Sunday, September 22, 2019

Holy Shrewdness - Luke 16:1-13

This parable stumps most everybody. The “bad” guy is set up as an example for Christian behavior. How can the “dishonest manager” be the hero? What is Jesus trying to teach his disciples? Why are “children of light,” followers of Jesus, encouraged to be like this? It all does not seem to makes sense. The meaning of Jesus’ parables is not always readily apparent, but this one seems to be more veiled than most. More like Jesus covered the meaning in a thick blanket, shoved it in a disused room, in a basement where the lights had gone out and so had the stairs.
So let’s wade into this mess and work together to understand. It begins when a manager. Now a manager in the first century Roman world is a person who is paid to take care of a person’s finances. It is not just a job like any other job, it is the kind of job which comes with a house and some amount of provision from the master. The Manager lived on the master’s estate and took care of the master’s affairs and the master provided for him and his family from his great means.
In this parable the manager is accused of squandering the master’s property. On a side note these are the same exact words used in the parable which comes just before this one in Luke, in which the younger son is said to have squandered his father’s inheritance. We don’t know how or why. We actually don’t know if the charges are even valid. He is charged and that is enough for the master. The master fires the manager and requires him to give account of his management.
I have always assumed the manager was indeed in the wrong, but we don’t know. He is called the “dishonest manager.” But nothing we actually see him doing is dishonest, we don’t know if he was actually misusing his master’s property or not. We do know he is accused of doing so and loses his position due to these accusations. Everything the manager does following his dismissal is fully within his power as manager of his master’s estate.
So this manager is let go and but before he packs up his desk and gathers all his stuff in to a single file box and is escorted off the premises he has to get his accounts in order and give them to the master. As he does so he think over the quandary in which he finds himself. He will be without a job, without a home, without any means of taking care of himself or his family. He will be disgraced. It will be known that he was dismissed from his position for “squandering his master’s property.” Nobody will hire him. He knows a life of accounting has not prepared him for manual labor, so he will not be able to find work doing that and he has way too much pride to join the beggars on the street.
So he hatches a plan grounded in the rules of reciprocity of the greater Roman culture at the time. When someone does something for you, shows unusual kindness, shows you generosity or, say, forgives a part of a very large debt, they were then indebted to you and were expected to reciprocate the action by doing something for you in turn.
 So this manager comes up with a plan to put several people in his debt, so that they will be inclined to help take care of him when he is down and out. Before he turns over his account to the master, he calls in several of people who are in major debt to his master and cuts their debts significantly, the largest one he cuts in half.
He does not do this for just anybody. He does cuts the debt of people who are greatly in debt to his master. These people have the kind of debt of those who themselves are masters of great estates and who do the kind of business which would require vast amounts of resources like 100 jugs of oil or 100 containers of wheat. These are not people who are in debt in an attempt to make it by or feed their families. These are people of means who are in debt as a part of the business of running their own estates.
The manager finds people of great means and cuts their debt significantly. He shows them extreme kindness and generosity. This way these well-to-do people are in his debt and culture dictated this debt forgiveness would be taken seriously and reciprocated. So when the manager and his family are without home, without work, and out of money there are people would be a little more than inclined to take him in and help him out, get him back on his feet.
Up until this point the parable is doing alright, it is making some kind of sense. But then things take their first turn and Jesus tells us the master commends the manager for what he has done. The master seems to be impressed with the man’s resourcefulness. He is probably pleased with the generous light the extravagant debt forgiveness of the manager, puts him in. By generously forgiving part of the debts so some of the wealthiest estates in town, the manager has made the master look good in the eyes of his colleagues or perhaps even his betters. Because the debts were so large and the amount forgiven is great, this not only does well for the manager but it makes the master look good as well. The master is seen as generous by some of his best clients and the manager is now in a much better position than he would have been otherwise. The master is pleased with the shrewdness of his soon to be ex-manager. Whether he is pleased enough to choose to not make him an ex-manager out or not, we do not know, because that is where the parable ends.
Ok the first oddity can be explained, but the master commending the manager is only the first odd thing in this passage. Upon finishing the parable, Jesus says, “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.” Jesus says the “children of light,” that’s us, should be just as shrewd about our dealings with God as people of this world are about dealing with one another
The man did what ever was needed to assure the he had a place to go and people who would take care of him when, he would otherwise be homeless and jobless. The man did what he did to form good relationships with these people, so they would need to show him the same kind of generosity he had shown to them. He did what needed to be done to assure his future and give him and his family a worldly home.
Jesus says we need to be just as shrewd about Godly things as the manager is with his relationships in this parable. The man did everything within his power to build relationships with men of power and men of means to assure his future. He assured his own future while making his master look good. This is the way the people of this world work when it comes to the things that matter in this world. Most people are willing to do what needs to be done to get what they need, sometimes even what they just what they want. People will go deep in debt to get themselves the nice things. People will lie so they can get ahead. They will throw their friends and their colleagues under the bus if it will get them the promotion they want or the raise they feel they need. We know this is the way people in the world around us function on all the time.
