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November 14, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home


Focusing on the One to Come

by Sandy Bach

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NRSV)

 

Several years ago, my husband and I had an opportunity to tour England, Scotland and Wales.  The highlight of the trip was a tour of St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry.  Their story is unique and inspiring.

Coventry was a industrial city: manufacturers of bicycles, automobiles, plane engines and munitions.  It was not unusual that it was a target of the Germans during WWII.  75 years ago on November 14, 1940 saw the worst of the bombing raids.  The Germans called it Operation Moonlight Sonata.  They first dropped marker flares.  Follow-up bombers dropped high explosive bombs directed at the city's infrastructure: water, electricity, telephones, gas and streets.  With bad roads and a low water supply, the fire brigades would be limited in their ability to put out fires.

Then the bombing began in earnest: waves and waves of a variety of bombs meant to hamper the city and damage roofs so that incendiary bombs could do their worst.  Around 8:00 that evening, Coventry Cathedral was hit for the first time.  They managed to put out the fire, but soon after a firestorm ensued and all attempts to save the structure utterly failed.

When the all clear sounded the followed morning, Coventry's citizens came out of shelter to find their city decimated.  Two-thirds of the city lay in ruins.  Some made their way to the Cathedral to discover that only one wall remained.  The balance of the cathedral lay in ruins.  During the following week a crew worked to clean out the ruins.  Some charred beams were found lying together in the shape of a cross.  The cathedral stonemason tied them together and mounted them on the ruins.

The Provost of the cathedral came across nails from the roof and formed three of them into a cross.  The Cross of Nails has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation in the world.  The most moving event took place in that same week, when the Provost had words written across the only wall to remain standing: "Father, Forgive."

When Jesus and his disciples left the temple in Jerusalem, they must have felt about the temple the way we feel when we enter the great cathedrals of Europe.  They are huge beyond our imagination.  They represent that God is bigger than all of us and we can feel God's power and presence.  The temple was described as a huge pile of marble with gold decoration.  These disciples from small villages would have felt that power and presence.  They must have felt something beyond amazement at the size and beauty of the structure.

All Jesus says is, "It's going to be a pile of rubble."

When the temple was utterly destroyed in 70 C.E., it must have been a shock.  Where was God?  What was going on?  Was this the end of the world?

When the Cathedral in Coventry was destroyed along with 2/3 of the city's buildings, perhaps the citizens felt much the same way.  The Cathedral that was more than 500 years old was a pile of rubble.  Where was God?  Was this the end of the world?

And, yet, out of that horrible night of terror and bombing, they were able to begin the process of forgiveness.

For the enemy who wants to destroy our way of life.

Father, forgive.

For humanity's role in death and destruction and war.

Father, forgive.

For our inability to live peacefully with our neighbors.

Father, forgive.

For greed and hubris and arrogance and evil.

Father, forgive.

Last night, most of us were glued to the newscasts of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  They were attacks of hate and evil and meant to hurt us at the deepest level.  This morning we watch as nations stand in solidarity with France as they try to begin the healing.

Further on in this scripture reading, Jesus warned the disciples about violence and suffering and natural disasters.  "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs."

Is the end near?  Or is our 21st century technology more adept at keeping us focused on disaster and war?  I only know that the birth pangs hurt and most days I pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."

I admire the people of Coventry who could say, "Father, forgive."  I admire their courage and their refusal to allow hate to grab hold of them.  Maybe they were able to look beyond the signs of what appeared to be end times and focus on the Christ who is to come.

It's all we can do, right now.  Focus on Christ at the center of all the chaos.  It's all we can do to know that God is God and that God is in charge.

And someday, maybe soon, we, too, can say, "Father, forgive."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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November 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home


Costly Discipleship

by Sandy Bach

As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and plces of honor at banquets! They devour widows houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation" (Mark 13:38-40 NRSV)

Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (Mark 13:43-44 NRSV)

I used to be disturbed by the story of the widow's mite. She sacrificed to give to God what she had. And I would wonder what I could do to be sacrificial. What would it look like if I gave everything to God? Hm. That would mean being homeless and that wouldn't do much to improve our world.

Then the guilt would settle in. Is tithing enough? Am I doing enough? What more is God calling me to do? After a few days of angst and worry, something would come up and I could set aside the widow and her mite and move on to other things.

Today, I see this differently. And by taking the focus off of me, I broadened my reading. First, Jesus is angry with the status quo at the Temple. He loves his Jewish faith tradition and what the law stands for. The Temple officials are struggling to hold onto their traditions and their building. They live under Caesar's thumb and they have to be careful what they say and what they do. If they lose their Temple, they'll lose their ability to worship God.

Eventually they did lose the Temple, but they were able to reinvent themselves. During Jesus' day, they were scared. Their fear caused them to make poor decisions. Some of the religious leaders with fragile egos flaunted their power among their Jewish followers. It may have been the only way in which they could feel whole. Living as a conquered people does something to those people.

Jesus saw beyond it all. "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces..." We've all met clergy who behaved in a pompous manner. They make Christianity look like an exclusive club. They are surrounded by those who can make them feel valuable.

