Monday, August 22, 2016

Jesus Breaks the Rules

Luke 13:10-17
August 21, 2016
Rev. June Wilkins

Jesus is in a synagogue, like a church
And a woman comes in who had been
bent over in pain for the last 18 years.
She couldn’t stand up straight at all.
Jesus meets her, lays his hands on her
and he tells her that she is set free from her ailment.
And just like that, she’s healed.
And she’s off praising God.

The Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years
James Tissot, 1896
Now, was the reaction from the church people
wonder, disbelief, excitement?
No. The pastor is upset because Jesus
healed this woman on the Sabbath.
He said to his parishioners, “he had six other days to
do that kind of work, why would this man
break the Sabbath?”
So Jesus did an amazing thing,
but they couldn’t see past him breaking a rule.

Now we could ask, “why would Jesus break this rule?”
This woman had been sick for 18 years,
what would one more day have mattered?
He could have asked her to come back the next day.
Then everyone would be happy.

But I think Jesus purposely broke the rule
and healed this woman on the Sabbath
because his objective wasn’t just to free
the woman, his objective was to free everyone

Now the Sabbath is and was a great gift
especially in Jesus time.
Back then, most people worked seven days a week.
It was very unusual that people would take any day off.
But the Israelites took one day every week.
Sabbath was great gift that God had given
to the people for their and well being
and to help their relationship with God.
It was a gift, a discipline, and reminder of God.
We should probably take our Sabbath time more seriously today.

But the religious leaders had taken this gift
and turned it into a rigid law.
If anyone were to do any work on that day,
they were chastised by the religious leaders
even brought up on charges.

And the Sabbath worked easily for those who were stable.
But for those who were poor,
for those living on the edge of poverty,
for those who had to beg or collect food for a living,
it could be a hardship.
In the gospels, Jesus and the disciples were
chastised for picking ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath –
when they were just getting themselves something to eat.

The religious leaders-
as religious leaders sometimes tend to do-
took a good idea -- a gift from God
and they turned it into a weapon of control.
They used it to scrutinize other people. A litmus test.
They used it to catch other people “sinning”
They turned it into a way to make themselves
look better and have more power over people
and to make other people look bad.
They turned it into a method of bondage or imprisonment.
Good rules can do that.
They can become bondage.
We end up serving the rules instead of the rules serving us.
The rules can be used to hurt people
and shame them instead of setting them free.

When  the church only sees the rules,
then we run the danger of only seeing the world
for how they are breaking the rules.
God’s way can become a way of more pain than a joy.

How many times has the Christian Church been a place like that?
How many times have our churches placed bondage
on spirits rather than freeing them?
How many times have rules come before relationships?
How many times has dogma stood
in the way of the movement of the Spirit?

For many people outside it,
the church been identified as the place of
forbidding, restriction, bean counting, and finger wagging

Even if we’re not chastising people for breaking the rules,
we’re mired in our own bureaucracy
and unable to act when the need is there.
we’re slow, we’re far too careful, we over-think.
Things get stuck in endless committees.
Analysis paralysis.

God’s church has a reputation for being
quick to judge and slow to act.
God’s church has the reputation of being
the place of “no” instead of “yes".
So often Churches have the resources:
we have the people, we have the know-how
we even have the inspiration to do something,
But individually or as a group, we put it off,
tomorrow, later, maybe another day.

This woman could probably have waited,
She was used to waiting.
I’m sure she was used to being put off and brushed aside
by friends and family, by the religious leaders, by the people of God,
If Jesus had told her, “look, today is the Sabbath
and you know, rules are rules.
If you just come back tomorrow, I’ll help you.”
She would have said, of course I understand, I’ll come back.
She probably expected that exact reaction.

But here was Jesus, and there was her need.
Jesus has not come here to reinforce rules,
or to give us more rules, to uphold traditions,
or to help us hide behind our bureaucracy and systems.
Jesus has come to free us.

Jesus has come to free us from those
outside forces, illness, pain, injustice, addictions.
And Jesus has come to free us from our own
self-imposed bondage, our own prisons,
our own fears, our own restrictions.
Jesus means to free all of us.