As Christians we should be willing to do anything and everything within our power to assure our eternal future, to further the kingdom and to highlight the generous and forgiving nature of God. We should be willing to whatever it takes build own relationships with God. Read our Bibles daily, spending time each day in prayer talking to God and listening to God, making gathering with the community of faith, gathering for worship, and study a priority, and doing the things we need to do to live out God’s goodness and mercy in our daily lives. This is being just as shrewd when it comes to spiritual things and the things of the kingdom as this manager is in this parable.
Ok. We can handle this. Jesus wants us to be smart about our relationship with God and living in a Godly manner. Jesus is calling for us to be willing to do whatever it takes to further the Kingdom, build our relationship with God; whatever it takes to be people who live out God’s generosity, grace and forgiveness in this world. That makes sense.
But just when we think we can handle what is going on in this passage Jesus’ teaching takes another strange turn, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Make friends with “dishonest wealth.” So that people will welcome us into “eternal homes.”  Surely there is something wrong with my version, let’s try the NIV. (Who has their pew Bible open in front of them? Can you read verse 9 for us?) “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  Any other versions out there this morning?  NASB?  “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the [h]wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” How about the NLT? “Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.” That is a little better.
Use your resources to benefit others, like the manager used his power and authority in the parable to cut the business men’s debt, to make friends, we need to be wise about the relationships with the people around us. Do and say things and live our lives in such a manner that we cast a good light on God, just as the manager’s actions cast a good light on his master. Do what we can to build bridges, to be extravagantly generous, extraordinarily kind, and abundantly forgiving so that in us the people around us will  see God’s extravagant, extraordinary, abundant generosity, kindness and forgiveness.
We do this so we can be welcomed into eternal homes, not “their” homes, for the people of this world do not have “eternal homes” but the eternal home or dwelling, that is the kingdom of God. God kingdom which we has come, is coming and will come, whose reign was begun with the life death and resurrection of Christ and is lived out in the lives of all those who are Christ’s disciples throughout all the ages until the time when the kingdom is finally and eternally established. God’s kingdom, is the eternal home in which we live now and is lived out in our lives day by day until Christ’s return.
By being shrewd about Godly things, shoring up our relationship with God, by living God’s kingdom come, by building relationship by living out God’s love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity before others, we are being faithful with the “little” we have when it comes to earthly things. This is the next thing Jesus is working to teach us in this passage, “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in very little is dishonest also in much.” In other words if we can be trusted to handle the things here and now, the little things of day by day living life faithfully, then we can be trusted with eternity and all that really matters, the things of infinite value.
That is all well and good but what does that really mean? What does it look like to be faithful in worldly matters? We have this parable which shows us what being shrewd in the first century Roman world looked like, what does it mean here and now, in America in the 21st century? We all know the “rules” of our society. We all know that you need to be respectful to our bosses or anyone who has the power to hire and fire in your place of employment. We all know that we are not to talk back to an officer when we are pulled us over. We are familiar with the things we need to do to get ahead, to come out on top. We know, in politics, if one candidate has a juicy piece of dirt that will cause the opponent to look bad, that they will not bring it to light until the most opportune time to have it revealed to the public. We all know that the price of a car, is not the price of a car, there is always a way to bring the price down by several thousand dollars, if you know the right way to haggle for it. There are lots of things we know to do, to help us stay ahead in this world. Knowing and doing these things is what it looks like to be shrewd about earthly things.
It takes a certain amount of shrewdness to know to do these things. When it comes to heavenly things, being kingdom people who live out Jesus’ peace and justice in this world, when it comes to our relationship with God, we need to be just as shrewd. That is, we should be willing to whatever it takes to be kingdom people, whatever it takes to be the kind of people God is calling us to be, to be people who live extravagantly generously, and forgiving lives. We should be willing to whatever it takes to build our relationship with God, go to extreme measures to sure it up and do what needs to be done so that we are able to listen to God’s voice and live out God’s calling in our lives; go to extreme measure to live lives the reflect who God is in all that we do, where ever we go, in whatever we say.
Just as the people in the world are willing to do whatever they need to do in order to stay ahead in this world, we should think, “How can I get ahead in my relationship with God,” “What can I do to give myself that extra edge when it comes to reflecting the image of God?” We are not so good at this. Often when it comes to God and our relationship with God, to matters of the Kingdom and Kingdom living, our attitude is that of a child doing chores. “How little can I get away with and still have mom and dad believe I did it.” We do the spiritual equivalent of throwing the blankets over an unmade bed or shoving all our dirty clothes behind the dresser. Instead we should be willing to do whatever needs to be done to make sure our relationship with God is solid. Do what whatever needs to be done to further the cause of the kingdom, to show the world the loving kindness, the faithfulness, forgiveness and generosity of God.
In this way we are proving our faithfulness in little and can be shown to be faithful in much. If we are striving in all the little aspects of our lives to be faithful, to keep our relationship strong, and be kingdom people who seek to bring God’s peace and God’s justice into this world with our lives, with our words and with our actions, thus being faithful in the little things, God will know we are faithful in all things both big and small. The day to day faithfulness and striving toward a closer and closer walk to with God and living rightly in this world will result in us being faithful in the big things – the big things grow out of small day to day faithful living.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Luke 16:1-13 - Week of Sept 16th - 22nd

