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02.21.21 Political Rally for Jesus Matthew 21.1-11 Sermon Summary

NB: This sermon was preached in first person.

Yo, my name is Saul. I’m what you might call an animal rental associate. My shop is on the edge of Jerusalem, the Bethphage side. Jerusalem is bustling just now. We have pilgrims from all over. It’s Passover week. That’s the festival when we Jews commemorate our liberation from slavery in Egypt. It’s feels like Margi Gras or St. Patty’s Day. 

We have special food and religious ceremonies. There’s a wide continuum of people. Some come just for the party atmosphere. Some want to re-connect with their religion. But there are others who are political about it. They want to get the Romans out of our land. 

This year represents some special excitement, because Jesus is coming. He’s gained a lot in fame and following. Let me tell you about what happened at my shop on Sunday.

Two guys came up and started untying a couple of my animals. That’s like you going to rental car company and jumping into a car and starting it up. They said Jesus told them to come. I asked them what they were doing with two of my animals. This started a bit of an argument between them. 

It all started with a quotation from one of the prophets, Zechariah 9:9. It says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So one of the guys says, “We need two animals because Zechariah says so.” The other responds, “That’s not literal, it’s poetic. It’s called parallelism.” “No, the clear sense of scripture is unambiguous, a donkey and a colt.”  “Actually it’s one animal referred to twice.”

“Take both!” I yelled at them. Apparently not everyone realizes that what Bible says and what it is saying are different. 

They were surprised at my willingness to let my beasts go. You might be also. Some have said I was moved in the moment—like by the Spirit. Others say Jesus knew and exercised some supernatural power over the whole situation. Some say I knew the scriptures and recognized what was going on.

Explain it however you want. But the whole thing was planned. Political rallies like this don’t spontaneously appear despite what some people say. This was planned.

Jesus planned his entrance into Jerusalem quietly for two reasons. The first was publicity. Tensions had been mounting around Jesus. Three times on the way he predicted his death. Most of this was because of his message about the Kingdom of God. People were being healed, the deaf heard, the blind could see, the lame began walking, the mute could speak. I even heard some dead people were raised!

Some people had called Jesus “Son of David.” Now Jerusalem is David’s capitol and so it seemed Jesus was coming to claim it back from Rome. When people heard “David” they thought of Goliath and all the warrior things David did. But when Jesus heard “David” he thought of the shepherd of the people—poor people like us, which is what “humble” actually means in Zechariah 9.

And that’s why the donkey. It was a spectacular stunt. Didn’t know Jesus? You do now! People recognized it, too. They laid their cloaks and branches before Jesus and started singing. The first reason Jesus planned the grand entrance was publicity.

The second reason was protest. Remember, it is Passover week. It’s one of our big festivals—the freedom festival. All these pilgrims are here, all wanting freedom from Rome. 

Pontius Pilate the Roman ruler also marched into town Sunday. He had war horses and chariots and banners and standards and weapons and marching bands. He wanted to remind us, “Rome gives you freedom and can take it away.”

But Jesus’ message was, “NO! God gives you freedom and what you do with it determines how much more you get.”

Rome proclaims, “Caesar is Lord!” But Jesus teaches, “Worship the LORD your God and serve only him.” Rome projects peace through power. But Jesus teaches peace through love and justice. That’s actually what “triumphant” means in Zechariah 9—it means “righteous” as in social righteousness. Nobody in need because everybody shares.

This is the Kingdom Jesus preached. He calls us to a willingness to humbly approach poverty so that others don’t have to live in it. To a willingness to yield some of our rights so everyone can enjoy life. And this is what eventually saves us, which is what “victorious” means in Zechariah 9. And that’s why we shouted “Hosanna”—Save us!

Look, the more the world looks like Jesus, symbolized by his entrance into Jerusalem, the more it will look the Kingdom of God and less like kingdom of Rome. The two reasons Jesus made this entrance were publicity and protest. For first timers to Jesus, they asked, “Who is THIS?” For those more familiar with Jesus, we asked, “Who IS this?”

Maybe you’re asking those questions. Maybe you’re a part of the crowd. Who is this? What kind of Kingdom is this? Will you live like Jesus? Will you live in such a way as to bring this Kingdom to reality?

Take a few moments to think about that. I’ve got a paying customer to take care of.

02.14.2021 Divine Digestif, Luke 24:13-36, 49, Sermon Summary

Our last “dining with Jesus” worship falls today on Transfiguration Sunday. This commemoration precedes the beginning of Lent each year. The reason Transfiguration Sunday always appears before Lent is because it is a preview of Jesus’ resurrection. The purpose is to motivate us during the upcoming Lenten fast. Our passage can be read same way.

In contrast to last week’s meal, this meal was the one that captivated the early church. This is why they broke bread every week in worship and daily in their homes and with others. In this meal the resurrected Christ is made known. The Last Supper remembers Jesus. It first looks back before anywhere else. This “first supper” encounters Christ. It first looks around and then looks ahead at the Resurrected Lord. 

