Monday, September 30, 2013

Dogs, fine line, and Chasms

Luke 16:19-31
Usually, we’d begin looking at this text by investigating the context and the verses surrounding the story. We may still do that, but first, I want to know how you feel.

Because I really want to know how EVERYONE feels, (not just those brave enough to speak up in worship) I ask that you Break into groups of 3 or 4.
You’ve heard the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the story of their GREAT REVERSALS of fortunes, now 
You tell each other how you feel after hearing them.

Stay in your groups if you would. I’d like to aggregate what we hear, but you may want to compare what you heard among your small group.

What feelings did you identify?

There are many contrasts and reversals. Of course the change in circumstances after death of the two men, the unnamed rich man and Lazarus is remarkable.
1. Unnamed/Rich Named/Poor/ Lazarus
2. Dressed: in purple Dressed: in sores
3. Meals: Feasts sumptously Longs for scraps
4. Both Die (great equalizer)
5. Proper burial Carried away by angels
6. Torment Reclining at table in Abraham’s circle

In the end, Lazarus is looking down from heaven and the former Rich Man is looking up...and begging.

Did you Notice? The story doesn’t say the Rich Man is evil or inherintly wicked because he is wealthy. He is depicted as living as the well-to-do customarily do, admired and envied by all.

Nor does he, (as one commentator put it) “nor does he sponsor legislation to rid the gates of poor peole like Lazarus.”

. . .
He Just . Doesn’t . Notice . Lazarus! . . He doesn’t even see him.

The chasm that divides them in life is like a cloak of invisibility that the poor wear.

 This is not a documentary, it’s a story. Yet Jesus told it to challenge everyone who hears it to ask some questions of ourselves.

What questions come to you?
. . .
A noticed a different kind of identification with a SPECIFIC poor man named Lazarus and a SPECIFIC Rich Man, rather than just the words we often hear about caring for the poor, orphans and widows. 

A scholar point out that, “Rich and poor are not left a vague generalities but are depicted as two men, one inside the gate of abundance and one outside.”(4)

They are close in proximity but one is invisible to the other. . Even in death the Rich Man speaks of Lazarus in the 3rd person, directing him thru Abraham to serve him.

There are some things in this story that really don’t relate to our lives. 
Let’s point out what is different from our day...(what are they?)
Language; some of your translations say bosom of Abraham rather than at his side. We also don’t typically think of ending up with Abraham. But Jesus’ is a Jew, remember and the father of all Jews is Abraham. So reclining at meal with him puts one in Abraham’s closest circle, intimately known. What else?
Dogs, not pets but wild and dangerous scavengers
Heaven and Hell/ well perhaps we all have different ideas of those.
Purple - then, the wearing of purple was regulated by law,and how much one wore indicated their status in the Roman system.

Feasting - we eat well, and we eat every day. But here, Feasting is much more elaborate (than even a COB Potluck) and Doing so EVERY DAY, contrasted to many listeners who might not eat every day, or not more than once/day.

In what ways DOES this story relate to our lives? Where are the similarities?
We have poor, who beg, lay outside, 
We have gated communities, elaborately rich..those who can and do throw money around, flaunting it.
If today, I’m sure the size of the house/mansion would be mentioned and the number and types of vehicles in the driveway.

With differences and similarities, we are aware of the poor. Even if we live in a neighborhood where poor are less visible than places where people sleep on Metro grates, we see poor people on TV, we know where people are hungry behind the outer walls of a home.

And we know about global suffering. . And just maybe...we are better than ever at ignoring it. 
As if there existed a Chasm that we can barely see across.

Actually we do know about a great chasm; the ‘ever-widening gap between rich and poor’.  We hear about it, we may even feel it, and mostly we may feel we can’t do anything about it.

Maybe we don’t have the power to do any more than METHPHORICALLY throw a few shovelfulls of dirt or handfulls of money into the Great Divide in an attempt to fill it, . . .but do we ever think about crossing it?

Maybe we get used to being voyeurs, watching only from the other side of the chasm. One person said, ‘the more we see, the more we get accustomed to being observers and the more impotent we are to act.’

