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Bishop Michael Rinehart

Parade of Congregations: Colorado River Conference

The congregations of the Gulf Coast Synod are organized into seven conferences, each with a Dean. Earlier this year, synod staff visited the congregations of the Bayou Conference (southern Louisiana). Today synod staff visited some of the congregations of the Colorado River Conference (Fayetteville and surroundings, near Lutherhill).

Waldeck Lutheran Church in Ledbetter, Texas is served by Pastor David Tinker.

St. John Lutheran Church of Warrenton in Round Top, Texas, served by Pastor Marcia Kifer and Intern Jonathan Mellenkopf, is part of the four-congregation Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County.

The new columbarium.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top, Texas May be the oldest church building in Texas that has held continuous worship. They are served by Pastor John David Nedbalek, who also serves St. John Shelby. Here’s a bit of History of Bethlehem Round Top.

Here I’m playing one of the kdest organs in Texas, the Wandke Organ. Jack Lienhard, The Engines of our Ingenuity, did a podcast on the Wandke Organ. Episode 530.

St. Paul Lutheran Church of Shelby, Texas is served by Pastor John David Nedbalek, who also serves Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top, Texas.

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Texas, served by Pastor Marcia Kifer and Intern Jonathan Mellenkopf, is part of the four-congregation Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County.

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ellinger, served by Pastor Marcia Kifer and Intern Jonathan Mellenkopf, is part of the four-congregation Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County.

During 2009 St. Paul did a few renovations to their historic building. Check out these photos of the project:

St. Paul Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Texas, is served by Pastor Candi O’Meara.

St. John Lutheran Church of Rutersville, served by Pastor Marcia Kifer and Intern Jonathan Mellenkopf, is part of the four-congregation Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County.

Photos to come.

The Lutherhill Gala

The 13th Annual Lutherhill Champaign and S’mores Gala was help on September 7, 2019, to raise funds and celebrate ministry. This year the event raised $117,000.

Lutherhill.org is the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod’s camp in LaGrange, Texas, at the highest point in Fayette County, on land purchased from Philips-ConocoPhillips in 1954. Lutherhill also runs Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island.

Some photos from previous years…

2018: The 12th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2017: The 11th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2016: The 10th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2015: The 9th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2014: The 8th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2013: The 7th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2011: The 5th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2010: The 4th Annual Lutherhill Gala

2009: The 3rd Annual Lutherhill Gala

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Kinsmen Lutheran Church, Houston

It was a pleasure to be at Kinsmen this Saturday/Sunday, September 14/15, 2019. A lot going on. Small groups were meeting to study Adam Hamilton’s book, Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. An Alpha group was gearing up. They have over 50 in their current ESL class. Services on Saturday at 5:30 pm and a Sunday at 8:15, 9:30 and 11:00 am.

Retired Pastor John Boldt played in the band. Retired Pastor Harvey Bongers was in the congregation.

Sara Ray led the children’s message.

Pastor Beth Warpmaeker

Pastor Mark England

Seminary Intern Rudy Flores and Assisting Minister Julie Mulkey (our newest Synod Council member).

Choir

Pentecost 15, Proper 20, Lectionary 25 – September 22, 2019

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
OR
Amos 8:4-7 – Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat…”

Psalm 79:1-9 – The nations have laid ruin to Jerusalem and given our bodies to the birds. How long, O Lord, will you kindle your anger against us?
OR
Psalm 113 – Praise the name of the Lord, from the rising of the sun to its setting. He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the ashes. 

1 Timothy 2:1-7 – I wish everyone to raise up their hands without anger or argument. Pray for government leaders. For this is the will of God who wishes everyone to be saved.

Luke 16:1-13 – Parable of the Shrewd Manager. “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.” Interpretation: Use your filthy, stinkin’ money to do some good in this life, so that in the next the poor will vouch for you.

September 23, 2005 is the anniversary of Hurricane Rita.

 

 

Preach at the Beach

 

Anna Carter Florence will be with us for our annual preaching retreat, coming up October 17. Feel free to drive in and out and make it a one-day event (8:30-4, $45). Or stay at Zion Retreat Center overnight Wednesday and/or Thursday ($45/night).