Today the phrase which stands out to me is: “They stood still, looking sad.” I’ve always assumed the two disciples showed sadness because of their grief, confusion, or shock. Certainly there is some of that. 

But Luke uses a specific and rare word (skythropos) to describe them. It means, “gloomy, sullen, downcast.” The only other place it appears in the Newer Testament is on the lips of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount related to fasting. He commands his disciples not to let their faces appear this way, for that is what hypocrites do. (See Matthew 6:16) Their faces are disfigured in their resentful obedience.

What Luke’s word suggests to me is that deep inside—maybe because of previous disappointments? or because Jesus had told them? or because the Scriptures had taught them?—they knew that God was behind Jesus’ death. It may be unconscious now, perhaps due to grief and confusion, but God was behind his death. They didn’t like that. And it showed on their faces.

This is true for many of us. We have a hunch God is behind the events in our lives. It may be unconscious—perhaps due to pain, anger, injustice, or confusion. We’ve had to accept difficult realities. But we’ve heard God is still God and we’re asked to believe.

The two on Road to Emmaus were asked to believe several times. When they report that, “It’s been three days . . .” they must be aware that the third day is a symbol from the Scriptures that God is about to intervene. They report that the women couldn’t find Jesus’ body. But women’s testimony was insufficient on its own in those days. The women reported a vision of angels saying Jesus was alive. But that would still be hearsay. Then they say “some of us went and found it as described.” But that is still inconclusive.

These two had not seen. They had only heard. But they were being asked to believe. Their situation causes me to think of what Jesus will say to Thomas a week later: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That wasn’t Thomas. That wasn’t these two. And sometimes that’s not us. 

They and we are “slow of heart to believe,” in Jesus’ words. So Jesus reminds them from the Scriptures as he interprets them around his death. Then their hearts begin to “burn within them” as they begin to believe. But they don’t fully realize what Jesus is saying until they recognize him. And they don’t fully recognize him until he breaks the bread. When they finally do realize and finally do recognize, Jesus disappears.

They had been asked to believe. They had been led to belief. They believed. And then that’s all they were left with—an encounter with the risen Christ around a meal. 

Now we are asked to believe. Whatever trials we are facing, whatever hardships we are enduring, God is yet behind them. And the promise of resurrection waits to be fulfilled. 

Michelangelo Caravaggio painted this sermon in 1601. It is called “Supper at Emmaus”, and depicts the moment of the disciples’ recognition. Jesus has just set the bread down before them. The disciples are astonished. One is pushing back his chair. The other has his hands outstretched as if to maintain his balance. Both are leaning in to Jesus. They believe! Caravaggio wants us to believe also. 

The painting is life-size. It leaves a space at the table for us. Jesus’s one hand reaches out to us while the other reaches for a third piece of bread. The disciple’s outstretched arms span the distance between Jesus and us. The basket of fruit is about to topple off the table unless we enter the painting and grab it. Just as these disciples were asked to believe, so are we.

Luke closes the day with the disciples all together offering hearsay evidence to one another. “He has appeared to Simon!” “He appeared to us in Emmaus!” Then Jesus comes again and shares another meal of fish. He again opens the Scriptures to them. Then he promises them the Holy Spirit.

Today we also encounter Jesus in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of fish, and in the divine digestif—a drink of Spirit concluding a meal to help us to digest until we dine with Jesus again. 

Lord, we celebrate special times of breaking bread as the church, and we trust in your promise to reveal yourself in such celebrations. But you are sovereign to reveal yourself in the breaking of any bread, in the pouring of any cup, in the fellowship of any who desire your presence. And so we pray your Spirit will prompt our curiosity and meet our need for you at every meal we enjoy. Amen

02.07.2021 Waiting Tables Luke 22:14-27 Sermon Summary

As we near the end to our “Dining with Christ” worship series, we come to the most well-known, remembered, and influential meal in the church since the third century—the “Last Supper.” Since the third century the church has made the “Last Supper” the first supper, but it really is neither.

I know it seems obvious to us, after eighteen centuries of practice that this is the meal of Jesus that counts the most. There is no doubt it is essential to understanding the gospel of Jesus. But as Robert J. Karris states,

This meal is the last symposium meal in a sequence of meals celebrated by Jesus, “glutton and drunkard, friend of toll collectors and sinners.” When the Lukan Jesus says in 22:19: Do this in memory of me, he is not just referring to the Passover meal he is celebrating with his male and female disciples, but to all the meals he has celebrated in his ministry. (Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel p. 89). 

This is just one of the reasons to celebrate Communion weekly. This meal reflects so much.

For Jesus, meals are not just fuel for human activity. They are occasions for ministry, for proclaiming the Kingdom in teaching and healing. But more, meals not just a platform for ministry. For Jesus meals were ministry. With Jesus, meals are the Kingdom.

In Jesus’ coming, the Messianic banquet has arrived. We still pray for the Kingdom to come in its fullness. We still eat meals with Jesus until the Kingdom comes in its fullness. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And still we work with Jesus until the Kingdom comes in its fullness by serving “the least of these” as urged upon us in Matthew twenty-five.

