Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31, 2010 - "A Tree Grows in Jericho"

Luke 19:1-10

Fifty years, or so, before our story, a small seed fell to the ground, took root, endured children and dogs and hot sun and fierce winds, summer drought and the chill of the night … and it grew.
It grew and it grew into a fine sycamore tree … fifty or sixty feet tall … with figs … not a particularly good fig, but good enough … and more than good enough for climbing, with fine, sturdy branches.

The Great God Almighty said, I need me a sycamore tree in Jericho Town … right there, along the thoroughfare.
I need me a tree to help someone.
So I’m gonna plant it now.
It’s takes time to grow a good tree.
So I’ll plant it now.
It’ll be ready when Jesus comes to town.
And a small man wants to see him.
The little man will try to press through the crowds to see my Son, but the crowd doesn’t like the little man who takes their money, and they won’t help him see Jesus.
So, he’s gonna run ahead, because he knows where there’s a good climbin’ tree with strong branches …  a tree in Jericho Town, just down the street … a tree I grew for Zacchaeus … so he can see Jesus.

I think of the million little things that happen in a lifetime … like a small seed falling to the ground.

A million little things … bits and pieces …
Who could ever guess?

Jesus says, Even a sparrow falls to the ground enfolded in the love of the Father … the hairs of our head are numbered …

God is the God of very small things.

A million little things …

A million little things that make all the difference.

It’s said of planet earth, that a few degrees difference makes all the difference … a few degrees closer to the sun, and earth would be too hot … a few degrees further away, earth would be too cold.

A million little things under the watchful eye of God.
Sparrows and seeds, and Zacchaeus, and a tree in Jericho Town.
And you and me.
And the days of our lives.

From the moment of our conception, to our very last breath, we say with the Psalmist, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not lack for green pastures and still waters … the restoration of my soul … and right paths … a table well-set and a cup that overflows.
Even when life takes us to hard places and tough times …
Valleys of dark shadows and the chill of death.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me …
Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

Who is Zacchaeus?
“A wee little man,” children might sing in Sunday School

Small in size, but large in ambition.
Zacchaeus was a rich man.
A tax collector.
Chief tax collector in the region of Jericho.
A collaborator with the enemy.
A friend of the Romans.
A man shunned by his own people.

Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus.
The whole town wants to see Jesus.
The crowds are thick along the roadway.
The little man tries to find a space.
But the crowds don’t give way.
Not for a man like Zacchaeus.

But the little man isn’t deterred.
He runs ahead and climbs a tree.
A tree that’s been waiting for him for 50 or 60 years.
From a seed planted by the Great God Almighty.

The Great God Almighty and a million little things.

A million little things we’ll never know.
Like the little seed that fell to the ground in Jericho Town.
And grew and grew into a mighty fine tree.

When Jesus comes to the tree, he looks up and says to Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today, so come on down; be quick about it. We don’t have much time. We never do. Hurry on down, Zach m’ boy, hurry on down.

Of all the people in town, Jesus makes a fuss about Zacchaeus.
The crowd grumbles.
This Jesus goes to the house of a sinner.

Jesus manages once again to upset the status quo and irritate the people.
Jesus breaks the rules again.
Overturns the tables.
Disregards convention and crosses boundaries.
No only does Jesus welcome everyone.
But in this case, Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home.
Jesus doesn’t ask Zacchaeus to follow him.
Jesus follows Zacchaeus.
Is there any home too far for Jesus?
Any heart too distant for God’s love?

Jesus doesn’t condemn Zacchaeus.
Doesn’t ask him to change a thing.
Just wants to have lunch with him.
To remind the “good people” of Jericho Town that the boundaries they draw are a very poor map of God’s boundaries.

The crowd grumbles.
“What wrong with one of our homes?”
“We’re faithful; we’re good.”
 “We’d be glad to bring out some food and provide some R & R for the day.
“Why Zacchaeus?”
“Of all people, why Zacchaeus?”

But I guess Jesus has something to say.
Something to say about God.

As the hymn puts it,
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.

But the folks in Jericho Town didn’t want God’s mercy to be quite so wide.
Wide enough for them, of course.
But not so wide as to include Zacchaeus.
Gotta draw the line somewhere, right?

