“Determination” Luke 13:31-35

Today’s Gospel lesson is one that is a little slippery at first hearing.  It sounds an awful lot like Jesus spouting off and rambling on with a series of disconnected ideas.

“Tell the “old fox” to get lost, I must go on my way….,”

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you would not.”

The whole thing is a bit confusing.  What it is the point of all these thoughts thrown together like this?

It wasn’t until I met a man by the name of Herman that I began to understand this lesson.  Let me tell you about Herman.

I met him a few years ago, while serving a parish in Lincoln, NE.  He was then well into his 80’s and had a bad case of Asthma which kept him pretty much home bound.

That is, if you could call the old trailer where he lived a home.  It was just outside of town on a small acreage.   It was a trailer he apparently shared with a variety of small rodents from the little deposits left scattered around on the dingy carpeted floor.   From appearances outside, I would have bet even money that he had more occupants of the larger varmit variety living underneath as well.

I will forever remember the scene the first time we met.  I came to the door and he called from within inviting me to come on in.

There he sat, a large fellow, in a big blue chair that I never once saw him leave.

Behind him on the wall was a framed picture of FDR with a newspaper clipping of some sort that I couldn’t read from a distance, and an American Legion calendar

The trailer (as I said) was beyond imaginable in terms of hygiene and general repair, but I had been told beforehand that it was not for lack of funds.   He simply refused any kind of assistance in the area of housekeeping or other help.

As I got to know Herman, I found out a few things about him.   Herman was a Danish immigrant and still spoke with an accent and subscribed to a couple of Danish language newspapers and magazines that were always within an easy reach of his chair.

The riddle of the American Legion calendar was solved as he told me that he and his brother had come over to this country just before World War II to avoid the war gathering in Europe.

After America entered the war, he readily volunteered for service.

When he volunteered, he told the enlistment officer that he was fluent in German, Danish, and spoke a little Dutch, and that he was skilled as a carpenter and craftsman of wood.

The army in its infinite wisdom, assigned him duty loading and unloading cargo at a supply depot down in Texas.

Following his time in the service he returned to Lincoln and went to work in construction and cabinet making.   In fact, he revealed to me that he had built some of the nicest homes in the area, which just peaked my curiosity more about why he would now live in this filthy pressboard and tin monstrosity.

One day after we’d talked about all the usual stuff,  I asked him why he chose to live out here.   Not anything about the conditions of the place, just why here?

That was mistake.

It was like tripping a land mine, although there wasn’t any anger in his voice, just sheer determination.

He raised up in his chair and proceeded to tell me the whole story of how  years ago the city had tried to tell him he couldn’t live out here, but that (pointing now to FDR behind him) America was supposed to be a place of freedom where you can make whatever you want of yourself,  and (Now pointing to the newspaper clipping) years ago he had won and convinced the city that this was his land and he could live here as he pleased.

I had stumbled into Herman’s core values with my question.

He had a ready speech all prepared, whether he realized it or not.   A speech about what he was willing to go to the wall for, and he gave me a little glimpse into his determination.

You see, I would never have dreamt that the occupant of that ramshackle trailer, mild old Herman, could have ever taken on the city of Lincoln Nebraska and won.

Nothing about the circumstances in which he now lived made him look like the winner of much of anything. But there were convictions deeply held, beliefs not to be trifled with, and a power of determination that would not be denied.

Old Herman helps me understand Jesus today.

This Gospel lesson that at first sounds like a random stringing together of things is really Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who have tripped the land mine of Jesus determination.   In suggesting that Jesus not go near Jerusalem they get a glimpse into Jesus’ own determination to do what must be done at any cost.

When the Pharisees issue the warning that Herod is out to get him, he spits back, “Tell that old Fox Herod, I’m on my way…”

All the rest of his comments are the “prepared speech” about what is near and dear to him….the casting out of demons, the weeping over Jerusalem, all of it is just a glimpse into the determination that Jesus has —to do whatever it takes to finish the task.   Even, if it means going to Jerusalem to die.

He will not be put off by the pharisees.

He will not be dissuaded by Herod and all his political clout.

Nothing will stand in his way of Jesus completing the work that must be done.  And that is in a very real sense good news for us.

When Jesus shows that kind of resolve toward his destiny, that’s a very good indicator of the kind of resolve he will also show in relationship with us.

More specifically, in relationship to you.

Jesus, you see, weeps over Jerusalem and over its people.

Despite what they have done and what they are about to do, he longs to have them as his own.

Even those he does not yet know by name, the ones he hasn’t met.   He weeps for them.  Wants to gather them up under his wings.

And that means you and me.

Oh, I know there are times that I can’t believe that anyone would want me that much.   The things I do, the things I’ve done.    Yuck!

How un-loveable I can be a times.

How difficult and stubborn and stupid.

Why would anyone want to be connected up with me?

Oh, how you must weep for me Jesus, and how I would so readily push you away, you and all the others.

How good to know, to be given a glimpse of your determination.

How good to hear that even though I cannot rely upon my own resources, my own reason or strength to come to you, to believe in you, –I can rely upon your determination to find me and to gather me to yourself, and to love me!

It is good news to catch such a glimpse into what drives Jesus, for the single-minded determination that God in Christ Jesus holds to fulfilling his destiny is the same single-minded determination that he has to include you in that destiny.

Nothing will stand in his way.

Nothing will dissuade him from finding you, from coming to you, from loving you and giving you all the gifts of Grace that he has come to share!

And even though nothing about this looks like winning, nothing about cross and crucifixion, death and suffering, looks like victory any more than a ramshackle trailer looked like winning to me, there is more at work in this than the circumstances of the story.

There is in this Passion revealed God’s convictions!

There is in the actions of Jesus God’s belief in the goodness of what God has created revealed.

In the decision to go to Jerusalem there is God’s own determination revealed, to let nothing stop Jesus from reclaiming creation, reclaiming you, as his own.

Beloved in the Lord, hear today how much God longs for you!

Look into the tear wet eyes of Jesus and see there not only his compassion and desire, but his determination to have you with him, and cling to that.