Jesus gives his judgement on those who would hurt others with their arrogance and bad behavior. Then he walks over to another part of the Temple and sits down opposite the treasury. He watched the great amounts of money being given to the Temple. Then a widow arrives and puts in what we are led to believe are her last two coins.

And Jesus is exasperated, at least, even angry. Why would that widow be expected to give to the Temple? Why wasn't the Temple taking care of her? God's law demands that they care for the widow and orphan and resident alien. Why is she expected to give her last?

Luke's Gospel shares this, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48b NRSV)

So those with wealth gave accordingly. It appears that they knew their responsibility and acted accordingly.

But, the widow gives her all. She gives everything she has to an institution that will be utterly destroyed soon. She gives everything she has to an institution that is hardly deserving of her sacrifice.

And that foreshadows what Christ will do in only a few days: he'll give everything he has, his very life, to us who are not deserving of his sacrifice.

What would it look like if we gave to those who are undeserving? How do we balance being good stewards with helping those who wait until the very last minute to get help with their electricity bills? How does the church use its mission dollars to help others?

So my question to myself is: Am I hanging on to an institutional church or sharing Jesus' calling with those who make me uncomfortable? Is the Church I love so much reaching out sacrifically? And if it isn't, what am I doing to hold it back?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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November 6, 2016, 8:35 AM

Hope for the Day of the Lord


by Sandy Bach

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5;13-17 NRSV)

Tuesday is coming.
We can feel it.
It’s almost palpable.

Some of us will bid a fond farewell to our President wishing him well in his retirement.

Others will say good riddance, looking forward to something better.

Some of us will awaken Wednesday morning happy and relieved with the results of the election.

Others will feel dismayed, even frightened at the results.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the news. There’s too much information out there and much of it is skewed depending on the bias of the speaker. Politicians are in the business of telling us what is wrong with our country and that we should be very afraid.  Then they assure us that that they have the only possible answer.

Politicians have been providing the easy answers for as long as I can remember. But there are no easy answers.

Tuesday is coming. And with it more worry and fear and grief.

We feel like the congregation at Thessaloniki. They’ve heard the good news. They served faithfully. But, then someone stood up and announced the end was here.  Perhaps they claimed that God had spoken to them directly. The end was near. And now the Thessalonians are shaken out of their wits.

The author writes a reminder of what must happen before the end arrives. There are signs to look for and they haven’t seen them yet, have they? “Remember what I told you when I was with y ou.”

Chances are that some of the congregation took the letter and studied the signs. What will the rebellion look like? They pored over the details and became worried and fearful. They may even have come up with a date and time and so they could go to high mountain and wait for Christ’s return.

Others probably went back to their homes and jobs, trying to ignore them.  They understood that Christ will come and they aren't in control of it; let’s get back to work.

And a few may have studied the signs, realized the timing was wrong and took hope. They reaffirmed their belief that God is still in charge; that God is powerful and majestic; that no evil is more powerful than God.

These few stood firm and held on. They viewed the alarmist behavior; they understood that evil exists; they refused to ignore it while affirming that God is greater than any of this.

Ultimately good wins out over evil. Today’s worries are enough for today; God is waiting for us in the tomorrows of our lives.

Evil exists. We see it in the cancer racing through a young mother’s body; in the mental illness that leads another to make bad choices that hurt others. Evil exists in racist activities. Evil exists in the world, but we cannot allow it to scare us out of our wits.

Faithful people identify the evil and try to change the laws surrounding the treatment of mental illness. Faithful people care for those fighting the disease that wracks their bodies. Faithful people refuse to gloss over the facts; they bravely look in the mirror and ask what they are doing to keep bad policies alive.

Faithful people don’t try to identify the “lawless one” but rather seek to know in prayer, “Is it I?”

We are the ones created by our Creator. We need God as much today as they did in Thessaloniki. We cannot know the mind of God; we cannot control God by trying to please God. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t need God or that we already know God’s mind.

Faithful people acknowledge this and return over and over and over again to reaffirm this and confess their need to take charge. Augustine once said that evil is the capacity of the self to deny and reject good.

Where you find people of faith, you find gratitude. Gratitude for Christ’s activity in their daily lives; gratitude to their Creator for the beauty of the earth; gratitude to the Holy Spirit for abiding presence.

Fearful times? Yes, they are. And in these times I turn to these words from Paul and to the prophet Haggai:  "...Yet now take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.  My spirit abides among you; do not fear." (Haggai 2:4b-5 NRSV)

There is only one thing we can trust and believe. There is only one thing we need to remember and take comfort in: that when we awaken on Wednesday morning, God will still be in charge no matter who is elected.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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November 4, 2016, 12:14 AM

Zacchaues


by Sandy Bach

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:1-10 NRSV)

Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday.  It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the church door at Wittenberg.  He came to believe deeply that no one could earn their way to salvation and eternal life through good deeds or buying indulgences.  He believed that salvation was a free gift of God's grace.  It cost him his career in the Roman church when he was excommunicated four years later.

Thus began the Reformation Age, one of the great emergence's of Christianity.  In fact, it wasn't the first and it isn't the last.  According to author Phyllis Tickle ("The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why" (Grand Rapids, Baker Publishing Group, 2008)  we are part of a great emergence today.  The first was when Jesus walked among us with his powers of transformation.  Roughly 500 years later Pope Gregory the Great was the visionary of conversion to the pagans and influenced modern education.  His writings were extensive and still powerful reading today.

