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10.06.19 A Telling Faith, 2 Timothy 1.1-14 Sermon Summary

It’s World Communion Sunday. We share worldwide faith and communion because ours is a telling faith. One person tells another, one traveler tells another, one generation tells another. A telling faith is always one conversation away from extinction. Ours is one generation away from vanishing. Are you telling anyone about your faith?

It’s a heartwarming picture: Lois raising Eunice in the faith; Eunice raising Timothy in the faith; Timothy planting, consulting, and pastoring churches. But ideal pictures can make us envious. Not everyone has a family like Timothy’s. Some parents and grandparents raise children in the faith and the children choose another path. Others of us wonder how our lives would be different if our parents had raised us in the faith.

No matter how different our families may be from Timothy’s, one thing we have in common: We are here today because someone told us.

Second Timothy is important for all of us, even though few of us are in the situation of the letter. We aren’t church leaders threatened by persecution. Few of us refer to ourselves as “apostles, heralds, or teachers.” This is a letter between pastors, but within it is wisdom for the whole church. Part of that wisdom is how we can have a living faith—the kind of faith Timothy is commended for having.

How can we have a living faith? This passage offers us three parts to an answer. First, Timothy was part of a community. He became a pastor through the laying on of hands. Hand-laying is a symbol of continuity, like getting a diploma at commencement. It says you’ve been given a tradition—tradition being a Latin word meaning “handing on” or “handing over.”

Faith isn’t something we invent. It isn’t a me-and-God, God-and-me thing. Faith is something created through community. The first community is the authors of scripture. The second community is the generations of people who keep scripture—those saints of the tradition who were guided by the words preserved by the first community. Next is the worshiping church in its prayer and ritual. Lois and Eunice are examples of the community Timothy had. He had a living faith because he was part of a community.

Second, Timothy had the Holy Spirit. He is reminded that God gave him a spirit not of cowardice, but of power, love, and self-discipline. He’s told to guard the good treasure of his living faith with the help of the spirit living in him.

If a living faith needs the community that stretches back through time and around the world, it also needs the Holy Spirit which can be more individual and here and now. Timothy had a living faith because he was part of a community relating him to the past; and he had the Holy Spirit relating to him in the present.

Third, in order for Timothy to have a living faith he had to be personally involved. He was told to rekindle the faith living in him. Now Timothy was co-sender with Paul for six letters in the Bible. He was Paul’s loyal disciple and church delegate, and he came from generations of faithful people. And still he needs to “rekindle” the faith.

We rekindle fires when the flames burn low, when they are at risk of being extinguished. There’s more to burn but kindling is needed. Fires burn down—and faith begins to wane—out of neglect, when we stop paying attention. It can happen when the logs are too big—we have too many ambitious projects going. Fires burn down if the logs are too far apart—when we have a lack of fellowship with others. Or when there isn’t enough air—our lives lack the Spirit blowing through our prayers.

Whether you’re a pastor or not, whether you’re a Timothy or a Paul or not, three things help us to keep a living faith: A community, the Holy Spirit, and being personally involved. When we have a living faith, we can have a telling faith, and a telling faith will live—a telling faith will even outlive us.

The bread and cup of communion are a form of kindling. When Jesus took and broke the bread, giving it to the disciples after walking to Emmaus, their eyes were opened and they declared, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the road?!” If your faith needs rekindling this week, then come to the Table of the Lord. Listen again as Jesus tells you the faith. Then you can tell the faith to someone else.

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09.29.19 1 Tim 6.3-13 Heavenly Treasure Sermon Summary

As many conservative evangelicals do, I used to read the Bible as if it were God’s words to me personally. Later I discovered that wasn’t actually the case, and I was glad to be let off the hook in some passages. But then I became a pastor and realized that letters like 1 Timothy actually were written to me.