Nonetheless, our dining with Jesus is a kingdom event. Jesus is our waiter and our host. Great waiters guide the selection of food. They can comment on the dishes. They suggest drink pairings. They create community. In the end, great waiters facilitate an experience. Jesus facilitates an encounter with the Kingdom. 

In Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, he reminds us how food is related to salvation, how Jesus’ meal practice—culminating to this point in the Last Supper—relates to our salvation. Personally, I find his conclusions very challenging regarding my own relationship with food.

Food is a symbol of our dependence on God. We depend on God’s creation to produce food for our consumption. And we depend on God’s creatures which sacrifice their lives for our food.

And food is a reminder of our human interdependence. We are dependent upon those who grow, harvest, transport, and cook our meals. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous last Christmas sermon makes this point clear:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. (Trumpet of Conscience, pp. 71-72)

Food is the symbol of our dependence on God and human interdependence. It reminds me of Christ’s summary of the Law, that the Greatest Commandment is love God and love your neighbor.

But also: Food is a symbol of our sin. The first human disobedience was around food. Jesus’ first act of obedience was fasting from food. The first temptation he resisted was making food from stones. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3—“We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” And yet Deuteronomy goes on to say, “The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity” (8:7, 9)

Dining with Jesus reminds us of all this. The Last Supper summarizes all this. And we need the reminder. Food still symbolizes our sin. American Christians (not just Americans) spend fifty billion dollars on dieting ($50,000,000,000). That’s more than we offer missionaries. Now apart from genetic factors that lead to dieting, realize that food symbolizes our gluttony as we diet to counter overconsumption. And food symbolizes our vanity as we diet to change our appearance. We use food to comfort ourselves. We use drink to medicate ourselves. Instead of a right relationship with God, we look to a distorted relationship with food.

The Last Supper, with its use of symbolic food, summarizes Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. It summarizes whole Bible’s emphasis on food. Every meal, when dining with Jesus, can make us more mindful of the Kingdom as we thank God, as we remember our neighbor, and as we share with the hungry. Dining with Jesus can correct our relationship with food.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” were Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. “Do this.” Thank God. Love your neighbor. Provide for the needy. Freely you have been served by Jesus; freely serve.

Dine with Jesus and enter the Kingdom. What is God saying to you about your relationship with food this day? What is God saying to you about your relationship with others around food this day?

01.31.2021 Carbo-Loading Luke 14.1-24 Sermon Summary

Carbo-Loading Part 1: The Finish Line

We are nearing the conclusion of our series “Dining with Jesus.” Today we consider “carbo-loading” which is something athletes do to prepare for the finish line. I watch my high-school daughter the night before an event gather with her teammates and carbo-load, usually some kind of pasta dish.

Jesus was a carbo-loader. New Testament scholar Robert J. Karris observes, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” (Eating your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 14) Jesus is continually loading for mission, for “proclaiming the Kingdom and healing.” (Luke 9:11)

Jesus needed meals but they weren’t just means to the finish line of mission. Meals for Jesus were the mission. He taught during meals and he healed during meals. Last week we saw how Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s vision of festive meals and healing for all. (Isaiah 35:5-6)

And so in this first part of Luke 14, Jesus carbo-loads for mission while at the same time fulfilling his mission of proclaiming Kingdom and healing and feasting. At this meal, Jesus heals the man with dropsy—on the Sabbath and at the Pharisee leader’s home. How will Jesus fulfill his mission at your home, at your table?

Carbo-Loading, Part II: The Winning Attitude

Athletes need to have winning bodies to reaching the finish line. That’s why they carbo-load before an event. But they also need to have winning attitudes, even if they’re only competing with themselves.

The Gospels present Jesus’ meals as symposia, a Greek meal broken into two main parts of discussion and feasting. The writers tell us guests “reclined” at tables. The symposium was hosted at short tables configured in a U shape. The middle section of the U was the place of honor.

Now perhaps we understand how it is that the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at a meal could so, or how Jesus could wash the disciples’ feet at his last supper. They weren’t sitting with their feet under the table. They were reclining with their feet stretching back from the U. It also helps us envision how the man with dropsy could approach the diners.

Luke tells us that Jesus watched as the guests arrived who assumed the places of honor, who reclined at the table in the middle section of the symposium. He made a teaching moment of it. It is better to take the lowest seat at a banquet and be exalted by the host than to assume the highest seat and be humiliated by being asked to move.

This type of teaching is foundational for Jesus. He said the first will be last and the last first. He taught to find life one must lose it first. He said the greatest among his followers would be the servant of all. At his last supper Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a way of solidifying this teaching.

Dining with Jesus is carbo-loading for mission, and the mission is proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing. Dining with Jesus prepares our bodies to follow, but it also gives us the proper winning attitude of humility.