About 500 years after Gregory the Great came the Great Schism: Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church went their separate ways.  Then Martin Luther with his 95 Theses in 1517.  About 500 years later we find ourselves in our own emergence.  Social and cultural and religious upheaval marks this Great Emergence.  We are caught up in this boat of Christianity hanging on for dear life, waiting out the storm to pass, desperately wishing and hoping to get back to normal.

Each of these 500-year events were difficult.  It entailed change and we don't do change well.  People lose their lives;  cultures react negatively; cultures clash; people become angry, saying and doing bad things in a desperate attempt to keep the status quo.  Sound familiar?

Scholars are split on the translation of verse 8b of our scripture passage today.  Some Bible translations read, "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." (Luke 19:8b NRSV)  However, other translations and scholars argue that Zacchaeus is already doing this action.  ""Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor.  And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much." (Luke 19:8b CEB)

I think we can make a case for either translation, but let's look at the second one.  Suppose Zacchaeus is an ethical tax collector?  We knows he's rich.  We know he collects taxes and has a great deal of power.  We also know that he was trying to meet Jesus.  We know that he isn't very popular with the crowds.

Notice how they elbow him out of the way when he tries to approach Jesus.  He finally has to run ahead and climb up a tree in order to see him.  Aren't we up a tree looking for Jesus?  Aren't we trying to make our way through the crowds?  Bumped by this one who doesn't believe the same things we do?  Nudged aside by another who is too busy climbing the social or career ladder?  Left out by those who look different from you?

We would see Jesus and do anything we can, including climbing a tree, to do so.

The crowds disown him.  Yet, if he's the ethical man he claims to be, what's going on?  The crowds don't know him or what he's doing.  What if he is the tax collector who slips in a little extra when someone comes up short?  He's the one who keeps the other tax collectors in line by refusing to allow them to extort money from the poor.  He does it quietly and not many know or care about his ethical activity.  So they ostracize him without even knowing him.  He's a tax collector and he's rich.  That's all they need to know in order to toss him aside to the fringes of society.

How are we the crowds today?  In our society where the loudest voice is heard; where fear and anger is rampant; where spinning the truth is more interesting; how do we ostracize others to the fringes without even getting to know them?  A friend of mine recently said she'd like to invite a Muslim to visit our small community and speak to her church.  My response was fear.  Not in meeting with a Muslim and entering into conversation.  I've studied Islam and read the Quran.  I'd like to hear more.

Truthfully, I don't have the nerve to push the boundaries and risk being ostracized myself.  I don't want to shake hands with Zacchaeus in public, but I'll meet with him privately so I won't be shamed.  We're the crowds when we judge others without getting to know them.

And that's part of this Great Emergence in which we're living.  Change is occurring at the speed of sound and we can't keep up with it.  Not all change is good and there's little time to figure out how our faith in Jesus speaks to each aspect of change in our lives.  Do we erect walls or build bridges?  How can we be relational when we can only see the sin?  Is the use of power bullying?  Is it a sign of weakness to seek peace?

Zacchaeus had had enough.  He was doing the best he could in a difficult situation and when he climbed up that tree it was in search of Jesus.  Maybe Jesus could shed light on his situation.  And he did.  In fact he did more than shed light, he offered a blessing.  Salvation came into the household of Zacchaeus that very moment.

Are you climbing trees these days?  I suspect we all are.  Maybe it's time to pick up our Bibles and study them for ourselves.  Maybe it's time to quit listening to just anyone telling you what the Bible really means.  Maybe it's time to slow down this Great Emergence by entering into study with others who are asking the questions and seeking answers that aren't necessarily easy and may even convict us.

Call it what  you want, God is at work tipping us out of our comfort zones and challenging us to think; to be less angry and more inquisitive; to gather information from a variety of sources; to listen carefully to those with whom we disagree.  God is at work nudging us into new challenges and opportunities and ideas.

God is at work.  And whether you find yourself up a tree or mixing with the crowd, Jesus will find you.

I hope and pray that you will answer the call and become a part of the solution.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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October 23, 2016, 12:00 AM

Divine Mercy


by Sandy Bach

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14 NRSV)

A few months ago I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the invitation of a friend.  What struck me was the honesty and transparency of those working the program.  They don't excuse themselves for anything.  They want something better for themselves than what can be found in a bottle.

But what struck me the most was their humility.  Someone would announce that they'd been sober for one week.  Another for 20 years.  No celebration.  No "atta-boys."  They are very clear that they didn't remain sober for any amount of time by their own abilities.  They're sober because they have to rely on their higher power.

As I drove home from the meeting that night I couldn't help but think about this parable of Jesus' about the Pharisee and the tax collector.

The tax collector is probably a thug.  He's a Jew who works for Rome collecting tolls,tariffs and customs.  Rome doesn't much care how he collects the money as long as they receive it on time.  Whatever he can extort for his own fees is his own business.  His reputation keeps him on the fringes of Jewish society.  He's aiding and abetting the enemy and using his Jewish roots to get rich.

When I see the phrase "tax collector" in the gospels I don't think of our own IRS.  I think about organized crime.