18 years is a long time to be bent over.
But many people have been bent over longer.
Waiting for hope, healing, justice
waiting for God to intervene and heal.
Well, we are God’s hands and feet in this world.
We are the body of Christ.

So what should we say?
“We have rules, we have processes to follow.
We’ll get to you when we can.
Slow down there, wait until tomorrow.”
And tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Or do we actually act like Jesus?

Jesus has come to free all of us.
To help us to stand up straight,
to free us from our bondage,
from our restrictions from our excuses,
from whatever is holding us back
from doing what God would have us do.

People of God, you are set free from your ailment.
Stand up, rejoice, and follow the Spirit of God.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Jesus the Divider

Luke 12:49-56
August 14, 2015

Aww. Jesus was so nice last week.
Don’t be afraid little flock.
God wants to give you the Kingdom.

And then we get this.
Jesus has come to bring division to this world.
We think of Jesus as the one for peace, love.
I said Jesus said “do not be afraid” 21 times
second only to the imperative to
“love” which I didn’t tell you he says 125 times.

But not right now.
Jesus final objective is love, but Jesus reminds us
that doesn’t always mean quick peace.
Not at first. At first, Jesus brings division.

Really, in this reading today, Jesus sounds stressed out.
He even says he’s stressed out right at the beginning.

I don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with
the idea of a stressed out Jesus.
Jesus most often seems calm as a cucumber, above the fray.
In control of things, but right now he’s
telling us he’s stressed.
Let’s get on with the whole thing, because it’s stressing me out!

We have no trouble remembering that Jesus is divine.
But sometimes we forget that Jesus was human,
and he felt all the emotions that we feel.
And the human side is facing some
scary stuff, Jesus has a good reason to be stressed.
So, we’re in chapter 12 of Luke right now.
In Chapter 11, Jesus is invited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee
and while he’s there, Jesus neglects the,
religiously mandated hand washing ritual to prepare for his meal.
The Pharisees see this and start grumbling about it.

And Jesus starts to berate the Pharisees
“You are worried about how clean the cup and the dish are,
but your insides are corroded”
Which would have been enough to get his point across,
but Jesus proceeds to go on for 20 verses
(which is really a long time in terms of scripture )
“Woe to you”, Jesus says, “You give money,
but you neglect justice and the work of God.”
He criticizes them for their hypocrisy
and tells them that they’re not doing their job.
And he’s doing it pretty loudly and forcefully.

And then when the religious lawyers in the room said,
“Well, Jesus, when you say that, you’re insulting us too.”
Then Jesus starts in on the lawyers

“Woe to you lawyers too!”
“You load people with burdens and don’t’ lift a finger to help them.”
And “you are responsible for killing God’s prophets.”
Then apparently, Jesus left the dinner party.
Right at the end of the last chapter,
Jesus just took on a group of the most
powerful and influential people in Jewish society at the time,
and then just dropped the mic and left  without
even eating with them or making nice.

Then in Chapter 12, Jesus goes out to a crowd of a thousand people
and tells them, to “Watch out for the hypocritical Pharisees”.

Jesus is pushing the prophetic envelope here.
He’s stirring the pot. He’s creating division with the wrong people.
Basically, he’s just set into motion
the things that will eventually get him crucified.
No wonder he’s stressed out.

Then after he warns the crowd about
the Pharisees, he starts this monologue
Marc Chagall, 1966
that we’ve been working on for the last few weeks
He says:

Don’t be afraid of the Pharisees
don’t fear those who kill the body,
but can’t do anything else to you.

Don’t store up useless treasures on earth.
Don’t waste the time you have.

Don’t worry about your life
The lilies in the field and the ravens are fine
and they don’t worry.

And then, what we read last week,
Don’t be afraid little flock.
Just be prepared when God needs you.

Then we get the stressed out Jesus we read today.
No, I’m not here to make nice.
I’m here to stir some things up.

