Sunday, October 31, 2010

“Law, Gospel, Freedom”

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Romans 3:19-28
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

John 8:31-36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

A Message from the Pastor
Today is October 31, 2010. It is the Day of Reformation. Today is the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral, in 1517, seven years short of the 500th anniversary of that event. We always celebrate this festival either on the day, if it falls on Sunday, or on the Sunday before October 31.

The readings for today are always read on this day, the 31st chapter of Jeremiah, the 3rd chapter of Romans, and the 8th chapter of John. They are read for a good reason. The readings for this festival day represent many of the thoughts that Martin Luther had as he challenged the church of his time. Two of those thoughts are basic pillars of the Reformation. They are the law and the gospel. It is the law that convicts us of our sin and drives us to the cross. It is at the foot of the cross where we experience the gospel. It is at the foot of the cross where we experience the love of Jesus Christ who redeemed us and made us one with God through his death and resurrection. Every time we hear or read scripture, we should sense the presence of the law and the gospel. The three readings for today are outstanding examples of this.

Jeremiah was a prophet who had the continuous task of reminding the people of God that they were turning their backs on God by their disobedience to the law. God, through Jeremiah, reminded the people in the reading today. That was the law. But this part of Jeremiah’s writings is different than most of his comments. God, through Jeremiah, provided consolation for the people as they were being led into exile to Babylon. God provided them with the gospel, besides the law. God told the people that he was making a new covenant with them, a covenant that would be written on their hearts. He would forgive them their iniquities and remember their sin no more. God was prophesying about the coming of Jesus, although the people at the time did not realize it.

The law was given to the people of God as they traveled to freedom from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were given the Ten Commandments, along with 639 laws on how to relate, work, and act. As we think about the Ten Commandments, think about how well we keep them. Thou shall have no other gods before me. Do not take my name in vain. Remember the Sabbath. Honor your parents. Do not murder, steal, or commit adultery. Do not defame another person’s character. Do not covet.

I don’t know about you, but I have broken all of them and continue to do so.

Let me share a personal experience. Some years ago, I was sharing the change in my life’s journey with a friend who had been my counselor. In my enthusiasm for this new found life, I shared much of my insights. After I had finished, he looked at me and said, “Ed, I don’t think you ever got past the first commandment.” And so it is with all of us. I would suspect that everyone of us in this room has had other gods before God.

In the Romans reading, Paul’s comments also reflect the law and the gospel. He reminds the people that no one will be one with God because of their deeds prescribed by the law. All are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. That’s law. But then there is the gospel. Paul reminds them that because of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, because of the cross and the blood shed by Jesus, we have been reconciled to God. It is not our “works” that do it. We are justified by faith through grace. It is our faith in Jesus and his redemptive act that reconciles us to God.

Jesus also brings us the law and the gospel from the reading today. Because we are sinners, we are slaves to sin. That’s the law. However, if we abide in Jesus’ word, we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free. That’s the gospel, and continuing with those comments, Jesus tells us that if the Son makes us free, we are free indeed.

There is a difference between right and wrong and the truth. In our finite minds we can define what’s right or wrong. We can understand the law. If we have the power, such as being responsible for our family, our work, or in other capacities, we can define what’s right or wrong and take to task those who disagree. The truth is bigger than that. The truth is bigger than us and, more often than not, we cannot fully grasp it.

Let me share with you another personal experience. When I was in treatment, I had an “aha.” For thirty-five years I had wrestled with the notion whether it was right or wrong for me to drink. I could rationalize both ways, along with those who were close to me. During treatment, I realized that this was not the issue. It didn’t matter whether I was right or wrong. The truth was that I couldn’t or I would die. That truth helped set me on the course of freedom from addiction.

Martin Luther understood that. In his search of the scriptures and his new understanding of what God was saying through the Word, he knew a new kind of freedom that permitted him to do what he did. He was able and willing to nail 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, knowing that he could incur the wrath of the church at Rome. He could write documents, such as the Augsburg Confession, along with the other documents that make up the Book of Concord to declare what he, and those who understood their relationship with Christ, believed as God’s written and living word. He could realize that his life was always in jeopardy. That’s why he was placed in hiding for two years. He knew what to do with his freedom.

