Zacchaeus

File:Zachäustafel am Pfarrhaus Marmagen.jpg

The appointed readings for October 30, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 26 / Lectionary 31

The appointed texts for those who are not celebrating the Reformation on Sunday continue Jesus’ words and deeds about welcoming the marginalized – whether they be poor or rich – into the dawning reign of God. Sunday, Jesus will invite himself to the home of Zacchaeus, the short little guy for whom no one would make room for him to see Jesus, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree. It makes for a wonderful Sunday School lesson and children’s song (I can still see my young daughter wagging her finger and punching out the line: “Zacchaeus, you come down!”). But the story is for us, who would push such sinners beyond the margin of society if we could. Pick your sin. There are plenty on the left and right, inside and outside the church. We seem all too ready to declare others unclean: politicians, preachers, corporate heads, bankers, abortion providers, sexual sinners, chauvinists, crusaders, tree huggers, libbers, Muslims, persons of color, illegal immigrants – or just immigrants.

But the text is not only about Jesus welcoming sinners – it is about what happens when someone is encountered by the immeasurable mercy and love of God. Zacchaeus gives away half his possessions to the poor, and vows to restore four-fold any he has cheated in the lucrative and relatively unrestrained work of forcing people to pay whatever you can get from them in the name of taxes.

Please understand, these is not about moral reform on the part of Zacchaeus; it is about what happens when someone encounters the reign of God, enters into the new creation, is washed in the Spirit. When he shares in Jesus’ invitation to come to the table, Zacchaeus is born from above. Perfect mercy begets true transformation. We might even call it resurrection.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)

Get ready; Jesus is inviting himself to your house today.

 

The appointed readings for October 30, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 1:10–18 (“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”)

Psalmody: Psalm 32:1-7 (“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”)

Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 (“We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call.”)

Gospel: Luke 19:1-10 (When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”)

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AZach%C3%A4ustafel_am_Pfarrhaus_Marmagen.jpg By Pfir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

True sons and daughters

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Watching for the Morning of October 30, 2016

Reformation Sunday / Rite of Confirmation

Sunday in our parish we will celebrate the confirmation of three young people who will rise to affirm their intention to continue in the covenant God established with them at their baptism. It brings an added joy and celebration to the tradition of observing Reformation Sunday – a day to remember the insights that lie at the heart of the 16th century Reformation, and the principle that the church is always being reformed by the Spirit of God through the Word read, proclaimed, sung and feasted.

Among the great insights of the Reformation was the recognition that God is not served by the performance of religious works, but by the love of neighbor embodied in the work of daily life. When I create a medicine to save lives I serve God by serving my neighbor. It does not have to have a religious hashtag. But when I buy a medicine and manipulate its price to maximize profit for executives and shareholders the ground gets considerably shakier. Perhaps serving shareholders is serving neighbor, but the truth of that statement would ring truer if the officers and board weren’t themselves major shareholders – and if it weren’t the sick, the “weaker members”, who bear the burden.

This idea of vocation not as a calling from God to serve the institutional structure of the church but as a calling to serve one’s neighbor is one of many profound religious insights from the Reformation that dramatically reshaped the path of western society and the history of the world. Unfortunately we didn’t always embody the genius of those insights. Too many religious wars and burnings at the stake followed in the Reformation’s train. Not that these were new to the human community, but the genius of the Gospel should have called out more from us than changing the team colors and fight song.

But the confirmands who come forward this Sunday rise not to pledge themselves to “the church” – they rise to pledge themselves to the God who calls them to be church, to be a people of God living in the world for the sake of the world, to be a people in whom God’s law/teaching/will is written on the heart. Heaven knows earth has enough religion; we need true sons and daughters of God.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The texts for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016 (assigned for Reformation Day)

First Reading: 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.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and Israel at Sinai lies broken (what God’s people promised they have failed to do and kingship and temple have perished) God’s promise abides and God will establish a new covenant where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“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.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confirmation_blessing.jpg

Panting on the heights

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Jeremiah 14:1-9

5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
6
The wild asses stand on the bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage.

The creation suffers because of human sin. We can smugly say that the ancients were ignorant of modern science and didn’t understand the nature of weather patterns and naturally occurring droughts. And it might be that the ancients had a simplistic view of the weather as directly controlled by the gods – Baal, after all, is the storm god, god of the rain and therefore of prosperity and fertility. And we moderns may sneer at Texas Governor Rick Perry leading a prayer service for rain. But there is a deep spiritual insight in these ancient texts.