Trust in that glimpse of Jesus’ determination when you cannot trust yourself.   For with a savior of such determination, who or what can stand against you?

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“Coming Attraction” Luke 4:1-13

We’ve grown accustomed to movie “Trailers.”   Every week there seems to be a new “must-see” movie, a blockbuster or thoughtful cinema option pitched to us.

Previews and coming attractions pile up like snow at the theater, one after another.

There are whole channels on the internet devoted to them.

We used to joke about their sameness.   The deep, intoning voice would begin “In a world where….” and then go to maybe describe some thread of connection to the randomly selected film clips.

Sometimes movie trailers reveal too much.

Sometimes they are criticized for teasing that the film will be about one thing, but after watching the film you are either surprised or disappointed.

“That’s not what I thought the movie would be about at all!”

Where is all this talk of movie trailers going?

Well, I like to think of the temptation story as Luke tells it as kind of a trailer for the rest of the Gospel.

We know that Luke is intentional in setting the stage for his telling of the story of Jesus.  He tells “Theophilus”, the reader here that he is putting down an “orderly account”, so it’s possible to look at this story like a trailer, a synopsis of coming attractions.

Imagine if you will, first of all, that deep intoning voice announcing to you, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit….”

This is the “In a world” announcement for Luke.

Everything that plays out throughout the rest of the gospel is predicated in the fact that Jesus is filled with God’s Spirit.

It is being filled with God’s Spirit that empowers Jesus’ encounters with the demonic.

It is the Spirit that pours forth from him as he heals, and forgives, and teaches.

This is what Jesus announces in the Synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”

So, picture this moment in the desert as the first film clip in the trailer.  It is Luke giving clues for how Jesus’ ministry is going to play out, and then make note of the temptations as if they are subsequent film clips of what we are going to see throughout the rest of Jesus’ story.

A film clip about hunger, and the temptation is to abate it by turning stones into bread, cheaply and easily feeding all who are hungry.

Oh, we will see Jesus perform miracles in feeding, but not to satisfy his own hunger, and not to take any short cuts in how to address it.

Feeding will take teaching people how to share.

Satisfying hunger will entail taking on the powers of this world that deprive people, that hoard resources.

There will be no shortcuts to providing for all, but here in this snippet with the devil we see that Jesus is going to address it.

“One does not live by bread alone.”    Which is the set-up for wanting to know what else one does needs to live, and how Jesus will speak of that, and show it in his actions.

We next get a film clip scene of the devil offering Jesus the trappings of worldly power and all that comes with it.

Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world in rapid succession, and is offered power and dominion over them, “if you then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

It is the temptation of political power, to ascend to leadership in high office, to be able to “make a difference” once you get there.

In Luke’s gospel there is plenty of political activity and intrigue.

You see it in Herod.

You see it in the actions and concerns of the Pharisees and the Temple authorities, the scribes and the priests.

You behold glimpses of political realities in the Roman occupying forces that are always just sort of at the margins of the story, hinted at and eluded to as being around.

The Centurion’s slave.

The Praetorium guard.

Pilate.

Those unfortunate Galileans who ran afoul of a Roman patrol on their way to Jerusalem and were slaughtered, their blood mingling with the blood of the animals they intended to bring for sacrifice.

You see political struggles in the threat hanging out there of the crowds wanting to take Jesus and make him king.

That temptation to political power is always hanging in the air in the Gospels.  It’s what makes them uncomfortable for us to talk about sometimes, because one cannot talk about Jesus coming into this world without seeing the contrast of how this world works and how Jesus invites us to consider living as citizens of God’s Kingdom.   One stumble into his view of power and how it works, and how he is unwilling to succumb to worldly power’s allure.

He tosses the coin back the Pharisees… “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

He will not take on the Roman authorities as the crowds would want him to, as Judas would want him to.  He refuses to be a “King like David” even though he will take on the claim to be Messiah.

Right here at the start of the Gospel, Luke’s trailer teases that political power is going to be a thread throughout the story of Jesus, but it’s not going to play out the way such offers of power usually do.

Jesus will not go the way of ambition, but rather the way of serving and being humble.   It confounds the those around him.

And finally, the third film clip has Jesus taken up to the pinnacle of the Temple. The temptation here appears to be to show off and to reveal it all.

“Throw yourself down from here.”  The Devil says.  “God will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.”

The temptation for Jesus here appears to be for him to reveal himself as more than just a man, more than just an obedient Son.   This would be the part of the trailer where we might expect to see the “special effects” rolled out, in all their dazzle, showing people with whom they are truly dealing.

Of course, to do so would be to short circuit the whole story that is about to unfold, for who will seek relationship with a supernatural being?

Who dare to engage in questioning or learning from a person that they can’t connect with personally, see as one like them?

Who would want to spend time just hanging out, eating and drinking, with someone who  glows in the dark or is untouchable by human pain and suffering?

The whole point of the incarnation, of God taking on human flesh is so that God can walk, talk and be as one like us, to live as one of us and by doing so establish relationship.

You can’t establish a relationship with an alien floating above you born up on Angel’s wings!

So, the trailer teases that God is not going to swoop in to spare Jesus from pain, suffering, or from calamity.

The power that is at Jesus’ disposal will not be called upon at the last minute or coerced from him.

Of course, this only makes one wonder just when we might see that power appear, if not in the “nick of time,” and for Jesus’ benefit, then when?

Such power will wait for the “opportune time”, (just as the tempter does.)   The time when it is least expected, and when things seem most dire.

Resurrection requires the reality and finality of death in order to be seen and experienced in its full potential and power.

Yes, looking at the temptation story as a trailer for the Gospel of Luke works in a strange sort of way

Having it appear here at the start of Lent does something else.  It does what a preview of coming attractions is supposed to do, it lets us consider whether this is something we want to go see!   Is this something we will invest ourselves in taking in when it comes near us?

Trailers aren’t put out just for the fun of it, they are pressed into service to build anticipation, and to give one just enough of the story to make one want to follow it through, to want to invest in these characters, and to perhaps even be changed a bit by seeing the full story.