First Timothy is a letter to a pastor. When we read it, we’re reading someone else’s mail. But while some topics are specific to pastors, there is wisdom here for the whole church also. The foundational concerns of the letter include Timothy’s faithfulness to “sound teaching.” “Good conscience” also shows up throughout the text. The goal, we’re told in 1:5 is, “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” The author warns Timothy that failure in these matters leads to a shipwrecked faith, (1:19) excommunication, (1:20) and the loss of salvation for the shepherd and the flock. (4:16)

Today’s passage is the conclusion of the letter, and immediately follows a criticism of those who pursue “godliness as a means to gain.” The reference is to financial gain. Do some preach to get rich? Do some practice the good life to get ahead? Is churchiness a means to prosperity?

The answer is no, according to the author. Several years ago a young couple moved to Colorado Springs and visited my congregation. They were the kinds of visitors every pastor covets. They jumped quickly into the life of the church beyond worship. After about a month, they asked me if they could make a pitch for their new business to members of the congregation. Wary of their motives, I encouraged them to continue settling into our communal life before doing so. They didn’t return.

Timothy and pastors in general are warned that ambition for riches leads to divisiveness. In the book of James we’re told that conflicts and disputes arise because of financial ambition. (4:1-3) In 1 Timothy, financial ambition leads to, “morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling.” (6:4-5) But, the letter continues, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Is this sarcasm? Maybe a redirection? What is “godliness”? And what is “contentment”?

Godliness in 1 Timothy is a concern chiefly related to pastors, and it appears to be focused around the matter of doctrines (that is, official church teachings) and behaviors. Godliness is defined not in positive terms (“this is what it is”) but by how it is transgressed (“this is what it is NOT”). Some examples of ungodliness include those who are disobedient and profane, murderers, slave traders, and liars, ministers who are preoccupied with celibacy and myths and arguments over words.  (1:9-10; 4:3, 7; 6:4)

Then there are longer discourses regarding how men should pray, how women should dress, characteristics of church leaders, which widows should receive help or not, and how slaves should relate to owners.

As a pastor myself, I like some of this teaching, like “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double compensation, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (5:17) Other characteristics I don’t: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” (2:12)

As Presbyterians, we’ve come to understand that “godliness” changes depending on context. What constituted godliness in Timothy’s congregation doesn’t necessarily translate to ours. So today men can have long hair, pastors may experience divorced, and women can have authority. Godliness in the pastorate is important; what it means evolves with the context. Whatever the context is of your life, may you find within it the path of godliness.

What about “contentment”? Here is universal wisdom for the whole church, not just for preachers. First, contentment begins with a mindset of “brought nothing in, take nothing out.” We come to life with nothing, and leave life with nothing. In the words of fabled Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked shall I go to the dead.” (1:21) Or of the Preacher: “As the rich came from their mother’s womb, so shall they go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 5:15) The first step towards contentment is accepting the impermanence of not only wealth, but of our very lives.

Second, contentment is nurtured by a grateful satisfaction. Timothy and the church are urged to be satisfied “with food and clothing.” Why not shelter, too, I wonder? I think shelter is not included on the short list because shelter suggests too much permanence. Food and clothing are immediate, present tense needs. There are no guarantees that we’ll survive the storms, even if we have shelter.

So when Timothy is told to, “Fight the good fight of the faith”—this faith refers to the present. It has an immediate sense. It is always active now, not depending on the future, living in the present, dealing with present concerns. And not just our concerns, but the concerns of others in accordance with our means.

And some people have a lot of means. The letter closes with advice to those who are rich. Don’t be haughty. Don’t rely on your riches, but rely instead on God. Do good, be generous, and ready to share. This advice is wasted on the poor. They are not haughty. They relate to everyone. They don’t rely on riches. That temptation isn’t an option. They have to rely on God. Because they are familiar with the desperation of need, they do already what all of us are called to: They do good, are generous, and are ready to share.

This is the key to “the life that really is life.” Real life is lived in faith, in the now. Real life is lived in relationship, with God and with others. Real life is lived in generosity, in doing good, and in being ready to share.

