April 19, 2020- Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Luke 12:35-48

Wise-Virgins-Santa_Maria_Trastevere22

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.  But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:35-48 (ESV)

One of the most beautiful Spiritual songs ever written is the traditional, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

We understand that our salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  We don’t, and we can’t, earn our salvation in any way.  Jesus is our Suffering Servant, who paid the penalty for all the sins of the world, as John the Baptist understood when Jesus came to him to be baptized. (John 1:29)

We are, however, baptized into Jesus’ suffering and death.  Because He has set us free from the curse of the Garden, we are bound to Him, beggars at the throne of grace. We have all been given much.

Jesus has promised that He is returning to this earth and He is going to remake both heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:8-13) and we will be given incorruptible, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53.)  We affirm the restoration of our physical bodies when we say “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” when we recite the Apostle’s Creed as well.

Staying “dressed for action” is not easy.  We are distracted by the world and tempted by our own sinful desires as well as the influence of the Adversary.  Our sinful nature is nothing new.

Jesus is talking about keeping faith in Him, of knowing Who we belong to.  We were purchased with a price, our Savior’s own Body and Blood. Our motivation to serve and follow him is not one of fear of hellfire but one of gratitude and love.

In these times apocalyptic talk is very popular.  There have been multiple books, various so-called prophets and loads of random speculation on the end of the world.  Hal Lindsey once claimed the end of the world would occur in the 1980s, claiming in his book “The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon,” that “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” 

Jesus, however, taught us, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:36-37 (ESV)

The time that we might spend speculating on the timing of the end of days would be better spent in trusting Jesus and serving our neighbors.  The end of days may arrive tonight or a thousand years from now, who knows?  But as Jesus teaches earlier in Luke 12, in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) our lives may be required of us tonight, making the timing of the end of days rather irrelevant.  He created us and has already set the number of our days.

Again we come back to faith.  Knowing that we belong to Christ, knowing that when we confess our sins and repent of them, He forgives us, our actions should reflect our confidence of knowing that God cares for us. Because He loved us first, in Him we have the capacity to love others, to be generous, to be good stewards of God’s good gifts and not fall into the panic of hoarding or obsessing over whether or not we will be provided for.

The path of the cross is not an easy one but it is a path that we follow knowing that we do fail and we do fall short.  We sin constantly.  We doubt.  Even though we are poor tools with which to work, Jesus is still on that path with us, lifting us up in our suffering, challenging us to die to our selfishness and insecurity, and to keep on remembering our baptism.  The old Adam needs to be drowned every day, because our sinful nature flares up often.  Yet Jesus keeps forgiving us and lifting us up. He equips us for the good fight of living out the faith.

The good news is that Jesus is stronger than the temptations of the world. He has defeated our sinful nature. He has put death to death for us. We take confidence that He gives us the gift of faith so that we will keep our eyes and hearts focused on Him.

Lord, help us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.  Create clean hearts in us all, clean hearts ready to serve you and to care for those around us.

November 22, 2019 – Join In, Serve All- 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

coffee together

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

Some of the best teachers are those who haven’t forgotten how to be kids- teachers who aren’t afraid to sit down with kids, join in their play, and get dirty with them.  After all, we tend to trust those with whom we share common bonds.

Hospitality is easy when other people are like us, when we share common culture, similar world views, eat the same foods and so forth.  It’s not so easy for us when others have radically different cultures, opposing world views and other differences from us.

For Christians, Jesus is the common bond, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (so says the writer of the book of Hebrews.)  As we look to find common bonds with others we remember that we can have unity in Christ even if our cultures, world views and even languages are different.

It is helpful for us to learn about our neighbors and to actually spend time with them.  Sometimes it is good to take a moment to share a meal or a cup of coffee with someone we may not be well acquainted with.  It is no coincidence that on the Emmaus road Jesus was made known to those travelers in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

God can use those times when we connect with others for the Gospel to shine through us so that another may hear and be brought to faith.  God can use those moments spent with others to strengthen and encourage and teach His truth to us and others.

Every person we encounter is a person for whom Jesus died.  We respond to His love when we care for others enough to share with them and step into their lives.

 

 

January 25, 2019- Judgment Belongs to the Lord- Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:1-12

last_judgment_xl

(Jesus said) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12 (ESV)

When children are gathered together, they tend to tattle on each other. It is human nature to compare and compete with each other to the point that such comparison and competition become unhealthy. We tear each other down instead of building each other up. We can be so busy judging others’ failures that we fail to examine ourselves and pay attention to the places in which we fall short.  Hypocrisy comes naturally to fallen humanity.