It had to have been difficult to be a Pharisee in the first century.  These were highly educated men with admirable piety.  They were skilled at Biblical interpretation and lived a modest lifestyle.  Their faith was strong probably because they prayed often.

Pharisees refused to swear allegiance to Caesar which would have gotten them into a lot of trouble.  They believed in some kind of an afterlife and divine judgement after death.

They were the progressive thinkers of their day.  And they walked a fine line keeping Rome happy so they could continue to worship in the temple.  It must have been difficult for them.

In a conversation with a seminary professor many years ago, he challenged us when he said, "Whenever you read 'Pharisee' in the gospels, substitute that word with 'Presbyterian' or 'Methodist' or your own faith tradition's identity.

Yep.  That's us.  Working hard at understanding our faith.  Struggling through the difficult times.  Helping others in times of sorrow or difficulty.  Trying to do the right thing.  Trying to live right without hurting others.  There are hundreds of thousands of us out there in the world trying to make a difference; trying to make a living; trying to be somebody.

Did you notice the number of times the Pharisee says "I" or "me?"  His piety isn't of God or from God.  He's done it all by himself.  It isn't that he's not greedy or unjust or an adulterer.  In fact, he fasts more often and gives more to God than is required by law.

The problem is that he's relying on his own acts to justify himself.  Justification comes from God.  And his hard work and attitude are getting in the way of his relationship with God.  Unlike the alcoholic or addict, he can't see that he is totally dependent on God.

While the Pharisee stands tall and looks up to heaven,  the tax collector stands to the side, looking downward and beating his chest.  "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"  He has nothing to offer God but himself and his sinfulness.

He stands before God with no excuses and no expectations.  He receives a new identity.

Where are you in this text?  Chances are you're not much of a tax collector!  But how do you judge tax collectors?  You see them everywhere: undocumented aliens, gays, lesbians, transgender, black, white, male, female, Democrat, Republican...Who do you judge harshly without seeing their humanity first?

Who do you judge as beneath you while you stand before God and give thanks that you're not like them?

How often have you exalted yourself only to be humbled?

We don't live by our own righteousness.  We don't justify ourselves before God; we present ourselves naked and sinful before the Creator and seek mercy and give thanks.

We don't justify ourselves.  We live and breathe and have our being by God's mercy.

And perhaps the good news is that when we seek mercy and give thanks, we go out into the world with new identities that others can see and want to be a part of it.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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October 16, 2016, 12:00 AM

Persistent Prayer


by Sandy Bach

18 Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  (Luke 18:1-8 NRSV)

She awakens every morning with single-minded resolve.  She dresses quickly in her best, although threadbare, dress.  As the sun rises her neighbors watch her marching with steadfast determination to the home of the judge who thinks she's not worth the effort.  She pounds on the door until her fingers bleed.  When he finally answers, she demands, "Give me justice against my opponent!"

The uncaring, unscrupulous judge slams the door in her face.  She treads back home, tired but not finished.  She'll return tomorrow and the the next day and the next until she achieves justice.

Finally, the judge gives in.  Not because he sees her point of view; not because he even cares.  He gives in to get her off his back.  His wife is tired of the embarrassment of this "creature" pounding on her door and disturbing the neighbors.  So, the sidelined widow achieves her purpose and can resume her former life.  Eventually her bruised hand will heal along with her heart.

Jesus asks at the end of this parable, "...when the Son of Man comes,will he find faith on earth?" (v. 8)  He will find it in those who behave like the widow; uncaring of what others think, unflinching in their devotion to their cause.

I have developed a new respect and admiration for the writer's of the Psalms.  They address God with courage: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" (Psalm 22:1)  Are they accusing God of being silent; of walking away; of forsaking them in their hour of need?   No.  They are clearly and honestly telling God that they're feeling alone and Godforsaken.  They're recognizing the pain of losing that sense of being in God's presence.

I admire that.  Since the time of Jacob who wrestled with God at the Jabok River, the Jews have been known as God-wrestlers.  And so they continue to do so today.  They're not afraid to talk to God with utter honestly.  They pray with perseverance.  They acknowledge not only that they feel as if God is silent, they complain loudly.  "But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me, they shake their heads:"  (Psalm 22:6-7 NRSV)

They shout out, they call God out.  And they do it because they know that God really is present and listening.  They easily confess their trust in God and state their petitions knowing and trusting that God is listening.  "From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him." (Psalm 22:25 NRSV)

What begins as words of complaint and sorrow quickly turn to words that assure the pray-er that God is indeed near and listening.  That God will respond and will not go away.

In fact it was the words of Psalm 22 that Jesus cried out from the cross:  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:34 NRSV)

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

I believe he will.  He'll find people like the widow who remain in prayer, seeking out God and asking, "Why are you delayed in answering my prayer?  Only to discover that God has it well in hand and is often at work, not with what we want but with what we need.  He'll find people who persevere in prayer because they haven't an answer; only a need that they can't fill with God's help.

The widow persevered until her knuckles were bruised.  Prayer is like that.  It's asking and listening and arguing and fighting back.  It's seeking and complaining and trusting and confessing.  Prayer is filled with words and silence.  Prayer is messy at its best and poignant in it's power to achieve justice.

Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?

