“Where Are You?” Luke 15:1-3; 11b-35

It’s a beloved parable, but a challenging one to preach on precisely because it is so beloved. 

            “A man had two sons…. “   That’s really all you need to hear and you can probably fill in the rest of it.

            The older brother.

            The wayward younger brother who is impatient to get on with life.

            The incomprehensible father, who we either hale as being far too loving, far too forgiving, far too insensitive to the needs of both children, or far too stupid to have ever acquiesced to the younger son’s demands in the first place.  

He’s the first “far too permissive parent,” – way too eager to please his little boy.

            Yes, this is difficult parable to preach on precisely because built into the parable is just enough ambiguity that you can insert some of your own experience into it.

            But then, maybe that is the point.

            If there is one thing that this parable does very well it is invites you into it.  Hardly anyone hears or reads this without forming opinions about the characters involved.

            Where do you see yourself?

            Are you like the older brother, the responsible one, bothered by his father’s actions so much that he can’t join in the party?  Feeling overlooked, under-consulted, and under-appreciated?   Grumbling like those at the start of this chapter because way too much emphasis seems to be placed upon “sinners” – those who have done egregious things.

            Are you like the father?   Do you have someone estranged from you, someone you’ve watched wander where you wish they would not have gone?   Are you the one now looking out at the horizon every day wondering if they will ever come back to you?  Are you planning what you would do if they were to show back up in your life?   Would you be gracious?  Reluctant?  Expectant?  Cautious?  Do we hear this parable in the same way these days with children who launch and then end up returning because they can’t find a job, or can’t manage in this economy?  

            Are you that younger son, chafing under whatever real or imagined restrictions you feel are placed on you?  Perhaps you were the one who couldn’t wait to get away from home, eager to make your mark in the world.   Or having tried and failed, wondered how you’ll ever figure out a way forward, starving for another chance?

            Where do you see yourself in this parable?  Countless possibilities exist, and none of them really wrong or off base.

            It is possible to understand the resentment of the older brother – we’ve felt that ourselves.

            It is possible to know the longing aching heart of the father, we have felt that or known those who shared their concerns with us.

            It is possible to see in one’s own hasty or ill-conceived plans times when you thought you really had something all worked out in your own mind, but upon hitting the “real world” your elaborate plans all turned to ruin and embarrassment.

            Where do you see yourself?

            We could spend hours parsing that out, and looking for places of connection, and deep digging at meaning to be found wherever you happen to see yourself.

            The parable invites it.

            So, part of me is tempted to just let you turn to one another and hammer this out on your own with those around you.  That might be the best way to spend this time. 

            If you did so, you might gain new appreciations for the characters as you listened to others tell you of their experiences.  

You might “hear” this parable differently if a red eyed widow and mother sitting next to you talked about her own estranged children, and the longing to want to have them come back home.

            You would experience this differently if the cross armed man grew suddenly red in the face as he described how in his own family, he was the slighted one as his no-good brother or sister got all the attention.

           You would experience this parable differently if the person next to you started her own reflection on the parable with “I ran away from home…”

            Jesus isn’t afraid to let messy stories stand.

            We’d like this parable all wrapped up in a bow, like the two parables that precede it.  

You know, the parable about the woman who loses a coin and sweeps the corners to find it.  Upon finding the coin she then invites everyone into her joy with a party!  

Or the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves the Ninety Nine to go and find the lost sheep.   Upon finding the sheep, he then carries it back home upon his shoulders, and then invites everyone into the joy, along with all the angels of heaven rejoicing that the lost has been found.

We’d like this parable to end the same way, the way a good 30 minute sitcom is supposed to end,— the way we’d hope our own lives would work out, neatly and clearly with a definite resolution to things.

But that’s not how this parable ends.  

This parable ends with the younger brother partying with the servants, enjoying restoration to the family while he remains oblivious to the hurt feelings of his older brother.

This parable ends with the older brother arguing with his father about how this family works, and how he has been treated in the past, and refusing to join the party.

This parable ends with a plea by the Father to have the older son come in now and join the party, and to rejoice that the one who was dead to us, (your brother) has come back to life.

The parable ends with this nagging question, this tension, “what will happen next?”

Will the younger brother ever apologize to the father or his brother?

Will the older brother join the party?

Will the Father ever see his kids back on speaking terms?

We like things resolved. That, however, is not how we tend to experience life.  

            We experience life in all of its messiness, with all if its apparent complications, and its incomplete information. 

            We don’t really know the internal motivations of the younger son in this parable any more than we know the internal motivations of our own family member who is estranged, cut off, or who perhaps despaired and never came back.

            Ambiguity is the lot of real life.

            We don’t really have a handle on all the ins and outs of the family dynamics, not here in this parable, or even in our own extended families.  (I mean, the mother in the parable is nowhere in sight!  We could speculate forever on unresolved issues of guilt, abandonment, or grief right there!)

            Just as we could blindly “speculate” on what it is that drives the conflicts and issues in our own extended family.