Carbo-Loading, Part III: Exercising Faith

In the final scenes of this meal with Jesus, he urges all who would hear to throw parties and invite those who cannot reciprocate. How surprised he imagines the guests to be as they sit across from us, enjoying our food and hospitality. Someone at the symposium made the connection of Jesus’ vision with the Kingdom of God and declared, “Blessed are those who will eat bread in the kingdom!”

“Not who will eat,” Jesus corrects. “Blessed are those who eat in the kingdom now. He tells the parable of a banquet prepared for invited guests who one by one offer regrets for their last minute absence. The host instructs his slave that no matter who they are or where they come from, he is to bring back a houseful of guests. One point of the parable is simply that God is determined to share meal with somebody. Anybody. Even you.

This Sunday is one of America’s most festive food days: the National Football League’s Superbowl featuring Tom Brady. What would happen if we did what Jesus envisions? What if we stocked the fridge with beer and made stacks of appetizers and then went not to our neighbors, not to our Facebook friends, not to our work colleagues, but to “those others.” (We each have at least one of “those others.”) And finding them, we brought them back to our Superbowl party?

That’s a lot of work. I think we can also follow our carbo-loading meal with Jesus at any meal; they all can be the bread-blessing meal in the kingdom. Any meal, you could invite a college student and their friends. They miss home cooking. You could invite someone who lives and usually eats alone. Any meal, you could invite someone who lives in a small place and host them and their friends for a party. You could hire a sitter and invite young families from the neighborhood or church who could use a break from their parental duties.

Jesus’ meal practices remind us of this fact: Most of us are ordinary people who are influenced most by ordinary things with other ordinary people. Knowing this, Jesus’ preferred method of fulfilling his mission to proclaim the Kingdom and offer healing was to share ordinary meals with ordinary people.

Most of us have three meals a day. That’s twenty-one potential opportunities we can share a meal with others. Sharing a meal is “true religion” according to Isaiah 58, James 1, and Jesus’ example. It might take some doing but it’s not complicated. We’re very well-practiced at sharing meals. And having now dined with Jesus we’re carbo-loaded for mission. Let’s get out there!

01.24.2021 Reheated Hope Luke 9:12-17 Sermon Summary

If you were one of the 5000 men there that day, or a woman or child (who were unaccounted for), you would have heard Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and witnessed his healing. You would have shared a meal with this huge crowd and you might have questioned who Jesus was. But you wouldn’t really know until you read about it later in the Gospel of Luke.

We are in the middle of a worship series called “Meals with Jesus.” Jesus gave us a “meal sacrament” which we call the Lord’s Supper. But all meals are sacramental if they remind us about God or even reveal God to us. The “meal sacrament” is Jesus’ way of guaranteeing that we don’t forget this.

God is revealed in the sacraments and this passage from Luke describes a sacramental meal. Luke designs this story of a meal to reveal to us who Jesus is and how God is present to us. It is a sacramental meal.

Before the meal Herod King of the Jews has heard of Jesus. He wonders who he is. Is he Jesus John the Baptist raised from the dead? Is he the prophet Elijah returned? Or could he be another ancient prophet returned?

The crowd that day didn’t know this about Herod, but we the readers do.

After the meal Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying he is. Again we hear speculation that Jesus is John the Baptist, Elijah, or another of the ancient prophets. But then Peter answers: Jesus is the Messiah of God.

The crowd that day didn’t hear this conversation, but we the readers do.

This meal story is sandwiched between the questions about who was Jesus. In Luke, the meal story provides the answer. The meal reveals who Jesus is, the Messiah of God. That revelation makes the meal sacramental.

How does Luke do this? It is characteristic of Luke to rehearse promises from the Older Testament. Remember those Advent scriptures from last month? They often concluded, “Just as God promised to our ancestors . . .”

Some of Luke’s favorite sources are the hopes and dreams of Isaiah. In Isaiah we read about, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, and of well-aged wines strained clear.” (Isaiah 25:6) This sounds expensive, prohibitive, and exclusive. But Isaiah says, “God will prepare this meal for all people.”

Even more, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” says Isaiah. “You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

Between the questions about Jesus’ identity—between Herod’s puzzlement and Peter’s confession—Luke puts this sacramental meal and reveals that the fulfillment of Isaiah’s hope is found in Jesus. Luke says Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and healed people. Then he fed the crowd. Isaiah invited his audience, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:2)

Readers of Luke who are familiar with such patterns in his writing will recognize that this is a sacramental meal story. It reveals God in the presence of the people. It reveals God in the presence of Jesus. God’s presence in our lives is our hope.

This meal like every meal also reminds us of our dependence upon God. We easily forget this in our culture because we rarely go hungry. This is why fasting is so important for our spiritual growth. Fasting reminds us of our fundamental dependence on God.

This meal like every meal also reminds us that food is more than fuel. God could have given us fuel, but we partake of food. We collaborate with the growth and variety of the earth’s gifts and co-create with God the food we eat. Food is a gift from God to us and from us to one another. Food is to be received with gratitude.

