By Invitation Only

Sunday, August 28, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Hebrews 13:1-2

When was the last time you received a special invitation? You were excited right? Was it to a birthday party? Anniversary? Graduation? A wedding? Whatever the occasion they are all reasons to celebrate. We all love to be on a special guest list. And often we want to know who else will be going? Whose going to be joining in on the celebration with us? The guest list is pretty important for many people. If it’s someone well-liked or famous we want to make sure we’re there and we don’t miss it, hoping to get close to them. There’s a sense that when you’re around someone important, you feel important and special too.

With the rise of social media and sites like FB a person can take a photo with someone important or famous and share it with everyone they know. It could be a famous singer, sports figure, or even an author. Whoever the celebrity is the pictures are shared so everyone can see you were with this person. You fell special that you got to be in their presence. If Jesus were walking around on earth as he did thousands of  years ago, I’m sure people would be taking selfies with him on their phones and posting pictures of them all over Facebook. It’s human nature to want to be near important people like that. It makes us feel special.

The questions Jesus wanted the Pharisees back then and us today to think about is, “Who are the important people? How do we determine that? and is there enough room for everyone on the guest list?” In ancient times dinner feasts were places wehre a person’s status was deteremined by who you associated with. You wanted to be seated next to the distinguished guest. And if you were around them, then your status was immediately elevated. “Wow, did you see who he/she was hanging around?”

That hasn’t changed over the centuries. It’s happens in schools where the popular kids are treated great and those who are considered nerds, or geeks, or some other negative name are not. There’s a line drawn between who is part of the “in crowd” and who is not. But it doesn’t just happen at schools, it happens at places of work, with people we meet, and yes, even in churches. Judgements are made as to who is good and who is bad. Judgements are made as to who is doing what is acceptable in God’s eyes and who is not. Well-meaning people trying to do the right thing put the law in front of Jesus’ command to love.

That’s the very thing Jesus was trying to point out when he cured people on the Sabbath. The gospel lesson last week was about the woman who was bent over and crippled for 18 years and Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. This week, our gospel lesson in verse 1 says the Pharisees were again watching Jesus closely. Verses 2 – 6 were omitted – probably to make the lesson shorter – but they are very important because once again they deal with Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath. To Jesus – love is more important than rules. He was not saying that rules are not important, but caring for people, loving people always comes first.

And that’s why Jesus caused so much commotion when he was preaching and teaching on this earth. He hung out with all the people that all the so called good or religious people said were bad – tax collectors, people who took money for themselves, prostitutes, people who led shady lives, poor people, outcasts, people who were unclean, those considered enemies, and people who had nothing to offer society. These are the people Jesus hung out with and these are the people he said should be invited to the banquet table. He said not to invite those who we expect could give back, but put those people on the special invite list. And the reason is that in the kingdom of God there is room for everyone. And there, no one is better than anyone else. In God’s eyes, everyone is important. Everyone is deserving of love.

Paul reiterates this in his letter to the Hebrew church. He says “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” So who is important? Everyone. What if we treated everyone as angels in disguise? What if we treated everyone as if they were Jesus? Wouldn’t the way we treat each other be a lot different? We’d go out of our way to make sure they had everything they needed. We’d give up whatever we could to show them generosity and hospitality. We’d go the extra mile and never let anything or anyone hurt them. We’d put ourselves in their shoes and feel their pain, and do whatever we could to bring them joy. We’d pour out an abundance of love and blessing on them. They’d all be welcome and loved by us even if they looked weird or acted strange or did things we didn’t think were right. We’d treat them differently if we thought there was a possibility they were God’s angels.

Yet, angels are messengers. And God still speaks through messengers today. Messengers of peace, messengers of hope, messengers of love. These messengers are all around us. The Holy Spirit is speaking through them and inviting us to come and worship God around the banquet table where we receive forgiveness and grace. We come to the table knowing we are sinners, yet at the same time saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus we all have a place at the table of God. The invitation has been extended to all of us beginning in our baptism. This is exciting news and this is news and news we ought to be running to share with everyone.

There are people who do not know about Jesus and the only way they will ever know him is if each of us invites them to come and know him. We are all welcome because we are all God’s beloved children, even those people we may think are not deserving. The most important person on the guest list is Jesus and whenever we gather together Jesus promised that he is present among us. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  When was the last time you received a special invitation? The answer is today. Jesus is here and wants everyone to come and join in the feast and the celebration.

