What do you value the most?

Luke 15:11-32

With our main text for this morning we have another parable, probably one of if not the most well known of the parables – the parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son. But before I read it this morning I want provide some background to it because, as I have shared with you over the years, good Bible study includes the context of the passage which can help us have a clearer understanding of it.

And I begin with the title of this sermon, “What Do You Value the Most?” because this parable, and the two parables which immediately precede it, have things of value in them. So I ask us to take a moment, get a piece of paper if you wish, and write down your answer to this question.

What do you value the most right now in your life?

As with several of the other parables we have looked at during this Lenten series, it too is given in response to a conversation with the religious professionals who constantly battle with Jesus.

And in this situation they have a complaint to which Jesus responds with these three parables as noted in Luke 15:2

“…he (Jesus) was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (NLT)

The context in which the Pharisees speak of sinners in this verse is important to understand as well. For it was the attitude and belief of the Pharisees and teachers that Jesus, as a teacher Himself, should not be eating with “them” – the sinners.

But Why? What point are the Pharisees trying to make to Jesus?

In his comments on this passage Leon Morris offers some important background as to why the Pharisees were so upset that Jesus would eat with “such people.”

“The sinners were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the Law.” He goes on to quote another source of study which cited an old rule of that day (and remember that Jesus called out the Pharisees and company on their rules as noted in such places as Luke 11:37-54), and one such old rule that said, “One must not associate with an ungodly man,” as Morris goes onto to say that this “was taken so seriously that the rabbis would not associate with such a person even to teach him the Law.”

And then Morris says, “Eating with such people was regarded as worse than mere association: it implied welcome and recognition. Jesus did not let the Pharisee censure influence His ministry.”

So Jesus is ‘violating’ all sorts of religious rules because that is what the faith had become by that time in history. It was not about the relationship God had established centuries before. It was about keeping a distance and staying away from people who “unclean” but who were seeking hope and love and acceptance but did not keep the rules.

So Jesus is handed another opportunity to speak about what is really of value to Him and also to God the Father and He does so with an increasingly personal set of stories about things of value.

The first was a story of the value of an animal, a possession, a source of income – a sheep. Second was a story about the value and importance of money, especially to one who probably had little and was conscientious about her spending and finances – a single coin. Both of these stories began with anxiety, fear even, about the lost item, continued with a passionate search for the thing of value and ended on a note of success and joy. And in both cases Jesus makes His point about how great the joy of God is in finding those who are lost.

But then Jesus makes His point more personal with the telling of a lost son…

Our text for this morning contains this story found in Luke 15:11 and following.

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

All the audiences present when Jesus tells this story are present in this parable. There are the “sinners” represented by the younger son. Then there is the father, who is Jesus, and welcomes the younger son home. Third is the older son who represents the Pharisees and teachers.

There are many things in this parable that we could focus on but for this morning there are four statements which I think bring home Jesus’ point about the great love and joy of God for the ‘sinners’ and thus what God finds of value.

Statement number one is found in verse 17:

When he finally came to his senses…

The young man had had his fun. He had lived the way the magazines, TV shows and ads, his friends, and the culture told him he should live. (By the way the same holds true for the ladies as well!)

Now he was paying the price. His money was gone. So were his friends. There was little to nothing to eat because of the famine that had hit.

He had nothing now. It was all over. Regret and probably shame were his companions.

Then somehow, some way he “came to his senses.” He had an ‘ah ha!’ moment. He woke up to the reality of what he had done, who he had become, and where he now was. He had hit bottom.

But he remembers his dad and he decides to go home but not as the son who left, rather as a servant. A change in relationship status was his plan of reconciliation.

(Have you ever considered that he made this choice because he knew of others who had gone home and be given second class status?)

So he starts home…

He came to his senses… his eyes were opened and he saw the truth about himself and his situation. Only the father could help him now. He had the resources to do so.

But his dad is waiting, hoping even, to see him at the top of the hill has a different plan.

And this brings us to statement number two located in verse 20:

“filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

I wonder what the Pharisees and their cohorts were thinking now. How many of them were fathers? How many of them had seen a son leave and never return or come home and be greeted not with love and compassion but spite and disgust.

“Why did you come back? Who do you think you are now, huh?”