1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.
“Squandering his property” – this is the exact phrase that was used in chapt 15 to refer to what the younger son did with his father’s money.

2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’
I have always assumed the manger was caught mismanaging the master’s money, but he is being called to account based on rumors. The Master fires him and then requests for him to make an accounting.

3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
The man is concerned about his future. He does not have the skills for physical labor and too much pride to beg. He has to come up with a plan.

4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’
So he devises a plan . . .

5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
His plan is to create goodwill among those with whom his master does business. He cuts their debt, so that they will be grateful to him and willing to help him out later when he is in need.

8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
This is the really odd part. The master commends him for his shrewdness. I can only think of two reasons he might do this. First he is a man who recognizes the ingenious nature of what the manager has done, and even though it not entirely in his best interest he can see the wisdom in what the manager has done. The only other thing I can think of is that by cutting the debts the manager has made the master appear generous, so not only did the manager build goodwill for himself, but he has also created goodwill for the master.
Then Jesus speaks to his audience and tells us that children of this age are shrewd in dealing with each other, the children of light not so much.

9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
What does it mean to, “make friends by means of dishonest wealth”? Literally “Make friends for yourself out of unjust mammon.”
In the NIV it says, “use worldly wealth to gain friends” So perhaps this means simply that it is alright to use worldly wealth, that which we gain here on earth to benefit your relationships.
What does “welcome you into the eternal homes” the word “eternal” makes us want to think about “heaven or hell”  but the greek phrase “age-enduring/lasting might not necessarily mean that 
The word here for "home" is actually "tent or dwelling" - so the idea of a lasting tent. A tent that does not go away. - a place to be that will not be moved or taken away. 
If this is in comparison to the relationships the manager builds by cutting the debt - perhaps lasting tents or lasting dwellings are relationship that will stay even when the money does. Relationships built on generosity. 
Luke likes themes of generosity and hospitality - the manager's generosity assured later hospitality. So we are to build relationships of generosity and hospitality.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
As much as we don’t like to think money has anything to do with our spiritual lives, it seems that the conclusion is that if we use our money wisely – being faithful with very little – means that we can be trusted with things that actually matter. Likewise we should not be dishonest or squander out money – believing that how we handle our money has nothing to do with our spiritual lives perhaps – will mean that we cannot be trusted with things that really matter.

11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
So how we handle the things the world around us values does have a reflection on our spiritual lives. Handling things of earthly value well means we can be trusted handling things of spiritual value.

13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Even when we are handling the valuable things of this earth, we can not mistake them as being things of true value. We can not turn our attention from God to values of this earth. Once we begin to look to earthly wealth and riches and place them in the rightful place of God in our lives we are making them God. Use worldly wealth to further the kingdom, but do not get distracted with worldly wealth, or make it the focus, then we are attempting to serve God and wealth (“mammon”).  We become like the Israelites who built the calf and said this is the god who brought us up out of Egypt.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Lost Inside and Out

