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Children Of God



The Gospel

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


The Sermon


Children of God

This parable truly makes me squirm. Both of the people in this story are extreme examples. Poor Lazarus is someone who is living at the bottom of human existence. He is sick, really sick to the point where dogs are licking his sores.

The rich man is an extreme example of someone with more money than he knows what to do with and yet feels no compassion for a fellow human who lives in abject poverty.

Jesus seems to do this a lot. He uses extreme examples to make a point about how we should change our ways, lift our hearts and souls to God, and see God in all of creation. We humans are pretty complicated. We have times when we pour out our kindness and compassion for others. We have other moments when we selfishly shun others who are in need.

This reading from Luke always reminds me of something that happened to me in India. India is a country where there is extreme wealth and abject poverty. When I lived there in 1972 it was not uncommon to see lepers on the street, their hands and feet gone from the ravages of the disease, leaving only stubs where they had once been. They would be sitting in carts pulled by another leper who was not as far along in the disease. Children could be often seen begging in the streets and train stations. Sometimes those children were deformed in some way. I found out later that their handlers would harm these children in such a way so that they would generate more money.

When I first arrived in India it was a real culture shock for me. I was appalled by the poverty but the truly appalling thing for me personally came later. After several months of living there I became hardened to my surroundings. This leads me to my own story.

I had been living in India for over three months and one evening I was waiting in a train station to catch a train to Patna, where I was living. As I was sitting on a bench a young man came up to me, held out his hand and said baksheesh. He was asking for money. I shook my head in refusal and waived him off. I was tired of beggars. The man walked off and stood apart from me, maybe twenty feet away.

As I continued to wait for the train I decided to eat something before the train arrived. I reached into my satchel and took out a banana and proceeded to peel it. After the first bite I noticed there was a bruise on the banana and discarded the rest of it in the waste container next to me.

When the beggar noticed what I had done, he walked over to the basket, took the partially eaten banana out of the garbage can and ate the rest of it. That was the most powerful moment of my entire stay in India.

I had been prayerfully meditating for over a year. I had been traveling with monks and doing all kinds of holy practices. However, it was not until I met this child of God who truly needed my compassion that I realized how little I had learned and how far I needed to go on my spiritual journey.

We are all works in progress. We are all sinners. That was my sin, that day. God came to me through a beggar at a railway station in India and changed my life forever.

Jesus tells us stories so that we can reflect on how we are progressing on our spiritual journey. Let us listen, reflect and take heart.
Amen

Is There a Balm in Gilead: Last Sunday's Sermon



The Readings

Old Testament


Jeremiah 8:18-9:1


My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
"Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?"
("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?")
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved."
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!


The Epistle

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all
-- this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.


The Gospel

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

The Sermon


There is an absolute sadness in this reading from Jeremiah. He says, “ My Joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” He mourns the transgressions of his people. He asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead.”

There is no perfume. There is no doctor who can fix a people who have a sickness that resides in their souls. Jeremiah sees no hope for his people. But time and again God reminds his people that their bond with Him is still there.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy does give hope and he tells us that that hope comes through Jesus Christ. His message of hope is not for one particular group of people. Paul says that salvation comes from God our Savior, who desires everyone (even you and me) to be saved.

Frankly, the gospel reading from Luke seems like a mysterious and murky read. Jesus tells the parable of the manager who was deceitful. This reading has always puzzled me. I researched five different sources and got basically five different interpretations, none of which I really found satisfying.

On a superficial level, it seems Jesus is saying that using dishonest wealth for personal gain is OK. However, I believe Jesus gives a real nugget of truth in his last statement, “you cannot serve God and wealth.” It seems like he is kind of throwing up his hands and saying, 'Eh wealth.... smelth. Wealth can really get in your way when it comes to your eternal soul. '

We see a lot of tv commercials about wealth management. I think what these commercials are actually telling us is that they have a way for us to get rich and hang onto our money. Getting rich has a lot of appeal in this world. Money gives us a sense of security. It puts food on the table. It keeps the lights on. It pays the bills.

In this gospel parable, Jesus is talking about paying the bills but he reminds us to keep things in perspective. He is telling us that life can be complicated if not troublesome. He tells us that if we let the things of the world be our master we will lose our sense of who is the true master. God.

Jeremiah tells his people that they had turned away from God, their true master. Paul reminds Timothy that God wants all of us to be saved and to find his truth. And, Jesus says we have a choice. We can be guided along the path of a God centered life or a life centered on material possessions. One is temporary. One is eternal. The choice is ours.

Amen



Pharisees, Sinners and Lost Sheep



The Readings


Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28



At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse-- a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

"For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good."

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

The Epistle

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Gospel

Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

The Sermon


Lets look first at this reading from Jeremiah chapter 4. Once again Jeremiah is a purveyor of gloom and doom. There is no joy in this reading. God tells us things are to go badly for the Jewish people. God speaking through Jeremiah says, “I speak in judgement against them, for my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil but do not know how to do good.” He basically says he is going to wreck their world because of their evil ways.

However, God always leaves the door open for the Jewish people and for us. At the very beginning of Chapter Four the Lord says, “If you willl return, O Israel, return to me. If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, as surely as the Lord lives, then the nations will be blessed by Him and in him they will glory.”

We are not that different from the people of Israel. We have our own idols. They may not be clay figures that we pray to. They still can be things that keep us from a closer relationship with God. Look inside your hearts and find those things that are a barrier between you and the Lord.

In Paul's letter to Timothy, he recognizes his evil ways. Paul admits that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. He also recognizes the changes that Jesus made in his life. He says, Jesus came into this world to save sinners like himself.

That message still holds true for us today. Jesus has given us a clear message through the gospels how we can develop a closer relationship with God. Just like Paul we need to turn from our own sinful ways and follow his teachings; listen to his messsage of love.

This reading from Luke is one of my favorites. I love the quote attributed to the Pharisees, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” I just want to say, “Well, duh, of course he does.” Jesus came to this planet to roll up his sleeves and do the mission he had come here to do. He knew the world would not change if all he did was hob nob with the social elite or even those who were already spiritually sound.

His analogy of the lost sheep and the lost coin still resonate with us today. So, what do we take away from this Gospel message. Jesus expects us to follow in his path. He wants us to find the lost sheep in our world and offer to them the salvation that Jesus has given us. He wants them to have a seat at the table as well.

Amen