            This is the way families are! Unreasonable demands are made by individuals. Irresponsible actions are sometimes taken. Wisdom is seen as being in short supply, or wisdom and sound judgment is overridden by emotions in the heat of long held grievances. Communication is less than ideal, so misunderstanding, hurt feelings and brokenness are the result.

            Where do you see yourself in this parable?   More like “Where do you NOT see yourself?”

Most poignantly, where do we see ourselves is in the ongoing question and tension of “What is going to happen next?”

            So then, as we hear Jesus tell this unresolved parable, it is important to remember the context into which it was told.

            Remember the grumbling?  

            It’s important to place this image firmly in your mind, of Jesus surrounded by all the people mentioned.

            Sinners and tax collectors are there.

            Disciples and close followers are there.

            Pharisees and scribes are there.

            They are all there, this whole messy “New Testament Family” that we see Jesus hanging out with in the Gospels, in all their dynamism. 

            They are there with all their competing interests, their differing motivations for following or watching him, and with their opinions already firmly formed about God and about one another.

            It’s a family!

            And, there is grumbling, as there always is in any family.

            So, Jesus tells these three parables, two of them with happy, nicely resolved endings because, you know, such things do happen from time to time!   You do get resolution, togetherness, forgiveness, and much rejoicing in the family sometimes.

            But you know what else you get in any family? 

            You get the unresolved tension of not knowing what exactly will happen next, and how all these things, these dynamics, will play themselves out.

            You get the grumbling and the uncertainty, and the feeling that the whole thing is somehow held together by the barest of threads, and the power of love expressed by someone in just the right moment.

            That’s the Father in the parable.

            That’s Jesus in the gospels, and in our lives.

            Where are you in this parable?   Well you’re the listener, really.  And you’re sitting with your fellow tax collectors, and sinners, and with the good Pharisees and scribes, (of which you may be one!)  You are all here just because Jesus is here, and he’s talking, telling you a story!

            That’s where you are.

            You, with all of your already formed opinions about how things should work, or your relief that Jesus has found you, or your anxiety at what others might be thinking about you, and your guilt at what you’ve done or not done in the past.

            Where are you? 

            You are with Jesus in this moment, listening to a parable about how families work, or don’t work as the case may be, because families are always messy! 

The whole venture of faith sometimes feels like it is just held together with the barest of threads and the power of love expressed by someone in just the right moment.

            That’s where you are.            

You are with Jesus – listening and wondering how the story of your life will turn out for you, and listening for him to speak of the power of love at just the right moment for you.

“Roundabout Repentance” Luke 13:1-9

Where is the compassion of Jesus?  

In our gospel lesson for today we see someone come up to Jesus and tell him about an obvious tragedy in Galilee.  Worshipers were going down to Jerusalem and ran afoul of Pilate’s Roman soldiers, and the lot of them killed, animals and all. 

A horrific scene.

But instead of a sympathetic response Jesus shoots back– “Do you think they were worse sinners than any other Galileans? No I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  

Those seem harsh and cold words from Jesus.  Where is his compassion for those struck down by tragedy?    

We don’t see Jesus as being compassionate here in his response partly because we tend to lift this passage out of Luke’s overall story line and try to interpret it as a stand-alone saying of Jesus.

Luke’s Gospel begins remember, not with an announcement of Jesus ministry, or with a genealogy of Jesus’ birth, but rather with the story of God intervening in the course of history.  Jesus comes while Quirinius is governor in Syria, and Augustus in Emperor, and…  

God is stepping in to the events of this world, in a specific moment in time in the birth of John and of Jesus.

Luke’s Gospel begins with God intervening in the lives of Elizabeth and Zechariah, “turning around” the lives of that couple with the birth of a child, John.   He will be known as the Baptizer. It is a birth that comes to one previously known as “barren,” and so it is a “turn the world upside down” kind of event, (as anyone who has a child later in life will tell you!)

John’s whole message was one of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and John’s instruction to those he baptizes? 

“Turn around!”

It is in Luke’s Gospel that John gives instruction for how one properly repents, and John’s message is a matter of changing one’s actions and direction.

“What then should we do?” those whom John baptizes implores of him in chapter three, and John gives them implicit instructions in this gospel as in no other.

‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’   

For tax collectors, “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

And for soldiers, “Do not extort money… be content with your pay.”

The reason for such repentance is also given, it is “because the axe is already laid to the root of the tree, and any tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In other words, “the time is short for you to act!”

A day of reckoning is coming in Luke’s viewpoint. 

That impending reckoning is what fuels the call to repent, to change direction, and to live one’s life in a different manner while one still has time so to do.

So, part of making sense of Jesus’ abrupt words here has to do with seeing them through the lens of apocalyptic that is Luke’s gospel. 

The time is short, so repent lest you die as those for whom death came suddenly!   Those who ran afoul of the Roman patrol, those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time in Siloam.  They had no opportunity to repent, and if you do not repent now, the same thing may happen to you!

