Christ the King
November 24, 2019
Glimpses of Christ’s Reign
The church tells time in a circle, and so the end of one year always brings us around to the beginning of another. This last Sunday in the church year is called Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, and you might have been surprised today to hear part of Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Christ the King November 24, 2019
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Pastor Susan Henry
Colossians 1:11-20 House of Prayer Lutheran Church
Luke 23:33-43 Hingham MA
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Glimpses of Christ’s Reign
The church tells time in a circle, and so the end of one year always brings us around to the beginning of another. This last Sunday in the church year is called Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, and you might have been surprised today to hear part of Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Doesn’t a reading about the death of Jesus belong somewhere else in the church year – like Good Friday? Indeed it does, but when we hear it as one of today’s readings, we catch a glimpse of the realm over which a crucified and risen Christ reigns now and will finally reign fully. It’s a kingdom – a realm – of mercy and welcome, of justice and righteousness, of light and life. Where Christ is king, “all things hold together.”
It’s a realm that, as we sadly know from listening to news about things falling apart, is certainly not fully here – but we do get glimpses of it. We taste it a little, and we hunger for more of the feast for ourselves and for others. We yearn for the fullness of God’s vision because the rulers of this world are too often like the kings that Jeremiah holds accountable for destroying and scattering their flock rather than ruling wisely and attending to them as good shepherds do. We experience the realm where Christ is king when Christ rules in our hearts and our lives, when we love God with our whole being and love others as if we are standing in their shoes.
This past week I was at a convocation in Southbridge with Bishop Hazelwood and a hundred or so other pastors in the New England Synod. We meet each November for some continuing education, really fine worship, and a little time to catch up with one another’s ministries and lives. Our truly fabulous presenter this year was the Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor in California who trains people in faith-rooted community organizing. She began by telling us about a friend of her daughter’s – a teenager with no religious background -- who said to Alexia, “I’m really interested in this Jesus – but only if he transforms the world.”
Alexia sees Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” – as a strategy for following the Jesus who transforms the world. Our former bishop, Margaret Payne, once said that we Lutherans would really rather love justice and do kindness, and she’s unfortunately right about that. Alexia’s plan was to lead us deeper and deeper into kindness and compassion and mercy so that we finally got to justice. Justice matters to God. The reign of Christ is marked by justice.
But what is injustice? Alexia asked. It’s when you die before your time. That might really mean dying, but it might mean suffering unnecessarily or unjustly. When our aunties and uncles in their eighties die, it’s sad, she said, but it’s not an injustice. She then recalled her time as a missionary in the Philippines when she was a chaplain at two hospitals – one where the wealthy people could go and the other where those who were poor received care. The doctor at that second hospital asked her one day to come with him because he had to tell a mother that it was likely that her baby, who had pneumonia, would die. Alexia said, “But pneumonia is curable.” Yes, the doctor said, they had penicillin but the child was allergic to it – and penicillin was all they had. Alexia said she stood there, knowing that just one mile away was another hospital with thirty antibiotics, many of which would cure that baby. That story is about dying before your time. That story is about injustice. That story is about how the reign of Christ is nowhere near fully present yet.
Living in such a world calls us to be, as Jesus put it, “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Serpent power, Alexia said, isn’t bad in and of itself, and sometimes it’s all we’ve got. However, to be only wise as serpents “is to be an atheist in the public arena.” Dove power is our unique gift as people of faith, and if we don’t use it, she said, no one will. She reminded us of the story Jesus tells about the widow and the unjust judge. A widow seeks justice from a judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” She comes to him over and over and over asking him to grant justice, and, eventually, he does so – but only so she’ll stop bothering him. Alexia asked, Was the judge converted? No. But did he grant justice? Yes. The widow was wise. She might have been tempted to give up, but she kept putting pressure on the unjust judge. She used some serpent power.
Our presenter went on to tell of a proposal before a city council that would help create a more just housing policy. It would need one more vote to pass, but that seemed unlikely. Folks in a coalition that supported it had been coming to the comment session prior to each meeting, where you got one minute to speak for or against the proposal. They stuck to the facts and their talking points, but it didn’t look like they’d get their one more vote, despite the pressure they put on the council. Then they decided to use their individual minutes to pray, and one by one, that’s what they did for the next several weeks. Someone might pray for the people who would benefit from the change. Someone else might ask God to give wisdom to those who would make the decision. Yet another person might pray for those who served on the city council and in city government. And so on, and so on.