It’s almost as if chapter 12 is Jesus talking to himself,
like he’s trying to convince himself and deal with the sudden
realization of what he’s set in motion at that dinner party.
He’s getting a picture of what his destiny is,
and he knows that his life is not going to end well.
There will probably be a lot of pain involved.

Remember, Luke is the same gospel that has Jesus
sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane,
asking for God to take away this cup that
God wants him to drink.

Now, Jesus said those things to the Pharisees and lawyers
because he has compassion for the people
they were taking advantage of and not serving.

Jesus is love incarnate,
the love of God come down to earth.
But this love is not the happy, puppies and kittens kind of love,
This is the hard, difficult love.
The love that comes in the form of truth, and honesty.
It’s the love that comes through justice and change.
This is the love that comes through the cross.
As Frederick Buechner wrote,
“The Gospel is always bad news before it is good news.”

Just the presence of Jesus can cause division.
Now, no one likes division.
When we see people arguing,
Our response to it often is to try and stop it,
make nice, shake hands and make up,
even if nothing is resolved.
Even if the underlying problem is still there.

I’ve seen brothers and sisters who spent years
keeping the peace putting on their happy faces
for the sake of their parents,
and after their parents died it got mighty ugly.
That happy face is cheap peace.
If you’ve ever had a quietly tense Thanksgiving dinner
with your family, you know what cheap peace feels like.

But real love, doesn’t stop at cheap peace.
Real love -- the transformation and reconciliation
that God is intent on -- requires real truth and change and
that often causes real pain and real division to get there.
We always have to go through Good Friday
to get to Easter Sunday.

When we look for God’s work in the world,
Lots of times, we only look at the good news.
The reconciliation, the people hugging, and helping.
But when we’re in the middle of God’s work it
doesn’t always look so beautiful and sweet.
God’s work can look and scary and stressful.
Even Jesus was stressed and even scared
when he was in the middle of it.

And Jesus wants us to see those signs today,
And understand God’s presence in them,
Jesus wants us to be able to interpret the present time,
just like we do the weather.

In the present time, this country,
and lots of countries actually, are dealing with racism.
Many of the issues with the police, the justice system,
crimes, terrorism, immigration, refugees are,
at their root about racism.
A problem that has repeatedly come up
in each generation and has caused
a great amount of suffering – mostly for non-white people
during the history of the United States.

I’m sure a lot of us would just like the division
to end, for the protests to end, for the whole thing to go away
and for everyone just to get along,
shake hands and have one huge hug and go home.

But the problem of racism in the US is deeper than
just a few protests or just a few campaign speeches.
The problem of racism has been there
since the foundation of our country.
Since Americans justified taking land from Native Americans
and started selling African Americans as property.
Protests and riots and speeches aren’t the heart of the problem
they are just one of the many symptoms.

The heart of the problem needs to be aired out,
it needs to come into the light,
it needs to be confronted, confessed, repented, forgiven.
And all that will most certainly cause
anger, pain, discomfort,
and stressful arguments at Thanksgiving dinner tables.
it will certainly cause division.

But this is still God at work even though it might not look like it.
It’s God making a transformation in our country and our world,
Through the cross, not around it.
No cheap peace for God.

And we can see the signs,
just like we can see the weather changing.
This issue, and a hundred more issues, are not over.
Every time we put a band aid on it and make nice,
it just gets worse and worse.
There is more division coming.
More strife, more unrest, more discomfort,
God’s work is not done in our hearts or in our world,
not by a long-shot. We see the signs.
We know what’s coming.
And this causes us stress too.

But do not be afraid little flock.
Don’t worry about your life.
The lilies in the field and the ravens
are fine and they don’t worry.

Don’t store up useless treasures on earth.
Don’t waste the time you have.
And don’t fear the powers that be.
They can’t take what’s really important.

So let us continue to be Jesus in this world.
To bring justice, truth, light, and hope to this world.
and to share the love of Jesus .
The love of the cross,
the love that sometimes divides before it heals.

The cross that brings true peace.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Do Not Be Afraid, Sell Everything You Have

Luke 12: 35-48
August 7, 2016

“Do not be afraid” Jesus tells us.

