“A Perverse and Faithless Generation” Luke 9:28-45


Sometimes the story is not all that important, except as “backstory” for what is to come, or for the point that is to be made.

            One of the most popular commercials from last week’s “Superbowl” brought that to mind as we heard again the sonorous voice of Paul Harvey in the “God Made A Farmer” ad for Dodge trucks.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHjV-FPMm_I

Paul Harvey had a signature sound, and style as a radio personality, most often remembered for his “The Rest of the Story” pieces.   In those audio essays he would talk about the actions of an individual, explaining what they were doing it and how they had accomplished something, and then at the very end would give you the person’s name, which made you wonder and marvel at the twists and turns of life.     

http://archive.org/details/TheRestOfTheStory

And you may wonder what that has to do with this Gospel, the story of the transfiguration?  

Well surely you have heard this story preached upon and commented upon over the years.   The details of Moses and Elijah appearing on the mountaintop, the booming voice of God commanding “This is my Son, listen to him!”  The bewildered disciples who there with Peter spouting out something about” booths” and wondering what to do next?

            It is an interesting story, but in some respects not all that important except as a back story to what comes next, it is that “next” that I want to focus on today, the “rest of the story.”

            That “next” day, when they come down from the mountain, and having been told by God to listen to Jesus, what we then hear Jesus say. 

And what do we hear Jesus say?  “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I be with you and bear with you?”

            See, I really don’t want to listen to Jesus say that about me, about us.

            That sounds like a Jesus that just can’t wait to get out of here.  

            It brings to mind every boring or tension filled meeting that I have ever had to sit through, where I just couldn’t wait to hear the words of dismissal so that I could slink out.

            It conjures up in me the bad movie, the awful play, the concert that is too loud or stylistically difficult, or the sermon that is too boring that makes me want to head for the door.

            “How long must I be with you, and bear with you?”

            And on one level, I understand those words of Jesus just a little better because of the Transfiguration, because of that “back story” if you will.

I can well imagine that after the meeting with Moses and Elijah, after hearing once again  the sound of his Father’s voice, Jesus may have longed for home.   Jesus may have longed for a return to a place, well, where this kind of thing doesn’t happen!

            “Teacher, I beg you, look at my Son….” 

No sooner is Jesus down from the mountain than he is confronted with desperation, and the demonic, and the difficulties that this world has a way of throwing one’s way.

How much nicer it must have been up there, away from all of this.  

But now here it is again thrown into Jesus’ face.   Here comes this world with all of its demands, all of its brokenness, all of its sickness, disappointment and inexplicable events.  

Not a moment’s respite from it.

And so, wading back into it, back into this world again, Jesus utters the nearest thing to a curse that I can think of.  “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I be with you and bear with you?”

I can understand this. 

But this isn’t all Jesus says.

This Jesus (whom I am supposed to listen to, but who I don’t want to listen to if he’s going to sound like this to me) goes on.   He goes on to say to the desperate man, “Bring your son here.”

            Jesus goes on to rebuke the unclean spirit, and to heal the boy, and to send him back to his father.  

If Jesus called us a “Faithless and Perverse generation”, I wonder what choice words he had for that demon to send him packing?   No one bothered to record them, or maybe they couldn’t be written down in polite company.

            At any rate, this Jesus whom we are supposed to listen to speaks the words that bring healing and life and restoration to the desperation of this man.  

            And, as all are astounded at the greatness of God, and amazed at what Jesus is doing, Jesus speaks again to his disciples.

            He says to them, “Let these words sink into your ears…”

            Now, I don’t know about you but whenever someone puts something to me like that, I have another picture in my mind that comes forward. 

            It’s the picture of an exasperation of a parent with a child, “what part of “No” don’t you understand?”

            It’s the picture of the frustrated professor who goes over the lecture point for the third time because clearly SOMEBODY wasn’t paying attention.

            Again, this is a Jesus that I am not really sure I want to listen to, for the tone in his voice sounds a little on edge.  

            “Let these words sink into your ears:” He says, “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”

            Again, I don’t really want to hear that, because look at these, look at yours…. Those are human hands!

            Rolf Jacobson, Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary in commenting on this story lifted up an intriguing observation. 

Because of the way the bible editors put commentary titles on the stories, we sometimes forget to look at things differently, so for a long time I’ve always thought of this as what the editor labeled it. 

This is a “Passion Prediction”… Jesus talking about what is to befall him in Jerusalem, how he will be betrayed and on the third day rise again.

            But what if this isn’t a prediction of a single event so much as it is an observation of how it is things happen, always seem to happen.

            Jesus spends his time on the Mountaintop of Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah, and for that brief time as he hears his Father’s voice he is with those who understand and support the exodus that he is on, his journey outward from the Galilee to Jerusalem, his proclamation of God’s Kingdom that has now come near. 

            They understand and support what Jesus is accomplishing.

            But now after those backstory events, Jesus returns to the faithless and the perverse, and what happens at their hands is more often than not betrayal of God’s intentions for this world.