And it is for this reason Jesus gave us the Table. Here we receive God’s presence in faith, right now. Here we renew our relationship with God and one another. Here we receive God’s generosity in order to share generously with others. So come to this table to receive the life that truly is life, for our lives are hidden with God in Christ.

09.22.19 Luke 16.1-13 Paying it Forward Sermon Summary

The New Testament scholar Charles Cousar said this passage is, “one of the great exegetical mountains.” In other words, getting the meaning out of this passage is exceptionally difficult.

I propose that we begin with the end in mind. In the Gospel of Luke, the overarching point of this passage is verse 13: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

How do we know this is the overarching meaning? Because of verse 14: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.” Clearly Luke has placed this comment of Jesus as the link between the parable and what follows.

To put it most simply, this is a passage about financial stewardship. It follows the “Lost Chapter” containing the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. The final parable introduces us to the younger son who hates his father but loves his father’s wealth.

Shortly after in the gospel we read the parable of the rich man who didn’t care for poor Lazarus who begged to death at the rich man’s gate. So in context we can confidently assert that today’s parable about financial stewardship.

After all, Luke presents Jesus as saying, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (verses 10-12)

The challenge for the reader and even more the preacher comes in the parable of the dishonest manager which leads us to the issue of financial stewardship. The first challenge is the complexity of the manager.

We’re told that he “squanders money.” But the question immediately arises, whose money is the manager squandering? The text as we have it is ambiguous. Is it the master’s money or the manager’s money that is being squandered?

Think about it. If your physical trainer was terribly out of shape, if your financial planner was terrible with her personal finances, would you entrust this person with your own training or finances?

The manager in the parable is of questionable character. He appears unwilling to find a suitable laboring job: “I am unable to dig.” He is prideful: “I am too ashamed to beg.” Ultimately the parable says outright that he is “dishonest,” a better translation of which is that he is “unrighteous.” Here is a person whose relationships are not right.

And yet, at the conclusion of the parable, the master praises the manager for acting “shrewdly” which we might best understand as “prudent” or “wise.” And even more, Jesus himself praises the manager by urging his followers, “You also should make friends with unrighteous wealth,” and with the admonition, “The children of this age are wiser than you.”

Some have tried to redeem the manager. It has been suggested that in decreasing the amount owed to the master, the manager cut his own commission. This may make sense in the cutting of 100 containers of wheat to 80. But how much commission was this manager making where the cut was from 100 jugs of oil to 50?!

Others have suggested that the manager was cutting the interest charged on the loan. This would be in accordance with the commandment that no Israelite should charge interest to a fellow Israelite. (Deuteronomy 29:13) In cutting the interest, the manager is seen to be critiquing an exploitative economic system.

Maybe it was some combination of the two. But maybe we should just take Jesus at his word, however uncomfortable it makes us, and recognize that the manager is simply self-serving and dishonest. But also shrewd!

Here’s another complication. The manager is concerned about where he might find his “home” once he is fired. When Jesus returns to the topic he speaks not of “homes” but of “eternal tents.” Clearly this is an intentional change on the part of Jesus or of Luke. But what exactly is an “eternal tent”? Don’t we all know that tents represent temporary housing, not eternal?

More: What does it mean to be faithful and honest with dishonest wealth? And what are “true riches” verses “dishonest wealth”?

In order to move toward some answers, I think it’s helpful to remember that in ancient societies there was no middle class. There were those with power, connections, and wealth; and those without. That was all.

So without the rich master this manager is homeless. He is in a desperate situation and he knows it. So he thinks about it, acts with urgency, and makes friends—even though he is self-serving, prideful, and dishonest.

And THIS is commendable: He is deliberate, urgent, and makes friends. We also are to be deliberate, urgent, and friend-making—even with “dishonest wealth.”

With whom shall we, the children of light, make friends? Or to put it another way, who is in a position to welcome us into “eternal tents”?