When the proposal was finally up for a vote, a conservative evangelical member of that city council changed his position and voted yes, so the proposal passed. The coalition was shocked, really, and Alexia asked him why he voted yes. “I could stand listening to the facts and the talking points week after week,” he said, “but I just couldn’t stand being prayed for one more week.” That was serpent power – and dove power, too. It’s a little more justice that lets us glimpse the reign of Christ.
You might suspect that Alexia could tell a wealth of stories about being wise as serpents and innocent as doves – and you would be right. For example, one year, the California state legislature had passed a budget that included additional funds for affordable housing, but the governor said he’d campaigned on no increases in the budget, and he wasn’t going to sign that legislation. As Alexia and others prayed together, seeking guidance from God, someone in the coalition realized that his knowing the bishop might help. The governor was a Catholic who seldom went to mass, although his wife faithfully did so. As the deadline for signing the bill approached, he called the bishop, and the bishop called the monsignor of that parish at six the next morning. The monsignor then called Alexia to express his dismay about being put on the spot with this. “The only way the governor was willing to come to mass here sometimes was if I promised never to press him about political issues,” he said. Alexia thought a minute, then said, “But you didn’t make that promise to his wife, did you?” So the monsignor spoke with Maria . . . who spoke with the governor . . . who signed the bill. That was prayer power, dove power. A little more justice so that fewer people would die before their time. A sign of the reign of Christ present already but not yet fully here.
In the realm where Christ reigns, people who are hungry have enough to eat and those who need medical care receive it and those who are experiencing homelessness have a place to call home. We can dream about, imagine, and work together toward such a realm. Where Christ reigns, people love God with their whole being and love others as if they are standing in their shoes. When we love as we are loved and when we go where love leads, even when it costs us something, we glimpse a little more of the kingdom in which Christ reigns.
When the unjust and unnecessary suffering of the world breaks our hearts and too many people die before their time, we can be overwhelmed by pain and grief. Confronted and confounded by all the bad news, we rejoice in the good news that Christ’s love is stronger than our fear, that Christ’s power is greater than our weakness, and that Christ’s mercy is far greater than our sin. We take heart and give thanks when we get glimpses of the realm where Christ reigns even now – a realm where mercy and welcome, justice and compassion, light and life abound right here in the world we live in. We allow ourselves to be enlisted in Jesus’ work of transforming the world – and we work and wait with hope and joy for the fullness of the reign of Christ to be revealed.
Pentecost 27 C / Stewardship
November 18, 2019
More Than a Glimpse
In Chinese, the word for “adult” is made up of two characters: “big” and “person.” You might expect the Chinese word for “child” to be “small” and “person,” but that’s not so. A “small” person is someone who’s mean, who’s petty, who’s stingy – “small” in that way. Zacchaeus, the man in our story from Luke’s gospel today, is described as “short in stature,” but as the chief tax collector, I suspect he was also a “small” man, known to be mean and petty and stingy because he worked for the hated Romans and because he could collect taxes at whatever rate he set, no matter the consequences for those who had to pay them.
Pentecost 27 C / Stewardship November 18, 2019
Acts 2:43-47 Pastor Susan Henry
Luke 19:1-10 House of Prayer Lutheran Church
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
More Than a Glimpse
In Chinese, the word for “adult” is made up of two characters: “big” and “person.” You might expect the Chinese word for “child” to be “small” and “person,” but that’s not so. A “small” person is someone who’s mean, who’s petty, who’s stingy – “small” in that way. Zacchaeus, the man in our story from Luke’s gospel today, is described as “short in stature,” but as the chief tax collector, I suspect he was also a “small” man, known to be mean and petty and stingy because he worked for the hated Romans and because he could collect taxes at whatever rate he set, no matter the consequences for those who had to pay them. He oversaw other tax collectors and got a percentage of what they collected, too, so he would have been quite wealthy.
What Zacchaeus wanted, I suspect Zacchaeus got – except, perhaps, a sense of belonging among his own people. He would have been pretty isolated in his culture. Who would want to hang out with the guy whose wealth had come out of your and your neighbors’ pockets? And who would invite a collaborator with the Romans for a meal or to a party? Maybe Zacchaeus had the things that money can buy – but maybe he also knew, as the Beatles put it, that “Money can’t buy me love.”
Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived, was on the road to Jerusalem. And Jesus was on that road, coming closer to a triumphal entry into the city and to a horrendous death on a Roman cross. Jesus was well-known for his teaching and healing, his power over forces that diminished people’s lives, his welcome to those who were on the margins of society, and his preaching about the coming reign of God. Perhaps people knew Jesus was coming, because a crowd had already gathered along the road where Jesus would be passing by. People wanted to see him. Maybe some were looking for healing or help. Maybe some were just curious.
Nowadays, people might describe themselves as “vegan-curious” or “sober-curious” as they experiment with something they feel a little bit drawn to. Zacchaeus, it seems, was “Jesus-curious.” The writer of Luke says, “He was trying to see who Jesus was.” That could simply mean he was trying to pick him out of the group of people Jesus was walking with, or it might go a little (or a lot) deeper. Really, who is this? Who is this person whom so many – especially so many who feel like outsiders -- have been drawn to?
Given that Zacchaeus was both short and “small,” people probably weren’t inclined to make a space for him along the road. He was clearly determined to see who Jesus was, though, because he ran ahead, left his dignity and his concern for his fine-quality clothing behind, and he climbed up into a sycamore tree. There he could see for himself -- and there he was at least partly hidden among the large, bright-green leaves. He could see who Jesus was from a place where Jesus wasn’t likely to see him. He could be curious and still keep his distance.
But then Jesus came to the place along the way where Zacchaeus was up in the tree, and Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” I imagine that was pretty shocking to Zacchaeus. First of all, Jesus knows his name! What else might Jesus know? Second, Jesus is eager to be with him, no matter what he knows about him. And third, Jesus is inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ home. This was certainly shocking to those who overheard what Jesus said, and they groused and grumbled about the company Jesus was about to keep.
Zacchaeus, for his part, did hurry down that tree, and was happy to welcome Jesus. Right there in the midst of those grousing, grumbling people, he showed that he saw who Jesus was. Luke writes, “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’” That last part, the making-restitution part, was what Jewish law at its strictest would have called for, so Zacchaeus was doing the right thing.
But, through this encounter, in Zacchaeus’ seeing who Jesus is, what is not required is also given – and given, it seems, with a glad and generous heart. Zacchaeus is moved to give away half – half! – of what he possesses. It’s kind of unbelievable, really, and the grumblers and grousers must be stunned. Those who are poor might suddenly glimpse the prospect of a better life, a life shaped by what justice requires and what generosity makes possible.
Who could have imagined the outcome of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus? Not the crowd, not the poor, certainly not Zacchaeus. It seems that when Jesus sees you and knows you and wants to be with you, your heart, like the Grinch’s, might grow two sizes in a day. Jesus’ saving love for Zacchaeus was stronger than Zacchaeus’ selfish love for the good life he had. Seeing Jesus up close, really seeing who Jesus was, changed Zacchaeus’ life -- and the life of his community, really. The outcast tax collector lost among the leaves of that sycamore tree got found by Jesus, and he began to live a new life. No longer just curious, he was all in. He did what was right and just, and he went where his grateful heart took him. Loving God and loving his neighbors, he was restored to his community. He had wanted to see who Jesus was, and he got to do that, even though it pretty much turned his life upside-down.
Who Jesus is gets revealed anew to us now and then as we too -- we who are “Jesus-curious” -- are encountered by that same grace that Zacchaeus received. Love that Zacchaeus didn’t deserve moved him -- and moves us -- to act justly and to live generously. If we’re lucky, the grace of God will blindside us now and then, reminding us who and whose we are. Grace can find us even when we’re lost and wherever we’re hiding, and our grateful response to being found or welcomed out of our hiding places may become cause for hope to those who are among the poor and may stun those who grumble and grouse. Doing justice and living generously are signs of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is near, signs of the reign of God that is among us.
