Pentecost 17 – October 6, 2019

(Ps 37, Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-14) Luke 17:5-19 Faith, love and gratitude **************************************************************** Just before where our gospel reading begins Jesus tells us – ‘it’s better to be tossed in the ocean like fish bait, with a quarter-ton-stone-sinker attached to you – than to lead a child or disciple astray’ – and – ‘if another disciple sins against you seven times in a day and says “I repent” seven times – you must forgive each time.’ No wonder the disciples say to Jesus “Increase our faith!” But Jesus says “if you’ve got faith the size of a mustard seed you can tell a tangerine tree to tango and it will start dancing.” Faith, according to Jesus, isn’t about size. It’s about trusting God – and even a very tiny size faith is enough to do wonders. It’s a metaphor. It’s a parable. And– If we’re faithful in our relationship with God – Jesus says – we can ask in his name and God will move the metaphoric mulberry tree – into the ocean and out again. Which can sound like fun. But the follow-up example of faithfulness Jesus tells next makes me say again “Increase my faith!” As Jesus asks us to imagine having hired servants who have been ploughing and tending sheep all day long – and when they come in from the fields they’re expected to wait on you at table before eating – not expecting any thanks – saying “we are unworthy servants, just doing our duty.” Now I’ve never had any hired servants – and I doubt the first disciples did either. So I’m pretty sure Jesus intends for us to see ourselves as those servants, working in the fields of the Lord, and in God’s kitchen. Not expecting thanks for our labors on behalf of Jesus. Just saying “we’re unworthy servants, just doing what we’re supposed to do.” (There will be a time, Jesus says elsewhere, when the faithful are thanked – but that’s not to be our motivation.) But – before I can even begin to say “increase my faith!” – again – Luke the gospel writer directs our attention now to an encounter with lepers – in which – Ten lepers approach Jesus crying “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (Leprosy meant any kind of skin disorder considered contagious in those times. Lepers had to stay outside towns and villages, and be certified healed by priests before they could rejoin the community.) And – Now all ten lepers are healed as they go. And one – turns back – falls at the feet of Jesus, praising God, thanking Jesus. And – “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asks – “Were not all ten healed?” **** With these gospel stories before us we’re walking with Jesus on the biblical road of stewardship. Perhaps the first theme of the bible… as – In the beginning God makes human beings in the image of God, and commissions us to be stewards of creation. And in the beginning God instructs us to tend the garden – as we ourselves are tended, nurtured, taken care of by God… Stewardship means employing all our God-given gifts, grace, resources and abilities to do all God asks us to...

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Pentecost 16 Sept 29, 2019

(Ps 146, Amos 6:4-7, 1 Tim 6:6-12) Luke 16:19-31 Dip his finger in the water * Jesus hears his mother, while he’s still in the womb, singing about God filling the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). We’ve heard Jesus preach “Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, you’ll be filled…” and “Woe to you rich, you’ve had your comfort… Woe to you who are full now, you’ll be hungry…” (Luke 6:20-26). So maybe we’re not shocked to hear Jesus tell this parable today. If it’s a parable. Most consider today’s gospel reading a parable, though Jesus never names it as such. And John Wesley, our Methodist founder believed its not a parable. If it is a parable, it’s the only one told by Jesus in which any character has a name. The name Lazarus means “God will help.” A name that makes sense only if the story is literally true. Or true on a level deeper than literal. I think our story today is a parable. I hope it is, because Jesus occasionally employs hyperbole (exaggeration) in some of his parables – to accentuate his point. And I hope Jesus is exaggerating here to get our attention. But I really don’t know if it’s a parable or not or if Jesus is exaggerating. So I’m trying not to make assumptions….And I remember… The popular book a few years ago by Mitch Albom titled The Five People You Meet in Heaven – about people you meet again in the after-life. Thinking – if St. Luke the gospel writer were to title this story Jesus tells today he might call it– One of the Few Persons We See in Heaven – and The Only Person We Meet in Hell. Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel we overhear Jesus tell a crucified thief next to him on the cross, “today you’ll be with me in Paradise.” Elsewhere we glimpse Jesus flanked by Moses and Elijah of old, transfigured in heavenly light. Here today, Jesus speaks of Abraham and Lazarus, together, in the heavenly realm. But the rich man of our story today is the only person we ever see in the New Testament in hell – more literally Hades – an ancient word for the grey-area of afterlife between what we call hell – and what Catholics and some Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox believers call purgatory. I don’t think Jesus intends to open up discussion of purgatory today. But I will note in passing – in some versions of purgatory the flames are not literal – and in all versions are meant to purge and purify souls so as to be able to ascend to heaven. I don’t recommend ever aiming for purgatory – since we really don’t know if it exists – and if it does, we don’t know how hot those flames are, or how long it might take for purification to happen…. Best not to go there… But I suppose… We can say there is some good news in this parable – in that this rich man today is the only person Jesus ever describes as suffering in the afterlife… Although, there’s also some bad news – in that, apparently, we don’t have to be...

