, we can see this as the security we need to continue to live our faith in a complicated and sometimes threatening world. We are not alone, not left to our own strength and wisdom, but we can call upon the wisdom and the strength of God as it is expressed and lived out in the community of faith. This is a call to be united and to look after one another as we journey together. 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, The armor of God that the church takes up relates to the message that Paul has already laid out in the message of Ephesians 1-3 and is now preparing for a spiritual battle in which believers engage in through their actions. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,

First, says Paul, you need a belt. Now a belt is not just for keeping your pants up, as important as that is. And believe me it is. But in that day and time, the belt was also used, by those going into battle, to tie up all those loose bits of clothing that would flap about and could be taken hold of by an opponent when least expected. With a belt you can avoid being caught. So, fasten around your waist the belt of truth. 

Paul says that truth can keep us from being caught out by the loose ends of our lies. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, No one has a good enough memory to be a really effective liar.We’re going to get caught if we try. But belted in truth, having made the decision to live honestly and openly to the truth of Christ, we won’t get caught with our pants down. Literally. By girding ourselves with the “belt of truth” we prepare ourselves for the work to which we have already been called: we are to speak the truth in love to one another 

and put on the breastplate of righteousness. Next, says Paul, you’re going to need a breastplate. That is hardly something we see on every chest these days except those in harm’s way. Yet we all need something to protect those vital organs, so that we don’t get hit in the gut, so that we don’t suffer from a wounded heart. So, we need a chest protector to strap on to keep our heart in one piece – 

Righteousness, it has been said, is being faithful in our relationships. God is righteous because God always keeps faith with us, because God keeps God’s part of the covenant. The “breastplate of righteousness” relates to the “new self” with which we are to clothe ourselves, as beings “created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24).So, we try to be like God; we try to be righteous and keep faithful in all our relationships. First, our relationship with God, of course, as we try to live our lives in response to the grace we have received. But also, in our relationships with one another: we work to keep faith between husbands and wives, parents and children, teachers and students, neighbors, brothers and sisters, and all. We wear our righteousness like a chest protector so that we avoid the sinking feeling in our gut when we have broken faith with a loved one, so that we avoid receiving a broken heart.

15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Paul has earlier explained the “gospel of peace”, for which we should ready ourselves by putting on shoes. In reconciling Jews and Gentiles into one body, Christ is our peace (2:14). The removal of hostility through Jesus’ death on the cross is central to what is at the heart of Paul’s understanding of the gospel message. It is this message of reconciliation that should lead the church to behave and act like what the rest of Ephesians 4-6 has told us over the last couple of weeks.

So we gotta have shoes. Shoes that let us move. On our feet, we need the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace. These shoes are made for walkin’. They are not for sitting back, for putting our feet up, in our homes and saying, “Oh, well, if anyone wants to know, if they come to me and ask, and really look interested and if I’m not too busy then I just might tell them what I know about faith and church and Christ.” These shoes are for going where the action is. They are shoes in best Nike fashion to Just do it. On your feet, the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace.

16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, Well, proclaims Paul, as he admires his creation, we’re not done yet. In addition to these, we are exhorted to take up “the shield of faith”. According to Ephesians, faith activates the power of God. Salvation is God’s gift, yet it also comes through the believer’s faith (3:12). It is “through faith” that Christ dwells in the believer’s heart (3:17). Taking up the shield of faith connects to the protection that faith brings. The salvation that comes as God’s gift through faith is represented as the ability with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

We need a shield. Well, we really don’t use shields these days unless there is a riot. So how about an umbrella? You ever been in that sudden rainstorm? And you wished you had something to hold over you, to go before you, to protect you from the elements, to keep you dry? Something to hold out and to hold on to, something that will remind you that it isn’t always a bright sunny day when all is right with the world. Sometimes the skies do grow dark; sometimes the winds will blow; sometimes rain will fall. So you need something to keep you from drowning in your own despair.