So, here’s Luke’s trailer to us, teasing a look at the story of Jesus that is about to unfold once again in the season of Lent.

It’s Luke’s “coming attractions” about Jesus.

It’s an invitation for us to consider once again this story, and to look at all the places where this story seems all too familiar.

We see it’s echoes still today, in the temptations that are still out there for Jesus and for us, and in the way that we see Jesus deal with them.

We see the echoes of this story in the characters we meet in it, and along the way in life.  Some of whom we can’t believe didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God.

Some of whom seem all to painfully familiar to us, as we recognize ourselves in their doubts, their shortcomings, and their failures.  Those failures and shortcomings are our own.

We are teased this day, to wonder a bit when the “opportune time” will be for us?

We are teased to consider whether that Resurrection power comes for us in the “nick of time”, or at the “right time” to make a difference for us.

This is the story of Jesus, all about to unfold again, and here is our ticket to take it all in!  Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, … to hear once again the story in its fullness and find ourselves both in it, and to find ourselves because of it.

Coming attractions, and the greatest is God’s attraction in Jesus, coming to find us

“I AM dust.” Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

“I AM dust….”

That’s what we are reminded of this night, the identity that we are to claim as our own is “Dust.”

Thinking of ourselves as “dust” is not what we would prefer to do at all. If left to our own devices, we would prefer to hold denial of death as our default position.

We are taught by this world to avoid showing any weaknesses, to not let others ever find out about any inadequacies that we might have or feel.

“Never let them see you sweat…”  That’s what this world admonishes us to do.

“Never admit your faults.”

“Never show any signs of weakness, or hesitance, or give anyone a chance to get under your skin.”

Then Ash Wednesday rolls around and we are stripped of any illusion of immortality.   A simple smudge of ash is placed upon our forehead and there is no avoiding the implication of it any longer.

Everything turns to ash and dust eventually.

All that we have.

All that we claim as our own.

All that we hoard, or have laid up, purchased or squirreled away.

Every item that we say is precious.

Every possession of this world that we might value over human life or over human relationship is shown for just what it is, — just so much dust.

All those things that we fight over, bicker about, chest thump as to our own right to have, or our rights to protect, or our righteous indignation over — it all turns to dust, as do we.

The things that we argued over to the point of open warfare.

The cherished ideologies held.

The political positions and persuasions argued about.

The nations, kings and princes who once held fealty and demanded loyalty and were considered something worth dying for – or dying over– King and Country, theology, politics… all of that blows away with the wind, becomes as dust and is forgotten.

No one will proclaim loyalty to the House of Hanover today, or fall on their sword this day for Caesar, as they would have done willingly, patriotically, once upon a time.

It’s all dust…

And on this Ash Wednesday the smudge upon the forehead reminds us that someday, the United States of America will also go the way of the Ming Dynasty, the Mayan culture, the Iroquois Nation, and the Roman Empire.   It will also become an afterthought in a history book and a crumbling set of ruins on a changed landscape, an artifact in a museum somewhere.

Dust.

To receive the mark of ash on the forehead is to claim an identity and lay hold of a truth that says, “I Am dust,” and with that admission comes a setting of perspective for us.

It is the perspective setting that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that we read this night is all about.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others…” Jesus warns in Matthew’s Gospel.

Beware of getting caught up in appearances, in doing things for show, in empty gestures, in actions that you smirk while doing, winking and nodding at others.

Beware of getting so caught up in the illusions, and the machinations, and trappings of this world, for they are not permanent, nor are they of lasting consequence.

We receive the gift of ashes this day to pull us back from all that would otherwise divert our attention away from our relationship with God.

This is the truth about us.

We are too easily caught up in the things of this world.  Too easily distracted into worries, troubles, petty arguments, and all the distractions that vie for our attention in this world, blotting out what is really important.

We too readily lose sight of who we are, and whose we are, and who it is that we need to look to for help, salvation, and hope.

God alone endures forever.

Relationship with God is what lives beyond the dust of this life.

I AM dust….

But, —- dust what God takes into God’s hands.

It is from dust that God creates.

Dust is what God breathes life into, and what God chooses to call “beloved”, and claims as God’s own precious delight.

Dust is what God binds God’s own self to in relationship.   God bind’s God’s self to the work of God’s hands, and in is in that frail flesh of dust that God chooses to come to us, to show us how much God loves and cherishes God’s creation.

I AM dust.

That is the truth.

But,– I am God’s dust.

I belong to God, as do you, and that is what matters.

That is what the ash upon the forehead reminds us of tonight.

“Leveling” Luke 6:27-38

Everything depends upon leveling.

I admit that one of my guilty pleasures is gaming.

In college I was one of those “nerds” that got sucked into the world of adventure gaming, playing “Dungeons and Dragons” for hours — HOURS on end in the dormitory lounge with little pewter figures all hand painted.  Escaping from studying into a fantasy world of wizards, dragons, elves and orcs.

I admit that like many in the 1970’s and ‘80’s I shoveled quarter after quarter into various video games, “Asteroids,” “Tempest” and “Galaga” trying to “win” by getting the highest score.

I still spend some time unwinding in front of a video screen saving the galaxy or wandering virtual worlds or middle earth.

In the world of gaming everything depends upon leveling, you know.

You have to play the game long enough to accumulate enough experience points to collect better devices, better weapons, or better magical items until you are the biggest, baddest character on the board, or accumulate the highest score on the machine.

When you first start out in any game everything beats you up.

But that first time you “Level up,” it’s great.

Suddenly the monsters and characters who used to be a challenge become easily dispatched.

It doesn’t matter the game, really. Whether you are piloting a starship, commanding a mechanical robot, making your way through a simulated battlefield dispatching Zombies or driving a virtual racecar, — the more you “level up,” the easier the game play becomes.

“Leveling up” is everything.

And if you think about it, that is really just a mirror of the way that we tend to view the world working in general.

If you’re a kid getting your first job at McDonald’s, the understanding is that you’re expected to get your butt kicked for a while.  We even laud the character building nature of that.