Jesus tells us to pay attention to our own failings and shortcomings before we examine the faults and the sins of others. How are we supposed to see to remove another’s speck with all the logs we have in the way? Other people are not accountable to us. They are accountable to God just as we are accountable to God.

When we celebrate, it is to the glory of God. When we fast we fast to the glory of God.  It is the Lord who makes us able to stand before Him, not what we do or don’t do, and we are certainly not justified or condemned because of what another person might think about us.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a result of public opinion.

It is better for us to show mercy to others the way that Jesus shows mercy to us- and to confess our own sins to God before we even think of looking at the sins of others. Others’ sins don’t look nearly so bad once we have honestly assessed and confessed our own. We are accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, but not for what other people do or don’t do. Our aim should always be to build other people up and do what we can to strengthen their faith. God will deal with us, and God will deal with them.  We have no reason to tattle or titter or gossip about the sins of others.  We have enough sins of our own to confess and for which to ask God to be forgiven.

At times we are all like children who need to be reminded to keep our eyes on our own paper and to be more concerned with our own behavior rather than the behavior of others.

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Jesus died and rose again so that by faith in Him we could have forgiveness instead of condemnation.

Thankfully by faith, we are covered by God’s grace in Jesus. We are not judged by what we deserve, but instead we are washed clean in the water of our baptism, and we are covered by the blood of Christ.  For the sake of His mercy on us, we can focus on building others up and living peaceably with others even if their practices and observances are different from our own.

July 25, 2017- “You’re Not the Boss of Me!,” Mark 10:42-45

not boss

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NRSV)

As someone who has a grandchild who is soon to be a kindergartner, it is fun to observe how black and white her sense of justice and fairness can be. It’s either all or nothing to a five year old, and it can be a challenge to show her how to negotiate solutions with others and to learn to meet in the middle.

She does understand the chain of command very well though. She knows that only certain adults have the authority to set her boundaries and to set standards for her behavior. One of her favorite expressions when another child tries to tell her what to do is, “You’re not the boss of me!”  She knows that other children don’t have authority over her, and she doesn’t abide bullies for long.  Good for her.  Being a bully toward others only garners very short term, if any, results.

Jesus was trying to explain true leadership to His disciples. Being a good leader has nothing to do with wielding power over others.  It has everything to do with serving others, encouraging others, and being the good example for others.

Good leadership involves sacrifice. How can a leader expect others to meet their potentials if he or she is not willing to live out the example?  Who really wants to work longer hours, or go above and beyond the minimum requirements for a boss who cuts out early to play golf, who is rude and condescending, or who simply dictates from afar?

Good leadership involves empathy. If we know what is involved in sacrifice and serving, then we should have compassion and empathy for those around us as they strive to live out their vocations.  Jesus was as human as we are.  When his friends were hurting, He grieved.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept.

Good leadership involves working together with others. We should be willing to help and to model best practices. Sometimes the best solutions for everyone require us to brainstorm and find the best compromise.

Good leadership calls for mutual respect, and to regard the needs of others before our own needs.

How are we being good leaders- by being good servants- today?

January 30, 2017- Here and Now, and Not Yet-Mark 8:34

follow-jesus

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

Now, as always, there’s some bad theology out there in which people are led to believe that following Jesus means that He magically solves all our problems, pays for all our stuff, and makes our lives all sunshine and rainbows.

The only problem with that is what Jesus really said, and what Jesus really did.

Jesus was born into this world, which is a place in which God’s Kingdom is here, but also is “not yet.” We go through trials to refine and build us.  If we follow Jesus we are going to encounter trials and difficulties just as He did.  The difference is that He brings us through those trials.

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33 (NRSV)

On one hand we are part of the Kingdom of God as we were named and claimed by Him in the waters of Baptism.  Yet it is interesting that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and then BOOM- he was sent into the wilderness for forty days.  (Mark 1:9-13)

If you follow Jesus it means, God names you, claims you, calls you Beloved, and He is well pleased with you- then He plunks you out in the wilderness to work out what that means.

God equips us for where He sends us, which is both a comfort and a challenge.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:35 (NRSV)

He does not call us to sit around and be judgmental of others, or to pat ourselves on the back for stuffy and artificial moral prudery, or to play games with who is in and who is out. He does not call us to be anything we are not. He does call us to put Him first.  Jesus says to us, follow Me- serve others, love others, be that light in the darkness.