Take instead the umbrella of faith and hold on tight. One author says it this way: When the weather gets rough, when the questions fall like rain, when the tears form puddles at your feet, when the clouds of doubt rumble overhead, then hold tight to your faith. Hold on to that knowledge that you are a child of God, to the experience of being pulled up from off your knees by the hand of one much stronger than you, to that feeling of being made clean again and given a fresh start. Hold on to that; and though the rain may fall, and you may get wet along the way, the center is dry and strong and still remembers that the sun still shines behind the clouds. Carry faith as your shield.

17 Take the helmet of salvation, And now, the crowning glory, accept salvation as a helmet. Wear your salvation on top of everything else. Wear it right up there where everyone can see it. Salvation, like faith, is not a golden ticket that stands ready to be scanned when you get on your heavenly bound flight. Or a memento wistfully thinking I’ll need that one day. No, it is something you wear every day, something that shapes your vision, guides your feet, broadens your understanding. When we were kids our parents when we were riding our bikes told us to wear what? Our helmet. Get on a motorcycle hopefully you are wearing a helmet. It is assurance that can protect you from all sorts of blows that might otherwise knock you senseless. Accept salvation as a helmet.

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And a sword. A sword? Well, yes. But not just any old sword with which you can go hacking away at the undergrowth of our society. This sword has a specific function, and it is a function that you don’t ultimately control. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Perhaps we should be carrying a pen (you know mightier than the sword) or a phone with unlimited texting. This sword is about words. 

This sword is not about taking away life but about giving life meaning. It’s about communicating God’s word. It is God who wields the power here, not us. It is God whose word cuts to the quick, where soul and Spirit meet. Our job is to be faithful to that word, to proclaim it with our whole life, with all our collective lives as the body of Christ, the word made flesh. This means, of course, that we know what God’s word is. To take up this sword, to wield this pen, takes a lifetime of study.

Put on the whole gear. Why? Simple. To stand. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  

To stand, that’s what this is about. The armor is designed to help folks stand fast: it is not armor for aggressive action. It’s a shaky world out there, and it needs people with balance, people who are armored enough to stand. Standing fast does not require a person to hurt a neighbor in any way. The armor is to empower believers to withstand the evils that surround and threaten them.

And what is the final thing we need to stand firm? Prayer. Prayer is an activity that is connected to the taking up of God’s armor.  18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. 

Paul also prays on behalf of the church for their strength and understanding. The church is instructed to pray for all of the saints and for the author as well. The imagery of God taking up God’s armor to seek justice was related in first century culture to the notion of the day of the Lord. 

So Paul is telling us that the battle with cosmic forces is not simply a battle delayed for a future day of God’s judgment, but is a present battle believers must engage on a regular basis. The church’s struggle and our struggle as Christians is a heavenly one against spiritual powers, but it is acted out every day on a more mundane ordinary routine level as we are called to be Armored. 

 But The armor of God does not mean that the church will not encounter difficulties, then, but enables Christians to encounter such difficulties. Through perseverance and prayer, the church may boldly proclaim the gospel even in the midst of persecution and hardship. And that is what it means to be Geared Up for Life.

Geared Up for Life: Giving Thanks

September 11, 2022

Paul says We who were dead in our sins and unbelief have been made alive with Christ. By grace we have been saved! A good question then is:  “How does the God who saved me from my sins want me to live?” In other words, how do we give thanks? Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers that question for us. In Ephesians 5 in these six verses, we find five essentials to guide us in our life of grateful response to our Lord’s love and how to live that out as Christians in the world. He calls Christians to be careful, be wise, use their time, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and give thanks. God certainly doesn’t leave us in the dark as to how God wants us to live as God’s children.

He begins in verse 15—15 Be careful then how you live, Paul urges us to live as children of light, to find out what pleases the Lord. and to realize that by a miracle of God’s grace we are spiritually alive. So, he begins with one statement that says it all  in another translation, "Look carefully then how you walk." That is the supreme thing, not where you walk, but how you walk. Where you walk is a relatively easy problem, but how you are applying this principle in every moment of your life. That is what is important.

Driving out west from Salt Lake City to Idaho to Wyoming to Montana I drove through canyon and prairie and mountains along the highways. I had no problem as to where to drive. The highway was well marked, I knew where I was going thanks to the navigator & GPS, and there was very little danger that I would get lost although I wondered sometimes when we were in the middle of nowhere. But how to drive, that was the constantly recurring problem -- how to relate the principles of good driving to every changing situation along the road.  What to do when that large deer maybe an Elk jumped out in the road so quickly. 