Yet Jesus’ story seems to say, “if we do not cross the divide in this life, we won’t be able to in the next one.” (3)

. . .
Even when we recognize this chasm/divide
We seldom know what to do. 
Is it different when the indefined poor are someone you know by name?
When we really see an individual, what do we feel then?
And what do we do?

Can we interupt the cycle of observing, feeling bad, and then insulating ourselves from feeling anything more because of our inability to FIX the problem?

What might we do to interupt our tendency to turn away?

Young woman from Germany, serving as volunteer. No money to give but when someone, we’d call a ‘street-person’ greeted her, she responded hello. Looked him in the eye and continued the conversation. His response?
He thanked her for speaking to him, for acknowledging his presence, for seeing him.
. . 
I guess he spends most of his day invisible to the rest of us, separated by a great divide. 
(perhaps even the company of dogs was better for Lazarus than being ignored by fellow humans...)

 I began today by asking, ‘what did you feel?’

As one who likes to disregard her feelings, I’m asking us to promise each other to be a communal reminder that our feelings CAN call us back to our shared humanity.

When we see someone, get to know their name, we do what we can. - whatever small thing that is.

Even if we can’t fix ALL poverty, we can help the person at our gates, whomever it is, with something as simple as a hello, or a meal.
We HAVE done that as a community! 
And we we did, our perception of what causes poverty and how one can get out of it, became a complicated as our feelings about what we should do.

We can continue to walk across the great divide and support each other in doing so. (Walk across using the buddy system to help give us the courage we need.)

So we will SEE people --whether poor or begging-- as PEOPLE, not as circumstances to blame, but humans in need. Most of all treating ‘Lazarus’ in whatever form he appears as a brother, a sister, an equal human being. 

We CAN do something more than just ‘feel bad’. 

And if you will help ME to do this, I will help you. Together we can move from feeling helpless to being powerful workers and advocates for Jesus’-style justice...

And we will become more human than ever.. 
And maybe we’ll even build a bridge across that chasm.


1 Charloes Cousar Feasting On The Word - exegetical, Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville:WJK,2010)117
2 Boring and Craddock  People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)244
3 Cousar p.119
4 Scott Badee-Saye Feasting p.118
5 Boring and Craddock People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)241

6 ibid p. 118
7 G. Penny Nixon Feasting Homelitical p. 119

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Does Peace Look Like To You?

Pseudo-Paul is advising young Timothy again in this letter we return to today. Yet we find the advice relevant not only to our time but to today, the day after the International Day of Prayer for Peace.

Praying and peace go together the author says.
I think we’d agree, if only because it sometimes seems praying is all we can do for peace.      I don’t think this advice means, “When all else fails, pray.” I hear very specific instructions.

What do you hear? 

Which do you find harder to do, pray for ALL people or ‘kings’ and those in authority?

Christian Eberhart points out that the author of this advice uses FOUR nuanced words for prayer.
One is an appeal for a particular need - δεη`σεις which we read “supplications”
Another is a general word that occurs in petitions - προσε`υχας
Then there is one for an URGENT and BOLD request - `εντευ`ζες
The last is an Expression of gratitude - ευ`χαριστι`ας

Which do you think of for prayer? the way defined?

This Advice-Giver says we are to use ALL imaginable forms of prayer.1

Now our prayers are starting to sound more like work than what we do when we can’t do anything else. Eberhart also reminds us that praying for leadership then and now is different, yet no less commanded. & Certainly no less necessary.

THEN:  Emperor worship didn’t begin in Roman empire until Julius Caesar replaced their elected consuls with single Emperor rule. After his assassination, he was proclaimed ‘DIVINE’ and thus began the worship of the Emperor, aka Divine Cult.

By 1st century, Emperor worship had become one thing that unified the diversity found in the many nations conquered by Rome. It was a stabilizing force. We may not agree with the Roman idea of ‘peace’ but this was part of it.
SO, for our Advice-Giver to command prayer FOR the emperor rather than TO the emperor was more radical than this verse sounds. He is implying that the Emperor is NOT divine but dependent on the guidance and mercy of everyone else.2

NOW: certainly praying TO the emperor was more than a problem for 1st century Christians.
What do you find hard about praying FOR our leaders today?

