Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Let’s Pray”

Luke 11:1-13
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

A Message from the Pastor
Let’s pray. That’s what the gospel story is all about. It’s about praying.

Let us pray is what we say in communal prayer when we come together to worship. It is a little different than personal prayer. And when we come together in communal prayer, the leader is the one who prays. If someone were asked to pray during communal prayer, many of us would become uncomfortable and hope we are not called upon, since we might be concerned about the words we use and how we sound.

Personal prayer is somewhat different. Personal prayer is about relationship. Personal prayer is about being in relationship with our God. Let me give some examples of what personal prayer might look like.

When we go to some big event or party, we will see people who we might not know or are just acquainted with on a name basis. The conversation is usually about such things as the weather, general experiences, or such things as sports. This is an example of being relational, even though it is somewhat shallow. Prayer can be shallow, also.

Let’s imagine we’re talking to God in prayer. Sometimes we might think that we are talking to a traffic cop. We want God to guide “things” forward or stop them. We want God to let us move in the direction we want to move. Sometimes we might think that God is a judge. There is someone we are having a problem with and we want God to “zap” him/her. Or, we’re having some problems and we might want God to go easy on us. Then, there are times we might think God is Santa Claus and we want God to respond to our long list of needs and wants. This is also relational. It can be somewhat intimate, also.

Let’s also picture ourselves in relationship with someone. There are times we may talk to the individual briefly, just to let them know we are thinking about them. That can be prayer. There are times we may talk to that person with whom we are close to let him/her know what’s going on as the day unfolds. That can be prayer. Then, the day ends, and we find ourselves sharing the events of the day. That can be prayer. Also, there are times when we need to discern issues, work through them, consider all the alternatives and possible consequences. That is also prayer. Other times, in our closeness, have a “pink cloud” experience. That can be prayer with God. Consider times you might walk a mountain trail and enjoy the scenery and the beauty of creation. The trail may be narrow and you might not be able to walk side by side. During the walk, nobody says anything. There is no need to. That also can be prayer.

When the disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, we need to consider that, although they were uneducated, they knew how to pray. They had been taught that. They knew how to position themselves. They knew the kind of prayers they were told to pray. But they had watched Jesus. They knew he was very close to God. (The author of the gospel of Luke reported more about Jesus in prayer than any of the other gospel writers.) They wanted that closeness.

Jesus knew what they were asking. That’s why Jesus told the parable. Picture the people living at that time. Their homes were not ranch style or two story homes with several bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and possibly a dining room. Their homes were made from earthen materials, with a straw roof and mud, and the most rooms they had were probably three – one for everyone to sleep in, a living and eating room, and a room for the animals. When the neighbor/friend came at midnight, he knew that when he knocked on the door, everyone would be awakened, even the animals. However, he was desperate. In the culture of the time, hospitality was important. When someone came to visit, you welcomed them in your home, no matter what time, and you fed them. (Notice the neighbor/friend did not ask, as we would, to help him out. He had a specific request; he wanted three loaves of bread.) He was in a very vulnerable position. The one whom he woke knew that something significant was happening that the neighbor/friend would come so late at night and awaken everyone. He knew he needed to respond. Jesus was giving an example of a close, or intimate, relationship and the need to respond.

Jesus talks about how that dialogue in a relationship might look. The prayer that he provided was not just a prayer that they could recite. It was an example of how one might come to God in prayer. First of all, the word used by Jesus for “Father” was the word “Daddy,” to denote a close, intimate relationship. Then he also indicated that we need to recognize God’s holiness and our need to honor that. When we ask for God’s kingdom, or reign, to come, we are asking God to bring into our lives his way of living, not the world’s way. The next three requests in prayer are representative of how God’s reign might look. We ask for daily “bread.” As Martin Luther said, “daily bread” means everything we need to live a life in God – food, shelter, family, government, etc. Then, we ask for a kind of life that develops reconciliation. We ask to be forgiven and the ability to forgive. And, then we ask for a life that is free from trials and temptation. All of these are the kind of life we live under the reign of God.

In this gospel story, Jesus ends it by reminding us to ask, search, and knock. We will receive, find, and doors will be opened. However, he does tell us what we will receive or find or what doors will be opened. However, he leaves us with an incredible promise. When we openly pray, seeking to be in relationship with God, we will receive the Holy Spirit. That’s quite a promise.