 Luke 15:1-10 
I. What was going on?
A. Let’s begin outside of the parable
What is going on? 
What is the scene during which all this is taking place?
There is a gathering.
Who are the people in this passage?
1. Tax collectors and sinners
What are the Tax Collectors and Sinners doing?
 They are coming to           listen
2. Pharisees and the scribes
What are they doing?
 They are grumbling
 They are saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats           with them.”
Why is that an accusation?
What is wrong with welcoming sinners and eating with          them?
3. Jesus
What is Jesus doing?
 He is just there – there seems to be action in his vicinity – people drawing close to him, people grumbling about him
So what does he do?  
He tells them A parable
     The text says, Jesus tells them a parable, not three parables, but just one, he told them A parable. But it is a really complex parable which is told in three parts, three episodes. The first two are really short and sound really similar, but are slightly different in their thrust. The third is much longer and is one of the most well-known parables in the New Testament. Each of the three sections of the parable reveals a different truth Jesus is attempting to teach those in attendance. They are like three variations on the same theme each one building from what we learned in the form part and allowing us to see a different facet of the same thing.
Usually when I go over this parable I go over the whole parable but then spend the majority of the sermon on the third, longest, most famous and in my opinion most interesting of the three episodes.  Today we are going to focus on the first two sections of the parable, but I did want to make sure we all realized that I am indeed only covering two thirds of a longer teaching.

II. Parable of the Lost and Found (parts I and II)
A. The Lost Sheep
1. Shepherd – 100 sheep
2. Losses 1 – goes and searches for it
3. Find it and rejoices
4. Calls friends together to rejoice with him.
5. Joy in Heaven over one lost sheep, not over the                  ones that are found.
Let’s talk about lost sheep and shepherd.
What would you think is “normal” procedure when one            loses a sheep? What does this shepherd do?
Where are his sheep while he is searching?
What is it like being a lost sheep? What do you think a sheep who has wandered from the others do?
What does it feel like? Is this the best way of going about         things?
What does he do when he finds his sheep?
What do you think are the key aspects of this section of              the parable?
B. The Lost Coin
1. Woman – 10 coins
2. Losses 1 – searches for it
a. Lights a lamp
b. Sweeps the house
c. Keeps looking until it is found
3. Calls together her friends to rejoice with her.
4. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
There are lots of different explanations as to why this coin is so important to this woman. Some say it is part of her bride price, 10 coins that were often worn as a necklace or belt, which was hers if anything happened to her and she found herself alone in the world. Some say that this was the money she has squirrelled away bit by bit and represented her whole life’s savings.  Still others say that this coin was just a lot of money, plain and simple and therefore was worth finding simply for its value and worth. I don’t think it matters really. What matters is we realize this coin was valuable. The woman saw its worth and felt
the extraordinary measures she takes to find it were worth the effort it took.
What does this woman do to look for her coin?
What do you think about the measures she goes to, to                find this coin?
What does it feel like to be a lost coin? What does the coin think? How does the coin feel about being lost?
When Jesus told this parable he intended for the people who were listening to the parable to see themselves in the parable just as one would see oneself in a mirror. So let us begin to think about Jesus’ audience and how they might have heard the first two sections of this parable.  With whom did Jesus intend for them to identify?
C. Finding the context of the parable
To whom is Jesus telling this parable?
What is lost in the story? Who is lost in among Jesus’ audience?  Who would have considered themselves lost?  Who would have considered themselves found or even “righteous”?
Are when thinking about the second section in light of the first, are the “righteous” always to be understood as “found”?
If we were going to make comparison between Jesus’ audience and things in the story what comparisons would they be?
D. The One searching
Who is searching in this passage? Who does the shepherd           represent? Who does the woman represent?
What does this tell us about God?
What does knowing this tell us about God? Tell us about          ourselves?
E. Recognizing lost-ness
What does it look like to be lost? What does it mean to be          lost?
How does a sheep get lost? How does a coin get lost?