I guess it’s human nature.
The mercy of God is always wide enough to include us.
But we all like to put the brakes on God before things get outta hand.
Slow down God. Not so fast.
There are folks here we’re not too sure about.
It’s important for us to have folks out, so that we can feel in.
Strange isn’t it, how this works.

The crowds that day were eager for the things of God – healing and help and encouragement …
But when God shows up, it’s different than what they expect.
A God who is good in ways far and beyond what they want.

In Jericho Town that day, dozens of good families would have been pleased to welcome Jesus into their home.
Dozens of good families, but not one of them is called upon.
Jesus goes home with Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is rightly taken with the moment.
He tells Jesus about his life.
He wants Jesus to understand that he’s a good and decent man.

Is he any different than any of us?
We want to folks to understand us.
We want the world to think well of us.
We choose the best side of our life to show to the world.
Might even make a few big promises now and then.

Zacchaeus makes some mighty big promises.
I’ll repay.
I’m compensate.
I’ll give back whatever I’ve taken, and then some.

At this point in the story, we might expect Jesus to say, “That’s really good Zacchaeus; you do that, and keep up the good work.”

But here’s one of the small things in the story.

Jesus ignores what Zacchaeus says, because Jesus knows that promises made in the heat of the moment are hard to keep.

In the heat of the moment, folks promise to be missionaries and preachers and go to church and mow their lawn and pay their taxes and never burn the mashed potatoes again.
But promises made in the heat of the moment – for love or money – are hard to keep.

Jesus knows that, and so do we.
Jesus knew that in the morning, Zacchaeus might well have what realtors call “Buyer’s Remorse.”

In the morning, the promises look a little more daunting then they did the night before.
“Those house payments are more than we want to make.”
“The house looked good, but now that we’ve had a chance to think about it, it may not be possible.”
“Buyer’s Remorse,” it’s called.

So Jesus doesn’t go to the promises that Zacchaeus makes.
Jesus speaks directly to Zacchaeus to assure him that the love of God is very wide: Salvation has come to this house …
That’s the story morning glory!
Irrespective of who you are and what you promise.

Because salvation is never energized by what we do or compromised by what we fail to do.
Salvation is energized by God.
By God’s love for all of us.
A free gift.
And we call it grace.

Paul the apostle says it well:
God chose us in Christ,
Before the foundation of the world.
God chose all of us.
Including Zacchaeus.
Because there’s plenty of room at the foot of the cross.

That night, I wonder, what was the buzz in Jericho Town.
Did anyone have second thoughts about their values?
About the little man they didn’t like?
The boundaries they draw?
The world as they think it is?
About Jesus who says, This is what God is like!”
What was the buzz that night in Jericho Town.
What’s the buzz in my heart right now?
What’s the buzz in yours?

For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.

To God be the glory.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24, 2010 - "Showdown in the Temple"

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus is a realist.
Jesus knows what can happen to the best of us.
Jesus knows full well that “being good” can be bad.

Have you ever thought about that?
Being good can be bad…?

Jesus tells a story to those who are “confident” in their own goodness.
Because Jesus knows that goodness can be bad.
Goodness can take a wrong turn.

On that day in the temple, says Jesus, a showdown.
Two men.
One obviously good by all the standards of the day.
One not so good, by all the standards of the day.

The religious leader - well-educated man, good and decent.
The tax collector - a collaborator with the enemy, a quisling … tax collectors were employed by Rome to raise money … how much they raised was up to the tax collector, whatever the market would bear, as long as Rome got its share, the tax collector could keep the rest.
It was a cozy deal for the tax collector who had Roman soldiers standing nearby to strong-arm anyone who didn’t want to pay.
The tax collector was a collaborator with the enemy.

Of these two, which would you prefer to have as your neighbor?
Of course, the religious leader.
We probably wouldn’t like him all that much, and he probably wouldn’t like us either, but he’d keep his lawn mowed and his children quiet.
But let’s push on …

That day in the temple, two men.
The religious leader stood alone!
And he prayed:
God, I thank you that I’m not like others – not like that tax collector over there.

The tax collector stood alone, too, off at a distance … not even looking up to heaven, beating his breast, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Of the two men in the temple,
One claims superior status; the other claims nothing.
One thinks he has everything.
The other knows he has nothing.
That day, says Jesus, The tax collector goes home right with God.

Because of a simple truth:
All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The religious leader failed to realize that whatever he was, and whatever he possessed, it was all from God.
He failed to recognize the source of his goodness.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life [Ephesians 2:8-10].