Yes, he will.  Because as much as we want to congratulate ourselves when we behave like a widow, we honestly have to give credit to God, who also perseveres with us. God is also the widow who sticks with us; who never gives up; who won't let go.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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October 9, 2016, 12:00 AM

Gospel Message


by Sandy Bach

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.  (2 Timothy 2:8-15 NRSV)

 

Several years ago my mother attended a Sunday school class taught by a close friend of hers. The title of the class sounded interesting and she trusted her friend to do a good job.  Week after week she attended. And week after week I’d receive a phone call from her on Sunday afternoons. Each time she asked me about the truthfulness of Betty’s teaching.

“Mom, it really doesn’t matter what I believe. What do you believe?”

For several weeks this went on. Until I finally suggested that Mom find a different class. You see, the material Betty had selected was interesting, but provocative. Betty did her best to provoke the class. Mom felt that her friend was demeaning her beliefs rather than lifting them up.

Paul writes to Timothy about idle chatter. It seems that some of the members of the church at Ephesus are espousing that the second resurrection has already taken place. They offer classes, for a fee, that show people how to achieve spiritual nirvana, escaping the drudgery of life in this world.

It’s tearing the church apart. "Speak the truth,” Paul tells Timothy. “It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, but the truth can’t be chained.”

Today, we try to find truth and it gets lost. Our post-modern era is less black and white and more shades of grey. These shades of grey are taken on as absolute truth and we’re left feeling foolish or angry or that we have it all wrong. It can even lead to damaging our faith.

Paul is in prison and winter is coming in more ways than one. It’s getting cold and he needs his cloak while he faces possible execution for his Christian beliefs. And though we don’t suffer nearly what Paul or other martyrs experienced, we can certainly relate to the questions and the momentary lapses of faith.

“What if they’re right? Am I looking at it the wrong way?”

And just when you wonder what to do, Paul gives us a guideline:
Remember.
Remind.
Be diligent.

The truth for us, as Christians, is that Jesus suffered on a cross and rose from the dead. We remember this when we re-affirm our Baptism vows. We died in the baptismal waters with Jesus and rose with him to eternal life.

The truth for us, as Christians, is that Jesus died for us and we are redeemed in that death. We remember this every time we witness poverty, social injustice, or anything that damages God’s coming kingdom.

We remember Jesus’ resurrection every time we enter into worship.

We remember Jesus’ activity while he walked among us. We pray for guidance and to walk with him, because we remember our baptism. That we died and were raised with him.

And we remind others.

A seminary professor of long-standing arrived in the President’s office one morning. He had suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany and had managed to escape and come to America with his wife some 30 years earlier. Recently, though, his wife had died. It was more than he could handle. He was through.

“I’m quitting,” he announced to the President. “I’m leaving the seminary. I don’t believe anymore.”

The wise President told him, “You’re not quitting. We’ll believe for you until you can believe for yourself again.”

Be diligent. Sometimes it’s hard to be diligent. It’s when life is going well that we need to be the most diligent. Because when times get difficult, we need that deepened faith. We also need the faith of our community to help us through. We believe and we worship and pray together; we believe and we commune and fellowship together. Sometimes we believe for others.

Remember. Remind. Be diligent.

Creationism vs. Evolution.
We don’t know for sure.
Christ is risen.
Of that we can be sure.

Universalism. Are we all going to heaven or just some of us?
We don’t know for sure.
Christ is risen.
Of that we can be sure.

Homosexuality. Is it a sin or are we hardwired?
We don’t know for sure.
Christ is risen.
Of that we can be sure.

These are difficult issues for us, aren’t they? We each have our own sense of what the Bible says about them. We have trouble understanding how those on the other sides of the issues can possibly believe the way they do.

Don’t they know the truth?  No. They don’t. Neither do any of us until we finally stand before Jesus in the next life.

Jesus Christ is Gospel. He is good news. He is God come to earth to walk with us. We can’t add to the gospel or take away from it. Jesus Christ is Gospel and we see it in his work “for the life of the world” (John 6:51.)

Our doctrine is important to help form our faith. Our beliefs are important in helping us understand how to live out that faith. But neither of these are gospel.

We die with Jesus; we endure with Jesus, knowing that we also live with him and will be with him someday. Sometimes we lose faith; sometimes we quit believing. And that’s when we allow others to believe for us. That’s when Jesus carries us, because he isn’t about to let us go. Not ever.

Earlier in chapter two of Second Timothy, Paul reminds us about soldiers and athletes and farmers. He knows that there will always be opposition and struggle in the church. Our human tendencies can lead us astray to jealousy or rejection. When that happens, people suffer.

Paul reminds Timothy to stay focused on the mission. Be like a soldier who stays at his job without veering off course. Be the athlete who knows the rules of the game and has the discipline of hard work and training behind him. Be the farmer who works hard every day, knowing that the harvest will happen.

Remember. Remind. Be Diligent.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him…” and “avoid profane chatter” (vv 15 & 16.)

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




October 4, 2016, 12:22 PM

Faith in Discouraging Times


by Sandy Bach

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began... (2 Timothy 1:3-9 NRSV)

 

I remember the 1950’s, standing next to my father in worship as the congregation sang “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.” There was hardly an empty seat in the sanctuary. We needed ushers to help people find a place to sit.  I remember walking to the church after school to meet my mother who had just finished a Bible study in the Pastor’s Study and was headed to the kitchen with the other women to give it a good cleaning.  My brother’s youth group met every Sunday evening. They planned a trip into the mountains to collect mistletoe to sell during Christmas in order to fund the church a new sign.  Sunday school classes were full to overflowing.