Is it easy to recognize lost-ness? Can other sheep tell that one among them is lost? Can other coins? Can we tell who around us is lost?
What does it feel like to be lost? How do we know if we are lost? Do all lost things know they are lost? In what way would it be possible for one of us to be lost?
F. Joy
What is this joy all about? Why rejoice? Why call together friends?
What is Jesus trying to tell us about by emphasizing the joy that is in Heaven when lost people are found or sinners repent?
What does it say about us when we don’t find joy in the things God finds joy?
III. Conclusion
This parable tells us a lot about the tenacity of God; The greatness of God. It tells us God loves the lost sheep, who is out there in the world is willfully wandering away from the fold.  God also loves a sheep who is unknowingly wandering from the fold.
Sometimes sheep wander away. Oh a piece of grass, oh a piece of grass, oh a piece of grass, until they are so far from the others and the shepherd, they can not find their way back. They did not mean to wander off. They may not even know how they got to where they are. But they are lost now and need to be found.
Other sheep know they are not with other sheep. They know were curious and went off from the others, thinking it was safe, believing they could get back, if they wanted. They are enjoying the view, enjoying the freedom, exploring. It does not matter how they got to where they are now, what matters is they don’t know how to find their way back, they are usually aware of where they are, even if they don’t know or even care how they got there. Jesus loves sinners and tax collectors. Jesus loves people who are willfully, as well as those who are idly, or unwittingly living in ways contrary to God’s ways.
Jesus’ desire is for these people to be found, to come back within the fold.
This parable also tells us people can be lost in the house. There are those who might not know they are lost, who firmly believe themselves to be righteous. People who have not wandered anywhere but are still lost. Jesus loves these people too. People who know the scriptures, who know what it means to be a Christian, what it means to live the way God calls for us to live, who know we are called to love God and to love one another, but don’t, who are in some ways falling short of who God is calling them to be, living “righteously” but not living “rightly”.  They are just as lost and just as loved.
This passage calls for us to be like Christ to be like God and seek that which is lost, to desire all who are lost, those among us, as well as those who are lost from us to be found, to come back into loving relationship with God. As Christians we know this, we know lost people should be found. We know sinners should come into relationship with God. We know God loves all these people know matter how “lost” they are, no matter who they might be. God wants them to be found, to find community and relationship with among the fold. It also calls for us to see own lost-ness to contemplate in what way we might be lost, even if we are not really aware of our lost-ness, to contemplate what it means for us, those who see ourselves as among the fold, to be lost; to think about what it means to be lost in the house, lost without going anywhere. And try to discover in what ways we ourselves might be lost, in what ways do we need to be found. Even if we know this we don’t always act on this, we can know something but not act like we know it.  Our lives, our actions, our words are not in line with this knowledge. 
It also talks to us about Joy, God’s joy, and God’s desire for our joy. God desires for all those who are lost to be found. God longs for all the lost, the sheep wandering far and the coins lost in the house, all to be found, to no longer be lost to come home. And God finds joy when this happens, there is nothing that brings more joy to the heavens than one who is lost being no longer lost. People coming back into right relationship with God, people coming to a better understanding of what it means to be the people of God, how to be better disciple, how to better love God, love one another and love the World which God so desperately loves, with the love that God gives to us. We can learn from that joy, we can experience that joy, are can join in that Joy. The shepherd and the woman both call for friends and neighbors to share in their joy. God too wants us to share the joy. We can rejoice when God rejoices. Joy is a part of what we are called to as Christians, joy at our own found-ness, joy at others found-ness, joy whenever someone comes to better understand what it means to live this life we live as God desires for us to live it. Let us go today with these lessons in our minds, attempting to better understand ourselves, our God and our lost-ness and found-ness in this world.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Cost of Discipleship - Luke 14:25-33