Our actions affect the world around us. When we tear down a mountain we affect the wind patterns. When we destroy wetlands we worsen the damage of storms. When we build on cliffs with beautiful ocean views we make ourselves vulnerable to the shore’s natural erosion. When we create acid rain we change ecosystems. When we pollute water systems we jeopardize health. When we pump water and chemicals into the oil fields we awaken old earthquake faults. The natural world changes when we kill off the top predators or cut down the forests or fill the air with chemicals that destroy the ozone or raise the greenhouse effect.

Our actions affect the world around us, for good or ill. When our actions are wanton and greedy, when they are thoughtless and self-absorbed, there is a price to pay. It gets paid by starving polar bears and algae blooms. It gets paid by dying reefs and perishing species. It gets paid by narwhal young when the melting of the arctic ice grants killer whales access to narwhal birthing sites.

So the prophet is not wrong when he sees “the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn” and the wild assess panting “for air like jackals,” and recognizes these as symptoms of a society whose people are greedy for luxury and not for justice.

There is no simple answer to the drought in the West and its accompanying sorrows. But there is occasion for repentance: for self-examination as a community and as individuals to consider whether we have exercised the care for the earth God assigned us or whether we have bowed down to other gods. It is an opportunity for “turning” (the meaning of the word repentance): for changing direction, changing our attachments, showing a proper fidelity to God and the world entrusted to our care.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A3_khulan_am_Wasser_Abend.jpg By Kaczensky at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

God’s strange and wonderful notion of righteousness

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Watching for the Morning of October 23, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 25 / Lectionary 30

A Pharisee and a publican – a tax gatherer – stand near one another in the temple and we hear the prayers they offer. The Pharisee gives God thanks that he is not like others; the tax gatherer asks for mercy.  The Pharisee has been a religious man, dutifully offering to God his acts of devotion. The tax-gatherer has lacked the privilege of living a holy life. He is not one of those among the wealthy elite who contracts with Rome to administer the collection of taxes (paying the taxes up front and gaining a free hand to recover all that he can); he is one of the hirelings at the tollbooths rummaging through the carts and extorting what he must from the peasants bringing their goods to market. He is the one who daily faces the hostility of people forced to pay their foreign overlords and local rulers. He is the symbol of betrayal and oppression. He is the social outcast. And, for all his rummaging among farm goods, he is perpetually ritually unclean. He is one of those “sinners” Jesus welcomes into the household of God.

He knows he is immersed in a broken world and yearns for God to come and make it whole. He yearns for a world free from the grind of poverty and oppression. He yearns for a world where no one is cast off as unclean. He yearns for God’s transformation of all things. It is his prayer, says Jesus, that God hears, not the prayer of the self-satisfied. It is he, says Jesus, who goes down to his home in a right relationship with God.

Such prayer for mercy is also heard this Sunday in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah. The nation is on a downward course. It has turned from God’s justice and mercy and hastens towards judgment and destruction at the hands of Babylon. Afflicted already by God’s judgment in the form of a terrible drought, the prophet cries out for mercy, for God’s deliverance, for God not to hold their sin against them.

The prayer of the palmist, Sunday, is the joyful face of the prayer for mercy.   The pilgrims’ long journey is nearly over. From a distance, they behold the temple rising above the holy city and they are filled with anticipation and joy at coming into God’s presence there. And the reading from 2 Timothy is also an expression of such joyful anticipation. Though Paul, in prison in Rome, faces the possibility of death, his eyes are raised to his ultimate deliverance. God’s strange and righteous healing of the world is near at hand. Indeed, we taste its first fruits in this one who speaks in parables.

The Prayer for October 23, 2016

We have no good, O God, except at your hand.
Make us ever mindful of your bounty
that we may receive all things with humility and gratefulness;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 23, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 14:1-9 (appointed 14:7-10, 19-22)
“Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake.”
– The prophet cries out to God for deliverance during a time of devastating drought.

Psalmody: Psalm 84:1-7
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.” – A song of praise as the pilgrim finally draws near to Jerusalem and gazes upon the temple.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – The concluding sections of a letter from Paul, or in Paul’s name, to his protégé Timothy from prison in Rome as Paul faces his pending execution.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” – Having spoken of the necessity of praying always, Jesus tells a parable about the proper shape of prayer, and God’s pending transformation of the world.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APharisien_et_publicain.jpg By Rvalette (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lavish mercy

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Last Sunday

Luke 17:11-19

13Ten lepers approached him…saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Attendance was small on Sunday. When I began the announcements, there were only a few people scattered among the pews in the back half of the sanctuary. It’s always something of a shock when the crowd is especially small. Pastors can’t help but take it at least a little bit personally; attendance is one of the few numbers you can track easily and it is hard not to perceive it as at least some measures of success – which is challenging when you live in a culture that worships success. Ironically, the gospel reading on Sunday concerned the ten lepers who were healed but only one came back to give God praise. Jesus wasn’t exactly satisfied that only one came back, but I suppose there is some comfort in that though the numbers in our congregation were small yesterday, we did better than one out of ten.

