Tag: year c

Come Sunday: “What Would Jesus Drive?” (October 27, 2013)

23rd Sunday of Pentecost
October 27, 2013
Luke 18:9-14

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
Luke 18:14 (The Message)

suvBeing from Michigan and having two parents who worked in the auto plants, I tend to have a fascination with cars.  I tend like most cars, but for a long time, I didn’t have much interest in SUVs.

Ah, the SUV-Sport Utility Vehicle.  In the late 90s it ruled American suburbs.  It seemed that ever auto maker had to make one, and the kept getting bigger and bigger.  Remember the Hummer?  I remember someone telling me the big Ford Expedition got something like 9 miles to the gallon.  I remember thinking how horrible that was.  I saw SUVs as a scourge, harming the environment and making us lazy.

Around the same time that the SUV was large and in charge, another car was making itself known in the American market.  In 2001, we saw Toyota unveil the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid.  It was the anti-SUV.  People who despised SUVs (and the people who drove them) flocked to the Prius to show how conscious they were. (For the record, I did own a Prius a few years ago.)

The first decade of the new century set up conflict between those that loved the big gas guzzling SUVs and those that loved the fuel sipping hybrids.  For a while there, a campaign made news urging people to use less resource heavy transportation than the SUV.  The campaign came up with these simple words: “What would Jesus Drive?”  The answer was that Jesus wasn’t going to be driving a Hummer anytime soon.

When I think about this week’s gospel lesson, I have to think of it in terms of cars.  (I even did a sermon based on the Prius back in 2007.)  I can see the Pharisee driving a Prius to the temple.  He gets out and starts praying to God, “thanking” God for making all the right choices.  He shops at Whole Foods, recycles and even drives Prius (his second Prius, by the way).  “I thank you God, that I am not like that guy,” he says guestering at the SUV pulling up to the curb.

Another man climbs down from the tall vehicle.  He slams the door and falls down to the ground.  He’s behind on his mortgage, his oldest son and his son’s wife won’t leave to find a place of their own.  His wife was laid off her job the week before and she found out about the affair he was having.  She was tired of dealing with his philandering and his alcoholism to boot.  After 18 years, she is ready for a divorce.

“Have mercy on me, God!  I’ve messed up!”

The reason the Pharisee didn’t go home justified isn’t because he did something wrong.  He did all the right things.  What he missed is relying on God’s mercy; to know that even if he did the right things, he was still in need of God- something that the tax collector understood all too well.

As we head to church this Sunday, I pray that we can not get caught up in doing the right things, but instead realize that we are made righteous not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done.

By the way, I think Jesus would have taken public transportation, but that’s for another time.

 

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Come Sunday: Not for the Faint of Heart (October 20, 2013)

widow22nd Sunday of Pentecost
October 20, 2013
Luke 18:1-8

“Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet.

Luke 18:6-8 (The Message)

Growing old is not for the weak.

This past summer, my partner and I were busy shuttling between Minnesota and Michigan to move my parents from their house of over 40 years to a senior housing apartment complex on the other side.  It was getting difficult for my octogenerian parents to maneuver around the house.  The neighborhood they lived in, on the northside of my hometown of Flint, Michigan had become more and more dicey, especially in the last few years as the auto industry imploded.  Moving my parents allowed me to see how aging is not something for the weak.  The independence that one had in their youth and middle ages is not as present.  Your body just doesn’t work like it used to.  You become more dependent on others.  It’s just not easy to be elderly.

The gospel text for today involves a widow, a woman who was incredibly vulnerable in that society, and a judge that was more than a little shady.  This woman who probably had little pride left, kept pressing the judge to grant her justice against an enemy.  She basically wears down the judge until he does what she asks just to get her off his back.

Now, God isn’t the unjust judge.  The point of this parable is not that you see God as some kind of holy Santa Claus that you pester until you get your way.  I think this parable has more to do with how we live a life of faith.

We are asked to believe and walk in faith.  But the road is not clear.  We never know how the story will end.  Like the widow, we must keep believing and pray persistently; not to get what we want, but because we have faith that God will answer in God’s time.

God’s time.  That kind of sucks.  Jesus talks about how God will listen to his children and grant them justice, but we know that sometimes our prayers aren’t answered- or at least they aren’t answered in our time or in the way we would like.