Register Here

 

 

 

Jeremiah and Amos: A Concern for the Poor

 

Jeremiah mentions the poor three times in chapter 18. Amos offers an even more stern warning for those of us who are rich. Here is 8:4-7 in its entirety: 

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

5 saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.


We have here a critique of those who take advantage of the poor. Think of outrageously obscene interest rates. Amos speaks of shady business practices, like rigging the scales so the wheat looks heavier than it is, therefore costing more. And using wheat mixed with the dust of the threshing floor. Cheating those who are desperately poor. Can there be anything more despicable? 

A few verses later, Amos announces some of the consequences (verse 10):

I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.

Wow, baldness on every head. Isn’t that a bit harsh?

This is a continuation of some of Amos’ earlier warnings, like this from chapter 6 (verses 1, 4-7):

Alas all who are at ease in Zion… 

4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;

5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;

6 who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Can we proclaim the gospel without proclaiming the law? Does this stern warning not need to be heard? 

 

 

 

Luke 16: Wealth and Discipleship

The Bible reminds us that we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. There are no hearses towing U-Hauls. The love of money is the root of all evil. So, just to be safe, be rich in good works, generosity, and sharing.

Just a reminder, we are in the midst of a series of stewardship texts:

This week we begin four weeks of parables from the Gospel of Luke, most of which are incredible stewardship texts. Faith and finances: 

September 15, 2019 – 1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
September 22 2019 – 1 Timothy 2:1-7 – Parable of the Shrewd Manager
September 29, 2019 – 1 Timothy 6:6-19 – Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus
October 6, 2019 – 2 Timothy 1:1-14 – Parable of the Mustard Seed (undeserving slaves)


I love this week’s peculiar gospel story, which only appears in Luke’s gospel. Jesus tells a fable that praises a scoundrel. We are told to make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth (ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ). This is a curious passage, one that is certain to leave listeners scratching their heads a little bit.

Let it bother them for a while. 

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

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. 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? 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.”

This parable is perplexing on several counts. Jesus praises a dishonest steward. He tells his followers to use dirty money to make friends in this life, so that in the next, they might return the favor. It’s edgy. This is, in part, some of its power. Don’t explain it away. “Hey everyone, Jesus said we should make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth! Take that and chew on it a little bit.”

 

This is the zinger: 

make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,
so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

A little digging and it gets clearer. Use your filthy money, your dishonest wealth, to make friends with the poor, so that when you kick the bucket, and the tables are turned in the eschaton, the poor might just welcome you into eternity. One gets the impression that Jesus believes the poor are in charge of the hereafter, and that no one gets to heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor. As the world’s wealthy, in a capitalistic society, we squirm when Jesus tells us that our eternal destination may be affected by our use of wealth, and our relationship with the poor in this life.

Then, in verse 11 he says, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, why on earth would God trust you with true riches?” Apparently, your money does not constitute “true riches.” If not, then what are true riches? You might get your people thinking about that. 

“You cannot serve both God and wealth.” So choose whom you shall serve…

Squirm away. Next week it gets worse. Much worse.

In next week’s gospel (also peculiar to Luke), a rich man, with purple garb and linen paraments, lives much like the ones mentioned in Amos. Meanwhile Lazarus is poor, starving to death and diseased. He is dressed in sores, which the dogs lick. Nice. Jesus has a gift for vivid imagery. (If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…) Lazarus longs to eat the rich man’s scraps. I’m mindful here of all the food we scrape into the garbage in American society. Both the rich man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is carried into Abraham’s bosom. The unnamed rich person goes to Hades.

As I said, it gets worse. But one week at a time. Let’s take this story bit by bit. It seems to me this is the kind of story that begs a line-for-line exposition. It’s simply too fun to pass up. 

 

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. 

The word for manager here is οἰκονόμον, “oikonomon.” This is the word from which we get our word “economy.” “Oikos” is the word for house. “Nomos” means law. The “oikonomia” is the law of the house. Oikonomos gets translated steward/stewardship, manager, treasurer, administrator, or sometimes superintendent. The “oikonomos” was the city treasurer. In this case it refers to the manager of a wealthy owner’s estate. Mikeal Parsons, (“Luke” in the Paieia series) suggests it would have been understood that this was a domestic slave. Perhaps an accountant. The rich man’s accountant has been either wasting funds from the estate or embezzling. Read “mismanagement” at the best, employee theft, misappropriation of funds, or embezzlement at the worst. 

