Sunday is coming! “When the lost sheep isn’t you” Luke 15:1-10

“Rejoice with me. For I have found my sheep that was lost.” (Luke 15:6)

Besides being one of the best Christian bands of the 20th/21st century (at least to my peculiar taste – listen to our interview) – Lost and Found  is a central Christian theme. We sing the familiar hymn from the heart, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see” (John Newton, “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], #779).

There is something special about the message of undeserved mercy and grace to “sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 15:1) when that promise is aimed at you. The appropriate response to that sweet embrace of love is a call for repentance, thanksgiving, and sharing with others the joy that comes from both the finding and being found. The two parables Jesus shares about a lost sheep and a lost coin (the third story Jesus shares about the prodigal and his brother [Luke 15:11-32] is read Lent 4C in the RCL; not this Sunday) result in communal celebration when what was lost has been found. When one finds a lost sheep or coin… and by inference a “wretch like me”; the result is a party on heaven and on earth alike. The cosmos joins in the celebration!

Look closer to where these stories are aimed…

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eat with them” (Luke 15:2). It is “the Pharisees and the scribes “– i.e. the religious people, the churchy-types, the ones that do the ‘the right thing’ regularly, the ones who belong, the ones (as Jesus says somewhat tongue in cheek), “who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7) – that need to hear these stories because of their grumbling.

“Just so I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Sometimes it is the ninety-nine who needs to repent of arrogance and self-righteousness. It often becomes very easy for us on the inside to look down on those who are outside.  It becomes easy for us to become smug towards toward those we feel are not as good as we are, dedicated as we are, devoted as we are, responsible as we are, as law-abiding as we are, as righteous as we are, as humble as we are (...and aren’t we the most humble people we know?)

We need to hear these stories again and again, just as the religious people judging and looking down at the tax collectors and sinners gravitating toward Jesus needed to hear them too. The kingdom Jesus proclaims is for everyone; especially those who have no business being part of it, or have wondered off track someplace and are lost to us. In our grumbling about lost sheep and coins – we become lost ourselves.

Look to the seeking shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine for the one,the woman in the house diligently flipping everything over to find her coin to bring it back to the others (and the father waiting by the road to welcome home the prodigal). Jesus gives us some wonderful images in these three parable of how God relentlessly seeks after us.   

When we see the abundance of unconditional love, mercy, grace, selflessness, welcome and restoration to those who don’t belong sitting at the table with Jesus – we see lives made new and transformed. The only appropriate response is to join the party!  Our calling is to follow Jesus’ lead in looking for those on the outside, inviting those with no seat at the table to come and sit down, advocating for those who don’t deserve to be there, seeking reconciliation with those who have hurt us; eating, drinking and welcoming one another.

Let your go of your fears and reservations as you lean into that joy – even when the responses of others are different from the ones we hope that joy will inspire. Leave the changing of hearts to the Spirit.

In the meantime – keep seeking, inviting, welcoming, forgiving, and celebrating with the angels in heaven when a lost sheep or coin comes home. This is a glimpse of the kingdom to come – all of us will celebrate as we are surprised by God’s amazing grace!

-Have you ever found something you have lost for a while; how did you feel when you did?

-Who are the lost sheep / coins in your life?

-When have you wondered off or been lost – from family, friends, church, etc.?

-Where is Jesus in all this? Where are you?

PGS

Listen to NEW CREATION by Lost and Found. The lyrics are great.

Sunday is coming! “The Great Paradox” Luke 14:25-33

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

The great paradox of Christian faith is that salvation comes from God alone through what Jesus does for us with nothing we can do to deserve, earn or gain it; while at the same time discipleship (or following Jesus) is incomplete without a commitment that “costs us” everything else.

What tends to happen among individuals, churches, denominations, and theological approaches is an over-emphasis on either a cheapened version of grace that doesn’t ask anything of us or such demanding expectations that that they either crush us or turn us against one another by a falsely held feeling of superiority.

Too often we think of grace and discipleship as an either/or choice. The consequences of choosing one over the other can be disastrous.

Grace is good. We cannot earn God’s mercy and love. But cheapened grace can create a smugness by sitting idle and ignoring the pain and struggle of others, or make our connection to Christ or a community something that does not matter to us all that much by becoming just one more choice among many things that vie for our attention in a busy world.