I think having the kind of persistent faith Jesus talks about is rather hard.  And maybe that’s the point; trusting in God is rather tough business.  Like growing old, it is something that leaves us rather vulnerable.  I think God knows that having faith in God is hard, which is why I think we don’t have to do it alone.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons we have churches- communities where we can bear each other and believe when others just can’t.

There’s an old African American gospel song whose lyrics include this passage: “He may not come when you want to, but he’s right on time.”

The life of faith can be hard.  However, we know that God is faithful and will be with us, even in those days where God seems distant.

Faith is not for the weak.  Thanks be to God that we don’t have to trust alone.

Come Sunday: “Let’s Get Liminal” (October 13, 2013)

liminal

21st Sunday of Pentecost

October 13, 2013

Luke 17:11-19

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

-Luke 17:14-16

lim·i·nal /ˈlimənl/- 1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. 2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

 

liminalBorders are interesting things.  I grew up in Michigan only an hour in two directions to the US/Canadian border.  When driving accross a border, you stop at a booth where someone from Customs asks why you are coming to their fair nation and what are your intentions.  After looking at our passports, the officer waves us through to a new nation.

Borders, especially land crossings, are interesting because one moment you are here and the next there.  You could walk from here to there quite easily if it weren’t for those customs officers that stand in your way.  Borders are like going through the looking glass into another reality, something that is familiar and yet very different.

In preparing for this sermon, a word kept showing  up in the online commentaries I was reading: liminal.  I’ve heard it being used more and more in religious contexts to describe the times we live in; the in between time, on the edge of something better. I kept wondering what liminal had to do with this passage.  As I think about it, the passage has everything to do with being liminal.  Actually, Jesus is all about the liminal.  Jesus seemed to stand in the middle of things, in the borderlands.  Jesus seems to be all about crossing boundaries.  Here’s Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.  There’s him healing a woman considered unclean.  In this passage he heals ten lepers.  He decides to cross the boundary that separated him from these lepers.  Because he crossed a boundary, one of the ex-lepers comes back to thank Jesus for healing him and that man happened to be a Samaritan.

As I am writing this, we are finishing up day 10 of the federal government shutdown.  I know people have their views on who is to blame, but what is striking me is how polarized we have become as a society.  Republicans over here, Democrats over there.  We humans are good at creating barriers, walls and fences at our borders to keep the other out.

And yet, Jesus walks in and cross the border with ease.

The Samaritan ex-leper was thankful for being healed.  Maybe we should be thankful for a God that is liminal, that breaks boundaries and heals us.

But there is another understanding of being liminal.  That meaning is basically being at the threshold of something.  Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die.  Each stop along the way was part of a process, bringing him closer and closer to a moment where everything would change.

When I thought of this second meaning, a song immediately popped in my head.  It’s a song from the 80s, but it feels at times like it came out yesterday.  It’s the song “Verge of a Miracle” by the late Rich Mullins.  Mullins was a contemporary Christian artist that was popular in the 80s and 90s and this song was one of his early hits.  The chorus goes:

You’re on the verge of a miracle
Standing there – oh –
You’re on the verge of a miracle
Just waiting to be believed in
Open your eyes and see
You’re on the verge of a miracle

I think that our lives as Christians are ones that are perched at the threshold of something, something we don’t always know.  What if we saw our daily walk as one where we are on the verge of a miracle?  What if we saw these miracles as times where we cross borders and become agents of healing?

Go and be church.

Come Sunday: “Part-Time Lover” (September 8, 2013)

Sixteenth Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

September 8, 2013

Luke 14:25-33

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

Luke 14:25-27 (The Message)

part_time_helpOn September 8, 2002, I was ordained a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  As I reflect on eleven years in ministry, I’ve noticed something: every ministerial position I’ve had has been part-time.  I spent the last five years as part-time Associate Pastor in Minneapolis, and this Sunday I begin as the Supply Pastor of a church northeast of St. Paul.

I actutally like working part-time.  In most cases, the churches couldn’t fund a full time position, which is was okay by me.  I was still able to do ministry, though it was far more limited than what could be done as a full-time pastor.

When you’re a part-time clergyperson, especially if you have another job, you have to learn how to manage your time.  Since we only have 24 hours in the day, I have to decide what is most important to get done.  Somehow, I’ve managed to pull it off.  That said, being part-time with another job means that you aren’t always focused.  You have to deal with two things vying for attention which can weaken your committment to both.