I read Jane Ferguson recall that for many American Christians, we’ve lived a quiet and peaceable life for too long. She says if we lived in real dignity according to Christ, we’d be far from peaceable in the traditional sense and would be turning society upside-down.3

“Praying for ALL “calls us to consider the radical implications of sharing God’s desire for the salvation of ALL.”4

Let’s let God guide us right now in defining PRAYER for ALL in terms of what we’ve heard.
How should we pray?
SLIDE click in list.
1. For particular needs
2. With BOLD requests
3. With Thanksgiving

If we begin to pray in this way, God stretches us to pray for our enemies and those we know personally and dislike.

Is it ever hard?
    Anna Hooker story: Sunday after 9/11, when the Education Minister was scheduled to her 2nd year of seminary...a bit uncertain of herself!
    Prayer concerns for 9/11 victims, with mentions of those people in PW county who were known to the congregation.
Anna stands up and says, “Don’t forget to pray for the people who hijacked the planes!”There was complete QUIET!
Some might say it was too soon. But it wasn’t, she was right! We ARE to pray for our ‘enemies’ - known and unknown, even when it’s hard.

    There’s a prayer in Prayers for Planetary Pilgrims
“Caught between pain and pardon, I wish to choose Jesus' way of pardon. . He prayed the impossible prayer, This prayer is one I now desire to make my own, “Father, forgive him, her, them, for they know not what they do.”
And it ends,
“O Infinite Sea of Mercy, make this unworthy servant the channel of your gift of pardon, that I also may be healed as your forgiveness passes through me to others.”5

What happens to us when we pray this way?

I believe God can make us able to pray this way if we can try, if we ask for help.

It begins when we pray with thanksgiving.

Have you every felt such gratitude that it spilled over to those around you?

There’s another story of Rostropovich, who had been exiled from the Soviet Union in 1970 and stripped of his citizenship for expressing his support for artistic freedom. He was a cellist. And when he played a concert in Chicago, mesmerizing the audience, he stood up at the end and kissed his cello. Then he hugged and kissed the surprised conductor and then the cello section and almost everyone in the orchestra.
That's living GRATITUDE6 until it spills over.

Then how shall we pray?
    With bold requests?
        With specific requests.
           For friends, for enemies
        Even for those we have to ask God’s help to even include in our prayers.

All this is the real WORK of prayer.
Prayer like this is how we come to love like Jesus.
    Early Church Father, John Chrysostom wrote, “No one can feel hared towards those for who he prays.”

Can their be any better way to Work for Peace then to Pray for Peace?

Let us begin this work of peace-making by peace-praying today.

Here you see 13 candles surrounding the candle of peace.
Setting up such a number of candles brings home the fact that each one represents a life taken by violence and yes, One candle is for the shooter.

There are numerous more candles to be lit.

1 and above list Christian A. Eberhart 9/22/13 1 Tim. 2:1-7
2 ibid Eberhart
3 Jane Anne Ferguson, pastoral, Feasting on the word Yr. C, Bartlett, Taylor, eds (Louisville:WJK,2010)88
4 ibid 88
5 both quotes Edward Hays Prayers for A Planetary Pilgrim (Leavenworth:Forest of Peace Pub, 1989) 176
6 Wm. ‘Matt’ Matthew quoting John Buchanan Feasting on the world Yr. c, homiletical. P. 89


Saturday, September 7, 2013

How High Can We Count?

Luke 14:25-35
Do you ever wonder if Jesus had really bad days?
    Maybe the kind of days where we would say, “I woke up on the wrong side of bed?”

There is no easy way to hear the words from today’s chapter of Luke. We always look at the context to help understand Jesus. Unfortunately the words just before and after aren’t any lighter.

We do know that Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem. . .that he has ‘set his face’ to Jerusalem. Meaning that he is determined to go and face whatever may await him there. AND we know that he is quite aware the trip will most likely mean his death.

The expectation of death, or martyrdom?, and his personal determination may in itself explain his dire words. Certainly, it is appropriate for would-be disciples to first meet the conditions for discipleship.1

But did THEY...and do WE?...really have to HATE our families? . .