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.’

The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Someone has blown the whistle. “You cannot be my manager any longer,” is basically this: “You’re fired.” Hand me the books and collect your things. “Bad steward.” In the story of the Prodigal Son (which immediately precedes this in Luke 15), the bad son is forgiven by the father, for no apparent reason other than the love of the Father. What, the hearers must be wondering, will happen to the bad steward?

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. 

Drawing on Aesop: Falsely Accused Trickster, Parsons points out the narrative never concludes whether the manager is actually guilty or not. This could be a familiar narrative of the falsely accused slave. History is replete with such fables and actual occurrences. One need only consider the number of black men lynched for allegedly molesting or disrespecting white women during the lynching era. Slaves and servants are vulnerable to such accusations. 

Guilty or not, what is the slave to do now? “I’ve lost my job.” Two options: dig or beg. Manual labor or abject poverty. With weak back and strong pride, the shrewd manager decides neither are good choices, and starts to hatch a plan. Jesus, the master storyteller, has them on the edge of their seats. What will the steward do? How will he survive?

I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 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.’ 

It’s a clever ploy. This is why some companies make you collect your things immediately and have security usher you out the door. Once you know you’re done, you have nothing to lose. Anything is possible. 

The manager does some major favors for his master’s debtors, at the master’s expense. As if a fire sale, the accountant cuts the debtors’ debts drastically, some by 50%. He isn’t fired yet. Once fired, hopefully one of those clients will be grateful, and he’ll be offered a job. Once again, the steward/accountant/manager does more of what he what he may have already been doing: cooking the books, to his advantage. 

The listeners know what’s coming next: the master’s rage.

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. 

But wait! Not angry? Here is the surprise in Jesus’ story. Instead of flying into a rage at this impertinent employee, the master laughs a hearty guffaw. “Well played, steward. Well played.” The master is shrewd as the manager is shrewd. The master is impressed. Worldly business owners and worldly business managers are a heck of a lot smarter than the children of light, Jesus points out. Pay attention. 

Parsons points out:

…the manager’s action effectively puts the master into a corner: the relieved debtors will be so full of gratitude and praise for the master for his unexpected generosity that either the master has to risk great bitterness by disowning the steward’s action, or he is forced, whatever he really feels privately, to praise the steward for his action… In this sense, the story is again part of the larger stock of slave-as-trickster stories… (Parsons, Luke, loc. 6118)

Then the punch line:

So 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. 

Is Jesus telling people to be dishonest in their business practices? Of course not, Augustine attests. Anyone listening to the story is smiling and laughing at Jesus’ humor. And if we tell the story in the sermon with just the right approach, the congregation will laugh too. 

We are all prodigal children and dishonest managers. There is no question that we ourselves fall short of God’s righteousness. But here in this story, there is hope for the unrighteous. If you cannot be perfect, then at least be generous. Your money is tainted, yes, but use it for good. You may be rich by the world’s standards, yes, so take what you have been given and show great generosity to the poor, then when you get to heaven, to that great flip-flop where the first are last and the last are first, and you are the homeless one, maybe one of the poor to whom you were generous will take you in. You never know. 

Preparation for the next life includes careful stewardship of resources in this life.

 

It’s a great story. Squirm away, but it’s a great story. 

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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

Life on earth is a trial run, Jesus seems to be saying. If you are faithful with petty earthly wealth, God might entrust to you the riches of the kingdom. Jesus is not so hyper-spiritual that he doesn’t see the value in being faithful with our assets. He understands our relationship to mammon is a reflection of our relationship with God. If money is your god, it will lead to a different set of priorities than if God is your God. 

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.

And there it is. Choose which master you wish to serve. There is, for Jesus, a clear relationship between how people handle earthly and spiritual things.