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures [James 1:17-18].

All good things in this life are from God.
The good works we do.
Even our faith in God.
Pure gift.
Given without strings.
Freely given as God determines.
A bounteous rain, falling upon the good and the bad alike.
For there is no partiality in God.
No favoritism.
Just an outpouring of goodness and grace.
For God so loves the world.

The religious leader prays.
That’s a good thing.
But of all the prayers in the Bible, this one prayer is never repeated in the liturgies of the church.
I don’t think a Sunday School teacher has ever taught the students to pray, Thank you LORD that I’m not like other people.
Yet, I wonder, how many times has this prayer been repeated in our hearts, in some form or fashion.

For years, I carried a little paperback Bible in my car, and when I stopped for a light, I would pick it up and read a few verses.
One morning, on my way to church, at a light, I picked up the Bible and was reading.
In the car next to me, a seedy looking guy, cigarette dangling out of his mouth, long hair, loud music, and for one fleeting moment, I thought to myself, “What a good little Christian boy I am, a whole lot better than that clod next to me.”

In that moment, I forgot!
I forgot that it’s all from God.
In that moment, I exalted myself.

Whatever goodness any of us possess.
It’s all from God:
The Father of Lights, as James says.
The Father who bestows upon us the good works – good works prepared before hand, given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s be clear.
The religious leader was good.
Very good.
The tax collector was bad.
Maybe even very bad.

But that day, only the tax collector went home right with God.

It’s a good story for all of us.
Because most of here are good.
Really good.
We give and we serve.
We love Christ and obey the commandments.
We volunteer and make this a better world.
We’re really good.

But Jesus reminds us.
Remember who you are.
You are not self-made.
You didn’t choose me. I choose you!

We are made by God.
And the good we have, and the good we do, is all from God.
To God be the glory is always the story!

How different that day in the temple might have been.
If the religious leader could have looked upon the tax collector with kindness, and offered a humble prayer of thanksgiving, There, but by the grace of God, go I.

Maybe we all need a good dose now and then of Garrison Keillor’s Lutheran humility … to keep things in perspective, and look upon others with a kindly eye.

Perhaps the religious leader might have gone over to the tax collector … put an arm around him and wept together for the difficult days in which they lived …
The religious leader might have said, I see you’re having a bad time of it … but I’m glad you’re here. We’re both sinners saved by grace.

Karl Barth says we’re all sinners … even if we’re moral and devout, we’re only “moral and devout sinners,” still in need of grace. [Ethics, p.343].

As Martin Luther put it: “We’re all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.”

In the relationship of God with us, it is always God who is the Giver, and we who receive [C. Leslie Mittton, James commentary, p.55].

All the good things of life and faith are from the Father’s hand.
The kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit.
Faith, hope and love.
Grace, mercy and peace.
All are gifts from the hand of God.

Maybe you’re wondering, “So what?”
“What’s the value here?”
But have you ever worried about your faith?
Especially in a bad time?
Have you ever wondered: “Will my faith survive?”
Have you ever feared losing you faith in tough times?
Have you ever been afraid of voicing your doubt, your unbelief?

Over the years, people have said to me, “I worry about my faith.”
“I worry about losing my faith.”

But the glorious reality is this:
We don’t have to worry about keeping our faith, or losing it.
Faith is God’s business.
And what God gives to us God preserves.
What God creates in our life, God will see it through to the very end, and then some.
Our faith in God is God’s faith in us.
Faith may take a lot of hits, faith may bleed, as Jesus did on the cross, but faith never goes away, and we can never lose it. Beat it, kill it, bury it … but on the third day, God rolls the stone away … and faith is born again!

We need never worry about our faith in tough times ... it wavers, it changes, but faith is God’s business, and what God has started in our life, God will finish, and finish just fine.

If we needn’t worry about our faith in hard times, then we can’t boast about it in good times.
Because faith is always God’s business.

So the next time I’m in my car thinking high and holy thoughts about God, and someone pulls up next to me who is not likely to be thinking of God, I’ll not engage in comparison. I’ll not exalt myself, nor put anyone else down.
I’ll remember that faith is God’s business, not mine.

To be glad to be thinking of God, and not wondering what anyone else is thinking about.
And maybe we can be a blessing to someone today.