In the gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus telling the crowds that to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, they need to “hate” their families and even their own lives.  That’s a harsh statement to hear.  How many of us want to tell off our relatives?  We don’t like this passage (well, at least I don’t like it) because it’s so black and white.  There’s no room for a part-time lover; you’re either all in or you’re not.

I wonder though if we are looking at the text wrong.  What if Jesus isn’t calling us to hate our mothers and fathers and siblings, but is calling us to place everything, including our families under the lordship of Jesus.  What if Jesus is saying that to be a follower means that every aspect of our lives is given over to God?

The late Dallas Willard wrote about this passage.  He thought this was less about some kind of drugery, where we have to give up things we love and instead “count the cost” in a spirit of joy:

So this counting of the cost is not a moaning and groaning session. “Oh how terrible it is that I have to value all of my ‘wonderful’ things (which are probably making life miserable and hopeless anyway) less than I do living in the kingdom! How terrible that I must be prepared actually to surrender them should that be called for!” The counting of the cost is to bring us to the point of clarity and decisiveness. It is to help us to see. Counting the cost is precisely what the persons with the pearl and the hidden treasure did. Out of it came their decisiveness and joy. It is decisiveness and joy that are the outcomes of the counting.

What this passage in Luke is about is clarity. It is not about misery or about some incredibly dreadful price that one must pay to be Jesus’ apprentice. There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the “pearl” in question. Suffering for him is actually something we rejoice to be counted worthy of (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29). The point is simply that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him. We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom.

Of course, if we are holding on to our dear lives, we won’t want to give anything out of joy.  But what if we loosen our grip and start to see how God works in every nook and cranny of our lives.  Not just when it comes to religious matters, but in our work, our play and our relationships.  As Willard notes, this passage is really about clarity.  It’s that experience of dizzyness we get when we wear a new pair of glasses.  Everything looks the same, but everything is different now.

Jesus does want it all.  But I don’t think this is about some kind lenten abstinence writ large.  No, it’s more like having second sight and seeing things in a different way.  It’s learning how even the most mundane aspects of life are given over to God.

None of this is to say that there aren’t times when we do have to make a clean break.  But more often than not, it’s understanding that this is God’s world and we are God’s servants, ready to see what God would have us to in God’s world.

Jesus isn’t looking for a part-time Christian, but full-time disciples.

And the benefits aren’t that bad.

 

Go and be church.

Come Sunday: The Church on the Edge of Forever (August 18, 2013)

Thirteen Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

August 18, 2013

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

city on the edge of foreverOne of the best episodes of the TV series “Star Trek” is one called “The City On the Edge of Forever.”  Dr. McCoy gets an accidental overdose of drug that makes him mad.  He beams down to a planet with Kirk and Spock right behind him.  They arrive on the planet and stand in front of what seems like the largest TV I’ve ever seen.  McCoy, still in his drugged state, leaps into what is called the Guardian of Forever.  The minute he goes in, the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise.  We find out that McCoy has somehow changed history, causing the Enterprise to not exist.  Spock and Kirk enter the portal and find themselves in Depression-era America.  The two meet a young woman who works at a soup kitchen.  She is a peace activist that was supposed to die in a car accident.  However, McCoy saves her from getting hit by a car.  His one action caused a series of other actions that lead to the timeline radically changing.  Edith is able to lead a nationwide peace movement that keeps the United States out of World War II.  This allowed Nazi Germany to develop the atomic bomb and win the war.  To make a long story short, Kirk stops McCoy from saving Edith from the oncoming car.  Edith dies and the timeline is restored, but at a terrible cost.

In last week’s blog post, I talked about how faith is about doing something for God without knowing how the story ends.  This week’s passage in Hebrews has me thinking about how our actions have implications far beyond our own time.  The passage talks about how so many folks acted on faith and didn’t face happy endings.  They were faced with a choice and in faith decided to follow one road.  Because Abraham believed, a nation was born.  Because the Israelite believed, they could cross the Red Sea on dry land.  Choices were made that shaped our future.

What comes to mind for this coming Sunday is about how so many churches and religious agencies are facing tight budgets.  Many churches struggle to make ends meet.  Others end up closing.  It’s easy to look at our sanctuaries, which were once empty and are now barely occupied and wonder if God can work with our faith community.