In Luke and according to Jesus, it is the poor, lame, crippled, and blind. Luke pays particular attention to these outcast, marginalized persons. When we use earthly wealth to make friends with them they reveal God’s presence to us, and we enter the eternal tent right here on earth.

In this we discover true riches, when we take care of the needy. If we are faithful in the small amount of dishonest wealth, God will give us a large amount of true riches in eternal tents. For we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve God and wealth.

One last thing. Think you can’t do this? Think your management of wealth has been too dishonest? Remember this: Jesus found something good in the manager. And God sees something good in you. Your life can be redeemed. Let Jesus show you how at his Table.

When Jesus looks at you he sees the potential of a good manager, of a good steward. And just as he took the bread and the cup and saw the potential of grace through the sacrifice of his body and blood, so let Jesus take you and all you have into his hands, and make of your life a sacrament of grace.

09.08.19 Luke 14.25-33 Beyond Belief Sermon Summary

Jesus didn’t call us to be fans of his. He called us to be followers. And he knew how to separate the two.

The way to separate followers from fans is to introduce hardship. Jesus did this when he said to the crowds following him, “You cannot be my follower unless you take up the Cross, give up all your possessions, and hate your life and everyone in it.”

This is a stark contrast to the Jesus who merely saves us from sin and hell and delivers us to heaven. This is a Jesus who is interested in much more. He wants it all: our private devotion and public life; our mind in belief and body in service; our weekend worship and weekday vocation. The “sinner’s prayer for salvation” isn’t enough. It makes lots of fans, but not many followers.

Jesus offers two parables to illustrate. The first about a person who starts building a tower but can’t complete it for lack of funds. And the second about a king realizing he can’t win a battle and so sends a delegation asking for terms of peace.

From these parables two questions emerge for would be followers: “Can I finish?” and “If maybe not, What can I do?” Practically speaking, these are parables about prioritization. Matthew’s version of the accompanying sayings makes this clear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (10:37-38)

Luke’s language of “hating” is much more vivid. But in the Bible, “hate” really means “to not choose” The two most famous places where God is said to hate are in Malachi 1:2-3 (repeated in Romans 9:13) and Malachi 2:16. There God says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” and “I hate divorce.”

But God who is love does not hate the way we typically understand that word. God just doesn’t choose. God chose Jacob over Esau, and chooses faithful marriage over painful divorce.

Understanding that these sayings and parables from Luke are about prioritization, we can say that fans choose their own path, but followers non-choose (“hate”) their own path and instead choose Jesus’ path. Put another way, followers make Jesus a priority.

Followers choose forgiveness over vengeance, caring for needy over avoiding them, welcoming the stranger over locking them out. For followers, Jesus is their preferred choice. They choose generosity over greed, peacemaking over saber-rattling, economic justice over discount pricing, and stewardship of the earth over exploitation.

What the Tower-builder teaches us is if you can’t choose Jesus, then don’t begin to follow Jesus. And we need to take our time to figure this out. When I was in high school, there was lots of pressure to “become a Christian,” and I knew lots of others who made a fast decision and followed Jesus only a short time. I took my time and I’m still following Christ the best I can.

“Best you can?!” you may say. “God doesn’t allow ‘best you can.’ You can’t leave half a tower and call it your best!”

But that’s what the King going to war teaches us. This king reasoned that he couldn’t win at this time, so what could he do? Jesus here allows for a progressive effort. This is why we encourage everyone every year and throughout the year to serve in the church, to serve in the world, and to financially support the church. You may want to respond the first time we invite you but you can’t. So you do what you can. Then later you can do what you wanted.

Being a follower of Jesus is a matter of priorities, a matter of stewardship, not just of money but of our entire lives. “None of you can become my disciple unless you give up all your possessions” Jesus said.

What’s a possession? If you have it to give, it is a possession. Followers give up their possessions. If you have it to give but you can’t give it up, you don’t have a possession, you are the possession. And unless you begin to change that, you might end up just a fan.

