Summer Travels with Jesus: Love, Hate, and the Challenge of Possessions

Luke 14:25-33

“How much does this cost?”   

It’s a phrase you can hear repeated in stores and marketplaces all over the world, as buyers and sellers come to terms with one another. Some people will spend hours negotiating, haggling, offering to barter and trade, stating and restating the value of their merchandise or their hard-earned cash. In the end, one of them will wind up saying “final offer...take it or leave it.” Haggling over a good deal starts out with a wink and smile, almost like a game, but getting a bad deal in the marketplace leads to bad feelings if we are on the “losing side.”

Jesus came to show the world that God’s love is more valuable than all the products in all the marketplaces, bazaars, car lots and real estate offices in the world put together.  He never leveraged its value. He never haggled or bartered with it for one second. Breaking all the rules of the marketplace, he simply gave it away. For free. He flooded our “marketplace” with love and grace. Of course the suspicious marketeers—knowing nothing is free in their world—are the first to ask him, “how much will this Kingdom cost?”

“Everything” is Jesus’ reply. At that point many people walk away muttering “I knew it.” If these people could only let go of their clutching grip on the world of buying and selling and possessing things, they wold discover that this enormous cost of God’s kingdom had already been paid...

Summer Travels With Jesus: Home Worship

Due to our proximity to the Orange International Street Fair, the church was unable to have our regular worship service on labor day weekend this year. Instead, we met in the homes of 11 different church members to pray, converse, and share communion with one another.

During the point in the service where we would normally have the sermon, we did more of a devotional this week. Each home picked a couple of questions from the bottom of this post, and the group talked about them together.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Humility is a tricky subject, especially for those who are following Christ and are no longer following  the “kingdoms of this world.” It turns out we still carry residual, worldly ideas about humility, honor, and who gets the credit for our work.

In the name of humility,  gifted and talented Christians will sometimes sit back and wait to be asked, withholding their particular skills because they don’t want to be “boastful.”  These persons tell themselves they are “practicing humility” before others, not wanting to draw attention to themselves or brag about themselves. They will silently watch as their church community flounders, awaiting someone with the right gifts to fulfill a particular role.  Then, when our “humble” person is finally approached, and asked to pitch in, there is suddenly a wave of flattery and fame washing their way. “We had no idea you could do this!” “You’re so gifted and talented!” “I wish I had your skills!”  Humility? Not even close.

True Christian humility understands that our gifts, talents, and skills come from God, whom we are pledged to serve as our Lord. If there is a need, and we have the ability to meet it, the most humble thing we can do is quietly step forward and offer our gifts to the community of Christ.  By thus serving Christ, the Body of Christ is strengthened and our Lord receives the glory.

When serve in true humility, we serve “as unto Christ” and are no longer preoccupied by “who gets the credit.” If our good deeds and offerings are not even recognized in this world, we can be certain that our “Father, who sees in secret” knows of our service, and our reward is laid up for in God’s presence.

  1. If you could have the best seat in the house, where would you be?

  2. Share an embarrassing moment in your life and your proudest moment.

  3. How does Jesus’ view of honor differ from that help by others at the meal?

  4. What does it mean to you to have a place of honor?

  5. Have you ever seen people exalt themselves? What was the result?

  6. What benefits could you realize y consistently making humble choices?

  7. What would it feel like to have Jesus choose you from the back of the room to come forward to a place of honor?

  8. What would it be like if we treated one another with honor in the same way?

  9. What is something special you can do this week for someone who is unable to repay you in kind?

Summer Travels With Jesus: A Life of Readiness

Luke 12:32-40

“Be ready,” said Jesus, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  We want to be faithful, but we are tempted to ask, “Who can live in such a constant state of readiness?” The short answer is, anyone who has made time and space available to welcome the Kingdom of God. Whoever is able to live in a posture of hospitality is already prepared for the coming of Christ.

The foundation of Christian hospitality is the ability to be present for someone, to make our whole selves available to another. We practice seeing the world from “their” point of view. Their needs become our needs. Their hopes are as important as our own. Their words are able to move us, and their ideas bring value to our lives. To see the “other” made well and whole brings the deepest kind of joy to us, and fulfills the kingdom of God.

This is not to say Christ would have us become mindlessly servile, mere doormats available for whomever we meet to tread upon. Serving others in the name of Christ is a choice we make, a mindful decision to engage, know, and serve the “other” with all our heart, mind soul and strength. We make a gift of ourselves to another—whether they be friend or enemy—and commit to serving them as if we are serving Christ himself. And then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, we discover that in serving we are serving Christ, and the Kingdom of God has appeared.

Summer Travels with Jesus: Is There Still No Room for Him?

Luke 12:13-21

The journey to Jerusalem continues apace; Jesus has “set his face” to meet and fulfill his mission’s destiny.  Along the way, Jesus encounters a man who is having a family dispute over the estate left by the man’s father. Believing Jesus to be a man of wisdom, voice for God’s justice and truth, he asks Jesus to settle the matter.

Jesus flatly refuses, and instead offers a parable about a farmer who had a bountiful crop and decided to keep it all for himself. In the midst of securing his bountiful harvest, the man died suddenly, and was therefore not able to keep any of it. “My work is about more important things than estate law,” is the gist of Jesus’ word to the man with the family dispute.