“Do you think you can just come home and it will all be okay?”

Did those men in their well made and refined robes start to stir? Did their faces begin to burn, not with anger, or maybe with anger at first, did their eyes mist over, was shame and guilt flooding their memory?

Were they beginning to hear their own words to their own sons, “You are worthless!” come back to haunt them?

Well, the welcome home party is the order of the day by this jubilant father. But I have to ask, “Did the servants welcome this son home or they also sneer at him? Not to his face but just out of his hearing and sight? Or did they go about their work with a sense of dread and uneasiness because they knew how the older brother would react to the news?”

The third statement to look at, from verse 28, tells us:

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him…”

Being an only child I have never experience this nor can I fully comprehend it. But perhaps some of us can and it is painful, is it not?

Now I wonder what those clergy were thinking as Jesus kept talking?

“I wish he would shut up!”

“How does he know this about me?”

“What do you know about this? You’re just a young and ignorant teacher!”

But the final statement, from verse 32, tells us again of how what really matters to the father:

“For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Nothing else matters…

So what does this mean for us this week?

This parable serves as a reminder that God’s great love and grace reaches out to everyone…everyone. It reaches out to rebellious sons and daughters and resentful ones as well.

He waits for us to come to our senses. He waits for us to turn toward Him. He waits to embrace us with open arms!

Jesus loved those educated men in their fine robes. He did not like their attitudes, teachings or behavior. But He loved them.

He forgave them… while hanging on the cross:

Let us be truly thankful for God’s great grace in our lives.

Amen.

My Review of Marc and Samantha Hurwitz’s Leadership Is Half The Story

23322210Arguing that the 21st century workplace requires a different approach to management and organizational growth, Marc and Samantha Hurwitz, a husband and wife consulting team, have written a wonderfully helpful and inspirational new book on leadership… and followership, Leadership Is Half the Story: Rethinking Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration. (University of Toronto Press)

Drawing on their deep pool of work experiences including their consulting practice and with unique and helpful insights from such experiences as dancing and iconic TV characters such as James T Kirk and Spock, the Hurwitz’s bring both energy and depth to the other side of the leadership equation – followership. The result is a practical, inspirational, and helpful book which provides today’s leaders… and followers… with many practical suggestions and tips as well as a road map, er, dashboard creating the conditions for better leaders and followers to do better collaboration and thus better work.

Using the acronym FliP (Followship, leadership, innovation, and Partnership), Marc and Samantha make a case fo co-vision, co-work, and co-flow in using leadership as a framing task and followership as a maximizing task the goal of which they call a Generative Partnership.

After a helpful introductory chapter on how the 21st century work place requires not just a change in leadership but a change in followership, they turn to outlining a “radical rethink” of followership and leadership. This is followed by several chapters devoted to their “five quality principles” such as “lean in to build connection,” and “value the positive and build on it.”

They then turn their attention to “five partnering skills”

“decision partnering skills, relational partnering skills, organizational agility partnering skills, and performance partnering skills.” They conclude with a chapter on their full Generative Partnership model and how it can be used in a variety of leadership and organizational settings.

While I have worked in business settings, primarily retail and property management, I have spent most of my working life in parish ministry and non-profit organizations and efforts. The Hurwitz’s work does have application for these two worlds as well. In fact, as I wrote this review, I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed with many practical tips and suggestions for my current work situation as I assessed my own leadership and followership skills and practice.

Two stood out to me as I first read them and I intended to incorporate them into my skill set right now!

First was their distinction between scouting and settling functions in the decision-making process. Such a distinction will be helpful to me in the process of decision making.

Second is the difference between fuzzy goals and stretchy goals. Such as distinction will help me differentiate in appropriate ways the kinds of goals which need to be set.

I found Leadership Is Half The Story to be a very helpful book. It is informational and inspirational. And, I believe, that no matter what kind of organization a person works for, this book will be a helpful guide to being both a better leader and a better follower.

I rate this book an “outstanding” read!

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday Sermon: The Equality of Grace

Slide5

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 20:1-16

 “It’s not fair!”

Have you heard these words uttered this past week?

It’s a phrase that not just children utter these days. Teens… and adults utter it as well!