The answer is yes.  The writer of Hebrews talks about a number of unnamed people who also heard the call of God and chose to step out in faith.  But as they say, there is always a downside:

I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
Hebrews 11:32-40 (The Message)

The night before his assasination, Martin Luther King gave his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech.  It’s an eerie forshadowing of what he was going to face hours later, but it also sums up what it means to have faith in God and our part in ushering in God’s kingdom.We all have a part to play, but we won’t always get to see the end of the story.  Here’s what he says towards the end of that speech:

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? … Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

King saw that he was part of something bigger than himself.  He knew that he was doing God’s work and he had the eyes of faith to see what the completed work would look like.

As followers of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that our actions matter.  We might not see the ending, but we can know that we part of the great cloud of witnesses that will have an effect on people generations from now.

Go and be church.

I preached a sermon in 2010 based on the Hebrews text.  You can read it here.

Come Sunday: The Ant and the Grasshopper-Remixed (August 4, 2013)

Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

August 4, 2013

Luke 12:13-21

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?

-Luke 12:18-20 (The Message)

the-ant-and-the-grasshopper-an-interactive-children-s-book-by-tabtale-screenshot-4When I was a kid, I loved the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  The Ant was the serious type and worked hard to prepare for the coming winter.  The Grasshopper was more of the free spirit who didn’t worry much about anything, especially the future.

The story ends with winter arriving and the Ant all cozy in his modest two bedroom apartment.  Meanwhile the Grasshopper is shivering in the biting winds, hungry and wondering what will happen to him.

I wanted to be that Ant.  I wanted to prepare for the winter and I even remember telling my mother one morning as I was getting ready for school that we needed to prepare for the oncoming Michigan winter, just like the Ant.

In today’s passage, we see Jesus telling a story of his own.  In this one the rich farmer ends up with a big harvest.  He ends up building large barns to store his harvest and he then decides to kick back, relax and enjoy life, a little like that Ant in that children’s fable.

Except this time, God comes in and tells the farmer that he will die this evening and all of big earnings will be of no use to him.

In this tale, the Ant doesn’t fare so well.

What was wrong with the farmer?  In one case, nothing.  He had a big harvest on his hands.  He had worked hard for this and wanted to enjoy it.  It’s hard to see this guy as greedy; I mean he is just enjoying the fruit of his labor.

Maybe that’s why this story is so upsetting- because the farmer’s greed doesn’t look like greed.  Most of us in his place would probably do the same thing and in fact, we do that all the time.  We buy things telling ourselves that we need them and it doesn’t really look like we are being greedy-we’re just enjoying life.

Was the farmer greedy because he didn’t share what he had with others?  The harvest ends up in the barns.  What would have happened had he shared the harvest with others?  What if we saw the bounty not as an occasion to pat ourselves on the back, but to be generous to others?

Jesus tells the story of the greedy farmer as the Message calls it, in response to a man who wants his bother to share their inheritance.  Theologian Russell Rathburn notes that the man is probably the younger brother who in that time and place was entitled to a smaller share than his older brother.  The younger brother wasn’t happy with what he had, he wanted more than his fair share. So Jesus then tells what has to be the first stewardship sermon.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to place everything at God’s feet and that includes our finances.  We are called to be wise stewards.  We are called to be generous with what we have.  And we aren’t called to build bigger houses…I mean barns to store our stuff…or harvest.

In one version of the Ant and Grasshopper tale, the Grasshopper is left to freeze in the cold.  Another version has the Ant taking the Grasshopper in and feeding his fellow insect.  I’m going to guess that the first version is the “correct” version of the tale.  But I kind of want to believe that the second version still has some validity, for the only reason to show that the wise Ant was not only supposed to be prudent, but also compassionate and generous.

Thanks the kind of Ant I want to be.

Go and be church.

More Resources

Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

David Lose: What Money Can’t Buy

Carol Howard Merritt: Greed and Responsibility

Rick Morley: To Covet or Not

Come Sunday: Jesus Walks (June 30, 2013)

Sixth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 30, 2013

 

Luke 9:51-62

 

 

 

 

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Luke 9:57-58 (The Message)

 


I’ve always had issues with this passage, for the simple reason that it didn’t make sense.  Why was Jesus telling that one guy who wanted to follow him that he wouldn’t have a place to stay?  Why was he so unconcerned about the man that had to bury his father?  Why was Jesus, as  Lutheran pastor Russell Rathburn notes, such a jerk?

The translation found in the Message bible helps clear things up.  Jesus was trying to get people to understand their priorities in life.    To the man that said he would follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus warns him that he might lead the man to some places that were not comfortable.  To the man that needed to bury his father, Jesus says he must choose life over death.  To the one that wants to say goodbye to his friends and family, says that one that looks back isn’t fit for God’s kingdom.