How, that is the problem. "Look carefully how you walk." Be careful then,” emphasizes Paul, “how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.” Paul intends us to be aware that our faith is not separate from our life. Be careful and let your life bear witness to your faith. Being wise means that we can discern between what is good and right and what is not. It means, too, that we can recognize the constant danger we face as Christians living in a hostile environment. And if there has ever been a hostile environment it is now. Therefore, we step carefully, we guard and protect the precious gift of salvation that we have been given. Through God’s Word, and empowered and guided by God’s Holy Spirit we embrace the wisdom of God.

Paul continues in verse 16— making the most of the time, The Greek word means to redeem something by payment of a price. Or something many of us are familiar with like on Amazon buying something quickly while it is available — I’m the king of ”striking while the iron is hot.” When used for redeeming time, it means making the most of one’s time — seizing the moment — take advantage of one’s opportunities. 

Paul is telling these Christians to make the most of their time, “because the days are evil.” We could respond by saying, of course! It doesn’t take a top-notch detective to find evidence that the days we live in are indeed evil. Just read the newspaper or FB or watch the nightly news. It’s a fact: the days are evil, more evil perhaps, than they have ever been! Or perhaps less civil than they have ever been. There’s no time to waste, he argues, the days are evil because we are on the brink of the new age. He isn’t interested in fixing what is wrong in this world but preparing us for living in the next one. He doesn’t challenge the social order, but asks how we can make it as much like the kingdom of heaven as possible. 

Wait! Back up for a moment. Think about that idea – not fixing what is wrong in this world but preparing for living in the next one. Is that really what is going on here? Is that how we’ve come to understand the faith? It’s all about getting us into heaven, not about making a difference in the world in which we live? If that were true, then The United Methodist Church is in big trouble. After all, we are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

We are looking to make a difference in the world, right? Well, maybe not. Notice it doesn’t say to make the world better, or to make a difference in the world. Yes, that is how we sometimes hear that mission. Leave the world a little better than it was when you found it. Nice idea, but not really the gospel. We are in the business of transforming the world. Ephesians 5 isn’t interested in fixing the world, but bringing in the next one. We are transforming this world into a kin-dom reality. Knowing, of course, that we can’t do it alone, we can’t do it by our efforts, but we can partner with the Spirit, as God brings in this new reality.

But there is something more at work here too. It’s about time. No really. If Paul were advising us to manage our time more effectively, he would use the word chronos — chronological time — the kind of time we see on the face of a clock — the kind of time that we use to keep track of appointments or to measure progress. But Paul uses a different word, kairos, which is significant time the decisive moment — the fork in the road that makes all the difference.  A kairos moment divides past from future — ushers us into a new kind of life. Paul’s use of kairos in this verse is a clue that he is thinking about the divide in Godly time that separates the present age (where evil rules) with the age to come (when God’s rule will be fully established). So, Paul is encouraging these Christians and us, who bear the name of Jesus Christ, to make the most of our time given and use our time well so that we might make the most of our opportunities, the right times to usher in the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and witness for Christ until he comes again.

What are these opportunities? First of all, since the days are evil and we are in danger of being sucked in by that evil vacuum, Paul wants us to seize every opportunity to be strengthened and built up by the means of grace – to be strengthened by God’s Word and Sacraments. How many times do we looks to scripture, prayer and devotion before we make decisions or have conversations? Or…Then he is leading us to “overcome evil with good” . Good what does that even look like today? 

One of my fellow pastors posted this on his FB page after we began coming out of COVID separation… that we as a society are experiencing one big group trauma together. Just list out all of the major things that have happened over the last 18 months, put them all in the context of the kind of global pandemic that no one alive has ever faced before, mix in any personal tragedy you've been experiencing, and you get one big, ongoing group trauma. It's going to take a long time for us to deal with what we've been going through. 