And the person next to us?
Who knows what sorrows they carry in their heart.
What burdens they bear.
Just like you and me.
Trying hard to make something of life.
So who are we to every judge the other?

And by the way, if the religious leader made the mistake of thanking God that he was not like others, let’s not make the mistake of praying: “God, I thank you I’m not like the religious leader.”

To look upon one another, even the religious leader of our story, with kindness, generosity and hope … hope that we all can be a little better today than we were yesterday, and that tomorrow morning, our hearts will be a little bigger with God’s love and our thoughts a little kinder toward one another.

To breath a simple prayer at the end of the day:
LORD, I’m grateful that you made me to be me.
I claim nothing, O God, for myself.
When I thought about you today, it was only because you were thinking about me.
Whatever goodness I have, comes from your heart to mine.
Whatever kindness I gave today, I was only passing it on from you.
Whatever truth I know, you taught me.
Whatever strength I have, you gave me.
Whatever faith I have in you, it’s only because you have faith in me.
Help me, dear God, to be good.
Good for others, and good for you.
And, dear God, when I’m not good, forgive me.
And when I am good, help me to keep my head on straight.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10, 2010 - "The Tenth Leper"

Luke 17:11-19

Prayer is a part of everyone’s life, in some form or fashion … I came across this prayer a few days ago … I think you’ll find it helpful:

Dear God, so far today, I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish, and I’m really glad of that!
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’ll probably need a lot of help.
Thank you! Amen.

I’m sure the ten lepers prayed a lot …
But here they were, outcasts … on the boarder between Samaria and Galilee.
Ten lepers, nine of whom were Jews from Galilee and one Samaritan.
All descendants of Abraham, but they didn’t get along very well.
They were kissin’ cousins who didn’t kiss anymore.
No love lost between ‘em.

But disease cut ‘em all down to size.
Ten lepers.
Galilean or Samaritan, it’s the disease that made them a band of brothers now.
Shunned and despised by their own.
Condemned to a life of loneliness and misery.
Hanging together on the border.
Begging beside the road.
Seeking shelter in the heat of the day.
Trying to stay warm at night.
Stealing a goat now and then and maybe a skin of wine.
Even a leper likes a good dinner when they can get it.

When Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, he heads south from Galilee to the border region with Samaria, and then eastward to the Jordan River Valley, to head south again to Jericho, and then from Jericho up to Jerusalem in the highlands.

In the border region, ten lepers.
Standing at a distance.
That’s what the law required.
Keep your distance.
Stand back.

They cried out, Jesus, master, have mercy on us.

How did they know it was Jesus?
Luke doesn’t tell us.

But word gets around.
Jesus was a well-known rabbi.
Lots of friends, and enemies in high places.
Folks were keeping an eye on him.
Which was easy enough to do; Jesus made no effort to hide from the eyes of the authorities.
He said what he did, and he did what he said.
To proclaim the kingdom of God.
God is at hand.
Life can be different.
But we have to want it.
And want it bad enough.
And if ya’ mean it, then pray like this when ya’ pray:
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth.
As it is in heaven.

So the word was out.
Jesus was heading south.
To Jerusalem.
The religious heart of Israel.
The fabled city of David.
A city set on a hill.
And on the pinnacle of the hill, the Temple.
And its Holy of Holies.
Thousands of priests and Levites, musicians and attendants.
Sacrifices and burnt offerings, the smoke rising high above the city.
The temple offering pouring in from all over the empire.
Tourists all the time.

When Jesus said, I’m going to Jerusalem.
People sat up and paid attention.
This could get good.
It might go down bad.
This rebel rabbi and the Jerusalem establishment.
Toe-to-toe in the Temple Courtyard and on the streets.

The word was out.
Jesus is heading south.
Folks knew what was happening.
Jesus traveled with a group.
His closest disciples and who knows how many others.

So it didn’t take much for the ten lepers to figure things out.
That’s the rabbi I was telling you about.
Here he comes.
Maybe he can do something.
I’ve heard tell that he can heal.

When Jesus sees them, he tells them simply: Go and show yourselves to the priests.

The priests were the learned ones of the day.
They were charged with the care of the community.
The priests made the diagnosis.
If it was leprosy, the patient was declared unclean and sent away.
A person might be declared clean again, only with the priest’s permission.

The text is sparse on detail.
It simply says, on their way, they were made clean.