Because of the gift-nature of it, food creates relationships. In the meals with Jesus we see his attitude towards all creation. God declared creation good. Jesus reminds us of this. All creation is to be received with gratitude: Not just food, but our bodies, the questions that arise in our minds—all of nature is good when we receive it with gratitude.

Some religious people mistakenly believe that all creation is evil. To them, created things are to be avoided or at best tolerated. Against such thinking 1 Timothy 4:1-4 says, “Some renounce the faith by forbidding marriage and demanding abstinence from foods, but God created these to be received with thanksgiving. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”

The Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ “meal sacrament,” makes this explicit. He took the bread and the cup and sanctified them by God’s word and by prayer. So do we when we celebrate Communion. This meal reveals Christ’s presence to us. It reveals God’s presence in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, but every meal is sacramental when it reminds us of our dependence on God, of God’s faithfulness, and of our gratitude. Every meal is a reheating of hope—the hope of Isaiah, of the crowd, of Luke, and of the Lord’s Supper.

May our hope be reheated at each of our meals with Jesus this week. Amen.

01.17.2021 Saints and Sinners Luke 7:36-50 Sermon Summary

We are in week two of our worship series “Dining with Jesus.” We are focusing on some meals with Jesus because they were a huge part of his ministry. If you were to search the New Testament for the purpose of Jesus’ coming, you would find three statements. Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to seek. And Jesus came eating and drinking.

Most people hear this meal story from Luke 7 with a picture already developed in their minds. Here is a young woman, still attractive, but obviously she’s had a hard life. They see by the way she is dressed, how she moves, the fragrance she wears, and by her actions what her particular sin is. 

Oh, how we think we know this woman! Thanks to salacious sermons and bawdy books made into movies we know that she is the soon-to-be-former prostitute Mary Magdalene, who may be the romantic love interest of Jesus. 

Except what Luke wants us to know—what he actually says—is that she is “a sinner.” She is you; she is I. We are the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. At least Jesus hopes we are.

Ask yourself this: If it is so obvious that this “sinner” woman is a prostitute, why does Simon think, “If Jesus were a prophet he would know she is a sinner”? Jesus would have to be prophet to know this only if it wasn’t obvious. Luke just identifies her as a “sinner.” She is well known to Simon and maybe others at the meal. But she is not so obviously a prostitute. (And nowhere is she identified as Mary Magdalene. Sorry, Mr. Brown.)

Before this encounter Jesus does not know this woman. But she knows him. She already believes Jesus is a prophet—someone who knows and speaks the truth about God. She doesn’t need proof. She’s seen it and heard it already.

She heard John the Baptist, about whom his father said would, “give knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” And then she heard Jesus who quoted Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

She listened. She heard. She saw. And she believed. 

Her reputation preceded her into Simon’s house, and so did the reputation of Jesus. Jesus had a reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard.” This is a slur coming from Deuteronomy 21, a passage describing the “stubborn and rebellious son.” Jesus is the “friend of tax-collectors and sinners” remember Levi last week).

Yes, Jesus had a reputation. He was something of a celebrity. And Simon wanted to see for himself. He wanted to observe Jesus. He wanted to judge Jesus. So here are these two people with reputations—one for sinning, one for forgiving—meeting at Simon’s house.

You know, Jesus would eat with anyone. We see him at wedding parties, with tax-collectors, sinners, and yes even prostitutes. But he also ate with Pharisees, the law-abiding religious leaders. Jesus eats with sinners and saints. When Jesus is invited to dine, he comes. He’ll even eat with you.

In reality we discover Jesus actually does know she’s a sinner—not by her dress, not by her reputation, not because he is a prophet, but by her love. She believed Jesus’ message of grace. She believed it about herself. She needed the message and she loved the messenger. So she comes to Simon’s house. 

Jesus’ message is hospitable; it “makes room for others,” as hospitality is often described. Jesus made room for her in the life of God, and now she makes room for Jesus in her life. She shows him hospitality; the hospitality Simon didn’t show.

Simon did not wash Jesus’ feet; she washes them with tears and dries them with her hair. Simon did not kiss Jesus; she can’t stop kissing his feet. Simon did not anoint Jesus; she anoints Jesus’ feet. She does all this because she loves Jesus. She loves Jesus because of his message of forgiveness. She believes this message because she needs it. She needs it because she is a sinner. 

Jesus sees this display of love and because he also believes in his message of forgiveness he knows she is a sinner. So he says what they both already know and already believe: “Your sins are forgiven.” Her sins are forgiven not because she loves; she loves because her sins are forgiven.

Next Jesus looks to Simon. He softens his message for the Pharisee with a parable. Two debtors are forgiven—one a great amount, one a small amount. Which is more grateful? Which will have more love? Simon answers correctly the one who was forgiven the greater debt.

Simon had invited Jesus into his home, was sharing a meal with Jesus, and calls Jesus “teacher.” When Jesus wants to say something directly to Simon, Simon asks him to speak. I wonder, did Simon listen this time? Because he hadn’t been listening before. At least he didn’t believe what Jesus said about forgiveness of sins—not like this woman heard and believed. If he had, he would have shown love. Simon would have shown hospitality.