You just need to “level up!”

So, the encouragement and incentive is to climb the ladder, ascend the levels of management, get a better job, and continue perpetually “moving up.”

You need to become the manager.  Get your own franchise.  Become an entrepreneur. Start your own unique business, or ascend the corporate ladder.

Level up!

And that’s a fine arrangement, all things being equal.

However, another truth about this world is that, (like in a game) all things are usually not equal.

Some will enter the game with an extra measure of privilege.  They can afford to devote hours to game play, or they can afford to purchase the boosts and special items that give them a leg up on things.  They level up more readily, more easily, and a hierarchy develops.

There are those who cannot afford any of that and they are left underpowered and outmatched, stuck where they are.

So also, some enter the game of this life with an extra measure of privilege.   Wealth that is passed to them.  Social standing, gender, or a skin color that works in their favor instead of against them.   Mental or physical capabilities that allow them to learn and grow and “level up.”

Circumstances of birth and opportunity by virtue of where they live, who they know, how well equipped their schools are or how stable their home life and situation all impact the kind of start that you get in the game of this life.   Such things will have a hand in how well you are able to “level up.”

So why all this talk about gaming?   What does this have to do with this particularly difficult portion of Luke’s Gospel?

Well, it all has to do with the kind of “leveling” that Jesus seems to have in mind.

Luke is intentional in his telling of the story of the Beatitudes.   We are told in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus comes down on the “plain” or to a “level place” in order to teach.

When Matthew tells this story, he has Jesus sit atop a hill, like a “new Moses” to bring down a new law from a new Sinai.

But Luke intentionally sets the story of the beatitudes and all that follows on a “level place.”

Luke is letting us know that the rules of the game of life can and do change with Jesus.  Or, at very least the possibility exists for the rules of the game, and the game itself to change.

Luke is not naive.  This Gospel is written to a Greek speaking audience that understands the workings of Empire very well.

Empire is built on a system of patrimony and reciprocal obligation, on “leveling up” if you will.

In the world of the New Testament living under Roman occupation, life was lived in a complex set of favors and returns.

One gained favor in government and societal circles by the company one could keep, the obligations one could make, the favors one could ask.   All of which needed to be carefully balanced.   You need to be willing to give to someone just enough to get the desired outcome in return, but not so much that you would be obligated too much in return.

You sense this in some familiar the bible stories.

You hear it in the way that we are told the Pharisees carefully chose their seats, and by the objections they have to those with whom Jesus chooses to associate, to eat, to drink, to touch.

You get glimpses of that hierarchy in the story of Jesus’ healing of the Centurion’s servant.

“He is worthy for you to do this for him.”  The Pharisees tell Jesus.  “He helped to build our synagogue.”

It is a “you scratch my back, and I will scratch yours…” kind of world.  A world where one is preoccupied with “leveling up.”

Jesus even makes this explicitly understood today.  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”    He says.

“If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that?   Even sinners lend to sinners.”  He says.

That’s Jesus straight up saying that he knows well how the game of this world is played.

I dare say that we are just as well acquainted with that.

Do we not shake our heads at the kind of “arrangements” that we see played out on a daily basis in the world of politics, health care, business transactions and society?

Do we not also see a world (where depending on who you know, and what your “level” in society may be,) “treatment” is different?

I don’t need to give you any illustrations for how we see the “game” of this world played out.  Such illustrations surround us and will readily come to mind depending on your own “level of privilege.”

Illustrations will come to you in the outrage you feel at the unfairness of something.

Or it will come to you in a quick examination of who you are all too willing to give a “pass” to for their behavior or actions.

“Hey, that’s just the way the game is played.”

I won’t slide into examples that you can either dismiss as too political, or too outrageous, or too uncomfortable.

I’ll simply say that we all know the truth of this.

We live in a world that is preoccupied with “leveling up”, which is precisely why this Gospel story rubs us the wrong way.

What Jesus proposes here is indeed “leveling,” — but not up.

Rather, for Jesus it is a leveling down, and evening of the playing field, a choice to change up the game of this world and instead live as if this was the reign of God.

What Jesus proposes sounds like madness to a world where “leveling up” is the norm.

The advantage that you have… that is what you are to give away to the one who has no such advantage.

The wealth you have accumulated?    That is what you are to share readily with the one who is lacking in life’s daily needs.

The divisions and hatred that you’ve carefully “worked up” over the years, decades, centuries even … the “enemy” that you have worked and leveled up in your own mind or societal consciousness as the root and cause of all manner of problems… that is who you are to forgive, who you are to LOVE, who you are to pray for.

Worse yet, you are to take any abuse that they may send your way, to turn the other cheek to it, to expose yourself to further injury rather than to engage in any of the tit for tat retribution that is the usual response, the game this world plays.

You are not to play that game, the one you know so well.

Every fiber of our being says that this is the WRONG thing to do!

People will take advantage of us!

People who play the game will just keep on doing so, and will use this as a means of “leveling up” over us!

This is what we tell ourselves to keep us from breaking the cycle of the game that we know so well.

But here’s the thing, (and it is important to SEE this!)  Jesus doesn’t just give these things as a command from on high as to how you are to behave now.  If he did, we would just cry “foul” on that and go right on ignoring his word as coming from someone who just doesn’t get it, doesn’t know how the “game” of this world is played.

No, Jesus COMES DOWN and enters this on a level playing field with us.

He comes and interrupts the game play that we are used to, or at very least he refuses to follow the normal set of rules by engaging in any kind of “leveling up.”

Jesus enters into  a different way of living and relating, and invites us along with him.

Jesus “levels down” until he’s on eye level with the one who is the enemy, and the one who is cold and hungry, and the one who is angry enough to slap him, — angry enough even to crucify him.

He levels down, and then invites those who follow him to do the same, and to keep on “leveling down” until the normal operation of this world is interrupted enough to stop the unending treadmill and bondage of the need to “level up.”