But how do we develop this intimate relationship? This is hard work, just as it is hard work to have a healthy relationship with someone we are close to. Well, we remain in prayer. We develop our relationship by talking and listening to God. We also worship regularly, coming together with people as a community sharing in the means of grace which is the word of God along with feeding on Jesus, we are nourished by word and sacrament, the means of grace. But we also read scripture, for in scripture we find Jesus and how he relates to us.

Prayer is relational. Prayer is coming into the presence of God. Prayer can bring us closer to God. Prayer can open us to the Holy Spirit.

So, let’s pray.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Worship Leader's Message for Sunday, July 18
When I was teaching my daughter to drive, in addition to talking about and teaching her how to navigate the road, when to turn on signals and lights, and how to park, we spent time talking about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, listening to music while driving, and talking to her sister while driving. In other words, we talked a lot about all the activities that can distract us from driving safely. Of course, being a teenager, she knew everything there was to know about the dangers of driving while distracted by the panoply of stuff that can distract a teenager these days. I knew how much she knew by how much more drawn out the “Oh, mom” got every time we talked about it.

Nonetheless, just a few days after getting her license, she decided, while alone, that she was experienced enough to navigate through the thousands of songs on her iPod and drive at the same time, or at least wait for the traffic signal to turn green. Imagine her embarrassment when she was honked at because she had become so absorbed in picking the right song she didn’t realize the light had turned green. Fortunately, the only damage done was the annoyance of the driver behind her and the wound to her pride at being a safe driver. But the fact is we all have done to one degree or another what my daughter did, whether it’s fiddling with the radio, taking just a quick call on the cell phone, or zoning out while driving long distances. However, distractions don’t just happen when we’re driving. In fact, in this day and age we are surrounded by distractions of every kind. Many of you likely remember a time when, if your phone rang while you were out of the house, you were blissfully unaware that anyone was trying to reach you. Or a time when, after midnight or so, the TV only showed a screen of snow static.

We have to admit that the distractions of this world leave us unable, or unwilling, to find time for what’s truly important. How often have we scolded ourselves for not spending more time in Bible study, more time playing with our children, more time walking and talking with our spouse, more time having lunch with friends?

So, at first, we may understand Jesus’ rebuke of Martha, to not busy herself with preparing a meal but to spend her time as Mary did at the feet of Jesus. But wait a minute, just what exactly is Jesus advocating here? Yes, we admit that there are unnecessary distractions that take us away from what’s truly important. But fixing a meal for a guest in our home? Doing work that benefits our community and contributes to others’ well-being? Cleaning up after a potluck or attending a knitting group that makes prayer shawls? Are these symptoms of a Martha attitude rather than a Mary-like devotedness? It is more than curious that this story of Jesus seeming to chide Martha for her hospitality appears where it does in the gospel of Luke, because the last two Sundays we have heard, at least in the background of the gospel stories, the importance hospitality plays in the reign of God’s kingdom. Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus sending out 70 disciples telling them, in addition to not worrying about the distractions of clothing or money, to rely on the kindness of strangers. If you enter a house and are welcomed, stay there until you leave. If you are not welcomed, shake the dust of that town off your feet and go on to the next place. In other words, the message of God’s coming kingdom will only be heard by those who first respond with hospitality. Then, last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan who not only showed the grievously injured robbery victim mercy, he also showed him hospitality by opening his purse to pay for the man’s continued care. In fact, the often-overlooked innkeeper also showed hospitality by accepting this injured stranger and providing for his care on the word and promise of a Samaritan, who, remember, was not exactly welcome in that part of Judea.

So, does Jesus, when he comes to the home of his friends, simply abandon his emphasis on the need for hospitality as a foundation for proclaiming the word of God? That certainly seems to be the case on the face of it, doesn’t it? But let’s look a little deeper at this story. What, first of all, is the better part that Mary has chosen?

In his book, The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges defines godliness as a desire for God. He sees having a desire for God as the pinnacle of human experience for a desire for God will diminish or eliminate all those desires that lead us away from God and will enhance the relationships and heighten the experiences that God has chosen for us to enjoy and grow from. But desire for God is not something that just happens. The author of The Practice of Godliness says that desire for God is arrived at through acknowledging the fear of God and the love of God, which lead to a devotion to God and ultimately results in a desire for God.