Then, one of them,
When he saw that he was healed,
Turned back,
Praising God with a loud voice.
He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet,
And thanked him.
And he was a Samaritan.

Jesus rightly asks:
Were there not ten made clean?
Where are they?
What! Only a foreigner figures it out?

To the Samaritan at his feet, Jesus says:
Get up and go on your way.
Your faith has made you well.

Luke tells the story with a bit of wink.
What? Only this foreigner gets it?
Yes, only the foreigner.

Foreigners figure prominently in Luke’s Gospel.

When Jesus preaches in his hometown, everyone is impressed with his good words, until Jesus reminds the hometown crowd that God’s love has a very wide target.
Jesus preaches about a time in Israel when there was a severe famine in the land, but God sends Elijah to feed a widow in Sidon – a foreigner.
And then Jesus preaches about Elisha in a time when many in Israel were afflicted with leprosy, yet none of them were cleansed … only Namaan the Syrian, a foreigner.
By the time Jesus is done preaching, the hometown crowd is up in arms, seething with anger.
What’s all this talk about foreigners?
What do you mean by this?
What are you trying to tell us?

So they grab Jesus and drag him to the edge of a cliff.
We’re gonna put a stop to this nonsense right away.
No more talk about the love of God for foreigners.
We don’t like foreigners.
We don’t like the way they worship.
We don’t like what they eat.
We don’t like how they dress.
And we can’t understand their language, and when they try to talk our language, they talk funny.

Throw him off the cliff.
Do it now.
Enough of this.
But Jesus slipped through the crowd and went on his way.
To preach for a few more years.

To remind people that God’s love is really big.
Big enough for the whole world.
Big enough for everyone.
In the kingdom of God, there are no strangers.
For the love of God, there are no foreigners.

Like the parable of the sower, the love of God is scattered about, near and far.
By the handful.
Seed flying here and there, seed flying everywhere.
God never runs out of seed.
God’s love is without limit.
Without condition.
No questions asked.
Day in and day out, the love of God at work.
At work in all things, for good.

All ten lepers are healed.

Can you imagine how eager they were?
Eager to get to the priests.
Eager to hear the words:
“You’re clean … you can return home now … to your wife, your children … friends and work … welcome back to your life!”
Who wouldn’t be in a hurry on this one?

But one of them sees what’s happened.
Really sees it.
Turns back before seeing the priest.
Before anything else.
Turns to Jesus.

To say Thank you!

I wonder what it felt like for him to leave his companions.
How long had they been together?
This band of brothers.
Begging for handouts.
Scorned and alone.

I wonder what the others said to him as he turned back.
Maybe they thought nothing of it.
After all, he is only a Samaritan.

Freed of their disease, they were free to return to their old habits and patterns.
Jews and Samaritans didn’t hang around together.
Free of the disease, a parting of the ways.
No need to linger on the boundaries.
They returned home.
Nine to Galilee.
One to Samaria.

The thrust of the story is simple.
Only the foreigner really has it figured out.
Where are the other nine?
These Galileans.
I’m one of them, and I just gave them their life back.
But only the foreigner returns to say thanks.

Every nation has its foreigners.
But who’s the foreigner?
Who’s the stranger?
Here in the states, someone from Greece is a foreigner.
But when we visit Athens, we’re the foreigner.

It’s a problem.
How do we deal with the foreigner?
Ancient Israel couldn’t get it figured out.
Foreigners were mostly unwelcome.
Except as slaves.
Yet one of the greatest stories ever told is about a foreigner, and her name is Ruth.
When Solomon dedicates the temple, he prays to the LORD on behalf of foreigners who may come to the temple for prayer, that the LORD will hear their prayers.
The prophet Isaiah says of the stranger: Don’t say you’re a stranger here, because you are not a stranger in the house of God [Isaiah 56].
But Ezekiel says, If you’re a foreigner and uncircumcised, stay outta the temple [Ezekiel 49].

Israel didn’t know how to deal with foreigners.
And I guess we don’t either.
Nations have boundaries.
Passport controls and fences.
Every nation does it pretty much the same way.

Germany is trying to figure out what to do with Turkish immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.
France is trying to figure out what to do with the Romas.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t know how to deal with all the foreign workers from India.
And only in recent years has it become possible for a foreigner to apply for Japanese citizenship.
It’s a strange business, to say the least.