Expectations are good. But when they are unreachable they can break our spirit by serving only to remind us of all the things we have left to do or they can consume us by judging others’ commitment compared to our own.

Both single approaches miss the fullness of life that Jesus offers. Grace and discipleship belong in tension. The great paradox of holding these seemingly opposed trajectories together (there is nothing we can do vs. it is up to us to do it) is the contagious and life-giving joy the Spirit can bring to us; even when things seem dire.

In this passage (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus asks us to consider the “cost” of following him. A builder considers the “cost” before building a tower; a ruler considers the “cost” before going to war; a disciple considers the “cost” of the cross to Jesus before following him. If the cross “costs us” nothing it is seemingly worthless. If the cross is up to us to carry alone we cannot bear the weight of it. Held in tension we see, hear and live a promise from Christ that calls us out of death and into a new life he gives us freely to give away.

Faithfulness to that promise calls us into a “costly” response to God’s outpouring abundant mercy and love. It may sound counter-intuitive at first, but as Jesus says elsewhere, “one cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). The crux of what Jesus is asking, prodding and inviting us into here is this – when push comes to shove, where is the fullness of life to be found? Family, wealth, status, comfort or following him? When we move beyond ourselves to follow Jesus…will the “cost” be worth it?

Only a costly discipleship can answer that question.

PGS

Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died in a Nazi prison camp in April, 1945 called followers of Jesus into what he called “Costly grace.” 

He first articulated “Cheap grace” as “preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living incarnate Jesus Christ.”  

In contrast, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door which one has to knock. It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. it is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace costly, because it was costly to God, because it cost God the life of God’s son ‘you were bought with a price’  (1 Corinthians 6:20) – and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s son was not too costly for God to give him up in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.

Costly grace is grace as God’s holy treasure and which must be protected from the world and which must not be thrown to the dogs (Matthew 7:6). Thus it is grace as living word, word of God, which speaks as it pleases. It comes to us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a forgiving word to the fearful spirit and broken heart (Psalm 51:17). Grace is costly, because it forces people under the yoke of following Jesus Christ; it is grace when Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30.)”  

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4. ed. Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr. trans. Martin Kuske and Isle Todt. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996]. 44, 45.)

Sunday is coming! “Check your invite and the invitations” Luke 14:1,7-14

“You will be blessed because they cannot repay you…” (Luke 14:14a)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) skips over Luke 14: 2-6 where Jesus heals a man with dropsy (general swelling in the limbs often caused by congenital heart failure) on the Sabbath. To me; omitting this part of the story  does this whole banquet scene a disservice.

Jesus heals on the Sabbath which has already evoked controversy (Luke 13:10-17) in Luke’s storytelling and lurks in the backdrop of this healing and teaching. Jesus tells a parable about taking the lower seat rather than the place of honor, and then insists that when a person hots a party they should invite, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). In context, Jesus just did that very act in front of the banquet guests (who happen to be religious leaders) by healing this man a the onset. The parable serves to reinforce the action.

Looking back to an early part of Luke’s presentation of Jesus; Jesus’ ministry began at the synagogue where he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Today this is scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-19, 21). Jesus is putting into action this message and mission in real time. And just like the people threw Jesus out of his hometown after proclaiming that message, on the way to Jerusalem the opposition mounting against Jesus is growing. It should not come as a surprise when the church meets the world’s opposition to this same message in our own time.

Check the invitations.

Jesus calls us to invite to the party those who don’t belong; those who don’t deserve to be there; those who cannot possibly repay that welcome and hospitality. Those who are hurt or suffering or unclean or unable to contribute based on societal norms and opportunities. Inviting them into community is the way to live good news.

The parable sandwiched in-between the healing of the man with dropsy and Jesus’ teaching to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind approaches the party in reverse.  As a guest entering a gathering in the shame and honor culture in which Jesus lived; he instructs his followers  to take the lower place of honor rather than the higher one. it is better to serve than be served. Humility is a greater virtue than honor due. Come as one as the recipient of grace and hospitality rather than what is deserved or earned. Yet humility is not passivity, and taking a lower place should not bring pride or boasting. It is looking to others to receive them in their full humanity.