Now “fear of God” is a tricky term. Does it mean we should be afraid of God, of His judgment, of His disciplining us? While that certainly occurs throughout the Old Testament, through the new covenant made by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the judgment of God has been covered by the blood of the Christ. We have been brought into a new, intimate relationship with God as His children and have nothing to be afraid of. However, and this is a big however, we cannot let this new relationship diminish in any way how we view God. For He still is almighty, immortal, transcendent God. It is His glory alone that illuminates heaven. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, fully comprehend God. In the end, we have to come to terms with the reality that God is God and we are not. And in that reality we can acknowledge God as Who He is and give him the appropriate reverence and awe — the fear — that is His alone.

The other foundation that leads to a desire for God is love of God. Now, that may seem obvious. Of course, we love God. That’s why we’re in church on Sunday morning rather than out doing something else. God has created us, redeemed us through His Son and sanctified us through His Spirit. Yes, loving God is the right and good response to all He has done for us. But this is not all that Jerry Bridges means when he talks about love of God. No, he’s describing a top-down relationship. God loved us first. God will always love us better than we can ever love Him. No matter how far we try to run from Him, despite our sinful behavior and our failings, God loves us. Now, we may have to pay a price for our misbehavior, but that does not diminish or end God’s love for us.

It is these two building blocks — our reverence and awe of God, and knowing deep in our hearts that God loves us and always will love us — that allows us to build a life of devotion to God, a life that puts the troubles of this world in perspective and lets us focus solely on the lives God would have us lead. And by coming closer to that ideal, though because of our sinful nature we will never fully reach it this side of heaven, we gain a desire to truly live for God and God alone, a desire for God.

There is much more to discover along the way to a godly life, but I won’t spend more time on that now. If you are interested in pursuing these ideas, I commend to you The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges for your personal study.

But let’s return to Mary and Martha with Jesus visiting their home. The better part that Mary had chosen, we perhaps now can understand, is a devotion to Jesus. Though she may not have yet understood that Jesus was the Christ, she knew that he was a man of God and so she had reverence for him. She also knew that he loved her. And so, she was devoted enough to sit at his feet and listen to what he had to share.

Jesus’ chides Martha not so much because she is showing hospitality but because she is distracted and troubled. She is not enjoying the opportunity to serve Jesus. She is worried about doing the right thing at the right time. She is concerned that her efforts will not be enough. She is angry, and her anger has caused her to lash out at both her sister and their guest. Sound familiar?

Service in the name of God and for love of our neighbor is not a bad thing. But when we get troubled or worried or angry over how that service is being done, or not done, then our relationship with Jesus and with others starts to fray and can, in fact, be ripped apart if we let our emphasis on service rather than our emphasis on devotion guide us.

There will be times when we wish that more people would just see this service project or that endeavor that we have a passion for with the same perspective. They won’t.

There will be moments when we wish just one person would see how hard we’re working and offer to help. She won’t.

What should our response be, that of Martha or Mary? Should we become troubled and distracted and lash out at those whom we love? Or should we stop for a moment and remember the relationship with Jesus that gives birth to all our impulses to do good in this world?

We all will be Martha at some point. We hope that we also will find the courage to be Mary, too. The fact is there’s a lot that can and does distract us in this world. Some of those distractions can trouble us, worry us, and cause us to wander away from what God really has called us to do and be. But God loves us, always has, always will. And he will always call us back to sit again in His presence, to feel that love, to rest in that peace, and to know we are His for eternity.

To Him be all glory, honor and power now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

“Your Choice”

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.

Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

A Message from the Pastor
Mary and Martha are the two famous sisters of the gospel. Mary and Martha, there is a story about them in each of the four gospels. This story is probably the most well known. Mary is the one who sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha is the one who is going about her many tasks.

While I was a layperson, I took the side of Mary often. I also sided with Martha. As an ordained minister, I have spoken of the virtues of Mary and have spoken well of Martha. Mary is the one who symbolizes listening to Jesus. Mary is the one who symbolizes the worker, the one who gets things done. However, as I have studied the texts, I have come to realize that neither of these is the focal point of the story. I believe there are at least two issues that we can think about.