The law will always convict us of our sinfulness. The law will always demonstrate that we are addicted to the life of the world. The truth is that we cannot, by our own reason or strength come to our God and believe in him. The truth is that it was Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that brought us into a right relationship with God. It was because of Jesus and the cross that reconciled us to God. In faith, we come to embrace that truth.

The question is, if we truly believe the truth, through faith, that Jesus Christ is the sole reason for our relationship with God and that we are truly free, then what are we going to do with this freedom?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

“The Pastor and the Pimp”

Luke 18:9-14
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

A Message from the Pastor
Today, we hear about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is one of the most well known parables in the Gospel of Luke.

I have heard this parable so many times in my life in the church. Every time I hear the parable, and hear Jesus say, “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector,” I immediately tell myself that the Pharisee is the bad guy. The tax collector is the good guy. That’s how I’ve been trained. Then when I hear the prayer of the Pharisee, “Thank you God, that I’m not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, and even this tax collector,” I identify the Pharisee as pompous. When I hear the tax collector say, “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” I say to myself, “Yes,”that’s how we’re supposed to pray. The tax collector knows how.” And finally, when Jesus said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” I know I’m supposed to have humility. Being humble has been pounded into my head since I was a little boy. That’s how good Christian boys are supposed to act. I know that I am supposed to be humble. In fact, there was a time in my life that I was so humble, I was proud of it.

But let’s go back to the time when Jesus told this story. Let’s return to the time of Jesus and think about what the people heard. Pharisees were highly respected and admired. They followed the letter of the law. They were people who loved God and wanted to demonstrate that love by doing everything the law said. They were supposed to fast once a week and tithe a certain part of their income. This Pharisee fasted twice a week. He tithed all of his income, not just that which was dictated by the law. He was dedicated. (My seminary professor told us that we would lust to have a dozen Pharisees in our congregation. They would work hard, get a lot done, and give generous offerings for the sake of the church.) And let’s look at the Pharisee’s prayer. I don’t think he was being pompous. He believed what he said. He was sincerely thankful that God had created him to be who he was and to do what he was able to do. His prayer could have said, “There, for the grace of God, go I.” Haven’t we all said that at one time or another?

The tax collector was hated. He was considered a traitor and a heretic. He was a pariah on the community. Although he was one of God’s people, he had sold himself to the enemy. He collected the taxes for the conquerors. He collected all the money that went to Rome. It was understood that he could assess any additional taxes that he wanted to, and the extra tax money he could keep. He became wealthy on the backs of his own people. His prayer would not be acceptable to the people because he didn’t even ask for forgiveness or indicate a desire to repent.

At the time of Jesus, the people would have been shocked at Jesus’ ending comments. How could the tax collector, a heretic and traitor, go home justified? How could a model of the Godly life not go home justified?

Let’s take Jesus’ parable and move it from the time of Jesus to the twenty-first century.

Two people went into the sanctuary of a Lutheran church to pray. One was the pastor and the other was a pimp. The pastor went up to the chancel and knelt at the communion rail. He prayed, “Oh God, I thank you that I am not a drug dealer, someone greedy, or someone like this pimp. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be the person I am. I work hard as a pastor. I attend most of the committee meetings, visit all the sick, take time to hear what my parishioners are concerned about, and tend to the shut-ins. I tithe 12% of my income.” The pimp was seated in the back row of the sanctuary. His head was on the back of the pew in front of him. You could see his shoulders shake as he was sobbing and said, “Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The operative words of this parable are not focusing on the Pharisee (or pastor), the tax collector (or pimp), or hearing Jesus’ words about being exalted or being humble. The operative words are “trusted in themselves.”

I don’t know about you, but there are many times when I believe that I am doing what I am doing on my own accord. I am the one in charge. In other words, I can be good on my own. That’s what the Pharisee, or pastor, were saying, even though they were thankful and loved God. The tax collector, or pimp, on the other hand, knew who he was. He was a sinner. He wanted the material life that the world had to offer, and he prostituted himself to get it. Even though he knew he was sinning, even though he couldn’t help himself, he continued to do what the world provided, namely, the material things of life. Did you notice? The tax collector didn’t even ask for forgiveness, nor did he indicate a desire to repent. All he did was ask for mercy. He said God, in so many words, I can’t. You can. You have to do it.