Not only are we experiencing group trauma together, but in the ways that we're responding to it, we're inflicting it on each other.  And in the midst of this, we've created a dangerous and destructive cycle: It is a hard time to be a human. We are not at our best. And out of a place of not being our best, we're both unintentionally and, at times, intentionally inflicting our worst on other people through our words and our actions and our attitudes, and the cycle continues.  We need to create a different kind of cycle.

And what does my pastor peep offer to lead us in that different cycle? The Book of Ephesians of course…Chapter 4             As Paul encourages us in v. 17 — So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. To “understand what the Lord’s will is.” This is where true wisdom is to be found. This is where a person can learn to be wise. But what is the will of the Lord for us and our world? So, the days are evil, writes Paul, so be careful. Careful? Meaning we watch out for ourselves? We keep ourselves separate and unstained from the world? Well, yes and no. There is certainly a call to higher living — “live a life worthy of the call” — remember? That is how the first part of this passage goes in one direction. 

But these verses say more than just watch out for yourself. It could also be read to say live full of care in a difficult time. There are many who are struggling; there are many who succumb to the demons of this age, to addiction, to hatred, to oppression, to fear, to lies. So, live full of care. Pay attention to the world around you, to the need around you, to the despair around you. Live fully invested in the kin-dom we proclaim, not in fear of the world that is less than that.

We aren’t called us to withdraw from a world in need of the gospel of grace and good news. Instead, we make the most of the time, not simply for ourselves. Not primarily for ourselves, but for the world that needs the community of faith to live out loud in transforming ways. In kin-dom ways. But how? How do we maintain engaging in the world when it seems hopeless, endless, worthless? These brief verses give us two directions for resourcing our inner strength.

 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, Remember in Acts 2? The Lord continues to fill us with His Spirit.  As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, he gives joy in the midst of sorrow and suffering. He heals wounds and gives peace. He brings us comfort. The tool the Holy Spirit uses to do all this wonderful work inside of us is the Word and promises of the Lord. And Jesus has called us together to be His Church. We gather together and live our lives, filled by His Spirit. A Christian then should be a person of joy. Not that there aren’t moments of sorrow, times of struggle and of pain. But that the default mode for the follower of Christ is an attitude of joy that grows out of the second source of strength, gratitude.

And out of that gratitude we join together, praising the Lord,  sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, Through His Spirit we are able to, always  giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This isn’t just good advice for getting along with people and serving God. Gratitude is a condition of the heart and a driver for all sorts of action, ministry, and service. Gratitude is the foundation of discipleship. It requires an awareness of our need for grace and an appreciation of the source of that blessing.

Every fourth week of November, we tell ourselves that Thanksgiving should not just be a once-a-year thing, but a way of living every day. Ephesians 5 is a call to remember that belief. it sums up with “at all times.” Paul is calling us to a life of thanksgiving, not just on Thanksgiving Day or even a week! He is calling for non-stop thanksgiving, not only at times of success and at happy events, but for everything! That is the “at all times” part of the text. This isn’t just about being thankful for food and plentiful harvests. It is about finding blessings in everyday living. And even when that living doesn’t feel so blessed. And while this text points to our attitude of gratitude toward God, it is also how we are supposed to be in relationship with each other within the human community. Because of our overwhelming gratitude toward God, we can also begin to appreciate one another and indeed all of creation as a part of that gift and a reminder of that presence. Giving thanks is underneath, the foundation of our journey of faith. It drives stewardship and mission. It brings us faithfully to worship week after week. It drives us to our knees in devotion and prayer. It opens the living Word of God as we explore the scriptures. 

Gratitude is the best motivator for evangelism. We tell the story because we are grateful for God’s action in our lives. We are reminded to be thankful for blessings overlooked or gifts forgotten. “Giving thanks at all times and for everything . . .” It’s a powerful way to live. What better way to exercise giving thanks than with an attitude of gratitude?

Geared Up for Life: Speaking Truth

September 4, 2022

Paul set the tone for today when he said, Walk a life worthy of the calling with which you were called (4:1). That is the key verse for this section too. In verses 1-16, he talked about the unity of Christ’s body, the church:  “One body and one Spirit…, one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all (4:4-6). While believers have various gifts and callings (apostles, prophets, etc.—4:11), we are called to build up the body of Christ (the church) “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (4:12-13)—”knit together” (4:16). In verses 17-24, Paul contrasts the way that non-believers live with the way that believers live. Believers have learned to put away their old corrupt being and to put on a new identity in the likeness of God (4:24).