    . . .We believe Jesus is using familiar semitic hyperbole that exaggerates contrast so that it can be seen more clearly.2
Also the word translated as ‘hate’ doesn’t mean anger, as in our affective emotion, but means that when there is conflict, Jesus’ followers must disavowal their family allegience in favor of allegience to him.’3

But, this explanation doesn’t lighten his emphasis.
If Jesus is trying to show us the seriousness of the challenge that following him really entails, these words bring his challenge to life.

One could say that Jesus has a history of undermining families. I’m sure some of you will take offense at MY saying this. So let’s look closer at Luke’s record.

Just last week, still in chapter 14, Jesus advised his host NOT to invite his family and friends to dinner, but instead to invite the hungry people outside his door - people who couldn’t return the invite.
And 2 chapters before that, (12:51) he said,
    “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. From now on, a household of 5 will be divided, ...
Father will square off against son and son against father;
   mother against daughter and daughter against mother, and
      mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
         daugther-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Back in chapter 8 (8:19-20), Jesus was told his mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to see him. Jesus replied, “My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.”
Let’s not even go back to what Jesus said to his parents when he was 12 and they found him back in the temple 3 days after the family group had left to travel home! (2:41-51)

Jesus raises words of tension that would promote actual conflict in families. --Advice that could break the bonds that were so vital in his day and are beloved In ours.

Can you feel a tension within you as you listen to these stories?

One scholar I read this week, Alan Culpeper, points to the problem by comparing Jesus’ requirements for followers to ours. He say, “Cultural accommodation of the Christian faith has progressed steadily in recent years. (he wrote almost 20 year ago) “As a result,” he says, “many Christians see no tension between the teacings of Jesus and the common aspirations of middle-class Americans.”4
. . .brief pause
Do you think Jesus would find tension between our aspirations and following him?

If Jesus was calling for each person who would be his disciple to consider in advance what that commitment requires, then how should we be advertising this (his) community?

I want you to take a minute and come up with some suggestions for a banner on our lawn. You can call out to me, or turn to your neighbor and share suggestions.
. . .
I don’t think Jesus-styple hyperbole will be understood, “You have to hate your family to worship here.”
. . .cross carrying competition - next a membership to ACoB
. . .
What if we just put up ‘Count Well The Cost’?

. . .
How does 21st Christianity comparte to what Jesus had in mind?

We tend to define commitment in term of priorities.
    Story: Not long after I had begun to work at a camp, I was asked by other friends to attend an intervention. A group of people were meeting at 8:00 one morning at someone’s office to ask a mutual friend to stop drinking. Arrangements had been made to take him directly from his office to a rehab facility where he could turn his life around, . . .IF he chose to do so.

I only had a supporting role, but found it a very complex situation and not easy to leave in time for me to be at work at 9:00 am. So I was late.
My boss, challenged me that morning. He didn’t discount the value in what I was doing, but said, “Nancy, you have to decide where your priorities are.”. . .
Have you been in that position?

Jesus did tell us two stories to help us understand the extreme discipleship he demands.
Can anyone summarize one of them, or put it into more modern terms?

Construction metaphors still fit. Perhaps we don’t see many towers built, but we see apartment complexes..& towers of offices...

What about the war metaphor?
    On this day after the ‘day of fasting and prayer’, does anyone want to contemporize Jesus’ metaphor? How would you compare the reconnoissance of 10,000 soldiers coming up against 20,000?
. . .

Brethren have the story of Alexander Mack to help illuminate this text. Do you remember it? (We already sang his hymn.)
In the 1700s Alexander Mack and Ernst Hochmann shared the pietist belief that all humans need redemption and that salvation is possible in Christ. They held these beliefs in common with other Christians5, yet their faith went beyond intellectual assent, to their daily living with the practice of daily devotional exercises, extensive study of the Bible, and the experience of God’s presence in their heart - all influencing the way they lived life. They had become disillusioned with the Reformed Church of their day - which was part of most German states.