What’s the good news here? Jeffrey (“Luke“) suggests an answer. In this flip-flop universe that Jesus proposes, what are we who are rich to do? Make no mistake, we are the rich. We are the upper 5% in the world. If you have fresh drinking water, a roof over your head, an automobile, at least one meal today, you are doing well by global standards. If it’s true what Jesus says, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, then what hope is there for us? 

The story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 offers a suggestion. Jesus enters Jericho and goes right over to the wealthiest guy in town, who has by his own admission (19:8) gotten his money by cheating others. In the end Zaccheus gives half of his dishonest wealth to the poor and repays those he has cheated times four. This is not law. This is above and beyond what the law requires. This is gospel. Then Jesus says something astonishing, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Generosity is not in itself salvation, but it is a sign that salvation has taken hold, and ones heart is right with God. Generosity is a fruit of salvation. 

 

The good news is, God has a heart for scoundrels. 

The good news is God saves the rich, too.

And there are clear signs when this happens. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentecost 14, Proper 19, Lectionary 24 – September 15, 2019

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28My people are stupid children with no understanding, who know how to do evil, but not good. The whole land shall be a desolation.
OR
Exodus 32:7-14 – Moses pleads with God to turn back his wrath against the people.

Psalm 14 – The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” You confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.
OR
Psalm 51:1-10 – I was a sinner from my mother’s womb. Create in me a clean heart, O God…

1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost.

Luke 15:1-10 – Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin.

 

September 11, 2001 is the date of the destruction of the World Trade Center (resources).

September 13, 2008 is the date of Hurricane Ike.

September 23, 2005 is the date of Hurricane Rita.

 

 

Jeremiah: Skilled in Doing Evil

 

This coming Sunday is September 15. People remember 9/11 this time of year. The first lesson rings ominously. In particular, this sentence:

They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good…

And why not? Certainly, we must steer people away from simplistic cause and effect. It is all too easy for victims of 9/11 or the recent flooding in Houston, Hurricanes in a Florida and shootings in El Paso and Odessa, to begin to feel that God making these things happen, to punish us for this or that, or that the universe is against us. Fundamentalist preachers of all faiths will likely point to the latest disaster, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, and say, “See?! You have been bad, very bad, and so God has sent calamity upon you.” 

There is this mentality in Jeremiah, but Jesus, of course, discounts this theology. “Remember those folks who died when the wall fell on them in Siloam?” Jesus asks. “Do you think they were worse sinners than everyone else?” It’s a rhetorical question. Of course not. Bad things happen. Sometimes we bring calamity upon ourselves. Other times, accidents happen. 

We would not, however, be amiss if we pointed out the reality of human violence. It is true that we have become skilled at doing evil. On 9/11, our national history was fundamentally altered because evil personified murdered our brothers and sisters in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Our response with war in Afghanistan and two wars in Iraq have also wreaked much havoc. How many lives have been lost? What if we were as skilled at feeding the hungry of the world as we are at bombing? 

Here is the entire text of the Jeremiah lesson:

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— 12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them… 

 

“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. 27 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. 28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

 

This text was written for a different context. There are, nevertheless, lessons which we can glean, if we are careful to listen deeply and not make simplistic associations. In what ways are we skilled at evil, knowing not how to do good? In what ways has our evil laid waste to the earth as Jeremiah describes? Even the birds of the air flee. How have human wars destroyed not just humans, but nature, leaving fruitful vineyards a wasteland? Even the earth mourns.

 

 

 

Timothy

Beginning this week, we get carefully chosen 1 Timothy texts the rest of September, and then 2 Timothy for a while in October, until Reformation Sunday when of course we get Romans. 

September 15, 2019 – 1 Timothy 1:12-17
September 22 2019 – 1 Timothy 2:1-7
September 29, 2019 – 1 Timothy 6:6-19

October 6, 2019 – 2 Timothy 1:1-14
October 13, 2019 – 2 Timothy 2:8-15
October 20, 2019 – 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
October 27, 2019 – 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

This week, we get the very first verses of 1 Timothy:

12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Students of the New Testament have read sufficiently to know that the language of the pastoral letters are neither Pauline, nor first century, but few congregations have been exposed to this kind of scholarship. Nevertheless, the author is using Paul’s name to invoke his authority. 