You can find the message from Sunday at Jacob Limping and on this blog site among the “recent sermons.” It speaks to the heart of this powerful and important text. But, like most passages of scripture, there are other things to see in the narrative, not least of which is this: Jesus dispensed the healing of God freely and widely, without asking anything of those in need of God’s gifts.

We tend to be so concerned whether those who ask for help deserve it. I remember the story of the ants and the grasshopper from my childhood. The grasshopper played all summer while the ants worked diligently. Consequently, the ants had food for the winter and the grasshopper did not. Because he had not planned for the future, the grasshopper deserved what he got.

I understand the need to encourage responsibility. But I also recognize what a deadly spiritual disease it is to imagine that we deserve what we receive from God.

On a human level, there are consequences to our actions – though much too often those consequences fall on innocent bystanders. None of those who perished in the devastating railroad tanker fire in Quebec were responsible for the brakes that had not been properly set. The children of Aleppo are not responsible for the warfare that surrounds them. But responsibility does matter for so many ordinary things: driving responsibly, fidelity in marriage, spending quantity and quality time with our children, nourishing a spiritual life.

But we should not fail to recognize that the mercy of God is given freely and lavishly to the nine as well as the one. It is the character of God to cast the seed with abandon though some falls on the path or among the rocks. It is the character of God to make the sun shine on the just and the unjust (on those who show fidelity to God and to others and those who fail to show such fidelity.) When the disciples ask Jesus of the man born blind “Who sinned, this man or his parents,” the answer is neither.

God does not give what we deserve; God gives because it is God’s nature to give. It is part of what the scripture means when it says “God is love” and that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.” God’s fidelity to the world is not conditional. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

In the healing of the ten lepers we should not miss the lavish mercy of God. And we who call Jesus our brother and lord should live with eyes and heart open to recognize and live that mercy.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAll-Saints.jpg By Sampo Torgo at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

One came back

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Watching for the Morning of October 9, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Healing comes to the fore this Sunday, but much more than healing. Namaan, the Syrian general, enemy of Israel, yet sufferer, is told by a slave girl, captured from Israel, that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him. The story is filled with humor and irony and the radical ways of God who is not impressed with the trappings of wealth and power but simple obedience. A God of grace beyond Israel’s borders, though Namaan himself is still bound by the idea that Israel’s God is like all the others: powerful only on his own specific bits of land.

And the psalmist sings of the mighty works of God – though he, too, doesn’t yet seem to fully understand that God’s mighty works are not just for his people, but for all.

The author of 2 Timothy knows that “the word of God is not chained”, yet his focus is on “the elect” not on the vast sweep of humanity – indeed of the created world, itself.

And so we come to Jesus. Ten sufferers stand far off, crying out from a distance because they are unclean and unworthy to come near to anyone but their fellow sufferers. They cry for mercy and Jesus sends them to the priests who are the ones appointed by God to judge whether anyone is “clean” and may go home. They scamper off, but one returns. One is captured by the grace he has received. One is driven to his knees in gratefulness and praise. And he is a Samaritan, a foreigner, one to whom God is thought to have no obligation or concern.

But Jesus knows this God of the creation and the exodus and the water turned to wine is the God of all: the sinners and the saints, the outcast and the inner circle, the broken and the whole, the lost and the found.

The nine scamper off to resume their lives – and who can blame them? But the one who turned back, the one with his face to the ground, the one with tears in his eyes and a heart bursting, knows that something much more than a village healer has come.

The Prayer for October 9, 2016

God our healer and redeemer,
stretch forth your hand,
touch us with your spirit
that, cleansed and made whole,
we may live lives of gratefulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 9, 2016

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-19a (appointed, 5:1-3, 7-15)
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram… suffered from leprosy.”
– The commander of Israel’s hostile neighbor is told by a captured Israelite maid that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” – An acrostic hymn singing the praise of God from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” – Written by Paul (or, as some scholars think, in Paul’s name) from prison to his protégé Timothy, the author speaks to the next generation of leadership urging faithfulness to the teaching they have received.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” –As Jesus approaches a village he is met by ten people suffering from a dreaded skin affliction that excludes them from their families and community. They are sent on their way healed, but only the Samaritan in the group returns to acknowledge Jesus and give thanks to God.