When Mack had to leave his home town because of his participation in these illegal Bible studies, he settled in Schwarzenau, Germany and became the leader of a group of Christians. He became convinced thru study that baptism meant immersion, and that his and others’ baptism as infants wasn’t valid, -it wasn’t enough for the commitment they wanted to live.

Mack wrote to Hochman, who didn’t believe immersion was necessary  - about his desire to be ‘fully baptized’. Hockman understood Mack’s discernment and advised him to ‘count the cost’ of such action. (Remember a 2nd baptism was illegal. It went again the official Christian religion of the state. Something worth remembering whenever you hear someone promoting Christianity of a certain kind for a state religion!)

So in August, 1708, Mack and 7 others (5 men, 3 women) went to the Eder River. They read this passage from Luke 14 then drew straws so no one would know who did the first baptism. That person, baptized Mack who then baptized the others.
After the baptism, they prayed and sang hymns. They “dispersed in the full knowledge that in most German states what they had done would result in heavy fines, imprisonment, or exile.”6

Some time later, Mack wrote the hymn, ‘Christ Jesus says, “Count well the Cost when you lay the foundation.” Are you resolved, through all seem lost, to risk your reputation, your self, your wealth, for Christ the lord as you now give your solemn word?”

This is the heart of our baptism today. Whether it is practiced inside (here) or outside, at a river. We face no threat of arrest, yet we are still advised to count the cost and THEN make the commitment to follow Jesus.

If we truly follow the Christ, we may be as a un-welcome as Jesus was.
We may speak words as politically in-correct as he did. And
we may find ourselves standing in opposition to OUR government.

I can’t help but wonder, if we WE count high enough?
I trust that together, we can meet the challenge of follow Jesus into difficult places - Places of division and discomfort.

I invite you to count the cost today.

I invite you to count as high as you can, then commit to following Jesus, from this day on.
I invite you to be baptized, if you have not.
And I promise you the support of others in this place as we follow Jesus, together, counting well the cost.

1 Alan Culpeper Luke in NIB Vol IX (Nashville:Abingdon, 1995)292
2 ibid Culpeper, 292
3 Joel Green The Gospel of Luke in New International Commentary of the NT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmands, 1997) 564
4 Cullpeper 293
5 William G. Willoughby

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Our Family Reunion; a Sunday discussion

You know that the early brethren decided to follow Jesus by doing what he did. They looked to the patterns found in the NT to pattern their own lives. It’s no wonder that we have so many dinners and fellowships with food because Jesus was ALWAYS eating!
In our story, Jesus is at a banquet and tells a “parable” about the meal setting at a wedding banquet, which is followed up by another story about another banquet. He can’t get enough of what happens at meals.1

Certainly food is a central part of family reunions.  I want you to think about any kind of reunion you’ve attended, or any gathering with food. (often these are funeral or memorial services).
Tell me what these gatherings are like:

    Great to see family, especially those who don’t live nearby or are only seen at reunions. . But what about those family members you could easily ‘skip’ seeing?
What do you do/how do you act with your more unpleasant relatives?

Key question: How would Jesus fit in at your family reunion table?

We know from previous stories that Jesus can say the ‘wrong’ thing and be very politically ‘UN-correct’.    
He is a good rabbi who knows his scripture. He uses the heart of a Proverb here; Don’t exalt yourself in the presence of the king, or stand in the place of important people, 7 because it is better that he say to you, “ Come up here, ” than to be demoted before a ruler.

Status meant EVERYTHING in Jesus’ day so this was good advice, a reminder to those he was with. Maybe it wasn’t even out of place in a gathering as important as a wedding. I read that a Palestinian wedding feast would have had the groom on a center couch in the place of honor,  (they reclined to eat) surrounded by those of wealth, power, connection, or office-holders.

    If a dignitary arrived late and there wasn’t a place at the center couches, someone already seated would be asked to leave. How embassing to have your ‘lower’ status pointed out!
Emilie Townes says Jesus “is highlighting the ways in which the realm of God establishes its own social and spiritual order; trying to presume a place in that order is unwise and perhaps even unfaithful.”2

But Jesus’ didn’t stop with advice about presuming our place in the social order or spiritual order of God’s realm. He next says, likely to host, that ‘one shouldn’t invite only those who can invite back, but should invite those who need food and who can’t likely pay you back with an invite.