The brilliant Anna Carter Florence, professor of preaching at Columbia Seminary in Georgia, says that the best part of this story is that “you climb up for a glimpse; you come down with a vision.” We hear Zacchaeus’ story, try to see who Jesus is for ourselves, and discover that we are seen by Jesus, known by him, welcomed by him, called to him, and – oh, by the way, he’s coming to our house today. Our House-of-Prayer house is where Jesus has invited himself, and here he will receive what we offer. May we give with glad and generous hearts, not for the sake of our own vision, but for the sake of God’s vision. With Zacchaeus, we climb up for a glimpse; we come down with a vision. We climb up for a new perspective; we come down eager to be just and generous people. We climb up curious; we come down committed to the one whom both we and Zacchaeus call Lord.
October 27, 2019
Forgiven, Faithful, and Free
Someone said to me recently, “I feel like we’re living in such a dark time.” He grieved the suffering of refugees in Syria and throughout the world where war or fire or fear drives people from their homes. He really yearned for a more gracious and less-partisan civic life.
Reformation October 27, 2019
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Pastor Susan Henry
Psalm 46 House of Prayer Lutheran Church
Romans 3:19-28 Hingham MA
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Forgiven, Faithful, and Free
Someone said to me recently, “I feel like we’re living in such a dark time.” He grieved the suffering of refugees in Syria and throughout the world where war or fire or fear drives people from their homes. He really yearned for a more gracious and less-partisan civic life. He bemoaned the ever-growing gap between those who have much and those who have little. Although he struggled to identify where he experienced light in all that darkness, he did find it helpful to name some of the places and people he looks to as signs of hope and life and light. If we had talked this past week, I’m pretty sure he would have named Elijah Cummings as someone whose way of being in the world shined light in the darkness. Elijah Cummings was a man of deep faith, and his life was illumined by the light of Christ – the light that “shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I’ve been thinking about how faith and light belong together. When children are baptized, a candle is lit and given to them, and we hear Jesus’ words, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The light of Christ illumines our lives; our lives of faith reflect that light; and others can see beyond us and give thanks to God. At our monthly council meetings, we light a candle to remind ourselves that Christ is with us as meet, and we ask him to lead us and guide us. Tomorrow, Josh will affirm his baptism and become a confirmed member of House of Prayer. His parents will be rejoicing in that, and they’ll no doubt also be remembering the day he was baptized, received a baptismal candle, and heard Jesus’ words about letting our light shine in the world.
Thinking about light and darkness, candles and faith brought back a conversation I once had with a family preparing for a new baby’s baptism. Mom, Dad, and baby Emma’s four-year-old brother Sam were thinking with me about how Emma had been born into their little family and how, through her baptism, she would now also become part of God’s big family. I told Sam about the candle that someone would light and give to them so they could light it each year to remember the day of Emma’s baptism. His mom kind of sheepishly asked me why we light candles at church, and Sam gave her an answer that has stayed with me. “Maybe,” he said, “it’s so God will know how to find us.”
When he said that, I imagined someone who had gotten lost somehow, someone out there in the dark somewhere lighting a little signal fire, hoping and praying that someone would find them and rescue them. That’s our story, I thought – we get lost and God finds us. We need rescued and God saves us. And even if we don’t have a little signal fire, a lantern, a flashlight, a candle, or one last dry match – even when we’re really out there in the darkness, God can still find us. God still rescues us. God still saves us. We can’t get so lost that God can’t find us.
All of our Reformation texts remind us that we can’t find our own way, but that God will make a way, that God has made a way in Jesus Christ. In the long story of God’s way with God’s people, we remember how God was present in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day to lead God’s people in the wilderness. We remember Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world,” and we light the paschal candle for baptisms and funerals. It becomes a sign that God has already found us. God knows just where we are.
We know the saving love of God in Christ, but not everyone knows. We know that God has found us, rescued us, saved us. Because of that, we can live as people of hope, as people who know a good story when we hear it. The readings today are part of that good story, and in them we find three words that we ourselves get to hold onto and that many around us desperately need to hear: forgiveness, faith, and freedom.
In our reading from Jeremiah, we rejoice in the promise of a new covenant, one in which God promises a deep and intimate connection with us. This reading ends with God’s astounding promise to forgive us and to “remember [our] sin no more.” I remember my sin, and sometimes I make myself miserable with remembering, and I’ve had enough conversations with you to know that some of you also continue to anguish over what God in his mercy has forgotten. Others around us carry burdens of guilt or fear or self-hatred, and they need to hear and believe that God forgives – and then God forgets. We – you and I – can tell others and remind each other of that. It’s such unbelievably good news that we need to hear it again and again.
