Sunday, September 29, 2013

Have's & Have Not's

          This morning as you entered the sanctuary you walked right by poor, homeless people. Can you describe what they looked like? How many of them were men? How many were women? How many were families? What were their ages?
          I wonder how many times this past week, you and I, walked right by people just like these? I wonder how many people like these live in Walnut…and maybe we don’t even know. I wonder how many people we may have helped…but thought, “They’re just using the system. They don’t really need our help. They could find a job if they really wanted too. They’re just lazy.” These are the “poor.” And we don’t even notice them…or if we do we laugh at them or make fun of them or judge them.
          And…who are we? Who am I? I grew up on a farm. My Mom said we were poor. I never felt poor. We always had food to eat. We always had warm clothes. We always had a roof over our heads. We always had transportation. And yet my mother said we were poor.
          Who were you? What was it like when you were a child? Some of you here remember the Great Depression, the 30’s, when dirt poor really was dirt poor. People had land but it didn’t raise much of anything, dirt poor.
          All of us kids wore hand-me-downs. My brother wore my old clothes and I wore the neighbor boy’s old clothes. They weren’t worn out and, to me, they were “new.” We’d go to Ray’s shoe store in Avoca once a year and buy a pair of shoes. Those were our “good” shoes and the old ones became our chore, work, shoes. Sometimes the sole was held up with a rubber band and maybe I’d put a piece of cardboard inside because the sole had a hole worn in it.
          That may have been why Mom said we were poor because we wore hand-me-downs and home made shirts and dresses. Home made from feed sacks that Grandma washed and made for us. I never knew there were store bought shirts and pajamas until I went to school and saw what the other kids were wearing.
          We didn’t have a lot but we weren’t begging and we weren’t homeless, so I didn’t think we were poor. Today, there are many folks who are homeless, who can’t work, who live on the streets or in their cars.
          Compared to them I was “rich.” Compared to them right now I’m wealthy. Compared to them I am blessed.
          In the light of today’s gospel who am I, who are you, the rich man or Lazarus? I haven’t stepped over anyone lying on my doorstep and I haven’t seen anyone begging downtown but we all know there are folks in our community and in the surrounding communities who need help, who may be close, very close to be homeless.
          So, this has just been me talking to this point; what does Jesus say about this? What does he say we should do? Where do we find his words that tell us what to do?
          Go to Luke 6:20-26 to see how he recorded Jesus’ words, or Matthew 5:3-12, or Matthew 25:31-46. Luke 6 and Matthew 5 say that the poor are blessed, the hungry are blessed, and God blesses those who weep. And there are more blessings when people hate you and persecute you and mock you and curse you because you follow Jesus, the Son of Man.
          And…sorrow is waiting for the rich. Sorrow is waiting for the fat and the prosperous. Sorrow is waiting for those who are laughing now and those praised by the crowds.
          We’ve always read how God turns everything upside down, how God sees things differently than the world does, than we do.
          How is God speaking to us today? What impact are these words having on our hearts? When we leave here will we do anything different? What will change? Will anything change? Or will we keep doing what we’ve always done?
          Maybe people don’t know what to do. Maybe we don’t know what organizations to trust. Maybe we’re so bombarded with junk mail from Catholic Charities, Open Door Mission, Native American Missions, Bread for the World, and others that we don’t even open the envelopes but just toss them in the recycling box. Maybe we’ve become hardened to the poverty of the others around us.
          The lessons from the last few weeks were to help us understand who we are. The lessons were intended to be like these mirrors, to help us see ourselves more clearly and know who we are.
          Friends, we know who we are. We are the rich, the wealthy. We have things we can share. The question for us is, will we? Are we able to share our riches with those we look on as the dregs of our society? Are we able to allow them to share in God’s grace?  Are we able to see Jesus in these folks with mismatched clothes that smell a little odd? Are we able to sit and eat with them and talk with them? Are we able to invite them to share God’s peace and grace in the places we call home? Are we able to be the welcoming arms of God to these people?
          Remember how the rich man, Fred, wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers about what was waiting for them? And Abraham said they’ve had plenty of warning from Moses and the Prophets. If they didn’t believe them then a man coming back from the dead wasn’t going to change their minds.
          Friends, what is it going to take to change us? The lessons tell us that we can’t take our wealth with us. The lessons say that if we care for the poor and the hungry and the imprisoned and the naked that not only will they be blessed but so will we in ways that we can only imagine.
          My friends God is calling us to be prepared for Jesus to come again. Have we done everything we could? Have we loved them and loved them again and loved them yet again?
          Friends, may our hearts be broken and our eyes opened to those who around us who need our help…and love.
          Thanks be to God for his convicting grace. Amen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wisdom & Wealth