Older folks who grew up in the Lutheran Church will no doubt hear in verse 15, where “Paul” says he is the “chief” or “foremost” of sinners, the old hymn, Chief of Sinners Though I Be. This hymn has survived to the ELW (609), but is rarely sung in congregations. Sung to the familiar Lenten tune “Gethsemane,” it might be worth dragging out in congregations that like traditional hymnody, if you are preaching on this text. Here is the older wording by William McComb, an Irish poet. 

Chief of Sinners Though I Be”

by William McComb, 1793-c. 1870

 

  1. Chief of sinners though I be,
    Jesus shed His blood for me;
    Died that I might live on high,
    Lived that I might never die,As the branch is to the vine,
    I am His, and He is mine.

 

  1. Oh, the height of Jesus’ love!
    Higher than the heavens above,
    Deeper than the depths of sea,
    Lasting as eternity.
    Love that found me–wondrous thought!–
    Found me when I sought Him not.

 

  1. Jesus only can impart
    Balm to heal the smitten heart;
    Peace that flows from sin forgiven,
    Joy that lifts the soul to heaven;
    Faith and hope to walk with God
    In the way that Enoch trod.

 

  1. Chief of sinner though I be,
    Christ is All in all to me;
    All my wants to Him are known,
    All my sorrows are His own.
    Safe with Him from earthly strife,
    He sustains the hidden life. 

 

  1. O my Savior, help afford
    By Thy Spirit and Thy Word!
    When my wayward heart would stray,
    Keep me in the narrow way;
    Grace in time of need supply
    While I live and when I die.

Both the hymn and the passage from 1 Timothy focus on the grace of God poured into our lives in spite of our unworthiness. This is a message that needs to be heard often. Too many people shy away from the church because they feel they are not worthy. “If you knew what I’ve done pastor, you would not ask me to be involved…” This sounds too much like what they said to Jesus, when the woman anointed him in Simon the Pharisee’s house, “If he knew what sort of woman this was…”

God’s mission is fulfilled with such as these. If God can use Moses and Paul, who were murderers, then God can probably use you and me. And when it comes to serving the world in Jesus name, well, no matter what you’ve done, you can feed the hungry. Come along with us. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. 

 

 

Luke 15: God and Lost Stuff

 

This week we begin four weeks of parables from the Gospel of Luke, most of which are incredible stewardship texts:

  1. Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
  2. Parable of the Shrewd Manager
  3. Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus
  4. Parable of the Mustard Seed (undeserving slaves) 

Then we are in Luke chapters 17 and 18: Healing of the Ten Lepers, Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart), and Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (warning against hypocrisy). 

The parable of the Shrewd Manager, also known as the Dishonest Steward is one of my favorite stewardship texts. Use your filthy stinking money to do some good in this world. Make friends for yourself in this world by means of unrighteous mammon. Yikes. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus turns up the heat. If you think of the story of the 10 lepers as a kind of parable, it’s all parables through September and October. 

I would consider a 6-week series on the parables: “Stories that Teach and Challenge,” or “Jesus the Storyteller,” “Stories for Life,” or something. Everybody loves a good story.

9/15/19 – Finding What is Lost
9/22/19 – Heavenly Investing
9/29/29 – Rich Man/Poor Man
10/6/19 – Mustard Seed Faith
10/13/19 – Giving Thanks
10/20/19 – Persistent Prayer

So let’s jump into the first parable from Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

We have spent time in Lent pulling apart the story of the Prodigal Son (or preferably, “The Two Lost Sons”) in Luke 15, with the help of Timothy Keller and his book Prodigal God. Click this link and then go down to Suggestion II: The Prodigal God. There you can click on the links.

Keller points out that Luke 15 begins by describing two groups of people, who have two very different reactions to Jesus.

“Now there were tax collectors and sinners gathering around to hear him, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Notice that these two groups respond to Jesus’ ministry quite differently. The first group gathers. The second group grumbles.

Today, people respond to the gospel in the same way. Try showing grace to someone who the community deems unworthy and watch what happens. But the fact remains: God cares about people who are lost. Jesus is willing to overlook their brokenness in order to welcome them home, like a prodigal father. In Luke, Jesus shows us that God cares for the least, the last and the lost. 