I have uttered it… perhaps not word for word but I have uttered their sentiment.
Well I remember thinking and feeling “it’s not fair!” nearly 30 years ago now when I was being passed over for consideration of a couple of ministry positions I thought I should get a shot at as I prepared to graduate from seminary.

Fairness is part of our cultural values. Movements for equality of all kinds continue to develop and sweep across our nation. Equal access and equal opportunity under the law continue to be a big deal in our country.

Life is not fair at times, is it?

Our Lenten parable for this morning has this issue of fairness in it as, we shall read, the vineyard workers thought the pay issue was grossly unfair. But there is a more important point about the equality of God’s grace Jesus is to make.

Our text is Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This parable is again in response to conversation that Jesus had with a young man about “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” that is recorded in the previous chapter, Matthew chapter 19 and verse 16.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Notice with me for a moment the emphasis on “good thing” and “do.”

“What good thing must I DO to get eternal life?”

Well Jesus tells him what he needs to do…

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Notice that Jesus’ emphasis here is not eternal life but on being perfect. In other words, Jesus’ focus is on helping the young man become a mature follower, a disciple.

Another words, Jesus is not just concerned about eternal life for this young man. He is also concerned about whether not He is going to pay the price to follow Jesus as a disciple… now

This is what the young man fails to do, won’t do and so…

… he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

His wealth could not save him. Not because he was wealthy but because his wealth had become his hope; his source of salvation. But it could not, would not, never not (?), save him. Money cannot do that.

The result is a sad young man and a statement uttered by Jesus that has been discussed, debated, and dissected for many years.

Slide9

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice Jesus did NOT say, “someone who is rich can NEVER enter the kingdom of heaven.” He did not say that. He said, “it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Not impossible but hard.

Then the disciples asked a question,

“Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then Peter asks

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

Interesting question!

It is easy to interpret Peter’s response as self-centered or at least out of order. I mean a young man has just walked away from Jesus because he refuses to do what Jesus says he should do, “sell your possessions, give to the poor, and then follow me,” and here is Peter basically saying ,“We have given everything up to follow you. What’s our reward?” Seems kind of selfish does it not?

But Jesus does not answer him in a rebuking tone. In fact, he assures all of them

“… you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

There are going to be rewards for being faithful followers of Jesus. (By the way, Jesus has yet to tell them about the mansion with many rooms!)

But He ends His thoughts with this statement

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

And then Jesus goes right into illustrating what He means by this with our parable for this morning. In fact, He concludes the parable with the same concluding statement at the end of chapter 19

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Now I have to ask at this point…

Slide10

 

 

 

 

I think His main point is clear

We cannot earn our salvation, our entrance into the kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. God the Father is one who offers it to us. It is God’s grace and not our effort that makes it possible.

But there is another important point He is making to, I think, the disciples…

Those who come into the kingdom of heaven later will have the same reward as you all do. Though I have said you are to have some important places, do not think for one moment, that no one else can and will enter the kingdom of heaven.

In modern parlance, Jesus is saying, “Those who confess their sin on their death bed are as assured of their salvation just as much as those who confessed their sin years ago and lived faithfully throughout their lives.” This is what He is getting at in this parable (verse 13 and following):

‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

So what does this mean for us this week?

Several things.

First, this issue of first and last which Jesus speaks of in this parable will come up down the road.

When the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ begins to spread, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people, will start responding to it and a debate as to what is essential for salvation and who is it really for will erupt. Read the book of Acts to find out more.

When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, He died for everyone, everywhere.

There is no one, NO ONE, who is beyond the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. No. One.

God is the master of the house in this parable and the wages He pays to the workers in the vineyard is the same for everyone.

Slide15

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second, I think that the issue of envy and its close sibling, jealousy, is something we need to watch out for in our hearts, words, and actions.

I truly think that one of the biggest battles followers of Christ face as they walk with the Lord for many years is a sense of entitlement. A sense that says, “I get the best of this and of that because I have been a Christian for many years. “

Such an attitude can breed all sorts of additional attitudes that can diminish our witness and create bitterness and resentment because of unrealistic expectations. It can also blind us to the work God is doing in someone’s life because we are focused on the wrong thing!

Third…

Slide17

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that there some who believe that salvation IS going through the eye of a needle! And yes, Jesus did say “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” But He also said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Then there is Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

What kind of a God would lavishly give of Himself for the salvation of the entire human race?