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Pentecost 15 – September 22, 2019

Luke 16:1-13 Make friends for yourself What is Jesus saying to us? – in this rather strange story of a dishonest manager – who, facing loss of his job, unilaterally reduces debts owed to his boss – and wins the approval of his boss? If we’re puzzled by this story that Jesus tells, we’re in good company. Church father St. Augustine back in the 4th century, who believed the bible was absolutely always the word of God – considered this story of the Dishonest Servant so hard to understand that he couldn’t quite believe Jesus really said it. And what we hear in any story of course always depends on what we bring to the story. In his book, What Do They Hear?, seminary professor and bible scholar Mark Allan Powell explores ways people hear the stories in the bible differently. For example – Powell likes to have his seminary students read a bible story aloud, then retell the story from memory. He once asked a dozen seminarians to retell the parable of the prodigal son (the familiar story we talked about last week). All the students told almost all the story accurately – but all of them left out the part about the famine that occurs while the younger son is off in a far-off land and all the money he had is gone. Curious about this omission, Powell followed-up with a more extensive study, involving 100 American seminary students from diverse ethnic, economic, and denominational backgrounds – and still only 6% mentioned the famine. Later, Powell taught for a semester in Russia, and did the same exercise with seminarians there. There 84% named the famine when they retold the story – and most heard the famine as an essential part of the story. Why such radically different results? It didn’t take Powell long to realize – Russian seminarians’ families had experienced famine, within living memory. In follow up conversations Powell also learned the parable of the prodigal son was nearly universally interpreted in America as about a sinful son repenting of spending his inheritance on womanizing and strong drink. In Russia, however, the parable was interpreted not as about what the money was spent on – but about the son leaving home in the first place – and putting a monetary value on family. The larger point is – we all hear selectively. It’s almost impossible not to. Where we hear the main message of a story depends on how the story intersects with our own experience. What we like in a story usually corresponds with what we like in life. And so – I like what Jesus says about those who are faithful in even a little are faithful also in much – since I think I can be faithful in a little. I’m not so sure I like what Jesus says about those who are unfaithful in even a little are unfaithful also in a lot – because I know I’ve been unfaithful to God some of the time… I usually like the way the parables of Jesus make me think outside the box. I don’t always like the way his parables keep seeming to change meanings on me… every time I consider another part of the parable. Like – why does Jesus keep reminding...

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September 15, 2019

Pentecost 14 September 15, 2019 (Ps 23, Exodus 32:7-14, 1 Timothy 1:12-17) Luke 15:1-10     Lost and Found ***************************************************************** Jesus says “which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one, won’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that’s lost?  We may say “amen!” But will shepherds really leave 99 sheep out in the wilderness? – to seek just one that’s lost?  Not without a mighty good backup shepherd on hand to watch the rest of the flock, I’d think. But Jesus doesn’t mention any precautionary measures – as he expects – ‘of course any of you would immediately get up and go and seek the lost…’ Like the shepherd in the parable, who – When he’s found that lost sheep – lays it on his shoulders rejoicing – comes home, calls his friends, says ‘rejoice with me, I’ve found my sheep that was lost.’ Now I can understand a shepherd being glad to get a lost sheep back alive but – I have a hard time imagining a farmer throwing a party when a lost sheep or cow is found. Farmers I knew up in Vermont might have an extra slice of apple pie, and maybe raise a glass that night – but call the neighbors to come, rejoice,  and have a party? I don’t think so. But – Jesus didn’t ask me – and this is his parable, not mine… And – we probably need to remember – Shepherd and sheep were familiar metaphors for God and God’s people in Israel. The Lord is my shepherd Psalm 23 says– We are the sheep of his pasture Psalm 100 tells us. So if the shepherd represents God, ok – guess I can  imagine God throwing a party… And Jesus, expands the metaphor, saying – And what woman with ten coins if she loses one, won’t light the lamp, sweep the room and search till she finds it? And when she finds that coin, won’t she call her friends and neighbors and throw a party, saying ‘rejoice with me, I’ve found my coin that was lost.’” And again my first thought is – if you’ve lost a day’s wages (the value of the drachma coin Jesus is talking about) and find it again –  I can understand calling friends and sharing the good news – but throwing a party? Maybe end up spending more than you found? Again I don’t think so. But, again – it’s not my parable… And now I’m remembering earlier this summer hearing from a parishioner whose purse had gone missing – apparently stolen or taken by mistake – while she was helping with our children’s clothing exchange. We prayed for whoever had the purse to bring it back… and… Next morning I had a call from a leader of the 12-step group that met in the Bourne church the night before – saying the purse that was lost – has been found.  I called Joan to let her know… And she came over immediately to retrieve her  purse and thank the man who reported it found. Rejoicing there was nothing at all missing… And a party happened, spontaneously, in our kitchen, spilling out into the parking lot – all of us thanking God, feeling blessed… because somehow we could...