What follows in Luke chapter 15 are three stories about lost things. There’s a story of the lost sheep, then the story of the lost coin and finally the story of two lost sons. These stories serve to explain why Jesus is spending so much time with sinners.

It’s very hard to pull any of these parables out and deal with them separately in my opinion. These three stories about lost stuff build to a climax in the story of the Prodigal Son. The shepherd goes to look for the lost sheep. The woman goes to look for the lost coin. Who goes to look for the lost son? No one.

All three stories have rejoicing when the lost is found. Only the last story – the lost son – shows us, using a family systems story before its time, why some might not actually want the lost to return. It is a critique of the Pharisees. It might be a critique of us as well. Chapter 15 is one piece.

All three lost stories in Luke 15 are unique to Luke. If we did not have the Gospel of Luke, we would not know these stories today.

David Jeffrey (“Luke”) reminds us that showing hospitality to Gentiles was an offense for observant Jews. Table fellowship was out of the question. These stories go to the heart of Jesus’ critique of his own religious system. Nothing is quite so central to Jesus’ ministry as commensality: table fellowship with all, especially with those ostracized from the religious community. Jesus’ ministry is not only to the religiously observant. “I have not come to call righteous, but sinners.”

So lets hear the story as it is written in Luke. Five verses (Luke 15:3-7):

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep. When found, the lost sheep is not scolded, whipped or punished. Jeffrey quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa:

But when the shepherd has found the sheep, he did not punish it, nor did he get it back to the flock by driving it, but rather by placing it upon his shoulder and carrying it gently he united it to his flock. (Aquinas Catena Aurea, 3:2:525)

The shepherd gently shoulders the sheep and rejoices. Rejoicing is the proper response. Then comes the party. The shepherd calls together friends and neighbors and celebrates. All heaven rejoices. As in so many stories, things end with a heavenly party.

Hear now the second parable. Three verses (Luke 15:8-10):

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

It would be a shame to not have a small group study on these texts. Let people dwell on the passages and reflect. This will bear much fruit.

It’s hard for people today to imagine turning the house upside down for one coin. These stories make sense in developing countries where the situation is much closer to the life of poverty people lived in Jesus’ day. You might tell a story closer to the cultural and economic milieu of your folks.

I once was in a snowball fight while in my first call in Iowa. I threw a snowball and my wedding ring came off with it. The church youth group spent some time sifting through mounds of snow, because this ring was obviously important to me. And, believe it or not, they found it. Perhaps you have a story of misplacing a wedding ring with both monetary and emotional value? How did you feel when it was found? This is how heaven rejoices when one wayward wanderer returns.

I would be tempted to approach these texts as evangelism texts and my message as an evangelism message. How committed are we to seeking the lost? The preacher may want to invite listeners to consider how they relate to outsiders, those who are not observant. How does your congregation as a whole interface with those who are not actively part of any church? Is your orientation angry critique, or compassionate welcome with subsequent rejoicing? In Bible study, some questions might be:

  • When have you lost something of value and searched diligently for it? Did you find it?
  • When have you felt the most lost in your life?
  • How did you come to the Christian faith?
  • Were there times you walked away from God? The church? What brought you back?
  • What might this story suggest about how we might relate to the “nones” in the most Christlike way?
  • What do unchurched folks need most from the church?
  • What’s our strategy for welcoming those outside our community of faith?

Keller goes on to critique today’s church under the sub-heading, “Why People Like Jesus but not the Church.” You don’t have to be in ministry long to discover and be amazed that Jesus is riveting, even 2,000 years later. At the same time, however, the community that bears his name? Not so much. Outsiders are often put off by our church culture. Think Dana Carvey and Church Lady from the old Sunday Night Live sketches. This is the world’s impression of church. That’s why the sketch was funny. It was a caricature, but it hit a nerve. (You younger folks can You Tube it.)

“Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious,” Keller points out, “while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day.” Then he suggests that our churches today do the opposite. The broken and marginalized avoid the church. We tend to attract the found, not the lost.