Children learn almost everything by imitation. Babies mirror their parents’ facial expressions and eventually repeat the sounds that adults make, getting better and better at it until the sounds become words. Young children copy their parents’ speech patterns, even when their parents wish they wouldn’t. As they grow, they imitate the adults around them in more complex ways, often picking up some combination of their parents’ habits, values, communication styles, and behaviors. 

The imitation sometimes grows even stronger during adulthood. Most of us have said to ourselves at one point or another that, “I sound just like my mother!” When Hannah was growing up, so many people would comment that we looked alike and acted alike -- two peas in a pod. This letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are children, not only of our parents, but of God. And just as children imitate their parents, sometimes intentionally and sometimes completely without noticing it, when we are in relationship with God, we begin to mirror God. As we grow and mature in our faith, we increasingly embody and imitate the values and practices of God, so the person we see in the mirror shows God to those we meet. Then what does it mean be an imitator of God? 

First, imitators of God tell each other the truth. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, Paul is quoting Zechariah 8:16, where the prophet is encouraging the people of Judah to do those things that will build community. for we are members of one another. Members is often used to speak of the various parts of the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about feet and hands and ears and eyes and noses, each of which is vital to the human body and the body of Christ. We’re actually all part of each other, so dishonesty with your neighbor is not just a sin against them, it’s damaging to you. There’s a saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” and I think that’s kind of the idea here. 

If you can’t tell someone else the truth about yourself, that shame festers and eats you up from the inside out. If you can’t tell someone the truth about what’s wrong in your relationship, the gap between you just gets bigger and bigger. This isn’t an excuse to be blunt to the point of meanness; we frame our honesty in the other traits in this passage but we tell each other the truth.

Second, imitators of God deal well with anger. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, This is a quotation from Psalm 4:4. Paul’s intent in quoting this verse is uncertain. He probably means, “If you are angry, don’t sin.” There is, of course, a place for righteous anger — anger at oppression and other unacceptable circumstances. However, we must be careful in case we too quickly determine our anger righteous and the anger of our opponents unrighteous.

This also acknowledges that you will be angry. By all means be angry, especially at injustice, but don’t let your anger define your behavior or even hang around too long. I have given this as a rule when doing marriage counseling but “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a pretty useful principle for all of us. You’re going to be angry, but you don’t have to let it fester and grow inside you, and you don’t have to talk about it to everyone but the person you’re mad at and spread the anger around. We deal with anger directly and with a healthy measure of grace.

27 and do not make room for the devil. If we allow anger to lodge in our hearts, evil can easily tempt an angry person to act foolishly or to hurt other people. Keep your anger under control 

Third Imitators of God do not take what is not theirs, but rather work so that they can give extra to those in need. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, The Greek word means rotten or corrupt. People used it to talk about rotten fruit or meat — disgusting in their smell and appearance. People used the word metaphorically to speak of corrupt behavior. Now Paul is saying that Christians must be careful not to use (foul, disgusting) language.

What would create corrupt speech today? 

  • The use of curse words and four-letter words, not because they have great substance, but because they are not in keeping with our Christian witness.
  • But there are four letter forms of corrupt speech that are far more serious. Any words that are intended to belittle or humiliate others, because those words can be profoundly damaging to others. The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is not true.  Humiliating words can cause greater damage.
  • Another form of corrupt speech has to do with the kinds of things that parents sometimes say to their children: “You’re no good!” or “You don’t know anything!” — the possibilities are nearly endless. 

But only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. This contrasts with corrupt speech, which wounds and tears down. So fourth Imitators of God watch what comes out of their mouths, making sure that what they say to others builds up, encourages and gives grace.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Fifth Imitators of God do not grieve the Holy Spirit, which is an obscure sort of statement, but which I think means simply this: act like who you are, which is a beloved child of God. Think of wonderful, loving parents and how much they are grieved when their children make destructive choices and endanger themselves. God is equally grieved when we make decisions that diminish us or others. Paul says, “Don’t bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit of God.” How would we bring sorrow to God? The same way we would bring sorrow to a parent or loved one: misbehavior, disobedience, laziness, undependability. We would grieve the Holy Spirit if we were to ignore Paul’s counsel in verses 26-29.