Then 1965 happened. It was the beginning of the end of an era. From that time forward the mainline church in America would show steady decreases in their membership rolls. To this day, we find the church “bumping the stairs.”

Some say the church in America is dying.

Denominational allegiance is all but gone. The Methodists or Presbyterian or Catholic DNA just doesn’t exist anymore. Lois and Eunice are sit in worship with their children and grandchildren. They sadly admit their families are involved elsewhere and wonder if they’re to blame.

Megachurches who have served the Boomer generation are having to reinvent themselves.

Meanwhile, Christianity has secured for itself a reputation of legalism, mean spiritedness and humiliating tactics against anyone or any group who dares to disagree with their particular brand of theology. And we all get painted with the same brush, despite our best efforts.

Some say the church in America is dying.

We could play the blame game. We could point fingers at this generation or that one. Perhaps the GI (or Greatest) Generation weren’t tolerant and flexible enough with the Boomers. The Boomers didn’t want to force their children to go to church; they wanted them to make up their own minds about God. Which led to a generation of very few people knowing God. Some would like to blame the Millennials for the lack of enthusiasm for keeping everything the same as it’s always been.

The letters to Timothy were written to a minister at difficult time. Christianity had become a threat to the Roman establishment. Judaism was familiar. Christianity was new and different and strange. They were called cannibals because they ate of the blood and body of Christ. They were considered atheists because they only worshiped one God instead of a pantheon of Roman gods. They were misrepresented and misunderstood at every corner.

The author is in prison. The church is struggling. Certainly the times were unsettling and discouraging. But what he writes is a letter filled with joy and encouragement.  He remembers with great joy and a few tears when he visited this congregation and ordained their young leader to the ministry. He can’t forget the faith that was passed on to him from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.

Several years ago I heard the story of a family therapist who held a seminar on marriage enrichment. During the break a middle-aged man visited the seminar leader.

“I’ve fallen out of love with wife. What should I do?”

“Love her,” was his reply.

“But, I don’t love her anymore. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. So, what should I do?”

“Love her. Remember what you fell in love with and rekindle that love once again.”

The young minister will have to rekindle his love for and his faith in God. There are difficult and discouraging times in ministry.  This mentor knows this and gives the young man tools to use for those difficult times.

Don’t be ashamed he tells him. Join with me in testifying to God’s power that you learned at the feet of Lois and Eunice. Help your congregation see God’s grace alive in the church. You’ll suffer at the hands of the culture. Do it with courage and hold your head high. We’re doing this for the Good News of Christ our Savior.

We’re doing this for future generations.

We’re doing this for congregations thousands of miles and thousands of years from Ephesus, who will need this example of faith. They will need to know that God is at work and that God’s grace is all they need to take important steps into their future.

When I gaze out on our churches today, I see many people.
The matriarchs who stand tall, but with humility, keeping the church moving forward. The patriarchs who are leaders who now serve by mentoring the next generations.  Newer members who respect the old guard and step in beside them with their own unique gifts and talents. Younger members who have active careers and family responsibilities who make time to serve Christ’s church.
Young people, entering the job world. They’re learning to manage their time and their money. They’re creating new relationships in what to them is a new and exciting world of work and creating new families of their own. The children who are engaged in the life of the church.

I also see the hurts and disappointments. Lives broken by death or illness or disability. Families torn apart by mental illness. Dreams set aside to take on the life-long responsibility of caring for disabled loved ones in their home. Empty-nesters. Caregivers for parents.

When the cards seemed stacked against you, it’s easy to lose the vision. It’s easy to play the blame game. It’s easy to be diverted into activities that only increase our negativity and our shame.

Christ is head of the church. And I believe that God has been at work shaking the very foundations of Christ’s Church in order to build up something new and more faithful.

We’re a part of that. Every week I see examples of faith and rekindling. “God didn’t give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (vs 7.) It is God who makes us strong and loving and wise. It is God who is at work, bringing us into a new reality.

As I look around each day, I see people of great faith, who are making a difference in the lives of others every day. I can’t see any lack for the abundance. I can’t play the blame game because of the steadiness of those in the faith.

When the disciples asked Jesus to "increase our faith," Jesus' response was simple.  Only have the faith the size of a mustard seed.  You don't need to worry about what you lack or feel guilt over what you've done or left undone.  You only need to look on Christ and know that the Holy Spirit is at work, turning that grain of mustard seed into something bigger and better than any of us could ever imagine.

Some say the church in America is dying.

Maybe it is.

But what I absolutely believe without a shadow of a doubt is that death leads to new life.  Transformed and transfigured.

And you and I are an important part of that.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 25, 2016, 11:34 AM

Lazarus at Our Door


19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 NRSV)

I’m tired of wrestling with money.  I’m tired of guilt trips.  I’m tired of telemarketers asking me to support this or that cause.  I’m tired of our church offering plates running out of money before the end of the month.  I’m tired of poverty and seeing people sitting at my gate needing scraps of food.  I’m tired of arguments we get into about how deserving the poor are or aren’t.