Are we any different? We are caught up in issues of life in which we trust ourselves. We don’t realize it many times. In our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, we can begin by recognizing that, even though we know that on our own we can’t change. We need to say to God, “I can’t. You can. You have to do it.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Genesis 32:22-31
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

A Message from the Pastor
Jesus’ parable today from the gospel reading is peculiar. We left Jesus last week healing the ten lepers. Today, the author is telling us that Jesus told this story so that the disciples would pray always and not lose heart. However, the parable ended with Jesus asking the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” What’s going on here? We need to know what happened when Jesus left the lepers.

Well, Jesus is approached by Pharisees asking the question, “When will the kingdom, or reign, of God come?” It’s understandable why they would ask that. Jesus began his ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, the reign of God has drawn near, repent and believe.” Jesus talks about the reign of God throughout his ministry. In fact, in the Gospel of Luke, he mentions it forty-seven times. Jesus responds to the Pharisees saying that it will come in a way different than any expectations. He then said that the reign of God is among them. In other words, wherever Jesus is, the reign of God is present. This keeps us from losing heart and wanting to pray since, when we were baptized, it is not we who live, but Jesus who lives within us.

Jesus turns to his disciples, after responding to the Pharisees, and tells them what to expect and not expect when the Son of Man comes. The disciples end up by asking where. Jesus responds that the action will begin around his dead body. Because of the concern when the Son of Man will return, Jesus comments about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. Jesus is encouraging the disciples to be persistent in their faith. And faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We have a good example of how to be persistent with the first reading for today. Jacob was persistent from the day of his birth. He came out of the womb holding on to the foot of his older twin brother Esau. Then, when Esau had a weak moment, Jacob bought his birthright for a bowl of soup. Later, with the help of his mother, he went to his blind father, Isaac, dressed in animal skin to appear to be hairy like Esau and got Esau’s blessing. However, the latter did not come without a price. When Esau found out, he sought out Jacob to kill him. Jacob fled.

Jacob’s persistence continued. He went to his grandfather’s home and connected with his great uncle, Laban. Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. He fell in love with Rachel and worked for seven years to marry her. However, after the wedding, he realized he had married Leah. He had to work seven more years for Rachel to be his wife. Then, through persistence, he developed large flocks of sheep and goats. He became very wealthy. He left to return home.

However, his troubles were not over. He still had to face Esau. As he drew closer, scouts returned and reported to Jacob that Esau was coming toward him with four hundred men. (That would concern me greatly.) Jacob separated from his wives, maidens, and children. He was left alone that night before he faced Esau. That’s when he met the man who we believe was God. Jacob remained persistent, wrestling with him until daybreak to get a blessing. Although Jacob’s hip socket was forever out of joint, he received a new name and the blessing he wanted. Jacob was persistent, “praying” always and never losing heart.

I don’t know how many in this holy space pray frequently or persistently or how many sense they have a difficulty praying. I want to note that nowhere in scriptures is there any manual on how to pray. There are no written guidelines. The closest we come is in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus how to pray, and he provides them with a shortened version of the Lord’s Prayer.

I can suggest a simple way to pray. All you need is one word, “Help!”

There is no correct way to pray. However, let’s think about a new born child. I have never heard a situation where the parents provided the baby with instructions on how to talk – oral or written. The baby started out by saying, “mama,” or “dada,” or “no!” And, the parents didn’t get upset because of the primitive way the baby talked. The parents were delighted that the baby talked to them, however he/she could. As time passed and the baby grew, the conversation between parents and child developed. There was communication. There was conversation. The relationship between them increased. It’s no different with prayer. God will take us at whatever level we are able to pray. God is delighted that we know him, we identify with him, we desire to converse with him. God wants conversation. God wants communication. God wants to have an intimate relationship with us. God wants us to grow in our faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

There’s so much we can talk about. There’s the global situation with wars, terrorism, poverty, starvation, and human rights. There’s our national situation with polarization, a fragile economy, the national debt, and bigotry. There are the local issues of poverty, education, and single-parent families. Besides that, there are our personal issues of relationships, economic hardship, and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sickness. God wants us to be in conversation, to communicate, and to be in an intimate relationship with all of this. God wants us to be persistent, praying always, and not to lose heart.