Jesus lives into and introduces a reign of love that says there is enough for all to share, and that the pursuit of the next big thing, the next level, the highest score is not the venture that will bring you joy.  It is rather relationship with one another and seeing sufficiency that will do that.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Jesus says.   Which sounds way to simple, and everything in our experience says, “it won’t work!”  People will take advantage of us!   We won’t get anything back!

But Jesus invites us to dream this dream with him nonetheless.

If enough people are willing to dream it, and live it, then the promise is that the bondage of the endless pursuit of this world can be broken and the freedom of the Kingdom of God can break in.

Everything does depend upon leveling you see, but not the kind we are used to.   Not leveling up… rather rather leveling down.  Joining with Jesus in considering that maybe the game we’ve been playing, and that know so well, can be changed for good.

“Deep Waters” Luke 5:1-11

There is an awful lot going on in Luke’s telling of this story, and much of it makes a great deal of sense out of what Mark and Matthew record so briefly.

In Matthew and Mark, this is a “fly-by” kind of story.   Jesus calls.  The fishermen hear his call, drop their nets, leave their father and follow.   That brevity always leaves us scratching our heads, wondering what it was that they saw in Jesus that made them just drop everything?

But as Luke tells the story he provides more detail about the events by the lakeshore. Those details help us understand and give us pause to wonder.   There are five observations about this story as Luke tells it that I simply want to point out.  Then I want to ask you a question to take along with you in the week to come.

Are you ready?

Okay, the first observation is that Jesus is an interruption to whatever it is that we are doing and that we think is most important at the moment.

The disciples in this story are washing out their nets after a long night of unproductive fishing.

Nets are everything to a fisherman.   They are the tool of your trade, and like all tools need to be cared for and attended to regularly. They are important.  Without your nets, you really have nothing.

The disciples are doing what it takes for them to make a living.   This is when Jesus intrudes and interrupts their routine.

If this is when Jesus show up for them, it is likely that this is when Jesus will show up for us as well, when we are engaged in the things that we have to do to make a living, that we think are the most important things for us to do and to which we should be paying attention.

Jesus is going to show up at your office.

Jesus is going to show up at your workplace.

Jesus is going to show up when you’re taking care of your kids, when you’re cleaning, cooking, and trying to work out the hectic schedule.

Jesus is going to show up at what feels like the most inopportune of times and just plop himself down right in the way and in the middle of you trying to do something else, and usually something you feel is very important.

Here he comes, right in the middle of net washing, plopping down in Simon’s boat and saying, “would you mind?”

Of course Simon minds!   Can’t Jesus see that he’s busy?

And yet, this is what Jesus does.  This is where faith and the world intersect.  This is where we experience God coming to us, asking of us, demanding from us, — pestering us—right in the middle of whatever it is that we think is more important.

I’m not sure I every thought of that before, but Jesus is really quite a pain here, isn’t he?   Just sits down, asks Peter to put out so he can teach, makes Simon Peter sit through the whole lesson/preaching/teaching while his nets that need washing are slowly drying in the Galilean sun.

Yes, Jesus is quite an inconvenience in Simon’s schedule.

Is this the way it works for us too?   Does Jesus show up asking of us when we’re doing something else, something we may think of as more important?

The second observation I have about this story is that Jesus seems to hit us up when we’re bone tired.

That’s the case for those disciples.  They have been fishing all night long and haven’t caught a thing, and now they have to attend to their nets and try to get some rest before trying it all over again.

They are no doubt, exhausted from all their efforts.

Is this when Jesus comes still, when we are bone tired from whatever it is that we’ve been doing that hasn’t been terribly productive?

I talk to a lot of colleagues and church folks who will tell me sometimes of how tired they are.

They have been on this committee for years.

They have “served their time” on church council, or as a Sunday School Teacher, or on Property or Stewardship.

Maybe especially Stewardship, (since I’ve been coaching in that area for the past 5 years.)  I hear a lot of people talk about that.

“We’re tired, and nothing seems to be working right now.”

Everyone is looking for the “silver bullet”, the program, the approach, or the “new folks to take over.”

Yes, there seem to be a lot of bone-tired folks in the church these days.

It is peculiarly good news to hear that Jesus shows up to the weary ones.

This is where Jesus makes his presence known, in the midst of weariness, in the midst of what feels like futility, as people are going about the tasks that they have done for so long and are quite frankly sick of doing.

It’s good news that Jesus doesn’t abandon the tired.

But it’s not such good news to hear that what Jesus asks of those who are already bone tired is one more try, one more letting down of the nets.

Are we willing to do it again, even when we’re discouraged and tired?   Will we do what Jesus commands, even if we think it will be futile?

This gets me to the third observation, which is that Jesus asks us to do something completely counter-intuitive to everything we think we know and with which we are most comfortable.

You don’t have to be a professional fisherman to know that “deep water” is not where you go looking for fish.

Fish like structure.

Fish like protection.

Fish like being close to the surface where all the nutrients are, the plankton, the juicy bugs, and the other little fishies that are food.

Deep water is not where you would go looking to catch much.

You might need to know just a little bit about desert dwelling nomadic people to see the other reason for a high level of discomfort into which Jesus invites these folks.

For the Hebrew people, water has always been dangerous.

The psalms will refer to Floods and storms, deep waters and images of drowning.

Deep water is where the powers of chaos abide, where the things you can’t control are at work, where the Leviathan lives, where the fish that swallows prophets lurks.

Deep water will swallow you up. It will get you.  Deep water knows no mercy and gives no quarter.

The boats on the sea of Galilee are small draft, shallow water vessels designed to hug the coastline, not really suited for crossing open water.  We see that in a couple of other stories when Jesus sends the disciples crossing the lake.

Deep water is trouble.

Deep water is unknown territory.

Deep water is to be avoided at all costs.

So here comes Jesus now inviting Simon Peter into the place where no one fishes, into the territory that no one wants to enter, and to seek out the place that everyone is scared spitless to enter.

“Put out into deep water and let down your nets….”

It goes against everything Simon Peter and all the fisherman know, and yet “if you say so Jesus, we’ll give it a go.”