Mostly, I’m tired of wrestling with God over money and my use of it.  I’ve traveled to developing nations and have seen their spiritual lives far surpassing mine while illness and starvation pervade their lives.  I’ve given until it hurts and see little to no change.

So, what do I do with this scripture passage?  Am I the Rich Man?  Living in the USA I know that I personally have more than most people in developing countries.  I’m all too aware of the wealth I hold when I see people on the street corners with signs saying, “God Bless You” or “Anything will help.”

Perhaps I’m one of the five brothers.  Unaware and in need of an awakening.

Perhaps I’m Lazarus, not physically hungry, but spiritually starved for something to make me feel better about this text.

I want Jesus to make it better.  Make this text better.  More than that, make poverty history.  Just do it!  I know you can. After all, you healed all those people; you got money out of a fish’s mouth; you touched peoples’ lives and you still do today.  So, come on, Lord.  Make this all better.

But, I can’t.  I have to figure this out for myself.  And I wonder if you, dear reader, are needing the same thing.  An ease to the guilt; a wake-up call to a way to serve; a word from our Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This is a parable.  And Jesus loved to exaggerate in his parables.  The rich man wasn’t rich.  He was super rich.  His linen under garments were imported from Egypt.  He wore purple robes which only royalty were permitted to buy.  He didn’t just eat meals, he “feasted sumptuously every day” (v 19.)  His gate wasn’t what you’d find on a cute picket fence.  This gate was tall and kept him secure and protected.

Lazarus gets a name.  The only time in any of Jesus’ parables, someone gets a name.  Not the rich man, but the poor one laying at the gate hoping for crumbs from the table.  Lazarus is poor and hungry and covered in yucky sores.  Unclean dogs came by to lick his sores in  an ultimate act of degradation.

What annoys me is that every morning the rich man sat in his chauffeur-driven limousine and passed through that gate seeing Lazarus sitting there.  He even knew his name.  What he lacked was compassion.  Lazarus wasn’t asking for much.  He wanted some food.

I want to step in and clean up his sores, get him medical attention, feed him a decent meal and then find a place for him to live.  Yet, all he asked for was food.

As angry as I am with the rich man, though, I can’t help but wonder who’s sitting at my gate?  What am I missing as sail past them on the way to worship or that important meeting?  Am I any better than the rich man?

Who sits at my gate?  Victims of human trafficking. Unwanted Syrian immigrants in Europe.  The marginalized mentally ill.  Victims of war in Palestine and Israel.    Sidelined undocumented aliens in America, invited here by big farm business for cheap labor and demonized by the unknowing American population.

Who sits at my gate?  The hungry in my community.  The poor trying to get through this life one day and one problem at a time.  Today it’s the electric bill.  Tomorrow it’ll be the rent.  The following day food for their children.

So while I’m tired and angry, perhaps it’s time for me to realize that I’m not the Messiah.  And neither are you.  Jesus warned us that the poor would always be with us, so there’s no use in wasting energy asking Jesus to snap his fingers and make it better.

It isn’t up to me or you to solve the problem, but to be a part of the solution.  In today’s world, getting involved usually means with money.  Shipping food is wasteful; sending money to buy food from local Food Banks is smart.

If it isn’t up to us to solve the problem, it’s up to us learn about it.  What bugs you?  Learn about it.  Scour the internet, go to the library. Read what your church or denomination is saying about it.  Learn everything you can about it.  And while you’re doing that, pray.  Pray for discernment.  Pray for the victims.  Pray for the victimizers (yes, even the perpetrators.)

Then share what you’ve learned with others.  Let them know what you’ve learned so that they’ll pass it along.  The wife of one of my colleagues in the community where I serve attended a state-level conference on human trafficking.  Our state has a major confluence of Interstate Highways that is a major source of trafficking.  She got involved and spread the word through our Ministerial Alliance and the local Rotary Club.  She provided parents with a list of websites that attempt to attract teenagers into sexual servitude.  She made a difference.

Give.  Give what you can no matter the size.  God will multiply it like loaves and fishes.

At the beginning of this blog I shared what I’m tired of.  Perhaps what tires me the most is the energy we spend being angry.  Jesus’ central teachings had to do with compassion and mercy and generosity and hospitality and justice.  These aren’t passive activities.  They call on each of us to keep active.

Compassion for those we don’t understand.  Mercy to those we most dislike.  Generosity to those who need it the most.  Hospitality and welcome to those who don’t look or act like us.  Justice for the sidelined and the victim.

Most of all, check out the gatekeepers around you.  Those who give regularly to social agencies active in feeding the hungry and serving the poor.  Those who spend time at the local elementary school tutoring children.  The DHS workers who burn themselves out caring for abused children and the elderly.  The teacher who works long hours to bring her lessons alive to her students.  The soldier who tries to make a difference in an Iraqi community.  The nurse who spends a little more time than he should with a patient in need of more than medical care.

Are you a gatekeeper?  What are you doing?  Take careful inventory.  You may discover that you’re providing spiritual support to those you meet.  You may discover you have a desire to learn and do more.  Whatever the case, don’t just be tired of the neediness at your gate.  Acknowledge it.  Learn from it.  Pray over it.