The first can be considered as we hear what Jesus has to say about Martha. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things,” said Jesus. And when we think about it, we realize that so many times being worried and distracted has to do with our own self-centeredness. We are concerned about what we are doing. Life is all about us, rather than about God. Look at the two sentences that make up the comments of Martha to Jesus. In our translation this morning, those two sentences have twenty-four words. Four of those words are in the first person – me, my, and myself. That’s where Martha is coming from.

In Martha’s actions, there is another consideration of this self-centeredness. It is call triangulation. Triangulation is the emotional dynamics involving three people. One initiates action, but rather than be involved with the one with whom the person has an issue, s/he directs her actions and/or comments to a third person. This is what Martha attempted to do. Jesus wouldn’t go along with it. As a transition pastor, we looked for triangulation, because many times when there was conflict in the congregation, triangulation was used to develop “sides” or to manipulate the issues at hand. Triangulation is another word for manipulation and manipulation is always self-centered.

The “better part,” or the “one thing” that Jesus was talking about was to direct our attention to Jesus. He is the primary consideration. Jesus is the one we are to focus on. This is what Mary was doing. Mary’s priority was Jesus. Mary was focused on Jesus. In fact, Mary and Martha could both be about their many tasks and yet focus on Jesus. That is what Jesus wants.

How do we go about it? How do we make Jesus our priority? There is a book, Power Surge, written by Michael Foss. In the first chapters he talks about membership versus discipleship. In membership, the center of the universe is the member. They are concerned about what’s in it for them. They are concerned about dues. They are focused on themselves as members of the organization. Discipleship is following and focusing on the teacher. In that book, he suggests that there are six marks of discipleship. The first three have to do with our internal development as disciples.

The first is to be in daily prayer. Yes, intercessory prayer is important. We talk to God about those things that concern us. However, prayer is to be in conversation with God – the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sanctifies. We converse. We listen. We meditate.

Another mark is regular worship. We come together as a community of faith to share our faith with one another. We begin by acknowledging our humanness by confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness. Then, we praise and thank God for who God is. Next, we seek the means of grace to be nourished and fed. We seek the word and sacrament. We hear about God and God’s relationship with humanity. We then come to the table to be fed Jesus Christ. We are nourished and strengthened for our human journey.

We also read scripture. Oh yes, we seek to understand what God wishes us to do and not to do. However, that’s not our first priority. The number one reason to read scripture is to find Jesus in all of scripture. Let’s look at the texts for today. There is no problem in finding Jesus in the gospel. The second reading for today is a powerful statement about who Jesus is. The writer of the Letter to the Colossians talks about the body of Christ. He writes about the physical body that suffered death on the cross and the spiritual body, which is the church. But let’s also look at the first reading. Abraham meets the three persons. We Christians believe one is the Father, who creates, the Son, who redeems, and the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies.

There is another issue to consider in this gospel story for today. It has to do with culture. There is the culture of the church that desires to move into the world. There is the culture of the world that moves into the church; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it is not. Martha was part of the culture. She was acting very responsibly. In the culture of the time, the woman’s role was to do the many tasks. She expected Mary to respond in that way. Mary was acting counter-culturally. Women didn’t sit at the feet of the teacher, the Rabbi. That was for men. She was being a disciple. Disciples were men.

So what happens today because of the culture? As both a layperson and an ordained minister, I have often heard this comment, “We need to run this church like a business.” Admittedly, there are traits of the business world that are needed. There is marketing, stewardship, financial responsibility, and administration. All of those are excellent methods for a community of faith. But we are not seeking a net profit; we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s a committee meeting, a council meeting, or a congregational meeting, we need to be about the business of Jesus. I have talked to a few people, both lay and ordained, who have been part of a council or committee where there is more than the normal “book ends” of devotions, a short meditation at the beginning and a prayer a the end. There are twenty to thirty minute Bible studies interspersed with prayer. When good news is reported, there are prayers of thanksgiving. When there are major issues to be resolved, there are prayers of discernment. In fact, at times the members of the group will go into the sanctuary for prayer. What is interesting is that they speak in a way that says that they would like to continue in this experience. Moreover, the meetings, many times, last less than two hours. It’s because their focus is on the better part, the one thing.

Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part, which cannot be taken away from her.” The question is: What part do we choose?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

“Being in the Ditch"

Luke 10:25-37*
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

A Message from the Pastor (representing the man in the ditch)
I must admit that I used poor judgment. When traveling, one needs to go with a group and not at night. I knew that.