Our reading from Romans is a key Reformation text. Luther had agonized over his relationship with God, always certain that he had not done enough, prayed enough, or been good enough to be found acceptable in God’s sight. Luther’s great and troubling question was “How do I find a gracious God?” This passage in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome practically leaped off the page at Luther. “Oh,” he said, “I sin; we all sin; we all fall short. Being good enough for God is beyond me and you. But now I see: I don’t find a gracious God; a gracious God finds me and forgives me and gives me faith enough to believe that this is most certainly true.” St. Paul wrote – and we trust – that “a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Among our colleagues and friends are people who need to know that their (and our) driven, always-connected, achievement-oriented, over-scheduled lives are in the hands of a gracious and merciful God. The good works Jesus calls us to do matter, but they don’t save. By grace, we have been saved through faith – and even the faith to believe that comes as God’s gift.
And then there’s the gospel reading, with its insistence that the truth – Jesus himself, God’s own truth – has the power to set us free. Not everybody knows the freedom of life in Christ. Sin is real and powerful, and we are captive to it. I suspect that most of us know what can seduce us into slavery of one sort or another, and we might know that from past or present experience. In the face of all that keeps us bound, Jesus declares, “You are set free.”
So – forgiveness, faith, freedom. These are three good words from our readings today. Let me sin boldly by suggesting that these are three good f-words. Out in the world are lots of people who don’t know what we know about forgiveness, faith, and freedom in Christ. They don’t know God’s gracious and saving love, and the only f-word they know is a curse. And, truth be told, caught up in darkness, we ourselves sometimes forget. So then we come here again to worship the God who forgives and then forgets, the God who creates faith in us, the God who sets us free from our captivity to sin and fear and all that keeps us from living in the light of Christ.
We are called to be a blessing to the world around us. We’re called to listen to people’s stories and to share our stories and God’s story with them. Our friends, our neighbors, our casual acquaintances, and total strangers could use some of the same light we are graced to live by. Elijah Cummings lived by that light and in that light. The candle Josh once received was a reminder to let his light shine as he lives into being God’s own found, forgiven, faithful, free child. As Josh’s sisters and brothers in Christ, we’ve been called to let our light shine, too, reflecting the love of God we know in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost 19 C / Proper 24
October 20, 2019 The Parable of the Miners
Almost a decade ago, for sixty-nine days, two thousand feet underground, thirty-three Chilean miners prayed and didn’t lose heart. Do you remember that story? The main ramp into a copper mine in northern Chile had collapsed, trapping the workers half a mile underground.
Pentecost 19 C / Proper 24 October 20, 2019
Genesis 32:22-31 Pastor Susan Henry
2 Timothy 3:14--4:5 House of Prayer Lutheran Church
Luke 18:1-8 Hingham MA
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Parable of the Miners
Almost a decade ago, for sixty-nine days, two thousand feet underground, thirty-three Chilean miners prayed and didn’t lose heart. Do you remember that story? The main ramp into a copper mine in northern Chile had collapsed, trapping the workers half a mile underground. While the world watched and prayed, the Chilean government worked to rescue those men. If Jesus were casting around for a twenty-first century example of persistence in prayer and confidence in God, he could certainly tell parts of the miners’ story.
Frankly, that story wouldn’t be as potentially confusing as the first-century parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge that we hear from the gospel of Luke today. That story can make us wonder if God is like the unjust judge and if, like the widow, we’re supposed to be relentless, making nuisances of ourselves until we wear God’s resistance down and God finally gives what is needed. God is, after all, often spoken of in scripture as king or as judge. Really, though, the parable is a bit of a set-up, because Jesus wants his hearers to know that God is nothing at all like the unjust judge. Come to God in need and in prayer, Jesus says, and God will not delay in giving help.
When I look around at places in our country or our world where people are praying always for an end to violence and war, poverty and economic injustice, homelessness and hunger and disease, it does not seem to me like God is quickly responding. And I honestly don’t know how Christians in places like Syria, Palestine, or South Sudan keep from losing heart. Their persistence in prayer is a wonder to me. Their confidence in God offers all of us a powerful witness. And, “when[ever] the Son of Man comes,” their faith is surely what Jesus will hope to find.