The surprise in the story is that there is more than enough for everyone to get into the act here, to fill their boats, but it’s found where you don’t think it should be, and where you would never have gone yourself, except for Jesus’ invitation and urging.

Is that a message for us as well, in our day?

Where are we afraid to go?

Where do we think it would be unproductive to work?

What are we unwilling to do, except at Jesus invitation and urging?

A fourth observation about this story is found in Simon Peter’s repentant attitude, the acknowledgement that he is a sinful man whom Jesus should want nothing to do with.

Jesus knows who we are and gets in with us anyway.

It is something pointed out by the story.  There are a lot of boats there from which Jesus could choose, but he chooses to get into the one belonging to Simon.

That’s a word of intention.

Simon isn’t the first person to think that he’s not worthy of Jesus’ attention… or maybe he is, and it is because of Jesus’ choosing and sticking with Simon Peter that we find hope and courage ourselves to follow.

If you aren’t wondering if you might not be the right person for this, then maybe you aren’t taking the call seriously enough?

This is how it is with Jesus.  He is always seeking out the person that looks like the least likely candidate, and then making something of them.

He did it with Peter.

He did it with Saul, who became Paul.

God has done that in this way or another throughout God’s story with God’s people.  It’s not so surprising, and yet we always find it surprising, especially when we find out that it appears to be OUR life, OUR boat that God has staked out for special purpose and plopped down in.

This is both incredible good news, and also disconcerting.

Good news because, well, we find out that God has called and chosen us.

Disconcerting, because now we have to go into “deep water!”   Now we will become what God sees in us that we cannot yet even see in ourselves.

“Go away from me, for I am a sinful person…” we are inclined to say to God, who in turn responds.

“Don’t be afraid, from now on….”

“From now on….,” whatever that might be for you, for me.

“From now on…,” because Jesus has plopped down into your boat, into your life, things will never be the same.

Which gets me to the fifth and final observation about this story, which is “What happened to the fish?”

The answer is, it appears they were left for someone else to deal with.

This is no small thing, for catching fish is what the disciples had been preoccupied with up until this point.   This is what they thought was so important before.   Now having gotten the catch of a lifetime, they leave it to rot on the shore or for someone else to fddeal with.   Following Jesus becomes the new passion, the new all-consuming activity.

Which leads me to wonder just how much of what previously consumed our time and effort we would be willing to leave to someone else in order to follow Jesus?

What is it that we could or would need to walk away from?

These are the observations that Luke’s telling of this story make me ponder, and as promised, I now have a question for you to consider this week.

What is “deep water” for you?

What is it that Jesus would invite you into that would be out of your comfort zone, the place that scares you spitless, the place from which you wouldn’t expect any results or any return?

What is your “deep water?”

Ponder that this week.

Listen for Jesus’ teaching, and pay attention to where he may be plopping down in your life.

“Put into deep water, and let down your nets…”   he says to Peter.

What would that look like for you?  Amen.

“Gracious Words can get you Tossed.” Luke 4:21-30

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus said.  “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

We sometimes have a difficult time understanding Jesus’ hometown crowd.

How does one go from receiving the compliment that gracious words come from one’s mouth to having that same crowd ready to throw that person off a cliff?

It’s hard for us to imagine the intensity of emotion that rises so quickly among those who should care for Jesus.

Why is Jesus’ mention of the Widow of Zarephath, and Naaman the Syrian so offensive?

What is it about hearing that Jesus will not be doing the things they heard about him doing in Capernaum right here at home that angers his own people?   How is it that gracious words can get you tossed right out of town?

We need to put these words of Jesus into some kind of context that will help us understand and grasp the quick change of mood, so here’s my go at it.

You know, in the United States about 39.7 million people who live below the poverty line.   That is to say that there are 39.7 million people who live in and amongst us who earn less than they need to afford the basics for housing, food, clothing, transportation and medical coverage.

39.7 million people, in a country blessed with the world’s richest economy.

In this country with the world’s richest economy, the top ten wealthiest people are reported to have amassed a combined net worth of 701 Billion dollars.

That’s Billiion with a “B.”

That kind of wealth naturally raises our hackles a bit, because it tends to confirm our suspicions that in this richest nation in the world, it is as it has always been in this world, that the rich who get richer and the poor who get poorer.

In order to lift every household out of poverty, (according to my limited napkin mathematics) it would take a transfer of wealth in the neighborhood of 2.5 Billion dollars.

So then, if those 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. would give from their largess, their combined net worth would still be worth $698.5 billion dollars, and we could eradicate poverty and everyone in the U.S. would have enough to eat, a place to live, and health care when needed.

If I were to propose that, you might even be inclined to marvel at my gracious words.

“He speaks well, when can you squeeze that 2.5 billion out of those greedy folks, Pastor?   They probably won’t even miss it!”

But if I were to go on and say, “Now, the current population of the U.S. is 328 million people, and in order to eliminate poverty, we would simply need to raise taxes and ask of every person in this room for the amount of $7.62 cents annually, and then distribute that to those living under the poverty line, and all would have what they need.

You might have a very different response to that, and it might not be that my words are gracious!

Raise MY taxes???

You mean the Jeff Bezo’s, the Koch Brothers and the Zuckerberg’s of this world are only going to have to pay $7.62 cents a year more too while they keep their billions but you expect me to scrape up more out of my limited resources???

Introduce the element of what we consider “fair” or a concept of not what others must give, but what “we must do” and you can raise the temperature in the room pretty quickly.  We go from looking forward to seeing my gracious words enacted so that all might have housing, medical care and enough to eat to figuring out how to bury that idea just as quickly as possible.

We’ll start talking about conflicting ideologies.

We’ll start talking about how capitalism is supposed to work, and start throwing around those dreaded references to “Socialism” and pretty soon you’ll hear people talk about “freeloaders on the system” and a bunch of other things, and the debate will get spirited.

We’ll divert our thinking, (in other words,) from seeing how the Kingdom of God might come among us and the Gospel might be proclaimed, to something, –anything –else.