            Is this what is going to happen?   We are afraid to ask!   Are these hands going to do it, do it all over again? Betray the Son of man with their actions, or their inaction, or their lack of compassion, or their proclivity toward grasping at things for personal gain, and holding on to what seems to slip between the fingers?

            Are these hands going to betray Jesus?     Yes.   But that does not stop Jesus from working anyway.  

            In fact, this is the way God of the Exodus has always worked. 

The God of the Exodus didn’t skirt the suffering of God’s people. 

The God of Exodus confronted the power of Pharoah, and took his people out of it, by taking them through it.   You have to go through the plagues, not around them. 

You have to go through the sea, not around it. 

You have to go through the wilderness, not around it.

And now Jesus, in his exodus in this world does not make his way by avoiding confrontation with pain, suffering, desperation or the demonic.  

No, you have to go through it, not around it, and so Jesus dives back into this world to heal and cast out demons and restore health.  He says “bring your son here” and once again shows his disciples what they are to do, to continue to do with their own hands after he has completed his exodus.

            “Let these words sink into your ears:” Jesus says, “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”  

            This is the way it is going to be until the Kingdom is established in its fullness.

Human hands will betray, but it is with human hands that God has chosen his lot.

Human hands will betray, but Jesus will make his way to Jerusalem anyway, and to the cross, and although betrayed by human hands will overcome that betrayal to show us a way get busy with our hands until the Kingdom in its fullness.  Until, in fact, we help to bring in that Kingdom with the actions of these hands.   Oh, we don’t bring it in alone, or of our own accord or power, but every time our hands choose to work for the Kingdom instead of to betray it, it inches a little bit closer.

            Sometimes the story is not all that important, except as “backstory” for what is to come, or for the point that is to be made.    What happens in the Transfiguration is back story to the point Jesus makes among us, a perverse and faithless generation. 

            We are the ones whose hands betray.

            We are the ones whose hands God has also chosen help to bring in the Kingdom.  

            And now you know, the rest of the story, because in the end what happens after the Transfiguration is very much your story. 

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“A Faith Like That” Luke 7:36-50


It is Super Bowl weekend, and just in time for that comes a new little gem from the people at the Barna Group.  In 2000 the Barna Group famously released a study that said 3 out of 4 Americans wished they had a deeper faith, a faith that could be felt, and in the wake of that study faith communities tried to find ways to connect faith and life in new and different ways.   People wanted a faith that was “real and relevant”, Barna observed, and so there were whole shelves of books and techniques devoted to how one makes faith “real and relevant”… from worship changes to bible translations, from mission trips to community engagement, doing mission “right here.”    If we can make it “real and relevant” Americans will come back to church.


That hasn’t worked out as intended, as the mainline denominations, no matter how real, relevant and engaged they are have continued to slip in attendance and commitment.


Now in 2013, just before the Super Bowl we get this gem.
  The Barna Group has discovered that  2/3rds of Americans say Pro Athletes have more influence on society than faith leaders.


Sigh.


Being “Real and Relevant” isn’t enough, now I have to be like Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Lin or Bubba Watson before I can have any influence over society, over others.   
While Bishop Mark Hansen of the ELCA  and other faith leaders from around the world have repeatedly spoken out on the matters affecting faith and society, even having face to face meetings with members of Congress and world leaders, you never really hear about that.


But Tim Tebow takes a knee after a touchdown, and the world sees it and comments on it.


The research points out that “most Americans are comfortable with a mash-up of their faith and their sports.”
  Barna cites:  “That there is such a strong and positive awareness of Tim Tebow and his faith reveals Americans..at least Christians..desire for an authentic role model who is willing to so publicly connect his faith and his life.”


“Authentic role models that can publicly connect faith and life”..that’s what we want, and where we look for it is not to where you’d expect.
  We don’t look at Bishops, or Pastors, or theologians to see how to connect faith and life authentically.  After all, that’s their “job.”  No, where one looks now is to someone who is already a public figure, a hero, a respected athlete.  We admire the person who acts out of his personal convictions and brings his faith into that very public arena.  


And, I think, (although I may be wrong about this,) part of what is going on is a sense in which we have a bit of envy.
   “Man, I wish I had a faith like that.”  I wish I had the guts to do that in public, so everyone could see, and that I felt that compulsion to remember God, and to witness to God in some way.


“I wish I had a faith like that.”


And this is where it gets a little tricky, because to get a faith like that, we start looking in all the wrong places, places that I as a faith leader can’t begin to approach.  
No one, after all, is going to give me the platform that the Pro Athlete gets.  I’m not going to get that 5 second spot to take a knee after the touchdown.


We long to see faith and life connected, to see authentic role models for that, and people are not looking where I would look for it.


But then, in a way, what the Barna Group tells us is not really something new.
   Finding an authentic role model for how to connect faith and life has always been a little elusive.


In Luke’s Gospel we get a glimpse of a dinner party going on.
  Simon the Pharisee has invited the Tim Tebow of his day to dinner. And so, Simon invites Jesus into his house for the dinner party, where he expects to hear Jesus give him now his celebrity witness.  Maybe he expects Jesus to help him understand how to connect his own faith and life, or at very least serve as a role model for how to do that.