But there is another matter in this gospel with which we must also come to terms, and that is our own misunderstanding of the word “repent” as it is used in this gospel.

          Repentance for us is usually connected with an apology of some sort, not necessarily amendment of life.

          We “repent” of things we’ve done all the time, but we usually do so within the confines of confession and forgiveness in church.  We’ve gotten used to thinking about repentance more like a roundabout than anything else.

          There is always a way out of a roundabout.

          We come, we confess, we change our direction but like good students of the Apostle Paul we readily admit that we mess up, and usually repeatedly, so it’s not a big surprise that as we turn from our sin, change direction, we sometimes find ourselves repeating that very same offense again.

          “Roundabout repentance” if you will… we end up back where we started and make the same errors and mistakes over and over again.

          It’s part of being human, we assure ourselves, and it is, but self-assurance is often just another way to avoid repentance altogether.   We loop back around with a shrug of our shoulders.

          Or sometimes our “roundabout repentance” is more of the indirect sort. 

While we sense deep down that repentance should entail amendment of life, we settle for a kind of “roundabout repentance.”  

          “I know I shouldn’t gossip, but say, have you heard….”

          “I know the church encourages me to tithe, but I just can’t quite commit to regular giving,  I wouldn’t want to make a pledge that I couldn’t keep in the end.”

          “I know the scripture says; ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’… but surely God didn’t mean so and so….  Surely God’s never had to put up with my sister in law, or my boss, or …”

          “Roundabout repentance.” 

Roundabout repentance is the kind of repentance that is half-hearted or half-completed.  It is well- intentioned but never fully implemented or realized.  

Roundabout repentance is a kind of “someday maybe” kind of repentance that we push off into a future that we assume will always be out there.

          When we’re ready.

          When I’m a little bit older or wiser.

          When I’ve gotten a little more patience.

          When I don’t have these other things pressing on me.

          All these little roundabouts that are detours or delays.

          We can’t make sense of Jesus’ words here because we can’t imagine the immediacy or the urgency that lies in the apocalyptic, in Luke’s understanding that the time is short.

          That’s what makes the last part of this story so important. 

Patience it appears, is limited.

There is an end point to things, a finite place where bad things happen and towers fall.  

“You get one more year,” the vineyard owner says to the gardener, “and then time is up!”

          So, where is the compassion of Jesus found in this gospel?   

          It is found in the very message that the time is short, which is a compassionate message when you think about it.

It is compassionate precisely because we are so good at putting things off and assuming that we will always have more time to do things.

More time to love someone.

More time to forgive someone.

More time to make up with an estranged family member, or to visit that person we’ve been meaning to get to.

More time to thank that teacher that made a difference in our lives.

More time to thank that nurse who went the extra mile, that city worker who tirelessly makes his trash rounds.

More time to make that trip we always said we would, to do that good deed we intended to do for that nice man across the street.

More to time to do what we always said we’d do.

The message that “time is short” is not meant as some kind of threat, as a “God is going to get you” message.

It’s not meant to answer the really big questions either, the “why do bad things happen?” questions — like towers falling or violence perpetrated, or floods or natural disasters.

No, the “time is short” message of the gospel is meant to prompt you to be about more than just “roundabout repentance.”

          It’s meant to make you pause and wonder just how many seasons you might have before what you are expected to do (that is, to bear fruit) is required of you?

          How long should God have to keep coming back, looking for what God knows you are capable of doing, bearing that fruit that is empowered by the Spirit?

          The message that “time is short” is meant to move you to do more than just “roundabout repentance.”  It is meant to move you to get down to the business of being a disciple and doing the things disciples do while you can, and not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others!

          That’s the overlooked part of this story.

          If you look back at John the Baptizer’s directives given, they are all about what is to be done, the amendment of life that is to be made for the sake of the other.

          The coat is to be given, and the food is to be shared with those who do not have such things, for their sake, not just yours.

          Repentance changes relationship with the neighbor.

          The income and resources of the neighbor are preserved instead of taken when the tax collector does his job fairly and justly.

          The welfare of the other is seen to, and advantage is not taken of those who are weaker or in the weaker position when the soldier does not exploit his position of power.

          It is the concern for the neighbor that John lifts up.  That is what is to prompt your actions of repentance.

          You don’t do it for yourself, you do it for those who surround you!

          And now, keeping that in mind, look at this fig tree parable again.  

          It’s not that the owner of the vineyard is all that concerned with the individual fig tree, it’s that he’s worried about what surrounds the fig tree.  The soil!

          “Why should it be wasting the soil?”  the owner asks.

          The message that the time is short is not given for any individual’s sake.  It’s given for the sake of the world that cannot just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

          “Roundabout Repentance” is not what God has in mind.

          Another chance is what Jesus comes to give, but it’s a chance that is premised in the fact that you will grow, and you will bear fruit, and that the time to do so is indeed short.

          You do so, not just for your own benefit.           You grow, and you amend your life, and you repent, for the sake of the other, for all those around you. 

“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?

“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.


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.


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.