Check your invite.

The gospel reminds us that none of us deserve to be at the party; yet it is Jesus who invites, welcomes, embraces and heals us all. Enter the good news that you are welcome and have a place – not by your own doing but by Christ alone.

Live by graciousness and humility; engage the world with generosity and thanksgiving; treat others with the same mercy, peace and love that God extends to you. These are the things that let you in the door and brought you to the table. Check your invite and the invitations.

Party on!

-Why do we gravitate toward things like exclusivity, celebrity and elitism?

-How does following Jesus show us another way to live?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Jesus brings the fire” Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49)

How often do we describe the work we do (whatever it is) as “putting out fires?”  It seems we often have misapplied our calling as we feebly try to either “keep the peace” or “to make people happy.”

Jesus seems to be saying the opposite.

Jesus is not a consensus builder nor is he an arbitrator of disputes. The message he brings is not one of ongoing compromise or accommodation; it is one of repentance and change. Jesus and his message take on different accents as it is lived and expressed in every culture and time period. Both the challenges and opportunities each time and place draw out of the gospel brings new understandings – yet death and resurrection stand at the center of who Jesus is, what he does, and how he keeps changing the world.

What might it look like to follow Jesus in a post-Christian, digital, secular age in North America that is full of rife and division?  We continue to both struggle with and discover new realities together…

In this passage he declares that “he came to bring fire” (Luke 12:49); not to put fires out.

Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? “ (Luke 12:51a).

Does this sound like a nice Jesus who just wants everyone to get along?

No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51b).

Jesus is not setting people against each other – but what he seems to be identifying is the reality that if we start loving people the way he is on fire for us; there will be some people who do not like it (or us) very much.

Jesus is the great wall destroyer, “For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14); but what is the cost of the “peace” he brings?

The peace of Jesus comes as a cross; under suffering, death and sacrifice to mend our broken humanity. It is the fire of unconditional; all consuming love. The powers of the world keep peace through violence. Jesus brings peace by handing over his life. Renewal and resurrection only come out of the ashes of what came before it. We cannot have Easter without Good Friday first.

Jesus calls us to give our lives for one another, and for the sake of the other, just as he gives his life to us.  We often claim the centrality of Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the most universal part of the biblical message.

That is…until we get specific.

Then “loving your neighbor” becomes “too political” or “too controversial” or “too difficult” to do. We fear people fighting with one another or simply just checking out.  Yet doesn’t a fire warrant engagement? Perhaps a fire that draws us into a common purpose and mission is what Jesus is driving at – one cannot take up the cross of Jesus part way.

We seek something easier. Something nice. Something everyone can agree with and get along.

Those aspirations are impossible. To break down the barriers that separate us (See Ephesians 2) means tearing down the distinctions we make around worthiness, heritage, gender, economics, who is in and who is out, etc. as Jesus builds us into a new community. Expect resistance when we are church together. The way to break down barriers and share one’s life with others is not by politeness; but with fire. God’s word is that fire (Jeremiah 23:29). Baptism is that fire (Luke 3:16). The Holy Spirit is that fire (Acts 2). Faith is tested by a refining fire like silver (Zechariah 13:9; Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 1:7). We are called to live aflame with love of God and our neighbors.

Following Jesus brings controversy and division. Friends and family may turn on you. Neighbors might betray you. Institutions may disappoint you. Expect it. Pray and kindle the fire of faith like the faithful of every generation (Hebrews 11-12). When trials come (and they will) keep going; looking to Jesus who is true life and peace.

What controversies burden you?

How do those controversies keep the community from mission?

Where might Jesus point you to be on fire for others?

PGS

Sunday is coming! ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019: Highlights so far…

Normally I write a little blurb on the coming gospel reading to get ready for Sunday morning. This week I want to do something a little different.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is meeting for Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI (August 5-10) and the decisions being made thus far have been notable.

The ELCA is committed to being a public church. We continue to live into that vocation in a variety of ways and it is not always an easy process.

