No Need to Choose Sides!

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, scripture by Rev. Martha on March 4, 2016

4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21,  Luke 15: 1-32


I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!”  I understood exactly what she was saying.  Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story.  Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances.  But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.

The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son.  The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep.  Let us celebrate!  I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.”   Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?

The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!  In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”  Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.

Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.

Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners.  In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.

But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st.   Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement.   It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.  It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.

To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.

“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work.  That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind.  But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.

So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise!  The parable ends without rejecting either side.  How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of  his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone?  Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen.  The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation.  Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life??  In my own self, it would be impossible.  Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.

You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration.   The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance.  Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us.  We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves.  If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks.  What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict.  The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Love and Love Derailed

Posted in Christianity, homily, inspirational, pentecost, politics, religion, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on January 30, 2016

1-31-16 Homily 4th week ordinary time year c: Jeremiah 1: 4-19, Ps. 71:1-17, 1Cor 12: 31-13:4, Luke 4: 18-30

I have heard “A prophet is not accepted in his own country” applied to lot of trivial situations (mostly meaning: you won’t believe me just because you know me). But I have never really understood why the people of Nazareth were angry enough to kill Jesus, and why they turned against him so suddenly.


Rule # 1 for making sense of Bible passages: read what comes before and after the passage. Luke chapters 1-3 tell us of the birth of Jesus and his Baptism.  Chapter 4, where we read today, immediately takes Jesus from his Baptism to his temptation in the desert, which we will hear more about on the 1st Sunday of Lent.   Then, Jesus returns from the desert, “in the power of the Spirit”, according to Luke, and begins his ministry.  He was a big hit – “news spread of him throughout the whole region”, and “he was praised by all.”  It is strikingly like Pentecost.


Jesus was Mr. Hash Tag of the moment. We find him standing in the synagogue in Nazareth, the old home town, and reading from Isaiah.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Then he announces, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”  What is he saying?   What can I compare it to?


It was like… having the BIG winning lottery ticket. The people of Nazareth had won!  After waiting hundreds of years, generations, for the Messiah, suddenly the bright lights are turned on, and the big check with all the zeros comes out.  What are the prizes? Good news, liberty, recovery of sight/ insight, freedom – all theirs.   Fear could be driven out by hope; it was a moment of monumental change.


But people have a curious way of resisting even the most astoundingly good news. It only took seconds for someone to resist.   “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”  No, no, it isn’t!  It’s the Son of God!  Luke takes great trouble to repeatedly make this clear.  Everything Jesus says leads us to this, and whatever he does, proves it.


But in that place and in that time, a son inherited and carried on his father’s work, his place in the community, and his honor.   That role determined a person’s worth.  To step outside of that role was not only shocking, but shameful.  It is hard for us to think this way, but that’s how it was in Nazareth 2,000 years ago. The speaker has suggested that Jesus breached his family’s honor by doing something different than Joseph and by leaving the community.  Of course, Jesus was indeed doing exactly his Father’s work.  The speaker was blind that.  The people’s anger is born in and fueled by this lack of insight and false accusation.


They would have said it was love – love for God (as they understood God), love for their religion, and love for their community. Religion can inspire love so powerful that it can be expressed through hateful actions without conscious intention.  As we know, strong religious identify often is aligned with strong hostility toward non-believers.


So the test begins: “Jesus, we want you to do here in Nazareth the things that we heard were done elsewhere.”   In the other towns, Jesus had healed people.  They had heard about the miracles; surely he would do that and even greater things here at home.


When Jesus heard the demand for miracles, he knew those expectations came from doubt, and pride, not belief. They were in effect asking to be bribed; their acceptance of his teaching would cost him.  He reminds them that Elijah and Elisha were not sent by God to feed or heal the people of Israel, but Gentiles from Syria (of all places, they thought!).  This feels like a terrible slap in the face to the townspeople.  The people of Nazareth had confused love with some sort of payback.  Love is not control but a path to obedience and reverence.


No, they haven’t grasped who Jesus is; but they jump at judging him to be insane, or worse, blasphemous. Their rules have been broken, they feel robbed of their right to benefit from Jesus, their pride is hurt, and they manage to blame it all on Jesus and justify their own bad behavior by their religion.  It is a neat package for excusing hatred and the desire to commit murder, both of which are clearly against the religion they claim to follow.  Jesus’ response to the recent temptations in the desert now makes sense.  It takes that level of trust in God to face the people who you think would believe what you say and recognize who you are – but instead you get hate and death threats.


It should also begin to sound familiar. This is the type of reasoning that is used today to justify wars and terrorism and discrimination and watching refugee children drown in the Aegean Sea. This is not just a story from a long ago in a place far away.  It happens now, here, in our cities and streets.  As distressing as it is, religion, if allowed, can move people from being “amazed at the gracious words of Jesus” to becoming a murderous mob.


Recently, I heard an interview where a researcher had carefully reviewed public opinion polls since the year 2000. There were no significant increases of public sentiment against Muslims after 9-11 or other terrorist attacks.  The increases were all during election years when political candidates used fear to attract voters.  Jesus brought Hope to replace fear, but fear can be used to appeal to our doubts, our pride, and our greed.  But we will never find Hope hiding behind a wall or a fence.  Hope comes from the Spirit, and good news, liberty, love, healing, wisdom, and freedom come from God through the amazing and gracious words of God’s Son.  Luke, our Gospel writer, is begging us to listen to and accept these words of Hope which he so carefully recorded, that we would understand their truth, and live lives not filled with fear, but full of Hope and Love.