Simon wasn’t like this sinful woman. He didn’t need much forgiveness so he didn’t show much love. He didn’t need Jesus to make room for him in God’s life. And so he didn’t make room for Jesus in his life.

Finally Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And now the story addresses us. Do we invite Jesus like Simon did, because he’s a celebrity, because we want to see for ourselves, because we want to test him? Or do we show hospitality like the woman, because Jesus made a place for us in God’s life, because we believe Jesus’ message, because we need forgiveness.

Why do we invite Jesus? We better figure it out. Because when we invite Jesus, he brings his own guests with him. He brings with him the poor, blind, and lame. He brings with him the captives, tax-collectors, and prostitutes. He brings with him gluttons, drunkards, and sinners. He brings with him children, undocumented immigrants, and widows. He brings with him the sick, outcast, and imprisoned. He brings with him the oppressed and marginalized.

Jesus shows them hospitality. He makes room for all these in the life of God. Jesus saves them. Jesus heals them. Jesus eats with them. He eats with Simon. He eats with saints and sinners. And he eats with you. 

In Matthew 25 Jesus says when you dine with the least of the members of his family, you dine with him. The question Luke has for us is this: As many of us want to eat with the likes of Simon, can we also dine with Jesus? Simon could not. Because to dine with Jesus means to dine with the woman. 

Jesus dines with you at every meal. How many meals do you dine with Jesus?

01.10.2021 Eating Grace Luke 5:27-35 Sermon Summary

Today we begin a new season focusing on “Dining with Christ.” For the past year our routines have been interrupted. We haven’t had weekly Communion or fellowship following worship. We haven’t enjoyed festive potlucks or receptions. And when we would have enjoyed meals at some meetings, we haven’t been able to.

My intention with this season’s focus on dining with Christ is that we will remember that Christ is always present with us even, maybe especially, when we are apart.

Since the liturgically ornate worship of the church emerged, with official Christian theologies, during the 4-5th centuries A.D., one meal of Jesus has been emphasized: The Last Supper. Before that it was another meal, namely the resurrection meals and especially the one in Emmaus.

But since the liturgical movement popularized in the 1960s Jesus’ other meals have been studied with great value for us today. The question has evolved over these years: First, What does Communion have to teach us about other meals? Then, What do other meals have to teach us about Communion? And most recently, What do other meals teach us about our own lives with Christ today?

Jesus eats in all the Gospels. Sometimes he is the guest, other times the host. He feeds the crowds, and of course he celebrates his Last Supper with his disciples. But meals and food are especially prominent in the Gospel of Luke. One biblical scholar notes, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” (Robert J. Karris, Eating your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 14)

Why are meals so important to Luke and to Jesus? One reason is that food is identity. You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” And I’ve heard people say, “I can’t function without my coffee.” And this Christmas we all missed the tamales that have become a Faith Presbyterian Church tradition.

Secondly, meals are so important because our identity comes also from our fellow diners. Perhaps you’ve had the experience where you’re sitting with people you admire or even idolize and you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m at this table!” Who we are comes in part from with whom we eat.

From the perspective of Luke’s emphasis on meals, one could argue that Jesus was killed because of his meal practice. He ate the wrong food, and he ate it with the wrong people. For example: Levi. Jesus had been preaching by the sea, healing in the city, and forgiving sins in a house. Then he sees Levi the Tax Collector.

What was Levi doing? Collecting taxes, of course. Where was Levi doing this? At a tax collector’s booth. Jesus commands Levi to follow him and Levi throws a banquet with his tax collector colleagues and others Luke simply calls “sinners.”

Think about this. Where are you likely to encounter Christ? You come here to worship expecting an encounter. And we design worship to facilitate this encounter. But you’re more likely to encounter Christ like Levi did: When you’re doing what you do, and where you’re doing what you do. And what do you do all the time? Eat meals.

Religious types don’t like this fact. The Pharisees and teachers didn’t like Jesus preaching at the seashore instead of the synagogue, or Jesus healing whenever he wanted, even on the Sabbath, or Jesus forgiving sins apart from the Temple rites. And at Levi’s banquet they can’t take any more. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Anthropologist Mary Douglas refers to meals as “boundary markers.” What you eat, and with whom you eat, show which tribe you’re a part of. They mark your social boundaries. Religious types believe that religious people, as Jesus claims to be, shouldn’t eat with Levi’s sorts.

There is a long tradition of boundary marking by religious types. They make the rules, but ordinary types can’t keep them. Consider Leviticus 21:17-20: “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long,or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand,or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” (Ouch!)

According to the religious types of his day, Levi and his sort don’t get meals with God.

When I was in college at a very secular institution, I enjoyed going to the cafeteria with my Christian friends. Just as I was beginning to eat, they would say, “Aren’t you going to pray?! You need to identify with the tribe! Don’t be ashamed; stand up for your faith!”

And I would reply, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did YOU not see me pray? Didn’t Jesus say something about putting on a show with one’s prayers?”