These are some of the actions of the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly thus far:

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was elected on the first ballot to serve a second six year term as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. She was elected Presiding Bishop in 2013 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA. I had the privilege of serving as a voting member from the New England Synod that year, and voting for her. 🙂 I have also had the honor of meeting her in person a few times, including as our first interview on the 2 Bald Pastors Podcast with Pastor Joe McGarry and with our young people at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, TX.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA Church Council Members presented to the African Descent Lutheran Association a Declaration of the ELCA to people of African Descent. Rev. Lamont Wells, President of the African Descent Lutheran Association offered a response.

The Assembly vited and adopted the ELCA Social Statement: Faith Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.

The Assembly voted and declared the ELCA to be a Sanctuary Church Body, and members marched to an ICE detention center in Milwaukee.

The Assembly voted and adopted the World Council of Churches “Thursdays in Black” campaign against gender based violence.

The Assembly voted and adopted “A Declaration on Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” with close to forty leaders from ecumenical and inter-religious partner communities on stage.

The Assembly voted and adopted a resolution to mark June 17 as a date to commemorate the Emanuel Nine – the nine people killed at Mother Emanuel Methodist Church June 17th, 2015 in Charlotte, SC. I signed the petition prior to the vote.

Here were a few of my reasons for supporting this action:

1. I want to participate in healing deep wounds in our churches and communities. There are many wounds among us.
2. The ELCA has direct connections with both the shooter at Mother Emanuel in Charleston (who grew up in an ELCA congregation) and the victims who are not only fellow human beings but some of them also happened to be ELCA students and ministry partners.
3. The more I hear “pastor, we don’t need to do something like this” the more I think, “Yep, we really do.” The ELCA is 90+% white and that is a huge problem – both practically and theologically. We have to own the hard truth of how insular we are if things are ever going to change or improve in an age where most people look at churches with suspicion, cynicism and even disdain.
4. We can’t and won’t truly be able to speak hope to the culture until we go inward and start working on our own stuff – and we have a lot of stuff to work on around race, gun violence, mental illness, social justice, the politics of division and blame alongside how we engage challenging issues within the ELCA as a whole and in our congregations in particular.
5. At least in my mind, heart and soul – this commemoration day feels like the right thing to do.

Will having a day set aside to repent and remember fix it all?  Of course not. But simply plodding on doesn’t seem to be working either – the violence of the past week around the country makes that clear.

There is of course much much more to do than this – but we can at least start with the Emanuel Nine.

If you’re an ELCA person, I invite you to join me in signing this petition. We can do a lot better. This is but one small step among many more steps we can all take together to be church.” – Geoff Sinibaldo, Facebook, August 8, 2019

More to come.

I invite you to continue to pray for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI and for our voting members from the New England Synod.

Sunday is indeed coming.

PGS

sinibaldo.wordpress.com

Sunday is coming! “Bigger Barns” Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” (Luke 12:15a)

What if this parable is not really about storage?

The challenge in this parable about the rich man and his barns presents itself as an attack against planning, saving, and investing in the future. It is shocking and surprising. Shouldn’t we take steps now to get ready for the future? It seems more ‘foolish’ to us not to be prepared than to be proactive like he is doing.

We have many things to plan for in our lives: uncertainty in the global economy,  school, housing, retirement, etc.  This man seems to be not only successful in his business, but is also someone who has assessed his assets carefully and managed his risks accordingly. Shouldn’t he be commended? Aren’t these things we aspire to ourselves? Why do you think Jesus is giving him such a hard time?

The problem is not our barns. The problem is not our things. The problem is greed.

Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed is like a consuming fire. The more it burns, the more oxygen it takes form the air and the more fuel it burns. Greed suffocates relationships and destroys communities. Greed believes in scarcity, thrives on fear and turns people against one another.

Reading verses 17-19 carefully, the rich man uses the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ a total of ten times. He is neither grateful nor generous but consumed by his greed. He thinks about enjoying his life in the future at the expense of isolating himself now by his need for more. His wealth has become his identity: ‘a rich man’ (notice – he has no other name), and it has led to being cut off from everyone else. In this story, the man has no relationships.

Jesus asks, “What good is all of this stuff if you were to die tonight?” (my paraphrase of Luke 12:20). Jesus could take a good look at us, and ask the same.