The temptation in modern American society is to make our faith one of many priorities.  We want our faith to be predictable if we want faith at all.  We want a faith where we are in charge.

But here’s the thing: if we are following Jesus, we aren’t in charge.  We are following Jesus, and that might take us to some strange places, places we would never dream of going.  And maybe that’s why this passage bothers me; it lays bare my desire to be in control, to choose my faith.

In 2011 UCC Minister Lillian Daniel caused a bit of  stir when she wrote an article for the Huffington Post called  “Spiritual But Not Religious?  Please Stop Boring Me.”  The essay skewers those who tend to see themselves as “spiritual” but don’t feel they need to be connected to a church, let alone committed to anything or anyone. She has critcized what she believes to be a made up faith that is more in line with American consumerism than it is with the Church.  In a longer version of the essay that appeared in the Christian Century, she says the following:

“…in the church we are stuck with one another, therefore we don’t get the space to come up with our own God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In the church, humanity is way too close at hand to look good. It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize that the baby is driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from her postpartum depression to get herself to church today and wonders if there is a place for her there. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy. It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word that she leans forward for absolutely anything.

It’s as close as that teenager who walked to church alone, seeking something more than gratitude, and finds a complicated worship service in which everyone seems to know when to stand and when to sing except for him—but even so, he gets caught up in the beauty of something bigger than his own invention.

Suddenly it hits that teenager: I don’t need to invent God, because God has already invented me. I don’t need to make all this up for myself. There’s a community of folks who over thousands of years have followed a man who was not lucky—who was, in the scheme of things, decidedly unlucky. But he was willing to die alongside other unlucky ones, and he was raised from the dead to show there is much more to life than you could possibly come up with.”

 

Jesus Walks.  Jesus walks to places we would never consider and that can make us quite uncomfortable.  That will make us quite uncomfortable.  Jesus had a hard road to walk, but in the end it was so worth it.  Our walks with Jesus and encountering the lost and lonely will also make a difference in that we will all see God in places we never would have expected.

Jesus Walks. Will you follow?

 

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Janet Hunt: No Turning Back

Rick Morley: Facepalm

Ann Howard: Home Free

Ragan Sutterfield: Stay Close



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Easy Silence (June 23, 2013)

Fifth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 23, 2013

1 Kings 19:1-15

 

 

 

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.

1 Kings 19:11-12 (Common English Bible)

 


He was only 21.  He laid in the hospital bed in silence.  I would come by every so often to see how he was doing.  The result was a lot of time in silence.  You could tell he was angry.  You could tell he was depressed.  At 21 he had his life ahead of him.  But then an ATV accident leaves him without a leg.

Depression comes in many ways.  Sometimes, it arrives in an angry silence.  Sometimes the anger is rather loud.  Sometimes it comes in the form of despair.  For the prophet Elijah, it came with despair.  He felt he did all the right things.  But now he was on the run from Queen Jezebel, who has made Elijah a marked man.  I’d be depressed too if a homocidal regent is after your head.

Depression can be a time when you feel alone.  Elijah was feeling very alone.  Jezebel had killed most of the prophets of the Lord and Elijah had to leave everything behind.  You can feel that God is not simply silent, but just isn’t around.  God has left the building.

And yet, this passage reminds us that God was with Elijah.  Angels offer the prophet of the Lord food to keep up his strength.  Finally, God comes to Elijah, not in the busy sounds of the everyday, but in silence.

All of us will face those times when it seems like the bottom has fallen out.  We stumble through our days and just want to give up.  But God is present, maybe not in the way we expect, but God is there.

In 2006, the country group the Dixie Chicks released an album that included a song called “Easy Silence.”  The song was written by  the Dixie Chicks with Dan Wilson, the former lead singer of the group Semisonic.  In the song, the singer talks about how the easy silence of his companion is a balm in the frenetic pace of the world:

When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Busses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
In the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Life will knock us around.  Elijah’s story reminds us that God will come to us in those hard times in ways we don’t expect.  In. the. still. silence.

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Roger Nam: Commentary

Nanette Sawyer: Elijah, Murderer

Todd Weir: Angel’s Bread



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Testify! (June 9, 2013)

Third Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 9, 2013

Luke 7:11-17

 

 

16 Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region.