The Christian tribe wanted me to “say grace,” to do the religious thing. But I saw that Jesus ate with Levi and his sort, and instead of just saying grace, Jesus taught us to “eat grace.”

Grace is present wherever God is present. Jesus brings grace with him. Grace was at Levi’s banquet. And where there is grace, there is salvation. The religious types couldn’t fathom this. Grace comes only through the Temple, they say. Today some would say grace comes only through Jesus but you have to come to Jesus for grace.

But didn’t Jesus come to seek and to save the lost? Jesus came eating and drinking with Levi and his sort. He comes to eat with you and your sort. And he comes to eat even with those you would be uncomfortable eating with. Jesus came, with grace and salvation, to eat with those on the margins. Tim Chester asserts, “If we reject salvation at the margins, then we reject the grace of God.” (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, audio book chapter 1 about 39:00)

As we contemplate Jesus’ meal with Levi and his sort, let me encourage you to envision one of two things. First, imagine Jesus walking by your doings, walking by your place. Imagine Jesus at your table this week. And second, imagine a table full of your personal “tax collectors and sinners,” the people you as a good religious person would never eat with. And imagine Jesus eating and drinking with them.

Then ask yourself this question: Will you follow Jesus, as Levi did, and eat grace with him this week? P.S. I think the reason the Pharisees ask Jesus’ disciples and not Jesus why they eat with tax collectors and sinners is because Luke is writing to his audience. The disciples of Jesus after the resurrection continued his practice of eating with the tax collectors and sinners of their day. Luke is offer them assurance that they are doing the right thing.

01.03.2021 Jeremiah 31.7-14 Remembering Our Hope Sermon Summary

Jeremiah is one of the “Major Prophets”: long books with complex compositional histories. The original Jeremiah was a visionary who inspired ongoing contributions in various contexts. This makes Jeremiah easily reinterpreted for other contexts up to the present day.

This passage is one of promise and hope in the midst of social instability and national uncertainty. Jeremiah urges the people to shout “Save!” He inspired a faith in God that led to this exclamation.

It is the same shout as “Hosanna!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus, who healed blind and the lame, reminded the people of Jeremiah who made promises to the blind, lame, and child-bearing. These were experiencing less of life. Perhaps they bore the injuries and pains of life. To bear children was literally to bear the burden of life and to make sacrifices for life.

Jeremiah saw such people. Jesus saw such people. And we are such people today. Our physical and mental health leave us in a deficit. Distraction has made us spiritually blind. Wars have made us lame. We are anxious for our children. We sacrifice for our aging parents. Death and loss have left us less than whole. We are the blind, lame, and child-bearing.

Jeremiah makes the promises that God will bring us home. We are part of “a great company” according to Jeremiah. We are not alone.

The past year has reduced us. We are a remnant of what God desires for us. But God gathers what is lost. God redeems the remnant. God delivers us to a new future.  How do we know this? Because of the memory of faith. Fond memories sustain us in hard times. This is part of Jeremiah’s message to us today.

Jeremiah also offers us a vision, and Jesus picks it up also. There is food, dancing, and the exchange of gifts. Young women join in, and young men and old will be merry. It is, of course, a a wedding banquet.

The best of weddings celebrate companionship and the strength of partnership. Weddings represent the moment when parents are no longer anxious about their children in the same way. Weddings point to the potential of new life and the continuity of community. Best of all, they are festive occasions.

The memories, promises, and visions of Jeremiah inspire our prayers. It is because of this vision that we are bold to pray. The promises and visions show us how it’s supposed to be, but we experience otherwise. And so we pray for how it isn’t yet the way it’s supposed to be.

As we enter a new year and a new season, let us remember all that God has done for God’s people, renew our faith in God’s promises, and remember the hope we have for the future in Christ Jesus. Amen.

12.24.2020 Let us Listen, Let us Hear, Let us Rise Luke 2.4-20, Isaiah 52.7-10 Homily Summary

The prophet Isaiah was writing to Exiles who were refugees of war, people removed from their homeland, and who were separated from their sacred centers. It had been about seventy years. He refers to them as, “those who live in the ruins.”

Tonight for us, even though not through war, and not for seventy years, and though not as traumatic, some of us still feel like exiles. We have looked around and much of what we see lies in ruins.

On the threshold of their return Isaiah speaks to the Exiles. It is a message of “good news, peace, glad tidings, salvation, and the triumph of God.” He introduces this passage with the exclamation: “How beautiful are the feet!” Why feet?

One reason may be that the message comes through messengers. And messengers travel by foot. But also perhaps Isaiah imagines the sound of marching feet, of a liberating army ending the war, releasing the captives, and accomplishing God’s will.

When Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth, angels proclaim the good news of great joy. “In the city of David is born a Savior, the Christ!” It sounds like Isaiah. But the shepherds don’t find this beautiful: They are terrified. I wonder why?