Who knows? With our persistence in praying and not losing heart, the Son of Man might find faith on earth.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Believing Is Seeing”

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

A Message from the Pastor
Many, if not most, of us are familiar with the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. It’s a story of Jesus while he is on his way to Jerusalem. He is in the territory that separates Galilee from Samaria. The Galileans are associated with the people of God who worship in the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans’ religion is different, symbolized by their worshipping on Mt. Gerazin. Several hundred years before this, the Assyrians had defeated the Northern nation of Israel. They dispersed the people and replaced them with people from other conquered nations. The ones that came to the territory brought their own gods and perspectives. The Assyrians purposely did this to destroy the national identity. So, the Samaritans were the result. They believed differently and thought differently than the Jewish people. The Samaritans detested the Galileans and the Galileans detested the Samaritans. However, this was the territory in between the two peoples. Boundaries weren’t as clear. It would not be surprising to find a Samaritan with the Galileans, especially since they had a common problem of leprosy.

Jesus entered a village there, and the lepers, off at a distance, must have known who Jesus was. They called him by name. The called, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Besides our understanding of mercy, the word could have indicated they were asking for money since they couldn’t fend for themselves.” With their calling out, Jesus saw them.

I wonder what he saw. I’m sure he saw ten pathetic human beings huddled together, suffering from leprosy. Jesus probably saw ten ragtag humans covered with cloth to hide the erosion of their skin. Yet, as the Son of God, Jesus certainly believed. And, in his belief, I wonder what he saw. I think he saw ten children of God suffering. Ten people created by God out of love who were experiencing the brokenness of this world. He saw ten human beings who were helpless and hopeless with their disease.

Jesus had a simple answer, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus didn’t say, “You’re cured.” He didn’t say, “I heal you.” He simply said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And, the lepers obeyed. The story does not indicate that they asked any questions. And on the way to the priests, they were healed.

It is then that the one leper, the Samaritan, the foreigner, saw that he was healed. What did he really see? I’m sure he saw that his skin was back to normal. All the leprous skin was gone. But what did he really see? What did he believe and in his believing, what did he see? I wonder if, in his belief, he realized the power of God, and, through that power, the love and mercy of God. I wonder if he saw Jesus as the incarnation of God and realized that through Jesus the reign of God was breaking through.

And through that belief all he could do was thank and praise God. He did not quietly do so. He shouted out his praise and thanks. And he came before Jesus and prostrated himself on the ground. He fell before Jesus with his stomach on the ground, feet extended outward, and his arms stretched out before him. This was not even close to an ideal way of worshipping. He didn’t wait until he could find a comfortable place. He didn’t just praise him with acceptable words with an appropriate setting. This leper was eating dust and had his nose at the feet of Jesus who had been walking a long distance. It didn’t matter, he had to worship God and thank Jesus because in believing he saw.

Then Jesus asked where the other nine were. I wonder about this comment. Humorously, I can see the Samaritan looking up to Jesus and saying, “Well, Jesus, they’re just doing what you said for them to do. They’re showing themselves to the priests.”

Jesus acknowledged that the Samaritan, in his believing, realized the presence of God, and because of this believing, this faith, he had been made whole. (The word in the original language could mean “saved,” “healed,” “cured,” or “made whole.” Because of the context, I believe the last translation fits the situation best.)

In our belief, we are able to see. In our belief, we are able to see the power and love of God as we recognize that God sent his son, out of love, to die on the cross so that we may be one with God and in that oneness, we are healed, we are made whole.

That’s the first priority of worship. That’s the most significant meaning of worship. Yes, we are nourished and fed by the means of grace, word and sacrament. However, first and foremost, we believe and, in our believing, we come to a holy place to praise and thank God for his power, his mercy, and his love. It is in our believing that we can recognize the reign of God breaking through. It is in our faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen – that we are made whole.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Habakkuk 1:1–4; 2:1–4
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous —
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God — whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did — when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:1-10
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

A Message from the Pastor
As we follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, we remember the author’s comment about Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem and then beginning his journey from Capernaum in Galilee, through Samaria, and then wending his way toward Jerusalem. We have heard many of Jesus’ comments, his parables, and his admonition to people along the way. They are challenging, thought-provoking, and many times bring into question whether or not we can follow Jesus when we hear Jesus talking to us.

Here is some of what we have read. Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and follow him. As Jesus was eating with Pharisees, his feet were washed by a woman’s tears and dried with her hair. We believe she was a prostitute. At that dinner, Jesus told those present that he came for the lost. In another dinner meeting with the Pharisees, he suggested they humble themselves by going to the end of the table. Furthermore, he said that we should invite those who can’t repay us – the poor, the lame, and the crippled – those on the margin of society. He told the parable of the Prodigal Son and demonstrated the need for forgiveness. He told the confusing parable of the dishonest manager who used forgiveness to shrewdly take care of himself. And, just before the gospel for the day, he told us of the rich man and Lazarus, instructing us to use whatever wealth we have to serve those in need. Jesus gave us tough instructions if we wanted to be his disciples.