Why do some people end up just fans and other remain followers? Why do fans end up choosing their own way while followers continue to choose Christ’s way? It might be that followers choose Christ first because they understand God chose them first. Fans don’t get this deep down. Followers do. They trust God’s first choice and so they can trust God when the hardships come. Fans choose their own way when the hardships come because they aren’t sure if they can trust God.

This is the message of Communion, where Jesus “took” the bread and “broke” it and “gave” it to the disciples. As that bread was his body, and as we are Christ’s body today, so Christ takes (chooses) us, breaks us (in the hardship of following him), and gives us to the world as witnesses of his presence.

When we come to the Table, we respond to God’s choice. We trust God with our hardships. We bring what we can until we can bring our whole lives, for that is what Christ is calling for.

09.01.19 Humility of Faith Luke 14.1, 7-14 Sermon Summary

For those of us who like parties, especially giving them, Jesus has some advice. It comes through a saying of his that must have been a favorite, as it appears a number of times in the Gospels and in the Epistles that reflect the convictions of the New Testament church.

The saying is, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It’s not a principle unique to Jesus or Christianity. It’s a common perspective within “wisdom traditions.” James says something like it. (James 4:10) So does Peter. (1 Peter 5:6) Paul has a version of it. (Philippians 2:5ff) And Jesus’ example is based on a saying attributed to Solomon. (Proverbs 25:6-7) Besides these, the truism appears in other religions. “If you strive, you will be humbled: if you are humble, you will be exalted.”

There are various motivations given for this wisdom. In the Epistles, it is the means to peace within the church. For Jesus, it is a means to the primary position in the Kingdom of God. It is also given in contrast to the practices of conventional leaders.

But here in this passage, Jesus gives it so we can avoid embarrassment. “Don’t assume the honored position at a dinner party,” he says, “because some other invited guest else may precede you.” And then you’d have to move down.

I’ve held honored positions. I’ve even held the primary position of host. But as an introvert, I’m naturally more comfortable in the “back row.” But this past year at the North American Academy of Liturgy I found myself sitting between the convener (a fellow student of mine from Notre Dame who now teaches at Yale) and “one of the greatest students to come through the Notre Dame program”—someone I knew about but had never actually met.

As I sat between them, I naturally assumed a humble position. And through the meeting, I discovered my calling for next year’s meeting. With their encouragement I will be leading a discussion and presenting a paper. I discovered my calling by assuming the humble place

When we try to impress others we fail to appreciate how God views us. But when we humble ourselves our humility prompts God’s benediction over us. We discern our calling from the humble place.

This is the character and the fruit of spiritual humility: Observing, listening, responding, and serving. We find our vocation by avoiding embarrassment.

What is the opposite of spiritual humility? According to this passage, it seems the opposite is giving in order to get. This is what Jesus accused the Pharisee of doing—inviting Jesus to the party to get something in return. When we give to get, it is an act of pride. I once found myself disappointed by someone’s lack of gratitude and reciprocal gift giving. It revealed my impure motive in giving. A true gift is given without calculation of return. By contrast, my gifts were given with the expectation of reciprocity.

How can we be sure that we’re giving with the right spiritual attitude? In this passage, Jesus says we purify our motives when we give to the least of these, to those who have no chance of giving us something in return. This is Jesus’ teaching on throwing dinner parties. Invite those who can’t give back. Then we know we are giving as God gives—out of generosity and love.

When we come to the Table we remember that even here, the original guests jockeyed for position. “Who is greatest among us?” they asked. Some were weighing their options with the religious and political power brokers. Some were open to Jesus’ interpretation of the Kingdom. Everyone was represented there that first night. And at the Table today is represented every one of us.

We are invited to come to this table with a question: What do you want me to do? How can I give to the least of these, to be sure I am giving with a pure heart? What I receive freely from you, can I give freely to others?