Not a stingy God! Not a miserly God Not our God!

God is a gracious God. You know why? Because His death and resurrection was for you and me.

Let us remember that the issue is more than when and how one is born again. The important point is that one is born again! Someone said many years ago that the ground under the cross is level and as we stand close to it, no one is higher and thus closer to it than anyone else.

Let us be grateful and thankful for and humbled by God’s great grace! A grace that is available to all no matter when and where they come to Jesus.

Amen.

My Review of David O Stewart’s Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America

22609420

 

 

It has been nearly 30 years since I first heard the term “networking.” Since then it has become both a common term and an everyday occurrence. I believe that David O. Steward’s newest treatment of the fourth American President, James Madison, presents Madison as a consummate networker.

In focusing on his “five partnerships that built America” Stewart makes a strong case in Madison’s ability to accomplish a great deal of important work in the formation of post-Revolutionary War America and into the early 1800’s. By focusing on his partnerships with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and his wife Dolly Madison, we are given a fair and honest portrait of a man whose strength was in the “behind the scenes” work of developing and then leading an emerging nation based on the radical idea of self-government.

Stewart asserts and demonstrates that…

… with Hamilton, Madison co-wrote the influential The Federalist Papers which argued for the adoption of the proposed constitution over the Article of Confederation enabling a stronger and stable central government.

… with Washington, Madison helped to get the ratified Constitution based government into operation.

…with Jefferson, Madison helped to the develop the party system, based in part on philosophical opposition to Hamilton and Washington. However, neither of them cared for the result of political parties.

…with Monroe, Madison re-established both a personal and politically helpful friendship which allowed them to address knotty foreign policy issues with England and France, and helped the nation surprisingly win the War of 1812.

… with Dolly Madison found love and companionship with a vivacious woman who became an influential and politically astute First Lady and wife.

Madison’s Gift is a wonderful and helpful history of a key time in American politics and history that ultimately moved America toward a more functional central government. But Stewart, also through Madison’s own status and situation as a son of Virginia, address the dark shadow of slavery the impact in hand on both domestic and foreign policy. It also raises the highly visible tension, very present today in the health care and immigration debates, between having a strong central government and the rights of the states in governance of themselves.

Madison is portrayed in very human terms (his near poverty status at the end of his life) and yet his tenacity, notable during his unrelenting campaign for Constitutional ratification and military victory (and respect) against the British during the War of 1812, is brought out as well.

This biography serves as an able reminder to me at just how difficult it was for the fledgling America republic to establish itself as a functioning nation able to finally defend itself and develop a level of commerce that provided needed revenue for further growth and development. The scenes of Madison’s hard work alongside Washington create a functioning constitutional government from scratch tell a story of a resolute man who wanted to see his county become one. Well researched with many primary sources, such as letters and other documents, Madison’s Gift is, in my opinion, an outstanding addition to both the study and appreciation of the fourth President of the United States as well as to our nation.

I liked this book very, very much for the following reasons:

1. It illustrates that good leadership comes from more than one person. It comes from a team of people.

2. It demonstrates what I would call a maturing political view in which Madison moves from one set of positions to another based on philosophical reasons and not just “flip-flop.”

3. It is a wonderful reminder of just how difficult it was for the United States to become just that… United States.

4. It is gives the reader a very unvarnished, but fair, view of the fourth President.

I rate it a “magnificent” read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher, Simon Schuster, via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday Sermon: “What’s He Gonna’ Do When He …?”

Luke 10:25-37

I am hearing more and more these days this statement:

“People don’t neighbor like they used to.”

It’s true, isn’t it?

Why might that be the case?

In an article published last August in Macleans magazine enttitled The End of Neighbours, Brian Bethune writes

It’s a new day in the neighbourhood all across the Western world. More than 30 per cent of Canadians now say they feel disconnected from their neighbours, while half of Americans admit they don’t know the names of theirs. An Australian sociologist investigating community responses in the wake of the 2011 floods in Queensland found relations in “a precarious balance”; neighbours were hesitant to intrude even in emergencies—leading the scholar to conclude that “we are less likely than ever to know” our neighbours. Quite right, too: A recent poll of 2,000 Britons found a third declaring they couldn’t pick their near neighbours out of a police lineup.