God will lead you where you can make the most difference.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 18, 2016, 12:00 AM

Resources & Relationships


by Sandy Bach

16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Is there a parent who has never said to their teenager, "If you spent half the time doing the job that you spend avoiding, you'd be done by now"?  Their creativity and enthusiasm for avoiding that lawn mower or those dirty dishes is truly noteworthy.

Perhaps they have something to us.

When we see the phrase, "rich man" in Luke, we instantly know that there's trouble.  A rich man tried to build bigger barns in order to hoard his abundant crops.  A rich man had a poor, sick man sitting outside his gate, the dogs licking his wounds.  When they both died, he couldn't understand why the sick man, Lazarus, was seated at Father Abraham's side and he wasn't.  The famous tax collector, Zacchaeus, had a come to a Jesus meeting with, well, Jesus, and repented.  He vowed to use his money for the good of all.

So when we hear the phrase, "rich man," in this parable, we can assume that the first hearers immediately thought of the wealthy "loan sharks" of that day.  Their loans came at high interest rates (25% to 50%) and hidden charges.  Eventually, many of them lost the land that had been in their family for generations.  The rich men took it over for their own use, while the poor were forced off the land and ended up looking for work in the larger cities, usually with not much luck.

The rich got richer while the poor got poorer.  Did you notice the amount of debt the two men owed?  The rich got richer on the backs of the poor.  Think today about high interest student loans or predatory pay day loans.

Meanwhile, the steward, who had probably added his own interest to the debts of those in his care, did something to get himself fired.  For some reason he fell out of favor with the boss and had to do something quick.

To his credit, he was honest about his situation.  He wasn't strong enough to dig; he was too proud to beg.  So he used his ingenuity to gain favor for himself for that day when he would be out of work.  So he pulled them in one at a time and had each of them lower his debt by 20% to 50%.  Perhaps it was the amount of his commissions. It's hard to say, but he didn't do it for that reason.  He did it to curry favor.

So when the rich man perused the books and discovered the discrepancies, we expect that the steward would have been arrested.  After all, that's the way things work in the real world, don't they?  However, this is a parable and Jesus is telling it, so we know there's a surprise on the horizon.

Sure enough, we learn that the rich man commended the steward.  "That's what the world is all about," he said.  "You don't get anything for free.  Everything has a cost.  You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Yep!  That's what makes the world go 'round. You may be fired, but you learned a big lesson.  I have to hand it to you."

And he brought his attention back to the books to figure out how to trick those illiterate peasants out of more money.

In 1961 the musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" began it's long run on Broadway.  J. Pierrepont Finch is a window washer, who gets hired by a major corporation.  He starts in the mail room and works himself up to chairman of the board in two weeks.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Succeed_in_Business_Without_Really_Trying)

In one particular scene, Finch arrives at his desk a bit early, scatters papers all around his desk, fills his ash tray with used cigarettes and messes up his hair. When he hears the boss coming, he quickly sits down and pretends to be asleep at the desk.  When the boss asks him what he's doing, Finch apologizes profusely and explains that he spent the night at work working on a report.  The boss is so impressed that he's promoted, yet again.

Think about it.  How might the world be a better place if Finch had used his talents and skills to advance the kingdom rather than himself?

When Jesus' ministry first began, he read from the prophet Isaiah his mission statement:  "to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)

So far in Luke's Gospel, Jesus has preached it, taught it, done it.  Now he focuses in on that final line -- the year of Lord's favor.  In other words, the Jubilee.  That time every seven years when debts are released, when land is returned to the original owners, when no one is hungry or indebted.

Jesus is pointing out the toxic atmosphere of his day.  The poor desperately need release.  The rich thought they were rich because God had blessed them.

Jesus uses this to point at the kingdom.  In the midst of unjust structures and unfair economic relationships, Jesus points out our mission as "children of light."  He points at the "children of this age" (like the steward) who are street smart and savvy about how the world works.  "Learn from them, he says.  Why are the poor getting poorer?  Why are we graduating college students with a debt load of $100,000.00 or more?  How are our buying decisions affecting the global market?

Jesus says, wise up!  Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we're not part of the problem.  Wise up and learn so that  you can use the wealth of this age to make life better for those bent under a crushing load of debt; who can't make the ends meet no matter how hard they work?

Jesus also reminds us that those who are faithful in a little can be trusted with much more.  And the opposite is true.  And when we use the wealth of this world to make our part of the world just a little bit better, we reap a huge reward.  More than that happily-ever-after reward of the after life.  We can stand taller and see God's Truth against the backdrop of greed and hubris and lies and deceit.

But we have to decide.  Do we serve God or look out for ourselves?  Do we hoard our talents and skills or use them to serve those bent under the pressure of poverty?  Do we turn away from the hurting or reach out to help them?

We can't really do both.  One will tear us up while we accumulate worldly wealth.  The other frees us up to live this life in joy.

Is it easy?  Not necessarily.  Am I suggesting you empty your check book into the coffers of the nearest homeless shelter?  Not unless you want to be homeless yourself.

What I am suggesting is that we pick something that bugs us: poverty or a justice issue.  Then get involved by bringing your best mind to the table and learning what the "children of this age" already know.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


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