Sermons on Luke
It is important for us to remember that God’s call to us is not limited to what we should do when we grow up. In fact, the majority of calls from God are daily nudges throughout the day to help us build the Kingdom, one interaction at a time. But even these calls can and do evoke the same responses in us as the big ones do. The best part is that God insists on calling us out of ourselves and comfort zones over and over again—- and then leads us into great adventures in love.
Jesus claims the meaning of being named the Son of God in today’s scriptures. We explore what it means to live in and be propelled through the gap between who we claim to be and who God desires us to become.
We all know this Christmas pageant story and we know that the shepherds found the face of salvation in a manger. I often imagine the story is told this way because it was the one place where the shepherds would have felt comfortable – in a stable, with the smell of fresh hay filling their nostrils, with the sounds of the donkeys braying and cows mooing, and sheep bleating, and the animals would have known them. If Jesus had been…
Finally, Mary’s “yes”, her uniting her purpose with God’s, without crying, “I cannot” or “I am not worthy” or “I don’t have the time”. Mary did not submit to God’s request with gritted teeth or through coercion or with an unwilling heart. It was her consent that opened her up to bear the glory of God into this world. It is our consent, and only our consent to God, which will bring us to that place of fulfillment and peace,…
The lesson we learn from these phenomena is a vital one. We mustn’t try to hold on to these mountaintop experiences. Whenever we see glimpses of the kingdom of God and reach these mountaintops we must let them shape us, our actions, our faith. How was Peter different as he journeyed down that treacherous trail? By letting our intimate encounters with God shape us, however brief or fleeting they may be, we afford ourselves the opportunity to live as servants of the Lord. The transfiguration allowed Peter and the others an understanding of the future of Christ– no not just his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, but this our worship and modelling of the values he so tried to teach. My parish family, this the future of Christ!
The disciples took with them their broken hearts, their sense of foolishness for believing in something good, perhaps some hurt pride, because they thought they were right and it turned out they weren’t, or at least at this point in the story. They took all of this brokenness and betrayal and walked away. But Jesus comes alongside them, and they invite him to stay with them, perhaps just as a common gesture of the day, or perhaps because they had a sense that something wanted to be broken open within them. And it was. Jesus broke open the bread and broke through as the Risen Christ. The two travelers broke open their blindness to see another way. The now-disciples gave it all away, by their action of running back to Jerusalem, full of confidence, giving their story and their lives for others, so that bread could be broken for everyone, and all can be fed.
There is one expression I photographed which haunts me, mainly because it shows the seriousness of seeing or being Jesus in this world. It was in the church at Bethpage, where Jesus rode through on what we now call Palm Sunday, as he entered the city of Jerusalem. There’s a gathering of women watching, one holding her son, who looks to be about 3 years old. Her eyes reveal an awareness of the radical nature of this moment that changes everything, a sense of awareness that from here on out, she is dedicated to this man who is passing by on a donkey to die in Jerusalem. She is giving her heart and life over to the God who saves, although God does not save this man before her, but all of humankind through his death and resurrection. There is almost a quiet joy and a steadfastness which becomes noticeable. In her expression, she reveals the depth of her commitment to enter into the holiness of the moment, through which she will live the rest of her life in faithfulness. I can’t believe she’s not on her knees, because I see this same expression in the eyes of many of you, as you come forward and kneel at the rail, and in receiving the body of Christ, you who know from here on out, your life will be changed and challenging, as you receive the love of Jesus, whose name means “God saves”. This is what our response to salvation looks like.
The baby in the manger means more to us than reaching the outsiders, although that is a core role of the church. It means that Jesus is born for all of God’s people, including those who have been outside so long that they’ve given up on God, those so down in despair, so blue at this time when everyone else is celebrating, those who look in the mirror and wonder who this is who they have become, for it seems to be the worst of themselves. The baby in the manger is the good news we must believe in, as we are sitting in the pews, celebrating and living the good news in Christ. We must believe God is sending angels out into the fields, wherever they may be, hospitals, recovery units, prisons, homeless shelters, refugee camps, cancer units, or into our hearts.
As with the younger son, whether we return home in shame, or regret, or in complete brokenness, Jesus meets us and rejoices. It is the act of our returning home that is celebrated and it is the grace offered by Jesus in the Eucharist that heals our heart and allows us to become whole, to be resurrected, to find a way toward new life out of what had appeared dead in our lives.
The criminal’s words seemed scant, insufficient, and almost pitiable. Yet they were all that was needed. The request was minimal, merely that Jesus remember him. The response was extravagant. Jesus gave him the kingdom, then and there. Jesus gave him peace. Jesus gave him love, and Jesus died doing the one thing he was called to do all along: offer forgiveness. In his last exchange with humankind, Jesus fully lived into his vocation of bringing reconciliation to all humanity. For, like the king or the father in so many of Jesus’ own parables, Jesus offers the ones most unworthy the entire feast, the whole garden of God, the state of shalom or wholeness. The criminal’s reward was abundant because, in the moments before he died, he began living and acting as though Jesus were king.
It is that sideways glance that always gets us in trouble. It is that furtive frown of displeasure that is our downfall. It is that secretive squint that seduces us into the wrong place. It can be the swift look of condemnation of the baby wailing beside us, when, even momentarily, the thought crosses our brains: “Why can’t that mother control her child?” It can be the nearly cautious look of disapproval as we pass the disfigured person on the street. It can be our impatience portrayed in the rolling of our eyes that gives our secret away.
As prayer ministers it was so important that we understand when you come to us on a Sunday morning and ask us to pray for your big toe. It is not a failure when you walk away and your toe still hurts. We rarely see what God does through our prayers. You may wake up the next morning and the toe is healed. Or your toe still hurts, but God has healed a wound to your soul that has kept you from talking to your father or your daughter for years. You may find yourself picking up the phone without realizing that it is because of that healed wound and you are set free. We are not God to see what wound is most important to heal. We just trust God to take our prayers and use them for your best good.