We don’t know much about Simon the Pharisee.
  We do know that he’s well off enough in his community to be able to throw this kind of dinner party, must have been respected, and we also know that the party hardly gets started before it all goes wrong. 


This woman walks in with this Alabaster jar of fine ointment, breaks the jar and starts to weep at Jesus’ feet.
   Now all eyes turn to her actions.   She occupies the center of attention in a way that a woman, let alone a woman “like that” should not.   We get all the details of her actions, all her emotional outpouring, performing an act of intimacy that is startling.   She sits at Jesus’ feet, tears stream down, washing the road dust away.  She wipes them with her hair.  What a tangled, messy sight it must have been!  She breaks the jar of expensive ointment and anoints his feet, rubbing it in, softening the hardened callouses and the daily nicks and cuts that were a part of walking in sandals in dry, rocky regions.  


What does she feel?
   Shame?  Grief?  Remorse?  Regret?   We’re not told, and it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that she feels the presence of God before her, and all she can do in that presence of God is weep and kiss and wipe.


It is entirely too much for Simon.
 Confronted with this emotional outpouring from this woman Simon has a significant faith question, maybe the one he hoped Jesus would address.   He wants to know how you put together faith and life, as he has seen it in his hero Jesus. It’s just that now the hero looks a bit tarnished now.  “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is….”  Simon thinks to himself.


We might even be tempted to say that old Simon is somewhat
jealous here.  He doesn’t “feel” as this woman does in Jesus’ presence. 


Faith is sometimes a feeling.
   No doubt about it. Sometimes faith washes over us in how God moves and provides despite our worthiness.   That’s what this woman feels.  


The 2000 Barna poll was not wrong.
  We do want a faith that is real and relevant, a faith that we can feel, but we sometimes think that only a faith that is weepy and heart wrenching and emotional is faith.   


“I just don’t feel it.” We say.
  


And so we go looking for that emotional fix, that rush of adrenaline, that welling of the tears convinced that if we could find that our faith would be strong.   
And it is, but look again at this woman.  


Is that really the only kind of faith you want to have?
  A faith that is born out of brokenness and pain and is helpless to do anything, but weep and wash and hope that God will have some consideration of you?   No one goes looking for that kind of faith!  That kind of faith finds you after the world has broken you!   You find that kind of faith not in taking a knee after the touchdown, but rather when you feel that knee snap during the play and you suddenly realize that life as you thought it would be for you is over — forever.


This is how she publicly connects faith and life.
  She has no other choice but to look for some measure of mercy and hope, hope it comes her way!   Her actions are the actions of desperation, no where else to turn and nothing left to do!


Which brings us back to Simon, and what Jesus says to him.
  Jesus points out her actions, which are essentially the expected actions of hospitality, and in his parable to says to Simon, “The difference between you and her is that she understands what she has to do, and you do not!”  


You want to know how to connect faith and life?
   Do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.   There is nothing flashy about it, but that is faith in action.  That is all Jesus does, he stumbles on one in need, and responds. 


You did not offer me water, but she has washed my feet with her tears…”   More often than not connecting faith and life is not so much about the flashy as it is about the mundane, and being ready for the opportunity to connect it when it does come along.  


The story is told of an anxious young Marine Corpsman who came in uniform onto the hospital floor looking for his father who had a severe heart condition and was near to death.
  


The nurse took him into the room of the man in intensive care nearest death.
 The Marine stood in the doorway at a distance as was his expectation until she had roused the patient and made sure everything was in order. 


Your son is here,” she said to the old man.  She had to repeat the words several times before the patient opened his eyes.   


The old man dimly saw the young man in uniform standing in the doorway, and reached out his hand.
  


The Marine stepped forward and wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones squeezing a message of love and encouragement.
   The nurse brought a chair over so that the Marine could sit alongside the bed, and left the room.


For well over an hour that young Marine sat there in the dimly lit room, holding the old man’s hand.
  The monitors blipped and paused, and blipped again, and then fell steady, and the nurse entered the room in time to see the Marine place the lifeless hand he had been holding down on the bed.


She started to offer him words of condolence, but the Marine interrupted her and asked. “Who was that man?


The nurse was startled, “He was your father!” she answered.


“No, ma’am he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before in my life.
  I knew when I sat down that there had been a mistake, but he grabbed my hand, so I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I just stayed.  It seemed the thing to do.”


Faith is also that kind of thing.
   Not much emotion, but a great deal of power found in the promise God makes to simply be there. That’s what Simon learns when he invites Jesus for dinner. 


Nothing goes as planned at this party or turns out the way it is supposed to, but God still has a word for Simon.
  


You want a faith like that, a faith that connects faith and life as you see in this woman at my feet?
  


Such faith does not come from celebrity adoration.
  


It does not only come from having experienced pain and loss so you can feel it.
  


Such a faith also comes from doing what needs to be done, when it is supposed to be done.  
It comes from continuing to work even when you think no one notices you, or you are having any influence at all.


You want a faith like?
  Then remember whether you are on the field or in the sidelines the promises of God are the same for you.   Everlasting life and the forgiveness of sins, freely given to all.