He goes onto say…

Yet it’s hardly surprising, given how lengthy working days, long commutes and having both parents in the labour force have combined with the way we raise our children to create suburban neighbourhoods that are empty more than half the day, with scarcely a neighbour to encounter, let alone recognize, trust or befriend. But, however powerful the economic and social forces behind the disappearing neighbour—and however positive many of its results—according to reams of new research, the transformation is also poisoning our politics and, quite literally, killing us.

My family and I have lived in our current neighborhood for over two and a half years. We already knew some of our neighbors when we moved in and we know by first name only our neighbors on either side of us but other than that – we don’t interact other than to say hello.

Our main text for this morning in our 2015 Lenten series is another of Jesus’ parables that comes in response to a question. And the question is this one:

“And who is my neighbor?”

Our text for this morning is set up by a discussion about eternal life (and as usual, a trap for Jesus to fall into, when are they going to learn?). The lawyer asks Jesus,

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus returns the question with a question:

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

And the lawyer replies with the familiar

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus is pleased with the response

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the lawyer wants to justify himself. And so he asks Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?”

Why does the lawyer want to justify himself? What good purpose comes from such justification?

Dean Nadasdy offers an idea as to why:

“Behind the lawyer’s question is the idea that some people may be our neighbors and some may not. Some are worthy of our love, and some are not. Echoing Robert Frost’s poem, it is as if he says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In other words, “Show me the boundaries. Narrow the field.”

Jesus’ question in verse 36 refutes this narrowing of the boundaries that the lawyer calls for:

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor, to the man who fell among the robbers?

The reply of course is noted in verse 37

“The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says in response.

I would have loved to have seen the look on the lawyer’s face when Jesus said, “But a Samaritan… took pity on him.” I would like to think that there was a great deal of murmuring going on as Jesus revealed the ethnicity of the rescuer.”

“How can ‘they’ show compassion?
“How can ‘they’ show mercy?

But what Jesus had been observing to this point in “them,” this lawyer and his group, was not mercy and compassion but a narrow minded application of mercy and compassion shown only to “us.”

So what does this mean for us this week?

Two important points.

Slide9

As I have said before the road going from Jerusalem to Jericho went through some desolate county. The Samaritan was just as exposed to the threat of attack as the man he helped. More so as he helped the wounded man. But he took the risk.

A week ago Friday night as the family and I were walking into a restaurant in Indianapolis, a homeless man stopped us and asked for some money to get a bus ticket. I was closest to him during the conversation and was not sure how this was going to go down. He could have showed a knife and asked for my wallet or the ladies’ purses. He could have had a friend behind us and they could have done something right there to us.

One of our party gave him some money. We are not sure if it went to the intended cause of which he spoke but it was given, I think out of compassion and mercy.

He was one of “those” people.

Our humorous introduction to this sermon reminds us that we humans are capable of doing things from a broad spectrum of motives. What might have the beaten man been thinking as the Samaritan approached?

Could he have thought, “What’s he gonna do when… he comes to me?”

Showing mercy and compassion puts us at risk. This story, this parable is about taking a risk to care for others, even “them.” Our neighbor is closer than we think.

There was also a risk to his reputation.

Imagine for a moment the conversation back at the Samaritan’s home as shared about his most recent business trip:

“You what?”

“You spent money helping one of “them?” Why? You could have got hurt yourself! Why did you stop?”

Mercy and compassion cost us. They cost us time. They can cost us money. They can cost us safety. And for many people the biggest cost of mercy and compassion can cost us a bit of our reputation.

Compassion and mercy been hallmarks of the Christian faith down through the centuries. But today there are many who think that compassion and mercy are at the bottom of most Christians’ priorities.

Jesus thought so too…

 

Slide10

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you mean Pastor? “Jesus thought so too!”

Well in addition to our text for this morning in which someone, from a group of people not thought highly of nor respected, takes the risk to show mercy and compassion to someone who Jesus said was his neighbor, Jesus demonstrates, personally demonstrates, the risks of showing mercy and compassion in the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery found in John 8:3-11

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

There is an apparent lack of mercy and compassion in the attorney with the self-justifying attitude and question – ‘And who is my neighbor?’ but in this story there is a definite lack of them in this face to face meeting with Jesus.