          At the back of the sanctuary as you came in this morning you encountered a street map of Walnut. You were asked to think about where the financial wealth in our community is located and then to consider where the social wealth of the community is located.
          After identifying the two locations, are they different locations? Do they overlap? And what do we mean when we speak of financial wealth and social wealth?
          Determining where the financial wealth is might be somewhat easy. Where’s the most money located, the Rolling Hills Bank, the Walnut Community School, and certainly the stores and shops located downtown, maybe the elevator?
          But, how do we determine social wealth? I’m not going to pretend that I totally understand or even know very much about social wealth but here’s my take on it.
          Social wealth is located in those areas where the community comes together and interacts and cares for each other. So, in that context I believe the greatest areas of social wealth reside in those places where the community congregates every day, places like McDonald’s, Kum & Go, Robert’s Bakery, Walnut Community School, Peace Haven, and every one of the day care providers in the community. Maybe I should add Glenn’s and Aunt B’s and the Post Office and City Hall because I have had some long conversations with folks in those places too. 
          Think about it. Where do folks gather and find out about what’s happened overnight in the community? How do we find out that someone’s fallen and broke a hip or there’s been a death in a family or someone’s traveled to the hospital? It all happens in these places over coffee and doughnuts and breakfast and dinner and supper. Therein lays the social wealth of the community. And how do we put a value on it? It does have value, but how much?
          You know how I’ve said that we are so blessed to live where we live; well, that has value and most times we take it for granted. We’re so used to us we don’t even think about it.
                So, how does all this tie in with today’s gospel lesson? The dishonest manager was corrupt, embezzling his boss’ money. And then to secure for himself some degree of comfort for when he’s no longer employed he calls in everyone who owes his boss something and has them reduce it thus endearing himself to them, hopefully to gain their favor when he needs shelter or food or help.
          And his boss compliments him for doing that and so does Jesus.  Only he puts it in a different way when he says, “I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is rightusing every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
          Doesn’t that make you begin to think and ask questions. What does Jesus mean and how can we do that? 
          Remember back to earlier this year the lesson about the rich farmer? He told his listeners that only a fool stores up earthly wealth and doesn’t have a rich relationship with God. Jesus told them, and us, that we should sell our possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for (us) in heaven…Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be (Luke 12:21 and following).
          So, today’s lesson about being smart by using adversity to stimulate creative survival and concentrating on the bare essentials so we’ll really live don’t you think that’s about building up wealth in heaven. Isn’t that social wealth? 
          So, do we want to change some things on our map? Are there more places of social wealth than we thought? And did you notice that I didn’t list one of the churches as a place of social wealth? Maybe I should have since caring and loving and praying for each other does take place here every Sunday.
          I guess the reason I didn’t put it on my list is because the community doesn’t gather here every day and we do in those other places. Doesn’t that make you say, “Hmmm?” 
          So many times we put the emphasis on saving for the future, building up savings account, stock portfolios and such when we should be thinking beyond that to what happens after we die, and we’re all going to die so we do need to consider that.
          What I’d suggest we do this next week is to pay attention to where God leads you to be in community with the others. And listen, really listen, to what’s going on in their lives. And then listen for God’s leading. How can we accumulate more wealth, the heavenly kind, through the week?
          And please remember it’s not about earning a place in heaven because we can’t do anything about that but we can honor God and give him praise by helping those we encounter every day, those He sends to us for help.
          And when we encounter difficulties then maybe, just maybe, there’ll be someone there to lend us a helping hand, someone God sends to us.
          Friends, go into this week being as smart as those who are accumulating financial but use those smarts to accumulate wealth in heaven.
          Thanks be to God for his blessed forgiving grace. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