Obviously this is more than advice against ‘pay-back invitations’. What do you hear in Jesus’ 2nd warning?

STORY about welcome: A homeless man who wanted to go to church. He was late, because he didn’t know what time the service started, and didn’t own a watch. He talked loudly to the people on the door, who met him with worried faces as he came in. He was fairly deaf, and had no idea of the volume of his own voice. They shushed him curtly, as he was disturbing the orderly worship within. His clothes were dirty and torn, and he hadn’t had a bath or a shower since.. Well he couldn’t remember when.
    He was hustled back out the door very quickly, much to the relief of the twitchy nosed congregants and the anxious preacher, who had almost lost her place in the kerfuffle.
    The man sat heavily and wearily on the steps outside the church. Being familiar with rejection, didnt make it easier, and he hadn’t expected it here. A barefoot stranger sat down beside The strange, rejected fellow. He had wounds in his feet. “Don’t worry, Dave,” he said gently, calling him by name. ” Laying a nail pierced hand into Dave’s weathered palm, he whispered. ” they haven’t let me in there for years”

I hear Jesus suggesting that we have a problem with invites, perhaps ‘welcoming’ is a better term. There’s a difference though...

We (ACoB) welcome whomever shows up at our door.
Just like we’d welcome any family member who comes to the reunion. I think the question Jesus would ask us is, “To whom would we extend an invitation?” If that family member we’d rather not deal with (at the family reunion) hasn’t heard about the reunion yet, would we go ahead and invite them?

Would we invite the person who has such an obvious need for help to our Sunday reunions? (whether emotional needs or physical needs?)
. . . Brief pause

Have you ever worried that you would be commiting people here to helping? That you’d be ‘inflicting’ someone’s problems on everyone else?
. . .

I do, I’ll admit it. At time I think it is not my place to commit the congregation to helping someone or someplace without the consent of the board. Perhaps I’m right, but when it stops me from even asking you...then I’m not inviting those who need us. I’m not even inviting us to consider those who need us.

Comments: what are you thinking? This is a casual time where our conversations are an important part of discerning the message of today’s scripture.

I think our youth have a more critical problem with this and a bigger opportunity. Think about the tables at school? How important is it to sit with your friends at lunch and who gets invited to join your table?
. . . Do any of them want to share what it is like?

I sometimes think that we are a perfect community to work with OAR; the Offender Aid and Restoration Movement in Arlington. It began in 1968 when a group of concerned citizens responded to a prison riot in Charlottesville. OAR began in Arlington in 1974 y a local group of women from Arlington, Virginia, who volunteered in the jails and saw a need for ongoing support of prisoners and ex-offenders who remained largely ignored and forgotten by society.3
I read this short story; Bruce came to OAR after serving 27 months in prison. He participated in OAR's Reentry Services Program, including workshops, employment classes, and coaching sessions.
Bruce spoke at length about how prison changed him and that he now knows "taking shortcuts doesn't pay off." In addition to employment, Bruce was focused on opening up communication with his 11-year-old son. Recently, Bruce was able to reconnect with his son. "All I wanted coming out was to get back in touch with my son," he said. "That's happening. I'm so grateful."

Would we be able to welcome a recent offender who was trying to make his or her way back into society after incarceration?
We have been invited to list our congregation on a web-site as an inclusive, welcoming and affirming congregation to the LGBT community. Might this be a place of true welcome to people who so often get church doors closed in front of them?
Who else might God be calling us to invite to join THIS family that gathers together (at least) weekly - to worship, to sit at table together, and to serve?
Is not this the place where we bring together our social lives and our spiritual lives?
As family; this grouping of the ‘Family of God’ - Aren’t we the people we are comfortable sharing with in life’s hard discussions about -What IS a LIVING FAITH, 

      How DO we walk the talk, 

     What does it mean to live the JESUS’ WAY?

 I ask you to pray about where God is leading us - -  / will lead us next - to extend our welcome.

1 Emerson Powery
2 Emilie M. Townes, theological Feasting on the Word Bartlett, Taylor eds, (Louisville:WJK,2010)22