“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That’s really good news if what you have imagined is something wonderful happening to you.

It’s really good news if you have pictured yourself as the recipient of Jesus’ actions, if you’re going to see what Jesus did in Capernaum start to happen in your own home town, –the healings and the feedings and the casting out of demons, the “acceptable year of the Lord” – all starting right here!

For the people in Jesus’ hometown, this was long overdue.  Israel has been waiting for this vision from Isaiah to come to pass since the time of Exile, since 587 BCE.

Oh, there have been some bright spots.   Israel got a little bit of their former glory back under Ezra/Nehemiah when the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt, but as for being restored to a nation like under the Kings of David, no.  Israel has been under foreign occupation by one country after another for the last 500 years. Babylon first, then Persian, then Greece, and now under Roman Empire occupation.

So, when Jesus begins to announce the “year of Jubilee,” the long promised great setting right of all the wrongs in this world, the restoration of things…what those people in his hometown have in mind is that they are finally getting what was promised to them so long ago.

Restoration of the nation.

An end to living under foreign occupation.

“The acceptable year of the Lord.”

All of that expectation is dashed when Jesus starts talking about how this is actually going to work out.

It will be like in the time Elijah, when it wasn’t to the Widows starving in Israel that God sent the prophet, but rather to the Widow of Zarepheth… a Philistine woman!   The age old, unconquerable enemy, that’s who God sent Elijah to show mercy to!   That’s who knew God was at work in the suffering of drought and famine, not the “home town crowd.”

It will be like the time of Elisha, when there were lots of Lepers in Israel, but it was the Syrian General Naaman who found God’s healing power.  That’s who found out that there was a “Prophet in Israel”, who learned that the God of Israel had power to heal, not those suffering with leprosy in the home town.

It is one thing to hear Jesus’ gracious words and have in your mind that you are going to finally get something you long believe you deserve and look forward to receiving.

But it’s quite another thing to hear that the “fulfilling of scripture” is going to be about what this will personally cost you and how it will manifest itself to those whom you perhaps think least deserve it.

For Jesus’ hometown, hearing that God was sending Jesus as God sent Elijah and Elisha in days of old was a little bit like you hearing that you get to be part of the redemption of all those who are held captive to a rigged financial and political system, — and it’s only going to cost you $7.62 a person to do it.

It would cost less than a trip to McDonalds to see all your neighbors live free from anxiety, fear, want, and disease… and you would get to SEE that,… but hearing how the Gospel is going to work, (and it’s not the way you expect it should,) that is what causes the rapid change in the crowd.

Now we’re getting close to understanding the spark of anger in Nazareth that day.

It is dismaying to us.

How could they go from saying “He speaks well” to “Throw him from the hill” so quickly?

Well, we know, don’t we?

It is the same with us.

We have a general idea of the way we think God should operate in this world, who God should have mercy upon, who God should love and be gracious to, and it usually starts with us.  If there happens to be some grace left over after that, well then sure, God can be gracious on whoever God chooses to be gracious on.

What make us want to pitch Jesus from the cliff is when this Grace stuff get too… you know…gracious!

What makes us question Jesus is when he insists on stepping outside the bounds of our own expectations of who should be included, and where God ought to start with God’s activity.

What makes us want to call into question Jesus’ wisdom, his motives and actions is when Jesus begins to fling this grace stuff just a little more liberally than we’re comfortable having him do so.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”   The home town crowd said.

Which is to say isn’t Jesus “One of us?”  One of our kind of people?   Doesn’t he know where his loyalty ought to lie, where his allegiance should be placed, where and on what his interests ought to be centered?  Where he ought to be applying his efforts, spending his time?

Isn’t this Joseph’s son?

Wasn’t he raised to know better than this?

And of course, the whole problem is that Jesus isn’t Joseph’s son in the critical way.   He is the “Son of God,” and he knows all too well where his Father’s interests lie and where his efforts need to be placed.

“Those who are well have no need for a physician.”   Jesus will say in Luke’s Gospel.

‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—”   So said old Simeon on the day Jesus was dedicated in the Temple.

And here we are now in the home town, having the inner thoughts of many revealed, and the falling out and the rising up of many…as they hear him speak.

As it is to this day.

Jesus knows exactly to whom he is sent to, and how far grace is to be extended, and it is always grace going way further than many of us, (and sometimes any of us) are comfortable with, but that’s what makes it God’s Grace, and not something less than God’s grace.

So, this is a hard Gospel story for us to hear, as it should be.  For Jesus has come to show us the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for this world, and God is always pushing that love further than we are comfortable.

So as difficult as this Gospel may seem to be, it is good news for us.  Jesus is in our midst, whether we are recognizing his words as gracious, or getting so angry about those words and what they imply for us that we’re just about ready to pitch him over the edge of our lives.

Jesus is still here.

Moving through us.

Challenging and talking with us.

Assuring us that scripture is being fulfilled, whether we like it or not.

It’s not a lot to hold on to sometimes, but it’s all we’ve got to hold on to when our emotions swing back and forth and we lose sight of the Jesus we expect and glimpse instead, the Son of God who fulfills scripture in our hearing.

“Follow the Cup” John 2:1-11

John’s Gospel is arranged very differently from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The author of John’s Gospel isn’t as interested in the chronology of Jesus life as he is the meaning of Jesus’ ministry and life.  John arranges his Gospel around seven “signs” that Jesus performs that are the marks of Jesus being the Son of God.   Each sign reveals a little bit more about Jesus for those who have eyes to see.

The miracle at Canaan, turning the water into wine is the first sign, the one that caused his disciples to first believe in Jesus.

What is it about turning water into wine that does that?

I want you to follow the cup, to watch it in this story.

A cup, one like this one, simple, wooden, in the hands of everyone at the wedding feast.

Everyone’s got a cup, and when the story begins, we are mid-feast.   Everyone has been partaking, imbibing, joining in the toasts and the celebration.

Point # 1, The cups in the story aren’t empty, not yet, but they are running low.   The wine is giving out, getting low in supply.  The party is still going on, but it is threatened, and there is a general sense of dis-ease about what to do, and no one has any good solutions, and so Mary takes it up with Jesus.