Here in the States, as well:
Arizona passes tough laws to stop and question people suspected of being here illegally, and yet Arizona leads the nation in welcoming political refugees from dangerous areas of the world … Arizona is now home to folks from all over the world, including Somalia, Bosnia, Myanmar and the Sudan.
Go figure.
A candidate for governor fires a housekeeper after nine years employment when she finds out the lady is here without papers.
In 1882, we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act – a ten-year moratorium on Chinese immigration and strict requirements on those already here.
In the late 1800s, Irish Catholic immigrants pouring into Boston and New York were the object of scorn and mistrust, because they were going to give the country away to the Pope … and we heard all of that again when John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency.
And in turn, the Italians and the Puerto Ricans went after one another – a tale told bitterly in the musical, “Westside Story.”
When France criticized our invasion of Iraq, it was no longer French Fries, but Freedom Fries.

These days, lots of fear and mistrust about the foreigner.
Most likely someone from Mexico.
Or from the Middle East.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from a France, says on its pedestal:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Words written by a Jewish American woman, Emma Lazarus.

Foreigners are always a problem.
Yet we might learn something from the Tenth Leper.

The stranger gets it right; the hometown crowd blows it.

After all, Deuteronomy [10:11] says:
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

We all strangers to the love of God.
We’re all foreigners and aliens.
Paul calls us enemies of God.
Because our sin has driven far from the gates of God.

But God loves the stranger.
God loves the foreigner.
God loves the enemy.

There are no easy answer, but these days, when talk about “foreigners” turns dark, we do well to remember the love of God, and the foreigner, who got it right.

The Tenth Leper who said thanks.

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October 3, 2010 - "A Curious Freedom"

Luke 17:1-10

Good Morning Covenant Presbyterian Church …

Covenant on the Corner …
Strong in the things of God.
Faithful to Christ.

Our text this morning is loaded …

Let’s get right to it and see what we have.

Jesus says to his disciples, Be on your guard.

For what?
The ways we hurt one another.
Sins of omission and sins of commission …
The good we’ve failed to do.
The evil we have done.

We have to read today’s lesson in the light of the story from last week, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The rich man failed to do anything good for Lazarus at the gate …
Because he was rich?
Heaven’s no.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wealth …
Wealth is a gift from God.
Pure, plain and simple.
It’s all from God.

But it’s easy for us to love the gifts of God even as we forget the LORD our God who gives them to us.

Moses says to the people of Israel:
When the LORD your God has brought you into the land promised to your ancestors … a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery [Deuteronomy 6:10-12].

The problem isn’t money, but our vulnerability to love the wrong things …
And when we love the wrongs things, everything else goes wrong, too.

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
For we brought nothing into the world,
So that we can take nothing out of it.
But if we have food and clothing,
We will be content with these.
But those who want to be rich
Fall into temptation and are trapped
By many senseless and harmful desires
That plunge people into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,
And in their eagerness to be rich some have
Wandered away from the faith and pierced
Themselves with many pains [1 Timothy 6:6-10]

The Rich Man hurt Lazarus, because the Rich Man ignored him.

The sin of omission: the good we fail to do.

Jesus gets real serious about all of this: It would be better for a millstone to be hung around your neck, and for you to be thrown into the sea, than for you to hurt one of the little ones.

And who are the little ones?

Folks like Lazarus.
The widow, the orphan and the alien.
Anyone who’s vulnerable.
In the Gospel of Luke:
The lost sheep …
The lost coin …
The lost boy …

The poor and the crippled …
The blind and the lame …
Sinners and tax collectors …

Jesus says, It would be better for you to never live at all than to live without compassion, to live without regard for the little ones.

Be on your guard, says Jesus.

Jesus then teaches about forgiveness.

If something is wrong, say so.
Of course!
Speak up.
Speak out.
But if there’s repentance, then forgive.
And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times, and repents, you must forgive.

Because forgiveness is freedom.
Freedom from the power of the other.
Whatever they’re done, whatever they’ve said.
Forgiveness is the declaration of freedom.
That we’re not tied to the behavior of others.
That whatever Susie said to us twenty years ago, or what Sam did to us last week, our lives are not determined by any of it.
So we forgive, and pretty soon we find that we’ve also mostly forgotten.

And if you say to Jesus, But what if they don’t repent?
What if they don’t say, ‘I’m sorry!” Then what!