May we have the humility of faith to receive God’s grace and offer it to others in freedom.

08.25.19 Persistence of Faith Luke 13.10-17 Sermon Summary

There are three ways people approach their spiritual life within a faith community. They’re known as Three R’s.

The first R is exemplified by the Leader of the Synagogue when Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath. The Leader is preoccupied with Rules. Rules are useful in that they help us manage large amounts of information, expedite complex processes, offer guidance, and provide protection. And leaders are responsible for enforcing rules to the benefit of people and organizations.

The second R is exemplified by the Bound Woman, and it is the practice of Religion. Sabbath after Sabbath, this woman has come to religious services. For eighteen years she has been afflicted, yet she had persistent faith in religion.

On this Sabbath, I wonder what Jesus might have been teaching? If it was not ON the Sabbath, it was DURING the Sabbath, and so Sabbath would have been on his mind. It’s not hard to imagine that on the Sabbath Jesus would have Isaiah 58:13-14 in his mind.

“If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways,    serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”

What is the point of the Sabbath? Is it just a Rule? Is it just a practice of Religion? Or is it more? From the two places where the Sabbath is commanded we learn the two primary reasons for it. One is to cease working, and the other is attending to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus came to offer insight into the Kingdom of God. He showed us that it is a place of sharing resources and responsibility among the people. In the Kingdom forgiveness replaces aggression. Peoples identity  is centered in God instead of wealth, achievement, or appearance. From Jesus’ perspective, the law of love replaces the books of laws. And people are free from bondage to power of sin.

This is what Sabbath meant to Jesus, to cease the compulsions of this World and to attend to the Kingdom of God. And here is Jesus, teaching during the Sabbath, and he sees the Bound Woman. Perhaps an earlier verse in Isaiah 58 came to his mind: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (verse 6)

So Jesus offers his favorite interpretation of the prophets: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s fulfilled in our hearing because Jesus is present. He proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God to the Bound Woman: “You are set free from your ailment.” And then he touches her.

Suddenly, after eighteen years, she is UNbound! She is unbound from Satan, which is the Bible’s shorthand way of referring to everything that opposes God. Unbound from brokenness and suffering. Unbound from religion (the root word of which means to bind).

She praises God because beyond Rules, beyond Religion, she has found Relationship with God—the third R. She has a new relationship with God thanks to Jesus Christ.

Well the Leader doesn’t like it. Citing the rules, he goes through the crowd and reminds them that there are six other days they can come to be healed. The Sabbath isn’t one of them. He saw only rules and religion, not relationship. He didn’t see a daughter of Abraham, or a mission. He saw only a problem.

And who could blame him? After eighteen years he would have recognized this woman. He could see the impact on Sabbath worship this kind of activity could have. How could they be done in an hour and beat the Baptists to brunch if Jesus heals all these people on the Sabbath? After eighteen years, what’s one more day?

Jesus’ response to all church leaders who think this way is “You are hypocrites! You don’t recognize the Kingdom of God when it comes to you.”

Today we sometimes don’t see children of God or opportunities for mission. We only see rules and religion. We don’t see families desperate for peace and prosperity; we see immigration laws. We don’t see parents grieving for their slain children, or people grieving for their lost limbs; we see our constitutional right to own assault rifles and high capacity magazines. We don’t see the disproportionate rates of incarceration or suicide among some segments of our society; we think the law is blind with regards to skin color or sexual identity.

When say we follow Jesus but live in rules and religion instead of relationship we are hypocrites also. And like the Leader of the Synagogue we are put to shame by those who actually live according to Jesus’ example.

Jesus isn’t anti rules or religion. He observed Sabbath, after all. But when rules and religion get in the way of relationship, Jesus has to find another path to the ones he wants to save—a path that goes around our rules and religion.

May we be more like the crowds that day who recognized what Jesus was doing and rejoiced. May we be less like the Leader, citing rules to maintain our religion. May we be more like the Woman who was persistent in faith until she experienced her liberation.