          Have you ever been lost? I mean really, really lost. So lost that you had no idea where you were and no idea how to get back to where you’d started; so lost that you had lost your sense of direction. Have you ever been that lost?
          I’ve been lost like that a couple times and it was really scary. I wasn’t lost in the way that Daniel Boone was, just wandering around until I found my way out. No, lost like I didn’t think I’d ever find my way out without divine intervention. Has that ever happened to you?
          I was just talking about being lost physically, without a map or a GPS. Thinking about being lost in a different way, have you ever been lost spiritually, in the same way, not knowing how to find the light or a way out?
          In both instances it takes, I believe, divine intervention, help from God, the creator to find our way out.
          Now some folks never, ever, get lost, never. They have an innate sense of direction and they just know how to get back home without any help. Wouldn’t that be great? Sadly, I’m not one of those people.
          Think about what you do when you discover, or finally admit, that you’re lost? Do you call a friend for help? Do you take out your smart phone and call up the GPS app? Do you open the glove compartment and pull out and unfold the paper map to get your bearings and find your way home? What’s your fall back plan for when you get lost, if and when you do, get lost?
          Okay, what if you discover or find out or admit that you’re spiritually lost? What do you do? What’s your fall back plan in that event?
          What do I do? My first reaction after I’ve said, “Shoot, I think I’m lost,” I pray. I pray when I’m lost in my car and I pray when I find myself lost spiritually. Prayer is my fall back plan in both cases.
          But what about those folks who never get lost or never know they’re lost even when they are in fact so lost they’ll never find the light without help? Could the folks who never take a wrong turn be lost?  Could the people who never know they’re lost actually be going in circles? How will either one ever get un-lost?
          They may not realize they need to pray because they don’t know they’re lost. And if somehow they found out they were lost they might very well not know what to do.     
          Someone has to do something, but who? That’s a very important question, who will help.
          Let’s look back at the very beginning of what we heard in the gospel this morning. The Pharisees and religion scholars were grumbling about the folks Jesus was associating with; they were “sinners and (he) eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.”
          What’s with that? Doesn’t he realize he could become contaminated by their sin? But, on the other hand, who else is going to help them, the Pharisees, the scribes? That’s not likely is it? So, their only hope is Jesus.
          And therein lies the answer, the only hope is Jesus. Our only hope is Jesus. And how can Jesus help them…or us?
          The two stories Jesus told what do they have in common? Both stories are about something being lost and someone who goes searching and finding the lost.
          So, if we’re lost who comes looking for us? Luke says that Jesus was eating with sinners.
          Does Jesus eat with us? Do we invite him to join us at our tables? Will he come even when we don’t invite him?
          Friends, the lesson God has been trying to teach us is that he’s been looking for us forever. He came here in the person of Jesus the Christ. He took all our sins upon himself and died for us on the cross. He was the ultimate sacrifice for us. He took all the blame for the wrongs we’ve done and the wrongs we will do tomorrow.
          Jesus took them with him to the grave and through him we’ve been made clean, spotless before God, our Father.
          Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts and is waiting patiently for us to open them and invite him in. Even though we are sinners he comes looking, searching endlessly for us. He wants not one of his children to be lost forever.
          And when one more sinner is found the angels throw a party. There’s a whole of rejoicing going on when one more fallen person opens the door and Jesus comes in.
          Friends, we’re all lost and we need a new GPS to find our way back to the Light of the world, Jesus. God is calling you today. We’re all lost and we all need Jesus to help us find our way back.
          How’s that going to happen? It will happen when we pray for each other and ask for that divine intervention I mentioned earlier. God hears our prayers and he’s there with the answer, His Son, Jesus, the Christ, our Redeemer.
          That’s God’s grace my friends. We can’t pay for it, we can’t earn it, and we can’t pay him back for this gift. We just have to hold out our hands and let him lay his grace on us.
          What are you going to do now? Are you going to admit that you’re lost and you need, you desperately want someone, anyone, to find you?

          God loves you, my friend, and his grace is all you needs. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Cost