Jesus is walking through the countryside from place to place teaching, and preaching where ever he goes. As he walks people begin to follow him. At first there is just a handful of stragglers furtively following him, and then a couple dozen, but soon there are crowds, following him where ever he goes. Jesus must feel like a some kind of celebrity-rabbi who can’t step foot out of his trailer without a sea of people greeting him or turning around without a loud cheer erupting from a crowd of near swooning people just hoping to catch a glimpse of the new famous teacher who just might heal you with a word or a touch of his robe.
There is this unwieldy crowd of people following in Jesus’ wake. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, they are there. He gets up in the morning, they are there. He brushes his teeth, they are there. He tries to get alone, to pray and they are there. It seems they will not be hindered no matter how fast, no matter how far, or no matter where he walks, they are right there, just like a large, loud 3-demensional shadow. It seems there is nothing he can do to shake them. Even the son of God is getting a little impatient with this kind of following.
You can almost see him stop take a deep calming breath and attempt to continue on his way, but instead, he stops and he turns to them. It is “O.K.” if they want to follow him. He won’t stop them but they need to understand what it means to follow him. They are more than welcome to become his followers but he going to be sure they completely understand exactly what it will cost them should they choose to continue in this reckless behavior.
In order to follow Jesus they must first understand, so he begins by explaining to them, that in order to follow him they need to hate father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters. If you are not willing to hate all those closest to you, and even your own life, well then you might as well turn around and go home.
In my imagination the entire crowd gave a sigh of exacerbation at this point, Jesus is taking it a little far this time. Sure his teachings have been a little controversial but he has never said anything like this before. You must hate your family in order to follow him. Seriously?  Come on! 
I have to say as a preacher passages like this are just a mite bit frustrating to run across. This goes against everything I have ever learned about Jesus. It goes against something that is foundational to the nature of Jesus’ teaching, it seems to run directly contrary to the greatest commandment, the call of all followers of Christ to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbor and the stranger. And here  Jesus just goes off and says, in order to follow him we must all hate all the members of our families and then just to be sure we got it, he has to go off and list them all, every last one of them.
Jesus is using a little bit of hyperbole here to make his point. Jesus does not call for us to hate anybody, not in the way we would think about it anyways. Jesus is calling for these people to not blindly and undiscerningly follow him. Jesus wants them to truly understand what it costs. In order to be followers of Christ one must be willing to give up everything and follow him.
Not too long ago I explained to you the primary unit of first century society was the family. Family was supposed to be the most important thing in your life. You were not to ever do anything to go against your family. Even as an adult it was considered not merely rude but delinquent for someone to openly or publicly disagree with your parents, so much more so if one left them and what they stood for to follow some new teacher who claimed to be the Messiah.
Jesus says that choosing to follow him, is not something to be taken lightly. It is not an endeavor one should do on a whim so to speak. He wants everyone to know and understand the cost of discipleship.  Just as a builder carefully examines the projected costs of building a building before he sets out to build a building; in the same way a king examines what his armies are capable of doing before he sets out to war, Jesus wants those who choose to be his disciples to calculate what they are giving up, count the cost. If a builder or a war tactician does not weigh the costs before beginning they will get halfway through and the cost might be even greater than anticipated and they will not be able to follow through or complete the goal they had set out to do. Likewise, if you are going to follow Jesus you need to be completely aware of the endeavor on which you are about to embark, least you are caught off guard by exactly how much following Jesus can take from you and what you might lose in the process.
As good children, grandchildren, well, descendants of the protestant reformation, we all know that God’s forgiveness and God’s grace is free, but that does not mean that nothing is asked of us when we choose to follow God. We like to emphasize the free nature of the gifts which God gives to us but although the gifts are free the cost of discipleship is most definitely not free. Giving up our selves, giving up what we want to do, how we want to act, speaking the words we want to speak, for doing, acting and speaking in the ways God chooses for us is quite costly. There is nothing which is harder to give up, nothing which is harder to let go of than the control we have over ourselves and doing what we want to do, how we want to do it, when we want to do it. In fact it is so hard to give up that even when we say we want to let go and allow God to be in control we often find that we have retaken control back from God and have to let go all over again.
Jesus at this point is turning to crowds who have decided to wholesale follow him, but do not truly understand what exactly they are giving up when they are choosing to follow him. They think they are going for a stroll, listening to the new preacher in town, going with the crowd, doing something new and exciting but what they are buying into is a new way of life, a new way of ordering everything we do, a whole new way of looking at the world. Being a disciple of Christ means that we have to begin to see the world as Jesus sees the world, love as Jesus loves, forgive as Jesus forgive, show the same kind of grace and mercy to everyone we meet as if we were Jesus ourselves. Instead of acting how we would naturally act, we have to think and choose to act the way Jesus would act. And living as Jesus would live, doing what Jesus would do, saying what Jesus would say, loving as Jesus would love does not come naturally to any of us.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing Jesus above all else. We are choosing Gods ways over our ways. We are choosing the hard path over the smooth one. We are choosing a culture of total abandonment to all that come naturally to us and instead choosing a culture of being renewed, reformed, transformed and remade to be people we can not and will not ever be on our own, but we are choosing to be better than we are, truer than we are. By choosing to follow Jesus we are giving up who we are  and life as we know it, so we can become who we were created to be, and enter into life as it is meant to be lived.