Although Psalm 23 is not appointed for this day, Psalm 23 hymns like “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” and “Shepherd Me O God” would make fitting sermon hymns. “Amazing Grace” has lost/found themes. There are many versions of this hymn, as well as the most favorite hymn in the US. “O Zion Haste” also embodies a message of evangelism. I love that old schmaltzy hymn:

Proclaim to every people, tongue and nation
That God, in Whom they live and move, is love:
Tell how God stooped to save His lost creation,
And died on earth that we might live above.
Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace
Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

 

Pentecost 13, Proper 18, Lectionary 23 – September 8, 2019

Jeremiah 18:1-11The potter’s house: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, what the potter has done?”
OR
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You formed me in my inward parts. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
OR
Psalm 1 – Happy are those who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the seats of scoffers… They are like tress planted by streams of water, that yield fruit in due season…

Philemon 1-21 – Nearly the entire letter to Philemon, I would read the last three verses as well. Paul’s ominous, “Prepare a guest room for me” indicates: I’m coming to check up on you to see if you followed through with my request. This letter proves that when Paul says there is no longer slave or free (Gal 5:28-29), he means it. He doesn’t mean we’ll pretend when we’re in church, that these very real social distinctions don’t exist. He means a very real upheaval in relationships in the very real world.

Luke 14:25-33 – Renounce family and possessions. Take up your cross and follow me. Count the cost. Don’t start a tower and then fail to finish it.

 

August 25, 2017 is the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

August 29, 2005 is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

September 1, 2008 is the anniversary of Hurricane Gustav.

 

 

Jeremiah 18

 

This week we have an irresistible selection of rich texts from which to choose.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is told to go down to the potter’s house and learn a thing or two. It would be a really cool this week to have a potter come and set up a wheel, using the images for the sermon. You could give out clay to every member, for them to roll around in their hands and mold during the sermon. Or perhaps just for the children in the children’s message. There are so many lessons. God shapes us and forms us in ways that are sometimes out of our control. We do not choose to be born. Our lives, our bodies are an unrequested, undeserved gift. We do not choose our hair color, our country of origin, our circumstances or our emotional makeup. So much is shaped by the Potter, whose hands continue to shape and mold us by events that are often out of our control. 

This text is for the house of Israel. You will have to deal with theophany, because it is clear that God intends to bring calamity down on Israel if they don’t shape up. You can then speak of our imperfections. We are but clay pots, with cracks. I’m mindful of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics,

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

You could bring in Paul’s comments that have always moved me:

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deuteronomy 30

Luke 14 amplifies the theme of hospitality. Invite the poor and crippled to your dinner parties.

Deuteronomy 30 invites us to choose life! This is a passage of law, but a great place to start to lay the foundation for gospel. The commandments are given to us for our own good, the Deuteronomist tells us. We often forget this.

If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. (v. 16)

In Exodus, the commandments begin with this phrase: “I am the Lord your God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” It is as if God is saying, “Look, I am the Potter. I created you. I know how you’re put together. I brought you out of the land of Egypt. I have your best interests in mind. Pay attention… Love God. Love neighbor. Honor your parents. Don’t kill one another…”

But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (vv. 17-18)

Keep these commandments so that you might prosper, so that you might have a long life. Or, you can pursue other gods of self-destruction and live in chaos. Your call.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (vv. 19-20)

 

 

 

The Psalms

 

Psalm 139 fits well with the Jeremiah potter’s text: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You formed me in my inward parts. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Psalm 1 goes well with the Deuteronomy text: “Happy are those who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in way the way of sinners, nor sit in the seats of scoffers… They are like trees planted by streams of water, that yield fruit in due season…”

 

 

 

Philemon

 

The epistle is a complete departure from these texts. This undisputed letter from Paul is worth an entire sermon at some point. Why not now, in the wake of the 56th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech? Consider talking about slavery. You can bring in our recent Declaration to the People of African Descent. Even though there are significant differences between the slavery of the first century Roman Empire and North American chattel slavery, the analogy holds. 

This lesson is 21 verses, nearly the entire letter. Go ahead and read the whole letter. Then consider bringing in Galatians 3:28-29. When Paul says there is no longer slave or free does he really mean it? Does he only mean: Let’s just pretend these real-world distinctions don’t exist when we’re in church? Or is he suggesting that the life, death and resurrection of Christ call for the end of actual slavery, something that was taken for granted in every society ever? 