We have a misperception about what it means to share our faith.  We tend to think that what we are called to do is to share our faith with those poor folks out there who have empty cups.  Those whose lives are empty, wanting, and dried up.

But the truth of the matter is that most folks don’t reach the point of empty cups, there is always a “little something” in them.

Reaching people with empty cups is a lot easier, they are eager to receive almost anything.

Reaching people whose cups aren’t quite empty yet, well that’s a bit more complex because one is never quite sure if what you want to top them off with is better than what they already have.

This is a part of the first sign in John’s Gospel.

There is a general sense of dis-ease about how the party is going, where it may be heading, but no one is quite sure what to do about it, and they are standing around looking at what they have in their cups right now.

That’s a pretty accurate description of our world, isn’t it?

How is your cup doing?  The cup of your life?

Few of us here today would say that we have empty cups, but we do have a general sense that what’s in there may not be quite enough, or really good stuff.

I wish I had more.

I wish I had more faith.  I wish I had a better job.  I wish I didn’t have this arthritis in my body.  I wish I had made a different choice back there.  We are good at looking at the cup of our life and looking for what we don’t have, what we wish we had, what we wish we didn’t have.

We have a general sense of dis-ease about the way things are going, about the economy, about our neighborhoods, about our schools, our politics, our church, our jobs or our relationships but, we’re not really sure what to do about it.

Now, if you’ve ever been to a party where it looks like things are going to give out you know that there are two classic ways that people respond to that situation.  Here are your options.

Some will go and grab for all they can before it’s gone.  You’ve seen these folks, tapping the keg, tipping the coffee pot to get the last drops, maybe slipping an extra can of soda into their pocket for later.   One response to the prospect of the party coming to an abrupt end is to make sure you get in your good time no matter what.

Others, will respond with nursing their drinks.  Conserving what they have to make it last as long as they can.

The funny thing about both responses is that neither one will save the party.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in our world today, in the party we’re at right now we see both extremes as well.  Some who grab for all they can get.  Some who nurse along what little they’ve got.  Neither one really able to understanding the actions or reasonings of the other, and; neither one able to save the party.

Follow the cup.  This is the place where Jesus does his first sign.  It’s not to people who are desperately looking for a savior, it’s done in the midst of people trying to decide what to do with their half empty cup.

“Is this all there is?”

“Can I make this last?”

“Do I have enough?”

“Where can I get some more?”

Those are the questions being raised when Mary takes things up with Jesus, when she says, “they have no wine.”  The first of Jesus’ signs comes not to people with empty cups, but to people with cups ½ full who are trying to decide what to do next.

Point # 2 – Follow the cup.   You know, we say this is the story where Jesus turns the water into wine, but follow the cup.  Jesus never lays a finger on anything connected to this miracle.  It happens because there are people who are willing to listen to him and to do what he tells them to do.

Follow the cup.  He never touches the six stone jars, he tells the servants to fill them with water.

Follow the cup, he doesn’t dip the cup in to take it to the steward of the feast, he has one of the servants who filled the jars do that.

Follow the cup, Jesus doesn’t put the water turned to wine to his own lips, the steward of the feast does that , and it is the steward who compliments, not Jesus, but the bridegroom.  “Hey, you have saved the best stuff for last!”

In this story Jesus is nearly invisible, you don’t see him taking center stage at all.  The signs that POINT to him, are the actions of those who listen to him, who do what he tells them to do, or who become unaware recipients of Jesus’ blessing.

The Chief Steward doesn’t know where this good stuff came from.

The Bridegroom sure isn’t aware of what Jesus has done for him.

The only folks who know that Jesus is behind all of this are the servants and the disciples.  Even Mary doesn’t get the satisfaction of bragging about what her boy has done.

The only sign of what Jesus has done, is that the party keeps going, and that now no one is focusing on their ½ empty cups anymore.

Follow the cup.  The first of Jesus’ signs has very little to do with people seeing or recognizing Jesus on their own!

What they see are his servants attending to them.

What they receive are Jesus’ blessings poured out through others hands.

Imagine how this party unfolds now, as the servants begin pouring that abundant new wine into the ½ empty cups of all those present.

Imagine how the party changes, from a sense of dis-ease and tentativeness to a full celebration of life and love and all the blessings found in this world.

Is this the way it is to be for us, as Jesus’ followers?   Should our concern first and foremost be to take people’s minds off their ½ empty cups?

What would the party of this world look like if we were to attend to that?

What if, as servants of Jesus we were to say to those who are trying to grab all they can get before it is gone, “Listen, you don’t have to do that, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom!”  God provides, all you need, and abundantly, so there is no need to store up things here on earth or worry about things running out.  Open up your hand and share the blessings Jesus has already given to you with your neighbor!

Pour the blessings you have received out to others so that your cup can be re-filled with the good stuff!

What if, as servants of Jesus we were to say to those who are nursing their half empty cups, “You know, there is a lot more to life than this, than trying to protect what little you have, and focusing on how there may not be enough, and comparing what you’ve got to what someone else has.”

Drink deep, and be ready for a refill!

For the God who gives all good gifts has promised that the party of this life will not fail, look at the abundance!

For the servants in this story, it is the stone jars they can point to.

For us, well, just take a look around at what we have here, and what is available in our society, and let me tell you about the guy who made it all possible!

No one at this wedding really knows that Jesus is behind it all.  That is for his servants, his disciples to make known as they do the pouring and the celebrating, the sharing with others and the filling of cups.

In our world, in our country, the story is the same.

So few people know seem to know that Jesus is behind it all, that it is God who creates and who gives every blessing.   It’s up to us, his servants, to make that known to them as we do the pouring and celebrating in life.

How is your cup doing?

Did you come here today thinking it was ½ full, and with your mind fully set upon that?

Get your mind off your ½ empty cup.  Jesus is making something out of nothing every day in our very midst.

Open your eyes to see him at work, and then extend that cup of your life to receive what God longs to pour into it.