Everything in this world is around us is broken beyond recognition. The lives we live, the choices which come naturally to us, the way we are accustomed to living, moving, acting and speaking are fallen, bent, broken ways to be in this world. Sin has twisted who are. Evil has bent and broken all creation beyond all semblance of what it should have been. When we choose Christ we are giving up life as we know it and exchanging it for life as God knows it can be. We have only known life, broken. We have only known ourselves stained, twisted and tarnished. Life this way is wrong. It is incorrect, but it feels right because it is all we have ever known. The cost of discipleship is giving it all up, all we own all we know, all of who we are, giving it to God so we can become who we could be, who we can be, who we were created to be. When we follow Jesus we give up seeing the world the way it is so we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom come, what the world would be like if the created order was restored; what life could be if it was the way God desires for it to be. We get to give up life broken, and experience life transformed. We get to begin to see the world in the same way, broken waiting to be remade by the one who crafted it in the first place.
As amazing as this sounds it is not easy. Giving up who we are, our very life, to God is big stuff. It is scary stuff. It means going against everything and perhaps everybody in your life. It means denying what the world around us tells us is good and exchanging that broken idea of good for what is truly good.
It may be a bit of an exaggeration when Jesus tells those following him around they must hate their family members and even their own lives in order to truly follow him, but he is not exaggerating all that much. Jesus was literally asking them to decide could they turn from their families to follow him, would they be willing to give up life as they knew it and go where he called them to go, do what he called them to do, no matter who they had to leave behind or what that meant for their own safety, security or sense of self?
For the early Christians following Jesus could really mean leaving your family or having your family leave you.  Truly following Jesus and what he stood for would eventually mean choosing the truth of the gospel, the truth of Jesus over your familial commitments. Following Jesus when your parents called for you not to, was not merely about going against your father and mother’s wishes, it was not merely about creating tension in the family unit, but it meant going against a time honored societal norm, being labeled as a rebellious child, a delinquent, and a societal menus. Following Jesus was not about pleasing your parents. It was not about pleasing your family. It was about pleasing God and Jesus wanted them to know that pleasing God might just put them at odds with the most basic understandings of their culture and put them at odds with those whom they cared about the most. Following Jesus would mean giving up life as they knew it.
You can not be too attached to the life you have, because God is not about upholding the status quo. God is  not about propping up that which makes us feel good and causes us to feel comfy and cozy, God is about radically transforming us, changing us, reforming us into the people we would be, we could be, if sin had not bent and twisted us beyond recognition. And sometimes that means that we have to choose God over and above things which are important to us. Sometimes that means we have to choose God over and above things which our society tells us should be important to us. Sometimes that means giving up everything we have ever known to be true and realize it is false and be willing to learn a new truth and a completely new, radically different way to look at the world. We have to be willing to give everything up, our families, our loved ones, the things we hold most dear to us, even the lives which we have so carefully built and put together, in order to live life the way God is calling for us to live it. We have to be willing to put our belief in Jesus Christ and living the kind of life he calls for us to live over and above all things.
Jesus sees us here this morning. He knows we want to follow him. Arriving at church this morning, choosing to be here over and above the many other places we could choose to be doing this morning says something about the choices we have already begun to make. And as we are here in this sanctuary this morning Jesus is turning to us this morning and saying, “Following me is serious stuff.”  This is live changing, life altering. You need to know what you are getting into. You need to be ready to pay the price it might cost. You need to know what you might be giving up if you continue down the path you are walking. It means choosing God’s ways over and above the ways of the world around you. It means that many times people in the world around you will tell you, you are wrong, that you are choosing something that is crazy, something which is not good, and something which is causing you to break up the things which our culture holds dear. Choosing God and choosing to follow Jesus could mean going against those you are closest to. It means giving up everything you thought was good and right. It means giving up what you believe to be the right way to go, the right way to live and instead going and living in the ways God is calling you to live. I am not saying that God’s way is not better. I am not saying God’s way is not good. I am not even saying that God’s way is not the way we are meant to live, because God’s way is better, it is right and living God’s way means living the was were created to live, but it might not feel better at first. I may not fee good and it will feel as if it goes against your very nature. It means giving up control. It means allowing God to reshape, remake and re-create you back into who God created you to be. It means giving up your life, as you are living it now, giving up life as you know it so that you can live life God’s way.
The cost of discipleship is great. We are all here this morning following Jesus, and Jesus is telling us what it means and he is going to turn back around and go on his way and we have to decide whether or not we are going to choose to continue to follow him or to stop, turn around and make our ways back home. What will you do this morning?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Luke 14:25-33 - Week of Sept 2nd - Sept 8th