The Chilean miners’ story was drawn out over a long time. It was a very long seventeen days before those men had any contact with the world above and an unimaginably-long fifty-two more days while they waited and hoped and prayed for rescue. They were in the belly of the earth far longer than Jonah was in the belly of the whale. I remember watching as they miraculously came up to the surface one by one, and I recall thinking of the poet Carl Sandburg’s words: “If I should pass the tomb of Jonah, / I would stop there and sit for a while, / Because I was swallowed once deep in the dark, / and came out alive after all.”
The whole world, it seemed, was watching as the miners’ ordeal came to an end, and it was amazing to see and hear many expressions of faith from those who were rescued. One miner came up with the words “God lives” written on his hard hat. Another had said, “God and the devil were fighting over me, and God won.” Two of the men got down on their knees in thanks to God – just like the Samaritan man who was healed by Jesus in last week’s gospel reading.
For me, the most moving of all those expressions of faith was what a colleague who is bilingual read on the t-shirts that many of the miners were wearing over their coveralls. She said she kept trying to get enough glimpses to translate the Spanish words printed on them, and eventually she did. Those words turned out to be part of a verse from Psalm 95: “The deepest places of the earth are in His hands.” It had given me the shivers to hear that, and I went looking for more about that part of the miners’ story.
It seems that, after those first seventeen days, when food, letters, and small items began to be sent back and forth through a narrow tunnel that had reached the men below, a film about Jesus was among the packages that the miners received. The letter of thanks for it, written by miner Jose Henriquez, included these words: “I am fine because Christ lives in me,” and he let those aboveground know that the miners were having “prayer services at 12 noon and 6 pm.” He ended his letter with the verse from Psalm 95 that my colleague had glimpsed on the t-shirts. It was in response to that letter that the shirts were made and sent down to the men.
In a way, those t-shirts are not very important. What matters is that one of those miners was familiar enough with scripture to know that verse! What really matters is that thirty-three men heard the living Word of God in that thousands-of-years-old verse. Those were words addressed to them. When you are two thousand feet below ground and you don’t know what is going to happen to you, could anything give you more hope or comfort or strength than the assurance that the deepest places of the earth – the place where you are! – that even the deepest places of the earth are in God’s hands.
I don’t know if these miners thought of their story as a kind of resurrection story or not, but it surely was. Those men had literally been buried, but they were lifted up out of the earth and given a new kind of life. They had been “deep in the dark” and they “came out alive after all.” Good Friday is the day when it looks like the devil wins, but Easter tells the real story: that God and the devil fought, and God won. “God lives” is the Easter proclamation, and the miners – and we ourselves – are Easter people.
“I am fine,” Mr. Hendriquez had written, “because Christ lives in me.” That’s the resurrection story we get to live, too, even though we experience being “deep in the dark” in different times and ways in our lives. We too are fine because Christ lives in us.
It is really, of course, because of God’s persistence that we “[come] out alive after all.” If Jesus told “the parable of the miners,” God would be not only in the deepest places of the earth, but aboveground, desperate to save those who are in danger, trying anything, persisting, intent on their rescue. The one who desired life for them would not have to be badgered into giving help or shamed into doing what is right, like the unjust judge was. God does not delay in giving help, even if sixty-nine days or a thousand years in our sight seems like a very long time.
The Chilean miners prayed and did not lose heart. Before they had any idea what the outcome of the rescue effort would be, they knew that God was with them, that there was no place so distant or dark or deep that God was not already there. In truth, they had confidence that God was there no matter what the outcome might be, and they were there together -- worshipping, praying, singing, encouraging one another in faith.
With their witness to inspire us, let us also pray always and not lose heart. Let us trust that the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will work in us to give us the faith that Jesus wants to find here on earth. Let us persist in allowing ourselves to be enlisted in the service of what God desires. And let us do all this together -- worshipping, praying, singing, and encouraging one another in faith.
Pentecost 16 C / Proper 21
September 29, 2019
O, Rock-a My Soul
Not too long after Jesus tells his listeners that they have to choose between serving wealth and serving God because they can’t serve both, he tells the parable we hear today. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus often suggests that money itself isn’t the problem.