Isaiah, and maybe the shepherds too, expected some kind of instrumental intervention. They envisioned God using an army as an instrument to intervene. It would be “God” in the sense that “only God can do it.” It would not be “God” in the sense that “God’s very self would intervene.”

But the angels from heaven were a different kind of messengers, and they spoke of the very presence of God. This is why shepherds are terrified. This was the first of many ruptured expectations on this night.

Hopes can be satisfied, but not in the way we expect. Light shine in the darkness, but it may be a light within us rather light around us. We may experience peace, but it may be a peace of God’s presence rather than absence of anxiety. And we may be liberated from our enemies, but it may be the freedom to love them rather than to leave them.

And we may find joy, but it is the joy of God’s comfort rather than the joy of overwhelming amusements. God may send an expected message through unexpected messengers. God may fulfill promises of hope and light, of peace and liberation, and of joy in unexpected ways.

The good news, though odd, of Christmas is that God has done these things through the birth of a baby to an engaged couple in an awkward situation from a small village. Beyond odd, this is surprising. So surprising that the shepherds have to see for themselves. And they are so interested because this child is more like shepherds than kings. He is more like David the young sheep herder than David the warrior monarch.

And isn’t that the point of the angelic messengers? God wants to bring hope and light, peace and liberation, and joy not just to the privileged but to all. Not just to those who might expect them but those for whom it comes as a surprise.

In Jesus is God’s hope and light, peace and liberation, joy and all good gifts—for you, no matter who you are.

So let us listen. Let us hear. And like those shepherds let us rise. Let us rise to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us: Through Isaiah, through Luke, and through Jesus. Amen.

12.20.20 When the Wait is Over Isaiah 25.6-9, Luke 2.22-40 Sermon Summary

Waiting is a universal human experience. We all are waiting for something. And we all are waiting for the same things. We are waiting for the COVID impact to disappear with the masks, limited gatherings, and travel restrictions. We’re waiting for the inauguration to finally end the election. And we are waiting for Santa.

Some things are easier to wait for than others. Kickoff is easy to wait for when you’re tailgating. But some things are harder to wait for, like the birth of a child. But we all are waiting for something.

This is one reason the prophet Isaiah makes such interesting reading. It was written by a number of authors and covers about 200 years. There are passages of warning, of judgment, of comfort, and of promise.

Here is a passage of promise and comfort to a nation threatened by war, to a people in exile from homeland, and to those who are waiting to see how it all turns out. Isaiah’s audience is  waiting for the hardest thing to wait for: Justice.

On one hand Isaiah is encouraging faithfulness among those who wait. On the other hand Isaiah is writing about God. The shroud of death will be removed. God wipes every tearful eye dry. The people’s disgrace will be taken away.

But Isaiah’s “big picture” point is that waiting reveals God. God is known by God’s actions. Actions take time to occur. So God is revealed through time. And over time, we have to wait.

Today we jump ahead to Jesus’ presentation at the Temple. Mary and Joseph had been waiting. Luke begins the account with, “When the time came . . .” It is probably about forty days after the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph had been practicing their ritual.

Ritual is important because it helps us to wait. It marks time. And it helps us to remember God’s actions in the past. God acts, and humanity responds with ritual.

So eight days after his birth Jesus is circumcised and named. And now Mary has come for the purification ritual and to offer a sacrifice. God is revealed through time and ritual.

Then Luke introduces us to Simeon and Anna, two more people who are waiting. And they teach us more about what it means to wait faithfully. Simeon, we’re told, is, “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” He is, “righteous and devout,” which means he practices ritual. But more, “the Spirit was upon him,” and he was, “moved by the Spirit to enter Temple courts.”

Simeon is a Spirit-led person. He’s not just waiting around. He’s not just waiting for something. He is waiting with spiritual attention. Simeon may just be an ordinary guy who is also Spirit-led. But Anna is something different.

Anna is basically like what we would understand as a nun. She lived at the Temple in continual worship, prayer, and fasting. But Luke hides clues about Anna in the details we’re also told. She is the daughter of Penuel, which means “face of God.” This suggests that she has intimate and personal knowledge of God.

She is from the tribe of Asher which was one of the “ten lost tribes” when Assyria defeated the Northern Kingdom. And she is eighty-four, which is seven (the number of perfection or wholeness in the Bible) times twelve (the number of the original tribes of Israel). Eighty-four is the complete number of tribes.

What Luke is telling us through Anna is that, “In Jesus God is redeeming the lost and restoring God’s people.” So Luke writes, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Finally, we can return to Mary and Joseph. They have been waiting to go home. That’s another one of the hard thing to wait for. But look what happened? As they waited, as they performed ritual, God was revealed to them. God was revealed through the Shepherds who shared on the night of Jesus’ birth, through Simeon who spoke of the history of God’s people, and through Anna who gave thanks to God.

God was revealed as Mary and Joseph performed ritual, followed the Spirit, and remembered God’s promises. And this is true for us as well. Before the shroud of death can be lifted, before the tears are wiped away, before we find ourselves home again, we sometimes have to wait. And in the waiting God will be revealed. Amen.