A Costly Choice

Luke 14:25-33

A mountaineer preparing to climb a tall peak sits with a friend in his garage, going over checklists of equipment and provisions and reviewing the months of training they've just endured.  “We’re ready”, he says. A middle aged couple sits with their financial planner at the kitchen table.  They’ve been disciplined and diligent, and have saved over the years wherever they could.  Retirement is coming soon, and because they planned well there’ll be enough to sustain their hopes and dreams in the golden years—even if something unforeseen should happen. A developer stands looking over a large tract of land. In his mind he can see it all—the mall, the parks, the homes and apartments, the small businesses, and the schools.  His business manager speaks next: “It’s a great vision, but we simply can’t do it right now.  We don’t have the resources.”

When it comes to “big things”, like buying a house or taking a trip or starting a large project or influencing others on a large scale, most people are careful to cross every t and dot every i. We know that careful plans and calculations lead to right choices. So why do you suppose, that when it comes following Christ as his disciple, so many are content to live with a choice base solely on emotions and feelings? And why are so many surprised to learn afterward that following Jesus is a rather costly choice? 

Jesus' Advice for Guests and Hosts

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Fast food…junk food…restaurant chains…microwavable meals…”nutrition bars”…processed food…tv trays…even airport vending machines. America in the 21st century has so many ways to feed the cravings of our taste buds, but with every new “convenience” we drift further and further from the kind of table fellowship that Jesus so often enjoyed.

To be invited to dinner in Jesus’ day meant so much more than an occasion for grabbing a bite of food. The table was a place where people gathered together. To dine at table was to know one another communally— to give and receive through, dialogue, sharing, thanksgiving, celebration, confession, and expressions of care and hospitality. The dinner table was a place for religious leaders, philosophers and teachers to give instruction, and a place for social, religious and economic norms were affirmed.

And so with Jesus, the table also became a place where the values of his Kingdom could be shared and demonstrated again and again.  Jesus has a word in today’s lesson for both those hosts and guests — and for all us — at the heavenly banquet: it's time to learn some new table manners.

Practically Faithful

Luke 13:10-17

This week’s Gospel lesson tells of a woman who, for 18 long years, suffered from an affliction that left her bent over, unable to stand. Her ailment was visibly manifest in her body, but Luke tells us that hers was also a spiritual condition. Jesus met her when sabbath as he went to teach in a synagogue in her town.

Standing in the midst of a community that for 18 years hardly even noticed her condition, bent low as she was by the pressures and circumstances of her life, Jesus saw immediately an opportunity for grace.  Without her even asking, he called her over, pronounced her “clean”, and laid his hands upon her.  With a word and touch from Jesus she stood—tall and strong and whole—and began to wholeheartedly praise God.

Like so many other times, some in the crowd who saw it rejoiced.  They rejoiced in God’s goodness, her wholeness, and Jesus power and authority.  But, as before, there were also some who became indignant (it was the Sabbath and all “work”, even healing, was forbidden).

After 18 years, she was healed on the wrong day! And we are left to decide which half of the crowd we'll follow home after worship...the "religious cops and rule-keepers", or those whose practical faith leads to healing praise.

Got a Match?

Luke 12:49-56

When Jesus was only eight days old, an elderly citizen of Jerusalem prophesied over him, saying that Jesus "was destined for the rising and falling of many." True to the word spoken about him, throughout his ministry Jesus continually created a kind of crisis - a moment of truth and an occasion for choosing. To encounter Jesus is to set before oneself both life and death, both blessing and judgement; his very presence reveals evidence of God's grace that demands a verdict.

When Jesus tells his followers that he brings division rather than peace, or that people who profess faith in God but are in love with the world are only "play actors," he does so with the utmost love in his heart. Standing between his earthly mission and his crown of glory looms a cross, its shadows growing closer every day. Likewise, between the people Jesus loves and their salvation and peace lies a world of weeds, clutter, and detritus. With regard to all that keeps us from loving God wholeheartedly, to our false idols and worldly preoccupations, Jesus has but one question. "Got a match?"

See With New Eyes

Luke 12:32-40

For as long as humans have walked upon the earth we have practiced the art of worry.  We can become anxious about anything…anxious about food, anxious about shelter, anxious about relationships, anxious for security and for work and for love and for meaning and purpose and for our lives and deaths.  Jesus’ word and blessing for the church in this worried world is good news indeed:  the one thing about which we never need worry is that its God’s pleasure to give us the Kingdom of God.  