Luke 7:16-17 (Common English Bible)

 


If you’re like me, you’ve been to a few funerals over your years.  There really isn’t anything surprising about funerals.  You expect to have a service where a pastor preaches, maybe some will do a eulogy talking about this person’s life and so on.  After the service we might then go to cemetery to commit the body.  Again, this is all the we expect.  We expect to be sad.  We expect to cry.  We know what to expect.

No one expects a body to come back to life.

And yet, that’s what happens in today’s text.  Jesus enters the town of Nain and he sees a funeral procession taking place.  It’s the funeral of a young man and Jesus can see the man’s mother.  In those days, women had to rely on a husband or some man to support them.  We don’t hear about a husband, so we can assume this woman had no husband.  This meant her son had to take care of his Mom.  But now he was dead.  This woman was now alone with no one to support her.

You can imagine Jesus locks eyes with this woman.  He had compassion towards her and ends up bringing the young man back to life.

What I find interesting is not simply that Jesus brought this man back from the dead.  What is fascinating is how the crowd of  guests react.  First it’s with a bit of fear (which makes sense.  Ever seen a zombie movie?  I’d be scared too.), but then it becomes excitement and praise.  “God has come to help his people!” they say.  Luke notes that the word of the miracle spread the region.  The people of Nain spread the story of God doing a mighty work for God’s people.

So, how would we react? What would happen if we were sitting in a church somewhere with the casket up in the front of the sanctuary.  What if a young guy in his thirties comes up, opens the casket and raises the person back to life?  What would we do?

How do we respond when we see God acting in the world.  Do we shrug or is it possible that we don’t even bother to see God acting in the world?  Have we become blind to God and therefore not excited to tell others of the good news of Jesus?

Back in 2011, Methodist pastor Chad Holtz caused a stir when he wrote on his Facebook page that he no longer believed in hell.  Long story short, he got fired from his job.  A few months later, Holtz wrote in his blog that he was heading for treatment for sex addiction.  Last year, he surfaced again after months of blog silence.  His first post back showed a man who had “found religion” as they say:

I wasn’t feeling that the night of July 7, 2011, when my wife told me we were finished for good after discovering evidence of yet another adulterous affair.  A 20 year addiction to pornography, chat rooms and illicit phone calls led finally to this.  Amy, a shell of the woman I married 8 years before had had enough.   A month later I received divorce papers and a month after that I was sitting in divorce court, contemplating ending it all.

My addiction and adultery all took place while serving as a pastor and going through seminary.  I knew a lot about God but did not know God.  I had no fear of God, denying that such a loving God could ever send a soul to hell.  But if there was ever a person to whom our Lord would say, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” it was most surely I.

I arrived at Pure Life Ministries on Nov. 3, 2011 for no other reason than wanting to escape my misery.  Any place had to be better than the roach motel that had become my home for months.  I told my friend who dropped me off that my highest hope for my stay here was that I would come away with at least 7 months sobriety under my belt – more than I had ever had in my adult life.  Of course, “sobriety” at that time was a very low bar: no pornoagraphy or affairs.  The idea that I could be free from lustful thoughts, fantasies or self-gratification not only seemed impossible but hilarious…

One of several breakthroughs for me happened in late December when we were challenged to take seriously Charles Finney’s “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground” reading.   I pressed in, and spent all of Wednesday writing out the many ways I have neglected God and sinned against He and others.  I found myself prostrate, here in the chapel, crying out to God, undone by my own wickedness.  I saw the cross for the first time as it truly is and wondered why on earth God would do that for such a wretch like me.  I saw the price that Jesus paid not just for the world, but for Chad Holtz.  And it cut me to the core.

As I repented I cried out to God for my wife, Amy.  Her despair over our marriage and the 8 years of hurt I put her through left her clinically depressed, filled with anxiety and faithless.  Watching her husband preach from the pulpit each week while being the only one who really knew me made her sick, and she told me one day that if God existed at all He never would have let her marry a monster like me.  I pleaded with God to take from her all her pain and depression and unbelief and to cast it onto me.  I deserve it all! I cried.  Lord, if you do nothing else for me in this life let me bear her suffering!  And in that moment Jesus whispered to me, “I already bore it.”  

Jesus has done far more abundantly than I could think or imagine in this place.  He saved me.  I know today that I am free, redeemed, delivered, unchained.  I know what it means to live at the cross and to walk in daily repentance.  I know what it is to fear God and the joy of holiness.  By God’s grace, what I thought 7 months ago was impossible and hilarious is now my testimony.  The chains that bound me for decades are gone.  The blood of Jesus has washed me clean!   Hallelujah!