This week, extend that invitation to someone else. Invite someone – anyone – to worship with us. It could be someone you go to school with, someone you work with, someone you randomly meet in the store or even on the street. That’s what Jesus did. Let them know they don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or even believe a certain way. Let them know God loves them just the way they are – because God does. Invite them to come as they are and that there is a place at the table for them. Show them God’s love and let them experience God’s grace. Be God’s messengers. Let them know that a place at God’s table is by invitation only and there’s an invitation for everyone. Amen!

 

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Running the Race of Faith

Sunday, August 14, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 12:49-56
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” These are not the harsh words that come to mind when we normally think of Jesus. We remember the Christmas images of angels announcing the Savior’s birth, and announcing “peace, good will toward all.” We tend to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who tenderly cares for his flock, and images of Jesus with children around him saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not send them away.” The many stories of Jesus healing the sick speak of a Jesus who truly cares for people and wants to bring peace and harmony. He prayed all the time, and in the gospel of John he prayed a long prayer for unity – that all may be one. This is the image of Jesus that we hold near and dear to our hearts.But today’s image – today’s words from Jesus seem to speak in direct opposition to unity when he says that he says that he came to bring division and not peace. Why would our Savior, who cares so much about people speak these words?

There is already so much division in our world – families fight with one another, relationships fall apart, there’s a growing anger in many people in our society – even our church community experiences people who are angry with one another because of differences of opinions on how they think things should be handled. Our normal response is that Jesus should say the things that would bring people together, promote unity and peace, love and healing. Last week, when we heard Jesus say we need to be ready, I don’t think this is what we had in mind! But being a faithful disciple of Jesus means we have to be ready to follow in Jesus footsteps and speak the truth of the gospel in love. This is exactly what Jesus did, and that’s exactly what got him killed. Standing up and speaking the truth is a dangerous action because some people are just not going to want to hear it, but Jesus loved us too much to keep silent. Our salvation was so important that he called us out for doing the wrong things even if it meant losing his own life. Our lives were that important to God.

Jesus was faithful to doing God’s will for him and proclaiming the truth about how to live and spread the kingdom of God here on earth. Yet God’s kingdom – God’s ways – are different than the ways we as humans want to do things. Jesus did not come to bring conflict and division, but those things were the consequences of him proclaiming God’s kingdom because to be a follower of Jesus often means going against the status quo. The Roman government at that time wanted people to be afraid so they could control them. Jesus’ message of peace was different than the Roman message of peace. Their message of peace – called the Pax Romana – meant people could live in peace as long as they followed Rome’s rules even if that meant creating a system of people who had power and those who were oppressed. Jesus’ peace is a peace that is eternal and leads to freedom for all people.

Yet, for those early Jewish Christians who followed Jesus, it meant standing up against the religious establishment as well as the government. As a result, individuals within families were torn apart between those who believed Jesus was the Messiah and would follow him and those who did not. People thought you were crazy if you followed this unknown rabbi leaving family and friends behind. They thought it was crazy to give up a life of security and abandon it for a life always on the go with Jesus. They also thought it was criminal to believe in another God by professing Jesus as the Messiah , God’s own son. Jesus came to proclaim God’s kingdom, but some people just weren’t ready for their world to be turned upside down. Many today aren’t ready either.

To be a follower of Jesus requires us to change the direction of our life. It means we have to make following Jesus our number one priority – not our jobs, our possessions, our money, our own desires – true faithful disciples of Jesus, which is what each of us is called to be through our baptism, means living our life in such a way that all we do gives glory to God. There are consequences for this kind of behavior. While we – like Jesus – desire peace, harmony, and love for all people – some people will be angry to hear this message because it means they have to change the way they are doing things. That’s why Jesus said last week to “be ready” because when you make following Jesus your number one priority you have to be prepared for those who will be offended by it. We as individuals and as a community of believers – the church – are called by God to bring peace and justice and mercy for all people, but not everyone feels the same. When we confront issues like racial injustice, homelessness, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking, we are doing God’s work, but there are those who disagree that all people are created equal by God. It wasn’t that long ago that segregation and slavery were acceptable in this country and people even tried to say it was Christian to believe this way. When God lifted up prophets like Rosa Parks, Dorothea Day, and Martin Luther King Jr., they were proclaiming God’s word of justice for all people, but instead of it bringing peace the consequences were division and violence by a great number of people. The fight for Civil Rights continues and we cannot allow anyone to treat another human being with anything less than respect, love, and compassion because that is what Jesus came to teach us. You may not be marching down the streets in protests, but any time one of us sees someone being mistreated we have to stand up and speak with love as Jesus did.