Pentecost 16 C / Proper 21 September 29, 2019
Oktoberfest weekend Pastor Susan Henry
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 House of Prayer Lutheran Church
1 Timothy 1:12-17 Hingham MA
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
O, Rock-a My Soul
Not too long after Jesus tells his listeners that they have to choose between serving wealth and serving God because they can’t serve both, he tells the parable we hear today. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus often suggests that money itself isn’t the problem. It’s what people do with their money that might reveal how close or how far they are from what God would have them do with it.
Sharing what we have, seeing that people don’t go hungry, caring for those in need, showing compassion, and living justly reveal a life of loving God and loving our neighbors -- a life that finds us drawn close to God’s heart. On the other hand, clutching what’s “ours” tenaciously or consuming conspicuously day after day while refusing to see or know or help the hungry or hurting people who are practically on our doorsteps reveal a life that keeps God’s desires a theoretically safe distance from our own. A life that keeps God at arm’s length, just beyond a gate, or safely across a chasm. Maybe even a life withheld from God.
In truth, there might as well be a chasm between the rich man in Jesus’ parable and Lazarus, the poor man who lays outside the wealthy one’s gate. The unnamed rich man comes and goes, shops and dines, lives his best life – while Lazarus, hungry, hurting, and seemingly invisible, is hanging by a thread. Lazarus’ name means “God has helped,” but the rich man has certainly not been a channel through whom God is able to help.
When Lazarus dies, he’s “carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.” It’s actually more than just “being with.” A translation less inclined to censor intimacy might help us picture Lazarus leaning in close and resting against Father Abraham’s chest -- you know, like, “Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham . . . .” We might picture a child snuggled up against a loving parent or the intimate moment when, as the King James version puts it, “. . . there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.” Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham. O, rock-a my soul.
The rich man, from a great distance, observes this intimacy and calls, “’Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus . . .’ to bring me just a sip of water because it’s beastly hot here, and I’m in agony.” “Send Lazarus,” the rich man asks, as though he is still wealthy and powerful and entitled to be served by someone like the guy he thought had a lot of nerve taking up space outside his gate and spoiling his view of the neighborhood. “Send Lazarus,” the rich man asks – and reveals that he knows that guy by name. He saw him and knew him and withheld what would have helped him, despite knowing what the faith he traced all the way back to Abraham asked of him! “Send Lazarus,” he pleads, apparently still clueless or unrepentant about the chasm he created between his wealth and greed on one side of the gate and Lazarus’ poverty and need on the other side. The chasm he now perceives mirrors the one that was of his own doing – or undoing.
“Father Abraham, send Lazarus . . . at least to my brothers so they don’t end up where I am.” Notice that Abraham hasn’t cut off their relationship – he calls him “Child,” – but he reminds the rich man that his siblings already know how God calls them to live. They don’t need an Ebenezer-Scrooge-story visitation from Lazarus. “They have Moses and the prophets,” Abraham tells him, “so they should listen to them.” “Let them pay attention,” Father Abraham says, “and then let them share what they have, see that people don’t go hungry, care for those in need, show compassion, and live justly. Let their lives and the way they use their money reveal how they love God and love their neighbors. Let them lead lives that draw them close to God’s heart.”
If that sounds like the way we’re called to live, too, perhaps Jesus means for us to identify with neither the rich man nor Lazarus, but with the siblings who can open the gates at their homes, meet those on the other side who are hungry and hurting, and become channels of God’s help for them. Giving Oktoberfest proceeds to Habitat, Ascentria, Wellspring, Calumet, and the Hingham Food Pantry is one way God’s help can come through us. This parable is far less a story about what happens after death and way more a story about what happens while we are still living.
I am consoled in this stark story by the ongoing relationship between the rich man and Abraham, between a child and a father. And I think there is more to this story. There’s an ending that bridges the chasm, that opens the gate, and that creates an intimate, life-giving relationship. Jesus himself builds a bridge right across that chasm. Jesus seeks and finds the lost, and we confess that he even “descended into hell.” Jesus says that he himself is the gate through which all his sheep come safely into the sheepfold.
So, while Lazarus rests on the bosom of Abraham, I imagine the rich man resting on the bosom of Jesus, knowing himself to be so beloved of God that he is in agony over his selfishness and greed, his arrogance and entitlement, his unwillingness to let Lazarus or God into his life. So beloved of God that he pleads, “Help me.” So beloved of God that he lives into the gift of new life that we too receive through the chasm-crossing death and resurrection of Jesus.
O, rock-a my soul.