A parable like this asks us to reflect upon several questions:

(A new self-storage facility being built)
  1. What is our relationship with our stuff? To what extent do we possess our things and how much do things possess us? How much is too much?
  2. How much have we made our lives about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ rather than others?
  3. What things are you storing? Why? No really…Why? What are you saving it for?
  4. What could it mean to be ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21)?
  5. How might the rich man – find redemption in this parable? How might we?

Remember – Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). For him (and his followers who are slow to catch-on) this is a one way journey. Jesus is going to the cross. He has been inviting people to join his selfless movement of restoration, love, hope and mercy who are willing to say goodbye to their attachments and responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62). He has been sending those who are willing to go out into the community to rely on the hospitality of others and face rejection (Luke 10:1-24). He has been expanding the people’s understanding of ‘neighbor’ to include both any person in need and anyone willing to help (Luke 10:25-37). He has opened himself to those who are willing to receive and follow him (Luke 10:38-42). On a one way journey to the cross Jesus has no need for more storage.  Neither do his followers. His life is being demanded of him – right now. Their lives might be demanded of them soon too. With that reality in mind – what might this parable mean to we who are a lot more settled twenty centuries later?

Perhaps we are not as settled as we think we are.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Teach us to pray” Luke 11:1-4

“Teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

God. Its me.

You are the author of all that is. Are you there? Are you real? Are you listening?

I want to do the right things which I think is what you want me to do. Too often I get in my own way; or in the way of others; or even in your way. Help me turn to you for guidance rather than to my selfishness for answers.

Every day you give us more than we need. I don’t believe it is enough. I worry about what I don’t have or what I might lose. Teach me to be grateful for your abundance. Move me to share. Push me to serve.

Too often I keep grudges. I pick at my scars to keep old wounds open. I carry resentment. I am burdened by shame. I linger in guilt when I should move on. Help me to live burden free. Teach me forgiveness. Heal my pain. Show me how to let go. Create in me a clean heart that overflows with compassion. Cover me with your mercy and peace.

Keep me and my loved ones from trouble. Please stand with me when I am afraid or tired and everything feels lost. Bend my arrogance and pride into trust and confidence in you. Remind me that your never ending love always wins. Amen.

-Do you pray? Why? Or why not?

-Where? When?

-What do you pray for?

-How do you know God is listening?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The one thing that can make all the difference” Luke 10:38-42

“There is only need of one thing.” (Luke 10:42a)

If we are honest, it seems that most of us would probably side with Martha rather than Mary at this dinner party with Jesus. We know well from our lives that there is much work to be done, our calendars keep us busier than we might like to be and we could use all the help we could get. We might even see others with contempt when we do not believe they are pulling their weight like Martha did, complaining that Mary is sitting there lazily while all the tasks rest on her shoulders. We might also roll our eyes in disgust, wondering what Mary was thinking by sitting at Jesus’ feet like that – as though she was one of his male disciples sitting beneath her teacher. Martha probably thought Mary was embarrassing herself by either defying or not understanding her place and neglecting her duties. Martha might have even been a bit jealous wondering why she was stuck providing generous hospitality while her sister got away with just sitting and listening to Jesus. Perhaps Martha secretly wished that she was the one enjoying the company of their house guest instead of her do-nothing sister.

Yet Jesus commended Mary (not Martha) for choosing to do “the better part” (Luke 10:42). Why? I wonder if Jesus’ response has more to do with our attitude than the work that Martha was doing, or the breaking of social mores that Mary was pushing. After all, a good part of following Jesus is hospitality, serving and being attentive to the needs of others from the places we are; whatever our status might be. At the same time Jesus is the constant leveler – showing us again and again our common humanity and worth beyond our social constructs and culturally enforced hierarchical identity roles.

In this scene, Martha is disgruntled, complaining, and resentful. Mary is present and attentive. Martha asks Jesus to make her sister help. How often are our prayers about asking God to make someone else do something rather than change either our perspective or something within ourselves? How does Martha’s complaint contrast with the next passage, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4).

Perhaps Luke is simply showing us what a difference our attitude makes. One can do amazing things, achieve a lot to make people’s lives better, and check all the boxes of what others may expect from us; but if we are bitter about doing it, lack gratitude, humility and/or a servant’s heart – we have missed the joy of being in the presence of Jesus.