In our world today there are still many competing voices that vie for our attention, dissipate our energies, and distract us from the work of God’s kingdom. These voices tend to make us spiritually stupid, chief among them are the pursuit of material things and desire to have “more.” Whole lives are spent chasing after food that will not satisfy and water that leaves us thirsty.  Apart from the Holy Spirit’s council, such persons often reach the end of their lives utterly unprepared to give up their earthly spoils and completely poor in spiritual things.  Or as comedienne Lily Tomlin once famously quipped: “The trouble with the Rat Race is even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

Summer Travels With Jesus: The God Name Hallowed

Luke 11:1-13

The journey to Jerusalem was well underway. Jesus is engaging his disciples with whole new levels of mission and responsibility. The disciples sense, perhaps for the first time, the need for a whole different level of empowerment.  They see Jesus finding solitude from time to time in order to pray, and notice the difference it makes in his ministry. They remember the holy fire of John the Baptist, and the confident assurance of the Baptist’s disciples, and they want more.

“Teach us how to pray like you, as John taught his disciples.”

The words Jesus gave at that moment were not new…they were words his disciples might have heard every day on the lips of everyday citizens. Jesus wants them to know that prayer is more than repeating “magic words” or tricking God into fulfilling our requests by adopting the “correct” religious stance. Prayer is instead a window into the heart of God…a way of connecting to God. Through prayer we begin to know and understand firsthand that God’s nature is love, and that God’s desire to see our lives made whole. There is a deep, deep power in knowing the constancy of God’s presence which can guide us through every circumstance.

The discipline of prayer—prayer the way Jesus would have his disciples experience it—is the powerful expression of grace that raises us from the busy routine of church work into the powerful Work of the Church.

Summer Travels With Jesus: The Samaritan Out There

Luke 10:25-37

Sometimes we can be so knowledgeable about the various parts of a thing that we lose sight of how it’s actually supposed to work.  Doctors become specialists in kidneys, hearts, lungs, blood, muscles, bones and brains, but sometimes forget there’s a whole patient sitting in front of them.  Mechanics can tell how every part in the car works and how to change each part out, but when they are done tinkering they still can’t say why the car doesn’t “feel right.” And some people move through the seconds, minutes, hours, days and years of their lives, fully present from moment to moment, yet are still unable at the end to locate any sense of the purpose for all of it.

Jesus has taken his message to “repent, and belief in the gospel” out of his home region, that it might be shared with the the rest of the world…starting in Jerusalem. The narrative of our summer travels with Jesus continues this week as Luke offers his readers a story within a story. Despite the name by which this familiar passage is most commonly known, the “Story of the Good Samaritan” is actually a story about the love of Jesus for a lawyer; a story that Jesus told him to help him find his true self.  Sometimes, after all, we can know all the various parts of God’s word inside and out, and still not know where we stand with God until Jesus shows us.

Summer Travels With Jesus: Breaking Boundaries

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Our “summer travels with Jesus” continue this week with Jesus selecting 70 of his followers for “leadership training.”  The Kingdom of God is too big a project for one person and many more laborers are needed. Jesus is sending them out to the communities within reach of his journey’s path, and as they are released to do their work Jesus rehearses with them (and us) the essential truths of his message and work:

  • God’s servants will always be vulnerable in this world. This we embrace, because our vulnerability testifies to the weak and powerless that God’s strength to endure is greater than the principalities of this world.

  • God’s servants are sent to give out the good news, not take from others. Whenever we encounter people who are afraid of losing their possessions, we are careful to leave behind even the dust from between their floorboards…so it will always be said that the gospel is offered “freely, and without price.”

  • God’s servants rely on the hospitality of others at all times. We must always remember who were the first to welcome and receive our message. Ours is not to climb the social ladders of fame and notoriety, but to raise up the social status of our very first friends in every place we go.

     Powerless, vulnerable, and armed with nothing but Christ’s blessing, the 70 went out, and returned with great joy as they witnessed the power of God unfolding before them. Jesus reminded them in their joy that having God’s power in this world is not the purpose of God’s Kingdom, only a means to the true end: by participating in God’s work on earth, their names are forever written in heaven!

Summer Travels With Jesus: Unfettered, Undistracted, Undeterred

Luke 9:51-62

Traveling together brings a certain focus to community life.  Journeying together, fellow travelers find the old, comfortable and familiar giving way to new sights, different routines, strange faces and stranger customs. Amidst the changing surroundings and experiences, the fellow pilgrims often find themselves restating values, reaffirming core beliefs, and testing the boundaries of their community life.

So it was for Jesus and his disciples as they left the comfortable surrounds of Galilee in the north. Jesus had no sooner “set his face toward Jerusalem” than the ensuing journey brought he and his disciples face to face with people from across the cultural spectrum.  Some were hostile from the outset, while others volunteered their commitment to join Jesus, so long as he allowed them to set the terms.  Still others were recruited by Jesus, but had matters in their life that took higher priority than Jesus’ call.

Each new encounter brought different reactions from the disciples and new opportunities for Jesus to teach them the nature of their work and their community. In the end, Jesus would show them the true nature of his mission—a mission which is unfettered, undistracted, and undeterred but the cultural diversity encountered along the way.