Luke 14:25-33
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,
Jesus speaks to the crowds who are following him. These words are not for a select few or for those who are desiring to be better disciples, but these are words for anyone who wants to follow Jesus.
26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
“hate” – this word does not mean what we think it means. Hate is a very strong word in the English language – this is more about loyalty and not so much whether we feel adverse feelings toward someone – it is not about our affections
27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Jesus is going to the cross – followers of Christ – their loyalty must bear going where ever Christ leads; even death on a cross – even the loss of familial relationships (which many early Christians did lose)
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
This is cost analysis for Jesus – Jesus does not want “blind followers” or unwitting followers who do not know or understand what they are getting into. Jesus wants thoughtful followers who see what is at stake, who know understand what they may lose, and are losing and are willing to give it all up, even more for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus wants prudent followers who make the choice willingly.
33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Following Jesus could result in the loss of your closest relationships, as well as everything you own; everything you call your own, your stuff, your time, your sense of security and stability; you must be willing to give up all of ourselves. This is a cost that must be “counted” and determined to be worth the gain.

Dinner with Jesus

Luke 14:1,7-14

When of dinner, we usually think of something like this:A family gathered around a table sharing a meal together.

Or perhaps we think of something a little fancier like this:  
A group of people seated around a nice table sharing a festive meal, perhaps at thanksgiving, birthday or to celebrate a personal achievement.
When we think of a really nice meal we often think of a wedding. My guess is most of us have been to a nice wedding with assigned seating. 
The seating arrangement is usually carefully laid out.
The bride and the groom are seated at “head table,” along with the wedding party. The tables closest to the head table are usually reserved for the Bride and grooms family and other people the couple holds in high esteem.
When we begin to think of dinners in Jesus day, we usually think of this:
 But that is all wrong. That is not what dinner parties looked like at this time.

A dinner party in Jesus day looked more like this.
 Or This.
They reclined on couches around tables that held food. And where you sat at the table was determined by your social status in the community. (pic)
I.                  Jesus and parties
A.  Seating arrangement in Jesus’ day
1.    Seating order was very important in the 1st century Middle East. Everyone’s seat was determined by their “place” in society. These things were strictly adhered to. This required everyone to know their social standing in respect to all the other guests.
2.    The higher social status you had the closer you sat to the host
3.    People cared a lot about where they sat in the room was all about social status
4.    It said a lot about who you were and your importance in the community in relation to those around you.
B.       Guest Lists in Jesus’ day
1.    Only invited people who had the same social status or better
2.    You only went to parties where the host was on the same social status or better
3.    Whenever you were invited to a party you were expected to throw a party in return and invite your host
4.    Whose house you went to and who invited you to their house determine your social status
C.      What Jesus has to say about all this
1.    Don’t ever try to bring honor to yourself by claiming your social status by sitting closer to the host than you should, it might end up shaming you
2.    It would be pretty presumptuous to go sit in the most honored position before all the guests had arrived.

3.    When you host a party don’t invite only those of your own social status (your friends, relatives and your rich neighbors), instead invite the poor
4.    Why? – “For all those that exalt themselves will be humble and all those that humbles themselves will be exalted” and “and you will be blessed because they can not repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
II.               Being Humble
A.      Jesus and the Pharisees
1.    Starts out with Jesus and the Pharisees at a party.
2.    Pharisees – the Good church people of their day – the people that observed the Sabbath, followed all the laws of God, they did everything that they were suppose to do, so that they could be the best followers of God that they could be and tried to make sure the everyone else did so as well.
3.    Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to see if he would do anything wrong – thought too highly of themselves
4.    Jesus was watching them (watching him) and saw that they were trying to exalt themselves in everything that they did
B.       What is Jesus really saying here?
1.    That we should do things that show that we are not high up on the social ladder, so that other people can give us honor and move us “closer to the host”. - No
2.    Does Jesus really never want us to invite our friends and relatives to our house for a dinner party? - No
3.    Jesus is concerned with us exalting ourselves thinking to highly of ourselves – thinking that we are better than other people for whatever reason.
C.      Humility
1.    Jesus tells us to seek the company of the lowliest in society, to choose the last place.
2.    We are not to jockey and fight for position or power, or to strive for high social standing
3.    We are not to see ourselves as better than others or more worthy for any reason
4.    It is easy to exalt ourselves because we are better than rest of the world in that we have Jesus as our savior, we live good lives and don’t do things that we aren’t supposed to do.
5.    To strive to be seen by those around you at the “Best” Christian is the “holy” version of this
6.    Watching Christians fight over being “last in line”
7.    Being last becomes the new being first
8.    The idea is to not be caught up in outward displays of standing – social, political, religious
III.           What does it look like to live Resurrection values in our world?
A.  What does it look like when we are not elevationg or seeking honor for ourselves?
A.      Treat everyone as if they are the honored guest – give everyone honor, give everyone respect
B.       And do not seek to draw attention to yourself to be seen by others
C.      Elevate those around you.
D.      Look to Jesus and his life as an example
1.    Give freely, love unabashedly, give honor to
2.    Instead of seeking to be the most honored person in the room or the person with the highest social standing, seek to be the nicest, the kindest, the most polite, the person who listens and works to understand others, the person who people like to be around – humble
Living the resurrection life is about giving, not to gain anything, but because God call us to give, to love those around us because God calls us to, not because we can gain anything in return. You cannot live the resurrection life selfishly.