Before this dinner party (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); and in doing so was preparing for the difficult times that were coming. He sent his disciples out two by two without any resources – to teach them how to receive kindness from others and remain dependent on God (Luke 10:1-12). They joyfully returned telling their stories, receiving Jesus’ blessing and were eager to do what came next (Luke 10:17-4). In doing so, their community was strengthened and they grew deeper into Christ’s mission. When confronted by a lawyer with the question, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus told a story of man who fell into the hands of robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:30-37)… in the parable Jesus tells, two religious people (who we would expect to help) passed by the injured man, leaving him on the roadside. Jesus did not explain why they did not stop, but is it possible that they are “distracted by many things” just like Martha? Only the Samaritan (the most unlikely scum sucking neighbor possible) was attentive, alert, able and willing to see and help that stranger on the roadside. His heart for others helped restore the injured traveller to health. In the same way, Mary was attentive to Jesus, sitting and listening in her home, while Mary, the Priest and the Levite missed that opportunity without the eyes to see “the one thing” right before them.

There is a lot to be burdened by and distracted by in life. Paying attention, getting over ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or are not doing through comparison to our efforts, remaining thankful and generous, and staying focused on what God is doing right before us can change everything.

In the love that Jesus gives us – we receive others openly with happy hearts in a hospitality that can be shared and enjoyed. The burden of work we need to do feels lighter. People are welcomed and included by our attentiveness to them. Community is strengthened and grow. Then when trouble comes (as it always does); we will all be better equipped to face it together.


Attentiveness is everything.

-What distracts you?

-What resentments are you carrying?

-How might a thankful heart help change how you see others?

-Where in your life could you be more present with people?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The surprise of the scum sucking loser” Luke 10:25-37

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Luke 10:33)

There is an edge to this parable we often overlook in our hearing of it. We have come to know “Good Samaritans” as do-gooders to strangers or as caregivers to those who could otherwise not afford the help they need.

Even in secular society, those with no church connections know what a “Good Samaritan” is. We have “Good Samaritan” laws to protect those who voluntarily help someone in distress or in an emergency. Hospitals, insurance companies and other ministries name their organizations “Good Samaritan” as a familiar way to communicate their mission of helping others. The church I grew up in has a “Good Samaritan” truck that delivers donated furniture to families in need. We equate the term “Good Samaritans” with helpers. Being a “Good Samaritan” is a virtue we strive to teach and grow into as people of faith.

This was not the understanding many of Jesus’ contemporaries had of Samaritans in his time.

Animosity between Jews and Samaritans ran deep in the time of Jesus. Differences in ethnicity, theology, worship, culture, language and geography kept them separate from and suspicious of one another for centuries. Jews traveling from Galilee to Judea (or Judea to Galilee) often would intentionally go the longer way around than take the shorter journey through Samaria just to avoid interaction. The same was true of Samaritans. Samaritans stayed away from Judea too. That a Samaritan was even on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho begs the question, “What was a scum sucking loser like that doing there anyway?”

That a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead on that road by bandits is not a surprise. It was a dangerous road in a desperate time. That the religious people – (a priest and a Levite) didn’t stop to help isn’t that surprising either. Even without the context of who they were and what they represent – think of the countless people we overlook or walk on by for all kinds of reasons.

“But a Samaritan” Jesus says (Luke 10:33).

This scum sucking loser stopped, helped, healed, hosted, empowered, paid, waited and returned.

This Samaritan is the least likely hero because he is a scum sucking loser not be trusted. Not only does he help someone in need, he acknowledges the humanity in “the other” who from his perspective was not to be trusted either. Yet he stopped and acted out of compassion and love rather than fear, blame and prejudice or hate.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says (Luke 10:37).

This story points the lawyer (and us by extension) to ask “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The common response is to encourage us to become better do-gooders who are actively seeking to make the world a better place by paying attention, seeing things anew, stopping, helping and building relationships with those we might otherwise overlook in a world filled with suffering and pain.

This story also pushes us much further than those really important ways of putting our faith into action. It also challenges us to ask what we might learn about our shared humanity from those we despise the most. It was after all, an out of place, far from home, scum sucking loser Samaritan that took the risk to stop on that dangerous road to help his neighbor in need…not anybody respectable we might like or aspire to be.