          All of our lives we've had to make choices. Part of the decision-making process of making choices is determining the cost. Can we afford to make this choice? 
          Sometime the cost is minimal and doesn't really come into play in the decision making process. But other times the cost is extremely high and we look at all the options and consider whether the cost is worth it. We count the cost of making the choice.
          Jesus was pointing that very thing out to the crowd surrounding him, those who were weighing the cost of following him.  He was letting them know that in order to follow him they would have to give up everything that was dear to them, mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, son and daughter, everything.
          That’s the question before us. What’s the cost to follow Jesus? Is the cost to follow Jesus the price of a new HD flat screen television? Is the cost to follow Jesus the price of 4 weeks of vacation in the Bahamas in February? Jesus says it isn't.
          Some folks hear the story about God’s love for us and the sacrifice of Jesus, his Son, on the cross and then they hear that they have to give it all to Him and they hesitate. The cost sounds too extreme.
          Is the cost to follow Jesus the price of a new car? Is the cost to follow Jesus what we’d spend every week at the bakery or at garage sales or at Target or Sears or Kohls? Is the cost to follow Jesus the price of a new outfit? No it isn't.
          What is the cost to follow Jesus? I’ll tell you what the cost is. The price for following Jesus is saying to your neighbor, “I love you,” and meaning it. The price for believing in Jesus is allowing God to renew us through his Spirit and providing us with the energy to do everything he calls us to do.
          The price for following Jesus is letting go and trusting when we read, “Behold, I make all things new,” and then participating in the renewal. The price for following Jesus is “not storing up riches for yourself,” but sharing the lives and gifts we have with all the folks we meet.
          The price for following Jesus is turning the other cheek and then walking away even as others laugh at you. It’s not storing up riches for ourselves but sharing what we have with others. It’s coming to the realization that we don’t live by bread alone but divide and share what we have with the wealthy and the hungry.
          It’s not turning away anyone who comes for help but giving to everyone who asks and finding a new way to live together.  To do that the price we pay is to love our enemies and work to bring justice to all.
          The price of following Jesus is being a disciple, picking up the cross, and traveling the journey of the Word into flesh.

          Sisters and brothers, we are children of God and heirs of the Kingdom. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Reward

          Why do folks go to church on Sunday? What goes on inside these buildings that keep people coming back Sunday after Sunday? Why do we come here to sit and sing and pray and listen? Is there some reward for coming to church? Is there some prize awarded for coming to worship every Sunday? And why do folks always sit where they sit? Is there something special about the pew cushion in that particular spot? Are people going to receive some special reward for singing praise to Jesus and giving God thanks?  Are the ones who come to worship every Sunday better than the ones who don’t?
          Who are we? If we look around we see that we’re all human beings who are short and tall, young and old. Some of us dress up and some dress down. Some wear dresses, some wear shorts, some wear pants, and some wear whatever they touch first in their closet. Do the clothes we wear make us who we are? Who are we?
          What makes me different than you? What makes you uniquely who you are? What makes one person think that they’re better than another? And why?
          The wars going on in Egypt and Syria, why are they fighting? Is it because one group of people is better than the other group of people? Who are they? Who are we?
          We listen to the news and we wonder what all the fuss is about. Why is there so much anger and hate? Who are these people?
          I don’t know. The gospel lesson from Luke is about Jesus’ observations of people attending a banquet at one of the leading Pharisee’s home. Jesus pays attention to how people are jockeying for the most important, most prestigious seats at the table. And what does he say? He says, “When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about!”
          So, is that why some folks sit at the back of the church during Sunday worship? They are just waiting to be invited to sit up front.
          Is that what’s going on with all these wars? They’re all pushing and shoving to get the best seats in the kingdom. And for what? What’s the reward for winning? What’s the reward for annihilating an entire generation? What’s the reward for wiping off the face of the earth an entire ethnic group of people?
          Control and power, that’s what it’s about. The people at the party want the places of highest honor so they will be viewed as the most important, the most influential people there. It gives a boost to their ego.
          And what about those who are seated at the very last seat, the lowest seat? How do they feel about their position? What’s their reward?
          So, back to the original question, “Why do folks go to church on Sunday? Why don’t as many come now as used to come?”
          Have you ever noticed that when there’s a meal served the count at worship is considerably higher? What if we hosted a sumptuous banquet every Sunday? If we laid out a fancy feast on the Communion table every Sunday would there be pushing and shoving to be the first in line?
          Good friends, there is a banquet here every Sunday, even when the table is bare. This table is bursting with the promise of a feast. And as Jesus said, “The misfits are those who’re invited to partake of the bounty.” Those who can in no way return the favor are the ones who’re are first at the table. They’re the ones who receive the service of a 5-star restaurant. 
          And their reward, it’s the same as yours. God forgives all for our sins through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. All our sins, the ones so small that we don’t think about them and the ones so large everyone sees them, they’re all forgiven. Jesus took them with him to the grave.
          And the reward…its God’s grace, the gift of eternal life, a life of freedom that we can hardly imagine.
          So, who are we? Look in the mirror, look in your neighbor’s eyes, maybe then you will discover who you are.
          Sisters and brothers, we are children of God and heirs of the Kingdom. Thanks be to God. Amen.