It is true, if our eyes and appetites and values are fixed in this world, we may have difficulties perceiving and understanding the Kingdom Jesus preached.  But for those who believe in Jesus, and are born anew by the Holy Spirit, a new set of eyes is given and the Kingdom of God is revealed right in the midst of the world around us.

If the teachings of Jesus on wealth, community, and preparedness for the coming of Christ seem strange and foreign, then hear Jesus’ invitation anew: Behold the Kingdom, and see with new eyes.

The BBB: Bigger, Better Barns

Luke 12:13-21
Rev. Jerry Owyang, Guest Preacher

Have you ever said this prayer? “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my HDTV to keep. I pray my stocks are on the rise, and that my analyst is wise. That all my data is on the cloud, and that my music is not too loud. That all my investments are enough, that all my sushi’s fresh enough. That my iPhone still works, that my career won’t lose its perks. I pray my microwave won’t radiate, my condo won’t depreciate. I pray my health club doesn’t close, and that my money market grows. But if I go broke before I wake, I pray my Tesla they won’t take.” (Adapted from Family Survival in the American Jungle, by Steve Farrar.)

This Sunday, we'll take a look at what Jesus says about our "stuff" in Luke 12:13-21. Take a "sneak peek" at the text and 

  • Count the number of times you find "I," "me," and "my" in the text. What's the significance of this?
  • How would you define greed? What other areas of life besides material wealth can greed affect?
  • Is it more likely for a rich or a poor person to be greedy?

  • How does one become rich towards God?

Jesus never condemns ownership-but he does give great insight to our attitude and wise use of our possessions.

Jerry Owyang has been serving Cal-Pac since 1989 in a variety of cultural and ministry settings—churches, camps, and correctional facilities. He previously served here at FUMCO (2002-04) as the Associate Pastor to oversee Youth & Christian Education Ministries. For the past 12 years, Jerry has served as the Senior Pastor at Cornerstone UMC in Placentia and is now taking a renewal leave of absence for a holy conversation with God!

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he graduated from UC San Diego and the University of Santa Clara School of Law. Married to Julie, they have three married adult children. He loves good food, good books, good music, solitude, and would rather be on a zip-line than filing papers!

How Much More?

Luke 11:1-13

From time to time every one of us goes through a hard season - a series of bad turns and misfortunes that leave us shaking our heads and asking “how much more can we take?” Sometimes its physical or mental health issues, sometimes its a series of losses and grief in our lives, and sometimes its just the news of the world around us weighing us down and filling us with discouragement.  “The water is already up to my neck, and its still rising rapidly…Lord, have you forgotten me altogether? Do you not know I’m at my limit? Lord, how much more?!”

During life’s soul-withering moments, in the heart or at home or around the world, we will find no small comfort in the routine and disciplines of daily prayer and worship.  But Jesus urges us to prayer and worship less for the moment of order and comfort they bring and much more because they are a means for knowing God’s true heart and self. In this world, Jesus points out, even the most heartless and cruel person will on occasion find a way to act kindly toward others. If we who are wicked know how to do this, how much more will God grant the Holy Spirit to us?

We Are Won, and So We Are One

Galatians 6:1-16

What happens when a Christian is found to be struggling with sin?  What, if anything, should the rest of the church do about that?

There are at least two extremes by which Christians respond to the sins of others, both of which, for Paul, fall short of faithfulness.  The first response says "to each his own, it's none of my business, that's between the sinner and God and I shouldn't get involved.”  Paul rejects the notion that we can disregard one another, because Christ never disregarded us…”even while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

The other extreme continually puts laws, statutes, standards and roadblocks ahead of people, as if to say “you broke the rules, now you can no longer be with us.”  It’s the way of ultimatum, threat, and dissociation—making a scapegoat of others in hopes of justifying our own selves.  This is not the Christ way either.

All Christians are connected, "one body with many parts" (1 Corinthians 12). Paul urged the Galatian churches to remember that no one is dispensable to Jesus; we must endlessly work to restore those who've strayed into sin back to the Body of Christ. But we must always do so as Jesus did: "In a spirit of gentleness" and love. (Galatians 6:1)