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September 8, 2019

Pentecost 13   September 8, 2019   Psalm 139, Isaiah 40:27-31, Luke 6:31-38, Romans 12:1-13                      Present *********************************************************** Present ourselves as living sacrifice – holy scripture tells us – And as human experience tells us – the main problem with living sacrifice is just that – it does tend… to crawl off the altar… We’re celebrating our heritage today. Reflecting on all the living sacrifice – given (for the most part) quite willingly – on the altar of worship, prayer, and humble serving of God and neighbor – over the past 225 years in the life of our Bourne Methodist church – over the past 250 years in the life of our Cataumet Methodist church (at least 188 of these years as Methodists)… It’s often said “showing up is half the battle.” True enough – whether we’re talking about finding a job, making friends, staying married, or being the church – showing up is one of the most non-negotiable-of-necessities… And when we’re talking about being a healthy church with good vital signs – showing up bodily – hearts and minds, hands and feet, eyes and ears engaged –  may be pretty close to 100% of the battle…Since – When we show up willing (or even willing to become willing)… God does the rest… Which is why – Showing up – body and soul – really is our spiritual worship – as the letter to the Romans tells us. All the rest follows as we let God be God – let God change our minds – transform our hearts – guide our bodies and souls – so we can be non-conforming to the world as it is – and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Getting into the mind-set of Jesus is how we begin to know the will of God – the good, perfect, and beautiful will of God… Transformation of our minds begins with showing up for God. Once we show up we can begin to live-into the rest of the message – and really – Be humble – for we are all one body… It’s humbling – in a good way – to know – We can’t do faith alone. That’s why the New Testament’s favorite metaphor for church is “the body of Christ.” The body of Christ where all of us are members of the one body – and members of one another. No matter what our individual spiritual gifts may be, no member can fully properly function on it’s own. And, as Christian author Rachel Held Evans has said, “The good news is you are a beloved child of God – the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.” And the even-better-good-news is – we don’t need to choose – since God does a far better job of choosing our family in Christ than we can ever possibly do on our own. And (I suppose)… the so-called ‘bad news’ is also that – it doesn’t take long to figure out the church – which is also now our family – is made up entirely of flawed humans beings, like us. Differently flawed, but best to assume – no more  flawed than we ourselves. (As Jesus says today – judge not, then we won’t be judged ourselves.) We thank God for the faith,...

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September 1, 2019

Pentecost 12   September 1, 2019   Psalm 81, Micah 6:6-8, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1,7-14   **************************************************************** Jesus first tells us something we already know: it’s a lot better to humble our self –  preemptively – than to be full-of-ourself –  and be humbled – involuntarily. Parents and teachers told us when we were very young – don’t hurry to be first in line, don’t cut in line. Don’t rush to take a seat on a crowded bus if there are others older than you looking tired or carrying heavy bags. Offer the seat to someone who needs it more, first – only then look for a seat for yourself. What Jesus says first is common knowledge. Yet St Luke tells us he’s telling a parable – a comparison of something familiar with something deeper, less obvious. And for context it helps to know: In Jesus’ day, eating out was never about just having a meal. It was mostly about being seen with the right people in the right places – and not being seen in the wrong places, with the wrong people. (Which sounds a lot like high school back in my dark ages.) Though in Jesus’ day the honor code was practically etched in stone. Seats of honor at banquets were assigned closer and closest to the host of the party according to the relative status of each guest. Which still happens, in different ways, different contexts. At wedding banquets in first-century-Mediterranean-culture people would be seated according to their relative prestige, wealth and influence. Today, at wedding banquets, seating’s usually arranged with closest family members and best friends sitting closest to the bride and groom. In less formal situations, where seats are not assigned, we’re  usually expected to not sit in a more prominent place than we should. Even before Jesus, Proverbs (25:6-7) says “do not put yourself forward…  – for it is better to be told “come up here” than to be put lower.” Jesus starts talking by telling us things we probably already know. But Luke the gospel writer tells us this is a parable. Which becomes clearer as we consider the alternative table manners of Jesus – as he, the guest, tells his host – who to invite, and not invite to the next party. Saying –  don’t invite those who can help you climb the social ladder or help you land a better job. Invite the poor and others who can’t repay you. And you’ll be repaid in God’s kingdom. Which reminds me of our reading from Hebrews, where we’re told ‘remember to show hospitality to strangers – for some have thereby entertained angels unawares.’ (Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, Gideon and the mother of Samson in Judges come to mind as biblical examples of entertaining angels unknowingly.) Hebrews then says to remember those in prison as though in prison with them… Early Christians were sometimes sent to prison, accused of subverting the Empire. Prison food was only occasionally provided by the state. Prisoners relied on family and friends for survival. The whole letter to the Hebrews is a tutorial for the church in Christian community living … And I’m familiar with these precedents and the history… but… I’m still pondering Jesus’ guest list – his instruction to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame,...

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