When was the last time you were afraid?
Like really afraid of a real and present danger.
I was trying to think about that for myself.
The last time I was genuinely in danger and afraid.
I was trying to think of what I did and what was my reaction.

I actually couldn’t remember the last time.
I know some people have had terrible incidents,
Fear Not Little Flock
Patrice Lee Christiansen
and some people have reason to fear every day.
Some people have careers that make them face danger.
Some people have had health problems that are scary.
But those are unique situations.
Realistically though, most of the time
we don’t have any real and
present reason to fear most of the time.

And statistically, the world is getting safer.
Less wars than 100 years ago.
There is less crime and violence than there was 20 years ago.
The rate of deaths is 23% lower than 20 years ago.
Realistically, we have less to be afraid of.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way, does it?
Fear seems to be all around us.
We have the “what if” fear.
There’s “what if’s” about our health, our safety, our economic situations,
our friends and spouses, our parents.
And if you have children, you probably have a million “what if’s”
“What if” fear is swirling around us all the time.

Now, when I think about the “what if’s”,
I don’t have to go back so far,
Here’s a list of the things I was “what iffing” about 20 minutes ago:
What if I fall in the basement and break my leg and no one can hear me.
What if the presidential election goes wrong in November.
and the article that I actually read right before I was thinking about this:
“How worried should we be about a huge asteroid hitting earth.”
That’s all in the span of about 20 minutes before I wrote this.

Our heads are filled with what if’s.
TV and movies fill our heads with what ifs.
Our news media fills us with what ifs.
Our politicians – of all stripes fill us with what ifs.
Fear has great power in our lives.

Do not be afraid, little flock.
Do not be afraid.
Jesus uses this phrase - or something like it –
21 times in the gospels,
It’s second only to phrases in which he
implores us to love one another.

Jesus knows what fear can do to us.

Fear changes us, it does things to us.
And none of it is good.
It makes us hold onto things,
lock ourselves up in fortresses,
looking over our shoulders.

It stops us from doing, serving, trying new things, taking risks.
It stands in the way of love, sharing, understanding,
forgiveness, relationships, creativity and community
fear prevents us from living in the moment,
and noticing the great things that God is doing right here and now.

You cannot appreciate the kindness of a stranger if you’re
seriously worried about an asteroid crashing into the earth.
So do not be afraid, little flock.
Your father wants to give you the kingdom.
Whatever happens, God will be there with us.
We can’t lose it all because God is giving everything to us.

So no matter who becomes president or what fate
befalls this country, do not be afraid.
Our life is not in their hands.
Even if an asteroid hits the earth and we’re all done for.
The kingdom of God will be ours.
Do not be afraid.

So in one breath, Jesus says “do not be afraid.”
And then in the next breath he says
“Sell all your possessions and give it to the poor”

Now this week I’ve been trying to figure out
what the connection between the two is.
Here’s what I came up with after a while:

Now when Jesus talks about things, I don’t want you to
just get an image of people who have lots of stuff in their house.
(and that’s not just because we have a lot of stuff in our house.)
I don’t think this is merely about an abundance of things.
That would be too simple.

To humans, possessions often equal security.
There was a video I watched this week of the people
evacuating the plane that had a fiery landing in Dubai.
It showed most of the passengers in the smoke filled cabin,
reaching up and opening the overhead bins to get their bags
and the flight attendants yelling over the speaker,
“Forget your bags, just jump off the plane. Forget your bags.”
I don’t think these people were greedy.
I think they were afraid.
When we feel fear, we want to grab our things.
Doesn’t matter if it’s real fear like this, or “what if” fear.
Possessions can give us security.

And Jesus tells us to sell all you have.
So, Jesus is not just telling us to de-clutter
and live a minimalist life and have just a few tasteful obj’dart
Jesus says sell everything you possess.
Get rid of your security.

