Coming to Our House

Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus was a man of small stature and enormous wealth, and he was outcast and isolated by his community until the day he met Jesus. Jesus had a simple word for him:  I must stay at your house today. With that simple word of grace Zacchaeus was no longer an outcast, but welcomed into the Kingdom of God by Jesus…and his whole household was changed forever.

People often come to the sanctuary for worship hoping, like Zacchaeus, to catch a glimpse of Jesus, to have a weekly spiritual experience, and to “take something useful” home with them. It can be somewhat alarming to discover that Jesus is not one to wait patiently in the church sanctuary for us while we live lives of our choosing and compartmentalize our time, our treasures, and our spiritual selves. Jesus would be Lord of our whole lives. He comes to us. He is coming to our house, for “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

Humility in Prayer

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus once told a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray. The story uses the motif of prayer, but is really a lesson about pride.

Pride is one of the great sources of struggle for Christians.  Seeking to be forgiven our sins and justified before God, we are nonetheless slow to trust God’s grace alone for that justification. Our pride rears its head, and wanting to justify ourselves, we begin to recite our resumes, remember our successes, measure only our own worth, and compare ourselves to others who seem less deserving. The heart cries, ”Thank you God, for making me just a cut above the rest!”

We cannot truly justify ourselves without scapegoating someone else…seeing the fault in others and naming their sin. The great challenge (some would say scandal) of the gospel is that rather than calling us out—separating us from the riffraff of a sinful world around us—Jesus sends us right back into the midst of the others, there to bear witness to our own sin and his saving power. 

Sinners are not the others guys, they are you and me.  And so we pray “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner….”

Persistence in Prayer

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus said, “Always pray, and never lose heart.”

In reply we affirm that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life…that it is food and water for the seed of God’s word planted within us.  Most of us have turned to prayer at some point in our lives, especially when struggling with unmet needs, overwhelming fears, or crippling circumstancesthat had us feeling powerless.  But there are also times for listening in prayer…for being silent and still in the presence of God; these times are also life-giving.

In time, prayer changes the way we see the world, which is why Jesus needed to tell his disciples to “never lose heart.”  The parable Jesus told to reinforce the point moves us from the “lesser world” of our present reality to the “greater world” of the Kingdom of God.  So hungry are we to receive from God we almost miss how normal if feels to hear about a Judge who cares nothing for God or humans, or to see a widowed woman who has to scratch and claw and demand the right simply to be heard.  We hardly notice, because these things are so a much a part of our reality…they seem normal. 

When we pray, we see the world as God sees it— a world terribly broken by sin.  These first glimpses are terrifying to us.  If we are courageous, if we continue to pray and “don’t lose heart”, we also so that God finds this world and its people to be beautiful…much loved by God…and worth saving.  We must always pray, and never lose heart.

Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to capture an audio recording of this sermon.

Your Faith Has Saved You

Luke 17:11-19

One of the most common assertions in the scriptures is the fact that God hears, and sees, the plight of those who are in distress.  Do you recall Haggar weeping for her son? Or the Israelites toiling in the hardship of Egyptian mud pits? Or blind Bartimeaus by the side of the road? God Sees them. God hears their cries.

In today’s gospel lesson we see ten lepers standing at a distance from Jesus and begging for mercy…and Jesus saw them. Saw their plight, their isolation, their shame and their need for healing. The Son of God saw them, and with a word of grace set them on their path to healing and restoration. The beginning of the good news for those in distress is just this:  “God hears, and God sees.”

But this week’s lesson actually tells two stories: the story of Christ’s healing word for ten lepers and the deeper story of salvation for one of them (who was, as it turned out, a Samaritan). All ten went to show themselves to the priest and be restored to their community, and as they went their leprosy were cured. One of them saw that he was healed, and returned praising God in thanksgiving. Gratitude and thanksgiving before God reflect a condition far deeper than a cured illness…they show the very nature of one who is saved.

More Than Duty Calls

Luke 17:5-10

It’s tempting, in the age of consumerism, to think of religion as a kind of spiritual superstore, selling everything from theology and philosophy to morality and ethics to inner peace and contentment.  A kind of “Soul Depot” for the do-it-yourself seeker: 

“Lord, here’s my religious duty for the month…now, increase my faith!”

But Jesus calls us to something far deeper and greater than fulfillment of religious duty.  Jesus invites us into a relationship, longing for us to fall in love with God whom he calls Father.  Commandments and spiritual disciplines have their place in a life of faith, to be sure, and obedience to God’s will is the surest and swiftest way to learn God’s will.  But if we limit ourselves to duties and disciplines only, instead of seeing the relationship behind them, we have missed the best part.  For Christians everywhere, it is much more than fulfillment of a solemn duty to which Christ beckons us.  It is is love calling.

Believing is Seeing

Luke 16:19-31

Many of the surrounding cultures In Jesus’ day had stories about the wealthy and the poor, and what might happen to each in the afterlife. Jesus once told a parable from this rich collection of afterlife stories, about a miserable beggar named Lazarus and a rich man who lived lavishly and never noticed Lazarus at all. In time both died, and in the afterlife experienced a grand reversal of fortunes.  For the first time the rich man discovered the immensity of the gulf between himself and Lazarus…a huge gap in their experience of one another that the rich man simply never noticed in this world.

Jesus reminds us that the time to begin following the lifestyle of his Kingdom—indeed for keeping all of the law and the prophets— is now. For in eternity, God will make perfect in us whatever we have practiced in this life, be it the sharing of Christ’s spirit and compassion with others or the practiced indifference of those who see themselves as better than others. When we choose to believe in Christ, to follow him, our eyes are opened, walls come down, distances between us are bridged, and we see the Kingdom coming to life all around us.

The Importance of Unimportant Things

Luke 16:1-13

Whether we are conscious of them or not, we make thousands of choices each day…and execute tens of thousands of task each week.  Some choices and tasks are so perfunctory, so routinized, so seemingly insignificant that we hardly even think about them even as we are doing them (think brushing our teeth or tying our shoes or pushing the ground floor button on the elevator).  Others are great big decisions and actions that can leave us paralyzed with doubts and uncertainty (think of professing love toward someone, or moving across country, or changing careers, or taking a stand for God’s justice on behalf of others).

Jesus told his disciples a parable about a thoroughly unjust steward who was aboutto fired.  It was crisis time, and he had some serious choices to make.  In the end, as Jesus tells us, the steward kept right on doing and being the same person that had always been: unjust, scheming, and untrustworthy.  His “big moment” hadn’t changed him, it only revealed who was more clearly.  And so with each of us…we are empowered to make life’s biggest choices for God by the care we take to follow his way in the everyday, unimportant things.

Relentless Love

Luke 15:1-10

There’s a story told of a child who, upon finding himself separated from his parents in a large shopping mall during the holidays, walked up to a security guard and began to cry? “What’s the matter, little one?” asked the guard. The child looked up and said “my mommy and daddy are lost.”

Small children tend to orient the whole world in relation to themselves; wherever they currently find themselves is the center of the universe as far as they are concerned (as if to say, “I’m not lost, the rest of the world is”). We chuckle at this trait in small children, but the same phenomena occurs in adults whose faith is still maturing in Christ. Rather than seeing through God’s eyes, we see through the narrow lens of our own personal notions of right and wrong, justice and mercy. 

When Jesus was celebrating with newfound friends and some disapproving religious leaders were murmuring against him, he told the critics a couple of parables about the joy of lost things being found. The critics, of course, were sure he was talking about someone else…