Even in our churches there are divisions between us and that has gone on since the beginning of Christianity. That’s  why Paul wrote the letters in the New Testament to the various churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephasus, and even the letter to the Hebrews today. The people in the churches were fighting about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. They kept forgetting to keep their focus on Jesus instead of following their own way. We do that today. We fight amongst ourselves even after we have made prayerful decisions on what direction the Spirit is leading us in. Or we do not speak up for fear that someone will be angry even when we know that a particular course of action is God’s will for the good of everyone. Our world cannot afford for our churches to be fighting among ourselves, because we will be met with enough opposition from outside the church. Following Jesus is not for the weak of heart. It demands courage, and bravery, and persistence. It’s easy to want to give up when the obstacles seem too big, but we don’t have to rely on our own power. We have the power of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us through our baptism. That is the fire Jesus said he wished was already kindled. The fire of the Holy Spirit.

So how to we keep that fire kindled? How do we keep that fire alive in our congregations? We need to keep our focus on Jesus. Every decision we make has to be made according to what we know Jesus is calling us to do. When we engage in daily prayer, the study of Scripture, and faith formations in our congregations they will grow and flourish because we will be flaming the fires of the Holy Spirit to work among us and through us. We as a congregation are called to be the living presence of Jesus here on earth and that means we can expect conflict because change – the kind of change Jesus is demanding from each one of us – is the change we each need and this world desperately needs. And we do not do this work alone.

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – those prophets and disciples of ages and decades past who showed us how not to give up, who showed us that God works through ordinary people to do great things. There are so many people who we look at and say, “Oh, I could never be like them. I could never be like Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela, or Deitrich Boenhoffer, or some other great figure, but we are not called to be like them. We are called to be us – the best we can be. Our best is when we act like Jesus.

And those people who have died in faith and who have gone before us are still praying for us. They are cheering us on like those who watch the Olympics and cheer them on. But unlike them our help is not only from this world. Our help comes from God and all the saints who have gone before us. Because we have this divine support, we can put aside any worry or discouragement we have about running the race of faith that is set before us. We can put aside any sinful thoughts of giving up and just letting the forces of evil win because we have a pioneer who has gone before us and has paved the way for us. When we feel like we’ve hit the wall, when we feel like we can’t go on for another day – another minute, when we wonder what’s the use of us continuing to try despite obstacles that come against us, we have to keep our focus on Jesus who has paved the way and promised to be with us always along the way, and promises a joy and peace that can be found in him.

This week, run the race of faith that is set before you and do not be discouraged. Sometimes it may seem like things are falling apart. It may seem like the divisions are tearing things apart – but some things need to be taken apart before they can be fixed. Old records – old habits need to be broken before new ones can be set. Death has to happen before resurrection.  Don’t give up. Be brave and speak the truth in love. Listen to others and listen for God is calling, calling us to be ready and keep our focus on Jesus who has triumphed over sin and death and is risen. Amen.

 

 

Are You Ready?

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 12:32-40
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Are you ready? If I asked you that question today how would you answer? Your answer, of course, would depend on the situation. And your answer might be an exited yes or a fearful no, again depending on what it is we’re talking about. If you’re a student about to take an important test, you might be filled with some anxiety wondering if you studied hard enough and will pass the test. Or you might feel confident that you prepared as much as possible and feel you are ready for any questions that may be asked.

If you’re about to begin your first year in college – or even your second or third – you might be nervous about what to expect this year. What kind of friends will you make? Will you be able to handle the workload? Or you might say you are exited and ready for this new chapter of your life to begin.

Or maybe the question is are you ready for the new job you are interviewing for, or for retirement, or for your family or friends that are coming to visit, or for the test results from the doctor, or for an upcoming surgery, or moving to a new house or a new area, or an impending storm, ..….there are so many things that we do on a daily basis and the question, “Are you ready?” can be one answered with an excited yes, or a fearful absolutely not. When we are preparing for something new, something we’ve never experienced before, sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re really ready. But no matter what, no matter what the situation is, there is going to be a final moment when we have to be ready. And when it does, there’s no turning back, no more time to prepare. Ready or not – the time will arrive.