-Who are you afraid of? Why?

-Wouldn’t it be a great surprise to learn from a Samaritan, not just what to do when we are not sure where to start, but that the person we hate or fear is our neighbor too?

-What if good news kept coming unexpectedly to us through scum sucking losers like that?

-What might Jesus show us about each other as we all travel this road together?

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “The all too familiar wrong mission of the church (a parable)” Luke 10:1-11

“Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3)

[DISCLAIMER – This is a parable – a story about something relatable to tell a wider truth. I’m not looking for a new call.]

After this, the pastor entered the small town to meet with leaders of an insular congregation for a call interview to become their next clergy-person. The church leaders were upfront that the congregation had needs, and the people of the community who were not members of the church had long lost interest in coming to worship with them. The congregation was aging, shrinking, and they had trouble connecting with young families and keeping them involved.

The chairperson said, “Finances are around here tight. People are leaving or dying off. We’ll never have enough to survive and it is probably some of the newer people’s fault... But we are glad you are here; so do what we tell you, don’t change anything, keep your head down, don’t stir-up any trouble, take any stands or create any controversy. We want to be comfortable and for you to make us feel safe. Work twice as hard as the last guy with less resources and unrealistic demands. Not to worry; we’ll blame you if things don’t turn around soon and become better than the glory-days we all remember when the church was full, money was not an issue and we all got along as the best of friends.

“What is this congregation passionate about?” the pastor inquired of them. The response droned on for about forty-five minutes concerning the cracked and faded beige wallpaper in the room in which they were sitting that was pulling up in the corners.

The pastor re-framed the question by asking what kinds of ministries they were doing that they found meaningful, what service opportunities they participated in, what initiatives to make connections in their town outside of the congregation they were pursuing, what ways they were putting their faith into tangible action in the neighborhood and at home, how were they mentoring/disciplining/supporting one another, and a host of other questions. They collectively responded. “We tried all that stuff once. We don’t have money for it now. We told you, we just need someone to take care of us and keep things the same.” The chairperson then went into a long rant of needing to protect the church’s assets; especially the aging building that was also being utilized by outside community groups that met there and messed with their stuff.

The pastor paused and listened.

An eager member broke the awkward silence, “We do have an ‘all are welcome’ sign,” she said, pointing to a rickety sign that was lost behind a million pieces of dated announcements on a bulletin board. She continued, “it is really important we have that sign, so people who look like us, talk like us, dress like us, and think like us will know they can come here and pay our bills.”

The pastor asked, “How many new people has that sign brought in?” Nobody knew the answer, so they stood around and hunched their shoulders looking for the pastor to tell them, “good job on the sign.” They shot each other glances when the pastor said nothing in response they started talking about the wallpaper again.

They spent the better part of three hours together. Not once did anyone offer snacks or refreshments.

“Let’s get down to business” the chairperson of the call committee said, passing the pastor an envelope. Inside was a number that was half the salary this pastor was currently making. The conversation got tense when the pastor told the group that it didn’t sound like they were all that interested in doing ministry. Their mission was to keep their club going. “But we just got new tablecloths for coffee hour!” one member protested. The pastor then explained that based on both the information they had researched prior to meeting and by walking around earlier that day that there were all kinds of interesting new people moving into town, that the game fields were full of activity, there were some cute shops and places to eat on Main Street, there were parks and green spaces to enjoy and that there were real needs of struggling people in the community that this church could address by collaborating with other local organizations to help.

They looked at the pastor with blank stares.

One member handed the pastor an old photo directory full of names and faces of people that had died or moved away or simply lost interest in this congregation. “What are you going to do to get these people to come back?” he said.

It was time for the evening to come to a close.

The pastor gracefully thanked them for their time, and after exchanging other pleasantries headed for the door. On the way home the pastor called the bishop and said that while the town looked really interesting and there was some great potential for ministry there, this congregation was not a place they would like to consider serving. The bishop later got a letter from the call committee complaining that there were no good candidates for pastors anymore and that the congregation was going to cut their mission support completely until a suitable candidate was found to save their church.

PGS

Read Luke 10:1-11.