In my evangelical and black church upbringing this is what they would call a testimony.  A testimony is nothing more than telling what we have seen God do in our lives, what we have seen God do in the lives of others.

The people of Nain saw something wonderful that day.  They saw a man who was dead, deader than dead, come back to life.  They saw this as God working in the world, and they would not, could not, keep quiet.  They had to tell people.

Chad’s new found faith and sobriety is not because of will power.  Chad can tell it was because of what God had done in his life through Jesus.

What about us?  Are our eyes open to God?  Are we wanting to tell others of the mighty works God has done?  Does our faith matter?  Does it make a difference?

God has come to help his people.  Do we believe that?

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Frederick Buechner: You Do Not Need to Understand Healing to be Healed

Rick Morley: No Formulas

Lisa Scholl: How to Heal Like Jesus



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: With A Little Help From My Friends (June 2, 2013)

Second Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 2, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

 

 

6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “ Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it. ”

Luke 7:1-10 (Common English Bible)

 


This story is fascinating for a lot of reasons.  First, the centurion is a Roman solider, the very face of the occupying force that is oppressing Israel. Second, this same soldier is on friendly terms with the Jewish community, even building a synogogue for the residents.

But there’s something else that’s interesting.  We never “see” the centurion.  He never leaves his house to meet Jesus face to face.  We really don’t know why.  He does mention that he doesn’t feel worthy, so maybe he was aware of his position and felt unworthy to meet Jesus.  Maybe he wanted to attend to his sick servant and didn’t want to leave him for a moment.  Whatever the reason, Jesus and the soldier never meet.  Instead, the centurion sends emissaries to meet with Jesus.  The first group comes out and describes the situation, while the second group make a plea based on nothing but faith in Jesus.

Jesus was amazed by the centurion’s faith.  “ I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this,” he tells the crowd following him.  But what’s even more amazing is the role the centurions Jewish friends play.  It had to be odd for a Roman solider, who was not usually considered favorably by the local population to have relationships with the people he was supposed to oppress. His friends go to Jesus not once, but twice to plead to heel his servant.

Faith matters, but faith is not something that’s a solitary exercise.  Faith at its best is communal, it lives when strangers become friends and carry each other when times get rough.

A few years ago, pastor Lillian Daniel made waves with an eye-opening essay called “Spiritual But Not Religious?  Please Stop Boring Me.”  Daniel thinks the latest interest in being spiritual but not religious is the latest iteration of American individualism, a faith that basically doesn’t need anybody else except me, myself and I.  Daniel sees the church as a place that is countercultural to the prevailing individualism:

In church, we hear scriptures like the one in which Jesus says to ordinary, fallible Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” In other words, you people are stuck with each other.

Now there is much in the church I do not want to be stuck with, including Qur’an-burning, pistol-packing pastors. It’s no wonder that many good people are like the pop singer Prince: they want to be a person formerly known as a Christian.

The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I do not want to be associated with a lot of it—particularly when I have been personally involved in it.

But—here’s a news flash—human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel and ignorant things, and I don’t want to be associated with them either. And here we come to the crux of the problem that the spiritual-but-not-religious people have with church. If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might be able to meet their high standards. If we could just kick out all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans, the Democrats could bring about the second coming and NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. Or if we could just expel all the Democrats, the fiscally responsible will turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.

But in the church we are stuck with one another, therefore we don’t get the space to come up with our own God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In the church, humanity is way too close at hand to look good. It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize that the baby is driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from her postpartum depression to get herself to church today and wonders if there is a place for her there. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy. It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word that she leans forward for absolutely anything.

The reason the servant is healed isn’t just because of the centurion’s faith, even though that is important.  Healing came because his friends carried the message to Jesus, who in turn healed the servant.

This faith that we encounter is one where we come together and worship and learn to bear each others burdens.  We pray for each other.  We care for each other.  We do this because we have faith in God and can see in each other how God is working in and through us to bring healing to the whole world.

Daniel is right that churches are far from perfect.  But it is in these countless faith communities where we pray for each other and work together to bring healing for a friend and for all of creation.

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Jeannine K. Brown: Commentary of Luke 7:1-10

David Lose: Unexpected Faith

Lauren Winner: The Centurion’s Friends



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.