This is what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel lesson. He’s telling us that whether we’re ready or not, Jesus will return again. The question is, “Will we be ready?” Many people don’t want to even think about that question. It’s too upsetting because it makes them think about something they don’t want to think about….death. There are two main things people in congregations often don’t want to talk about – money and death. Yet in this teaching; Jesus is urging us to think about both of these things. Today’s lesson is a continuation of last week’s story about the rich man who had such an abundance of crops that he tore down his barns and built larger ones so that he would have plenty of room to store it all up for when he could retire, relax, and enjoy it. One he had as much as he could store up then he thought he could start living. The problem is that he didn’t have any idea how long his life would last. And to his shock, it would only last until that very night. His heart was in all his treasures that he stored up, but his heart gave out along with his treasures. That’s the point that Jesus is trying to drive into us – where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. If our treasures are in things that can perish, then our hearts – our souls – will perish as well. The greedy rich man thought he had all the time in the world and so often many of us do as well. But none of us know how much time we have. Jesus is coming at an unexpected hour. Are we ready?

None of us know when our time on earth will be over. Like the man in our previous story, it could be this very night. It will come – as Jesus said – at an unexpected time, yet some people because of certain medical diagnosis – even in our own congregation – have a better idea than most and so they get ready for Jesus. I’ve talked with a lot of people as they have prepared for death. We’ve talked about what heaven will be like and what they could expect. While we may not know all the specifics, we do have the promise from Jesus that a place is being prepared for us – a beautiful place – and that if we are in the presence of God, then we will experience a joy unlike anything we have ever experienced. We do not need to know the specifics; we only have to trust in the promises of God. That is what faith is all about. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” If we constantly are waiting for proof, waiting for answers and specifics, waiting for the right time to do something, then we are not living a life of faith, because faith that needs absolute answers is not faith. Faith is about being ready even when the specific details are not all in place. It’s about keeping our focus on Jesus and doing what he is calling us to do even if that means taking risks.

In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews we are reminded of the journey of faith of God’s people. By faith we understand that God created the world even though we may not know how. By faith Abraham set out to live in a new place even though he didn’t know where exactly God was leading him. By faith he believed in God’s promise to send him a son, even though it seemed impossible to him. That’s what faith is all about; it is trusting God even when things don’t make sense, even when we don’t know the way, even when we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Faith is about taking risks because we know that when we put our trust in God, God will never let us down. God always has our best interests at heart. It’s God’s “good pleasure to give us the kingdom.” That’s why Jesus tells us we need to be ready for his return. And the way we are ready for his return is by where we place our treasure. If our treasure is in Jesus and in his kingdom, then our heart is there also. And Jesus will never break our heart.

What does it mean to have our treasure in Jesus? It means that what we most value is not in earthly things – possessions, places, money, things – but in the main thing – the kingdom of God. Jesus assures us that God’s kingdom will not fail. God’s kingdom cannot be destroyed. God’s kingdom will reign forever despite our sinful actions. God’s kingdom is one of life not death. Jesus is not asking us if we are ready for death; he is asking us if we are ready for life? For even those who die – if they die baptized in Christ Jesus – do not die but have eternal life. The question then is, Are we ready to live as Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ?

This means the treasure of our whole life needs to be focused on Jesus and the spreading of God’s kingdom. Are we ready to focus on doing God’s will and not ours? Are we ready to pray without ceasing not for what we want but for others? Are we ready to seek justice for all people rather than just a select few? Are we ready to stand up and put an end when we see violence of any kind and respond with the love of Jesus instead of retaliating ? Are we ready to stop judging and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and practice compassion? Are we ready to practice mercy and forgiveness and finally let the pain of the past go? Are we ready to take risks in order to accomplish Jesus mission for us as individuals and this congregation? Are we ready to give up the way we’ve always done things and instead do things the way Jesus wants us to act? Are we ready to think less of what we can accumulate and how much we can generously give to help others? Are we ready to stop worrying about the future and start trusting in the promises of God to provide for all we need? Are we ready risk looking foolish in the eyes of people, but rich in the sight of God? Are we ready to follow where Jesus is calling us to go and do what Jesus is calling us to do? Are we ready for Jesus return?

As beloved children of God who are saved by grace – God’s amazing grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we ought to answer that with a joyous and excited yes! Through our baptism Jesus has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who is with us each and every day to give us the power and courage to live like Jesus. Are we ready to live every day as if Jesus is coming at any moment? This is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. This is what is means to put our treasure in the right place – in Jesus himself. People are waiting to see Jesus. Are we going to let them see Jesus through us? People are praying for Jesus to come; are we willing to let God answer their prayers through us? Jesus is coming. The question is, Are we ready? Amen.