Jesus didn’t always touch the people he healed, but he touched this woman. Maybe she was hesitant to stand straight after eighteen years of being hunched over, after eighteen years of delayed answer to prayer. So he touches her and helps her straighten up. He made his proclamation of the Kingdom real.

By touching her he restored her back to community. He provided communion with God and with the people of God. And he still touches us today, making real the proclamation of the Kingdom, and providing this same communion. He comes to us in the bread and cup of the Lord’s Table. Come to the Table with whatever heaviness is weighing you down—even eighteen years’ worth—and receive the grace of the Kingdom to help you.

08.18.19 Eyes of Faith Hebrews 11 Luke 12 Sermon Summary

You know the opening verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the one about “peace on earth” and “God and sinners reconciled.” So began the Gospel of Luke. But now Jesus says he doesn’t come to bring peace; instead he comes to bring “fire and division.”

This passage falls in a larger teaching about what it means to be a faithful disciple, and more specifically how we are to be watchful for Jesus’ return. What kind of division is Jesus referring to? Is it the church’s debate about whether he is divine or human? Whether he is Jewish or the bringer of a new religion? Whether he is the redeemer of all creation or the savior of only a tiny minority of humans? Whether he is present with the Spirit or seated with God in heaven?

These are the ways the church has divided over Jesus, but is this what he means? Should the church have divided over whether to admit people of African descent? Or over recognizing the gifts of women in ordination? Or blessing the life-long, loving, mutual commitment of same-sex partners?

What kind of division is Jesus talking about? And how does it help us to be more faithful disciples? And how does it guide us in being more watchful for his return?

I think this has less to do with doctrinal disputes like those above and more to do with behavior. Though Jesus revealed God to us, he also revealed what it looks like to be a faithful human to God. When he fed the 5000+ men and women, he showed us that faithful humans provide for the needy. When he related to sinners, he showed us that it is faithful to forgive. To the outcast, the faithful offer welcome. Regarding the lost, faithful people seek them. To those on the margins of society, Jesus was an advocate.

This way of faithfulness is opposite of the way of the world. Think about what the world says about the needy: They have made bad decisions, or are lazy, or just unlucky. Sinners deserve the judgment upon them. The outcast are outcast because we’ve cast them out. The lost should have stayed with the flock. Do we really want to make room in the middle of our lives for those who are on the margins?

Because Jesus’ faithfulness is opposite to the world, when we follow Jesus it eventually leads to division. There will be conflict. There will be protests. There will be arrests. There will be persecutions. There will be crucifixions. Just ask Jesus.

He refers to this dynamic as bringing fire to the earth. This is the purging fire of God’s redeeming work in the world. But before those fires burn, dividing people who follow faithfulness from those who do not, the purifying fire burns first in us.

Because while Jesus reveals God and faithful humanity, he also reveals that we are already divided. We possess the remnant of the divine image with which we are created. And the power of sin also resides in us. It’s a close but uneven division. Using the metaphor of the household, Jesus says among the five residents, we are divided three against two today, and two against three tomorrow.

We are closely divided within ourselves. We desire to be faithful, but we are weak when it comes to carrying it out. It is for this reason that Jesus urges us to watch for him, the pioneer and perfector of faith. We’re not to avoid the divisions or the fires. Instead we are to watch for Jesus to come and help. This is what it means to be a faithful disciple.

We don’t settle for a peace that is not also just. Or a peace that is not also loving. Or a peace that is not also inclusive. For such peace is not peace, but compromise. It is compromise with the power of sin within us and in the world.

Disciples of Jesus pursue faithfulness as he did, and watch for him when the divisions come and the fires burn, as they inevitably will. To help us, Jesus gave us the Table where we remember his death and resurrection, what he calls the “completion of his baptism.” His baptism is complete, and until our baptism is also complete in death and resurrection, we remember Jesus and watch for his coming, receiving him again and again at the Lord’s Table.