Jesus is saying, take those things that you rely on,
that you trust in and let go of them.
Maybe it is things, keepsakes, precious objects,
but maybe it’s something else entirely.
Maybe it’s a regular schedule, or a routine,
Maybe it’s your solitary life, or a cloud of friends that gives you security.
Maybe your status, position,
maybe it’s emotional self control, or emotional outbursts,
 or food, or wine or TV.
I don’t know what it is for you.
Just get rid of it.

Stop relying on everything that you rely on
give up your security blanket, and see how you do.
Take off the training wheels,
Put all your eggs in God’s basket.
Put God’s promises to the test and see what happens.

Then when you have nothing left, you can see how good God really is.
You’ll see that is where your treasure is,
and that is where your heart will be too.
In God’s care.

That's why people who have felt real fear
can tell you best about God's presence.
They've put God to the test.

Jesus invites us today:
Do not be afraid, divest and unload,
to stop scheming and worrying,
Give away what you’re clinging to,
close your eyes and jump off the cliff
and you will fall right into God’s arms.

At our Synod Assembly,
Dr. Cheryl Peterson, who is a professor at Trinity
and has preached here,
told us that the church that wanted to do mission
needed to be different than churches that just maintain.
She said that churches that maintain plan
and churches that do mission prepare.

Churches that just maintain
make detailed plans 5 or more years out,
deciding exactly how and when God will act
they make themselves feel secure in our own
ability and reasoning.

But churches of mission, prepare.
Get ourselves ready spiritually emotionally and physically.
We get ourselves ready to do whatever the Spirit calls us to,
“get dressed, ready for action, and have our lamps lit”
Don’t be afraid. Stop relying on your security blanket.
Get ready for the Spirit to come and surprise us.

And when we do, Jesus says,
The master will come home and sit you down at the table and serve you.
Little flock, our Father in heaven wants to give us the kingdom.

When we take these risks,
when we put aside our fears,
when we give away that which we depend on for security,
When we jump off that cliff
We have assurance that we will get a return.

Oh, not in more money, and not in more security,
Jesus never promises us that.
What we get back is the knowledge that God was there.
That God will be there, that God is always there.
And that is a treasure that cannot
be destroyed and cannot be stolen from us.

This congregation has jumped off that cliff many times.
The people here have taken risks in the name of Jesus.
And God has been with us.
Sometimes we succeeded and sometimes we failed.
But God is always with us,
TO help us through, to shepherd our success,
to rethink our failures, to comfort us,
and to get us looking forward to the next thing.
What are we clinging to that will hold us back when
the next opportunity comes?

What could you do if you had no fear?
What could we do as a congregation if we had no fear?        
What could we do if we didn’t fear losing what we had,
because we knew that the whole Kingdom was ours?
Jesus says that day is here now.

Do not be afraid.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Luke 12:13-21
July 31, 2016

I think everyone would say that greed is bad.
But like a lot of things, it’s a problem that we can only see in other people.
We’re not greedy. We’re just frugal. We’re just good with our money.
We’re not greedy, but we’ve seen others who are.

Most of us here aren’t rich.
Not in the private jet, gold toilet sense of the word.
We aren’t spending our time accumulating
more and more wealth that we don’t really need.
A lot of us wouldn’t even know how to get more wealth.

I’m guessing the man who asked Jesus to tell his brother
to share would not have considered himself greedy either.
It seems fair that a person would share his inheritance with his siblings.
A person who wouldn’t share it would be the one who was greedy.

But in reaction to that request,
Jesus tells the crowd today to beware of all kinds of greed.

Greed is just the personal desire for something—anything.
To get it, to maintain it, to keep it,
could be food, power, or money.
But those aren’t the only things.

Cassian, was a monk in the 4th and 5th century.
He wrote about how monks,  who had taken vows of poverty
and had renounced all their own possessions
would get angry and possessive over a pen or a book.

Jesus warns all of us to beware of all kinds of greed.
Not because having things is bad,
but the pursuit of them is a waste of our precious time.

Barn in the Provence
Vincent Van Gogh
Jesus tells us a parable of a man who had a lot of crops,
In the agrarian society of Jesus time, successful crops were wealth.
Owning land was status, and successful crops were wealth.
And this guy had more than enough wealth,
So much of it that he didn’t even have a place to put it.
Now a days we have banks, and wealth is just a number on a screen,
but then you needed a place to put your wealth.