31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, Bitterness- This word was used for bitter or poisonous food or drink. That makes it a fitting word to describe bitter and poisoned relationships. There are various ways to think of bitterness. It is anger that has been nurtured and kept alive. A smoldering fire that consumes from the inside. It most often occurs when a person feels victimized, whether by a spouse, a boss, a co-worker, or whomever. But Paul tells us how to deal with it.  “Let (it) be put away from you.” The first step in that process should be prayer, because bitterness is sticky stuff that resists cleanup. We need God to heal our wounds so that we find it easier to forgive.

Anger- is the kind of smoldering anger that lies hidden beneath the surface, just waiting for an excuse to erupt. 

But Wrath- is more active. wrath is smoldering anger turned explosive let out of its cage. The New Testament repeatedly encourages Christians to put away anger and wrath. But how can we control our anger?  How can we get rid of it?

  • One step is to understand anger’s corrosive nature so that we will be motivated to bring it under control.
  • Another step is to engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, devotional reading of the Bible, and Christian fellowship. These disciplines can help us to develop self-discipline with regard to anger — and many other things.

Wrangling or “outcry” is public demand. While there are times when public outcry is appropriate, believers need to consider carefully whether our outcry stems from righteous outrage or wrath and anger “slander”.  I have always thought of blasphemy as disrespectful speech directed at God, but was surprised to find that it also applies to evil speech directed at people. 

Slander is a good translation, because it conveys the elements of evil intent and any untruth intended to undermine a person’s credibility — backbiting — malicious talk about another person who isn’t present to defend him/herself — spiteful speech — gossip. Slander isn’t limited to spoken words. It would include verbal communication of any sort — written text, emails, postings on the Internet, texting, and whatever comes next. It isn’t the method but the intent that qualifies something as blasphemia. “malice” is evil that is allowed to permeate the heart — and to inspire the person to plot against others.

Sixth Imitators of God put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice – all those internal and external ways that we think the worst of people and treat them accordingly. But reflecting God means that we choose not to assume the worst of intentions, or hold people’s wrongs against them, or dwell on the ways we’ve been insulted or hurt.

32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, “be kind” means kindness or gentleness. A kind person would tend to reach out to others, offering support of some sort — a kind word or a gift of food or money. “tenderhearted” is a gut-feeling word that refers to one’s inner organs — what the Greeks saw as the center of one’s emotions. It is usually translated “compassion”

forgiving one another,  There is a similarity between charizomai (forgiving) and charis (grace). In the New Testament, grace most often refers to the undeserved favor — the undeserved forgiveness given by God. However, it can also be used to refer to the loveliness of harmonious relationships

as God in Christ has forgiven you. When Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Until seven times?” — Jesus responded, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then went on to give the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the point of which is that God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven —

Seventh Imitators of God hold kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness as the guiding principle their dealings with others. They assume generally good intentions and give people room to make mistakes. They remember that they have received grace and forgiveness from God and from other people, and they share that grace and forgiveness with others.

5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,  In this verse, Paul tells us to imitate God — to look at the love the Father has given us and to respond in kind — loving God and neighbor.  2 and live in love, From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which you conducted your life (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; Psalm 1:1).  Paul means, “Live your lives steeped in love — love for God and love for neighbor.” as Christ loved you and gave himself up for us, Love is a powerful motivator. We love those who love us — and especially those who devote themselves to helping us. Paul says that Christ loved “you” (singular) — making the message personal — ”and gave himself up for us” (plural) making the message inclusive.

a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. The Torah required Israelites to make various kinds of sacrifices some burnt that had sweet smelling incense they thought that was pleasing to God.

So, how many of these values and practices do you see in your own life?  How have you grown further into these qualities over time, and where do you still have room for growth? None of us are ever going to be perfect or fully embody God, but as beloved children of God, we are to a greater or lesser degree imitators of God. How much of God do you see in your mirror? Let’s live into these 7 ways of being Imitators of God.