Philemon settles the matter. Here we have the gritty, original Paul. The apostle insists the slave owner, Philemon, receive his escaped slave Onesimus (lit. “Useful”) home, not as a slave, but now as a brother. Paul’s ominous, “Prepare a guest room for me” warns Philemon: I’m going to be coming by to personally check in on you, and see if you done as I ask.

 

 

 

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 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. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.


Large crowds are traveling with Jesus, we are told in the first verse. Jesus attracted a crowd. Was it his phenomenal preaching skills or his healing ministry? Perhaps both? People today seem afraid to talk about numbers. Luke is not. Here Luke tells us Jesus drew a crowd. Earlier he told us Jesus had a crowd of 5,000. In Acts he will tell us 3,000 were baptized on Pentecost. The religious authorities may have it in for Jesus, but Luke wants us to know Jesus is very popular with the common people.

Then we get this very hard saying about “hating” your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and life in general. We recently had a similar text, where Jesus said he had come to bring fire to the earth. That families would be split. I have no doubt that this was the actual experience of the church as both Jews and Gentiles took up faith in Christ. 

Drawing upon Tannehil, Mikeal Parsons (Luke, from the Paieia series) points out that this is one of Jesus’ “anti-family” statements (8:19-21; 9:52-69; 12:51-53; 18:29; 21:26). This seems in direct contradiction with the commandment to honor your parents. This passage may be a warning to would-be Christ followers about the cost of discipleship. Following Christ means being part of a new community that may challenge other allegiances. Bonhoeffer is helpful here. “We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life.” (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 106) If you take a stand for justice, for example, you are risking everything. You might end up like Jesus, Gandhi, Lincoln or King.

Jeffrey, in his commentary, Luke, says this is a great example of Jewish hyperbole. Parsons and Danker agree. In Luke, Jesus is saying love of God supersedes even love of family. Hyperbole works well to get the attention of a large crowd. “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. Better to go to heaven with one eye, than to hell with two.” Someone in the back of the crowd: “Wait. What?” Of course Jesus is probably not proposing self-mutilation, any more than he suggests putting a camel through the eye of a needle, but it certainly gets your attention. Jeffrey suggests Jesus is making a rhetorical not literal point. If you decide Jesus is making a literal point and choose to preach on it, please, send me your sermon.

And yet, imagine converting to Christianity from Islam. How might that go with the parents and grandparents? Luke is preparing his people to be prepared for the backlash. Don’t expect this to be easy. In the Central African Republic, Fulani tribesmen told me about their conversion to Christianity. The family will disown family members who convert to Christianity. They will take away all their cattle. They will be left with no income. Lutheran churches in the Central African Republic know they will need to bring cattle to the baptism, to provide some financial support for converts, until people get on their feet.

Jesus warns his would-be followers to count the cost before they set out on this journey. Just as you would not start to build a tower without thinking it all the way through, take a moment and think through your discipleship. Are you willing to go the distance?

The last phrase is perhaps the hardest. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (v. 33) Resist the urge to explain it away. In a wealthy, materialistic culture, this sentence will make us so uncomfortable. People who have spent their whole lives accumulating wealth, homes, and status, will balk the most. The urge to make it mean something other than what it actually says is nearly irresistible. While this is also probably hyperbole, overstating things to capture our attention, the preacher can take away its edge and power by watering it down. The real question to ask your congregation (and yourself), is this: What is standing in the way of me following Jesus? What do I need to give up?

Jesus invites us into a costly discipleship. If we preach grace without discipleship, we are missing a significant portion of Jesus’ message. Jesus invites us to recognize discipleship as a high-risk endeavor. This might be a good Sunday to talk about discipleship, and to ask people what following Christ really means. Pass out cards at the beginning of the service and ask people to think about, and write down what they think following Christ means. Later, address it in the sermon. Ask them to put them in the offering plate. Share some of the ideas in next week’s sermon. 

The good news in all of this is the fact that we become truly free when we lay down our lives. “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Chapter 2)

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