Jesus turns to us and says:
Dear friend,
Listen to how I died on the cross.
Listen to my words as I die!
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

If Jesus had died with bitterness and resentment in his spirit, it would have just been another death.
If Jesus had died full of anger about the nails in his flesh and the crown of thorns on his head, his death would have been without merit.

In order for his death to have meaning,
Jesus had to unshackle himself from the darkness.
Jesus had to free himself from anger and ill-will.
And he did it by giving it all to God!

Forgiveness, even when no one asks for it, is our ticket to freedom.
Freedom from an embittered soul.
Freedom to find peace with our lot in life.
To trust God in all things.
To live and die in grace.

Well, by now, we’re probably all thinking what the disciples were thinking:
Good God, this is a tall order.
You’re asking us to be on guard.
To be mindful of the little ones.
To pay attention.
To do good.
And on top of that, to forgive.
And forgive a lot.
Good God, that’s a lot to ask.

Increase our faith!
If only we had more faith.
If only our faith were stronger.

But hear the word of the LORD, dear friends!
You already have more than enough faith.
Doesn’t take much at all.
Mustard seed faith.
The tiniest amount of faith can uproot and replant trees.

What is Jesus doing?

He’s reminding us of a great spiritual danger.
Excusing ourselves because “OUR faith isn’t big enough.”
And then we turn around and blame God, because God didn’t answer our prayer and make our faith bigger and stronger.

Jesus says to us, Baloney!
Don’t do that to yourselves.
Don’t do that to God.
And don’t do that to the little ones.
The little ones who are waiting for you.
Waiting for you to act.
Don’t let yourself off the hook so easily.
Don’t excuse yourselves for want of “big” faith.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t blame God.
Because God has already given you what’s needed.

You already have what it takes, and then some.
You’re strong enough.
You’re good enough.
You know enough.
You can do it.

You see, this isn’t about faith.
It’s about self-confidence.

Confidence in who we are, and how God made us.

God can do a lot of things, and God does a lot of things, but God can’t do everything … and God can’t, and won’t, do anything about our self-confidence.
What should God do?
Say a few magic words?
Then what?
It wouldn’t be our self-confidence any longer.

There’s no greater gift than our freedom to think, to weigh alternatives, to learn from experience and learn from others, and then decide, to act!
I think sometimes we’d like God to take us off the hook of our own humanity, and decide and act for us.
But were God to do that, our humanity would disappear.
Our humanity is bound up in our freedoms to think, choose and act … and often we have to act with courage.
You see, self-confidence is up to us.
We already have the necessary faith.
God has done God’s part.
The rest is up to us!

God says:
Take a chance now and then.
You’ll be surprised at your capacities.
Your gifts and abilities are more than enough.
You certainly don’t need MORE faith.
Put to use what you have.

As our text moves along, Jesus changes course again.
Like a meandering river.
All over the place … with many thoughts.

Jesus ends this teaching moment with an illustration about good attitude.
Jesus uses the image of a servant, coming in from the fields, hot and tired.
But there’s no rest for the weary.
There’s more to be done.
And when it’s done, and done well, don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.

Jesus knows full well that self-congratulations is the bane of the soul.
The Little Jack Horner syndrome:
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie,
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum
And said "What a good boy am I!"

A good attitude is often heard from people who’ve done heroic deeds: “I was only doing my job,” they say.

That’s the attitude.
Were we kind today? “Just doin’ m’ job!”
Did we stop for the panhandler on the corner and give him a smile and buck? “Just doin’ m’ job!”
Did we join a justice campaign? “Just doin’ m’ job?”
Did we talk to a friend about faith and hope? “Just doin’ my job!”

Did we pray today?
Did we read our Bibles?
Did we help someone?
Did we raise good questions at work?
“Just doin’ m’ job!”

Whatever needs to be done, it’s our job.
That’s why we’re here.
Not for glory or recognition.
Rewards or prizes.

Great stuff to be sure!
Who doesn’t like to be recognized?
And if recognition comes, God be praised.

But keep it all in balance.
Keep it in check.
We have only done what was needed.
We have only done our job.

And that’s the curious freedom Jesus offers to us:
Freedom to live wisely and compassionately.
Freedom to forgive, and forgive a lot.
Freedom to have self-confidence.
Freedom to live and work, and do the job well.

A curious kind of freedom.

Amen and Amen!