Here is a woman who, under the law of the day, is subject to stoning because of her adultery. No compassion and no mercy is to be shown. The law allows for death by stoning to occur.

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.

Now what do you say?”

Mercy and compassion is available to Jesus, He’s going to use them, but right now…

Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

They kept on asking. They too, wanting to justify their use of force to enforce “the law.”

“She” is not one of “us” anymore! She deserve death!

Jesus stands up and quiets down her accusers with a broadside:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

They slinked away…

Mercy and compassion show up in Jesus’ words and actions

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Here is where the second point is to be made.

Slide11

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan represents the kind of mercy and compassion, the kind of neighboring, if you will, that God expects of His followers. He did not see it in the lawyers and teachers and religious professionals. So He told this story and used a person from a mistrusted and even hated group of people to make His point about the great importance of mercy (and compassion.)

In the story of the adulterous woman, Jesus demonstrated the mercy and compassion He told in the parable. Instead of allowing the Law, that God the Father gave, to operate, Jesus gave his audience (including the woman) a taste of the new covenant, which includes the mercy and compassion of God that was to come. A mercy and compassion that was, and is, for everyone.

But there is one thing that mercy and compassion must never become.

Mercy and compassion must never become enabling behaviors.

In other words in showing mercy and compassion we must never enable people to become dependent upon us to the detriment of their own growth and maturity.

The Good Samaritan illustrates appropriate compassion and mercy. He promised to pay the innkeeper for any additional cost in helping the beaten man recover from his wounds.

But he did not keep on paying additional bills for the man nor did he keep him from becoming responsible for his own life after this situation. To extend the storyline a bit, I think that these two men never saw one another again. Effective compassion and mercy helps others in difficult situations but leaves the rest of their lives up to them and not the person who showed them mercy and compassion.

Jesus does, I think the same thing with the woman.

“I forgive you but go and sin no more.”

You and I have been, and continue to be, recipients of God’s grace as well as His compassion and mercy. He calls for us, as His people, to show mercy and compassion in moments when it is easy and in moments when it is hard.

And as we continue toward Easter Sunday I remind us that even on the cross Jesus showed compassion and mercy toward those who crucified Him when He said,

“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

And He also showed it in His response to one of the two thieves who hung beside Him, He said,

“…today you will be with me in paradise.”

So let us run the risk of being misunderstood, even hated, in our mercy and compassion because to be merciful and compassionate is a costly and necessary thing.

Just ask Jesus.

Slide12

 

 

 

 

 

Amen.

On the Book Table and Kindle 3.8.2015

While I am still wading through some really great books and hoping to publish some book reviews really soon there have been some additions to the book table and kindle that I want to note here.

On the Kindle is…

Opposite of Hate Mohana Rajakumar’s The Opposite of Hate

I have enjoyed reading several of Mohana’s other novels and look forward to this one, set in the turbulence of Southeast Asia in the early 1970’s.

 

 

While on the book table is…

18639639Len Sweet’s Me to We : God’s New Social Gospel

I have also read several of Sweet’s books and have found them to be insightful and helpful. This book is via the Amazon Vine program

 

 

See you behind the page!

Sunday Sermon: Jesus AND or Jesus ONLY?

Matthew 13:44-46

When you first professed faith in Christ what were you expecting to happen to/for you as a result?

No more problems?

No more conflict?

No more debt?

As we approach Communion, I think the question is relevant because I think that part of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ comments about being betrayed by one of them and their hiding after His death has to do, in part, with their incorrect expectations as to who Jesus was and what He was going to do, really, that they thought He should do.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges to a mature faith is the refusal or inability to let go of incorrect expectations as to who Jesus is and what we expect Him to do for us.

As we continue our Lenten 2015 series through some of Jesus’ parables, our next stop are two succinct statements by Jesus of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. They appear in Matthew 13:44-46:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

In this chapter, Matthew 13, Jesus is using seven different parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. Last week, we looked at the first, the Parable of the Sower, in passing and at the second, the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, in depth.

The two parables we are examining today are vastly different than these first two parables because four of the seven have an agricultural base to them. The two this morning have a commercial and business aspect to them.

But in changing the metaphor Jesus is making a very, very important point about what being part of the kingdom of heaven causes, requires even, people to do.