I’m a merchant. I deal in fine cloth, ointments, perfumes, and other items as incense. I sell those expensive items that people dearly love. I have a booth at the market in Jerusalem. As I was plying my trade, a person from Jericho told me about the situation there. I realized that, if I travelled to Jericho, I could probably do very well. So, I closed my booth and began the trip. I didn’t bother to take time to find out when a caravan might be travelling there. I didn’t pay any attention to the time and left after noon. I was still travelling when it was dusk.

Along the way, I was accosted by a band of highway thieves, common everyday robbers. They not only took all my merchandise and money, which was the greater part of my wealth, but they also stripped me of all my clothes. Then they beat me with their fists, rods, and sticks. But that wasn’t all. As I lay in the ditchm they kicked me and continued to beat me with rods. I could feel my life slipping away. They left me for dead.

As I lay there, going in and out of a blackout, I cried out to God, “Why God? Why me? I love you. I am a highly religious person. I observe all your laws. Please send me someone who will rescue me. Please help me so that I won’t go down into the Pit.” As I lay there in the ditch, I sensed someone coming close to me. I looked up, and there was someone standing over me. It was a priest. I cried out to God, “O God, thank you, thank you. You sent one of your own. You sent a holy man.” However, as I reached up a hand for help, he shook his head. No, he couldn’t help me. If he touched me, he could not serve the people in the temple. He went the other way.

I again cried out to God. “What is more important God, your laws or mercy? What is more important, following the rules or caring about someone’s life? Oh God, I have obeyed all your rules. I have memorized the first five books of scripture. I read the Psalms and the Prophets. I obey the Sabbath. Help me, O God. I do not want to go down to Sheol. I will gladly serve you. Send someone to help me.”

As I came out of another blackout, I realized that there was another person standing over me. It was a Levite! I thanked God for sending me another holy man. I reached up with both hands, seeking help. He responded the same way as the priest.

I cried out one more time to God. “Please send me someone. I don’t care who it is. Just send me someone. My life is slipping away. I want to live.”

As I was lying there, getting weaker by the moment, I felt someone touching me. I opened my eyes. There was a man kneeling beside me. He was treating my wounds with oil and wine and bandaging them. He was also treating my bruises with ointment. I looked at him. “Oh my God,” I said, “He’s a Samaritan. I hate Samaritans. We don’t associate with Samaritans, we don’t talk to Samaritans, and we’ll go out of our way to avoid Samaritans. They don’t worship you the way we do. They don’t believe the way we do.” Then, he picked me up and put me on his animal. He walked the animal to an inn. I don’t know how long it took. He carried me into a room and gently laid me on the bed. Then, he stayed with me the rest of the day and night. He continued to dress my wounds, and he even fed me because I was so weak. He left the next day, and I found out later that he told the innkeeper that he would be back (and he did come back) and would pay whatever it was for any additional care the innkeeper gave me.

We talked a little when I was lucid. I asked him why he helped me. He said that it was simple: I needed help. He believed that God had sent him to do so.

Talking, as we did, I found out that he was not much different than me. He had the same understanding of God as I did. He desired to have a relationship with God. He had the same visions, dreams, and hope about life that I did. By the time he left, I considered him a friend and a neighbor – someone who was near me.

I found out some things about myself and about life. We will experience mercy and grace when we seek it and/or when we need it. When we are helpless and hopeless, we will let down our walls that we think protect ourselves from others and be open to the mercy and grace that others are willing to give.

I wanted to tell you this story for a couple of reasons. First of all, I became a Christian. I realized that to experience the grace and mercy of God, through Jesus and the cross, I needed to want what Jesus offered from the cross. I needed to be open, honest, and willing to accept the grace and mercy offered to me.

I also want to ask you some question. If you were in a ditch and a victim of Aids knelt to clean your wounds, would you consider her or him a friend? If you were in a ditch and an undocumented immigrant was willing to take care of you, would you allow him or her to provide you with mercy and grace? If you were in a ditch and a Muslim came to help by touching you, carrying you, and caring for you, would you consider him your neighbor?

I have heard a lot since becoming a Christian. I will always remember one of the comments said to us, “For God so loved the world . . . . . .”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

“Bearing Burdens”

Galatians 6:1-16
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised — only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule — peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Luke 10:1-11,16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

A Message from the Pastor
Today’s gospel story is a mission pastor’s dream. What an opportunity it is to use it. After all, look at us today. There are about twenty of us. We know we need to grow. And, here, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” What an opportunity for the mission pastor to share with the community of faith details on how to grow a mission.

However, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about. I don’t think this story today is about that. A mission community, like all communities of faith, is organic. God created communities of faith; he created us, just like he creates vegetation and creatures. Organic systems grow “automatically” if they are healthy. So, the question is not HOW we will grow a mission, but what would we do to prevent a mission from growing? Our story today has some insights for that question.

Notice that Jesus begins by saying to them that he is sending them like lambs into the midst of wolves. We are being sent by Jesus into risking ventures. No, we won’t be eaten alive, but if we answer his call, we will be out of our comfort zones. We will be “pushing the envelope.” And, we will not depend upon ourselves. That’s why he said not to take a purse, bag, or sandals. And we are to remain focused on why he is sending us – not to talk with anyone along the way. We are to accept the people the way they are – we eat whatever they set before us.

I think the subject matter for today’s reading is humility. After all, life is about God, not about us.

Think about what happened when the disciples came back. They were ecstatic. They were overjoyed. They told Jesus that even the demons submitted to them. It was all about them. Jesus indicated that there was something much more important. What they needed to celebrate, even though power and authority were given to them, was the fact that God knew them, walked with them, empowered them, and guarded them. Again, it’s all about God.

Paul has much the same thing to say in the second reading for today.

Listen to what he has to say as he suggests to his readers/listeners to restore a person who has offended you with gentleness. He suggests we bear one another’s burdens because that is the law of Christ. It is a way to love one another as Jesus has loved us. In that way, we are to test ourselves in what we do, we are to examine ourselves, our motives, and the way we act.

In all of what Paul writes in today’s reading, he also focuses on the priority we have. His focus is on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And because we are baptized into a death like Jesus, we are crucified with him, then the world is crucified to us and we to the world.

Let me share a personal example of what I think Paul is saying to us as we live a life in humility. It has to do with bearing one another’s burdens.

Several years ago, in South Carolina, I was co-chair of a task force that studied the role of gays and lesbians in the church. That issue has always been highly sensitive and emotional. I came to that task force with my own ideas and agenda. I was, what might be called, the revisionist. The other co-chair might be called orthodox. We each selected participants, individually and jointly. As we began to meet, we started listening to each other. Without placing a label on it, we began to bear one another’s burdens.

I’ll never forget one experience I had. The other co-chair and I were driving around. He was behind the wheel. I was on the passenger side. As we talked about the issues, he shared his concern that if the church went “too far,’ he would have to deeply consider his ordination vows and his ability to remain with the church. I had never thought about it. My thoughts and perceptions on this issue did not change. My agenda did.

Part of that group was a lesbian and an ordained minister who was to extremely orthodox. The ordained minister died of a heart attack while we were active with the task force. The woman said to me, “He didn’t like my life style, but I knew he loved me.”

As we celebrate the independence of this country, it might be a good time to discuss this subject. The secular world, as we know it in this country, is highly polarized politically. There is little middle ground. It has even entered into the religious arena for there is now coming under question whether there should be a separation of church and state.

In all of my life, I have been taught and have heard that there are two things we never talk about in the community of faith: politics and money. Yet, those two things affect all of us each day of our lives as we live our human journey as spiritual beings. We all have our concerns about what is happening in our world.

You and I can’t change the world. This small mission cannot change the world. But what would happen if those who believe that the government needs to do more to shape how we live would bear the burden of those who believe the government has gone too far and is creating an uncontrollable debt? And, if those who are concerned about the level of debt our country has would bear the burden of those who believe the government should do more?

What would happen, if those who believe we need to be more flexible in affecting the lives of undocumented immigrants would bear the burden of those who believe we need strict laws, including the sealing of our borders. And, if those who desire stricter rules bore the burden of those who believe we need to be flexible?

What would happen if those who believe we need to do more for health care bore the burden of those that believe we have gone too far? And, what if those who believe we have gone too far, bear the burden of those who believe we have to do more?

We aren’t going to be able to change the world. But I think that people would sit up and take notice of who we are as children of God if we demonstrated how Jesus wants us to live in humility and recognized that life is about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some people might begin to grasp that the reign of God is drawing near. We, ourselves, would begin to experience that the reign of God has drawn near.