So this man spent all his time taking down his smaller barns and
making bigger barns to store all of it.
Still, this is not an illogical thing to do,
people and businesses do it all the time.

If you had a lot of crops, you would need a bigger barn
to put them in because leaving them all
to rot would not be good use of what you had.

If you’ve ever been down to the Mid Ohio Food Bank,
the organization that provides food to all of the
food pantries all of Mid-Ohio,
The warehouse is 176,000 square feet, that place is huge!
And they didn’t start that way, they were somewhere else.
And in 2009, they said, “we need a bigger warehouse”
just like the man in the parable.

So I don’t think it’s necessarily building bigger barns that’s the problem.
But it does point to the obvious problem with
this parable man’s issue as far as Jesus is concerned.

Mid Ohio Food Bank has a huge warehouse,
but their objective is to share what they have with others.
Basil the 4th century Greek bishop said, about this parable:
"If you want storehouses, you have them in stomachs of the poor."
Surely this foolish man could have shared what he had.
Surely he didn’t grow those crops alone,
surely there were people around him
who didn’t have such luck with their crops.
Surely there were people who had nothing at all.
Surely, he couldn’t have used all his crops himself before they went bad.

But this man just wanted to keep what he had for himself.
And not just to keep it, but to be proud of it, Content with it.

He actually talked to his soul about it—
And this is the peculiar part of the story,
which tells me that this is what Jesus was pointing too.—
 “Soul” he said, “Now you have ample goods for many years.”
His soul has ample goods for many years.

And that’s the problem that Jesus is talking about.
This imaginary man has convinced himself that it is
well with his soul because he has a lot of wealth stored up.

Since the beginning of time,
humans have mistaken large quantities of wealth ,
or success, or health, or power, or contentment,
as proof of blessing from the gods, or God.
The rich and happy have been seen as in favor with God.
The poor and sick – out of favor.

Today’s prosperity gospel makes that same mistake.
They say that God gives us wealth and happiness.
If we do some things the right way.

But greed is not just limited to televangelists and politicians.
Since tangible things provide quick and pleasurable rewards,
many of us spend our time pursuing those things
just to get some temporary satisfaction.

Many people in this world have replaced their relationship
with God with a relationship with wealth, power, and security.
We even replace it with achievement and success in other areas:
with being a successful pastor, or parent, or business owner,
or employee, or volunteer.

Many of us have tried to fill our God shaped hole
with all sorts of other pursuits.
And when we feel a sense of accomplishment,
we confuse that with God’s favor and blessing.

We are proud of ourselves for
working our way up that ladder.
We talk to our souls too, “Soul, you’ve done that well.  
Now you can rest.”
Like the foolish man said, to his soul:
now you can eat, drink, and be merry.”

But the truth is, all along our soul could rest.
Because our soul is in God’s hands, not ours.
Whatever we’ve wasted our time grasping for:
money, security, beauty, health, the world’s greatest parent award,
or even our religious achievements –
that is not what defines us in God’s eyes.

The man was a fool because he took all that time
not knowing the joy of sharing his abundance,
and tearing down his barn and building up new ones
pursuing his own personal security
before he could eat, drink and be merry.
Before he could rest in God’s care.
When the truth is he could have joined in the party long ago.

And we’re fools too.
We clutch over and over again at our own lives,
rather than opening our hands to God’s free gifts:
the generosity of others, friendship, fellowship,
grace, love, forgiveness, forgiving, trust…
How can we accept these things if we are so busy
tearing down barns and building new ones up again?
Storing our own goods and accomplishments.

We are fools.
We store up our own treasures and we forget
time and time again that we have full access to God’s barns.
And that’s where our real treasures are.

So for those of us who have nothing, we trust in God.
For those of us who have just enough, we trust in God.
For those of us who have more than enough, we trust in God too.
And we may have the hardest time of that.
But our treasure is in God’s hands.  So now we

can relax, and eat, and drink the abundance that God provides.