In his book, Walking With Christ in the Details of Life, Patrick Morley wrote:

“The American gospel has evolved into a gospel of addition without subtraction. It is the belief that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin… A changed life is one that has added Christ and subtracted sin, that attracts a world weary of warn out words. Obedience is the proof.”

To extend Morley’s thoughts a bit, I want to suggest that the people in these two parables also subtracted out their top level loyalty to everything else to get what they valued – the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.

The man who found the treasure sold everything to buy the field and the treasure.

The merchant, who finds a pearl of great price, sells everything he had to buy that one pearl.

In both cases, these two men, who most likely already had much, gave it all up for one thing.

What then is Jesus saying in these pithy parables?

The buried treasure and the pearl of great value are metaphors for the kingdom of heaven especially, in the larger context of Jesus’ life here on earth, the gift of salvation. Jesus is saying that to be part of this kingdom requires us to give up everything else that we value and prioritize in life for the sake of the kingdom. It demands a complete surrender and obedience to it, and to God. And for many people, even some of us, this choice includes resolving a tension between hanging on to what we have or letting go and embracing the Kingdom. It is a tension that we can easily sense in people like the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 who chose not to pay the price and “sell all he had.”

And who among us has not experienced this tension when we have considered giving up something very important to us for something that we have come to believe is of greater value?

We have experienced it in changing jobs.

We have experienced it in leaving our single status behind and committing to a marriage.

We have experienced it when confronted with an ethical issue in our lives.

We have experienced it, more than once I believe, when the reality of our sinful nature hits us hard and we know that we need Christ in our lives. And we also feel this tension when the call of Christ to walk further and obey more completely rings loud and clear in our minds and hearts as we struggle to do what is right.

Well I remember as 15 year old high school student, struggling during a revival service because I knew that my attitude had changed and my behavior was close behind. I resisted going to the altar to pray and repent of my prideful and arrogant attitude. But I could only resist for so long before I was so miserable that I practically dragged one of the men of the church down to the altar to pray with me.

I think that one of the important aspects of Lent is feeling this tension over and over again because as we ‘give up’ something we become aware of the deficits in our lives and faith which need to be addressed. The kingdom of heaven requires us to address them because to be part of the kingdom of Heaven, to be redeemed, to be saved, is not a one time thing. It is a constant and daily choice, as Jesus notes in Luke 9:23,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

The field and its hidden treasure as well as the pearl were bought at a great price and sacrifice. The two men who wanted to possess these valued treasures were willing to pay the price to get them.

So I ask us this morning:

Is the kingdom of heaven worth everything to you?

Is the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ worth everything to you?

Is your salvation, made possible by Christ’s freely given love and sacrifice, worth everything to you?

Is it Jesus AND or Jesus ONLY?

Morley is right… to simply add Jesus to our lives is one thing but to add Him and let go of everything else – our sin, our agenda, our priorities is another.

As we prepare for communion I ask each of us to truly consider these words:

“What we do must confirm what we say. Our deeds are the proof of our repentance. Are you proving your repentance to the world by your deeds?” Patrick Morley

I am convinced of something else in our main text this morning. Something that I believe needs to be part of our preparation for and participating in communion.

It is a very important quality found in these two short parables and it is very clearly shown in the first and I think very much implied in the second. In verse 44 we read “in his joy went and sold all he had and bought it.”

Joy is very much part of these two parables. Joy is a very important part of our life in Christ. It has to be. Not a fake joy but a real joy.

I think that we need to remind ourselves everyday of this need for joy. And let me suggest that we need to put this phrase on a piece of paper and tape it to our bathroom mirrors:

“The Joy of the Lord is my Strength.”

It is!

We have heard of several heavy things this morning – confession, sin; we have noted the tension present in these two men when presented with the choice of possession one thing at the cost of everything else.

But we need to speak of joy as well – the joy of surrender, the joy of resolution, the joy of giving up everything to experience the joy of the Lord (which I experienced by the way after my time at the altar many years ago), and the joy that one finds in fully committing to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let this joy be front and center this morning as we conclude our time of worship with Communion. It is a time of celebration, of joy and gratitude, of saying “Yes” to Jesus again.

Amen

Let us prepare our hearts for communion.

Amen