What we read today seems like a group of sayings of Jesus that were inserted because the writer couldn’t find another place to write them down. However, they do have sequential meaning as we read the story of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke. Jesus reminded the disciples to beware of letting others stumble because of us. He then provided more instructions on forgiveness when he said we must always forgive those who repent, no matter how often they have sinned.

With all that Jesus said before, and now what he said today, the apostles can do no more than ask Jesus to increase their faith. It is as if they could do what he said by gaining a greater quantity of faith.

Jesus answered, I believe, with a tongue-in cheek response. When you understand the phraseology of the Greek, you would have heard Jesus say, “If you had the faith of a mustard seed, and I know you do, then you can plant this mulberry bush, which has roots sixty feet deep, in the sea, and I know you can’t. I believe he is reminding them that faith is about quality and not quantity. He is saying that through faith, we do what we do in our daily human journey, not asking for accolades or praise. We do what we do because of our faith.

So what is faith, anyway? The best definition of faith I have found is from Hebrews, chapter eleven, beginning with verse one. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Let us return to the first reading to find ourselves an example.

Now, I would not be surprised if many of you could not pronounce Habakkuk. Furthermore, many may not even have heard of his name before today. He was a prophet who lived around 600 B.C. He lived after the Assyrians completely destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, sending the people to other lands and bringing other people into the territory so that the ten tribes could not be indentified. He lived just before the Babylonians, who had defeated the Assyrians, conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Babylonians were building their war machine to the north. The Egyptians were building their armies to the south. In between was this small nation of Judah.

Habakkuk cried out for help to God but Habakkuk felt like God was not listening. He saw the violence and yet couldn’t understand why God would not save the people. Furthermore, he noticed the injustice in his nation of Judah. The rich were taking advantage of the poor. The rich were using the poor to their own advantage. Habakkuk cried out that the law was slack and injustice prevailed. He wanted to hear from God.

God initially answered him in the section of Habakkuk’s writing that we did not read. God told him what would happen to Judah, how it would be destroyed and the people carried off to Babylon. However, here is what was amazing. Habakkuk did not falter. He did not continue to cry out in despair. He said, metaphorically, that he would go to the watchtower and wait to hear what God had to say. He believed in God.

God did answer. God did say he had a vision. God said that vision was for the end times. He told Habakkuk that even if the vision tarried, he was to wait. There is a suggestion that he might not see the vision in his lifetime. Then, God had the critical comment, “The righteous live by their faith.” In other words, God said to Habakkuk that righteousness is not a matter of doing good, nor a matter of high morals. Righteousness is not what we do; it is relational. Righteousness is to have a personal relationship with God. The righteous, in that relationship with God, live by their faith. That faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

After God’s comments, Habakkuk said that he would continue to put his trust in God, no matter what terrible things occurred and that he experienced.

When we consider today’s second reading we again find an issue of faith. The writer talked to Timothy. Timothy was a bishop of the early church. It appears that Timothy was having a struggle. It could have been a faith issue. It could have been persecution. It could have been other sufferings. We don’t know. We do know that the writer reminded Timothy of his faith. He reminded him of his grandmother’s, Lois, faith and that of his mother Eunice. He reminded Timothy of the blessings he received when the writer laid his hands upon him. He noted that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. It is through faith, no matter what the circumstances, that we will endure. Again, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Well, we all have been in that place where we cry out to God wondering if God hears us. There are people in this holy space who suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are those of us who have had relational struggles, economic challenges, and other concerns. Furthermore, we know of local issues affecting education and the poor. Nationally, we recognize that our nation is polarized and the economy is weak. Worldwide there is terrorism. Just yesterday we heard that our government has issued a concern to Americans in Europe that they must be vigilant because of the potential for experiencing terrorism. We could easily say, “God, I cry out to you, why won’t you listen?”

Our struggles are all around us. We need to recall the story of Habakkuk and the struggles of Timothy, remembering how they lived by faith each day. We hear God say that the righteous live by faith. We live being assured of the things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.